Review: The Square Root of Texas, by Rob Witherspoon

BNR Square Root of Texas

About the Book The Square Root of Texas

The First Calamity of QED Morningwood

  • Genre: Satire / Humor / Absurdist Fiction
  • Publisher: Independently Published
  • Date of Publication: September 26, 2018
  • Number of Pages: 181 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Hi Res Square RootQED Morningwood is a liar, braggart and teller of tall tales. When he shows up at the domino parlor with a mysterious Russian crate in the back of his pick-up truck, he confides to the players he is a ‘Shadow’ member of the NRA, not on their official membership roll, and has a load of rocket propelled grenades – all lies. The news spreads to the real Shadow NRA, the FBI and Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Cultural Preservation sends an agent to retrieve the crate, the actual contents known only to the Russians.

The Russian agent, an FBI team, a DHS undercover agent and a Shadow NRA hit team arrive in Heelstring, Texas looking for QED and his crate. Their convergence is followed by interrogations, seduction, lies, arrests, jailbreak, kidnapping and rescue – along with car chases and explosions. If not for Cotton Widdershins, an ancient black man with secrets of his own, who acts as QED’s mentor and savior, the Morningwood line would be doomed to end, or at best spend life in a federal penitentiary.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Rob Witherspoon

Author Pic WitherspoonRob Witherspoon was born and raised in rural Texas. He earned a BA in Physical Education, UT Arlington 1985 and a BS in Aerospace Engineering, UT Arlington 1990. He worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years before retiring in 2018. He lives in north central Texas with his wife and youngest daughter and has spent much of his life in rural communities and on the ranch. He combines his love for Texas, lying, the outdoors, engineering, and his children in his writing.

Connect with Rob:

WEBSITE  |  FACEBOOK  | TWITTER AMAZON  GOODREADS  | YOUTUBE 


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellFrom the very first scene of Cotton Widdershins and the other menfolk in this story playing dominoes and drinking coffee that might or might not not be ‘just’ coffee, I was hooked on The Square Root of Texas.

In this novel, Rob Witherspoon introduces us to QED “Kid” Morningwood, the town… well… referring to him as the town calamity would not be entirely inaccurate. It’s a good thing this book is both humor and satire because otherwise I wouldn’t sure whom to feel bad for: Kid, or everyone else.

Much of the story is told through the perspective of Cotton Widdershins, which is fantastic because he makes these seemingly commonplace observations that lend to both truth and hilarity, like telling everyone to look out the window at Kid and his blazing (literally) truck in the beginning of the novel, because Morningwood won’t be satisfied if there aren’t witnesses to his disaster of the moment.

Witherspoon’s creativity isn’t limited to character names or situations, though. This novel takes place in an alternate version of Texas, where he’s changed the place names both to protect the not-so-innocent and just to be silly. And unabashed silliness is at the heart of this book. Witherspoon defies structure, eschewing formal chapters for suggested activities when we readers need a break (as someone who does a ton of reading in the bathroom, I mainly did laundry and got more coffee, but you are free to follow other ideas) and inventing a “mesologue” in the middle of the story.

It takes a special kind of brain – and a lot of bravado – to create something that meshes a fantastic (in all senses of the word) plot with instances of both black and conventional humor, but Witherspoon has done so with aplomb. That being said, I feel that there are things that I missed, because I’m not as steeped in Texas culture and lore as an actual native.

A short book at under 200 pages, The Square Root of Texas is fast, funny, and fabulous.

Goes well with coffee (with whatever additive you like) and popcorn, because this story is quite the show.


Giveaway

THREE WINNERS 

GRAND PRIZE (US only):

Signed Copies of The Square Root of Texas and Deus Tex Machina

2ND PRIZE (US only): Signed Copy of The Square Root of Texas

3RD PRIZE  (US Only): Kindle Copy of The Square Root of Texas

Giveaway ends midnight, CST, 11/20/2020

 

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Visit the Other Great Blog on this Tour

Or check out the tour page for this book at Lone Star Literary Life:

11/10/2020 Notable Quotable Texas Book Lover
11/10/2020 BONUS Promo Hall Ways Blog
11/11/2020 Review Max Knight
11/12/2020 Author Video StoreyBook Reviews
11/13/2020 Review Book Bustle
11/14/2020 Author Interview All the Ups and Downs
11/15/2020 Guest Post Video Sybrina’s Book Blog
11/16/2020 Review Jennie Reads
11/17/2020 Excerpt Chapter Break Book Blog
11/18/2020 Review Reading by Moonlight
11/19/2020 Review Bibliotica

 

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Review: Hiddensee, by Gregory Maguire

Hiddensee, by Gregory MaguireAbout the book, Hiddensee

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

Buy, read, and discuss Hiddensee:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory-Maguire-AP-2017-Photo-credit-Andy-Newman

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly StepsisterLostMirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes WickedSon of a WitchA Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Connect with Gregory:

Website | Facebook


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I’ve been a fan of The Nutcracker in all its variations since a family friend gifted me with a copy of the book A Very Young Dancer when I was five. Forty-two years later, I still can’t get enough of it. The Tchaikovsky music is ever present in my iTunes playlist, and I spend the month of December watching every single production of the ballet that makes it to cable. (Ovation‘s annual ‘Battle of the Nutcrackers’ is a favorite event.) Somewhere in a box, I even have a wooden nutcracker doll, sent to me by my oldest auntie, when she and her husband were stationed in Ramstein, Germany in the 1970s.

My point is, The Nutcracker is part of my DNA, and the reason I was initially drawn to read and review this book, Hiddensee.

The thing is, Gregory Maguire’s novel has no resemblance to the story we all love. At first, that was disappointing. I was looking forward to an in-depth look at the Nutcracker-Prince’s story. I was hoping for the unresolved sexual tension between Herr Drosselmeier and Klara (known as Marie in some versions of the story) to be resolved.

That is not what Hiddensee is.

Instead, Maguire’s novel is the origin story of Dirk Drosselmeier, the boy who grows up to become the toymaker who creates the famous doll.

In terms of style and craft, Hiddensee is excellent. Maguire has a way of using simple language to create vivid scenes, evoke real emotion, and immerse us in whatever world he’s choosing to inhabit. In this novel, he recreated the tone of all those early E.T.A. Hoffman (who wrote the original Nutcracker fairy tale) and the Brothers Grimm, mixing in more than a little German romanticism. If you’ve ever read Rilke or Goethe, you will be extremely comfortable with Hiddensee, because it has that faintly dreamlike quality those two poets used to great effect.

In terms of story, I was a little disappointed. Oh, I was invested in young Dirk as a character, but I was expecting a Nutcracker story, not a coming-of-age story about a young man. As well, I found that this novel lacked Maguire’s typically excellent pacing, having a start-and-stop effect that I found a bit off-putting.

Perhaps my perception was colored by expectation, or perhaps in the twenty years since Maguire gave us Wicked (and I was an early reader of that novel), he’s lost sight of his goals, because I’m honestly not entirely sure what story he was trying to tell. Dirk is an interesting young man, but there was an air of detachment about him – almost as if he was on the Asperger’s spectrum – that kept me slightly disconnected from his story.

Then, too, there was the fact that every time the story started to rev up, it seemed to stall.

Don’t get me wrong, an ‘average’ offering from Maguire is still more engaging than any offering from a host of other authors, and there was much about this story to love – introductions to German philosophy included – but if you’re going into it expecting it to be a rehashing of the ballet or the fairy tale, you will be disappointed.

Bottom line: read this without the ballet goggles and you’ll find much to enjoy.

Goes well with chestnut pastries and strong coffee.


Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 31st: BookExpression

Wednesday, November 1st: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, November 2nd: Man of La Book

Friday, November 3rd: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, November 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, November 7th: The Sketchy Reader

Wednesday, November 8th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, November 8th: Reading Reality

Thursday, November 9th: Broken Teepee

Friday, November 10th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, November 13th: Sara the Introvert

Tuesday, November 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, November 15th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick

Friday, November 17th: Based on a True Story

Review: Rarity from the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton

About the book, Rarity from the Hollow Rarity from the Hollow

 

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Horn Publishing; 2nd Revised edition edition (November 3, 2016)

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out,and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage — an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It’s up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Will Lacy’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy,comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

Praise for Rarity from the Hollow:

“The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.” —Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest

“Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.” –Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review

. “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse…tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…profound…a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — Awesome Indies (Gold Medal)

“…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.” —Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

“Rarity from the Hollow is an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.” —Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author

“…Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — The Baryon Review 

“…Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.” — Marcha’s Two-Cents Worth

“…I know this all sounds pretty whack, and it is, but it’s also quite moving. Lacy Dawn and her supporting cast – even Brownie, the dog – are some of the most engaging characters I’ve run across in a novel in some time….”  — Danehy-Oakes, Critic whose book reviews often appear in the New York Review of Science Fiction

“… The author gives us much pause for thought as we read this uniquely crafted story about some real life situations handled in very unorthodox ways filled with humor, sarcasm, heartfelt situations and fun.” — Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine

Buy, read, and discuss Rarity from the Hollow:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Robert Eggleton

Robert EggletonRobert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from1982 through 1997.

Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment. http://www.childhswv.org/

Connect with Robert:

Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI first read Rarity from the Hollow two years ago, when the author, Robert Eggleton contacted me and asked me to consider it. It seemed interesting, edgy and different, so I took a chance, and was immediately hooked on his concept and his story. I was supposed to review it then, life got in the way, and it was a year (and a revised edition) later before I wrote a review. Somehow, that review got eaten by WordPress, and after far too much patience on Mr. Eggleton’s part, I’ve rewritten it and am posting it now.

Described as a ‘fairy tale for adults,’ this novel looks at PTSD, poverty, child sexual abuse and child murder – any one of which could be considered a trigger for most readers – wraps them in literary science fiction, and gives us a protagonist in Lacy Dawn (who is also the primary POV character) who is sensitive, spunky, inquisitive, and manages to contain within herself a combination of too much awareness and childish innocence that should not work, but strangely does.

Calling this novel a fairy tale or science fiction, while accurate, is also limiting, because it’s so much more than both. Parts of this story are quite tragic – when we first meet Lacy Dawn, she is coaching her best friend Faith on a spelling test, her father is abusive and her mother is battered in both body and spirit. Within a few chapters, Faith has been killed, but her spirit lingers and her relationship with Lacy Dawn does as well, but then, our heroine also talks to trees, understands her dog Brownie, and has an android boyfriend named DotCom who is also recruiting her for a business venture (no, nothing salacious).

(As an aside, DotCom is my favorite of the supporting characters – but that’s probably because of my decades old crush on Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

In many ways, Rarity from the Hollow feels like a coming-of-age novel for adults. As we experience the end of true childhood and the beginning of adolescence with Lacy Dawn, we also confront the leftover issues from our own childhoods – our relationships with our friends and families, our own choices about sex and love and when to act on each, how we handled college and our first careers.

Unlike Lacy Dawn, we don’t have magical abilities or help from androids from other planets. We have to muddle through our lives in a world that is increasingly dangerous and frightening, but novels like Rarity from the Hollow give us the ability to engage in self-reflection while living vicariously through fictional characters. Author Eggleton has couched some very important truths in a story that is equal parts entertaining and provocative.

Not to be overlooked are some truly comic moments. DotCom’s anatomy changes as he moves toward an adult relationship and there’s a creative use of a laptop and the inner wish that perhaps he should have worn clothes that is described in a way worthy of a Monty Python sketch.

If you enjoyed Piers Anthony’s Mode series (which I haven’t read in over twenty years), or are a fan of the work of Douglas Adams (Not just The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m addressing those who like Dirk Gently, also.) you will likely enjoy Rarity from the Hollow, because Robert Eggleton excels at mixing the absurd and nearly preposterous with the incredibly real. However, even if you’re not a fan of those authors, I still recommend this novel. It’s sharply written, well crafted, genre-defying, and totally worth the time spent reading it.

Goes well with anything you enjoy, but I’d recommend Mexican street tacos – the kind where you get a kilo of grilled steak and a stack of tortillas and fill them yourself – and a bottle of Indio or Negra Modelo beer.

 

 

 

Review: Forever Rose, by Carmen M. Oprea

Forever RoseAbout the book, Forever Rose

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Amazon.com (December 9, 2016)

Alessandro Santini, an Italian doctor from the twenty-first century, lives an ordinary life in modern day Florence. But one evening, he passes through a swirling vortex caused by a supermoon and discovers he has stepped three hundred years into the past. Countess Rose Estes is torn between following her dream of becoming a historical painter and her duty toward her family. After Rose’s father is wounded during her birthday ball, Alex and Rose burn with questions: Who attacked him with a flying dagger? Why? Forced to go to Siena and spend fourteen months together, Rose and Alex find themselves drawn to each other as they search for answers and discover secrets that go deeper than they ever imagined. As the portal’s opening approaches, Alex finds out that Rose has been poisoned through the roses she’s been receiving. He has two choices to save her life—take Rose to his time or go by himself and bring the medication she needs.

Buy, read, and discuss Forever Rose

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Carmen Monica Oprea

Born in Vaslui, Romania, and educated in both Romania and America, Carmen has been in the US since 2001. She’s smart, gorgeous, kind, and her accent is utterly charming (Romanian with a hint of Nashville, where she now lives). Her debut novel combines time travel and romance with an intriguing historical mystery.

She also blogs about life, miracles, gratitude, simplicity, and interior decorating.

Connect with Carmen

Website | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Every so often a book comes your way that defies categorization. That’s the case with Forever Rose, which is both a contemporary story in an historical setting, and an historical romance with contemporary bookends. As well, it’s also a fantasy with a touch of magical realism, and there’s an element of mystery to round things out.

But a book is not merely its category, and Forever Rose transcends all of the possible boxes it could fit into, and is, ultimately, a wonderfully romantic, sometimes funny – sometimes poignant, strangely compelling story that takes you from the contemporary world of medicine and laser technology to eighteenth-century Florence, and makes you look up at the full moon and wonder what magic it might bring to your life.

Author Carmen Monica Oprea writes her period characters with an ease that I wish more writers would find. They never sound out of place, or out of time, but neither is their language stilted or inaccessible. Her lead character, Rose, is both wise and witty, despite being just twenty (though, obviously twenty in the 1700s is much different than twenty today), an accomplished painter, and a surprisingly enlightened young woman. Her sister is more ‘typical’  – overly entitled and somewhat annoying – and her parents feel period appropriate, but are also fully realized characters, and not just cardboard cutouts.

Similarly, Alessandro Santini – Alex – the young doctor who steps back in time during a full moon – is perfectly plausible as a doctor who has known tragedy and is too alone in our world that is so bright and antiseptic. I really liked him, and I was willing to follow him on his journey.

At 303 pages in the paperback version, this novel is just long enough to be really satisfying, but short enough that, if you’re me, you can read it on a single, stormy afternoon. While I figured out the ‘mystery’ part of the story relatively quickly, knowing the truth of ‘whodunnit’ did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel at all.

If you are in the mood for a romance that is a bit meatier and includes a bit more of a speculative bent than most such stories, or if you just want to read about the lengths people will go when they find the person who is right for them, you will love this book, Forever Rose.

Goes well with a glass of homemade limoncello, sipped slowly in the moonlight with the love of your life.

 

 

Review: After Alice, by Gregory Maguire – with Giveaway

About the book, After Alice After Alice

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 5, 2016)

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis’s Carroll’s beloved classic.

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Connect with Gregory:

Website | Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve been a fan of Gregory Maguire’s work since Wicked first hit shelves eons ago. (I read it before it was popular, before there was a musical, before Amazon became my primary source of books, because I saw it on the “New Fiction” shelf at Barnes & Noble.) I remember thinking that I loved his way of not only twisting a common story – providing backstory, highlighting one of the supporting characters, writing prequels and sequels.

In reading After Alice, and having had a lot of experience with improv in the intervening years since my first introduction to Maguire’s work, I realized that he also uses the style of the original work as a jumping-off point. I won’t call him a mimic, because he isn’t mimicking Lewis Carroll here, so much as evoking it.  In a way, the title thus becomes a pun. Yes, it’s after Alice’s adventures, and the impact they caused both to the ‘real’ world and to Wonderland, but it’s also ‘after’ Alice in the sense of ‘in the style of.’ Gotta love a good literary pun.

One of my favorite books is The Annotated Alice, which has both the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the sequel Through the Looking Glass, and a ton of notes in teeny, tiny print. My copy wasn’t handy as I was reading this, and having it certainly isn’t necessary in order to appreciate Maguire’s novel, but I kind of wish I’d had it to read along-side, even so.

But back to After Alice. It’s the story of Alice’s childhood friend Ada, whom the help seems to find a bit disagreeable (the governess has a bit of inner monologue where she reflects that the child is so inactive that at some point she’ll require a wheel chair) who inadvertently follows her friend down the rabbit hole, and it shows how a different perspective, a different personality, completely changes the interactions with the characters we all know and love.

More than that, however, this is a look at the way society in the late 1800’s looked at people, and especially girls and women, who didn’t fit into cultural norms. More than once Alice is referred to as being ‘off with the fairies again,’ and there are also a lot of observations about how Miss Armstrong, the governess, might as well be invisible, as she exists between the real ‘help’ – cooks and maids – and the upper class employers who pay her to care for Ada.

As always, Maguire’s wit is reflected in his writing, and the end result is a smart, funny, engaging novel that, like most good stories, exists to entertain on one level, while also provoking thought on another. It’s better appreciated if, like me, you know the original story, but it’s certainly a great read even if you don’t.

Goes well with hot tea, and scones with clotted cream and jam (but only every other day.)


Giveaway After Alice

One lucky reader from the United States or Canada will win my copy (trade paperback) of this book.

Three ways to enter (one entry per person for each choice, so if you do all three, you’re entered three times).

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling me what fictional world you’d love to explore. Wonderland? Narnia? Somewhere else?

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Thursday, July 21st.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, July 6th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, July 6th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, July 8th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, July 11th: Freda’s Voice

Tuesday, July 12th: Ms.Bookish.com

Wednesday, July 13th: Jen’s Book Thoughts

Thursday, July 14th: Bibliotica

Monday, July 18th: A Book Geek

Tuesday, July 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Wednesday, July 20th: Adorkable Me

TBD: Book Hooked Blog

June, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore – Review & Giveaway

About the book June: A Novel June: A Novel

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (May 31, 2016)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever. 

Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I absolutely loved this book. As I told a friend, the writing is perfect capturing the two separate time periods in which the novel takes place, and the language is lyrical. The characters are compelling, and it’s got a bit of everything, romance, friendship, mystery, intrigue, and even a dash of the paranormal (but only a dash).

In many ways, author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore has written two novels, and woven them together in June. In 1955, which is June’s story as seen through Lindie’s eyes, we are treated to a coming-of-age story that involves love, loyalty, and what happens when a Hollywood production takes over your town – and your life. I confess that of those two characters, I preferred Lindie, as she seemed a lot more grounded, and was a breath of fresh air to read. At the end, it’s Lindie who seeped into my brain.

The other story is contemporary: Cassie Danvers has inherited her grandmother’s crumbling old manse, Twin Oaks, and claimed it as a refuge, of sorts, from a bad relationship and a stagnating life. She’s at the point where she has to face her lack of funds when she’s told about another inheritance, this time from the star of the movie that so absorbed Lindie and June (her grandmother) sixty years before. His daughter and her half sister burst her bubble of safety almost immediately, and Cassie must fight to keep the house she so loves, while learning all the secrets of the past.

In anyone else’s hands, this novel would probably descend into Lifetime Movie of the Week territory, where everything is over-the-top. Fortunately, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s touch is both delicate and deft. As I said above, she writes with a lyrical ease, and I especially enjoyed the way she handled dialogue.

One convention that I enjoyed, but I know others are less on-board with, is that the novel opens with the house – Twin Oaks – giving its own point of view. As someone who has spent a lot of nights in old houses, I really appreciated that touch. Not only did the house serve as the focal point of the story, but its presence as a character in its own right really became the glue that held each part of the narrative together. It is this dash (and it really is just a dash, the merest hint) that makes this novel edge into magical realism territory, but it’s the same conceit that makes the story so special.

Like Cassie, I wanted to hole up inside Twin Oaks, and breathe life back into the old estate.

Unlike Cassie, I’m sorely lacking obscure, rich, relatives who will leave me their fortunes.

Goes well with espresso served in vintage demi-tasse and Stella D’oro anisette toast.


Giveaway June: A Novel

This one’s a quickie for the weekend. ONE reader from the US/Canada will get a copy of this book.

Three ways to enter: 1) Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse). 2)Find  my  Facebook post about this book (it’ll come from Twitter) and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse). 3) Leave a comment here on this post telling me about a house you love.

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Monday, June 20th.

Winner will be contacted by me, but fulfillment will be from the publicist for this book, and may take up to six weeks.


About Miranda Beverly-Whittemore Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet; Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman; and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Connect with Miranda

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 23rd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Tuesday, May 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, May 25th: A Literary Vacation

Thursday, May 26th: View from the Birdhouse

Friday, May 27th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Monday, May 30th: Buried Under Books

Tuesday, May 31st: FictionZeal

Tuesday, May 31st: Books a la Mode  – author guest post

Wednesday, June 1st: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Thursday, June 2nd: Luxury Reading

Friday, June 3rd: You Can Read Me Anything

Monday, June 6th: Must Read Faster

Tuesday, June 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, June 8th: Fictionophile

Thursday, June 9th: Just Commonly

Friday, June 10th: A Bookaholic Swede

Monday, June 13th: Bewitched Bookworms

Tuesday, June 14th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, June 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Thursday, June 16th: Write Read Life

Friday, June 17th: Bibliotica

Monday, June 20th: Kahakai Kitchen

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, by Mitch Albom (@mitchalbom) #review

About the book, The Magic Strings Of Frankie Presto The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

 Hardcover: 512 pages
• Publisher: Harper (November 10, 2015)

Mitch Albom creates his most unforgettable character—Frankie Presto, the greatest guitarist ever to walk the earth—in this magical novel about the power of talent to change our lives.

In Mitch Albom’s epic new novel, the voice of Music narrates the tale of its most beloved disciple, Frankie Presto, a Spanish war orphan raised by a blind music teacher. At nine years old, Frankie is sent to America in the bottom of a boat. His only possession is an old guitar and six magical strings.

But Frankie’s talent is touched by the gods, and it weaves him through the musical landscape of the twentieth century, from classical to jazz to rock and roll. Along the way, Frankie influences many artists: he translates for Django Reinhardt, advises Little Richard, backs up Elvis Presley, and counsels Hank Williams.

Frankie elevates to a rock star himself, yet his gift becomes his burden, as he realizes that he can actually affect people’s futures: his guitar strings turn blue whenever a life is altered. Overwhelmed by life, loss, and this power, he disappears for years, only to reemerge in a spectacular and mysterious farewell.

With its Forrest Gump–like journey through the music world, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is a classic in the making. A lifelong musician himself, Mitch Albom delivers an unforgettable story. “Everyone joins a band in this life,” he observes, be it through music, family, friends, or lovers. And those connections change the world.

Buy, read, and discuss The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Mitch Albom Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom is a bestselling novelist, a screen-writer, a playwright, and an award-winning journalist. He is the author of six consecutive number-one New York Times bestsellers and has sold more than thirty-four million copies of his books in forty-two languages worldwide. Tuesdays with Morrie, which spent four years atop the New York Times list, is the bestselling memoir of all time.

Albom has founded seven charities, including the first-ever full-time medical clinic for homeless children in America. He also operates an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He lives with his wife, Janine, in suburban Detroit.

Connect with Mitch

Find out more about Mitch at his website, connect with him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and sign up for his newsletter.


My Thoughts MissMeliss

The first thing that really grabbed me about The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto was that the narrator of the opening chapter was Music itself. Not quite Music personified, but definitely Music as a sentient being. As a musician myself (cello, singing, learning guitar), as well as the daughter of a woman whom Music passed by, this narrative choice made a lot of sense to me, and I would have been incredibly happy if the whole novel had been narrated by Music.

As the supporting characters worked their way in, however, and their voices strengthened, my initial rush of interest wore off. Don’t get me wrong, Magic Strings is eminently readable, but it seems a lot like, aside from Music, the author didn’t really have a strong sense of his characters.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the story. Mitch Albom made the inclusion of real people practically seamlessly (the description compares the novel to Forest Gump in that respect, but people have been doing such things for ages). It always makes me grin when authors can do that without it feeling disruptive or gimmicky, but since the epynomous (if fictional) Frankie Presto is a contemporary of people like Elvis, it makes sense to use that storytelling device. It drives me crazy when novelists set their stories in contemporary or recently historical periods and then pretend none of the pop culture we all know ever existed.

I loved that Frankie had a miles-long birth name that demonstrated his Spanish roots, and that he came to see his musical gift (both the actual playing, and the secondary gift of the blue strings on his guitar and their special power) as both a blessing and a curse, because even those of us who are strictly amateurs often feel that way, even without magic. I liked that the simple language Albom tends to use was both really natural, but that he also gave it a rhythm that felt like someone strumming a guitar.

Since my only previous exposure to Albom’s work was is memoir Tuesdays with Morrie, which I loved, I was worried that his fiction voice wouldn’t be as engaging. I was wrong, though I will caution that this book isn’t an action novel or a romance. Instead it’s a gentle, quirky story about a man, a guitar with magic strings, and the sometimes-fickle mistress/muse/calling that is Music.

Goes well with tapas and craft-brewed beer.


Mitch Albom’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, September 21st: Priscilla and Her Books

Wednesday, September 23rd: Lavish Bookshelf

Thursday, September 24th: Worth Getting in Bed For

Monday, September 28th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, September 30th: Dreams, Etc.

Wednesday, September 30th: Mom in Love With Fiction

Thursday, October 1st: Raven Haired Girl

Monday, October 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, October 6th: Back Porchervations

Wednesday, October 7th: A Dream Within a Dream

Thursday, October 8th: Mama Vicky Says

Tuesday, October 13th: Book Loving Hippo

Wednesday, October 14th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Monday, October 19th: BoundbyWords

Tuesday, October 20th: Curling Up by the Fire

Wednesday, October 21st: Book by Book

Tuesday, October 27th: The Novel Life

Wednesday, October 28th: Shelf Full of Books

Thursday, October 29th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Monday, November 2nd: Seaside Book Nook

Tuesday, November 3rd: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Wednesday, November 4th: The Book Wheel

Thursday, November 5th: Books and Bindings

Monday, November 9th: Suko’s Notebook

Tuesday, November 10th: My Life in Books

Blue, by Kayce Stevens Hughlett (@kaycehughlett) #review @netgalley

About the book, Blue Blue

  • File Size: 1490 KB
  • Print Length: 235 pages
  • Publisher: BQB Publishing (September 10, 2015)
  • Publication Date: September 10, 2015

One insecure perfectionist. One guilt-ridden artist. One child-woman who talks to peacocks. A trio of complex heroines on separate journeys toward a single intertwined truth.Imagine living exclusively for others and waking up one day with a chance to start over. The terrifying new beginning reeks of abandonment and betrayal. The choice for Seattle resident Monica lingers between now and then. . .them and her. Izabel’s idyllic existence on Orcas Island is turned upside down during the birth of a friend’s child. Suddenly, pain rips through her own body, and life as she knows it shifts, hinting at a forgotten past and propelling her toward an uncertain future. On another island, young Daisy awakens surrounded by infinite shades of blue. Is she dreaming or has she stepped through the portal into a fantastical land where animals spout philosophy and a gruesome monster plots her destruction? Blue – a subtle psychological mind-bender where each heroine is her own worst enemy. Eccentric. Loveable. Unforgettable.

Buy, read, and discuss Blue

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


About the author, Kayce Stevens Hughlett Kayce Stevens Hughlett

Kayce Stevens Hughlett is a soulful and spirited woman. In her roles as psychotherapist, life coach, author, spiritual director, and speaker, she invites us to playfully and fearlessly cross the thresholds toward authentic living. A strong proponent of compassionate care in the world, Kayce’s live and online work focuses on the principle that we must live it to give it. Her early career began with a multi-national accounting firm to be later refined as the path of an artist. She delights in walking alongside others as they explore and unearth their own pathways toward passionate living.

Kayce is a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach and holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. She is the co-author of “Arts Centered Supervision” published in Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Expressive Arts to Spiritual Direction, as well as contributor to other collections and online publications. Kayce is a trained SoulCollage® facilitator, a dedicated supporter of the Soltura Foundation, and co-founder of the Soul Care Institute–a professional development program facilitating the formation, nourishment, and deep inner work of soul care practitioners. Raised in the heartland of Oklahoma, she now resides in Seattle, Washington with her family and muse, Aslan the Cat.

Connect with Kayce

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts MissMeliss

My friend Debra mentioned to me that one of her other friends had recently published a novel. “You read a lot,” she said, “you might like it.” I immediately went looking for that novel – Blue – on NetGalley, and was approved for an advance e-copy, which I devoured in one afternoon. Then I ‘met’ the author through our mutual participation in one of Debra’s projects, and asked her if she’d prefer a specific date for the review. She chose August 20th.

Weeks after reading Blue, there are several things that linger with me, the strongest being the use of the color, blue, as the through-connection in this novel which is really the story of three different women, Monica, Izabel, and Daisy.  I’m hesitant to elaborate because I don’t want to spoil anything, but Hughlett showed how good she is with crafting plot and writing nuances with that element.

All three women had distinct personalities, and I really liked the way each interacted with the world on her own (apparent) terms, but also had some kind of secret lurking. I wouldn’t consider this novel an out-and-out mystery, but it definitely had mysterious elements.

I find that it’s easier for me to treat Monica and Izabel’s sections as one unit for purposes of review -these women were both obviously hurting, and obviously seeking things they weren’t ready to admit they needed. I found that their lives were rich and interesting and yet felt incomplete. Each lived in surroundings that completely suited her. With Izabel, I was reminded of the line from the movie The Wedding Date about how every woman has the relationship she wants.

Daisy’s story, on the other hand, was completely surreal with talking animals and a personal island paradise. My vision of her story is blend of Chagall’s art and Lewis Carroll’s stories, except that she was a lot more introspective and interesting than Alice. (Of course, Alice was a child, so…there’s that.)

Overall, I found Hughlett’s writing voice to be engaging and interesting. The opening of the novel confused me a little, but also hooked me, and made me want to figure everything out.  Her characters – even the animals – felt very real. The three central women were especially dimensional.

In anyone else’s hands, the same story would have descended into cheap comedy or depressing sadness. From Kayce Stevens Hughlett’s deft hands comes, instead, a novel that manages to be poignant, compelling, puzzling, engaging, and incredibly readable.

Goes well with lemonade, blueberry pound cake, and fresh fruit, served al fresco in a lush garden.

 

 

 

Imaginary Things, by Andrea Lochen #review (@astorandblue)

About the book Imaginary Things Imaginary Things

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions (April 27, 2015)

From Andrea Lochen, award-winning author of The Repeat Year, comes an enchanting tale about family, love, and the courage it takes to face your demons and start over again.

Burned-out and completely broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural Wisconsin home for the summer—her four-year-old, David, in tow. Returning to Salsburg reminds Anna of simpler times—fireflies, picnics, Neapolitan ice cream—long before she met her unstable ex and everything changed. But the sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs awakens Anna from this small-town spell, and forces her to believe she has either lost her mind or can somehow see her son’s active imagination. Frightened, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, but what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son’s imaginary friends truly represent and hidden secrets about her own childhood.

Buy, read, and discuss Imaginary Things

Amazon | Astor + Blue | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Goodreads


About the author, Andrea Lochen Andrea Lochen

Andrea Lochen is the author of two novels, IMAGINARY THINGS and THE REPEAT YEAR. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and lives in Madison with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Andrea

Website | Facebook | Goodreads


My Thoughts

When the publicist from Astor + Blue contacted me about reviewing this novel, I was intrigued by the description, and immediately squeezed it into my schedule. I’m really glad I did, because this book is the perfect blend of straight up contemporary fiction and magical realism.

In Anna, author Andrea Lochen has given us a young woman who could be any young woman: a single mother who’s lost her most recent job and has had to slink back home to the grandparents who have always been the most stable influence in her life, in the tiny town where she was sent every time her own mother grew too bored/busy/distracted to be a parent herself.

As a daughter/granddaughter, Anna is still very much unfinished. She’s still at the point where she defines herself through her relationships with others, rather than having a truly mature self-identity. As a mother, Anna is fierce, protective, and loving, but also a bit permissive, partly as a reaction to her own upbringing.

While the Imaginary Things of the book’s title and description spring from Anna’s son David’s imagination, they are really there to serve as a sort of Greek chorus for Anna herself. It is through them that she learns to be stronger, more responsible, more open to love, and a better parent.

This novel isn’t about the destination, as much as it’s about the journey, and Anna’s companions on this journey include her son David, from whose imagination amazing things come, her grandparents Duffy and Winston, and her childhood friend (and so much more) Jamie, as well as the darker presence of David’s father, who is mentally unstable. Each of them is a fully-faceted character in his or her own right, and they interact so organically that at times if feels as though Lochen has drawn her characters from life.

The story is interesting and compelling, one of personal growth, maturation, the loss of innocence, and the acceptance of adulthood, but it’s never preachy, and never lectures.

If you pick up this novel expecting a traditional romantic comedy or romantic drama, you will be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you want a meaty contemporary read (almost literary really) with just enough magic to keep life interesting, you will not be disappointed. Imaginary Things is unimaginably awesome.

Goes well with Grilled cheese, tomato soup, and homemade lemonade.