Review & Giveaway: The Big Empty, by Loren C. Steffy

BNR The Big Empty

 

About the book, The Big Empty

  • Genre: Western / Rural Fiction / Small Town
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing Group
  • Date of Publication: May 25, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 304 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Big Empty, TheWhen Trace Malloy and Blaine Witherspoon collide on a desolate West Texas highway, their fender bender sets the tone for escalating clashes that will determine the future of the town of Conquistador.  

Malloy, a ranch manager and lifelong cowboy, knows that his occupation—and his community—are dying. He wants new- millennium opportunities for his son, even though he himself failed to summon the courage to leave familiar touchstones behind.

Witherspoon, an ambitious, Lexus-driving techie, offers a solution. He moves to Conquistador to build and run a state-of-the-art semiconductor plant that will bring prestige and high-paying technology jobs to revive the town—and advance his own career.

What neither man anticipates is the power the “Big Empty” will wield over their plans. The flat, endless expanse of dusty plain is as much a character in the conflict as are the locals struggling to subsist in this timeworn backwater and the high-tech transplants hell-bent on conquering it. While Malloy grapples with the flaws of his ancestors and his growing ambivalence toward the chip plant, Witherspoon falls prey to construction snafus, corporate backstabbing, and financial fraud. As they each confront personal fears, they find themselves united in the search for their own version of purpose in a uniquely untamable Texas landscape.

Praise for this book:

“The Big Empty” captures a moment when Big Tech seemingly promised everything. By turns funny and painful, Steffy’s story builds like an accelerating freight train, reaching a fast-paced climax.”   The Epoch Times 

 “Like the titular land itself, Steffy’s novel is uncompromising in spotlighting the strains that the drive toward material achievement puts on the individual in the face of nature’s whims.”  — Southern Review of Books

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About the author, Loren C. Steffy

author pic steffyLoren C. Steffy is the author of five nonfiction books. He is a writer at large for Texas Monthly, and his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. He has previously worked for news organizations including Bloomberg and the Houston Chronicle, and he is a managing director for 30 Point Strategies, where he leads the 30 Point Press publishing imprint. His is a frequent guest on radio and television programs and is the co-host of the Rational Middle podcast. The Big Empty is his first novel. Steffy holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. He lives in Wimberley, Texas, with his wife, three dogs and an ungrateful cat.

Connect with Loren:

WEBSITE  | FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER |  AMAZON  |  GOODREADS  |  INSTAGRAM | LINKEDIN |

Connect with Stoney Creek Publishing:

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My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellLoren C. Steffy’s debut novel is the perfect blend of his journalistic experience and a flair for good storytelling.

Set in the West Texas of the recent past, The Big Empty is a contemporary western, pitting modern cowboys against big technology, with a two-prong through line that addresses water access and the inevitability of modern development.

It’s a story Steffy tells well. The main characters literally crash into each other in the preface, and it’s obvious that these two men, cowboy Trace Malloy and techie Blaine Witherspoon will be confronting each other throughout the book.

What I found compelling about this story was that each man wants a better future for his family – Witherspoon wants to be settled in once place for a while, something he promised his wife – with a stable life for his family. Malloy wants a future for his son that isn’t tied to ranching, and includes college.

Each of these men also has different beliefs in how these things should be achieved, however. Malloy loves his West Texas home – the titular Big Empty – a flat stretch of land that’s home to cows, of course, but also to host of resident wildlife, including rattlesnakes and scorpions. Witherspoon, on the other hand, thinks technological progress is automatically good and right. In a way, he believes he’s bringing economic water to this proverbial desert.

Steffy has a good ear for dialogue, and that really helped to define the setting, as well as illustrating who was a native Texan and who was newcomer – a ‘homie’ in Malloy’s vernacular. He’s also presented, through this novel, an issue that is still very present in today’s world where we have corporations buying up small towns’ water supplies, and climate change has storms and droughts both increasing in strength and extremity.

It’s this combination of fiction and reality, as well as the conflict that comes between the characters, and how that conflict changes when they must unite – to a point – to fight a common enemy in the final third of the novel – that makes The Big Empty both full of literary craft, and as satisfying as a West Texas sunset.

Goes well with: Chicken fried steak, home fries, and a cold beer.


Giveaway

Giveaway The Big Empty

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Signed copy of The Big Empty and logo hat.
(US only; ends midnight CST 11/25/21)

 

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11/17/21 Excerpt All the Ups and Downs
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11/20/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
11/21/21 Deleted Scene Forgotten Winds
11/22/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
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11/23/21 Playlist The Clueless Gent
11/24/21 Review Bibliotica
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Review & Giveaway: The Yes Dare, a Pies, Books, & Jesus Book Club Novel by Kathleen Y’Barbo

The Yes Dare

 

About the book, The Yes Dare

The Yes Dare

  • Genre: Romance / Clean Romance
  • Date of Publication: July 15, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 246 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Have you ever wished for a second chance to fix something you’ve messed up or for the courage to say yes to something that just may change your life? Sometimes saying yes to the last thing you want can mean saying yes to exactly what you need.

Ryan “The Rocket” Sutton’s winning streak is legendary makes him the undisputed best quarterback in the NFL. However, thanks to one dumb mistake, he’s a failure as a husband to Coco, the only woman he’s ever loved. When a judge’s mistake in divorce paperwork means Coco is still his wife, Ryan makes up his mind to fix what he ruined. Ryan’s game plan doesn’t count on an internationally famous movie director’s camera crew following him as he competes for Coco’s love.

After spending most of her adult life as a football wife and mother to twin sons, fashionista Coco Sutton is learning how to be single and fabulous. Emphasis on Fabulous. The sports trophies, memorabilia, and heavy masculine wood furniture in the home she used to share with Ryan have been banished to the attic, and her home is now a cozy haven of plush candle-scented comfort. She’s got big plans that include owning a boutique or maybe an art gallery, but she never planned to take on the biggest challenge of her life: staying single. Then her best friend gives her a copy of a book called The Yes Dare, and all her plans are turned upside down.

From a Hollywood movie to the local spring event formerly known as the Cow Chip Toss Festival and a country crooner with a crush on Coco, will Ryan dodge the obstacles to win back the only woman he ever loved?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the Author, Kathleen Y’Barbo

Author Pic Y'BarboPublishers Weekly bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and bestselling author of more than one hundred books with over two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she is a member of the Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division, Texas A&M Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Women Former Students (Aggie Women), Texas Historical Society, Sisters in Crime, Faith Hope and Love Christian Writers, and American Christian Fiction Writers. She would also be a member of the Daughters of the American Republic, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and a few others if she would just remember to fill out the paperwork that Great Aunt Mary Beth has sent her more than once.

Kathleen and her hero in combat boots husband have their own surprise love story that unfolded on social media a few years back. They make their home just north of Houston, Texas, and are the parents, grandparents, and in-laws of a blended family of Texans, Okies, and a trio of adorable Londoners.

Connect with Kathleen:

Website | BookBub | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon | Goodreads | Pinterest


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI was a little trepidatious about starting The Yes Dare, because I’m not really a sports person. (Well, I like the froufrou expensive sports like figure skating), but even though the main character, Ryan, is a professional athlete I found him to be so engaging that the sports stuff wasn’t bogging me down at all. In fact, I was enchanted by the entire story.

So many romances focus on first love or love at first sight. This novel is a refreshing change, because the love story at the heart of the novel, that of Ryan and Coco, is a return to love, with adult characters who have real life experience. As someone who is old enough to be an empty-nester (except that we never had children) I really appreciated seeing mature characters at the center of a really good story.

As engaging as I found the character of Ryan, I found Coco to be even more so, because she’s really discovering who she is both in and out of the roles of wife and mother. I’ve always believed that you cannot be happy in any role unless you’re happy being just yourself, and this woman’s arc really proves that to be true.

Some people may feel that a title billed as a “clean” romance is going to be insipid, but The Yes Dare is absolutely wonderful. The leads are smart, interesting people, the supporting characters are dimensional, and there’s as much humor – the organic “comes from life” kind – as there is personal and family drama.

One thing I really appreciated was the way the author, Kathleen Y’Barbo allowed both Ryan and Coco to acknowledge their own flaws and foibles. It’s often said that the only people who know the truth of a relationship are the people in it. In The Yes Dare we got to peek at the truth of a complicated marriage – one where both parties have made mistakes, and both parties are eager to grow.

Personal growth is a key element of this novel. Every character finishes the story in a better place than where they started, though some of the changes are more subtle than others.

If you’re looking for a sensational romance with heightened emotions and starry-eyed naifs, this is NOT the book for you. If, however, you want a really satisfying read with grown-up characters and heartfelt feelings, you will love The Yes Dare. I certainly did.

Goes well with: Coffee and pie. Definitely pie.


Giveaway

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Grand Prize:
Full PB&J series, autographed by Kathleen Y’Barbo

and the real Bonnie Sue.
Three Winners:
Autographed copy of The Yes Dare
(US only; ends midnight, CST, 11/12/21)

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Review: The Lighthouse by Christopher Parker

About the book, The Lighthouse

Lighthouse_Book

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Beacon Press Limited (October 22, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 368 pages

Amy Tucker is struggling to put her life back together following the death of her mother. The loss has left the eighteen-year-old heartbroken, and she doesn’t know if her world will ever be whole again.

Meanwhile, in Seabrook, a small town famous for its haunted lighthouse, Ryan Porter lives a simple but busy life, maintaining the ranch which he shares with his father. Separated by hundreds of miles, yet drawn to each other by forces they can’t understand, Amy and Ryan spend a magical day together and quickly forge a deep connection. But all is not what it seems in Seabrook and when strange events begin happening around town, they question if their meeting really was an accident at all.

Trusting in themselves and in each other, they attempt to unravel the mystery of why fate has brought them together, and in doing so they embark on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery, a journey that leads straight to the heart of Seabrook’s mysterious lighthouse where they uncover the most shocking secret of all… a secret that will change the course of their lives forever.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Christopher Parker

Christopher ParkerChristopher Parker was born in Takapuna, a seaside suburb in Auckland, New Zealand, where he currently lives with his daughter. Having loved writing stories growing up, it was a walk along Takapuna beach and a chance glimpse at a distant lighthouse that made him want to revisit his childhood passion and try his hand at producing a novel. Nearly 10 years on from that fateful stroll, he is proud to finally share his story.

Connect with Christopher:

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My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI’m a sucker for lighthouses, and have even visited several, so when Simone from BooksForward PR offered me the chance to read Christopher Parker’s debut novel, The Lighthouse, I was happy to accept. I’m glad I did, because this haunting, hopeful story was just what I needed this fall, and while it’s not really scary, it has enough supernatural touches that it is perfect for a rainy-day read… especially in October.

I loved that all the major characters in this novel are flawed. Amy Tucker, age eighteen, is grieving for the mother she recently lost to a car accident. Her father, Kevin, a state police detective, is grieving the loss of his wife, and the apparent disconnection between himself and Amy. Then there’s Ryan, who is caring for his ailing father and trying desperately to save his horse ranch, which is in dire straits.

While Kevin disappears for the bulk of the story, his influence is felt throughout the tale. Amy is always concerned that something dangerous has happened to her father, clearly caring for him despite the communication issues the two have. I really liked how plausible Amy felt. Moody, grieving, acting out in small ways but still essentially a good kid, she tries to help herself, and ends up helping others.

Similarly, Ryan, with all he has to deal with, is still a good person. His love of animals is beautiful to see, and his distress over a missing horse is palpable.

Author Christopher Parker has created a cozy (with ominous undertones) village in Seabrook, making the coastal locale a character in its own right. He’s also very deft with dialogue and has created very real, dimensional characters whom the reader roots for from the very beginning.

Haunting, sometimes even spooky, but also cozy hopeful and full of love, The Lighthouse is a fast read defining its own genre: the cozy neo-gothic.

Goes well with: hot chocolate and pbj sandwiches (need not be deep-fried)

Review & Giveaway: Since You’ve Been Gone, by Tari Faris

BNR Since You've Been Gone

 

About the book, Since You’ve Been Gone

  • Genre: Fiction / Christian / Contemporary Romance
  • Publisher: Revell
  • Date of Publication: September 7, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 336 pages
  • Series: Restoring Heritage
  • Scroll down for giveaway!

Cover Hi Res Since You've Been GoneWith her vision and his know-how, this thing just might work . . .

Leah Williams is back in the quaint town of Heritage, Michigan, and ready to try again to make her business a success. But blank slates are hard to come by, and a piece of her past is waiting for her there. Heir to the Heritage Fruits company, Jonathan Kensington is the guy who not only made Leah’s past difficult, but he also seems determined to complicate her present as well.

In order to avoid forcing a buyout of Leah’s building, Jon will have to strike a compromise. Can the two of them work together? Or will their troubled past set the tone for their future?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | ChristianBook.com | Other Affiliates | Goodreads


About the author, Tari Faris

Author pic FarisTari Faris is the author of You Belong with Me and Until I Met You. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers and My Book Therapy, she is the projects manager for My Book Therapy, writes for learnhowtowriteanovel.com, and is a 2017 Genesis Award winner. She has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and lives in the Phoenix, Arizona, area with her husband and their three children. Although she lives in the Southwest now, she lived in a small town in Michigan for 25 years.

Connect with Tari:

WEBSITE FACEBOOK  TWITTER   AMAZONGOODREADS◆  INSTAGRAM BOOKBUB


My Thoughts

MissMeliss2021Love abounds in Heritage, MI, in Since You’ve Been Gone, the latest addition to Tari Faris’s engaging “Restoring Heritage” series of romances.  There’s love between old friends, new friends, a treasured family business, and even love for the town itself, and it’s all wrapped in a package that manages to be sincere without being sickly-sweet.

What I really appreciated about this novel was that every one of the main characters had some kind of flaw or vulnerability. Leah isn’t great at ordered thinking and logical planning, Jon is standing in the shadows of his deceased father, Colby is coming from a professional scandal while Madison dealing with an intense personal situation. This was a refreshing change from the formula romances where everyone is model-perfect and equally plastic. In this novel the characters are believable and dimensional and it’s easy to become invested in their stories and outcomes.

I also liked that there were married couples who were friends of the four single characters. Nate (a pastor) and Olivia along with Hannah and Luke (and less so Leah’s sister Caroline and her husband) offer support and wisdom to the others, but the friendships mix and match and it’s never only married folks or only single folks when there are gatherings.

I haven’t read the previous two novels in this series, but  something notable about this book that I suspect runs through the whole series is that the town of Heritage is, itself, a character. The connections to the town run deep, and many of the characters are passionate about their love for their home. I’ve lived in towns like that, and I hope to live in one again. Sure, the neighbors know everything that’s going on, but there’s something really lovely about it as well.

Well paced and rich in detail, Since You’ve Been Gone is a satisfying treat of a novel.

Goes well with: hot tea and homemade pastries.


Giveaway

ONE WINNER:
A copy of the whole Restoring Heritage series,
a $10 Starbucks gift card,
and a bookish sticker pack!
(
US only. Ends 10/22/21.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Cristina Morato

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

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

About the translator, Andrea Rosenberg

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


My Thoughts

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

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

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

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


Tour Schedule

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

Friday, September 3rd: Seaside Book Nook – excerpt

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

Monday, September 6th: @babygotbooks4life

Wednesday, September 8th: Literary Quicksand

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Thursday, September 16th: @msanniecathryn

Friday, September 17th: Maryann Writes

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Friday, September 24th: @jenniaahava

Monday, September 27th: Eliot’s Eats

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Thursday, September 30th: @rickys_radical_reads

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

Monday, October 4th: Reading is My Remedy

 

Review and Giveaway: Trace of Doubt, by DiAnn Mills

Trace of Doubt Banner

About the book, Trace of Doubt

  • Publisher: Tyndale House
  • Pub Date: September 7, 2021
  • Pages: 432 pages
  • Scroll for the Giveaway!

Cover - Trace of Doubt Fifteen years ago, Shelby Pearce confessed to murdering her brother-in-law and was sent to prison. Now she’s out on parole and looking for a fresh start in the small town of Valleysburg, Texas. But starting over won’t be easy for an ex-con.

FBI Special Agent Denton McClure was a rookie fresh out of Quantico when he was first assigned the Pearce case. He’s always believed Shelby embezzled five hundred thousand dollars from her brother-in-law’s account. So he’s going undercover to befriend Shelby, track down the missing money, and finally crack this case.

But as Denton gets closer to Shelby, he begins to have a trace of doubt about her guilt. Someone has Shelby in their crosshairs. It’s up to Denton to stop them before they silence Shelby—and the truth—forever.

Praise for this book:

“Filled with high stakes, high emotion, and high intrigue.” – LYNN H. BLACKBURN, award-winning author of UNKNOWN THREAT and ONE FINAL BREATH

Trace of Doubt is a suspense reader’s best friend. From page one until the end, the action is intense and the storyline keeps you guessing.” – EVA MARIE EVERSON, bestselling author of FIVE BRIDES and DUST

“DiAnn Mills serves up a perfect blend of action, grit, and heart. . . Trace of Doubt takes romantic suspense to a whole new level.” – JAMES R. HANNIBAL, award-winning author of THE PARIS BETRAYAL

“Well-researched . . . with some surprising twists along the way. In Trace of Doubt, Mills weaves together a tale of faith, intrigue, and suspense that her fans are sure to enjoy.” – STEVEN JAMES, award-winning author of SYNAPSE and EVERY WICKED MAN

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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Watch the Trailer for Trace of Doubt

 


About the Author, DiAnn Mills

DiAnn MillsDiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Retreats: Marketing, Speakers, Nonfiction and Novelist with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion for helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

Connect with DiAnn:

Blog Posts | Facebook | Instagram | Youtube | Pinterest | Goodreads  | LinkedIn | BookBub | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellDiAnn Mills’ latest novel Trace of Doubt, is an intense thriller that’s equal parts mystery, faith, and love, that keeps you invested from the prologue to the epilogue.

Written in first person, mostly from the point of view of recent parolee Shelby and her neighbor, Denton (who may be more than he seems) this novel has everything – believable characters, a small-town setting, a gripping mystery, a dash of romance, puppies, horses and great coffee, and author Mills has wrapped all of that up in a meaty (432 pages) package that was a pleasure to read.

This book is categorized, in part, as Christian fiction, and it’s easy to see why because Shelby’s strong faith in God is both her her strength and part of the glue that binds her to her two biggest supporters, Edie, who is a landlady and friend, and Amy Jo, who runs the local bakery-cafe, but it’s not at all preachy. Their faith is simply part of these Texas women (and men) , and it’s part of what makes them feel so real. As someone who has always struggled with faith, and doesn’t mesh with organized religion, I appreciated the way the author made it a critical part of the novel, and and recommend this book to readers of all persuasions.

What I loved was the detailed character work that the author put into this novel. I really liked and sympathized with Shelby, and was rooting for her from day one. She’s much more than a classic underdog, and I’d happily share a pot of coffee with her. Denton, also, was drawn with real dimension. He felt like a “weathered” soul to me, and I was as committed to his story as I was to Shelby’s. The  town sheriff, local cop (also Edie’s brother), and parole officer were equally believable characters, and even the townsfolk, both kind and cruel had perfect moments that really let you see them.

I also enjoyed the pacing of this story. It’s an easy read, in terms of being accessible, but it’s also pretty long. At no point did I feel the urge to skip ahead and see what happened, and I felt the clues and twists in the narrative were all placed well, serving the story, and never letting the reader become too complacent.

If this had been JUST a romance, or JUST a mystery, or JUST a redemption story, Trace of Doutbt would still have been a worthy read. That the author combined all three elements into a satisfying and well-crafted whole just makes the whole thing a literary treat.

Goes well with: a cup of coffee with a dollop of half & half, and a lemon tart.


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Review & Giveaway: No Names to Be Given, by Julia Brewer Daily

Tour Banner: No Names to be Given

About the book, No Names to Be Given

  • Categories: Women’s Fiction / Vintage Fiction / Adoption / 1960s
  • Publisher: Admission Press Inc.
  • Pub Date: August 3, 2021
  • Pages: 334 pages
  • Scroll for the Giveaway

Cover Hi Res No Names to be Given1965. Sandy runs away from home to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend. Becca falls in love with the wrong man. And Faith suffers a devastating attack. With no support and no other options, these three young, unwed women meet at a maternity home hospital in New Orleans where they are expected to relinquish their babies and return home as if nothing transpired.

But such a life-altering event can never be forgotten, and no secret remains buried forever. Twenty-five years later, the women are reunited by a blackmailer, who threatens to expose their secrets and destroy the lives they’ve built. That shattering revelation would shake their very foundations—and reverberate all the way to the White House.

Told from the three women’s perspectives in alternating chapters, this mesmerizing story is based on actual experiences of women in the 1960s who found themselves pregnant but unmarried, pressured by family and society to make horrific decisions. How that inconceivable act changed women forever is the story of No Names to Be Given, a heartbreaking but uplifting novel of family and redemption.

Praise for this book:

A gorgeous, thrilling, and important novel! These strong women will capture your heart. Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas.

An insightful and sympathetic view offered into the lives of those who were adopted and those who adopted them. Pam Johnson, author of Justice for Ella.

A novel worthy of a Lifetime movie adaptation. Jess Hagemann, author of Headcheese.

Readers can expect deep knowledge of the world the characters inhabitSara Kocek, author of Promise Me Something.

This book is a relevant read and one that will keep readers guessing page after page until the very end. The US Review of Books

Today’s young women, especially, need to absorb No Names to Be Given. Midwest Book Review, D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Julia Brewer Daily

Author photo Daily

Julia Brewer Daily is a Texan with a southern accent. She holds a B.S. in English and a M.S. degree in Education from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has been a Communications Adjunct Professor at Belhaven University, Jackson, Mississippi, and Public Relations Director of the Mississippi Department of Education and Millsaps College, a liberal arts college in Jackson, MS.  She was the founding director of the Greater Belhaven Market, a producers’ only market in a historic neighborhood in Jackson, and even shadowed Martha Stewart. As the Executive Director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi (300 artisans from 19 states) which operates the Mississippi Craft Center, she wrote their stories to introduce them to the public. Daily is an adopted child from a maternity home hospital in New Orleans. She searched and found her birth mother and through a DNA test, her birth father’s family, as well.  A lifelong southerner, she now resides on a ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, with her husband Emmerson and Labrador retrievers, Memphis Belle and Texas Star.

Connect with Julia:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | Amazon | Goodreads

 

 


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellNo Names to Be Given is a beautiful, haunting novel about three very different women who find themselves in the same maternity home in New Orleans in the mid-1960s. Sandy, Faith, and Becca couldn’t be more different – one is escaping an abusive home, one suffers a horrible attack, and one falls in love with someone that society says she shouldn’t, but all find themselves alone and pregnant at a time when women were pressured to make horrible sacrifices in order to maintain the expectations of American culture in a time that is both bordering on free, and still holding onto the even deeper social structures of earlier times.

Julia Brewer Daily chose to write this book so that the point of view alternates between these women a chapter at a time, and in doing so, she first lets readers learn who they are and where they come from. In another author’s hands the story might have ended when they met, but Daily’s tale is far from over at that point. Rather, we get to see the devastation each experiences, and then we get to jump into the future and meet the older versions of the the women’s babies, and see how they grew up, and how (or if) they reconnect with their birth mothers.

Daily does a great job of setting the time period. Her scenes in the 60s are full of the social issues of the day, including racism and the civil rights movement, and as she moves into later times, she enhances her storytelling by mentioning  then-newly-developed DNA testing as a means of connecting mothers and the children they were forced to part with.

Issues of adoption and single motherhood run through the entire novel, of course. As the daughter of a single mother, who nearly faced the same ultimatum, but ultimately chose to keep me, it’s a story that really resonated with me. It was obviously a very personal story for the author, as well, for she was adopted from a maternity home.

It’s this personal connection that makes this story sing. Each of the women is compelling and interesting. It’s easy to like them, to be concerned when they make poor choices, and to root for them when they find success in any aspect of life. While the stigma of unwed motherhood has lessened somewhat today, echoes of it do remain, and this book made it clear how it felt to be in that position.

Well-written and well-paced, I feel this novel is more  than entertaining. It’s a gripping story that is as much social commentary as compelling fiction. It is intensely female, but deals with universal subjects. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the culture of America in the 1960’s, as a counterpoint to all the stories about free love and wild adventures (not to invalidate those stories), and make it required reading for anyone in a women’s studies program.

Goes well with: a shrimp po’boy and sweet tea.


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8/21/21 Review Bibliotica
8/22/21 Excerpt The Page Unbound
8/23/21 Excerpt That’s What She’s Reading
8/23/21 Review The Clueless Gent
8/24/21 Guest Post Forgotten Winds
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8/25/21 Review Jennie Reads
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Review: Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir Inspired by True Events, by Brent Spiner

About the book, Fan Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

Praise for this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Brent Spiner

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

Connect with Brent

Facebook | Twitter

 


My ThoughtsMissMeliss2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Review: There Will Be Lobster, by Sara Arnell

About the book, There Will Be Lobster

• Publisher: Savio Republic (July 20, 2021)
• Hardcover: 176 pages

There-Will-Be-Lobster-coverYou know her. You’ve seen her. You may even see yourself in her.

If you’re arriving to the midlife crisis party—the one that’s serving low self-esteem, desperation, unreliable behavior, forgetfulness, carelessness, and the loneliness of loss—the stories and anecdotes in this memoir will assure you that you are not alone.

For Sara Arnell, it took a rogue lobster, a dying rock star, an eighteen-pound tumor, a meditation guru, a famous medium, and a former monk to put her on a path toward light, hope, and healing. If reading this book helps even one person, according to Sara, then telling this story is all worth it.

Praise for this book:

“Sara Arnell is the only writer I know who can make self-deprecation and wisdom look like the same thing. There Will Be Lobster is a darkly funny memoir with a big heart, and it’s the exact comeback story we all need right now.” —David Hollander, author of Anthropica and L.I.E.

“This book is a deeply personal story that’s not afraid to show you the crazy moments that we all have, but often don’t admit to. Read this memoir if you want to learn how honesty, vulnerability, and sheer perseverance can help you step into your light and illuminate a new path—one that is happy, healthy, and full of hope.” —André Leon Talley, author of New York Times bestseller The Chiffon Trenches and former Vogue editor-at-large

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Simon & Schuster | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Sara Arnell

Sara-Arnell-AP-713x1024While working alongside acclaimed fashion icon Andre Leon Talley at Vanity Fair magazine in her mid-20’s, Sara was offered an opportunity to write a press release for fashion designer, Donna Karan, who was about to launch one of her acclaimed collections. This moment marked the beginning of Sara’s impressive thirty-year career in fashion, writing and advertising.

Sara worked as Chief Strategy Officer at one of New York’s most renowned and successful advertising agencies, eventually rising to CEO. Under her long tenure, she broke new ground, winning awards and global recognition for her agency and its clients. She traveled the world, working with some of the best known and most beloved consumer brands such as Pepsi, Samsung, McDonalds and Goop.

Today, Sara is a Professor at The New School’s Parsons School of Design and continues to consult with the world’s top brands on marketing strategy and brand design. She regularly advises start-ups and entrepreneurs and has served on several boards for educational institutions. She is a sought after speaker and founder of Karmic, a platform for ‘what-you-do-comes-back-to-you’ ideas and advice. Sara has a BA from Skidmore College and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the mother of three children and one small poodle.

Connect with Sara:

Find out more about Sara at her website, and follow her on Instagram.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThe thing that struck me most about Sara Arnell’s serio-comic memoir, There Will Be Lobster, is that her conversational style immediately makes the reader feel like a friend, rather than an outsider peeking into someone’s life. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Arnell breezy, as that implies a level of fluffiness that this book does not have, but her written words flow as easily as spoken ones do.

The second thing that struck me about this book is that it’s so relatable. I don’t have children, adult or otherwise, but I know what it is to want to reconnect with family, and I know that sometimes a good buzz can cloud the recollection of a bad night, or enhance the memory of a good one. Which is not to imply that Arnell is drunk throughout this memoir. The book simply opens with the memory of a drunken experience.

Written as a series of anecdotal essays, this book doesn’t really have a plot – it’s a memoir, after all – but there is a theme of aging, of self-awareness, and of wanting to restore severed ties to people and places once beloved.

This book isn’t for every woman, but it’s for a broad spectrum of women of all ages, who need a nudge toward being honest with themselves about who they are and what they really want out of life.

Less self-help than simply setting an example, There Will Be Lobster is both witty and engaging, and I highly recommend it, especially to women my age (I’ll be 51 next Tuesday.)

Goes well with: A lobster roll and a bottle of your favorite microbrew, but nothing too hoppy.


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Review: Eva and Eve, by Julie Metz

About the book, Eva and Eve

• Publisher: Atria Books (April 6, 2021)
• Hardcover: 320 pages

Eva and EveThe author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Perfection returns with an unforgettable account of her late mother’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Austria and the parallels she sees in present-day America.

To Julie Metz, her mother, Eve, was the quintessential New Yorker. Eve rarely spoke about her childhood and it was difficult to imagine her living anywhere else except Manhattan, where she could be found attending Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera or inspecting a round of French triple crème at Zabar’s.

In truth, Eve had endured a harrowing childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna. After her mother passed, Julie discovered a keepsake book filled with farewell notes from friends and relatives addressed to a ten-year-old girl named Eva. This long-hidden memento was the first clue to the secret pain that Julie’s mother had carried as a refugee and immigrant, shining a light on a family that had to persevere at every turn to escape the antisemitism and xenophobia that threatened their survival.

Interweaving personal memoir and family history, Eva and Eve vividly traces one woman’s search for her mother’s lost childhood while revealing the resilience of our forebears and the sacrifices that ordinary people are called to make during history’s darkest hours.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Julie Metz

Julie MetzJulie Metz is the New York Times bestselling author of PERFECTION. Her new release is EVA AND EVE: A SEARCH FOR MY MOTHER’S LOST CHILDHOOD AND WHAT A WAR LEFT BEHIND. Julie is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has written for publications including The New York Times, Dame, and Salon and essays have appeared in THE MOMENT and THE HOUSE THAT MADE ME. She lives with her family in the Hudson Valley.

Connect with Julie:

Website | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThis review is very late in coming. My life has been utter chaos since February with too-infrequent moments of calm. Apologies to the author, and to TLC Book Reviews, which provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Julie Metz’s book Eva and Eve is not your average holocaust survivor story, though it would be a worthy read in any case. Rather, it’s the author’s personal story of learning about her mother as the woman she knew and the girl she once was. As someone who has recently experienced a lot of loss, I’m no stranger to the surprises we find hidden away in our parents’ and grandparents’ houses. My family is Italian and Catholic, Metz’s family is Austrian and Jewish, but her story resonated with me because what we share, though for me it’s one generation removed, is the experience of being related to recent (so to speak) immigrants.

But you don’t have to be the daughter or granddaughter of immigrants to appreciate this book, because, from word  one, Eva and Eve is a work of both art and love.

Let’s start with the language. I’ve both read this and listened to the audiobook, and the language Metz uses is both beautiful and lyrical, while also being completely honest and authentic. There are passages that are serious, even brutal, and moments where levity takes over, and both in the extrapolated, even lightly fictionalized stories of her mother’s (and grandmother’s) youth, and in her own, contemporary observations there is a perfect flow, and graceful pace.

Metz’s observations were actually one of my favorite part of this book, because she isn’t just reciting research, she’s immersed herself in history and exploration, of the places where her family originated, and of the remaining people who knew them or at least knew of them.

One of my favorite examples of Metz’s voice is this line that appears about 2/3 into the book: The houses looked different right away – now stone and stucco – and the people on the narrow streets dressed like Italians, somehow more put together than rumpled Americans, even in jeans and t-shirts. It’s a line that has nothing to do with the details of the history the author is trying to discover, but everything to do with how she sees the world, and I love the way it’s presented.

Eva and Eve is not an average holocaust survivor story. Nor is it a typical memoir. Rather, it’s an artful, loving dive into the history of the author’s own family, and a deeply satisfying read that almost every woman will find somehow relatable.

Goes well with: espresso and anisette toast.


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