Review & Giveaway: A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers by Babette Fraser Hale

BNR A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers

About the book, A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers

  • Publisher: Winedale Publishing
  • Pages: 216
  • Pub Date: March 1st, 2021
  • Categories: Short Stories / Literary Fiction
  • Scroll for Giveaway!

Cover A Wall of Bright Dead feathersEach of the flawed, fully human characters we meet in these twelve stories faces a moment of life-altering transformation. Most are newcomers to the scenic, rolling countryside of central Texas whose charms they romanticize, even as the troubles they hoped to leave behind persist.

A young pianist struggles to keep her emotionally fragile boyfriend alive; a displaced New Yorker’s ambivalence with guns results in two fractured families; an oil man gambles on his estranged daughter’s integrity. The complicated history of this German-Czech region, where the stories are set, anchors the experience of two young artists who make a costly decision in 1862.

In graceful and precise, often lyrical, prose, Fraser Hale immerses us in lives whose superficial privilege provides no real protection against the unexpected.

* * *

When women are alone, unencumbered and unbeholden to anyone, they engage in intense internal reflection and show reverence for nature—and during these scenes, Hale’s language is luminescent (Kirkus Reviews).

Praise for this book:

“Hale shows a great respect for her characters and for the difficulty of their deceptively ordered existence, as well as for the problems they suffer because so much cannot be spoken.” — Francine Prose, on “Silences”

“A vivid set of tales about connection to other people and to the natural world…Hale’s lovely prose shows a keen eye for detail…” – Kirkus Reviews

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Brazos Bookstore | Winedale Publishing | Goodreads


About the author, Babette Fraser Hale

Author Pic G. HaleBabette Fraser Hale’s fiction has won the Meyerson Award from Southwest Review, a creative artist award from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, and been recognized among the “other distinguished stories” in Best American Short Stories, 2015. Her story “Drouth” is part of the New York Public Library’s digital collection. Her nonfiction has appeared in Texas Monthly, Houston City, and the Houston Chronicle. She writes a personal essay column for the Fayette County Record.

Connect with Babette

Website | Facebook | Blog


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI love short stories. They really show off an author’s range and adaptability, and when they work, they sing in ways that novels don’t. This collection, A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers, sings in many ways.

Most obvious is the author’s use of language. Kirkus reviews calls it both “precise” and “lyrical” and those are words, I too, would use to describe Fraser Hale’s writing style. She doesn’t just give you text, she wraps her words around you like a cloak and lets you steep in them, experiencing different characters and scenarios.

In this collection, while there was no real connection between the different characters all of the stories included people who were new to Texas, and that choice let  Fraser Hale’s writing really shine, because she made Texas itself if not a character, certainly more than a setting, and just as the author’s dialogue was perfect for the various times depicted, so, too, was her vivid description, from the house in the very first story in this book, on through the rest of the tales.

What I appreciated about A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers is that while the stories varied in length, none felt over-long or too short. Some were deeper than others, some were lighter, most involved strong women facing problems, whether they solved them or not, and there is no wrong note in this symphony of stories. If I had to pick a favor, it would be the fourth story in the book – “Silences,” which juxtaposes a mother’s day-to-day life with a husband who isn’t that great, with her son who is adjusting to country life in less healthy ways than she’d like.  It opens with a description of  morning and “the hum and chortle of birds” and closes with an abrupt, horrific twist, and in between those two things is a perfect example of how seemingly mundane activities can be made fascinating by a writer with talent and skill.

Overall, this is a collection of short stories to savor, the kind that makes you want to fill a bathtub with bubbles, and bring a mug of tea or glass of wine into it with you, while you soak and read.

Goes well with: Black Forest ham, Havarti cheese, olives, and a glass of Topo Chico with lime.


Giveaway

TWO WINNERS each receive a signed bookplate

+ $20 Brazos Bookstore Gift Card to buy the book

 (US only. Ends midnight, CDT, 4/2/2021)

Giveaway A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers

 

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Visit the Other Great Blogs on This Tour

Click to visit the Lone Star Literary Life Tour Page for direct links to each post on this tour, updated daily, or visit the blogs directly:

3/23/21 Author Video The Page Unbound
3/23/21 Excerpt Texas Book Lover
3/24/21 Review Book Bustle
3/24/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
3/25/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
3/25/21 Author Interview Chapter Break Book Blog
3/26/21 Review Missus Gonzo
3/27/21 Excerpt All the Ups and Downs
3/28/21 Guest Post The Clueless Gent
3/29/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
3/29/21 Author Interview Hall Ways Blog
3/30/21 Review Reading by Moonlight
3/31/21 Review Bibliotica
3/31/21 Guest Post Librariel Book Adventures
4/1/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
4/1/21 Review Forgotten Winds

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Review: A Little Birdie Told Me, by Sharley Scott

A Little Birdie Told Me

 

About the book, A Little Birdie Told Me

A Little Birdie Told Me_ FINALIt’s 1988. The era of young love, with Scott and Charlene melting hearts in Neighbours, and a new princess for the Royal Family. With Bros, Madonna and Wet Wet Wet in the charts, and children hoping for Ghostbusters’ toys in their stockings.

But it’s not all fun for Belinda. If her life was a board game, she’s losing at snakes and ladders. Once she’d been working her way up one of those ladders but, thanks to her snake-like polytechnic lecturer, she’s toppled from the rungs. Now she works in an old people’s home, where her chief duties involve cleaning toilets and emptying commodes.

At least her lovely colleague, Joe, offers excitement in her otherwise dreary life. But Belinda can’t believe he’d be interested in someone like her. Not when her pretty friend, Tracey, only has to glance at a man to have him fall for her.

But just when it seems things are looking up for Belinda, the residents’ precious possessions start to go missing. Then she witnesses a disturbing incident and doesn’t know what to do. Luckily, Belinda has Joe to guide her – until she discovers that he’s hiding a secret, one that forces her to make an agonizing decision.

Will she continue to hide in the shadows, never speaking out – or will she put her future on the line to stand up for what is right? After all, she’s caring for a generation that’s lived through two wars. Now it’s time to fight for them.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Goodreads


About the author, Sharley Scott

Sharley Scott is the author of the Devon Seaside Guesthouse novels – Bedlam & Breakfast and B&Bers Behaving Madly – and the Maddie Meadows series.

Sharley is a guesthouse owner in South Devon. She is thankful to have been blessed with lots of amazing and kind-hearted guests, who are nothing like some of the fictional characters featured in the Devon Seaside Guesthouse series.

The Two Lives of Maddie Meadows – and its sequel The Gift of a Rose – portray the life of a working single mum. Some of the mischief Maddie’s little one, Josh, gets up to will be familiar to all parents. In real life, Sharley has carried out the threats she made to her son decades ago and now gets her own back him by telling tales to his girlfriend (some of the incidents in the books are inspired by him), although he returns the favour by recounting utterly embarrassing stories about his mum.

Sharley’s latest novel ‘A Little Birdie Told Me…’ is being published in February 2021. This book goes back in time to the late eighties: a time of fun music, interesting fashion, strange hairstyles and no internet or mobile phones. Fancy having to talk to each other! (Says the author who frequents Facebook too often).

Connect with Sharley

Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI’ve read and reviewed Sharley Scott’s work before, and her books are always absorbing and well-written.

A Little Birdie Told Me is no exception. Protagonist Belinda, like her story, is at times frustrating, funny, and feisty. She is a completely realistic character, and while her best friend Tracey almost slips into the realm of stereotypes, she is also the perfect foil for her friend.

What I really loved about Belinda, and what drew me into this novel, was her flaws. She’s not quick to stand up for herself, she lacks self-confidence, and she tends to mumble. Put together, these things don’t scream “leading lady,” and yet, under Scott’s deft hand what could be a tragic character becomes a romantic heroine.

While Belinda is the focus of the story, I enjoyed meeting Joe, wanted to throttle Belinda’s coworkers, and loved meeting all of the different residents of this retirement home, and seeing them interact with our young lead.

Like the last Scott novel I read, this book is not a predictable, cookie-cutter romance, but a deep, personal story with an element of romance running through it. The dialogue is convincing, and the plot is well-paced, with just enough exposition to keep things clear without ruining the experience for readers who prefer to learn things from the characters’ activities.

A Little Birdie Told Me is a fast, compelling read, perfect for a rainy weekend.

Goes well with: egg salad sandwiches and fresh lemonade enjoyed while lounging on a blanket in the park.

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Review: All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone, by John J. Jacobson – Giveaway

BNR All the Cowboys Ain't Gone

 

About the book, All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone

  • Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
  • Pages: 352
  • Date of Publication: February 23, 2021Cover All the Cowboys Ain't Gone 1 0223
  • Categories: Historical Fiction / Action Adventure / Western
  • Scroll for the Giveaway!!

All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone is the rollicking adventure story of Lincoln Smith, a young Texan living at the beginning of the twentieth century, who thinks of himself as the last true cowboy. He longs for the days of the Old West, when men like his father, a famous Texas Ranger, lived by the chivalric code. Lincoln finds himself hopelessly out of time and place in the fast-changing United States of the new century. When he gets his heart broken by a sweetheart who doesn’t appreciate his anachronistic tendencies, he does what any sensible young romantic would do: he joins the French Foreign Legion. On his way to an ancient and exotic country at the edge of the Sahara, Lincoln encounters a number of curious characters and strange adventures, from a desert hermit who can slow up time to a battle with a crocodile cult that worships the god of death. He meets them all with his own charming brand of courage and resourcefulness.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Bookshop.org | Goodreads


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About the author, John J. Jacobson

John J. JacobsonThough John J. Jacobson didn’t join the French Foreign Legion after being jilted by a girlfriend, or over his displeasure of missing the last great cattle drive, he has, borrowing Churchill’s phrase, lived a rather variegated life. He was born in Nevada, grew up in the West, surfed big waves in Hawaii, circled the world thrice, survived the sixties and seventies, corporate America, and grad school. Among other degrees he has an MA in Renaissance literature from Claremont Graduate University.

Connect with John:

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads / BookBub


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI don’t read a lot of westerns but the description of All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone really hooked me, so I asked to review it, and wow! What a fantastic adventure this book is!

Protagonist Lincoln Smith is introduced to us as a young man with a vivid imagination, and a dislike of trains. In fact the first time we meet him, he’s “attacking” one with his pint-sized bow and arrows. Very quickly, we see that while be may balk (as many children and teens do) at being in formal school sessions – run by his mother – he’s inquisitive, intelligent, and interested in the world around him, albeit a version of the world that is already disappearing when the novel opens in 1888.

What follows are a series of adventures that pit Lincoln against the ever changing American – and world – culture and technology, as well as his own dreams and desires. From the open spaces of his native Texas to the exotic locales seen after he really does join the Foreign Legion, Lincoln’s real antagonist is himself, and that story is fascinating.

What I loved about this novel was the language. I could hear the accents in Lincoln’s speech and his mother’s corrections of his phrasing. “Dern” may not technically be cussing, as he points out in an early scene, but his mother doesn’t want him using it anyway. Those organic conversations are universal – what parent hasn’t had such a chat with their child? – and for me they really “sold” this story, grounding it in emotional truth.

Author Jacobson has a knack for vivid description, as well, and I never had a problem visualizing  any setting.

At times funny, poignant, hopeful, and somewhat resigned, All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone makes you wistful for a period in American history long since past, but one that still lingers in the shadows of our imaginations, where we can still slap on a Stetson hat, climb onto an (imaginary for most of us) horse, and keep the modern world from encroaching too far, too quickly.

Goes well with: a bottle of sarsaparilla and leftover brisket in a sandwich.


Giveaway

FIVE WINNERS each receive a print copy of

All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone.

(US Only. Ends midnight, CDT, March 19, 2021.)

Giveaway All the Cowboys

 

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Check out the Other Great Blogs on This Tour

Or visit the Lone Star Literary Life tour page for All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone

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3/9/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
3/9/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
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3/10/21 BONUS Promo Hall Ways Blog
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3/18/21 Review Missus Gonzo
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Review: Alfie Carter, by BJ Mayo – with Giveaway

BNR Alfie Carter

 

About the book, Alfie Carter

  • Published by Skyhorse Publishing
  • Pages: 288
  • Published: January 19th, 2021
  • Categories: Southern Fiction / Rural Fiction / Mystery
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Alfie Carter med resThe seemingly never-ending Cabinda War (1975—) has left multitudes dead in its wake and thousands of children homeless and orphaned.

Jackaleena N’denga, a young Angolan girl, has become the sole survivor of one specifically brutal village massacre carried out by a band of guerrilla boy-soldiers.

Jackaleena’s resilience leads her to an orphanage on the west coast of Africa, known as Benguela by the Sea, where she and other children are taken in and protected. Her brilliant mind and endless questions capture the heart of her mentor, Margaret, who ensures her that her survival thus far—especially being the survivor from her village—must mean she has big things ahead of her. When the opportunity arises, she must find her purpose.

Not without a plan, Jackaleena stows away on a mercy ship that has made its yearly visit to the orphanage and is now preparing to return to America. Her journey takes her across the ocean, into the arms of New York City’s customs officials, and finally into placement in a temporary foster home in Texas.

Enter Alfie Carter—a workaholic, small-town detective who is also battling memories of his past. His life is forever changed when he meets a young African girl looking for her higher purpose.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Skyhorse Publishing | Goodreads


About the author, BJ Mayo

BJ MayoBJ Mayo was born in an oil field town in Texas. He spent the first few years of his life living in a company field camp twenty-five miles from the closest town. His career in the energy industry took him to various points in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Bangladesh, Australia, and Angola West Africa. He and his wife were high school sweethearts and have been married for forty-six years with two grown children. They live on a working farm near San Angelo, Texas.

Connect with BJ:

Website


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellAlfie Carter is one of those novels that should be on everyone’s reading list, because it’s such a well-crafted, compelling story. Actually, it’s two stories that become entangled at the end of the book, but even though Jackaleena’s story begins in Africa and involves some horrific scenes of the type typically only seen in 30-second clips on CNN, and Alfie’s begins with him climbing a mountain to spend some time camping in order to get out of his own head, the themes are the same: identity, purpose, and faith.

As we open, both characters are adults. Jackaleena is an attorney known for her toughness. Alfie is a gritty detective. But the narrative very quickly goes back in time to give us the history of these two powerful characters, and author BJ Mayo handles the time changes and perspective changes with a deft hand. Interestingly, he chose not to begin the novel from the title character’s point of view. Readers don’t encounter him until slightly later. But the reality is that it might be Alfie Carter’s name in the title, but this story really has dual leads.

What I loved about this book was the specific use of language. When Jackaleena is a child in Africa, her thought processes and speech are young, and even though there’s no written dialect, it’s obvious that this isn’t a kid whose first language is English. The rhythm and cadence of her words is different than it is years later when she has largely assimilated into American culture.

Similarly, Alfie Carter feels exactly the way one expects a lifelong Texan to be – I felt like I could hear a rough voice with a slight drawl even when what I was reading were his thoughts and observations.

At times a difficult read, especially because of Jackaleena’s childhood experiences (though Alfie is certainly no stranger to rough times), this novel is one that is grounded in the individual faith of both main characters. It’s never preachy, and there are moments of humor to break up the serious nature of the main story, but that faith, and each characters relationship with it, helps drive the story and should not be overlooked as an integral element of the novel.

Overall, Alfie Carter is the kind of novel that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it, and makes you think about your own reactions, beliefs, and assumptions.

Goes well with: steak cooked over an open fire and a slug of whiskey.


Giveaway

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THREE WINNERS each receive an

autographed copy of ALFIE CARTER.

US only. Ends midnight, CST, March 5, 2021.

 

 

 

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Check Out the Other Great Blogs on This Tour

And don’t forget to visit the page for this tour at Lone Star Literary Life.

 

2/23/21 Review Reading by Moonlight
2/23/21 BONUS Promo All the Ups and Downs
2/23/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
2/24/21 Review Missus Gonzo
2/24/21 Review The Clueless Gent
2/25/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
2/25/21 BONUS Promo Hall Ways Blog
2/26/21 Review Jennie Reads
2/26/21 Review Jennifer Silverwood
2/27/21 Review Bibliotica
2/28/21 Review Carpe Diem Chronicles
3/1/21 Review Book Fidelity
3/1/21 Review That’s What She’s Reading
3/2/21 Review The Adventures of a Travelers Wife
3/3/21 Review Forgotten Winds
3/3/21 Review Librariel Book Adventures
3/4/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
3/4/21 Review The Plain-Spoken Pen

 

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Review: A Brush with Death, by Fiona Leitch

Nosey Parker Cosy Mystery Series

 

About the book, A Brush with Death

  • Publisher : One More Chapter (February 12, 2021)
  • Publication date : February 12, 2021
  • Language : English
  • File size : 2794 KB

A Brush with Death coverJodie ‘Nosey’ Parker is back!

When a body turned up at her last catering gig it certainly put people off the hor d’oeuvres. So with a reputation to salvage, Jodie’s determined that her next job for the village’s festival will go without a hitch.

But when chaos breaks out, Jodie Parker somehow always finds herself in the picture.

The body of a writer from the festival is discovered at the bottom of a cliff, and the prime suspect is the guest of honour, the esteemed painter Duncan Stovall. With her background in the Met police, Jodie has got solving cases down to a fine art and she knows things are rarely as they seem.

Can she find the killer before the village faces another brush with death?

The second book in the Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker cosy mystery series. Can be read as a standalone. A humorous cosy mystery with a British female sleuth in a small village. Includes one of Jodie’s Tried and Tested Recipes! Written in British English. Mild profanity and peril.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Goodreads


About the author, Fiona Leitch

Fiona Leitch headshotFiona Leitch is a writer with a checkered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and is a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called ‘Sod Off’. Her debut novel ‘Dead in Venice’ was published by Audible in 2018 as one of their Crime Grant finalists. After living in London, Hastings and Cornwall she’s finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the windswept beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Connect with Fiona:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThe second novel in Fiona Leitch’s delightful Nosey Parker mystery series can be read and enjoyed as a standalone story, but leaping into it immediately after finishing the first provides a richer experience because it becomes evident that these wonderfully rich characters have further developed.

Opening a few weeks after the original story, A Brush with Death focuses on an arts festival with all of the quirky personalities such events inevitably draw. These include the familiar characters of Jodie “Nosey” Parker, her mother and daughter, her friend Tony, DCI Nathan Withers, and Germaine the dog. All of them seem a bit more developed than they were in Murder on the Menu, but the differences are subtle. Nathan seems a little less officious. Tony feels more grounded. And Jodie “Nosey” Parker herself has reached the point in her post-London life where she’s open to romance again.

Of course, there’s a murder early in the festival activities, and Jodie is in the thick of it, trying to prove the truth of what happened even when it takes her away from other things. While her relationship with the one of the figures at the center of the investigation, famous painter Duncan Stoval, calls her judgement into  question, her choices are understandable for a woman in her position. Similarly, she gives real consideration to her flirtatious friendship with Withers, even as she’s inserting herself into his attempt to solve the murder.

As before, the backdrop of the Cornish seaside is as much a character as any of the humans (or dogs), but this time the action moves further afield from Penstowan than before.

Fiona Leitch has given readers a compelling mystery and an accurate look at dating after a divorce, lacing it with her usual humor and deftness at writing dialect. Whether or not you’ve read the first Nosey Parker novel, A Brush with Death is not a book to be brushed aside.

Goes well with: hot tea and saffron buns.


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Review: Murder on the Menu, by Fiona Leitch

Nosey Parker Mysteries

 

About the book, Murder on the Menu

  • Publisher : One More Chapter (January 15, 2021)
  • Publication date : January 15, 2021
  • Language : English
  • Series: Nosey Parker Cozy Mysteries

Murder on the Menu coverThe first book in a NEW cozy mystery series!

Still spinning from the hustle and bustle of city life, Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker is glad to be back in the Cornish village she calls home. Having quit the Met Police in search of something less dangerous, the change of pace means she can finally start her dream catering company and raise her daughter, Daisy, somewhere safer.

But there’s nothing like having your first job back at home to be catering an ex-boyfriend’s wedding to remind you of just how small your village is. And when the bride, Cheryl, vanishes Jodie is drawn into the investigation, realizing that life in the countryside might not be as quaint as she remembers…

With a missing bride on their hands, there is murder and mayhem around every corner but surely saving the day will be a piece of cake for this not-so-amateur sleuth?

The first book in the Murder on the Menu cozy mystery series. Can be read as a standalone. A humorous cozy mystery with a British female sleuth in a small village. Includes one of Jodie’s Tried and Tested Recipes! Written in British English. Mild profanity and peril.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | My Book | Goodreads


About the Author, Fiona Leitch

Fiona Leitch headshotFiona Leitch is a writer with a checkered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and is a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called ‘Sod Off’. Her debut novel ‘Dead in Venice’ was published by Audible in 2018 as one of their Crime Grant finalists. After living in London, Hastings and Cornwall she’s finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the windswept beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Connect with Fiona:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellFiona Leitch’s Murder on the Menu, the first of her Nosey Parker novels, is one of those books that feels like it should be something you see on television. Here in the U.S. it would be a perfect member of the PBS “Mystery” series, or for more contemporary viewers something you stream on BritBox.

Labeled as a cozy mystery, this novel certainly lives up to it’s niche. The main character, Jodie “Nosey” Parker is a former cop and a single mother who moves back to her hometown to give her daughter a life free from worry over her mother’s job. She’s smart, funny, engaging, and I really loved watching her code-switch, speaking proper English to people like the (hot) DCI Nathan Withers but switching into the local vernacular when speaking to people like the local cops her father (a former Chief Inspector) recruited to the small-town force, or the townsfolk, many of which have known her since birth. The use of dialect in this book is one of the things I really appreciated because it’s used both sparingly and organically.

Jodie Parker’s choice to become a caterer after leaving the police behind is something I identified with because I always find catharsis in cooking. (Spoiler alert: there’s a recipe at the end of the book, and I plan to try it!), but it was also amusing to watch her reactions to DCI Withers, first annoyance at his handling of the case (a death at her childhood’s friend wedding which she is catering, and later the recognition that he’s attractive in general, finally, getting a bit flirty.

Jodie is more than flirty though, she’s still got being a cop (though not a detective) in her blood, and it’s hard to stifle a lifelong need to know things.

While the murder mystery is gripping and fast paced, the character interactions are just as fascinating. Jodie’s mother and daughter often act as a sort of Greek chorus for her, while her friend Tony (the groom in the wedding) and their other childhood friends are equally dimensional.

The Cornish coast is also a character in this novel, with its beaches and meadows – Jodie’s back yard has a wall just high enough to keep the cows from visiting – and the setting, here, is important because it sets a tone, not just of cozy small-town life, but also of a very specific culture.

Leitch’s writing is compelling, and she balances humor and gravity very well.

I leapt into reading book two as soon as I finished Murder on the Menu and I fear this series may be my new addiction. It may well be yours, too. Highly recommend.

Goes well with: organic sausages and mashed potatoes.


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Review: The Black-Marketer’s Daughter, by Suman Mallick

BNR Black-Marketer's Daughter

 

About the book, The Black-Marketer’s Daughter

  • Category: Contemporary / Literary Fiction / Multicultural
  • Publisher: Atmosphere Press
  • Date of Publication: October 13, 2020
  • Number of Pages: 166 pages

Cover Black-Marketer's Daughter, TheZuleikha arrives in the US from Lahore, Pakistan, by marriage, having trained as a pianist without ever owning a real piano. Now she finally has one-a wedding present from her husband-but nevertheless finds it difficult to get used to her new role of a suburban middle-class housewife who has an abundance of time to play it.

Haunted by the imaginary worlds of the confiscated contraband books and movies that her father trafficked in to pay for her education and her dowry, and unable to reconcile them with the expectations of the real world of her present, she ends up as the central figure in a scandal that catapults her into the public eye and plays out in equal measures in the local news and in backroom deliberations, all fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria.

The Black-Marketer’s Daughter was a finalist for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize, and praised by the jury as a “complicated and compelling story” of our times, with two key cornerstones of the novel being the unsympathetic voice with which Mallick, almost objectively, relays catastrophic and deeply emotional events, and the unsparing eye with which he illuminates the different angles and conflicting interests at work in a complex situation. The cumulative effects, while deliberately unsettling to readers, nevertheless keeps them glued to the pages out of sheer curiosity about what will happen next.

Praise for this book:

  • “Mallick offers an impressively realistic depiction of a woman caught between tradition, family, and her own sense of empowerment.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
  • “The Black-Marketer’s Daughter is a key-hole look at a few things: a mismatched marriage, the plight of immigrants in the U.S., the emotional toll of culture shock, and the brutal way Muslim women are treated, especially by men within their own community. Titling it—defining the heroine by her relationship to a man rather than as a woman in her own right—suggests how deeply ingrained that inequality can be.” ~ IndieReader Reviews 
  • “The Black-Marketer’s Daughter is the portrait of a woman who endures violence, intimidation, xenophobia and grief, and yet refuses to be called a victim. In this slender novel, Suman Mallick deftly navigates the funhouse maze of immigrant life in contemporary America—around each corner the possibility of a delight, a terror, or a distorted reflection of oneself.” ~ Matthew Valentine, Winner, Montana Prize for Fiction; Lecturer, University of Texas at Austin

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Goodreads

 


Author Pic MallickAbout the author, Suman Mallick

Suman Mallick received his MFA from Portland State University and is the assistant managing editor of the quarterly literary magazine Under the Gum Tree. He lives in Texas.

Connect with Suman:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | AMAZON | GOODREADS | INSTAGRAM


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellSuman Mallick’s debut novel The Black-Marketer’s Daughter is more than just a story. It’s a sonata that unfolds one movement at a time, in lyrical language that compels, frustrates, infuriates, and finally delights the reader. It’s a portrait of the culture-within-a-culture of Muslim Pakistani immigrants to the United States, and specifically North Texas (where I also live) that exposes the harsh reality of assimilating into American society, of being a modern immigrant, and, yes, of the status of women in general, and abused women in particular. It’s also a celebration of diversity, of identity, and of personal strength and growth.

And all that in less than two hundred pages!

Zuleikha, our heroine, is a musician and a dreamer. She wants love, and wants to be in love. At one point, she even explains to someone that the books and DVDs her father sold on the black market to fund her piano lessons and her dowry taught her to fall in love with the idea of falling in love. It is her point of view through which this story unfolds, and that view is rich and complex. She’s intellectually curious, but has never really bothered to expose herself to current affairs, choosing the focus on the arts section of newspapers.

Iskander, her husband via an arranged marriage is not a villain, though parts of this story attempt to paint him as one, but is reserved, stoic to the point where I felt like I was reading about some of my husband’s midwestern relatives who are much the same. For the first half of the novel, he is simply there. An unremarkable presence in the life of a woman who is meant to be remarkable, and clearly a poor match for Zuleikha.

Mallick’s tale isn’t one of happy families, though. Rather it’s about what we do when we are desperate for love, and cannot find it. He writes about the darker events in this novel with the same craft he used to describe music, motorcycles, and a Ferris wheel ride at the state fair. There is only one violent scene, and it’s written so that you cannot look away, but must bear witness, because it represents many, many violent scenes that happen outside the pages of novels.

What I loved about this book was the language. Mallick’s writing is music The high points sing in lofty trills and glorious crescendos. The heavier moments thud like the bass notes on a piano keyboard, dark and thunderous, but still gripping. Even the parts of the story that were dark and disturbing were so carefully phrased that I couldn’t skip through them, but had to drink in every delicious word.

I also appreciated that Mallick didn’t pause his narrative to explain Muslim or Pakistani terms for white readers. Articles of clothing, items of food – these were referred to as Zuleikha and Iskander would have grown up calling them, and that made the story more real. He trusted us to either figure things out from context or look them up. It takes a confident author to trust his readers to meet him where he stands.

If I had one problem with this novel it was only that it was relatively short. 166 pages may have completed the story, but I wanted more.

If you want a novel that you can read in a day, but may also choose to savor, with dynamic characters and amazing language, read The Black-Marketer’s Daughter. You will be richer for the experience.

Goes well with: chicken biryani, lamb kebabs, and Murree’s classic lager.


Visit the Other Great Blogs on This Tour

(or check out the Lone Star Literary Life tour page for direct links to each post.)

1/6/21 Promo Hall Ways Blog
1/7/21 Review The Clueless Gent
1/7/21 Guest Post Momma on the Rocks
1/8/21 Review Forgotten Winds
1/8/21 Author Interview All the Ups and Downs
1/9/21 Review Bibliotica
1/10/21 Excerpt Texas Book Lover
1/11/21 Author Interview That’s What She’s Reading
1/11/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
1/12/21 Playlist Chapter Break Book Blog
1/13/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
1/13/21 Scrapbook Page The Page Unbound
1/14/21 Author Interview KayBee’s Book Shelf
1/15/21 Review Reading by Moonlight
1/15/21 Review Missus Gonzo

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Review: Christmas in Cockleberry Bay, by Nicola May

Christmas in Cockleberry Bay

Christmas at Cockleberry Bay FINAL FRONTAbout the book, Christmas in Cockleberry Bay

  • Publication date : November 13, 2020
  • Print length : 237 pages
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Publisher : Nowell Publishing (November 13, 2020)

Meet old and new characters in the Bay for Christmas fun and frolics.

With both the Corner Shop and Cockleberry Café in safe hands, Rosa turns her attention to Ned’s Gift, the charity set up in memory of the great-grandfather whose legacy turned her life around.

Over at the Ship Hotel, Lucas has his work cut out with his devious new girlfriend and the mystery poisoning of an anonymous hotel inspector. Will the hotel still get its 3-star Seaside Rosette?

Will Mary find true love at last? Can Titch cope with the demands of the shop and being heavily pregnant. And can Rosa, with a baby of her own, pull off the Cockleberry Bay Charity Christmas Concert in time?

Christmas in Cockleberry Bay is a festive delight for fans of Rosa and her cheeky mini dachshund Hot, delivering a feast of unpredictable events and surprises.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK) | Paperback | Goodreads


About the author, Nicola May Nicola May

Nicola May is a rom-com superstar. She is the author of eleven romantic comedies, all of which have appeared in the Kindle bestseller charts. Two of them won awards at the Festival of Romance, and another was named ebook of the week in The SunThe Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay became the best-selling Kindle book in the UK, across all genres, in January 2019, and was Amazon’s third-bestselling novel in that year.

She lives near Ascot racecourse with her black-and-white rescue cat, Stan.

Connect with Nicola

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Dropping into Nicola May’s Cockleberry Bay again was a delightful experience, made even more so by the fact that this visit happened at Christmas time. This fictional seaside community with it’s cast of lovable, funny, dramatic, and irascible characters is fast becoming a second home to me, and this visit was probably one of my favorites.

Like any good family reunion, Christmas in Cockleberry Bay is replete with babies, both new and soon-to-come, dogs, couples having typical couplish dramas, eccentric relatives, and small business owners trying to improve their lots by earning new rating stars from the coastal rating group. Oh, and Christmas cookies (sorry, biscuits) – we mustn’t forget those.

As always the Corner Store and Rosa’s Cafe are the cornerstones of a trip to the Bay, though this story has us spending a significant time at the Ship Hotel and Lobster Pot as well.

What I love about Nicola May’s writing is that she’s equally adept at writing one-on-one scenes, like the ones with Rosa and Titch comparing the joys and woes of young motherhood, and massive chaotic ensemble bits with people talking over each other and having side conversations, which latter is extraordinarily difficult to convey in writing.

What I love about this series is that while the focus characters change, everyone we’ve met so far, plus the new additions, get their moment in the spotlight.

Some details I really appreciated were Tina trying to hide her natural accent when she’s answering the hotel phone, and Nate being concerned – unnecessarily – when he introduces his Christmas “plus one” to his sister. (I’m being intentionally vague because I don’t want to spoil the reveal.)

Any visit to Cockleberry Bay is worth the time spent, but spending Christmas in Cockleberry Bay might just be the perfect antidote for the socially distanced, largely separate holidays we’re all facing this year. Or at least, it’s a warm and wonderful story seasoned with love and salt air, that makes this very atypical December feel a bit brighter.

Goes well with mulled wine, sharp cheddar, a crackling fire, and a (non-lethal) coastal storm.


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Review: Solo: A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone, by Aaron Hodges

Solo - A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone

 

About the book, Solo: A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone

  • Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
  • Paperback : 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0995129657
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0995129658
  • Publisher : Aaron Hodges; Illustrated edition (December 10, 2019)

Solo Aaron Hodges ebookFeeling alone? Trapped? Lost?

Time for an adventure!

The bad times won’t last forever, and for more than five years, Aaron Hodges has journeyed the globe alone, visiting everywhere from Istanbul to Argentina. Honest and insightful, SOLO is packed with his personal travel tips and humorous stories. Learn about the ups and downs, the triumphs and the pitfalls of venturing off the beaten path. Follow his guidelines for exploring the world alone and be inspired to take the trip you’ve always dreamed of.

Discover the world of solo travel.

Go Solo!

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Books 2 Read | Goodreads


About the author, Aaron Hodges

Aaron Hodges was born in 1989 in the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand. He studied for five years at the University of Auckland, completing a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Geography, and a Masters of Environmental Engineering. After working as an environmental consultant for two years, he grew tired of office work and decided to quit his job in 2014 and see the world. One year later, he published his first novel – Stormwielder – while in Guatemala. Since then, he has honed his skills while travelling through parts of SE Asia, India, North and South America, Turkey and Europe, and now has over a dozen works to his name. Today, his adventures continue…

Connect with Aaron:

Facebook | Instagram


My Thoughts

Reading travel books when you’re stuck in quarantine, and in the country no one wants visitors from, may seem counter-intuitive, but the truth is Solo: A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone, is so breezy and engaging that reading it gave me hope for a future when travel is easy and accessible again.

In this book, which is aimed at a demographic I’m not in (I’m a good twenty years older than the author, and very, very married), author Aaron Hodges theorizes that his readers share something in common with him – they have boring desk jobs, they’re restless, or they just ended relationships. This latter, he specifically mentions as one of the things that pushes people to stop dreaming about travel and actually do some.

A lot of this book is aimed at adventure-travellers – people who want to backpack through Europe and stay in hostiles – or at least engage in rugged activities. While that’s never been my thing (I’m much more into museums and cute shops with the occasional beach day and maybe time on a rented ocean kayak) Hughes friendly style makes these things seem appealing and even exciting.

He even made me consider where I’d go if I were travelling without my husband. (In truth, I’ve done this to a point. On trips where he was working I hired local guides and wandered on my own.)

Hughes makes good points about language barriers being daunting to some, and about choosing your destinations wisely, but more than that, he is all about living your dreams instead of waiting for someone to hand them to you.

Part guide, part memoir, if you’re planning a trip, or even just wishing you could get up and go, this is the book for you.

Goes well with a local dish you’ve never heard of in a hole-in-the-wall cafe in a foreign country.


Solo - A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone

Review: Christmas at Moonshine Hollow, by Angela Britnell

Christmas at Moonshine Hollow

 

Christmas at Moonshine Hollow by Angela BritnellAbout the book, Christmas at Moonshine Hollow

  • Paperback : 193 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1781893640
  • ISBN-13 : 978-178189364
  • Publisher : Choc Lit (November 24, 2020)

Mistletoe and moonshine: a Christmas match made in heaven?
Moonshine Hollow’s famous ‘Lightning Flash’ might be an acquired taste, although the same could be said for moonshine distillery owner Cole Landon, what with his workaholic habits and ‘Scrooge’ tendencies when it comes to all things Christmassy.

But when Jenna Pendean from Cornwall pays a visit to Cole’s family-run distillery in Tennessee during the holiday season, will Cole’s cynicism about the existence of Christmas miracles be put to the test?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Purchase Link | Goodreads


About the author, Angela Britnell

Christmas AuthorAngela grew up in Cornwall, England and returns frequently from her new home in Nashville, Tennessee to visit family and friends, drink tea and eat far too many Cornish pasties!

A lifelong love of reading turned into a passion for writing contemporary romance and her novels are usually set in the many places she’s visited or lived on her extensive travels. Thanks to over three decades of marriage to her wonderful American husband she’s a huge fan of transatlantic romance and always makes sure her characters get their own happy-ever-after.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Romance Writers of America and the Music City Romance Writers. Her first novel ‘Truth and Consequence’ was published in 2006 and she’s now had over 30 novels published internationally and several short stories in women’s magazines.

Connect with Angela:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. Bartell“So bring us some figgy pudding and a drop of good cheer… ” In this novel, Christmas at Moonshine Hollow, the “good cheer” comes in the form of moonshine – not the ilicit, illegal kind from the days of prohibition, but the legal version made in shiny family-owned distilleries and marketed like any other kind of alcohol. More than moonshine though, is the relationship between Landon Moonshine heir Cole, and Brit-out-of-water Jenna, who meet when she shows up at a tour of his family business.

This is a Christmas romance, written with a deft hand by Angela Britnell, so it’s no surprise that sparks immediately fly between Jenna and Cole, but it turns out that all isn’t snowy and perfect, because there’s drama in the Landon family (they may have to sell the distillery) and there’s drama from Jenna as well, or, rather, a bit of holiday intrigue.

While the romance is at the forefront of this story, the time devoted to Cole’s relationship with his stepfather and his extended family is well spent – love and money are difficult things to mesh and families tend not to be honest about either when they should. As well, we see Jenna’s relationship with her estranged (from each other) parents, who have her trapped in the middle of their toxic relationship.

Aside from Cole, Debbie, Sylvia, Martin, Mimi, and Jenna, all characters who felt plausibly real and believable, especially the southern characters, whom Britnell imbued with just enough accent to make it almost audible, one thing I really appreciated about this novel was what I learned about moonshine as I read it. I always assumed that it was basically flavorless, like Everclear. It never occurred to me that it came in varietals and flavors, more like tequila.

Overall, this was a delightful holiday romance, and worth reading on a chilly December evening.

Goes well with a massive burger and a locally brewed beer.


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