Review: The Storm Girl, by Kathleen McGurl

The Storm Girl

 

About the Book, The Storm Girl

Cover: The Storm GirlThe gripping new historical novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Girl from Bletchley Park and The Forgotten Secret.

A heartbreaking choice. A secret kept for centuries.

1784. When Esther Harris’s father hurts his back, she takes over his role helping smugglers hide contraband in the secret cellar in their pub. But when the free traders’ ships are trapped in the harbour, a battle between the smugglers and the revenue officers leads to murder and betrayal – and Esther is forced to choose between the love of her life and protecting her family…

Present day. Fresh from her divorce, Millie Galton moves into a former inn overlooking the harbour in Mudeford and plans to create her dream home. When a chance discovery behind an old fireplace reveals the house’s secret history as a haven for smugglers and the devastating story of its former residents, could the mystery of a disappearance from centuries ago finally be solved?

Sweeping historical fiction perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Kathryn Hughes and Tracy Rees.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon (UK) | Amazon (US) | Goodreads


About the author, Kathleen McGurl

Kathleen McGurlKathleen McGurl lives near the coast in Christchurch, England. She writes dual timeline novels in which a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. She is married to an Irishman and has two adult sons. She enjoys travelling, especially in her motorhome around Europe but home is Mudeford, where this novel is set.

Connect with Kathleen:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

MissMelissThe Storm Girl is my first Kathleen McGurl nsovel, but it won’t be my last.

A dual-timeline story, this book follows Esther, in 1784, beginning with an opening faintly reminiscent of Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman,” though it quickly moves beyond that trope. Our historical heroine is no lovestruck maiden idly braiding her hair in moonlit windows; rather she is a vibrant and dimensional young woman, acting with her own agency.

Similarly, recent divorcee Millie, our present day heroine, is bright and curious, and game for minor adventures. We first meet her as she is rescuing kittens (and a mama cat) from a blocked off fireplace, and her helper Nick, sparks her love of a good mystery when he suggests that said fireplace would be worth restoring (something she was already considering.)

Both women end up tangled in a mystery involving smuggling, which we modern audiences think of as a romantic form of crime, but is really very violent and dangerous, still, the puzzle that begins in the past is resolved in the present in a gripping story that is well plotted and perfectly paced.

What I especially loved about this book was that the author captures the language and tone of each period with great accuracy. You really don’t need to be told the date of each chapter; rather the writing makes it obvious where the story is in time.

I also loved that there were equal parts suspense and romance. Nothing ever got TOO tense or TOO fluffy; instead there was balance, and that made for a delightful read.

I’ve long been a fan of parallel narratives. Now I’m a fan of Kathleen McGurl and The Storm Girl as well.

Goes well with: hot tea and blueberry cobbler with a dash of firelight.

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Review and Giveaway: Comfort Zone, by Kimberly Fish

BNR Comfort Zone

 

About the book Comfort Zone

  • Genre: Contemporary / Second Chance Romance / Women’s Fiction
  • Publisher: Fish Tales Publishing
  • Date of Publication: November 1, 2021
  • Number of Pages: 289 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Comfort ZoneThe award-winning author of Comfort Songs, Comfort Plans, and Comfort Foods digs into the life of single-mom Anna Weber, an appraiser who gives value to other people’s found treasures. On assignment to research a handwritten sheet of music, Anna helps a stranded motorist, only to discover she’s rescued retired NFL quarterback Jack Moses. His confidence and fascination for solving problems makes him impossible for Anna to ignore even as they both dart along separate deadlines to save the finances at an inner-city school. Little does Anna know that as she wrestles with secrets from her past and a suspicious approach to people, Jack is running too—dodging women, pro athletes, and a future with no definable end zone.

As a nemesis threatens Anna’s young daughters, these two unlikely partners discover that it’s in stepping back from years of self-sufficiency that Anna and Jack can find the best treasure of all: a series of sweet, second chances.

Praise and Awards for this book:

“Kimberly Fish’s Comfort books are wonderful, charming stories set in the Texas Hill Country. Fans of small towns family relationships will enjoy these feel-good books. Two thumbs up!” – Jan Moran, USA Today bestselling author of Seabreeze Inn. 

Comfort Zone is a Literary Titan Gold Award winner and a Reader Views Bronze Award winner in romance. It was also a runner-up in the regional fiction category of the New England Book Festival awards.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Kimberly Fish

Author Photo FishKimberly Fish has been a professional writer in marketing and media for over thirty years, with regular contributions to area newspapers and magazines. As an accidental historian, she wrote two novels, The Big Inch and Harmon General, both based on factual events  in Longview, Texas that changed world history. Kimberly also offers a set of contemporary women’s fiction, based in the Texas Hill Country, that reveal her fascination with characters discovering their grit and sweet, second chances; all four of these novels have won distinguished awards

Connect with Kimberly:

Website | Facebook  |  Twitter I  Amazon  |  Goodreads | YouTube | Instagram | Pinterest | BookBub


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My Thoughts

MissMelissOpening a new Kimberly Fish novel – especially a Comfort Stories novel – is more than just the beginning of a good read. It’s a road trip back to the fictional home town we all wish we were from. It is, as described in this latest installment, Comfort Zone, “a town of free-thinkers,” full of entrepreneurial spirit, a love of art and nature, and kind hearts.

In this visit to Comfort, TX, we meet Anna, an appraiser of relics and treasures, and Jack, a retired NFL football player. It would be easy to predict that a gift to the local school brings them together and things progress from there, but that would be a gross simplification of this story,  which is more than a second-chance romance, but a nuanced character study of two people who have been banged about a bit by life and circumstance.

I really loved getting to know Jack and Anna (and her two daughters). Anna’s job, especially, fascinated me. Part detective, part storyteller… I’d love to spend an hour or two just hearing the tales she might tell. All four of these new characters were as real and dimensional, with plausible flaws and anxieties, as anyone you might meet at a local coffee shop (or taco truck, or lavender farm), and I especially appreciated the way Anna observed her friend Lacy’s romance with local celebrity chef Rudy, which relationship was the focus of the previous entry into the Comfort Stories collection, Comfort Foods.

My favorite character, however, has got to be Comfort itself. It’s a slightly idealized small town, and it’s not difficult to imagine the various women (and men) in Anna’s friend-circle getting together to share their overlapping lives and businesses. Comfort is one of those places you just know has wide sidewalks, friendly dogs, excellent coffee, a decent bookstore, and real mail in the mailboxes.

If you enjoy romances between working adults, stories where there’s enough mystery to keep the plot going without being a whodunnit – mysteries of discovery and self-discovery – and a cup or two of cozy life, then the Comfort series as a whole, and this novel, Comfort Zone, specifically, will satisfy your heart and mind. More than that, you’ll feel like you’ve visited the hometown you were never actually born in.

Goes well with: a farmhouse breakfast – dark roast coffee, toast, eggs, and bacon.


Giveaway

 ONE WINNER!

Autographed copy of Comfort Zone,
hand-painted note card from artist Elaine McMillan,
and NFL official Silver Series football signed by Jack Moses.
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 4/29/2022)

 

Giveaway Comfort Zone

 

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4/25/22 Review Book Fidelity
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Review & Giveaway: The Bones of Amoret, by Arthur Herbert

BNR Bones of Amoret

About the book, The Bones of Amoret

  • Genre: Mystery /Suspense
  • Publisher: Stitched Smile Publications
  • Date of Publication: April 1, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 323 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Cover Bones of AmoretIn this enigmatic follow up to his critically acclaimed debut novel The Cuts that Cure, Arthur Herbert returns to the Texas-Mexico border with this saga of a small town’s bloody loss of innocence.

Amoret,Texas, 1982. Life along the border is harsh, but in a world where cultures work together to carve a living from the desert landscape, Blaine Beckett lives a life of isolation. A transplanted Boston intellectual, for twenty years locals have viewed him as a snob, a misanthrope, an outsider. He seems content to stand apart until one night when he vanishes into thin air amid signs of foul play.

Noah Grady, the town doctor, is a charming and popular good ol’ boy. He’s also a keeper of secrets, both the town’s and his own. He watches from afar as the mystery of Blaine’s disappearance unravels and rumors fly. Were the incipient cartels responsible? Was it a local with a grudge? Or did Blaine himself orchestrate his own disappearance? Then the unthinkable happens, and Noah begins to realize he’s considered a suspect.

Paced like a lit fuse and full of dizzying plot twists, The Bones of Amoret is a riveting whodunit that will keep you guessing all the way to its shocking conclusion.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Arthur Herbert

Author Photo HerbertArthur Herbert was born and raised in small town Texas. He worked on offshore oil rigs, as a bartender, a landscaper at a trailer park, and as a social worker before going to medical school. For the last eighteen years, he’s worked as a trauma and burn surgeon, operating on all ages of injured patients. He continues to run a thriving practice.

He’s won multiple awards for his scientific writing, and his first novel, The Cuts that Cure, spent ten days as an Amazon #1 Best Seller.  His second novel, The Bones of Amoret, will be released on April 1, 2022 through Stitched Smile Publishers. Arthur currently lives in New Orleans, with his wife Amy and their dogs.

Arthur loves hearing from readers, so don’t hesitate to email him at arthur@arthurherbertwriter.com.

Connect with Arthur:

WEBSITE  | FACEBOOK  |  TWITTER |  AMAZON  |  GOODREADS | BOOKBUB


My Thoughts

MissMelissI have not read Arthur Herbert’s first novel, and I’m really sorry about that, because this author’s voice caught me from the first page. (I’ve since purchased a the Kindle version.) The Bones of Amoret, which is not a sequel, but a second, stand-alone story, is the kind of thriller that I love to read. It’s gritty and earthy, and there are dangerous acts of questionable legality, but at it’s heart this is a novel about love – between friends, between parents and children, between brothers-by-choice – and it’s also about family and about loss. As well, it’s a pages-long proof that doing what is right is not always easy, and that even good people sometimes do terrible things.

Told from the POV of country (well, US border) doctor, Noah Grady, this book opens with dialogue and description that immediately put the reader in the Southwest Texas landscape. You can feel the heat from the road, and taste the dust in the air, and while the conversation isn’t one most of us would ever be party to – first, the number of people being helped across the border, and then the discovery of another man, seriously dehydrated and carrying quite a lot of cocaine – the cadences of the speakers, casual language about far-from-casual events – are familiar.

As the novel progresses the main plot unfolds – Blaine Beckett has disappeared. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for him, as he’s pretty universally disliked by the community, but his disappearance leads to other, darker events, that do cause anger, tears, frustration, and eventually, satisfaction. It’s this ability to elicit deeper emotional responses from the reader that is author Herbert’s greatest skill, because he  does it with plain prose that is reminiscent of Hemingway seasoned with a dash of Twain.

I also appreciated the author’s commitment to period authenticity. The Bones of Amoret takes place in 1982, when AIDS was still called GRID, and sonogram machines fill half a room. Herbert never hits us over the head with his “vintage” setting, but he also ensures that there are no obvious anachronisms pulling us out of the novel.

Bottom line: If you like stories that are both compelling and compassionate, while also being incredibly relevant, The Bones of Amoret is a worthy choice.

Goes well with: chicken mole, dirty rice, and negra Modelo.


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Autographed Copies of The Bones of Amoret
(US Only. Ends midnight, CDT, 4/15/2022.)

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Review: Brilliance Beyond Borders, by Chinwe Esimai

About the Book, Brilliance Beyond Borders: Remarkable Women Leaders Share the Power of Immigrace

  • Publisher: Harper Horizon (February 15, 2022)
  • Hardcover: 272 pages

Brilliance Beyond BordersWhat if the traditional narrative about immigrant women–that those who come to the United States will succeed as long as they work hard, stay focused, and have supportive families–is a lie?

Of the 73 million women in the US workforce, 11.5 million are foreign-born. The truth is–even in the midst of headlines and political debates about immigration reform and in the wake of MeToo and other female-centric movements–millions of immigrants, especially women, aren’t living their fullest potential.

Based on her personal experience and the stories of trailblazing women from around the world and in diverse industries, author Chinwe Esimai shares five indispensable traits that make an ocean of difference between immigrants who live as mere shadows of their truest potential and those who find purpose and fulfillment–what Chinwe refers to as their immigrace:

  • Saying yes to your immigrace, an immigrant woman’s expression of her highest purpose and potential
  • Daring to play in the big leagues
  • Transforming failure
  • Embracing change and blending differences
  • Finding joy and healing

These five traits are the foundation of the Brilliance Blueprint, a step-by-step guide to help readers achieve to their own extraordinary results and build their own remarkable legacies.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the Author, Chinwe Esimai

Chinwe Esimai is an award-winning lawyer, corporate executive, writer, and speaker who is passionate about inspiring generations of women leaders.

She is Managing Director and Chief Anti-Bribery Officer at Citigroup, Inc. She is the first person to hold this title in the bank’s history. In this role, she oversees Citi’s global anti-bribery program, which develops and maintains a framework for compliance with anti-bribery laws and regulations across all of Citi’s lines of business, covering over 200,000 employees, and in over 167 countries where Citi does business. 

In March 2020, Leading Ladies Africa named Chinwe one of 100 Most Inspiring Women. Tropics Magazine named her on the prestigious list of African Doers: Most Powerful Africans Shaping the Future of Africa. The Nigerian Lawyers Association named Chinwe Trailblazer of the Year, and she is the recipient of the Face-to-Face Africa Corporate Leadership Award. 

A passionate philanthropist, she is chair of the Board of Harambee USA Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting education and sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa, and supports a wide variety of charitable causes. 

Chinwe’s leadership insights have been featured on her blog and in leading publications around the world, including ForbesThrive GlobalBlack EnterpriseReal Business UK, Business Intelligence Middle EastKnowledge@Wharton, and Current History, which has also featured prominent authors such as George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, and Condoleezza Rice. 

A prolific public speaker, Chinwe has delivered keynotes to prestigious audiences, academic institutions, and conferences around the world. She has spoken three times at the United Nations. 

Connect with Chinwe:

Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts

MissMelissAs a third-generation American, my immigrant roots are still close to me, so I was excited to read Brilliance Beyond Borders: Remarkable Women Leaders Share the Power of Immigrace. My own relatives arrived here in a time when there were fewer opportunities for women, no matter their origins, so it was interesting to me to learn how contemporary women perceive their struggles.

Author Chinwe Esimai personalizes the stories of seventeen women by including her own. I’ve had many friends who have either Americanized or completely changed their names in order to “make things easier,” so her sharing the recommendation of doing the same – and her decision to retain her name and identity – really resonated with me. In my own family, our surname was changed to a more American word when my great-grandparents opened a diner. (They eventually changed it back.)

I also appreciated the concept of immigrace – the finding of true purpose and fulfillment. While used by Esiimai to descibe immigrant women, specifically, that gap between where we are and where we should be in life, in business, in relationships, is something all women can appreciate, because those goals are universal.

This is a great book for any woman coming into adulthood right now, especially for those who are recent arrivals to this country. The concepts are clearly presented, and the individual women profiled have stories that are poignant, frustrating, and uplifting, often at once.

Goes well with: espresso con panna and thin mint Girl Scout cookies.


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Review: The Door-Man, by Peter M. Wheelwright

About the book, The Door-Man

• Publisher: Fomite (February 1, 2022)
• Paperback: 388 pages

The Door-ManIn 1917, during the construction of a large reservoir in the Catskill hamlet of Gilboa, New York, a young paleontologist named Winifred Goldring identified fossils from an ancient forest flooded millions of years ago when the earth’s botanical explosion of oxygen opened a path for the evolution of humankind. However, the reservoir water was needed for NYC, and the fossils were buried once again during the flooding of the doomed town.

A mix of fact and fiction, The Door-Man follows three generations of interwoven families who share a deep wound from Gilboa’s last days. The story is told by Winifred’s grandson, a disaffected NYC doorman working near the Central Park Reservoir during its decommissioning in 1993.

The brief and provisional nature of one’s life on earth – and the nested histories of the places, people and events that give it meaning – engender a reckoning within the tangled roots and fragile bonds of family.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Peter M. Wheelwright

Peter-WheelwrightPeter is a writer, architect, and educator. He is Emeritus Professor at The New School, Parsons School of Design in New York City, where he taught design and wrote on matters of environmental philosophy, design theory, and social practices in the built and natural worlds. Peter comes from a family of writers with an abiding affection for the natural world. His uncle Peter Matthiessen was a three time National Book Award winner, and his brother Jeff Wheelwright is a writer of environmental non-fiction. Educated at Trinity College where he studied painting and sculpture, he went on to receive his Master in Architecture from Princeton University. As an architect, his design work has been widely published in both the national and international press. The Kaleidoscope House, a modernist dollhouse designed in collaboration with artist Laurie Simmons is in the Collection of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art.

Connect with Peter:

Website | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

MissMelissUnlike many of the others who have reviewed The Door-Man for this tour, I’m not fameyiliar with Richard Powers. I came to this novel after a re-read of a bunch of Dan Brown novels, and my experience with it was shaped by the writing of John Stilgoe, whose books like Outside Lies Magic teach us to see beyond the surface of our surroundings

The image of bones in the water, from the opening scenes of this book, will haunt me for a long time. It’s such a visceral concept, and even though it exists only in the mind of the main character Winifred Goldring, it’s one that really sets the tone for this novel.

And what a novel it is! Peter Wheelwright has spun a story that combines an imaginative tale, one that speaks to those of us who grew up reading things like Jurassic Park, with just enough real history to lend the whole work an air of verisimilitude. The city of Gilboa, NY,  for example, really did create a reservoir that flooded out some of the world’s oldest trees, moving the town to accommodate the needed water supply.

I’d never heard of Gilboa before reading The Door-Man, but I have always been fascinated by the idea of flooded towns, whether they are actual towns (there’s one in the the Dakotas) or bad B-movies on SyFy.

But Wheelwright’s novel is no b-movie. Rather, it’s a thoughtful, immersive tale of the generations of (fictional) people who were affected by the events in Gilboa, focusing on one family in particular, and moving back and forth in time as it weaves their story into the actual history of the region.

We are introduced to “the men of the family” by Winfred, but the story also introduces us to Piedmont Livingston Kinsolver, who tells us, “I am only a door-man, one of many along Central Park West. No one suspects that it is my considered choice.”

Combining history, science, and family drama, The Door-Man is a novel for those of us who look at the world around us and wonder, “What if?”

Goes well with: clam chowder from an old family recipe, and crusty bread.


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Review and Giveaway: Mars Adrift, by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

Mars Adrift Review + Giveaway

 

About the book, Mars Adrift (The Halo Trilogy: Book 3) 

  • Categories: Science Fiction / Detective (Hard-Boiled) / Mystery
  • Publisher: Pumpjack Press
  • Date of Publication: February 14, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 300 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Mars Adrift -CoverAn interplanetary mystery and a searing critique of the contemporary billionaire quest for Mars. The year is (still) 2188 and Crucial Larsen is officially done with Mars. But just as he’s set to head back to his beloved Earth, meteors crash into the orbital platforms, ravage the luxury domes and knock Halo—the powerful AI running Mars and Earth—offline. And this is no random cosmic event. An invading force has the technology to redirect space rocks at will and intends to level the Five Families.

Their first act? Put a bounty on missing Staff Scientist Melinda Hopwire, Crucial’s ex-lover—the only person left alive who can find the back-up servers to introduce the AI empathy hack, the endgame of the beleaguered Resistance. Crucial has to claw his way across the deadly Choke armed with nothing more than a glue gun, expired maple rum and Sanders, a malfunctioning cybanism, to find Mel and her synthetic perma-kitten Wisp. If he fails, it’s the end for both planets.

Praise for this book:

“A compelling saga, edgy and different…the personal, political, and social issues create a Mars story that is thoroughly absorbing. Other books have attempted to blend the genres of an investigative detective piece with sci-fi, but few achieve such a seamless integration.” – Midwest Book Review

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

AmazonPumpjack PressGoodreads


About the authors, Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

Author Pic Hays_Mcfall AuthorClark and Kathleen wrote their first book together in 1999 as a test for marriage. They passed.  Mars Adrift is their tenth co-authored book.

Connect with McFall and Hays:

Facebook |  IInstagram

Connect with Kathleen

Amazon | Goodreads | FacebookTwitter

Connect with Clark

Amazon | Goodreads |  Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellThe last time I reviewed a McFall & Hays novel it was Gates of Mars, the first book of this trilogy. (I somehow missed book two, but doing so didn’t seem to adversely effect my understanding or enjoyment of book three.) Back then (July, 2020) I wrote, “It takes a lot of talent to combine a detective plot with a sci-fi setting, and make us care about the characters even when their flaws are all too visible, but McFall and Hays have that talent. They also infuse their work with just enough wry humor to keep things from being overwhelming.”

It was true then, and it’s even more so with this novel, Mars Adrift, the third book in the Halo Trilogy.

I found that I was just as invested in Crucial Larsen’s story as I was a year and a half ago, but I noticed different things in this duo’s writing this time around. Specifically, I love the way the character has grown over the course of these novels. He’s still cantankerous and prone to making poor choices, but he’s also become less self-serving – not entirely, just less. Saving his own family is now slightly more than mere enlightened self-interest.

I was also really struck by the language in Mars Adrift.  Ever snappy, the dialogue in this novel really sings. It’s science fiction with a neo-noir flare, and it’s just a pleasure to read.

McFall & Clark have always used their futuristic fiction to shine a light on contemporary issues – climate change key among them, and this story certainly does that. In a community living under domes to keep atmosphere in, what’s the scariest thing that could happen? Meteors, of course! That technology (construction, alien ships) based on fungi are part of this book is forward-thinking as well, but I hope the authors aren’t offended if I prefer my mushrooms on pizza, at least for now.

Overall, Mars Adrift is a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy that has never lost its freshness. It would be best enjoyed by those who have read books one and two, but I had no trouble following the plot after skipping the middle book, and I feel that if you encountered it first, it wouldn’t be too hard to figure things out from context.

Goes well with: Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza with mushrooms and onions, and a glass of cold iced tea (sweet or unsweet as you prefer.)


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 ONE WINNER: 

One winner gets autographed copies of all three books in The Halo Trilogy.
(US only. Ends 2/21/22).

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Review and Giveaway: The Sparrows of Montenegro, by BJ Mayo

BNR Sparrows of Montenegro

About the book, The Sparrows of Montenegro

  • Categories: Western / Historical Fiction / Texas
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
  • Date of Publication: February 8, 2022
  • Number of Pages: 312 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Sparrows of MontenegroTree “Bigfoot” Smith and Cedar Jones first meet on the day they join the US Cavalry’s Fourth Cavalry Regiment based out of the Historic Fort Concho in what is now San Angelo, Texas, in 1870.

Their journey takes them into the heart of the dangerous Llano Estacado region known as the Comancheria. The area is ruthlessly defended by a band of Quahadi Comanche and their stoic leader, Lonely Horse. The Troop encounters a large group of Comanches and the gun-running Comancheros at Mushaway Mountain, close to Gail, Texas. A quick battle ensues that leaves eight men dead.

Post Cavalry life finds Tree Smith and Cedar Jones as cowhand and cook on the large Rolling J cattle ranch in South Texas bordering the Rio Grande River. The ranch employs two Vaqueros from the village of Montenegro in Mexico, just across the river, whom Tree befriends.

The quiet life on the Rolling J ranch is brought to an abrupt halt when a local sheriff warns that a band led by the cold-blooded, sadistic killer known as Gato Montes has been preying on the ranches along the Rio Grande. After the sheriff is nearly killed by these men, Tree is tasked with tracking them down, only this time, he is traveling alone and the dangers are greatly multiplied. His epic journey takes him back into the Llano Estacado where he is captured by Lonely Horse and taken to Mushaway Mountain where the Comanche carry out their own form of frontier justice.

Tree’s return journey puts him on the same path as Marco, a Mexican goat herder, who rides with him to the Mexican Village of Montenegro, where Tree meets Julia, who changes his life forever after he becomes involved in and bears witness to the wonderful celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

Praise for this book:

“I could not put this one down. Mayo has masterfully written a character-driven page-turner, a compelling tale for the reader who seeks something more than the stereotypical western novel.” Ron Schwab, author of Goldsmith and the Law Wranglers series

“This mild-mannered west Texas rancher has woven a border tapestry using yarns made of unimaginable horror and sweet innocence.” Tumbleweed Smith, author of Under the Chinaberry Tree

“A thoroughly enjoyable read—a cowboy’s trail you’ll want to follow, with a memorable cast of characters, renegades, soldiers, lawmen, and simple folks, and a hero that you’ll want more of.” John J. Jacobson, author of All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

AmazonBarnes and NobleSimon and Schuster | Bookshop.orgIndieBoundGoodreads


About the author, BJ Mayo

Author Pic BJ Mayo

 

BJ Mayo was born in an oil field town in Texas. His career in the energy industry took him to various points in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Bangladesh, Australia, and Angola, West Africa.

He and his wife were high school sweethearts and have been married for forty-six years. They live on a working farm near San Angelo, Texas.

Connect with BJ

WEBSITE  ◆  FACEBOOK  ◆  TWITTER INSTAGRAM ◆  SKYHORSE PUBLISHING


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellBJ Mayo’s latest novel, The Sparrows of Montenegro is a grand epic story of friendship, loyalty, war, peace, and culture. Set in and around what is now San Angelo, Texas (a place I’ve only heard of because a dear friend is from a town near there), Mayo has made the landscape as much a character as the human beings. He really makes you feel the dust and heat, or smell the goats.

But it’s the human story that is truly compelling in this book, and while we’re introduced to two strong characters at the beginning, Tree, a bear of a man who despises injustice, and Cedar, a sharpshooter who can also cook. The two become fast friends, but it’s really Tree’s story, for it’s his life that we see after they leave the Cavalry, and it’s he who tangles with a local man named Pablo who goes by the alias Gato Montes – which can be translated as “cat of the mountain” or “mountain lion.”  (The former is more literal, I think the latter has more panache.)

Gato Montes is bitter and twisted, and his behavior involves levels of violence toward humans and animals that sensitive readers may want to avoid, but it should be noted that the grittier scenes are never gratuitous or written for shock value, and absolutely move the story forward.

While this novel isn’t a romance in the conventional sense, there is a bit of a romantic interlude once Tree meets Julia. More than a love story, though, The Sparrows of Montenegro is a satisfying saga of blood, land, honor, friendship, and trusting oneself to do the right thing.

Goes well with: birria de res and a bottle of Indio beer.


Giveaway

 THREE WINNERS:

Autographed copies of The Sparrows of Montenegro.
(US only. Ends 2/19/22).

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2/11/22 Review Momma on the Rocks
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2/13/22 Review Julia Picks 1
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Review: The Blue Zones Challenge, by Dan Buettner

About the Book, The Blue Zones Challenge

• National Geographic (December 7, 2021)
• Hardcover (240 pages)

Blue Zones ChallengeIn this companion to the number one New York Times bestseller The Blue Zones Kitchen, Dan Buettner offers a four-week guide and year-long sustainability program to jump-start your journey to better health, happiness, less stress, and a longer life.
Get started on the path to a longer, healthier, happier life with this quick start to building your own Blue Zones lifestyle. Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones and author of the New York Times number one best-selling Blue Zones Kitchen, offers the challenge of a lifetime: Build a foundation for better nutrition, more exercise, and a stronger social life that will extend your lifetime by years.
In this easy-to-implement guide, you’ll start with the rules of the Blue Zones Challenge, including tips and tricks from the five Blue Zones–locations around the world where people consistently live to 100–advice for setting up a successful kitchen and pantry, and resources for expanding you support network. Then, follow week-by-week prompts to
• Change your diet
• Increase your activity
• Update your living spaces
• Build your social life.

After four weeks–and with the help of easy-to-use worksheets and recipes–you’ll see results in your weight, your well-being, and your general health. From there, follow the Blue Zones challenge through the rest of the year with an 11-month sustainability calendar that will continue to encourage you and build upon the foundation you’ve already started.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Dan BuettnerAbout the author, Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner is the founder of Blue Zones, an organization that helps Americans live longer, healthier lives. His groundbreaking work on longevity led to his 2005 National Geographic cover story “Secrets of Living Longer” and two national bestsellers, The Blue Zones and Thrive. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

Connect with Dan:

Visit him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, and at his website bluezones.com.


My Thoughts

MissMeliss2021In March, 2020, I had the privilege of reviewing Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones Kitchen, which I loved so much, I bought copies for friends and family, so I was excited about this book, The Blue Zones Challenge, not the least because we’ve all developed some Pandemic Pudge.

What I love about Buettner’s work is that he’s passionate about his subject. The Blue Zones represent parts of the world where people practice clean eating as a way of life, and live longer, healthier lives because of it. Dan Buettner suggests that if we alter our diets to emulate those found in those zones, we, too, will live longer, healthier lives.

My familiarity with Buettner’s previous work meant that I was expecting these recipes to be mainly vegetarian, with seafood as the dominant animal protein. But this book isn’t just a cookbook. It has some recipe suggestions, but it’s really a holistic approach to a better lifestyle overall.

The best part is, the suggestions in the book aren’t difficult, and there’s no judgement in the author’s tone. Rather, there are guidelines on how to do small things to improve your overall health. Move more. Eat mindfully. Choose foods that aren’t processed. Make sure your social needs are met as well.

With the new year and “resolution” season approaching, this book could not be better timed. The Blue Zones Challenge is the perfect way to begin 2022 as you mean to go on.

Goes well with: Pumpkin Pancakes.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, December 7th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, December 8th:  Instagram: @nurse_bookie

Monday, December 13th: Jathan & Heather

Tuesday, December 14th: Instagram: @literannie

Wednesday, December 15th: Run Wright

Thursday, December 16th: Instagram: @americanlitteacher

Monday, December 20th: Instagram: @megs.notes

Tuesday, December 21st: Bibliotica

Wednesday, December 22nd: Instagram: @readresa

Thursday, December 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Review: I Am Beauty: Timeless Skincare and Beauty for Women 40 and Over, by Riku Campo

About the Book, I Am Beauty: Timeless Skincare and Beauty for Women 40 and Over

• Publisher: HarperOne (September 15, 2020)
• Hardcover: 240 pages

I Am Beauty-CoverA groundbreaking celebration of ageless beauty, providing the ultimate skincare and makeup guide for women in their forties and beyond from celebrity makeup artist Riku Campo.

The first makeup guide to celebrate and support women forty and over, I Am Beauty is Riku Campo’s labor of love. Riku has worked with some of the most beautiful and recognized faces in the world, like Cindy Crawford, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anne Hathaway. But he has always wanted to create a book honoring those women we don’t always see on the runaways and in magazines—women like his mother, whose beauty is everlasting.

I Am Beauty includes step-by-step tutorials, advice from skincare experts, and Riku’s best behind-the-chair tips every woman needs to revitalize her routine, including:

  • Day and night skincare routines that keep you fresh and beautiful, whether you’re in your forties, fifties, sixties, or beyond
  • At-home facial massages to stimulate collagen production and optimal skin health
  • Must-have everyday makeup tools
  • Choosing the right foundation for all skin tones, types, and textures
  • Tricks for modern, elegant eyebrows and keeping lipstick fresh all day
  • Eyeshadow colors and types that work best on mature skin
  • Finding the eyeglass designs that best complement your style and daily makeup

Riku also has one-on-one conversations and day-and-night makeovers with sixteen incredible women—each with her own unique style—and shares their secrets for finding beauty in all parts of life.

Comprehensive, practical, and inspiring, packed with more than 100 full-color photos, I Am Beauty is the ultimate resource for women to maintain their glow and live their most joyful, beautiful lives.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Riku Campo

Riku CampoFinnish-born international skincare expert, makeup artist, and beauty director Riku Campo has worked as a makeup artist since 1988 and has lived in the United States since 2003. His work has been featured in major fashion and beauty magazines and ad campaigns for L’oreal, Neiman Marcus, Saks, Smashbox, Guess, and others, and he has worked with some of Hollywood’s most renowned actresses. Riku is passionate about bringing out the beauty of many different women by highlighting their own personal style. Instead of following strict rules, he believes in using makeup to bring out joy and confidence.

Connect with Riku:

Find our more about Riku on his website, Instagram, and Facebook.


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellEven if you work from home and only wear makeup if you have to go out, or be on a Zoom call – like me – Riku Campo’s I Am Beauty is an essential read. As we age (I turned 51 a few months ago) our skin changes. If we were oily as teenagers, chances are we’re dryer (but with fewer wrinkles) and we don’t know how to deal with dry skin. If we have always been dry, we might not have been moisturizing correctly. Campo covers all of that, and more.

Aided by the work of photographer Samantha Rapp, Campo talks about what makeup to choose, not so much specific brands, but types – water based vs. oil, powder vs. cream – and what eyeshadow colors give us the most natural look. All of this advice is offered with sensitivity and tact. You never feel pandered to or like a face without a person behind it.

What I really loved, though, were the day-to-night makeovers featured in the book. While still respecting each woman’s own style, Campo demonstrated transformations that ranged from the subtle to the sublime and explained how he achieved each look. It was incredibly informative.

I loved everything about this book.

It should be required reading for every woman who wants to look her best at any age.

Goes well with: a glass of cucumber water, some grilled shrimp, avocado, and cherry tomatoes.

 


Review Stops 00-tlc-tour-host

Monday, September 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, September 21st: Instagram: @readalotwritealot

Wednesday, September 22nd: Books, Cooks, and Looks

Thursday, September 23rd: Stacy’s Books

Friday, September 24th: What Is That Book About

Monday, September 27th: Instagram: @mrsboomreads

Tuesday, September 28th: Instagram: @pickagoodbook

Wednesday, September 29th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, October 1st: Instagram: @jenniaahava

Monday, October 4th: Run Wright

Tuesday, October 5th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie

Wednesday, October 6th: Instagram: @oddandbookish

Monday, October 11th: Instagram: @andrea.c.lowry.reads

Wednesday, October 13th: Instagram: @bookishly_overdue

Monday, December 6th, Bibliotica

 

 

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

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Stoney Creek Publishing Group (Currently 25% off) │TAMU PRESS │Bookshop.org│ AmazonGoodreads

XTRA The Big Empty 2_Square Ad


 

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:

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | LINKEDIN | INSTAGRAM


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

GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!  GIVEAWAY!

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

 

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11/15/21 Author Video Chapter Break Book Blog
11/15/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
11/15/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
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11/17/21 Excerpt All the Ups and Downs
11/17/21 Guest Post The Page Unbound
11/18/21 Review The Plain-Spoken Pen
11/19/21 Review Jennie Reads
11/19/21 Excerpt Book Fidelity
11/20/21 Review It’s Not All Gravy
11/21/21 Deleted Scene Forgotten Winds
11/22/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
11/22/21 Guest Post Missus Gonzo
11/23/21 Playlist The Clueless Gent
11/24/21 Review Bibliotica
11/24/21 Review Reading by Moonlight

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