Review: True Stories from an Unreliable Witness by Christine Lahti

About the book, True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness True-Stories-From-an-Unreliable-Eyewitness-cover

• Hardcover: 224 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (April 3, 2018)

A fiercely intelligent, hilarious, and deeply feminist collection of interrelated personal stories from Academy, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award–winning actress and director Christine Lahti.

For decades, actress and director Christine Lahti has captivated the hearts and minds of her audience through iconic roles in Chicago Hope, Running on Empty, Housekeeping, And Justice for All, Swing Shift, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, God of Carnage, and The Blacklist. Now, in True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, this acclaimed performer channels her creativity inward to share her own story for the first time on the page.

In this poignant essay collection, Lahti focuses on three major periods of her life: her childhood, her early journey as an actress and activist, and the realities of her life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. Lahti’s comical and self-deprecating voice shines through in stories such as “Kidnapped” and “Shit Happens,” and she takes a boldly honest look at the painful fissures in her family in pieces such as “Mama Mia” and “Running on Empty.” Taken together, the collection illuminates watershed moments in Lahti’s life, revealing her struggle to maintain integrity, fight her need for perfection, and remain true to her feminist inclinations.

Lahti’s wisdom and candid insights are reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Joan Rivers’s I Hate Everyone—and yet her experiences are not exclusive to one generation. The soul of her writing can be seen as a spiritual mother to feminist actresses and comedic voices whose works are inspiring today’s young women, including Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Caitlin Moran, and Jenny Lawson. Her stories reveal a stumbling journey toward agency and empowerment as a woman—a journey that’s still very much a work in progress.

True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness is about the power of storytelling to affirm and reframe the bedrock of who we are, revealing that we’re all unreliable eyewitnesses when it comes to our deeply personal memories. Told in a wildly fresh, unique voice, and with the unshakable ability to laugh at herself time and again, this is Christine Lahti’s best performance yet.

Buy, read, and discuss True Stories from an Unreliable Witness:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Christine Lahti Christine-Lahti-AP-Photo-by-Peter-Ash-Lee

Christine Lahti is an acclaimed director and stage, television, and film actress with a career that spans over forty years. She won an Oscar for her short film, Lieberman in Love; an Oscar nomination for Swing Shift; a Golden Globe Award for No Place Like Home; an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Chicago Hope; and an Obie Award for Little Murders. On Broadway, she starred in God of Carnage and The Heidi Chronicles, among many others. Her films include Running on Empty and Housekeeping. Her television shows include Jack and BobbyLaw & Order SVU, and The Blacklist. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.

Connect with Christine:

Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

When I was a kid, I used to love checking the mail, especially since it meant that I’d get first crack at my mother’s copy of Ms. Magazine. At the tender age of ten, a lot of the material was outside of my experience, but I loved the section at the back called “clicks,” which was a monthly sampling of reader contributions, each describing a moment when feminism, or the need for it, “clicked” into place.

This book, True Stories from an Unreliable Witness, includes many essays that represent similar “clicks” in author Christine Lahti’s life, filtered through her personal experience as an actress and director as well as the fact that perception and memory are incredibly subjective.

Whether she’s talking about a turd incident when she was in first grade, or making a pact with her best friend to remain chaste until marriage (spoiler alert: that didn’t happen),  Ms. Lahti’s writing voice is authentic and engaging. She tells her stories without any Hollywood artifice, and admits that her version of various events are presented the way she recalls them, even if her friends and siblings might have differing accounts (hence the “unreliable witness” qualifier in the title).

While the essays highlighted in the promotional material for this book were wonderful, my favorites were “Losing Virginity,” which is mid-way through the collection, and manages to be sweet, sad, and hilarious, all at once, and “The Smile of Her” which is a textual portrait of Lahti’s mother.

Ms. Lahti was born the same year as my mother, which makes her a Baby Boomer to my solid Gen-X (I was born in 1970), and the difference a single generation can make really struck me. In the afore-mentioned  “Losing Virginity,” Lahti mentions having just read Our Bodies, Ourselves. I’m guessing she had a copy of the same booklet – not much more than a pamphlet, at that time – that my mother eventually passed on to me inside the cover of the dictionary-sized revised edition she gave me for my 21st birthday.

Because these are essays, it’s easy to skip around in the book, reading the titles that intrigue you most before moving on to another, but taken in order of presentation they form a memoir that is witty and wise, funny and frustrating, poignant and powerful. While these glimpses into Ms. Lahti’s life are absolutely her story, at the same time, I feel like they’re every woman’s story, too.

Goes well with a glass of red wine, good bread, sharp cheese, and a small dish of olives.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, April 11th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, April 12th: Openly Bookish

Monday, April 16th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, April 17th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Wednesday, April 18th: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, April 19th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, April 23rd: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, April 24th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read

Wednesday, April 25th: Wining Wife

Thursday, April 26th: Thoughts From a Highly Caffeinated Mind

Friday, April 27th: Harry Times…all jacked up

TBD: Eliot’s Eats

Review: The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey

About the book, The Secret to Southern Charm The Secret to Southern Charm by Smith Harvey Photography

 

  • Series: The Peachtree Bluff Series (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (April 3, 2018)

 

Leaving fans “practically [begging] for a sequel” (Bookpage), critically acclaimed author Kristy Woodson Harvey returns with the second novel in her beloved Peachtree Bluff series, featuring a trio of sisters and their mother who discover a truth that will change not only the way they see themselves, but also how they fit together as a family.

After finding out her military husband is missing in action, middle sister Sloane’s world crumbles as her worst nightmare comes true. She can barely climb out of bed, much less summon the strength to be the parent her children deserve.

Her mother, Ansley, provides a much-needed respite as she puts her personal life on hold to help Sloane and her grandchildren wade through their new grief-stricken lives. But between caring for her own aging mother, her daughters, and her grandchildren, Ansley’s private worry is that secrets from her past will come to light.

But when Sloane’s sisters, Caroline and Emerson, remind Sloane that no matter what, she promised her husband she would carry on for their young sons, Sloane finds the support and courage she needs to chase her biggest dreams—and face her deepest fears. Taking a cue from her middle daughter, Ansley takes her own leap of faith and realizes that, after all this time, she might finally be able to have it all.

Harvey’s signature warmth and wit make this a charming and poignant story of first loves, missed opportunities, and second chances and proves that she is “the next major voice in Southern fiction” (Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author).

Buy, read, and discuss The Secret to Southern Charm:

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


About the author, Kristy Woodson Harvey Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the bestselling author of Dear Carolina (Berkley/Penguin Random House, 2015), Lies and Other Acts of Love (Berkley/Penguin Random House, 2016) and the Peachtree Bluff Series, beginning with Slightly South of Simple (Gallery/Simon & Schuster, 2017). Dear Carolina was long-listed for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, has been optioned for film and has appeared on numerous “must-read” lists. Lies and Other Acts of Love was a Romantic Times top pick, a Southern Booksellers Okra Pick and a finalist for the Southern Book Prize. Slightly South of Simple was a Southern Bestseller, a Barnes & Noble Bestseller, one of PopSugar’s picks for “Ultimate Summer Reading” and one of Glitter Guide’s “Must-Reads for April.” The Secret to Southern Charm, the second book in the Peachtree Bluff series, releases April 3, 2018.

She blogs with her mom, Beth Woodson, daily on Design Chic, the inaugural member of the Design Blogger Hall of Fame sponsored by Traditional Home and winner of Amara’s Best Luxury Blog, sponsored by Roberto Cavalli, about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life and loves connecting with readers at kristywoodsonharvey.com.

Harvey is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a master’s in English from East Carolina University, with a concentration in multicultural and transnational literature. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Southern Living, Traditional Home, Parade, USA Today, Domino, Our State and O. Henry. She has been seen in Women’s Health, The Washington Post, US News and World Report, The Huffington Post, USA Today’s Happy Every After, Marie Claire’s The Fix, Woman’s World, Readers’ Digest and North Carolina Bookwatch, among others. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and six-year-old son where she is working on her next novel.

Connect with Kristy:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve been reviewing Kristy Woodson Harvey’s work since Dear Carolina, in 2015, and I’ve never been disappointed. This book, The Secret to Southern Charm, is her first sequel, continuing on from last year’s Slightly South of Simple. If you’re at all worried that you have to be familiar with the previous book, don’t be. This novel works as a standalone, though you’ll probably want to go read the earlier story.  Similarly, if you’re the type to be concerned that sequels are never as good as book one, you may put those concerns to rest. Harvey is as strong as ever. In fact, I feel like in this novel, her voice has become fully realized.

Harvey’s novels always involve strong female characters who take all the southern stereotypes and pulverize them. Her characters are richly painted and dimensional. You really feel for them, especially for Sloane with her two kids and her militaary husband who is MIA.

In fact, it’s in Sloane that I believe Harvey has done some of her best work, showing the combination of hope and fear and grief that Army wives experience whenever their partners are deployed. What could have been angsty, was poignant, and as Sloane’s experience changes, it’s as if we’re glimpsing the soul of a real person.

Which isn’t to say that the entire book wasn’t wonderful – it was. Harvey is extremely adept at capturing the mother-daughter dynamic. Ansley, Sloane’s mother, is the perfect example to this. Essentially the second lead in this story, she’s mother to Sloane and her sisters, grandmother to their children, and a daughter herself, caring for an aging mother (whose lack of filter often provides beats of humor).

If you want a believable, relatable family drama – if you want to read a book that is full of vivid descriptions and characters who are, for the most part, truly charming, then the answer is simple. Read The Secret to Southern Charm.

Goes well with iced tea and chicken salad on a bed of lettuce.

 

 

Review: The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

About the book The Chalk Man

The Chalk ManHardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Crown (January 9, 2018)

The must-read thriller of 2018, this riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry that will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.

That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Buy, read, and discuss The Chalk Man:

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


About the author, C. J. Tudor

CJ TudorC. J. TUDOR lives in Nottingham, England, with her partner and three-year-old daughter. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice-over, and dog walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. The Chalk Man is her first novel.

Connect with C.J.:

Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellThis was the first novel I read after Christmas, and it was the perfect moody read for a chilly winter day. I loved the scenes with young Eddie and his friends using their chalk man code, and their reactions to the initial discovery of the dead body, but the mystery that adult Eddie and his now-grown friends had to solve kept me absorbed – and even guessing  – to the end of the story.

What I really appreciated in Tudor’s writing was the way she lulls readers into the every-day life of a sleepy town before throwing in a suspenseful twist. Her voice, at least in this novel, is quietly engaging, and I would have been equally happy if she’d written something that was a family drama, but I’m glad she used it for suspense. I like the way she underplayed so much of the dark parts of the story. I’m looking forward to more from Tudor, hopefully very soon.

The Chalk Man is a satisfying read with a plot that keeps you just uncertain enough of the eventual outcome that you keep reading.

Goes well with: carnival food – a hot dog on a stick or a hot pretzel with mustard, and root beer.


C. J. Tudor’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

TLC Book ToursTuesday, January 2nd: BookBub blog “18 Books for Stephen King Fans Coming in 2018”

Friday, January 5th: BookBub blog and Facebook video “16 Novels We’re Looking Forward to Reading in 2018”

Monday, January 8th: Katy’s Library blog and @katyslibrary

Monday, January 8th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Tuesday, January 9th: @everlasting.charm

Tuesday, January 9th: Clues and Reviews and @cluesandreviews

Wednesday, January 10th: She Treads Softly

Wednesday, January 10th: Moonlight Rendezvous

Wednesday, January 10th: Tome Tender

Thursday, January 11th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Thursday, January 11th: Rockin’ & Reviewing

Friday, January 12th: Snowdrop Dreams

Friday, January 12th: Jathan and Heather

January 15th: BookBub Blog – author guest post “Eight Thrillers with Scary Children/Teenagers”

Tuesday, January 16th: Bewitched Bookworms

Tuesday, January 16th: Booksie’s Blog

Wednesday, January 17th: Suzy Approved

Wednesday, January 17th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, January 18th: Lit Wit Wine Dine

Thursday, January 18th: Bibliotica

Friday, January 19th: Write Read Life

Friday, January 19th: 5 Minutes for Books

Monday, January 22nd: What is That Book About

Monday, January 22nd: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, January 23rd: A Bookworm’s World

Tuesday, January 23rd: The Book Diva’s Reads

Wednesday, January 24th: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, January 25th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Reviews

Friday, January 26th: Lovely Bookshelf

Monday, January 29th: Novel Gossip blog and @novelgossip

Monday, January 29th: A Literary Vacation

Monday, January 29th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, January 30th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, January 31st: Staircase Wit

Thursday, February 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Review: The Hideaway, by Lauren K. Denton

About the book, The Hideaway The HIdeaway

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (April 11, 2017)

When her grandmother’s will wrenches Sara back home from New Orleans, she learns more about Margaret Van Buren in the wake of her death than she ever did in life.

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed her The Hideaway and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering Mags’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.

Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid Sheetrock dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.

Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed Mags’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.

When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

Buy, read, and discuss The Hideaway:

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


About the author, Lauren K. Denton Lauren K. Denton

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren K. Denton now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books.

The Hideaway is her first novel.

Connect with Lauren:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I read this novel nearly a month ago, while I was on vacation, convinced that I was supposed to review it at the beginning of April. Alas, I’d confused it with another book, which I managed to review on time (barely), and I am finally posting this review today. Forgive me if details are slightly murky.

What I loved about this novel were the characters – especially Sara and Mags – and their relationships with each other and with others in the book. Sara is someone I’d love to be friends with and Mags reminded me of my own grandmother in some ways, though she was radically different in others.

It’s not a spoiler that Mags dies very early in the story, and that much of Sara’s story involves her discovery of the hidden bits of her grandmother’s life. Those discoveries – sometimes significant, sometimes just tiny details that make you go, “Oh, okay, that makes sense now,” felt incredibly real. I think we’ve all gone through that to some degree when a loved one, especially one from an older generation, dies.

Lauren K. Denton’s writing was incredibly evocative and felt extremely real. I loved the way she wrote Sara’s internal conflict throughout the novel. The pull of ‘home’ in opposition to the bigger, more urban life she’s been leading was especially well conveyed.

I also appreciated the way Denton turned the B&B – the Hideaway – into a character in its own right. Yes, it was a place, but it was a place with emotional resonance and its own breath of life, and it takes a special kind of writer to convey that.

While The Hideaway is a fast read, you’d be doing the book – and yourself – a disservice by dismissing it as too cozy. It’s very real, and very warm, and I enjoyed curling up with it during an epic rainstorm.

Goes well with iced sweet tea and lemon cookies.


Lauren K. Denton’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Sunday, April 2nd: Writer Unboxed – author guest post

Tuesday, April 11th: Reading Reality

Thursday, April 13th: Buried Under Books

Friday, April 14th: Books a la Mode – author Q&A

Monday, April 17th: Just Commonly

Wednesday, April 19th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Friday, April 21st: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, April 24th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, April 26th: Bibliotica

Friday, April 28th: Laura’s Reviews

Monday, May 1st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Wednesday, May 3rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, May 4th: Dwell in Possibility

Monday, May 8th:  All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Wednesday, May 10th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Review: Vanishing Time, by Katharine Britton – with Giveaway

About the book, Vanishing Time Vanishing Time by Katharine Britton

 

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Brigham Books; 1 edition (June 8, 2016)
  • Language: English

Cama Truesdale’s ex-husband and young son leave Boston for a fishing trip in South Carolina’s Low Country. In the early morning hours, Cama is jolted awake by a phone call. There’s been a fire on board the boat. Her ex-husband is dead. Her son is missing and presumed dead. As she sets off for South Carolina, Cama’s belief that her son Tate is alive is unwavering. But her frantic search soon stirs up painful memories that send her reeling back to her childhood and the mysterious car crash that killed her black mother and white father. As the clock ticks down, exhausted, haunted by dreams, and stymied by the police and local community, she enters a world in which she must rely on instinct over fact, and where no one and nothing is what it seems—not even the boundary between the living and the dead.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks | Goodreads


About the author, Katharine Britton Katharine Britton

Katharine has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. Her screenplay “Goodbye Don’t Mean Gone,” on which “Vanishing Time” was based, was a Moondance Film Festival winner and a finalist in the New England Women in Film and Television contest. When not writing, Katharine can often be found in her Vermont garden, waging a non-toxic war against slugs, snails, deer, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, moles, voles, and beetles. Katharine’s defense consists mainly of hand-wringing after the fact. Also by Katharine Britton: “Her Sister’s Shadow” and “Little Island.”

Connect with Katharine

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Katharine Britton’s novel Little Islandwhich I really loved, so when her name appeared in my email, inviting me to read and review her latest work, Vanishing Time, there was no way I was going to decline.  I fell just as much in love – perhaps more so – with this novel, and I’m pleased and honored that she asked me to review it.

If you read the blurb, you may get the impression that this novel is going to be a dark and plodding story about a mother searching for her presumed-dead son. Well, there is a lot of searching for the boy, but in no way is this story dark. Sure, there are some heavy moments, but Britton excels as writing the everyday touches of humor and grace that touch even the worst of our days. The result is less Cama’s search for her son – though that’s crucial to the novel – but Cama’s journey to her authentic self, which happens in spurts and sprinkles, from the first page to the last.

Crafting such a story at all takes a delicate hand, but Britton’s work is that delicate. In this richly satisfying read, she’s given us a glimpse at the Low Country lifestyle that I’ve always been drawn to in literature, even using Gullah phrases as chapter headers (a delightful treat, and wonderful detail).

She’s also populated the story with a cast of characters who practically leap off the page and invite you for pie. Sam, the lawyer-turned-touchstone who provides Cama with a solid presence during her search. Phoebe, who owns the cottages on Pawleys Island, and even best-friend Ellie in California, are all written with as much dimension as Cama herself, and as Tate, the little boy Cama is so desperate to find.

What could easily have become a maudlin story about a mother’s plodding search for her missing child becomes, in Katharine Britton’s deft hands, a compelling story that uses the search for self and the search for truth as dual themes connected by the reminiscence of love gone sour, a bit of action/adventure, and just a hint of new love if you turn your head and squint a little.

I love this book, and Britton’s writing voice (which has matured a bit, and flows more easily than it did in Little Island) is clear, strong, and completely captivating.

Goes well with, shrimp po’boys and sweet tea.


Giveaway Vanishing Time by Katharine Britton

One lucky reader (US/Canada)  will win a print copy  of this book, autographed by the author.

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

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling me where your roots are. Is there a place that feels more like home to you than any other? Is it the place where you were born?

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Friday, August 12th.

 

Review: Weak at the Knees by Jo Kessel – Enter to Win a Gift Basket

Weak-at-the-Knees-banner

About the book, Weak at the Knees:

Weak at the Knees

“We got so busy living life that we forgot to live our dreams.”

Danni Lewis has been playing it safe for twenty-six years, but her sheltered existence is making her feel old ahead of time. When a sudden death plunges her into a spiral of grief, she throws caution to the wind and runs away to France in search of a new beginning.

The moment ski instructor Olivier du Pape enters her shattered world she falls hard, in more ways than one.

Their mutual desire is as powerful and seductive as the mountains around them. His dark gypsy looks and piercing blue eyes are irresistible.

Only she must resist, because he has a wife – and she’d made a pact to never get involved with a married man.
But how do you choose between keeping your word and being true to your soul?

Weak at the Knees is Jo Kessel’s debut novel in the new adult, contemporary romance genre – a story of love and loss set between London and the heart of the French Alps.

Buy a copy from Amazon.


About the author, Jo Kessel:

Jo Kessel

Jo Kessel is a journalist in the UK, working for the BBC and reporting and presenting for ITV on holiday, consumer and current affairs programs. She writes for several national newspapers including the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Express, and was the anonymous author of the Independent’s hit column: “Diary of a Primary School Mum.”

When Jo was ten years old she wrote a short story about losing a loved one. Her mother and big sister were so moved by the tale that it made them cry. Having reduced them to tears she vowed that the next time she wrote a story it would make them smile instead. Happily she succeeded and with this success grew an addiction for wanting to reach out and touch people with words.

P.S Jo’s pretty certain one of her daughters has inherited this gene.

Other books by Jo Kessel include Lover in Law.

Connect with Jo:

Website: JoKessel.com
Facebook: Jo Kessel
Twitter: @jo_kessel
Goodreads: Jo Kessel


My Thoughts:

Jo Kessel’s novel Weak at the Knees is a breezy sexy romp with some deep self-examination mixed in. Written in first person (something many authors struggle to pull off, but Kessel handles amazingly well) this is Danni’s story, and she tells it in a such a fashion that I felt as though I was sitting on a couch, drinking wine, and chatting with an old friend.

Danni has been in an exclusive long-term relationship with Hugo (whom she’d maybe chuck in favor of Hugh Grant if given the opportunity, but whom she recognizes would be seen as Hugh Grant by a significant sector of the world’s population (namely American women) just because he’s British. Technically un-married, they live together, and have a very old-married-couple lifestyle.

Enter Olivier, the sexy French ski instructor. He’s hot. He’s willing. He’s French. But he’s also married, and so the rest of the novel is a balance of desire vs. responsibility, possibility vs. practicality, and all of the other life-choices that become so much more intense when they involve matters of the heart as well as matters of bedroom heat.

Kessel has drawn her character’s well. If Danni is like a best friend giving you a couch cushion confessional, then Hugo and Olivier as seen in her eyes are not merely the relationship equivalents of the angel and devil sitting on her shoulders, but real, dimensional men with thoughts and feelings of their own.

While this book isn’t really a comedy, it has many of the comic elements that come from life. Situations have both a funny and a tragic side, and Kessel shows us both.

Weak at the Knees is a fast read, incredibly enjoyable, and far more complex than the cover blurb implies. Read it. You won’t be sorry.

Goes well with hot tea, Milano cookies, and a comfy sofa.


This Book is Part of a Giveaway!

Pump Up Your Book and Jo Kessel are giving away a $100 Amazon Gift Card & a French Gift Basket that includes a whole lot of goodies associated with the book, including a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a famous wine from the Rhône wine region of southeastern France!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $100 Amazon Gift Card and one winner will be chosen to win the gift basket.
  • This giveaway begins October 7 and ends January 18.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on Monday, January 20, 2014.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Enter to Win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Buying In by Laura Hemphill

About the book, Buying In:

Buying In

Bright, ambitious Sophie Landgraf has landed a job as a Wall Street analyst. The small-town girl finally has her ticket to the American elite, but she doesn’t realize the toll it will take—on her boyfriend, on her family, and on her. It isn’t long before Sophie is floundering in this male-dominated world, and things are about to get worse.

With the financial crisis looming, Sophie becomes embroiled in a multi-billion-dollar merger that could make or break her career. The problem? Three men at the top of their game, each with very different reasons for advancing the merger. Now Sophie doesn’t know who to trust—or how far she’ll go to get ahead.

Set inside the high-stakes world of finance, Manhattan’s after-hours clubs, and factories in the Midwest and India, this is the high-powered, heartfelt story of a young woman finding her footing on Wall Street as it crumbles beneath her. Written by an industry veteran, Buying In tackles what it means to be a woman in a man’s world, and how to survive in big business without sacrificing who you are.

Buy a copy at Amazon


About the author, Laura Hemphill:

Laura Hemphill

After graduating from Yale in 2003, Laura Hemphill spent seven years on Wall Street, at Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse, and hedge fund Dune Capital. She left finance to write Buying In. Her writing has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek and on NewYorker.com. Laura lives with her husband and daughter in Manhattan, where she’s working on her second novel.

Connect with Laura:

Website: Buying In: the Book
Twitter: @HemphillLaura


My Thoughts:

Buying In rides the edge of being contemporary women’s fiction and falling into the recently coined category, “New Adult,” largely because the main Point of View character, Sophie is a recent college graduate on her first real job, struggling to swim in a high-stakes, high stress environment.

While I’ve never worked in the same part of the financial industry Sophie has, I spent more than half my life in the real estate finance industry as a loan officer, loan processor, and underwriter, for local brokers and for corporate bankers, so I’ve had a taste of what was happening in 2007-09 – the period this book covers – during the great financial collapse.

My own experience made me more likely to empathize with Sophie, but while I enjoyed the novel as a whole, there were times when I found Sophie a little unlikeable. I wanted to accost her in the bathroom and shake some sense into her, and suggest she grow a spine. I also found myself tempted to skip ahead to the other characters’ POV chapters, especially those of Vishu, her Delhi-born colleague, and Ethan, her boss, although once Sophie hit it off with client “Hutch,” and her trajectory began an upwards trend, I became more interested in her story. (Vishu’s story, specifically, is really touching.)

A lot of this novel gets bogged down by financial details that could cause the average reader’s eyes to glaze a bit, and some of the characters in the non-work areas of Sophie’s life feel a bit one-dimensional – SPOILER ALERT: she breaks up with her boyfriend, and because we barely know him, we don’t feel the impact we should – but overall, Buying In is readable, and I think the author has done really well with her first novel.

Unlike Sophie, I had almost twenty years of industry experience when I saw the credit crisis coming, and I was smart enough to bail out when I had the chance. Sophie’s choices may not always have been ones I agree with, but they did make for interesting conflict, both within herself and with others, and by the novel’s somewhat abrupt ending, I had the sense that she would, ultimately, figure out who she was, and get what she wanted.

Goes well with Chinese chicken salad eaten at one’s desk, and a bottle of water.


TLC Book Tours

This review is based on the NetGalley uncorrected proof of the novel, provided courtesy of TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, click here.

Review: Ade’ by Rebecca Walker (giveaway copy available)

About the Book, Ade’, a Love Story:

Ade, a Love Story

In Adé, a free-spirited American woman and a Swahili Muslim man fall in love on the exquisite island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya. There, they create their own paradise: living in a traditional small white house and creating their private language of intimacy. After an intense courtship, Adé asks for Farida’s hand in marriage.

But when Adé and Farida are forced to leave the island in preparation for their wedding, Farida is faced by the unsettling and often violent realities of life on the mainland. And just as the Persian Gulf War begins, Farida succumbs to a disease that almost kills her, and alters her relationship with Adé forever.

A transcendent love story turned tale of survival, Adé explores what happens when one couple’s private idyll is interrupted by a world in the throes of massive upheaval.

Buy a copy at Amazon.


My Thoughts:

Magical. Lyrical. Haunting. Those are the three words that came to mind from the first page of my copy of Rebecca Walker’s amazing novel Ade’, a Love Story, and by the time I was just a few more pages into the story, I was already swept into the tide of Farida’s life – from college student to world traveler to lover, to, finally, just WOMAN, she seemed as real to me as many of my own friends. I could see her in my minds eye, asking local people in various desert countries to help her broaden her vocabulary, until their words felt like her own, and I could feel her thirst for connection and passion.

Her friend Miriam also reminded me of people I knew – still know – and while I can’t say that I disliked her, there were times when she annoyed me a little. “Stop trying so hard,” I’d tell the version of her in my imagination. But then I’d remember my own feelings of being an outsider.

Ade’, the title character himself, was also very real to me, but I saw him in soft-focus, through Farida’s eyes. Maybe it helps that my mother dated an Iranian man when I was a toddler (my father was never in the picture) or that I grew up in a diverse group of people from many different cultures, but I could almost hear his accent, his speech patterns – almost smell this skin.

It’s no secret that I read in the bath a lot. Even though my copy of Ade’ was a digital copy, and an uncorrected proof version at that, courtesy of TLC Book Tours and NetGalley, I took my Kindle into the bath with me to read this novel, and didn’t come out til the water was ice cold and my fingers and toes totally pruney. Why? Because this book is THAT entrancing. The language, the settings, the characters – all so vivid and so real.

Rebecca Walker, I know from her bio, writes for Marie Claire so it’s possible that I’ve read some of her stuff without knowing it, as I’m a long-time subscriber to that magazine. At times her voice seemed incredibly familiar, and that only made me enjoy the book more.

Ade’ is a love story, and I am in love with Ade’ and with Ms. Walker’s writing. Brava!

Goes well with: falafel, sweet potato fries, and yellow lentil soup.


About the author, Rebecca Walker:

Rebecca Walker

Rebecca Walker is the author of the best-selling memoirs Black, White and Jewish and Baby Love, and editor of the anthology Black Cool. She is also the editor of the anthologies To Be Real, What Makes a Man, and One Big Happy Family. Her writing has appeared in Bookforum, Newsweek, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Washington Post, Vibe, and Interview, among many other publications, and she blogs regularly for The Root.

Connect with Rebecca Walker:

Website: Rebecca Walker
Twitter: @RebeccaWalker


The lovely people at TLC Book Tours have given me the opportunity to make a gift of this book. Leave a comment telling me about YOUR one true love, and you could get a copy of your own.

TLC Book Tours

Book Excerpt: Upir and the Monster Gang by Sharron Thornton & Raymond Thornton

Upir & the Monster Gang

About the Series, Upir and the Monster Gang, by Sharron & Raymond Thornton:

Upir and the Monster Gang Cover

Coming from a long line of highly respected vampires, Upir knew that going to Neewollah, the Monster Mausoleum, would help him live up to his family’s reputation, but he never anticipated the terrifying turn his stay there would take. Upon entering, Upir befriends several strange creatures and their nights soon become treacherous when they have to dodge flying skulls whose hollow eye sockets shimmer with bright blue lights, avoid huge plants with tongue-like tentacles that devour young monsters, and run from a mad scientist who loves to use the monster students in his experiments. Most of all, they try to stay away from Muriel, an ill-tempered, nasty gorgon girl with slithering snakes for hair. She is the leader of three cantankerous monsters that follow her every command. Her group is bent on destroying Upir and his gang.

Without warning the young monsters find themselves entangled in a plot to destroy the Monster race. Will they escape the clutches of this horrifying villain and alert the Monster world, or will they become his loyal soldiers?


Read an Excerpt from Upir and the Monster Gang:

The Welcoming Committee

“Yeah, you kid!” A monster with an enormous bumpy head, bulbous nose and winged ears pointed at the vampire. A single tooth protruded from the troll’s lower lip as he gaped at Upir.

A wolf-boy, his grin revealing sharp pointy teeth, was with the group. His eyes had a hungry look to them.

Upir swallowed and tried to sound calm. “Yeah, what do you want?” he asked.

A green goblin boy, a skateboard under one arm, shoved his way between the other two and glared at Upir. “We’re the welcoming committee around here,” he said sarcastically.

Upir doubted that. “Okay,” he said slowly.

The goblin boy pointed up at the troll. “He’s Groks. I’m Gordon.” He tilted his head at the wolf boy. “And that’s Raff.”

Raff sneered, “What’s your name?”

Without thinking, Upir said his whole name. “Upir Amarande.”

“Yooper! Yooper!” Groks laughed, slobber spilling down his chin. “What kinda stupid name–”

“Move it!” A girl with dozens of slithering snakes for hair came forward as the other three monsters stepped aside. The gorgon stood before Upir, her breath smelled of swamp water; the snakes on her head hissed and stretched toward him. “What did you say your name was?”

Upir told her.

“Amarande, huh?” She looked Upir up and down and smiled, “Well look what we’ve got here boys, a little monster royalty in our midst.”

Upir started to shake his head, but before he could speak, the gorgon stuck out her hand. “Glad to have you aboard,” she said.

Upir shook her hand as he asked, “Aboard?”

Groks groaned. “Muriel, we don’t need a vamp–”

“Shut up, troll!” She turned back to Upir. “My gang,” she said as her head tilted toward the monsters behind her. “We plan on running this place, and I’m inviting you to join.”

Upir smiled. “Serious?” he asked. He didn’t like the fact that, once again, he’d been befriended because of his name. But to run with the in-crowd, he could deal with that. “Thanks,” he said.

“What’s going on!” a voice screamed behind them. The kids turned. The
hunchback lumbered toward them, his hump weighing him down to the floor. “What are you kids doing in the hall? It’s almost lights out. Get to your rooms!” Turning to his hump he mumbled, “Hugo always has to chase kids all over the place.”

Muriel lowered her gaze and innocently said, “We’re going now, Mr. Hugo.” Turning to her gang she growled, “Let’s go!” She slapped Upir on the arm as she brushed past him. “Welcome to my gang, Amarande. See ya around.”

“Yeah, see ya around,” Groks said hitting Upir on the back so hard that he stumbled into the wall.

Raff snickered and Gordon hooted. Muriel called out another “Shut up!” before they were out of sight.

Upir pushed open the creaky door and entered a dark, stone-like cave.

Jagged pieces of rock, some crooked as bad teeth, protruded from the ceiling and floor. Nestled in an alcove was a bunk bed made of heavily-polished dragon bones. On one wall rested a long narrow desk of stone and against the other wall sat a black coffin, just his size. The room smelled like the dust of ages past. And although there was no window, a strange light emanated across the ceiling. Looking around the room, Upir noticed a ghost hovering above the top bunk. The floating boy wore a long transparent shroud; a green woolen scarf was slung around his neck. A long chain, wrapped around his waist, clinked as it drifted lazily
in the air. Upir saw the rock wall through the boy’s glowing form.

The ghost boy smiled making his blue eyes look bluer and his plain face look mischievous. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Gusty,”

Upir smiled back. “I’m Upir,” he replied, glad he hadn’t offered his last name. He knew everyone would find out soon enough. But until then, maybe he’d have a chance to make friends on his own.

Gusty moved, seeping in and out of form like a genie near the mouth of its bottle. Upir blinked a few times, not sure the boy was really there.

“Yeah, he’s really there,” said another boy who emerged from a pile of blankets on the bottom bunk. He stood up, his rumpled flannel shirt and jeans hung limply from his stick frame. “Gusty likes to show off,” he said. The boy’s head was a carved hollow pumpkin. Light flowed through the triangular holes; the yellowish rays reflected across the room like searchlights. The grin on his face was cheerful. “I’m Payne,” he said to Upir. “Welcome to Neewollah.”


A Message from the Authors, Sharron Thornton & Raymond Thornton:

Upir and the Monster Gang

We’re on our way to be published! My name is Sharron Thornton and I wrote a children’s novel entitled Upir and the Monster Gang. The book has 60 full page, full colored illustrations which were done by my son, Raymond Thornton. We have chosen to use an online, crowdfunding site called Kickstarter to begin this amazing venture.
Beginning October 1st and running through November 16th we are doing a pre-launch, first edition sale of our book. Attached to this email is a link to our Kickstarter page. There you can watch our video and see some of the Upir and the Monster Gang products we have listed. One of the great things about Kickstarter is that it’s like a grassroots campaign that spreads and then builds momentum.

After the Kickstarter we have marketing and distribution lined up to take Upir and the Monster Gang to the next level, but we need your help getting it started. Please share our Kickstarter page with your family and friends on your email lists, social media and any other networks you may have and then ask them to share it also.
http://kck.st/19jvVMG.

Connect with Sharron and/or Raymond:

Web: UpirAndTheMonsterGang.com
Facebook: Upir and the Monster Gang
Twitter (Sharron): @SharronThornton
Twitter (Raymond): @RaymondThornton

Music Review: Dreamland, Brent Spiner & Maude Maggart

Dreamland
Brent Spiner, Maude Maggart
Get it from Amazon >>

I’ve always been a fan of audio dramas, and have fond memories of rainy winter Sunday evenings, when my mother would make soup or stew, and she, Ira, and I would sit around the kitchen table and listen raptly to the radio plays that were broadcast on the local NPR affiliate. Or maybe it was the Pacifica affiliate. Either way it was a nice break from worrying about heating bills, the merits of tanked vs. tankless water heaters, and any number of other modern subjects.

Knowing this, there is every chance that, had I known to look for it, I’d have fallen in love with Brent Spiner’s newest brainchild, Dreamland, a CD that is more than just music, but really an audio musical with a healthy dash of noir-style characters and settings, and some great American standards, performed by Spiner and his co-star for this production, Maude Maggart.

I’ll confess that, even though I’m not generally given to collecting autographs from actors, no matter how much I enjoy their work, I paid the extra $10 over the $19,99 base price of the Dreamland cd to have Mr. Spiner not only sign it, but also to add the phrase “To MissMeliss” in strong silver writing on the front, because I am that big a geek.

But I digress.

Dreamland is the story of one man’s dream. I’ve often said that I dream not just in technicolor, but in full surround sound with a studio orchestra and backup singers. Apparently, so does the protagonist of this story, because when we meet him he’s preparing for bed in a hotel room, and is asking for a 9:30 AM wakeup call.

For the rest of the 50-ish minute CD, we, and he, are living within the dream, and, as can happen in small-d dreamland, scenes transition abruptly, time is either stretched or compressed as needed, and songs are used to punctuate feelings, but also to further the storyline. At one point, our hero offers the heroine a lift, but instead of car, he has a train. Such is the stuff of dreams.

Spiner’s vocals seem richer and healthier than his previous disc, Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back, which included similar types of songs. I especially liked “The Moonbeam Song,” and “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” but everything was quite pleasing. Of course, he also wrote the script, so it makes sense that he would pick songs he sings well.

Ms. Maggart (who is also Fiona Apple’s sister), has a lovely voice, and it’s so refreshing to hear a female lead who isn’t an over-shrill soprano (though as a mezzo myself, I may be biased). Her “I Remember You” is sheer magic.

Many of the other characters in Dreamland were voiced by Mark Hamill (yes, that one), but you’d never be able to pick out his voice if you didn’t know ahead of time that he was part of the project.

In an age of wall-vibrating dance beats, it’s nice to spend a quiet hour listening to something like Dreamland, and enjoying music from a time when songs were so much more singable than they are now. The only thing missing from the audio experience, for me, was a rainy day.

Dreamland may be purchased at Brent Spiner’s website, The Real Brent Spiner, and he takes paypal.