Review: The Virtues of Oxygen, by Susan Schoenberger

About the book, The Virtues of Oxygen The Virtues of Oxygen

Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Buy, read, and discuss The Virtues of Oxygen

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About the author, Susan Schoenberger Susan-Schoenberger_Photo-Credit-Shana-Sureck

Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three children.

Connect with Susan

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

You would think that a story about a woman who spends her entire life in an iron lung would be pretty grim, but The Virtues of Oxygen is anything but. Author Susan Shoenberger gives us not only a glimpse into what is now a very rare form of disability, but also a character piece about two women who are not in competition with each other, but work as partners.

Vivian, the one in the iron lung, is the perfect example of how the internet has, and still can, change lives. We get her backstory as a series of unaired podcasts, flashbacks into the life of a once boisterous and vibrant child, whose mind was both a blessing and a curse for much of her life.

Holly is not in an iron lung, but circumstance has given her a life almost as limited as Vivian’s. The death of her husband, the economic recession – both have conspired against her, to the point where she’s in danger of losing her house, when we first meet her.

Together, these two women move from companions to friends to a sort of chosen family, as each learns more about the other and herself, and opens herself enough to both give and receive assistance, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial.

Yes, there are other characters in the novel, but all revolve around these two strong personalities, Vivian and Holly. Holly and Vivian.

I’ll confess that while I’ve never been as close to Holly was at homelessness, I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck in a society where even those of us who would normally be considered upper-middle-class are sometimes one or two paychecks away from foreclosure.

I’ll also confess that Vivian made such an impression on me that I spent no small amount of time on Google, reading about real women who lived in iron lungs after being stricken by polio, including the woman whose story actually inspired Shoenberger to write this novel.

The Virtues of Oxygen is a gripping read, and the ending, while somewhat predictable, is also true to the characters the author created. It’s also the ending I wanted them to have, one filled with the easy breath of hope.

Goes well with Bacon, eggs, and a toasted English muffin, eaten at a local diner.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, including the complete tour schedule, click HERE.

Review: The Dirty Book Murder: an Antiquarian Book Mystery, by Thomas Shawyer

About the book The Dirty Book Murder: an Antiquarian Book Mystery The Dirty Book Murder

Publisher: Alibi (May 6, 2014)
Sold by: Random House LLC

In this smart, fast-paced mystery debut, Thomas Shawver introduces a charming, unlikely hero from the rarefied world of antique books.

Book merchant Michael Bevan arrives at the Kansas City auction house hoping to uncover some hidden literary gold. Though the auction ad had mentioned erotica, Michael is amazed to find lovely Japanese Shunga scrolls and a first edition of a novel by French author Colette with an inscription by Ernest Hemingway. This one item alone could fetch a small fortune in the right market.

As Michael and fellow dealer Gareth Hughes are warming up for battle, a stranger comes out of nowhere and outbids them—to the tune of sixty grand. But Gareth is unwilling to leave the auction house empty-handed, so he steals two volumes, including the Colette novel. When Gareth is found dead the next day, Michael quickly becomes the prime suspect: Not only had the pair been tossed out of a bar mid-fistfight the night before, but there is evidence from Michael’s shop at the crime scene.

Now the attorney-turned-bookman must find out who wanted the Colette so badly that they would kill for it—and frame Michael. Desperate to stay out of police custody, Michael follows the murderer’s trail into the wealthiest echelons of the city, where power and influence meet corruption—and mystery and eroticism are perverted by pure evil. Unfortunately for Michael, one dead book dealer is only the opening chapter in a terrifying tale of high culture and lowlifes.

Buy, read, and discuss:

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About the author, Thomas Shawyer

Thomas Shawver is a former marine officer, lawyer, and journalist with American City Business Journals. An avid rugby player and international traveler, Shawver owned Bloomsday Books, an antiquarian bookstore in Kansas City.


My Thoughts

I stayed up all night reading The Dirty Book Murder, not because I’d forgotten that I was supposed to review it, but because it was that good. It opens a bit slowly, with main character Michael Bevan going to an auction because there’s some rare Japanese erotica he might want for his used bookstore, but very quickly turns into a fast-paced neo-noire murder mystery replete with mobsters, movie stars, and an estranged daughter.

It’s also got enough literary references, references, I might add, that are relevant to the plot, to make any bibliophile want to start tracking the various times Collette, Hemingway, and others are invoked by characters in the story.

And then there’s a hint of romance, though this book is in no way a love story, unless it’s a love of reading and literature, and the preservation thereof.

Author Shawyer shares a few traits (per his bio) with his main character, but he manages to do so in a way that is very much “write what you know,” and not at all “annoying author insertion.”

This book should appeal to both those who like their mysteries a little bit cerebral, but it should also be great for those who were raised on hard-boiled detective novels, as there’s a bit a both.

Goes well with Shepherd’s pie and Irish beer.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Review: Return to the Beach House, by Georgia Bockoven

About the book Return to the Beach House Return to the Beach House

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (May 13, 2014)

Over the course of one year, in a charming cottage by the sea, eight people will discover love and remembrance, reconciliation and reunion, beginnings and endings in this unforgettable sequel to Georgia Bockoven’s The Beach House and Another Summer.

Alison arrives at the beach house in June to spend a month with her restless grandson before he leaves for his first year of college. More than a decade earlier, Alison lost her beloved husband, and has faced life alone ever since. Now she discovers a new life and a possible new love.

August brings together four college friends facing a milestone. During summer’s final days, they share laughter, tears, and love—revealing long-held secrets and creating new and even more powerful bonds.

World-class wildlife photographer Matthew and award-winning war photographer Lindsey arrive at the beach house in January, each harboring the very real fear that it will mark the end of their decade-long love affair. Alone in the house’s warm peace, they are forced to truly look at who they are and what they want, discovering surprising truths that will change their lives forever.

Buy, read, discuss

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About the author, Georgia Bockoven Georgia Bockoven

Georgia Bockoven is an award-winning author who began writing fiction after a successful career as a freelance journalist and photographer. Her books have sold more than three million copies worldwide. The mother of two, she resides in Northern California with her husband, John.


My Thoughts

I’d read the original The Beach House a couple of summers ago, and I love beach novels, so when I was offered the chance to read and review the latest installment in Georgia Bockoven’s collection, I didn’t just jump at the chance, I swan dove. Or maybe cannonballed. Whatever.

Having spent a significant chunk of my life living in San Francisco and San Jose, I feel a special kinship with Return to the Beach House. I’ve always wanted to rent one of those houses in Santa Cruz or Capitola or anywhere else along the Northern California coast for the summer, or February, or pretty much ever. If I were rich, I’d buy one, and live there full time.

But that’s about me, and not the novel.

Here’s what I love about this book: it’s a novel, but it’s also an anthology, because while everything is tied together by this wonderful house – so much so that the house itself really becomes a character, it’s also separate stories. Alison and her grandson Christopher are one story. The four “alphabet girl” friends are another.

The glimpses into the life of Julia, who owns the house, make lovely bookends, and further serve to tie everything together, and the stories are always related by theme, but if reading a traditional novel is too much for you in this 140-character world, this book will be palatable because of the way it’s crafted.

Conversely, if you’re not a fan of novellas or short stories, you needn’t worry, because there is enough continuity, enough of a through-theme, to keep everything feeling relevant and related.

Bockoven’s characters, especially the women, are vibrant, realistically portrayed people, and her sense of place is equally vivid. I could smell the salt, hear the surf, and feel the coarse, damp, Pacific coast sand under my toes.

Read this book, if you love great characters, and a story that’s light enough for summer without being at all frothy or fluffy. Read this book, if you want a summer beach read that is deeply satisfying. But definitely read this book.

Goes well with fresh fish from Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing, pasta, and San Francisco sourdough, with any local microbrew beer, or a California wine. (Fetzer “Sundial” Chardonnay is my fave.)


TLC Book Tours

This post is part of a blog tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Review: The Supreme Macaroni Company, by Adriana Trigiani

About the book, The Supreme Macaroni Company

The Supreme Macaroni Company

• Paperback: 352 pages
• Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 6, 2014)

New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani takes us from the cobblestone streets of Greenwich Village to lush New Orleans to Italy and back again, from the tricky dynamics between Old World craftsmanship and New World ambition, all amid a passionate love affair that fuels one woman’s determination to have it all.

For more than one hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This ancient business partnership provides a twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the schoolteacher-turned-shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.

But after the wedding celebrations are over, Valentine wakes up to the reality of juggling the demands of a new business and the needs of her new family. Confronted with painful choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: “A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything.” Now the proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves—the bitter and the sweet of life itself.

Buy, Read, Discuss

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About the author, Adriana Trigiani

Adriana-Trigiani-photo-credity-Timothy-Stephenson

Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Times bestseller The Shoemaker’s Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don’t Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She has written the screenplay for her debut novel Big Stone Gap, which she will also direct. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Adriana

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts:

In The Supreme Macaroni Company, Adriana Trigiani combines three of my favorite things: realistic romance, shoes, and Italian-American culture. Having grown up in a New Jersey Neapolitan family, it is the latter, especially, that really resonated with me. In the voices of Valentine, her lover Gianluca, and the rest of her family, I heard echoes of my own wild, crazy, broadly gesticulating, incredibly LOUD grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Not having read the previous novel in this series, I did feel a bit as if I had been thrown into the deep end of a pool, with leaky water-wings, but soon enough I had figured out all the relationships, and the experience ultimately enhanced my enjoyment of the story, because I imagine Gianluca felt the same way.

Trigiani’s characters all have delightful eccentricities, some of which are more subtle than others, but they all seemed like people I might know (or be related to). Having also grown up in a couple of family businesses, I could really identify with Valentine’s journey toward business success, a journey that was both aided and overshadowed by her family.

I thought the romance between Valentine and Gianluca was well-written, reminding me a little of my own parents’ relationship, though my stepfather is only 15 years older than my mother.

On the whole, this was a gripping family drama with enough romance to keep things tingly, despite a poignant ending, and enough talk of food to make even a gluten-free vegan crave a plate of lasagna with meatballs on the side.

Goes well with Cappuccino and cannoli, obviously.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual blog tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For more information and the complete list of tour stops, click here.

Review: The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend, by Annabelle Costa

About the book, The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend

The Time Traveler's Boyfriend

Print Length: 250 pages

Publisher: Dev Love Press (February 2, 2014)

Claudia’s geeky boyfriend Adam has just invented a time machine.

No, really—he has. She doesn’t believe it either until Adam provides her with definitive proof that he does, in fact, have a functioning time travel device sitting in the living room of his Manhattan brownstone.

But instead of getting ready to accept the Nobel Prize, Adam has very different plans for his groundbreaking invention. He wants Claudia to use the machine to travel back in time and stop the accident that landed him in a wheelchair over a decade ago, and prevent the trajectory of events that he believes ruined his life.

When Claudia reluctantly agrees to become the first human time traveler, she knows she’s making a big gamble. If she succeeds, she could have the happy ending with commitment-phobic Adam that she’s always dreamed of. But if she fails, it could mean the end of the universe as she knows it.

Read the first chapter, then buy a copy of your own

First Chapter | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Add to Goodreads


About the Author, Annabelle Costa

Annabelle Costa

Annabelle Costa is a teacher who writes in her free time. She enjoys the wounded hero genre, involving male love interests with physical disabilities, who don’t follow the typical Hollywood perception of sexy.


My Thoughts

I don’t read a lot of “formula” romances (though I’ll cop to having had a serious Silhouette Desire addiction when I was a teenager – seriously, those things were like crack), but I’ve read enough of them to recognize that The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend is a slightly more contemporary version of a classic format. Despite that, however, or maybe even because of it, it’s an excellent read, full of fun and flirtatiousness, and the fact that it is from a publishing house that focuses on love stories featuring characters with disabilities gives it a lot more depth than it would otherwise have had.

While I found Claudia’s story to be a bit predictable, I still enjoyed taking her journey with her – a journey from slightly confused girlfriend who really wants a permanent commitment, to what is, eventually, a healthier, more mature version of herself. She’s likeable and relate-able, which is exactly what romance heroines should be.

Then there’s Adam. Geeky. Smart. Affectionate. Dead-sexy. And he happens to be in a wheelchair. What made this book more than ‘just’ a romance novel was how deftly the author, Annabelle Costa, handled Adam’s disability. She made it one facet of his character, but not necessarily a defining facet, and even used it to give him a super-sexy advantage that he would not have otherwise had. For a minute or two, I wanted to date Adam.

I liked the use of time-travel, something that is definitely not a typical romance trope. As I said, I found the plot twist a bit predictable, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the story.

If you want a fun, fast, read with great characters and a couple of really hot love scenes, you should definitely check out The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend.

Goes well with Pad Thai and iced Thai tea.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For more information, or the complete list of tour stops, click here.

Review: Outside In, by Doug Cooper

About the book, Outside In

Outside In

Hardcover: 253 pages

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press (August 13, 2013)

From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-In-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd–recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student–it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.

Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

A look at one man’s belated coming of age that’s equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.

Buy a copy of your own, and start reading:

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Add Driving Lessons to GoodReads


About the author, Doug Cooper

Doug Cooper

Doug Cooper has traveled to more than twenty countries on five continents and has held jobs in service, teaching, and business. He now lives and writes in Las Vegas. Outside In is his first novel.

Connect with Doug:
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My Thoughts

I’ve said before that first person novels tend to be tricky. Many try them, most fail. Doug Cooper, however, makes writing in first person seem effortless, and as a result, when I read Outside In, which, by the way, I LOVED, I felt like I really was seeing things unfold through the eyes of a real person.

For me, even if I’m enjoying a plot or really like a character, it’s the details that make a story really sing, so scenes like the trip on the ferry, and later, the first glimpse we get of the Round House, really gave me a sense of place, but also made everything else seem vivid.

As someone who is on the far side of 40, I always find it interesting when authors recognize that “coming of age” stories aren’t limited to people who are 18-21 years old, but can happen when you’re 25, 35, or even in your sixties. Doug Cooper’s main character is a teacher who is about to finish grad school, but that doesn’t make this any less a coming-of-age tale.

With nuance and a great sense of both language and place, Doug Cooper kept my attention from wandering for the entire length of Outside In (a line about humid air feeling ‘like jelly on my skin’ really struck me) and at the end, I was sad to bid goodbye to Brad and Haley and the rest of the “cast.”

If you’re not certain that this book is for you, let me assure you: IT IS.

Goes well with A really good burger with crinkle-cut fries, and a cold beer, preferably from a joint that caters to summer tourists.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, or the complete list of tour stops, click here.

Review: The Tempest Murders by P.M. Terrell


My Thoughts

The Tempest Murders was the perfect mystery to read on New Year’s Eve in Texas, even though it was set on the coast, during hurricane season. Why? Because when you’re on holiday time anyway, having a novel that is set before, during, and after a major storm just makes the world recede even further, and the story live more.

Boy did this story live.

Part of it takes place in the past, in the dreams of main character Ryan, who is reliving the events of a couple centuries before as he sleeps. The series of murders he dreams about are eerily similar to a serial killer case he’s working on in the current era, and when the woman who is his lover in his dreams appears before him in the guise of a news reporter following his investigation things get incredibly surreal.

The investigation itself was fairly obvious, which meant the puzzle part of the mystery wasn’t really “whodunnit?” but “how do we PROVE whodunnit?” and “why did he do it?” This isn’t at all a bad thing, but it means that The Tempest Murders sometimes feels more like a paranormal romance with mystery interludes than anything else. (In truth, I’m fairly certain that’s the author’s intention.)

The characters are interesting and dimensional, and I enjoyed the story immensely. This isn’t a novel for scholarly discussion or term paper fodder, but it’s definitely an entertaining read, and makes you wonder about concepts like genetic history and reincarnation. The only flaw is that we didn’t get ENOUGH of the paranormal – no explanation, and both Ryan (the detective) and Cait (the reporter) seemed to have little problem just accepting the premise behind Ryan’s dreams and the eventual resolution.

Goes well with shepherd’s pie and hard cider. Driving rainstorm optional.

This spotlight is part of a virtual tour hosted by Pump Up Your Book. Click HERE for the tour page.

For information about the author, P.M. Terrell, see the book spotlight I posted last Friday.

Review: Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot book 2) by Christine Amsden

About the book, Secrets and Lies

Secrets and Lies

Cassie Scot,still stinging from her parents’ betrayal, wants out of the magical world. But it isn’t letting her go. Her family is falling apart and despite everything, it looks like she may be the only one who can save them.

To complicate matters, Cassie owes Evan her life, making it difficult for her to deny him anything he really wants. And he wants her. Sparks fly when they team up to find two girls missing from summer camp, but long-buried secrets may ruin their hopes for happiness. Book 2 in the Cassie Scot Mystery series.

Buy a copy here:

Amazon


About the author, Christine Amsden

Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

Connect with Christine

Website: Into the Dreaming
Facebook: Christine Amsden, Author
Twitter: @ChristineAmsden


My Thoughts:

I want Cassie Scot to be my best friend. She’s funny, feisty and, as the only non-magical person in a family of practitioners, deliciously flawed.

Having just read both book one and book two of this series, back to back, the details are a bit muddled in my head (This, and my tendency to give spoilers, are why I never write summaries. If you want to know the story – read the book yourself), but I know that as much as I respect Cassie’s determination to make it on her own (or at least without the help of her parents), I also wish she was better at confronting them.

That said, I know all too well the way our parents continue to affect our lives, long after we’ve reached adulthood. I’m 43, have been married for almost 19 years, run a business, and own my home, and my mother still has the power to shatter my world.

Still Cassie Scot, as a character, rocks my world.

But I also like Evan Blackwood, who loves her enough to wait for her to love him back. And I thought the his-and-hers cousins were also well-written, as were both Cassie and Evan’s fathers.

As in the first book, author Christine Amsden has given us a rich world full of great characters, both magical and mundane. In some ways her work reminds me of Laurell K. Hamilton’s early Anita Blake novels (you know, before they became mostly monster porn) and that’s due to the world she’s created. There’s enough detail to make it feel real, but not so much that you start picking at the fabric of her fictional town.

Bottom line: No paranormal novel, whether it’s a romance, detective story, or even a musical, is ever going to be considered high art, but that’s okay, because literature doesn’t have to be high art to be entertaining. And the Cassie Scot stories are just that: smart, sexy, and fabulously entertaining. Can’t wait for book three.


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Secrets and Lies

Review: The Seacrest by Aaron Paul Lazar

About the book, The Seacrest:

The Seacrest

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Finn McGraw disagrees.

He was just seventeen when he had a torrid summer affair with the girl who stole his heart—and then inexplicably turned on him. Finn may have moved on with his life, but he’s never forgotten her.

Now, ten years later, he’s got more than his lost love to worry about. A horrific accident turns his life upside down, resurrecting the ghosts of his long-dead family and taking the lives of the few people he has left.

Finn always believed his estranged brother was responsible for the fire that killed their family—but an unexpected inheritance with a mystery attached throws everything he knows into doubt.

And on top of that, the beguiling daughter of his wealthy employer has secrets of her own. But the closer he gets, the harder she pushes him away.

The Seacrest is a story of intrigue and betrayal, of secrets and second chances—and above all, of a love that never dies.

Buy a copy from Amazon or Smashwords.


My Thoughts:

When author Aaron Lazar contacted me with an invitation to read and review his latest novel, The Seacrest, I said yes, even though my to-be-reviewed stack is a bit overwhelming, and I’m glad I did, because I’m a fanatic for “beach books,” and this qualifies.

I should clarify that when I say “beach book,” I mean anything with a coastal flavor. Elin Hilderbrand’s work is my typical summer addiction, and as I was reading The Seacrest, I was mentally comparing Lazar to Hilderbrand, and thinking, “This book could easily be a male POV equivalent.” I stand by that, but I mean it in a good way, except that where some of Hilderbrand’s characters (mostly the men) seem to be pastel-clad cardboard cutouts, ALL of the characters in this novel are fully realized.

I particularly liked the way the book alternates scenes in the present with flashbacks of first love, and young love. I enjoyed the way the characters flaws and personal issues not only served the story, but also made them seem more real. Love is messy and crazy and earthy, and Lazar does a really good job of capturing that – the conflict, the indecision, the hopes and dreams – in a way that is never smarmy, and ultimately very satisfying.

Finn and Libby, the central characters of the story, are people I wouldn’t mind buying blueberries or art from, or meeting in the local diner. I love that Finn’s dog Ace is such a stalwart companion, as are Libby’s horses. I love the tease in the first several flashbacks, when you’re not quite certain who “Sassy,” – Finn’s first love – is.

The characters whom we meet ONLY in flashbacks (ome more recent than others), Finn’s wife Cora and brother Jax, are no less real, and no less dimensional. Their story is as compelling as the central tale, and provides both counterpoint and balance. (Also, as an amateur cellist myself, I had to grin at Cora’s choice of instrument.)

I haven’t read any of Aaron Lazar’s other work, but if all of his writing is as interesting and entertaining as The Seacrest he’s found a new fan in me.

Goes well with: Blueberry muffins and a steaming mug of French roast coffee with a dollop of half&half.


About the author, Aaron Paul Lazar

Aaron Lazar

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.

Connect with Aaron:

Website: Lazar Books
Facebook: A.P. Lazar
Twitter: @aplazar
Goodreads: Aaron Paul Lazar

Review: Hoodoo Sea by Rolf Hitzer

Hoodoo Sea
Hoodoo Sea
by Rolf Hitzer
Get it from Amazon.com >>

There’s something really exciting about reading an author’s first work, so when I was offered the opportunity to review Rolf Hitzer’s debut novel, Hoodoo Sea, I jumped at the chance. After all, I like a good action-adventure novel, and coming home from a vacation that involved climbing lighthouses and hanging out at murky cold beaches put me in just the right frame of mind for such a work.

In Hoodoo Sea, Hitzer introduces us to Scott Reed, a NASA wing commander chosen to command the test mission of the first speed-of-light craft. Oh, and Reed, like the author, is Canadian.

Reed and his three teammates take off with no issue, and immediately head for that part of the ocean known as “Hoodoo Sea” by navy types, and “the Bermuda triangle” by the rest of us. Their craft is surrounded by a dense fog, instruments go wonky, and there are flashes of bright light. Finally, they land, but on an Island populated by hunter-gatherer types and giant wolves with flashlight-bright eyes. This is where their adventure really begins.

Part action-adventure, part survival tale, and part paranormal thriller, Hoodoo Sea is a compelling read, with strong characters and just enough detail to allow the reader to visualize the scene without feeling like it’s overkill.

I liked that the mission team included a woman, and that the American vs. Canadian bickering was realistic without overpowering the plot. I enjoyed the descriptions of the native population, including Tribefeeder Henpo, and the hints that the wolves might not be wolves.

I confess, that when my stepfather, who peeked at the book before I could, pointed out that author Hitzer is from Winnipeg, just like his main character, I was a bit concerned there would be elements of “Marty Stu-ism” – self insertion – but the story didn’t read that way.

While the ending seemed a bit abrupt, and had a sort of “but it was all a dream” cheat that most writers are warned against in high school, in this novel, that device worked well, and did not in any way diminish the story.

Congratulations, Rolf Hitzer, on a great first novel. More, please?

Check back on Monday , October 26th for a guest post from Rolf Hitzer.