Review: Bound in Silence, by Christena Stephens

BNR Bound in Silence

 

About the book, Bound in Silence Cover Bound in Silence

  • Genre: True Crime / Texas History / Nonfiction
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing
  • Page Count: 286 pages
  • Publication Date: February 26, 2024
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On a nearly moonless night in October 1943, a single gunshot rang out in Littlefield, Texas. A prominent Texas doctor and his wife were found bound, shot, beaten, and murdered. The only witness: their five-year-old daughter, who was bound to silence and refused to speak about what happened for 70 years.

The heinous crime remains unsolved. For years, the courts tried to convict one suspect, but forensic evidence contradicted the prosecution’s case. Investigators, including the famed Texas Rangers, failed to bring anyone to justice.

Eight decades later, the questions linger over the plains of the Texas Panhandle: who killed the Hunts and why?

Author and historian Christena Stephens spent more than a decade researching the Hunt murders, re-examining every twist and turn in the legal process, uncovering new evidence, and drawing new conclusions about who might have been responsible. She also convinced Jo Ann Hunt to break 70 years of silence and tell her story for the first time. Armed with Jo Ann’s account, Stephens takes the reader back to that deadly night and through the years of trauma that followed.

Why did the criminal justice system repeatedly fail to bring anyone to justice? What could have scared a 5-year-old girl into a lifetime of silence? What did investigators miss? And most importantly, who killed Roy and Mae Hunt?

Bound in Silence is a true crime tour-de-force, a meticulously researched, impeccably told tale of unsolved murder on the High Plains.

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About the author, Christena Stephens Author Photo Stephens Bound in Silence

Christena Stephens is a native Texan growing up amongst cotton fields and spending time exploring the nature of the Llano Estacado. After earning two Master of Science degrees, she started a project to preserve ahistorical Texas ranch, thus began her interest in history, research, and writing. She did not intend to be a historian but was mentored by the best Texas historians. Several of her writings have been published in anthologies, along with her photographs. In science and history, truths need to be accurately told. That is her mission-truth and authenticity. She still resides on the Llano Estacado enjoying sunsets and chance porcupine encounters. She is an ardent advocate of wildlife conservation and her heart belongs to her dogs.

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Christena Stephens’s new book, Bound in Silence is where true crime, history, and creative non-fiction all meet to form a whole that is both a gripping story and a grisly one.

In this case, this book really tells two stories, the first is a murder mystery taken from the pages of Texas history: the death by shooting of a doctor (Roy Hunt) and his wife (Mae). And author Stephens takes down a well-researched and equally well-written path of whodunnit, and why, and how.

The second story is that of the Hunt’s older daughter, JoAnn, who was in the room (albeit stuffed in a closet) while her parents were being murdered. For decades, she kept silent, scared into event-specific muteness, until the author got her story.

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Stephens’s narrative style is straight to the point without being dull or dry. Her photographer’s eye comes in handy – her descriptions of people and places, while taken from photos and press clippings – feel cinematic. Her choice of topic is a compelling one, because it gives a glimpse into the psychology of childhood trauma and fear, as well as into the gory events themselves.

Overall, this is a well-crafted account, and deserving of a lot of notice.

Goes well with: a whiskey flight and Texas barbecue.


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Review: The Ghost of Whispering Willow, by Amanda M. Thrasher

Ghost of Whispering Willow - Banner

 

About the book, The Ghost of Whispering Willow (Second Edition)  Ghost of Whispering Willow High Def Front Cover

  • Genre: Children’s Horror / Fantasy / Magic / Chapter Book
  • Publisher: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press
  • Publication Date: January 9, 2024
  • Page Count: 246
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Full of surprises, feuds, kidnappings and a family reunited!

Stewart sees a ghostly figure out of the corner of his eye. He and his friend, Andy, begin a ghost investigation that leads to an adventure of a lifetime.  Coming face-to-face with a ghost, the boys make a decision to join forces with a group of girls, who have encountered a ghost of their own. The kids soon find that the ghosts that they’ve encountered are in imminent danger and need their help. Can the kids devise a plan to help the ghost in time? Will they be able to reunite a ghost with his lost family? Complete with a ghost village and a feud, this story takes on a life of its own.

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About the author, Amanda M. Thrasher  Author Photo Thrasher (1)

Award-winning author Amanda M. Thrasher was born in England and moved to Texas, where she lives with her family. She writes YA, general fiction, middle grade, early reader chapter, and picture books. She is the founder and CEO of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

Connect with Amanda:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Amanda M. Thrasher’s novel, The Ghost of Whispering Willow, may be targeted toward kids in middle grades, but this adult found the story both engaging and entertaining. It manages to hit you both in the amygdala (because most humans like to be scared when we know it’s fictional), and in the heart, once the truth is discovered.

What I loved most was the perfect depiction of childhood adventures – sneaking out at night, taking notes on whatever is observed, and the timeless debate of whether or not boys and girls are friends or enemies, or a little of both.

I enjoyed the interaction between Andy and Stewart, especially, and the way they were so different – one precise about every detail he observed, one much more casual about it. It was so refreshing to see boys written as good, kids – too often in literature middle-grade boys are depicted as troublemakers, and it gets old.

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I also appreciated the way their interactions changed once Krista and her friends become involved. The whispers among the girls and the boys about who likes whom made me smile and nod in fond appreciation of the details the author included – they weren’t necessarily crucial to the plot of the story, but they made the characters seem more real.

Overall, this is a well-paced, well-plotted book and I would recommend it to readers of all ages and genders.

Goes well with: bologna and cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and Dr. Pepper.


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Book Spotlight: SECOND LIVES: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers – Now Available as an Audiobook!

BNR Second Lives

 

I’m so excited to be bringing you this spotlight. The authors have brought a personal, informational, deeply important subject to us in an accessible way. And now, it’s also available as an audiobook! Please take a look at

SECOND LIVES: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers, by Ralph B. Lilly, MD & Diane F. Kramer, with Joyce Stamp Lilly – Narrated by Loren C. Steffy & Joyce Stamp Lilly

About the book, SECOND LIVES: The Journey of Brain-Injury Survivors and Their Healers

  • Genre: Audiobook / Biography / Medical Professionals / Neuroscience
  • Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing
  • Listening Length: 6 hours and 21 minutes
  • Publication Date: February 28, 2024

Version 1.0.0“Discharged from a hospital just means you’re not dead.” These words of Ralph B. Lilly, M.D., describe his early struggle to recover from a traumatic brain injury. Lilly was a forty-four-year-old practicing neurologist sitting on his motorcycle at a red light when a drunk driver rear-ended him in 1980. In the ICU, after regaining consciousness and being told what happened, he asked, “What’s a hospital? What’s a motorcycle?” This tragic experience transformed his life and his approach to his neurology practice: doctors treat those with brain injury; but loved ones heal them.

Second Lives: The Journey of Brain Injury Survivors and Their Healers is written by Dr. Lilly and Diane F. Kramer. After his death in 2021, Kramer completed the book with the assistance of Lilly’s wife Joyce Stamp Lilly. This memoir weaves together Ralph Lilly’s experience with a collage of stories about his patients and their healers. After his recovery, Lilly retrained in the emerging field of behavioral neurology, which focuses on behavior, memory, cognition, and emotion after brain injury.

His clinical skills and expert witness testimony were sought by physicians, survivors, families, and attorneys to secure the best “second life” for survivors. His many patients marveled at his uniquely compassionate approach: “What doctor gives you his cell number and says call any time?” Lilly’s pioneering career spanned forty years from Brown University’s Butler Psychiatric Hospital in Rhode Island to Nexus Health System and private practice in Houston, Texas. He treated ER and hospital inpatients whose loved ones were in acute quandary, as well as outpatients who’d long given up finding a doctor who knew how to help. Lilly’s memoir is full of heart, not science, and will provide insight to general readers, family, and friends of patients with brain injury, as well as those who treat them.

His narration is unintentionally poignant, often punctuated by wry humor. He generously incorporates the words of his patients and their families in telling their stories. Their gratitude for his care is profound. As one former patient said, “Without Dr. Lilly, I’d be dead or in jail.”

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About the authors, Ralph B Lilly, M.D. and Diane F. Kramer

Ralph B. Lilly, MD Author photo Ralph Lilly

A neurologist for over half a century, Ralph B. Lilly, MD had a passion for learning and teaching. A traumatic brain injury in 1980 shifted his focus from general neurology to behavioral neurology, the study of how brain injury affects behavior. After completing a fellowship in neurobehavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, he served as a clinical assistant professor with the Brown University Program in Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island, consulting with psychiatrists looking for possible neurological causes for their patients’ psychiatric symptoms. In Texas, he worked joined what is now Nexus Health Systems and became a clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas in Houston. Lilly focused his life’s work on treating brain-injury survivors and counseling their families, who were victims in their own right. He saw these “healers” as instrumental in guiding the injured loved one to a “new life.” He practiced in Arizona, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Texas, and wherever he was called to help. Before his death in 2021, Lilly lived in Washington, Texas, with his wife, Joyce, three dogs, six cats, and two horses.

 

Author photo Diane F. KramerDiane F. Kramer

Diane F. Kramer retired from the counseling and psychology departments of Austin Community College in 2008 and began writing personal essays, family histories, and fiction. As a volunteer with the Brenham Animal Shelter, she wrote a weekly column on animal welfare for The Brenham Banner Press. Her writing has also appeared in Alamo Bay Press anthologies and blogs Peace through Pie and Drash Pit. She currently writes website copy and press releases for Brenham Lifetime Learning and the Read of Washington County. She lives with her husband and their rescue dog and cat in rural Texas.

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Review: Just a Hat by Shanah Khubiar

BNR Just a Hat

 

About the book, Just a Hat Cover Just a Hat

  • Genre: Young Adult / Coming of Age / Jewish Fiction / Small-Town Texas / 1970s
  • Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
  • Page Count: 254
  • Publication Date: July 18, 2023
  • Scroll down for giveaway!

Action-packed, humorous, and bittersweet, this 1970s-era coming-of-age novel is more relevant than ever–exploring how a second-generation immigrant kid in a new hometown must navigate bullying, unexpected friendships, and the struggle of keeping both feet firmly planted in two very different cultures.

It’s 1979, and thirteen-year-old Joseph Nissan can’t help but notice that small-town Texas has something in common with Revolution-era Iran: an absence of fellow Jews. And in such a small town it seems obvious that a brown kid like him was bound to make friends with Latinos–which is a plus, since his new buds, the Ybarra twins, have his back. But when the Iran hostage crisis, two neighborhood bullies, and the local reverend’s beautiful daughter put him in all sorts of danger, Joseph must find new ways to cope at home and at school.

As he struggles to trust others and stay true to himself, a fiercely guarded family secret keeps his father at a distance, and even his piano teacher, Miss Eleanor–who is like a grandmother to him–can’t always protect him. But Joseph is not alone, and with a little help from his friends, he finds the courage to confront his fears and discovers he can inspire others to find their courage, too.

Just a Hat is an authentically one-of-a-kind YA debut that fuses the humor of Firoozeh Dumas’s Funny in Farsi with the poignancy of Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue.

This book comes with an Educator’s Guide.

Click here to download your free educator’s guide.

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About the author, Shanah Khubiar Author Photo Khubiar

Shanah Khubiar is a retired law enforcement officer, and she is now self-employed as a subject matter specialist. She holds a BS and MEd in education from East Texas State University and a PhD in philosophy.

A student of her Persian ancestry, she incorporates (Mizrachi) Middle Eastern Jewry into her fiction, examining the historical challenges and triumphs of a different culture and narrative than what usually appears in literature. Khubiar is a sometime resident and always fan of most things Texas.

Connect with Shanah:

Website | GoodReads | Amazon | BookBub | X (Twitter) | Blackstone Publishing


My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Shanah Khubiar’s new young adult novel, Just a Hat is a brilliant, sometimes discomfiting, portrayal of what it’s like to be “other” in America.

Set in the Texas of the late 1970s, with the Iran hostage crisis as its background, this story introduces us to teenaged Joseph (Youssef) Nissan, the only Jewish-Iranian boy in his class. We walk with him as he navigates the cultural differences he experiences – he’s brown skinned, so gets along with the Mexican boys, especially Roberto and Mateo who are both friends and defenders, but he’s not Latino. He’s Persian. He’s a piano student but practicing on Shabat is considered “work” and therefore disallowed. And then there’s the whole thing about not being allowed to touch girls, even casually. It’s a lot to handle when you’ve got feet in different worlds – the secular world at large, and the closer, religious world of his family.

As someone who is not Jewish, but sort of Jewish-adjacent (my stepfather was Jewish, and his mother, my Bubbie, was a special person in my life) I found the glimpses of Iranian Jewish traditions particularly interesting. I’m familiar with eastern-European (Ashkenazi) traditions, and have been recently learning more about Iberian (Sephardic) traditions, but it’s my understanding that most Iranian Jews are actually Mizrahi, and the specifics were new to me.

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What I loved was the relationship Joseph had with Miss Eleanor – LaLa – the elderly piano teacher whom he helps out by buying groceries and other household tasks. I also appreciated that Joseph and his Baba – his father – managed to work through family history and family secrets and end up with a closer relationship after tackling difficult subjects.

The title can be taken literally – the different hats Joseph wears include his kippah (yarmulke) and his football helmet. But it also works as a metaphor, representing the different “hats” we all wear, – the roles we have in life – including those we use in order to hide our true selves for whatever reason.

Overall, I found this to be a very moving story, with interesting characters, and a well-paced coming-of-age plot. At times very serious, because it deals with fear, racism, and antisemitism, it’s also heartfelt and full of humor – the kind that comes from real life.

Goes well with: peach sharbet.


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Review: This Familiar Heart by Babette Fraser Hale

BNR This Familiar Heart

 

About the book, This Familiar Heart Cover This Familiar Heart

  • Genre: Memoir / Relationships / Aging / Grief
  • Publisher: Winedale Publishing
  • Date of Publication: April 2, 2024
  • Number of Pages: 312 pages

In this intimate rendering of a relationship, we learn how deceptive surface impressions can be.

Leon Hale, author of Bonney’s Place, was sixty years old, a “country boy” who wrote about rural Texans with humor and sensitivity in his popular column for The Houston Post and, later the Houston Chronicle. Babette Fraser at thirty-six was a child of privilege, a city girl educated abroad, struggling in her career while raising a young son. No one thought it could work.

Even Hale himself held serious doubts. But it did endure. The interior congruencies they discovered through a long and turbulent courtship knit them tightly together for the rest of his life.

And when he died during the Pandemic isolation period, searing levels of grief and doubt threatened Babette’s understanding of the partnership and marriage that had sustained her for forty years. Had he really been the person she thought he was? Had he kept secrets that would forever change her view of him?

In candid, evocative prose, she explores the distorted perceptions that often follow the death of a cherished spouse, and the loving resolution that allows life to go on.

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About the author, Babette Fraser Hale Author Photo Hale

Babette Fraser Hale is the author of A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers, 2022 winner of the debut fiction award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her stories have received notice from Best American Short Stories, 2015 and the Meyerson Award from Southwest Review. In addition to writing fiction, Babette has been a magazine feature writer, columnist, contributing editor, book editor, and publisher. She lives in Texas.

Connect with Babette:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Reviewing memoirs – especially deeply personal stories like This Familiar Heart – can be tricky. Too easily we fall into the habit of judging the life and choices presented to us. But this isn’t fiction, and cannot be examined the same way.

If this book were fiction, it would be an amazing story. The characters are erudite and earthy at once, and the pace of this love story is perfect. The author draws you in as her tale goes spiraling from a letter to meeting to several more encounters, to sex and love and a partnership that is ended by death and grief.

But since this book, this story, is a memoir, I won’t talk more about the events, but rather the way author Babette Fraser Hale has chosen to present them, which she has done beautifully.

I loved the way she told her origin story with the man who preferred to be called “Hale,” rather than his first name, as a creative non-fiction exercise, interspersed with her notes from the perspective of “after.” The noted are italicized so you cannot mistake them for the narrative, but they do more than add future knowledge. They color the narrative with all the years, experiences, and feelings since the initial occurrences.

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Babette’s (I use her first name to distinguish her from the Hale she writes about) language is also beautiful, full of evocative phrases like, “The day spreads out around them as they walk,” or “His mouth and tongue study her body, but it is in no way enough, and it is also too much,” and “We have been erased, as completely as our house itself, or more completely, perhaps.”

This is the kind of writing that inspires me to wander around the house reading passages aloud to my husband, the dogs, myself – it doesn’t matter. This is the kind of writing that sits with you, long after you’ve finished.

So, while this story, which begins with two people falling in love and ends with love torn apart, covers some decidedly not-beautiful details – death is never pretty – the book itself is beautiful. And brilliant. 

Goes well with: canned soup and candlelight.


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Review: A Beggar’s Bargain, by Jan Sikes – with Giveaway

BNR A Beggar's Bargain

 

About the book, A Beggar’s Bargain

  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Literary Fiction
  • Publisher: Fresh Ink Group
  • Date of Publication: March 12, 2024
  • Number of Pages: 324 pages
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Cover A Beggar's BargainA shocking proposal that changes everything

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.

Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and for time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.

Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger.

If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.

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About the author, Jan Sikes Author Photo Sikes

Jan Sikes writes compelling and creative stories from the heart.

 

She openly admits that she never set out in life to be an author, although she’s been an avid reader all her life. But she had a story to tell. Not just any story, but a true story that rivals any fiction creation. She brought the entertaining true story to life through fictitious characters in an intricately woven tale that encompasses four books, accompanying music CDs, and a book of poetry and art.

 

And now, this author can’t put down the pen. She continues to write fiction in a variety of genres and has published many award-winning short stories and novels.

 

Jan is an active blogger, a member of Story Empire, a devoted fan of Texas music, and a grandmother of five. She resides in North Texas.

Connect with Jan:

WEBSITE | BLOG | FACEBOOK | X (TWITTER) | NEWSLETTER | BOOKBUB | AMAZON | GOODREADS


My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

While I’m not typically a fan of the forced marriage trope, I am familiar with author Jan Sikes’s work, and trust her ability to tell a good story, so I gave A Beggar’s Bargain a chance, and I’m so glad I did. From the first page to the last, this book is a tender, honest, period piece that shows the real meaning of “chosen family” and the strength behind such creations.

 

I found myself completely absorbed by Laykin and Sara Beth’s story – how they formed a partnership, then welcomed ‘Uncle Seymour’ into their home to become a team, adding stray humans and animals as they went along, showing that kindness is a universal quality, and trust can be restored even after it’s been lost.

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Sikes’s language in this book is plain, but not simple, and while the details of this story were definitely gritty, with challenges and villains that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic western, the way she made everyday people seem special and interesting reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder – if the Little House books had been written for an adult audience.

 

Maybe, then, Jan Sikes is one of Wilder’s spiritual successors, because this tale about a Little Farmhouse in Missouri has the makings of a classic. It’s also the first book in a series, and I’m excited to learn what happens next.

 

Goes well with cold tea and warm cornbread… or coffee and homemade chocolate cake.


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04/12/24 The Page Unbound Author Interview
04/13/24 Bibliotica Review
04/14/24 StoreyBook Reviews Top Ten List
04/15/24 It’s Not All Gravy Review
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Shahrazad’s Gift by Gretchen McCullough – Review & Giveaway

BNR Shaharazad's Gift

 

About the Book, Shahrazad’s Gift Cover Shahrazad's Gift

  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Linked Short Stories / Humor
  • Publisher: Cune Press
  • Date of Publication: February 20, 2024
  • Number of Pages: 198 pages
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Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo—magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough’s Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

 

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Purchase Link | Goodreads


About the Author, Gretchen McCullough Author Photo Gretchen

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and was awarded a teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999. Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Story South, Guernica, The Common, The Millions, and the LA Review of Books. Translations in English and Arabic have been published in: Nizwa, Banipal, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, World Literature Today and Washington Square Review with Mohamed Metwalli. Her bi-lingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories From Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in July 2011 by AFAQ Publishing House, Cairo. A collection of short stories about expatriate life in Cairo, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was also published by AFAQ in 2013. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.

Connect with Gretchen:

Website | Goodreads | American University Faculty Webpage


My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

This book is a collection of short stories set in Cairo. While there is some intersection of the characters, for the most part, each story stands alone.

 

In these different narratives, author Gretchen McCullough has given us a glimpse of the city from the perspectives of American, British,  and Japanese ex-pats and locals alike. Each story shows the struggles of cultural differences while also delving into the individual struggles of the characters. Queenie is a costume designer with a rocky past. Joe is terminally ill. Keiko is certain she is hearing noises from the empty flat upstairs. Hoda is obsessed with her neighbor and his sexual escapades, using voyeurism as an escape from a depressing and distressing marriage and family.

 

A couple of the stories very specifically referenced the events of September 11, 2001 and how the mostly American ex-pats living in Egypt reacted – some became paranoid, others became news junkies. Similarly represented were responses to the protests in that county several years later.

 

Every story features dimensional, well-drawn characters, all of whom are supremely human and flawed. Author McCullough is a deft hand with description but also excelled with dialogue, making the background and history of each character very clear.

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While I appreciated this collection of stories for it’s homage to A Thousand and One Nights  and the incredible craft of the author, it was a challenging read for me because I found so many of the characters unlikeable that I just couldn’t relate to their stories very well. Still, good writing provokes a reaction, even if that reaction is to hope you never, ever, meet any of these people in real life.

 

Of all the stories, the one I found most fascinating was “The Charm” which depicts the deterioration of Dr. Sheri as seen by her cleaning woman, Zeinab. It’s a gradual spiraling out of control and a fantastic portrait of anxiety, paranoia, and other mental illness.

 

I also really appreciated “Tiger” about an American visiting “the Pyramids” after losing their job as a teaching assistant in Mississippi.

 

Overall, Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of candid portrayals and gritty situations as well as an exploration of what it is to be “other.”

 

Goes well with: mint tea and honey cakes.


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04/02/24 Rox Burkey Blog Excerpt
04/02/24 Hall Ways Blog Notable Quotables
04/03/24 StoreyBook Reviews Guest Post
04/03/24 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
04/04/24 Boys’ Mom Reads Review
04/05/24 Bibliotica Review
04/06/24 Rebecca R. Cahill, Author Author Interview
04/07/24 The Page Unbound Review
04/08/24 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
04/09/24 It’s Not All Gravy Excerpt
04/10/24 Carpe Diem Chronicles Review
04/11/24 The Real World According to Sam Review

 

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Review & Giveaway: The Desk from Hoboken, by ML Condike

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About the book, The Desk from Hoboken Cover The Desk from Hoboken

  • A Genealogy Mystery #1
  • Genre: Mystery / Women Sleuths / Forensic Genealogy
  • Publisher: Harbor Lane Books, LLC
  • Date of Publication: March 5, 2024
  • Number of Pages: 446 pages
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After a personal loss, forensic genealogist RaeJean Hunter accepts what she believes is a straightforward case to ease back into the game: a student at Connecticut College has found human remains on the school campus. The College hires RaeJean to confirm their tentative identification that it’s a woman named Mary Rogers, whose cause of death has never been determined.

 

Unfortunately, it becomes downright dangerous. Someone thwarts her investigation of the same case that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” Still, she meets relatives, some helpful and others not, amid escalating threats. Using her skills, including DNA analysis, historical records research, genealogy mapping, and guidance from a mystical antique desk, she follows every clue.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, ML Condike Author Photo Condike

ML Condike’s novel, The Desk from Hoboken, is the first in a genealogy mystery three-book series.

She also has short stories published in five anthologies. ML Condike completed Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path in Dallas in 2019 and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime North Dallas, Granbury Writers’ Bloc, and Key West Writers Guild.

Connect with ML:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

The Desk from Hoboken is fiction, but it has a similar feel to the James Burke show Connections, the one where he connects dots through history from conch shells to the creation of the Internet. The mystery in this first entry into ML Condike’s new series also connects dots – from exhumed remains to a Poe short story to backroom abortions in the early 20th century, and, yes, to an antique desk, using forensic genealogy as its main method.

 

RaeJean Hunter, said genealogist, and her husband Sam, an antiquities appraiser, are the sleuthing team at the heart of the story, and they’re a delightful couple. RaeJean is just getting back to work after a miscarriage that triggered severe depression, and she takes the case of identifying said remains thinking it will be easy – strawberries, as she puts it.

 

What unfolds is a compelling tale of intrigue – family secrets, cover-ups, a mysterious client, and a race to piece together all the clues before an obsessed relative of the deceased has them seized or destroyed. To keep things topical there’s also a subplot about human trafficking.

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I am not exaggerating when I say I devoured this novel. I loved RaeJean’s sensibility and no-nonsense attitude. I shared her love of simple food – a well-cooked burger and a cold beer. I really appreciated the little details author Condike included in the story – RaeJean’s original desk is a hollow-core door – I know sooooo many writers and academics who used the same sorts of things for years. (My own desk is a vintage library table – not much fancier.) I also enjoyed following the process of investigation and the need to find three primary sources.

 

The supporting cast – especially RaeJean’s sister Caitlin, her colleague Claire, and her friend Grace who works for the FBI – are all well drawn, and I’m hoping at least two of them show up in future books in this series. Worth mentioning is Sophie the corgi, who lit up the pages she was on.

 

The character of Lillian Baker, who looks a lot like Betty White, but has a conniving soul, made a brilliant foil and turned the “nice old lady” stereotype on its head.

 

Overall, I felt that the story was well-paced and the blend of the mystery with RaeJean’s emotional state was in balance. Her personal story added to the total experience of the novel, and lent color to the mystery, without ever overpowering it.

If you love a good mystery with undercurrents of real history and strong female characters, The Desk from Hoboken is the book for you.

 

Goes well with Chinese spareribs and won ton soup.


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03/19/24 Rainy Days with Amanda Review
03/19/24 Hall Ways Blog BONUS Stop
03/20/24 It’s Not All Gravy Review
03/20/24 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
03/21/24 StoreyBook Reviews Review
03/21/24 Boys’ Mom Reads Review
03/22/24 JennCaffeinated Review
03/22/24 Chapter Break Book Blog BONUS Stop
03/23/24 The Real World According to Sam Review
03/24/24 The Page Unbound Review
03/25/24 Rox Burkey Blog Review
03/26/24 Book Fidelity Review
03/26/24 The Book’s Delight Review
03/27/24 The Clueless Gent Review
03/27/24 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
03/28/24 Jennie Reads Review
03/28/24 Bibliotica Review

 

 

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Review & Giveaway: Amethyst, The Shallows, by Kellye Abernathy

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About the book, Amethyst, The Shallows

  • Genre: YA / Magical Realism / Coming of Age
  • Publisher: Atmosphere Press
  • Page Count: 296 pages
  • Publication Date: February 6, 2024
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“This is a night for being brave.”

In the aftermath of a devastating sickness that shatters their close-knit beach town, six lonely kids are drawn together during the unpredictable autumn equinox. Among them are fourteen-year-old Lorelei, who yearns to be an oceanographer, and her peculiar younger brother, Tad, who possesses an otherworldly curiosity.

When Lorelei has a strange and almost deadly encounter in a sea cave, her loyal boyfriend, Casey, cannot reconcile her fantastical experience with the rational world. Condi, Lorelei’s best friend, understands ocean magic but isn’t free to share what she knows. Kait, a girl from Ireland, regrets her impulsive move to America–all because of an odd occurrence involving her deceased boyfriend’s lost surfboard. When tides turn and the moon shifts, Isaac, the new kid in town who despises the ocean, is forced to face the truth–a profound and powerful magic lives in the deep.

Guided by a wise surf master, mystical old women known as the Beachlings, and an open-hearted grandmother, six kids embark on transformative adventures that challenge their beliefs about possibilities and the intense nature of love.

Amethyst, the Shallows is the companion novel to The Aquamarine Surfboard.

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About the author, Kellye Abernathy author photo Abernathy

Kellye Abernathy’s passions are writing and serving trauma survivors as a yoga teacher and practical life skills advocate. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary English Education from the University of Kansas. Her home is in land-locked Plano, Texas—where she’s dreaming of her next trip to the sea!

Connect with Kellye:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

This second book in the Yellow Cottage series opens with the coastal community of Dipitous Beach  still reeling in the aftermath of the Sickness, which felt very much like an analog for Covid, though it’s presented as something with mysterious origins.

 

Returning and new characters reflect what was like for young people during a statewide lockdown, maintaining friendships through digital communications, and suffering through the closure of beaches. It’s appropriate then, that the story begins on the day the beaches reopen.

 

This story continues from The Aquamarine Surfboard,  but the focus shifts somewhat. Condi, from the first book, is still present, but this story focuses on Lorelai, and also brings in her younger brother Tad, who is neurodivergent. His presence is just part of the way author Kellye Abernathy has addressed mental health issues, including anxiety and depression in this story – weaving them into the narrative as the very normal parts of life that they are, and doing so with grace and understanding.

 

Of course, surfing and the sea are still prominent in the story, and we not only get to spend more time with the Beachlings, a group of elderly women who live near (or on) the beach (I want to be one of them when I’m older), and an octopus who embodies wisdom.

 

As with the previous installment of this series, Abernathy blends fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism into a cohesive whole, leaving you with the scent of salt air and the feeling of having spent time in the water.

 

While this book is best appreciated if you’ve read the previous one, it also stands alone quite well. Overall, it’s an enchanting tale of friendship and community with other humans and the sea.

 

Goes well with: mahi tacos and pineapple-mango salsa.


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Review and Giveaway: Frowns and Gowns by Amanda M. Thrasher

BNR Frowns & Gowns

 

About the Book, Frowns and Gowns Frowns and Gowns

  • Series:  The Mischief Series, Book 5
  • Genre: Children’s Chapter Book / Fantasy / Fairies
  • Publisher: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press
  • Page Count: 236
  • Publication Date: September 12, 2023
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Embark on a Magical Adventure with Lilly, Boris, and Jack!

Get ready to join Lilly, Boris, and Jack on an unforgettable journey filled with excitement, laughter, and a touch of mayhem. Brace yourself for a whirlwind of mishaps as these three fairies plan a magnificent magical ball, only to encounter an unforeseen disaster! Experience the magic of friendship with Lilly, the quick-witted and resourceful fairy, Boris, the mischievous fairy with a heart of gold, and Jack, the troublemaker with a curious, adventurous spirit on their latest adventure.

Throughout, Lilly, Boris, and Jack teach the true meaning of friendship and teamwork. Together with their friends, they’ll overcome challenges, learn valuable lessons, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Don’t miss out on this enchanting tale!

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About the author, Amanda M. Thrasher Author Photo Thrasher

Award-winning author Amanda M. Thrasher was born in England and moved to Texas, where she lives with her family. She writes YA, general fiction, middle grade, early reader chapter, and picture books. She is the founder and CEO of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

Connect with Amanda:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

I don’t read a lot of children’s literature anymore, but as my role as Book Aunt (every family has one) has evolved into Book Great-Aunt, there’s a whole new generation of kids for me to gift with books.

 

Frowns and Gowns by Amanda Thrasher will definitely be one of those books.

 

It’s a whimsical tale of young fairies (fairlings) who are tasked with putting on their prom. Lilly, Boris, and Jack are the principal players, but their circle is rounded out by Rosie, Ivy, and Pearle, the latter of whom uses a wheelchair – er – chariot when she must move around on the ground.

 

While the preparations depicted in the book move between silliness – stinky moss bomb fights included – the whimsical happenings also include choosing the right gowns and picking the perfect foods.

 

What I loved about this story was that it was all about inclusion, but organically so, woven through the entire book as a core tenet, never an afterthought. I also appreciated the mischief made by the girl and boy fairlings alike, and I laughed out loud several times. (I aww-ed out loud at least twice, though.)

 

Overall, this was a madcap romp through the lives of young fairies, with great characters, lovely explorations into friendship,  and fantastic worldbuilding.

 

Goes well with popcorn and cotton candy… obviously.


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