Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

About the book, Boardwalk Summer Boardwalk Summer

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 19, 2018)

In this new novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Dowry, two young women two generations apart discover the joy and heartbreak of following their dreams. Aspiring Hollywood actress Violet makes a shocking choice in 1940, and seventy years later, Mari sets out to discover what happened on that long ago summer.

Santa Cruz, Summer 1940: When auburn-haired Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss California on the boardwalk of her hometown, she knows she is one step closer to her cherished dream: a Hollywood screen test. But Violet’s victory comes with a price—discord in her seemingly perfect marriage—and she grapples with how much more she is willing to pay.

Summer 2007: Single mother Marisol Cruz lives with her parents in the charming beach cottage that belonged to her grandfather, Ricardo, once a famed performer on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Drawn to the town’s local history and the quaint gazebo where her grandparents danced beneath the stars, Mari sells raffle tickets at the Beach Boardwalk Centennial Celebration, and meets Jason, a California transplant from Chicago.

When Mari discovers the obituary of Violet Harcourt, a beauty queen who died too young, she and Jason are sent on a journey together that will uncover her grandfather’s lifelong secret—his connection to Violet—a story of tragedy and courage that will forever transform them.

Buy, read, and discuss Boardwalk Summer:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About Meredith Jaeger Meredith-Jaeger-AP-Erika-Pino-Photography

USA Today bestselling author Meredith Jaeger was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the daughter of a Swiss father and an American mother. While working for a San Francisco start-up, Meredith fulfilled her dream of writing a novel, the result of which was The Dressmaker,s Dowry. Meredith lives in Alameda with her husband, their infant daughter, and their bulldog.

Connect with Meredith:

Find out more about Meredith at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

It seems appropriate that my review of this book, Boardwalk Summer is going live on the day of the summer solstice, because it’s such a magical book with it’s twin stories, one set in nearly contemporary Santa Cruz, and one set several decades before.

Our two heroines, Marisol (2007) and Violet (1940) couldn’t be more different: Mari is Latinx, a single mother, a history buff, and part of a generations-old Santa Cruz family. Violet is an unhappy wife stuck in a brutal marriage, but left with unfulfilled dreams of an acting career.

The men in the story were all well drawn also, but it was the women, more than anything, that truly captured my attention.

Still, those surface differences hide something similar: both women are strong and determined, each in their own way, and each must ultimately make hard choices in order to find a life that is closer to the one they dream of.

Aside from the strong woman characters found, not just in Mari and Violet, but also in Marisol’s mother and young daughter, and in Violet’s friend’s Evie and Roxy, what I loved about this book was the way the city of Santa Cruz was a character in its own right, both in the 40’s and in the contemporary part of the story.

Boardwalk towns always have a kind of magic that other cities never do, but Santa Cruz is a special blend of old world California and new, hipster California, of the dark side of colonialism, and the brighter side of a thriving Latinx culture and a university town (Go Slugs!) blending into a quirky, lively, harmonious whole, and author Meredith Jaeger has captured that particularly well.

With realistic, dimensional characters, a true-to-life setting and a pair of plots that are equally compelling Boardwalk Summer is as delightful as a ride on the Giant Dipper (the vintage wooden roller coaster on the boardwalk) without any chance of nausea afterward.

Goes well with cotton candy eaten as you stroll along the wooden planks on a balmy summer evening, listening to the music from the carousel.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, June 19th: bookchickdi

Wednesday, June 20th: Reading Reality

Thursday, June 21st: Bibliotica

Friday, June 22nd: Literary Quicksand

Monday, June 25th: Instagram: @oddandbookish

Tuesday, June 26th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, June 27th: Instagram: @hollyslittlebookreviews

Thursday, June 28th: Instagram: @notthepathtonarnia

Tuesday, July 3rd: BookNAround

Wednesday, July 4th: Tina Says…

Thursday, July 5th: Instagram: @writersdream

 

 

 

Review: The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses), by Terri-Lynne DeFino

About the book The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) cover

• Paperback: 336 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 12, 2018)

A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them.

Alfonse Carducci was a literary giant who lived his life to excess—lovers, alcohol, parties, and literary rivalries. But now he’s come to the Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly to spend the remainder of his days among kindred spirits: the publishing industry’s nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of his life, does he comprehend the price of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. For Alfonse has an unshakeable case of writer’s block that distresses him much more than his precarious health.

Set on the water in one of New England’s most beautiful locales, the Bar Harbor Home was established specifically for elderly writers needing a place to live out their golden years—or final days—in understated luxury and surrounded by congenial literary company. A faithful staff of nurses and orderlies surround the writers, and are drawn into their orbit, as they are forced to reckon with their own life stories. Among them are Cecibel Bringer, a young woman who knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. A terrible accident destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision that Cecibel can never forgive, though she has tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact of meeting her favorite writer, Alfonse Carducci—or the effect he would have on her existence. In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns him to the passion he thought he lost. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other residents of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness.

As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible….

Buy, read and discuss The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers and Their Muses:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Terri-Lynne DeFino

Terri-Lynne DeFino was born and raised in New Jersey, but escaped to the wilds of Connecticut, where she still lives with her husband and her cats. She spends most days in her loft, in her woodland cabin along the river, writing about people she’s never met. Other days, she can be found slaying monsters with her grandchildren. If you knock on her door, she’ll most likely be wearing a tiara. She’ll also invite you in and feed you, because you can take the Italian girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey Italian out of the girl.

Find out more about Terri at her website.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

There was a film that came out several years ago, starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly: Quartet. It was about a retirement home for aging musicians, and it was fabulous, populated by quirky characters who all had music in common. (Rent it, I beg you; you won’t be sorry.)

Terri-Lynne DeFino’s novel The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) is the literary equivalent of that movie. It’s a funny, poignant novel full of quirky characters who have two things in common: they are writers, and they are aging.

While Alfonse is the highlighted character, and I enjoyed learning his story immensely, I have to admit, that Cecibel, the caregiver with the ruined face is one of the two characters who grabbed me even more (the other is Olivia, who use marijuana in the garden and whom we meet on the first page, but I confess that’s because we have a family friend who is an eccentric writer named Olivia.)

Cecibel’s arc is one that goes from caregiver to fan to friend, and watching her growth is fascinating, though honestly, the whole book is charming and engaging.

What I appreciated as much as the well-drawn characters was the author’s flair for specific description. “Mr Carducci’s suite of rooms smelled of pine cleaner and lemon wax, leather, and wood,” DeFino wrote, and I was instantly transported into his space. Description like that seems to be going out of style, but I love having a sense of place when I read.

This book is a great beach read, perfect as a summer choice for a book club. The characters are so richly and the story so good that even though the title makes it seem almost a gimick, the reality is that this is a very human look at the way we age as people and as artists.

Goes well with hot tea, fresh fruit, warm bread with butter, and a blank notebook with a smooth-writing pen.


Tour Stops for The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Writers (and Their Muses) https://tlcbooktours.com/2018/02/karen-karbo-author-of-in-praise-of-difficult-women-on-tour-march-2018/

Review Stops:

Tuesday, June 12th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, June 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, June 14th: A Chick Who Reads

Friday, June 15th: 5 Minutes For Books

Monday, June 18th: Eliot’s Eats

Tuesday, June 19th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, June 20th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Thursday, June 21st: From the TBR Pile

Monday, June 25th: Wining Wife

Tuesday, June 26th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, June 28th: Literary Quicksand

Instagram Features:

Tuesday, June 12th: Instagram: @theloudlibrarylady

Wednesday, June 13th: Instagram: @oddandbookish

Thursday, June 14th: Instagram: @notthepathtonarnia

Friday, June 15th: Instagram: @theliterarybirds

Saturday, June 16th: Instagram: @bookishconnoisseur

Sunday, June 17th: Instagram: @hollyslittlebookreviews

Monday, June 18th: Instagram: @ladyofthelibrary

Review: Lighthouse Beach, by Shelley Noble

About the book, Lighthouse Beach Lighthouse Beach by Shelley Noble

• Paperback: 400 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 29, 2018)

From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shelley Noble comes a heartrending and uplifting novel about friendship, love, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for our dreams.

What was supposed to be an idyllic wedding leads to an unexpected journey of self-discovery…

When Lillo Gray pulls up to Kennebunkport’s most exclusive hotel wearing a borrowed dress and driving a borrowed VW van, she knows she’s made a big mistake. She’s not even sure why Jessica Parker invited her to her posh wedding. They haven’t seen each other since they were unhappy fourteen-year-old girls at fat camp. And now they’re from two completely different worlds. There’s no way Lillo fits in the rarefied circles Jessica travels in.

Jess isn’t sure she’s ready to go through with this wedding, but she’s been too busy making everyone else happy to think about what she wants. But when she and her two closest friends, Allie and Diana, along with Lillo, discover her fiancé with his pants down in the hotel parking lot, she’s humiliated…and slightly relieved. In a rush to escape her crumbling life, Jess, Allie, and Diana pile into Lillo’s beat-up old van and head up the coast to Lighthouse Island. Once there, she hopes to figure out the next chapter in her life.

Nursing broken hearts and broken dreams, four lost women embark on a journey to find their way back into happiness with new love, friendship, and the healing power of Lighthouse Beach.

Buy, read, and discuss Lighthouse Beach:

Harper Collins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Shelley Noble Shelley Noble AP Photo by Gary Brown

Shelley Noble is a former professional dancer and choreographer and has worked on a number of films. She lives at the Jersey shore where she loves to visit lighthouses and vintage carousels. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America.

Find out more about Shelley at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Shelley Noble has, over the years, become one of my favorite writers of “beach books,” as most of her novels are set in coastal locations. (I grew up on the Jersey shore, and it’s still the home of my heart, so even when a story takes place in Maine, as Lighthouse Beach does, I feel like I’m visiting the beaches of my childhood.)

In this book, she combines two of my favorite things: beach settings, and women supporting other women, which may be the ultimate combination of storytelling. Each of the five women in this story: Lillo, Jess, Allie, Diana, and Mac, are a bit broken, a bit lost, a bit in need of a restart. In “kidnapping” Jess from a wedding she truly didn’t want to go through with, and using Lillo’s Lighthouse Beach community as their sanctuary, each of them begins to heal. (Mac is a longtime resident, but her story becomes intertwined with that of the other four, so it seems wrong not to include her.)

Friendships between women are  things to be treasured, and while some of the friendships among these five people exist at the start of the story, others form as the tale is told. Never once does anything feel contrived. Noble’s characters all have distinct voices and personalities, and they feel like the women we all know.

While Lillo and Jess are the true heart of this book, I found myself (likely because I’m three months away from turning 48) identifying with Mac a lot. Maybe it’s because I’ve always harbored a secret desire to live in a lighthouse (or at least in the keeper’s cottage).

While the women in this book are the main characters, there are men, lovely men, in the story as well. Ned, Ian, Clancy  – all have their moments to shine, and all are as distinct and interesting as the women who interact with them.

As I was reading this, I found myself wishing I could join the group in Maggie’s kitchen or Lillo’s living room, or on the beach. It doesn’t matter if it’s wine or beer or tea or some of each. What matters is the support we get from our circle of friends, and Shelley Noble has captured that with humor, wit, sincerity, and real dimension.

Goes well with a glass of cabernet sipped while sitting in the sand on a chilly coastal evening. Sweaters, jeans, and bare feet recommended. Bonfire optional.


Lighthouse Beach Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 29th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 30th: BookNAround

Thursday, May 31st: Instagram: @theloudlibrarylady

Friday, June 1st: Instagram: @megabunnyreads

Monday, June 4th: Instagram: @oddandbookish

Tuesday, June 5th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, June 6th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, June 14th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, June 12th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, June 13th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Thursday, June 14th: Jessicamap Reviews

Friday, June 15th: Literary Quicksand

Review: Because I’m Worth It, by Linda Nielsen

About the book, Because I’m Worth It Because-Im-Worth-It-cover

• Paperback: 346 pages
• Publisher: TouchPoint Press (March 1, 2018)

An impressive contract combined with lavish perks influence Skye Topple to marry the boss’ daughter, Delaney Mae Anne Covington, a self-centered and spoiled southern belle. The “perfect” wedding is threatened when an alarming secret refuses to stay hidden. With no regard for anyone other than herself and her daughter, Delaney’s alcoholic mother takes control, inserting irrational solutions that leave mother and daughter looking foolish while a baby’s life, a grandmother’s love, and a man’s career hang in the balance. This is certainly not a North meets South story—more like South moves North and meets West, where what works for one family may not work for another. Choices must be made. Lives will be changed. One thing is for sure… Skye is smack dab in the middle when Big Sur life meets country club values.

Buy, read, and discuss Because I’m Worth It: 

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Linda Nielsen Linda Nielsen

Linda’s first book, Lasso the Stars, was published in 2011 under L.L. Nielsen. Her newest novel, Because I’m Worth It, is scheduled for release by TouchPoint Press in early 2018.

Find out more about Linda at her website, and find all her books at Author Central page.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Linda Nielsen is an excellent writer, a creator of vivid, dimensional characters, and it’s because she’s so good at this that I’m having difficulty in reviewing this book, Because I’m Worth It, because one of the main characters, Delaney’s mother, Terri Sue Ellen, is one of the most unlikable, annoying women I’ve ever encountered in fiction. And believe me, it takes talent to create a character who reads so real that you cringe every time she speaks.

Conversely, Skye’s mother, Melissa, is a character I could have read an entire novel about (and in many ways I did – this book is her story, and Terri Sue Ellen’s, as much as it is the story of Skye and Delaney and everyone else), and not just because we share a first name and a love of quirky houses and creativity.

Still a reviewer’s job isn’t to like the characters, it’s to highlight the good (or bad) points of a book, and, my visceral dislike of Terri Sue Ellen aside, I really enjoyed this book. The story is compelling with just enough twists and turns to keep it from being predictable. The contrast between Delaney’s family and Skye’s family is beautifully drawn, and the I had a great time escaping into other people’s lives for 346 pages.

Nielsen excels at dialogue as well as character crafting. I liked the differences between the breezy California styles of Skye and his family as compared to the mixture of Chicago and Southern tones in Delaney and her people. Those dialect cues made it much easier to remember where we were, as the story jumped back and forth between Big Sur, Chicago, Atlanta, and a few other places.

I haven’t read Nielsen’s other work, but I think she’s got a long, successful career ahead of her, and I’ll definitely be following it, eager to see what she writes next.

Goes well with steamed artichokes and warm butter, and a glass of California chardonnay, eaten on a coastal patio at sunset.

 


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 21st: Wining Wife

Tuesday, May 22nd: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 23rd: Instagram: @writersdream

Thursday, May 24th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, May 28th: Instagram: @jessicamap

Wednesday, May 30th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, June 4th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks

Tuesday, June 5th: Jathan & Heather

Wednesday, May 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, June 7th: Ms. Nose in a Book

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: A Dangerous Game, by Heather Graham

A Dangerous GameAbout the book, A Dangerous Game

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: MIRA (March 13, 2018)

TROUBLE ALWAYS FINDS HER…

Wrapping up a normal day at the office, criminal psychologist Kieran Finnegan is accosted by a desperate woman who shoves an infant into her arms and then flees, only to be murdered minutes later on a busy Manhattan street.

Who was the woman? Where did the baby come from? Kieran can’t stop thinking about the child and the victim, so her boyfriend, Craig Frasier, does what any good special agent boyfriend would do—he gets the FBI involved. And asks Kieran to keep out of it.

But the Finnegans have a knack for getting into trouble, and Kieran won’t sit idle when a lead surfaces through her family’s pub. Investigating on her own, she uncovers a dangerous group that plays fast and loose with human lives and will stop at nothing to keep their secrets—and they plan to silence Kieran before she can expose their deadly enterprise.

Buy, read, and discuss A Dangerous Game:

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


About the author, Heather Graham Heather Graham

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She’s a winner of the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.

Connect with Heather:

Websites:

TheOriginalHeatherGraham.com | eHeatherGraham.com

Social Media:

Facebook | Twitter  | YouTube


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts:

I always enjoy Heather Graham’s work, and A Dangerous Game is no exception. It’s the third installment in her “New York Confidential” series, but even though I haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy, I had no problem following the backstories of the existing characters. In fact, one of the things I really liked was that when Graham writes intimate scenes between protagonist Kieran Finnegan and her boyfriend Craig Fraiser, they really show the comfort of an established relationship without feeling boring or stale.

Graham is equally deft at  writing intricate, fast-paced plots and vivid characters. The joy of reading something that’s part of a series is that the world you enter is rich and layered without the need for a ton of setup. The heart of the novel – the pub owned by Kieran and her brothers – was so well drawn that I found my mouth watering for shepherd’s pie, and I could hear the clanging of silverware and the driving beat of Irish rock music.

This isn’t ‘just’ a romance novel, however, it’s also a mystery, and that part of the book is never forgotten, nor is plot sacrificed for character moments that wouldn’t make sense.

Graham has given us another novel to devour – that’s really the way her books are best enjoyed – and, as always, I find that the experience was both entertaining and incredibly satisfying.

Goes well with Irish stew served with brown bread and a glass of hard cider.


Excerpt Tour Stops:  TLC Book Tours

Monday, February 19th: Stuck in Books

Tuesday, February 20th: Books & Spoons

Wednesday, February 21st: Read Love Blog

Thursday, February 22nd: Jathan & Heather

Monday, February 26th: Moonlight Rendezvous

Tuesday, February 27th: The Sassy Bookster

Wednesday, February 28th: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, March 1st: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Friday, March 2nd: Cheryl’s Book Nook

Monday, March 5th: What is That Book About

Tuesday, March 6th: A Holland Reads

Wednesday, March 7th: Books a la Mode

Thursday, March 8th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, March 9th: Nightbird Novels

 

Review Tour Stops:

Monday, March 12th: Moonlight Rendezvous

Monday, March 12th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, March 13th: Books & Bindings

Wednesday, March 14th: Romancing the Readers

Monday, March 19th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, March 20th: Thoughts of a Blond

Wednesday, March 21st: Books & Spoons

Thursday, March 22nd: Write Read Life

Friday, March 23rd: The Romance Dish

Friday, March 23rd: Jathan & Heather

Monday, March 26th: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, March 27th: Stranded in Chaos

Wednesday, March 28th: A Holland Reads

Thursday, March 29th: Cheryl’s Book Nook

Friday, March 30th: Clues & Reviews

Monday, April 2nd: Sultry Sirens Book Blog

Tuesday, April 3rd: Book Nerd

Wednesday, April 4th: OMG Reads – Spotlight

Thursday, April 5th: Mystery Suspense Reviews

Friday, April 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, April 10th: Evermore Books

TBD: A Fortress of Books

Review: The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury

About the book, The Wild Inside

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (March 20, 2018)

The Wild InsideThe Wild Inside is an unusual love story and a creepy horror novel — think of the Brontë sisters and Stephen King.” —John Irving

A promising talent makes her electrifying debut with this unforgettable novel, set in the Alaskan wilderness, that is a fusion of psychological thriller and coming-of-age tale in the vein of Jennifer McMahon, Chris Bohjalian, and Mary Kubica.

A natural born trapper and hunter raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff spends her days tracking animals and running with her dogs in the remote forests surrounding her family’s home. Though she feels safe in this untamed land, Tracy still follows her late mother’s rules: Never Lose Sight of the House. Never Come Home with Dirty Hands. And, above all else, Never Make a Person Bleed.

But these precautions aren’t enough to protect Tracy when a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious. The next day, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. Was this the man who attacked her and did she almost kill him? With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure.

Helping her father cope with her mother’s death and prepare for the approaching Iditarod, she doesn’t have time to think about what she may have done. Then a mysterious wanderer appears, looking for a job. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin is hiding something, but she can’t warn her father without explaining about the attack—or why she’s kept it to herself.

It soon becomes clear that something dangerous is going on . . . the way Jesse has wormed his way into the family . . . the threatening face of the stranger in a crowd . . . the boot-prints she finds at the forest’s edge.

Her family is in trouble. Will uncovering the truth protect them—or is the threat closer than Tracy suspects?

 

Buy, read, and discuss The Wild Inside:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Jamey Bradbury Jamey-Bradbury-AP-Photo-by-Brooke-Taylor

Born in Illinois, Jamey Bradbury has lived in Alaska for fifteen years, leaving only briefly to earn her MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Winner of an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters, she has published fiction in Black Warrior Review, Sou’wester, and Zone 3, and she has written for the Anchorage Daily News, TheBillfold.com, and storySouth. Jamey lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Find out more about Jamey at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellI had a hard time getting into this book because the main character’s thoughts are written with intentionally bad grammar. While I recognize that it was a stylistic choice, meant to give us a clear view of who protagonist Tracy Petrikoff truly is, I find double negatives and such so off-putting when they’re not limited to dialogue, that I nearly put this book down. Twice.

I admit it; I’m a language snob.

Still, the description intrigued me, and I had committed to read the novel. Ultimately, I’m glad I did, because what I found was a gripping, suspenseful story, with some great detail and character work from the author, Jamey Bradbury.

Tracy herself is a mix of strong and weak, and that inner dichotomy is what makes her feel real, as well as making her an interesting character to follow. As a dog person myself (I have four and work in rescue), I was hooked most by the initial scenes describing her dogs, and how she was born in the kennel.

As I kept reading, I enjoyed watching the layers of the story unfold, and that same reaction to Tracy’s poor grammar outside of dialogue became something I appreciated when she was speaking to others.

This is a great read for anyone who likes a little bit of romance and a touch of horror wrapped in a compelling mystery. It’s also a great read for people who appreciate vivid three-dimensional characters and setting described so well, you feel as if you were there.

Goes well with a bowl of chili, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a mug of steaming hot coffee.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, March 26th: Jessicamap Reviews

Tuesday, March 27th: Instagram: @hollyslittlebookreviews

Wednesday, March 28th: Bibliotica

Thursday, March 29th: Dreams, Etc.

Monday, April 2nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, April 3rd: Into the Hall of Books

Wednesday, April 4th: Sweet Southern Home

Thursday, April 5th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, April 9th: As I turn the pages

Friday, April 20th: Kahakai Kitchen

TBD: Ms. Nose in a Book

TBD: Write – Read – Life

Review: Love Unleashed, by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

About the book, Love Unleashed

Love Unleashed• Hardcover: 160 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic (March 6, 2018)

A book for dog lovers everywhere. Celebrating the amazing relationships shared with our four-legged friends, each story recounts the love of dogs and the powerful ways dogs impact our lives.

In this heartwarming collection of stories, readers meet 38 incredible dogs who have gone above and beyond the job description of best friend. Each uplifting story provides an inspiring look at the animals who change our lives. Meet rescue dogs who learn to serve others, working dogs who go beyond the call of duty, and underdogs who surmount extraordinary challenges on the road to finding their forever home. This treasury of man’s best friend features photographs and personal anecdotes from those who have been touched by the selfless love of a beloved pet.

Buy, read, and discuss Love Unleashed:

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 


About the author, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh Rebecca Ascher-Walsh Photo by Mark Mann

Rebecca Ascher-Walsh is a writer who specializes in celebrity and lifestyle coverage, but who also loves dogs and telling stories about amazing animals. She contributes to many newspapers and national magazines including Entertainment Weekly, Adweek, and the Los Angeles Times. She is a volunteer at a high-kill shelter in Manhattan and a founding director of the Deja Foundation, devoted to funding the medical care and training costs of dogs rescued from high-kill shelters.

 


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI work in rescue, and typically have a foster dog in addition to the four dogs my husband and I actually adopted, so I thought I knew the array of stories that rescues represented. Still, Love Unleashed introduced me to some stories I hadn’t heard, and some scenarios I hadn’t personally encounter.

Author Rebecca Ascher-Walsh treats every animal in this book like the amazing animal it is. The pictures are gorgeous, the stories told to maximize our appreciation of our canine friends, and maybe elicit some tears. (I know my eyes were wet as I paged through this gallery of fluffy, sweet, beloved animals.)

Some of these stories – the pit bull who waited five years for a home, the golden retriever who lost his eyes to infection – are heartbreaking. Others – the little girl and her service dog, the pup who helped a cancer survivor find a new lease on life – are heartwarming. All, however, are full of soft fur, big eyes, and feet that, I’m pretty sure, all smell like corn chips.

As an animal lover, this book made me appreciate my own dogs.

As an animal rescuer, this book reminded me why we do what we do, why we fight for every animal, why we’re constantly begging people for money or to open their homes to a foster pet, why we manage to make room for just one more, even when we know we shouldn’t.

It’s more than a coffee table book, but the coffee table is where my beautiful copy will live, because it’s too pretty, and too special, to hide on a shelf.

Goes well with a mug of coffee and a plate of apples and cheddar cheese, the latter to be shared with whatever fourfoot insists that they like cheese, too.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 6th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, March 7th: G. Jacks Writes

Friday, March 9th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Tuesday, March 13th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, March 14th: Literary Quicksand

Thursday, March 15th: Openly Bookish

Monday, March 19th: The Geeky Bibliophile

Tuesday, March 20th: Dreams, Etc.

Wednesday, March 21st: Bibliotica

Thursday, March 22nd: A Bookworm’s World

Monday, March 26nd: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Tuesday, March 27th: What Is That Book About

Review: In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo

About the book, In Praise of Difficult Women

• Hardcover: 352 pagesIn-Praise-of-Difficult-Women-cover
• Publisher: National Geographic (February 27, 2018)

From Amelia Earhart to Carrie Fisher, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths.

Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history. Best-selling author Karen Karbo (The Gospel According to Coco Chanel) spotlights the spirited rule breakers who charted their way with little regard for expectations: Frida Kahlo, Nora Ephron, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, Shonda Rhimes, Elizabeth Taylor, and Helen Gurley Brown, among others. Their lives–imperfect, elegant, messy, glorious–provide inspiration and instruction for the new age of feminism we have entered. Karbo distills these lessons with wit and humor, examining the universal themes that connect us to each of these mesmerizing personalities today: success and style, love and authenticity, daring and courage. Being “difficult,” Karbo reveals, might not make life easier. But it can make it more fulfilling–whatever that means for you.

Buy, read, and discuss In Praise of Difficult Women:

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the Author, Karen Karbo

KAREN KARBO is the author of multiple award-winning novels, memoirs and works of nonfiction. Her best-selling “Kick-Ass Women” series includes The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman, which was an international bestseller. Karbo’s short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, the New York Times, Salon, and other publications. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a winner of the General Electric Younger Writer Award. Karbo lives in Portland, Oregon, where she continues to kick ass.

Connect with Karen:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

When I asked to review this collection of essays, I originally thought it was a collection of works by the women included. It is not. Instead, it’s a collection of essays – part biography/part anecdote – about twenty-nine of the women our culture in general, and author Karen Karbo specifically, consider to be iconic.

It’s a fairly well-rounded collection of women, each given an a specific adjective. J.K. Rowling is dubbed ‘feisty,’ for example and Shonda Rimes is ‘unstoppable,’ while Jane Goodall is described as ‘determined,’ Hillary Clinton is ‘ambitious’ and Carrie Fisher, the final essay in this collection, is ‘droll.’  The order seems haphazard – Janis Joplin is among the final entries, while Coco Chanel is in the middle – but this isn’t the sort of book where order particularly matters. Rather, it’s the kind of book you can pick up anywhere, read an essay or two, and then come back to a while later, and read a few more.

Karbo’s writing voice is crisp and easy. This doesn’t negate the seriousness of some of her subject matter, it just makes it feel like you’re hearing these women described by a friend. Maybe that’s a good thing, though, because while all of the women represented here are (or were) at the tops of their field, this book humanizes them. Through Karbo’s eyes we see them as women first, and icons second.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this book was the author’s use of footnotes. Some merely clarified dates and titles, while others were personal asides. Her comment about naming an indie rock band “Forest of Dean,” made me laugh out loud.

Over all, this is a fantastic collection of well-written essays about iconic women who are supremely real people.

Goes well with hot coffee and an almond croissant.


Tour Stops https://tlcbooktours.com/2018/02/karen-karbo-author-of-in-praise-of-difficult-women-on-tour-march-2018/

Tuesday, February 27th: A Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, March 1st: A Bookish Affair

Monday, March 5th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, March 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, March 7th: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, March 13th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, March 14th: Doing Dewey

Thursday, March 15th: Bibliotica

Friday, March 16th: bookchickdi

Monday, March 19th: Openly Bookish

Monday, March 19th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

TBD: 5 Minutes For Books

Review: Meet the Frugalwoods, by Elizabeth Willard Thames

About the book Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence through Simple Living

• Hardcover: 256 pages
• Publisher: HarperBusiness (March 6, 2018)

Meet-the-Frugalwoods-coverThe deeply personal story of how award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter.

In 2014, Elizabeth and Nate Thames were conventional 9-5 young urban professionals. But the couple had a dream to become modern-day homesteaders in rural Vermont. Determined to retire as early as possible in order to start living each day—as opposed to wishing time away working for the weekends—they enacted a plan to save an enormous amount of money: well over seventy percent of their joint take home pay. Dubbing themselves the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth began documenting their unconventional frugality and the resulting wholesale lifestyle transformation on their eponymous blog.

In less than three years, Elizabeth and Nate reached their goal. Today, they are financially independent and living out their dream on a sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of rural Vermont with their young daughter. While frugality makes their lifestyle possible, it’s also what brings them peace and genuine happiness. They don’t stress out about impressing people with their material possessions, buying the latest gadgets, or keeping up with any Joneses. In the process, Elizabeth discovered the self-confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to “the good life.” Elizabeth unlocked the freedom of a life no longer beholden to the clarion call to consume ever-more products at ever-higher sums.

Meet the Frugalwoods is the intriguing story of how Elizabeth and Nate realized that the mainstream path wasn’t for them, crafted a lifestyle of sustainable frugality, and reached financial independence at age thirty-two. While not everyone wants to live in the woods, or quit their jobs, many of us want to have more control over our time and money and lead more meaningful, simplified lives. Following their advice, you too can live your best life.

Buy, read, and discuss Meet the Frugalwoods:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Elizabeth Willard Thames

Elizabeth Willard Thames is the personal finance blogger behind the award-winning Frugalwoods.com. At thirty-two she abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced extreme frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life and retire to a sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of Vermont with her husband and young daughter. Started in April 2014, Frugalwoods is a respected voice in the personal finance, early retirement, and lifestyle blogging sector and empowers readers to take charge of their finances and create fulfilling lives. Thames holds BAs in political science and creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MA in public administration from American University. Prior to following her calling as a writer and homesteader, she worked for ten years in the nonprofit sector as a fund-raiser and communications manager.

Follow the Frugalwoods:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellMy husband and I suck at saving. Well, we don’t suck, so much as we rely on retail therapy and have way too much house for two people and four dogs.

It’s because of this that I was initially attracted to reading Meet the Frugalwoods.

I haven’t read the Frugalwoods blog, but in this book Elizabeth Willard Thames has given us something that’s partly an autobiography and partly an object lesson on how to achieve, if not your actual dream, than at least a better level of financial security.

Thames’s voice is simple and accessible. There’s a touch of self-deprecating humor, but mostly she’s pretty no-nonsense. Reading this book doesn’t make you feel like you’ve done everything wrong; rather it gives a different perspective on how you could be managing finances, and I say this as someone who worked in the mortgage industry for half a lifetime, before quitting to write and podcast and do audio drama.

Granted, at 47, I’m a bit out of the Frugalwoods demographic, but I still found Thames’s story inspiring and uplifting, and I think for the millennial generation, especially those on the older end of it, the advice and information shared in Meet the Frugalwoods could be invaluable.

Goes well with a grocery store bagel and cream cheese (but only if your grocery store makes decent bagels), and coffee you brew at home.


Tour Stops

https://tlcbooktours.com/2018/01/avraham-azrieli-author-of-deborah-calling-on-tour-january-february-2018/Tuesday, March 6th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 7th: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, March 8th: Literary Quicksand

Friday, March 9th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Monday, March 12th: A Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, March 15th: Man of La Book

Monday, March 19th: What Is That Book About

Tuesday, March 20th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, March 21st: Doing Dewey

Thursday, March 22nd: Based on a True Story