Sunday, February 9, 2020

Where To Begin by Cleo Wade (A Review)

About the Book

A Small Book About Your Power To Create Big Change In Our Crazy World
Cleo Wade
Published in October 8th 2019 by Atria Books
Hatdcover, 192 pages
Non-fiction, Poetry, Inspirational

My Review

***Review copy graciously offered by the Publicist in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.

   "There are times when we must speak, not because you are going to change the other person, but because if you don't speak, they have changed you." And this is exactly what this lovely little hybrid of poetry and prose does in its understated and yet highly ambitious manner -- raise its voice to remind us with gentle vigour that hope of a better tomorrow is not magic; it is work. 

   Counterintuitively, for this revolution to have a massive effect, strong foundations, and a largely tangible scale, the spiritual work needs to start within a place of peaceful mindfulness and individual self-care. "We earn our optimism. We earn our hope. We do this by caring for ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically so that when we show up in the world, we are able to show up with the best of what is within us. When we show up as a person who is cared for and loved, we have the energy and ability to approach the world's problems with optimism and hope. When we are cared for, we are in the best possible head space and heart space to find solutions for our communities that are kind, humane, just, moral, and ethical."

   I would recommend this inspirational book to a wide and diversified audience, but mostly to our youngest readership on whose mistakenly fragile shoulders most significantly weighs the responsibility of building a "society rooted in love, acceptance, justice, and equality."

   I would also encourage the author, if she hasn't yet given this idea some consideration, to explore other communication media popular among many of us 'mystical readers' -- I see a deck of affirmation cards (in the vein of Gabrielle Bernstein and Tosha Silver) as a perfect companion to this book. To some degree, Where To Begin lends itself to that end: the author herself, Cleo Wade, devoted a handful of book pages to an interactive use with the readers. For some of the poems, she simply outlined the letters, and she invites us to fill them in with our favorite colored pencils and crayons, as a way for the readers to share with her the joy of the creation of the book. Ms. Wade's book has the built-in spiritual and motivational stamina of a mantra which, incorporated in a daily meditative practice, could have a surprisingly deep transformative power.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From the cover...

   With her lyrical, stirring mantras and affirmations, Cleo Wade’s second anthology of heartfelt poetry and prose builds on the wisdom of her bestselling book Heart Talk, encouraging you to remain hopeful and harness your personal power to bring positive change in our world.

   Where to Begin is perfect for those who are ready to be a part of building a society rooted in love, acceptance, justice, and equality.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

DREAMS OF FALLING by Karen White (A Review)

About the Book

Karen White
Published on June 5, 2018 by Berkley Books
Hardcover, 416 pages
Women's Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery

My Review

    Quintessential "Karen White": Three childhood friends growing up together, weathering storms of all kinds side by side and yet keeping secrets from each other. Juvenile dreams going west and a wish granted at the tragic price of loss and grief. A young woman who, for the first time in her life, pays attention to her past and to the people who have been loving her all along despite her antics. A family heirloom (a 19th century rice plantation and its neoclassical mansion) hiding more secrets than its charred walls will ever be able to reveal even if they could talk...

     "Secrets can be used for subterfuge. But secrets kept out of love are different. In their own way, they keep us sane. They tell us that love isn't about doubt, but believing in spite of it." 

    Dreams Of Falling doesn't go off the beaten and successful path of Karen White's signature storytelling, a distinguished narrative blend that embraces all the core themes of unadulterated women's fiction (the complex nature of family and friendship bonds, an odd mixture of happiness and grief, all the wonderful and sometimes complicated, messy ways love shows up in our lives), a strong Southern flair, and a sensibility finely tuned to mystery plots. 

    White delivers a novel awash in forgiveness dealt out in spite of betrayal and brimming with secrets alternately covered and exposed by waves of memories and flashbacks: the story is, in fact, narrated by three different POVs and spans over a period of sixty years. For this reason, the narrative frame demands a constant shift of attention between the 1950s events, plots/subplots unfolding in the present time (2010), and a relatively recent past (2001). And although this writing technique can trigger anticipation, increase suspense, and offer a few edge-of-your-seat thrills, it may also deter readers who are not partial to dual timelines and multiple perspectives. My issue was rather with one of the female lead characters, (Larkin sounds too immature for her twenty-seven years), but I understand that the author has intentionally painted her in such a way, as the scarred product and recipient of everybody else's emotional traumas and misconceptions. My interest in the story was nonetheless unwaveringly fueled throughout its entire 416 pages. 
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

From the Cover...

    From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night the Lights Went Out comes an exquisite new novel about best friends, family ties and the love that can both strengthen and break those bonds.

    It's been nine years since Larkin fled Georgetown, South Carolina, vowing never to go back. But when she finds out that her mother has disappeared, she knows she has no choice but to return to the place that she both loves and dreads--and to the family and friends who never stopped wishing for her to come home. Ivy, Larkin's  
mother, is discovered in the burned-out wreckage of her family's ancestral rice plantation, badly injured and unconscious. No one knows why Ivy was there, but as Larkin digs for answers, she uncovers secrets kept for nearly 50 years. Secrets that lead back to the past, to the friendship between three girls on the brink of womanhood who swore that they would be friends forever, but who found that vow tested in heartbreaking ways.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

FEEL FREE: Essays By Zadie Smith (A Review)

About the Book

Zadie Smith
Published on February 6, 2018 by Penguin Press
Hardcover, 452 pages
Essays, Non-fiction

My Review

    " can't fight for a freedom you've forgotten how to identify. To the reader still curious about freedom I offer these essays—to be used, changed, dismantled, destroyed or ignored as necessary!"—Zadie Smith

    I enjoyed this collection of essays: Smith weaves all kinds of themes into its fabric (from the wry and yet poignant portrait of a generation, Generation Why?, lost in the hedonistic values of the social network to the elegiac tones of Love In The Gardens), but my favorite moments are the diaristic ones (The Shadows Of Ideas, Find Your Beach, Joy) and those where she narrows her scope down to a more autobiographical and self-revealing narrative.
    Above all others, I loved the retrospective lucidity, emotional intelligence, and lyricism of "The Bathroom", a touching family portrait reminiscent of that time of her childhood when her family raised from an impoverished background to the British "lower middle class", a change of social status that brought a great sense of liberation to the Smith family, but came also at the high price of self-sacrifice and nearly self-obliteration of at least one of her parents. Echoes of her signature themes (family, multiculturalism, race, social displacement, search for identity) reverberate across the essay with that exquisite harmony of social satire and compassionate remembrance that is so typical of her writing. The acquisition of a larger home (not quite a mansion, and yet a maisonette with four bedrooms and two bathrooms) was, in the 80s, one of the points of pride of the "unlovable lower middle class", and a spare room or an extra toilet represented for the Smiths the passage to a higher social status, a notion somewhat bemusing nowadays to some, but a milestone sort of achievement for a family that was not exactly enjoying the contentment and freedoms of the British bourgeoisie.

    "When I think of my parents it's often with some guilt: that I did the things they never got to do, and I did them on their watch, using their time, as if they were themselves just that—timekeepers—and not separate people living out the evershortening time of their own existence. [...] no matter how many rooms you have, and however many books and movies and songs declaim the wholesome beauty of family life, the truth is "the family" is always an event of some violence. It's only years later, in that retrospective swirl, that you work out who was hurt, in what way, and how badly."

    As the author herself claims in her forward, essays about one person's experience have, by their very nature, not a leg to stand on. In Feel Free, though, the intimate tone of Zadie Smith's memoires and the insightfulness of her social commentaries imbue this collection (earnest musings on matter of culture and politics) with erudite authority and soulful humanity: "I'm a sentimental humanist. I believe art is here to help, even if the help is painful—especially then." 
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

From the Cover...

From Zadie Smith, one of the most beloved authors of her generation, a new collection of essays 

Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world's preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.

Arranged into five sections--In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free--this new collection poses questions we immediately recognize. What is The Social Network--and Facebook itself--really about? "It's a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore." Why do we love libraries? "Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay." What will we tell our granddaughters about our collective failure to address global warming? "So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we'd just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes--and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat."

Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, "Joy," and, "Find Your Beach," Feel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith's own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive--and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.

Friday, September 29, 2017

MERRY AND BRIGHT, A Novel by Debbie Macomber (ARC Review and Wine&Dessert Pairing)

Debbie Macomber
To be published on October 3rd 2017 by Ballantine Books
Hardcover, 302 pages
Fiction, Romance, Holiday, Christmas, ChickLit

About the book

Merry is pretty busy these days. She’s taking care of her family, baking cookies, decorating for the holidays, and hoping to stay out of the crosshairs of her stressed and by-the-book boss at the consulting firm where she temps. Her own social life is the last thing she has in mind, much less a man. Without her knowledge, Merry’s well-meaning mom and brother create an online dating profile for her—minus her photo—and the matches start rolling in. Initially, Merry is incredulous, but she reluctantly decides to give it a whirl.

Soon Merry finds herself chatting with a charming stranger, a man with similar interests and an unmistakably kind soul. Their online exchanges become the brightest part of her day. But meeting face-to-face is altogether different, and her special friend is the last person Merry expects—or desires. Still, sometimes hearts can see what our eyes cannot. In this satisfying seasonal tale, unanticipated love is only a click away.

My Review

While Debbie Macomber's latest holiday treat, Merry And Bright, tugged at my romance reader's heart strings, it fell flat on a few levels, the characterization of the male lead, Jayson Bright, being one of them--too juvenile and unidimensional for my taste.  

I warmed up to the delightful heroine of the story instead (Merry Knight) and enjoyed the atmosphere of unconditional love, genuineness, and collaboration pervading her home and defining each member of her family. All in all, Merry And Bright will do the trick for all those readers who are looking for a make-you-feel-good, highly readable, holiday season romance. 

Having said that, I personally believe the author doesn't dig deep enough in Jayson's background and family history in order to reveal  motivations and emotional triggers standing behind his conflicted attitude toward love and relationships. His characterization is not convincing enough: giving a simple recount of his childhood struggles is as effective as telling me the moon is shining rather than showing me the glint of light on broken glass, to use Chechov's words.  Macomber seems to limit herself to what's on the surface of the story and progresses through the stages of the enamourament between Jay and Merry by narrative leaps and bounds. 

The novel strikes the right chords thanks to the authenticity of the down-to-earth Knight family (Merry's mother's health issues, a brother with special needs, ordinary people with ordinary problems versus the wealthy, Scrooge-like, grumpy male protagonist), but in its uncomplicated, predictable, run-of-the-mill lightheartedness, the narration penalizes depth and character development.

My final rating: 3.5 stars

***ARC graciously offered by the Publisher via NetGalley in return for an unbiased and honest opinion

Wine&Dessert Pairing

That curmudgeon of Jayson Bright (Merry's boss and eventually love interest) might be a dour one (at least on the surface), but he knows a thing or two about wine. His favorite is an excellent Argentinian Malbec, a full-bodied red known for its plump, dark fruit flavors, and smoky finish. It pairs well with foods that echo its earthiness, so what a better match for this sipping companion than a Plum Cake, soft, moist, and topped with fresh plums? Cheers!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed Sweepstake: Win $75 Gift Card!


Minotaur Books, a mystery, suspense, and thriller imprint of St. Martin's Press, is running a fantastic sweepstake that you absolutely don't want to miss!
All you have to do is pick up a copy of BEACH, BREEZE, BLOODSHED by John Keyse-Walker (now available!), post a photo of the book on any social media platform, and use the hashtag #BeachBreezeBloodshed to be entered.
Winners will get a $75 gift card to the bookseller of their choice!
Deadline to post is October 12, 2017.
Read about the book on GOODREADS
Buy the book on AMAZON

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SUMMER ON EARTH by Peter Thompson (Book Spotlight, Guest Post & Excerpt)

A wishing star changed 11-year-old Grady's life forever...
Peter Thompson
Published by Persnickety Press, 293 pages
Sci-fi, Middle Grade
Book Blurb

The night that eleven-year-old Grady Johnson looked out his window and wished upon a shooting star, his life changed forever.

Grady, his Ma, and younger sister Luanne are having a hard summer. Dad has died and the family isn’t the same. Though Ma is trying her best, Grady knows they don’t have enough money to get by.

The shooting star he saw was a space craft plunging to Earth, and landing at the back of their farm. Extraterrestrial engineer Ralwil Turth has one goal, to fix his power drive and go back home. But things don’t go as planned. Stuck in human form, he gets to know Grady and his family as he works on their farm. He starts to learn about what it means to be human, and the exotic charms of this planet like the taste of potatoes, and how amazing bugs are.

Ralwil grows to care for Grady and his family. On a trip to town, he realizes that money is what matters to humans, and is the cause of the family’s trouble. That night, he uses his technology to combine a twenty-dollar bill with an oak twig. Over the next week this grows to a towering tree, every leaf a twenty-dollar bill. This, Ralwil is sure, will solve all the family’s problems.

But the family’s wealth raises suspicion in this small town, and this soon leads to more trouble. With the family’s fate, and Ralwil’s life, on the line, Grady has to find the courage to help his family and save his friend.

Summer on Earth blends humor, adventure and poignancy to create an unforgettable story about finding home.



Amazon | Barnes & Noble


About the Author

Peter Thompson grew up in Illinois, and lives near Chicago. He remembers how excited he was when the first astronaut stepped on to the moon. He has had an appreciation of space, and all its possibilities ever since. His love of children’s books developed while reading to his three sons. His first novel, Living Proof, was a thriller published by Berkeley Books. Summer on Earth is his first book for younger readers. It will be released in August of this year.





Book Excerpt
     It was hotter than usual that night, and Grady couldn’t get comfortable, even with the fan on high. The June bugs thumped against the window screen, and the crickets chirped so loudly it sounded like they were right there in the room. He could hear the TV on downstairs, so he knew Ma was still awake. Ever since Dad died she’d stayed up late most every night.
Grady just stared out the window and looked at the night sky. Where they lived, out in the country, there wasn’t much light at night and the stars stood out more than they did in the city. Grady tried to find the constellations his Dad had taught him, just letting his mind wander. At some point he started to get sleepy. But before he fell asleep, he saw a shooting star. And when he saw it, he made a wish.
     This is the story of how that wish came true.  

Guest Post
How to Write by the Seat of Your Pants: Outline or No?
Peter Thompson

If you ask any fiction writer how they write, their answer will place them firmly into one of two camps. They are either a Plotter, or a Pantser.

Plotters plot their stories out ahead of time. They live and die by their outline. A Plotter puts the time in to figuring out the full arc of the story before they even write their first line. They know who their characters are, and what their relationships are to each other. Plotters don’t have to pull rabbits out of their hats to make the ending work. They don’t go wandering into dark alleys where they get stuck, or write themselves into a corner where they can’t get out. They’ve already thought through every detail of the story. They’ve found the holes that need to be fixed before they invested the time, and energy of writing out a novel, until they know exactly how it will work.

Plotters can be very prolific, because they know what they are going to write before they write it. This way of writing is efficient and productive, but sometimes there’s a cost for this. Plotter writers have to make sure they are showing real emotion. Sometimes the stories can feel a little flat.

You might be a Plotter if:

It’s the beginning of August, and you’re already done with your Christmas shopping.
You get excited about your to-do list.
Your desk is neat and organized.
When you go on vacation, you have a detailed itinerary of what you will do.
You type out your shopping list.
You hit all your deadlines on time.

As a proud and proper Pantser, I envy the Plotter. As a Pantser, I write by the seat of my pants. I make it a point to sit down every day and put in the time to write. But, as a rule, I have no idea where I am going. I am driving without a roadmap or GPS. Sometimes it feels like I’m driving with no headlights on a dark and stormy night. To a proper Plotter, this would be majorly stress inducing and considered certifiably crazy behavior. And they might be right. I have too many partially completed novels sitting on my hard drive. It is painful and discouraging to write a couple hundred pages into a story and then find out you don’t know where you’re going, and have no idea how to finish.

That said, I wouldn’t trade places with a Plotter. I think I have more fun. For me, a big part of writing is in the discovery. It is a true joy when you think your characters are going one way, and they surprise you and go off in a whole new direction. I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed out loud when someone in my story said something I didn’t expect them to say. Being a Pantser is about letting go, and letting your subconscious take over. When it is flowing, it feels like you have a direct line to the universe, and it is dictating the story to you and you are just typing as fast as you can, trying to keep up. The pain is real when it doesn’t work, but when it does, Wow! That is a cool thing. If I am surprising myself, I know my readers are also feeling that, and I think these stories have a real life to them because of that.

You might be a Pantser if:

You know you have the receipt you are looking for, you just don’t remember which pile you put it in.
You are why stores are open on Christmas Eve.
You like to wing it, and you cook without using a recipe.
Deadlines? It will get done when it gets done.

These are exaggerations of course, and most Pantsers try and have an idea of where they are going, and most Plotters will go off course from time to time as new ideas present themselves. When I first started writing my novel Summer on Earth, I had already written pages of notes. I knew it would be about an alien and a young boy, and I knew there would be a money tree in it. I knew the basics of the story, but I discovered the rest as I wrote. The novel I am writing now, will be a series. I know that I am going to have to get a whole lot better at pre-plotting, to make sure this all comes together in the best way possible. Each writer has a style that fits them most naturally, but taking on some of the other style can help to improve their writing overall.




Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A SHAPE ON THE AIR by Julia H. Ibbotson (Book Blast & Giveaway)

Author: Julia H. Ibbotson
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Pages: 267
Genre: Medieval Timeslip Romance
Unlocking a love that lasts for lifetimes … and beyond …
Dr Viv Dulac, a lecturer in medieval studies, is devastated when her partner walks out (and with her best friend too) and it seems that she is about to lose everything. Drunk and desperate, her world quite literally turns upside down when she finds herself in the body of the fifth century Lady Vivianne. Lady V has her own traumas; she is struggling with the shifting values of the Dark Ages and her forced betrothal to the brutish Sir Pelleas, who is implicated in the death of her parents. Haunted by both Lady Vivianne and by Viv's own parents' death and legacy, can Viv  unlock the mystery that surrounds and connects their two lives, 1500 years apart, and bring peace to them both? Can the strange key she finds hold the truth? A haunting story of lives intertwining across the ages, of the triumph of the human spirit and of dreams lost and found.




1500 years before

Lady Nymue, her mother, is rising from the mere like a spirit: tall, slow like a dream, over-gown falling in slim folds from her waist. Vivianne sees her in a haze of mist, like magic, an illusion. She feels it, that enchantment, and it is enfolding her, but making her shiver, too. Her life-giver, robes dry despite the water, is coming towards her as she stands anxiously on the bank, waiting impatiently, calling out urgently, hopping from one foot to the other, tangling her feet in her earth-sweeping kirtle, longing to rejoin her playmates who are chasing around the village pretending to be Roman soldiers. Her mother, reaching out a hand to her, is shaking her head, but laughing. Be more patient, my little Lady Vivianne, she says, I have not completed my rituals, but let me wrap you in my cloak, for I must return to the mere. But she is only a little girl and something is making her feel cold, frightened. No, she calls, sticking out her lower lip, I want to play! I want to be Honorius this time! They promised! Eleanor will play my wife - or maybe my lady servant.
Her mother is ruffling her soft curls. Well, then, she smiles, I will return later to finish. She is lifted onto her mother’s horse, in front, held close. Dry, warm, comforting. Riding back to the village. Her care-giver is taking her back to play with her friends again. Her mother turns to the special hall which her father, Sir Tristram, called “sacred” and where she is only allowed to go sometimes.
And then, fire, flames, the acrid smell of smoke. Looking across to the great hall, terror strangling her heart, stealing her breath. Running towards the wooden building, through the ash and cinders and the roaring, screaming now, choking. Someone holding her back, pulling her.
Waking up in her little bed. A big red-faced man in the shadows, haloed with a fair unruly beard and thick wild hair, telling her that her parents were dead, burned in the fire. Her mother and her father, both of them. An accident with tallows. She knows those tallows; they are always on the altar in the sacred hall. They are only spoken of in whispers. But this man is speaking in a strange way, loud, too loud, and it seems to her, sneering, as she peers at him through the darkness.

Julia Ibbotson is giving away a PDF copy of ‘Drumbeats’!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter
  • This giveaway ends midnight September 29.
  • Winner will be contacted via email on September 30.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Award-winning author Julia Ibbotson is obsessed with the medieval world and concepts of time travel. She read English at Keele University, England (after a turbulent but exciting gap year in Ghana) specialising in medieval studies, and has a PhD in linguistics. She wrote her first novel at 10 years of age, but became a teacher, lecturer and researcher, and a single mum.  Julia has published four books, including a children’s book S.C.A.R.S (a fantasy medieval time slip), a memoir, and the first two novels of her Drumbeats trilogy (which begins in Ghana).  Apart from insatiable reading, she loves travelling the world, singing in choirs, swimming, yoga, and walking in the English countryside.

Her recent release is A Shape on the Air.