Thursday, January 31, 2013


Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 12, 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Genre: historical fiction, legal thriller, romance novel, mystery, women's fiction, WWII, Jewish Holocaust, book club pick
Rating: 5 stars

Charlotte Gold is a public defender and daughter of a Holocaust survivor. She used to be an associate attorney for a big New York firm, but after the devastating loss of her gravely ill mother and an heart-wrenching breakup with her long time boyfriend, Charlotte has rebuilt her life in Philadelphia, where she tirelessly devotes herself to juvenile court cases. When her ex, a high-profile attorney himself, shows up at her office door ten years later, Charlotte’s never extinguished hopes to reconnect with her former lover are revived but immediately crushed.  What she expects to be an attempt at reconciliation turns out to be a business proposal of legal nature.  Brian Warrington, in fact, has been tasked to defend a wealthy Polish financier and brother of a Holocaust hero from the accusation of war crimes. Roger Dykmans faces trial for the alleged betrayal of his brother Hans and consequent death of hundreds of Jewish children during World War II. After trying in vain to get his defendant to cooperate and exasperated by his stubborn and inexplicable silence, Brian thinks that Charlotte, with her forensic expertise and knowledge of the Holocaust history, may be the right lawyer to get Roger Dykmans to talk and get him out of jail. Motivated by lingering feelings for her ex fiance and moved by an undeniable desire to work again on a high-profile case, Charlotte accepts the proposal and flies to Europe right away. To her great disappointment though, Brian is not there to welcome her in his Munich branch office, and he won’t be part of the legal team either: to greet her and work by her side, Jack Warrington, Brain’s brother.
Apparently, the key to unravel the mystery that may prove Roger’s claimed innocence is contained in an anniversary clock from the early 1900s, a handcrafted and valuable timepiece mysteriously linked to his family history. Unfortunately this is all the wealthy industrialist is willing to say in his defense. Through forensic researches that will lead Charlotte and Jack across Europe to delve into Dykmans’ past and unveil long-buried truths, a very special bond will form between the two attorneys.
Spanning between present day Philadelphia and WWII-era Germany, award winning author Pam Jenoff weaves a riveting and suspenseful tale of love and betrayal against the backdrop of one of the darkest hour of our modern history. The Things We Cherished is a brilliantly plotted, wonderfully executed and cleverly concocted combination of legal thriller, historical fiction and romance. I would whole-heartedly recommend it not only to readers fond of wartime and Holocaust themed novels, but also to anyone who is looking for a high-quality read. A perfect book-club pick.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

THE CHOCOLATE KISS (Chocolate #2) by Laura Florand + GIVEAWAY (US/Canada)

Paperback, 342 pages
Published on December 24, 2012 by Kensington
Genre: women's fiction, contemporary romance novel
Rating: 5 stars

Magalie Chaudron has devoted years to La Maison des Sorcieres, a tiny salon de thé  on the Île Saint-Louis, in the heart of Paris. In the quainty little shop owned by her extravagant aunts, this bi-cultural young woman, born in the US from an American father and French mother, but "packed up like a suitcase to be hauled back and forth between the lavender fields of Provence and Ithaca, New York”, has found a place she can call home. 
Her life is finally together, nicely settled in a charming one-person-size apartment, in a perfect little neighborhood, her days spent spellbinding the tea house customers with delicious chocolat chaud and the power of her magical wishes infused in each delectable cup. Everything runs as sweetly and smoothly as a luscious stream of hot and spiced chocolate, until an outrageously handsome chef pâtissier, Philippe Lyonnais, disrupts her cozy world and uneventful life with his famous macarons and the most exquisite spice of all: love. When the renowned pastry chef, in fact, decides to open one of his shops right down the street from her tea house, not only does Magalie fear that his “heavenly sandwiches of air and lusciousness” will draw all her customers away: while teaching the boastful chef a lesson in humility, our self-reliant but fragile heroine will also learn to trust in happiness again.

I savored this enchanting romance novel a blissful morsel at a time. The narrative flow is always fluid and emotionally intense, but while the previous book in the Chocolate series (read my review of The Chocolate Thief) featured comedic elements, lighthearted tones and a more lean pace, The Chocolate Kiss seems to belong to a more introspective breed of romantic fiction: more sedate the pace, more nuanced the characters. In her new novel in fact, Laura Florand doesn’t simply spin a love tale around the luring power of chocolate, “symbol of cozy warmth and epitome of pure temptation”. She explores the complexity and fragility of a woman's heart torn between different heritages and languages, interrupted friendships and lack of roots, individualism and loneliness.

The course of true love never runs smooth, and despite the fairy tale quality of the novel, Laura Florand brings to the table some deeper issues (the importance of "blooming" where we were born, self-esteem and confidence in our ability to make other people love us, mutual trust between partners) that will prevent Magalie from opening her heart to Philippe right away with joy and confidence . Under this point of view, Philippe is much more open to love. He is immediately enchanted by the quainty neighborhood and cozy tea shop, not to mention instantly seduced by Magalie’s fragile personality, the scent of her hot chocolate “maddening powerful”. Our characters conduct a war of pride for a good  part of the book and most of their meetings will end up in verbal duels, but when they argue Philippe feels "aroused and infuriated and so alive”; at the caramel smell of him Magalie feels “all silky and vulnerable”. When she finally lets her obstinate guard down, every doubt, every argument, dissolves in sheer desire and searing sensuality. ”She, who loved chocolate so much, found herself burying her nose in [his] caramel scent like a warm and golden refuge.” They perfectly complement each other, like hot chocolate and molten caramel...such a contrast and harmony in this combination. 

Remarkable, as usual, Florand’s descriptive narrative and strong sense of space and vivid depiction of the Parisian setting, particularly charming during the winter season. I love the spectacular visuals of the cobblestone sidewalks of the Île-Saint-Louis carpeted with snow, Magalie's cozy apartment on the seventh floor of a 17th century building, a blurred view of the Eiffel Tower, the yellow-pink of a lazy dawn, la patisserie down a narrow and charming street, a cup of chocolat chaud...I found myself traveling back to my beloved Europe on the pages of a book. Superb!


The publisher would like to offer a copy of The Chocolate Thief (book no. 1 in the Chocolate series)  to a lucky commenter. Drop a comment about this review or any of Laura Florand's novels and kindly include your email address  for a chance to win. Contest open only to US and Canada residents. 

*A complimentary copy of The Chocolate Kiss was generously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased opinion.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

SAND DOLLAR: A Story Of Undying Love by Sebastian Cole - INTERVIEW & GIVEAWAY (International)

Today I am thrilled to have on the blog talented Sebastian Cole, author of an emotional and intensely romantic fantasy.  Welcome to Mina’s Bookshelf, Sebastian. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about yourself and your debut novel Sand Dollar: A Story Of Undying Love.

Q. Please, tell us something about yourself and how you started your adventure as a writer of romantic fiction. 

After graduating Brown University in the 80s with a degree in Economics (Economics, of all things!), I worked in corporate America for twenty years until I decided to take a leap of faith and leave my family’s business to pursue my dreams. So I put myself on a path that I’d hoped would lead to happiness and personal fulfillment. But at my age, figuring out which path to take was not as easy as I had thought. About three years ago, after trying several new careers without success, I conceived Sand Dollar as a movie concept, which stemmed from an experience I once had while snorkeling on vacation. After diving down to pick up a sand dollar from the ocean floor, it exploded in my hand and disappeared in the clear water around me. For me, the fragile sand dollar has come to represent life, for the blessings we have in our lives today are easily shattered tomorrow. I wanted the world to look at sand dollars differently, the way I do, though my eyes.  And I thought the visual of a sand dollar exploding on the big screen would make for an awesome opening scene in a movie. After kicking a movie treatment around for a couple of months with my brother, who has experience in writing screenplays, I made the commitment to novelize Sand Dollar into a book. And so, quite fortuitously, my career as an author had begun. I had never written a book before, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’d soon find out. 

Also, I’d like to add that I’ve always been pretty good at expressing my inner feelings, and I’m definitely a true romantic. I believe in true love, love at first sight, and finding the one person in life you’re meant to be with. After watching the movie The Notebook eight years ago in the theater, I remember thinking to myself, I could do that. I could write a story like that. In fact, most of us probably could. That’s because we all have experienced the loss of a loved one at some point in our lives. And for far too many of us, and for whatever circumstances, the one we loved was “the one who got away.” I’ve had one, and chances are, you’ve had one too! Sand Dollar tells of such a love – a love gained, a love lost, and through it all, a love that just won’t die.

Q. Such a soulful and touching story! A great way to start your career as a novelist, Sebastian.  I read in your biography that you don’t have a formal education in writing…like many successful authors, after all.  Did this lack represent a challenge or rather an advantage that may have helped you unbridle your creativity? 

Not having any preconceived notions about how you’re supposed to write a novel definitely unbridled my creativity. Among other things, it allowed me to tell a story that mimics the heart-wrenching journey that we call life. And with two timelines and a considerable amount of narration, the story reads more like a movie, which is kind of risky for a first-time author. But it’s one of the things that makes Sand Dollar uniquely different from other novels in its genre, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

However, not having any formal training or education in creative writing definitely made things difficult. But I refused to let a “minor technicality” like that stand in my way. I knew I had an amazing story brewing in my head, one that needed to be born, and I was determined to do whatever it takes to turn it into a well-written novel. Fortunately, I’m the type of person who believes I can achieve anything I set my mind to as long as I give it my all and don’t give up. So I figured I’d pick up the skills along the way, which is exactly what happened. 

What I thought would take a couple of months, took a couple of years. After five months of writing everyplace and everywhere, I finally reached the “finish line” of my manuscript – that magical day when you type, “THE END.” Okay, so I wrote a manuscript; now what? The first thing I did was to copyright it, followed by sending it out to all of my friends who read a lot, to get constructive criticism. This worked out great for me. Then it was back to rewriting the story, and when I was done, I rewrote some more. Next, I hired a professional to critique the story, who gave me some great advice, which meant more rewriting. I soon learned Lesson One in writing: writing is rewriting. There’d always be room for improvement. By this point in time during this process, I felt that the story had risen to a level of brilliance. But what about my writing style and voice? It needed to be just as good as the best-selling authors’, because they don’t put an asterisk next to your name along with an explanation about your education. So I spent months combing through the manuscript, trying to bring the level of writing up to the level of the story. 

When I felt I was ready, I tried soliciting literary agents with a one-page query letter, synopsis, and whatever their submission guidelines called for. Oh, did I mention the Catch 22 in traditional publishing? Apparently, you need a literary agent to get traditionally published. However, in order to get a literary agent, you need to have already been published. So it’s nearly impossible to get an agent unless you’re a famous celebrity, politician, sports figure, etc. Certainly, they’d give me more credence if I had a BFA or MFA in creative writing, which I had not. Like all roads to success, this one’s paved with rejection. And after tons of rejection letters from literary agents, I had a choice to make: give it up or step it up. Since giving up is not really in my vocabulary, I stepped it up. 

So I hired an editor, and the first thing she did was cross off 5,000 unnecessary words. I learned a lot simply by reading her edits and comments, and I became a better writer for it. I had rewritten the manuscript time and time again for a period of two years, and in the process, I learned how to write. Looking back, I had no idea how long it was going to take or how hard it was going to be. Writing the manuscript, however, was the easy part. Navigating the way to a successful book, now that’s the hard part. 

Q. You are quite an inspiration for authors at their first experience! Now, do you find the label of romantic fantasy to be an appropriate one for Sand Dollar? 

I’m so glad you asked that question! Such a simple question; such a complicated answer, ha. At first, I was hesitant to label Sand Dollar as a romance novel because I was afraid that people might associate it with steamy, sexy, or even trashy, which does not describe Sand Dollar at all. However, upon further inspection, I realized that romance is a broad term that encompasses many areas, including mine. Nevertheless, what I really wanted to do was label it a love story, under the umbrella of commercial fiction. However, since love story is not an official BISAC genre – blah, blah, blah -- I’ve labeled it a romantic fantasy (or is it fantasy romance – I don’t know). Does that answer the question? 

Okay, you’re right: romantic fantasy doesn’t quite do the book justice, especially since the fantasy element doesn’t even come into play until the end of the story, albeit along with a complexion-altering twist. So perhaps a more appropriate label would be to call it a contemporary romance, or even a contemporary tragedy, for that matter. In summary, the best label for Sand Dollar is contemporary romance tragedy fantasy or contemporary tragedy fantasy romance – something like that…

But before we complicate things too much, consider this: Is it at all possible that I’ve somehow invented an entirely new genre? One that heretofore has never existed in the annals of publishing? A genre that might have you screaming “W.T.F.” before you toss the book across the room, stomp on it a few times, and then pick it up to continue reading where you left off? A genre that I affectionately refer to as the W.T.F. genre? Nah… On second thought, let’s just label Sand Dollar as a romantic fantasy and call it a day, shall we? 

Q. You are definitely a pathbreaker in the W.T.F. genre, Sebastian! I didn’t have the urge to toss the book against a wall, but I found myself shaking my head quite a few times as in “W.T.F.!!!”. A very moving and engaging story, for sure. Did you write Sand Dollar with a specific audience in mind? 

Yes. My target audience is women and women. Too general? Okay, anyone whose favorite movie/book is The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I figure if you like heart-wrenching, tearjerker love stories by people like Nicholas Sparks, you’ll love me! As a writer, I did everything in my power to evoke every emotion out of you, good and bad, emotions that, among other things, might have you yelling at the main characters at times. As a result, by the time you’ve reached the end of the book, you’ll feel like you’ve lived an entire life, Noah Hartman’s life. And you’ll be anxious to live another. Interestingly enough, however, even people (including men) who normally don’t read romance novels have stated in their reviews that they were pleasantly surprised with Sand Dollar, and they’d recommend it to their friends. 

Q. Since you mentioned men as unlikely consumers of romantic fiction…male authors and romance: oxymoron or a refreshingly new perspective that sheds light on a man’s (or woman’s) emotional world?

An oxymoron, ha! Well, with the exception of a few authors like Nicholas Sparks and myself, I suppose that most would consider it a contradiction. That’s because most publishers require romance novels to be written from the P.O.V (point of view) of the heroine, not the hero. Therefore, it stands to reason that female authors, not male authors, dominate the romance genre. But is it also because men aren’t capable of being in touch with, and expressing, their innermost feelings the way women can? Hardly. But first men have to learn to overcome their childhood, a childhood that teaches them that big boys don’t cry. And along with suppressing tears, they learn to suppress other emotions that would otherwise make them seem vulnerable or weak.  

When we grow up, we want to be a lot like Superman, strong and protective. But then someone like Lois Lane comes around and wants us to also be sensitive and expressive. But it’s hard for us at first because this contradicts our nature. Then one day, we loose the woman of our dreams, and even worse than a piece of Kryptonite tugging at our necks, we find out just how weak and vulnerable we really are. When we finally realize what matters most, we learn to open up about our innermost feelings. We learn that even Superman is entitled to cry. 

Despite society and the risk of appearing vulnerable, there are plenty of men out there who are eager to express their emotions. There are plenty of men out there who’d travel to the end of the earth and back for a woman they love more than life itself. And there are plenty of male authors like myself who can write about it. Sometimes, all it takes is a little piece of Kryptonite, that’s all.  

Q. The strongest muscle in a hero’s body has to be his heart. Less gym and more books, gentlemen! Just kidding. Well, not really.  Let’s dream big…if you were given the chance to see your novel on the big screen, who would you choose as director and main cast?

When I wrote Sand Dollar, I wrote the part of Josh specifically for Morgan Freeman; so definitely Morgan! I’d like to see Emma Stone -- a vivacious, young redhead -- play the role of Robin, and perhaps Channing Tatum as Noah. Although, who wouldn’t want to see Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams reunited once again on the big screen? I certainly would! And since my favorite movies are The Notebook and The Family Man, perhaps Nick Cassavetes or Brett Ratner would care to take a shot at directing the movie. And you never know... dreams sometimes do come true, so we might as well dream big! 

Q. Goslin and McAdams…great chemistry there. They would be my pick. Do you plan to incorporate your own life experience also in your next novel? Anything in the works?

To some extent, I think every writer incorporates a part of themselves into their writing, whether drawing from past experiences or inner emotions. In writing my next novel, I’ll do my best to once again draw from that which is deep inside of me. 

Currently, I’m working with my brother on the screenplay adaptation of Sand Dollar. It would make a great movie, don’t you think? And I’ll start writing my next book, shortly. However, if I told you what it was about, I’d have to kill you! (Just kidding!) 

Q. Great movie indeed! As for your next project, I’ll keep an eye on your website for an update. Thanks. Is Sand Dollar available on the shelves of any book retailer? 

Currently, Sand Dollar is only available online at retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can, however, special-order it from just about any bookstore. Hopefully, all of that may soon change, as I’m actively seeking a literary agent again. So stay tuned!

Q. Twitter style, about 140 characters: why should readers pick up Sand Dollar? 

4.6 stars @Amazon. Some reviews call SD the best love story. Many comparisons to Nick Sparks. Unforgettable. Bring Kleenex. Touches soul. HTH :)

Sebastian, it was such a pleasure to have you on the blog.  Best of luck! I hope you will stop by again  with great news about Sand Dollar and a preview of your next release.

GIVEAWAY (International)

Sebastian  Cole is generously offering an autographed copy of his debut novel Sand Dollar . Stop by the blog with a question/comment about this interview for a chance to win.  The giveaway is open to all.

*Please, don’t forget to include your email address.

To read a review of Sand Dollar: A Story Of Undying Love by Sebastian Cole, click HERE.