Saturday, May 30, 2015

THE READING CIRCLE by Ashton Lee (Review & Wine Pairing)


A Cherry Cola Book Club Novel #2

Ashton Lee
Kensington Books, March 2014
Cozy, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

The charming “Cherry Cola Book Club” series by author Ashton Lee may be just the ticket if you are looking for a light-hearted beach read with a generous dose of ‘Southern’ character, mouth-watering references to regional cuisine, and a social commentary colorfully veiled by the quirkiness and theatricality of its various cast.

Labeled as cozy, due to the small and socially intimate quality of its geographical setting (Cherico, Mississippi), this series made its debut in 2013 with a first installment (The Cherry Cola Book Club) that shone a spotlight on the struggles of a library to remain open and up-to-date with the modernization of public services.

It’s hard enough to keep a small library in business when demand and attendance are at their lowest, let alone when funding is dramatically cut and shady politicians (Councilman Durden Sparks and his sidekicks) keep a dedicated but inexperienced librarian (Maura Beth Mayhew) at gunpoint with the threat of diverting the township budget towards more beneficial projects (namely an industrial park).

...Cherico isn’t the center of the intellectual universe. The men folk talk college and pro sports all up and down Commerce Street, and the ladies complain about their husbands and children and exchange recipes at all the beauty parlors. [...] literary criticism is way down the list of their topics to discuss.

After years of declining circulation figures, Miz Maura Beth Mayhew finally puts her thinking cap on and with the help of some basic marketing strategies (the creation of a book club, potluck gatherings, word-of-mouth advertising), she manages to rev up the attendance  of the struggling library and bring the small community of Cherico together in defense of their cultural patrimony. At the end of the first book, Maura Beth’s efforts seem to get the library temporarily out of the hot water and earn her a one-year reprieve with councilman Sparks, but the conniving politico still doesn’t believe that a number of no matter how delicious casseroles and a few book discussions will change the fate of the under-equipped library.

The comedic flair of the first episode  subsides in its sequel, The Reading Circle (published by Kensington, March 2014),  in favor of a softer characterization of supporting cast. The author shifts his focus from the public sphere of the library conundrum to the more personal and introspective tones of the friendship bonds and love relationships blossoming between the library patrons. Mature romance, first and second chances, old flames and new marriage proposals, suspenseful plot twists and a little bit of ‘espionage’ add substance to the narration. Even Maura Beth’s personality, which almost fades in book #1 against the somewhat overly picturesque foil of the secondary characters, appears more zestful and convincing.

Finally, I have always thought that an author shows his craftsmanship in  the way he writes his villains, in the mannerism of those evil characters that, with their idiosyncrasies and machinations, make the plot of a story so much more intriguing. Councilman Sparks is just that and I look forward to seeing what other devious, backhanded curve ball he is going to throw at our young and fearless librarian in The Wedding Circle (Kensington, February 2015). My rating is 4.5 stars.

Advice to the reader
The culinary theme is a strong feature of this cozy series. If you decide to do your reading in bed, be warned that sleeping is hard to achieve with a growling tummy. All that mention of dipping sauces, fried chicken, pulled pork, mustard and sweet potato salad etc. etc. will cause all kinds of untimely cravings…

***Review copies of The Cherry Cola Book Club and The Reading Circle were kindly offered by the Publisher in exchange for an unbiased and honest opinion.

Wine pairing
My favorite recipe among the gems bestowed by the author throughout the pages of the book is Periwinkle Lattimore’s Easy Banana Cranberry Bread. Ms. Lattimore happens to be the owner of the most popular restaurant in the fictional microcosm of Cherico Mississippi. Good cold or toasted with jelly, the Banana Cranberry Bread would find a great sipping companion in a full bodied, oaky Chardonnay. Recommended by sommelier extraordinaire, Andrea Mussone.

Friday, May 15, 2015

And the winner is...

Congratulations to this week's giveaway winner!
PdxIrishGirl won a copy of A Pledge Of Better Times by Margaret Porter. PdxIrisGirl, please check your email for my notification and get back to me as soon as you can to claim your prize.
Many thanks to all the blog followers who were so gracious to stop by and enter the contest. Stay tuned for more reviews and giveaways.
Happy reading!

Monday, May 4, 2015

A PLEDGE OF BETTER TIMES by Margaret Porter (Spotlight & Giveaway)



Margaret Porter

Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Gallica Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-9907420-4-3
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
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About the book

A sweeping tale of ambition, treachery, and passion... For generations Lady Diana de Vere’s family loyally served England’s crown. But after King Charles II’s untimely death, her father firmly opposes James II’s tyranny. Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans—the late king’s bastard son by actress Nell Gwyn—also rebels against his newly crowned uncle's manipulation. Secretly pledging to wed Diana, he departs for the Continent to become a soldier. Political and religious turmoil bring about revolution and yet another coronation before Charles returns to claim his promised bride. As companion to Queen Mary II, Diana has followed her de Vere forbears into royal service. She expects Charles to abandon his military career after marriage, but he proves unwilling to join the ranks of the courtiers he despises and mistrusts. In palace corridors and within their own household the young duke and duchess confront betrayals, scandals, and tragedies that threaten to divide them. And neither the privileges of birth nor proximity to the throne can ensure their security, their advancement—or their happiness.


The author is offering a copy of A Pledge Of Better Times to a lucky reader of this blog. Please become a follower (via GFC, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bloglovin), leave a comment in the section below, and include your email address. The contest is open to US residents only. Good luck!


Praise for A Pledge of Better Times

“Meticulously researched and offering an impressive cast of real life characters brought to vibrant life, A Pledge of Better Times expertly captures the drama, passions, politics and religious turmoil of England at the turn of the 18th century. Margaret Porter crafts her story with exquisite detail, transporting the reader into a world full of intrigue, scandal, and breathtaking danger . . . a masterful writer.” - Award-winning author M. Reed McCall

“With elegant prose and vivid detail, A Pledge of Better Times sweeps you into late Stuart England, transforming the lesser known adversities and triumphs of Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk into a beautiful love story you won’t forget.” - Marci Jefferson, author of Enchantress of Paris and Girl on the Golden Coin

“A portrait of Diana de Vere as rich as the portraits that grace British museums and palaces.” - Christy K Robinson, author of Mary Dyer Illuminated

“The sparkling, dangerous, enticing post-Restoration period comes to vivid life! Porter gives us a wonderful, complicated heroine in Diana, drawing us deep into her world . . . . I couldn’t stop reading!” - Amanda Carmack, author of Murder in the Queen’s Garden: An Elizabethan Mystery


Official Book Trailer


About the Author



Margaret Porter is an award-winning, bestselling novelist whose lifelong study of British history inspires her fiction and her travels. A former stage actress, she has also worked in film, television, and radio. For more information please visit Margaret Porter's website. You can also find her on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter.

A Pledge of Better Times Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 4
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Spotlight & Giveaway at Mina's Bookshelf
Tuesday, May 5
Wednesday, May 6
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, May 7
Review at Book Drunkard
Friday, May 8
Review at Books and Benches
Sunday, May 10
Review & Guest Post at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, May 11
Review at Reading the Past
Tuesday, May 12
Wednesday, May 13
Guest Post at Book Babe
Thursday, May 14
Review at Unshelfish
Review at Impressions in Ink
Friday, May 15
Review & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation
Review & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession

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