Friday, September 29, 2017

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




MERRY AND BRIGHT
by
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...
 
 
SUMMER ON EARTH
by
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.

 

ORDER YOUR COPY:

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.

 

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER

 

Book Excerpt
Before
     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?
By
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)




Title: A SHAPE ON THE AIR
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.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon


Prologue

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.
Darkness.
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!

ENTER TO WIN!


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.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

http://www.pumpupyourbook.com

 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Witches' Tree (Agatha Raisin #28) by M.C. Beaton: ARC Review



THE WITCHES’ TREE

An Agatha Raisin Mystery #28

By

M.C. Beaton


Expected publication on October 3, 2017 by Minotaur Books
Hardcover and Kindle edition, 304 pages
Cozy Mystery


ABOUT THE BOOK


The Witches’ Tree continues the tradition in M. C. Beaton's beloved Agatha Raisin mystery series―now a hit T.V. show.


Cotswolds inhabitants are used to inclement weather, but the night sky is especially foggy as Rory and Molly Devere, the new vicar and his wife, drive slowly home from a dinner party in their village of Sumpton Harcourt. They strain to see the road ahead―and then suddenly brake, screeching to a halt. Right in front of them, aglow in the headlights, a body hangs from a gnarled tree at the edge of town. Margaret Darby, an elderly spinster, has been murdered―and the villagers are bewildered as to who would commit such a crime.


Agatha Raisin rises to the occasion (a little glad for the excitement, to tell the truth, after a long run of lost cats and divorces on the books). But Sumpton Harcourt is a small and private village, she finds―a place that poses more questions than answers. And when two more murders follow the first, Agatha begins to fear for her reputation―and even her life. That the village has its own coven of witches certainly doesn't make her feel any better...   


MY REVIEW
 
A cozy murder mystery, an idyllic village in the lovely Cotswolds, thatched cottages, and legends of a witches' coven swirling around an old oak tree...I couldn't have asked for a more inviting setup! Unfortunately, this charming narrative frame wasn't enough to smooth the choppy edges and afflictions of the book. Would reading the Agatha Raisin mystery series from the onset help warm up to the leading lady and recurring cast? Maybe...overall, I didn't find in the narrative enough appeal to sustain my interest in future (or backlist) installments. Scene development and flow of events were too bumpy and uneven to keep me focused on the plot, and this is what had me scratch star after star from my final rating. To quote P.I. Agatha Raisin herself, “the whole case makes me feel as if I’m wading through thick mud.”

Jumping on Agatha Raisin’s band wagon after the mystery novel series has been successfully running for twenty-seven episodes wasn’t probably the best way to enjoy  The Witches’ Tree...not enough background story, a huge chunk of the lead character’s arc missing completely, etc. Because I would like you to maximize your  reading experience, I’ll bring you up to speed and fill you in on M.C. Beaton’s popular amateur sleuth and humorous mystery novels.

Agatha Raisin is a frustrated, yet endearing , middle-aged public relations agent who moved from London to Carsely in the Cotswolds when she sold her public-relations firm in Mayfair and took an early retirement. She solves murders in each of the earlier books, but in the fifteenth book (Agatha Raisin and The Deadly Dance, 2004) Agatha sets up her own detective agency. The police, and even some of her acquaintances, insist that she solves crimes through accident and luck. Among the permanent cast of characters, police constable and friend Billy Wong; her ex and neighbor, James Lacey; Sir Charles Fraith, Agatha’s on-off boyfriend known for being stingy with his money. In 2014, M.C. Beaton’s mystery series was adapted to the small screen and became a full 8-part tv drama (Sky 1). It aired in the US on PBS (watch a video clip below).
 

M.C. Beaton is the pseudonym Glasgow native and New York Times bestselling author Marion Chesney reserves for her crime fiction and mystery novels. She is known primarily for the more than one hundred historical romance novels she has published under her own name  and under several noms de plume: Helen Crampton, Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, and Charlotte Ward.

My rating: 2 out 0f 5 stars


***An advance reader e-copy was graciously offered by the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.
 
 

 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE COTTINGLEY SECRET by Hazel Gaynor (A Review & Dessert Pairing)


 
 
THE COTTINGLEY SECRET
By
Hazel Gaynor
 
Published by William Morrow on August 1st, 2017
Hardcover, 399 pages
Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism


ABOUT THE BOOK


The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.


1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.


One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?


MY REVIEW


"Like fairies, stories will not be rushed", and this one certainly wasn't! Although I was captivated by the concept behind The Cottingley Secret, I found its execution somewhat underwhelming: achingly slow even for someone who, like me, doesn't mind dwelling on contemplative (and sometimes repetitive) descriptions, introspective tones, and lyrical passages.
 
I am fond of dual timeline narrations and I found the connection between the two main characters (Frances and Olivia) to be cleverly harmonized. However, Frances' voice and the unfolding of the historical thread (based on the true incidents of the Cottingley Fairy Hoax) sounded more persuasive and convincing than Olivia's present day storyline.


The author's fictionalized account of those astonishing events is clearly backed by extensive and rigorous researches, as the copious post scriptum to the book shows. Don't skip those final pages: history buffs and lovers of all things fairies will enjoy Hazel Gaynor's insights and leads to further readings. My rating: 3 stars


FAVORITE QUOTES
 
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild,
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can
Understand.
(Irish Proverb)


“You know, Frances, I sometimes think there’s too much truth in the world. Too much certainty and scientific fact. We don’t always need an explanation, do we? Sometimes all we need is something to believe in, something to give us hope and to remind us how remarkable the world can be, even in the middle of a war.”
 
DESSERT PAIRING
 

 
For The Cottingley Secret I couldn’t think of a better dessert pairing than Fairy Cakes. They’re not fairy themed cakes, as someone might think: wildly popular in the UK, they’re a smaller variation of what we commonly call 'cupcakes', but unlike the American version, they’re made of a lighter sponge cake and favor a more delicate glace icing as opposed to the buttercream traditionally used in the US. A 'fairy cake' is also a type of cupcake with its top cut off and replaced in two pieces, like wings. The etymology of the name ‘Fairy Cakes’ is due to their petit size, small enough to be enjoyed by the tiny mythical creatures. No wine to match this time - just a cup of good English tea. Enjoy!