Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Dog Really Did That?

Pleased to share two fun essays in a new book about dogs presented by the ever prolific--and always inspiring--Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Royalties from this particular book go to American-Humane, an organization that "promotes the welfare and safety of animals and strengthens the bond between animals and people." 

I contributed two, true stories about two different
mischievous Yorkshire terriers I've shared my life with that actually served as the inspiration for the therapy dog, Prozac, who stars in my novel THE THING IS.
 

One story is about a beloved (yet very quirky) agoraphobic Yorkie who loved to hide...and one day hid in a place I'd never expect. Yuck! Another story is about a Yorkie, no angel, who decided to treat herself to a sweet (off-limits) feast one Saint Patrick's Day.





Don't miss this collection - a perfect read for dog and pet lovers. Great fun!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That? 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief, and Magical Moments edited by Amy Newmark (Foreword by Dr. Robin Ganzert)
Chicken Soup for the Soul, $14.95 Paperback, 9781611599695, 400 pages
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE



Monday, July 31, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

An isolated young woman is liberated from a sad, damaged past via the unexpected kindness and caring of new friends.

Thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant is a creature of habit who keeps to herself. Plagued with a facial scar and often donning white gloves to conceal flares of psoriasis, the bright, articulate yet lowly office worker lives alone in a small Glasgow flat. She has managed to survive and circumvent the horrors of her early life--including stints in foster care--by taking comfort in books, doing crossword puzzles, watching the BBC, having a weekly chat with her cruel and demeaning "Mummy" and indulging in vodka on a regular basis.

When Eleanor develops a crush--from afar--on a singer in a local rock band, she embarks on a self-improvement crusade that includes hilarious firsts in bikini waxing, manicures and becoming techno-literate in computers and smartphones. Along the way of her transformation, she crosses paths with warmhearted Raymond, who works in the IT department of her company. As the two are leaving the office one day, they stop to help an elderly man who has collapsed in the street. This simple act upends Eleanor's life in enlightening and challenging ways.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman's intriguing, hopeful first novel, explores the power of kindness and how unexpected friendships can liberate lives. Eleanor's lovable, eccentric and original narrative voice is entrancing. It draws readers fully into her damaged, unconventional psyche as she is forced to deal with a deeply repressed past and come to grips with who she is, and who she'd like to be.

Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, $26.00 Hardcover, 9780735220683, 336 pages
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (June 9, 2017), link HERE

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sweet Spot

A passionate ice cream lover explores the history, business, science and sheer deliciousness of American ice cream culture.

Journalist Amy Ettinger dishes up ice cream in Sweet Spot, an adventurous, thoroughly researched exploration into the U.S. love affair with frozen sweet treats. Ettinger is a self-proclaimed ice cream connoisseur turned ice cream snob and addict: "Ice cream is more like a drug than any other food... the more ice cream you eat, the more you have to eat it to regain that 'high.' " Ettinger consumes ice cream almost daily and stocks between $15 and $30 worth in her freezer at all times. Her richly entertaining, easy-to-read narrative is infused with history, recipes and the science behind what makes for delicious--and sometimes not-so-delicious--flavors. She also looks at innovators and imitators, and how the ice cream business continues to evolve.

The philosophy and wisdom of past and present ice cream makers--along with segues into soda shops and fountains, sundaes and floats, ice cream sandwiches, cones, frozen yogurt and the gelato craze--are swirled into Ettinger's tasty quest. What rises to the fore, however, are sections devoted to Ettinger working alongside fellow ice cream aficionados and business people--and her enrolling in "the world's most famous ice cream making class" at Penn State. There, she learned the fascinating ins and outs of pasteurization, flavoring, potential hazards, short cuts and tricks of the trade--both good and bad. Ettinger piles on double and triple scoops of fun information that offers literary deliciousness for ice cream lovers everywhere.

Dutton, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781101984192, 320 pages
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (June 27, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A French Wedding

Close-knit college friends with a long, sordid past reunite in the French countryside to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of their own.
In Hannah Tunnicliffe's A French Wedding, a former Parisian restaurateur serves as private chef for six college friends--and their significant others--who gather in a small French coastal town to eat, drink and be merry. Their celebration marks the 40th birthday of Max Dresner, a party boy and rogue rock star who's reassessing his life.

Juliette is a workaholic French chef who faces the breakup of a meaningful romantic relationship and tries to manage Delphine, her Paris eatery. When Juliette chooses to give up ownership of the café and care for her parents, she fears her dreams are forever shattered. Hired by Max as a housekeeper, she tends to his guests. The group includes Nina and Lars, college sweethearts, and their 15-year-old daughter, Sophie; Rosie and her surgeon husband, Hugo, an outsider to the clique; Eddie, who used to date Rosie in college, and his current girlfriend, Beth, an American hairdresser, younger than Eddie and the rest; and Helen, a free spirit and avant-garde art gallery owner, to whom Max finally intends to propose marriage over the weekend. 

While throughout the reunion the guests savor Juliette's gourmet food and the wine flows, spirits ultimately sour. Add percolating secrets, old resentments and an unexpected illness, and it looks like Max's birthday party--and his sincere intent to profess publicly his love for Helen--may fall flat. 

Tunnicliffe's well-drawn characters are forced to reconcile the past and face up to emotional midlife struggles in this bittersweet story with a deeply satisfying conclusion.
Doubleday, $26.95 Hardcover, 9780385541848, 320 pages
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (July 4, 2017), link HERE

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Keeper of Lost Things

A heartwarming, enchanting novel about how lost things--and the lost souls of people--can often be found via serendipity and fate.

The mysteries behind unclaimed treasures, those who have lost them and the man determined to reunite possession and owner are the carefully tended threads of The Keeper of Lost Things, a rich and heartfelt first novel by Ruth Hogan.

Seventy-four-year-old Anthony Peardew, an unmarried British writer, resides in a charming mansion. Forty years earlier his beloved fiancée, Therese, as a token of her love, gave him her Communion medallion embossed with a tiny picture of St. Therese of the Roses. Soon thereafter, Peardew lost the medallion on the same day that Therese died unexpectedly. As atonement for the eerie timing of the lost medal, he made it his purpose in life to gather, meticulously label and give a loving home to a "sad salmagundi" of lost objects--jigsaw puzzle pieces, hair bobbles, gemstones and even a biscuit tin containing cremation remains--which he stored in his large study.

But objects aren't the only things in life that can get lost. People, too, often lose their way and need someone to rescue them. Laura, Peardew's devoted housekeeper and a childless divorcee, finds asylum in his home. And after he dies, she teams up with his neighbor Sunshine and Freddy the gardener to carry on Peardew's legacy.

Hogan's prose is thoughtful and elegant. She richly portrays a cast of likable characters, wounded souls in search of love, peace and a sense of belonging. Readers are bound to discover joy and hope in this quietly moving, tender story that examines how serendipity often plays a pivotal role in human interconnectedness.

William Morrow and Company, $26.99 Hardcover, 9780062473530, 288 pp
Publication Date: February 21, 2017
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE


Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (3/10/17), link HERE

Friday, May 26, 2017

Paula Hawkins: Drawn to Dark Subject Matter

The Writer's Life
Paula Hawkins is best known for The Girl on the Train, her psychological thriller (turned major motion picture) about a despondent, down on her luck, voyeuristic commuter who gets swept up in a murder investigation. Hawkins's sophomore psychological suspense novel, Into the Water (just published by Riverhead; click HERE to read my review below), delivers another dark, spellbinding story that explores the overt and subtle ways trauma, grief and long-buried secrets can affect minds, hearts and motivations. 

Why do you think The Girl on the Train resonated so deeply with readers?
Author photo by Alisa Connan


I think there are two main points of resonance: the voyeuristic impulse, which I believe is universal, and the character of Rachel (the main protagonist). Rachel is liked and loathed, but she rarely bores.

Has success altered how you write?

Success is both reassuring (people liked the book, so I must have done something right) and unnerving (I now have a huge readership with sky-high expectations). When I was writing Into the Water, I just had to shut out the noise, concentrate on the task at hand and write the best book that I could. That is how I approach every book: I want to improve, to stretch myself.

Is the town of Beckford, the setting of Into the Water, based on an actual place?

Beckford is entirely fictional, although the part of the world in which I have placed it--Northumberland, in the northeast of England--is real.

Why did you choose to structure the book via varying points of view, weaving in a complex and historical backstory and even including fictional book passages?

I had to devise all sorts of strategies in order to tell this twisted tale. There are many mysteries in the book, both current and historic--and the challenge was to allow the characters' secrets to reveal themselves at the right pace and in an interesting way. So I chose to tell my story from many different viewpoints, some first person and some third person; I chose to include flashbacks and a book-within-a-book.... I even chose to leave one or two mysteries unsolved.

A large cast of characters populates Into the Water and those characters are quite diverse in terms of age, life experience, status and background.

The characters developed slowly, over time, the way my characters always do. I have to live with them for a while, to get into their heads and under their skin. That was quite a task for this book, because it has a much wider cast of characters than The Girl on the Train did.

Any favorite characters--who and why?

I love Nickie Sage. Nickie claims to be a psychic--she says she's descended from witches and that she can talk to the dead. Everyone in the village thinks she's a nutter, or a fraud, so they ignore her. But--whether you believe her outlandish claims or not--the fact is, she's an observer. She's canny and astute, and she knows everybody's business.

When you sit down to write a new novel, do you conceptualize the book from start to finish, or does the story arise organically?

I usually know the bones of the story, its basic architecture. But the detail evolves during the writing. I think that many of my better ideas and more ingenious twists have come to me while I was immersed in the writing process.

Do you ever get blocked or stalled in your writing? If so, what do you do?

I don't tend to get blocked, but I do sometimes write myself into a corner from which I find it difficult to escape. When that happens, I usually go for a walk, take a long hot bath or, if neither of those things help, I turn to my agent, my plotting co-conspirator.

You were a journalist before writing novels. What was the impetus for you to branch out?

I was on staff at the Times for several years, but I also freelanced, working for a number of publications. I covered finance and property (real estate), which I really enjoyed, but I was never a great journalist. I'm much better at making up stories than I am at getting the truth out of a reluctant subject.

Using the pseudonym Amy Silver, you wrote "chick lit" novels. Did those influence the writing you're doing today?

Writing those books was wonderful training: I learned a great deal about developing character and about how to pace a novel in order to draw the reader into the story.

Would you ever return to writing romantic comedies?

No. I wouldn't--it really wasn't my forte (I'm not romantic, or particularly funny for that matter...).

How and why did you switch to writing such dark, psychological suspense?

Psychological suspense is much more my cup of tea--I'm drawn to dark subject matter. I'm fascinated by the behavior of people who are frightened, or grieving, or lonely, or damaged in some other way.

Who are your favorite authors?

I have so many favourites. To name just a few: Kate Atkinson, Pat Barker, Margaret Atwood, Sebastian Barry, Armistead Maupin, John Boyne, Cormac McCarthy. In terms of contemporary psych-suspense, I think Megan Abbott is wonderful.

Any plans for Into the Water to hit the big screen? And who do you think should play the key characters?

Dreamworks has optioned it, so hopefully we'll see it up on the big screen before too long. I'm not fantasy-casting just yet. Don't want to jinx anything....
NOTE: This interview is a reprint and is being published with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A as originally published on Shelf Awareness for Readers (5/26/17), link HERE

Into the Water

A close-knit British community grapples with mysterious deaths--past and present--that occurred at a notorious local riverbank.


Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) delivers another dark, spellbinding suspense novel with Into the Water. This time, the search to unravel a mysterious death focuses on the river that cuts through Beckford, a small, northern British town. Nicknamed the "Drowning Pool," the river is where, over the centuries, local women--outsiders as well as misfits from within the community--have died under tragic, often suspicious, circumstances.

Danielle "Nel" Abbott--a single mother, successful photographer and lifetime Beckford resident who had been writing a book about the Drowning Pool, its history and its secrets--has become a suicide casualty at the very place of horror she had been researching. Her younger sister, Jules Abbott, gladly fled Beckford years before. An unmarried social worker in London whose bitterness and resentment kept her estranged from Nel for years, Jules returns to Beckford to sort out the "bloody mess" and care for Nel's outspoken and rebellious 15-year-old daughter, Lena. Neither believes that Nel killed herself, and Lena also has doubts about the suicide of her best friend, Katie Whittaker, at the Drowning Pool six months earlier. Katie's inconsolable parents are wracked with guilt. Were they so focused on their anxious, sensitive son that they didn't give proper attention to their confident, over-achieving--yet obviously vulnerable--daughter?

Hawkins keeps readers guessing while exploring the overt and subtle ways trauma, grief and long-buried secrets can affect minds, hearts and motivations. A growing undertow of suspense builds as some characters, consciously and subconsciously, cannot face who they are, so they reinvent themselves and their memories. This intricate story is filled with red herrings and surprising reversals that probe the tangled depths of family loyalty.


Riverhead Books, $28.00 Hardcover, 9780735211209, 400 pages
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (May 26, 2017), link HERE


Friday, May 19, 2017

Miss You

Two Brits keep missing each other--and their chance for true and lasting love--over the course of 16 years.
Two young Brits repeatedly meet by chance but chronically fail to connect in Kate Eberlen's captivating first novel, Miss You. Their circuitous journey starts in summer 1997, when Tess and her best friend are traveling after high school graduation. In Florence, they cross paths with Gus, also a recent high school grad, who is traveling with his parents after the tragic death of his brother, the favorite son. A simple search for gelato first brings Tess and Gus together, but their encounter is fleeting because he feels inhibited in the presence of his parents. They return separately to London, and Gus heads to university to study medicine. Meanwhile, Tess defers academia because her mother dies after a battle with cancer; Tess must assume the care of her five-year-old sister, Hope, who has Asperger syndrome. 
What ensues is a compelling story--told in alternating points-of-view--about the sense of responsibility and guilt inflicted upon both. Miss You maps Gus and Tess's crisscrossing journeys over 16 years. They briefly meet again at London coffee shops, a Rolling Stones concert in Glastonbury and when Gus's children get temporary tattoos at the salon Tess manages. Detours, distractions, sacrifices and bad choices lead to life-changing betrayals by friends and lovers. This episodic, detail-rich narrative breeds suspense as readers grow eager to learn if fate will ever allow these two lost souls--who often feel trapped by the elusive nature of love and happiness--finally to find each other.  
Harper, $25.99 Hardcover, 9780062460226, 448 pages
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (April 28, 2017), link HERE


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Love, Alice

Two grief-stricken women cross paths and help each other come to grips with the mysteries of their respective lives.

Societal stigmas and taboos reside at the heart of Love, Alice by Barbara Davis (Summer at Hideaway Key). Set in Charleston, S.C., the novel focuses on 36-year-old Dovie Larkin, whose fiancé committed suicide two weeks before their wedding. A year later, Dovie spends her lunch hours sitting graveside at the cemetery, still grappling with what happened and why, unable to pick up the pieces of her life.

One day, Dovie spots an elderly woman leaving a note at the striking angel grave marker of Alice Tandy, a young maid who died 32 years earlier and, to the bewilderment of locals, had been buried in a plot belonging to one of the richest families in town. After the woman leaves, Dovie reads the note: a mother's impassioned regret for having sent her young daughter to an asylum for unwed mothers in Cornwall, England, in the 1960s. Dovie, identifying with the unresolved grief expressed, soon discovers a trove of related letters in the cemetery's lost and found, and sets off in search of the writer, Dora Tandy, who has come to Charleston to learn more about the life--and death--of her long-lost daughter, Alice.

Hope, love and forgiveness permeate this beautifully rendered novel where both Dovie and Dora unearth answers to mysteries and reveal secrets that will come to define their respective lives and quests for peace.

Berkley, $16.00 Paper, 9780451474810, 432 pages
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 3, 2017), link HERE

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Once We Were Sisters

A beautifully written memoir maps a woman's search for the truth about her beloved sister's life--and her mysterious death.
Novelist Sheila Kohler's first book of nonfiction, Once We Were Sisters, is an achingly beautiful memoir. The story probes Kohler's relationship with her sister, Maxine--two years older--and the bond they shared in life and in death. When Maxine was 39 years old, the devoted wife and mother of six was killed in a mysterious car crash that Kohler strongly believes was intentional. The driver of the car was Maxine's abusive husband--a successful and renowned heart surgeon with a relentless dark side. He survived the crash. 
Telling the story more than 35 years later, Kohler (The Bay of Foxes) seeks to find answers, identify the forces that precipitated Maxine's death and untangle her sister's life from her own. Despite their contrasting personalities, the two were close during a privileged upbringing in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. They studied at exclusive boarding schools and later traveled abroad together. The death of their father in their youth, and a mother who frequently departed into her own alcohol-infused world, marked their lives, and both sisters married philandering husbands.
Kohler's search for literal and emotional truths, her abiding love for her sister--along with guilt and regret--propel this succinct narrative. Maxine's shattering death has deeply permeated and haunted every aspect of Kohler's life, especially her writing. Thankfully, the years have finally granted this gifted fiction writer the perspective and liberation to share her own story. 
Penguin, $16.00 Paper, 9780143129295, 256 pages
Publication Date: January 17, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (February 7, 2017), link HERE 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Everything Love Is

A haunting, rewarding memory novel about a man who goes in search of himself and learns the true meaning of love.
Claire King launches her beautiful second novel with a riveting scene on a train bound for Toulouse, France, in May of 1968. A mysterious young woman goes into sudden, violent labor. Sharing her train compartment is a midwife who, seeing her distress, offers help. But by the time this brutal, powerful scene is over, the woman--with no identification--will lose her life giving birth to a baby boy, who will be saved by the midwife, a married woman unable to have children, who will become the baby's mother. 
What follows is the story of Baptiste Molino, the infant, now a middle-aged bachelor, a man raised in the French countryside. Baptiste has lived a good--yet rather uneventful--life. He thinks he is fulfilled and happy until Amandine Rousseau, an attractive woman wearing green shoes, shows up at his door. During their first meeting, Amandine tells Baptiste she wants "something that makes me feel alive. Joy, passion, despair, something to remember or something to regret.... Perhaps after all this time, what I really want... is to fall in love." As Baptiste learns more about Amandine and her life, he feels challenged, and he begins to question himself: Is there something missing from his life? Is he truly happy? Amandine's presence causes ripples that turn into waves of memories that encourage Baptiste to go on a labyrinthine journey in search of himself.

King (The Night Rainbow) thoughtfully plumbs the tangled depths of the human psyche, the meaning of life and the evolution of love in its many incarnations. 

Bloomsbury USA, $27.00 Hardcover, 9781632865380, 384 pages
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 3, 2017), link HERE 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Sleepwalker

A mother's sleepwalking leads to her eerie disappearance and a family's search for her--and for answers.

Domestic situations that go awry are common in the psychological suspense novels of Chris Bohjalian. In The Sleepwalker, Bohjalian examines sleepwalking (or parasomnia) and the devastating impact it has on a Burlington, Vt., family.

Narrator Lianna Ahlberg deconstructs events that took place when she was a 21-year-old college senior during the autumn of 2000. When her father, Warren, a professor, went away to a conference, she tended to her 12-year-old sister, Paige, and her mother, Annalee, who had a history of sleepwalking that included benign destructive behaviors--especially when Warren was gone. Annalee had been undergoing treatment at a sleep clinic, and it had been four years since she took a nocturnal journey. Therefore, Lianna's caretaking was merely a precautionary measure. Believing her mother was past the "witching hour" (the first three hours of sleep) and out of harm's way, she dozed off, only to wake the next morning and discover Annalee missing. As the family rallies to search for her, a piece of her nightshirt is found near a riverbank, and the mystery deepens when a detective working the case seems privy to eerie, intimate details about Annalee.

Bohjalian (The Guest Room) has written an absorbing, cerebral story that probes a family's haunted emotional response to the mother's disappearance, and how each copes with confusion and grief. As they plumb the depths of Annalee's life, they uncover secrets that ultimately reveal a startling truth. 


Doubleday, $26.95 Hardcover, 978038558916, 304 pages
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 27, 2017), link HERE