Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Dog that Whispered

A rescued black lab helps a troubled veteran confront traumatic war experiences and get on with life.

A rescued black lab named Thurman is the titular The Dog That Whispered in the continuation of Jim Kraus's (The Dog That Talked to God) fictional series featuring domestic animals that alter human relationships. At 85 years old, Gretna Steele adopts Thurman before learning that her retirement community in Pittsburgh, Pa., does not allow pets. So Gretna hands the dog off to her son, Wilson, a college professor "nearing-senior-citizen-status," who has lived an insular life for decades, ever since his tour of duty in Vietnam. Wilson grudgingly accepts Thurman, who eerily begins uttering, in growls and barks, responses to Wilson's self-talk--words like "bunkum" and even phrases: "I good at dog. You not good at human." Thurman forces Wilson to question his sanity, examine his conscience and confront the socially isolating aspects of his guilt.

In a parallel story, 20-something actuary Hazel Jamison of Portland, Ore., is packing up her recently deceased mother's belongings when she discovers a picture of her mom--a never-married hippie--with a uniformed soldier. Written on the back of the photograph, in her mother's hand, are the words "Our Wedding." Hazel, who believed she was the byproduct of a short-lived affair, is shocked by the revelation. She cashes in her mother's stocks, quits her job and sets off on a cross-country road trip determined to find out more about the man in the picture. Amid her quest, Wilson and Thurman enter her life.

The power of providence and redemption emerge as undercurrents in another delightful installment in Kraus's inspirational series. 

FaithWords/Hatchett, $14.99 Paperback, 9781455562565, 336 pp
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
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 (6/3/16), link HERE

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Dog Days of Summer

From My Shelf

Now is the perfect time to lounge in a hammock, sip an iced tea and cuddle up with fictions about furry, four-legged canine companions. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley--a funny, moving novel about an aging and infirm dachshund who changes one man's life--has become a literary sensation.

There are many other dog-centric novels about unforgettable fictionalized pooches, as well:

In A Man of His Own by Susan Wilson, a WWII veteran, Rick Stanton, returns home, broken in body and spirit. When Rick and his wife are reunited with their beloved dog, Pax, a rescued German shepherd-mix who was later volunteered to serve in a K-9 military unit, a tug-of-war for the dog ensues between Rick and Pax's devoted handler from the front lines. 

Two dogs--Dante, a super-smart Border collie, and Sissy, a sweet natured spaniel--are unwillingly dumped on Jonathan Trefoil, a floundering, unfulfilled 20-something New Yorker in Jonathan Unleashed, a romantic comedy by Meg Rosoff. The dogs' attentiveness to Jonathan--and vice versa--create refreshing new beginnings for Jonathan's thorny, uncertain life.

Hector, a fluffy little white dog owned by a widow in a small town, and Trey Barkley, Hector's 26 year-old, professional dog walker who suffers from schizophrenia, are at the center of The Chocolate Debacle by Karen Winters Schwartz. When Hector's owner is found murdered, Trey becomes the prime suspect in this psychologically astute murder mystery.

And in my own novel, The Thing Is, a crafty therapy dog, a lovable Yorkshire terrier named Prozac--with supernatural wisdom, a canine Mensa IQ and an even higher opinion of himself--sets off on an adventurous, comedic quest to rescue a blocked romance writer grieving the death of her fianc√©. 

So before summer winds down, let yourself 'go to the dogs'…literarily.

NOTE: This column previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers (8/16/16) and is being reprinted (in a slightly different form) with their permission. Link HERE to read the column as originally published.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dating Tips for the Unemployed

A mosaic of comical short stories about a 35 year-old single, intellectual woman trying to navigate the complexities of life and love.

Crafty comic writer Iris Smyles returns to exploring the life of her fictional anti-hero, Iris, in Dating Tips for the Unemployed. In Smyles's first novel, Iris Has Free Time, character Iris was a young, single New Yorker grappling with life after college and the pitfalls of young adulthood. In the new novel, Iris is now 35 and still single. She's grown older and while still struggling with hard-won wisdom, she continues her witty, self-deprecating and often self-defeating search for a place in the world.

This time around, character Iris--an aspiring writer largely supported economically by her Greek, politically right-leaning family--starts her journey having now completed her second master's degree and feeling that she needs to find a man and get married "before I gain any more weight, before I get too old, before people start to talk." That quest, channeled through Iris's lovably downtrodden, often absent-minded perspective, is not easy to accomplish. In 24 short, eclectic episodes, Iris--a wry observer and keen philosophical thinker--shares stories centered on men, dating, work (and the lack thereof), loneliness, friendship, sex, literature, costume parties, growing older, time travel, insomnia, Greek mythology and the complete series of Rocky movies. A large cast of characters comprised of family, friends, lovers and strangers enhance the very funny details of Iris's rich, authentic urban odyssey.

Smyles delivers another clever, insightful glimpse into the often absurd existence of an intellectual young woman who makes the idea of floundering in life a laudable art form.

Mariner Books, $15.95 Paperback, 9780544703384, 320 pp
Publication Date: October 27, 2015
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 (6/28/16), link HERE

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Invoice

In this thought-provoking existential comedy, a lowly video store clerk receives an astronomical bill for simply living his life.

The absurdities of life coupled with the strangely surreal are hallmarks of Swedish actor and playwright Jonas Karlsson's work (The Room). His second novel, The Invoice, again turns on a Kafkaesque premise: a nameless, 39-year-old part-time video store clerk and film aficionado--a loner with only a handful of friends, whose most notable indulgence in life is having a pizza and taking in a movie in his one-room Stockholm apartment--receives a bill for 5.7 million kronor (roughly $875,000) in the mail. Thinking the bill--imprinted with a nondescript logo--is a mistake or a scam, the narrator disregards it. The next month, he receives another bill in the same amount, but with a surcharge of 150 kronor tacked on as a late payment. When the narrator calls to inquire, he makes matters worse as it is soon discovered that he owes even more than originally calculated. "What am I supposed to be paying for?" the narrator asks. "Everything," says the representative. "Being alive costs."

Through a cryptic, engrossing storyline that snowballs with staggering, thought-provoking complications, Karlsson reveals more about his underachieving hero. It seems contradictory that the hefty "happiness tax" in the whole country should be imposed upon someone living such a simple life. Fair or not, this leaves the narrator to scramble for deductions in the form of disclosures about free-floating anxiety, missing his parents and the loss of a secret love. The satirical, philosophical nature of this story delves into the meaning and purpose of life, how we measure joy and what truly constitutes a sense of accomplishment.

Hogarth, $24.00 Hardcover, 9781101905142, 208 pages
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read the review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (7/15/16), link HERE

This review was also published in a longer form on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (6/20/2016). To read the longer form review, link HERE

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Decent Proposal

Two strangers are brought together by a mysterious benefactor who offers them a chance--with conditions--to split a million dollars.

Los Angeles is the backdrop for Kemper Donovan's smart and observant first novel, The Decent Proposal, which asks, what would two people do for a million dollars? Sex is not part of this proposition. Rather, a mysterious, anonymous benefactor hires a lawyer to bring together two strangers, promising that they can split $1 million if they agree to spend at least two continuous hours with each other--engaging in substantial conversation--every week, for one year.

Richard Baumbach is a good-looking, down-on-his-luck film producer. Richard's best friend is Michaela (aka "Mike"), a hardworking literary manager. In college, they were a couple, but Mike ended their romance. Once Mike gets wind of Richard's moneymaking opportunity--the DP, as the "decent proposal" is called--the scenario suddenly frames Richard in a new light. Is Mike actually in love with Richard after all?

Elizabeth Santiago is the other half of the DP and the antithesis of Richard: she doesn't watch TV; she's not even on Facebook. On the fast track to partnership at her high-powered law firm, Elizabeth doesn't need the money. A loner who lives to work, she has forsaken her family and their devout Catholic faith. The DP offers Elizabeth a perfect opportunity to step outside her comfort zone.

A strong, omniscient narrator anchors Donovan's deconstructed, opposites-attract love story where emotional stakes deepen as the story unfolds. References to pop culture, classic literature and movies--along with snappy dialogue and well-drawn characterizations, especially in the cast of supporting players--infuse a clever plot filled with surprising twists that will keep readers entertained and in suspense. 

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
Harper, $25.95 Hardcover, 9780062391629, 320 pages
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read the review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (4/15/16), link HERE

This review was also published in a longer form on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (3/14/16). To read the longer form review, link HERE

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

We Could Be Beautiful

A wealthy single woman falls hard for a handsome, charismatic and attentive older man who may--or may not--be harboring secrets.

Swan Huntley intimately explores the psyche of a 43-year-old, still single, affluent New Yorker in her first novel, We Could Be Beautiful. Despite her success as the owner of an upscale handmade stationery shop, Catherine West feels terribly incomplete, like a failure, until she meets handsome and striking William Stockton, a widower and independently wealthy investment banker in his 50s, at an art gallery opening. "There was something familiar about him," Catherine says of their first encounter. They learn they share a love of fine art and a history--they come from the same privileged societal class, and their parents had been friends years earlier.

When Catherine tells her mother, Elizabeth, about William, and inquires as to what she might remember about him and his family, her mother's curt, agitated response is jarring. Catherine blames her reaction on her Alzheimer's, and William later admits that Elizabeth might be remembering that, as a boy, he was once a guest in their home and broke an expensive vase. The explanation seems plausible as William and Catherine move in together and begin planning their wedding. However, their blissful romance is marred once Catherine discovers an old diary her mother kept and a letter from a former nanny, which may shed light into Elizabeth's troubled reaction to William.

Deception and greed are suspenseful undercurrents that propel this well-plotted, seductive psychological thriller. Huntley has created a riveting heroine in whom readers will eagerly invest as she is forced to unravel the truth about a man who seems too good to be true and a shrouded past that may hold the key to her future. 

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
, $25.95 Hardcover, 9780385540599, 352 pp
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
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 (6/24/16), link HERE

Friday, June 24, 2016

Happy Take Your Dog/Pet to Work Day!

Dogs and Pets at work?  
Read the story of my own (crazy) dog,
how we'll both celebrate this very special day

Friday, June 24, 2016
Opinion/Editorial: "Other Views/ Guest Columnist" (Section A-19)

To read the article in its entirety, click on the highlighted title above

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Thing Is: eBook Special


I am excited to announce that for a limited time
June 14 - June 18
will be available for only $0.99!

If you haven't already read the novel, now is the time to purchase a copy for yourself, family and friends.

This heartwarming story--about a romance writer in grief and a crafty therapy dog named Prozac who rescues her--has 77 positive reviews (and counting) on

Click below to purchase the eBook for $0.99 at:

Also, if you've read the novel and enjoyed it, I'd be so grateful if you'd consider leaving a short review (just a sentence) about the book on Amazon, as the more reviews THE THING IS receives on their site, the more promotional opportunities the book will have to reach a wider audience.
Thank you for your help and support...Happy Reading!

To learn more about THE THING IS visit:

Readers everywhere are sure to benefit from a little Prozac in their lives!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Book Club Ideas: Historical Fiction

From My Shelf

Orphan Train (paperback, $14.99, Morrow) by Christina Baker Kline remains a book club favorite. This story about the fictional friendship between a young Irish immigrant and a 91-year-old woman ties in with the history of the trains that transported 200,000 abandoned children put up for adoption in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.
The aim of historical fiction is to situate characters--sometimes real, sometimes imagined--amid actual events and backdrops that are accurately rich in detail and/or epic in scope. The genre continues to flourish. Here are some other titles worth a closer look:
Isabelle Allende examines the past and present, youth and old age, in The Japanese Lover (paperback $16, Atria, July), a novel about destiny, sacrifice and redemption. The story is set in a senior home, but the details are anchored in 1939, when an eight-year-old Polish girl flees the Nazis and goes to live with her aunt and uncle in San Francisco. There, the girl makes friends--and eventually falls in love--with a Japanese boy interned in the United States following Pearl Harbor.
Lee Smith sets Guests on Earth (paperback, $14.95, Algonquin) in 1936 in Highland Hospital, a noted psychiatric facility in Asheville, N.C. Smith examines ideas of sanity versus insanity, art and madness via her orphaned, 13-year-old protagonist, Evalina Toussaint. Evalina is institutionalized and falls under the spell of flamboyant Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald) who was an actual patient in the hospital before a tragic, suspicious fire killed her and several other women.
The Civil War and the horrors of slavery infuse The Invention of Wings (paperback, $17, Penguin) by Sue Monk Kidd, a tale inspired by the life of 19th-century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimk√©. Kidd tackles issues of race, gender, activism, religion and feminism via the creation of two richly drawn characters: the strong-willed daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner and her personal slave whom she seeks to liberate.

Note: This column (published 6/10/16) has been reprinted with the permission of Shelf AwarenessShelf Awareness for ReadersLink HERE to read the article as it originally appeared.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Obsession

One night changes everything in The Obsession by Nora Roberts (The Liar), a romantic suspense novel about how the past haunts a woman trying to reinvent her life beyond a series of horrific, notorious sex crimes committed by her father.

The book opens with a horrifying scene: Naomi Bowes, an innocent 12-year-old from West Virginia, awakens on a stormy summer night, unable to sleep. When she sees shadows in the woods and spies her father, she secretly follows him to a grisly crime scene: a girl--bound, tortured and raped--trapped in a root cellar. After her father departs, Naomi rescues the injured girl and brings her to safety only to discover that her overbearing father, a church deacon, is actually a demented serial killer. Naomi becomes instrumental in her father being sent to prison for life.

Seventeen years later, Naomi lives in Sunrise Cove, a peaceful, tight-knit community in Washington State, and has reinvented herself as Naomi Carson. She is a successful fine art photographer who thinks she's finally found a place to call home, though she is a loner who suffers trust issues and chronic nightmares. She buys and begins a major renovation on a 10-bedroom house, makes friends, adopts a dog and even falls in love. But when a series of brutal killings plague the area, Naomi's past is suddenly resurrected--as are her fears.

This spellbinding, well-constructed story plunges deep into the nature of obsessions—the damaged soul and psyche of a haunted woman; Naomi's brother, an FBI agent desperate to understand his imprisoned father's twisted modus operandi; and a vicious serial killer intent to strike again. Roberts creates a strong, determined protagonist with whom readers can identify and empathize.

The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Berkley, $28.00 Hardcover, 9780399175169, 464 pp
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
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 (4/22/16), link HERE

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake

"It isn't always blood that makes a family," says one of the characters in The Secret to Hummingbird Cake, a witty and heartwarming first novel by Celeste Fletcher McHale. The story is set in the small Southern town of Bon Dieu Falls, La., and centers on three, 30 year-old women—soul-mate friends since the age of five who sweeten the lives of each other amid life-changing tests of faith.

Carrigan, the narrator, is a fiery redhead whose been married for 13 years and harbors painstaking suspicions about her handsome husband's fidelity, as she, herself, has partaken in a secret, regrettable "indiscretion" of her own. Carrigan's spitfire best friend, Ella Rae, married her childhood sweetheart and is still so madly in love with him that Carrigan swears the two of them "breathed in unison."   Laine, Carrigan's other best friend, is the responsible, level-headed one of the bunch. Still single, Laine, caring and good-natured, is a much-beloved high school English teacher, famous for "the creamy white icing and the sweet pineapple" of her Hummingbird Cake, a Southern staple. Yet, she refuses to share her recipe even with her closest friends—who beg. 

The three minds of these very different women work in a "posse" as Carrigan grapples with her troubled marriage, trying to repair what's broken, via the encouragement and support of her friends, who also come face-to-face with life-changing challenges and heart wrenching secrets. Fletcher McHale blends sassy and sentimental--drizzling spiritual crises atop everything--and whips up a wholesome story about the transcendent, everlasting bonds of friendship and love.  

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale
Thomas Nelson, $15.99 Trade paper, 9780718039561, 304 pp
Publication Date: February 9, 2016
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 (2/23/16), link HERE