Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Recipe Box

The history of a family-run orchard and pie shop enlightens a young pastry chef as she re-evaluates her own life.

Nourishment--especially of the heart and soul--forms the basis of The Recipe Box, a moving novel about the inextricable bonds of family by Viola Shipman (pen name for Wade Rouse). The story is a multi-generational chronicle of the Mullins family of Suttons Bay, Mich., and their agricultural orchard nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Samantha "Sam" Nelson was given her great-great-grandmother's recipe box at age 13. After high school, she chooses to leave the Mullins Family Orchard and Pie Pantry and attend culinary school. She later takes a job at a Manhattan bakery run by a demeaning reality TV chef. At work, she is befriended by Angelo Morelli, a young man who delivers organic produce to the bakery and is trying, like Sam, to chart his own path. When Sam loses her job, she retreats to the family orchard to reassess her life. There, she gains a new appreciation for the long-held family business and the cherished wisdom of her ancestors. But when Angelo arrives for a visit, Sam is torn between staying at the orchard or returning to the New York culinary scene. 

Shipman (The Charm Bracelet)
traces more than a century of Mullins family history, showing how the orchard--and those who passionately tended to it--evolved and endured. The inclusion of scrumptious recipes sweeten this wholesome story where food and baking become acts of love. Shipman has sensitively crafted another tender, deeply resonant novel that readers can savor.

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman 

Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99 Hardcover,  9781250146779, 336  pages

Publication Date: February 7, 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 13, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Darrell Laurant: Inspiration Street


Darrell Laurant grew up in Syracuse, NY, graduated from a small college in North Carolina and spent more than 30 years as a sportswriter, news reporter, editor and columnist for daily newspapers in Charleston, SC and Lynchburg, VA. Along the way, Laurant published Even Here (about a series of bizarre murders in Bedford County, VA) and A City Unto Itself (a history of Lynchburg, VA in the 20th century) because he had "accumulated more information on those subjects than I could do justice to in my newspaper column."

In 2014, a year after retiring from the The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Laurant wrote and published his first novel, The Kudzu Kid, about an embattled  weekly newspaper editor and a mob-backed hazardous waste dump. Inspiration Street was released in 2016, just as he finished his second novel, The Last Supper League.

Laurant's "current fixation" is a unique, writer-friendly and absolutely free book marketing blog called "Snowflakes in a Blizzard" that focuses on "under the radar" books.

Inspiration Street focuses on a remarkable and fascinating group of African-American achievers who lived on a single street in downtown Lynchburg, VA during the time of segregation.

Why did you write Inspiration Street?

I had interviewed and written about many of these people and their descendants in newspaper columns and feature articles over the years, and then one day a light went off in my head and I realized: "Wow, all of this happened within two city blocks!" With all due respect to the Rev. Martin Luther King, who was certainly a great man in many ways, the civil rights movement existed before him and after him--and several  of the people who lived on Pierce Street made contributions so significant that I subtitled the book "Two City Blocks That Helped Change America."

What did you learn in writing this book?

Again, I think I underestimated the importance of the people I focused on in writing Inspiration Street -- folks like Anne Spencer, Chauncey Spencer, Walter Johnson, Amaza Meredith and C.W. Seay -- in relation to the world beyond Pierce Street and Lynchburg, VA. Although this is not a young adult book per se, I think it would be perfect for teen-aged readers, especially those in inner-city schools.

Did you learn anything about yourself through writing this book?

What I learned from this project was the value of perseverance and the possibility of redemption. Almost all of the individuals who are featured faced daunting obstacles in their youth, not to mention the larger obstacle of segregation. Poet Anne Spencer grew up with a single mother and then in a foster home, and didn't start school until she was 11. Walter Johnson was a high school troublemaker who was then expelled from two colleges before evolving into an unselfish family physician and the coach of tennis stars Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson. Amaza Meredith lost her father to suicide on the eve of her high school graduation, then was turned down by all the college architectural programs in Virginia because of her race and gender. Frank Trigg was born into slavery and lost an arm in a farming accident, yet eventually became the president of two colleges.

One surprising thing I learned was that the land on which Pierce Street was laid down had previously been used for a Confederate training camp. That seemed like perfect karma.

What stories in the book are stand-outs?

Here are two: In 1938, Anne Spencer's son Chauncey and fellow aviator Dale White flew a rickety old single engine plane from Chicago to Washington -- surviving two crash landings along the way -- in order to bring attention to the absence of African Americans in the Army Air Corps. By chance, they ran into then-Senator Harry Truman, who was so impressed by their argument and their tenacity that he wound up introducing legislation to integrate the entire armed services.

When famed author and NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois visited Lynchburg in the 1920s to speak at a local college, he asked on arrival where he could take a shower. Presented instead with a wash tub, the fastidious DuBois balked, then was told that Anne and Edward Spencer on Pierce Street had hot running water. He knocked on their front door as a complete stranger, took his shower, and became the previously unknown Anne Spencer's entryway into the ranks of Harlem Renaissance literary figures.

How did you approach your subject matter? 

I've always enjoyed research, so this was actually a lot of fun. Anne Spencer's granddaughter, Shaun Hester, has a big help, and I had interviewed Chauncey Spencer several times before his death. The book was timely, because the tennis court on which Ashe and Gibson learned the fine points of tennis was being refurbished and opened as part of a Johnson museum. Other books had been written about several of these individuals (although not all), and that was also invaluable.

Describe your writing process.

My method with non-fiction is to create a file in the computer for each prospective chapter. Then, when I do an interview, I paste quotes and information into the appropriate chapter.

Is there a message to the book?

I see this as a bridge between black and white, a reminder that we're really not so different, after all. Indeed, several of the main players here were the product of inter-racial marriages.

Why should someone want to read Inspiration Street?

I consider myself as a storyteller, and these are great stories. All I had to do was reveal them.

Blackwell Press, $9.95 Paperback, 9781938205262, 166 pp

Publication Date: February 26, 2016

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Women in Sunlight

Four very different American women experience reinvention and self-discovery when they settle in Tuscany and explore all that Italy has to offer.

Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun, Under Magnolia) returns to the sensuous glories of Italy in her beautifully rendered and richly woven novel Women inSunlight
Catherine "Kit" Raine is an American expat in her late 30s. She has lived and worked as a successful writer and poet nestled in the Tuscan hills of San Rocco for 12 years. Her current project is a biography of fellow American Margaret Merrill--an older woman, good friend and a writer whom Kit admired--who set down roots in Tuscany much earlier.
When Margaret died, she surprisingly bequeathed her estate to Kit. Their friendship was at times rocky and difficult. However, Margaret's posthumous generosity made a lasting impression on Kit. In trying to broaden the readership of Margaret's work--and better understand her enigmatic friend--Kit grapples with memories on the page that lead Kit to examine her own life and future.
Kit's quest deepens when three American women--and their unruly dog--move into the villa next door. The three women are new friends, all retired, who met at an orientation for a 55-and-over retirement community near their homes in Chapel Hill, N.C. The threesome are still vital and active enough to assert their independence. 
Mayes's writing glimmers with masterful sensory descriptions. Readers can practically taste the white foam that tops cappuccinos, step into elongated shadows cast by cypress trees and feel the echoing cold retained amid old stone villas. Mayes delivers another intimate story, told in lively episodes, that details how unexpected friendships can lead to reinvention and bright new beginnings at any age.

Women in Sunlight: A Novel by Frances Mayes

Crown, $27.00 Hardcover,  9780451497666, 448  pages

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

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 24, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Matt Haig: History in the Mix

The Writer's Life

Matt Haig is the author of five novels, several award-winning children's books and the memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, which is an account of Haig's battle with depression and how he overcame it with the help of reading, and writing, and the support of his family. In How to StopTime (Viking, $26), Haig tells an imaginative, adventurous story about a man who has lived for centuries and his journey to reconcile his past and present in order to face the future. The novel dips into 500 years worth of history and is being made into a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch. My review is below.

How did this novel take root?

I had the idea brewing for a long time. Nearly a decade. But it wasn't fully there. I had the voice of someone impossibly old, but I didn't have a story. Then I saw a painting of Omai in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Omai was the Pacific Islander brought to England after Captain Cook's second voyage and prized as an exotic oddity. It got my mind ticking and--even though Omai isn't the main character--he was the starting point.

How to Stop Time straddles genres of fantasy, romance, adventure and comedy. Was this intentional?

I have no idea. But it made the writing of it more fun. I love mixing things up. It just feels more natural to me than to compartmentalize the imagination like that.

The protagonist of the novel is 439 years old yet appears to be a 41-year-old man. Why did you choose these two specific ages?

Well, I was 41 when I created Tom Hazard, the protagonist. So I suppose that was the reason. As for 439 years, I wanted Tom to live within a realistic timeframe for a creature to live. There are clams that can live to 500. And Greenland sharks can live to be 1,000. So 439 began to feel almost realistic.

What was most fulfilling in writing this novel?

The amount of research I had to do was simultaneously the most fulfilling and the most challenging aspect. It was like researching 12 different historical novels in one. But I love social history. I love learning about, for instance, how ale was considered healthier than water for children to drink in Shakespearean times. (In fairness, it was.)

Tom Hazard shares life-changing experiences with notables such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald--to name a few. I wanted to mix the very famous with the less well known--such as Omai and the real-life Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson--because I loved the challenge of making people who have become legends into real, living people... with halitosis, in Shakespeare's case.

If you could live in another time, when would it be and why?

To be totally honest, I would like to go back into my own past in order to give myself some life advice before I fell into depression and anxiety disorder in my 20s. Also: ancient Greece, to have a chat with Plato and drink some wine.

Philosophical ideas of time are central to the novel. And there's a quote in the book, "The past resides inside the present, repeating, hiccupping...."

Yes, I think we are repeating the mistake of dehumanizing people. People not like us. I think we are dangerously losing faith in the idea of central unifying narratives. The collective experience of a shared life in a shared society is falling apart. I think social media is sending us back to an age before the mass circulation of the old media, where truth was whatever you wanted to hear, whatever your neighbors whispered to you. It is terrifying if you think about it. But there are signs of hope and progress, too. We are alert to injustices in ways we never were before.

What did you learn about yourself in writing the novel?

That writing can be fun. I had been forgetting that for a few years.

What will readers take away from reading How to Stop Time?

I hope, primarily, readers will be entertained. I don't think there should be any shame in entertainment. I suppose my point in writing the novel was to make people, including me, appreciate life and the nature of our brief and wonderful time here.

Time, loss, death, the surmounting of tragedies--and characters who feel like outsiders--recur in much of your work.

I try to write books that can comfort by showing hardship and the overcoming of that hardship.... I think fiction can be nourishing. I think it can help us cope with life.

Your books, while dealing with dark themes, are often leavened with hope and playfulness. From where do you draw your sense of optimism?

Strangely, I think it comes from depression and anxiety. My experience of those things made me more optimistic. Optimism--hard earned--became essential. It kept me alive. Optimism is very often a product of pain, I think.

If readers are unfamiliar with your work, what book should they read first?

After How to Stop Time, either
The Humans or Reasons to Stay Alive. Stay away from The Possession of Mr. Cave--I was in a dark mood when I wrote it.

After writing so many books, how do you maintain enthusiasm for the craft?

I try to keep things new--switch genres, write for children sometimes, or for film or nonfiction. I try to make every book feel like it is a first book.
This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness for Readers (February 23, 2018), link HERE 
Author Photo by Ken Lailey

How to Stop Time

A middle-aged-looking 439-year-old man is forced to reconcile the adventurous experiences of his very long life. 

Tom Hazard appears to be a vibrant and wise 41-year-old, but he's actually lived for 439 years. Ancient Tom suffers from anageria, a rare condition that develops in puberty, where the physical aging process slows down--he ages only one year for every 13 or 14.

Tom was born in 1581, in France, where his mother was accused of witchery and came to a tragic end, forcing orphaned Tom to flee to England in 1599. There he was befriended by a young woman named Rose and fell in love. The secrecy of Tom's rare condition, however--and his fear of meeting a fate similar to his mother's--sadly cuts their relationship short.

Throughout a braided timeline that spans centuries, Tom is aided by an underground society of anageria sufferers--albas, short for albatrosses--who protect each other and carefully guard the secret of their long lives. He shares adventures with notable historical figures such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Through it all, however, Rose remains his cherished true love. When he returns to London in the present day, to teach history in the same neighborhood where he once lived with Rose, he is forced finally to reconcile his place in the world--past, present and future.

The lively creativity of
Matt Haig (The Humans) continues to delight and enchant readers. In How to Stop Time, he offers a well-drawn cast of vivid characters embroiled in an inventive, fast-paced story that successfully blends fantasy, romance, comedy and adventure.

How to Stop Time: A Novel by Matt Haig

Viking Books, $26.00 Hardcover,  9780525522874, 336  pages

Publication Date: February 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 (February 23, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Coincidence Makers

A suspenseful novel about secret operatives who cleverly orchestrate and execute forces of destiny.

Yoav Blum raises fascinating questions about destiny and free will in this fast-paced novel exploring otherworldly dimensions. In The Coincidence Makers, Blum has created a rich fantasy that focuses on trained and skilled secret agents who work--along with bureaucratic forces much greater than themselves--to orchestrate events that nudge ordinary people toward changing the course of their lives.

This smartly crafted novel focuses on three trainees--Guy, Eric and Emily--who have been rigorously educated on the intricacies of coincidences and the roles they, as
Coincidence Makers (CMs), are expected to play in shaping human destiny. Eric is a showman who has been known to grandstand in creating very complex coincidences that have led to accidents, death and even murder. Emily is bright and highly sensitive, but tight-lipped in talking about past assignments. And Guy, while adept, is riddled with self-doubt and haunted by a past that broke his heart.

When the CMs are asked to put what they've learned into practice for a complicated assignment involving a former imaginary friend case, the CMs must reassess their roles in relation to humankind and how their efforts very often lead others--sometimes, even themselves--to find deeper meaning and purpose in life and in love.

Blum cleverly probes the cause and effect of life, while exploring the hearts, motivations and questioning nature of people. This makes his carefully constructed fictional universe all the more plausible and captivating--especially as the plot intensifies and unravels in surprising ways.

The Coincidence Makers: A Novel by Yoav Blum

St. Martin's Press, $26.99 Hardcover,  9781250146113, 320 pages

Publication Date: March 4, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different, shortened form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review as originally published on Shelf Awareness: For the Book Trade (February 12, 2018), link HERE

To read this review as published on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (March 6, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks

Rock journalist Stephen Davis documents the rise of singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, solo artist and member of the iconic Fleetwood Mac.

Forty-odd years ago, Stevie Nicks, the "Fairy Godmother of Rock," seemed to emerge from nowhere with a song about an old Welsh witch, "Rhiannon." The song has since become a classic, one of the most popular songs Nicks ever recorded with the British band Fleetwood Mac. With reverent care, Stephen Davis (Hammer of the Gods, about Led Zeppelin) closely examines Nicks's formative years, the struggles of her early, ascendant career, and how her emotionally charged affiliation with Fleetwood Mac changed her life. Her music--popular songs that deal with memories, dreams, romance, regret and the passing of time--corresponds to important aspects of the singer-songwriter's life. With that in mind, Davis deconstructs the music to trace Nicks's childhood and musical roots. He analyzes her tumultuous relationship with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, and her cocaine-infused heyday in Fleetwood Mac, complete with juicy dramas about romantic entanglements in the band and affairs she had with others, including rock stars Don Henley and Joe Walsh. Furthermore, Davis considers the forces that ultimately empowered Nicks to take the leap and launch a solo career.

Meticulously presented details are fortified by quotes from Nicks, her family and friends and other musical cohorts.
Davis documents, in depth, the influences--good and bad, the mystical and magical--that shaped the rock legend. He details how personal experiences of love, heartbreak and loss directly contributed to her astounding success and longevity in the limelight. Fans of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks will find much to savor in this intimate, comprehensive biography.

Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis

St. Martin's Press, $27.99 Hardcover,  9781250032898, 352  pages
Publication Date: November 21, 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 9, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Second Acts

A novel about longtime friends at the crossroads of middle age as they re-examine and reconcile their different paths in life.

Second Acts by Teri Emory depicts the enduring friendship among three women who met as students at Buffalo College in the late 1960s; now in middle age, each narrates one of three sections of this vivid first novel.

The story begins when New York City marketing writer Sarah Roth learns that her ex-husband--the father of their daughter, Elle--has died of a sudden heart attack. The news forces Sarah to take stock of her life--her work and her current post-divorce relationship--through the prism of the past while trying to formulate a vision for the future. The 30-year marriage of Beth Gillian, a psychotherapist, is tested after she and her husband, a "Wall Street Wunderkind," bury a child. Beth reconnects with an old college flame who rallies her spirit and inspires her to contemplate the road not taken. Miriam Kaplan, a teacher in Manhattan, has remained single over the years; her life changed after a passionate romance with a charming photographer from the South. This experience left her reluctant to engage in a new relationship with a man whose sweetness helps her through a difficult passage in life.

Emory's unhurried prose braids the complex personal stories of these three women as they come to grips with loss, choices and compromise. All the while their bond of friendship flourishes in a changing world.

Second Acts by Teri Emory

Amberjack Publishing, $14.99, Paperback,  9781944995317, 342  pages

Publication Date: September 26, 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 (October 24, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Steal Away Home

A revelatory, spiritual novel about a young man whose big-league baseball dreams upend his life in extraordinary ways.

Owen Cross, from a small town in Shenandoah, Va., thought playing baseball was all he ever wanted. His passion was instilled by his father, Paul, whose big league aspirations were cut short by an injury. Paul--a high school janitor--encouraged Owen to master all aspects of the game. But when Owen crossed paths and fell in love with Michaela "Micky" Dullahan, a rebellious local girl "considered plain white trash," his life was upended. Micky's family was poor and struggling, her father a notorious alcoholic. Owen and Micky forged a bond they kept secret, lest they face familial and public disapproval. And the limits of their relationship became even more dramatically tested as Owen readied to leave for college on a baseball scholarship.

At the age of 29--in the 1990s, the heyday of Cal Ripkin and Derek Jeter--Owen is finally called up from the minor leagues to serve as a fill-in catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, playing against the New York Yankees in the Bronx. Over the course of that one special Major League baseball game, star-struck Owen closely re-examines his life and the emotionally charged circumstances that led to the pinnacle of his long-held dream.

Coffey (Some Small Magic) beautifully renders a thought-provoking story about the stony path toward spiritual enlightenment. As Owen experiences all nine innings of the big game, the idea of time and how it can lend perspective rises to the fore of this powerful, inspirational story centered on the bittersweet nature of grace and redemption.

Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey

Thomas Nelson, $15.99 Paperback,  9780718084448, 400  pages

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

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 19, 2018), link HERE

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Grave Issue

A fired TV reporter turned mortician investigates the death of a small-town banker who made enemies and harbored secrets.

Author Lillian Bell* launches a lively new mystery series starring Desiree Turner, a TV reporter axed from her job after a hot microphone incident went viral. Returning to Verbena, Calif., a small town near Sacramento, Desiree rejoins her sister Donna, brother-in-law Greg and their Uncle Joey. They all live and work together at the family-owned funeral home. The Turners deal in grief, including their own, since the widowed father of Desiree and Donna died in a surfing accident. A year later, the sisters still struggle with his disappearance.
When Rosemarie and Alan Brewer's beloved pet emu dies, the couple blames the unruly shepherd dogs belonging to neighbors Lola and Kyle Hansen. Their conflict escalates into a fistfight between the wives; soon after, Alan is found murdered. While the Turners tend to Alan's funeral, Kyle Hansen, who was like a second father to Desiree and Donna, becomes the prime suspect in Alan's homicide. Inquisitive Desiree starts a quest to exonerate Kyle and learn more about the murder victim, who was the manager of the Verbena Union Bank. Desiree discovers that Alan harbored many secrets and had a long list of enemies.

Suspenseful subplots and red herrings unravel this smartly crafted comic mystery that assembles a well-conceived cast of suspects embroiled in the stifling absurdities of small-town life. Bell cleverly ties up loose ends, while leaving some stragglers that are sure to rouse reader enthusiasm for the next installment.

* Lillian Bell also writes under the pseudonyms Kristi Abbott, Eileen Rendahl and Eileen Carr

A Grave Issue: A Funeral Parlor Mystery by Lillian Bell

Crooked Lane Books, $26.99 Hardcover,  9781683314905, 304  pages

Publication Date: March 9, 2018

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 (March 9, 2017), link HERE