Monday, April 26, 2021

The Seat Filler

A quirky romance about a struggling dog groomer--with a kissing phobia--and the hunky actor, a celebrity crush, who steals her heart.

Sariah Wilson is a prolific romance writer. Her break-out novel, Roommaid, a feel-good romance, told a clever story about living life on your own terms and in pursuit of your own dreams.


In The Seat Filler, she delivers another fun, meet-cute rom-com. The story centers on Juliet Nolan, a quirky, single, struggling dog groomer—with a kissing phobia. During a Hollywood awards show, Juliet is asked to fill an empty seat during the program. This one small act leads to her meeting handsome, charismatic actor, Noah Douglas. An unexpected friendship develops between Juliet and Nolan that ultimately leads to--and challenges--romance.


Readers will be charmed by Wilson’s lively, brisk storytelling as she plunges readers directly into the comedic action, slowly peeling back hidden secrets of her characters.

The Seat Filler: A Novel by Sariah Wilson

Montlake, $12.95 Paperback, 978-1542025713, 319 pages

Publication Date: April 27, 2021

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

A delightful romantic story centered on three single women of an Italian family who set off to Italy to break a 200-year-old curse. 

Long-simmering resentments and buried secrets permeate The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, a romantic, beautifully rendered, sweepingly complex family saga.


Emilia Antonelli, 29, of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, is a second-generation Italian American. She lives a simple, manageable life, resigned to remaining single forever, working in the family delicatessen and bakery, while also secretly pursuing a "little writing hobby." Emilia lives under the shadow of a family curse that goes back 200 years: all second-born daughters are cursed to live a life without love. After their mother died, Emilia and her older sister, Daria, were raised by their mild-mannered father and the domineering Nonna Rosa, their mother's mother and the surly, infinitely controlling backbone of the family. Nonna Rosa favors Daria, the first-born granddaughter, and belittles Emilia.


Emilia's life takes a drastic turn when she receives a letter from Paolina Fontana, her long-lost great-aunt, who lives in Philadelphia. "Aunt Poppy" is flamboyant, artsy and colorful. She is Nonna Rosa's younger sister, shunned by the family decades earlier. But Poppy writes to Emilia and Luciana, another second-born cousin, offering to treat them both to an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy to celebrate Poppy's 80th birthday. At the cathedral in the town of Ravello, Poppy intends to reunite with her one true love, with the intention of also breaking the family curse.

What ensues is an exciting excursion through Italy--its culture and fineries; romance and history--for the three women. Aunt Poppy proves warm, charming and wise. Lori Nelson Spielman (Sweet Forgiveness) provides first-rate storytelling and nuanced, clearly defined characters that will captivate readers right up to the surprising finale.

The Star-Crossed Sistersof Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

Berkley-Penguin, $16.00 Paperback, 9781984803160, 400 pages

Publication Date: November 27, 2020

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 (November 27, 2020), link HERE


To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (October 23, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Anxious People

This clever, dark comedy about human nature and relationships starts with a real estate open house that goes dreadfully awry when a bumbling bank robber shows up.

 Swedish author Fredrik Backman has entertained readers worldwide, drawing them into fictional realms with ordinary people facing the absurdities of life and death. In Anxious People, he mines similar terrain, cleverly assembling an ensemble cast of characters, some of them utterly exasperating. He sets them in a darkly comic predicament that will challenge them as a group and personally, opening the story to larger themes about the foibles, pitfalls and traps of living.


Backman's construct is straightforward: an open-house apartment viewing. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, especially when a gun-wielding bank robber targets a cashless bank and winds up, through a series of mishaps, at the open house. In bumbling, snowballing desperation, the robber takes eight people, high-maintenance strangers at the viewing, hostage. When the robber ultimately escapes, two police officers--a father and son facing personal struggles of their own--investigate the crime and try to make sense of the who, how and why of this topsy-turvy, totally-gone-awry robbery scenario and all involved.


Backman (Us Against You) skillfully employs an omniscient narrative voice and short, focused chapters that unwind an intricate plot through interspersed--extremely telling and very funny--police interrogation scenes. Readers are kept off-balance by details of the hostage siege as characters reveal their personal dilemmas. This intensifies the narrative tension and drama, upping the literal and figurative anxiousness of the book's title. Backman's signature storytelling wit and wisdom--the way he unravels his puzzle while peeling back layers of complex relationships, personal burdens and secrets carried by all--enables this fresh, quirky, over-the-top comedy to coalesce into poignant profundity.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Atria, $28.00 Hardcover, 9781501160837, 352 pages

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

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 (September 8, 2020), link HERE


To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (August 14, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Chicken Sisters

A fun, lively story about the long-simmering rivalry between two legendary families that serve "the best" fried chicken in Kansas.

Comfort food and family feuds are centerpieces of the fun, first novel by KJ Dell'Antonia (How to Be a Happier Parent). The author plunges readers deep into the complicated lives of two families, the Moores and Pogociellos--rivals who share roots dating back to the 1800s in Merinac, Kan., where two sisters originated a fried chicken business. Familial tensions flowed through generations, down to Amanda Moore, who worked for her mother's traditional, old-school fried-chicken establishment, Chicken Mimi's--and fell in love with and married Frank Pogociello. Amanda's romantic choice created a mother-daughter rift that deepened when Amanda went to work for Chicken Frannie's, the competing restaurant offering a more innovative fried chicken menu.


With both eateries facing financial crises, Amanda reaches out to a reality TV show where two restaurants compete for a $100,000 prize. Once Amanda's pitch is accepted, it's game on for the fighting, frying families. Amanda enlists her widowed mother-in-law at the helm of Chicken Frannie's to battle against the Chicken Mimi's team: Amanda's estranged mother and Mae, Amanda's Brooklynite sister, who returns to Merinac after her successful TV career and marriage suddenly start to fray.


As the two eateries face off ruthlessly amid the limelight of TV cameras and producers eager to stir the drama pot, long-simmering family history infused with old resentments and scandalous secrets rises to the surface. Dell'Antonia's delightful story dishes up juicy messages about the strength and fortitude of the female spirit, the meaning of happiness and the valuable bonds of family.

The Chicken Sisters: A Novel by KJ Dell’Antonia

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.00 Paperback, 9780593085141, 304 pages

Publication Date: December 1, 2020

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 (December 4, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Truth, Lies, and Second Dates

A snarky romance--and well-crafted whodunnit--about a successful airline pilot forced to revisit the long-ago murder of her best friend.

MaryJanice Davidson (The Love Scam) writes romance across genres, from comedy to horror to paranormal. In Truth, Lies, and Second Dates, she incorporates elements of a thriller. Ava Capp is a snarky, flawed heroine with an unresolved past. Not yet 30 years old, Ava is already an accomplished pilot for a commercial airline. Her need to fly away began years before. As a teenager, she and her best friend, Danielle, were inseparable--until Danielle was brutally murdered when the girls were 16. The tragic loss of Danielle and her unsolved murder led Ava to abuse drugs and alcohol, until she dried out, turned her life around and became a pilot--one plagued with romantic commitment issues.


One day, on a routine flight, she crosses paths with Danielle's twin brother, Dennis, who invites Ava to a 10-year memorial service for his sister. The invitation brings Ava back to her hometown, Minneapolis, Minn., where she's welcomed coolly by Danielle's family--especially by her mother, who still suspects Ava killed her daughter. When things go dreadfully awry at the service, and Ava leaves abruptly, she meets Dr. Tom Baker. When Baker was 13, the grisly murder of Danielle intrigued him so much that it launched him into a career as a medical examiner. As Ava and Tom strike up a friendship (on the way to romance), mysterious happenings resurrect the past and begin to threaten Ava's sanity and safety.


Readers will root for the flawed heroine and the pull of romance. However, they'll be more apt to keep turning pages, eager to solve the suspenseful whodunnit embroiled in the midst of it all.

Truth, Lies and Second Dates: A Novel by MaryJanice Davidson

St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.00 Paperback, 9781250053176, 320 pages

Publication Date: December 15, 2020

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 (December 29, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

Fannie Flagg delivers feel-good fun, revisiting stories about a small Alabama town--focusing on a beloved local--from her popular 1987 novel.

Fannie Flagg's enduring Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café was published in 1987 (and made into a movie in 1992). The heartwarming novel explored the friendship between a disillusioned, middle-aged housewife and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman living out her days in a nursing home. Ninny had astonishing tales to tell about a bustling railroad cafe in a small Alabama town east of Birmingham in the 1930s.


Flagg's long-awaited sequel focuses on Buddy Threadgoode, Jr., son of the late Ruth Jamison, who once ran the Whistle Stop Cafe with Imogene "Idgie" Threadgoode, an adventurous, rebellious tomboy. Through a patchwork quilt of scenes, Bud's history unfolds from the 1930s: how he managed life with a missing arm, an injury incurred in a train accident when he was six years old, and became a veterinarian; how Aunt Idgie became Bud's best friend and cheerleader, even after she sold the café and moved to Florida; how Bud fell in love with and married his childhood sweetheart, and they raised a daughter, Ruthie, a woman with her own story to tell.


As in Fried Green Tomatoes, Flagg infuses short chapter vignettes with cozy snippets of gossip about Whistle Stop townsfolk--memorable characters from the first book--who left town and set down roots elsewhere. Bud--now in his 80s, retired and widowed--looks back lovingly and longingly at his Whistle Stop days. The story blossoms in vintage Flagg style--folksy and feel-good. An abundance of Southern charm will delight both readers eager to journey back to beloved Whistle Stop and also those wanting to visit for the very first time.

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop: A Novel by Fannie Flagg

Random House, $28.00 Hardcover, 9780593133842, 304 pages

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

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 27, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Cookbook Club

Three women--strangers facing new beginnings--bond over a communal love of food, cooking and sharing recipes.

Over the course of 13 novels, author Beth Harbison (Every Time You Go AwayChose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger) has demonstrated that she knows what makes women tick--and what ticks them off. In The Cookbook Club, her 14th book, she dishes up an ensemble cast of richly drawn characters: three women, strangers from the Washington, D.C., area, who are each in the throes of a personal conflict and romantic dilemma.

When solid and sensible Margo throws out her philandering husband, she discovers an online cookbook club founded by Trista, a single, take-charge, former lawyer. Trista, fired from her job, ditches her legal career, invests in a bar and restaurant and forms the cookbook club in an effort to nurture her passion for trying out new recipes. Her solicitation for group members also draws the attention of jilted Margo and Aja, a loving, good-natured yoga instructor--single and pregnant with a child for whom the baby's very handsome, wealthy, ne'er-do-well father has no interest.

The three women--all near 30 years old and facing new beginnings--forge a friendship bonded by their culinary cravings. When the group gathers each month, they whip up and share a dish, along with recipes. The meetings allow the women to indulge their gastronomic appetites while supporting each other through respective challenges.

Harbison's storytelling is full-bodied and sharp. Wit and humor, along with delicious plot twists and a trove of included recipes, sweeten contemporary women's issues.

The Cookbook Club: A Novel of Food and Friendship by Beth Harbison

Morrow Paperbacks, $16.99 Paperback, 9780062958624, 384 pages

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

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 27, 2020), link HERE


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Thursday Murder Club

In this clever, cozy whodunnit, four residents of a British retirement community wield their crime-solving powers to catch a killer.

With The Thursday Murder Club, British TV personality Richard Osman (The World Cup of Everything) has crafted a very funny cozy mystery set in an upscale assisted living community in bucolic Kent, England.


In the luxury facility, four elderly residents--each retired, sharp and energetic--meet once a week in the Jigsaw Room, where they covertly gather to crack actual cold case murders. The group was founded by resident Elizabeth, a shrewd and devious former spy, and Penny, a retired police detective inspector who provided the cases to solve. With Penny now in a coma, however, Elizabeth keeps the club in session, continuing to work cold cases with other fellow residents and mystery aficionados. They include dapper Ibrahim, a psychiatrist; brassy, tattooed Ron, a former trade union official; and unassuming Joyce, a nurse whose interspersed diary commentaries enlighten readers to the often zany inner workings of the club.


When a real-life murder happens at the facility--the bludgeoning of the builder who constructed the retirement community--the club and its members employ their offbeat skills and talents to root out the killer. They skillfully manipulate the help of a 26-year-old female police constable--an ambitious transplant from London--and her Detective Chief Inspector boss, who follow a host of leads and red herrings.


Osman's suspenseful, complex and deeply entertaining storytelling--along with rich characterizations depicting the quirky absurdities and power of pensioners--transforms darker themes of murder and crime-solving into smart, clever fun.


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Pamela Dorman Books, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781984880963, 368 pages

Publication Date: September 22, 2020

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 2, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

This Time Next Year

A lively rom-com about two Brits--born on the same day, in the same hospital--who meet after 30 years and are forced to reconsider their lives and shared history.

Sophie Cousens's first novel, This Time Next Year, is a clever, offbeat romantic comedy about two young Brits whose lives play out in vastly different ways.

Minnie Cooper--whose mother, Connie, had the audacity to name her daughter after the car--always had a challenging life. On the day of Minnie's birth, New Year's 1990, her mother had her heart set on naming her Quinn. However, when Connie's roommate in the maternity ward, Tara Hamilton, gave birth a minute before Connie, Tara stole the name, bestowing "Quinn" upon her own baby, a son. Connie is forced to go with her second choice--a watershed moment in the lives of the two newborns and their emotionally wounded mothers.

Minnie grows up taunted by peers and comes to believe nothing good ever happens on New Year's. This self-fulfilling prophecy, further propagated by her mother, plays out in extraordinary ways on New Year's 2020, which also happens to be Minnie's 30th birthday. When Minnie's beau drags her to a party thrown by one of his coworkers, Minnie loses her coat, gets vomited upon and then is locked in a bathroom overnight. Ugh! On New Year's Day, Minnie is finally freed from the loo by none other than Quinn Hamilton. The Quinn--born on the same day, a minute before Minnie, at the same hospital 30 years before. 

Cousens's colorful, quirky cast becomes embroiled in big, memorable scenes that capture and unravel the histories of both Minnie and Quinn. Rom-com readers will revel in Cousens's wry, lively story, which probes themes of self-discovery, acceptance and forgiveness, and the abiding nature of friendship.

This Time Next Year: A Novel by Sophie Cousens

Putnam, $16.00 Paperback, 9780593191200, 352 pages

Publication Date: December 1, 2020

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 (December 8, 2020), link HERE


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Mr. Ives' Christmas

Every Christmas season, there are books I re-read, which ground me and reinforce in me the meaning of the Christmas season. These books, which I consider classics in the history of my own life--personally and as a writer--bolster my faith and spirit in a holiday that seeks to bring light and joy, comfort and peace. These stories convey a hopeful (however hard-won) prospect in the idea that in this world--that at times seems fallen, lost and irredeemable--glimmers of hope abound. 

I've written about Truman Capote's A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, a story about one Christmas season in the acclaimed writer's childhood. And I've shared my thoughts on THE CHRISTMAS TREE by Julie Salamon, a beautiful story about learning to love, share love and finally, learning to let go. 

This year, I return to a book that speaks to the brokenness in our world and the challenges faced by one faith-filled man, a 'believer,' who is forced to reconcile his life and faith in a God who disappointed him. 

Here is a brief description of Mr. Ives' Christmas, a beautifully rendered, life-affirming novel by the late Oscar Hijuelos :  

A beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective. In the expert hands of Oscar Hijuelos, Mr. Ives’ Christmas speaks eloquently to the most basic and fulfilling aspects of life for all of us.

Mr. Ives has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he has achieved the typical American dream. But the dream is shattered when his son Robert, who is studying for the priesthood, is killed at Christmas. Overwhelmed by grief and threatened by a loss of faith in humankind, Mr. Ives begins to question the very foundations of his life.

Part love story—of a man for his wife, for his children, for God—and part meditation on how a person can find spiritual peace in the midst of crisis, Mr. Ives’s Christmas "is a magnificently sad and enchanting novel, a celebration, ultimately, of giving and of grace." (Booklist)

Happy Reading...Merry Christmas!

Mr. Ives' Christmas: A Novel by Oscar Hijuelos

Harper Perennial$15.99 Paperback, 9780060927547, 248 pages  

Publication Date: December 23, 2003

To order this book via INDIEBOUND, link HERE

To order this book via Amazon, link HERE

To order this book via Barnes and Noble, link HERE

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Friends: Voices on the Gift of Companionship

Pleased to have an essay featured in a new anthology: FRIENDS: VOICES ON THE GIFT OF COMPANIONSHIP (edited by Amy Lou Jenkins). This moving compilation of 24 stories examines the meaning of both having and being a friend. 

My essay, "Little Black Marks," conveys the story of a life-changing friendship that grew out of a fondness for storytelling and a love of the written word...the power of putting letters on a page and having those letters give meaning and form to life and living. 

As the dedication of the anthology reads, some gifts of friendship endure for "a day, for a season or last a lifetime." But stories...they're forever!

This tender, inspirational anthology would make a great gift for a friend you cherish or to read with your book club. 

Friends: Voices on the Gift of Companionship edited by Amy Lou Jenkins

Jack Walker Press, $14.99 Paperback, 9781945378089, 238 pages

Publication Date: October 14, 2020

To order this book via INDIEBOUND, link HERE

To order this book via Amazon, link HERE

To order this book via Barnes and Noble, link HERE

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Somerset Girls

Themes of family bonds and loyalty anchor the feel-good story of dissimilar sisters who get swept up in new romances.

With more than 100 titles to her credit, Lori Foster delivers another feel-good contemporary story that will resonate with readers who admire strong female protagonists, sensual romance and a love of animals.


In The Somerset Girls, two sisters run an animal rescue farm inherited from their grandparents in rural Kentucky. Autumn and Ember Somerset share a bloodline and a converted duplex house, and both maintain day jobs. That's where the similarities end, however. Autumn, 32, is a decorator and designer--the girl-next-door, homebody-type. Having been jilted at the altar, Autumn has sworn off men and romance. She is reliable and responsible, tending to her colorful parents, including a father who is a stroke survivor. Ember--younger, an outgoing free spirit--is a girly-girl with an edge who loves to flirt with cute guys. She works as a builder. When Ember runs into a former local, Tash Ducker--a handsome widower and father who was Autumn's high school crush--she volunteers the sisters' help in redesigning his house to cheer up his traumatized seven-year-old daughter. As the remodel ramps up, a romance develops between Autumn and Tash, while Ember becomes entangled in a new relationship of her own.


With compassion, wit and charm, Foster (Sisters of Summer's End) presents well-defined characters who, along the road of romance, reveal unspoken burdens. A surprising plot twist, steamy romance and endearing animal stories will delight faithful readers and win over new ones.

The Somerset Girls by Lori Foster

HQN, $16.99 Paperback, 9781335013385, 384 pages

Publication Date: April 19, 2020

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 2, 2020), link HERE