Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wine Girl


After reading this beautifully rendered memoir, you’ll never sip a glass of wine and think of it in the same way!
The captivating story of a resourceful young female sommelier who overcame countless obstacles to become an award-winning wine expert and restaurateur.
Victoria James (Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé) retraces the rocky road she traveled to become an award-winning wine expert who, at the age of 21, was the youngest sommelier to lead a Michelin-starred restaurant.
She divides her story into seven sections, mapping her life from age seven to 28. The prologue perfectly embodies the theme and tone of the memoir: James, a newbie sommelier at an upscale restaurant, must deliver a $650 bottle of chardonnay from Burgundy, France, to an elite, grossly chauvinistic customer. James quells her nervousness and uncorks the bottle, following protocol with "calculated precision." She tastes and approves the wine, which she describes as "like slipping into a bed made up with silk sheets." After the patron takes his own sip, he verbally demeans James--her youth and inexperience--and orders her to take the bottle back and uncork another. What ensues is an apt metaphor for James's life as she takes on the patron and her own fears, managing to appease the customer and her bosses, while also endearing herself to readers who will eagerly empathize with and root for her. 
How she deals with challenges and conflicts--and proves to be a tenacious problem-solver, undaunted overcomer and go-getter--are what make James and her underdog story so appealing. Her flowing narrative defines and explains many terms used to describe wine and its aficionados. One word, however, sums up James's utterly engrossing coming-of-age and success story--Wonderful!  


Ecco, $26.99 Hardcover, 9780062961679, 336 pages

Publication Date: March 24, 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 (March 27, 2020), link HERE 
To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (March 5, 2020), link HERE




Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Postscript


Popular Irish author Cecelia Ahern returns with the long-awaited sequel to her best-selling novel (and blockbuster movie), PS I Love You.  
A tender, moving story about a widow who helps a group of terminally ill patients leave behind heartfelt messages for loved ones.
Cecelia Ahern continues the story she started in her bestselling debut, PS, I Love You. After Holly Kennedy--an Irish, 30-year-old--lost her beloved husband and soul mate, Gerry, to a brain tumor, he left behind 10 notes, one for each month, capped with his tender signature of ‘PS, I Love You.’ Each letter offered Holly guidance and wisdom as she struggled to carve out a new life. 
In Postscript, it’s seven years later for Holly—now 37-years-old and romantically involved with Gabriel, a divorcée who co-parents a contentious teenager. When Holly is asked to be a guest on a podcast to discuss Gerry’s letters--what they meant and how they changed her--her participation drives a wedge in her relationship with Gabriel. And when a group of terminally ill patients--fans of the ‘PS, I Love You’ letters--approaches Holly, enlisting her help to write letters of their own, Holly’s perspective on life--and love--shifts. Holly assists a 17-year-old, unmarried mother facing cervical cancer to craft a heartfelt message for her newborn; a father with a brain tumor longing to remain part of his family’s life; a husband with advanced emphysema with a penchant for writing playful Limericks; and a woman battling MS. In offering assistance, Holly examines how time changes those forced to reinvent themselves—both the dying and the living.  
Ahern (Flawed) is a passionate, sensitive storyteller. She employs great empathy as she probes dark themes and gives readers the pleasure of another entertaining, enriching story buoyed by hope and positivity.




Grand Central Publishing, $27.00 Hardcover, 9781538746592, 304 pp

Publication Date: February 11, 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 (March 6, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

142 Ostriches

Familial dynamics are complicated and messy--even more so when there is a death in the family.

A deeply moving story about a young woman who inherits an ostrich ranch and must fight family strife and dysfunction.

April Dávila's first novel is wise, moving and beautifully rendered. She sets 142 Ostriches on Wishbone Ranch, an ostrich farm in Sombra, a remote California town entrenched in the Mojave Desert.

The heroine, 24-year-old Tallulah Jones, is ready to fly the coop to take a Forest Service job in Montana when her Grandma Helen dies in a mysterious car crash. She is the person who rescued 13-year-old Tallulah from her irresponsible, alcoholic mother in Oakland, Calif., and brought her to live on the ostrich ranch 11 years ago. The news derails and defers Tallulah's plans. All along, Helen had groomed Tallulah to take over the 50-year-old ranch. She was adamantly opposed to her granddaughter's plans to escape to Montana. This leaves Tallulah to question the timing of her grandmother's death: Was it really an accident?

Helen's absence reunites and unsettles the extended family. This includes Tallulah's estranged mother, Laura; aunt Christine, a level-headed wife and mother who lives nearby; and erratic recovering meth-addict uncle Steve. When everyone learns that Helen has bequeathed the ostrich farm to Tallulah, emotions and rebelliousness run high in the family--and in the ostrich flock, when the sensitive birds suddenly stop laying eggs. Contentiousness further escalates when Tallulah considers selling the farm.

She is a young woman faced with difficult choices in her quest to rise above the perils of familial dysfunction. The result, Dávila's stellar debut, is infused with richly drawn characters, tightly focused suspense and authentic detail about farm and desert life.


Kensington Books, $15.95 Paperback

9781496724700, 272 pages

Publication Date: February 25, 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 (March 24, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets


Who can resist a novel where a dog resides at the heart of the action? (Not me, that’s for sure!) Add a knitting club and themes of second chances and that ups the ante.
A colorful story of Women’s Fiction about a washed-up writer whose life changes after inheriting her birth-mother’s estate—and her memories.

In one day, 36-year-old Seattle sportswriter Maeve "Mae" Stephens is laid off from her newspaper job, learns that her boyfriend (a left fielder for the Mariners) is cheating on her, and gets mugged for $32 in her wallet. No sooner does down-on-her-luck Mae move in with her parents (who lovingly adopted her as a baby) when she receives a phone call informing her that her birth mother, Annabelle, has died in a freak accident. An old friend of Annabelle invites Mae to attend the funeral in the small town of Timber Creek.

For years, Mae wrote Annabelle letters, which were returned to her unread. But with life at a standstill, Mae sets off for Timber Creek and learns she is the beneficiary of Annabelle's worldly possessions, including her house, an old VW and a moody cat. When a wayward bulldog is found chained to the front porch, Mae extends her stay. She's befriended by curious townsfolk, including a handsome but blocked writer and a group of women as tight-knit as the colorful sweaters they craft to keep local animals warm. Is there more than meets the eye to the idyllic town--and to the story of Annabelle's life?

As Mae learns more about the woman who gave her up and why, she also discovers herself--who she is and what she wants out of life. Annie England Noblin (The Sisters Hemingway, Pupcakes) spins a poignant, heartwarming story about secrets and lies, strangers and lovers.


William Morrow Paperbacks, $16.99 Paperback, 9780062748317, 384 pages

Publication Date: January 14, 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 as published via Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (February 11, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Authenticity Project


This is a fun, clever, very modern story offering a poignant message of hope!

A notebook created for the purpose of confessing intimate, personal truth turns British strangers into friends as they form an unlikely bond of trust.

Online, everyone's lives look happy and perfect, which makes Clare Pooley's (The Sober Diaries) charmed novel, The Authenticity Project, a fresh, welcome and necessary change of pace.

Monica is a single, 37-year-old Brit who gave up her corporate law to open a London café. She discovers a simple exercise book left behind in her coffee shop, with three words etched on the cover: "The Authenticity Project." The first page reads: "Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead...? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?"

Intrigued, Monica learns the book was initiated by 79-year-old Julian Jessop, who committed his truth to its pages. Julian expresses the deep-seated loneliness he's experienced for five years, since the loss of his wife, Mary, whom he appreciated only once she was gone. Julian created the Authenticity Project to purge his own feelings and deliberately left the book with his story behind, hoping that whoever read his entry would be inspired to share their own story in its pages and then leave the book for others to do the same.

Monica searches for Julian online and discovers he is a famous portrait painter. In the meantime, she leaves the notebook, with her entry added, in a local wine bar. It lands with a cocaine addict, Hazard, who takes it with him as he sobers up on a remote island in the South China Sea. What ensues is a clever story of how the notebook travels from person to person, six strangers who ultimately discover each other and form bonds of commonality, friendship and love.

The Authenticity Project: A Novel by Clare Pooley

Pamela Dorman Books, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781984878618, 368 pages

Publication Date: February 4, 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 as published via Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (February 7, 2020), link HERE

To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (January 7, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Meg and Jo


A perfect read for those who just can’t get enough of the March sisters! 

This is a lively, hip, 21st-century reinvention of Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic about the tight-knit March family.

Virginia Kantra (Carolina Dreaming) energetically reinvents Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women. Kantra relocates the March family from New England to bucolic 21st-century Bunyan, N.C. Mother "Marmee" struggles to maintain the artisanal goat-cheese-producing family farm, while Father March, a pastor-preacher, is away serving as an army chaplain and military missionary activist.

Part of the story is filtered through Jo, a single 28-year-old journalist in search of a job, living in New York City. She works as a prep cook at an upscale eatery while secretly blogging about the food industry. When the tattooed, Michelin-star chef-owner of the restaurant takes a shine to her, she fears the consequences of mixing business with pleasure. The other half of the story is narrated by Meg, a devoted wife and stay-at-home mother of twins, whose life is deeply rooted in Bunyan. Is she truly fulfilled? While the other two March sisters pursue their own aspirations--Beth, chasing a career in the Branson, Mo., music business, and Amy in Paris, intent on becoming a fashionista--Marmee suddenly takes ill. Responsible Meg picks up the slack, faced with choices that might upend her sensible life and affect those of the family, as well.

Kantra retains Alcott's basic story blueprint and the essence of her unforgettable characters, including the irrepressible Aunt Phee and Trey, an updated take on Theodore "Laurie" Laurence. The narrative successfully weaves in provocative contemporary values and references, delivering a modern-day story--with bold new twists--that explores timeless themes of love, romance and the bonds of family.

Meg and Jo (A Novel) by Virginia Kantra

Berkley, $16.00 Paperback, 9780593100349, 400 pages

Publication Date: December 3, 2019

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 17, 2020), link HERE


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Recipe for a Perfect Wife


A powerful, thought-provoking story about the choices that ultimately come to define and liberate two women who lived 60 years apart.
Characters often face difficult choices--and learn how to live with the consequences--in the novels of Karma Brown (TheChoices We Make). In Recipe for a Perfect Wife, she continues this theme, chronicling the lives of two women who lived nearly 60 years apart.
In 2018, 29-year-old Alice Hale and her husband, Nate, move from a "shoebox-size" apartment in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan to a sprawling colonial house in Greenville, a suburban town "less than an hour's train ride from the city and yet an entirely different world." Alice has apprehensions about the retro fixer-upper, but nevertheless makes the adjustment.
While Nate commutes to his city job, Alice, having left her career and friends behind to write a novel, feels a deep loneliness. When she finds a vintage cookbook in the basement and begins whipping up some of the recipes, her anxiety and depression start to lift. She becomes intrigued and wants to find out all she can about Nellie Murdoch, the previous owner of the cookbook and the house.
As Alice learns more about Nellie's life, she faces unexpected crises that force her to rethink choices she's made, secrets she's kept and actions she may need to take in the future. Patriarchal dilemmas abound for both women. Yet, through the wisdom evoked by revelations in Nellie's life story, Alice is suddenly inspired and empowered better to deal with her own challenges.
Strong, well-drawn women anchor Brown's deeply thought-provoking, feminist novel. The spellbinding dual stories complement each other, raising themes of self-discovery, self-preservation and liberation for two women living eras apart.
Recipe for a Perfect Wife (A Novel) by Karma Brown
Dutton, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781524744939, 336 pages
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
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 10, 2020), link HERE


To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (December 6, 2019), link HERE

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Confession Club


This novel of Women’s Fiction is a continuation of a heartwarming series by Elizabeth Berg that started with, The Story of Arthur Truluv.

A group of women form an unlikely bond of trust that allows them to share personal revelations.

When a participant in a local dining club in Mason, Mo., reveals a personal secret over dinner, the gathering is suddenly transformed into a "safe space": members of the group share not only a weekly feast, but begin to confess dilemmas from their private lives. Elizabeth Berg's illuminating novel The Confession Club brings together a small group of women--ages 20 to their 70s--who maintain an oath of confidentiality as they voice their sins, burdens, inadequacies and shameful secrets, offering each other opinions and advice without judgment. Among the members are a preacher's wife, who is a kleptomaniac; a woman remorseful over the way she chronically lied to her parents during adolescence; and another who finds herself attracted to an exhibitionist.

New additions to the group include some beloved characters from Berg's prior novels, including Iris Winters, from Night of Miracles, a divorcée who runs a baking school out of her home. She falls for a handsome, bright, high-functioning--yet homeless--Vietnam veteran with PTSD. And Maddy Harris, introduced in The Story of Arthur Truluv, is a married mother who returns to town to regroup and reconcile feelings from the past that prohibit her from sharing her soul with her husband.

Readers don't need to be familiar with Berg's prior books in the Mason series to enjoy this one--a tenderhearted, at times philosophical, patchwork quilt of stories. Berg extols the benefits of these unlikely people forming a bond and a community of trust and friendship that changes their lives for the better.


The Confession Club: A Novel (Book 3 of 3 in the Mason Series) by Elizabeth Berg

Random House, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781984855176, 304 pages

Publication Date: April 2, 2019

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 10, 2020), link HERE


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

This Is Sunday Dinner


Lisa Caponigri is masterful Italian chef—and so knowledgeable. This cookbook is a keeper!

An elegantly presented cookbook that offers 52 authentic menus--each with five courses--to create traditional, memorable Italian feasts. 

Lisa Caponigri's life has been spent in the kitchen. Memories of cooking with her Sicilian grandmother and her own children have encouraged Caponigri--an Italian American who has lived in Italy--to inspire others to create similar experiences. In This Is Sunday Dinner, Caponigri presents 52 easy-to-follow, classic menus--each comprised of five courses, including wine suggestions--that pay homage to traditional, five-course Italian Sunday dinners: antipasto, soup, pasta and risotto, entrée or vegetable and dessert. 

Italians make creative use of seasonal ingredients at their peak. Thus, the cookbook is presented in accordance with the four seasons, and each section offers 13 region-specific menus. "Winter in Piemonte" showcases delicious cheeses, like figs stuffed with Gorgonzola and marinated in port wine, as well as creamy risottos, steak and even delicate Apple-Almond Turnovers. "Spring in Campania" features peasant dishes such as "Garbage Pail Spaghetti" that combines nuts with capers, raisins, tomatoes, olives and Pecorino Romano, not to mention Cheese Gattó that marries potatoes with broccoli rabe and smoked mozzarella. Menus replete with fish, eggplant, pastas and desserts--including a rich Cannoli Cake--are highlights of "Summer in Sicily." And "Tuscany in Autumn" showcases the elegant simplicity of menus that offer crostini, a luscious recipe for Ribollita--Tuscan bread and bean soup--as well as hearty recipes for pork and chicken.

Caponigri (Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?) believes cookbooks are not just about food, but also about traditions and a lifestyle. This elegant, artfully presented collection is testament to her culinary passion and prowess for all things Italian.

This Is Sunday Dinner: 52 Seasonal Italian Menus by Lisa Caponigri

Sterling Epicure, $29.95 Hardcover, 9781454930174, 336 pages

Publication Date: April 2, 2019

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 3, 2019), link HERE


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Would Like to Meet


Who can resist lively rom-coms in the vein of Nora Ephron? 

An aspiring talent agent sets out to prove to an Oscar-winning screenwriter that people can fall in love just as they do in the movies.

Debut author Rachel Winters hits all the right notes in Would Like to Meet. Single Londoner Evelyn Summers once dreamed of becoming a screenwriter. But she has settled into being the "longest-serving assistant in the industry," working for William Jonathan (Monty) Montgomery, an eccentric, high-powered, old-school talent agent. Things take a turn, however, when Monty reassures production duo Sam-and-Max that Evie can light a fire under screenwriter Ezra Chester and convince him to finish a script for which he's been contracted. Evie perceives Ezra--an "Academy Award winner, charitable heartthrob, and industry darling"--to be an "arrogant, insufferable arse." The stakes are raised when a possible promotion to agent is dangled before Evie. The problem, however, is that Ezra believes "Oscar winners... don't write rom-coms."

In order to get Ezra to fulfill his commitment on deadline and convince him to stop being so "short-sighted about the genre," Evie agrees to serve as his inspiration and "living proof." She proposes that she can meet a man the way it happens in rom-coms.

What ensues is a lively, laugh-out-loud story filled with raucous scenes of Evie's madcap meetings and zany mishaps in fulfilling her end of the bargain--from road trips to holidays to chance encounters. Everything that can go wrong does, including Evie making a child vomit, leaving her name and number in random books around London, and accidentally joining an erotic book group. Would Like to Meet is a fun and lively millennial rom-com with a heartfelt message that cleverly plays off tropes from a host of contemporary romance movies.


Would Like to Meet: A Novel by Rachel Winters

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.00 Paperback, 9780525542315, 368 pages

Publication Date: December 3, 2019

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 10, 2019), link HERE


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Way I Heard It


Mike Rowe, of ‘Dirty Jobs’ fame, has written a book…and it’s a good one! It's both clever and greatly entertaining. Rowe blends the story of his own life with his exploration of the lives of other notables. This is the perfect read to take with you on the go—short chapters for when you’ve got only a few minutes to escape into a good book!

Popular personality Mike Rowe cleverly spins and unravels mysteries about notable public figures, while sharing stories of his own life.

Television host, narrator, actor, producer and product pitchman, Mike Rowe presents 35 cleverly written short mysteries about public figures and notables that are culled from his podcast, The Way I Heard It. Between the mysteries, Rowe, with his signature humor and dry wit, ties in entertaining anecdotes about his own life--childhood adventures while growing up in a tight-knit Baltimore family; his mentors and his girlfriends; his penchant for Travis McGee novels; and his many comical experiences on the winding, bumpy road to success.

Rowe has hosted several offbeat shows on networks such as QVC, the Science Channel, CNN and National Geographic. He's most known for Dirty Jobs, where he performed 300 messy occupational duties alongside regular, hardworking employees. Rowe's affinity for the programs of radio broadcaster Paul Harvey served as inspiration for his creation of the mysteries of the book--what he pitches as "some true stories you probably don't know about some famous people you probably do." This includes obscure facts about presidents, musicians, writers, sports figures and more--the living and the dead--as well as places and events.

Readers will be greatly amused and intrigued by Rowe's presentation of each story. He offers just enough information and clues to keep readers engrossed--and guessing--about the who or what of each subject before he delivers surprising twists and reveals the mysterious identity at each story's conclusion. For all the jobs Mike Rowe has held in his storied career, writing might just prove to be his forte.


The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe

Gallery Books, $28.00 Hardcover, 9781982130855, 272 pages

Publication Date: October 15, 2019

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 25, 2019), link HERE


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Olive, Again


This was my favorite read of the year for 2019!  Really admire Elizabeth Strout’s work. She writes masterful sentences and creates indelible characters who are not always likeable, but fully human...and surely entertaining!
A prickly Maine woman finds hard-won wisdom as she butts up against the challenges of aging and ordinary life--and others struggling to survive.

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (My Name Is Lucy Barton) traced the life of a rigidly stoic, set-in-her-ways, lifelong inhabitant of fictional Crosby, Maine. Olive--a former high school math teacher and the wife of a small-town pharmacist--is judgmental, with often-grating hard edges that forge her opinions and resilience.

In Olive, Again, Strout picks up Olive's story in her seventh and eighth decades. Olive, an aging widow, contends with a now elusive world and her feelings for widower Jack Kennison, the antithesis of Olive. Jack, a staunch Republican and former professor at Harvard, migrated to Crosby after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and he was fired. He is drawn to Olive, questioningly.

As the narrative unfolds, readers learn that Olive and Jack have married. Despite their vastly different pedigrees, they are moored in similar emotional harbors, which unites them. Olive and Jack had first marriages to good people, yet both carry--and grapple with--guilt. Loneliness plagues them. They take stock of their fates, choices and destinies in a changing world, while facing the often-humiliating infirmities of aging. Jack tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, a lesbian whom he never accepted. Similarly, Olive contends with her strained relationship with her son, who's married and raising a blended family in New York City.

The 13 episodic stories that constitute Olive, Again are deep and meaningful--made richly entertaining and accessible through Strout's skillful blend of the serious with the comedic.

Olive, Again: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout

Random House, $27.00 Hardcover, 9780812996548, 304 pages

Publication Date: October 15, 2019

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 25, 2019), link HERE