Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv

An 85-year-old childless widower, a misfit 18-year-old girl  and a never-married 83-year-old woman form a life-changing friendship.

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg (The Dream Lover) focuses on contrasting characters whose lives share common threads of loneliness and isolation: Arthur Moses is an 85-year-old grieving the loss of his beloved wife, Nola Corrine. A retired parks groundskeeper and an amateur gardener, he rides a bus everyday to the cemetery and eats his brown bag lunch graveside with Nola. There, he takes comfort in cleverly conjuring visions of the dead in surrounding, underground graves--"Nola's neighbors"--and he imagines the lives they might have lived. The simple gesture of a hand wave brings Maddy Harris--an 18-year-old with a nose ring, who also finds graveyards comforting--into Arthur's life.

Maddy calls the dead "her people," as her mother died in a car crash two weeks after Maddy was born. The tragedy and its aftermath drove a wedge between her and her father, who, tormented by his own grief, emotionally rejected his daughter and ultimately shaped her into a loner. When forlorn Maddy meets compassionate Arthur, their shared affinity for the dead sparks an unlikely friendship. She nicknames him "Truluv" because he speaks with glowing devotion for his late wife. Gradually added to the mix is Lucille, Arthur's meddlesome, 83-year-old, never married next-door neighbor, who faces a shattering loss of her own.

Berg's vivid characters may be vastly different in age, worldview and temperament, but they express a universal need for love, acceptance, purpose and connection. Tender, colorful strokes of humor dot the landscape of this touching story that deepens with poignancy and profound insights into the perils and glories of the contemporary human condition.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Penguin-Random House, $26.00 Hardcover,  9781400069903, 240 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 (November 24, 2017), link HERE

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Are You a Winner?

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Happy Reading! 

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Luster of Lost Things

A gifted, fatherless boy with a communication disorder goes on a quest to save his mother's magical bakery.

Walter Lavender Jr. is a 12-year-old with a motor speech disorder, a brain pathway dysfunction that prevents him from producing the words he wishes to speak. Walter may be isolated and withdrawn, but over the years, he's learned to adapt and cultivate an uncanny sense of perception. This turns him into a sought-after expert at finding lost things. Despite finding other people's prized possessions, a great sense of loss marks Walter's own life. His father, an airline co-pilot, disappeared on a flight to Bombay just three days before Walter was born.

While he waits for his father's return, Walter skirts bullies at school and spends time at the Lavenders, his mother's eclectic bakery in the West Village of New York City. Devoted patrons believe the desserts are magical--the angel food cake is light enough to whisk away pounds, and carefully crafted marzipan dragons breathe fire. The centerpiece and good luck charm of the success of the bakery, however, is a treasured, leather-bound manuscript--an illustrated winter's tale of lost love. When the book goes missing, the shop takes a nosedive: the magic suddenly evaporates from the desserts, business drops off, a French bakery opens a few doors away and the landlord threatens to double the rent. Fearful that all will be lost, Walter commences his 85th--and most personally challenging--case.

With straightforward prose, Sophie Chen Keller tells this insightful story from Walter's singular point of view. This is a feel-good, message-driven story about the restorative power of human connectedness and how acts of kindness can ultimately change lives.

Putnam (Penguin), $15.00 Paper, 9780735210783, 336 pages

Publication Date: August 8, 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 (September 8, 2017), link HERE

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Christmas Romances to Melt the Heart

Christmas--the season known to foster peace, love and good tidings of joy--is on the way. Sometimes, however, the sparkly cheer of intended amorous bliss sours at the most wonderful time of the year. Several new novels--stand-alones and additional installments of well-established series--offer feel-good stories of romantic dilemmas.
Elin Hilderbrand has expanded her trilogy of Christmas novels into a quartet with Winter Solstice, which reunites the extended Quinn family of Nantucket. This year, everyone is finally celebrating together under the same roof of the family-owned and -operated Winter Street Inn. But can the welcoming familial nest help resolve festering romantic entanglements, amid long-held traditions, heartfelt reunions and farewells?

A host of clever complications ensues in Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber, where a single, 20-something office temp reluctantly pursues a new relationship after her well-meaning, but meddling mother and special needs brother set up an online dating profile for her during the holidays.

Ugly Christmas trees upend a whole community in Christmas in Icicle Falls by Sheila Roberts, where one resident in particular, a successful writer, learns that everything and everyone has potential--including an old, overlooked friend who just might hold the key to unexpected romance.

Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne centers on a kindhearted, single, small-town librarian who longs to create a sense of family for herself during Christmas. Her plans go awry when she falls for her tenant--a handsome, sexy, commitment-phobic pilot who has a notorious reputation with women.

In Sugarplum Way by Debbie Mason, the future of true love is tested. A surprising, passionate kiss under the mistletoe at the town Christmas party turns the life of a romance writer--in search of her own happily-ever-after--completely upside down.

NOTE: This column previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers (11/3/17) and is being reprinted with their permission. Link HERE to read the column as originally published.

Monday, October 23, 2017


An engaged woman unexpectedly reunites with an old flame, forcing her to reconcile her feelings for two men.

Just when Kailey "KC" Crane is about to start a new chapter of her life, the successful journalist--in her 30s, working for a Seattle newspaper--is brought face to face with an old flame. The chance encounter happens one night after KC and her handsome, attentive fiancé, Ryan, a high-end property development manager, dine in an upscale French restaurant. As Ryan fetches the car after dinner, good-natured KC offers a painfully thin, homeless man her leftovers only to discover the man is Cade McAllister, a once-successful music business mogul and also the long-lost former love of KC's life.

What ensues is a richly drawn, emotional story rife with conflict. Cade has suffered a traumatic brain injury--origin unknown--that has compromised his memory. KC eagerly advocates to help Cade, while trying to piece together what happened to him and why he disappeared from her life ten years before. In her quest, KC's heart is pulled in two directions, and she is forced to reconcile the choices that have shaped her own life: Will KC have a fulfilling future with Ryan? Might she still be in love with Cade, even in his altered state?

Jio (Goodnight June) braids a thought-provoking narrative that examines the forces that brought KC and Cade together and pulled them apart--the tenuous bond of their love--versus the cushy, comfortable life KC shares with Ryan. Contrasting past and present perspectives and KC's choice between old love and new makes for a suspenseful and highly charged romantic conclusion

Always: A Novel by Sarah Jio
BallatineBooks, $27.00 Hardcover,  9781101885024, 288  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 (February 21, 2017), link HERE

Friday, October 13, 2017

Norbert's Little Lessons for a Big Life

The lighthearted wisdom of a three pound, mixed-breed therapy dog is shared in a beautifully photographed, inspirational book.

"I believe your every little thought, word, and deed can make a BIG difference in the world." That's the motto of Norbert, a lovable, three pound, mixed breed who has become a social media phenomena. In his eight short years of life, this registered therapy dog has served up hearty doses of comfort and joy to children; the ill, the aged and infirm; and the homeless. He's brought smiles and support to countless individuals and charitable organizations such as the Best Friends Animal Society, Marine Toys for Tots and the Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

A born emotional philanthropist, Norbert's social media and literary career have thrived under the love, care and devotion of Julie Steines and Virginia Freyermuth—Julie's Mom; a teacher, fine artist and PhD.  Julie and Virginia co-wrote three picture books for children: Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?, Norbert: What Can Little You Do? and Norbert & Lil Bub: What Can Little We Do?  It seems providential that when Julie and Norbert later appeared on the Home & Family TV show (Hallmark Channel) to promote their books, Julie first met her future husband, Mark Steines, the Emmy Award-winning host of the program and an accomplished photographer whose work cleverly captures Norbert's cuteness in Norbert's Little Lessons for a Big Life.

In this latest book, Norbert's human entourage pair the philosophical wisdom of the little dog--sharing lessons Norbert has learned, in his own words--with 50 adorable photographs depicting the ways this four-legged emotional philanthropist continues to bring joy and make others smile.

Norbert, little pink tongue perpetually sticking out sideways from lost teeth, spouts sentiments like: "You are wonderful just the way you are." A photo of Norbert after having been hosed off in the summer sunshine, trying to dry himself off by flinging water droplets everywhere, is accompanied by, "When your enthusiasm gets dampened, just shake it out." Another shot shows Norbert and a beautiful Golden retriever donning hats, the two sprawled on a colorful beach chaise, paired with the thought, "Hang out with friends who make you laugh and help you enjoy life."

The goal of the book is to inspire others toward thoughtfulness, kindness and gratitude.  No doubt, once children and adults peruse the many cute and cuddly sides of Norbert--and his endearingly simple messages of hope and resilience--even more joy and delight will be spread into the world.

Norbert's Little Lessons for a Big Life by Julie Steines (Author), Virginia Freyermuth (Author), Mark Steines (Photographer)  

North Star Way (Simon and Schuster Publishing), $12.99 Hardcover,  9781501187315, 144 pages

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

Friday, September 29, 2017

Documentary: Soldier On

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan M. Sipprelle presents a thorough, unflinching look into the lives of three young women veterans (post 9/11) as they strive to readjust to civilian life following military deployment. The film, Soldier On, delves into the formative years of the women, their personal reasons for enlisting, the rigors of military life and the challenges and progress the women face in re-acclimating themselves to "normal," everyday life. Through well-edited, interwoven narratives, Sipprelle (Set for Life; Over 50 and Out of Work) weaves three distinct, diverse stories.
"When you're over there, your world stops…but everyone else's life goes on," says Natasha Young, a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps--a 12-year U.S. Marine Veteran--who was deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2007 and served as a 'fixer' amid combat skirmishes. "You're getting mortared…shot at every day," says the tough, no-nonsense, young woman who initially joined the military because she wanted "to do more, to be more." She was looking to be "part of a team." A romantic break-up at the age of 17, along with family dysfunction, propelled her toward a military career that took her far beyond her Massachusetts roots. She admits that her street-smarts were challenged by boot camp and later, as she bore witness to the atrocious horrors of war. Surges of adrenaline sustained her throughout her deployment, which was emotionally and physically draining. She even endured a violent sexual assault by a fellow marine. Since returning home, she's continued to press on and barrel on through, now picking up the pieces of her own life despite chronic health challenges and the demands of co-parenting her young son. Today, she finds purpose working as an advocate on behalf of veterans facing homelessness and housing issues.
Amanda Tejada, Sergeant in the U.S. Army who was deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan, also came from an unsettled background. She was abandoned by her mother and suffered a difficult, isolated childhood. Amanda was inspired to enlist to "help others" after witnessing "people jumping out of the buildings" during 9/11. This introspective, largely self-reliant young woman felt a sense of belonging and purpose during her military career.  After having been embroiled in almost daily combat missions and firing upon the enemy just a few miles west of the Pakistan border, where Osama bin Laden had been hiding, Amanda finds adjusting to ordinary civilian life especially challenging. Hearing loss and a myriad of wide-spread and debilitating symptoms of PTSD--depression, insomnia and subsequent alcoholism--make her transition all the more difficult. "The aftermath of being in the military isn't so pretty," she says. "Nobody comes back the same person...brain chemistry permanently changes." Amanda works hard to surmount emotional struggles. While her life had structure, and she was "taken care of" while in the military, as a civilian, functioning and bettering herself are constant uphill battles. A quest to finally finish her education, however, ultimately gives her a new lease on life.
In search of a sense of self, belonging and finding financial security lured Lyndsey Lyons--a 1st Lieutenant of the New York Army National Guard--into the military. She joined the R.O.T.C. while a psychology student at Fordham University. Lyndsey's innate sense of adventure made her feel truly excited to begin her military deployment. She was stationed in 2013 at the Kandahar Air Force Base in Afghanistan. "I was more fearful of being sexually assaulted than being killed in action," she admits. What makes Lyndsey's story unique is her lesbianism and the separation she endured from her girlfriend throughout deployment. While in service, Lyndsey was also forced to keep her sexuality secret as it was during the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  During her deployment, however, President Obama lifted the ban, and Lyndsey felt a true sense of liberation as if a "weight were lifted" from her life. Her post-military story largely focuses on her relationship with her girlfriend and how the impact of Lyndsey's deployment and return home affected them both, turning their lives upside-down. Throughout her military service, Lyndsey worked hard to remain unemotional and her quest, once home, becomes a process of learning how to soften her heart, getting in touch with and expressing her true feelings and emotions, and practicing spiritual mindfulness via the study of contemplative psychotherapy and meditation.
Well-selected, interspersed footage from world and political events, along with clips from military drills and actual combat, enrich the documentary along with the tight, crisp cinematography of Samuel E. Newman and the seamless editing of Jenny Filippazzo. Sipprelle's meticulous direction paints a clear, well-rendered portrait of the arduous journey young military women of diverse cultural backgrounds--and psychological profiles--face as they rejoin contemporary society. Their unifying thread becomes a sense of not belonging, a lack of purpose in fulfilling the mundane tasks of everyday life and no longer fitting in with civilian peers and contemporaries because military experience has set them apart. Sipprelle compassionately traces their unique feminine perspectives from combat to healing, and the long road they are forced to travel toward peace, with great insight and sensitivity—shining a necessary spotlight upon these unsung, courageous women who answered America's call.  

To watch the trailer for Soldier On, link HERE

To purchase a copy of Soldier On, link HERE

To learn more about TREE OF LIFE PRODUCTIONS, link HERE

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grief Cottage

An orphaned 11 year-old works through his grief when he goes to live with his great-aunt on a remote South Carolina island.

Marcus Harshaw looks back on his life as an 11 year-old who faced the tragic, sudden death of his single mother and then went to live with his great-aunt Charlotte on a remote South Carolina island. The story is predominantly set during Marcus's first summer on the island when Aunt Charlotte--a thrice married and divorced, set-in-her-ways, reclusive artist--took in precocious, self-contained Marcus and provided him a safe haven. Marcus's formative years with his mother--and their chronic struggles to make ends meet--made Marcus philosophically wise beyond his years, enabling him to adapt and be sensitive toward his aunt's brooding, hermetic life. Charlotte gained notoriety painting images of a deserted, dilapidated local house nicknamed, Grief Cottage, where the family who occupied the residence disappeared during Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The battered, run-down cottage becomes a source of intrigue for Marcus, as well, as he seeks to learn more about the shack's history and the people who perished there. This quest unearths questions about Marcus's own background, namely coming to grips with his relationship with his mother, how he lost his best friend from school and identifying his unknown, absent father.

Godwin (Publishing: A Writer's Memoir) has written an exquisitely rendered narrative that emotionally deepens with metaphorical subplots that include the preservation of nested Loggerhead turtle eggs and the presence of a ghost at Grief Cottage. This grace-filled story probes aspects of life and death, isolation and family, and how great pain and loss can ultimately lead to unforeseen transcendence. 

Grief Cottage: A Novel by Gail Godwin

Bloomsbury USA, $27.00 Hardcover, 9781632867049

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (July 11, 2017), link HERE

Monday, August 28, 2017

Nina George: Writing, Loving, Fighting

The Writer's Life
Nina George is the author of the bestselling novel The Little Paris Bookshop, a story about how books have the power to change destinies. She also writes (in German, with her husband, Jens "Jo" Kramer) a mystery series set in Provence under the pseudonym Jean Bagnol; has written science thrillers as Nina Kramer; and many titles about love, relationships, Eros and femininity as Anne West. In her 27th book, The Little French Bistro (see my review below), George tells the fictional story of a 60-year-old German woman's quest for reinvention and self-discovery. 

Why use the word "little" in the titles of both novels?

In every language, my books have totally different titles. Every market has its own rules. And let's face it: I like to write intimate stories, set in a specific place--because the place is a sort of secret protagonist. Every landscape, every room has its character, which helps me to describe certain emotions and cultural attitudes.

Both "little" books are journey stories. What did you learn about yourself in taking the journey to write these novels?

I love to tell "road stories." The art of developing a "quest," the searching and finding, is one of the oldest ways to create legends. You have to move on--our own, real lives are daily-quests, too. With
The Little French Bistro, I found my writing voice. I had nearly 18 years of practice in professional writing, but with Marianne (the protagonist of The Little French Bistro), I reached the magical point of telling the story just exactly the way it wanted to be told. A story finds its way to a writer in different ways. When I found the tale of Marianne, it all started with her "getting lost at the end of the world." And like Marianne, I also found my home--at the "end of the world."

That "end of the world" reference is to Kerdruc, the setting of this novel.

Yes, Kerdruc is a very,
very small village in the "Commune Nevez," which is part of the Region Cornouaille in the Department Finistère in the State Brittany (Bretagne) of France. Some call it a place at the "end of the world."

How did you discover Kerdruc?

Years ago, my husband and I traveled without any GPS, and one day we ended up at the Port of Kerdruc. It was like a slap in the face: I had the idea to develop a setting right then and there.

You divide your time between Berlin and Brittany.

Brittany is the place where I feel at home. I belong to the sea, the beauty of the nights; I feel familiar with the savage seashore, the stones and the stolid nature of Bretons.

Did that Breton sensibility spark the idea for this story?

The idea was born when I noticed a group of older people hanging around in a Bar Tabac on a Monday morning--drinking, chatting, enjoying their friendship and their time left together. I wanted to tell a story about older people and why they are still together--is it friendship? Is it love? Is it just home? What is necessary to do in your own life to find the exact place that is meant for you? 

Is that why you chose to create Marianne--the protagonist of The Little French Bistro--as a 60-year-old, as opposed to someone younger?

Modern literature often ignores older people in the autumn of their lives. At 60 years old, the layers of your emotions, your memories, and also the cage you have built up around you, are more complex.

Community is the centerpiece of both "little" books.

Our memories are made of the people we've spent our time with. Life is not about what you get. Not your career or success. It's about who you choose to spend your short time on earth with: friendship--short or long-term--love, an encounter with a stranger on a train by night....

What research was necessary to tell this story?

For several weeks, I traveled through the Finistère; watching, listening, visiting forests and chapels, feeling the loneliness and freedom of this part of old Europe, learning how to cook like the Bretons.

Cooking and gastronomic delights are backdrops of the novel. Are you a cook?

Bah oui! I was raised in a family of cooks. For me it is normal to get something good on the table--to please me, to please the one I love. And I really love to take care of guests. One day, I will open a guest house with a fine kitchen and a library in each room.

How has your life changed since the success of The Little Paris Bookshop?

It took me 20 years to become famous "overnight"... but those years help me to stay humble today. No one tells you beforehand that it is even harder to write another successful novel after having a bestseller. The success also makes it easier for me to support others. The royalties allow me to advocate for authors' rights, for women in literature and to defend those whose voices are silenced. We have to care for the world and the future.

Will there be another "little" book?

I am working right now on a new novel, my 28th, which asks the existential question: Did I become (the woman) who I could have been? It will be based in Brittany again in an endless summer, an intimate play between two women and two men. 
Note: This interview is a reprint and is being published with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A with Nina George as originally published on Shelf Awareness for Readers (7/7/17), link HERE.