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


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Louisiana Lucky

A richly entertaining story about three sisters who share a winning lottery jackpot that upends all their lives.

In Julie Pennell's Louisiana Lucky, three sisters from Brady, La., share a lottery jackpot of $204 million, and the outcomes result in a novel that is breezy and enjoyable, filled with charm and wit, romance and wisdom.


The Breaux sisters, all in their 20s, are hard-working, middle-class and bonded by family. One night a month, the lottery-playing girls gather for dinner and drinks and watch the Powerball drawing on television. Hanna, the oldest, lives with her struggling contractor husband and two kids in an inherited Victorian house in disrepair. Callie, the middle sister, is a still-single, brilliant journalist selling herself short working at a local paper. And Lexi, the youngest, is a hairdresser engaged to a vet school student with an overbearing, controlling, high-society mother. Each sister dreams of taking home the jackpot. Every month, they play two random and one predetermined number, as well as meaningful numbers selected from the heart--years parents have been married, house numbers, date they met a true love, number of kids. When their ship finally comes in, each sister takes home $68 million (before taxes), but that's when the real trouble starts. New choices and challenges upend the manageability of their former lives.


Pennell (The Young Wives Club) spins fresh perspective into classic adages like "be careful what you wish for" and "money is the root of all evil." She delivers a winning story--with appealing characters and a well-conceived, page-turning plot--about ordinary people changed by money in their individual ways.

Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell

Atria/Emily Bestler Books, $16.99 Paperback, 9781982115630, 320 pages

Publication Date: August 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 on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (August 7, 2020), link HERE


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

You Lucky Dog


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A fun love story where the mistaken identities of two very different basset hounds unite their even more different owners.

Julia London (Charmer in Chaps) has written more than 30 romance novels in various subgenres. In You Lucky Dog, she tackles her very first romantic comedy and packs it with fun, over-the-top complications. The story begins when a professional dog walker in Austin, Tex.--who is also a covert pot-dealer while on the job--mistakenly sells to an undercover cop. When he gets busted, the dog walker enlists a friend to return each dog to their rightful digs--accidentally mixing up two lovable basset hounds who couldn't be more different in personality and temperament.

Hazel--a friendly, skinny female who likes macaroni and cheese and basks on furniture--belongs to Dr. Tobias Maxwell Sheffington III. Max, in his early 30s, is a bookish professor of neuroscience, working toward tenure at the University of Texas. He's devoted to his widowed father, who cares for his brother, a talented visual artist plagued with limitations from Autism Spectrum Disorder. The other hound, Baxter, an overweight male, belongs to driven 20-something Carly Kennedy, who reluctantly inherits the rescued dog from her sister. Carly--exasperated by her divorced parents and struggling to launch her own PR firm after a layoff--toes a strict disciplinary line with the skittish, sullen Baxter. Setting right the mixed-up hounds brings Max and Carly together in a crafty, opposites-attract love story.


London's first novel in the projected Lucky Dog series is comedic and fast paced. It is filled with an offbeat cast, zany coincidences and romantic moments and mishaps that will leave readers giggling in amusement. 

You Lucky Dog by Julia London

Berkley, $16.00 Paperback, 9780593100387, 328 pages

Publication Date: August 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 (August 28, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Michelle Major: Discovering the Home of the Heart

The Writer’s Life

Michelle Major is the best-selling, RITA award winning author of over 20 contemporary romances. She loves second-chances love stories, smart heroines and strong heroes. A Midwesterner at heart, she's made the Rocky Mountains her home for over 25 years.

I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing (for Shelf Awareness) The Magnolia Sisters, her first book in the series. You can read my review by linking HEREMichelle Major has since published two novellas in the series. The second, full-length novel, The Merriest Magnolia is now available. The story centers on a North Carolina home-town girl who is forced to come to grips with her first love, a real estate developer with designs on remaking the whole town. 


What motivated you to start writing romance novels?

I came to romance later than many avid readers I know. I didn’t pick up my first romance novel until I was 30-years-old (which seems young to me now!). I traveled each week for my job in Human Resources and developed a huge fear of flying. On a whim, I bought a Johanna Lindsey book in an airport bookstore, and the story captivated me so much I forgot to be scared. From there, I had a lot of catching up to do in the genre. The more I read, the more I realized that the stories I’d always told myself in my head were romance plots. I’d worked in journalism and always liked to write, so once I found my passion for romance, it was like coming home.

What’s the inspiration behind your creation of the Magnolia sisters?

There was a period of time where it felt like I was reading a number of similar stories of siblings coming together who didn’t realize they were related. I became fascinated with the idea of the “instant family” and how to navigate those sorts of relationships. One theme that’s an aspect in most of my writing is the idea of the heroine discovering the home of her heart—partially through falling in love, but also as a result of the friendships and connections she develops in the community where a book is set. I had so much fun creating the small town of Magnolia, North Carolina, and working through where each of the sisters fit into that world.

Is there a certain chapter or scene in The Merriest Magnolia that you particularly enjoyed writing?

The scene that was the most emotional for me was just a tiny snippet where the hero, Dylan Scott, is getting pressure from the teenager--for whom he’s become guardian--to adopt a puppy. It’s Thanksgiving, and he’s reluctantly agreed to celebrate the holiday with Carrie Reed, the heroine, and her sisters. Her younger sister, Meredith, runs an animal rescue, but instead of a puppy, Dylan ends up rescuing an older dog that’s been overlooked by potential adopters. I have a couple of rescue dogs and I also foster kittens for a local animal shelter near my home in Colorado so those “perfectly imperfect” fur babies mean a lot to me. And it was a scene that revealed so much about his heart—which he keeps closely guarded—to Carrie and was the start of her falling for him all over again.

Do you have a favorite character from the Magnolia Sisters series?

That’s like picking a favorite child! Each of the Magnolia Sisters’ books is a standalone story, but because it’s also a series, I really enjoy focusing on one couple for each book but then also getting to revisit them throughout other stories. Second chance stories are some of my favorites to write and I always love a holiday romance, so Carrie and Dylan are certainly special to me.

How do you research your novels—or do you?

The details of occupation, weather, and setting are important research. However, emotional motivations play a bigger role in my books, and I typically do a few deep dives on why a character makes the choices he or she does. This isn’t technically “research,” but music is important for me as far as accessing emotions while I write. I do a playlist or choose a few special songs for each story. If I get stuck, I’ll walk the dogs or drive up into the mountains near my house and let the music take me away to that space of feeling.

What was your playlist while writing The Merriest Magnolia?

A couple of songs I listened to on repeat -- “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran and “Come Over” by Sam Hunt.

Will there be a third book in the Magnolia Sisters series?

Yes! After The Merriest Magnolia, there is one more book in the sisters’ trilogy—The Last Carolina Sister will release in March 2021. I’m so excited that I’ll be expanding the world of Magnolia with three more books after these. We are spinning off the series and the new books will be called The Carolina Girls. I hope readers will love getting to spend more time in this world.

Connect with Michelle Major at or on Facebook and Twitter (@michelle_major1).

To Purchase THE MAGNOLIA SISTERS on Amazon link HERE

To Purchase THE MERRIEST MAGNOLIA on Amazon link HERE


The Magnolia Sisters

The first in a heartfelt romance series follows an emotionally wounded city gal as she discovers half-sisters--and a new love--in a small North Carolina town.


Michelle Major (Fortune's Fresh Start) begins a warmhearted series with The Magnolia Sisters. Avery Keller, 30 years old and living in San Francisco, has her life disrupted when she loses her high-powered job in risk analysis and learns the man she loves is already married, with a family. Avery receives another unexpected jolt when she gets word that her birth father, a man whom Avery always believed knew nothing about her existence, has died and left her an inheritance. In order to claim it, Avery sets off for Magnolia, N.C., where she learns about her father, Niall Reed--a once prominent artist and serial philanderer--whose lucrative paintings, in his heyday, captured enough acclaim for him to buy up a lot of property in town.


Avery's revelations don't end there. She learns she has two half-sisters--Magnolia natives who didn't know they shared the same father--who are also beneficiaries of Niall's patrimony. Wise-cracking 29-year-old animal-rescuer Meredith is drawn to fitted T-shirts, cargo pants and boots, while 28-year-old artistic Carrie--the only one of the sisters who was raised by their father--looks and acts like a "perfect Southern belle." The three vastly different women grapple with their new identities, each other and how best to handle Niall's fortune without disrupting the small-town dynamic. Along the way, Avery falls for a handsome, divorced firefighter embroiled in a messy custody battle for his precocious daughter.


A large cast of well-drawn characters and a host of intriguing story threads enlarge the hopeful, heartfelt charm of Major's engrossing new romance series.

The Magnolia Sisters: Book One in the Magnolia Sisters Series by Michelle Major

Harlequin HQN, $7.99 Mass Market Paperback, 9781335013286, 336 pages

Publication Date: March 31, 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 (July 7, 2020), link HERE


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Not Like the Movies


A colorful, upbeat romance about an overburdened, overly self-reliant 30-year-old who gets swept up in unexpected passions. 

Kerry Winfrey's quick-witted romantic comedy focuses on almost-30-year-old Chloe Sanderson, an overburdened bisexual whose life is in chaos. The Columbus, Ohio, native has a long-absent mother and a father with early-onset Alzheimer's who resides at an assisted living facility. Chloe's twin--her ne'er-do-well, charming, gay brother, Milo--ditched the family to pursue his own whims, leaving Chloe to bear all the responsibility for Dad.


Tending to her father, trying to finish up her degree and working at a coffee shop--while cultivating her penchant for baking pies--Chloe is also planning a wedding for her best friend, Annie, who scripted a rom-com loosely based on Chloe and Nick Velez, the handsome owner of the shop where Chloe works. With a trailer for the film released, media and townsfolk start nosing around the café, eager to draw parallels between Chloe and Nick, sizing up their fictionalized romance. The attention, coupled with a host of snags, including Milo's unexpected return to town, draws Chloe closer to the kind, supportive Nick. Is his attention what self-reliant Chloe has been secretly hungering for? Is she willing to surrender her conflicted heart?


Winfrey uncovers layers of her characters' lives and longings, burdens and passions. The cast was first introduced in her novel Waiting for Tom Hanks, but readers don't need to be familiar with that book to appreciate this one. Those who enjoy fast-paced, sparring banter will find much to savor in this sexy story where love may--or may not--conquer all.

Not Like the Movies: A Novel by Kerry Winfrey

Berkley, $16.00 Paperback, 9781984804044, 320 pages

Publication Date: July 7, 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 (July 7, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Bear Necessity


A delightful story about a grieving British father and his young son who refuses to speak and how they learn to communicate with each other through a dancing panda bear.


British-born author James Gould-Bourn bursts onto the U.S. literary scene with a charming, deeply comforting story about a father and son entrenched in grief.


After a car accident claimed the life of Danny Malooley's beloved wife--and mother to their son, Will--father and son grapple with their loss, trying to shore up their shattered world. Matters hit rock bottom when Danny suddenly loses his construction job and cannot pay the bills. But worst of all is the fact that 11-year-old Will has refused to speak to anyone--including his dad--since his mother's death.


Depressed, destitute and desperate, Danny ambles through a park one day and spots street performers entertaining passersby and raking in money. This proves a moment of enlightenment as he decides, on a lark, to join their ranks. Barreling through a host of amusing complications, he secures an old panda bear suit and sets off to earn some money covertly.


Meanwhile, Will struggles with his lingering silence and being taunted by older kids at school. When the boy is bullied in the park one day, a goofy-looking, dancing panda performer unexpectedly comes to his rescue.

Heartfelt themes and wit further elevate charming plot twists and a well-tuned cast of quirky, supporting characters who prove that the spirit of friendship can build bridges to greater understanding and brighter days. Gould-Bourn is a perceptive writer who has crafted a moving, sensitive story that is also very funny. Bear Necessity is a perfect literary antidote to anxious, troubled times.

Bear Necessity: A Novel by Jason Gould Bourn

Scribner, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781982128296, 320 pages

Publication Date: August 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 on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (August 7, 2020), link HERE


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


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Paris is Always a Good Idea


A fun, adventurous story about a 30-something workaholic who takes a sabbatical to rekindle a happier, romance-filled time in her life. 

Prolific author Jenn McKinlay (Buried to the Brim) departs from her long-running series and delivers a fun, feel-good, stand-alone novel that will delight readers. Paris Is Always a Good Idea, a bittersweet story, focuses on a disillusioned woman in her 30s who sets off on an exciting worldwide adventure.


After college, Chelsea Martin goes through seven years of struggle. Her beloved mother dies, and grief-stricken Chelsea buries herself in work, becoming a corporate fund-raising star for a prominent cancer coalition in Boston. When her "buttoned-down" mathematician father, a widower, proposes to a woman he's known for only two weeks, Chelsea suddenly takes stock of her own life, wondering why she isn't happy or in a fulfilling romantic relationship of her own.


Chelsea decides, on a lark, to return to a time in her life when she believed she was happy and carefree--full of love and joy, hope and promise. Taking a much-needed sabbatical from her successful career, she winds her way through Europe to try to recapture the spirit of the woman she once was--retracing a route she traveled after college. She seeks out and revisits old flames, starting in a quaint, small town in Ireland; returning to the glittering lights of romantic Paris; then on to a vineyard tucked into the rolling hills of Tuscany. By reuniting with lovable old beaus in the hope of rekindling romance in each picturesque locale, Chelsea learns much about herself and what she truly wants from life.


Readers will savor the feisty, adventurous journey of McKinlay's self-deprecating protagonist as she re-examines her past in order to chart her future.

Paris is Always a Good Idea: A Novel by Jenn McKinlay

Berkley, $16.00 Paperback, 9780593101353, 352 pages

Publication Date: July 21, 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 (July 24, 2020), link HERE


To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (June 26, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Of Literature and Lattes

How do you pick up the pieces and start again in life? In this gentle romance, a newcomer and a woman, a former local, returning to a Midwestern hometown spark a romance that helps reinvent their lives.

Readers will be eager and charmed to return to Winsome, Ill., where several characters from The Printed Letter Bookshop and a host of new ones richly populate the literary landscape that Katherine Reay (The Austen Escape) presents in Of Literature and Lattes.


Thirty-one-year-old Alyssa Harrison left Winsome on bad terms with her overbearing mother, Janet, a bookstore employee who cheated on Alyssa's dad. For several years, Alyssa worked in Silicon Valley in California at a health-centric start-up that was ultimately deemed fraudulent by the FBI. With her career in shambles and money tight, Alyssa is forced to swallow her pride and return to her childhood home in Winsome to regroup and put the pieces of her life back together. What will it take for Alyssa and her mother, living back under the same roof, to make amends and finally bury the hatchet?


As Alyssa reacclimates to the quaint small town, she frequents the coffee shop and befriends the owner, Jeremy Mitchell, a Seattle transplant who overhauls the shop into a more upscale meeting place the locals resist. Jeremy enlists Alyssa's help to drum up more business and balance the books. Along the way, he battles with his ex-wife, who tries to keep him from his seven-year-old daughter.


A budding relationship between Alyssa and Jeremy--and their quests to overcome their respective challenges--anchors the feel-good, wholesome poignancy of the narrative. Equally appealing secondary characters and storylines bind this redemptive novel's overarching themes: the power of forgiveness, friendship and love.


Of Literature and Lattes: A Novel by Katherine Reay

Thomas Nelson, $16.99 Paperback, 9780785222040, 336 pages

Publication Date: March 10, 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 (May 26, 2020), link HERE