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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Romance (page 1 of 2)

Soup To Nuts by Judith Deborah

What do you do when your best friend marries someone who isn’t you?

Romy Belkin—28, unrepentant English major, a Michelangelo in the kitchen—is the culinary genius behind viral YouTube channel A Dash of Paprika. Its star is the fabulous Pia Zimble, Romy’s dearest friend. But one day, a fan of the show materializes—a man Romy has to admit is perfect for Pia—and sweeps her friend out of their kitchen and into a whole new life.

Bereft but trying not to be, Romy throws herself into navigating her new landscape. But the stakes of her explorations are higher than she thinks. If she’s not careful, Romy could lose herself along the way—as well as the chance to love and be loved by a soulmate of her own.

A witty and warm-hearted comic love story, Soup to Nuts is a novel about deep and enduring friendship, love in its many varieties, and truly spectacular food.

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy!

SOUP TO NUTS is a sweet romantic comedy about Pia and Romy, two besties who work on a food blog together, happily ever after clearly in sight…. until Pia finds the love of her life. Romy needs to learn to live her life without being joined at the hip with Pia.

Told in Romy’s voice, SOUP TO NUTS takes us through Romy’s journey post-Pia. At first, she is in a type of mourning, as she misses Pia and also laments her own lack of male prospects. A friend of hers helps Romy find some blind dates that are fun, but short-lived. No one is clicking for her, and she keeps looking, even though there already is someone in her life that would be perfect for her. Will Romy realize this in time and open her heart, before he finds someone else?

The author hits the perfect blend of romantic and comedy – not too heavy on either side, which is perfect for me. Both Pia and Romy are developed well, and I was able to feel their emotions clearly, whether it was raucous girl fun or a quick flare of anger. The descriptions of Romy’s relatives, especially her mother, are to die for. The author creates the perfect Jewish mother with both love and laughter.

“What on earth are you doing with that silly man?” Ma asked. 

“You mean Chip?” said Romy.

“Chip,” Ma said scornfully. “Chip Scott. Never trust a man with two first names.”

“You’re prejudiced. If his name was Chip Rabinowitz, you’d be calling the caterers.”

At times the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, other times it turns poignant. I truly felt as if I knew the girls well, and thus became invested in their future. Romy is a cook, and so the book is filled with descriptions of food, sumptuous and hunger-inducing. She turns to her kitchen in times of need, so there is a lot of cooking after Pia gets married and moves out. Her recipes are therapeutic, and we get to experience them one ingredient at a time. The author is skilled at creating images while stimulating the senses, and this is part of what makes SOUP TO NUTS so enthralling. There is so much delight in this little book that you must experience it for yourself. You will fall in love with these characters during the short period you are with them. Hurry – you can pick up your copy here.

Rosalind by Judith Deborah

There’s everyone else in the world. And then there is you.

World-class heart surgeon Dr. Peter Sutter runs his life with the instinctive precision of a master of the universe. But when he leaves the operating room, the only living thing waiting for him is a golden retriever. Then a chance encounter with an enigmatic woman changes everything.

Exploring the depths of Rosalind’s intoxicating body and captivating spirit, Peter quickly falls under her spell. Miraculously, the feeling is mutual.  But fate is waiting just around the corner. And it might be carrying a lead pipe.

Rosalind is a sensual, witty, moving story about the joy of real love, the surprise and delight of unexpected passion, and the transcendent power of human connection.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and the author for this ARC!

ROSALIND is a short, sweet story about emotions and life. The relationship between the main characters is heady and absorbing without being overly saccharine. I enjoyed reading about Peter and Rosalind so much that the ending really shocked me and made me think what I would do if I were in that position. The way the author presented the twist made it so much more anguishing than if she had done a great deal of foreshadowing. The book is so short that there isn’t much room for a lengthy buildup, but that is one of the more endearing qualities of ROSALIND.

The only fault I found with the book, necessary though it was to keep the plot captivating, was the fact that both Peter and Rosalind were two gorgeous, rich people with no care in the world. There were never any money issues, or instances of self-doubt (save in the beginning when Peter looks at himself with a critical eye as Rosalind goes off to the gym). The perfection was almost too perfect. However, perhaps that is what the author intended, to make the ending hit harder. If the characters had other struggles in their life, I may have thought the plot twist was par for the course. However, this could be a way of saying that despite money and looks, you never know what life is going to throw at you.

ROSALIND is a quick read with likeable characters and a thought-provoking ending. You can get your copy here.

 

Guest Post by author Hal Levey (Under The Pong Pong Tree)

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“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. . . .The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.” -Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore. . .The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.” -Blue Ink Starred Review

Love and the brutality of war are woven together in a beautiful, heart-wrenching tapestry in Under the Pong Pong Tree.

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for helping me create this guest post! UNDER THE PONG PONG TREE is a wonderful, character-driven novel about love and war. Here, author Hal Levey tells us how everything came to be:

 

Under the Pong Pong Tree was incubated long ago during a year spent as China Medical Board Visiting Professor on the medical faculty of the National University of Singapore. The eponymous pong pong tree of Southeast Asia also is called the suicide tree. It is intended as a metaphor for the cruelty suffered by the Chinese residents of Singapore under the heel of the Japanese during World War II. I kept a journal that became a background resourceI also met many colleagues who suffered under Japanese brutality. Nevertheless, the year in Singapore was an exhilarating experience. I did a certain amount of recreational jungle bashing upcountry in Malaysia, and befriended the RAF contingent at the Seletar Air Base in Singapore. I became close friends with Squadron Leader Darrol Stinton, MBE, and joined him and the RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua Club on an expedition to Pulau Perhentian (Perhentian Island) in the South China Sea. The purpose was to develop sea rescue capabilities for airmen lost at sea. The job previously was done by the Royal Navy, but, for some reason, they terminated such operations and the RAF was obliged to create their own system.

The airmen made me Honorary Member No. 1 of the club, but harbored the faint suspicion that I was a CIA plant. Darrol died in 2012 from a hospital-borne infection at a military hospital in London. He was there for surgical replacement of titanium rods that supported his spine, stress-fractured from his years as a test pilot for the RAF. I brought him back to life in my book as Squadron Leader Darrol Stanton. I also borrowed Chinese and Malay names of individuals I had met as characters in my book.  I did this to avoid inventing ethnic names that might inadvertently have had a lewd context.

The novel started to come to life when I spent a summer month in the Caribbean, lecturing to pre-med students at St. Georges University on the island of Granada. This was a pleasant diversion, and St. Georges relied on visiting faculty, mainly from Australia, India, and the USA. Part of my stipend was a room at a first-class hotel perched on a glittering white sandy beach. I delivered lectures in the morning, and spent the afternoons sipping rum punch at a tiki bar next to the hotel. Sitting on a bar stool with time on my hands, I started to scribble an outline in pencil on a yellow legal pad. I started with the setting and then populated it with my characters. Eventually they wrote their own stories and I merely transcribed them. After much picking up and putting down of the manuscript over several years, it ultimately emerged as Under the Pong Pong TreeThe first draft ran to about 185,000 words, but I chopped it down to 78,000 words in the final version.

It is a gripping story that also bears elements of a cautionary tale. In the book, the Japanese are portrayed as brutal and pitiless in their treatment of the Chinese residents of Singapore. They executed thousands and practiced decapitation almost as an art form. Today we view the Japanese as a tidy little people, hard-working, and steeped in their quaint cultural traditions. The other naughty nation, Germany, has emerged from the horrors of Nazism to become an economic powerhouse. One might wonder what the future holds for brutal regimes of the present day?

I am unaware of literary influences that have helped me along the way – although there must be some. I tend to write from the omniscient viewpoint, with little interest in the machine-gun conversational style of the contemporary best-seller. Nor do I have an affinity for the current obsession with zombies or mutated mosquitoes the size of Greyhound busses. I lost interest in fairy tales when I was about eight years old. Although, now that I think about it, I have toyed with the idea of writing a story about a hemophobic vampire. If I have a favorite author, it might be Archy, the poet reincarnated as a large cockroach, who held frequent conversations with Mehitabel, a morally ambiguous cat who claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Mehitabel maintained her zest for life, proclaiming “there’s a dance or two in the old dame yet.” Archy typed messages to his boss, Don Marquis, by diving headfirst onto the keys. The messages understandably all were in lower case and lacked apostrophes. That did not disturb the editors of the New York Sun, who were happy to publish Archy’s messages in their daily edition.

As to the future: I might follow up with a prequel to Under the Pong Pong Treebut only if a readership emerges from the underbrush. Otherwise, I shall move in another direction – yet to be determined.

I am currently involved in the puzzling procedure called marketing. I won’t bore you with the details, but, if you write a book, you want it read. Of course, I also might call your attention to Boswell’s quote from Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Undiscovered authors are advised to refrain from such flippancies until THEY beg you to sign a major contract. Until then, we must be content to write because we are unable to not write.

 

Here are excerpts of excellent reviews of my book, by Clarion and Blue Ink:

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. …The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.”
—Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore….The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.”
—Blue Ink Starred Review

 

 

Heart Conditions by Phoebe Fox

heart condtions

Running a massively successful relationship counseling practice should guarantee smooth sailing in a girl’s own love life…

Breakup Doctor Brook Ogden has spent the last year sifting through the fallout from the disastrous decision that led to her unconscious uncoupling with boyfriend Ben Garrett. Despite advising her clients you can’t be friends with an ex, she and Ben have somehow begun to stitch together a friendship—one Brook hopes is slowly turning into more. That is, until Ben introduces his new girlfriend, Perfect Pamela, a paragon of womanly virtues who is everything Brook is not.

While Brook navigates her newly volatile emotional life, an unwelcome surprise shows up on her doorstep: the ex-fiancé who broke her heart two years ago—one month before their wedding. Between her ex’s desire to rekindle their attachment, her best friend Sasha’s unexpected crisis, and her own unsquelchable feelings for Ben, Brook finds herself questioning the personal progress she’s made in the last two years—and threatened with the highest-stakes Breakup Doctor failures she’s ever faced.

Thanks to the author, Henery Press and NetGalley for offering me this review copy!

HEART CONDITIONS is the 3rd book in the Breakup Doctor series. Each book can be read as a standalone or in order, so I had no trepidation about reading this one as a single.

The Breakup Doctor is a relationship therapist who is having a hard time taking her own advice when it comes to her ex boyfriends. She still has feelings for one, and the other, who broke her heart, still has feelings for her. So there is a very tame triangle going on here, which should delight chick lit lovers everywhere.

In fact, this book is like a “how to” of chick lit: there is a strong yet vulnerable heroine, plus darkly handsome (and sometimes reticent) ex boyfriends, a best friend with a personal crisis, and drama on the job front. So many things to resolve before the book ends, plus gorgeous descriptions of clothing, clubs, and restaurants!

Brook is a likeable character, quick to solve other’s problems but totally unsure what to do with her personal life. She learns a startling truth about herself in the latter half of the book, thereby creating an explanation for some of her strange antics, such as bringing her pregnant friend to a BDSM club simply to get the pregnant one “more comfortable” dealing with babies. (The club caters to all sorts of BDSM situations, and there were people whose fetish was dressing up as a baby – diaper and all.) There is no explicit sex in the book, which was enjoyable. Some writers feel they have to insert a sex scene here and there to offset the saccharine romance, but if the romance is done right, as in HEART CONDITIONS, you don’t need sweaty gropes and moans.

The romantic tension was spot on, as Brook struggled to cope with her ex and his new girlfriend, who has looks, brains, and poise. Her internal monologues described exactly what every woman has gone through when encountering a still-fresh wound. Brook’s problems are real and eminently solvable, yet the answers don’t come easy. She must do some soul searching to discover what she wants, and most importantly, why.

This book was a pleasant and sometimes funny read. The chemistry between Brook and Sasha was authentic, even if Brook was occasionally not on the same page as her BFF. Almost all the problems were solved by the end of the book, plus new things are on the horizon for our Breakup Doctor that should prove to be interesting. Fans of author Phoebe Fox will be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B017WNIUI6″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Next Stop: Nina by Robin Raven

nextx stop nina

Nina never was one who felt comfortable in this world. As she struggles to cope with the pain of her present and past, the young girl’s life is changed through the beauty of art. When Nina grows up and winds up in over her head in a dark place, she finds herself somehow transported to another time when nothing is quite what it seems. She must fight the horrors of her past all over again. Along the way, she faces greater challenges than she imagined. This is a character-driven novel with a heroine who faces life, love, and overcoming suicidal depression on her own terms.

 

Many thanks to the author for providing me with this review copy!

NEXT STOP: NINA is a book that will touch your emotions and send you into high and low places. I cringed when I read about Nina’s childhood and how innocent she was, always trying to forgive her abusive father. She feels she is never good enough, pretty enough, or strong enough to continue living, and considers suicide.

As she prepares to leave this world forever, something happens, and she finds herself back at home, talking to her beloved brother. Nina’s mental age and her physical age and appearance are very different. Has she gone back in time? Is this a hallucination or a dream?

The story continues with Nina trying to change the events of her past (and more depressing details about her life are revealed). She realizes that some events are always meant to be, and while this is heart wrenching to her, she understands she can grow and become a better person. She turns to philanthropic gestures, trying to help others by volunteering her time and seeing the light within herself grow.

Her first sense of true happiness occurs when she befriends a girl in school that no one ever talked to, in her “past life”. They become best friends and share many years together, bringing Nina more happiness and confidence.

One of Nina’s lifelong dreams was to meet an artist  whose painting made an impact on her during her darkest times. To her endless surprise, once she finally does meet him at an event, they hit it off and eventually fall in love. She self-sabotages the relationship and they break up. At this point I became frustrated with Nina, because her lack of confidence and poor communication was really the issue.

All of a sudden, we find Nina as a young girl again, realizing she has to live her life over yet again, experiencing all the tragedy and loss. Her interactions with others are different and things don’t go as they did during her first reincarnation. As she repeats things she develops a kind of Groundhog Day attitude towards herself, learning to accept things, and learning to change for the better.

Her interaction with Leonard (the artist) develops again in a slightly different way; and we can see the shift in each of the characters as more layers are added to the story. This is the main takeaway of NEXT STOP: NINA — growth and acceptance. Nina still shows lack of communication skills at times, which I suppose was integral in showing just how deeply depressed her character was; but the scenes where all was good between Nina and Leonard were tender and sweet.

As I mulled over the story I wondered if the “back in time” was really just a hallucination or something more sci-fi. There is a sort of explanation towards the 75% mark, but it is vague and unsatisfying, coming from a mostly undeveloped character that seems to be out of place.  I wasn’t sure what to do with that part of the story, and eventually I shrugged and kept on reading to see how the latest incarnation of Nina and Len would turn out.

It is easy for the reader to feel the heartbreak of Nina’s world; as author Robin Raven illustrates that beautifully. Reading about the tragedy in her life the first time was awful, and reading about it again, even though you knew how it would turn out, was no less horrifying the second or third time.

This was a book with an unusual premise and a positive message. Read it for yourself to discover if love truly saves the day for Nina. You can get your own copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0692406298″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Q&A with Lisa Becker, author of Clutch

clutch cover final

 

Clutch is the laugh-out-loud, chick lit story that chronicles the dating misadventures of Caroline Johnson, a single purse designer, who goes through a series of unsuccessful romantic relationships she compares to various styles of handbags – the “Hobo” starving artist, the “Diaper Bag” single dad, the “Briefcase” intense businessman, etc.  With her best friend, bar owner Mike by her side, the overly-accommodating Caroline drinks Chardonnay, puts her heart on the line, endures her share of unworthy suitors and finds the courage to stand up for the handbag style that embodies what she ultimately wants – the “Clutch” or someone to hold onto.

 

We are proud to present this Q&A with author Lisa Becker. The idea of “men as handbags” is a really funny and unique one, and I’m sure we can all identify with it one way or another! Enjoy this post, then go out and buy her book – click [easyazon_link identifier=”0692489894″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link] to purchase it.

 

1) Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m fortunate to have had a series of wonderful careers outside of writing including being a wife, mom, PR professional, college professor and community volunteer.   CLUTCH: A NOVEL is my 4th book.  The book actually started out as a screenplay that was optioned by a production company housed at one of the major movie studios summer 2014.  Unfortunately, it fell out of development.  I was eager to have this fun story with some of my favorite characters told, so I turned it into a short novel earlier this year.

 

2) What inspired you to write CLUTCH?

When I was writing the Click Trilogy, (Click: An Online Love StoryDouble ClickRight Click) I was obsessed with NCIS reruns and would have the show on in the background as I wrote.  There was an episode when one of the characters mentioned that men were like purses – something useless to hang on a woman’s arm.  I started thinking about how men are like handbags and the idea grew from there.

3) What advice do you have for women in search of their clutch?

In the modern classic film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” Tim Robbins’ character, Andy Dufresne, says to Morgan Freeman’s Red, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”  That quote comes to mind when I think about searching for the clutch.  If you feel like it’s not going to happen, then just give up.  You heard me.  GIVE UP!   Just surrender to that notion that you’ll end up alone.  If that is truly the case, do you want to spend the next 30, 40 or even 50+ years wallowing in misery?  Sitting around and lamenting your singleness?  Or are you going to get busy living?  Buy your own home!  Travel to all of the places you want to visit!  Adopt a child!  Write that novel!  Engage in hobbies and activities that bring you joy!

Chances are, when you start focusing on what will make you happy – not who will make you happy – you WILL be happy.  Happiness is evident and infectious.  Happiness makes you more interesting and more attractive to someone else.  And when that happens, you are more likely to meet the right person who is going to complement the amazing life you’ve created for yourself.

 

4) What are your plans for the future?

In addition to promoting the new book, I’m looking into making connections within the motion picture industry to try and get a movie version made.  I’m eager to see if there’s interest from someone else on bringing this fun and quirky story to the big screen.  So if you happen to be a well-to-do movie producer looking to make a new romantic comedy, please get in touch!

 

5) How can readers connect with you?

lisa becker

 

Lisa’s Books: Click: An Online Love StoryDouble ClickRight Click and clutch: a novel

Find Lisa: Facebook | Twitter  | Pinterest  | Web  | YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

The Poet’s Secret – Q&A with author Kenneth Zak

Book Cover_High Res

Elia Aloundra, a young lit student, sees a reclusive poet, Cameron Beck, recite a poem at a campus pub before he vanishes. Ten years earlier, Beck had published a popular collection of ninety-nine odes to one anonymous muse before dropping from the public eye, leaving behind a decade of speculation over his disappearance and the identity of the muse. Elia always found sanctuary within the pages of great books and raised Beck’s work into that pantheon, memorizing every verse by heart.

But her love life pales in comparison to the great romances of literature, and she sets off in search of Beck hoping to finally leap from the page and unveil the secret to love incarnate. What she doesn’t know is that as her quest begins, Beck is perched atop a cliff on a remote Caribbean island and about to attempt suicide. Decades earlier a Spanish shipwreck entombing mystical Aztec relics was found off that same island.  Elia must win her way through Beck’s protective circle: Isabella, a robust island matriarch with heavy voodoo juju, Paco, a local fisherman and cantina owner, and Fatty, a burnt out, transplanted New Orleans crawdad of a doc. What Elia cannot fathom is that Beck’s secret will change both their lives forever.

This fascinating Q&A was brought to you by Kenneth Zak and PR By The Book!

Watch the book trailer here:

What inspired you to write The Poet’s Secret?

At the time I wrote The Poet’s Secret, I was on a personal pilgrimage. I essentially took a three­year sabbatical, sort of an adult “time out,” and embarked on a new path. I dedicated myself to explore the meaning of life and love and particularly the arc of passion. I became consumed by the idea of living in the present, honoring the “now” as the only real moment in time, the only authentic eternity, which allowed me to both disconnect and connect like never before and let go of the constructs of past and future as fictions created by the mind. I gained a new appreciation for relatively brief moments and encounters as having potentially profound effects. I was living abroad, reading, writing, surfing and slowing down my existence.

The tale that became The Poet’s Secret was conceived in a hovel perched atop a one­table taverna in the hillside village of Avdou, just a scooter ride from the blue waters of the Aegean Sea on the island of Crete. I was sequestered alone, halfway around the world from my home, and recovering from a life, and a relationship, that had left me hollow, or at least I thought at the time. But it turned out words kept flowing out of me, first in raw, chunky verse that faintly resembled poetry and then in images and scenes that bore an even fainter resemblance to a novel. For months I wrote, swam in healing waters and disappeared into this remote, antiquated Greek village. I had never done anything like that before, but at the time it was the only existence that made any sense.

So many miracles happened during those months. I experienced a cleansing, a healing and an awakening, and I began to perceive light and water and imagery and words and the souls around me like never before. I eventually returned to California, and then traveled to Bali, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia and South America, following the sea and surf with laptop in hand and continuing to write. The backstory to writing The Poet’s Secret is a story in itself.

How did you select the locations for the novel?

It was tempting to set the bulk of the novel in Greece, a country I adore. However, as the story evolved the compass for the island setting spun toward the West Indies, and the story’s life raft washed ashore on the fictional island of Mataki. I was fortunate to spend a good part of my sabbatical on tropical islands and coastal villages that certainly informed the setting. As for the early campus setting, I based it on a fictionalized version of my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University.

What was your particular process in terms of plot, outlining and character?

I essentially began the novel with two scenes that were haunting me. First, I had a reclusive poet on a remote island cliff about to attempt suicide. Second, I had a bookish young woman captured within the confines of the great romances of literature. I really had no idea about their connection, if any, but those two images would not let go of me. As I began to write, the concept of the woman yearning for what nearly kills the poet began to take hold.

The process was fairly organic. I let the characters breathe and lead me into the story. I wasn’t even sure whose story it was until shortly after the first draft. Once the closing scene appeared to me I realized that it was really Elia’s story. I then just had to navigate getting there. While I did not develop any formal outline, I downloaded scenes as they appeared, stockpiled them and later wove them in when they seemed to make sense. It was a bit like swimming across a sea, not sure which direction land might be but hoping that if I kept going I would eventually find my way.

Stumbling, a bit blindly, through this creative process was both exasperating and exhilarating. As I was working on revisions, I attended several writers’ conferences that stressed the necessity of thorough plotting, which made me feel a tad vulnerable. I later read an interview about Michael Ondaatje’s process in writing The English Patient and realized I was in good company.

The novel is filled with excerpts of poetry, which came first, the poetry or the narrative arc?

Most of the poetry was written before any narrative took form. The poetry came in often painful and soul­ searching flourishes, and then was revised over time. There is a line in The Poet’s Secret where Dean Baltutis refers to the poet’s inspiration being “survival.” That is precisely how it felt at times. I also wanted to combine both poetry and prose into one novel and attempt to slow down the reader a bit at the beginning of each chapter to contemplate and absorb the poetry, to be in that moment so to speak, before continuing on the narrative journey.

What in particular surprised you about the process of writing The Poet’s Secret?

I didn’t want to force plot twists or preconceived outcomes. I let the characters find the story. I let go of expectations and trusted the story to evolve. Tapping into this creative process was freeing, exhilarating and challenging, sort of like jumping off a cliff into the sea for the first time. I had never done anything quite like it, but this particular process for me felt authentic. I certainly was surprised how well the early drafts of the poetry and manuscript were received, which bolstered my confidence to pursue the project through publication.

Water imagery is abundant throughout the novel, what is the particular connection for you with water and particularly with respect to this novel?

I was thrown onto a swim team at age 8 even before I passed beginners swim lessons (I was terrible at the back float). But water soon became my life and in many ways my salvation. Throughout my youth I swam, played water polo, lifeguarded and hung around Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. Somehow, I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 18. But I recall climbing out of the backseat of a Datsun 210 hatchback (or what they claimed to be a backseat) after driving for 22 hours to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and telling my college buddies to just pick me up in a few hours. I was mesmerized. I sprinted into the Atlantic Ocean and swam and bodysurfed until dark. Today, I surf or swim almost every day. I feel like I am about eighty percent water, the remaining twenty percent made up mostly of curiosity and mischief.

Much of the water in the universe is said to be a byproduct of star formation. I’m no scientist, but I like the way that sounds. Because when I look up at the night stars it feels a lot like gazing west an hour before the sun dips into the sea, at least at my secret little spot by the water. Flickering diamonds scatter everywhere along the surface, and if I squint just right, I forget the sea is even there. Instead, it looks like a galaxy of stars shimmering right into me, washing across my heart, reflecting off my smile and filling me with the belief that I can just float away into the universe. So I often do.

Spiritually, water often represents purification and healing. To me, water represents so many things, perhaps most importantly love and life and the sacred feminine. I once nearly died underwater while surfing in Uluwatu, a place few have ever heard of and even fewer have visited. But I know on so many occasions water has saved me, water has healed me, and water has reset my compass when I have been spinning in some uncontrollable vortex. So for me, my life and my love seem to be tied to returning to the great aquatic source, again and again, maybe just to fill the chasm that still exists in me, and maybe to some degree still exists in all of us.

I have been fortunate to swim with sea turtles and dolphins in the wild on many occasions. When I stare into the eyes of a sea turtle or a dolphin I cannot help but believe that they understand this great aquatic connection, a connection beyond humanity, beyond species, beyond even the stars. So when I am writing about passion, heartbreak, healing, life and love, it is only natural for me to write in a particularly aquatic language and style.

Where is your favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is on that squeaky metal spring cot in that hovel above Mihalis’ taverna in Avdou, Crete. After that, any place as long as I have my noise cancellation headphones. I’ve written and revised all over from kitchen tables to airplanes.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing over thirty years now in one form or another. I wrote a bit of poetry in high school and then did a bunch of required writing in my legal profession. It was sometime after law school that I penned my first novel (unpublished), and then about ten years ago when the idea for The Poet’s Secret first took flight. I also have some published short fiction and poetry.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Paulo Coehlo, Milan Kundera, John Steinbeck, Michael Ondaatje, Jorge Luis Borges, Rumi, A.S. Byatt, Carl Safina, Tom Spanbauer and so many more.

How did those authors influence your work?

My favorite authors inspire, entertain, challenge and provoke me. I don’t try to write or emulate any particular style. But when I read the opening of Cannery Row time stops.

How did you become affiliated with the Romance Writers of America?

Someone recommended I send an early draft of The Poet’s Secret to the RWA. While The Poet’s Secret is by no means a traditional genre romance, it was selected an RWA Golden Heart Finalist in romantic suspense. I was the only male nominated that year (attending the national conference and award ceremony is another story altogether). When my face went up on the Jumbotron in front of thousands of mostly female authors at the award ceremony it was a bit unnerving. Writing anything can be fraught with self­doubt. The RWA could not have been more welcoming and supportive and certainly gave me a bolt of confidence to continue writing and revising, as did the nominee class from that year, the appropriately named Unsinkables.

How did your professional career as an attorney influence your writing and how do you balance the two careers?

I think practicing law actually spurred my interest in creative writing. While I was in private practice, I felt constrained by the form restrictions requisite within the legal profession. I also felt a lot of legal writing often served more to obfuscate than illuminate and writing poetry and fiction allowed me the freedom to explore and express myself in a different medium. The Poet’s Secret is not “another lawyer’s courtroom thriller” in any respect, nor am I particularly drawn to that genre since I’ve lived it. Nonetheless, my legal career (now as General Counsel for a large private brokerage company) is both fascinating and challenging. I draw some inspiration from the poet Wallace Stevens who for years continued his vibrant writing career while an executive for an insurance company. As far as balance goes, my evenings and weekends are spent around the keyboard as much as possible.

Tell us about your involvement with 1% for the Planet and The Surfrider Foundation.

Perhaps only a poet would give away money before it is even earned, but that is what I felt compelled to do given my love of the ocean and conservation causes. In addition to ocean swimming, free diving and water polo, I have been an avid surfer for nearly two decades and have surfed around the world. Subtle conservation themes are laced through The Poet’s Secret, but my love of the ocean and our planet is anything but subtle. I hope to leave this world and particularly our oceans better than I found them. Penju Publishing’s membership with 1% For the Planet and my pledged donations to The Surfrider Foundation are an effort to spread awareness, give back and pay it forward.

BLOG TOUR! Resist by Tracy Lawson with Q&A

 

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When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

After their plan to rescue a group of dissenters imprisoned by the OCSD spins out of control, Tommy and Careen are on the run, dodging the quadrant marshals in a headlong dash for the remote mountain headquarters of the Resistance. Their budding relationship is tested when an attempt to spark a revolution goes awry, and the pair move toward an inevitable confrontation with the forces that terrorize the nation.

Will their differing viewpoints drive a wedge between them? And where does love fit in when you’re trying to overthrow the government?

 

I’m happy to be part of the official blog tour for RESIST! Tracy Lawson scored a hit with her first book in the Resistance Series, and the much awaited Book 2 just came out August 4th. Here is an exclusive Q&A with the author:

  1. Can you give us a brief summary of your first two books?

QUICK SUMMARY OF COUNTERACT:

The Resistance Series takes place in a near-future version of the United States. The powerful Office of Civilian Safety and Defense has enacted a long list of Civilian Restrictions designed to keep the people safe from frequent terrorist attacks, but it hasn’t worked: as the story opens, the threat of a chemical weapons attack is literally hanging over everyone’s heads.

Careen takes the OCSD’s offered antidote, but the side effects cause her to hallucinate. Her erratic behavior attracts the attention of a young law enforcement officer, who mistakenly pegs her as a dissident. Careen doesn’t realize the antidote is causing her confusion…until she runs out on the day of the anticipated attack.

Tommy, recuperating from injuries sustained in a recent auto accident, is unaware that there’s a link between that accident, which killed his parents, and the chemical weapons attack that threatens him now. When he discovers that working out before he takes his dose of the antidote helps him feel more like himself, he defies the rules to regain his strength and his sanity. On the day of the attack, he meets Careen, who just might be the girl of his dreams, and tries to save her by sharing his last dose of the antidote, even though doing so could potentially hasten his own death.

What Careen and Tommy learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action; their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government.

QUICK SUMMARY OF RESIST:

In Resist, the second volume in the Resistance Series, Tommy and Careen are no longer naïve, frightened teenagers who believe the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense can protect them from terrorist attacks. They’ve discovered the OCSD’s miracle antidote’s true purpose: to create a population bereft of free will, incapable of defying the tyrannical OCSD. They join the Resistance, but on their first mission, things spin out of control and soon they’re on the run, dodging the quadrant marshals in a headlong dash for the Resistance’s secret headquarters.

Being part of the Resistance presents them with new challenges. Not everyone working for change will prove trustworthy, and plans to spark revolution go awry with consequences greater than they could’ve imagined. Tommy and Careen’s relationship is tested when their philosophical differences and the pressures of interpersonal rivalries and jealousy put a strain on their romance. Can they make time for each other while trying to start a revolution?

 

  1. What was the inspiration behind The Resistance Series?

I was mentoring a friend of my daughter’s when the initial idea for Counteract came about. Chase is a pretty sharp guy and an excellent writer—and when he was in high school I had a lot of fun working with him and editing some of his short stories. We had finished working on a story about baseball, a broken nose, and a broken heart, and were ready to start something new, when he suggested we write scenes in response to the prompt: “What if everyone were on LSD and all thoughts were communal?” It was certainly thought provoking! Chase created the characters Tommy and Eduardo, I created Careen, and right away, we knew we were onto something. Obviously, the story morphed and changed a lot before it became the finished version of Counteract—but that was how it all began.

 

  1. Did you always plan to write another book in the series?

I let my husband read the first draft of Counteract when I was about a third of the way through the original outline. He was enthusiastic and supportive and suggested developing a story line that could be carried forward if I chose to make Counteract the first in a series.

I liked the idea of doing more than one book about Tommy and Careen, and as I wrote the rest of the first draft, I pinpointed elements of the story I’d need to develop and expand to pave the way for a series.

 

  1. How do the characters of Tommy and Careen develop in Resist?

Tommy and Careen are law-abiding citizens until they accidentally discover that the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense lied about the terrorist attack and why it mandated the use of the Counteractive System of Defense drug. They go from being accepting and compliant to impulsively joining a rebel group that’s working to overthrow the oppressive government agency, without having a chance to think about what they’re doing and why.

They’ve only known each other for a week, and their relationship has progressed far too quickly—they became a team, then a couple, without really getting to know each other, and soon they realize they don’t have much in common.

Tommy’s all for the physical aspects of revolution, and is eager to learn about guns and explosives. Careen finds kindred spirits among the older leaders of the group, who are committed to sway the public’s allegiance away from the OCSD by waging a war of information. Her pacifistic approach clashes with his need to prove himself on the field of battle, and further complicates their partnership.

 

  1. What do you enjoy about this series that cannot be found in any of your other books?

The Resistance Series is my first published fiction. My other book, Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More, is based on a journal kept by my great-great-great grandfather during his family’s 1838 horse and wagon trip from Cincinnati to New York City.

I did a ton of research before writing that book, and amassed two filing cabinet drawers full of information related to the 22-page journal! During the publication process, I nearly went crazy double-checking all my facts and citations, and by the time the book went to print, I never wanted to see another footnote. Fiction? Yes, please!

Now that I’ve had a little break from footnotes, I’m enjoying writing another nonfiction history book. I’m planning to merge my two favorite genres and write some YA historical fiction sometime after I finish the Resistance Series.

 

  1. The main characters in The Resistance Series are Tommy and Careen. Where did you find your inspiration for them?

My characters are a little bit of me, and little bits of people around me, but as I spend time with them in the context of the story, they become less like people in the real world; I don’t stop developing them until they are individuals: unique and unlike anyone else.

Chase created Tommy, and at first I wasn’t as close to him as I was Careen. That changed as I wrote more scenes for Tommy—especially the scene when he and Careen meet. His reactions and his choices came from inside me; before long, he was unique and independent of any outside influence.

 

  1. How does the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD) differ from other dystopian governments in young adult series like The Hunger Games and Divergent?

In the Resistance Series, there has been no rebellion, no cataclysmic event. The dystopian world in which they live has been created by fear, engineered by an enemy masquerading as a protector.
The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense was created to protect against the rampant terrorism that has affected the nation for the better part of the twenty-first century. Little by little, the OCSD usurped power from the traditional three branches of the US government.

The OCSD’s long list of Civilian Restrictions was designed to maximize safety and security. Most people don’t consider themselves oppressed or fettered by their lack of freedom. Teenagers like Tommy and Careen don’t know things were ever different. They can’t remember a time when teenagers learned how to drive and went on dates to malls and movie theaters.

 

  1. What elements test the relationship between Tommy and Careen in Resist?

Tommy and Careen had only each other to rely on in Counteract, and their relationship progressed quickly—perhaps a little too quickly.

Now they’ve joined the Resistance, and they’re part of a community for the first time. They have a hard time adjusting to the constant scrutiny, and Tommy laments about how their relationship seemed a lot less complicated when they were alone.

Their philosophical differences about how to fight the OCSD drive a wedge between them, and interpersonal rivalries and jealousy test their budding relationship.

 

  1. What do you hope readers take away from this book?

First and foremost, I want readers enjoy the story! I hope they relate to Tommy and Careen, and look forward to reading the next installment in the series.

Books for young adults often reflect the reader’s need to question authority and rebel against the rules set down by older generations; the Resistance Series looks at what can happen when people surrender our civil liberties in exchange for the promise of safety and security.

I hope readers understand that protagonists in dystopian books are often branded as outcasts or rebels because they question the restrictive rules of their societies—and that individuals who change the world rarely do so by going along with the herd.

 

  1. What kind of research did you do for the series?

Please don’t call the police if you see what’s in my browser history! I’ve Googled the effects of various controlled substances, different types of explosives, and interrogation techniques.

I learned to shoot a handgun so that my characters’ first experiences with weapons would be authentic. At first it was scary, but now I enjoy going to the target range. I’m no Annie Oakley yet, but I’m at least as good as Scarlett O’Hara, who once saucily told Rhett Butler, “I can shoot straight, if I don’t have to shoot too far.”

 

  1. What made you want to write books for young readers?

I love reading YA, and I taught dance classes for twenty years before I got serious about writing. I spent a lot of time around my students, my daughter, and her friends, so it seemed natural to write for a teen audience.

 

  1. How long did it take you to write Resist?

I wrote Resist in a little over a year. It went a lot faster than Counteract (which took almost three years) because I knew the characters well and had planned ways to continue the story into the second book.

 

  1. Do you have any interesting writing quirks?

I like to write with pen and paper—preferably outside. I sit quietly until one of the characters starts to speak, and then I write down what they say. Some days I’ll scribble for pages and pages, and when I look at the clock I’ll be surprised how much time has flown by! I usually let those pages sit for at least a few hours, sometimes a few days, before I transcribe them into the computer, and that’s where the scenes really begin to take shape.

As far as writing snacks go, I’m partial to sunflower seeds and Diet Dr Pepper!

 

  1. What does your family think of your writing?

My family has been very supportive. My husband knows how to urge me on when I get discouraged, and my daughter says I’m a better choreographer now that I’ve become an author. I guess writing helped me refine how to advance a story through dance.

I haven’t shared much about what happens in Resist with my family. My five teenaged nieces can’t wait to read it, and I can’t wait to hear what they think!

 

  1. Tell us where we can find your book and more information about you.

My books are available on Amazon.com (click [easyazon_link identifier=”B00Y7848C2″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link]) in paperback and Kindle, and on Barnes & Noble’s online store. If you live near Columbus, Ohio, you can buy signed copies of my books at three independent stores: The Book Loft of German Village, Mary B’s, and Urban Emporium.

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You can get the behind-the-scenes scoop on all things Resistance Series, see book trailers, and check out my blog at http://counteractbook.com. You can also find me on Twitter @TracySLawson and on Instagram as TracyLawsonAuthor.

 

 

 

 

Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran

 

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Scent of Triumph is the story of Danielle Bretancourt, a talented young French perfumer with a flair for fashion and a natural olfactory gift. In the language of perfumery, she is a Nose, with the rare ability to recognize thousands of essences by memory. The story opens on the day England declares war on Germany, and Danielle and her family are caught in the midst of a raging disaster sweeping across Europe.

Her life takes a tragic turn when her husband and son are lost behind enemy lines. She spies for the French resistance, determined to find them, but is forced to flee Europe with fragments of her family. Destitute, she mines her talents to create a magnificent perfume that captures the hearts of Hollywood’s top stars, then gambles again to win wealth and success as a couturier. Her intelligence and flair attracts the adoration of Jonathan Newell-Grey, of England’s top shipping conglomerate, and Cameron Murphy, Hollywood’s most charismatic star.

Danielle charts her course through devastating wartime losses and revenge; lustful lovers and loveless marriages; and valiant struggles to reunite her family. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, here is one woman’s story of courage, spirit, and resilience.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for providing this advance reader’s copy  in exchange for a review!

I have read other novels by Jan Moran (see my reviews on Flawless and Beauty Mark), but this by far is her most enthralling and multi layered work. The character development is deeper, the settings lusher, and the sweeping triumphs and tragedies make this book almost larger than life. Moran’s talent as a writer shows on every page and in each subplot. Moreover, her love and knowledge of perfume and its creation shines throughout SCENT OF TRIUMPH.  Scenes are not only described, but experienced with olfactory details: we smell the scent of Jon’s cologne, we breathe in the odor of sweat and salt air as Danielle travels on a crowded ship, and we become aware of not only the squalid appearance of a tenement–we live it as the food odors permate our consciousness.

Another plus is that Moran, as always, gives us a strong female presence. Danielle is master of her own destiny, always pushing forward, seeking the best life for her family first. Her natural ability to manipulate scent and create perfume helps her in her personal and financial growth; and perfume vials serve as weapons, messengers, and signs of hope for Danielle and her relatives. Moran’s treatment of the injustices of WWII are descriptive and hit hard–keep tissues close at hand, for this is not a soporific romance with a little history thrown in. SCENT pulls no punches as the character of Danielle experiences hardship and struggle.

I found it easy to identify with Danielle’s drive; her ambition flows naturally and she is not overbearing. Rather, she is painted as a woman of class and character, determined to make her way in the world. As the plot shifts, there is suspense in the form of missed opportunities. The author knows her audience and creates roadblocks for her characters accordingly.

Finally, this novel is unique due to the author’s affinity for perfume. Each chapter begins with a quote from the fictional Danielle that resonates with the action to follow; and also gives the reader some insight on what goes into creating a lasting and pleasant scent. I love a book where I can learn tidbits about familiar things, and understanding more about perfumes and their creation was what made this book so wonderful on another level. Our sense of smell can evoke many memories and emotions. Moran utilizes this knowledge to create a perfect blend of word, image, and essence.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1250048907″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Matronly Duties by Melissa Kendall PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hundreds of years after an asteroid slammed into Earth and sent it into a new ice age, what remains of the human race lives on in underground sanctuaries. Now, as the bicentennial anniversary of the impact approaches, a new leader prepares to take her place at the head of the government. At least, that’s what she thinks.
Bethanie Greene’s life has been planned out for her since the age of thirteen. Beautiful and intelligent, she’s spent the last twelve years training to become the next Matron of the underground nation of Oceania. But when Bethanie is kidnapped by rogue extremists just six weeks shy of taking office, her world is turned upside down by the handsome stranger who rescues her.
Howard James’ life has been the polar opposite of Bethanie’s. Struggling to survive in a world where those in power wished he didn’t exist, he harbors a deep-seated resentment of the government and all its representatives. Together with his unconventional family, he shows Bethanie a life she never knew was possible, while at the same time, opening her eyes to the injustices of the government she is meant to lead. But can she trust a stranger? And can a few days change everything she believes and desires? Against all odds, Bethanie must decide if her heart and her duties can coexist.

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The office of Matron is the highest a girl can aspire to—but Bethanie learns that she is just a puppet of the government. Darkly manipulative and suspenseful, MATRONLY DUTIES is a book about learning to trust and learning to love.

Parts of this book reminded me of BREEDER by KB Hoyle. However, the government in this book is more threatening and controlling, and the romance aspect is detailed thoroughly, with quite a bit of love scenes. At times these scenes slowed down the action, but I can understand why the author created the plot this way; to develop Bethanie’s growing feelings and to show the reader how she is growing as a person who thinks for herself.

There are close calls as the renegades are hunted by the government, and moments when we are unsure if Howard will come back alive. The world that Kendall creates is bleak and delightfully dystopian, with rules in place that control childbirth and love. Sex is viewed as “fornication” and taboo, and we see how Bethanie goes from prim and proper Matron, to a girl who falls in love, the old fashioned way. I found myself cheering for the family of Traditionalists who help Bethanie learn what life really means.  They were truly an oasis for the struggling girl, losing sight of everything she believed in for so many years.

I felt that there could have been a bit more character development when it came to Bethanie’s office mates–her bodyguard and secretary. She seemed to trust them without question, and I waited for them to double cross her as she shared all her thoughts and hopes with them. No spoilers here–read the book to see how it all ends!

A fairly solid outing from Melissa Kendall, MATRONLY DUTIES is a quick read, one that will make you think about figureheads and the sacrifices they may have made to be where they are.

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Want to enter the giveaway?

 

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2 TWCS-Blog-Tour-Banner Thanks to The Writer’s Coffee Shop for offering this book to me!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

You can also visit the author’s page here.

MKendall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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