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Treasure Hunt Giveaway: Banana Muffins & Mayhem by Janel Gradowski

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]Source: Janel Gradowski
EBook, 195 pgs.
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Banana Muffins & Mayhem by Janel Gradowski is the fifth book in the Culinary Competition Mystery series, but it can be read as a standalone mystery, though some things change in the characters’ personal lives that you might prefer to unwind in order.

Amy Ridley is still wrestling with the idea of having her own children after her best friend Carla gave birth to Macy.  While that debate wages on in the back of her mind, that doesn’t stop Amy from entering culinary contests of every sort, and it certainly doesn’t stop killers from striking fear into the residents of Kellerton, Michigan.  During the first annual Cabin Fever Cure event, DIY Home Improvement star, Phoebe Plymouth, winds up on someone’s naughty list after her sour attitude leaves many of the culinary and home improvement crowd cold.

“Every recipe for the competition had to be made in a muffin tin, but that didn’t limit the entries to just sweets.”

“Both of the police officers and Alex still towered over her — she was always the short tulip in the bouquet of life.”

“But that was a tall order when her thoughts were reproducing like furry little Star Trek tribbles.”

Following a few near misses in the last book, Amy’s learned to be a bit more cautious, but her new mystery-solving sidekicks are less so.  She and the team begin their work independently to uncover the mystery behind Plymouth’s death and the real reason why the show’s producers are still in town even though little to no progress has been made on the case by newbie Homicide Detective Lauren Foster. When her husband Alex and his business begin receiving threats, Amy deduces that there is more to the murder than meets the eye and she’s more determined than ever to get the case solved.

Banana Muffins & Mayhem by Janel Gradowski is a delightful treat to read on a summer’s afternoon with some ice tea or coffee — your preference — and settle into the chair with some Malted Chocolate Banana Muffins (recipe included).  Gradowski has cornered the market on creating fun cozy mysteries with delicious recipes and quick quips.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author has been littered with odd jobs such as renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and sign up for the Newsletter.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

The Treasure Hunt letter for Savvy Verse & Wit is: A

Collect all of the letters to spell out the Treasure Hunt word then use it to gain extra entries in the Grand Prize giveaway. You can find all of the blog tour stops and enter the giveaway at www.janelgradowski.com.

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6/14 – My Cozy Book Nook has Letter #3

6/15 – Book Babble has Letter #5

6/16 – Life’s A Stage has Letter #8

6/17 – Read Your Writes Book Reviews has Letter #1

6/18 – Joy’s Book Blog has Letter #4

6/20 – Knyttwytch’s Crafts and Stuff has Letter #7

6/22 – Savvy Verse & Wit has Letter #2

6/24 – Romancing The Books has Letter #6

The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 448 pgs.
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The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor is a dazzling dream of a young maid who worships the starlight in the dresses of London actresses on stage and loves to dance.  Dolly Lane has started from a small town and when her childhood love returns from WWI a broken man who no longer remembers her, she makes a tough choice to follow her own dreams.  Told from three points of view — Dolly, Teddy, and Loretta — readers are given a wide view of how lives were changed by war.  Gaynor’s leading ladies are different but similar.  Dolly wants to be in the limelight and Loretta has achieved that dream, and how these ladies lives become entwined is a stroke of chance.

“He pours milk into his tea. ‘I’m not that bad.  Am I?’
‘Yes, you are. Honestly, darling, sometimes it’s like spending time with a dead trout.  And you used to be such tremendous fun.'” (pg. 35 ARC)

Loretta is a brave woman who takes her life and makes something of it, living her life as she chooses. She becomes a famous actress and spurns the trappings of her family’s expectations. Dolly, on the other hand, has dreams but is waffling as to how to achieve them. She leaves the employment of a rich household to become a maid at The Savoy in the hope that she will meet someone to change her course, but what she doesn’t realize is that she must muster up the courage to make the most of even innocuous meetings.

“Instead, I tug at the counterpane on my bed, straightening the creases I’ve made by sitting on it.  A habit of mine.  If I can’t untangle the knots in my heart, it seems that my life must be spent untangling everything else, setting things straight, making neat all that has been messed up.'” (pg. 44 ARC)

War is hammer that shatters the lives of those soldiers directly involved, but the reverberations travel far beyond the front lines, crippling families thousands of miles away and showing those inspired to help the wounded and others that their selfish concerns are shallow.  Gaynor has meted out the historical details so well, readers will become immersed in this glamorous and mundane world — the two sides of the coin between the dreamers and those who live in the spotlight.  The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor reminds us that dreaming is not enough; we must learn to reach for those dreams and bring them to life.

RATING: CINQUAIN

About the Author:

Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanicwas a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A Memory of Violets is her second novel.

Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.

Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

Find out more about Hazel at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile

Source: Win from Just Jane 1813
eBook, 453 pgs.
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Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile will require a suspension of disbelief for both the reader and the Pride & Prejudice characters of Jane Austen.  A lightning strike outside near the Folly during the Netherfield ball renders two men in need of medical care, but what really is amiss is their spirits.  Darcy and his pride allow him to stand apart from others, but he still within the bounds of honor and morality, while Collins is shackled by his calling to the church and remains a people-pleaser with saccharine charm.  When their bodies are switched, they have little choice but to resume the role of the other, and while the results are an improvement for one, they are a disaster for the other.

“Darcy hid a grin and added (in his best Collins-like manner), ‘Such fundamental skills must surely descend from your ancient, noble, and exalted family lineage.’

Ha, this was rather fun!”

Hile has stayed true to the characters, but in this twist we see how Elizabeth would react to a changed Mr. Collins and how Darcy’s life might be if he were more like Collins.  Readers will not a larger role for Anne De Bourgh here and a minor role for Colonel Fitzwilliam, but they are well placed given the whimsical situations now that Collins and Darcy have switched places.  Lady Catherine is as “charming” as ever.

Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile is a fun read, and it goes by quickly.  Hile has a witty sense of humor and she’s talented at portraying all of Austen’s characters in different and unusual circumstances.  Unique Austenesque variations are among my favorites when they are well done, and this one is one of those re-imaginings.

(My editor’s brain couldn’t turn off, and I did notice a few misspellings of names.  I also noticed that the Rose and Crown from P&P 2005 movie was in Meryton, rather than near Pemberley, in this rendition, which is acceptable as I don’t recall it in Austen’s original work.)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Faith, Hope, Laughter…and Happily Ever After.

Readers are loving Laura Hile’s joyous Austenesque Regency novels. Her signature style—intertwined plots, cliffhangers, and laugh-out-loud humor—keep them coming back for more.

The comedy Laura comes by as a teacher. There’s never a dull moment with teen students!

This autumn she will be releasing Darcy By Any Other Name, a comic ‘body-swap’ romance based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Laura lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and sons. Her fiction is for everyone, even teens.

The Tao of Book Publicity by Paula Margulies

Source: Paula Margulies
Paperback, 156 pgs.
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The Tao of Book Publicity: A Beginner’s Guide to Book Promotion by Paula Margulies uses the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu as a loose framework for this beginning guide to book publicity, reminding new authors that grasping for things that are not in the cards is folly.  “The clients who end up having the most success are often those who listen to suggestions about how to proceed, embrace the process we agree to undertake, and open their hearts to new ideas and ways of doing things,” she says.

Margulies carefully outlines what an author platform is and how to best utilize the back cover space, which can be especially helpful for self-published authors.  As the world of book publishing evolves in light of social media’s pervasiveness, some of the advice is timeless, such as the need to promote a new book in the first 6-8 months after its release and the best times for book signings in book stores and other locations.  For social media, she provides a rough guide on the times posts are most effective in Facebook, Twitter, and on blogs.  However, blog readership may be waning, as least there are less comments than there have been in the past.  Busy lives often lead to less time for blog interaction.

The Tao of Book Publicity: A Beginner’s Guide to Book Promotion by Paula Margulies is a good beginners guide for authors who know very little about publicity or social media and blogging.  It offers great tips about maintaining a “living” biography, how to interact with bloggers and offer giveaways — as well as why they are important — and tips on how to best utilize social media tools without becoming overwhelmed.  While there is little discussion of the overwhelming changes in the publicity space, there are good tips for navigating changes and many can be adapted over time, if authors become savvy enough and know their own platforms well.

***This book provides information about a range of publicity methods, both traditional and online, but Fauzia Burke‘s focuses on online marketing only and offers a step-by-step guide for that.  Depending on what you need, either of these books would be helpful for those starting out or in need of a little more help.***

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. She has received numerous awards for her short stories, essays, and novels, including her nonfiction handbook, The Tao of Book Publicity, her historical novel, Favorite Daughter, Part One, her debut novel, Coyote Heart, and her short story collection, Face Value: Collected Stories. Paula is a contributor to Author Magazine, the San Diego Examiner, and The Writers Edge.

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 220 pgs.
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Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington is a novella and collection of short stories that at the heart follow the Rio Grande river that splits New Mexico in two and its surrounding landscapes — the flat lands, the mountains, the dams, the dust, the heat, and heavy rains.  Harrington’s literary fiction treats the subject of PTSD with careful precision in the story of Daniel Arroyo, a Vietnam veteran unable to forget even his earliest trauma, the death of his sister.

“For Daniel, the migration of the sandhills became the promise never broken, the putting to rest of old seasons, the beginning of new.  Grandmothers would tell grandchildren, as they held hands during walks along the river, and pointed toward the sky.  His own grandmother would soon tell him about the cranes, only in Spanish.” (pg. 3 ARC)

Arroyo’s childhood was full of familial argument and happiness, but the death of his sister nearly rips them apart, sending his family flying apart.  His struggles are compounded by his guilt and by his confusion over his own feelings for his friend.  Off to war, his mind and heart returned more burdened than before, and it is clear that his nightmares are affecting his marriage to his high school sweetheart and his relationships with his son and daughter.

In the second half of the book, Harrington explores the moments in Arroyo’s life and those who lived in the home before and who purchased various pieces of furniture.  She explores the sadness these families have seen, their most intimate moments, their struggles, and even their contentment with one another.  Told through the eyes of furniture or those who have known the Arroyo family, Harrington paints a broader picture of this microcosm.  The second half may at first blush appear separate from the first, but readers will soon draw the connections from the strands she leaves.

Follow the River Home by Corran Harrington is a wonderfully written look at our roots, our fears, our guilt, and all of the moments that make up our lives.  The good, the bad, the happiest, and the saddest moments.  Harrington’s work is detailed and emotionally grounded, but she never shies away from the dark moments of war and death.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Corran Harrington is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Santa Fe Writers Project finalist, a Hidden River Arts Eludia Award finalist, a Bosque Fiction Contest finalist, and a New Millennium Writings Award semi-finalist whose short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. A former lawyer, Harrington also has a background in cultural and linguistic anthropology. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

Lost Kin by Steve Anderson

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Hardcover, 328 pgs.
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Lost Kin by Steve Anderson, the third book in the Kaspar Brothers series, is the search for a lost brother in post-WWII Munich, Germany.  The war has created a chaos in which the residents of the area struggle to rebuild their lives, while at the same time, people displaced by the war try to find their own way.  The Soviets are seeking traitors and those who once lived in their territories, and there are others who are running from them.  But it seems that no one wants the Jews.  Captain Harry Kaspar, a German-born man, comes upon a dead body and a Cossack refugee, Irina.  He wants to know how she knows his brother, but before he can get answers, she vanishes in the night.

Harry’s an odd fellow, a man who is eager to return to America as his stint in Munich winds down but also someone who has looked for his brother, Max, for a long time.  When Irina surfaces and knows his brother’s name, it raises those old feelings of brotherhood.  He embarks on a dangerous journey to find out what happened to Max.  But will his own darker past catch up with him before he can return home to America?

Anderson weaves in the historical elements of the occupied mansions, the found clothes, the downtrodden lives of these people, and the black market and bartering system that have now taken hold.  But his character, Harry, was a little flat.  His emotions were in check quite a lot, unless he was assessing the latest woman in front of him — whether it was his live-in Maddie, the refugee Irina, or the camp leader Sabine.

Overall, readers may feel as though they are missing something, perhaps reading the previous two novels could fill in some gaps.  It’s almost as if the reader is thrown into the action here with a modicum of explanation.  Lost Kin by Steve Anderson is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part spy novel.  The historical fiction portions demonstrating the effects of war on not only soldiers, but also society were harrowing.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Steve Anderson was a Fulbright fellow in Munich, Germany. His research on the early US occupation in 1945 inspired him to write several novels centered on World War II and its aftermath. Anderson has a master’s in history and has worked in advertising, public relations, and journalism. He lives with his wife, René, in Portland, Oregon. Visit his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Undercover – An Austen Noir by Cat Gardiner

Source: Cat Gardiner
Ebook, 220 pgs.
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Undercover – An Austen Noir by Cat Gardiner, a noir novel inspired by Jane Austen’s characters from Pride & Prejudice set in the 1950s, is a fun ride.  Elizabeth (Eli) Bennet has left her father’s garage business after being duped by George Wickham, a Navy man gone AWOL.  She’s carved out her own life in Hell’s Kitchen as a private investigator, hacking her own career path in a man’s world among gangsters, commies, and police bravado.  Her home life was complicated, and Gardiner has created a more than down-on-their-luck Bennet family, plagued by drink and poor decisions.  Despite her rough beginnings, she’s smart, savvy, and willing to make the tough choices for her clients, even though she has a personal case of her own to find the elusive Slick Wick.

“‘Dealing with Wickham can make any man brood.  It’s the smolder that I look for.'” (ARC)

On her personal case, she comes across the smoldering Fitzwilliam Darcy at the Kit Kat Club and the sparks fly even though they just ogle one another.  Her assets on display, he cannot take his eyes off of her, especially after he sees how savvy she is in getting what she wants.  Stumbling upon another machination by Slick Wick, she finds herself coming to the rescue of the man with the smolder that could make her do things she promised she wouldn’t do again.

“‘Well, since you want to know about me, then you will have to share something about yourself in return.’

‘So, you’ll make me work for your affection?'” …

‘I guess not trusting a man is a result of your occupation.  Well, you may ask questions but I may choose not to answer them.'” (ARC)

Gardiner knows her Austen, and she modifies the famous lines from the novel in inventive and surprising ways, but in ways that keeps with her own plot and characterization.

“Those slow dances below the palm trees made her knees go weak.  It felt like pure seduction each time his hand slid down her back like an electrical frisson along a tense wire when he’d held her in his arms.”  (ARC)

The heat between Darcy and Eli will sizzle before readers’ eyes, and these characters are hot to trot.  Gardiner’s novel is fun, dark, and full of mystery, but it also provides a glimpse into what Darcy and Elizabeth’s romance would have been like in more modern days, especially after women gained a modicum of independence following WWII and were eager to remain in the workforce.

RATING: Cinquain

***Enter the Giveaway HERE***

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy and Jane Austen. A member of the esteemed National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America and her local chapter Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA,) she enjoys writing across the modern spectrum of “Pride and Prejudice” inspired novels.

Winner of Austenesque Reviews Favorite Modern Adaptation for 2014, the comedic, Chick-Lit “Lucky 13” was released in October 2014. The romantic adventure “Denial of Conscience,” named Favorite “Pride and Prejudice” Modern for 2015 by Margie Must Reads and More Agreeably Engaged has set the sub-genre on fire since June of this year. Her latest release in December 2015, another romantic comedy titled “Villa Fortuna” has been voted Just Jane 1813’s Favorite Modern JAFF for 2015.

Her greatest love, however, is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII Romance. Her debut novel, “A Moment Forever” will release in Late Spring 2016 with “The Song is You” following in the winter.

Married 23 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world – their orange tabby, Ollie. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna & Giveaway

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 400 pgs.
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Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna is sweeping historical fiction in which Ireland strives for Home Rule and many Irish men are sent off to France during WWI, as the headstrong Gifford sisters are forced to deal with tragedy, fear, and the consequences of their independent natures.  Grace, Muriel, and Nellie have lived privileged lives, but each has failed in one way or another to meet the rigid expectations of their Protestant and British loyalist mother, Isabella.  Their father often cowers in his wife’s shadow, preferring to avoid conflict, unless he means to protect his own ability to attend the Roman Catholic church.

“It mystified her that, having given birth to twelve children, they could all be so different.  When she had held each of her newborn children she had thought them so alike, cherubic mirror images of each other, but as the months and years followed, they changed, slipping away from her.” (pg. 28-9 ARC)

Through their efforts to carve out lives of their own, rather than get married and have families, each woman tries their hand at a profession.  While Muriel realizes she does not have the constitution to become a nurse, she soon finds she thrives as a wife to Thomas MacDonagh, a playwright and teacher heavily involved in the Irish Volunteers and the campaign for a free Ireland, and as a mother to their children.  Nellie’s brief moment with a man spurs her into action, helping those who need it most when the employers refuse to capitulate to the demands of their workers and the lockout leaves many families in Ireland near starving.  And when the soldiers return from war, she helps them find jobs.  Grace, however, knows that she wants to be an artist and pushes her mother and father to send her to art school where she excels.  However, as a woman, she finds that while her work is accepted, she is rarely paid.

“MacDonagh teased her unmercifully when the newspaper reports mentioned ‘the Gifford sisters looking like a musical comedy in their pretty pale linen dresses as they attended the demonstration’.” (pg. 139 ARC)

These sisters become the backbone of the Nationalist movement, doing what they can to support their husbands, lovers, and friends, as the seek justice for their fellow Irish brethren — even calling for women’s suffrage.  When it all comes to a head with the British on Easter in 1916, the Gifford sisters must rely on their inner strength to move forward.  Conlon-McKenna makes these sisters come alive, and their struggles take an emotional toll on the reader.  Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna is an emotional look at the families behind the rebellion and the tensions those families faced as some strove for Irish freedom and others remained loyal to Britain.

RATING: Quatrain

***Enter the International Giveaway by leaving a comment below with your email by May 31, 2016.  1 winner will be chosen.***

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!

About the Author:

Marita Conlon-McKenna is a hugely successful Irish children’s writer. Her first novel, UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE, sold 250,000 copies in the Irish market alone. Her debut adult novel, THE MAGDALEN, was a number one bestseller in Ireland, followed by PROMISED LAND, MIRACLE WOMAN, THE STONE HOUSE and THE HAT SHOP ON THE CORNER. She lives in Dublin with her husband and four children.

Visit Marita at her website: MaritaConlonMcKenna.com.

The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler is a stunning mystery that unravels piece by piece, and readers will first meet Mary Browning, an elderly woman in a writer’s group.  She believes she sees an apparition of her sister, Sarah, as a young lady walks into their public writing group.  This vision prompts her memories to resurface, and with the help of this young transcriptionist, she begins again on her memoir.  Leffler deftly weaves between the past and present, creating a multi-layered story that will capture not only the nostalgia of a former airplane pilot during WWII but also the immediacy of a young woman’s search for herself among the detritus of family drama.  Her characters resonate off of one another, like echoes of the past pushing forward the lives of the present into the future.  This ripple effect builds throughout the novel, until the final mystery is revealed.

“But my greatest fear of all was not having a voice of my own.” (pg. 5 ARC)

We all fear losing ourselves and not having a voice.  We are individuals in search of ourselves, but we also are sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends, among other roles that we play.  These connections can help us breathe life into our passions and desires, or they can stifle them.  The trick is to balance the needs and expectations of others with our own without hurting ourselves or those we care most about.

“… I learned how to squeeze my face closed and let myself soundlessly shudder, imagining my tears deep inside, dripping off my organs.” (pg. 31 ARC)

Mary has lived her life, much of it on her own terms, and while she has had a hard time compromising, she was able to do it for love, even to her own detriment.  When WWII was in full swing, she left home to do what she loved even as many told her she shouldn’t, and when she fell in love, she made a sacrifice that many would now see as unnecessary without having lived with the fear of persecution.

Very rarely is there a book that can equally make emotions soar and crash, taking readers on a complete journey wrought with obstacles and choices that you can only imagine facing.  For Mary Browning to have survived them and to have created a satisfying, but not ideal life, is nothing short of miraculous — much like when a heavy metal plane takes to the air with the birds and clouds.  The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler is equal parts coming of age story, WWII historical romance, and mystery, and it is so well balanced and amazing, readers will be left spent at the end of the runway.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Maggie Leffler is an American novelist and a family medicine physician. A native of Columbia, Maryland, she graduated from the University of Delaware and volunteered with AmeriCorps before attending St. George’s University School of Medicine. She practices medicine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and sons. The Secrets of Flight is her third novel.

Find out more about Maggie at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Source: NetGalley
ebook, 288 pgs.
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Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard, which will be published in September 2016, is stunning. Wolfe is a clear talent at capturing nature, tribes, and animals and his composition is unique and lively. It’s clear that the equipment he uses and his forethought about the scene enable him to capture even unexpected beauty. Rather than work as a career photojournalist, he has taken a harder, more independent path. While this has left him to be creative and take on projects that others might not, it also has some consequences, such as not being in his home more than he is on the road. However, it is a choice he never regrets, and readers will see why when they view the phenomenal images in this book.

His love of photography is infused in every picture he takes, and it is these pictures that enable us to put ourselves in different locations and view them as they are, without industry and interference from the modern world.  Even photos at a distance are created with composition, lighting, and subject in mind.  It is clear that he loves what he does, and he equally loves the subjects, shining a new light on even the ones most photographed, like penguins.  Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard is a book that everyone will want to have in hardcover to cherish Wolfe’s art — to hold it, to view it up close, and to reach inside and experience the world through his eyes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Photographer:

The son of commercial artists, Art Wolfe was born in 1951 in Seattle, Washington, and still calls the city home. He graduated from the University of Washington with Bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and art education in 1975. His photography career has spanned five decades, a remarkable testament to the durability and demand for his images, his expertise, and his passionate advocacy for the environment and indigenous culture. During that time he has worked on every continent, in hundreds of locations, and on a dazzling array of projects. You can view his stunning photographs online and buy.

Straight James/Gay James by James Franco

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 60 pgs.
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Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is a chapbook of poems, though many of these read like notes left on napkins and goofy missives that would be in a diary, never to see the light of day.  Initially, the collection seems to start off with an examination of isolation and being different in poems like “Dumbo” and “Mask,” exploring the struggle to fit into the boxes we see around us.

Dumbo

Dumb is me,
As a young elephant I was shy,
From too much attention,
So, speak I didn’t.

A young animal:
At age thirteen, life plunked
Me down in junior high,
Like Dumbo in the circus.

As I grew,
Isolation followed me
And the only recourse
Was to drink hard with the clowns.

Pink elephants
Paraded and sloshed
Through my youth
Until I became a sinister clown,

With a smile painted
So thick
I looked mad-happy, always.
And I never flew, 

I never flew.

Evoking a pop culture icon from childhood — Dumbo from Disney — readers will be drawn into the comparison, showing a poetic sophistication and a knowledge of how poetic devices can be used. As an actor and a director, the choice is not unexpected. In “Mask,” he dons a persona, one that earns him money, and it is this persona that he has a love-dislike relationship with. It is not that he dislikes the persona, but the fact that it is so loved by the media and even fans — those who pay him, providing him with the money he uses to make art. It is this art that he pushes through the envelop of preconceptions and those categories that he sought to fit into in the first poem of the collection.

I want to stop here for a moment. Anna pointed me to this article in The Washington Post, which asks if it is “possible to be fair if we simply, irrationally just don’t like” a certain actor? In my case, this is James Franco. I don’t dislike him per se, but I don’t really like him either. Perhaps I don’t understand his art or his humor, but for a poetry reviewer, it’s hard to set that aside when his poetry is another form of art.

With that being said, a lot of this collection is inconsistent, reads like nearly stream-of-consciousness scribbling, and in some cases, it is the ravings of a drugged out person (or so it seems). He’s trying to be avant-garde, at least that’s what it seems like. Some of this is even merely backstage commentary.

The title poem, “Straight James/Gay James,” is an exercise in the ridiculous, in which his sexuality is not really explored, but skirted, and his main focus seems to be how much he loves himself. Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is an oddity that might have needed more editing and/or focus.

RATING: Epitaph

About the Author:

James Franco is an American actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author, and painter. He began acting during the late 1990s, appearing on the short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks and starring in several teen films. In 2001 he played the title role in Mark Rydell’s television biographical film James Dean, which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love & Giveaway

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Paperback, 336 pgs.
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The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love begins before the British become embroiled in war again, at a time when a dancing, music, and art are in full swing.  Hitler is making his moves, and as many foreigners have moved to Britain, they fear becoming targets because of the Fascist’s moves.  In particular, an Italian community, which applauds Mussolini’s focus on making the fatherland great again, has growing concerns that they too will be swept up in the persecutions/internments of foreigners.

“Antonio stood at the bedroom window.  The June morning was mild, almost milky.  It seemed to him that if he stayed perfectly silent, perfectly still, they would pass the house and leave him be.  And yet he knew that they would not.  At any moment — they would knock on the door.  The knock would be loud and hollow: a drumbeat, a summons.  There would be no anger in it, no private hatred.  The men were just doing their job, that’s all.” (pg. 3 ARC)

Antonio and Olivia meet under less-than-ideal circumstances at the Paradise Ballroom, and despite the instant disgust, something simmers beneath he surface for both of them.  In chapters that alternate between their stories from 1937 to 1947, Love weaves a tale of forbidden love, clashing cultures, and the pressures of war.  Antonio is pressured by his brother, Valentino, to join the Fascists, but he does not believe in their cause, and even though he has an arranged marriage, he wants to provide for his wife on his own through his talents.  Olivia is making her way in the world with the talents she has, dancing the tango, but even as she makes some ill-advised choices, she continues onward through the loneliness and pain.

When war is clearly coming, Olivia marries a bohemian Englishman, Bernard, who soon becomes Antonio’s patron, helping him find a musical tutor and gigs in London.  Bernard continues to be consumed with his work with refugees from the countries conquered by Hitler, and his wife is left to fend for herself much of the time.  Her passionate nature cannot be denied for long, and the outbreak of war is the only thing that can suppress it.  Love has created two characters driven by their passion for artistry, but each is confined by different circumstances — a strict moral culture and a fear of loss.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love is more than a love story between two or even four characters, it is a look at how fear can cause even the most rational of us to employ terrible tactics to make ourselves feel safe.  Despite a slow build, Love has created a memorable family in the Trombettas, and their struggles become emotional for the reader. 

RATING: Quatrain

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Deadline is May 11, 2016.

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About the Author:

Alison Love is a novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Mallingford, published in the UK and Germany, was described in The Times as ‘the kind of book that reminds one why people still like reading novels’, while her second, Serafina, is set amidst the political intrigues of 13th century Amalfi. Her latest novel, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, has been published in the UK, the USA and Germany (as Das Lied, das uns trägt). Alison’s short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, and her story Sophie stops the clock was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2013.