Lake Como by Anita Hughes

Source: St. Martin’s Press
Paperback, 274 pages
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Lake Como by Anita Hughes is a summer read that will sweep readers away to Lake Como, Italy, and wish they were being romanced and fed so well!  Hallie Elliot is part of a competitive interior design firm in San Francisco, Calif., and she has a journalist boyfriend, Peter, who dotes on her while wooing the famous and infamous to spill their secrets.  While her life is humming along in America, her half-sister Portia’s marriage is falling apart in Italy.  Hughes has crafted a novel about building and rebuilding family ties, particularly between sisters, and how unexpected events can change the course of one’s life in better ways.

Hallie’s mother, Francesca, was a carefree teen studying and playing abroad when she met Pliny and quickly married him.  Unwittingly, she had entered the old world of family politics, becoming a part of Italian aristocracy with their own ideas of motherhood and obligation.  As a teen, Francesca could not handle the pressure, leaving her two children, Marcua and Portia, behind.  Hallie has lived a privileged life in California, thanks to Francesca’s mother, Constance, a socialite and constant mothering presence.  Hallie’s life is not as cohesive as many family units with a mother and father and siblings living together, but she’s able to rise above and carve out her own life.  Hughes peppers the story with elements of Hallie’s growing-up years to ensure that readers understand her foibles.

Readers will be immersed in Lake Como’s romance — the glittering light playing off the waves and the sleek satin dresses hugging the curves of each woman — and swept up in the family drama caused by a clash of old world tradition and the realities of the modern world.  Portia is struggling with the pull between those worlds, but Hallie is there to pull her back to simpler times when they shared music and sleepovers one summer as kids.  She brings her back to life just by being her sister, and while at one point Hallie forgets that connection amidst her own troubles, these sisters have a concrete bonds.

Lake Como by Anita Hughes is about finding out who you are, even in the worst circumstances, and relying on the bonds you know to be true when you find yourself waffling.  Hughes is an exceptional dramatist, weaving in the past and present to create a fuller picture of the family.  The bonds tying these members together will last for many years to come, and some readers may even want to see a sequel. (I know I do!)

About the Author: (photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named “One of Australia’s Next Best Writers.” (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing program.

Check out my review of Monarch Beach!

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes is one of those beach reads that barely scratches the surface about what divorce can do to a family, especially when one spouse cheats on the other and more than once.  To Amanda Blick’s credit she doesn’t go postal and take out her husband’s (Andre) French fondue restaurant in Ross, an exclusive, elite neighborhood, and she doesn’t have a nervous breakdown.  Rather, Blick takers their son, Max, out of the San Francisco area to St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort with her mother, Grace, who promises to quit smoking if they come stay with her for the summer in the Presidential Suite.

Pretty posh lifestyle, but nothing less can be expected from the offspring of a society family, whose friends used to call her parents’ home The Palace.  The relationship between Andre and Amanda is rushed, but that’s to be expected as she meets him just after graduating undergrad following a family tragedy.  When Andre’s restaurant partnership sours, he doesn’t turn to his mother-in-law or his wife for help, but a busty former high school classmate of Amanda’s and her husband Glenn.

Clearly blinded by lust or love, Amanda rushes headlong into a marriage and finds contentment with being a mother and wife, as her dream of becoming a fashion designer fades into the rearview.  But her world crumbles around her when she finds the chef’s legs wrapped around her partially naked husband in the restaurant one afternoon.  She’s forced to make a decision or have a meltdown.

“I pulled into the parking lot at the post office, threw my purse under the seat, and started walking.  I was still in my yoga clothes, so I looked like any other mother going for a morning hike.  I left the parking lot and took long strides till I reached the lake, a walk that usually took me half an hour.  That Tuesday I made it in sixteen minutes.  I sat on a bench watching the ducks and took deep breaths.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The sun was warm, the sky a pale blue, and beds of purple and white daisies surrounded the lake.”  (Page 2)

Hughes creates a woman who copes with heartbreak in the only way she knows: she asks her mother’s advice.  Amanda waffles, she indulges, she cries, and she wallows over the summer, and by turns she’s at the beach, eating, or at the bar, but most of all she’s spending time with her son and her mother, the people she cares most about.  Many readers will envy her lifestyle and wonder what she has to complain about, but upon further reflection, readers will find that heartbreak can transcend classes.

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes is beach read that will take most readers’ minds off their troubles.  A satisfying peak into the life of the elite, even when heartbreak is the order of the day.  The ending is a bit open-ended, which could leave readers wondering if there is a sequel in the works.

About the Author:

ANITA HUGHES attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing Program, and has taught Creative Writing at The Branson School in Ross, California. Hughes has lived at The St. Regis Monarch Beach for six years, where she is at work on her next novel.  Please check out her Website. (Photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

This is my 54th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens follows the success of her debut Still Missing (my review).  Again, Stevens uses therapy sessions with Nadine to tell a terrifying story that leaves readers anxious and biting their nails.  In her second novel, Sara Gallagher — resident of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, who restores furniture for a living — walks her therapist through the search for her birth mother and how it led to her discovery that her birth father has committed some heinous acts.

Recapitalizing on the “waiting” in Still Missing, where the Annie waited for her captor to return and waited for her moment of escape, Sara Gallagher is waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for the other shoe to drop with her fiance, and waiting for her birth father to come out of hiding.

“When I first told you I found my mother, I said it was like standing on cracking ice.  This is like falling straight through into the freezing water.  You struggle back to the surface, your lungs burning, everything focused on that patch of light above you.  And you finally make it there, but the hole’s frozen over.”  (page 164 of ARC)

The sessions between Sara and her therapist ramp up the tension even further, keeping readers anxiously turning the pages.  Like other thrillers, the situations are surreal, but not to the point that they are unbelievable.  The police officers are running Sara ragged with their demands, veiled disappointments, and outright guilt trips.  Moreover, the entire situation has caused problems with her adoptive family and her fiance.  Readers will want to slap the cops in this one, while at the same time become suspicious of her fiance and the cops throughout the story and shake Sara.

“This last week I went through the motions, but I felt flat, disconnected — angry.  I didn’t know what to do with this new reality, the horror of my conception.  I wanted to bury it in the backyard, far away from anyone’s eyes.  My skin crawled with knowledge, with the evil that I’d looked into, that had created me.  I took long showers.  Nothing helped.  The dirt was on the inside.”  (page 31)

Stevens creates tension and builds sympathy easily.  The main protagonist, Sara, transforms from a woman with abandonment issues to a woman exhibiting the symptoms of a rape victim and to a strong mother bent on saving her own child from danger.  While some of the plot is predictable for avid mystery readers, there are revelations at the end of the novel that will make it worthwhile.  The story is tied up neatly at the end and is satisfying, though bittersweet.  Overall, Never Knowing is a fast-paced, thriller for the summer, and it begs the question would it be better to know or not to know about your birth parents or your own past if you were adopted.

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, she spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her. Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s hiking with her husband and dog in the local mountains.  Please also check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, and on Facebook.

This is my 17th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this book since finishing Still Missing and listening to Chevy Stevens talk about her books live on BookTrib.

Giveaway: Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Today, I’ve got a treat for those of you who were intrigued by my review of Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. Now, Stevens has a new book, Never Knowing. St. Martin’s Press is pleased to offer my U.S. and Canada readers 3 copies for a giveaway.

Check out the synopsis and read the giveaway details below:

From St. Martin’s Press:

From the acclaimed author of Still Missing, Chevy Stevens, comes a psychological thriller about one woman’s search into her past and the deadly truth she uncovers.

All her life, Sara Gallagher has wondered about her birth parents. As an adopted child with two sisters who were born naturally to her parents, Sara did not have an ideal home life. The question of why she was given up for adoption has always haunted her. Finally, she is ready to take steps and to find closure.

But some questions are better left unanswered.

After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother—only to be met with horror and rejection. Then she discovers the devastating truth: Her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her.

What if murder is in your blood?

Never Knowing is a complex and compelling portrayal of one woman’s quest to understand herself, her origins, and her family. That is, if she can survive. . . .

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s hiking with her husband and her dog in the local mountains.

To enter:

1. Leave a comment about what debut books and authors have caught your attention lately.

2. Spread the word about the giveaway via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Deadline is July 1, 2011, 11:59PM EST

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Broken down into sessions with a therapist and told in first person point of view, Still Missing by Chevy Stevens provides just the right amount of mystery and tension as Annie’s ordeal is revealed.  Readers should be prepared for a severely broken character from page one, which becomes apparent from the first word she utters to her therapist.  Annie is angry and still scared, and she struggles to tell her story.  The only comfort she has with her therapist is that she’s set the ground rules, and in this way, she has become similar to her abductor.

The jarring narrative style is perfect for the mystery and terror of this story, and Stevens has deftly created an angry and disillusioned character who feels abandonment down to her core.  Cracking her tough exterior is a slow process for the therapy sessions, and there are moments where readers will want the pace to pick up, but Stevens has set the pace appropriately to lead up to the twist at the end.

“Worse, I’ve become one of them–the whiny, depressing people who have no problem telling you exactly how shitty their end of the stick is.  All delivered in a tone of voice that makes it clear they not only got the wrong end, you got the one that was supposed to be theirs.” (page 29 of ARC)

During a couple of moments in the novel, Annie contends she’s watched enough crime dramas and read enough books to know about the criminal mind — at least in part — but then proceeds to “appease” her abductor as he tries to force himself upon her to protect her friend from him, even though from the beginning it has been obvious that he prefers her to express fear because it arouses him.  This may be a bit nit-picky, but given the set up, readers may find it inconsistent with Annie’s earlier characterization of herself.

Stevens successfully creates a character who is tough to love or even sympathize with as she pushes away everyone in her life, including her devoted boyfriend, especially when all readers see of her relationships are from her point of view.  Why does Luke remain devoted while she’s gone, why does her mother take her in if she’s so callous and drunk all the time, etc.?  The mystery of her kidnapping is revealed slowly throughout the therapy sessions, which move through “present” events more rapidly near the end of the book.  Readers may see the ending coming before it gets there if they’re intuitive and looking for clues along the way, and the final line of the book is very trite.  However, the action and suspense created by Stevens’ narrative style make the journey worthwhile.

Annie in many ways is still missing even after she’s returned home, and she was even partially missing before she was abducted.  Still Missing will provide readers and book clubs with a great deal to discuss about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abduction, rape, and other horrifying events.

About the Today’s Exclusive Online Event:

The paperback release of Still Missing hits stores today, and in honor of that event, BookTrib is holding an online chat and giveaway with the author Chevy Stevens at 3 PM.  In addition to the online chat, the event will include exclusive video from the author and 10 gift bags for the giveaway.  Don’t miss out!

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, she spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her. Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s hiking with her husband and dog in the local mountains.  Please also check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, and on Facebook.


This is my 21st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



This is my 12th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I received a copy from Shelf Awareness.

SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb (Earth Day Celebration)

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I try my best to celebrate Earth Day and its 40th anniversary.  What better way to take action in our homes to save the environment and become healthier than by heeding the advice in Aviva Goldfarb‘s SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue.

Before we get the actual cookbook, I wanted to let you know that each copy purchased includes a one-month subscription to the Scramble and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Environmental Working Group, which works to use public information’s power to help consumers improve their health and save the environment by offering resources to make better decisions and to affect policy change.

Goldfarb’s cookbook expands upon her popular Web site with its seasonal weekly meal planner subscription for busy families.  The introduction discusses how the organization of the Scramble and its weekly meal planning enables families to reduce their carbon footprint by:

  • limiting trips to the grocery store to once per week
  • reducing the use of takeout containers
  • limiting food waste
  • using highly sustainable fish
  • and reducing the heavy use of meat in our diets.

Following the introduction, Goldfarb outlines the items you need in your pantry at all times, with indicators next to those that you should consider buying in bulk (among others):

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • reduced sodium soy sauce

Once the staples are purchased and available to you, you should check out the break down of fruits and vegetables by season so that you shop for those items when they are in season.  Shopping for veggies and fruits in season reduces your carbon footprint, according to Goldfarb, because it reduces the need to truck those foods across the country or from another nation where they are in season.

The rest of the cookbook is broken down by season and includes a weekly plan of menus for families to try out and advice for keeping the menu plan on schedule, using canvas bags or reusing plastic and paper bags, creating healthy and tasty lunches for school, picking healthy snacks, and more.  However, the book does not include photos of the recipes, which novice cooks might want to check out to see how well they are doing with their own attempts at the recipes.

For busy, book blogger and other moms, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue is an excellent edition to your cookbooks.  Goldfarb’s book is more than a cookbook, it is full of advice on how to make healthy choices for families, how to reduce carbon footprints, shop locally, and more.

About the Author:

Aviva Goldfarb (Photo credit: Rachael Spiegel) is author and founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble®, a seasonal online weekly menu planner and cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2006) who lives in Chevy Chase, Md.  She has just released a new cookbook, SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families.  Aviva is regularly quoted in popular online and print Family and Health publications. She is an advocate for healthy families, actively working with national nonprofit organizations and with parents to improve nutrition.

Thanks to Diane Saarinen and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy of SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb for review.

The giveaway details:  (I’m buying 1 copy and giveaway is open internationally)

1.  Leave a comment about what you are doing to celebrate Earth Day.

2.  Leave a second comment with a tip about how you live greenly.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, Stumble, spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline April 29, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 29th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip with Chevy Chase, Md., author Aviva Goldfarb.


Also check out today’s stop on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Necromancy Never Pays!

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli takes place in Vietnam between 1963 and 1975 and becomes a journal of Helen Adams’ evolution into a photojournalist from a young woman chasing the ghosts of her father and brother.  The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial in American history, and journalists were on the front lines of the battles — political and physical.

“When they were fired on, the advisers called down airpower, but it dropped short, falling on them and civilians.  A free-for-all clusterfuck.  The SVA panicked and started firing on their own people, on civilians instead of the enemy, who had probably long retreated.”  (Page 55 of ARC)

The Vietnam War thrust Americans in Asia at a time when Communism was considered one of the biggest threats to democracy.  Americans entered the war following the failure of the French to colonize Vietnam and keep Ho Chi Minh out.  Journalists flooded the nation, took some of the most raw and vivid shots of death, life, and struggle, but many of these were men.  Women were not expected to last long in country, particularly with the SVA, corruption, American bungling in the jungle, and the NVA.  Helen tags along with Sam Darrow to learn the ropes, but quickly finds that he’s not a mentor but a kindred soul.  They connect on more than one level, but the war has ravaged him, leaving a shell of man who is unable to reconcile his role in the war with the ideals he once held about changing the world.

“Helen’s Saigon had always been about selling — chickens, information, or lovely young women — it didn’t matter.  It had once been called the Pearl of the Orient, but by people who had not been there in a very long time.  Saigon had never been Paris, but now it was a garrison town, unlovely, a stinking refugee shantyville filled with the angry, the betrayed, the dispossessed, but she made it her home, and she couldn’t bear that soon she would have to leave.”  (Page 4 of the ARC)

Soli’s multi-layered tale unveils not only the horrors of war and the toll they take on individuals and the nation, but on the relationships cultivated in the most dire circumstances.  Linh, Darrow’s photography assistant and ex-NVA and ex-SVA soldier, adds another complication to the mix when he falls for Helen, but seeks to protect her from harm in honor of his friend, Darrow.

“Darrow moved forward with the rest of the men, entering the waist-high marsh.  She saw him as if for the first time, the truest image she would ever have:  a dozen men moving out single file, visible only from the waist up, only packs, helmets, and upraised weapons to identify them; a lone bare head, an upraised camera.”  (Page 91 of ARC)

Soli has a gift; she crafts a scene filled with heavy, conflicted emotion like a painter uses oil on canvas.  Her characters are multi-faceted, evolving, and devolving at the same time, and like the lotus eaters in the Homer quote at the beginning of the novel, they lose sight of their home, their pasts, and themselves as they are absorbed by the beauty and the terror of the Vietnamese and their nation.  The Lotus Eaters is an excellent selection for readers interested in the Vietnam War and a perspective beyond that of the soldiers.  Another book for the best of list this year.

About the Author:

Tatjana Soli is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Salzburg, Austria, she attended Stanford University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program.

Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She was awarded the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize, teh Dana Award, finalist for the Bellwether Prize, and received scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

She lives with her husband in Orange County, California, and teaches through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. @TatjanaSoli

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour.

This is my 25th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my first book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.


Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Monniblog and Ernie Wormwood.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy of The Lotus Eaters for review.

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Jeffrey Stepakoff’s Fireworks Over Toccoa is a romance set around World War II — a time when decisions between young couples were made in haste and passionately.  Lily Davis runs against the grain of her family and society’s expectations, but she’s trying to curb her wayward inclinations and carve out her own life.

“It was a gorgeously plated meal that was ordered for her, one she was reluctant to disturb with immutable matters rendered by the fork, but even more loath to send back untouched.”  (Page 10 of ARC)

Lily meets Paul Woodward, and they fall in love just before he is shipped off to the war overseas.  She spends three years alone, living at home with her parents as their marital home stands empty.  In many ways, her life was put on hold, but just as her “life” was coming back to her it is turned upside down.  She meets a fireworks technician and her soul mate, Jake Russo.

“The smell from the furnaces lingered.  It ruminated through the woods well beyond the razor-wire-topped fences that surrounded the muddy camp like a nightmare that remains upon waking.  Indeed, it was a smell that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  Sulfurous and singed, coppery sweet, the remains of deer after a wildfire.  It was nauseating, the stench of madness.”  (Page 222 of ARC)

Readers will be immediately drawn into Lily’s story and the effects of war on Jake, Lily, America, and the entire world.  There was much more WWII in this novel than readers may expect, but it is integrated well from how it impacts the characters and their decisions to their environments.  However, one element that may bother readers is that Lily’s granddaughter Colleen is introduced early on in the story and by the end seems little more than a plot device to get Lily to revisit her past.  Readers may feel cheated in that the lesson they expect Lily’s story to illustrate for Colleen is not as clearly defined and interaction between the two characters is very flat — especially given parallels drawn between their lives.  Overall, Fireworks Over Toccoa is a well-written romance that offers a look at a tough time in America’s history, the passions of young love, and the duty-bound decisions many of us have made.

For more information about the author or the novel and to enter the sweepstakes (through 3/30/10), visit the Web site.

As an aside, I’m trying to keep track of where I first see reviews of books, and in this case, I saw Fireworks on The Printed Page and BookNAround.

This is my 21st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure: I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.