A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Aria's Travelling Book Shop by Rebecca Raisin- Feature and Review

Aria’s Travelling Book Shop
By Rebecca Raisin
Releasing April 8th 2020
HQ Digital


With her merry band of Van Lifers, Aria heads to France in her travelling bookshop, best friend Rosie by her side for a summer they’ll never forget!

Hopeless romantic Aria vowed never to love again after losing her husband, TJ, but fate has other ideas and keeps throwing the bespectacled, booklover Jonathan in her path. When a memento from TJ turns up it brings Aria’s past back to the fore.
Nomadic by nature, Aria can’t see how love could work anyway when home is always at the end of a new patch of road…
A long, hot summer travelling off the beaten track, surrounded by newly loved up couples reminds Aria of what she’s missing.
Will she bookmark her love life at the point her husband left, or she will begin a new chapter under the sizzling sun of the Cote d’azure…?

Rosie is quiet as she toys with her beaded bracelet, winding it round and round. These goodbyes are harder for her – this is her first year as a nomad. ‘I suppose when we’re old and grey and looking back we’ll have all these incredible memories of people who stepped into our lives, changing them in some indelible way, before stepping out again.’
‘I love that.’ I picture an elderly Rosie and Max on some weather-beaten porch, fragrant homemade tea in hand, still in love. And then I picture my future silver-haired self. Driving never-ending roads, alone. But I’d still have my books, wouldn’t I? Rollicking romances to fill my days and inspire dreams, fictional friends to see me through…
But as I gaze around the room at loved up couples, loved up non-fiction couples, I feel a pang of loneliness despite being surrounded by people who care about me.
Deep in thought, I’m jarred back to the present by an elbow to the ribs from Rosie. ‘What?’ I ask.
Her eyes are fixed on a man standing by the bar; even from this distance I recognise those broad shoulders of his, and the way he stands, hands deep in pockets. He seems contemplative as he waits patiently, as if he’s half elsewhere, lost in thought.
‘It’s Jonathan!’ she says far too loudly. I clamp a hand over her mouth, ignoring the fact I’m probably smearing her lipstick. I feel her laugh reverberate through my palm.
‘Will you shush! We don’t want to get his attention.’ My heart pounds as I try to make sense of him being here of all places. Now of all times.
She battles free, her lipstick only slightly smudged. ‘Why wouldn’t we want to get his attention? Aren’t we going to say hello, at least?’ Her eyebrows pull together. Rosie only sees black and white, there’s no grey area for her.
While I struggle with how to explain, I turn back in his direction and sneak a peek at the guy who has stolen into my thoughts far too often since we met. His dark hair is longer and curls around the nape of his neck. He’s lovely even in side profile. There’s something sensuous about his mouth, and before I get lost to it, I shake the traitorous thoughts away. Seeing him again after all this time has given me a jolt, that’s all. I wiggle sideways trying to hide behind Rosie, who frustratingly wiggles further away.
Jonathan and I met at a music festival last year, and he’d been endlessly fascinated about the way we lived our lives on the road. It’d been effortless chatting away with him, almost as if we were long lost friends, reunited. He’d listened when I talked, as if he weighed every word that fell from my mouth. It’d been the first time since my husband died that I’d felt a teeny tiny little spark in my heart but I soon pushed it away. And rightfully so. I made a promise and I’m sticking to it.
Seeing Jonathan here though, spotlight shining on him as if a direction to act, has quite knocked my legs from under me. Thank god I’m sitting down.
‘Well?’ Rosie prods.
‘Well what? We’re not going to say a single word, Rosie! We’re going to hide in this corner and hope he leaves.’ I sip my drink and pretend to be completely disinterested.
‘Why?’ Confusion muddies the icy blue of her eyes. ‘Admit he made your pulse race, that he caused your bodice to rip, made your bosoms—’
Who even uses the word bosoms these days?! I shake my head at her teasing my love of romance novels and the clichéd way non-believers describe them. ‘Made my bosoms… what?’
 ‘Erm… bounce?’ she says, searching for the right word and coming up short.
‘Can you hear yourself? He made my bosoms bounce? Where do you get this stuff, Rosie, honestly?’ I laugh, in spite of it all.
She breaks into a fit of giggles and then her face lights up as if clarity dawns, ‘He makes your bosoms heave! That’s the phrase, isn’t it?’
‘If my bosoms were heaving Rosie, I’d be off to get medical help, for goodness’ sake!’ I hide behind my hands, sure she’s attracted the attention of the entire bar, and not just lusty-looking Jonathan. Our Rosie doesn’t quite have the same filter the rest of us have so I should be used to it by now. But, by golly. I peek between my fingers and sure enough all of London is staring at us yet somehow Jonathan is still facing the other way. Small mercies and all that.


Aria’s Travelling Book ShopAria’s Travelling Book Shop by Rebecca Raisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aria’s Travelling Bookshop by Rebecca Raisin is a 2020 HQ Digital publication.

A lovely story about overcoming grief, the healing power of books, and a wonderful homage to romance novels and authors!

After losing her husband, TJ, to cancer three years ago, Aria had been living a nomadic life as a ‘Van Lifer’ and selling books is her trade. Now, she and her best friend, Rosie, are heading to France!

The last person Aria expected to run into was Jonathan- the man that has awakened feelings she thought had died with TJ.

But. despite her attraction to Jonathan, she prefers to enjoy romance vicariously, via her beloved romance novels, because she has promised TJ, she would never fall in love again. He was her once in a lifetime true love and no one will ever be able to take his place in her heart.

However, when Aria’s estranged mother-in-law forwards her TJ’s diary, it is both a blessing and an emotional drain. While reading TJ’s words, Aria feels his presence,as though he is sending Aria a clear message-one she can’t bring herself to accept.

With the help of Rosie’s gentle urgings, TJ’s diary, and Jonathan’s easy charm, Aria begins to entertain the possibility of giving love another chance. Can she make peace with her in laws and open her heart up to love a second time?

While the story is not heavy, be assured there is plenty of depth and emotion to it. I pulled out one of my precious, rationed tissues on at least one occasion. I also loved how prominently romance novels were featured- reminding me of how healing and cathartic love stories are, especially when one’s mind and heart are troubled. Aria has pretty good taste in books, giving a shoutout to a few great authors along the way. (Maeve Binchey is an author everyone should read at least once.)

For those who read the first book in this series, Rosie and Max are very involved in this second installment and have a few surprises coming their way too.

Anytime I pick up a book by Rebecca Raisin it’s a real treat. I’ve been a fan for a good while now and it has been a pleasure to see how well this author has blossomed as a writer and storyteller. This story is a wonderful, cathartic tale that will appeal to book lovers in general, but it will especially touch those who are romantics at heart. Aria’s journey is poignant and bittersweet as she searches her soul, fighting her way through grief and loneliness.

This is a touching story, which ultimately leads Aria to consider a future full of promise, hope and new beginnings. Raisin’s stories are good, healthy, uplifting stories that are good for the soul. But, this past week, this book has been a soothing balm for me. This is just the type of gentle, heart lifting story we could all use right now.


Author Info:

Rebecca Raisin is a true bibliophile. This love of books morphed into the desire to write them. She's been widely published in short story anthologies, and in fiction magazines. And now she is focusing on writing romance.

Rebecca aims to write characters you can see yourself being friends with. People with big hearts who care about relationships and believe in true love.

Author Links:

Monday, April 27, 2020

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore- Feature and Review


An astonishing debut novel that explores the lingering effects of a brutal crime on the women of one small Texas oil town in the 1970s.

Mercy is hard in a place like this . . .
It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.

In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

Valentine is a haunting exploration of the intersections of violence and race, class and region in a story that plumbs the depths of darkness and fear, yet offers a window into beauty and hope. Told through the alternating points of view of indelible characters who burrow deep in the reader’s heart, this fierce, unflinching, and surprisingly tender novel illuminates women’s strength and vulnerability, and reminds us that it is the stories we tell ourselves that keep us alive.



ValentineValentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is a 2020 Harper publication.

Phenomenal Debut!

After fourteen- year old Gloria Ramirez is beaten and raped, she escapes her attacker, finally making her way to the doorstep of Mary Rose Whitehead. Mary Rose was home alone with her daughter, but bravely keeps Gloria safe with so small danger to herself. However, once the immediate threat has passed, Mary Rose discovers the community is far from impressed by her act of courage and heroism.

Because the accused rapist is a well- connected young white man and Gloria is a Hispanic girl- Mary Rose’s non-conformity not only earns her sharp rebukes from other women she associates with, but she could be the target of revenge- especially since she refuses to let the matter die.

Eventually, the boiling hot stew of racism, misogyny, injustice, fear, and stress, brings Mary Rose to the brink of madness…

I chose this book for several reasons. One, it was set in Texas in mid-seventies- in Odessa- and because I noticed how well it was received, and because I just had one of those feelings- like the book was calling me.

My instincts paid off- but this book was far more impressive than I had anticipated. In fact, I’m not sure my review could do this book justice.

When Mary Rose lays eyes on the battered Gloria Ramirez, she sees the hard, cold truth about her environment, she fears for her daughter’s future, and knows that someone has to speak up for Gloria, that someone has to fight for her, because evidently, no one else will.

Yet her determination to see justice done, to testify to what she saw and experienced that fateful day when Gloria came to her home, will place her in a very dangerous position, heightening her distress, but never beating back her courage. Still, her constant worry takes a toll on her mental state, the pressures and internal turmoil eventually reaching a breaking point.

The author absolutely nails the atmosphere of Odessa: The seclusion, the attitudes, the climate, and the economical tension bubbling beneath the surface-while exquisitely capturing an era of time where women are mere extensions of their husbands, where their jobs are to be someone’s wife and someone’s mother.

The accurate divide between class and race is vivid, and painfully drawn as are the stellar characterizations. Besides, Mary Rose, whose husband is often away and who is pregnant with her second child, her neighbor Corrine, a recent widow, instantly wins my respect. The two women form an unlikely bond, sharing the same feelings of frustration. I loved the way Corrine protected Mary Rose and stuck up for her, keeping a watchful eye on her.

Debra Ann, a child whose mother abandoned her, and who is left mostly to her own devices, is also a vibrant character who befriends a homeless war veteran.

Each character has an internal dialogue, giving the reader a personal and intimate look at their thoughts, revealing their hopes, fears, regrets, and longing. It is easy to lose oneself in each of these narratives, which are like vignettes inside a broader story. This strong feminine cast shines brilliantly against the stark, gritty reality of the old dusty oil town, and will leave an enduring imprint on my soul.

Overall, this is a gritty, compelling, and powerful debut. It is unflinching, no holds barred, driving home a clear message that will resonate with many readers and women who still fight against a system that favors ‘good ole’ white boys, who come from a good family’. Trust me, the author knows and understands this landscape intimately. The love/hate emotions for Odessa and Texas is palpable, and although I’ve never made it that far west, on many days, that conflict is a feeling I know all too well.

Yet, despite the stormy, and nearly unbearable, suspense, there is also an undertone of sensitivity, too. The writing is splendid- goose-pimply good- drawing comparisons to some heavy hitters in Texas literature. This one earns a top spot on the 2020 favorites list!

Hitting the recommend button on this one!! READ THIS BOOK!






Elizabeth Wetmore is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Iowa Review, and other literary journals. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council, as well as a grant from the Barbara Deming Foundation. She was also a Rona Jaffe Scholar in Fiction at Bread Loaf and a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, and one of six Writers in Residence at Hedgebrook. A native of West Texas, she lives and works in Chicago.

Friday, April 24, 2020

FOODIE FRIDAY- Bad Hair Day Cookbook by Nancy J. Cohen


Are you having a bad hair day? Whip out your whisk, snatch up your spoon, and prepare your palate. Inside the pages of this cookbook are recipes that will bring you good cheer.

Enjoy 160+ tasty recipes from Nancy J. Cohen’s popular Bad Hair Day cozy mystery series. Included in this cookbook are excerpts, cooking tips, and anecdotes written by hairstylist and savvy sleuth Marla Vail. From appetizers to desserts, Marla offers cooking tips and tricks along with commentary about the dishes she prepares for her family. Whether you’re a skilled cook or an eager novice, this cookbook will unravel the mystery of cooking. Put on your apron and plan to make some killer recipes! Bonuses Include:

• Meet the Sleuth
• Introduction by Marla Vail
• Cooking Tips
• Excerpts from Series Titles
• Themed Menu Suggestions
• “A Sabbath Dinner” by Nancy’s Mother

For Home Cooks, Food Lovers, Mystery Fans and Cookbook Collectors

A Bad Hair Day Cookbook: Recipes from Nancy J. Cohen's Cozy Mystery SeriesA Bad Hair Day Cookbook: Recipes from Nancy J. Cohen's Cozy Mystery Series by Nancy J. Cohen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bad Hair Day Cookbook by Nancy J. Cohen is a 2019 Orange Grove Press publication.

This is a fantastic idea for cozy mystery fans

Cozy mystery readers often find a handful of recipes at the end of a book, a nice added bonus, whether it’s a culinary themed mystery, or not.

Occasionally, I do remember to jot down a recipe I find in a book, but often times I’ll shove the book back on my shelf after I’ve finished reading it, thinking that if I need the recipe again, I can always look it back up.

But I also read books from subscription services and from the library, and I usually forget to copy the recipe down before I return it. It then becomes impossible for me to remember which recipe was in what book.

I would imagine many readers have that same problem, so having the author thoughtfully compile all the recipes featured in their cozy mystery series in one place is genius!

The author reminds readers of the book certain recipes were featured in, and provides a brief overview of that book, so fans of the series can recall their favorite stories, too.

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, this book will make you want to get to know Marla Shore Vail and acquaint yourselves with this series while enjoying 'Marla's' wonderful, down to earth and comforting recipes.

This is a no- frills cookbook, and my pre-release, ARC copy did not come with pictures. However, these recipes are very easy to follow, with common ingredients one can usually find at their local supermarket- under normal circumstances, that is. Mainly, this is a book for fans of the series, and is a great marketing tool, I’d like to see catch on with other cozy authors.

The recipes are organized into sections, like most cookbooks, beginning with appetizers and ending with desserts and includes ‘Themed Menus’ as well. It should be noted that there are no pork recipes out of respect for Marla’s Kosher kitchen upbringing.

Overall, This book will be a huge help for cozy mystery fans who will find it so very helpful to have all the recipes featured in the ‘Bad Hair Day’ series all together in one book, as well as an easy reference to the books in the series, with a buy link included for convenience.

I admit I’ve only read one book in this series, but after reading through this recipe book and getting to know a little more about Marla, I’m looking forward to reading through this series, starting at the beginning and working my way up.





Sassy salon owner Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when her client dies in the shampoo chair. If that isn’t enough to give her a bad hair day, handsome Detective Vail suspects Marla of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer. Figuring she’d better expose the real killer before the next victim frizzes out, Marla sets on the trail of a wave of wacky suspects. Her theory regarding whodunit gels only after she looks for the culprit closer to home.





Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. Titles in this series have been named Best Cozy Mystery by Suspense Magazine, won a Readers' Favorite Gold Medal and a RONE Award, earned first place in the Chanticleer International Book Awards and third place in the Arizona Literary Awards. Nancy's instructional guide, "Writing the Cozy Mystery," was nominated for an Agatha Award, earned first place in the Royal Palm Literary Awards and in the TopShelf Magazine Book Awards, and won a gold medal in the President's Book Awards.

Her imaginative romances have proven popular with fans as well. Her books in this genre have won the HOLT Medallion Award and Best Book in Romantic Scifi/Fantasy at The Romance Reviews.

A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who's Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. She is a past president of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter and Florida Romance Writers. When not busy writing, she enjoys cooking, fine dining, cruising, and visiting Disney World.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

TRUE CRIME THURSDAY-The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson- Feature and Review


A rollicking true-crime adventure and a thought-provoking exploration of the human drive to possess natural beauty for readers of The Stranger in the Woods, The Lost City of Z, and The Orchid Thief.

On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins–some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them–and escaped into the darkness.

Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.



The Feather ThiefThe Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson is a 2019 Penguin publication.

This is another book that has sat on my TBR list for an entire year. I added it because it was labeled as true crime and because the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. However, every time I thought about reading it, I changed my mind, because I wasn’t sure if I would fully understand the premise, for one thing, and for another, I was afraid it would bore me silly. It just didn’t sound like a topic that would interest me in the least. I decided I should at least give it a try, because all those positive reviews had to mean something, right?

I admit I still don’t fully understand fly fishing, or the obsession with Salmon fliers. I still don’t have any interest in the sport, and I never will- but one thing is for sure- I was never bored while reading this book!

It seems there is nothing out there in this world that doesn’t have a dark underbelly…

The author of this book first learned of Edwin Rist while fly fishing in Mexico, and quickly became as obsessed with this crime as Edwin Rist was with rare bird skins and Salmon fliers.

What are Salmon fliers? Apparently, they are a brightly colored lure, made with bird feathers that mimics small fish, which Salmon will snap at. Victorian, exotic, or rare feathers are highly sought after by collectors and expert ‘tyers’.

Edwin Rist, a musician, also happened to be an expert Salmon tyer. To that end, in 2009, Edwin broke into the British Natural History Museum and stole 299 rare bird skins, including 37 Birds of Paradise.

Once Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about this most unusual heist, he jumped down the rabbit hole with both feet, beginning a long journey for the truth, which culminated in this book.

I don’t understand the concept of being an expert ‘tyer’ if you don’t even fly fish. Not only that, it is my understanding that the salmon can’t tell the difference anyway. It all seemed like such a tremendous waste. The history, however, that sets these events in motion is utterly fascinating, if a bit peculiar.

The author traces the origins of the feathers and how they came to be in the museum, which is far more interesting than one might think. From there the book builds into a detective story, then a legal drama, then finally a personal quest for the whole truth and maybe some modicum of justice.

Not to give too much away, but evidently, Rist earned some money from his daring heist, selling some of the feathers/ skins on the black market. Yes, there really is a black market for these feathers and a lucrative one at that. I knew one could find all manner of things for sale on eBay but – vintage bird feathers?

While Rist was eventually caught, his legal troubles didn’t turn out the way I had anticipated,which is one of the reasons why Johnson felt compelled to draw out as much of the truth as possible.

Some mysteries remain unsolved, but one can take a few educated guesses about what happened and why, though that knowledge doesn’t bring about much satisfaction.

Today, Rist uses a different name, and has carved out a unique niche for himself by playing heavy metal music with his flute- perhaps the flute he bought with his eBay profits. (Johnson didn’t reveal Rist's assumed name, but a simple Google search brought up his infamous Metallica cover of ‘Master of Puppets’ right away-you have to see it to believe it.)

Rist, who claims to suffer from Asperger's syndrome is clever, educated, talented and skilled, and while his crime is not a violent one, he still did a horrible thing- and based on Johnson's exclusive interviews with Rist, he comes off as a greedy, little sociopath who never expressed the proper amount of remorse for his crimes. I’m afraid I did not find him to be sympathetic character at all- sorry, not sorry...

As to the writing and organization of the book- the presentation is very well done. However, the author does take an interesting stance here. He took a risk, in my opinion, by inserting himself into the saga by calling out the fly-fishing community for their role in helping to create the atmosphere within in this sub-culture that makes this crime, and others like it, so alluring- and lucrative. He seems to feel they, too are responsible- although his words have probably fallen on deaf ears.

I usually become exasperated if an author refuses to maintain strict neutrality when writing nonfiction. I want the facts, not the author's interpretation of them, or his or her opinion. In this case, however, I can understand why Johnson felt compelled to make such a bold move and he was right in doing so.

Ultimately, this is a fascinating True Crime saga. I found myself immersed in it, more than I ever imagined possible. I learned some interesting history, and a lot about bird feathers/skins, salmon fliers and expert tiers, as well the strange obsessions of men. The greed that results from these obsessions, of course, is a story as old as man.

While this may not sound like a book that would appeal to a broad audience, it should. Those familiar with the sport of fly-fishing will understand aspects and nuances many of us never will, about this case, but historians, true crime readers, mystery fans and even fans of legal dramas, will find this to be a very compelling story.






Kirk W. Johnson is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, and the author of To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind.

His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Policy, among others.

Prior to the List Project, Johnson served in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad and then Fallujah as the Agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction in the war-torn city.

He is a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the recipient of fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Wurlitzer Foundation. Prior to his work in Iraq, he conducted research on political Islamism as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. Johnson received his BA from the University of Chicago in 2002.

Born in West Chicago, he lives with his wife and son in Los Angeles.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Deacon King Kong by James McBride- Feature and Review


From James McBride, author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, one of the most anticipated novels of the year: a wise and witty tale about what happens to the witnesses of a shooting.

In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project's drug dealer at point-blank range.

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride's funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood's Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters--caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York--overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.

Bringing to these pages both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.



Deacon King KongDeacon King Kong by James McBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deacon King Kong by James McBride is a 2020 Random House publication.

Bold, Brilliant and Captivating!

Set in 1969 Brooklyn, the story starts off with a literal bang when an elderly church deacon, known as ‘Sportcoat’, shoots Deems Clemens, a drug dealer, in front of the Cause houses housing project, with no shortage of witnesses.

Sportcoat, may have been the deacon of The Five Ends Baptist Church for years, but he is also a long-time alcoholic, whose beverage of choice is a homemade hooch called King Kong. While his health has suffered, more so now that his wife, Hettie, has died, no one seems to know why Sportcoat shot Deems. However, the fallout connects a group of people from vastly different walks of life, from police officers, to members of the Italian mob, in a very surprising way.

I must say, I was very impressed with this novel!! It’s unique and packed with humor. There’s a zany satirical quality to the story and it’s just enormous! There is a huge cast of characters, which is normally a deal breaker for me. But, in this case, I miraculously had no problem keeping up with the characters. There is a lot going on, however, and while not always as cohesive as I needed it to be, it all somehow comes together beautifully.

There is a treasure hunt, a mystery, and a surprising romance, all rolled into an atmospheric and timely crime drama, as different drug factions war it out, all wanting a piece of the pie, while Sportcoat, who has no memory of shooting Deems, has a price on his head.

McBride masterfully weaves the threads together, connecting the characters in one way or another. While the humor stands out, so does the poignant portrait of loneliness and sorrow. Yet, at the end of the day the strong emphasis on faith, church, and the importance of community, gives this novel a stylish warm glow.

Overall, this is a unique piece of historical fiction,which covers a lot of ground with a magnificent deliverance. There is some anger here, but its presentation is mild, and the crime elements are far from graphic. While it is a little bittersweet, with a few moments of melancholy, it is mostly an affable, gentle story that left me with an enormous respect for McBride’s talent as a writer.






James McBride is the author of the award-winning New York Times bestseller, The Color of Water. A former reporter for The Washington Post and People magazine, McBride holds a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. from Oberlin College.

Friday, April 17, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY Idaho by Emily Ruskovich- Feature and Review


One hot August day a family drives to a mountain clearing to collect birch wood. Jenny, the mother, is in charge of lopping any small limbs off the logs with a hatchet. Wade, the father, does the stacking. The two daughters, June and May, aged nine and six, drink lemonade, swat away horseflies, bicker, and sing snatches of songs as they while away the time.

But then something unimaginably shocking happens, an act so extreme it will scatter the family in every different direction.

In a story told from multiple perspectives and in razor-sharp prose, we gradually learn more about this act, and the way its violence, love and memory reverberate through the life of every character in Idaho.



IdahoIdaho by Emily Ruskovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich is a 2017 by Chatto & Windus publication.

This book was pushed heavily by some book clubs and by readers on various book sites. I put it on hold at the library, but the wait time was very long. When a copy finally became available, I had forgotten what the book was about and what type of book it was supposed to be. This might have worked in my favor this time around as I had no preconceived expectations.

While it has been listed as a psychological mystery or a novel of suspense, I have mixed feelings about that. To me this book is more literary fiction, which centers around a crime. Yes, there is a mystery, but it’s not what we usually think when that word is applied to a novel.

Obviously, Idaho is the setting for this complex story about love, marriage, illness, family, and forgiveness. But, the violence that brings these events into focus is murky, sad, and mysterious. Questions abound, with few concrete answers, which is frustrating beyond reason, but, there are enough explanations to see how things must have transpired.

Wade and Ann married after a terrible tragedy, and Wade is already exhibiting signs of dementia. Ann loves Wade so much, but she is haunted by the memories he is fast losing sight of and attempts to piece together the reasons why his family was torn to pieces.

Told from various perspectives, the story slowly unwinds in a kind of lackadaisical way, which sharply contrasts with the shocking events the story is built on. The characters seem like they are in a dreamlike state at times as memory plays tricks, by opening the door, then firmly slamming it shut before anyone can get a full understanding of the events that transpire prior to Ann and Wade’s marriage.

I kept hoping for some kind of illuminating breakthrough, a big reveal, or uncovered evidence, but it was not to be. I did get the general implications and thought the ending was emotional, yet fitting.

While some threads are left hanging, which is always a bit disappointing, I was okay with it simply because I felt it was more realistic, but I do hope a day will come when the author might decide to add an additional epilogue or create a sequel to address some of the perplexing questions that were never resolved.

I believe this is a debut novel, and as such, it is most impressive. The writing was astounding and is what swept me up into this atmospheric drama with such ease, and kept me captivated and slightly on edge all the way to the end.

I can’t put my finger on what it was about his story that so captured my imagination, but it held me spellbound and it would not relinquish its hold on me easily.

Again, don’t pick this up expecting the usual mystery or psychological thriller. Technically, this is a crime novel and there is a tense, suspenseful tone, but the mystery is not one that has a definitive or pat answer, but is one where the reader much draw their own conclusions, by reading between the lines.

If you start this book without those preset notions and allow yourself to be led along willingly, you will see so many angles and nuances, amid the deep emotional depths of the characters. If nothing else the writing, which knocked me over, is worth every bit of the time you spend reading this book.

I will be looking out for this author in the future!!





Emily Ruskovich grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, on Hoodoo mountain. Her fiction has appeared in Zoetrope, One Story and The Virginia Quarterly Review. A winner of a 2015 O. Henry Award and a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, she now teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver. Idaho is her first novel. Website: www.emilyruskovich.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey- Feature and Review


Meet Duffy, an old curmudgeon who lives in an assisted living home.

Meet Josie, a desperate young woman who climbs through his window.

Together, they’re going to learn it’s never too late—or too early—to change your ways.

For Duffy Sinclair, life boils down to one simple thing: maintaining his residence at the idyllic Centennial Assisted Living. Without it, he’s destined for the roach-infested nursing home down the road—and after wasting the first eighty-eight years of his life, he refuses to waste away for the rest. So, he keeps his shenanigans to the bare minimum with the help of his straight-laced best friend and roommate, Carl Upton.

But when Carl’s granddaughter Josie climbs through their bedroom window with booze on her breath and a black eye, Duffy’s faced with trouble that’s sticking around and hard to hide—from Centennial’s management and Josie’s toxic boyfriend. Before he knows it, he’s running a covert operation that includes hitchhiking and barhopping.

He might as well write himself a one-way ticket to the nursing homeor the morgue. Yet Duffy’s all in. Because thanks to an unlikely friendship that becomes fast family—his life doesn’t boil down the same anymore. Not when he finally has a chance to leave a legacy.

In a funny, insightful, and life-affirming debut, Brooke Fossey delivers an unflinching look at growing old, living large, and loving big, as told by a wise-cracking man who didn’t see any of it coming.



The Big FinishThe Big Finish by Brooke Fossey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey is a 2020 Berkley publication.

The Big Finish is a big -hearted story full of warmth and humor. Duffy’s tough exterior is put to the test when he realizes his best friend’s granddaughter, Josie is in serious trouble, fighting a demon he’s all too familiar with. Determined to save her, Duffy rises to the occasion, with a little help from the residents of Centennial Assisted Living. Along the way Duffy learns it’s never too late to change or to start living life with gusto. Lighthearted, but poignant, boasting a large cast of zany characters, The Big Finish is a delightful story about redemption, friendship, family and second chances.

Also find this review on Book Browse here:







Brooke Fossey was once an aerospace engineer with a secret clearance before she traded it all in for motherhood and writing. She’s a past president and an honorary lifetime member of DFW Writers' Workshop. Her work can be found in numerous publications, including Ruminate Magazine and SmokeLong Quarterly. When she’s not writing, you can find her in Dallas, Texas with her husband, four kids, and their dog Rufus. She still occasionally does math. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

The German Heiress by Anika Scott- Feature and Review


For readers of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris, an immersive, heart-pounding debut about a German heiress on the run in post-World War II Germany.

Clara Falkenberg, once Germany’s most eligible and lauded heiress, earned the nickname “the Iron Fräulein” during World War II for her role operating her family’s ironworks empire. It’s been nearly two years since the war ended and she’s left with nothing but a false identification card and a series of burning questions about her family’s past. With nowhere else to run to, she decides to return home and take refuge with her dear friend, Elisa.

Narrowly escaping a near-disastrous interrogation by a British officer who’s hell-bent on arresting her for war crimes, she arrives home to discover the city in ruins, and Elisa missing. As Clara begins tracking down Elisa, she encounters Jakob, a charismatic young man working on the black market, who, for his own reasons, is also searching for Elisa. Clara and Jakob soon discover how they might help each other—if only they can stay ahead of the officer determined to make Clara answer for her actions during the war.

Propulsive, meticulously researched, and action-fueled, The German Heiress is a mesmerizing page-turner that questions the meaning of justice and morality, deftly shining the spotlight on the often-overlooked perspective of Germans who were caught in the crossfire of the Nazi regime and had nowhere to turn.



The German HeiressThe German Heiress by Anika Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An effective, highly suspenseful post WWII saga-

Clara Falkenberg, once an heiress to the Falkenberg Iron Works has been living under an assumed name since the end of the war. She earned a tough reputation while at the helm of the Iron works, but whenever possible, Clara snuck extra rations to workers who were brought in from Russia and Poland to work for them. But eventually she fled Essen fearing retaliation from the Nazis.

However, Clara hasn't heard from her best friend, Elisa, and her teenage son, Willy, and fears the worst. Traveling with fake credentials, Clara attempts a return to Essen to look for them. However, before she reaches her destination, she is detained by Thomas Renshaw, a British Captain who suspects her of having committed war crimes. Clara makes a brave, dangerous, and desperate escape from him and continues her quest to find her friend.

She soon meets a black marketeer named Jakob Relling, who agrees to help her find Elisa. Jakob guesses early on who Clara really is, but he is also holding back some startling information about Clara's friend.

Meanwhile, Renshaw catches up with Jakob, tempting him to betray Clara in exchange for much need supplies and food for his family.

What choice will he make and what will be the consequences of his decision? Where is Elisa? What happened to her son?

This is a thought-provoking novel, very absorbing and with stark, realistic and vivid depictions of post war Germany.

The story probes the after effects of war, the toll it takes once the impact of the damage sinks in on the ordinary citizens who must grapple with the ravages left behind, and the soul searing personal reckonings of  the deeds they had no control over and those they did.

The age old questions of complicity, of good versus evil, and justification or rationalization for what one does to survive during war, and the guilt that rides shotgun, are probed, as the characters face their own personal demons, looking to find peace, and a way forward.

While Clara is our main protagonist, I think Jakob is the character that truly stands out. There are some very surprising twists and revelations along the way and plenty of moral dilemmas to sort through. There is sadness and disappointment, but there is also a light at the end that gives one hope, despite all the evil and human frailty that will haunt these characters forever.

This is a compelling read and touches upon topics not often examined in books set in this era of time. I was surprised by how quickly the story grabbed me and by how much time had passed before I finally looked up from the book, realizing I had nearly finished it in one sitting.

While there is a mystery, much of the book is about drawing attention to the complexities of the war, exposing the gray areas, the denial, and the moral reckoning of the characters. The plot isn’t all the deep, but there are some extremely taut moments of suspense and intrigue and will give readers plenty of food for thought.

Overall, this book appears to be well-researched and offers a lighter, but interesting and different angle of the second world war to explore.






Anika was born on an air force base in Illinois, spent her small childhood years in Omaha, and finally moved to Michigan, where she grew up outside of Detroit. She studied international politics and journalism at MSU and Columbia, and worked on staff at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Chicago Tribune. She now lives in Germany with her husband and two daughters. Her debut historical novel Finding Clara (UK, Hutchinson PRH) / The German Heiress (USA, William Morrow/HC) is appearing in spring 2020.

She loves history and wishes she could pop in and out of different eras to see how people *really* lived. She also loves espionage and almost applied to the CIA once. Good thing she didn't; she would have made a pretty rotten spy.