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November 18, 2017

Interview with Elise Juska

Today we welcome author Elise Juska as she discusses her novel The Blessings. It looks like it would make a great book to read over Thanksgiving.

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How did you come up with the characters for this novel? Is THE BLESSINGS in any way autobiographical? 

The Blessings
In some ways, yes. I grew up in a large, close extended family based in Northeast Philadelphia, so the rhythms and dynamics of that kind of family—lots of first cousins, lots of well-worn traditions—are very familiar to me. The central loss in the Blessing family, the death of a young uncle, resonates for me personally too. In my family, two uncles died quite young; both left behind small children. So that particular absence—and the way the family shifts to accommodate it—is one that has shaped my own family over time, and something I've tried to write about for years.

Thinking about specific characters and considering from whose points of view to tell the story, I was conscious of exploring different facets of big family life. None of the characters is strictly autobiographical, but some are inflected by members of my own family. Helen was influenced to some degree by my grandmother. Abby, the college-bound niece in the opening chapter, is me-like. Others, like the troubled nephew Stephen, are completely fictional (though my real-life male cousins are now routinely asked: “are you the bad kid?”).

What are you working on now? Where did the idea come from? 

The new novel originated in a specific moment, watching the news after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. I was watching an interview with an English professor who had taught the shooter and tried to alert authorities to the violent material in his work. As a teacher myself—I’ve taught creative writing at the college level for about twenty years—I've long been afraid of this scenario: a student writes a troubling paper, that trouble goes undetected, and something terrible happens. It’s a fear I imagine many teachers—especially writing teachers, especially in this contemporary moment—can relate to, and a story I feel compelled to write. In the novel’s opening pages, an English professor learns that the gunman in a shooting at her local mall is her former student. From there, the story traces the ripple effect of this event on the teacher and her family after she digs up an old essay by this student and discovers hints of his violent nature that she may have missed.

How has teaching writing informed your own work?

One of the things I value about teaching writing is that it gives me the opportunity to articulate what I believe about fiction, what I love about fiction, then go back to my own desk and try to live up to those ideals. In that way, to teach is to constantly remind myself what matters most to me about what I do and why I do it.

More specifically, and recently, there’s a simple prompt I sometimes offer my beginning writing students if they’re stuck for story ideas, which is to just ask the question: "what if?" Take some kernel of fear or guilt, some small true observation or experience, and ask: what if it were bigger? more meaningful? more irrevocable? See what happens if you exploit it, enlarge it, give it more weight. I wasn’t thinking consciously of this when I started my new novel, but in hindsight, I feel that I applied the "what if?" treatment to one of my own fears.


What is your writing process like? How do you find the time?

I’ve always been a disciplined writer, though it doesn’t feel like discipline to me; writing is the thing I’ve always most wanted to be doing. During the academic year (I direct the undergraduate Creative Writing program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia) I tend to focus on revising, then devote summers to generating new work. For the last ten years or so, I’ve spent those summers up in Maine, alone, writing in a little cottage in the woods. I like to write early in the morning before the rest of the world is awake, and keep at it for as many hours as the day allows.

Since the birth of my son eight months ago, my schedule is quite different, but I’ve learned a few things about myself as a writer: I’m more flexible about my writing conditions than I imagined; given less time to write, I’m actually even more focused while doing it; and it is possible to work on a novel by reaching across a sleeping baby and typing on a laptop propped on one’s knees.


Do you have any recommendations of recent novels you particularly enjoyed?

I just devoured the new Anne Enright, The Green Road, about a complicated Irish family. Enright’s novels feel so lived in, the sentences so graceful and lovely yet unsentimental and sometimes devastating at the same time. Staying with the complicated-family theme, I also recently enjoyed Maile Meloy’s Liars and Saints and Akhil Sharma’s Family Life.

Buy The Blessings at Amazon

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November 17, 2017

2 Books to Read This Thanksgiving

 by Susan Roberts


Once the turkey is eaten and the Black Friday sales are over, everyone should have a little free time to relax and read some books to get over the holiday hustle.  I have two fantastic books for you to read in your free time.  They both publish on November 21 so if you pre-order them from Amazon you will have them available to read over the weekend.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.


Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan 

Left to Chance
November 2017; St. Martin's Griffin
978-1250091116; ebook, print (288 pages)
women's fiction
I have loved all of Amy Sue Nathan's books but this one is my favorite. Even though you can't really go home again and find life like you left it, you can learn to accept what's there and embrace it for what it was when you were there.

Teddi ran away from Chance, Ohio, right after Celia's,  her best friend, funeral. She didn't tell anyone that she was leaving or where she was going. After she left she became a famous wedding photographer and tried to keep her memories out of her life - except for 12-year-old Shayna, the daughter of her best friend. Teddi saw Shayna a few times a year but always in her locations, she never went back to Chance until Shayna asked her to come back and take the pictures at her dad's wedding. Teddi goes back very reluctantly but really isn't prepared for the animosity that Celia's family and many people in the town feel about her. As Teddi navigates her way through the changes in the town and the people in the town, will she be able to come to terms with the hurts that she's caused and to learn to embrace the town and her friends?

The characters in this town are so well done that you feel like they are your friends and this is a town that you'd like to live in. I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Teddi and Josie. I laughed with Teddi and I must admit, I shed some tears over her pain at losing her best friend. This is a fantastic book about friendship and learning to accept the past. I highly recommend this book.

Buy Left to Chance at Amazon



Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

Little Boken Things
November 2017; Atria Books; 978-1501133602
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); women's fiction
I predict that this book will be one of THE books to read this winter. Thanks to the author for giving me an early copy to read and enjoy early. I have read other books by Nicole Baart but in Little Broken Things, she is absolutely at the top of her game - it's a wonderful story about family and love and the secrets that we keep to protect our family, even when those secrets cause more harm than intended.

This novel is told by three women Quinn, who lives near her mother,  with her artist-husband Walker; Nora, the oldest daughter and the wild child who ran away right after high school and the mom Liz, who has spent her entire life trying to be the perfect wife and perfect mother and made herself into a person that her daughters are unable to trust or connect with. Add to these three women, a small girl, Lucy, who Nora leaves with Quinn for protection but protection from what or who? Quinn doesn't know and her mother isn't supposed to find out about Lucy. Overall,  this is the story of love in families and how far family members will go to protect those that they love. It's suspenseful and kept me turning the pages long into the night to find out the true story behind Lucy and her involvement with other family members.

This is a must-read book for readers who enjoy well-written family drama and suspense. I highly recommend it!

Buy Little Broken Things at Amazon



Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling.  She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends.  She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.



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November 16, 2017

Review: Journey from Skioria by Kandi J Wyatt

by MK French

Tania is a nine-year-old girl that fell overboard and is now lost in the land of Skioria. Various races in the land are brought together to help bring her back to the land of humans, some of whom have to defy the conventions of their people in order to do so. It's a long distance to travel across Skioria, and the way is complicated by rugged terrain and storms.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Journey from Sikioria
August 2017; 978-1974651122
ebook, print (152 pages); fantasy, middle grades
Journey from Skioria is a middle-grade fantasy novel and billed as a Lord of the Rings style of story. It does literally involve a mixed-race group of people united for a common cause, as well as travel across a large landscape on foot.

The chapters are short, which should make it easier for younger readers, and it's easy to grasp what's happening.

There are descriptions of the land and the folklore of the places, which would appeal to anyone interested in the topic.

Perhaps because of the focus on making it approachable to younger readers, it's too easy as an adult to skip past entire paragraphs describing the moment to moment travels that they all undertake. At the same time, characters sometimes say profound things, such as one adult comforting a child with a sense of loss: "All the outward tears have dried up; so the rain cries the tears I can’t.”

Tania comes across as a fun girl, even in a scary situation like this, and her personality shines as she learns about the different people and nations of Skioria. Everyone in the book bonds rather quickly and becomes so very emotionally attached, so that conflicts are resolved quickly.

For younger readers, this is a benefit; Tania being involved in decisions and helping the adults will show children are capable of being leaders and reasoning out solutions to complicated problems. It's definitely an optimistic message and one that most children can absorb without even realizing it.

Buy Journey from Skioria at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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November 15, 2017

Review: Maranatha Road by Heather Bell Adams

by Susan Roberts

As a reader, I love to find debut authors and follow their writing careers with their subsequent novels. When the book by the debut author is Southern fiction, it is an even bigger treat because that's my favorite genre to read. In the past two years, I have been lucky to find two debut authors of southern fiction and follow their careers - Kristy Woodson Harvey and Donna Everhart. Both authors had fantastic debuts (Kristy's was Dear Carolina and Donna's was The Education of Dixie Dupree) and each of them followed them up with books that were as good or better than their debuts. Now I have a new debut author to add to my list -- Heather Bell Adams. Her first novel, Maranatha Road is southern fiction at its best. I can't wait to see her future books.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. 

Maranatha Road
September 2017; Vandalia Press; 978-1943665754
ebook, print (300 pages); southern fiction
The word Maranatha means that 'hope is coming' and is the perfect title for this book about two women who love the same man.

The man is Mark, who dies very early in the novel. The two women who love him are Sadie, his mother and Tinley, the girl who is pregnant with his baby. The novel takes place in a small mountain town in NC where there are no secrets and everyone is overly concerned with their neighbor's business. After Mark dies, Tinley goes to see his mother to tell her about the baby. Sadie won't believe her - she had never met the girl plus Mark was engaged to someone else. Sadie turns Tinley away and Tinley has to cope with life as best she can. She has no family and no one to turn to so her life is very difficult especially when she has to make a decision whether to keep her baby or give it up for adoption.  It's only later, when Sadie starts putting the pieces together (with a lot of help from the town gossips), that she begins to believe what Tinley told her and tries to undo her mistake of sending Tinley away.

The two main characters in this book are so well written that they fell like people I know in my life. They are both trying to be strong and trying to make their way through life without hurting other people.

This is a book about love and family and forgiveness!  Wonderful debut.

Buy Maranatha Road at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling.  She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends.  She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.



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Back to the Past - Stranger Things 2

by Alison DeLuca


promo poster for Stranger Things 2
Stranger Things 2

I reviewed Stranger Things
when the series first appeared on Netflix and took over the summer. It was an homage to Stephen King, E.T, Star Wars - all things 'Eighties.

The miniseries took over my life for the next few days as I marathoned it with my daughter. We grew thought of the characters as old friends. Both of us loved Eleven, the girl who appeared from nowhere when a government facility had a massive accident.

Both of us also loved Dustin, the boy with a lisp due to his cleidocranial displasia. We loved Mike, we adored Nancy, and we shouted at the TV during what happened to Barb.

Eleven sees the Upside Down.
Eleven sees the Upside Down.

I was sucked in by the science fiction (Eleven's psychokenesis, the Demogorgon, a parallel universe known as the 'Upside Down'.) My daughter and her friends couldn't get enough of the relationships: Mike and Eleven! Nancy and Steve! Hopper and Joyce!

And, when the first season was done, we realized we had to wait an entire year for the next one.

Stranger Things 2 arrived in October, complete with all the excitement and incredible characters we became addicted to the first time around. Nine more brand-new episodes were in the queue, and of course we sat down to watch.

(Mom's Note: It was really hard to wait for my kid to get home the first day so we could see them together. I hope you appreciate my excellent parenting skills.)

The second season has just as much retro excitement and eerie fun as the first. There's no question of the timestamp, between the 80's fashions, boys with mullets, and Reagan / Bush signs on the front lawns.
Mullets! 

A year has passed in the show's timeline as well as in real life. The characters return, and there are plenty more adventures and mysteries.

And, yes, there's another concept like the Christmas lights, also set in Joyce's long-suffering house.

I have to say the second season isn't quite as successful as the first. It makes sense: origin stories are always gripping, and a few of the new plot arcs just didn't work as well for me. For example (SPOILER ALERT) the story of what happens to Eleven and another girl called 008 was, in my daughter's opinion, too over the top - and I agree.

Perhaps it was because that section left the hometown of Hawkins and went on a voyage. Another storyline around Nancy and Johnathon, also out of the Hawkins' boundary lines, wasn't as interesting as it should have been. In fact, I found their journey was incomprehensible.

However, the series is still amazing. MadMax, a new character, is an incredible addition. A kickass redhead with her own problems, my kid and I liked her from the start.

Mad Max from Stranger Things 2
Mad Max

But what really stood out, in my opinion, was Steve Harrington, version 2.0. In the first season he was stuck-up, violent, and thoughtless. Let's just say in Stranger Things 2 he becomes the Best Babysitter Ever, and the way he wields a nailed baseball bat is quite something.

Also, his hair is practically a character in its own right. Tune in just to see how he talks about the 'Farrah Fawcett spray', if nothing else.

If you liked the first season, definitely see the second. And if you haven't seen either, run to watch them both, especially if you like the 1980's, Star Wars, and urban sci-fi / horror with character-driven twists.


Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.



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November 14, 2017

Review: The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen

by Donna Huber

I have enjoyed Rhys Bowen's stories since discovering Her Royal Spyness series this summer so when I saw she had a Christmas book coming out I had to request it.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.


Ghost of Christmas Past
November 2017; Minotaur Books; 978-1250125729
ebook, print (272 pages); cozy mystery
After reading Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva all I wanted to was to dive into more Christmas books, but I felt I should try to get in another review book or two before I lost myself in holiday reading. So imagine my delight when I remembered I had requested The Ghost of Christmas Past from Netgalley.

In all my excitement though I failed to notice that this book is part of Bowen's Molly Murphy Mystery series (a trend that has haunted me this year). There are 16 previous books in this series so I'm sure there is much to learn about the characters in those books. There is mention of previous events, but not much detail is given.

While all the characters are likable, I had trouble connecting with any of them. I found Molly to be a bit bland and was constantly mixing her up with another character in my head. I'm assuming it is a result of not reading the rest of the series.

While this is billed as a Christmas story, Christmas is merely a backdrop and has little bearing on the story itself - it could almost have been set anytime during the winter.

All that being said, I did enjoy the mystery. Like Molly, I suspected the truth but couldn't really confirm it so it was satisfying when all the pieces came together. There are enough twist and turns to misdirect the reader while teasing them with the truth they suspect.

The Ghost of Christmas Past will provide the enjoyable escape one needs from the chaotic holiday season.

Buy The Ghost of Christmas Past at Amazon


Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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Review: What We Build Upon the Ruins by Giano Cromley

by MK French

The summary for this collection of short stories states they are about "love and loss and longing--our feeble human institutions and fragile relationships broken down and rusting" and that certainly fits the bill.

November 13, 2017

5 October Books You May Have Missed #MondayBlogs

by Susan Roberts


Even if you don't live in a part of the country where there are major season changes, October signals that the year is starting to come to an end. The days are shorter and the nights are cooler. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, I love the change in weather and the beautiful colors that I see in North Carolina. It is not quite time to start getting ready for Christmas yet so you may have some additional time to read. Below are five books published in October that I've read and enjoyed.  Are there others that you're really looking forward to?

November 12, 2017

Review: ​​Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann

by MK French

In this collection of stories, those who have seen or worked with Sherlock Holmes in the past now get a chance to tell stories of their own.

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