Friday, July 31, 2015

Winners and a Suspense Novel Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of Eunsun Kim's A Thousand Miles to Freedom. The publisher will be sending copies to Cynthia B. from Uxbridge, MA and Carol K. from Columbia, CT.

This week, I have two suspense novels to give away. Here's the publicist's description of Peter Swanson's The Kind Worth Killing. "On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.

"But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .
"Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda’s demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth. Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail."

Or, you could win a copy of Sophie McKenzie's You Can Trust Me. When her best friend's death is ruled a suicide, Livy Jackson knows that something isn't right. Then she discovers evidence that forces her to consider a horrifying possibility: Julia may have been murdered by the same man who killed her own sister eighteen years earlier. Livy soon discovers that the murderer is someone close to her family. When the truth emerges, Livy there really anyone she can trust?

Which suspense novel would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win The Kind Worth Killing" or "Win You Can Trust Me." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, Aug. 6 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

So, I'm a heretic. While I found J. Ryan Stradal's debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, fascinating, I didn't love it as passionately as some of my librarian friends. It's a bittersweet, offbeat story that introduces a cast of awkward characters. The intriguing novel conveys a shared passion for good food and good wine, a passion that leads the reader on a circular journey.

It is a story of family in the Midwest, beginning with Lars Thorvald, a man who grew up working in the family bakery while making lutefisk for the Scandinavian Lutherans of Duluth, Minnesota. He hated lutefisk, and escaped to the Twin Cities, taking jobs in various restaurants to learn about food. It was a love of food, starting with tomatoes, that he shared with his baby daughter, Eva. Fatherhood was his greatest joy, followed by food. And, throughout Eva's troubled teen years, she always had an appreciation, like her father, for food.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is Eva's story, however, it's seldom told from her viewpoint. Except for the story of her teen years, when she was bullied until she instituted a horrific form of revenge, the reader sees Eva through the eyes of those who encounter her while her passion for food continues to grow until she is recognized worldwide for her skills.

Stradal takes the readers through twenty-five years in a leisurely paced episodic novel. Using food as the connecting element, he tells a story of family, and finding the people to support us in life, whether it's actual family, or the family we need at various stages. There's dark humor, recipes, flawed characters.

J. Ryan Stradal's Kitchens of the Great Midwest is fresh, original, a little pensive. The author connects the story beautifully, bringing it full circle. My recommendation? Taste is for yourself. Get back to me with your opinion.

J. Ryan Stradal's website is

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Viking. 2015. ISBN 9780525429142 (hardcover), 310p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I picked up an advanced reading copy at BEA.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

No Place to Hide by Susan Lewis

Susan Lewis' No Place to Hide might be for readers of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, as reviews said, but it's really for those who want a long, drawn-out novel leading to an explosive scene of tragic proportions.

Justine Cantrell flees from her home in England, taking little more than her four-year-old daughter, Lula. She changes her last name, and moves to Culver, Indiana because she remembers the town with fondness. It was the place of delightful vacations when Justine's grandmother lived there. Now, though, Justine is seeking a refuge. And, she's looking for her grandmother's house because her mother won't say anything about it, and the townspeople only give her funny stares when she mentions her family connection. It seems Justine isn't the only Cantrell with family secrets.

Lewis alternates chapters, shifting between locations and time periods, with Justine viewing her present life in Culver and remembering what appeared to be a charmed existence in Chipping Vale, England. It's those past memories that drove her to Culver where she's afraid someone will recognize her and reveal her identity and her secrets. At the same time, Justine can't leave behind her family connections, people she once loved.

Lewis develops her story carefully, perhaps too carefully. No Place to Hide is so leisurely paced that I only continued because I was reading it for a book review in a journal. Yes, the tragedy is horrendous. At the same time, many readers won't want to read over 200 pages to get to the climatic scene. Then, in the last one hundred pages, the author tries to reveal two family secrets and tie together two storylines. It's not easy to reach the conclusion in No Place to Hide.

Susan Lewis' website is

No Place to Hide by Susan Lewis. Ballantine Books. 2015. ISBN 9780345549556 (paperback), 432p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review it for a journal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Unfinished Business in NYC

We had a great family trip to New York City in June, but my sister, Linda, and I had some unfinished business there. She had three more plays she wanted to see, including a couple that hadn't yet opened in June, and I wanted to see Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean one last time before he left Les Miserables, and headed to Japan for a show there. So, we made a Broadway weekend trip.

If I can fly Southwest, I will, so Linda drove down on Wednesday, staying overnight. We watched the movie Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren, and decided we'd go see that painting at the Neue Gallery in New York if we had the chance. Thursday morning we were out the door by 5:45 to drive to Nashville. Lovely airport, which is one reason I like flying out of it. And, this is the sentimental side of me. In Nashville's airport, I can see dreams. While we waited to leave, we saw five people with guitars, and one with a banjo. It's a city of dreams.

We stayed at the same hotel in New York as we did when we were there in June, Hilton Garden Inn on 8th and 48th. It's so convenient when it's a Broadway trip. And, ours definitely was. We had a show scheduled for Thursday night. But, before the show, we went to dinner at Sangria 46, a Spanish Tapas restaurant on 46th Street. We sat outside on the courtyard, where a grape leaf covering kept the patio shaded. And, it was gorgeous weather, in the low 80s, and not humid. The menu consisted of tapas from Spain and Argentina. And, of course, a pitcher of Sangria.

Asparagus and cheese

Dates wrapped in bacon

Grape Leaf Overhang

And, then off to a 7 p.m. show, An Act of God, a comedy starring Jim Parsons. Studio 54 was the perfect venue for an irreverent ninety-minute show that poked fun at religion, politics and science. Jim Parsons as God, was accompanied by two archangels, Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky) and Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald). It was brilliant, written by David Javerbaum, a former head writer and executive producer of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart".

Friday we had all day to enjoy the gorgeous weather before a 6 p.m. dinner and then the show. So, we headed out, walking 2.1 miles up Fifth Avenue. We both enjoyed the architecture on the embassies and other buildings on the way.

We went first to the Neue Gallery to see "Woman in Gold". The line was clear down the block, which says a lot about the movie and the attention it drew. The photo is not the painting itself by Klimt, but just a print downstairs near the cafe.

Linda had a salad at the cafe, Der Fledermaus, and I had apple strudel. How can you not try pastry at an Austrian cafe? I shared. And, if the napkin doesn't match, it's because Cafe Sabarsky operates two cafes in the gallery, Cafe Sabarsky itself, and Der Fledermaus.

From there, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had enough time to see a variety of exhibits, including the Temple of Dendur, and a stunning special exhibit. It was Van Gogh's  paintings, Irises and Roses, either the last, or some of the last four works he did. Just beautiful.

We had two miles to walk back, but right outside the Met I found a fun sight. One of the city buses had a sign for my favorite show, Les Miserables, and the one we were going to that night. And, of course, it's a picture of Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean.

We had a few minutes to freshen up, and then head to dinner at Da Marino, an Italian restaurant recommended by author Teri Wilson. And, she was right. Terrific place - atmosphere, food, and service.

Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce

Linda at Da Marino

From there, we headed to Les Miz. It was the first show I ever saw on Broadway, years ago. It's still my favorite show.

Ramin Karimloo as Prisoner #24601

Ramin Karimloo, Jean Valjean

Ramin Karimloo

And, Ramin Karimloo will always be MY Jean Valjean. I saw him first in December 2014, and went back to see him again on that trip. I saw him in Les Miz when I went to BEA in June. And, this was my fourth and final time to see him in this run of the show.

And, as perfect as the trip was, this was my favorite moment, thanks to my sister, Linda, who said she'd go wait with me at the stage door after Les Miserables. When Ramin Karimloo came out, he worked the line, signing autographs and posing for pictures. And, the pictures I have? Ramin was kind enough to take the phone from me and take the picture of us.

A kind man. And, a gorgeous voice and great talent as Linda said. I wish him all the luck in the world, and if he comes back to Broadway, I'll go back to see him.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, but we didn't have the whole day because we had a matinee and an evening show. We still had time to walk to Central Park, and spend a little time enjoying it.

And, then we went to The Plaza, and had sandwiches and one lemonade macaroon apiece before walking to the theater.

Our afternoon show was Amazing Grace starring Josh Young as John Newton. Beautiful voice! And, Linda was right. She said she hoped people weren't scared away by the thought this is a religious show, particularly the people who usually attend Broadway shows. It was actually about a man from a slave trading family and the movement to abolish slavery in England. And, this play had some of the most dramatic special effects I've ever seen - a drowning scene just before intermission, followed by a hurricane in the second act. And, those of us in the front row got wet during the hurricane. Very good show.

Dinner was at Bourbon Street Bar & Grille, creole food, but way too much of it. I couldn't eat half of the food, gumbo, jambalaya, and a hurricane, followed by a double chocolate brownie with ice cream. It was actually cheaper to order all of it than to order a la carte.

Our final show as Finding Neverland, the story of J.M. Barrie and the inspiration for Peter Pan. The four boys who all played the Davies boys were outstanding, but the eleven-year-old, Aidan Gemme, who played Peter was amazing. That's the show that actually brings tears to your eyes.

Our day wasn't over, though. St. Malachy's, The Actors' Chapel, has an 11 p.m. Mass on Saturday night. It was originally for the actors who went after the shows. Theater, church, and then back to our hotel.

We were flying out on Sunday afternoon. I had time for a walk in the morning, which is when I found the food cart that Ramin Karimloo joked about on Instagram. Alfie Boe is taking Ramin's place as Jean Valjean. Karimloo's comment? "Lol. Does this mean they will put @alfieboe's poster on a fish and chip truck?"

Breakfast at Juniors, and then a trip to LaGuardia. Who would think a security agent would joke with me about how long the lines were, and then we were through security in less than 5 minutes? And, landed in Nashville a half hour early.

Fabulous Broadway weekend, helped by the best weather I've ever had on a NYC trip. And, of course, highlighted by Ramin Karimloo. Thank you, Linda.