Book Review Tuesday – The Family Plot – #BRT


Released in 2015, The Family Plot by author Dusty Pembroke is about a small-town librarian named Inez DeMello who comes into a vast inheritance and must travel to the island of Madeira, Portugal, to claim it. Ah, not so fast, though – there’s deceit and intrigue and family secrets that are to be revealed.

There’s a good interaction between Inez and her friend Cassie, who has traveled with Inez. They’re young women who are curious, adventurous, and who seem to understand each other well. Sweet, innocent young women are perfect for such a story.

Pembroke writes lovingly about Madeira, and it’s obvious she has traveled there. There’s a lot of description in the scenes, although I would have preferred more evocative words than ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely.’ It left me wanting more exposition.

The tension builds, slowly at first, but the reader knows something is amiss with the residents of the big house. Still, I was halfway through the book and little had happened, other than a pair of Inez’s treasured sapphire earrings had gone missing. That should have been a bigger deal, because it foreshadowed future events. Other circumstances that suggested misdeeds or even death threats were glossed over or resolved too easily, but I knew there was more story to tell. The big twist at the end might surprise the reader, and Pembroke handled it well.

A good copy editor would have caught misspellings and shifting point of view perspectives. But I did stick with this story because overall it was compelling enough to hold my interest. And the author has set up the ending so that if she writes a sequel, it will fit nicely.

Dusty Pembroke

You can purchase a copy of The Family Plot online at Amazon in digital or paperback format.

Book Review Tuesday – Life Before Us – #BRT


Who here has read books by the late Maeve Binchy? I love everything she’d ever written – lovely, warm Irish stories like Circle of Friends, Light a Penny Candle, Scarlet Feather. Binchy died in 2012, alas, but there’s an Irish writer who’s just as wonderful, if not better.

Meet Roisin (“Ro-SHEEN”) Meaney, based in Limerick. She’s written 20 novels, all of them worth your time, in my humble opinion. Her newest is called Life Before Us, and it’s exactly what you should be reading!

Roisin Meaney

In Life Before Us, we meet George Murphy, a 34-year-old schoolteacher with a kind heart and an 11-year-old daughter named Suzi (adorable and precocious) from his now-ended marriage to Claire. George is a gentle and caring person who devotes extra time to his sixth-grade students. His widowed mother has recently moved out of the family home (where George returned after his divorce) and is now living with John.

Alice O’Mahoney is a receptionist in a dentist’s office in Dublin, and is involved with a man named Chris, who is far too secretive to be trusted. Except Alice ignores the red flags and is preparing a getaway with him, until Chris’s wife (!!!) calls her at work to let her know that Alice has been a fool. Well, yes, but what about Chris? Anyway, how humiliating! Alice decides to return to her hometown of Naas, Ireland, only to find that her old friends have moved on with their lives. She moves in temporarily with her aunt Kate, who runs an Italian restaurant, and helps out at the restaurant, delivers local eggs for Kate (who has hens, of course), and manages to snag a gig writing a “kindness column” for the local newspaper.

Throughout the book, Alice’s path will cross with George’s path numerous times, but they never meet in person (well, they do, but only you, the reader, knows it). If it’s destiny that these two meet, it takes some time. And that’s what is so gorgeous about this novel – and about Meaney’s writing in particular – she weaves these moments, phrases, glances, all together so that by the time you’re almost finished with the book (and trust me, you don’t want it to end), there is a stunning tapestry of a tale.

I adored this book – five big beautiful stars. If you enjoyed reading this review, I encourage you to buy or download her book – and you’ll be hooked, too.

If you can’t find Roisin Meaney’s books locally, then by all means go here https://tinyurl.com/2ttjndcr and you’ll find them all.

Book Review Tuesday – City on Fire – #BRT


You know I’ve been showcasing local authors here Tuesdays. Not every Tuesday, but when I can I do like to give a shout-out to my fellow RI authors. So today I’m bringing you the newest book from a Rhode Island native. Yes, Don Winslow, the New York Times bestselling author of over 20 novels, grew up in Perryville, a village within the town of South Kingstown, Rhode Island. When I learned that, I smiled. My grandparents had a house in Perryville when I was a little girl, and it was magical – a converted log cabin within the woods, with trails marked by my outdoors-loving Pop-Pop. Anyway, I felt a kindred warmth toward Mr. Winslow.

City on Fire, the first book in what will be Winslow’s final trilogy, is set in Rhode Island, so locals, listen up! According to the author, it’s his first time setting one of his books in Rhode Island. This book brings together Italian and Irish crime syndicates (what we here might refer to as the Mafia and the “Murphya”). It’s set in the 80s and 90s, with all the trappings of that era. Providence has its Dogtown, and Galilee is Gilead in the book, but Rhode Islanders will recognize enough of the area.

What I found intriguing about this novel is that during the early days of the pandemic, Winslow re-read a lot of the classics of literature, and his efforts at modernizing “The Iliad” with a Helen of Troy character were spot-on successful. (In an interview, Winslow noted that there was an incident in real crime history where a war was touched off between two syndicates and it was an argument over a woman at a beach party.)

City on Fire is a fast-paced page-turner. The sequel to this book will be out next year, and the final book – the last Don Winslow book ever! – will be published in spring of 2024.

Stephen King called it “superb.” I’d say that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Shop local! If you’re looking for a print copy, check out Stillwater Books in Pawtucket, Ink Fish Books in Warren, or Books on the Square in Providence. It should be available everywhere.

Don Winslow

Book Review Tuesday – Just Like a Pill – #BRT


Am I too old to read a Young Adult novel? Nah, not when it means I support a fellow Rhode Island author. Look, if you’ve been following these Tuesday book reviews, you’ll know that I’ve been reading way out of my comfort zone (horror, paranormal, children’s…!), so what the heck.

In this debut novel (2016) from Angelina Singer, the protagonist is Scarlett, a young woman in high school with all the teenage angst that goes with it. Remember? Of course you do. Scarlett, with dyed red hair to match her name, pines for hunky rocker Maxx, who is in a relationship with mean girl Ashley. Her best friend is health nut Izzy and there is nerdy Greg to round out the group.

As Homecoming approaches, Scarlett dreads the thought of attending the dance without a partner, but a sinus infection and the resulting ‘prescription’ she’s given by a questionable ‘pharmacist’ result in a mixed-up set of circumstances that will shake up everything in Scarlett’s world.

Unrequited love and yearning is a tried and true theme, especially for YA books, but Singer brings Scarlett to life with her spot-on characterization and inner turmoil. Add in some funky ‘antibiotics’ that are anything but and you’ve got a fun, easy read.

I would recommend this author rework the manuscript to clean up errors, which abound but don’t take away from the story. (As an editor, I can’t not see typos and grammatical slip-ups, but many readers can glide by them – so it’s just my opinion).

You can pick up a copy of Just Like a Pill (Who Knew the Boy of her Dreams Would Fall Under Her Spell?) (yeah, it’s a long title) online at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/4rdejk88) or locally from Stillwater Books in Pawtucket (https://www.stillwaterbooksri.com/just-pill). Please patronize your local bookstore! If they don’t carry a title you want, ask them to order it for you.

Book Review Tuesday – Summoned – #BRT


This is the first book in the From Smokeless Fire series by author M.A. Guglielmo (and her debut novel). Beautiful cover. Wow. I was wayyyyy out of my comfort zone with this one, but stay with me, because I stayed with the story.

I found Summoned a unique paranormal story, and though I don’t usually (ever) read paranormal, I really enjoyed the fact that this book seemed different – jinns!

Zahara is a jinn who loves sex, shoes, and lots of sugary sweets. She is an absolutely mesmerizing character, and kudos to the author for her creativity in drawing out Zahara. Zahara is summoned by an ordinary guy named Daniel Goldstein, and their mission is to stop a fallen angel who’s bent on destroying the world.

Daniel’s deceased Jewish grandmother plays a significant role as well, and Guglielmo takes the reader on a whirlwind journey to mysterious Morocco.

I enjoyed the fact that the author showed a lot of originality with this tale. It’s exceptionally well written, too. Banking on the timeless theme of good vs. evil, Summoned will captivate the reader with its unique spin. I did struggle a bit to stay with the story around two-thirds in – maybe that was just me, but it seemed a little slow. But I stuck with it and I’m glad I did. So, even if you’re not a reader of paranormal, I can recommend this book as a good escape novel.

You can grab a copy of this first-in-a-series book at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Summoned-M-Guglielmo/dp/1950510387/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1653219488&sr=8-1

Next book review is Tuesday, June 7. I have some catching up to do!

Book Review Tuesday – Bart the Mysterious – #BRT


“A lesson in acceptance.” This line runs through Connie Ciampanelli’s story of her 10+-year relationship with Bartholemew Thomas Katt, affectionately known as “Bart,” “Black Bart,” and, as the cover indicates, “Bart the Mysterious.”

A stray cat who mysteriously appeared on the author’s doorstep one day, Bart was indeed a warrior, a cat that was slow to trust but one that won over the author’s heart. Ciampanelli points out at the beginning of the book that she wasn’t ‘a cat person.’ Ah, but don’t animals have a way of making us realize we really are? Cat people, dog people – either way, animals can demonstrate to us what unconditional acceptance and love can be.

Ciampanelli has created a book from her own reflections, and added email correspondence she had with the late Dr. Ernest Finocchio, then director of the RI SPCA. Their mutual admiration is evident in these exchanges, as Ciampanelli sought advice and Finocchio recognized how much she cared about Bart. Added to the book are Facebook posts, where the author kept her followers apprised of Bart’s appearances, as well as his sometimes long and worrisome absences.

Through it all, Ciampanelli’s deep love for this fiercely independent feline is apparent. She and her husband owned two “indoor” cats, but always made room for Bart. She worried about him when he was gone and rejoiced when he’d reappear. The “lesson in acceptance,” which is a lesson for us all, is that she allowed him to be the independent cat he was destined to be. After a ten-plus year relationship, Bart, perhaps knowing his own end was near, was euthanized at the RISCPA in the early days of the Covid pandemic. But he didn’t die alone, as Ciampanelli had always feared. He received the tender care that all living things deserve.

This book is a gem, especially for cat lovers, and includes a truly beautiful poem at the end by the author’s friend Deborah Halliday, a very talented poet.

You can get a copy of Bart the Mysterious online at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/ycxeceuu) or, if you’re local, please stop by Stillwater Books in Pawtucket (https://www.stillwaterbooksri.com/) for a copy.

Book Review Tuesday – All the Rest of Her Days – #BRT


All the Rest of Her Days

Maggie is 16 years old and pregnant, a big problem in the 1960s. When she confesses to her parents, they make the decision to send her away to a home for unwed, pregnant girls, where Maggie will stay until she gives birth. Then, the baby will be taken and put up for adoption. She gives birth to a son and carries her secret with her for decades.

Thirty years later, Maggie receives a telephone call from a man who says he is her son. This is actually how the book begins – so the reader has a pretty good idea where it’s going. But this isn’t a mystery; it’s a story about loss and a mother’s never-ending love for her son.

The first seven chapters make up Part One, which focuses on Maggie Porter – her teenage pregnancy, her return to high school and college after giving up her baby, and her eventual marriage to a man named Joe. It ends with her pregnancy and the birth of a daughter.

Part Two begins in Ireland, with Julia O’Brien preparing to leave for America. She joins her brother there and meets a man she will eventually marry. But this couple finds themselves childless after a number of years, and decide to adopt. And yes, they adopt the little boy that Maggie Porter had put up for adoption.

From there the storylines move along – sometimes so quickly it’s hard to keep up – to the eventual point that begins the novel.

The author had a good plot and developed it thoroughly. However, this book was in desperate need of a copy editor. Spelling errors and in particular, the misuse and lack of punctuation mar an otherwise engrossing tale. Copy editors can polish a story and make it shine.

Many parts of this story seemed rushed. This is really more of a saga, spanning decades, but at times the author covers years in a single paragraph. Also, when shifting to a new scene (and a new time period), it’s a good idea to have a break, even with a symbol, to let the reader know. Otherwise, one is left wondering what happened, thinking something was missing.

This book was published seven-and-a-half years ago – it would be my recommendation to have it professionally edited and re-release it.

You can get a copy of All the Rest of Her Days in digital or print versions here: https://www.amazon.com/All-Rest-Days-Jane-McCarthy/dp/1495287661/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Book Review Tuesday – The Treasure #BRT


In author Julien Ayotte’s latest novel, The Treasure, newspaper columnist Sebastian Reynolds finds himself at the center of a real-life treasure hunt after he’s contacted by a retired Army officer, Jerry Woodrow, who unexpectedly received two boxes of items from an old friend. The boxes contain papers, maps, and very old coins, leading Woodrow and Reynolds on an exciting quest to find what could be a centuries-old treasure.

Ayotte is very adept at writing thrillers, and he has done what is surely a tremendous amount of research into settings (Turks and Caicos, the Pitcairn islands, Florida, Virginia, Nova Scotia) and history of pirated ships. He develops realistic characters and the plotline is believable, which brings the reader along on the journey to avenge a murder and (hopefully) find the treasure.

Along the way, our intrepid hero Reynolds falls in love, but this is not a romance – the romantic element is a nice subplot to round out the characters. There are a few moments when the pacing is slow – perhaps it was done on purpose by the author to give the reader time to catch up, but the story never fails to engage. And there is an almost-not-realistic age difference between two of the characters that needs to be there to fit the narrative – don’t dwell on it and keep reading, it’s worth it.

I do believe this novel would have benefited from a professional edit. Not a copyedit – the spelling is perfect throughout. The use of dialogue tags is a tricky issue for writers. For the most part, “said” and “asked” are sufficient. And there are a few instances where the dialogue is stilted. But these are very minor issues when the entirety of the book is considered. It’s a read that is well worth your time.

You can pick up a copy of The Treasure in print or digital form from Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/2p9yxauk).

Note: I’ve got a couple of projects coming up in March and April, so book reviews will be more sporadic (meaning when I get the time to read!).

Book Review Tuesday – Ungrateful – #BRT


Ungrateful is really more of a short story than a book, clocking in at just 28 pages (so says Amazon – I read the digital version in about an hour). In this parable by author Candace Nadine Breen, Dorsey is an accomplished woman who makes questionable choices in life. Smart and educated, she falls for Tyrone, who might have a good head for business, but claims he can’t be limited to just one woman. With three children between, but with Tyrone unwilling to be faithful to her, Dorsey files for divorce. She continually dwells on the past, wishing she were once again “young and attractive,” imagining she wouldn’t again make the mistake of falling for a man like Tyrone. She sits in her car and drinks from a bottle, then opens her car door and blacks out.

The story continues, but now Dorsey is confident and self-assured. I was unsure how she transitioned, and the abrupt change was unsettling. Was she dreaming? Hospitalized? What happened to bring her to this new attitude? Dorsey celebrates herself, but a woman appears before her, asking to “collect,” presumably on whatever magic she performed to bring Dorsey to her blissful state. Dorsey puts her off, eventually screaming at and throwing the old woman from her apartment.

Dorsey drives to the mall, looking for a new pair of shoes (hence the silver stiletto pump on the book’s cover). She finds it odd that the mall is empty at noon on a Saturday, but shrugs it off. There is plenty of foreboding in the scenes leading up to Dorsey’s encounter with destiny.

This was a quick and easy read, and I understand the author used this tale as a parable. I did have an issue with the shift mentioned earlier, but overall, it was a well written, very short story.

You can pick up a copy of Ungrateful in print of digital form from Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/y42yh8at).

Book Review Tuesday – Murder in the Limelight – #BRT


This novella, the first in author T.R. Rankin’s series (Matthew and Martha Mysteries), was a very enjoyable read. I felt absolutely transported back to the year 1898. Set on Martha’s Vineyard, this book features Capt. Matthew Reynolds, widower, and Mrs. Martha Dickinson, widow. [The fact that the characters have both my first and last names did not influence this reviewer’s opinion of the story!]

Early on, there is a tremendously destructive storm on the island, and while this story is fiction, the author cleverly draws from real-life events, in particular, the Great Portland Gale of 1898 in this case. The storm wreaks havoc on the vessels in harbor, and the description of the catastrophe is chilling. In the midst of all this mayhem, a body is discovered on one of the lime schooners, and Matthew and Martha become amateur detectives, assisting the police in tracing the events leading up to the man’s demise. It’s a fast-moving and exciting tale, and if you weren’t familiar with nautical terms and technology before, you likely will be very well versed in these subjects after you’ve finished the book! There is subtle yet undeniable chemistry between our main characters, and the author either did a great amount of research or is an expert in the workings of late 19th-century ships and schooners – the storytelling is very authentic.

There are some errors throughout that a good proofreader would have spotted, but they don’t detract from the story itself. And once in a while, a shift in scenes might be clearer with more of a break in the paragraphs, but overall it’s a well written tale of murder without gore.

As a bonus, Rankin gives the reader a ‘sneak peek’ at The Gilded Murder, the next installment in the Matthew and Martha mystery series. I can’t wait to start reading!

You can download a Kindle copy of Murder in the Limelight at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/yc74unex).