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 – 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).

Book Review Tuesday – A Dream Worth Keeping – #BRT


Look at this pretty book cover! It does make one want to tear into it, and tear into it I did this past week. A Dream Worth Keeping is the first novel by author Debbie Kaiman Tillinghast, whose first release was a memoir, The Ferry Home. In this novel, she explores the quintessential themes of love, loss, and forgiveness – of others and of oneself.

Martha Coutu is a pastry chef and chocolatier on the heels of a divorce that has left her with overwhelming self-doubt and skepticism toward men. When George Henderson enters her life unexpectedly, she battles the strong attraction she feels for him with her own memories of the abusive husband she has just recently jettisoned. Their initial meeting goes so well, however, that George asks for more time with Martha, but Martha (great name, by the way!) flees. I mean, she really flees – she packs up her car and drives from Baltimore to Florida, a drive that would run about 15 hours. Once in Florida, she stays with her culinary school chum Annie, who runs a B&B, and befriends Darcy, a local chocolatier with whom she forms a deep bond.

Martha has some major self-acceptance work ahead of her. While she clings to the past as if it’s a buoy, it actually serves to drag her down and keep her from a chance at real happiness. At times, she has a hard time recognizing the man who is actually a snake and a harder time acknowledging the good guy. But I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Martha’s journey is such a major part of the plot that you root for her throughout her roller-coaster ride of emotions. Set in Pensacola, Baltimore, and the coast of Maine, this book is propelled by realistic dialogue that moves the plot (as good dialogue should), gorgeous scenery descriptions, appropriate backstory, and mouth-watering depictions of pastries and chocolates.

There are minor punctuation errors (“Let me drive Maggie” is not the same as “Let me drive, Maggie”), but they don’t detract from the overall story, which is well-constructed, with one odd pop-up of a nearly-forgotten character at the end of the story, but the author quickly dispenses with him and moves forward. A Dream Worth Keeping is well worth reading, and I recommend it for anyone who enjoys baking, traveling, and a well-written romance.

You can purchase A Dream Worth Keeping at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/56dxrps4) or locally in Rhode Island from the publisher, Stillwater River Publications, at their bookstore, Stillwater Books (https://www.stillwaterbooksri.com/dream-worth-keeping).

Book Review Tuesday – Love Winning – #BRT


Love Winning

Play Ball! Author Mike Squatrito describes himself as “the greatest knuckleball pitcher never to pitch in the Major Leagues.” Cheeky! But he backs up this self-assured claim with stats. Playing for the Rhode Island Brewers, a team of men who all share a love of America’s pastime, Squatrito details the wins (and occasional heartbreaking losses) of the team from 2005 to 2018.

But this isn’t just a baseball memoir. Squatrito recounts the innumerable exploits of grown men who work hard and play harder. Each of the men has a nickname, and Squatrito includes a handy reference guide at the beginning of the book to keep the reader apprised of just who is who.

“The consumption of beer is almost as dear to most Brewers players’ hearts as the game of baseball itself.” That truth is portrayed throughout the book, as cases of Bud Light are consumed with a frequency that is sometimes mind-boggling. There is even a “constitution,” written by a couple of the team members, where those who commit infractions are fined not with monetary reimbursement but in the form of “cold calorie-reduced alcoholic beverages,” usually a 12- or 30-pack, bags of Doritos, or boxes of pizza. Describing his teammates as “well-lubricated animals” seems appropriate after reading about the boys’ escapades in strip clubs, getting thrown off an airplane, or even being stopped by law enforcement for questionable driving.

Squatrito delights in telling stories, and is good at it. He recalls details of games played years ago (or perhaps he kept notes), and brings the reader along for one championship playoff game after another. The book is a comfortable, well-paced read. Men – who love baseball – would enjoy this book the most, I believe. At times the stories seem somewhat redundant (there’s beer, and pizza, and chicken wings, and going to Hooters), but Squatrito tells it all with a true fondness for his fellow teammates.

You can pick up a copy of Love Winning from Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/22zsfcww) or from your favorite independent bookstore. Learn more about the author by visiting his website https://www.mikesquatrito.com/

The Summer of Princess Diana – Editorial Review


Sharing this editorial review for my newest novel! Get your copy here https://tinyurl.com/2w982w2v

Title: The Summer of Princess Diana

Author: Martha Reynolds           

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Coming of Age Fiction

Young American Diana Driscoll is looking forward to attending the London wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, courtesy of her wealthy Father. However, while on a stopover in Switzerland, she receives a phone-call that dramatically changes her plans, and not just for the Summer.

The Summer of Princess Diana opens with a short prologue set in 1976 before moving to 1981. This brief mid-Seventies opener sets the tone of the novel. It’s light, charming, and incredibly readable, while giving a sense of something a little deeper beneath the surface.

Diana is understandably spoiled and indulged, but Ms. Reynolds manages to make her likeable and interesting. Diana is aware of her lucky position in life, and the superficiality she exhibits during the early stages of the book never becomes too irritating.

Following the life-changing conversation with her mother, Ms. Reynolds is careful to realistically develop Diana’s awareness of her impecunious situation without the prose losing its frothy, slightly fun edge and jaunty pace. This skillfully maintains the narrative’s engaging style while subtly drawing out Diana’s hidden depths.

Indeed, Ms. Reynolds has an intrinsic knack for knowing when to leave well alone to let the reader exercise their imagination, or simply sail through with the story. Unpleasant issues are not exactly glossed over, but dealt with in a manner that does not ask too many questions, either of the perpetrators or the reader.

This approach might be viewed as slightly one-dimensional and it could possibly be argued that elements of The Summer of Princess Diana could have been explored with more insight. Nonetheless, this simplistic approach is refreshingly easy to read, cleverly thought-out, and deceptively well-structured.

There is an abundance of fine, descriptive detail throughout the novel which brings the characters and settings vividly to life. In particular, the Swiss countryside is beautifully captured and the seamless blending of the French language with its English counterpart adds complete ease and authenticity to the story.

Once Diana begins to live and work as an au pair with the Brusadin Family, the novel really flies while still keeping the airy, feminine touch to the writing and the sporadic brushstrokes of gently whimsical humor.

The dynamic between the Brusadins and Diana is delicately examined, yet the reader can keenly feel the vulnerabilities, tensions, and subtle power struggles that exist between them all in the Swiss farmhouse. Intrigue, apprehension, and poignancy simmer through this area of the narrative, which combined with the brisk pace, make the majority of The Summer of Princess Diana hard to put down.

Kenny, the Brusadin’s son, evolves from a prototypical, tantrum-throwing toddler to a somewhat pitiful little figure surrounded by foreboding elements. The motif of Diana’s brothers running in front of a car during the prologue, and Kenny doing similar, lends a continuity and possibly premonitory link between his life and hers.

From Diana’s first meeting with Monsieur Brusadin, he exudes mildly predatory behavior. However, it is with his friend, Luigi, that a particularly nasty incident with Diana occurs. This is given more emotional depth than other troubling moments in the novel, highlighting its impact and Diana’s subsequent maturity and growth.

Madame Brusadin’s portrayal is a masterclass in understated poignancy. Through the smallest of expressions and merest of mannerisms, she conveys a wealth of unspoken regret and disillusionment while still clinging to an ill-fated optimism.

The Summer of Princess Diana is a captivating read that navigates some dark issues with sensitivity and a lightness of touch. Reynolds has written an original and absorbing story with a sweetly satisfying ending and a protagonist who, despite her faults, never fails to appeal.

This Editorial Review was written by the Book Review Directory staff. To receive a similarly honest, professional review for one of your own books, click here.

Book Review Tuesday – Bonebelly #BRT


Bonebelly

The theme of good vs. evil is a tried-and-true theme for novels of virtually any genre. With an opening line of “Here follows a true account of my first thirty days in hell,” the reader has an idea that this book will not be a light and airy read.

In the tradition of authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, author Christine Lajewski (pronounce it “Lah-JESS-ski,” please) takes the reader on an unusual ride (a hayride, even) through the dark world of the damned.

Bonebelly is the name given to the creature who pens that ominous opening line, and the name is bestowed on him by a young couple who discover him at a farm turned haunted playground for paying visitors somewhere in South County, Rhode Island.

“I know what mercy is, but I am certain I have no right to any,” Bonebelly asserts. We know he has been condemned to hell, but we don’t know why (until much later in the book). What we do know is that he is a gruesome, ghastly, gross being with a ravenous appetite that cannot be satiated. But he has human emotions, and understands that “it is left to [him] to chart [his] path, if there is one, toward redemption.”

Other characters appear, some on the side of good, like Sean and Amy, the young couple who are aspiring graphic novelists and take a keen and compassionate interest in Bonebelly. “Exploring the great darkness of the world of horror allowed them to set aside the lesser shadows in their lives.”

There is Demon, kind of a caseworker who oversees Bonebelly’s journey. And there is evil in the form of a shapeless mass that preys on innocent victims, eventually transforming himself into a handsome and charming human being. These main characters, along with a host of others at the farm, play parts as the battle between good and evil escalates, culminating in a faceoff between Bonebelly and his nemesis, Martin.

As a rule, I don’t read horror. But I must say that Lajewski writes beautifully and nails the language of someone who lived three hundred-plus years ago. While the pacing is at times slower than I would like, the story does progress and builds as it should. She includes dates ahead of most chapters so the reader will have a sense of date and place. At times it seems as though a chapter is being repeated, when Lajewski tells the same tale but from a different point of view.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre, or thinking of trying it out, Bonebelly is a good place to start. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You can purchase a copy of Bonebelly from Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/ycxk9dc8) or through her publisher, Divertir Publishing (https://www.divertirpublishing.com/books/bb.html), where you can read the first 60 pages for free.

Next book review coming Tuesday, January 25!

Book Review Tuesday #BRT Darkness at Dachau


Darkness at Dachau

Darkness at Dachau is the most recent book from Paul F. Caranci, published this past October by Stillwater River Publications. It chronicles the story of Fr. Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest from Luxembourg who headed the international Catholic film bureau in Brussels, and was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau from May 1941 until his release in August 1942.

Caranci is a meticulous researcher who provides supplemental information on the beginnings of Hitler’s rise, including the end of World War I and how Germany, and Germans, in humiliating defeat would seek revenge. He details Hitler’s poverty in childhood to his rejection from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna to his affiliating himself with anti-Semitism.

The reader will learn that Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp, opened in 1933, and that it was “home” to several thousand members of the Catholic clergy. In the case of Fr. Bernard, he was arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against the Nazis.

Fr. Bernard was unexpectedly released from the camp for nine days in February 1942. Released because his mother had passed away, Fr. Bernard was offered a ‘deal’ – that other priests might also be released if they would all publicly support the Nazis. Bernard refused and was returned to Dachau. Eventually, his brother’s intervention helped secure his permanent release in August 1942. Fr. Bernard eventually held senior-level positions in the Catholic Church in Luxembourg, and died in 1994 at the age of 87.

It’s important for me to note that there are many instances of extremely graphic abuse and torture detailed in the book. Some readers will find these descriptions too difficult to read and should be aware. Most of us know about the atrocities committed against innocent people in the Nazi camps. There are also very graphic and gruesome photos that Caranci includes, most of which come from the Holocaust Museum archives.

While this book is about Fr. Jean Bernard and his incarceration at Dachau, the last part of the book focuses more on other aspects of Catholicism (historical and modern-day), including “anti-Christian SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States] rulings,” church closures by church hierarchy in the time of Covid-19, the debate over offering communion to pro-choice elected officials, Roman crucifixions and stonings in the year 62 A.D., the torture of St. Luke in graphic detail, and Christians celebrating Mass in the catacombs. Caranci is a wealth of knowledge, that is obvious, and I believe he wanted to tie in various aspects of history, including the way priests at Dachau were restricted from saying Mass (“risking hunger, torture, medical experimentation and mass executions”) to the early Christians celebrating Mass in the catacombs in secret, but these instances pinball all over the place and seem not to belong within the scope of a book about a priest imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Still, there is much to be learned from Darkness at Dachau, especially for anyone interested in the history of World War II.

You can purchase a copy of Darkness at Dachau at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/2p9y6x56) or locally at Stillwater Books (https://tinyurl.com/2y4e3v5j).

Paul F. Caranci is the author of twelve books. He has been a student of history for many years. He is an incorporating member of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) and a member of the board of the RI Publication Society.

Next book review will be Tuesday, January 25!

Coming Soon! Book Review Tuesdays #BRT


Image by LubosHouska/Pixabay

One of the things I want to do, starting in 2022, is feature more local books. Some of you know that we have a treasure of talented writers here in Rhode Island. Many of these authors are either self-published or published through small presses, which can limit one’s exposure. It doesn’t mean the books are any less. Maybe I should repeat that. It still infuriates me when I think back on the one traditionally-published author who told a friend (self-published) that she couldn’t be that good if she was self-published. Grrrr.

Anyway……beginning Tuesday, January 4, 2022, and going forward on Tuesdays throughout the year, this blog will feature a book from a local author. Yes, I still need to carve out enough time to write my next novel (it’s still mostly in my head at this point, but I know the beginning, middle, and end, so that’s something….right?!), and write and schedule my annual Blogging from A to Z posts in April, but I’m retired, and it’s winter, so bring it, I say.

Writers love reviews! Even the not-so-great reviews. I’m okay with them now, although the first time I read a one-star review for my first novel (“I couldn’t finish this drivel”), I cried. No more! Bad reviews, if accompanied by constructive criticism, can actually help one become better. Most of the time, however, bad reviews don’t say much other than “I couldn’t finish this drivel.” So move on. Keep writing, keep learning. If I truly hate a book (rare), or if it was obviously not edited or proofed (not as rare), I’ll keep my negative thoughts to myself. You will not see less than a three-star rating here, because I know what it takes to put a book out there. And it’s important to be kind.

And, I still believe each of us has a story to tell. So in between writing my 11th novel and chairing the next anthology for the Association of Rhode Island Authors and getting my April A to Z posts prepared, I will be reading and writing about what might very well be your next great discovery to read. Stay tuned and follow this blog!

It’s the holidays – joyous and celebratory for many, difficult for others. I will quote a lyric by the magnificent Stephen Sondheim, who passed last month:

Sometimes people leave you
halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.