Category Archives: Book Reviews

Disruption – A Book Review

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Chuck Barrett has written a page turning suspenseful novel that kept me wanting to read until the end! Of course the location helped! Much of it takes place in Italy, and especially the scenes in Volterra had me vividly seeing this ancient city through his words.

Jake and Francesca are “secret agents” that are on the hunt for an Iranian madman who is planning on causing a “disruption” of the world’s technological systems. They need to find him and his accomplices before the deadline to ensure that governments don’t topple and anarchy doesn’t reign. They are whisked from Washington to Italy, Belgium, Germany and Austria by a private jet supplied by their employer following all the clues. Along the way, they encounter many roadblocks as well as heartaches. They are smart and working along with other smart individuals, they try to solve many cases in hopes that they can connect all the pieces together to stop”disruption” before it’s too late. One such case was the search for a missing aircraft. This, along with several other interesting similarities to today’s current events, was intriguing to follow. As I was reading about the search for Air Malacca’s flight 910 that disappeared over the Indian Ocean (a story fabricated by the author), I kept thinking about the missing Air Malaysia 370 flight that disappeared a couple of years ago in the same location – never to be found. At that time, I was intrigued by the story and kept following the news – and felt that maybe it had been hijacked and forced to land somewhere. It was funny that this author came to the same conclusion. Only he expanded on that theory, as can be done when you are writing your own story, but I couldn’t help but feel that maybe the same thing could have happened to that real tragic flight.

I can highly recommend this book – I really enjoyed it. The characters were well developed and the story line was easy to follow. There was a lot going on, but the parts were all connected in a logical way that didn’t have me getting confused.

Meet the author

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Chuck Barrett is the bestselling author of the Award-Winning Jake Pendleton series—Breach of Power, The Toymaker, and The Savannah Project, as well as his latest award-winning blockbuster, BLOWN, the first book in his new Gregg Kaplan series. In addition to writing thrillers, Barrett speaks and conducts workshops at book festivals, book clubs, reading groups, writers conferences, and writers groups. Some of his topics include Nuts & Bolts of Self-Publishing based on his book—Publishing Unchained: An Off-Beat Guide To Independent Publishing—as well as, Blueprint for a Successful Book Launch, Getting from ‘Idea’ to ‘Finished Manuscript,’ Mysteries & Thrillers: Fact or Fiction, and Adding the “What if” in Storytelling. Barrett is a graduate of Auburn University and a retired air traffic controller. He also holds a Commercial Pilot Certificate, Flight Instructor Certificate, and a Dive Master rating. He enjoys fly fishing, hiking, and most things outdoors. He and his wife, Debi currently reside in Colorado.

Here is a guest post by the author:

Who is Francesca Catanzaro anyway?

My latest thriller, DISRUPTION, which hit the shelves on October 25, 2016 is the fourth in the Jake Pendleton series. Naturally, Jake is the key character in every book, but there is another character that appeared in the second book, The Toymaker, and has had an increasing presence in each story since.

Sure, I’d given a little backstory in the second and third books, but, in DISRUPTION, I want to explore deeper into her past and I wanted to share that with the readers. I guess I could have just told the readers about her past, but what’s the fun in that…for any of us. So how did I do it?

Francesca is Italian, born and raised. DISRUPTION is set mostly in Italy. What better way to truly acquaint the reader with Francesca and her past than to have her past come back to haunt her while she is in Italy? Which meant, I had to first learn who Francesca really was and what made her the precision operative she had been portrayed in the prior two books. What made Francesca tick? Why is it that she can be a cold killer? Why does she seem hardened? Is it because of the job? Or something else?

DISRUPTION will explore her past, her family, her former job with AISE (Italy’s version of the CIA), her old boss, former co-corkers, ex-lovers, and more. It made me appreciate her character more than I had before this book. Much of this will give the reader an insight into Francesca that Jake doesn’t even have. And what better way to do that than to let it play out in the storyline.

Francesca is forced with moral dilemmas that torment her for most of the story. How she handles them tells a lot about her character and how it grows throughout this book. But, alas, I have probably said too much about Francesca already.

Writers tend to grow their main characters more than their secondary characters. Mostly, I think, because that’s where we want the reader to focus…on our kick-ass protagonist or our evil, sinister antagonist. But, as writers, you should know that those secondary characters, if written correctly, can make or break a story without stealing the thunder from the protagonist or antagonist.

Making Francesca’s backstory part of the main story, without it seeming to be part of the main story wasn’t the challenge I thought it was going to be. Because, deep down inside, I needed to know who Francesca really was. And I found out.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~ Twitter  ~  Facebook

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The Park of Monsters

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I subscribe to  Atlas Obscura’s facebook page, and just today this video popped up on my feed. The timing was perfect as the book I just reviewed, Michelangelo’s Ghost, takes place here in this park located a little outside of Rome. I had never heard of this place, and now, within a few days of each other, I heard about it twice! It sounds like it might be a very interesting place to visit – what do you think?

Michelangelo’s Ghost – A Book Review

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Gigi Pandian has created a tale of suspense and intrigue in the beautiful Italian countryside. Jaya Jones, a professor of art history from San Francisco, is pulled into a treasure hunt to find never-before seen masterpieces created by Lazzaro Allegri,a contemporary of Michelangelo. His sketchbooks showed his drawings of the royal courts of India – an art that spanned two continents in ways never before seen.

This story is a thrilling combination of suspence and romance. It gripped me from the beginning, and had me hooked throughout its many twists and turns, until the end. The characters were all well developed and we came to know each one of them well. You couldn’t help to fall in love with Jaya – her spunkiness and resolve were contagious and I was rooting for her all the way through!

I wholeheartedly recommend this book – it’s a fun read and takes place in my favorite location of all time: Italy!

Where to Buy the Book:   Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

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Meet the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s debut novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut by Suspense Magazine. Her fiction has been awarded the Lefty Award and short-listed for Macavity and Agatha Awards. Sign up for her email newsletter at http://www.gigipandian.com/newsletter.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Italian Street Food (Spotlight Review)

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Italy’s classic recipes are well known the world over, but few are aware of the dishes that reign on the flourishing Italian street-food scene. Hidden behind the town squares, away from the touristy restaurants, and down back streets are little-known gems offering up some of Italy’s tastiest and best-kept secret dishes that the locals prize.

ITALIAN STREET FOOD is not just another Italian cookbook; it delves into truly authentic Italian fare—the kind of secret recipes that are passed down through generations. Learn how to make authentic polpettine, arancini, stuffed cuttlefish, cannolis, and fritters, and perfect your gelato-making skills with original flavors such as lemon and basil or affogato and aperol. With beautiful stories and stunning photography throughout, ITALIAN STREET FOOD delivers an authentic, lesser known take on a much loved cuisine.

Where to Buy the Book:

Rizzoli  ~  Amazon

Meet The Author:

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Paola Bacchia is one of Australia’s most popular Italian food bloggers. On her blog, Italy on My Mind, she shares family memories and their connections to food. It won awards for best food blog in 2013 and 2015 from ITALY Magazine. Paola returns to Italy every year to expand her knowledge of Italian food, its traditions, and innovations.

 

Connect to the author: Website  ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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The Cadence of Gypsies – A Book Review

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I have to say that this book kept me riveted from start to finish! It was an easy read and a great story!

Carolina Lovel found out at 18 that she had been adopted. Along with receiving this information (something she really wasn’t all that surprised about since she always felt that something was missing in her relationship with her adopted parents), she was given a box containing some mysterious objects, pages from a manuscript written in an unknown language, and her birth certificate which stated that she was born in Italy! From that moment on, translating the document became her obsession as well as her sanity. She found that it was similarly written to a mysterious document called the Voynich Manuscripts – an ancient gypsy manuscript which was almost impossible to decipher without LOTS of research. Carolina worked on this secret project,  revealing every tidbit only to her soulmate, Larry. Even though she shared all with him and he helped her with this endeavor, something was missing in that relationship, too. Carolina had the inner need to find herself before being able to give herself fully to another person. Larry seemed to understand this and hoped that one day she would find all the answers she searched for.

After graduating college, Carolina took a job at the Wood Rose Orphanage and Academy for Young Women. She was put in charge of 3 highly gifted (genius status) girls – put in charge because, even though these girls had intelligence levels higher than their classmates, they were always getting into mischief – to the horror of the headmaster! Carolina seemed to understand these young girls and they developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. The girls were “affectionately” known as the FIGS.

When the FIGS crossed the line and trimmed the headmaster’s prize tree into an inappropriate “sculpture”, Carolina was asked to “take care of them!”. Carolina understood the FIGS and loved them, despite their mischievous ways. She decided to channel their high intelligence and creativity with an idea. She presented it to the headmaster to get his opinion, and with his blessing, she approached the girls with a project – to help her with her private research project of deciphering the Voynich Manuscript and, with that, her letter. She planned to take the girls abroad to Italy on a study abroad program. The girls accepted the challenge with great enthusiasm and they all contributed their intellectual powers full force.

Arriving in Italy, they were given rooms in an old farmhouse run by an elderly couple. As soon as they set foot in Italy, the girls and Carolina were accepted with open arms and shown genuine affection by the couple. It was one of the first times that the FIGS knew what it was like to be loved by a family. They all thrived here and realized that they could face their futures without any fear.

Carolina and the girls threw themselves full force into their research, uncovering truths and also dark secrets. All the while that this research was happening, dark forces were also happening at the gypsy camp in town which would ultimately affect Carolina and the FIGS.

The outcome of all these things coming together is what makes the reader keep reading – what’s going to happen? How are all the puzzle pieces finally going to come together?

I can highly recommend reading this book – it will keep you enthralled until the last page!

Buy the Book:  Amazon  ~  Barnes & Noble

Author’s Bio:

Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, established in 1995, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.

In 2014 Barbara became a partner in Strategic Media Books Publishing, an independent publishing house that specializes in true crime and other cutting-edge adult nonfiction.

Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix, Fitz, a miniature dachshund, and Gert, a Jack Russel terrier of sorts.

Connect with the author:  Website

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Interview with Barbara Casey:

Do you have another profession besides writing?

I am president and owner of the Barbara Casey Agency, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and Canada, and I am also a partner in a publishing company that publishes nonfiction/true crime.

How long have you been writing?

I started writing creatively when I was a young child. I loved writing simple rhyming poems, then built up to more involved stories as I got older.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?

Occasionally the words just don’t want to cooperate – they don’t seem to say what I want them to say. When that happens, I take my three dogs out for a long walk in the woods, and it is amazing how often that clears my head.

What is your next project?

The Cadence of Gypsies is the first book in THE F.I.G. MYSTERIES. The Wish Rider is the sequel to The Cadence of Gypsies and it is scheduled for publication May 5. So now I am working on the third book in the series.

What genre do you write and why?

I write primarily adult fiction – novels – but occasionally, as in this case, young adult novels. I also write true crime/biography, and Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly has just been released.

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The Winemakers – A Book Review

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The Winemakers by Jan Moran debut

About the book:

1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a
grandmother she’s never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret — a
secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has
worked for. Many years before, her mother’s hard-won dreams of staking her family’s claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she
realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried
past.

From author Jan Moran comes The Winemakers, a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.

Buy the book:   Amazon  ~   Barnes & Noble  ~   Kobo  ~  Chapters ~  Books-a-Million
~   Book Depository   ~  iBooks

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About Jan Moran:

Jan Moran is a Rizzoli bestselling and award winning author. She writes historical
women’s fiction for St. Martin’s Press (Scent of Triumph, The Winemakers),
contemporary women’s fiction (Flawless, Beauty Mark, Runway), and nonfiction
books (Vintage Perfumes, Fabulous Fragrances). Her stories are smart and
stylish, and written with emotional depth. Jan often draws on her international
travel and business experiences, infusing her books with realistic
details.

The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful. She likes to talk to readers at www.janmoran.com and on social media. She lives in
southern California and loves lattes and iced coffee, anything chocolate, and
Whole Foods Double Green smoothies to balance it all out.

Connect with the author at her various sites:

janmoranbooks@gmail.com
Website
Twitter
Pinterest
Facebook
Instagram

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Interview with Jan Moran:

The Winemakers is set in Napa and Italy. Have you ever visited there areas?

Napa Valley and Tuscany are two of my favorite places in the world; The Winemakers grew out of the passion I felt for these regions. I fell in love with the natural beauty and the winemakers’ sense of artistry and stewardship for the land. Add to that a leisurely lifestyle, excellent food and wine, and good friends—need I say more?

How long have you been writing?

I’ve loved reading and writing since I was a little girl. My first nonfiction book, Fabulous Fragrances, was published in 1994, and I turned to writing novels a few years later.

What are your favorite wines?

So many wonderful wines… Some that have special meaning to me include Brunello di Montalcino, one of the wines featured in The Winemakers, as well as Moone-Tsai’s Cor Leonis Cabernet Sauvignon, Chassagne Montrachet, and the Bordeaux: Pomerol, Saint-Émilion, and Margaux. Although I don’t drink a lot, for casual evenings I might enjoy an Argentine Malbec, a Californian Pinot Noir, or a creamy Chardonnay. Every wine-producing region has a unique terroir, or set of environmental characteristics, which make the wines of each area special. When traveling, I love to sample regional wines.

Do you have another profession besides writing?

I’ve had several professions in business. For example, I founded a company that created touch-screen beauty programs for Sephora and Duty Free Stores around the world, so I often draw on these business experiences in my writing. I also studied writing at the University of California in Los Angeles, majored in finance at the University of Texas in Austin (hook ‘em horns!), and earned an MBA from Harvard. After that I worked as a management consultant and headed a nonprofit charity. This variety really serves me well in writing.

If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?

Actually, I identify with many characters in my books, and I especially enjoy writing multigenerational stories.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?

Walking on the beach, exercising, or listening to music are good ways for me to summon the muse.

What is your next project?

I’m working on another historical novel set in the 20th century and can’t wait to share it with readers.

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Port of No Return – A Book Review

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Historical fiction novels about Italy during World War II always seem to fascinate me – probably because the stories hit pretty close to home since my parents lived through this horrible time in Italy.  Neither one of my parents, though, remembers it as being really terrible – I guess they were the lucky ones.  But after reading several accounts of the atrocities that occurred in Italy, I am devastated to learn that so many innocent people lost their lives – and if they survived, they lived through some pretty horrible experiences.  My parents speak about the poverty, but their stories tend to be more human interest stories rather than accounts of despair and fear.  My mother tells a great story of her and her sister going to collect the rationed jam, of which each family was only allowed one jar per month. The two little girls, aged 8 & 7, were sent by their parents to go and pick it up.  On the way home, they decided to sample some. One spoonful for one, another spoonful for the other, and by the time they got home, the jam was all gone! My mom says that it tasted so good that they just couldn’t stop!

Michelle Saftich’s novel, Port of No Return, speaks of life in Fiume, a town now a part of Croatia.

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Back before the war, it was a part of Italy, and during the war, it was occupied by the Germans. Towards the end of the war and even afterwards, it became a hotbed of political tensions between the Yugoslav Communists (or Partisans) and those who worked for the Germans. Families were just trying to eek out a living to support themselves and therefore found work wherever there were jobs.  Many of those jobs involved working on German projects.Tensions became so high that the Partisans fought everyone they felt supported the Germans. Families had to split up and flee their homes, taking refuge in refugee camps.  This story tells the story of the Sartoro family – mother, father, nonna and 5 children.  Ettore, the father, had worked in the naval yards run by the Germans, even though his allegiances were always to Italy. Word got out that the Yugoslav’s were coming to even the score with the Germans, and everyone involved with working for them was fair game. Ettore ran for his life, leaving behind his entire family. Months passed and the family had to escape Fiume as well.  They had to leave everything they had ever known.

The story tells of the hardships that both Ettore and his family faced, and their struggle to find each other.Even after the war was over, life was still unbearable – they were living in horrendous conditions in refugee camps – but their spirit remained strong and their commitment to family was beautiful.

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They were determined to create a better life, and this meant leaving the world they knew and venture to unknown lands. The end of the book finds the family embarking on a voyage to Australia and to the new life awaiting them there.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope that a sequel will follow that tells of their new life in Australia.