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Venetian Blood – A Book Review

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Venetian Blood

Anna comes to Venice to meet an old friend, only to find out that she has been accused of murdering a very prominent member of Venetian society – and someone whom she’d had a brief affair with. Things get sticky as she tries to clear her name, and it seems like someone is out to get her. Being followed through the labyrinthian calles of Venice and a near death experience are some of the dangers she faces as she tries to sort out the puzzle surrounding her. She meets some very unusual characters and is invited into some of the most amazing palazzos in Venice.

The vivid descriptions of Venice in this book by Christine Evelyn Volker make this story come alive. We are invited into the grand palazzos of Venice and she makes us feel every detail. Sometimes, though, I felt it was a little too much detail and too wordy. I had a little difficulty staying connected to the story. The plot was great and, of course, the setting was perfect, though, so if you enjoy Venice and a good suspenseful story, this is a good read.

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Guest Post by Christine Evelyn Volker:

Venetian Blood: Murder in a Sensuous City traces its origins all the way back to 1991. My friend Laura had invited me to join her in Venice, which I had visited briefly, years earlier.  After she met me at the train station, we squeezed into a packed vaporetto and zigzagged down the Grand Canal. We passed palazzos, hiding their ancient secrets in the night air. We threaded through twisting alleyways and made our way toward Campo Sant’ Anzolo. Hotel Gallini, she explained, would be where I’d lodge; she and the others would be staying with a count, who—at that point—was out of room. His palazzo was already full with three American friends—one pregnant, and two Chileans. The count, as I recalled, was not fond of the singing gondoliers rounding the corner of his sumptuous palazzo. But he did have a special place in his heart for plaster casts of relatives’ hands, and for his exquisite library.

A year later, having moved to Milan for business, I returned to Venice many times, exploring its remote corners, strolling along its embankments, swimming at the Lido beach, and marveling at the city’s beauty and unique history. A place like no other, I was convinced: a miracle of survival in a sometimes hostile sea.

Years passed. My recollections of Venice faded, but my love for the city did not. As I underwent difficult times, I was drawn to writing, giving a voice to pain, fusing memories and imaginings, and rediscovering a magical place.

If those of you who read my book identify parts of my protagonist’s voyage with my experiences above, you’d be right. For many reasons, the story of Anna, striving to prove her innocence in the murder of a Venetian count, could take place nowhere else on earth.

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A Year in the Company of Freaks – A Book Review

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A Year in the Company of Freaks

I recently read this highly enjoyable book by Teresa Neumann. This book was funny, fast paced, and a real pleasure to read. This book takes place during the early 1970″s when hippies were trying to find out of the way places to escape civilization for a while. Sid was born and raised in a small town in Northern California called Trinity Springs. A horrible tragedy during his early life left him feeling lost. While trying to make sense of his life, he ended up doing something really stupid which caused him to earn a year of probation back on his home farm. The sheriff in charge of his parole happened to love this young man, even though he was becoming harder and harder to love. Knowing full well what would set him straight, he “sentenced” him to a year of hard labor on his farm. He also put an ad out for some boarders to help with the expenses of running the farm. Four others joined Sid at his farm – an odd group of people, with nothing in common except for being somewhat lost in their lives – came together for a year to live and work together. Their trials and tribulations during this year were both hilarious and heart-wrenching at the same time. They all needed something and were hoping to find it out in lonely Trinity Springs.

I can highly recommend this book – you end up rooting for each and every character and are anxious to see where life ends up taking them during and after this year spent together.

Meet the Author

Teresa Neumann

 

Author of highly-acclaimed “A Year in the Company of Freaks,” Teresa was raised in a large Midwest family and now lives in Oregon. She is also the author of “Bianca’s Vineyard,” and its sequel, “Domenico’s Table.” Both books are based on the true stories of her husband’s Italian family in Tuscany. In addition to enjoying family, writing, reading, meeting her readers, wine tasting, traveling, and all things Italian, Teresa loves playing the fiddle with other musicians.

Here’s a little guest post by the author, Teresa Neumann

Italy Meets California in a Stereo Breaking — or Not — Hippie Adventure 

Years ago, my high-school aged children and their friends began badgering my husband and I about our old “hippie days.” Despite my admonition that it wasn’t all “flowers and rainbows” – that there were equal parts “thorns and twisters” – they, like most fun-loving adolescents and adults, preferred to believe that you can “have your cake and eat it too.”

The truth is, you can have fun, but cross certain lines – illegal or legal — and fun can become dangerous and even criminal, with all the consequences that go with it. Thus was born A Year in the Company Freaks, based on my personal observations and coming-of-age experiences living as a Midwest transplant in northern California in the early 1970’s. Considering the truly stupid, reckless things I did in my youth, it’s a miracle I lived to write a novel about that time period!

Now, for those familiar with my first two books – Bianca’s Vineyard and Domenico’s Table – although the setting of Freaks is America, a deep love for Italy definitely bled over into my third novel. For example, the main character, Siderno “Sid” Jackson, is half-Italian and it’s exactly that Italian “half” that helps ground him as he navigates the challenges he faces after getting busted for growing pot. Of course, wine also figures into the storyline. What story about Italians wouldn’t? However, it takes a back seat to pot. This is northern California – ground zero for the marijuana revolution in the U.S. — and Sid is, after all, Italian-AMERICAN.

Other colorful characters play central roles in Freaks (an albino biker from Texas, a tripwire Vietnam Vet, a Jesus Freak, etc.) giving many opportunities to explore, and often break, stereotypes – a key element of the book as well.

Except, that is, when it comes to Italians.

You just can’t break the stereotype of Italians being family-loving, food-loving, wine-loving, passionate lovers of life because that’s exactly what so many of them are. At least many of the ones I know!

And with family-loving, food-loving, wine-loving Sid Jackson, it just might be his saving grace – from loving pot too much.

Connect with the Author:  Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter

Buy the Book:
Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble
Add to Goodreads

 

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Book Review: More Than A Soldier

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More Than a Soldier

 

A few weeks ago, I posted a spotlight of the book More Than A Soldier by D.M. Annechino.

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At that time, I had not read the book yet. Reading the excerpt, I was anxious to actually read the entire story – it sounded so fascinating. I’m happy to report that I just finished reading it (and I read it in record speed)! It was excellent! The writing style was such that you felt like you were experiencing all the emotions that Army Ranger Angelo Di Marco did while he was fighting in combat as well as trying to survive as a fugitive from the Nazis. His heartaches at losing his fellow Army Rangers, and his worries for his own survival and those of his comrades, were so real that the words touched my heart. This is an amazing story of determination, strength, courage and hope – as well as devastation and desperation. It’s also a story of love – the love that he felt for his family and for his fellow servicemen. The bonds that connected him to everyone, including those kind Italians that helped him survive, were so strong and beautiful. Knowing that this is a true story is all the more poignant and meaningful. I’m so glad that Angelo decided to share this amazing story before he passed away, as it is a story not to be forgotten. I can highly recommend this book as a great historical account of World War II – I very much enjoyed the humanity of this story.

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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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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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Corporate Citizen – A Book Review

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This is #5 of the Roma Series, in which we keep up with Alibaster Black (aka Bianca Nerini) and her super-sleuthing adventures. In this episode, the characters are back in Boston and dealing with some gruesome murders of controversial and influential individuals (to whom we were introduced to in previous books of the Roma series), a new strain of heroin called Krockodil, some military drug experiments, as well as meeting some new characters: Nick and the Magician. Nick is a veteran with a mysterious past, who has a knack of showing up after every murder…and the Magician is an online presence who seems to know how to hack into every computer and who knows LOTS of secrets!

As with the other books in the series, the story is basically exciting but I found it hard to keep all the many characters straight! There is a lot of action going on and I felt confused a lot of the time as to who was doing what. The online presences of Loki and now the Magician are mysterious because they seem to know stuff about everything! But, I have to say, I did find the descriptions of Loki’s avatars very entertaining! The descriptions were so vivid that I could easily picture them dancing across the screen morphing and expressing themselves with so many different expressions.

Here is an interview with Gabriel Valjan, the author:

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What advice would you give budding writers?

Read as widely as you can and form your own relationship to language. Each writer has one whether she is aware of it or not. Be true to the story that you want to deliver and set aside ego. Write. Revise. Get feedback from those you trust. Realize that the physical book in your hands is the result of your work, that of an editor and of a publisher. Be grateful for that and once you are done: release it so that the story can live its own life with readers and you can return to writing. Make the next story better.

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

Silvio was the hardest. He is my homage to Andrea Camilleri’s character Catarella in the Inspector Montalbano series. I say that he was the hardest because I wanted to tip my hat, while at the same time do something different with my Silvio. For those readers unfamiliar with Catarella, he is a bumbling cop who, in trying to sound bureaucratic and formal, does hilarious things with language.

Easiest character? I would say Bianca. She is a composite of three people: a famous hacker I knew, a friend with a genius level IQ, and myself when I was younger. I’m not saying that I am brilliant, but I was extremely distant and analytical (and moody, as Bianca is).

Do you write every day?

I do and I am very ritualistic about my writing habit. Coffee. Exercise. More coffee. I’ll write for three to four hours, or more on a good day. My output averages to about a page an hour, although I have done more, or sometimes less. Write this way, with consistency, and you’ll have a novel in no time. I write from beginning to end and then set aside the story for revisions. I wrote Corporate Citizen in forty-three days in 2012.  The release date for the book is October 5, 2016, so that should give you some idea of the time spent editing and revising it.

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

No. I can’t read my own handwriting at times. I will, however, walk about with a small notebook to jot down notes about dialog, an idea, or an image. I have found that to be conducive to my process.

Favorite dessert?

A Spanish plantain split which consists of deep fried plantains, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted nuts.

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Need I say more? It is the perfect combination of crunchy texture, creaminess, sweetness, and chocolate goodness. I dare you to disagree. I’d like to try it with coconut ice cream.

If there is any one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

For readers to say that I created characters they cared about and that my stories ventured beneath the surface.

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