Easter Memories Of Four Years Ago


My youngest grandchild four years ago.

Our home is full of kids today. Has been all week. But when the kids got their Easter baskets this morning—–all I could remember was Emerson four years ago when her daddy laid her gently in her new basket. And this was the result. Priceless!

Astonished By Beverly Donofrio

Beverly Donofrio


ASTONISHED, by Beverly Donofrio, is a memoir written by the author of RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS, which was made into a movie starring Drew Barrymore. What a wild ride it was. And an unputdownable read.

I make it a point to stay away from rape; fiction or memoir. But I was not able to pass this up. Beverly Donofrio was in her mid fifties, living carefree in Mexico, happily ensconced in her little community, when she was attacked and violated in her own home; her own bed. I was petrified just hearing this. As a woman of a certain age myself, I was actually horrified to think something like this could happen. It is unconscionable that anyone would rape anyone but, to attack someone of this age just blew me away and me downright mad!

Donofrio had this happen six years ago. Now she is finally able to bend herself around it enough to share it with us. I don’t even begin to know how something like this would affect me or my family. But Beverly’s life changed yet again.


Beverly Donofrio

Donofrio was actively seeking a monastery that would take her in when this assault occurred. She wished to live a life of love and prayer. But she needed her grandchild to visit, something not usually allowed. Then this despicable thing happened.

This story was written in the five years after the rape.  She writes with wit, with love, and with conviction. She’s not afraid to bare her soul.  Not at all.  She is determined not to be a victim.

Her writing has been compared to Anne Lamott. But she really just has her own style. It reads like a novel. And is a must-read.

My friends at Viking Publishing sent me this finished hard copy. I thank you once again for sending an astonishing read.

Heart Of Palm by Laura Lee Smith


Heart Of Palm

Initially, I picked the galley up just to take a peek. I  wanted to check out the writing and see where the book might fit or not fit into my reading. HEART OF PALM by Laura Lee Smith begins in 1964 with a long prologue that drew me in and took over my life. Hooked!

Laura Lee Smith is a first time novelist. She has, stunningly, outdone herself. Told in many voices, each one continues to resonate within me, and I find myself thinking  about these people as if they are real.

Utina, Florida is a tiny, backward, town, stuck in the past, and not accepting the changes that are a comin’. It’s a scrappy, backwater smack-dab on the Intracoastal Waterway,  near St. Augustine, Florida.  The real estate boom has not yet caught up to it, but don’t blink your eyes.

The Bravo’s of Utina are an anomaly. They’re cut from a different cloth. They are both unique and ubiquitous: one of the greatest families I’ve read about in a long time.

Arla and Dean Bravo have managed to stay together for years, beating the odds. Their old rambling, falling apart home is named Aberdeen. Even Arla doesn’t know where that name came from. The house is a character, itself. It’s image is forever sketched in my mind. It is the quintessential old Florida house. It sits precipitously on an old side street in the middle of the town, perched high over the Intracoastal Waterway of Utina.  It’s been there forever. And so has the gravestone hidden away in the Palmettos, nearby.

Who exactly is Dean Bravo? A wreck of a man who tries to make the best of a terrible situation for as long as he can. Until he can’t. And who is Arla Bravo? A broken shadow of the spunky, lovely woman she once was.

And then there are Arla and Dean’s kids. Frank and Carson are brothers. Sophia, their sister, has never-married, still living at home with mama at the age of 40+. And we have to wonder how sound her mind is. Frank runs the family business: Uncle Henry’s,  a bar and grill on the water, nearby. We find out soon that he dreams of running to the mountains; shucking this heat and misery. Frank’s dog Gooch steals the show more than once, riding around in the pickup with attitude. “The dog followed stiffly, not looking at Frank, still miffed about being made to ride in the bed of the pickup.”  Carson  is an investment counselor.  Can you say Ponzi, ponzi, ponzi. He’s a real jerk. And his poor wife Elizabeth seems a saint.   Then there’s the “other” one, the lost one.

The heat actually sizzles and pops throughout much of the book, but at one point the women and girls go to St. Augustine, Florida to celebrate a little girl’s birthday. It’s mid July. You have to have experienced this type of misery to understand just how hot it was. But Smith has nailed it. I actually began to feel faint from the oppressive heat while reading this chapter.

Elizabeth, Carson’s wife, thinking to herself after the day spent with his family in the tourist town of St. Augustine. “It was claustrophobic, cloying. Always too many people—the traffic, the tourists, the ubiquitous trolleys! She wanted to walk into the woods, stay there.”

What keeps families together? What is familial love? Some love is just inexplicable. And how does love survive when pushed past the limits of human endurance?

We find quickly that a big-time developer wants to build a huge bustling marina right on the property where Aberdeen and the restaurant stand. And now all Hell is breaking loose. Even a Publix supermarket is being built, and all the crazies  are rebelling in ways only their kind understand.

author of HEART OF PALM

Laura Lee Smith

Laura Lee Smith has just joined the ranks of the best Southern Writers. Don’t miss this one.

My galley came from Grove Atlantic. I am thrilled to have been an early reader. Thanks!

Z: A Novel Of Zelda Fitzgerald By Theresa Anne Fowler



I was lucky enough to get a galley of, Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, many months ago. I fell for it head over heels and have been thinking about the story and the woman and her  life ever since. So, make sure you have plenty of time set aside as you dive into this one!


Zelda Fitzgerald

Not much has been written about Zelda Fitzgerald.  And no fiction that I am aware of. This fascinating new work of fiction not only involves Zelda, but delves deeply into the dark psyche of F.Scott, her husband.

This novel reads more like an expose than just a story. It definitely goes beyond the norm. And that is what I love about it.

Since seeing the Woody Allen film, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, over a year ago, I’ve taken more than a passing interest in the characters portrayed in the movie. For the first time, I saw Zelda Fitzgerald and Scott in roles that really caught my attention. And I knew I wanted to know more about their lives. More than the here say we’ve all already heard.

I will tell you that I blew through this novel in two days. That is not my usual MO.  I just ate it up.  Not only did I read about Zelda and Scott,  Ernest  Hemingway was certainly a large part of this story. And not in a flattering way. Zelda and Hemingway were like oil and water. And Fowler does a great job of showing us this in all its glory.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was born on July, 24, 1900, in Montgomery, Alabama. Her father was a Judge; her mother a very proper woman of leisure.

Fowler begins her story of Zelda in 1918 when Zelda is a very precocious 18. She is about to meet Scott. But we are given the opportunity to see what her life was like before he entered the picture.

NYC, Paris, The Riviera, all sparkle and pop in this story filled with Roaring Twenties madness.

I had no idea of the scope of  talent lying in wait inside Zelda Fitzgerald. And the style, the artistic brilliance, the substance. This novel turns Zelda and Scott inside out, shows us the way they really were, together and apart.  Is it a love story? Yes. Is it a tragedy? Yes, again.

Be careful when you open this novel. Make sure the dog is in, the cat is fed, the children are cared for, and you have plenty of undisturbed time. I devoured this book. It will invade your psyche. And clutch at your heart.

Zelda Fitzgerald has got to be one of the most misunderstood women of her time. This book, albeit fiction, blows the lid off her life and reveals the true character hidden within. Was she crazy, mad, nuts? She suffered from severe schizophrenia. Was institutionalized several times. But what triggered the episodes that took her sanity? Scott Fitzgerald was an alcoholic. Not just a drinker, a full-fledged addict of alcohol. These two people fed off of one another. They, both loved and hated, each other.

Was Scott jealous of any writing ability Z had? You betcha. Did he steal her work? That is for you to decide. There will be those who will say Scott got a bad rap and Z was the problem. Just as many will say Scott was the problem and Z could have been a different person on her own. They were both dealing with monumental issues. Hers just got more attention.

As you are being led through the worlds of The Jazz Age and The Roaring Twenties, you will come in contact with many of the fine writers and artists of that time. This puts icing on the cake, makes the excitement level rise.


Therese Fowler

I loved reading the book in Zelda’s voice.  I will forever think of this story through her voice. Fowler has captured it utterly and completely. It is perfect.

I received my galley from St. Martin’s press. I can’t thank you enough.

The Burgess Boys By Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge

The Burgess Boys

 Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of OLIVE KITTERIDGE. She’s  written two other novels:  AMY AND ISABEL and  ABIDE WITH ME.

THE BURGESS BOYS tackles a family who have struggled all their lives because of a tragic accident that happened when the three kids were small.

Maine, and the  town of Shirley Falls, becomes a character. This town has changed over the years falling into a slump and being over run with refugees fleeing their homes in Somalia.

Religion becomes very important as we discover the reason Susan’s already fragile teenaged son, Zach,  has committed a crime. No one has been murdered. Or raped. Or even sworn at. But what Zach has managed to do is unearth a can of worms that will not be contained quickly or easily. This very quiet and unassuming teenager has been silently suffering since his mom and dad divorced. His mother is a strange bird to say the least. His father has left the country to live in Sweden; is only in contact with Zach through email, and only on occasion.

The Burgess boys have never been close. One has a twin, Susan, the mother of  Zach, the boy charged with the crime. The boys escaped the strangling confines of their hometown many years ago; both ending up in New York City: Jim to become a famous trial lawyer, while Bob ends up being a much less important lawyer. Bob is divorced from his childhood sweetheart. She chose to move on once she realized Bob was not able to father a child; her clock was ticking. Jim is comfortably married to the mother of his children and solidly ensconced in a law office where he is well-respected and makes boo-coo bucks.

Susan knows she is in big trouble when she finds Zach is in trouble. She calls her brothers to come to her aid. They come. But they don’t stay. Her place is not welcoming. She keeps the thermostat  so low that Bob has to wear his coat in the house. And Susan has never been one to cook…anything. She and Zach usually toss mac and cheese or a frozen pizza in the microwave to nuke them. Bob really just wants a drink.

There’s lots of depth to these characters. You find yourself wanting to know the whole story. How did they get to this place? Why don’t they get along? Why does Jim totally put Bob down with every breath he takes? And what is really going on within Jim’s home? Really, nothing is as it appears to be.

There’s a message about religious choice here. A message about hate crimes. A message about change. And most of all, a message of acceptance and tolerance.

Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is no slouch when it comes to tackling relationships. And she has figured out how to untangle troubled families. Where we come from and who we come from really can and usually does make us into who we are.  Sometimes, just sometimes, we are saved from ourselves.  In this case, you’re going to  enjoy watching the novel unravel.

The tragic incident that occurred to the kids and their dad when they were young,  helps shape them into the tortured souls they’ve become.  In this case we find that the facts may not have been as they were originally told. And that creates a change that no one could have foreseen.

You will probably pick THE BURGESS BOYS up because you really love reading Elizabeth Strout. You won’t be disappointed. This thoughtful and smart novel will keep you thinking long after you’ve flipped the last page. You’ll be longing for her next book. I wonder how many little kids remember catastrophic events from early childhood? Could they possibly understand them? Probably not. And in this case the truth changes everything.

I have to thank Randon House for my galley. Once again, you’ve managed to find another winner. Thanks so much.

Hard cover: 320 pages Pub date: March 26, 2013

And The Winner Is……

Me Before you

Me Before You

Without further ado, here is my big winner>… Carrie—-you’ve won a copy of ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes. Congratulations! I am so pleased to be able to have this giveway. Totally one of the best books this year. Enjoy. I’ll contact you by email to get your mailing information. Your lovely book will arrive straight from Viking publishing. They have been so generous to provide your book.

Thanks to all of you that took the time to enter my contest and make this giveaway such a success. It’s because of all of you that these giveaways exist. And happy reading to you all.



Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle

Tuscany ww2

Villa Triste

VILLA TRISTE by Lucretia Grindle takes place in Florence, Italy, and shifts back and forth in time. The story begins during ww11 with an Italian family working together to save Jewish refuges by smuggling them out of the country. The contemporary story switches to a mystery. We begin with an old man found dead in his flat in Florence; he’s been shot and has had salt stuffed in his mouth. We discover he was a partisan.

Partisans. Those ordinary citizens who took a quiet, secret, stand against the tyranny  of the enemy. These are the everyday people who put their lives on the line each time they dared to smuggle a radio into a household, send a message illegally, and take to the streets and back alleyways to save the lives of innocent people who just happen to be Jewish.

Inspector Alessandro Pallioti   is a real character. He is called to the scene of the first crime and shown the body; the dead man has had a mouthful of salt shoved into his mouth. Odd. Until he finds out what  that means.

There is a scene during the war where an ambulance is smuggling  a family of Jews across the border. Our young German partisan has to make a snap decision; has to come up with something on the spot to keep the border guard from opening the back door of the conveyance. It is startling and totally out of character and devastating to her future. It’s scenes such as this that take a story from being a good story to being a great story.

The book begins in 1943 with Caterina Cammacio preparing for her wedding.  But not for long. There are far more pressing matters to deal with. The war is creating havoc in Florence and its countryside. Isabella, Cat’s sister, is already involved with the underground series of partisans. She garners the unwilling aid of Caterina; now the entire family is in the thick of it.Little is written about the 35,000 women who participated as partisans in Italy during the way. There were regular women, untrained in war tactics, but strong and determined to help in any way they could, damn the consequences! There is a plaque in Florence to honor all the partisans.I found the characters sharp and true-to-life. The story is one I’m interested in: Italy. ww11. But I sure wish there had been more about Florence, both then and now. I liked the part of the novel in 1943-1944 better than the more modern one. I borrowed this book. It is a huge read: 600 pages.  Could have been much shorter. But, all in all, a good story.

Giveaway: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before you

Me Before You

I posted my review of this amazing love story earlier this year. I have been given an amazing opportunity. Viking Publishing is offering a giveaway of this novel on my website. One lucky winner will walk away with ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes. Please leave a comment below and you will be entered to win.  The winner is limited to U.S. addresses only; and no P.O boxes.

It’s been too long since my last giveaway. And what a way to get back into it. One of my favorites so far this year.

This wonderful novel takes place in the countryside of Great Britain. People magazine is raving about ME BEFORE YOU. Paula McLain loves it. It is totally worth stepping outside your comfort zone to read this unforgettable love story that just might change your life forever.


Jojo Moyes

After you read this one you will want to share it with someone, so you have someone to talk to about it. Personally, I couldn’t wait to reread it. I have spoken with friends who have been moved to tears, made to think, and know they have found something very special in Moyes’s book.

Make your comments now. And good luck! You are in for such a wonderful reading experience! This is a must-read.

I will pick the winner the old fashioned way: out of my hat:) You have until midnight Monday, March 18. Good luck!

At Least You’re In Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

Memoir Montelpulciano

At Least You’re In Tuscany

This colorful and witty  memoir covers the first year in the life of Jennifer Criswell as she romps through, up and down, and all around, the small hill town of Montepulciano, Italy.

Jennifer Criswel

Jennifer & Cinder

Criswell has done her research. She’s visited the area many times. She knows what’s in store for her. And, still, she tosses her life as a lawyer in NYC, to the wind. Sends her life packing in boxes that will not arrive until months after her arrival. And travels halfway around the world with her dog Cinder to begin a new life.

How easy is it to relocate to a foreign country? What kinds of red tape are you likely to encounter? And how apt are you to actually stay? What are the odds that you might have to give up? All these questions and then some are answered here in Jennifer Criswell’s memoir.

The pace of life in Italy is slower than life in the United States.  We whine and complain about waiting in line an extra five minutes. Waiting is the norm for most things in Italy, but any sort of document or paperwork, is going to take seemingly forever.  So, you must be willing and able to learn patience. I couldn’t help but feel Jennifer’s pain as she waited and waited for her documents. And then waited again.

organic vineyard

San Polino

I believe Criswell has painted a pretty accurate picture of  her life. I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with her even as I broke out laughing, about the bread: the hard, white, tasteless bread. I was on the quest for a decent loaf of bread the entire month we were in Tuscany. And I never, ever, found it. One innkeeper in Ponzano actually took pride in serving the bread the next day when it was harder than a brick. Would have loved to have found good whole wheat bread hidden away in the back of a bakery.

Montelcino Caffe Bar

Montalcino Caffe Bar

The fruit and vegetables are without comparison. And the wine, the wine, is wonderful. People must visit a vineyard .

Finding a job in any foreign country has got to be difficult. In this case it was downright impossible.  If not for the generosity of her neighbors and friends Criswell would probably have given up and gone home.

And what about Criswell’s love life? After all, she is only late 30’s? Let’s say, it gets complicated.

There are scenes that are laugh out loud funny. And then scenes of abstract frustration as Jennifer deals with immigration issues  the language. Even though she has been studying Italian for some years, it is allusive unless used in context. And there are many scenes dealing with food; preparation, shopping for, eating. These I liked. They brought back memories of sitting outside on a chilly spring day while visiting Pienza, enjoying a steaming hot bowl of ribollita ( Tuscan bean soup) while my husband devoured his pici topped with cinghiale ragu. In other words his local pasta with tomato sauce and wild boar.

While staying in an ancient stone cottage in Ponzano we came face to face with our own experience with an Italian washing machine. It truly took three hours for the thing to go though all the cycles. And there was no dryer. So, when Jennifer tells how she tangled with the washer, well, I can relate.

You will delight in reading about Jennifer’s adventures. You’ll laugh and cry with her. And look forward to the next installment.

I was able to read an e-galley of Jennifer’s book from netgalley. Thanks.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist

THE ORCHARDIST  by Amanda Coplin is one of the best books I’ve read this year. In fact, I’ve just named it my favorite for 2012: no small feat. The cast of characters has set up housekeeping in my memory; I expect them to be around forever.

Talmadge is very much a solitary man, living alone in the hills of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1800’s..  He’s methodical, keeps to himself, tends to his orchard, and lives a quiet life. His mother died when he was young; his sister disappeared, mysteriously, when she was in her teens.

The most exciting event each season is when the horse wranglers come through, making camp on the land and interacting with Talmadge. These men are rough and mostly natives. But have become welcome visitors through the years, some even becoming friends with Talmadge.

One day, Talmadge takes his fruit to town to sell at the market. And comes in contact with two young girls. These girls appear to be on their own. And they are hungry. They steal fruit from him while he nods off.

Jane and Della are sisters. They  show up at the orchard soon after robbing Talmadge. They are filthy, do not speak, and are both very pregnant. And very young.

Amanda Coplin writes with such determination and attention to detail. Amazing detail.  Her prose kept taking my breath away, time after time. This story reminds me somewhat of a magnificent novel called THE SEAMSTRESS by Frances De Pontes Peebles.  The characters are edgy and unique and so  beautifully fleshed out that you can feel their pain at living.

The girls have decided that Talmadge is someone they can trust. He, slowly and painstakingly, gets through to them, letting them know that they are safe with him, and carefully folds them both under his own broken wings. No harm will be done to them on his watch. He leaves food out for them. They live and react like feral cats, outside in the open. What has made them this way?

The danger hangs in the air like pollen.  A stranger appears in town asking about the girls.  Talmadge finally decides he must confront this man. These girls have obviously been abused in the worst sort of way. He must find out what is behind this. What he finds will take your breath away. I have read and heard of some awful things but this takes the cake.

Talmadge leaves himself open for heartbreak. But little does he know how much. Or how his decision to host these pregnant children will haunt him and change his life, desperately.

We know the girls are pregnant right from the get-go. So, there must be two births, right? These scenes are graphic and painful, but like a train wreck, you can not look away. Thankfully, a woman herbalist who is Talmadge’s only friend, is there to help. But you can only imagine what it would be like to give birth in the middle of nowhere with only the aid of two strangers. Harrowing is not too strong a word.

This time period is right before there were railroads in the great Northwest.   It was wild, lawless. People ate what they could grow or raise themselves. Travel was by foot or horse.

This unputdownable story of epic proportions is, without question, the  best book I’ve read this year by a new author.  As this smart story unravels you’ll find yourself missing meals and sleep. But it’s all worth it.

Amanda Coplin is a fresh, new author. She is beyond good! I pray she has many more stories like this.

Amanda Coplin
Amanda Coplin

Many thanks to my friends at Harper Collins for supplying my advance reading galley. This one is a home run right out of the ballpark.!