The Master Craftsman by Kelli Stuart

The Master Craftsman

Russia is certainly in the news each and every day. And not in a good way. Then along comes this powerful new novel set during the Russian Revolution in 1917, the fall of the Romanovs, and the Imperial world of Fabergé and his majestic and wildly famous eggs.

This wonderful novel goes back and forth in time as we meet Ava and her dying father. They’ve never been close. He left her mother and her many years ago to follow is passion: treasure hunting. And, now, on his death bed, he has a proposal for Ava. He is asking her to find an Imperial egg, one that no one knows exists. And our story takes on a life of its own and a journey of a lifetime.

I knew so little about Fabergé and was totally fascinated to learn about this world. What a ride. A colorful and insightful drama that kept me guessing page after page.

My finished copy for review came from Baker Publishing in exchange for an honest review. It’s simply wonderful.

Fencing With The King by Diana Abu Jaber

Fencing With The King

I fell in love with Abu-Jaber’s wonderful writing a long time ago. BIRDS OF PARADISE took place in South Florida. She nailed it. So atmospheric. Great characters. She is also a genius food writer.

FENCING WITH THE KING is a novel and takes place mostly in Amman, Jordan, the birthplace of the author. She’s a Palestinian Jordanian immigrant whose father is said to have been a favorite fencing partner of King Hussein I…

The novel takes place in 1995. Amani is a young poet, newly divorced and recently disgraced in her job. She’s living in upstate New York with her parents. When her father, Gabe, is invited by his brother, Hafez, to attend the sixtieth birthday regalia for King Hussein, it takes some effort but soon enough father and daughter are flying off to Jordan to attend the festivities. Meanwhile Amani has discovered a slip of paper she believes is written by her grandmother from a long time ago. She is anxious to figure out the puzzle.

With scenes of luscious landscape and clues popping up all over the place, you’ll find yourself quite taken with both the people and the history of this mysterious country and culture. Of course things are much more complicated than we are originally led to believe. There is a dark cloud hanging over the story that includes an inheritance and a huge tract of land. Who is the rightful owner? Has there been a crime? Where is the “other” brother? All this keeps pushing the tension higher until we feel it is about to pop.

Mitchel Kaplan podcast. I loved listening to this wonderful podcast where Mitchel Kaplan from Books & Books in Miami, Florida, interviews Diana Abu-Jaber.

Diana Abu-Jaber

I read FENCING WITH THE KING digitally. It was provided by W.W. Norton via Netgalley. All in return for an honest review. Absolutely stunning. Must-read. I loved it!

April Brings Transports, Easter, and Birthdays!

April showers? Please. Here in S.W. Florida out grass is as dry as a tinder box. We have been watering our new trees and old rose bushes daily in order to keep them alive. They are actually thriving but, would surely be dead without help. The weather people are suggesting we might finally get some rain tonight. Of course it will come with the guise of storms. Wind. This has been the windiest spring I can remember. Young trees do not like so much wind. The cats are not fond of high wind. And, personally, me neither. Please let us see the much needed rain tonight, storms and all. Whatever it takes.

I just watched one of Ina Garten’s new cooking shows. Her new show is named BE MY GUEST and she has fun and energetic celebrities who love to cook. Today she featured Erin French who penned my favorite memoir a couple years ago called FINDING FREEDOM. Erin is a powerful personality with a fascinating background. If you haven’t read her book, get it right now. I am including a link to my review so you can see how badly you need this. Today, Erin made her dad’s meatloaf on the show. OMG. Included in my gorgeous finished copy of FINDING FREEDOM is a card with the recipe on it. I can’t wait to watch more of these new shows.

Finding Freedom
Fencing With The King

What am I reading now? I just finished FENCING WITH THE KING and will be working on my review over the weekend. Diana Abu-Jaber is the author. She lives in Florida and I recently listened to a joyful podcast from Books & Books in Miami. Mitchell Kaplan is the owner and his podcasts are always interviews with amazing literary personalities. His voice always manages to draw me in and he knows just the right questions to ask of his guests.

Homegrown hot chili peppers.

After being disappointed time after time with the lack of heat from store-bought peppers, I decided to grow my own. My plant is just peppered with offerings and they are HOT I am happy to report. We enjoyed them last night. I marinated several peppers in silver tequila overnight. Tada. Spicy margaritas. Yum.

Jack’s birthday celebration.

We celebrated my husband Jack’s birthday by dining at a fabulous restaurant called Silver King Ocean Brasserie. It’s inside the new Luminary Hotel in downtown Fort Myers. The night we visited they were offering any bottles of wine or champagne half price up to $100. We splurged and ordered our favorite: Veuve Clicquot. It was a wonderful March evening in paradise and I am happy to say we sat outside and felt like we were on vacation. Service was perfect.

For those of you who may be confused by my mention of transports let me just say that after a very heavy season with over-the-top traffic and wall-to-wall people everywhere, seeing the transports arrive means that some of the northern visitors will be returning to their other homes. We love the visitors but also enjoy a respite.

Spring is definitely springing. The chilly mornings are gone. I have stacks and stacks of upcoming books to read. I am so enjoying getting to read early copies of my favorite summertime authors like Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Kay Andrews. I’m reading THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay right now and loving it to pieces. Good writing. Lighter content.

Cheers! Happy reading!

Under The Golden Sun by Jenny Ashcroft

Under The Golden Sun

This is a great cover. It gives you a very good feeling about the book. It takes place mostly in Australia. I love reading about Australia. I think you will too.

Jenny Ashcroft

Jenny Ashcroft wrote MEET ME IN BOMBAY a couple years ago. It was her first novel and I was totally entranced. When I saw this new novel coming down the book pike, I was thrilled. She does not disappoint. You will get right into the feel of Australia just as she had you deep into the city of Bombay.

A short two page opening has you in Australia. The year is 1936. You briefly meet Mabel as she sits waiting on the steps of her home. And before we know it, off she goes to England, taking her unborn baby along….

Five years later, we are in England and find that Mabel has died. Her five-year-old son Walter is being cared for by an elderly relative. They live in a palatial home on an old established street in London. Vivian is not only old, she’s dying. She needs to find just the right person to take Walter back to Australia to the only family he has left.

Rose is the young woman up to the task. Vivian sees strength and love in Rose and knows she’s the one…Rose who is engaged to marry and yet not sure she wants to go through with it, decides to take on this challenge, especially once she falls in love with little Walter.

The sea voyage is treacherous and long. Once Rose and Walter arrive in Brisbane, they find not a family member, but a stranger with a truck, waiting to take them to the outback where the cattle station is. In an awful storm off they go. Arrival at the big house is very traumatic. No one is expecting them.

This wonderful novel filled with complicated characters will fill your heart with joy. The atmosphere simply crackles and pops with authenticity. Ashcroft manages to bring you straight into the Australia of her pages. I was able to see the kangaroos and koalas, the cows, and the birds. The big skies loomed large over the story. The vast expanse that is Australia’s outback comes vividly to life…

You’ll be shocked at the family reaction to Rose and Walter. And you’ll love the way the story comes together so perfectly.

This big story needs to go right at the top of your to-be-read pile. I loved it. My finished copy arrived from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, it’s wonderful ! Netgalley also provided me with a digital copy. Lucky me!

French Braid by Anne Tyler

French Braid

It’s always cause for celebration when Pulitzer-winning author, Anne Tyler, presents us with another novel. She knows families, she knows Baltimore, and she knows how to pen wonderful stories that quickly draw us in and keep us hostage. FRENCH BRAID does all that and more. Once again, Tyler sets her story in the Baltimore she knows so well and loves. She lives there. I have lived there. This is the real deal.

Families are messy. And the Garrett’s of Baltimore are no exception. Our story begins with the Garrett family finally deciding to take a vacation. It’s summer and they’re going to the lake. They almost never leave the city. At the time we don’t know that this will actually be the only vacation they ever take. Mercy, the mom, is preoccupied with making art, something she rarely gets to practice at home. She’s kept oh-so-busy taking care of her husband Robin and her three children. Robin is like a fish out of water but finds company with another dad and they spend most afternoons hanging out in the lake, talking shop. Alice is taking it all in her stride and spends most of the time with her little brother David. Lily who is boy crazy, promptly meets a “boy” and all but ignores her entire family all week long. And David who is afraid of water, creates his own world and tries hard to stay away from the lake.

As this family grows older and the children become adults, Mercy and Garrett grow apart. But stay together. Mercy spends more and more time a few streets away in her small studio where she blossoms and becomes her true self.

FRENCH BRAID is a quiet but complicated story that focuses on how seemingly small things that happen early in life can become huge hurdles later on. We wonder why David is so eager to leave the nest. Wonder if Lily will ever settle down. And wonder about Alice and how her future will turn out.

Toward the end of the novel you encounter a shock. I didn’t see it coming. This family felt like people I’ve known forever. I miss them already. Tyler has done it again. Bravo.

Anne Tyler Won The Pulitzer for her novel, BREATHING LESSONS in 1988. She’s written more than twenty novels. I’ve read them all. She’s a favorite. A real classic.

I read my review copy of FRENCH BRAID digitally through Netgalley and Knopf in exchange for an honest review. I absolutely loved it and can’t recommend it enough!

What Does Retirement Even Mean?

I’m often surprised when people ask if I’m still working. Of course I’m still working. Always. My work is so rewarding. Now that I’m working for myself it’s even more rewarding than ever.

Years ago I remember discovering cruising. My husband and I used to love going on cruises. When we first started going we would often encounter couples in their early sixties sporting matching Tee shirts that shouted to the world that they were now retired. It seemed to mean they had nothing to do but have fun. Great. I never really gave it much thought because we were so much younger….. Then.

Retirement has changed for so many people over the years. Some of us have discovered a new passion and are pursuing it. During the pandemic, like so many others, I realized that I could work from home. Then that I could work for myself. What a joy it has become. My job is visiting book clubs with happy and avid readers who love nothing more than to read a great story and talk about it. These wonderful readers have embraced me and my love of reading and talking about great books, authors, publishers and anything to do with books! They have come to trust my recommendations and even ask for more. A dream come true. Most of my clubs book as much as a year in advance. It’s wonderful to be able to show up in person again and see all the smiling faces.

So the face of retirement in general has changed. For the better, I think. People who continue to work seem to stay more focused, be more in tune with the world, and be happier for the most part. Everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning. Yes, a lot of people need to work later in life. Everything costs more these days. And it’s getting even more expensive. A friend of ours who is a realtor puts it like this: when asked why he just doesn’t retire, he says, I work because I love what I do, and, I want to be able to keep up the lifestyle I’ve designed for myself. Boom!

You are never too old to try something new. I am looking toward doing things outside my comfort zone. I am writing a book. I am moving out farther from home and speaking to new people. I love meeting new people. I am pretty introverted if truth be told. My husband would laugh at that. He is so extraverted. But getting out and meeting new people is wonderful.

I have met people from all over the world through my blog. It’s so good to be in touch at the stroke of a key. I read a blog post from a blogger in Berlin just the other day. She was talking about the number of families near her who have taken in Ukrainian refugees. Reminded me that Ukraine is closer to Berlin than Paris. I am looking at the world in a different light these days.

Live your life to the fullest. Reach out and do something you really want to do but may have felt nervous about when you were younger. You might surprise yourself.

Blissfully reading on the beach. Anonymous.

On A Night Of A Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark

On A Night Of A Thousand Stars

What I know about Argentina would not fill a thimble. When I saw that this novel takes place mainly in Argentina, well, I was all in.

The opening is in New York city in 1998. A wealthy Argentine diplomat has just been named to the United Nations as ambassador. But something is not quite right. Paloma, his daughter, has just overheard a conversation that is very troubling. Her father may have been involved in the dirty war twenty years ago as it devastated Argentina.

Santiago, his wife , Lila, and Paloma, land in Argentina and Paloma immediately begins her quest. Sometimes we get so much more than we bargain for. Secrets are everywhere in this amazing novel. The dirty war took place in Argentina in the seventies when thousands of people just disappeared for any number of reasons. You’re going to find the events disturbing but unturnawayable. Paloma hooks up with a group of people, survivors, who have lost loved ones and family members to the “disappeared” all those years ago and have banded together to find anything they can about what happened.

The writing is wonderful. The setting is so credibly real. The author lived in Argentina and it shows. The clues are strewn into the story in such a way as to keep you turning the pages. You need to add this amazing novel to you TBR pile right now.

My review copy came from the generous publishing people at Grand Central in exchange for an honest review. Oh yeah! I loved it and think you will too!

Andrea Yaryura Clark

Andrea Yaryura Clark grew up in Argentina amid the political turmoil of the 1970s until her family relocated to North America. After graduating from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service — including a year of study at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires —and completing her MBA at York University (Toronto, Canada), she returned to Buenos Aires to reconnect with her roots. By the mid-1990s, many sons and daughters of the “Disappeared”—the youngest victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s —were coming of age and grappling with the fates of their families. She interviewed several of these children, and their experiences, not widely known outside Argentina, inspired her debut novel. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two sons and a spirited terrier.

Maurice Is Marching Into March

March is notoriously the busiest month here in SW Florida. The roads are jammed with cars and trucks from all over the country, people escaping the cold weather in other parts of U.S. It can be daunting just to drive to the grocery store. People are so happy to be back! And it’s been so fun seeing people’s smiling faces at the book events I’ve experienced in the past couple months.

Oro Negro Avocado

We finally did it. We drove to Fruit Scapes on Pine Island and selected a seven gallon avocado tree, an oro negro. It’s now happily ensconced in our back yard and we are caring for it, lovingly. It’s a beauty.

The empty lot next to our house was totally upended last month when developers took down the HUGE tree near our lot-line and then dug up the land. We knew someone bought the property last year, but, still, it was a real shocker the day the tree came down. A stressful day, watching and wondering how this production would pan out. Building should commence soon.

We have two grandchildren playing baseball this year. Alana is the only girl on the team. We loved watching her and Lucas play ball last night.

Lucas & Alana

We have another grandchild in Asheville who is playing on a national volleyball team. So that is also exciting. Busy families.

And then there are the books coming out this month. Three are out just today:

I am reading like a crazy woman. So many great books coming out for spring and summer. You are in for such a treat.

I hope you can get out and enjoy this amazing weather. Visit a bookstore. Take a day trip. And to those of you in book clubs who I am about to visit, I can’t wait to see you all!

If you are in a book club you can contact me through Book Me Now on this blog. I will get back to you with availability for a visit. You will love it!

Sisters Of Night And Fog by Erika Robuck

Sisters of Night and Fog

I’ve been a devoted fan of Erika Robuck since reading HEMINGWAY’S GIRL years ago. She’s always been a good writer, but, she became a great historical fiction author with her last novel, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN. And, now, with her newest novel, SISTERS OF NIGHT AND FOG, she has managed to climb into the stratosphere where the best of the best of historical novelists live.

While writing THE INVISIBLE WOMAN Robuck intended to incorporate two other important women who fought against the Nazis in WW11, however, it became too much, so she decided to give Violette and another Virginia their own story. I am thrilled that she did. You will be too.

It’s 1940 and Virginia d’Albert-Lake is living in France with her French husband. She’s American. Voices are rising around them and fear is more than a rumor as the war forces itself onto French soil. Virginia’s family want her to come back home to America. She’s not having it. She’s staying with her husband.

Violette is an English-born spitfire who marries the man of her dreams. He’s Etienne and he’s off traveling to unsafe countries while she is left behind. But not for long. She joins the Special Operations with Britain. She’s got dual citizenship and is a superior markswoman.

Virginia joins the resistance and becomes embroiled in heart-stopping endeavors. In fact, both women become so deeply enmeshed in their missions that you, the reader, will be on the edge of your seat throughout most of this amazing novel. Never have I been so involved with a WW11 novel. And I don’t say this lightly.

Robuck has mastered her research. She has gone far beyond the pale. Be sure to read the pages at the end of the novel to find out more about her research and how this story came to her. You will want to know.

These two women were vulnerable. They chose to fight in the only way they knew how and it made a difference. Big-time.

Virginia and Violette do not actually meet until much later in this book when they are both thrown in prison outside Paris and later moved to the atrocious Ravensbruck concentration camp. It’s harrowing. It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever read. You do not want to miss this amazing novel.

Perfect for Women’s History Month. No women were stronger than Virginia and Violette.

My review copy was provided by Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. I am thrilled to say this is one of the best novels I’ve ever read!

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

Look closely at this cover! Some of you will recognize one of the most stunning vistas on this earth: Positano, Italy.

I missed Rebecca Serle’s first very successful novel, IN FIVE YEARS. But when I was offered a digital review copy of this novel, well, I jumped at the chance. It didn’t hurt that the novel is set in one of my favorite spots; Positano.

ONE ITALIAN SUMMER is about a young woman’s trip of a lifetime. She’s been through a tragic couple of years. She was supposed to visit Positano with her mother. But her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died before they could go. With her life in tatters, Katy Silvers leaves her husband behind and flies to Positano determined to find out why her mother loved the place so. She gets far more than she bargained for. All in a shockingly good way.

Serle brings the magic of Positano vividly to life like nothing else I’ve read of the area. She has nailed it all. And I know this because my husband and I spent ten glorious days there about ten years ago. Many of the places we visited are introduced here. The food, the scenery, the hotels, the beaches, the balconies overlooking this heaven on earth.

I loved this story. It’s brought back so many memories. And it’s a novel to make you think. What do we really want? What does love really mean? And sometimes we have to leave to come home.

Positano From The Beach

I took this photo of Positano from the beach at the base of the mountain. This is often referenced in ONE ITLIAN SUMMER. This picture encapsulates this city. It’s quite simply remarkable.

I will say that the steps that they mention in the book wore me out. Having seen these and having actually scaled many of the seemingly endless steps to the sky, makes me very happy that I visited here while my knees were still able to do the trek.

Do yourself a favor and read this wonderful novel. I know you’ll absolutely adore it. My review copy of ONE ITALIAN SUMMER was provided by the generous publishing people at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. I loved it!