contemporary romance

True Blend by Joanne DeMaio

by Casee Marie on April 30, 2014

in Fiction, Reviews

Joanne DeMaio’s fourth book, True Blend, brings her readers back to the quaint town of Addison, Connecticut, to meet new characters and even catch a glimpse of some familiar faces. Young widow Amy Trewist is finally beginning to recover from the loss of her husband when her daughter Grace is stolen from her in the midst of a bank robbery; in a mere three minutes her life is uprooted, and when her daughter is finally returned she knows their lives will never be the same. All she can remember of the scene is a compassionate promise from a masked assailant and the feel of a hand over hers. Local market owner George Carbone has always been aware of the distance between him and his brother Nate, a rift driven between them by their father’s death; one that Nate tries futilely to avoid. Their only connection now is their penchant for casinos and card games, but when Nate raises the stakes George finds himself drawn into a new sort of gamble, and he’ll be faced with a choice that could cost people their lives: especially two year-old Grace Trewist. As George and Amy’s lives entwine, powerful feelings will war with a plague of secrets as their lives spiral into unforeseen change.

True Blend marks a unique turning point in DeMaio’s evolution as a writer. While her previous novels explore her ability to capture all the complex nuances of personal relationships, True Blend’s story reaches additionally into elements of crime, suspense, and mistaken identity. While the nature of the novel’s plot is decidedly new territory, DeMaio’s reliable narrative style and her talent for crafting memorable characters manage to draw True Blend comfortably into the family of her previous work. Readers will be at home in the fictional town of Addison while discovering new layers of DeMaio’s ability as a storyteller. Proving herself to be particularly adept at relating the intricate depth of romantic relationships in her writing, it’s interesting to see different circumstances used as a new device here. While DeMaio’s previous stories casts her characters’ relationships against the search for personal identity and the lingering impact of complex romantic history, True Blend examines the fight to overcome – whether it’s possible – the repercussions of immoral actions in the face of love. This avenue presents an opportunity for an exploration of human nature, to question whether one can be driven to commit one crime for the sake of preventing another, and whether love and truth can ultimately triumph over perceived betrayal; it’s all captured beautifully in DeMaio’s confident prose, set amid a dreamlike world of authentic New England charm.

Beyond its taut romantic drama, True Blend draws on the other plights of its characters to broaden its story. The many struggles Amy faces after Grace’s abduction become a crucial element of the story, and DeMaio’s superb research brings them to vivid life: we see Amy’s struggle with anxiety and PTSD following the attack, as well as the means she takes to recover, and perhaps the most heart-wrenching of all, we witness little Grace’s prolonged silence following her abduction. The bond between mother and daughter is as strongly portrayed as the complex relationship between brothers, allowing readers to feel deeply engrossed in the varying degrees of family dynamics. As George grapples with the role his brother played in a shocking crime he must also come to terms with what influence he may have had on Nate’s decisions. Combing the vastness of emotional complexity and the sweet, simple charm of a quiet New England village, True Blend takes readers on a journey to determine the strength of love, the power of hope, and the endurance of the soul.

Title: True Blend

Author: Joanne DeMaio

Genre: contemporary, romance, drama

Publisher: Joanne DeMaio

Release date: March 4, 2014

Source: Mary DeMaio (c/o)

Buy the book:
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Vera Sterling is reeling from the loss of her job as a journalist in the city when she returns to her small Connecticut hometown of Addison for her sister’s wedding. Jolted by her unsteady new circumstances, Vera finds herself making a decision to take a chance and do something truly unexpected: namely, purchasing an old Colonial home complete with a neglected barn. Once the famed and beloved Christmas Barn of her youth, the old timber building is run down and the house is in need of a host of repairs; but Vera finds encouragement when she stumbles across a treasure hidden in the barn, left behind by the Christmas Barn’s proprietor with the wish of hope that can only come from one special holiday. As she begins to chip away at her new life, Vera gets reacquainted with the town nestled into Addison Cove, particularly handsome hardware store owner Derek Cooper whose history of tragic loss brings the town together every year to remember a young girl lost at Christmas. But when Derek’s yearly tribute festival is threatened by an unstoppable snowstorm, it’s up to Vera to commemorate a tragic event while trying to heal the heart of a father still steeped in unfathomable grief.

Joanne DeMaio’s third novel, Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes, marks the author’s return to the fictional town of Addison, Connecticut, this time with all the magic and warmth of a New England Christmas. DeMaio’s celebrated talent for crafting memorable small-town stories blossoms under the light of the holiday season and gives readers an endearing look at how enchanting the festivity of Christmas can be, whether by lights strung up in an old barn or by the natural beauty of snowflakes. A collection of charming new characters are presented here, but not without a few cameos from DeMaio’s previous books, Whole Latte Life and Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans. The trio of standalone novels is tied together through DeMaio’s delightful writing style and the unforgettable enchantment of her fictional Connecticut world.

There’s a sense of simplicity to Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes that contrasts particularly with the more complexly woven story of DeMaio’s second novel, Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans; the departure is well-suited and calls to mind the simple joy of the season, countering the story of Derek’s sad history with all the lightness and merriment that Christmas can offer. DeMaio’s transition from summer stories to holiday tales is beautifully handled, drawing as heartfelt a story with the canvas of the winter months and evoking the pure fun of the Christmas excitement that touches all our hearts. Derek’s struggle to come to terms with his loss and Vera’s search to find a place in his life add a layer of depth to the sweetness of the setting as the complexity of their relationship tugs successfully on the reader’s heartstrings. Full of warmth and joy, Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes delivers a story that reminds us that wishes come true and that love is around us if we’ll only look for it – at Christmastime, and always.

Title: Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes
Author: Joanne DeMaio
Genre: drama, romance, holiday
Publisher: Joanne DeMaio
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: October 15, 2013
Provided by: Mary DeMaio (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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Review: The Disillusioned by D.J. Williams

by Casee Marie on April 9, 2013 · 2 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Brothers Danny and Sam Armstrong grew apart after an unconventional childhood. Their distant father and unstable mother were different people in the spotlight; together they worked to create one of the biggest evangelical ministries in America, with an impressive array of books, sermons, and a tremendous California church to their name. After their father’s death abroad and their mother’s unexpected suicide, Danny and Sam are drawn out of their separate lives and into a pulsating new adventure. Their mother’s final wishes mention Stella Adams, a woman that neither brother ever knew. When Danny and Sam attempt to discover her identity they unravel a series of shocking secrets and uncover a heart-wrenching history of child trafficking in Africa. When Danny goes missing in Zambia Sam must embark on a journey to find both his brother and the elusive Stella Adams, with spirited journalist Angela Reyes along for the ride. As the brothers uncover the secrets long hidden by their father they find in themselves the resolve to make a change and stop a ruthless trafficker who wields a fearsome reign over Africa and its children.

The Disillusioned, the explosive upcoming thriller from D.J. Williams, engulfs a remarkable variety of themes and delivers them in a solid and very original story. There are so many elements, and Williams divides his attention effortlessly among his various dynamics, from the complications of the ever-winding mystery to the simplicity of Sam and Angela’s static attraction. I could have easily engrossed myself in yet more of almost every subplot, but Williams knows exactly how to layer them into an impressively full story. The object of blending genres, plots, messages, and ideas into one cohesive novel is a task that requires a lot from the author, and Williams does it well. He’s sure of his footing and confident in his story, which contributes to the reader’s experience. All of his characters spark in their interactions, from the closer-growing relationship between essentially estranged brothers Sam and Danny, to the scenes between the imposing Ali Siatembo and his ruthless hired assassin, the joint sources at the root of the story’s villainy. The Disillusioned is atmospheric and its suspense carries grandiose dramatics, but there are also elements of the novel that take us on an emotional departure from fiction. Williams hauntingly portrays the bleak reality of child slavery set against Africa’s sweltering unrest. His depictions of child trafficking are often challenging and always heartbreaking to read, but in his efforts Williams actively sends a message to the reader and raises awareness for the tragic situation which affects many corners of the world.

I was also intrigued by the way Williams explores the power of faith from perspectives both inside and outside of religion. Of the Armstrong brothers, Sam is perhaps the most grudgingly detached from the church his father surrounded him with, and there’s a central focus on Sam’s efforts to maintain his faith in the hunt for his brother. It struck me several times how in-tuned Sam was with his own faith, regardless of how religiously active he was. It sent a powerful message of the unfailing power of faith and its ability to transcend definition. With a deep and affecting variety of emotions and messages, The Disillusioned pulls its reader headlong into the adventure and achieves an entertaining story of life, love, faith, and both the strength and fragility of the human spirit.

Title: The Disillusioned
Author: D.J. Williams
Genre: suspense
Publisher: WestBow Press
Release date: May 1, 2012
Source: D.J. Williams (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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Review: Afterthought by Janet Clare

by Casee Marie on March 7, 2013 · 3 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

At forty-five years old, Lilly’s life as a divorcee in Manhattan is far from what she expected. Haunted and unfulfilled by the memory of her ex-husband, a torrid artist with more passion for drinking than painting, Lilly lives day to day, contented by her tepid relationship with a stoic businessman. When her mother Ida calls her home with the confession of a long-kept secret Lilly finds her world turned upside down, and soon she’s traveling to Australia to meet the father she never knew. A scoundrel and legendary adventurer, Cameron is a bold man with a brash exterior, but underneath his spirit is grizzled by a secret. As Lilly sets out across the Australian outback with Cameron, his alluring son Grant, and Grant’s twenty-something daughter Jen, she finds herself unraveling the twisted web of secrets and deceptions that surround her newfound family, and stepping into a web of her own.

Afterthought, Janet Clare’s debut novel, is a skillful examination of the power of secrets and our flawed belief that we can control them. Reading the novel, it’s almost difficult to remember that it is, in fact, a debut; so assured is Clare in her prose. Her ability with words is deeply evident in the creativity of the novel’s construction, and she approaches Lilly’s narrative with a nakedness that captures the protagonist’s personality – and her somewhat bleak view of love and life – very well. Lilly’s attitude and her actions – including an attraction, more or less incestuous, to her half-brother Grant – will work either for or against the reader, depending upon the audience, as all books do. For me, Afterthought represented a creative triumph, a journey through life’s non-beauties set against the backdrop of an otherwise enchanting place, and I appreciated the depth and clarity of Clare’s story. The themes the novel explores are all bold, and they require equal boldness in order to capture them: Clare demonstrates this exceptionally well.

While it could likely be expected that a story of a father and daughter uniting for the first time would be a heartfelt journey to familial love rediscovered, Afterthought puts its heart into a far less idyllic place, but a place that’s just as real. In its efforts, the novel achieves a uniquely observant contemplation of life’s challenges and the way our choices can affect its fragility. Beautifully rendered and engagingly paced, Afterthought is a novel I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come.

Title: Afterthought
Author: Janet Clare
Genre: drama, romance
Publisher: Janet Clare
Release date: September 2, 2010
Source: Janet Clare (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle | Smashwords
Connect with the author: Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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