contemporary romance

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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Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

by Casee Marie on January 8, 2013 · 6 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

When Duncan Meade enters his senior year at the esteemed Irving School his spirits are low and his expectations are lower. After an entire summer away, he still can’t manage to sway his thoughts from the disastrous events of the cold February night of his junior year when a traditional secret party went from harmless to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye. Everyone at Irving remembers Tim Macbeth, the albino boy who transferred in to finish his senior year among them. Everyone’s heard the rumors of his surreptitious relationship with Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of the school’s star athlete. But no one knows the whole story of what really went on, or the events that lead to the terrible incident at the senior party. Those details are gone – until Duncan finds something special left behind in his room. It’s a gift from Tim: the whole story. As Duncan unravels the threads of Tim’s fateful senior year he struggles with the weight of his own: most notably the Tragedy Paper, a staggering and historically difficult thesis challenge delivered by Irving’s fiercely dedicated senior English teacher, Mr. Simon. Together, as Duncan and Tim relive the events of the previous year and face down their demons, they’ll plant the seed for a Tragedy Paper that will go down in the Irving School’s history.

Elizabeth LaBan’s debut novel is a whirlwind of themes and emotions, culminating into a quietly explosive story that will provoke its reader from the first pages until the very end. Through two separate focuses – alternately Duncan’s and Tim’s – LaBan weaves the struggles of two very different young men into one corresponding story, meeting together at the source of the novel’s elusive suspense. The author’s ability to nurture The Tragedy Paper’s story into a well-calculated mystery with a host of supporting themes is triumphant, to say the least; I was drawn in easily and without fail. There wasn’t a moment when I felt I had predicted how things would work out, partly because the story itself is compelling in every scene, entertaining the reader in the present while encouraging a nearly palpable energy of anticipation as the mystery starts to unravel. The beguiling mystery of the book is supported by a captivating love story and an examination of one teenager’s struggle for self-worth. The foundation of The Tragedy Paper and its beautiful execution are further emboldened by the remarkable characters LaBan has created to tell its tale. The passion of Tim’s plight to finally fit in, to no longer be seen as the albino boy, is intensely felt. Duncan, too, strikes a chord with the reader through his desire to escape from the awful events he witnessed. From the kind yet enigmatic Vanessa to her selfish boyfriend Patrick, and even the school’s colorful faculty, The Tragedy Paper is brought to bolder and brighter life.

The art of storytelling and of creating a memorable cast are all signs of a terrific talent; yet, LaBan takes The Tragedy Paper one step further. At the depth of the novel she infuses an intellectual and philosophical significance that further beguiles her reader, an examination of words and meanings that transcends the literary experience to encourage the reader to think deeply and revel in the limitless possibilities of words. As a result, The Tragedy Paper is absolutely a triumphant book among the vastly growing Young Adult genre that will work its magic on readers for a very long time.

Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Genre: young adult, contemporary romance, drama
Publisher: Random House | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release date: January 8, 2013
Source: Engelman and Co. (C/O)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Twitter

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