Sunday Post – Life is a Garden

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at the @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. See the rules here.

MY WEEK

It was a busy work week, but I’ve started reading several books for the August edition of Historical Novels Review, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society.

I also have been repotting my tomato seedlings. I started them in little pods under a grow light and I’m putting them in larger peat cups before they go into the ground at the end of May. The next step is to start placing them outside in partial shade so they can get used to being outside full time. My husband has the garden all tilled up and ready to go. I love the gardening cycle. Spring is for planting, Summer is for tending, Fall is for harvesting and canning, and in Winter we enjoy the fruits of our labor. I know it’s not as cut and dried as that, but it is a consistency that can be relied on. I have actually missed my tomato garden, so it will be nice to see it again! I’m also planting peppers and onions. I will be canning salsa from ingredients I grew myself.

LAST WEEK ON THE BLOG

Monday I reviewed A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice, a retelling of the sinking of the Titanic from the point of view of the Captain of the Carpathia, who led a rescue of many survivors.

On Monday I also reviewed The Salt Fields by Stacy D. Flood. This is a powerful book about a man who boards a train so he can leave the South behind. It is so well written that I had to include two quotes from the book itself in order to do it justice.

On Tuesday I reviewed the audiobook of The Wedding Season by Katy Birchall. This is a tale about a jilted bride that is both sad and laugh-out-loud funny. I have previously reviewed The Secret Bridesmaid by Birchall, and I love her writing style.

I also attempted Top Ten Tuesday and even though I got the directions wrong, I still enjoyed it.

Work and reading kept me busy until Saturday, and then I posted a review of The Coronation by Justin Newland for Self-Published Saturday.

NEXT WEEK ON THE BLOG

Today, besides the Sunday Post, I will be reviewing Freedom or Death, Book 4 of Adria Carmichael’s Juche Series, a coming-of-age dystopian saga set in a North Korean concentration camp.

Monday I will be reviewing The Adoption by Jenna Kernan as part of a blog tour for Bookouture. I had posted last week I would be reviewing it on Friday, but I had the date wrong. So look for it on Monday.

On Wednesday, I will review The Commandant’s Daughter, by Catherine Hokin. This is book one of the Hanni Winter series. I reviewed this book for the May edition of Historical Novels Review.

On Thursday, I will be posting a review of The Girl from Lamaha Steet, which is author Sharon Maas’s memoir about her childhood in Guyana and time spent in an English boarding school.

For Self-Published Saturday, I’ll be reviewing A Class Coveted by Susie Murphy.

THIS WEEK’S READING

I’m finishing up The Girl from Lamaha Street and starting A Class Coveted, mentioned above.

I will also be reading The Pilot’s Girl by Catherine Hokin, which is the sequel to The Commandant’s Daughter mentioned above. I will be reviewing The Pilot’s Girl for the August edition of Historical Novels Review.

Self-Published Spotlight: An Only Child No More #FoundFamily #Memoirs #Indiebooks

*Not a book review

Self-Published Spotlight is my effort to help highlight Self-Published books. It includes a description of the book and buy links, plus author information if it is provided. Self-Published Spotlights can go up any day, but I happened to get a request for this one right before Self-Published Saturday, so here it is! Below is my spotlight of the memoir of Martha Levallee, who writes about discovering a family she never knew she had. See the book description below:

BOOK DESCRIPTION

This poignant, uplifting memoir describes the emotional journey of a middle-aged woman who receives an unexpected email, and suddenly learns that her now-deceased parents had kept secret from her the fact that she has a half-brother.

Raised as an only child, the revelation occurs without any DNA testing of anyone in the family. This true story describes her coming to terms with this shocking information, as she remembers vague clues that had been presented to her during her youth. It also details her quest to meet her brother and his family, and to make this family her own, despite the logistical challenges of different languages and continents.

BUY LINKS

AMAZON|AMAZON UK|B&N

Book Review–Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life With 600 Rescue Animals #AnimalRescue

Funny Farm is the best memoir I’ve read this year. Laurie Zaleski lived in a beautiful house and had a pretty bedroom and lots of toys until her parents split up. Her mother Annie moved them to a shack in the woods and struggled just to put food on the table. But then Annie brought home a dog–and then another. Eventually, chickens and horses joined the family. Pretty soon people were bringing them stray animals. And that was the early beginnings of the Funny Farm Animal Rescue. Zaleski tells a layered and fascinating story of how her mother had the courage to leave an abusive, but well-to-do and popular husband, and start life over with her children and many, many animals. The stories of the animals are interspersed throughout. Some chapters deal with Laurie’s family trials and her father’s vindictive revenge, while others tell beautiful stories of animals who became part of her family. But it is also a story of Zaleski’s life and how she succeeded in business, and then how she made The Funny Farm an official animal rescue.

This is everything you would want in a memoir–completely honest, fascinating, and heroic in more ways than one. It is easy to see in Zaleski’s life how she learned from the courage of her mother and was not afraid to take risks in business and in life. The love for the animals shines through on every page, and each animal rescue story touches the heart. The honesty is always there, whether Laurie is talking about her cruel father or her mother’s bad taste in men. There is humor, grief, love, and shock in these pages. I recommend everyone read the story of the Funny Farm. I guarantee an inspiring experience, and maybe a few tears. I received a free copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LAURIE ZALESKI is the founder of the Funny Farm, a charitable organization located in Mizpah, New Jersey. Since 2000, the farm has welcomed all kinds of rescue animals. Laurie is also the founder, president and CEO of Art-Z Graphics. She has been named a New Jersey Heartland Hero, is listed in the 2019 Who’s Who of Professional Women, and has received numerous awards and acknowledgments for her work to save animals and educate the public about animal abuse.

BUY LINKS

AMAZON

AMAZON UK

B&N

Self-Published Saturday: Becoming Italian #Italy #Travel #SouthernItaly #TraveltoItaly #SouthernItalianCulture

Self-Published Saturday is my effort to help self-published/indie authors with the daunting task of marketing. If I can help even a little bit, I’m happy to do it, and I encourage others to do the same. Below is a humorous and informative book by Bret Thoman, who relates his travels to and eventual life in Italy.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Travel deep into Italy with Bret Thoman as he narrates his lifelong journey from America’s Southland to the South of Italy. Initially drawn to Florence out of curiosity to discover his ancestral roots and study the language, he feels a lure to the South. There, in the slower half, dialects are spoken, America is still revered, and long, lazy lunches are the high point of the day. In his travels, he meets the woman he marries.

The culture of Southern Italy comes to life as experienced through Bret’s in-laws, Whether his mother-in-law is teaching him the secrets of Italian cooking or how to avoid getting sick by closing windows and turning off the air conditioning, his relationship with them wavers from “exasperating to enlightening.”

In the third section, Bret recounts the joys and vexations of living in Italy. While mundane events like getting a driver’s license, paying taxes, or going to a soccer stadium can be maddening, he is ultimately transformed by the Dolce Vita, the Sweet Life. He has become Italian.

If you are curious about your own Italian roots, if Italy is your favorite destination, or if you enjoy wacky travel stories colored by the Italian spirit, you won’t want to miss this one. With an eye for the zany, awkward, and just plain ludicrous, this book will not disappoint.

BOOK REVIEW

Now this is the way to educate others about a country they might not have had the pleasure of visiting! This book is filled with colorful stories, anecdotes, and travel experiences from Bret Thoman, who grew up in the Southern U.S. but ended up living in the South of Italy. With takes from historical to humorous, Bret relates his life and travel experiences in a fun and engaging way. It will make you want to visit Italy even more. I really enjoyed his description of Southern Italy and the vast differences between the Italian South and the North. I was intrigued by his description of the slower way of life there, and I’m all on board with the three-hour lunch! His journey from majoring in Italian in college to becoming a part of the Southern Italian culture is a delightful and informative read.

I downloaded this book on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read it for free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bret Thoman

Bret has a master’s degree in Italian from Middlebury College, a BA from the University of Georgia, and a certificate in Franciscan Studies. He is an FAA-licensed pilot and flew professionally for six years logging over 3,500 hours of flight time. After he left flying, he started organizing and accompanying tours and pilgrimages to Italy for the company he founded in 2004.

Bret began writing initially to provide material for participants on his tours. That turned into a hobby, and then an avocation. To date, he has written six books and numerous articles and has translated over a dozen from Italian to English.

He lives in Loreto, Italy with his wife and three children.

Bret can be contacted at: bret.thoman@gmail.com

His website is here.

BUY LINKS

Amazon

Amazon UK

**Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read this for free. And it’s only $1.99 to buy the ebook.

*If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books.  Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.

*Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!

Self-Published Saturday: I Am Jess

Self-Published Saturday is my effort to help Independent/Self-Published authors promote their books. Self-Published authors have to do it all, from editing to cover design to marketing, and if I can help even a little bit with the marketing side of things I’m happy to do it. I also ask you all to help out too by sharing these posts on social media. This next review is a heartbreaking but honest memoir by Jess Fahl that tells the truth about her abusive marriage and how she finally escaped it.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

I AM JESS By Jessica Fahl

“I kept all of our secrets, avoiding people and situations where I might have to explain his behavior; I just didn’t realize I had done it. I had completely isolated myself and allowed him to create my reality. The embarrassment and shame were too much, but somehow, those feelings went away easily if I didn’t acknowledge them out loud. They could be washed away as if he didn’t really mean it that way or that I was reading too much into things, as he often told me.

I Am Jess is my story about falling in love with a man I thought loved me, only to find out I’d been emotionally manipulated for years. It’s about realizing afterward that I’d been completely isolated from the truth, not knowing what it meant to be loved. Once the fog began to clear, I found happiness in myself and had a life I was proud to call my own.”

BOOK REVIEW

This is a powerful memoir from Jessica Fahl that will break your heart. Jess is bluntly honest about her first marriage and the mental and emotional abuse that she endured. She reminds us that that are people who will break others down, hurt them continually, and at the same time convince them it is all their own fault. She outlines a marriage that was never a true union of two people in love, and tells us how, over many years, she finally began to realize that.

This realization and the way she broke free of her former husband’s verbal abuse, infidelity, and gaslighting behavior create an important story that will help many others out there. It is written in an honest and straightforward way, and no hurts or betrayals are left hidden. I would recommend I Am Jess to everyone, because even if you haven’t been in an abusive relationship, you probably know someone who has, and they might benefit from this book.

I downloaded this book on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read it for free.

BUY LINKS

AMAZON US

AMAZON UK

*If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books.  Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.

*Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!

Self-Published Saturday/Silent Rise: A City, the Arts, and a Blue Collar Kid

Self-published Saturday is my attempt to help Self-Published/Indie authors. These authors have to do it all, from cover design to editing to marketing and more. Saturdays are reserved for giving them a little bit of help with the marketing side. This week’s first offering is Silent Rise by Rick H. Jones. It is about his life and his path to becoming the Director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, OH. As an additional note, I have stopped putting dates on Self-Published Saturday reviews. I think it’s better that they remain timeless.

BOOK REVIEW

This is the author’s memoir of growing up in Dayton, Ohio, his talent for painting and love for the arts, and the path that led him to become Director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, OH.

I found this book to be part memoir and part “how to” book, as a lot of the mechanics of setting up, conceptualizing, and funding an arts center were discussed in the book. There are a lot of personal anecdotes as well. Jones pays well-earned homage to the leaders in Hamilton who helped him to bring the idea of an arts center to fruition and help it become the center of a thriving community. For anyone interested in setting up an arts center or any kind of nonprofit, this will be a fascinating read. 

Jones mentions his extended family in the “hollers” (or hollows) of the Eastern Kentucky mountains, and I appreciated the beautiful quote he provided about “the definition of a holler,” written by Roberta Stephens. The full article by Stephens is at https://www.marshmallowranch.com/defi…. I completely understood that quote. I grew up in Cincinnati, but my late Mom is from Western Carolina, and we spent summers with her relatives in Bryson City. I will be living in the very holler my Mom grew up in after I retire.

While the author said some of his family and acquaintances in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky were racist, I have not experienced that at all. My Western North Carolina mountain family includes cousins of Native American and African American heritage, not just Caucasian, and I haven’t seen racism there. Cherokee, home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, is just 10 miles away. I can only speak to my experience, but I just didn’t want people to think all of Appalachia is racist, because that is not so.

Overall, this is a detailed memoir about the arts and what they can do for a community. The author’s love and care for his adopted community of Hamilton, OH, are very evident and appreciated.

COVER RATING

Cover Rating is a new feature where I give my opinion as to whether or not the cover will be noticeable when readers are scrolling through millions of offerings on Amazon. It does not reflect in the overall rating of the book review. I asked the author, who is an artist, if this was abstract art, and he said “No. It’s rusting metal.” This is to symbolize the rust belt and Hamilton OH. I thought that was pretty cool! I think the cover is very noticeable, especially for a non-fiction book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick H. Jones

Rick got his start in the arts when his mother enrolled him in Saturday morning art classes at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio. He continued for nearly a decade. With two degrees in painting, having taught college art for six years, and forty years’ experience in arts administration, he is now an exhibited painter, author, and sometimes poet. He has consulted on board development, fund development, grantsmanship, and arts management for numerous arts centers, councils, and organizations. In retirement, he and his family own an art supply and framing store in Hamilton, Ohio. In 1991 he was awarded the Ohio Governor’s Award in Arts Administration.

WEBSITE

*The author’s books and paintings are both showcased here.

BUY LINKS

AMAZON

BARNES AND NOBLE

*If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books.  Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.

*Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!

Book Review and Giveaway: Taken at Birth

GIVEAWAY

The winner of the giveaway was drawn randomly, and I’m pleased to announce it is Nancy B. Klein. Nancy has been contacted and I’ll be sending the book to her soon.

Taken At Birth by Jane Blasio is the story of Blasio’s struggle to find her birth family, as well as the birth families of hundreds of other people after finding out about a baby-selling operation in a small town in Georgia. It all revolved around a hometown doctor, Thomas J Hicks, in the small town of McCaysville, Georgia.

Blasio’s struggle with uncooperative townspeople and her own anger and loss of faith makes for a fascinating read. Her journey to find not just her family, but her faith again is poignant. Her determination to find out the truth from a town that was mostly unwilling to give it up is admirable. She details her anger at her own adoptive parents, who were unwilling to reveal much information until right before their deaths. The book contains stories of some of the birth mothers and their dealings with Dr. Hicks, and shows his heartless, selfish, and creepy personality very well. Overall, this is a compelling read. Anyone interested in true crime stories and stories of family separation will enjoy this book.

There is also a six episode series, Taken at Birth, which aired on TLC in 2019.

I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books. My review is voluntary.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Blasio

     
(In Her Own Words) My personal birth search, as well as acting as a search facilitator and representative for those sold by Doctor Thomas Hicks, has personalized my expertise and reputation. Today, I continue to assist those who are still bound to the Hicks Clinic and looking for answers. I’ve found most of what I was looking for, but not how I ended up at the clinic in the first place. The search of what happened in the clinic will not end until the deception which has marked everyone it touches, is burned off and truth restored. Truth that is owed to all of us lost and torn from the Hicks Clinic.

BUY TAKEN AT BIRTH

AMAZON

BARNES AND NOBLE

TARGET

BAKER PUBLISHING GROUP

Book Review: Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story

I truly enjoyed the Magnolia Network TV Series “The Lost Kitchen,” and was delighted to find this memoir from the owner, who overcame a lot of adversity to get where she is. Erin French, in a no-holds-barred manner, tells of her childhood with an abusive father, her unplanned pregnancy, and a marriage to an abusive and controlling man. She tells of working 18 hour days in their successful restaurant while her husband did nothing, and then making the mistake of falling into abuse of drugs and alcohol just to keep functioning during those long workdays. When her husband staged an intervention, she went to rehab, but as soon as she was gone he closed the restaurant, drained their bank accounts, and took everything. Then she found out the papers she signed when they bought the restaurant put her husband’s name solely on the deed and her name solely on the mortgage. That tells me everything I need to know about this guy.

French tells a poignant story of starting over, fighting to get her son back, and beginning again with her now successful restaurant in her hometown of Freedom, Maine.

As someone who believes in second, third, and fourth chances, I truly loved this story. There are a few “F-bombs,” in the book, as others have said, but only a few. This is about enduring abuse, making mistakes, and then fighting to start again. It’s also the story of a girl who wants desperately to get out of her small town, does so, and then finds joy and peace when she returns to that very small town she wanted to leave so badly. I’ve always known you CAN go home again, and Erin French proves that point.

I saw a review on Amazon that said Ms. French is not a chef. She states that plainly herself. She is a self-taught cook who likes to use locally grown, organic meat and produce to make stunning dishes. Her restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, is so popular that people have to enter a lottery by postcard each year to get a reservation. Thousands of reservations pour in from all over the world for this 40 seat restaurant. So chef or not, she produces good food.

Fans of The Lost Kitchen, proponents of home grown, locally sourced food, and those who believe in second and third chances will enjoy this memoir.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin French

Erin French is the owner and chef of The Lost Kitchen, a 40-seat restaurant in Freedom, Maine, that was recently named one of TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places and one of “12 Restaurants Worth Traveling Across the World to Experience” by Bloomberg. A born-and-raised native of Maine, she learned early the simple pleasures of thoughtful food and the importance of gathering for a meal. Her love of sharing Maine and its delicious heritage with curious dinner guests and new friends alike has garnered attention in outlets such as The New York Times (her piece was one of the ten most read articles in the food section the year it was published), Martha Stewart Living, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and Food & Wine. She has been invited to share her story on NPR’s All Things Considered, The Chew, CBS This Morning, and The Today Show. Erin was featured in a short film made by Tastemade in partnership with L. L. Bean, which won a James Beard Award, and The Lost Kitchen Cookbook has been named one of the best cookbooks by The Washington Post, Vogue.com, and Remodelista and was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award.

THE LOST KITCHEN WEBSITE

BUY FINDING FREEDOM: A COOK’S STORY

AMAZON

BARNES AND NOBLE

ORDER A SIGNED COPY ON THE LOST KITCHEN WEBSITE

* I have ordered Erin’s cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, so expect a review soon!

MY AMAZON REVIEW (“HELPFUL” VOTES APPRECIATED)

Book Review: Sunshine Girl – An Unexpected Life

For whatever reason, I don’t enjoy posting reviews about books I did not like, although I have done it in the past. Usually when I do, I feel strongly that people may want to see what I found wrong with the book and choose for themselves whether or not to buy it. That was the case here. See my review below and decide what it is you want out of the book before you buy it.

I received a free copy of this book from Random House via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

Sunshine Girl by Julianna Margulies is her memoir about being a child of divorce, living different lifestyles with her mother and father, and navigating difficult adult relationships. She is candid about her childhood and her adult relationships. This takes up a majority of the book. She spends very little time on her two major roles, Carol Hathaway on ER and Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Fans who are expecting a lot of interesting stories about these shows and her fellow actors will be disappointed. Fans of ER and The Good Wife might want to look at the table of contents before spending $14.99 on the Kindle version. Chapter 12 is about getting the part on ER, and most of Chapter 13 is about leaving ER 6 years later. George Clooney’s name is mentioned 9 times, but 7 of those times are in the story about getting the part in ER, and two mentions are while she’s complaining about fans, which I will go further into below. I could not find any mentions of Anthony Edwards, Sherry Stringfield, or Noah Wyle. As for The Good Wife, the amazing Christine Baranski is mentioned in one anecdote about a medical problem Margulies was having, but fans of Matt Czuchry and Josh Charles will be disappointed. I could not find them in the book. 

There was one story that completely bugged me because she complains about how embarrassed she was when a group of fans stopped her to talk about her two famous roles. People watched these shows for years, and are still watching them. She continues to benefit from these shows. At least she could treat her fans with respect instead of slamming them in a memoir.

Of course it is her prerogative to write about anything she wants, but fans of ER and The Good Wife might want to decide if it’s worth the money, depending on what they hope to get out of the book.

As someone who has enjoyed ER and The Good Wife, this fell flat for me. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in learning about Julianna Margulies’ childhood and relationships, and very little about her two hit shows. The title is also deceiving. There’s no sunshine in this book.

BUY ON AMAZON

My Goodreads Review (Likes appreciated if you are so inclined)

RECOMMENDATION:

As a contrast to this disappointing memoir, I would like to recommend Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim. Her book is everything this one is not. She shares VERY personal information about her childhood, but also talks about the show (Little House), the fans, and her fellow actors. She even mentions members of the crew. She is witty, gracious, funny, and clever. It is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Warning: She was sexually abused by her brother as a child and talks about it in the book. Interesting fact: Nobody liked Mary. I read this years ago but I will probably put up a review soon.