Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE FORBIDDEN GARDEN by Ellen Herrick (Review & Dessert Pairing)




Ellen Herrick

Published by William Morrow on April 4th 2017
Paperback, 400 pages
Magical Realism, Mystery, Chick Lit


At the nursery she runs with her sisters on the New England coast, Sorrel Sparrow has honed her rare gift for nurturing plants and flowers. Now that reputation, and a stroke of good timing, lands Sorrel an unexpected opportunity: reviving a long-dormant Shakespearean garden on an English country estate.

Arriving at Kirkwood Hall, ancestral home of Sir Graham Kirkwood and his wife Stella, Sorrel is shocked by the desolate state of the walled garden. Generations have tried—and failed—to bring it back to glory. Sorrel senses heartbreak and betrayal here, perhaps even enchantment. Intrigued by the house’s history—especially the haunting tapestries that grace its walls—and increasingly drawn to Stella’s enigmatic brother, Sorrel sets to work. And though she knows her true home is across the sea with her sisters, instinct tells her that the English garden’s destiny is entwined with her own, if she can only unravel its secrets…


In her second novel, The Forbidden Garden, Ellen Herrick makes a welcome return to the quaint coastal town of Granite Point and gets us reacquainted with the quirky Sparrow sisters and their magical healing powers (read my review of The Sparrow Sisters).

Just as Patience read the people..., searching for the troubled bits in their bodies and hearts, and Nettie collected the harvest and composed meals that sustained the very same parts, Sorrel wove her plants and flowers into a tapestry of her own.

After some brief introductions, the author quickly shifts the action to an equally scenic countryside estate on the other side of the Atlantic –an enchanting English  mansion and its “cursed” Shakespearean garden serve as new center of gravity for a novel that is  handsomely written and rich in Gothic vibes.

Part landscaper, part sorceress, Sorrel Sparrow is hired by the illustrious Sir Graham Kirkwood to restore a six-century old garden to its former glory. With the help of six panels of fine tapestry depicting its original splendor, Sorrel will painstakingly resurrect the vibrancy and variety of its meanders once standing on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery, but in the process she will unearth a sinister chapter of the Kirkwood family history, and for this reason her quest to save the cursed garden will prove daunting and ultimately dangerous.

Kirkwood Hall, the ancestral estate built by Graham's predecessors during the reign of Queen Anne Stuart, is lovingly depicted in all its bucolic beauty. The author paints it with the languid and atmospheric strokes  of her artful prose and clever is also the way she concocts a mysterious (and supernatural) source of tension to tear down the veil of the apparent idyll: a garden brimming with illness and decay, and a gruesome past at its roots.

While Herrick features all those pleasures inherent to Gothic narratives (the uncanny element, the enigmas, the windswept landscapes, an eerie atmosphere), there is also great luminosity and cozy warmth in the description of culinary pleasures and romantic tension between Sorrel and her love interest (the brooding as much as attractive Andrew). Although not as taut as her previous book, Ellen’s narrative pulls together in a satisfactory way. 4 out of 5 stars



If I could pull one character out of Ellen Herrick’s latest novel and invite him in my kitchen, it would certainly be Andrew, Kirkwood Hall’s young and dashing pastor. Brooding he may be, but also seductively proficient behind the stove! The author indulges in the description of scrumptious dishes time and again throughout the book: my favorite is a dessert, of course. Jaffa Cakes are my pick for this ‘book & dessert pairing’. In bite size or, better yet, layer cake. Enjoy!



Sunday, July 2, 2017

SILENT COMPANIONS by Laura Purcell (Book Spotlight & Dessert Pairing)




Laura Purcell
A nail-biting gothic mystery to look forward to: Silent Companions by Laura Purcell will be available in US only next year (March 6th 2018, Penguin Books), but if you are lucky enough to live in the UK you can grab a copy this coming fall (October 5th 2017). For all lovers of bone-chilling tales a la Susan Hill and Shirley Jackson.
Expected Publication
October 5th 2017 by Raven Books (UK); Hardcover
March 6th 2018 by Penguin Books (US); Paperback, 320 pages
Mystery, Gothic, Horror
When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband's crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .
When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband's awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure--a silent companion--that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition--that is, until she notices the figure's eyes following her.
A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, this is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect--much like the silent companions themselves. Inspired by the work of Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill and set in a crumbling country mansion, The Silent Companions is an unsettling gothic ghost story to send a shiver down the spine…
UK edition
“If The Silent Companions lands on your night table, don't plan on leaving your bed anytime soon.  Immersive, meticulous, and reminiscent of the masters of gothic fiction—not only a compulsively readable ghost story, but a skillful, loving ode to the entire genre.”
—Lyndsay Faye, bestselling author of Jane Steele
Laura Purcell lives in Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England. She met her husband working in Waterstones bookshop and they share their home with several pet guinea pigs.
Laura’s 'Georgian Queens' series explores the lives of royal women during the Hanoverian era. She also writes spine-tingling Victorian Gothic fiction.
Visit Laura's website to find out more about her and read her history blog.


Photo source: Bing
 To match Laura Purcell’s spine-tingling novel Silent Companions, I would recommend a pleasurably and equally chilling dessert. Ice cream/sorbet pies are the perfect  ‘no-bake’ treat for the summer and beyond: no stress around the oven, nice and easy, all you need to do is fill, chill, and serve. My pick is Strawberry Ice Cream Pie With Corn Crust paired with a sweet and crispy Moscato wine from Italy — a lightly-bubbled Moscato d’Asti is just the ticket. Cheers!
Photo source: Bing


Thursday, June 29, 2017

MASTER OF ALASKA by Roger Seller (Giveaway & Excerpt)

Roger Seller
Published by True North Publishing, September 14th 2016
Paperback and Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Historical Fiction


"In this gripping tale of historical fiction, a man faces a brutal landscape and forms alliances with the native tribes... An informative, exciting read that stays true to its real-life inspiration."- Kirkus Reviews

A compelling historical fiction about the first governor of Alaska sent to the colony by Russia in 1790.
George Washington was President at the time. Master of Alaska starts in October 1790 when Aleksandr Baranov leaves his family in Russia and sails across the North Pacific to Kodiak in order to become the chief manager for tsarina Catherine The Great’s colony in the far Northwest of North America. Baranov is shipwrecked, saved, and adopted by the Aleut natives. To save his men from starvation and despite still having a wife back in Russia, he is later forced to marry Anooka, the daughter of the tribal chief. Only slated to serve five years, Baranov spends the next 28 years in Alaska, surviving natural disasters, a massacre of his people at Sitka, meddling competing Russian authorities, a British attempt to undermine his colony, and an assassination attempt. Interestingly, Baranov’s native wife and teenage daughter play an intricate role and contribute much to his success and survival in Alaska. Baranov built an empire and sought peace with the warring Tlingit and, thanks largely to his efforts, Alaska is part of the U.S. today. The detail and research that author Roger Seiler used – from biographies to actual letters and reports by the Governor Baranov himself - create a riveting story.


EACH DAY during the virtual book tour running from June 12 through June 30, award winning filmmaker and author Roger Seiler is GIVING AWAY ONE SIGNED HARD COPY of his historical novel MASTER OF ALASKA. Register at Roger’s website for a chance to WIN. Good Luck!

Watch Roger Seiler read an excerpt from Master of Alaska in this great video 
Award-winning filmmaker and author Roger Seiler grew up in Alaska from age three.  His love of adventure comes from both his parents. His father Edwin was a civil engineer eventually becoming an Alaskan bush pilot. His mother Josefina was born in Puerto Rico and was a writer and Alaskan sport-fishing lodge manager with the hobby of Flamenco dancing.  In his late teens, Roger was a king salmon sport fishing guide on Alaska’s Naknek River, and also a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay.

He attended Deep Springs College and graduated With Honors from UCLA with a BA in Theater Arts - Film. His first film work was for UCLA’s Automotive Collision Research project, including a film for TV, “Safety on the Road,” which he wrote, produced and directed. While attending UCLA, Roger also worked with actor Karl Malden and famed director Francis Ford Coppola.

Roger worked for IBM for several years as an in-house filmmaker involved largely in producing and directing motivational films for employee conventions. He has made over 30 documentary films. His IBM film "The Inner Eye of Alexander Rutsch" had a special screening at New York's Museum of Modern Art and won the CINE Golden Eagle Award, as did three of his other films, "Frontiers"; "Challenge Over the Atlantic," and "Strategy of the Achiever."

Roger currently lives in South Nyack, NY with his wife Sally. Roger is a devoted reader and supporter of libraries. In 1977 he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Nyack Library (Carnegie funded in 1879) and has continued to serve for 40 years, 16 as Board President. His second book, the historical novel Master of Alaska, was published by North Face Publishing, a subsidiary of Motivational Press Publishing.


Excerpt 4: Nanuq (p. 38)
INTRO: After being rescued from their shipwreck on Unalaska Island by the Aleuts, Aleksandr Baranov and his Russian crew of 53 men had faced a food supply problem. Baranov solved the problem by learning the Aleut's methods of seal hunting and then killed enough seals to provide food through the arriving winter.

    As he and his men prepared to leave for Kodiak up the Alaska Peninsula in large Aleut rowboats,Toyon Putuguq invited Baranov into his big barabara next to a ceremonial fire, along with Kuponek and some other Aleut men. The room was quiet as the men entered and took their places around the central fireplace. Baranov saw this was going to be an important ceremony and payed close attention.
    After another long and silent moment, Toyon Putuguq spoke to Baranov in the Aleut language, which Baranov by then knew well: "Baranov has learned Native ways. Baranov is the only Russian who learned to hunt well with Native ways and speak our language well. And Baranov worked for the village, not just himself. "Now Baranov is part Aleut," he continued. "So now, as toyon, I give Baranov an Aleut name:  Nanuq, blessed by the sacred fire spirit. Nanuq is the polar bear, the great white hunter.
    "With your Native name, I give this skin of Nanuq. I got it from an Eskimo up north. It has great powers."

Baranov Meets Anooka (p. 82)
INTRO: After Aleksandr Baranov had reached the Russian settlement at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island, he took command of the colony. The Aleut village chief, named Grigor by the Russians, had learned to speak Russian and invited Baranov into his longhouse to confer. As they sat in front of the central fire, Baranov took from his pocket a bright copper plate engraved with Tsarina Catherine's coat of arms and gave it to Chief Grigor as a gift.

    Chief Grigor's eyes widened in amazement as he examined the copper plate closely. "This is important," he said.
    It was exactly the reaction Baranov wanted. He continued, "I look for a long future of friendship between us. We can help each other in many ways. I must explore Montague Island, over here, and need some of your men as guides."
    "Great Nanuq, do you have a woman?"
    Baranov was taken aback. "I have a wife in Russia."
    "In Russia? What good is that? Take my daughter for wife. Then I be your father, and we work together as one. This way we make powerful alliance."
    Before Baranov could react, Chief Grigor turned and called out to his daughter in his Native tongue, "Anooka, come here!"
    From a dim recess of the lodge, a slender seventeen-year-old in deerskins approached with unusual youthful dignity. She had glistening long, black hair flowing over her shoulders, and set in an oval face were the high cheekbones common to many Natives. Her big, warm, brown eyes looked out from under lovely arched eyebrows. Clear, tan skin, a straight, pretty nose, and a mouth with soft lips completed her. To Baranov, Anooka was strikingly beautiful. Though reserved, the self-confidence of her rank allowed her to glance at the strange Russian in front of her, and then she faced her father.
    In the Kenaitze dialect of the Alutiiq language, the chief told her, "Turn around and face the great Russian Nanuq." She did so. With no hint of shyness, she looked Baranov right in his eyes. Her intelligent dark eyes held his stare as an equal for a long moment, until she yielded a slight smile, revealing perfect white teeth, and looked down.
    Nanuq quickly collected himself and, wanting to get back to the negotiations for guides, replied, "Chief Grigor, your offer is most generous. But as I said, I already have a wife in Russia."
    Grigor insisted, "But not here. How long has it been, great Nanuq, since you've had a wife at your side?"
    Baranov stared at him in silence. He didn't want to offend the man, but the proposal was absurd.
    The chief tried once more. Certainly an alliance with this Russian Nanuq would greatly benefit his own stature in the eyes of his people—and especially their southern enemies, the hated Tlingit.
    "I see. Well, you need a wife here! And we need a strong alliance."
    "A Russian can only have one wife."
    "Poor man! Poor man!" said Grigor in mild disappointment. He knew that making such alliances, especially with one as strong as Nanuq, could take time and much negotiation. But just how strong was Nanuq, anyway? Maybe he should be tested. There was more than one way to impress the Tlingit with Kenaitze power. Grigor motioned to Anooka to return to her work.
    "Well, then, the least I can do for you is give you the guides you need."
    Anooka sat on a blanket in the back of the longhouse, where she had been making a bear claw necklace for her father. Why did Father want to give her to this man? Though short, he looked strong and intelligent, but strange. Could she ever want him? She knew what she wanted would count for nothing. Her father would decide, and she had to trust him to choose well for her. She would ask one thing: that her father wait until he really knew a man before he made his choice. As his daughter, she deserved at least that, and the chief had only just met this Nanuq.
    Baranov looked into the shadows for Anooka, straining for another glimpse of her youthful beauty. Grigor noticed.



Monday, May 15, 2017

THE HIDDEN THREAD by Liz Trenow (Review & Giveaway)


Published by Sourcebooks, May 1st 2017
Trade Paperback, ISBN: 9781492637516
Historical Fiction


The Hidden Thread is a breathtaking novel about the intricate craft of silk and the heartbreak of forbidden love.

When Anna Butterfield's mother dies, she's sent to live with her uncle, a silk merchant in London, to make a good match and provide for her father and sister. There, she meets Henri, a French immigrant and apprentice hoping to become a master weaver. But Henri, born into a lower class, becomes embroiled in the silk riots that break out as weavers protest for a fair wage.

New York Times bestselling author Liz Trenow weaves a luminous tale of class struggle and star-crossed love.


I found the approach of the book to be compelling and comprehensive: the narrative scope of the book transcends the romantic angle of a star-crossed love between two characters (Anna and Henri) born into different classes and divided by several degrees of financial resources and social power. With a lovely narrative blend of facts and fiction, Trenow ushers the readers into a broader context of class and gender prejudice loosely based on the historical setting of the 1760s Spitalfields silk riots and inspired to the real life of silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite. Resounding with echoes of the “social novel” made popular by Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, and Victor Hugo, to name a few, Trenow’s dramatization of real characters and events is rooted in history, but  like on the warp threads of Henri Vendôme’s loom, the author interweaves her own threads of colorful silk and adds the whimsical touch of her imaginative speculation.



Buy Links


Liz Trenow is a former BBC and newspaper journalist, now working freelance. She is also the author of The Last Telegram. Liz Trenow's family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years, and the company is one of only three still operating in the UK today, weaving for top-end fashion houses and royal commissions.
It is this remarkable silk heritage that has inspired many of Liz's four novels, including the most recent The Hidden Thread.

Connect with Liz: Website | Twitter | Facebook


The Publisher is offering 3 finished copies of The Hidden Thread. The giveaway is open to  US residents  only. Follow the Rafflecopter link for a chance to win.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, April 6, 2017

MYSTERY AT MANATEE KEY by Nancy Stewart (Book Blast)

We welcome Nancy Stewart's MYSTERY AT MANATEE KEY Book Blast today!

Author: Nancy Stewart
Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing
Pages: 36
Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Bella and Britt love to explore along the beach and at more remote places like Manatee Key as well.  It is there that they discover a manatee smuggling ring. 

The manatees have already been netted, so the girls must act fast!  But a kidnapper snatches Bella, hustling her into their hideout.  When Britt sneaks a look in the window, she discovers that the ranger is being held, too.  Now it’s up to Britt.  But what can a single girl do?

Mystery at Manatee Key is available at Amazon


Book Excerpt:
A dark animal circled slowly in the shallow water of Manatee Key. Walking closer, Bella whispered. “A baby manatee. And it has a patch of white near its snout.” Britt frowned. “But where’s the mother? It must be hungry. We should tell the ranger.”
“Yeah,” Bella said. “This one’s too young to be without her mom. Let’s go.”
The friends worked their way through the jungle-like brush back to their bicycles. Britt took the lead. “It’s really hot, but we gotta make time.” 
After a twenty minute ride down dusty paths leading to the main road in their coastal town, they reached the ranger station. “It’s quiet in here today,” Bella said.
 The ranger’s assistant glanced up from his reading. “Hi, girls. Can I help you?”
“We need to see the ranger and report an orphaned manatee,” Bella said.
He frowned. “She hasn’t come in today, and that’s not like her. I’ve called her phones. Nobody answered. And no one’s seen her. Have you by any chance?”
“No,” they answered at the same time.
 “Well, it’s a mystery,” he said. “I won’t call the police yet. But I’m getting worried. Now, about that manatee. Can you take me to it?”
 “Sure,” Britt said. “If you can bring us back to town. We rode our bikes here.” He nodded. “Of course.”

Nancy Stewart has been an elementary school teacher and a professor of education.  Having lived in London for ten years, she was a consultant to the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the Bella and Britt series picture books and the authorized biography of Katrina Simpkins, a young girl whose life was forever changed by Winter, the dolphin (Guardian Angel Publishing.)  Her writing of One Pelican at a Time was featured on the PBS special, GulfWatch in 2011.  Nancy’s YA-LGBT novel will be published by Interlude Press autumn of 2017.  She is a member of the Rate Your Story organization as a critique judge.



About the Author

Nancy Stewart has been an elementary school teacher and a professor of education.  Having lived in London for ten years, she was a consultant to the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the Bella and Britt series picture books and the authorized biography of Katrina Simpkins, a young girl whose life was forever changed by Winter, the dolphin (Guardian Angel Publishing.)  Her writing of One Pelican at a Time was featured on the PBS special, GulfWatch in 2011.  Nancy’s YA-LGBT novel will be published by Interlude Press autumn of 2017.  She is a member of the Rate Your Story organization as a critique judge.



Friday, February 10, 2017

LOVE...BY THE BOOK: Valentine's Day Book Picks

In her "intuitive's guide to finding and keeping love", I See Your Soul Mate (St.  Martin's Press, 2012, Amazon), life coach Sue Frederick claims that there are no outside circumstances that can keep us from finding true love: love is the energy we swim in, the fabric of our divine universe, the very essence of our DNA. "Heartbreak and loneliness occur not because of what anyone else has done to you, not because you're unattractive, and not because there aren't enough single people your age," says Frederick, "only YOU stand in your way." We experience pain and loneliness when we forget our life mission and stop embracing the person we came here to be. It's when we walk on the life path we were meant for that our chances to find true love enhance dramatically, and the best way to cross paths with The Right One is reclaiming our True Self.

Whether your approach to love and life is a fatalistic one (my 'other half' is somewhere out there and if I can't find  him/her I'll be doomed to eternal unhappiness), or you believe in your ability to control your life and to find happiness in yourself rather than in that one person the universe has supposedly intended  for you (because nobody can 'complete' us but ourselves; there is a multiplicity of people and experiences that can help us achieve that inner wholeness and chances are one of them will suit us and our life circumstances better than anyone or anything else), this time of the year inevitably turns into a wake-up call, nudging us to wonder if, when, where, and how we can attract fulfilling love relationships back in our lives.

Harper Collins is offering a few ebook deals for this Valentine's Day week, in the self-help, relationship guide category. Grab these offers before they expire: they may help you turn your love life around and certainly won't hurt your wallet.

Here they are:

The Soulmate Secret will show you how to take control of your romantic  destiny by using the Law of Attraction. Finding true love is possible for anyone at any age if you are willing to prepare yourself, on all levels, to become a magnet for love. Arielle Ford knows this from experience. She used the techniques in this book to bring her soul mate into her life at age forty-four. They were engaged three weeks later.

"This wonderful Universe of ours  is set up to deliver to us people and experiences that are consistent with our personal belief systems. If you don't believe you will ever find "The One", then guess what? You get to be probably won't. If, however, you learn to believe that The One is not only out there but is also looking for you, then you open the door for true love to enter."

"Every moment of every day, we are sending out energetic signals that are felt by the people around us. This explains why a desperate person draws to himself or herself more desperation, while a person who is already fulfilled becomes a magnet for greater fulfillment. If we want to attract life partners who are happy, passionate, and empowered, we must first seek to generate this feelings within ourselves."

Are you intrigued yet?  The e-book is available for only $ 1.99.


Love. We want it. We need it. We pay it homage with songs and poems and great works of art. And when we lose it, there's no pain as intense or excruciating. As the editor of a column about love for the New York Times, Daniel Jones reads thousands of stories about people's intimate relationships. In Love Illuminated, he teases apart this mystifying emotion that thrills, crushes, and sustains—with the help of 50,000 strangers.

Here's a little teaser for you:

"Relationships challenge everyone, but why does desire drive some to benevolence and others to corrosive megalomania? [...] In love, as in life, it’s the questions that count. After all, love is about curiosity, not certainty. It’s about tossing oneself overboard into the wild seas, not remaining safely on deck. So slip into your wet suit and mask and oxygen tank, and take my hand. Oh, and grab a pair of those rubber nose plugs to keep the salt water from shooting up your nostrils on impact. It’s a big drop, and we’re going in."

You can purchase the Kindle edition for $ 1.99.

Love always,