Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review - - Breakup in a Small Town

Breakup in a Small Town
By Kristina Knight
Publisher: Harlequin/Superromance
Release Date: September 1, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
         


When an F4 tornado devastated Slippery Rock, Missouri, Adam Buchanan suffered injuries that changed every part of his life. His doctors are delaying surgery on the injuries that confine him to his wheel chair until they discover the right combination of medicines to control the epileptic seizures that are a result of the brain injury. Angry and depressed, he refuses physical therapy and the use of a service dog. He is mired in self-pity, convinced that he has become useless as a husband and father.

Jenny Buchanan has also been changed by her husband’s injuries. Married at eighteen, she has been content to let Adam be the decision maker in their domestic life and in the business, Buchanan Cabinetry, which she and Adam bought from his parents. After Adam’s injury, she was forced to make decisions at home and to fight to keep her well-meaning but conservative in-laws from sabotaging the vision she and Adam had for the business. She is also concerned about her two young sons who are anxious and fearful after the tornado and the changes in their father. Stretched thin from all these demands and with Adam rejecting her every effort to help him return to the man he was, Jenny wonders if even love is enough to save her marriage. She asks Adam to leave.

Adam goes only as far as the borrowed RV he has parked on the couple’s property, but it is far enough to make him aware of all that he could lose. Is it too late for him and Jenny to rediscover the connection they believed was forever?

This is the third novel in Kristina Knight’s Slippery Rock series, following Famous in a Small Town and Rebel in a Small Town. Readers of the earlier books will be familiar with the Buchanans, although it is not necessary to have read the other two books to enjoy Adam and Jenny’s story. Knight does an excellent job with this marriage-in-trouble tale. Adam and Jenny are both flawed but sympathetic characters. Adam’s injuries are not the cause of their problems; they serve rather as the pressure point that exposes the cracks in what appeared to be a happy marriage. Despite his responsibilities as a business owner, husband to Jenny, and father to Frankie and Garrett, Adam has remained in many ways the boy he was. His car, an inappropriate choice as a family vehicle, and his reluctance to lose it are symbolic of his immaturity. Jenny is generally more likable than her husband, but she also bears some responsibility for the weaknesses in the marriage. Conditioned by her relationship with her parents to allow someone else to run the show, she has never asserted herself.

Knight has a gift for creating a believable community and characters who are interesting and relatable. Breakup in a Small Town is the most complex story in a solid series. I recommend it—particularly for readers who like books that explore what happens when the HEA proves to be more real life and less fairy tale. Adam’s brother Aiden is another interesting character, one who makes me hope to see at least one more book in this series.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Italy: The Country of My Heart - Part 2









While the Amalfi Coast is known for its lemons there are other products that call this region home as well. In Positano, you can find some of the finest linens in the world. I had way too much fun buying table linens in - what else - a lemon motif! 












In Ravello, pottery is one of their claims to fame (wool and cashmere are two others). I only bought a small pitcher but I drooled over so much more. Sometimes, living in a condo is good for the bank account. *grin*









Ravello is a small town high in the mountains. We visited on a lovely Sunday afternoon when tourists were not thick on the ground, allowing us to leisurely stroll through the town and enjoy the open square that faces a church with an ancient bell tower and also offers beautiful views of lemon groves that line the hills as well as the sea far below. It was one of my favorite stops. 






Gotta love those massages!

Another favorite stop on the tour was at the "cow spa" as our tour guide, Marcello dubbed it. 










The actual name of this organic buffalo farm near Paestum in southern Italy is Tenuta Vannulo though in actuality, "cow spa" isn't far from the truth. The water buffalo who reside here are truly living the good life with classical music piped in every morning, self-milking stations, and massage machines.








This group is queueing up to be milked. Each cow (female water buffalo) has a tag around her neck that carries her name (Yes, they are all named. I was introduced to water buffalo Britney, named after Britney Spears.), rate of milking, output, etc. When the cow feels ready to be milked, she simply enters the queue to go into the automatic milking machine. 







Opening the gate after milking to head to the feeding station.
When she's reached the amount of milk output her tag says is optimum for her, the machine shuts off and she's gently nudged out. She then opens the gate (with her nose) and wanders over to the feeding station. After eating, they can snooze in the sun, hang out with their friends, get a massage, or cool off in the misters. It's one of the coolest places I've ever visited. 





All that care sure shows in the milk they produce which is used to make a variety of products, including some of the best buffalo mozzarella and gelato I've ever tasted. The organic farm grows the feed the buffalo eat as well as the fruits and vegetables that are served to the people who visit. Our lunch at the farm included fabulous organic cherry tomatoes and mozzarella we watched being made that morning! 








Food. There aren't enough superlatives to describe how much I enjoyed the food of southern Italy so I'll just share a few photos. Feel free to drool. I did. ;-) 












Gelato!










Eggplant, Pumpkin, and Fennel










Cheese! 











Fresh seafood platter.













Warm, freshly picked tomatoes at a vineyard on Mt. Vesuvius. An explosion of sweet, earthy, flavor in my mouth.












Antipasto at the same vineyard. I could have eaten an entire platter of just the sundried tomatoes. 












Tomatoes from the same vineyard drying in the sun. The volcanic ash from Vesuvius creates some of the best soil in the world for growing fruits and vegetables. I gave serious consideration to stuffing as many as I could into my bag. I didn't, but I sure wanted to!









Caprese Salad. I had nine of them during the trip. I could have eaten more. ;-) 
















Prosecco. A nice welcome to our hotel in Positano!












Seafood delight. Mussels, clams, and prawns straight from the sea. Yum!











Delicious lemon sorbet made with fresh, Amalfi Coast lemons.  













Custard filled dessert. 











Gluten-free pizza that actually tasted like pizza! Italian restaurants are very conscious of customers with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. The gluten-free dishes I ate were fabulous!











Making our dinner at an Agriturismo (tourist farm) in the mountains. What fun that was!












I couldn't have these (gluten) but there were plenty of moans and groans from everyone else at the table. The center was melted chocolate.












This lemon risotto was incredible. Made with fresh picked lemons from the restaurant's groves, it was my favorite dish of the entire trip. I could have happily eaten it at every meal!










Our final day in Positano was also one of our most enjoyable. After a leisurely walk from our hotel down to the docks, we boarded our private boat for a full day of cruising along the coast, including two swim stops (I was surprised by how cold the water was!) and lunch at a restaurant that can only be reached by water. Viewing the Amalfi Coast from the sea gives you a completely different perspective.





I'd probably give up boating if I had to climb up and down that path each time I wanted to go out on the water!














One of Sophia Loren's homes. We waved. Alas, nobody waved back. ;-)












They grow lemons everywhere!









 



I love the homes and villages tucked into the nooks and crannies along the coast. 











No helicopter on this yacht but they brought their own slide. Looks like fun!












Our final day in Positano. This was taken from my hotel room balcony. Believe me, it was no hardship waking up to this view every morning. Saying arrivederci? Not so easy. 














As lovely as Positano is by day, at night, the magic comes out.  








I hope you've enjoyed this brief peek into my Italy tour and a few of the (thousands of) photos I took. Sharing it with you has reminded me of how fortunate I was to take this trip and how very much I enjoyed it. 



Have you ever gone boating in an ocean or sea? Did you enjoy it?

Which of the food dishes above would you most like to try?

What would be your biggest indulgence if you traveled to the Amalfi Coast? Linens? Food? Wine? Pottery? Cashmere? Something else?



PJ's Birthday Month Giveaway


One randomly chosen person will receive a book from my conference stash and a bar of organic yogurt and honey soap from the cow spa. (U.S. addresses only)







One randomly chosen person will receive a book from my conference stash and a linen bread bag. (U.S. addresses only)




Sunday, September 17, 2017

Winners - - PJ's Italy - Part 1






The randomly chosen winners from Italy - Part 1 are:

catslady

and

Pamela Devereux

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review - - Home for the Summer

Home for the Summer
By Holly Chamberlin
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
 




Frieda and Aaron Braithwaite and their daughters, Bella and Ariel, have enjoyed a week’s family vacation in Jamaica to celebrate Bella’s sixteenth birthday and are set to fly home when Aaron and Ariel are killed in an automobile accident. The first year without them is difficult for the surviving Braithwaites, but they are slowly moving forward with their lives when the first anniversary of the tragedy causes a reversal in Bella’s recovery. She becomes sullen and withdrawn, and her mother fears losing another daughter. At the suggestion of her mother, Ruby Hitchins, Freida and Bella leave their home in Massachusetts and retreat to Ruby’s nineteenth-century farmhouse in Yorktide, Maine, for the summer.  Ruby hopes that some family bonding and tough love will push Bella back into ordinary life.

As mother and daughter continue to move through the stages of grief, they find solace in familial ties with Ruby; with George Hastings, who is waiting for Ruby to respond to his proposal; and with Paul Morse, an old friend who is as close as family to the three generations of women. Freida reconnects with Jack Tennant, a childhood friend, and with her father, who abandoned his family when Freida was eleven. Bella’s life intersects with that of Clara Crawford, a troubled young woman spiraling downward into depression and self-destruction. These relationships too, in very different ways, help Freida and Bella let go of their survivor’s guilt and look forward to the future.

The summary above makes this novel sound much simpler than it is. It is a dense story than runs for ninety chapters plus a prologue and epilogue. It is heavily introspective, and the plot is convoluted, weaving in the losses and abandonments that litter the lives of all the characters. Chamberlin does an excellent job of capturing the grief process, often with real poignancy. Anyone who has lost a loved one will recognize the devastation that small moments can cause, moments such as morning coffee that is no longer shared. I was interested in Ruby, Freida, and Bella and their relationships with one another, and I wanted Ruby and George and Freida and Jack to find happiness together. But I grew weary of the sheer volume of the book. Some of my favorite books are quiet, introspective stories, but I thought this one was too much.  Despite some clear strengths, overall this book just did not work for me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Winners - - Trish Milburn






The winners of a signed book from Trish Milburn are:

Cheryl C

and

librarypat

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


On Second Thought - - Prospect Street




Prospect Street
By Emilie Richards
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: September 17, 2012
(Originally published July 1, 2002)
Reviewed by Janga
 





Faith Bronson leads a privileged life as the daughter of Joe Huston, the senior senator from Virginia, the wife of a conservative lobbyist whose views are compatible with her father’s family-values constituents, and the mother of two healthy, intelligent children, a son and a daughter. Ten days before Christmas, she sets out to surprise her husband David at the family’s West Virginia retreat, but Faith is the one who is surprised when she finds her husband of fifteen years in the arms of his male lover, Abraham Stein, a liberal journalist. To the dismay of everyone concerned, she is not the only one who discovers the lovers.  A suspicious colleague of Stein’s has followed the two men to the cottage. Faith’s private discovery becomes public humiliation as a media frenzy insures her husband’s sexual preference is breaking news. Predictably, David loses his job with Promise the Children, the organization for whom he works. By summer, Faith’s marriage has been legally ended, the custom-designed home where she and David had reared their children has been sold, and for the first time in her life, money, or the lack, is a major concern.

Faith finds sanctuary in a house on Prospect Street, a Georgetown row house that has been in her mother’s family for generations. The house, which has been neglected and damaged by tenants is in dire need of renovation. The symbolism of the house in need of attention and care and Faith, a shattered woman, is clear. Pavel Quinn, a neighbor who has successfully restored his own Georgetown house, has the knowledge and skill Faith needs to transform her house and the patience and tenderness to help restore her belief in herself as an attractive woman. Faith is not eager to become involved with Pavel. She is concerned about her children and their adjustment to the changes in their lives, and she becomes fascinated with the history of the house. It was from that house, about four decades earlier, that Faith’s older sister, Hope, was stolen. Her disappearance remains a mystery. Faith’s investigation into the house’s history uncovers troubling truths about her family.

Prospect Street is the story of Faith’s journey to redefine herself and her relationships with her parents, her former husband, her children, the new man in her life, and the house on Prospect Street and the secrets it holds. Richards doesn’t vilify David Bronson, and she doesn’t turn Faith Bronson into a saint. He is the product of a conservative Christian upbringing and has spent his life denying his sexual preference. He is a flawed man, but he is a sympathetic character. Faith is filled with anger and resentment over the shambles of her life, but she gains strength as her self-knowledge and confidence increase. Their children are confused and troubled. Preteen son Alex is a bright, sweet child who forgives and accepts with little difficulty, but daughter Remy is transformed by the destruction of the life she has known, changing from a sunny-natured girl to a bitter, rebellious teen who refuses to see her father and constantly challenges her mother. Richards does not use her novel to sell a political or religious (or anti-religious) message. She presents complex characters with messy lives who struggle to forgive and to grow. The ending may be a bit too easy for all this complexity, but the book is a fascinating, human story. Its themes of compassion and forgiveness will resonate with many readers.

Emilie Richards is one of those writers that I have followed through several genres and enjoyed every part of the journey. I started reading her books when she was writing categories, and her Men of Midnight trilogy and The Trouble with Joe are still among my keepers. I’ve read all her single-titles from Iron Lace (1996) through The Swallow’s Nest (2017), including her Shenandoah Album books and her Ministry is Murder mysteries. But Prospect Street is the one I return to again and again. It is one of my all-time favorites, and I highly recommend it.