Posted in 3 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli by Ted Merwin


Genre: History
Publisher: NYU Press
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Formats Available: Hardback, Kindle

For much of the twentieth century, the New York Jewish deli was an iconic institution in both Jewish and American life. As a social space it rivaled—and in some ways surpassed—the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. In popular culture it has been the setting for classics like When Harry Met Sally. And today, after a long period languishing in the trenches of the hopelessly old-fashioned, it is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence.
Pastrami on Rye is the first full-length history of the New York Jewish deli. The deli, argues Ted Merwin, reached its full flowering not in the immigrant period, as some might assume, but in the interwar era, when the children of Jewish immigrants celebrated the first flush of their success in America by downing sandwiches and cheesecake in theater district delis. But it was the kosher deli that followed Jews as they settled in the outer boroughs of the city, and that became the most tangible symbol of their continuing desire to maintain a connection to their heritage. Ultimately, upwardly mobile American Jews discarded the deli as they transitioned from outsider to insider status in the middle of the century. Now contemporary Jews are returning the deli to cult status as they seek to reclaim their cultural identities. 
Richly researched and compellingly told, Pastrami on Rye gives us the surprising story of a quintessential New York institution.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚

I’m breaking one of my cardinal rules and reviewing a book I wasn’t able to finish. There is a wealth of fascinating information in Pastrami on Rye. Ted Merwin also has an easy, conversational style of writing that draws you. The reason I couldn’t finish it? Largely, organization. I felt like every possible aspect of the history of delis was being presented to me all at once, and to be honest it was overwhelming. One moment we’re talking about the importance of pickled meat in Jewish history and culture, the next we’re talking about Jewish immigrants in the 1950’s. It was all incredibly interesting, but because of the lack of organization I really wasn’t able to absorb most of it. I will probably try to revisit this book again in the future because it really is a great topic, but I only recommend to those who don’t mind a more scattered approach.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

B1ZeFFFM-gS._UX250_Ted Merwin is Associate Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies at Dickinson College (PA), where he is Founding Director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life. He writes about Jewish theater, dance, and food for the New York Jewish Week and other major newspapers and magazines.

Posted in 5 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron

Ophelia's Muse

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Formats Available: Paperback, Kindle


“I’ll never want to draw anyone else but you. You are my muse. Without you there is no art in me.”

With her pale, luminous skin and cloud of copper-colored hair, nineteen-year-old Lizzie Siddal looks nothing like the rosy-cheeked ideal of Victorian beauty. Working in a London milliner’s shop, Lizzie stitches elegant bonnets destined for wealthier young women, until a chance meeting brings her to the attention of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Enchanted both by her ethereal appearance and her artistic ambitions–quite out of place for a shop girl–Rossetti draws her into his glittering world of salons and bohemian soirees. 

Lizzie begins to sit for some of the most celebrated members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, posing for John Everett Millais as Shakespeare’s Ophelia, for William Holman Hunt–and especially for Rossetti, who immortalizes her in countless paintings as his namesake’s beloved Beatrice. The passionate visions Rossetti creates on canvas are echoed in their intense affair. But while Lizzie strives to establish herself as a painter and poet in her own right, betrayal, illness, and addiction leave her struggling to save her marriage and her sense of self. 

Rita Cameron weaves historical figures and vivid details into a complex, unconventional love story, giving voice to one of the most influential yet overlooked figures of a fascinating era–a woman who is both artist and inspiration, long gazed upon, but until now, never fully seen.

An excerpt from Ophelia’s Muse:

Rossetti stood behind the canvas, pretending to study Deverell’s painting while he admired its model. Despite Deverell’s enthusiastic descriptions, Rossetti was completely unprepared for the glorious woman before him. She seemed to be from another age, as if she had sprung to life from an antique painting of an Italian saint. Seated before the window, her hair cast a slight golden glow in the afternoon sun, like a halo. She could not have been more perfect if he had sculpted her from marble with his own hands. Deverell claimed that he had found the perfect Viola, but this girl was far too beautiful to pose as some love-sick page. She was clearly meant to sit for the great heroines of history and myth, and Rossetti vowed to paint her as a queen.

“Miss Siddal, has anyone ever told you that you were surely crafted by the gods in order to be painted? If you don’t believe that yours is a beauty for the ages, you underestimate yourself.”

The force of his words struck Lizzie, and she wondered if he was serious, and if it could be true. Was this the thing that she had always been waiting for? Was she really meant to inspire great artists? Her head buzzed with the possibility, but the very allure of the idea felt dangerous…

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚

As you might have guessed by the sparse offerings here of late, for the past several months, I’ve been burned out on everything related to literature. I suppose that’s what happens when you write and release two books in less than a year and a half. I’ve forced myself to read in the interim, of course, because it’s important, but it’s been more of a chore than a leisurely activity.

Ophelia’s Muse helped me remember why I love reading. For the first time in almost a year, I found myself staying up late to read and experiencing serious withdrawal when I had to put the book aside to attend to adult responsibilities.

Rita Cameron’s prose is heartbreakingly beautiful, like the story itself. Her vivid descriptions draw the reader in almost immediately. She takes artistic license with the details of the characters’ lives, but does so in a delicate, responsible way. I was surprised to learn this was a debut novel and hope to see a new title by Cameron out soon!

About the Author

Rita CameronRita Cameron grew up adminiring the stunning women of Pre-Raphaelite painting, and spent many hours imagining the romantic lives of the artists who painted them. She studied English Literature at Columbia University, and law at the University of Pennsylvania. But like many lawyers, she dreamed of writing a novel. She currently lives in San Jose, California, with her husband and two children, and enjoys hiking, visiting wineries, and learning about local history. Visit her online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp


Genre: Teen & Young Adult
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Formats available for pre-order: Kindle, Hardcover, MP3 CD


10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m.
The auditorium doors won’t open. 

10:05 a.m.
Someone starts shooting. 

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

Enjoyed is a strange word to use here, but I did enjoy reading This Is Where It Ends. I’m usually skeptical when reading stories of fictional school shootings because I feel like it’s an easy way to win readers over emotionally. Nijkamp handles the topic like a champ, though. I was almost instantly invested in her characters and cared about them all individually. Her prose is fluid and beautiful, although a little too florid at times for my taste.

My only complaints are minor. The voices of the four characters through which we experience the story were all so similar in style and voice I often forgot whose POV I was currently reading–I feel like that could be improved upon in future works. Also, as a native of Alabama, the setting didn’t feel genuine. It felt like a caricature of the south in some parts and a completely different part of the country in others. That wouldn’t have mattered as much if the location of the school wasn’t hammered on over and over again, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter–it was more of a pesky fly than anything else.

Overall, it’s a decent read. I’d be interested to read subsequent books from Nijkamp.

**I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

About the Author

Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and diversity advocate. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies.  This Is Where It Ends is her debut novel. Find out more about her and her work by visiting her website.

Posted in Uncategorized

Blog Tour Line-Up — The Marshall Plan

It’s almost time for what I know I’ve been looking forward to…my very first blog tour!

Blog Tour TMP

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Family Life, Romance, New Adult
Publisher: Three Amigas Press
Publication Date: October 31, 2015
Formats available: Paperback, Kindle


Molly Marshall is fresh out of graduate school, armed with a shiny new degree in journalism and ready to take over the world. There’s just one little problem: no one seems to care. Six months have passed since graduation and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t find a paying job in the field she’s spent years preparing to dominate. Stuck in a menial job she hates, plagued with memories of an abusive childhood, and engaged to a man she may no longer love, she’s running out of options and fast. When she stumbles across a long-kept secret, though, everything changes and she’s forced to make a choice. What will it be, her ambition or her heart? This standalone sequel to The Partition of Africa invites you to examine your thoughts on family, desire, and the nature of love itself.

About the Author:

9458_10203783495880168_8517268708680578282_nOlivia began writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences and submitted poems and short stories to various writing contests. She finished her first long work of fiction, an unpublished novella entitled Heaven’s Song, in the tenth grade. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its division in the 2008 District III Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She took a reprieve from writing during her years at the University of Montevallo, where she earned a degree in history in 2012. She finished and published her first novel, The Partition of Africa, in 2014. Olivia currently lives in central Alabama with her husband John, to whom she’s been wed since the age of twenty-two, and their cat, Buddy. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television–The Office (US), Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and Friends are her favorites–and cooking without recipes. Along with working full-time at her alma mater and studying English at the graduate level, she is busy working on her next literary adventure.


Blog Tour Schedule

October 31

Books and Fandom

The SMART Book Club

Let’s Talk About Books

November 1

Paging Through The Days

Shine Like Stars

November 2

The Phantom Paragrapher

Wyndy Dee

November 3

Book About

OCD Book Promotions

November 4

Cafe Art Space

November 5

Charlene’s Blog and More

November 6

I Lay Reading


Hippies Read Too

Whispering Stories

The Avid Readers Blog

Books, Baking, & Other Objects of Beauty


If you would like to join the Blog Tour, there’s still time! Contact me at for more details. 

Posted in Blog Tour

THE END OF ALL THINGS Series Blitz Tour!


The End of All Things Series by Lissa Bryan


For your chance to win one of….

$10 Amazon Giftcard

An e-Copy of The End of All Things Series

A Paperback Copy of The End of All Things Series

An e-Copy of Ghostwriter

A Paperback Copy of Ghostwriter



The End of All Things by Lissa Bryan

(Book 1)

Category: Dystopian

Publication Date: January 24, 2013

Available From: TWCS * B&N * iTunes * Amazon * Kobo


TheEnd_Low-Res_CoverAfter a terrible virus ravages the planet, Carly Daniels, one of the few survivors, hides in her apartment in Juneau trying to survive the best she can with only occasional forays to gather food. With her is Sam, a wolf puppy she found starving on the streets. He becomes her companion and a reason to continue when giving up sometimes seems like the more attractive option. Still dazed with shock and grief, she hopes for the world to go back to normal soon.

She is discovered by Justin, an ex-soldier who is intent on making his way to Florida before the winter sets in. Justin coaxes her out of her hiding place and convinces her to join him on his journey, because a warmer climate will be their best chance against the extremes of Mother Nature.

Together, they begin a perilous journey through a nation laid to waste by the disaster. Challenges abound along the way. The weather, injury, and shortage of supplies all help to slow them down. In time, they discover that they aren’t the only survivors. Some are friendly but some have had their minds destroyed by the high fever. Then there are those who simply take what they want, leaving Carly and Justin with no choice but to defend what is theirs.

But their journey is not without joy and love. Together, they face every struggle, including an unplanned pregnancy. Despite the perils of bringing a child into a world of chaos, their baby is a new beginning for themselves and a symbol of hope for the other survivors they find along the way.

This is the story of their journey to find a place to begin a new life, and a home in each other.



Tales from the End by Lissa Bryan

(4 Short Stories / Companion Pieces)

Category: Dystopian

Publication Date: February 4, 2014

Available From: TWCS * B&N * iTunes * Amazon * Kobo


Tales-From-The-End-Low-Res-CoverFrom the author of The End of All Things comes a collection of short stories about the Infection that swept around the globe, decimating the population, and leaving behind a small number of survivors, unprepared to deal with the brutal new world which had replaced the one they’d known.

The Horsemen

L.A.’s mayor has declared quarantine to try to halt the spread of the Infection. Pearl sets off across the city to buy supplies, but already the world is changing. Something strange is in the air. The Horsemen are coming …


When Veronica’s mother doesn’t come home from work and no one answers the phone when she calls for help, a nine-year-old girl is thrown into the chaos of a world coming to an end. Veronica decides it’s up to her to find her family. “Veronica” is the story of a little girl’s courage in the face of the end of all things.

“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”

They called her Shadowfax– the mare Carly and Justin found on their travels. But before she was found by Carly, the retired dressage horse was known as Cloud. An unusual tale of the end, told through the eyes of a confused and lonely horse, left in her pasture.


A previously-published bonus story. Carly knows Justin has never celebrated his birthday, and after society crumbled, no one knows what date it is, anyway. But she wants to do something special for him. Celebrating the little things helps them keep hope alive, and as a blizzard rages outside, a small gesture of love warms their home.



The Land of the Shadow by Lissa Bryan

(Book 2)

Category: Dystopian

Publication Date: August 21, 2014

Available From: TWCS * B&N * iTunes * Amazon * Kobo


The_Land_of_the_Shadow_Low-Res_CoverAfter surviving the Infection and a perilous journey through the wasteland that was once the United States, Carly and Justin have found a safe home in the isolated town of Colby.

Even so, balancing the duties of survival and a growing family isn’t easy. As they emerge as leaders, they face difficult questions about justice in a lawless land, basic human rights, and freedom in a world where strength defines worth. More than ever, they have to rely on one another for strength and support during the darkest of times.

The Crisis is far from over. Their fences won’t keep the world out forever, and a new threat is emerging—a gang of predators who see the town as easy pickings. When danger looms over Colby, Carly must decide how far she’ll go to protect those she loves.

It’s a journey down the long and broken road through The Land of the Shadow.



Shadows Have Gone by Lissa Bryan

(Book 3)

Category: Dystopian

Publication Date: March 26, 2015

Available From: TWCS * B&N * iTunes * Amazon * Kobo


Shadows-Have-Gone-Low-Res-CoverCarly Daniels knows what it is to suffer loss. She knows what it is to sacrifice. In the two years since a pandemic virus—known only as the Infection—decimated humanity, she’s made choices she never could have imagined. She’s condoned violence in the name of peace and done the unthinkable in the name of mercy. But with Justin at her side, she’s also learned there’s nothing she can’t face and nothing she wouldn’t do to protect those she loves.

But now another threat has arrived in the form of a uniformed man driving an army truck, claiming to represent the remnant of the United States military. Someone has set their sights on their community . . . and on Justin. The struggle to defend their little homeland is far from over, and the visitors may have brought more danger with them than just their weapons.

The shadows are closing in. Carly has to find out whether she has the strength to stand on her own when all of her support has fallen away. What remains when the shadows have gone?




Ghostwriter by Lissa Bryan

Category: Supernatural

Publication Date: October 11, 2012

Available From: TWCS * B&N * iTunes * Amazon * Kobo


Ghost_Writer_Low-Res_CoverUnemployed, with her savings dwindling, Sara Howell thinks things are looking up when she lands a ghostwriting job and rents the affordable island home of her favorite author, Seth Fortner, who mysteriously disappeared in 1925.

Strange things happen, making Sara wonder if Seth ever left. When she finds an old trunk of Seth’s letters, she delves into a world she never imagined, filled with love and a family curse it seems only she can break.



Author Bio

lbryanLissa Bryan is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete’s foot…. though only in her head.

Real life isn’t so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.

Goodreads * TWCS * Twitter * Facebook * Website

2 TWCS-Blog-Tour-Banner

Posted in Blog Tour, Interview

Author Interview with Lissa Bryan – Part 3


Lissa Bryan is the author of the dystopian trilogy, The End of All Things. Check out parts 1 and 2 of her interview. 


Did you learn anything new with this book?

I learn something new, writing-wise, with each book. I still overuse adverbs to an almost criminal extent and my grammar is uneven at best, but I’m getting better. It’s slowed my writing pace quite a bit because I now stop to consider each line as I write it. They always advise you not to edit as you write, but I can’t help it. It’s almost an automatic reflex after having to go back and rewrite paragraphs so many times.

Research-wise, I learned a lot, as I do with each book in this series. Some of it has probably landed me on a Homeland Security watch list, and a lot of it I’ll probably never use, such as how to skin a ‘gator, but hey, it’s always good to learn new things, right?

If you had it all to do over again, would you change anything about the series? 

The End of All Things was never intended to be a series. I meant for it to be one book and I told my editor I thought I could do it in less than 80,000 words. I had “written” it in my head, so I was estimating based on how long it felt in my mind. I was off by a mile. When I crossed the 65k mark, I realized I wasn’t even near the half-way point in the story. So, I ended the first book at what seemed like a good spot and figured I’d do a sequel. But I had other things I wanted to write in the meantime. That was a mistake, too. I should have dived right into writing the sequel.

After I finished writing the second half, I realized I wasn’t really done with these characters. Carly and Justin were clamoring in my mind, insisting there was more to their story. And so I wrote the third volume to complete their arc, though I still hear Justin time to time, telling me what he’s up to.

If I were writing it today, planning it out as a series from the beginning, there might be a smoother transition, and a more even tone, but in the end, I learned a lot from the experience, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What were the challenges in bringing TEOAL to life?

There were a lot of challenges. First was in the amount of research it required. I had to think about how every aspect of life would be affected by the end of modern technology, and how my characters could overcome the challenges it would present. That wasn’t easy. I’d be typing along and suddenly it would occur to me, “Hey, would that still work?” and off I’d have to go to see how these modern conveniences function and whether some of them would be able to operate without human intervention.

Psychologically, it takes you to a dark place to imagine the end of the world. It’s a world in which something like 99% of the population has died, meaning I’m writing a world in which I’m likely dead, along with everyone I love. It’s a world in which my loved ones who need modern medical technology wouldn’t survive. It’s a lawless world where the strong exploit and prey upon the weak.

That’s one of the reasons I admire Carly so much. She’s able to see the best in human kind, and she’s determined that the world they rebuild is going to be even better than the one before. She refuses to let the darkness win.


Stay tuned for more about The End of All Things!

Posted in Interview

Author Interview with Lissa Bryan – Part 2


Lissa Bryan is the author of the dystopian trilogy, The End of All Things. Check out Part 1 of her interview here

Is there a message in the series you want your readers to take away with them when they’ve finished? 

I guess the message is that the human spirit is an incredible thing. We’re capable of surviving terrible traumas, of coming together in the most horrific circumstances. I’ve always been amazed at the powerful stories that emerge after disasters of people risking everything to help others, of people coming together to face challenges, to overcome darkness together. We humans are capable of incredible things–beautiful things. We’re also capable of great cruelty, but again and again throughout history, we see the best of the human spirit conquering in the end.

I don’t know if I was faced with the same circumstances that I would do as well as Carly does. When Justin finds her in the first book, she’s in a deep state of shock. She’s just watched the world end, after all. But under that frightened, bewildered exterior, she has a core of steel, and she emerges strong and determined to rebuild an even better world than the one before. That’s the kind of human spirit I wanted to celebrate in these books.

Love, too, plays a huge role in this. Not only the love that grows between Carly and Justin, but the love the characters have for their families and friends, the love that binds their community together. Justin starts out as a cynic about love, but he learns to see it as one of the essential things that holds people together when everything else has fallen apart.

“That’s what you never understood. I didn’t understand it myself until I met Carly, but now I see it. I’ve asked myself why humans deserve a chance to survive. Maybe nature intended us to die out, and we were just a sad remnant waiting for time to finish the job. After all, what makes us any more special than the millions of other species that have fallen by the wayside? But then I realized what it was. The one thing we had that made us superior to every other species. The thing that made us worthy of survival. Love, Lewis. It was love. From it stems every good thing human beings have ever done. Every work of art, every poem, every hospital, every law that codified compassion. It’s interesting. The very thing you despise as weakness is the one thing that makes our species worthy of continuing.”


Stay tuned for more from Lissa!