The Orchard

Author: Jeffery Stepakoff
ISBN: 978-0312581596
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Penned by Jeffery Stepakoff, the writer and co-producer of the drama series Dawson’s Creek, The Orchard is a heartwarming story primarily set in a lush orchard (hence the name) in the atmospheric locales of Georgia. In The Orchard, with his graceful eloquence, Stepakoff weaves a seamless love story that is both delectable and thoroughly enjoyable.

As the rising star and the ultimate career girl who develops aromas and tastes for a major Atlanta-based company, Grace Lyndon’s world is dominated by perfumes and flavors. She leads an independent life, spending all her energy to develop exclusive scents and flavors extracted from all over the world. While she has no man in her life Grace evades going on dates set up by her friends. She has no qualms about being single largely due to the fact that she is committed to her passion – her job. Besides, she hardly ever has the time.

When Grace picks up and tastes an exquisite apple, she falls in love with the flavor from the first bite. Determined to track down the apple’s origin, Grace sets off at night on a journey that brings her to a lush orchard which belongs to Dylan Jackson, a widowed single father. Dylan is still silently suffering from the loss of her loving wife. Since his wife’s demise, Dylan has dedicated his life’s work on raising his feisty kid named Carter and tending to his North Georgia apple farm.

After their rather dramatic first meeting, Grace and Dylan become fast friends conspicuously ignoring the sparks felt by each other’s presence. Gradually, the bond between Grace and Dylan develops into a rather fragile relationship with Grace tied up to her career and Dylan chained to his past and the memories of his wife.

With its beautifully constructed plot, this novel will win you over on many levels. The Orchard is mainly a character-driven story in which a large part has been invested to develop the protagonists. The appealing heroine is one of them. Grace Lyndon is the kind of character you could easily become friends with. Dylan Jackson, as the charming hero, is equally likeable. But the real character who will steal your heart is the lively Carter.

The highpoint of this feel-good novel lies in its succinct writing which in turn makes it an easy read. The Orchard is also the perfect read to gift for your better half. All in all, The Orchard is a highly satisfying novel that spells out the perfect Southern love story. Keep your apples ready as you devour this scrumptious bite of a novel.

Jeffery Stepakoff has written for more than a dozen different television series, including the Emmy-winning The Wonder Years, Sisters. Author of the acclaimed novel, Fireworks Over Toccoa, he has also developed and written plays, TV pilots and major motion pictures, including Disney’s Tarzan and Brother Bear.

Reviewed for by Hamdhoon Rashad

A Dark Dividing

Author: Sarah Rayne
ISBN: 978-1934609804
Publisher: Felony & Mayhem

In A Dark Dividing, Sarah Rayne has expertly woven a frighteningly dark tale that should make even the most valiant readers recoil in horror. This is my first novel by Rayne (who is already a highly accomplished writer with many great works to her credit) and I am already in love with her clever narrative structuring. She has such an impeccable way of enticing a reader to turn the pages ceaselessly until the final written word.

Journalist Harry Fitzglen is not thrilled when his editor Clifford Markovitch assigns him to cover the opening of a new art gallery. But Harry is there for more than just reviewing the featured work at the gallery. His editor wants him to dig into the past of Simone Anderson, the talented photographer whose compelling works are on display. Harry learns that Simone had a twin sister, Sonia, who had disappeared mysteriously years ago. No one quite knows what happened to her.

There is more to the story as a dark and twisted connection between the Anderson twins and another pair of twins – Viola and Sorrel – born almost a century ago comes to the picture. Then there is the ruined mansion located at the Welsh border called the Mortmain House. What does this godforsaken place has to do with these two sets of twins divided by time and space?

Three different storylines overlap in a galloping narrative. Simone hears voices of a little girl in her head and Harry tries to make connections that could lead him to solve the eerie mystery. Simone and Sonia’s mother Melissa Anderson has known the tragic fact that her daughters are conjoined twins early in her pregnancy and when she learns – to her horror – that her husband wants to use the misfortune of the twins to his political gain, Melissa runs away to protect her daughters.

Through the pages of Charlotte Quinton’s diary written almost a century ago, keeping records of the events leading to and after the birth of her conjoined twin daughters Viola and Sorrel, we learn that she loses her daughters during birth. We also learn that both women share a common dislike to their respective husbands. In Charlotte’s case there was even a lover before her marriage – Philip Fleury, passionately known to her as Floy. The century-old dark dividing between the two sets of twins comes to a terrifying convergence that will leave your spine tingling.

Rayne’s A Dark Dividing is most certainly the type of book that you can’t let go of until you have read it all. I found myself reading deep into the night, in spite of it. The suspense keeps piling up and, in almost equal rhythm, the goosebumps on your arms until you arrive at the bone-chilling climax.

A book that should be devoured in hungry chunks, a terror-filled psychological thriller doesn’t get any horrifying than this. You will never see any of it coming. Clear your schedules and find some quite time for yourself and be prepared to be horrified and amazed at the same time in what awaits within the pages of A Dark Dividing. A real winner!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for

God Went Fishing

Author: Dennis Shields
ISBN: 978-1935254287
Publisher: Norlights Press

What is real life anyway, if not hilarious? As a satirical novel with an absurdly comical take on life, morality and such, businessman-turned-actor-turned-author Dennis Shields’ debut novel God Went Fishing proves just that. What happens when God went fishing is no laughing matter. Or is it? God Went Fishing is not only outrageously funny at all times but also shows readers what the world would be like in the event God (hypothetically or even actually) went fishing. To this effect, Shields daringly hints one amusing theory: morality flees out the window the minute God steps aside, giving way to hilarity.

On the whole, God Went Fishing tells the story of a young man named Sigmund and his uproarious adventures often dealing with love, death, deceit, friendship, and betrayal. Having learned that the woman who was thought to be his beloved mother has stolen him from the hospital he was born in leaving behind her real offspring, a distressed Sigmund sets out to rediscover his true identity. Along the journey to find out who he really is, Sigmund encounters oodles of mildly strange to utterly wild characters including Irving the Gangster, Dirty Sanchez the drug dealer and slave trader, Sam the Polish eulogist and Mernie the beautiful nurse-turned-call girl to name just a few.

From what lead to Sigmund’s eighteen good years of life to come to an abrupt end to what happened on the first morning on his own when the people who was believed to be his parents left the country leaving him with no provisions and eventually to his soul-searching, identity-seeking quest, Shields cleverly follows the footsteps of Sigmund taking readers on a laugh-out-loud hilarious journey they will not easily forget. With rapid-fire dialogues and the quick pacing, readers will find themselves turning the pages more speedily than they can keep the count.

A humorous cross between Candide and Family Guy, God Went Fishing guarantees bouts of rib-tickling laughter, more often than not, throwing in nuggets of hilarious wisdom that are absurdly offensive at times. The wacky cast brings in outlandish plot twists with their bizarre views on life and morality, leaving Sigmund – the protagonist – and the readers with nothing but humorous take-aways in the form of the lessons of life and more.

An excellent summer read, laugh away with this tongue-in-cheek fable that should be hailed as both ridiculously funny and outrageously philosophical. Bag it!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for

The Snow Globe

Author: Sheila Roberts
ISBN: 978-0312594480
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

In The Snow Globe, Sheila Roberts has bewitched readers with a charming storyline unfolding in a terrifically imaginative setting. With the holiday theme as a backdrop, The Snow Globe tells us a warm and pleasant tale about miracles that we all need in our lives, miracles we can use to change our lives for the better. Powered by a beautifully constructed plot and a lovable cast of intriguing characters, Roberts’ poignant prose illuminates the story held within the 166 pages.

As Christmas holiday draws nearer, Kiley Gray’s life has turned upside down, taking an extremely ugly turn. Not only Kylie is left heartbroken after being dumped by her boyfriend (for her sister no less!), she also loses her job and can’t find another. On top of that, her two best friends Suzanne and Allison are way too busy to be there for her having to deal with problems of their own; Suzanne is a chronic workaholic, who regularly neglects her husband and daughter to chase her dream. Allison is dealing with weight issues connected with the passing of her beloved grandmother, the person she is most fond of.

The timing could not have been any worse for Kiley as she is left alone during the holiday season with nothing but her miseries to keep her company in a world she doesn’t trust anymore. Then one day, Kiley wanders into an antique store and sets her eyes on a beautiful snow globe, reputed as a miracle performer for those in need of one. The store owner told Kylie about the awe-inspiring history attached to the snow globe and how it has been passed on from generation to generation. She purchases the snow globe without a second’s hesitant. Who else could be in more need of a miracle than Kylie herself? The snow globe turns out to be a real miracle worker, guiding Kylie turn her life around in astonishing ways.

A heartwarming, modern day fairy tale, The Snow Globe is the book for anyone and everyone in need for a miracle in their lives. Immerse yourself in this delightful book, a book so elegant in every aspect.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for

A Shower of Roses

Author: Tom Milton
ISBN: 978-0982990414:
Publisher: Nepperhan Press, LLC

Tom Milton’s masterful storytelling in his rather poetic yarn, A Shower of Roses, lures readers into a world where a poignant and powerful love story unfolds in the backdrop of an extraordinarily evocative setting. If that did not succeed as the perfect antidote, prepare yourselves to be blown away by his elegant writing that has the power to move you to your very existence.

You may wonder, at this point, what Milton’s secret ingredient could possibly be. For starters let’s say that an unforgettable cast, a graceful prose and snappy dialogues are just the icing on the cake. Above all, it is the stirring human touch the talented author so daringly adds to the mix that does the trick and makes all the difference.

Eva works as a pediatric nurse at a New York hospital. She has made it her life’s to help people by doing little things for them, instead of performing great heroic acts. Things are going well for her when she meets Marek, a Polish exile, and falls in love with him. Marek ostensibly works for a large international bank, but Eva soon learns that it is a cover for his role as a CIA agent with the mission of stimulating a popular uprising against the communist government of Poland.

At the request of the CIA the bank transfers Marek to London, where the story opens in April 1981, shortly after Poland announced that it would be unable to repay its foreign debt and the Solidarity movement emerged. Eva had never dreamed of marrying a man like Marek but she responds to his need for love and she devotes her life to him.

She is fully aware that her husband’s work is dangerous. Every time he goes to Poland she worries that he will be arrested by the secret police. Though he drags her into a world of political intrigue and tests her love by subjecting her to increasingly painful experiences, she keeps her promise to love him no matter what he does until she confronts the truth about him – and consequently about herself.

Milton’s somewhat tragic tale raises one fundamental question that has intrigued me as I turned the pages deep into the heart of the story: how far are you willing to go to prove your devotion for someone you love? Told in flashbacks, Milton shifts gears from present to past with an added elegance, exploring the dire consequences of one’s fate in such a circumstance.

If you are craving for a book to put you in the mood to discover shocking revelations about the power of love and devotion, grab a copy of A Shower of Roses – not because your search ends here but because it is so achingly beautiful.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for

U R The Solution: An AO Adventure

Authors: Mark Victor Hansen & Bill Froehlich
ISBN: 978-1607466741
Publisher: Fastpencil Premiere

So what do we get when the bestselling author of Chicken Soup series collaborated with the writer of TV series MacGyver? A phenomenal, life-altering adventure that will not only motivate and inspire you but will also make you realize your true potential. In this profound fable, told through an enchanting fantasy peppered with real life events, we are invited to open the portal of our imagination and step into a playful new reality to discover a startling revelation about ourselves and the world around us.

The story introduces Ashley and Brian, two innocent children curious about the events happening around the globe. Both children know that the adults have real problems to deal with and as far as they are concerned the adults are helpless. One fine day, Ashley and Brian are led astray by a well-meaning older child, Tommy. Following on a path led by Tommy, Ashley and Brian plummeted down into the darkness.

Soon the children find themselves in a magical world, where they meet a mystical character, AO, who challenges them with questions and inspires them with infinite possibilities. As Ashley and Brian struggle to find their way back home, their journey through the magical landscape presents new challenges that triggers them to discover intriguing solutions.
With a special emphasis on the power of imagination, authors Hansen and Froehlich reassure us that everything and anything is possible if we let ourselves believe that “possible walks among us, many times unseen, unfelt and unheard.” Shedding new light into worldly problems we all face, U R The Solution: An AO Adventure also takes us on a spiritual journey. It reiterates that our problems begin when we think that we are separated from our Divine Source thus triggering negative energy to take control of us.

With the clever concepts of Fear Free Glasses and Without-a-Doubt Goggles, the authors explore real life solutions to the problems that exist in our world today. From global financial crisis to the Gulf Oil Spill to global warming, the authors guide us on to the correct path through success stories of real people, providing plausible solutions.

A modern day fable for adults with insightful success stories and several meaningful themes, U R The Solution: An AO Adventure provokes reader’s imaginations and prods them with urgent questions, inspiring them to formulate creative and innovative solutions to tackle the issues they face. If there’s one thing U R The Solution will teach readers, it will be this: we all have within us the power to change ourselves and subsequently change the world. U R The Solution is a revelation for anyone looking for inspiration to change their course of life to ultimately make a significant difference in the world.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for

Meet Steve Piacente Author of Bella

In conversation with Steve Piacente author of Bella.

Good day Steve and thanks for participating in our interview.

Bella is the most complex character in your novel. Tell us about the development process of her character.

Bella is a kind of an amalgamation of a lot of people I covered during my reporting years. During those years I covered several very tragic stories and I have always been interested in how people respond to profound grief, profound tragedy and how they deal with it. Some people blame themselves and can’t deal with their grief, some people find ways to channel their grief into instructive acts and some people are in the middle.

What are the challenges you faced during the character development of Bella?

Bella is a complex character. You want to ring it true. You want to stir emotion. So people have very different reactions to her and I wanted that. Some people empathize with her; some people think she uses her beauty and sexuality to manipulate people. If I get to a point where it is becoming predictable, too boring or stale, I stop and I develop 10 questions for my main characters and then I ask the questions and answer them in their voices. It is amazing if you let yourself go because that will take you in very different directions.

What would you say is Bella’s most striking strength and weakness?

Bella is very savvy. She is not just down-the-road but around-the-corner, and she is very fierce. Her weakness is that she doesn’t care who falls in her wake. When we meet Bella this is not the Bella that existed prior to her husband’s death. So we don’t really know what she was like before that.

You described Bella as a flawed character. Why so?

Well, she is emotionally devastated. She is a woman living the life of her dreams. She has this great hunky husband, a pro-athlete. They have a child. Everything was going along great and then suddenly it was over in a matter of moments. The fact that she doesn’t care who gets in the way concludes that end justifies the means. That’s her flawed personality.

Do you think in Bella’s case, end justified means?

I think in her mind, it did. I think she has made that decision from the very beginning. She walked into that Senate office and kind of wows Dan with her beauty and sexuality. She is manipulating him from the start and she has made a decision that she will do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of the story.

Your book deals with ethical dilemmas in both journalism and personal integrity. How has it influenced you to write from your own experience as a journalist?

Oh gosh. Very powerfully because when you are a journalist, especially a Daily print reporter, you come across these situations every day and you are constantly weighing, just not whether to write a story but which quotes to use, which quotes to leave out, which information to put at the top of the story, which information to put at the bottom. I would say that ethical decisions drive the story from beginning to end. It is all about the ethical decisions Dan makes and telling how it happened.

Why did you decide to write the story in a male perspective even though Bella is the main central character?

I wanted Dan to tell the story. I wanted the reporter to tell the story and if you have noticed, the book begins nearly at the end. The book begins as he is down in the dumps. He has suffered for his sins and then he realized how he got there and in the end we have a glimmer of hope for him. So I think it is a story that should have been told by the person writing the newspaper story because that is how it all began.

What message do you think Bella gives to women?

I think for women as well as men, it is a cautionary tale about giving into the power of temptation and the yearning for revenge. The short version of that is, think hard before you take the next step.

Who would be your favorite character?

Because I worked as a reporter for so many years, I identify most with Dan. But I get a kick out of a lot of characters. I liked the professor Dan had as a young man, who is basically his conscience. I liked writing her. I also liked Dan’s kid. I think he is an interesting kid.

Do you believe in happy endings?

Oh sure. I like happy endings. I don’t like tried endings. I don’t like predictable endings. I think it is perfectly feasible that Dan will have a happy ending. Based on life this far, it is plausible that he can repair his marriage and move on in a positive way.

What was the most memorable aspect of writing Bella?

I have been a writer since I can remember so I like to write. I get enjoyment out of writing. I let myself go and answer the questions about character in ways that I don’t anticipate. Sometimes I will come out of my home office in Maryland and my wife will go, ‘Are you okay?’ because I have this bewildered look on my face. It was simply because my writing often took me in new directions and I wasn’t sure what’s going to happen. So I guess it would be letting myself be surprised during the writing process.

What was your writing process like?

Aside from the interactions I have with the characters, I would go back re-write and re-edit on a scene that would stick out for me. I don’t usually write in a linear way as in this is the beginning and this is the end. Rather I constantly do writing and re-writing and editing and re-editing on various parts. I like to write only in the morning so I guess it is not uncommon for me to write 6 in the morning.

As a self-published book, what role do social media play in promoting Bella?

It is enormous. I had like to say I am romantically involved with the idea of social media because, as a former journalist, I really appreciate the fact that I can now take my product and put it in the hands of prospective readers and let them decide whether it is worth reading or nor rather than some agent or publisher. So that role has changed. I think it is fun. I think it is very much like a new frontier, it is actually very exciting to be a part of it.

Where can readers find out more about Bella?

Go to the website Watch the trailer which, by the way, has my daughter Danielle as Bella. On the website, there are links to Bella’s Facebook page, Youtube page and the blog. The blog is about how I came to this point. There’s one entry called Deconstructing 2010. That will tell you pretty much how we got this far. It has got links to all the things we have done so far.

Tell us about your next book.

It is called Bootlicker. During the course of my masters program at Hopkins, I spread it out over the course of a semester and in the process of that time I wrote a chapter of what would then become my first novel. Just like in Bella, Dan is once again the Washington correspondent in Bootlicker. Bootlicker talks about how he became the Washington correspondent. So it was like a prequel but it was actually written before Bella.

When do you expect Bootlicker to be available for readers?

Probably not before next Thanksgiving.

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Interviewed for by Hamdhoon Rashad