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 Boohpleasures.com by Hamdhoon Rashad

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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 Bookpleasures.com

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 Bookpleasures.com

Meet Steve Piacente Author of Bella

In conversation with Steve Piacente author of Bella.

Good day Steve and thanks for participating in our interview.

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

Steve:
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.

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

Steve:
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.

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

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
You described Bella as a flawed character. Why so?

Steve:
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.

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

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
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?

Steve:
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.

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

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
What message do you think Bella gives to women?

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
Who would be your favorite character?

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
Do you believe in happy endings?

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
What was the most memorable aspect of writing Bella?

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
What was your writing process like?

Steve:
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.

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

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
Where can readers find out more about Bella?

Steve:
Go to the website getbeall.com. 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.

Hamdhoon:
Tell us about your next book.

Steve:
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.

Hamdhoon:
When do you expect Bootlicker to be available for readers?

Steve:
Probably not before next Thanksgiving.

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

Interviewed for bookpleasures.com by Hamdhoon Rashad

Bella

Title: Bella
Author: Steve Piacente
ISBN: 978-1451571615
Publisher: CreateSpace

It is quite safe to say that Bella, the enchanting debut novel by journalist-turned-author Steve Piacente, is nothing less than a literary masterpiece on so many levels. From its punchy and witty prose to its utterly appealing and irresistible heroine, Piacente has charmed us with a bold and inventive novel the effects of which will linger in your minds for a very long time.

Told through the eyes of the male protagonist, a Washington journalist named Danny Patragno, the story centers on the beautiful and elusive widow Isabel ‘Bella’ Moss who has a way of getting what she has put her mind to. After receiving an anonymous phone call that rattled her, Bella is determined on proving that the U.S. military has lied to her and to the world about her husband’s death during the war, and she will stop at nothing until she finds a way to find the truth and tell it to the world.

She lures a reluctant Patragno into the investigation, charming him with her alluring personality. It was her resolve more than anything that drew Patragno’s attention. Of course, her beauty is a whole different story. Along the way as newfound evidences and witnesses resurface, Patragno is more and more convinced that there is more to the story. So much more than even Bella herself knew.

At the same time, Danny’s life is on the line at home with his wife when he finds himself falling for Bella, her powerful attractiveness pulling him like a magnet to the extent that Patragno is pretty much helpless in the presence of Bella. Working together, they were tested by the power of temptation and the consequences that followed, threatening to alter the course of their lives forever.

The rich, involving narrative is knotted together with an adept hand populated by memorable, life-sized character that gives the novel more reality than real life itself. As he piles on the suspense of what’s coming next and the romance that is brewing on the sideline, Piacente takes us across Washington to Florida, along the way meeting some very influential people in politics and military.

One of the most striking themes of the novel is Piacente’s intriguing take on ethics as a former journalist. Burrowing from his extensive experience in journalism, Piacente thoroughly investigates the fine line between the rights and wrongs of journalism ethics and personal morals with a sharp, focused and perceptive eye.

With an original voice that has so audaciously knitted such an enticing yarn, Piacente has proved himself that he is a writer in a league of his own. A highly engaging and an equally marvelous read, Bella comes with the highest recommendation. I can hardly wait for Piacente’s next.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

The Collectibles

Title: The Collectibles
Author: James J. Kaufman
ISBN: 978-0982587300
Publisher: Downstream Publishing

The premise of James J. Kaufman’s enthralling debut The Collectibles largely draws from life’s frailties and the power of human connections. In this regard, touching other people’s lives and changing them for the better plays a significant role throughout this captivating novel, teaching us a valuable lesson or two along the way.

An orphan hailing from the Adirondack mountains, Joe Hart is a self-made attorney highly-regarded and respected in his field. While on a hunting trip with his uncle when he was a teenager, Joe has once saved the life of a rich kid from New York, Preston Wilson, unaware at the time that their paths will cross once again in life.

Years later, fate sends Preston tracking Joe, the one attorney who might be able to save him from his impending financial failure. Joe reluctantly agrees but not without extracting a promise from Preston that he will fulfill an irrevocable condition. A desperate Preston agrees without giving it much thought.

As agreed, Joe strategically helps Preston turn his life around both financially and emotionally, and soon Joe summons Preston to call in his favor. Joe tells Preston that he must meet, get to know, earn the trust of and care for a group of his friends whom he referred to as his ‘collectibles’; Johnny, a mildly mentally challenged dishwasher, Missy, a former dancer in Las Vegas now working as a waitress who is a victim of domestic abuse, Tommy, who has a serious gambling problem, Harry, a professional photographer who is also bipolar, and Corey, a skillful carpenter at the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Joe tells Preston that each of his ‘collectibles’ has a serious personal problem and Joe has become involved in their problems. Now Joe asks Preston to take over what used to be his responsibility to take care of them. Does Preston really have a choice?

Drawing from his extensive experience in law, dealings in the world of business and his interaction with people from diverse backgrounds, Kaufman successfully crafts a tale that is as entertaining as it is inspiring. Not only are the ordinary characters easy to relate to but they create extraordinariness right out of their ordinary lives.

A thoroughly enjoyable work of modern day fiction, The Collectibles triumphs on all counts. The expertly-drawn plot-line will hook you right away and you will find excitement at every turn of the page. Do not miss this one!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

The Damage Done

Title: The Damage Done
Author: Hilary Davidson
Publisher: Forge
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2697-3

Delivering on all counts, Hilary Davidson’s startling debut The Damage Done is so much more than what meets the eyes. As you turn the pages of this pulse-rating crime fiction, Davidson deftly transports you to a mystery-laden setting where you will be plunged into a deep, dark tragedy that will leave you breathless until you have reached the final written word.

On hearing that her deeply troubled, drug-addicted younger sister Claudia has been found dead in her apartment in New York, a shock-stricken Lily Moore rushes home from Spain. A successful travel journalist, Lily made her escape to Spain a year ago to get away from the troubles in her life, namely her sister Claudia who has been living on the edge of life.

Lily was soon, however, baffled to learn that the body at the morgue belongs to a complete stranger, who has been impersonating Claudia. The whereabouts of her sister therefore remains unknown and the new turns of the events sends her into a state of utter panic. What has happened to Claudia? Where has she disappeared to?

And so, the frantic search for Claudia begins in earnest and when Claudia transforms from victim to suspect in the eyes of the police, Lily becomes determined to find out the truth behind all the baffling mysteries surrounding the disappearance of her sister. In her quest to search for her sister and the person responsible for the tragic situation, Lily makes sure that not a stone is left unturned.

Through all the chaos that ensue, Lily confronts her own past and a string of people who might have any information about Claudia including her next-door neighbor, Lily’s former fiancé, and even Claudia’s obsessive ex-lover. Then there is the life of Claudia’s impostor that Lily has to dig through to find answers. What emerges is a terrible truth shocking beyond belief that ultimately threatens to take a toll on Lily and those she loves.

With haunting details and heart-quickening twists that you won’t anticipate even in the slightest, The Damage Done explores the issue of identity theft in a new light, cautioning us about the threat it poses. The cleverly-woven plot sends you spiralling down an unknown path, as Davidson guides us through her heroine’s family secrets as well as the peculiar bond between the two sisters and their dysfunctional relationship.

Easily one of the most refreshing crime thrillers to emerge this year, Davidson’s The Damage Done is a first-rate mystery debut that is thoroughly entertaining and highly satisfying. So sit back and enjoy this racing thrill ride of a novel full of mystery and suspense that guarantees escapism at its best.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com