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

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

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

Someone’s Watching

Title: Someone’s Watching
Author: Sharon Potts
ISBN: 978-1608090136
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing

If you are looking for a thriller that is quite admirable for both its visual prose and quick pace, then Sharon Pott’s latest crime flick “Someone’s Watching” might just be the thing for you. Not only does it keep you on the edge with its pulse-racing speed but it guarantees you a seriously chilling thrill ride.

It is not until her estranged father suddenly shows up on her doorstep asking for her help that bartender Robbie Ivy learns she has a half-sister, Kaitlin “Kate” Brooks, who went missing along with her best friend, Joanne Sparks in Miami. Robbie seeks help from her ex-boyfriend Jeremy Stroeb who suggests she should consult Detective Judy Lieber, and Robbie made it her mission to locate her sister.

Robbie is frantic when she learns that Joanne’s body was found drowned in India Creek and the whereabouts of Kate remains unknown. With each passing moment, Robbie knew in her heart that the chance of finding Kate alive is getting slimmer by the minute. Racing against time, Robbie intensifies her search, often going against Lieber and coming close to breaking the law. Along the way, Robbie meets self-help author Gina Fieldstone, wife of politician Stanford Fieldstone, who volunteered to help Robbie to find her sister.

Then, a local congressman commits suicide following a visit to a popular bar the same night Robbie was there. She believes there must be a connection to the events to what happened to Kate and she starts digging deeper only to confront a terrible reality that could put everyone she loves at risk.

The lively South Beach club scene in Miami was portrayed so vividly that its gives the feeling you are right there to witness it all. Peopled with sinister characters, Potts delivers a gripping narrative that will keep you hooked until you have reached the very end of this bone-chilling mystery. Be warned that by the time you get there, you will emerge breathless. An utterly zesty read, “Someone’s Watching” is a terrific crime thriller that should win Potts more fans.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

Pious

Author: Kenn Bivins
ISBN: 978-1936198-66-5
Publisher: Two Harbors Press

If there is a valuable lesson Kenn Bivins’ startling debut novel Pious has to teach us, it is this: you can’t escape reality just by living a lie as there is an enormous price to pay for the severe consequences of hiding behind a masquerade of disguise. Bivins’ absorbing portrayal of one man’s ultimate journey from resentment to redemption in Pious will compel you right from the beginning, as the protagonist goes through a life-changing transformation that will genuinely stun you along the way.

To the eyes of everyone in his close-knit, family-friendly neighborhood of Mechi Lane, Carpious Mightson appears as an exemplary citizen and a caring neighbor who is perceived as ‘calm, cool and collective’ since these are the attributes Carpious inadvertently display on the surface. What his neighbors, co-workers or even his girlfriend does not know is that underneath all that is ‘a man of conflict and rage’ who once was a convicted criminal harboring an ugly secret.

Full of resentment for the horror of his childhood, Carpious has been trying to erase his past by keeping the demons at bay. Now hiding behind God, wearing ‘the guise of a man of virtue and charisma’, Carpious is running away from his past, from who he really is and where he come from by opting to live a lie. No matter what it takes.

That was until his lie inevitably catches up with him. When Ian Kaplan, a registered sex-offender, who knows a dark segment in Carpious’ past moves into Mechi Lane, and his addict of an ex-wife Alethea resurfaces with an agenda to blackmail Carpious by threatening to expose him for who he is, Carpious’ ideal life is abruptly disrupted by these reminders of his former life, a life he had rather not remember at any cost.

As Carpious tries to wrap his head around these potentially threatening disruptions in his otherwise perfect life (or so he thinks), a murder takes place in his peaceful neighborhood. Eventually, the façade of a deceiving life that he’s built starts to crumble down and his resentments re-emerges, as his past life come back to haunt him.

In what follows in this hard-hitting tale of a man trying to disguise his true self, Bivins paints an astonishing picture of the complexities and contrasts between the ugliness of resentment and the beauty of redemption. The poignant narrative is more real than reality itself, driven by a multifaceted protagonist that Bivins meticulously carved out with the precision of an expert novelist.

The elegant prose will keep you hooked as the enormity of the repercussions faced by the central character leads to a staggering climax that will never cease to amaze you. In essence, Pious is a praise-worthy, modern-day work of fiction that will leave you transfixed. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

A Ballad for Allison Porter

Author: Gary Solomon
Publisher: Aslan Publishing
ISBN: 978-0944031087

In his riveting debut novel, A Ballad for Allison Porter, Gary Solomon recounts with such acute details a tale so distressing that makes your heart cry out loud for the tragic fate of a woman who lived in the shadows of her yesterday’s nightmares. A heartbreaking yarn on one woman’s life and death, A Ballad for Allison Porter is an outstanding piece of work in contemporary fiction that deserves a round of applause.

Allison Porter’s pre-destined exit from Earth is drawing to a close as she awaits her execution in the death row at Oregon State Penitentiary for a heinous crime she has committed. Charged with murdering her next door neighbors that garnered attention from local media and hatred from her community, Allison has not said a word to anyone since her arrest following the murders. She didn’t make an effort to explain her actions, her withdrawn demeanor betraying no emotion. Not even a hint of remorse for what she did.

Kevin Pratt, a local reporter working for the Oregonian, is assigned to cover the story of Allison’s execution. During his unexpected meeting with Allison at the Oregon State Penitentiary, Kevin was completely caught off-guard and genuinely shocked when she surprisingly opens up to him. With the first words uttered by Allison since the murders, she breaks the silence and has a rare heart-to-heart with Kevin.

Deeply-moved by what he heard, Kevin leaves the Penitentiary determined to piece together the taciturn life of Allison Porter with ‘an overwhelming need to understand how this atrocity of life could happen’. Kevin thus makes a trip down to Allison’s empty house and finds his way to a dark closet led him to discover an old shoe box containing memorabilia of Allison’s past, the only remaining legacy of her life.

As Kevin rummages through each of the bits and pieces of Allison’s keepsakes, they bring back memories of her tragic past, each telling a different story, each one a piece of the puzzle that leads to ‘Allison’s heart, her soul, the end of her future, and sum total of her life’.

Constantly backtracking to segments of Allison’s heartrending past, Solomon captivates readers with such ease, peeling layer by layer of the protagonist’s life in excruciating detail. Achingly moving at times, A Ballad for Allison Porter will mercilessly thrust you deep into the turbulent life of the protagonist that eventually led to her deadly retribution. You almost wish you never had to witness the horrifying episodes that Allison had to endure while you can’t help but find yourself delving into the deep, dark retribution that made her commit such a brutal act of violence.

A truly delicate and heart-wrenching tragedy, A Ballad for Allison Porter will shock you with such force that will shake you to the core. You will find your heart aching for Allison Porter as you close the final page of her shocking life. A brilliantly written ballad not to be missed at any cost!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

And Then There Was One

Title: And Then There Was One
Author: Patricia Gussin
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
ISBN: 978-1933515816

An adrenaline-driven, emotionally-charged force to reckon with, Patricia Gussin’s And Then There Was One recounts a heart-rending and an equally disturbing family tragedy that unfolds against the backdrop of every parent’s worst imaginable nightmare. From the first page itself, you will be gripped in the never-ending suspense surrounding a devastating mystery.

Scott and Katie Monroe lead a perfectly happy life with their identical triplet daughters; Sammie, Alex and Jackie, and their prominent careers; she, a forensic child psychiatrist and he, a Yankee catcher. While in Detroit to attend Scott’s sister Monica Monroe’s concert, the picture-perfect family of Scott and Katie are shattered when two of their triplets go missing without so much as a clue.

Scott and Katie are utterly devastated, falling apart in the aftermath of the horror they are faced with. The news was especially unbearable for Katie, being always overprotective of her triplets. ‘She knew that she needed sleep, that she was physically and emotionally drained, but when she closed her eyes, the horrors of what might be happening to her daughters burned her retina.’

It is just too much for little Jackie to learn that her sisters Sammie and Alex have been abducted. ‘She thought about her sisters in some horrible place with nothing to eat. Were they being tortured? Could they even be dead?’ Before long, she crumbles under the heavy stress of grief and survivor’s guilt, taking all the blame for herself.

As the investigation sends the FBI on a goose-chase with several suspects and false leads, Scott and Katie’s suffering continues as hope eludes them. ‘They each seem to cycle in and out of paralysis. In and out of hope. In and out of despair.’ As the seemingly never-ending search for the missing triplets continues, Scott finds himself collapsing under despair as much as Katie has. ‘He didn’t know if he could take another day of agony, another day of uncertainty, another day of abject helplessness.’ What if their daughters are never found, or not found alive?

Narrated just over a span of one week, Gussin effortlessly ensnares the readers into the heart of the terror that engulfs the Monroe family. The flawless, taut writing makes it a thrilling ride from cover-to-cover as Gussin gradually peels layer by layer of the dreadfulness that await to engulf not only the Monroe family but also us, readers. Similar to that of the emotional roil of The Lovely Bones and the adrenaline rush of Gone Baby Gone, Gussin tugs at your heart mercilessly with the extremely vivid, distressing details that would make you recoil at times and gasp at other.

An utterly absorbing thriller that will leave you breathless, the fast pace of it will send you turning pages at super speed in your quest to find out the fate of the missing triplets. You will not be able to close the book until you have reached the end of this haunting tragedy. Rush into your nearest bookstore, grab this book and dive right in! You have got to read this one.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com