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Here in France, it’s normal to be presented with an amuse-bouche when you go to a restaurant. An amuse-bouche is a small, tasty hors d’oeuvre, designed to both whet your appetite and show you what the chef is capable of, and, most importanly, leave you wanting more.

A Crusty Murder is J M Griffin’s amuse-bouche. It’s a fairly short but wonderfully tempting and enjoyable novel filled with delicious characters as well as food. It’s a mouth-watering mystery and a tasty introduction to a new series from this author. This is apparent from the very first paragraph:

Crusty bread protruded for her mouth, a dreadful halo of dark red blood pooled around her head. But, it wasn’t a halo. It was a nightmare scene before me. I peered closer touching the bit of bread. My fingers brushed her skin. I gasped and jumped back. Mrs. Peterson was dead.

What a thing to find in the kitchen. However, our heroine, Melina Cameron is as resourceful as she is a skilled baker. She copes surprisingly well with this gruesome discovery of her dead landlady, but when another body with associations to her turns up, the heat goes up. Melina now has to prove her innocence as well as keep her bakery, The Hole in the Wall, going. The finger is also pointing at Melina’s best friend and neighbour, Betty-Jo so the two of them unite to track down what’s behind these deadly events.

And as if that’s not enough, there’s her grandmother to cope with. She’s something of a handful, a twenty-year-old trapped in a seventy-year-old’s body!

Luckily there’s Aidan Sinclair, a handsome Scotsman here on business, to lend a hand. He’s not the only man to find Melina attractive. Detective Graham is also rather smitten, but he also seems rather too keen to pin the murders on her too!

The characters are particularly strong. They’re all fascinating in that they’re all very real with their quirks and flaws. Between them they create a rich atmosphere of coziness with intrigue at its centre, a bit like the wonderful empandas that are cooked up: unassuming pastry on the outside but a surprizing filling on the inside.

So we have murder, romance, friendship, tension and wonderful food all in the same book. It’s a well written novella, which I thoroughly enjoyed, fulling showing off the versatility and talent of the author and tantalizing us to want more bites of this series.



J.M. Griffin/Dana Stone grew up in rural Maine. She relocated to Rhode Island and lives in the north western part of the state with her husband and two cats. J.M.’s first published novel For Love of Livvy, began a series of humorous mysteries featuring Lavinia “Vinnie” Esposito. J.M. has also written a romance under the pseudonym Dana Stone.


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I See London banner

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for I See London, I See France by Paulita Kincer. I’ll begin with my review of this beautifully written and engaging novel, and then we’ll hear from Paulita.

I see London cover


“What have I done?” I silently asked. “I’m stepping off into this madhouse with my children.”

Which parent hasn’t asked themselves that at some point when they’ve taken drastic action of some sort? (I know I did during the early months after we moved to France!) This is the question Caroline poses herself when she decides to go to Europe with her three children after her marriage to Scott crumbles. She’d spent time in France as a young woman in Aix-en-Provence and Corsica and has interesting memories of the country, and especially of the attractive Jean-Marc, which are shared with us through the book. And so she is drawn back there, via London, Cornwall, Scotland and Paris.

The various settings are portrayed in wonderful detail – the scenery, the people, the sights and smells. The physical journey reflects Caroline emotional journey as she tries to decide what to do with her future, how to proceed from this point of marital breakdown. London is the businesslike, responsible Caro, whereas the wilds of Scotland, and the exotic Gustave, see her starting to shake off her inhibitions and worries. But it still seems her happiness prove to be as elusive and possibly fictional as the Loch Ness Monster. But then comes Paris, some self-realisation, and the next stop is Aix-en-Provence. She meets up with some people from her past, and at the same time finds her life is taking “a relaxing turn” and “is easier here”. And Jean-Marc reappears, and also Gustave.

And so briefly on to Italy and Scott…

The novel is absorbing, beautifully written and fabulously enjoyable. It also offers us a gentle reminder that relationships need working at. It’s too easy to take certain things for granted or get stuck in a behavioural rut. Teenage first crazy love is contrasted with married love and life, temptation with loyalty, self-indulgence with duty. There’s comedy, sadness, romance, bitterness, temptation, discipline – Paulita Kincer keeps us gripped. Caroline is a sympathetic heroine, honest and genuine, but most of all human. She’s not superwoman, although she comes fairly close at times in my opinion. She’s someone we can admire. Above all she’s warm and caring and real and we can see ourselves in her shoes.

Do read this touching, inspiring novel, available here from Amazon.com.

And Paulita’s website is here.

And now let’s hear from Paulita.


Interview with Paulita

Paulita Kincer

Stephanie, Thanks so much for inviting me to be on your blog today. I feel like I just dropped by your lovely gite for a mid-morning coffee klatch. I know, tea for you, but I’ll have a café crème without the spoon left in the cup.

 1.      What’s the story behind I See London, I See France? Why did you write it?

This book began long ago when my husband and I first traveled to France with the kids. They were 2, 4 and 6 years old. I wrote a “memoir” of sorts for us. Thinking of how difficult that trip was, I imagined what it would be like to handle three kids on your own in France and how desperate someone would be to try that. That’s what became the idea for I See London I See France. Also, marriage can be tricky. Everyone has down times and up times. It’s easy to start longing for that French love who got away during a down time.

2.      Please describe your novel in 100 words.

An unhappy American woman sells her minivan and uses the proceeds to escape to Europe with her three kids in tow. She’s searching for joy and thinks that a previous French love might be the answer. Along the way, she’s distracted by a handsome gypsy and the travails of motherhood, all in gorgeous vacation settings.

3.      How does the cover encapsulate your novel?

Originally, I’d pictured a book cover with a bicycle leaning against the front of a French country house. When I couldn’t find that, I went with the iconic Eiffel Tower. It definitely lets the readers know where the novel takes place. This picture is especially meaningful because my son Tucker took it on a class trip to France last year.

4.      Which do you prefer – London or Paris?

Definitely Paris – no offense to anyone who loves London. Most of the action takes place in France with just a brief touchdown in London, western England and Scotland.

The title for the book actually comes from an American childhood rhyme.

I See London

I See France

I See Stephi’s underpants

Since Caroline, the main character, is traveling with her children, I thought the rhyme would help readers make that link. I didn’t count on the rhyme not being universal though.

5.      Which authors or books are you reading at the moment?

I just finished your book, Stephanie, which I enjoyed. I like to read memoirs set in France, but I really love any kind of fiction, usually written by women. Last week I read After Her by Joyce Maynard. Marian Keyes is one of my favorite authors so I’m always on the lookout for something by her.

6.      When did you first realize you wanted to be an author, indie or otherwise?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I have notebooks full of pioneer stories that I wrote as a little girl. I used to take my notebook and a peanut butter sandwich and leave the house early in the morning to find adventures to write about.

7.      Tell us briefly about what book’s coming next.

I’m writing a novel called Paris Runaway. It’s about a divorced mom whose 17-year-old daughter disappears. The mother learns she’s followed a French exchange student from Florida to Paris. The mother goes after her and learns a lot about herself while in pursuit of her daughter.

8.      What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

Keep writing. Don’t stop to admire your work after you’ve finished one novel. The next one awaits, and they usually just get better as you keep going.

9.      What does your family think about you being an author?

My daughter is 22 now and she is a great cheerleader for me. She tries to stay on top of my social media. My boys are 20 and 17, and they aren’t so interested in my books. My husband has to juggle his editor hat and his husband hat to offer me criticism and support. And my parents, well, it’s kind of embarrassing the way they are always trying to sell my books to people.

10.  OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favourite foods?

Chocolate, wine and cheese. Is that too cliché? Well, maybe that’s one of the reasons why I love France so much. Okay, how bout:

A nice flaky croissant with melted chocolate in the middle

Little squares of goat cheese on salad

A sweet dessert wine


Thanks so much for interviewing me for your blog and thanks to all of the readers who love reading about interesting characters who find adventures, whether within themselves or out in the world.


Thank you Paulita, and I wish you every success with your marvellous novel. 

 Click here to find out where else Paulita is visiting on her book tour and enter the giveaway here.


yarnfarmingI knew I was going to like this book – Adventures in Yarn Farming by Barbara Parry – from my first glance at the contents list. Someone who can come up with Good Fibrations, Lamb-pedes ad Hay-lelujah is my kind of author – clearly imaginative and with a fine sense of humour. And, as a sheep, alpaca and llama owner myself, the subject matter of these cleverly named chapters fascinated me.

The author Barbara Parry tells us about four seasons on her New England farm. She also tells us how she tends to take “an awfully long and complicated way around most things”, but most definitely not with her writing. The book is succinctly written, full of absorbing detail about the life of a small-scale sheep farmer, and Barbara Parry outlines why she embraces this fascinating but formidable lifestyle. And there’s plenty of humour, as I expected. You pick up lots of interesting facts about the various different breeds of sheep, how and why they differ with regards to their wool type and yield, and the author explains how she made her own choices. Being a llama farmer, I was delighted to see that she added llamas (one of whom shares my daughter’s name!) to her menagerie to act as bodyguards, a role these camelids perform brilliant as I know from experience.

The author shares with us how she processes the fibre, from shearing to spinning; it’s a veritable goldmine of information. There’s hands-on advice, workable tips and hints, not just about yarn processing, using and storing dyes, but also about lambing, stock health maintenance and running a farm. Throughout there are fabulous photos. There are even knitting patterns too and a glossary. This is such a well planned and executed book but most of all it’s so readable. Barbara has a wonderful, welcoming conversational style.

Any yarn lover will surely love this book.

The book is published by Roost Books. Find all the details here.

Cover art photo better_gohome_300A married man’s unexpected departure from Czechoslovakia? with the neighbor woman and her children?is at the heart of a mysterious trail of true events that has inspired University of Washington writing instructor Scott Driscoll to write his first novel, Better You Go Home.

“At a family funeral in the early 90s, I learned about a cache of letters written in Czech to my aunt. I had them translated and learned that a male relative had left his wife and three children in a remote farm village in Bohemia prior to World War One.” Driscoll continues, “I learned my relative and the neighbor woman married bigamously in Iowa. The other fact revealed was the presence of a child named Anezka?who seems to have simply disappeared. I suspect she was their illicit child.”

Not long after, Driscoll visited his relative’s village and began to speculate. “What had become of the unidentified child? What if my life had deployed on her side of the Iron Curtain? Once that question lodged in my psyche, like a small wound that wouldn’t heal, I knew I had to write this story.” The work of literary fiction that trip inspired is Better You Go Home. The novel traces the story of Seattle attorney Chico Lenoch, who is diabetic, nearing kidney failure and needs a donor organ.  He travels to the Czech Republic in search of his half-sister who may be able to help save his life. What Chico does not count on is unearthing long-buried family secrets.

It begins when he searches through his father’s attic after the Velvet Revolution and discovers letters dated four decades earlier revealing the existence of a half-sister. That sets him on a quest to see if he can find her. Once in the Czech Republic, Chico meets Milada, a beautiful doctor who helps him navigate the obstacles. While Chico idealizes his father’s homeland, Milada feels trapped. Is she really attracted to him, or is he a means of escape to the United States? Chico confronts a moral dilemma as well. If he approaches his sister about his need for a kidney, does he become complicit with his father and the power brokers of that generation who’ve already robbed her of so much?

Better You Go Home is about a son seeking his father’s secrets, but in a larger sense it’s about the progeny of exiles. Says Driscoll, “Much has been written about the survivors of WWII and its aftermath; I want to draw attention to the lives of their children.”


About the Author: 

DriscollScott Driscoll, an award-winning writing instructor at UW, Continuing and Professional Education, took several years to finish Better You Go Home (October 2013, Coffeetown Press), a novel that grew out of the exploration of the Czech side of his family in the 1990s after Eastern Europe was liberated. Driscoll keeps busy freelancing stories to airline magazines.


Scott shares a few of his writing secrets.

“I never just sit down to write.  I do a lot of prep work.  I read, research, take notes, sketch story lines, sketch character profiles. When I am ready to dive into a chapter, much work has already been done.  But when that time comes to get busy with a chapter, I start by reading something I’ve recently written, and when I have a feel for sentence rhythm and timing, then I get busy with the writing. It wasn’t always this way.  I use to just write write write. But you reach a point where you begin to be much more task driven rather than writing just to be producing prose.

“I read books on related topics.  I interview people. I am not averse to checking Web sites for actual photos or physical descriptions. YouTube videos can also be useful. You need an idea of what a barn fire looks like? You can find examples and steal the sensory information.  All that is there.  Why not use it?”


And here is his advice for a new writer:

“Devote as much time as possible to writing. Don’t be afraid to imitate a writer you particularly admire (great way to learn), take classes (it will boost your professionalism), and don’t write entirely in a vacuum.  Be aware of your potential audience. And, by all means, be part of a writing critique group composed of people similarly earnest and if possible including one or two writers who’ve already had some success.”


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This collection of tough, urban reality short stories, You Are Here, by Joe Boland, are set in Romville, a fictional town in Connecticut. They are told in a direct, no-frills style. Hardships and horror aren’t damped down, and the language is uncompromising too. But in the same unexaggerated way, there is dark humour and also trust, loyalty, and love. There may not be much of these last three, and sometimes the characters don’t even recognise it, but it is there and it gives just enough hope to keep humanity hanging on. The people we meet see what’s bad and good in others, and in themselves too, and don’t gloss over any failings and disappointments.

youarehere cover

The stories are This Story, Well She Killed Me, Where the World Goes When It Goes Away, Division Street, Dreamy, My Life Up To Now and Not a Word. Between them they demonstrate the creativity and versatility of the author. Whilst all fall into the genre of noir, they are all original and quirky and peopled by unique characters. There are no stereotypes but sharp insights into personalities and somewhat bleak situations.

You Are Here is a refreshing, rewarding, unconventional collection of stories for someone who enjoys a more challenging read.

youarehere joe

The book is available from http://www.ramsfieldpress.com/ and also from Amazon.

Joe Boland’s website is here.

His Facebook page is here.

cafe insomHow well can you trust yourself? No matter how you cut it, you cannot. Your eyes can see things that are not present; you can hear things that you should not. Hallucinations are omnipresent, and in reading Café Insomniac you too will find yourself wondering what is real and what is imaginary, as the lines between real and unreal blur to a greater and greater extent.

Such is the predicament of Justin, insomniac and latterly a latte-serving ex-teacher in charge of the titular Café Insomniac, a co-venture with his father. The premise of Café Insomniac is self-explanatory – it is a café, open all night and ready to dispense caffeine and pastries to those who find themselves burning the midnight oil or otherwise unable or unwilling to receive a visit from the proverbial sandman.

However, things are not quite as they seem, as the sleep-deprived protagonist finds himself drawn into an unnerving series of events of worsening insomnia, seemingly sparked by a murder of one of his patrons. The insomnia soon becomes a total inability to sleep, and as Justin finds his reflexes duller and duller and the imaginary harder and harder to distinguish from the unimagined, things become stranger and stranger and the normal becomes unnerving. Can Justin get to the truth of the matter and save his sanity, or was he never really sane to begin with?

The book is a definite change of pace from anything else on the market at the moment. It sends the reader into an uncanny valley where things seem normal, but not quite. There is an undercurrent of just something strange to each sentence, each paragraph. As the plot progresses, the strangeness becomes a little bit more pronounced, just a little more, until you find your skin crawling as the writing crosses into something mildly, yet fundamentally, unnerving.

Mark Capell is a fluent word-smith to craft a work with such a profound effect on the reader. When the book is not attempting to rattle the reader, the descriptions of the characters and places are down to earth and can be related to, while at the same time keeping you just ever so slightly off-balance and continuing the ever-so-slightly unsettling narrative.

In keeping with the book’s departure from the market norms, the plot lends itself to the atmosphere. It is undeniable that it is a slow build-up all the way through, and yet it complements the tiredness of Justin and the fogginess of his mental state.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. It captures the confused and unsure mental state of anyone who has found themselves awake in the small hours of the morning, eluded by sleep and groggily fumbling with reality to try and find out just what is going on around them. As a little bonus, the author also proposes, on his website, a playlist of songs that appear in the book itself and which compliment the ambiance of the story. So tune in, read on and try not to slip away…

Book review by Benjamin Dagg of the Books Are Cool team.

chickensYoung Chicken Farmers: Tips for Raising Backyard Chickens by Vickie Black and published by Beaver’s Pond Press, is a wonderfully child-friendly introduction to these most fascinating of creatures – chickens. And what better day to review this book than World Egg Day!

I’m a huge hen fan and wouldn’t be without them pottering around my garden. They add a splash of colour and a fascinating personality to the outdoors scenery. And this is what makes them such rewarding creatures to keep – that, and the eggs they lay of course. Their independence and resilience mean they’re very good ‘pets’ for children since they’re not quite so frighteningly dependent as a small furry rodent shut in a cage. They also interact more and you’re never bored with a chicken’s antics to watch.

The author takes children through all the essential stages – planning where they’ll live, finding out about different breeds, preparing carefully beforehand. She tells us how to deal with tiny chicks – from ordering them and, when receiving them, getting them to start drinking, to what to feed them, to how to handle them and how you should talk and sing to your chicks so they know when you’re coming up behind them. Hygiene for both child and chicken is emphasised throughout. We take a quick look at predators, which include hawks and dogs, also raccoons and skunks – which set this book firmly in an American setting, but would-be chicken owners in other countries will still benefit.

Vickie Black next gives us insight into chicken behaviour and also on how to keep them stimulated with toys.

As the chicks grow, the great day comes when they’ll finally start laying eggs. We learn how to prepare a nesting box, how to test eggs to make sure they’re fresh and told how healthy and versatile they are for us to eat.

There’s a glossary and a short reference section. There are jokes and wonderful photos which all readers of every age will enjoy.

This is a really delightful, informative and encouraging book for children. There’s more than enough advice to get youngsters safely started on this rewarding hobby which hopefully will stay with them all their lives.




magnum equationYou’d be forgiven for thinking that a horse-trainer’s job would keep them more or less occupied, hoofing it from horse to horse. This isn’t so for Cat Enright, heroine of the Magnum Equation written by Lisa Wysocky, as our equine educator takes on the mantle of sleuth during a National All-Breed Horse Show, when a string of deaths of both people and prancers brings chaos crashing down.

The book itself is quite a delight to read; very easy-going with a relatable cast of characters and the authors’ omni-present light-hearted humour. Cat herself is no Miss Marple, and not just in age; she isn’t some razor-witted crime-solving automaton but a blunt yet spontaneous woman with a down-to-earth background hailing from Tennessee. Her associates just make the cast even more colourful, up to and including a self-confessed juvenile delinquent, an eccentric, spiky-blue haired woman “of a certain age” and a horse who may or may not be psychic!

Of course, it isn’t all light-hearted all the way through; this book boasts some truly unexpected plot twists, keeping Cat (and this reviewer!) guessing right up until the very end, whereupon it eventually crystallizes into a thrilling conclusion. The way Lisa Wysocky has dug into her mine of equine knowledge and produced these gems of intrigue, suspense and equicide is remarkable.

If that wasn’t enough, the book also boasts recipes, Cat’s tips on horses and horse care, a helpful cast guide, a map of horse shows, a glossary for non-horsey people and even fourteen questions for book clubs or even the reader to mull over.

In conclusion, it’s an enjoyable read, a story with a plot that bucks as much as a wild Mustang and characters that are down-to-earth and relatable. I would most definitely recommend reading it!

Having enjoyed Magnum Equation so much, I was keen to talk to Lisa and ask her some questions about the book and about writing in general.


First things first, can you tell us a bit about what happens in the Magnum Equation?

Sure, Cat Enright, who is a twenty-nine-year-old horse trainer just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, steps in when horses and people fall ill at a prestigious horse show. Her unusual supporting cast, which includes a juvenile delinquent, an eccentric client of a certain age with electric blue hair, a teenager with a trust fund, and a (possibly) psychic horse, help Cat solve murder and mayhem after a show-goer’s last hurrah is in the port-a-potty. A major secret is revealed, too, about Cat’s mysterious barn manager, Jon Gardner.


lisawWhich character do you find resembles you the most? It wouldn’t be Agnes, would it?!

Oh, no, not Agnes (who is in her seventies and tends to forget that she is no longer a high school cheerleader), However, I love Agnes dearly! It would have to be Cat. In many ways she is a younger version of myself, although she is shorter, thinner, and braver––and has much better hair, even if she doesn’t think so.


Where did your inspiration for the string of crimes which occurred in the All-National Horse show come from? They’re pretty unique, you haven’t had prior experience in dealing with horses and people that way… right?!

My goodness, no, I haven’t. And that’s a good thing because Cat is so much bolder and courageous than I am. The idea came from a casual conversation with a veterinarian while he was giving a few horses their annual exams. I did, however, do a lot of research, including taking a detailed tour of the venue where the book is set. I also lowered myself into a large, messy metal bin at night to see what that was like. You’ll have to read the book to understand what that is all about.


Do you have any problems with writer’s block during your writing, and if so, please please please tell us your secret for dealing with it?

I do a lot of thinking about the writing before I actually begin putting words down, so I rarely have issues with writers’ block. By the time I begin to write, the words usually flow pretty well. When I do get stuck, all I need to do is step away from my computer for a few minutes and take a short walk or start to clean a stall, and within minutes I am running back to the computer and the world of Cat Enright.


Okay, serious questions finished for now; wine or beer; Coke or Pepsi; Tea or Coffee?!

Definitely green tea––and if there is just a splash of fruit juice in it, then I am in heaven.


At any point, did you write any part of this story on horseback?

In a way! I actually think about plot points when I am riding. Of course, I have to stay focused when I am on a horse. The horses I ride need that leadership from me. But out on the trail, or cooling out, part of my brain always goes to Cat’s world. There is something about the movement of a horse that stimulates my creativity!


How, as a writer, so you stay sane during the more frustrating parts of writing and self-publishing?

Well, I don’t self publish, so I can’t address that. I am so fortunate to have the Cat Enright series published by Cool Titles, as they are extremely innovative and supportive. But I think most authors and publishers have the same difficulties in getting books on the shelves of stores, and in finding readers. That’s why I am so appreciative of a forum such as this, so I can let people know more about Cat and her interesting crew. And, I love reader feedback, either in the form of email ([email protected]) or a review on one of the many online sites.


And back to the book – will Cat’s luck in love ever improve somewhat?

Oh, I hope so!


Can you tell us anything, anything at all about the next book in the Equation series?

Yes! The Fame Equation is set at Cat’s stable in Ashland City, Tennessee and brings Cat’s crush, Keith Carson, into the story, along with his beautiful, young duet partner. A church and a therapeutic riding program in Kingston Springs, a town just south of Ashland City, also come into play.


Finally, how soon until Sally Blue gets her own spin-off series as a psychic equine crime-fighter?!

Interesting that you ask. My publisher and I have been talking about a Hank and Sally book, something written from their viewpoint. As a dog, Hank is more mobile than Sally, and can pick up more information. Of course, it would be up to Sally to process it. And then there are things that Sally just knows, with no rational explanation as to why she knows. She is such a fun character to write! I am excited about the possibility of their own book (or series!), but think we are book or two away from that yet.


Thanks Lisa!

And finally, a few facts about this very interesting author. Lisa Wysocky is an author and motivational speaker who trains horses for and consults with therapeutic riding programs. Lisa is a PATH International instructor and has been chosen as one of the country’s Top 50 riding instructors by ARIA. As a speaker, Lisa motivates, and as an equine clinician she helps horses and humans connect in meaningful ways. In addition, her book Front of the Class (co-authored with Brad Cohen) has aired as a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie. Lisa splits her time between Tennessee and Minnesota.


Find her at LisaWysocky.com, twitter.com/LisaWysocky, LisaWysocky.blogspot.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/powerofawhisper.




havanaqueenIn much the same way that the only true means to learn a foreign language is to immerse oneself in that country’s culture, the same is true for an author as they weave the atmosphere of their literary works. As a result, some choose to base their novels on more familiar grounds; places and ways of life that the reader can easily relate to, and while adding an element of realism and credibility, this element also leaves the book somewhat washed out, dull, yet another novel amid the masses already wrote. Basing the setting in  foreign land is thus a way to avoid this pitfall, yet in doing so the author risks difficulties in portraying that foreign land correctly: no culture is alike in philosophy, ways of life fundamentally different and unless the writer can get hold of that fact, the characters and setting will feel out of place, or even completely fake.

This is not the case for Havana Queen by James Bruno.

Even in the prologue, the atmosphere is undeniably, unmistakeably Cuban as experienced by someone who has visited that island, so close to the United States and yet so different in government. Just reading the vivid descriptions contained in these pages conjures up Cuba; dark and brooding, muggy and hot, the air carrying a riot of exotic bouquets like the opaque yet fragrant scent of Cuban cigars and the distant aroma of sugar cane, even the rumbles and mechanical growls of the venerable engines of the ancient vehicles as they make their way round the sun-baked tarmac roads. Even the typical Cuban mindset is very much present and vividly described- struggling through each day to scrape enough of a living to ensure they make it to the next one; the interminable waiting interspersed with frantic bursts of activity, such as protesting against an oppressive government, trying to nurture hope for the future despite the depressing surroundings, seeing preventable deaths from hunger or accidents while all the while knowing that the promised land is so tantalizingly close.

But I digress, while stunning, the setting and atmosphere by themselves do not a story make, but James Bruno has spun a gripping story of intrigue and action, of modern day cloak-and-dagger antics interspersed with a certain tautness, an undeniable tense, drawn atmosphere that has been so lacking in modern-day novels until now. The sun-baked yet decaying and vacillating Cuban government clinging stubbornly to power while a rising rebellion attempts to oust them as they did to the former regime in the 1950s, a likeable protagonist, a steamy love triangle and the simultaneous deaths of three agents with only the bullet calibre the common denominator; this book is damn near impossible to put down after you’ve started into it. A thoroughly riveting tale!

Buy the book here.


earntipsEarn More Tips on your Very Next Shift – even if you’re a bad waiter

Steve J DiGioia

This title on a very slick cover immediately gives you a very good sense of what the book is about. It’s direct and can apply to everyone, no matter how much help you might need to be a better waiter. Actually, in my opinion it’s not just for waiters. Anyone on a reception desk or like me in the hospitality trade running holiday cottages can benefit from the common sense and comprehensive tips and advice we’re given. For example: Treat guests like you’d treat your grandma. Don’t refer to their age or sex. Smile. Don’t talk about yourself. Be ready with extra advice, extra service. Make the guests’ exit as special as the entry was.

The books is very well laid out with boxes, bold type and bullets to make sure we grasp the key points and keep on track. The information is given in easily digestible chunks and advice is interspersed with examples and encouragement. The whole tone is lively, positive and conversational. Steve DiGioia cleverly runs each chapter on to the next so you just have to keep reading – even though you want to anyway.

From the start the author is honest. He tells us why he wrote the book, why he cares if we earn more money or not after investing in this book, and what he won’t cover. He genuinely wants us to wow the people we deal with, for both their sakes and ours. If they’re happy, we’ll get a bigger tip and we’ll be happy, and feel fulfilled from doing our job well. As Steve DiGioia says, it’s a win-win situation. And those are always good.

Does it mean being sycophantic? A little flattering certainly. Willing to please? Definitely, but no, the author never suggest we debase ourselves and openly grovel. It’s about sensible and practical respect and attention to detail.  It’s about a mindset of service, using DiGioia’s Magical Table Greeting and caring for the guest.

This is well thought out, hands-on, straight talking book with a wide field of application.