The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci

The Ingredients of You and Me was my pandemic book. Before the pandemic officially began, I’d placed my pre-order and looked forward to receiving my copy the day it was released. Fast forward to April 28 and shipping was delayed and the world was a very different place. 

By the time the book finally arrived, I’d already re-read Nina Bocci’s other entries in the Hopeless Romantics series, On the Corner of Love and Hate and Meet Me on Love Lane, and I was so ready for Parker and Nick’s story. 

From the very first pages I knew I loved the story. Bocci has a knack for coming off the starting line strong, and for Parker Adams that meant selling her successful business and discovering that change meant a creativity block for the ages. Her decision to visit her friends in the idyllic town of Hope Lake, Pennsylvania, is more of a desperate attempt to reclaim her passion and figure out what Parker Phase Two looks like. 

It also means going back to the small town where Nick Arthur lives, and that means walking headfirst into some uncomfortable truths as she learns that he has a girlfriend.

Needless to say, Parker’s story isn’t all sprinkles and spritz cookies but thankfully she has lots of friends around to help her rediscover her mojo and whip up some new recipes…but will Nick be in the mix?

Under normal circumstances (as in, not during a worldwide pandemic) I read books really fast. Too fast, really. I can devour a good book in a matter of hours, and while the pandemic provided me with more hours than I was used to, I decided to take my time with The Ingredients of You and Me

The decision to read it slowly came on page 22, when Charlotte tells Parker she can take the 3pm bus from New York and make it to Hope Lake by dinner. 

Hope Lake, you see, is a work of fiction. Nina Bocci dreamed up Hope Lake and I can imagine that she pulled in all of the small town elements she loves to create the picture perfect, Hallmark-Channel-movie-ready setting to deposit her characters and let them play. 

The only way to get to Hope Lake is by car, and like a soap opera set in the 1950s, by bus. 

There is something incredibly special about that. 

Hope Lake is a place where time seems to stand still, so I wanted to read the book like a soap opera, with a little bit each day. (Sometimes I cheated and read a couple of chapters because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next) 

I love the way Bocci allowed the story to unfold so organically. Both Parker and Nick had things that they needed to work out, and these things take time. You can’t rediscover yourself on a deadline. That never works. 

Bocci’s world is one you want to jump into with both feet. The Golden Girls are delightful and I want my own group of Golden Girls to hang out with. I want to bake with Parker and have a reason to visit Charlotte’s flower shop every day. And don’t get me started on Henry’s bookstore….

The Ingredients of You and Me is a romance story for any time of the year. It will be a great beach read just as it’s the perfect book to read when you’re spending the weekend baking. It’s the kind of book you want to get lost in, and once you’re in it you won’t want to leave. 

Click here to buy The Ingredients of You and Me

Undisclosed by Liza Gaines

Undisclosed Proves that Romance and Politics Do Mix

Undisclosed is the kind of summer romance you want to be reading right now. It has all of the thrills of a long ago summer fling, a secret child and two former lovers brought back together to help their candidate run for office. 

Gwen and Mac knew each other in college. In fact, you can say they were close one summer, but after the dog days ended Gwen disappeared leaving a very confused Mac behind. 

Almost 12 years later Gwen shows up for a job interview at a PR firm that is helping to promote the presidential candidate hoping to unseat the incumbent, only to Gwen’s shock she finds that Mac is the one she’d be working with. 

To their mutual shock, they are the best team possible to help their candidate win her way into the White House, but in the process of working together Mac discovers Gwen’s secret: A son, whose eyes are identical to his own. 

Thrilling, isn’t it? And the perfect thing to curl up with on the beach or on the couch this weekend.

Undisclosed comes courtesy of author Liza Gaines, and it’s the first installment of her Public Relations series. I love how Gaines is setting up the series. All of her characters have great depth and are interesting and witty, and it will be fun to learn more about them in future books. Not only that, but this is the first chapter in a larger story featuring Gwen and Mac, and honestly the more the merrier. Undisclosed is just the start of what will no doubt be a very successful series.

While there are any number of stories out there about secret kids from long ago flings, what I love about Undisclosed is that Gwen and Mac were as good for each other over that summer long ago as they are now, working together as a team. Mac has to decide the kind of man he wants to be, for himself, for Gwen and for his son, and it takes him a while to get there. Gwen is steadfast, confident and just as surprised to see Mac has he was to see her. (They’d been close that summer, but evidently not close enough for her to know his full name…which makes for a very tantalizing story)

Clocking in at roughly 75,000 words, Undisclosed is a fast read. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop. Those are the kinds of books I love, and I think you’ll love Undisclosed, too.

Undisclosed is available now from the following retailers:

Order Links: 

Amazon 

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

About Liza Gaines 

Liza Gaines grew up in Michigan before moving to Virginia in 2007.  She misses her family and the Great Lakes but has otherwise fallen in love with her adopted home state.

A dedicated reader, Liza often has her nose in a book.  She also enjoys cooking, baking, knitting, and watching terrible science fiction movies with her husband.  Their small farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia is home to an ever-expanding menagerie that currently includes three dogs, five cats, two horses, and three goats. 

Connect with Liza: 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LizaGaines

Website:  http://www.lizagaines.com/

Newsletter:  http://www.lizagaines.com/newsletter/

There’s Nothing Wrong With Liking Romance Novels

I remember the first “romance” novel I ever read. It was my junior year and I was working at my university bookstore. I’d quickly established myself as a book “expert” so I was taken away from the cash register and given a spot in the book department, where I ordered bestsellers and law outlines. 

I loved that job. 

A little known secret about the paperback book industry is that when books don’t sell and they pass their return date, they must be “destroyed”. To a book lover, this was a nearly impossible task. Their destruction meant tearing off the covers and mailing them back to the distributor as proof that they were no longer saleable, and then the books themselves were thrown away. 

(Psst, dear reader: I never threw them away. I took them home.)

It was in one of these “destroyed” books that I discovered a novella by Nora Roberts called “This Magic Moment.” Published years before, the story appeared in one of Roberts’ re-released anthologies. 

I knew who Nora Roberts was, of course. I ordered the bestsellers and Roberts was always at the top of the list. My boss used to roll her eyes and shake her head at the number of “T&A” books on the shelf (“As if these will ever sell around here”), despite the fact that her college roommate put herself through grad school writing romance novels, which were always in demand. 

What captured my attention about “This Magic Moment” was not that it was a romance, rather it was a book about a magician. And I’d seen enough David Copperfield television specials to know that I loved magic. So I read it, and I loved it. 

Soon I realized that I could look up any kind of subgenre and there would always be a romance category for it. From broad to obscure, they were all there. 

Love Grey’s Anatomy? Try medical romance.

Love Highlander? Try – you guessed it – Scottish Highlander romance novels.

Does BDSM make you blush? There’s a whole category full of very specific subcategories featuring all the spankings you can handle.

The point is that you can find anything you want to read about in the romance genre, and for many readers it’s less about the romance-y parts and more about the story. 

(Yes, it’s exactly like the expression “I read Playboy for the articles” and I know someone who writes for Playboy so I can say without hesitation that this is possible)

This concept translates to any number of fandoms. Even sports.

Like readers, fanboys and fangirls and fans of any genre, sports fans are the same way. I know, because I spent a decade working in college athletics and sports were (and are) my life. 

What I noticed while sitting in the stands during games is that there are any number of reasons why people like sports. For some, it’s a pure love of the game. For others, it’s the statistics and being the one to beat on trivia night at the pub. Some people like the atmosphere of a game. (I dated a guy who hated sports – I know, I know, it was a huge mistake – but he loved to tailgate at USC football games) There are the groupies who want to hook up with athletes, and then there are autograph seekers. The list goes on. 

For romance readers, it’s the same thing. There are any number of reasons why romance readers love the genre. It can be an escape from reality, the promise of the Happily Ever After, the slow burn relationship that melts your heart or the blush-worthy toss in the sheets. (Or in the barn, in the car, in the kitchen, in the Red Room, on the desk, in the museum…yeah, you get the picture)

The point here is that people enjoy things, from romance novels to sports to painting to any number of hobbies, for their own reasons. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter why you like what you like. What matters is that you like it. That’s your personal choice and you don’t have to explain it or apologize for it. 

For me, it’s all about the story itself, and the promise that I can finish the book and not be completely upset that things didn’t work out. These days I need the HEA, but the romance takes a back seat to the story. I think that’s what I love about Gabriel’s Inferno. Sylvain Reynard could have written that book and called it “fiction” and no one would think twice. Sure, it has the elements of a love story, but it could pass as fiction just as easily. 

I love vampires, and it just so happens that some of the best vampire stories on the market today can be found in the Young Adult and Paranormal Romance sections. (Bonus for the YA Paranormal Romance books out there, like Crave by Tracy Wolff)

Fun fact: I rarely read actual love scenes in romance books. (Yes, even in Reynard’s books, too!) I’m much more invested in the story and I’ve been known to skip over the love scenes to get to the rest of the story. That said, those love scenes are very well written and make me blush like crazy. Same with every movie with a 3+ BON on Passionflix…

Conversely, I know people who actively read love scenes over and over, like the man who returns to his village in Cinema Paradiso to discover that his mentor had stitched together all of the banned love scenes from the town’s movie theater. The point is that we read romance for many reasons. 

The advent of e-readers made reading romance easier for those of us who couldn’t read romance novels in the open. (Have you ever seen the gorgeous covers for Sylvain Reynard’s books? Try reading one on the team bus with a group of 17-23 year old guys. Yeah. Not happening) My e-reader allowed me to read whatever I liked without the need to hide the cover. 

These days I’m a lot less apologetic about reading romance novels because it’s way more normalized than it was even ten years ago, just as being able to say that I’ve been to San Diego Comic-Con every year is now a badge of honor rather than a reason to be teased for being a nerd. 

Though the media will poke fun at the romance industry from time to time, just remember that the romance genre makes up the lion’s share of the publishing industry. Laugh all you want, but the romance industry is growing stronger each and every day and I’m proud to read romance and support some of the best writers in the business. 

Gabriel's Inferno (Part I). Image courtesy Passionflix

Interview: Sylvain Reynard talks the Gabriel’s Inferno movie

I had the good fortune to chat with bestselling author Sylvain Reynard ahead of the highly anticipated release of Gabriel’s Inferno on Passionflix. As a longtime fan, dating back almost a decade, it has been a joy to see one of my favorite books come to life as a film. I was fortunate enough to watch a screener of the movie ahead of its release and it was nothing short of breathtaking. 

Reynard was gracious enough to chat with me for an article I was working on for FanSided Entertainment, but I thought that SR’s fans might enjoy reading the entire interview. 

(Sarabeth Pollock): I don’t think I should tell you how many times I’ve watched it, purely for research purposes, of course.

(Sylvain Reynard): I’m really glad to hear that.  I’ve seen it more than once too and each time I noticed something new – a detail, something from the set, etc. Passionflix did an incredible job bringing the pages of the story to life. Readers will love it.

I watched the movie about 3 hours before my call with the cast, so I had to process it quickly for the call (ironically, neither Melanie nor Giulio have seen it yet) so when I watched the second time I could really focus on the details.

Exactly. The way they set up Julia’s apartment, for example, and what they put on her bookshelves … the set decorators did a great job.

The second time I was able to actually pause, look at the book, and then resume. (And you need that with this movie because there is so much to see!)

One thing I wanted to mention is how well Melanie and Giulio bring the characters to life.

I was involved in the casting process and saw audition reels, etc. And I am so pleased with our choice of leads. Both of them do an incredible job inhabiting the roles. And again, they perfectly translate the characters from the book to the screen.

I don’t think their casting could have been more perfect. One thing that really came through in my call with Tosca, Melanie and Giulio was their deep appreciation for each other, too. They couldn’t stop praising each other, and I think that chemistry really translated on screen, too.

Yes, very much so. One of the things I mentioned to Tosca before we started casting was that the two leads have to be intelligent. They’re playing a professor and a graduate student and so that intelligence and passion for the subject matter of Dante studies has to come through. Also, particularly for Gabriel, he has to make the audience believe that he is completely devoted to Julia. The story is about longing as well as fulfillment and both Giulio and Melanie present that, not only with dialogue but with their facial expressions and body language.

The fact that these two actors are able to play the present-day versions of themselves as well as their younger counterparts really helps with that.

Absolutely. Melanie, for instance, can appear very young. I was struck by how she looked and moved differently in the orchard scene, versus the later scenes at the university.

She has the most soulful eyes, too.

She’s beautiful. She’s the perfect Julia. And as you saw in the film, she can be very fierce.

Her “mic drop” moment at the end will have your readers cheering, albeit wistfully.

I hope so … As readers know, my novels are all about redemption.

Absolutely. You know, when it comes to acting, Melanie and Giulio had a tall task in that your book is 500 pages (the script for part 1 was 200 pages). In a book, you are telling the story. Readers know what the characters are thinking, which is incredibly important for your story. In the movie, though, the characters must “show to tell”. Their actions must convey their thoughts. That they were able to do this speaks volumes.

Yes. This is a challenge in films. One of my favourite films is “Blade Runner,” but I prefer the Director’s Cut. The version that was released widely had a voice over that detracted from the story. But I think the Director was talked into including it so readers wouldn’t be confused. However, the voice over ruined it.  So in “Gabriel’s Inferno,” we didn’t include voice overs that one might derive from a narrator or internal monologue. We relied on the actors to show their thoughts and feelings rather than telling the audience what they were thinking. And it worked. It really worked.

There is that one line, though, that conveys Julia’s thoughts and I thought it was rather brilliant….

We agreed that line was funny and wanted to include it. Also the Professor’s favourite internal epithet for Paul was included … Mary, the screenwriter, had an challenging task adapting the novel to screen. But she did a fantastic job.

Yes! I mentioned to Tosca that I laughed in places I didn’t remember laughing in the book because it was so brilliant and unexpected. And I think those moments of levity are important because the first half of the book is much heavier than the second half.

Exactly.  I began writing the story back in the fall of 2009, and at the time, I recall wanting to inject some humour into the tale. In the novel, the snarky narrator pokes fun at the characters from time time.

The story is also about forgiveness – and that forgiveness goes both ways as Julia and Gabriel have to confront how they’ve treated one another in the past.  But it’s only through their forgiveness that the relationship begins to flourish.

It’s too bad SN isn’t able to get in the story, but perhaps there’s a Quickie in Snarky Narrator’s future…

The Snarky Narrator is always up for a quickie 😉

Get ready…because if you put that into the Universe you know your fans will wish it into existence…

(laughing)

You really see the concept of forgiveness play through as Gabriel comes to terms with how he treats Julia, which in the movie is a credit to Giulio being able to go from menacing to repentant. The scene where he picks her up in the rain is a striking example, as is when he’s standing in the kitchen telling Julia about Rachel’s engagement.

Yes. Giulio demonstrates quite a range as the Professor. We see him dealing with the aftermath of losing Grace. We see him angry, remorseful, etc.  Both Giulio and Melanie present the characters as layered and multi-dimensional, which is exactly what I wanted to see and what readers deserve.

The casting couldn’t be more perfect, that’s for sure. As for what readers deserve, since I was a fan long before I came into this role as an entertainment writer, I have to say I’ve never seen a movie so faithful to a book. Ever. And that’s saying something because these days there’s more than a discernible amount of toxicity in fandoms. In your case, though, every decision was embraced (and turned out to be perfect), the movie is utterly true to the story in every way and my goodness the level of detail is astonishing.

Thank you. That means a lot. You’ve put into words what I wanted for readers and what was important to me as the author. Over the years, I had more than one producer or company come to me interested in the film rights. But several of them hadn’t even read the books …

Going with Passionflix was a conscious decision to work with a team that valued the books and the readers. Tosca wanted to stay true to the books. She wanted to create an experience readers would love, and she wanted to incorporate the elements of Dante and Beatrice into the story. So this was a perfect match. And as you saw in the film, the set, the actors, and the costumes all reflected that vision. We wanted to translate the book to the screen as faithfully as possible so readers would have the ultimate film experience. And I’m happy to say that we have achieved our goal.

You told me before about how many details they seemed to pluck from your imagination, so I watched through that lens and it’s so true. Every detail is spot on. 

The opening credits, by the way. Tosca mentioned that this film had the biggest budget of all her films, and it really comes across as this massive cinematic experience from the start yet somehow manages to keep the focus on its dedication to the story and what fans want/deserve. That’s a tall order for any production, but having the flexibility that Passionflix offers allows for that.

Thank you. Tosca was incredibly focused on both the big picture and the details. Throughout production, I was included and invited to give feedback at all levels. And on some occasions, asked about specific things while they were shooting. Again, this is one of things that makes Passionflix so great to work with – they operate as a team and they invite both author and reader to participate. Several Founding Members even had the opportunity to visit the set and meet the cast.

I know the soundtrack will be made available. What did you think of the music in the movie? The music that played when Julia was running in the rain was perfect.

I thought it was really well done. For me, it was important that some of the key songs from the novel were used for the film. And I was really glad they were able to do that.

In my notes I scribbled that the movie feels like a whole new story even though it’s the same story. The food, the music, the clothes, the sets, the lines…but it feels so completely different.

There’s a line somewhere about old things becoming new … It’s about rediscovery, I think, and maybe also about spending time with old friends. Several readers have mentioned that they re-read the novels to cheer them up because it feels like spending time with old friends.

We’re living in really tough times right now. Many have lost friends and family to COVID. Many are feeling lonely and isolated because of social distancing.  Being part of a fan community can help us stay positive, interact with friends, and have something positive to celebrate and look forward to.

The movie really couldn’t arrive at a better time.

I feel that way, as well. Especially interacting with readers from around the world. It’s been a difficult few months and even though in some parts of the world things are opening up, we still face challenges. So for many of us, it’s important that we think positively, take time for beauty, and focus on things that makes us hopeful.

That’s the beauty of your community. You’ve created a sanctuary for people all over the world.

Thank you. I give all the credit to the readers. This particular fan community contains some of the kindest, best, most generous human beings on the planet. I’m just grateful I get to be a part of it.

It’s hard to believe that your community is going on a decade, and now the movie is going to take it into a whole new level, with more fans and new readers. I’ve seen so many people telling you that they’ve just discovered your books. It’s quite a sight to behold. (And it makes me even more sentimental) I told Melanie and Giulio that this is a big moment. A big one.

Thank you. I could never have predicted that the novel I began partially as an experiment to see if I could write would have ever turned into something like this. It’s all been surprising.

But I give credit to the readers, who made the books a success. And to the themes of the novels: love, sex, forgiveness, family, redemption. These are the subjects human beings care about and especially when we need a diversion or when we need hope, we turn to those subjects.Melanie and Giulio are destined for great things. They will have long and successful careers. They’re very talented and they’re very hard workers.

I love thinking about this journey you’ve been on, as someone on the outside looking in. It’s so inspiring. And as much as I’m a live in the moment kind of person, knowing that the movie is coming in less than 10 days, and knowing that work continues on the other films, I have to wonder what you’re thinking. There have been casual remarks about a Paul story. Do you have any thoughts about what you’d like to do next, even if it’s pie in the sky? (Pie is always good)

I’m excited for filming of “Gabriel’s Rapture” to resume, when it’s safe to do so. And also for the filming of “Gabriel’s Redemption.” I’d like to see my other novels adapted to screen. And yes, I’ve put together ideas for a novel about Paul. And one about Rachel and Aaron. But at the moment, I’m writing something else. Something new. It’s beginning stages at the moment and so I can’t say much, but as always, I write with readers in mind …

Ooh, that’s tantalizing.

I long to return to Italy, however. When it’s safe. When it’s appropriate. Florence is my favourite city and I miss it …

My endless gratitude goes out to Sylvain Reynard for taking the time to chat with me about the movie, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the Gabriel Series and the other stories in the Sylvain Reynard Universe.

To subscribe to Passionflix, visit their website. Sylvain Reynard’s website is a treasure trove of outtakes, blog posts and useful information for fans, and to purchase Reynard’s books you can click here.

Into the Light

Review: Into the Light by Katherine Hastings

Into the Light by Katherine Hastings is the story of a wealthy, centuries-old vampire named Aiden who needs someone to volunteer as his blood donor. In exchange for her blood, he’s offering a life beyond her wildest dreams and a hefty payoff at the end. Emilia is fresh out of a horrible marriage that left her in financial ruin, and she can’t resist Aiden’s offer. What neither of them counted on was the attraction between them.

The story hits on a few common romance tropes: Aiden is a billionaire, which allows him the lavish lifestyle that makes the story possible. Then there is the paranormal aspect of the story: Aiden is a vampire. He’s a billionaire vampire so he checks a few boxes in all of the right ways. 

Into the Light was a wholly unexpected but absolutely delightful discovery. I came upon the story because I’d been reading paranormal YA books and the helpful algorithm on Kindle suggested I give it a try. 

Boy was it worth it. 

I read the book over two days, purposefully taking as much time as I could because I didn’t want the story to end. Aiden was charming, Emilia was strong and smart and sassy, and Aiden’s best friend and personal assistant Mark deserves his own story because he’s a spitfire of energy and enthusiasm. 

I didn’t know what to expect from the story, and I was very happy to see that when the story started taking what I thought to be a turn toward Cliche Ville, it veered sharply and surprised me with a very fresh and very satisfying twist. Hastings wastes no time setting up her characters in a way that draws readers in from the start, and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. 

I’m a huge fan of vampire stories. I’ll take them all, from YA to gritty vampire thrillers and even dark horror. Aiden is the kind of vampire that knows how powerful he is and he doesn’t apologize for it, and that’s how vampires should be. (At least, that’s what I think) And Into the Light offers a fun and unexpected twist in a genre that tends to get bogged down by the same stories told a million times with little variation. 

For anyone looking for a feel-good escape from the daily grind, Into the Light is your ticket and it’s the kind of story that you will return to every time you need to spend an afternoon with the perfect book boyfriend. 

Into the Light (October 2019)

By Katherine Hastings

384 pages

Flyte Publishing

Random Musings Becomes Random Readings

After a lengthy hiatus, I’m back to my blog. You might have noticed the new title. “Random Musings” was fine, because in the moment it allowed me to write about anything that came to mind. Literally, random musings. Now it’s a little more intentional. Random Reading is a home for my book reviews and any random thoughts that pop into my head, usually about the books I’m reading. 

These days, though, I’m much more intentional with my writing. Just when I thought I was going to be caught up in the horrors of California’s ill-informed AB5, I was offered a job by the company I’ve been freelancing with for years. I thought I was going to be forced to say goodbye, and then suddenly I was saying hello to a whole new era in my writing as an official Staff Writer for FanSided, with my area of expertise being The Walking Dead

I’m covering DC Comics for a lovely Australian comic book website, Soda and Telepaths

That means my days are filled with the undead and comic books, but I felt like I was missing something. I’ve always wanted to be a book blogger and when Random Musings was at its peak, I did indeed write about the books I was reading. 

Now, I’m launching Random Readings as a means to write about the books I’m reading. (Let’s face it, I’m really doing it to justify buying so many books…) The trifecta of The Walking Dead, DC Comics and Books is finally complete. 

I’m reading a lot these days. Life hasn’t stopped for me with the quarantine. I’m still working just as much as I was before, if not a bit more. The reality is that I’m reading to allow my brain a chance to escape, so I’m reading a lot of Young Adult, paranormal and romance to give myself an escape. 

I buy a book, read it, and then buy whatever else is recommended to me when I reach the final page. That plan of attack has taken me from YA books about hot aliens in high school to a boarding school for vampires, werewolves and witches in Alaska, and just about everything in between. Lots of YA, lots of random romance and even a few thrillers. (I highly recommend Lawrence Wright’s The End of October if you’re looking for a very timely tale about a worldwide pandemic…)

At any rate, moving forward you can expect a lot of book talk around here. Hopefully you enjoy reading about what I’m reading, and as always I thank you for reading my words. It truly means a lot.

Review: Gabriel’s Promise by Sylvain Reynard

Julia and Gabriel Emerson are basking in the joy of their first child, Clare. No matter how many pink flamingos adorn their yard, nothing will get in the way of their happiness in this blissful moment. However, Gabriel receives email has the potential to send shock waves through their marriage. This is Gabriel’s Promise.

Gabriel has been invited to Edinburgh as part of a prestigious lecture series, but accepting the offer means leaving his infant daughter and beloved wife back in Boston. Should Julia pack up and leave with her husband, she risks losing the academic standing she worked so hard to create. In short, it’s a mess.

Interestingly, academia has always been the Emerson family’s greatest passion and greatest foe. It brought Julianne back to Gabriel, it drove them apart and it brought them together again. Now their bond is stronger than ever before, even more so with their daughter, but the prospect of moving overseas or having to endure a long distance relationship introduces a maelstrom into their previously peaceful waters.

While Gabriel ponders his dilemma, Julia deals with complications from giving birth to Clare and she tries to keep them from her husband. Like most secrets, though, they have a tendency to implode at the worst possible moments, putting even more stress on the couple while she prepares to return to her coursework.

There’s also a mysterious threat lingering in the darkness, one that’s tied to Gabriel’s art collection on loan to the Uffizi Gallery. While the biggest honor of his professional career dangles like a carrot under Gabriel’s nose, he must find a way to put the needs of his family first.

Longtime Sylvain Reynard fans will appreciate Gabriel’s Promise because it weaves all of his books together with one silky white satin ribbon. Gabriel’s Inferno gave rise to the Gabriel Series, but Reynard didn’t stop there. In less than a decade he managed to create three distinct “worlds” that are all tied together by the city of Florence, Dante, works of art and themes of love, hope and redemption.

Without spoiling anything, Gabriel’s Promise is a book best enjoyed if you have read all of Reynard’s other books. I’ve seen other people suggest that it can be read in any order, and while that’s mostly true, I think it makes more sense if you read it last so that you can fully appreciate all of the Easter Eggs that pop up. After all, Gabriel and Julia made cameo appearances in the Florentine Series and Gabriel’s Promise fills in lots of gaps, bringing a brand new perspective to both series. 

Everything about Gabriel’s Promise is perfect. Gabriel is delightfully stubborn and occasionally obstinate, but he’s always the loving and thoughtful husband and father. Julia is a wonderful mother and she’s also quite adept at managing the demands of her PhD program while tackling motherhood and Gabriel’s, ahem, needs….

Reading Sylvain Reynard’s books is a full sensory experience that wraps itself tantalizingly around the story itself. It’s not enough to read the words and devour the story, rather the story devours the reader in the most delectable way. Reynard’s prowess with language is enjoyable in itself, but I have to think that somewhere Dante himself is smiling at Reynard’s uncanny ability to combine a love story with themes of intrigue, history, art and religion. 

My biggest problem with Gabriel’s Promise is that I want more. I read it in a day, unable to put it down. Thank goodness Gabriel’s Inferno premieres on Passionflix in March, otherwise I might be climbing the walls in earnest.

Gabriel’s Promise gets five well-deserved stars.

Review: ‘Meet Me on Love Lane’ is an absolute gem

Meet Me on Love Lane is the second book in Nina Bocci’s Hopeless Romantics series, but this charming tale is so much more than your run of the mill romantic fiction. 

There’s nothing like picking up a book without knowing what to expect, only to find yourself drawn in by the compelling story and relatable characters. I had to stop myself from devouring Meet Me on Love Lane too quickly because I really wanted to take the time to really savor every moment. (That said, I finished it in three days)

Charlotte Bishop finds herself on a bus to Hope Lake after New York becomes too hostile an environment for her. Hope Lake is where she lived until she was ten, at which point a nasty divorce pulled her away from her hometown and her mother prevented her from returning. Upon her return she discovers that Hope Lake is nothing like she remembered.

With the help of her vivacious grandmother, her father and her childhood friends, Charlotte tries to embrace the town even though she’s planning on a return to New York at the end of summer. What she didn’t count on was being courted by her father’s partner, one of the town’s doctors, or the handsome English teacher who seems familiar even though she’s not sure why. As she struggles with her past, Charlotte’s once uncertain future comes into sharp focus the longer she stays in Hope Lake…and that’s not a bad thing. 

Meet Me on Love Lane is more fiction than romance, and I think that’s an important distinction because even though love and relationships are central themes in the book, it doesn’t read like a traditional romance. Charlotte has a complicated and rather traumatic history, and even though it might seem like a summer in idyllic Hope Lake would be a soothing balm for her troubled soul, the exact opposite is actually the case. Moreover, she’s not looking for love when she arrives – in fact, the story is a testament to how love appears when you least expect it but need it the most. 

USA Today bestselling author Nina Bocci is a masterful storyteller, and she has created a wonderfully complex playground for her characters. The fictional town of Hope Lake comes to life in vivid detail, and Bocci has taken time to ensure that each character is robustly multidimensional. Charlotte is someone that is easy to relate to as she tries to move forward and put her past behind her. She’s far from perfect, and her quirks are what make it so easy to root for her to succeed, not only in love but in life. 

With a healthy mix of wit, humor and drama, Meet Me on Love Lane is an utterly enchanting and captivating story that whisks the reader to the charming town of Hope Lake. If you’re looking for something to read on the plane or if you need a good story to help you unwind at the end of a hectic day, this is the book for you.

Meet Me on Love Lane is available in stores and online. The next installment of Bocci’s Hopeless Romantics series, The Ingredients of You and Me, is due in April 2020 and is available for preorder now. 

The Foul Ball-Popcorn Incident

It’s the summer of 1999.  Freshman year of college is over.  It’s the season after the 1998 Padres went to the World Series.  Baseball fever is still burning in San Diego and voters are excited about Petco Park.  (Incidentally, I voted in favor of the Petco Park initiative in the first election I ever voted in after I turned 18)

My best friend and I decided to catch a midweek baseball game at Qualcomm because someone had tickets on the first base line that they couldn’t use.  So off we went.

The seats were great.  We were about three rows up from the field and we were right in line with Wally Joyner at first base.  My friend had a crush on catcher Ben Davis, so her attention was diverted when the pitch was thrown, the bat connected with the ball, and a pop up fly ball was sent high into the sky.

Like I said, we were given the tickets and we left for the game without any real preparation. This meant I didn’t bring any protection.  No, not that kind of protection.  I’m talking about my trusty baseball glove.  I’d never caught a foul ball before; I always went to games with my glove in hopes of catching one.

As I looked up, it became painfully obvious that the ball was going to drop straight in our seats.  Time stopped—it literally stopped—as I started to ponder my predicament.

I don’t have my glove.

That ball is coming right down at me.

She’s not going to catch the ball.  It’s up to me.

If I catch the ball barehanded, I could break my hand.  That is not good.

I don’t have my damn glove.

I can’t possibly catch it in my left hand.

Everyone is watching me.

I don’t have my f—ing glove!

I don’t have my glove, but I DO have this bucket of popcorn.  Hmm.  I wonder if this will work….

When time started working again, my friend realized what was about to happen and started to scream. As if that was going to help. Geez.

Suddenly, as I moved to position the popcorn bucket, the man behind us reached between our seats (with his glove poised ABOVE my popcorn bucket) and caught the ball.

He caught MY ball.

The moral of the story:  Never go to a baseball game without protection.  Trust me on this one.

For Sports Fans, A Night of Highs and Lows

It’s Opening Day in baseball and the National Championship game in college basketball.  For sports fans, it’s a double whammy.

As a Padres fan, I went into Opening Day with the ol’ “hope springs eternal” mantra on repeat in my head.  After all, last season the team spent a small fortune on a pool of talent, and this season we have new manager Andy Green at the helm.  Opening Day is a time of hope and optimism, and nothing says optimism like a new manager sitting on a talented team.  Tyson Ross got the start against our I-5 rival Los Angeles Dodgers, and it seems like nerves may have gotten the best of him after 7 earned runs and a slew of other not-so-good stats.  Clayton Kershaw, by contrast, left the game after 7 shutout innings.  Adding insult to injury was a solid performance from Adrian Gonzalez who, after years away from the Padres franchise, still earns a warm reception at Petco Park as the one who got away.

It was a rough night for Padres fans in San Diego, but the hope is still out there, and we have another shot for a win against the Dodgers tomorrow night.

As soon as the baseball game was over, I switched channels to the NCAA National Championship basketball game.  Admittedly I’d been flipping channels between innings, so I knew the game featuring #1 seed North Carolina and #2 seed Villanova was tight.  At one point in the second half Villanova had a double digit lead that had Michael Jordan on the edge of his seat.

With 4.7 seconds left, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an improbable three to tie the game at 74.  Paige was recovering his footing after dodging Ryan Arcidacono’s dive.  During the timeout, Arcidacono helped wipe the floor, which is very considerate considering he’s the guy who inbounds the ball for Villanova with 4.7 seconds left.  He gets the ball across the court, where it gets passed to Kris Jenkins, who is wide open and sinks a three to win the game.

Cue the confetti.  Villanova wins 77-74, and Michael Jordan gives the world a new Crying Jordan meme to play with.

It was a night of highs and lows.  Congrats to Villanova on one of the craziest finishes in NCAA Tournament history, and good job to the Dodgers.  (Sorry, couldn’t bring myself to congratulate them…though props go out to new manager Dave Roberts because he’s a good guy)

A buzzer beating 3-pointer is much more defeating than a 15 point loss, but a loss is a loss at the end of the day.

In the case of North Carolina, I have no doubt they’ll be back at the Big Dance next year.

For the Padres, it’s a drop in the bucket.  Never mind that tonight’s loss was the largest Opening Day shutout in MLB history.  Pfft.  There are over a hundred-something games left in the season, so it’s safe to say we’ll get ‘em next time around.  Next time happens to be tomorrow.

So ends a very exciting day in the sports world.