Book Club Mom’s Author Update: Karen Haid

Author name: Karen Haid

Genre: Non-fiction culture/travel

Books: Calabria: The Other Italy, Basilicata: Authentic Italy

News: In these times of restricted travel, I feel very fortunate to have had the many wonderful experiences abroad that have enriched my life and on which I can now reflect as I remain close to home. While disappointed with having had to cancel the tours of my fledgling travel company, Karen’s Travel LLC, I used the time to work with my designer for the cover and interior of my new book and I am very pleased to announce that I have recently published my second book Basilicata: Authentic Italy!

Reflecting back 12 years ago, when I moved to the region in the toe of the Italian boot, I would never have imagined that my 4-year Southern Italian immersion would have resulted in two books and a blog about the area. After Calabria: The Other Italy, My Italian Blog and related social media pages, I turned my attention to another lesser-known area of Italy and began my on-the-ground exploration and extensive associated research of Basilicata.

Why Calabria? Why Basilicata? Visitors to Italy complain of the crowded trails of the Cinque Terre and a mobbed Venice. Why not travel to a place with a little elbow room? Not to mention where the locals outnumber the guests. In Calabria and Basilicata, I have often felt as though I had the whole place to myself. Just me and the locals.

In Basilicata, I traversed Mediterranean beaches and Alpine forests, visited medieval castles and modest homes, attended folkloric festivals and sampled earthy local cuisine, as I uncovered the past and the present, from pre-Greek to the story of emigration that continues today. My writing mixes personal experience, history, culture and contemporary social topics in a travelogue format. What’s the genre? Exactly what all the experts advise against: difficult to categorize.

If you would like to journey to the rocky region in the heart of the Italian south, to a land where ancient pagan rites live alongside those of the Catholic Church, world-class wine washes down edible hyacinth bulbs, zip-lines parallel old mule trails, and the air is infused with the ideals of Roman poets and brigands, check out Basilicata: Authentic Italy.

You may just be curious as to what it’s like to sleep in an ancient cave in the historic Sassi di Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and last year’s European Capital of Culture.


Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

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Book review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts
Jennifer Hillier

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Geo Shaw, Angela Wong and Kaiser Brody are inseparable high school friends until Calvin James approaches them at the 7-Eleven near school. Calvin is older and a little bit dangerous and what’s better is that he’s chosen Geo over Angela. Tired of playing second to her friend, she’s not about to let him go. Meanwhile, all Kaiser can do is watch as the girl he loves falls for the wrong guy.

But Calvin is more than a little bit dangerous. He’s controlling and abusive and Geo falls blindly into the dynamic. And when Angela confronts her friend, Geo denies the abuse. After a drunken high school party, Geo tries to keep everyone friendly, but Calvin’s darker side emerges. And the next morning, Angela goes missing. Calvin and Geo keep quiet because they know the terrible truth about what happened. Calvin quickly disappears. Geo goes to college, gets and MBA and redefines herself as a corporate executive. Fourteen years later, she’s a vice president at Shipp Pharmaceuticals and engaged to the CEO.

Then Angela’s remains are uncovered. Detective Kaiser Brody links Calvin and Geo to Angela’s death and breaks the Sweetbay Strangler case wide open, identifying Calvin as the serial killer who has terrorized Seattle. Calvin is sentenced to life in prison and Geo gets five years for her role in Angela’s death. Kaiser’s feelings for Geo are just as strong and he’s determined to keep an eye on her while she’s in prison, especially after Calvin slips Geo a mysterious note in the courtroom.

The rest of the story covers Geo’s prison term, the time after her release and character backstories. In addition, readers learn important details about the night Angela died. A wild and surprising conclusion explains why Geo and Calvin acted the way they did.

Jar of Hearts really grew on me after I finished reading it and especially after my mystery book club Zoom yesterday. Afterwards, I started to think more about the characters and their motivations. Geo, Calvin and Kaiser all crave love and this story is about their quests to obtain it. I like how they all have that in common to different degrees, but you may be shocked when you learn more about them. In addition, Geo and Calvin are survivors and will do whatever it takes. Kaiser is willing to overlook Geo’s past if it gives him a chance with her. And a surprise character makes the relationships even more complicated, giving readers a lot to think about.

Jar of Hearts was published in 2018 and won the 2019 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel. The title refers to Christina Peri’s debut single of the same name in 2010. In it, Peri sings angrily about a love interest who wants to get back together. You can watch the video here.

I recommend Jar of Hearts to readers who like psychological thrillers and suspense novels.

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Who’s That Indie Author? R. Lee Ingalls

R. Lee Ingalls

Author Name: R. Lee Ingalls

Genre: Non-Fiction

Book: Ingalls on the Prairie – The Gene and Fern Ingalls Story

Favorite author: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Are you a full-time author? No I am not. If not, what’s your side gig? I am a Project Manager by career.

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? Laura Ingalls Wilder is a family member and knowing I was part of that family was the initial event that caused me to decide to write a book. My parents and their life together was an amazing thing to see, a love story of a different type.

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? I do not but I have been jotting down memory joggers for a couple decades.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: No I do not.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? I am up with the sun but can and do write late in the day as well. Normally I write new material in the morning and do my edits in the afternoon / early evening.

How do you get over a writing slump? I just start typing whatever comes into my mind.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? Descriptive passages for sure.

What are you working on now? My second book is what I thought would be my first book but as I began to write I found my parents story to be much more compelling. My second book will also be non-fiction but my story.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? Do it, don’t wait, begin now and don’t force it. I finally allowed the story to take a more organic path and then everything fell into place.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which podcasts do you find the most interesting? No, not really but I have been invited to participate in a couple mostly addressing the connection and continuing story of the Ingalls / Little House on the Prairie story.

Favorite escape: I love going on cruises, they are relaxing and I can completely disconnect.

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea? No I have not.

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? With pillows

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed? Rake leaves

Favorite mask – disposable paper, plain fabric, colorful print or something else? I have a variety but normally I wear one with a pattern and reusable.

Biggest writing challenge since COVID-19: No writing challenge it actually freed up my time to be able to complete my book, but the lack of travel and social distancing has limited my ability to promote my book.

Website and social media links:
Instagram: ingallsontheprairie
Facebook: R Lee Ingalls Author

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

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Audiobook review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova, narrated by the author

Still Alice
Lisa Genova

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I recently listened to Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a fictional account of a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The story begins with Alice Howland at the peak of her career. At fifty years old, she’s a renowned professor of psycholinguistics at Harvard University. She and her husband, John, a professor of biology, have spent their careers researching and teaching at Harvard. Despite some slight tension in their marriage over John’s lab schedule and a daughter who has skipped college to become an actress, everything is pretty good in the Howland family and with their two other adult children.

But then Alice starts forgetting things and gets lost after a jog, just minutes from her home. And worse lapses follow.

Alice and her family are stunned by the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The book looks at the disease from Alice’s point of view and chronicles her inevitable decline. Genova also shows how the family reacts. John’s denial and then his aggressive search for the best medicines and trials are a reflection of his scientific mind. Because her strain of the disease is genetic, their adult children grapple with the news and results of their own testing. The Howlands rally around Alice, but they also take inward paths. John is sometimes supportive and other times he escapes into his career. Their children are just beginning their adult lives, a period that’s meant for them, not a sick parent. Genova presents an interesting dynamic between the siblings and their parents and shows how they step up, and back, in different ways.

Alice copes in surprising ways. Her brilliant mind has enabled her to use creative work-arounds, a strategy that has likely covered up her disease before she was diagnosed. She offers surprising insight as she devises a private plan to measure and face her decline.

Genova outlines this heartbreaking scenario with detailed scientific explanations and provides many resources for patients and families who suffer with Alzheimer’s.

While I found the story compelling and important, I was disappointed in its telling. Genova presents her story awkwardly. It’s a third-person look into Alice’s mind, using a lot of plain dialogue and coupled with long and scientific explanations of the disease, reading more like an informational pamphlet than a novel. I wanted to learn more about the Howlands and felt these characters could have been better developed, a missed chance that could have made the story great. I was also sorry to have chosen the audiobook version. Genova’s narration was plain with little inflection, making the characters all sound the same. A professional narrator would have made a huge difference.

Still Alice was adapted to film in 2014 and stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parish. It was directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. The film won many awards and Moore won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

All-in-all, I’d recommend Still Alice to readers who want to know more about how Alzheimer’s affects its patients and their families, but I’d steer you to the print version.

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Book Review: The Last Pilgrim by Noelle Granger

The Last Pilgrim
Noelle Granger

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always been interested in American history, especially that of the early American settlers, who endured many hardships as they built lives in a new land. I very much enjoyed reading Noelle Granger’s latest book, The Last Pilgrim, a rich historical fiction about Mary Allerton Cushman, the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower.

In 1620, Mary Allerton was four years old when she and her family arrived on the Mayflower in what would soon become Plymouth Colony. She grew up and married Thomas Cushman, a man she’d known since childhood, who became a Ruling Elder of the colony. Together they worked the land and raised eight children. Like all of the settlers, however, they faced many dangers and endured sickness, hardship and loss. Both Thomas and Mary lived long lives, despite these trials. Thomas died in 1691 at age eighty-four and Mary died in 1699 at age eighty-three.

This well-researched story is told mostly in Mary’s voice and some in her father, Isaac Allerton’s. It portrays her as a bright young girl, full of questions and a mind of her own. When her mother dies, Isaac Allerton fears that Mary, his youngest child and a willful girl, will be without proper supervision. He places her in Governor William Bradford’s household where Alice Bradford teaches her the many difficult tasks assigned to women, including caring for children, cooking, gardening, spinning wool, weaving flax, helping with childbirth, learning herbal remedies, and making candles, soap and beer. As a member of the Bradford household, Mary’s inquisitive mind is also tuned in to William Bradford’s colony business, an interest she cultivates and maintains throughout her life, and for which she often receives rebukes from her husband. “It isn’t your place to question me, wife. I’m responsible for our welfare and will see to it,” Thomas tells her.

Granger’s unfiltered history also reveals the complex and ever-changing relationships colonists had with the different Native American tribes, who were often at war with each other and had treaties and alliances with different tribes and colonies. She shows this darker side of American history, a time when settlers stole corn from the natives, pillaged their camps and, during times of war, massacred Indians, including women and children. Other descriptions reveal the colonists’ challenges as they try to establish a community, including the ever-present pressure for payment of debts to the Merchant Adventurers, who financed their voyage, and the simmering conflict with England over independence.

Family life and the Separatists’ religious beliefs are also prominent themes in Granger’s story and she portrays the settlers matter-of-factly in their efforts to worship, propagate and govern. Discipline was important as well as knowing one’s place and while Granger’s Cushmans love their children, they raise them under the strict rules of the times, with frequent thrashings for impertinence. Punishments for transgressions in their community include hangings and other harsh sentences. It’s no wonder these early settlers were tough, which likely made them able to survive.

The Last Pilgrim is full of life and history and is an uncensored look at early American settlers. Granger’s extensive research is evident in its telling and I found it easy to imagine Mary Cushman’s life with all its difficulties as well happy times. I recommend The Last Pilgrim to readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn more about early American life.

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Short Story Review from: The Best American Short Stories 2004 – “Written in Stone” by Catherine Brady

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The 2004 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore.

I found myself immediately immersed in this story about an Iranian husband and his American wife, who separate after twenty years of marriage and try to navigate their new relationship. The narrator, a surgical nurse at a hospital in San Francisco, has told Hassan to leave because she cannot bear the thought of his betrayal. He’s moved in with a younger woman, an aspiring opera singer.

Hassan works as a liaison for a nonprofit that connects government, scientists and business and his overly gregarious nature has gotten him in trouble. He’s not being inappropriate, he tells his wife, he’s simply misunderstood. His behavior has gotten him into trouble before. Early in their marriage, they’d moved to Iran and lived with his family, during the fall of the Shah’s regime and the Ayatollah’s takeover. He’d talked too much, told too many jokes, and was picked up for questioning. They’d had to leave the country illegally.

Now, at Hassan’s insistence or maybe feelings of guilt or longing, he returns to their apartment once a week so they can have dinner together. Lately he tells her about his problems between him and the young singer. Some are because of the age difference, but one of the biggest problems for her is his drinking. The girlfriend doesn’t understand him, he complains to his wife. It’s a new dynamic between the narrator and Hassan, in which they analyze this new relationship. The reader sees them move back towards each other, through the routine of preparing meals together and talking companionably.

I enjoyed this story very much because of the contrast and similarities between Hassan’s marriage and their experiences in Iran. The author provides strong images of freedom, family loyalty, lush gardens with climbing roses, Persian cooking and dangerous political unrest. Hassan’s history and their marriage left me uncertain about their future together because I couldn’t quite decide if they would try or what concessions she would make, or even if they were concessions. I felt that they understood each other very well, but I wondered if that would be good for their marriage. I read this story twice and felt it even more the second time.

I highly recommend “Written in Stone” which the author wrote soon after 9/11.

Catherine Brady is an American short story writer. Her most recent collection, The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories, was published in 2009. Her second short story collection, Curled in the Bed of Love, was the co-winner of the 2002 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and a finalist for the 2003 Binghamton John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Brady’s first collection of short stories, The End of the Class War, was a finalist for the 2000 Western States Book Award in Fiction. Her stories have been included in Best American Short Stories 2004 and numerous anthologies and journals.

Brady received an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Hollins College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts. She was elected to the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in 2005 and served as Vice-President (2006) and President (2007). She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco.

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Books on my radar for 2021

It’s that time of the year – you know, when we look to anticipated books of the new year. I found these in a recent post by The Bibliofile: The Best Books of 2021 (Anticipated). Here’s what I picked from Jennifer Marie Lin’s list. All blurbs are from Amazon:

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson (March 23,2021)

I love psychological thrillers and this one caught my eye.

A bride’s dream honeymoon becomes a nightmare when a man with whom she’s had a regrettable one-night stand shows up in this electrifying psychological thriller from the acclaimed author of Eight Perfect Murders.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (May 25, 2021)

I enjoyed Reid’s debut novel, Daisy Jones & The Six so I was excited to see that she’s written a new book.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six . . . Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (February 2, 2021)

I’ve read and enjoyed two books by Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone and Firefly Lane. I also have The Nightingale on my TBR shelf. I like when I find an author I enjoy because of the promise of new books to read.

From Kristin Hannah, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone, comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras―the Great Depression.

I don’t always like to line books up to read because I get discouraged when I can’t get to them right away. The publication dates of these are spread out so I’m hoping to be able to fit them in. I’ve also requested them on NetGalley so we’ll see if I’m lucky enough to be approved.

What books are you looking forward to reading next year?

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Book Club Mom’s Author Update: Deborah A. Olson, RN, M.A. LPC

Deborah A. Olson

Author name: Deborah A. Olson, RN, M.A. LPC

Genre: Nonfiction/Self-help

Book: The Healing Power of Girlfriends: How to Create Your Best Life Through Female    Connection

News: In my work as a psychotherapist working with women’s mental health issues, I often get asked “How do I make new friends?” The desire to make new friends and nurture existing friendships is almost ubiquitous. Especially now during the pandemic when so many people feel alone, disconnected, isolated, a circle of friends to support us, encourage us, and share life with is vital.

My book, The Healing Power of Girlfriends: How to Create Your Best Life Through Female Connection, equips women with ideas and practical tips on how to make new friends and develop deeper bonds of friendship.

It’s very exciting to share the news that my book has won three awards since its release in March 2019!

  • Gold award in Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards in the Nonfiction, Self-Help category
  • Bronze award in the Nonfiction Book Awards
  • Bronze award in the Living Now Book Awards in the Nonfiction, Self-Help category

It is my hope that many more women will benefit from the tips in the book and come together in an even stronger bond of friendship as we weather the storms of life.

Website/blog link:

Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.

Email Book Club Mom at for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

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What’s That Movie? In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

I recently watched In the Heart of the Sea, the 2015 film by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth. It’s based on the excellent book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick. Philbrick’s account is the true story of the Essex, a whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which sank in the Pacific Ocean when it was attacked by a sperm whale. Survivors jumped in three whaling boats and drifted aimlessly for months, with little food or water. Of the twenty-one men on the ship, only eight survived. This is the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.

I liked the book very much and was looking forward to watching the movie but I was disappointed in the movie version of this story for a couple reasons. The Essex was indeed attacked by a whale which caused it to sink, but in the movie, the whale chases and attacks the smaller whaling boats (think row boats) with a vengeance, all around the Pacific. And with the way Chris Hemsworth becomes obsessed with this whale, I kind of felt like I was watching Moby Dick. In addition, while I have no knowledge of how to harpoon a whale, it seemed unrealistic to me that Hemsworth could throw one harpoon, let out the line and that would be enough to wear it down and bring it in, something that happened earlier in the movie,

Otherwise the movie was enjoyable to watch and what comes out clearly is the power of nature and how vulnerable these men were thousands of miles away from land. There was nothing glamorous about life at sea in the 1800s and the movie does a good job showing how difficult it was.

So all-in-all an okay Hollywood movie with the typical clichés. With a $100 million budget, the movie was a bit of a flop and has a 43% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can read more about the movie here.

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Audiobook review: Inside Out by Demi Moore

Inside Out
Demi Moore

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When you’re a celebrity, your image is a product of the media and what you want to share about yourself, and those things are often at odds. I recently listened to Demi Moore’s memoir, Inside Out to find out more about an actress who was very present in the entertainment world beginning in the 1980s. I knew all about her movies, including St Elmo’s Fire and A Few Good Men and of course her famous marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher. But I didn’t know much about her childhood and how she became an actress.

It turns out Demi Moore had a pretty bad childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and her parents fought constantly, and they moved a lot, to get away from creditors. This unstable childhood forced Moore to live her life in survival mode, a mode she carried with her into her adult life.

Unfortunately, her confidence was only on the surface, but it was so believable that it led people to think that she could handle tough situations. Underneath, she desperately needed taking care of. Because of her father’s alcoholism, she was determined to avoid the devastating effects of addiction, but she could not and her memoir covers these years with honesty. She openly discusses her relationship with alcohol and later other drugs, and how these dependencies nearly wrecked her relationship with her family.

Having a mother who wanted to be in the limelight as much as Moore was also difficult and they had a tumultuous relationship because of it. In the end, Moore found a way to forgive her mother and love her.

I enjoyed listening to Moore’s memoir, which she narrates and which makes much of her story relatable. I also liked hearing about her marriage to Bruce Willis and give them credit for keeping their split amicable. But it’s also the point in the memoir where Moore seems to make a lot of bad decisions. She talks about her marriage to Ashton Kutcher who was only twenty-five when they met and fifteen years younger than Moore. There’s a lot of bitterness in that story.

There seems to be a shift in the later part of Moore’s tone as she talks about the years when her daughters refused to speak to her. By then, Moore was in her fifties, still drinking and using drugs and readers and listeners might think it was about time she held herself accountable.

But in the end, the point is that all anyone wants is to be happy so I was glad to hear that she was able to pull herself out of the mess even though you can’t help but think she made much of it herself in the later years.

Inside Out is a very fast listen. It’s not full of substance, but it’s intelligently told and I’d recommend it to readers/listeners who like celebrity memoirs.

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