This book chronicles the impact one woman had on nine young girls. Dot Powell was their elementary school principal. When she retired, the girls, daughters of Hmong immigrants, formed the Sunday Van Club. With the blessing of their parents, Dot would pick them up, take them to church and on various outings, exposing them to experiences and memories that broadened their educations and lives. Each chapter focuses on a different girl, now a young woman. Dot shares a memory, the young woman also shares a memory or how Dot influenced her. All the young women have pursued higher education. Many are teachers now. This book will never let you question the impact one person can have. The answer is plain: Life changing. Dot Powell changed nine lives with The Sunday Van Club.
I’ve had the privilege to witness Dot and her girls together. Their love and respect for each other is apparent. I met them as young women, always ready to help Dot, to laugh, to support each other. They are special and Dot’s mentoring made a difference.
I loved this book and highly recommend it!
I received an advance copy of The Sunday Van Club, but this did not induce me to review it favorably or not.
ONCE UPON A ROYAL SUMMER by Teri Wilson is as lovely and sweet and charming as if you combined a fairy tale, Hallmark, and cotton candy. Which is what Wilson and Hallmark Publishers did. With a dash of Disney, sans naming Disney or anything close to copyright infringement.
Lacey Pope is a theme park princess, Princess Sweet Pea. She loves her job. She loves making children happy. She loves being part of a real-life fairy tale. Her fiance’ though, isn’t a fan, and is eager for her to move on to her “real” career. This is one reason they realize they aren’t right for each other and break it off. Lacey wonders why she isn’t more devastated.
Henry is a single dad to Rose. He also happens to be the crown prince of Bella-Moritz, a small kingdom off the south of France. He brings his young daughter to Lacey’s theme park for Rose’s 7th birthday. Rose falls in love with Princess Sweet Pea. As Henry and Lacey spend more time together, their attraction grows. But how can a fairy tale princess and a real life prince have a happily ever after.
Obviously, if you’re a romance lover, you know they’ll find a way.
This is a fun book, perfect for a day at the beach or by the pool. I enjoyed it and recommend it.
I received a free advance copy of this book from the publisher, but that did not induce me to review it, favorably or not.
We used to go occasionally to a burger place in Friant, about 20 minutes from us. It was called Sandals and it had great burgers with a casual, beachy atmosphere. Then it closed.
Then it opened as Beaches or Beach Club. But we weren’t able to visit before they closed for the pandemic, then they were open, then they closed for winter.
Well, they’re open again and we finally made it! Beach Club
They have a fun menu, heavy on burgers and sandwiches, but with a Hawaiian twist. They have a sand volleyball pit, and live music on some dates. It’s outdoor/patio dining only. The patio is covered and there are misters for the really scorching days.
Dave ordered the Loco Moco burger. If you’re familiar with the Hawaiian breakfast favorite, the Loco Moco, you know where this is headed. Add a bun, and you’ve got it. The Loco Moco is a scoop of rice, topped with a hamburger patty, topped with brown gravy, topped with an egg. The Loco Moco burger was huge and filling. Dave only ate half and brought half home.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures of the food on our plates, so the photos are our leftovers.
We shared onion rings and they were just right. The onion snapped when I bit into it, and didn’t pull out, leaving me with an empty shell of dough. They were hot and the onion was sweet.
I had the Kahlua pork tacos, with rice and beans. I ate all the rice and beans and one taco. The pork was tender, and well-flavored. The cabbage was crisp and added a nice crunch.
Overall, we enjoyed our visit and plan to be back!
Writers are often asked where they get ideas for characters. Are they based on real people?
I have a writer friend who once told me her characters always start out based on people she knows before becoming true fictional characters.
I’ve done that, but I’ve also started with totally fictionalized characters sparked by a random comment or idea.
Another friend told me about her cousin who was married to a professional athlete and the demands put on the wives of the team members. We lived in Southern California at the time and attended church with a Los Angeles Dodger team member’s family. I ran into the wife at our shared pediatrician’s office one day and she was dressed gorgeously with perfect hair and make up. I got to thinking about the stress of having to look flawless every time you left the house, even if your child was ill and you were taking him or her to the doctor.
That led to the heroine of my first completed (but still unpublished) novel, Curveball. Cami is intensely private, but ends up in a relationship with a professional baseball player, under constant scrutiny. For added stress, she is stalked. Because I’m mean that way.
The protagonist in my work in progress (WIP) is a young widow. I haven’t been widowed, but I’ve had widowed friends and family members.
I read several books in the last few years with young widowed protagonists that really stayed with me, and they definitely influenced my choice to make my protagonist a young widow.
THE FIVE STAGES OF FALLING IN LOVE by Rachel Higginson. Liz’s husband died six months before the book starts, from an aggressive cancer. She’s barely hanging on, getting her kids to school, keeping the house standing. The beginning of this book is laugh-out-loud funny and had me hooked.
THE LIFE INTENDED by Kristin Harmel. Harmel is making a career for herself now writing World War II fiction set in France. This is not one of those. It’s an earlier book of hers (published in 2014), a contemporary story set in New York City. Kate’s been a widow for over ten years, when her husband was killed in an accident. She was overwhelmed by grief for years, but she’s finally moving on, engaged to a nice man. She should be excited, but she’s not. Then her dead husband starts appearing in her dreams. Very vivid dreams. And Kate sees the life they would have had if he hadn’t died. This leads her to wonder if Patrick is sending her a message and if she’s really ready to move on after all. She learns about sign language and the NY foster care system and her life takes another unexpected turn.
THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS by Abbi Waxman. Lillian has been widowed for three years, and raising her two daughters alone. The youngest is too little to have any real memories of her father, killed in an accident in front of their house. Lillian is an illustrator, and assigned to draw vegetables for a series of guides. Her boss sends her to a gardening class, so she brings her kids and her sister along. The group of beginning gardeners form friendships, and Lillian and the instructor hit it off too.
All of these books showed women working out and through their grief in different ways.
Another friend recently told me a story about a young widow she’d met. The woman was very attractive and someone commented that she must have lots of men pursuing her since she was single, intelligent, and beautiful. The woman said, no, just the opposite, actually. That men felt threatened by her dead husband. In a divorce, there’s no competition. But with death, if the husband was still alive, the new guy wouldn’t be in the picture. That’s definitely a plot element in THE LIFE INTENDED. I’m still working out how much of that to include in my own story.
Stay tuned to see what happens. That book will release February 2022. There will be a cover and title reveal in the coming months!
This fun book is best read along with a Cuban cookbook. As I was almost done, I told my husband it was making me hungry for a Cubano sandwich. He promptly volunteered to make one for me. So our Memorial Day meal was Cuban sandwiches, with chips and potato salad. Maybe not your typical Memorial Day celebration, but it was delicious!
Tony grew up in Little Havana in Miami, but it’s been several years since he’s been home. He’s a big time chef in New York City now, with a hit restaurant. Yes, he’s burnt out from the paperwork and business of running a restaurant, and he doesn’t get to cook like he used to, but that’s the price he’s willing to pay for the acclaim and success. When his sister calls and asks him to come home to help with the menu planning for his niece’s quinceanera (15th birthday celebration), he’s not sure he can leave the restaurant for that long. But he agrees. He could use the break and he hasn’t been home for too long.
Sara Kelly is Tony’s best friend’s younger sister and she has a restaurant in Miami. She had a crush on Tony when she was a teenager, but she’s over that now. Her restaurant specializes in upscale twists on comfort food and is crowded every night. Her niece is also turning 15, and Sara’s sister-in-law asks Sara to help plan the menu.
Tony visits Sara’s restaurant and is impressed with both the food, and his friend’s all-grown-up sister.
Everything would be headed to a happily-ever-after, except for a reporter. She’s assigned to write a story about the resurgence of quinceaneras among the Cuban population of Miami. When she hears that two acclaimed chefs are handling the two menus, she sees her angle. She deliberately baits Sara and Tony, putting them in competition with each other. She will only feature one chef in her article. Both of them need the exposure and publicity the article will garner. Tony wants to open a new restaurant in Miami, so he can return more often, maybe even move back, closer to family and Sara. Sara wants to open a second restaurant. She trains women who need job skills to work in her kitchen. With another restaurant, she can help more women and ease the crowding at the first restaurant.
Since this is a Hallmark Publishing book, of course, Tony and Sara are able to work out the competition and their relationship. This book was a bit of a departure for Hallmark, in that Cuban and Latin culture, language and food were all featured predominantly. It wasn’t just white people in a white town baking white cake (no offense to people who like white cake–I love it!) But it was refreshing to read about a different culture. And remind me how delicious picadillo and porchetta are. Not to mention that Cubano sandwich.
This was a fun book and I highly recommend it.
I received a free advance copy of this book from the publisher, but that did not induce me to review it, either favorably or not.