A MelanieM Review: The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.

Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.

Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.

I always seek out an author’s forward, if there is one, before start into a book.  It often gives me insight into the writer’s mindset when laying out their story and characters, even the inspiration behind the origins of the tale.  In this case I got that and more.

J. Scott Coatsworth’s love for his adopted city of Sacramento, the River City of the title and setting here, is deeply established and he lets us know exactly why it’s so ingrained that its almost a living character here in The River City Chronicles. Close behind it?  Coatsworth’s love for Italian language which he speaks and teaches,  Italian cooking, and the style and format of ‘Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City.

The author has gathered up all these elements, given them a mighty swirl, tossed together with his own marvelous imagination and a dose of magical realism and come up with The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth.  What a magical heartwarming glorious blend it is!

It all starts off with Matteo and Diego, a married couple recently arrived from Italy.  They’ve reopened a restaurant where one of their relative’s old Italian restaurants was but the new one isn’t being received very well.  It’s called Ragazzi, meaning ‘the boys’.  But a bit a magic is about to  happen when one gets the  idea for a cooking class that brings in an odd mixture of people in various stages of their life and circumstances.

The very idea of a cooking class, one where you can almost smell the ingredients, plunge your hands into the dough, get wafts of the aroma of vanilla, the heat of the ovens…its a experience that just conjures up memories.  Which is exactly what the author does here with vivid descriptions and later on wonderful recipes you will be jotting down to try.  It, the  preparation, the cooking, the memories and yes, perhaps the magic, start to intertwine these peoples lives and ours until I was barely aware of the time going by outside of the story.

And oh these people, because that’s what they became to me.  Each person, each couple, carrying their troubles, burdens, voids in their hearts where children or family should be, others looking for love or asking for the approval to move on with their lives to love once more.  All the characters here are so beautifully created, so multidimensional that they are all on equal footing.  Each and every one is so important to the story and will gain equal measure in your heart.  It’s a large cast but it simply doesn’t matter.  You invest yourself completely in their lives and their stories.  You hurt with them, you laugh with them…the entire spectrum of emotion will be trotted out here between the kids thrown out of their homes to the May/December romances and  so much more.

The River City Chronicles is a rich tapestry of lives…messy, complicated, wonderful, human lives.  It’s filled with love, cooking, Italy through the language and recipes, and the singular location of Sacramento.  And I can’t get enough of it.

I want more of it.

Like visiting that restaurant you have picked out as yours and visit over and over because the food is perfect, the atmosphere warm and welcoming, the people inside familiar and everything about the place makes you anticipate an evening that  will fill your heart with love and memories.  That’s how The River City Chronicles makes me feel as well.  I hope that J. Scott Coatsworth feels that there’s more tales to tell here.  I certainly hope so.  Raguzzi is doing so well, so are the cooking classes.  Who knows who will show up next?  Scott, are you listening?

Trust me, this book is magical.  I highly recommend it.

Cover art is beautiful.  It’s dark, magical an lovely.  I love it.

Sales Links: iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | QueeRomance Ink | Goodreads

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, First, 380 pages
Published May 30th 2018 by Other Worlds Ink
ISBN 1732307513 (ISBN13: 9781732307513)
Edition LanguageEnglish

In Our New Release Spotlight: The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth (excerpt and giveaway)

Standard

COVER-River-City

J. Scott Coatsworth has a new queer magical realism book out:

A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.

Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.

Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.

iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | QueeRomance Ink | Goodreads


Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. Enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d4710/?


Excerpt

Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.

The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.

Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.

They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.

Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona sera,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.

“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”

“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”

“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.

“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.

He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.

His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. “Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”

“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”

Diego shot him a dirty look.

Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…

“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”

Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”

“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”

Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in” was all he said with another smile.


Author Bio

J. Scott Coatsworth

Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow in East Sacramento, with two pink flamingos by the front porch.

He spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.

He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.

His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.

He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.

Author Website: https://www.jscottcoatsworth.com

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/

Author Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/jscoatsworth

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/

Author Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ

 

A Caryn Release Day Review: Past the Breakers by Lucie Archer

Standard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When I finished this book, I was wondering how I would classify it.  Was it a ghost story?  Paranormal? Contemporary with a bit of magical realism?

In the end, I think it was all of the above.

Casey North escaped his small home town of Land’s End as soon as he could.  He went to New York City, became a chef, and opened a successful restaurant in Los Angeles.  Cooking was his passion, and the restaurant was his life, so when it burned down, he had nothing.  When his girlfriend left him taking pretty much all of his possessions, he ran away to the only place he knew to go.  Back to Land’s End.

He rented a house on the beach – a beautiful place, with an amazing view, to the point that he was surprised to get it so cheaply.  What he didn’t know at the time was that the previous renter had died in a surfing accident only a month before.

Myles Taylor had a fantastic life – he was a professional surfer, getting paid to do what he loved, and had the ring all ready to propose to his boyfriend.  They went out surfing in the morning, Myles got caught in a riptide, and next thing he knew, he was on the beach, alone.  Until his beloved but long-dead uncle came up to explain to him that he wasn’t alive, but wasn’t in “the Beyond” yet either, and was stuck to this place until it was time to leave.  No explanations, no purpose, no timeframes.  Myles could only go so far from the house before he was thrown back to the beach again.  Only animals could see or hear him.  He had absolutely no clue what he was supposed to do, and wandered around the house and beach perpetually angry at his fate.  When someone moved into the house that he had started thinking of as his, he had a place to channel that anger.

Casey planned to hole up in his rented house, avoid everyone but his sister and her family who still lived there, and hope to recover enough to go on with his life.  He was severely depressed, but the medications and the therapist hadn’t made much of a difference so far.  When things started getting thrown around in his kitchen, he couldn’t decide if it was a ghost, or if he was hallucinating, but he was scared.  Because he had nowhere else to go, he decided to try to make peace with the ghost (as well as taking medications to stop hallucinations).  After his initial anger, Myles realized that Casey was the only human he had been able to actually make contact with, and so he actively looked for ways to communicate better with Casey.

So what began as mutual fear and anger gradually became cooperation, then trust and friendship, and ultimately desire.  But how can a human and a ghost find anything permanent?  Especially when that ghost knows sometime he will have to go Beyond?

Initially I was really caught up in the book, enjoyed how Myles and Casey danced around each other, and wondered how the would get together.  About halfway through, maybe a little before, I figured out what was really going on, and then I just wondered how the author was going to get from here to there.  The way she did it was what made me drop stars from the book.  It’s funny how I have no problem suspending my disbelief for the ghost part of things, but as Myles became more corporeal….  well, no.  And the mystery aspect of the story, which really was a very little part, was unnecessary, especially the final wrap up of that sub-plot.  It was, in a word, stupid, and made for a terrible ending to what had been a really enjoyable book up to that point.  And after such a good start, too!  Oh well….

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht is actually quite pretty, though it didn’t convey much about the story.

Buy Links:

      

Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Published May 15th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press
Original TitlePast the Breakers
ISBN 1635333997 (ISBN13: 9781635333992)
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Julia Review: The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin

Standard

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Magical realism meets coming of age as four Verona College students are thrown together by choice as well as circumstance. When their lives and loves are threatened by blackmail and violence, they respond by using all the means at their disposal—including some they aren’t even aware they possess. But will that be enough to prevent tragedy or even death?

The Rest Is Illusion was first published in 2006 and a second time in 2016. This new third edition allows readers once more to enjoy the incredible story behind Eric Arvin’s first novel. And incredible it is indeed.

The fact that this is the author’s very first novel makes it all the more impressive how refined and confident his writing style already felt by then. Every phrase and sentence seems to be placed precisely and deliberately contributing to the unfolding of the plot and reading experience as a whole. The author upholds this style unbroken throughout the entirety of the book, nothing ever seems out of place. At this point, I usually talk about how location was handled, but since the environment plays such a pivotal role in this novel, I decided to dedicate a whole paragraph to it further down. Let’s take a look at the characters first.

The novel is written in third-person and the perspective, from which the story is told, switches frequently between five students: Dashel, Ashley, Sarah, Tony and Wilder. The author makes very good use of this technique by, for example, hinting at what one character is about to do through the eyes of another or presenting the consequences of the same event from different points of view. The transitions between characters feel fluid and unobtrusive. What’s best, each character is given a very distinct voice befitting his or her unique personality. They all have their own strings of story to tell that frequently intertwine and part ways. I never found myself not getting into a line of narrative or wishing that it would switch back to another. Every single one felt meaningful and worthy of attention.

It would be difficult to pick a favourite character since they are all interesting, likeable or hateable in their own right. But I would say that Ashley, the albino agnostic (as he has been described), and Dashel, who is stricken with a terminal illness, are probably the ones I felt the strongest sympathy for. They both look at other people free of prejudices and strive to embrace life (and death) on their own terms. I loved their free and creative spirits and how they imagined the world around them. Sarah, the Baptist minister’s daughter who struggles to come to terms with the relationship to her father, completes the trio of close friends (and maybe more). They complement each other very well and their interactions were heart-warming to witness.

Tony and Wilder feel very much like outsiders in contrast to the above group and yet they all come to play a significant part in each other’s lives. Tony, who despite first impressions turns out to be a considerate and caring person, tries to suppress his homosexual orientation in fear of losing his current way of life. Wilder’s horrible schemes to assert dominance over his fellow students, on the other hand, present a thoroughly hateable as well as deeply pathetic and wounded character. Seeing how these five people – each one with their own specific set of values and worldviews – interact and clash with each other was a thrilling and fascinating experience.

As mentioned above, the environment in this novel plays a role unlike any I have ever seen before. The deep forests, hidden vales, steep cliffs and hillsides that surround Verona College are alive and teeming with an ancient magic of their own. Being a fan of Magical Realism myself, I was in love with the way the author teases, hints and opens the possibility to a secret otherworld that lies beyond our common field of perception and understanding. But at the same time it is not painted as unreachable for us but closer than we think as long as one approaches it with an open mind free of preconceived opinions. Through his descriptions of the natural world Eric Arvin creates a truly enchanting and deeply mysterious atmosphere that had me hooked immediately and unable to stop reading. The landscape felt so full of personality and life as if it was a character (or many, in fact) on their own.

The story deals with a number of fundamental and timeless issues: the fear of dealing with one’s own mortality, the struggle for recognition and acceptance from others, finding and learning to embrace your true self in a world that tries to dictate who you should be. The subject of sexuality (as well as sexual violence) is breached too but if you’re looking for some light-hearted, steamy tussles beneath the sheets, you will not find them here. This is definitely not a quick read to just kill some time with a bit of superficial distraction.

I loved and enjoyed every aspect of this novel – from the characters to the plot to the world it took place in. I can only highly recommend this to anyone really who is looking (or not) for a profound narrative about the way people interact with one another and the world – or rather, worlds – around them. I know that I will certainly pick up more from this author in the future.

I very much liked the effect of smoothly changing colours and light patterns for the cover art by Wilde City Press. It gives the whole design an almost ominous, eerie feeling that is befitting of the story. The photos of the students looking directly at the reader lend support to that impression as well.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press  | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages, also available in paperback where if you buy paperback you get the ebook free

Published April 3, 2017

by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13 978-1-63533-825-6

Edition Language: English