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Review & Giveaway: The First Emma by Camille Di Maio


Camille Di MaioHistorical Fiction / Historical Romance / Women’s Fiction

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Date of Publication: May 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 315

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The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler. Whose tycoon husband Otto was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses – both also named Emma – and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during Prohibition. When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.
PRAISE for The First Emma

“Di Maio’s take on a shocking American drama pleasantly blends romantic and historical fiction . . . a sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.” —Kirkus

“A beautifully crafted portrait of an intriguing woman. Mystery and romance are set against the backdrop of fascinating pieces of twentieth-century history, and a richly drawn setting leaves the reader feeling wholly immersed. Historical fiction fans will love this one!” —Chanel Cleeton, NYT bestselling author of Next Year in Havana

“Di Maio does a brilliant job of weaving together all the threads—from past to present—while unearthing a tale of blossoming love, the power of our chosen family, and the losses that make us whole again.” —Rochelle B. Weinstein, USA Today bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends

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It was love at first sight when I saw the cover of The First Emma by Camille Di Maio. The young woman in a pretty dress gazing out of a window promised me a lovely historical fiction, while the blurb teased me with a thrilling tale of infidelity, murder, and power. If any of those things appeal to you as a reader, then you will devour this book like I did.

The words “inspired by true events” always give me a little rush. I don’t know why that is, especially when you take into account that many fiction books and movies are usually based (perhaps quite loosely) on someone’s real life. But those four words seem to whisper a promise that the story you are about to hear will be that more shocking or inspiring because they are based on real life. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed to admit that I have never heard of the Koehlers or of their Pearl beer, but this book has stoked my interest to the point that I intend to read the newspaper clippings for myself at a later time.

Di Maio transports the reader into two timelines: back to 1914, before the United States joined the fight and prohibition loomed on the horizon, to nearly 30 years later, with the second world war that took most of the young men in our country, along with necessities like fuel and metal. Maybe because I have lived a sheltered life, I am truly fascinated by stories of hardship. I have never had to walk through slushy streets; I have never lived alone. I like to think that if I were ever tested, I would have strength like Mabel from Baltimore.

My warm affection for Mabel came about quickly but it was Emma’s observations that solidified that attachment into something more. Di Maio’s fluid writing style and emotional depth allowed me to connect with characters that I was a little wounded to find out later did not really exist. And working from very little source material, the author spins a plausible version of these events with an intimacy that I have never encountered in any other historical fiction or romance book that I have read.

Most historical fictions, while entertaining to read, often have a scene or two, or perhaps a character, that rings false. The First Emma does not have either of these flaws. You will be shocked to later find out just how much of this story was Di Maio’s imagination and how much was based on research. I really appreciate that the author’s note at the end of the book shares where the inspiration came from and her writing process.

There are harsh moments in this book, some completely true and some fictional, but I love everything about it. It is a seamless story of feminine intellect, strength, and great lessons on self worth and loyalty.

Camille Di Maio always dreamed of being a writer, though she took a winding path of waitressing, temping, politicking, and real estate to get there. It all came to fruition with the publication of her bestselling debut, The Memory of Us, followed by Before the Rain Falls, The Way of Beauty, and The Beautiful Strangers. In addition to writing, she loves farmers’ markets, unashamedly belts out Broadway tunes when the mood strikes, and regularly faces her fear of flying to indulge her passion for travel. Married for twenty-three years, she home-schools their four children. (Though the first two are off at college now!) She is happy to live in Virginia near a beach. 


ONE WINNER receives a signed copy of The First Emma 
May 19-29, 2020
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Video Guest Post & Giveaway: Comfort Plans by Kimberly Fish

  Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Date of Publication: May 23, 2017
Number of Pages: 320
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Colette Sheridan is being remodeled.

As a San Antonio architect, she’d have vowed her career was to investigate the history and create new functions for the structures everyone else saw as eyesores. The old German farmhouse in Comfort, Texas, might be the screeching end of that dream job. The assignment seemed so ideal at the start; generous clients, a stunning location, and a pocketful of letters that were surely meant to explain the ranch’s story. All that goodness crashed louder than a pile of two-by-fours when her grandfather announced he’d lured Colette’s ex-husband back to San Antonio to take over the family architecture firm. Now, not only does Colette have to endure the challenges posed by Beau Jefferson, the client’s handpicked contractor, a house that resists efforts to be modernized, and letters that may hold the secret to buried treasure, but she also has to decide if she has the courage to fight for her future.

Set against the backdrop of the Texas Hill Country, Colette and Beau have to rely on plans neither of them constructed in order to navigate the changes of a house with a story to tell, and a future they couldn’t even imagine.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Kimberly Fish’s unique writing style snatched me out of my easy chair and plunked me down into the middle of her character’s life where I was loathe to leave when my real life called me back. Her descriptive visual writing drew me in on the first page. Can’t wait to read more stories by Mrs. Fish.”

–Vickie Phelps,Author of Moved, Left No Address

video guest post
Old Letters Play A Key Role in Comfort Plans
Kimberly Fish started writing professionally with the birth of her second child and the purchase of a home computer. Having found this dubious outlet, she then entered and won The Writer’s League of Texas manuscript contest which fed her on-going fascination with story crafting. 

She has since published in magazines, newspapers, and online formats and in 2017, released the first novel in a series set during the World War II years in Longview, Texas—The Big Inch

She lives with her family in East Texas.
July 31 – August 14, 2017
(U.S. Only)

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Texas is Chili Country by Judy Alter

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Judy Alter
Texans love to eat, and one dish they can’t get enough of is chili—so much so that chili con carne is Texas’s state meal. This seemingly simple staple of Texan identity proves to be anything but, however. Beans or no beans? Beef, pork, or turkey? From a can or from scratch?
Texas Is Chili Country is a brief look at the favored fare—its colorful history, its many incarnations, and the ways it has spread both across the country and the world. The history includes chuckwagon chili, the chili queens of San Antonio, the first attempts at canned chili, the development of chili societies and the subsequent rivalries between them, and the rise of chili cook-offs.

And what would a book about chili be without recipes? There are no-fat recipes, vegan recipes, and recipes from Mexican-American cooks who have adapted this purely American food. Some have been tried, but many are taken on faith. Recipes are included from state celebrities such as Ladybird Johnson, Governor Ma Ferguson, and chili king Frank Tolbert.

Who knew there was so much to say about chili that it can fill a whole book? Obviously recipe books can be filled with one dish, but I have a feeling that this one is different from the rest. It’s more of a history book with recipes running right down the middle of it (literally). As I learned about chili’s backstory, my mouth watered as I realized that I haven’t had “good” chili before. Not only does this book inspire me to track down authentic chili at a restaurant, I also want to try out some of the celebrity recipes as well. If you love chili, this book is for you. Interestingly enough, the whole thing culminates with some beer history. Perhaps that is Alter’s subliminal suggestion that you wash it all down with a nice cold Texas brew.
Judy Alter retired from Texas Christian University Press after thirty years, twenty of them as director. At the same time she developed her own writing career, focusing primarily on women of the American West. Now she writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. She lives in Fort Worth.
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Review: I Hate Pinatas by Heather Maloy

Surviving Life’s Unexpected Surprises
A Memoir
Heather Maloy
If you’re sensitive to crude humor or language, power through the introduction of this memoir. I swear, it’s worth it. Maloy’s style might put off some, but her writing takes on a professional tone from the moment she describes the ultrasound that pinpoints her unborn child’s heart deficiency. Her work as a court reporter has undoubtedly served her well in remembering the technical and medical jargon, as well as the progression of family events. Certain scenarios are written with an almost clinical precision, but there are still those wonderful nuggets of her personality injected here and there. For the record, I think she uses profanity at appropriate moments.
I came away with understanding a little more of what my friends with dangerous health issues might go through. Also, I got teary eyed over the pain of her baby, I often simultaneously pumped my fist in the air (in my head, at least) for Maloy’s strength. This woman is my spirit animal.
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Schooled for Murder by Cindy Muir


Author: Cindy Muir

Genre: Mystery (cozy)

# of Pages: 200

Pub Date: July 11, 2014

Publisher:  Black Rose Writing



Laurel Franks is a dedicated mom, volunteer extraordinaire and active on the PTA Board. She is also, however, a enthusiastic Jimmy Buffet fan and wanna-be Trop Rock singer. Laurel finds out through the local grapevine that the despicable local School Superintendent has been murdered and the sheriff’s office seems to be unusually mum about the investigation.


With her best friend and sidekick Sherry Sharp, Laurel decides to hone her investigative skills and search out suspect possibilities she comes up with in her volunteer and community world. Her husband, obsolete in the thought processes of a modern woman, wants her to devote her time and energy to her volunteer work and family only, but Laurel is spurred on with her investigation.


Laurel and Sherry traverse the Hill Country north of San Antonio, Texas and meet some wacky characters, many of whom seem to have a motive for rubbing out the School Superintendent. Fueled by Trop Rock music and inspired by Jimmy Buffett lyrics, Laurel finally solves the crime, but at the near cost of her own life.





I’m one of those who has always loved music. My earliest performance memory was at age four at church and by age 8, I was studying piano. The choral and solo road continued and I wound up with two music degrees from Baylor University. I’m a former elementary music teacher and directed church children’s choirs for 32 years.

Somewhere along the way, I expanded my musical horizons and was listening to

Jimmy Buffett by the early 90s. When I attended my first concert back in 1991, I was hooked. After several years of Buffett concerts, reading his books and learning about him, I finally joined the San Antonio Parrot Head Club. It was through the club that I began to learn about Trop Rock and the singers/ songwriters who make the music.

A couple of years ago, I started writing a column about Parrot Heads and Trop Rock for a now-defunct magazine. And I truly became hooked on meeting and interviewing the musicians. One of my favorite parts of going to MOTM, Pardi Gras, or other Trop Rock music events is to forge new musical relationships. I also began to weave a story about an amateur sleuth who also dreams of being a Trop Rock singer. After years of writing and re-writing, “Schooled For Murder” is my first cozy mystery novel. Black Rose Writing was extremely gracious to take the chance of being the book’s publisher.

I have a beautiful daughter, Lauren Bates, who lives in Dallas and is an artist. And I’m newly married to wonderful Don Muir, whom I’ve known for years through the San Antonio Parrot Head Club. Jerry Diaz was gracious to let us be married on the stage erected for the Pardi Gras Street Party and after the ceremony, a second line jazz band paraded us up to the top of the Tropical Isle, where we had cake for whomever joined us.

I’m also caretaker for the “Jimmy Buffett Museum of Port Aransas, TX,” which is my second home. Come see me if you’re ever on that part of the Gulf Coast. We’ll share a cold libation and listen to…   what else? Trop Rock!




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