Friday, May 25, 2018

The Deadliest Sport by June Trop (Book Spotlight, Author Interview & Giveaway!)

Because my mother is Roman, I have visited Rome several times and, of course, have been fascinated with the Colosseum. In June Trop's third book in the Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries, which I read and reviewed on Library of Clean Reads, her brother is a gladiator who fought in Rome. I enjoyed this book and interviewed the author (see below) and also included a giveaway!

Book Details:

Book Title: The Deadliest Sport: A Miriam bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria
Author: June Trop
Category: Adult fiction, 242 pages
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Release date: October 7, 2017
Tour dates: May 14 to 25, 2018
Content Rating: PG (mild religious oriented expletives, such as "Lord," some violent descriptions, such as the corpse, the gladiatorial arena)

Book Description:

Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath.

When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady and dangerous enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam's elderly charge, turns up missing; Amram becomes seriously ill; and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?

To read reviews, please visit June Trop's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

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Interview with June Trop

EI: Welcome to Essentially Italian! Can you describe your book in 20 words or less?

JT: I’ll give it a try: Miriam penetrates a monstrous multilayered scheme and risks her life to expose the mastermind behind it.

EI: Your book is atmospheric, with details that bring the setting to life. How did you go about doing the research for this period in history?

JT: Aside from its being a first-century CE intellectual and cultural melting pot, Alexandria was second only to Rome in its commercial and educational institutions. Accordingly, I found many books about its geography, history, architecture, customs, sports, politics, gardens, and ethnic groups. Having loved learning about the Roman Empire since childhood, I was like a kid in a candy store.

EI: The Deadliest Sport is the third book in your Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. What are the challenges to writing a series? What’s the advantage?

JT: One challenge is keeping the stories straight, especially when the titles are similar, all beginning with THE DEADLIEST. And then there’s the question all series writers must wrestle with: Shall I freeze my characters in time or let them mature over the years? The advantage is that when I sit down to write a story, I already know my setting and core characters. They have become friends whom I enjoy visiting again.

EI: Which character was the most difficult to write? The easiest?

JT: All the characters are difficult to write in the beginning because I haven’t yet gotten to know them as more than an outline of traits. But eventually, they become real enough to tell me who they are, what they have to say, and what they want to do.

One special difficulty though is in crafting the antagonist. I try to make this character’s motives, as evil as they might be, understandable so that on some level my readers can sympathize with him.

And good or bad, when I look back, I see that all the characters have a piece of me in them.

EI: What inspired you to base Miriam on the true personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy?

JT: Alchemy was a capital offense in Roman Alexandria. The little I could learn about Maria Hebrea convinced me that she was a courageous and intrepid pursuer of knowledge. She risked her life to uncover the secrets of the material world that could not only elevate base metals but heal, rejuvenate, and extend human life. What a model of passion and persistence! At the same time, nothing being known of her personal life left me free to invent one for her.

EI: If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Who would you see?

JT: Easy question! I’d go right back to first-century CE, Roman-occupied Alexandria. I know the streets will be smelly, the political realities threatening, and the life expectancy short, but the city will be splendid, the climate perfect, and the intellectual life keen. And yes, there’s that one person I’d love to see, namely Maria Hebrea herself.

EI: What do you want your readers to take away from your series?
JT: Miriam approaches her problems with courage, fair-mindedness, and persistence. At the same time, she tries to overcome her weaknesses, especially her tendency to tell lies. I would like my modern readers to see how these qualities can make them successful.

EI: Any future projects you want to share with us?

JT: The fourth book in the Miriam bat Isaac Series, THE DEADLIEST FEVER, just came out. I am looking forward to hearing how my readers react to this story of a jewel heist in Ephesus. And I am working on the “penultimate draft” of my fifth book, THE DEADLIEST THIEF, a novella about one of the three thieves who escape to Alexandria.

EI: Thank you so much for joining us and telling us more about you and your writing!

Meet the Author:

June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, "The Steam Shavel [sic]," when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.

"I don't remember how I spent my share," June says. "You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer."

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students' imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.

Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.

June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest

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Ends June 2, 2018

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

All the Way to Italy by Flavia Brunetti (Review, Author Interview, and Giveaway!)

Book Details:

Book Title: All the Way to Italy: A modern tale of homecoming through generations past
Author: Flavia Brunetti
Category: Adult Fiction, 222 pages
Genre: Women's Fiction (can fit into YA Fiction as well)
Publisher: Ali Ribelli Edizioni
Release date: April 21, 2018
Tour dates: April 23 to May 18, 2018
Content Rating: PG for the occasional use of "for God's sake" and a few religious references (though very mild). No violence, no swear words, and no sex scenes.

Book Description:

Until her dad died, Little considered herself a Californian. Now, thanks to half a letter, a symbol she can’t quite remember, and writer’s block, she finds herself back in Italy, the country of her birth. In a headlong rush to return to her beloved San Francisco, Little will journey throughout Italy, hoping to find the answers she needs to move on with her life so she need never look back. She’ll enlist the help of the woman who raised her, Sira, her father’s sister; but Sira has secrets she’s kept for decades, and Little underestimates the power of the country she fled years before.

In this powerful story of mixed cultures in a world trying to globalize, one girl’s struggle to leave her home behind will lead her back to the women in her family and the memories each of them has safeguarded through the generations. From war-torn Italy to the belpaese of today, All the Way to Italy is a tale for those in search of a balance between wanderlust and the necessity to come home, a reminder that although we may be fragments, we are never a lost cause.

My Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani

All the Way to Italy is a beautiful story about one young woman's journey to find her place in this world. To discover her roots and what they mean in her life. I enjoyed Little's story and experienced a strong nostalgia for Rome (my own mother's home city) as I was reading it.

Little was born in Italy but as a child was sent to live with her aunt Sira in San Francisco.
She doesn't know much about her mother or why her father sent her to live with her aunt, but she loves her aunt who becomes like a mother to her. When her aunt moves back to Italy and her father dies, Little who is now a young woman, is called back to Italy to sort through her father's property and belongings. She hopes to take care of things quickly so that she can go back to California and move on with her life.

However, once in Italy, the country where she spent the first five years of her life, she discovers family secrets that begin to unveil the circumstances surrounding her mysterious mother and the reason her father sent her away. It is here that she begins her journey of self-discovery and healing, and learns more about the man that was her father.

Flavia Brunetti's novel is character-driven, slowly peeling back the layers of Little's family. With lyrical language and a character who needs to sort through her feelings of anger and abandonment, All the Way to Italy is a moving story. It is filled with scenes of Italy, its food (I was constantly hungry as I read this book!) and its culture. In this debut novel, Brunetti's writing promises readers a story that explores family connections, betrayal, secrets and finding one's way home. A heartwarming and highly pleasurable read!

To follow the tour and read reviews, please visit Flavia Brunetti's page on Italy Book Tours.

Be sure to also check out my interview with the author posted here below!

Buy the Book:

iTunes ~ Kobo

Interview with Flavia Brunetti

EI: Welcome to Essentially Italian, Flavia! Can you describe your book in 20 words or less.

FB: Thank you, Laura! I think my favorite description of the book is actually on the back cover: “This is the powerful story of those in search of a balance between wanderlust and the necessity to come home, a reminder that although we may be fragments, we are never a lost cause.” Okay I cheated, that was 34 words!

EI: Like the protagonist in your novel, you have experienced living in the US and in Italy in much the same way she had. Is any of the story autobiographical?

FB: Little is, or at least when I started writing was, partly based on how I felt growing up back and forth between two countries, but more importantly is the reflection of others in my life: Sira is my real-life aunty Letizia, and the book was written in her honor. A lot of the nostalgia was based on conversations that I’ve had with friends that have also traveled much of their lives and feel they belong to different places. The characters in the book ultimately grew until they were their own people, so to speak, and in that sense, the story grew exponentially until much of it was its own. So I like to think of it as a mixture of real-life emotions told through a fictional story!

EI: I have family in Rome that I have visited throughout the years (my mother is Roman) and I got such a strong feeling of nostalgia reading your book. I could relate to the main character. Did you feel any nostalgia as you wrote it?

FB: What a great question – and I love hearing that the book resonated with you! I felt so much nostalgia writing All the Way to Italy. Much of it is a love story to Rome, pieces written when I was in different countries missing my city. Like Little, I grew up feeling a bit displaced from my country of birth, but when I moved back, the country, the city, rushed back in until I realized how strong roots can be, and how they can be the sturdiest base for us to grow into our own Stories – in this sense, the book is an ode to Rome, and I’ve also given away how much of that feeling is also autobiographical!

EI: Who was the character that was the most difficult to write? The easiest?

FB: The easiest character for me, the one that truly flowed the most, was Sira, and that’s because she’s based on my aunty in real life; during the editing process, Sira was the only character that my editor never wanted to change, because she was written so clearly, with so much love. That is undoubtedly because of the love that was already there!

The hardest I’d have to say was Delila, because I had some difficulty putting myself in her shoes; but it was a good exercise in empathy, and in writing an unfamiliar character.

EI: What do you want your readers to take away from your novel?

FB: This is an airplane read in the best sense of the word (I hope), the kind of book that goes down easily but says something. I wanted to write a book that a fifteen-year-old girl could hold in her hands when she was faced with a big change, that would help her to know that everything would work out for the best, even if she wasn’t her own best friend yet, even if she felt like the world, because of where she’s from or what she’s suffered, wasn’t on her side. I wanted to write about the strength of memories but also the strength of carving your own way, with an open heart and mind to absorb all the lessons there are out there, gently. Maybe most importantly, I wanted to put out a book that explored kindness in a world climate that struggles with embracing different cultures.

EI: What is your favorite hang out in Rome?

FB: This is such a hard question because the choices are endless! Okay, if I absolutely have to pick one… in Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon, watching people come and go in front of this amazing ancient behemoth. Oh, and with a stuffed focaccia from Antica Salumeria (right on the piazza) in my hand!

EI: If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Who would you see?

FB: I’m a big fan of the St.Mary’s time traveling series, so this answer changes regularly. Right now, I’d want to travel back to Ancient Egypt and meet Hatshepsut. She was only the second confirmed female pharaoh and widely considered hugely successful, and she has an incredible story—and what a strong woman she must have been! When I went to the Luxor in Egypt I was able to visit Hatshepsut’s Temple, a structure that feels directly out of another time, and that made me begin to wonder about the woman behind it and the tales she must have been able to tell.

EI: Any future projects you want to share with us?

FB: At the moment I’m focusing on my city blog on Rome, Which Way to Rome. I love writing the Instagram captions, which very often end up being mini-stories, paired with my favorite pictures from an afternoon stroll through the city. I want to start working on a sequel to All the Way to Italy soon: either exploring Little’s story a few years down the line when she’s graduated and moved to a different country, or a flashback to Sira’s youth. Which would you guys like to read next?

EI: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me Flavia!

About the Author:

Photo credit: Roberta Perrone

Born just outside of Rome, Flavia Brunetti grew up bouncing back and forth between Italy and California, eventually moving back to the Eternal City and confirming her lifelong commitment to real gelato. Flavia holds a Master of Arts degree in Government and Politics from St. John’s University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from John Cabot University. Today she travels the world working for an international humanitarian organization and spends her free time writing and wandering around her beloved Roma in constant search of bookstores and the perfect espresso. You can find her city blog on Rome at and her portfolio of published writing at

Connect with Flavia: Website ~ Blog on Rome ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

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Ends May 26, 2018

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