The clear, if somewhat dry, writing style will appeal to readers planning their own Italian excursion.



A collection of short essays on the author’s experiences living as an American expat in Italy.

Helm-Ropelato divides her collection into three sections: Learning Curves; Food, Glorious, Food; and Observing Italians. The first section discusses everything from learning the Italian language to a book review. The second features restaurant review–style essays and stories of the author’s own cooking experiences; many of these essays include recipes, too. The final section revolves around Italian culture and customs as well as profiles of different Italians the author has met. The essays, only loosely connected, don’t tell any overarching story; some are original to this collection, while others were previously published in newspapers and on the author’s own blog. The articles’ extremely short lengths make the book a quick read, which also means Helm-Ropelato only has time to scratch the surface of an idea before she moves on to a new topic. Though she’s writing about her own life, the work doesn’t have the feel of a memoir because her tone is carefully guarded. “Franco and our friends, a married couple, are passionate and veteran mountain walkers,” she writes in “The Art of Seeing in Cortina,” which is about as personal as any of the essays get. She writes about the arduous trek through the mountains and the blisters she gets on her feet, but there’s very little about her husband or the unnamed friends. This lack of detail, coupled with brevity, prevents the essay from having much real power. Though there are some humorous touches, the practice of keeping the reader at arm’s length means that these touches will likely only produce a small smile and not a guffaw. The book works well as a classically styled travelogue, and the descriptions of off-the-beaten-path travel destinations and new dining experiences will be appreciated by travelers seeking an Italian adventure that goes beyond the traditional guidebooks.

The clear, if somewhat dry, writing style will appeal to readers planning their own Italian excursion.

Pub Date: July 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478100539

Page Count: 146

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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