Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book Review: You Look Like that Girl

By Sara Steven

When I was a teenager, I received a lot of comments regarding the striking resemblance I bore to Lisa Jakub. Friends and relatives just couldn’t get over how much we looked alike. I’d go so far as to say she’s my celebrity doppelganger. When I found out she was working on her debut novel, I knew I wanted to get to know the girl who’d appeared to be a lot like me, yet had lived an entirely different lifestyle and had vastly different experiences than I had. I wanted to learn more about the girl who’d decided at the age of 22 to end her acting career and take the road less traveled, for her. I was incredibly intrigued!

You Look Like That Girl: A Child Actor Stops Pretending and Finally Grows Up takes us through Lisa’s journey. She was discovered at the age of four, an age where most children are focused on preschool, not the camera. She quickly cemented herself as a quick-witted professional, talented and admired by the numerous big-name celebrities she’s worked with. I love the way Lisa describes her celebrity encounters. This isn’t a trashy tell-all. She writes with class and dignity, even when she references someone she didn’t particularly care for. She’s appreciative, regardless of the circumstances.

Even though Lisa and I are worlds apart where life experiences are concerned, I feel as though she’s very relatable. So many of us have been through circumstances where we feel lost, not sure of what we should do or which direction we should go in, in order to seek out happiness. The feeling of doing what’s best based on what others expect of us, not wanting to let anyone down. It’s a tough place to be in, no matter the occupation.

I was always impressed with Lisa as an actress, but I’m even more impressed with her as a writer. Lisa is so honest and very candid on what she’s been through. It's led her to the person she is today. I felt like I was getting a glimpse behind-the-scenes of what it’s really like when your life is under a microscope. It’s not easy. If you feel like you’re in a place where you want to seek out your own happiness, take a cue from Lisa, and check out You Look Like That Girl.

Thanks to Midpoint Trade for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Book Review: Heads or Tails

By Jami Deise

What kind of woman doesn’t want children?

Even in 2015, with the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 approaches $250,000, married couples – women in particular – are assumed to have something wrong with them if they don’t want kids. Or they’re called selfish or immature. If a young woman says she plans to remain childless, often she’ll get a waggling finger in her face and a warning: Just wait; your friends will start having kids and then you’ll change your mind.

Women who don’t want children are not frequent characters in women’s fiction. With the genre centering around relationships, most female protagonists either have children, want children, are thwarted in their desire to have children, or are looking for the man who will father them. Even Bridget Jones, the personification of 1990s chick lit hedonism, was a mother by the time the current decade rolled around. In women’s fiction, for a woman to not want children, it can’t just be a minor character trait, like left-handedness or a fondness for Jaguar convertibles. It is the trait that defines her. In Baby Proof, Emily Giffin managed to get an entire novel out of it.

The current volley in the what kind of woman contest is Leslie A. Gordon’s Heads or Tails. A terrific follow-up to the author’s absorbing Cheer, Gordon once again (albeit indirectly) explores the consequences for a child when the mother gets into emotionally sticky territory. In this novel, though, the protagonist isn’t the mother, but the woman who declared that children were not for her.

San Francisco marrieds Hillary and Jesse love their jobs, their sports teams, and their new hobby of training for a triathlon. One thing they do not love is children. Early on, they agreed having kids was not for them. But when Hillary’s best friend Margot develops severe post-partum depression and can’t care for her baby daughter Gretchen, Hillary is really the only one who can. Margot, a high-powered executive who conceived Gretchen via sperm donation and IVF, is the only child of Jean, a widowed older woman with severe Parkinson’s disease. Hillary flies out to New York City expecting to feed the baby while Margot takes a shower and thinking she’ll still have time for a run or two around Central Park. Instead, so wiped out from depression she’s barely conscious, Margot grabs Hillary and begs, “Take my baby.” Jean agrees – Hillary is the closest thing to family they’ve got. And Gretchen needs family, not a 24-hour nanny. With the only other choice being Child Protective Services, Hillary packs up the baby and flies her back to San Francisco – a harrowing flight that emphasizes to Hillary that she’s not cut out for this mom stuff. And back at home isn’t any less harrowing, as Jesse whines that Hillary “never asked him,” and that Margot is her friend, not his.

Gordon really hits it out of the park in the pages that detail Hillary’s early efforts at taking care of Gretchen. Although my son is 21, those scenes brought back very clear memories of the first diaper change, the first bath, struggling with the car seat – all those things that eventually get easier with time but initially seem so overwhelming. And it’s even more so for Hillary, who is trying to keep Jesse pacified at the same time. As Hillary finds herself falling for Gretchen and losing patience with Jesse, a mysterious neighbor – Abe – and his cute dog catch her eye … and maybe more.

It’s also to Gordon’s credit that Hillary remains just as sympathetic even while she’s contemplating adultery. She’s a very well-drawn character, who never delves into self-pity even while her husband pouts and the days she thought she’d be taking care of Gretchen turn into weeks. And that’s why I found it frustrating that Gordon fell into the “what kind of woman” trap. She gives Hillary an elaborate back story to explain why she didn’t want children, and Jesse as well has a tragedy in his past to explain his reluctance to pro-create. In fact, the only real flaw I found in the writing is that Gordon spends several pages in the beginning of the book telling Hillary’s back story and explaining her connection to Margot and Jean that presumably prompted her to agree to take Gretchen. The implication is that it’s so unusual for people not to want to have children, that something must have gone terribly wrong during their childhood to create this abnormality. (And I’m not just picking on Gordon here. Giffin does the same thing in Baby Proof.)

Why is this back story gymnastics even necessary? Why can’t women with terrific childhoods and trauma-free backgrounds not want children without being labeled selfish or short-sighted? Personally, I know many women – most of them single, but some of them married – normal, happy women with strong relationships with their mothers and nothing traumatic in their pasts who didn’t want to have children and perfectly happy with their child-free lives. (I also know several women who wanted to have kids, and did have them, despite messed-up childhoods and fraught relationships with their mothers. But that’s beside the point.) Yet this societal message of “something has to be wrong with a woman who doesn’t want children” goes so deep that supposedly readers won’t like a female character if she doesn’t have a good reason for not wanting them.

Heads or Tails is a terrific book, and it would have been just as good if Hillary had had a wonderful childhood. As more and more women these days are making the choice to go child-free, I hope the “what kind of woman” question is regulated to historical fiction.

Thanks to Leslie A. Gordon for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Melissa Baldwin takes the stage...plus a special giveaway

Melissa Baldwin visited us in April to talk about her first two novels. She's back today to feature her third novel, See You Soon Broadway, by talking about her favorite Broadway musicals! She also has a $25 Amazon gift card for a lucky reader anywhere in the world! You could buy this book AND a Broadway soundtrack if you wanted...
(When Melissa A saw the title of this novel, she knew we had to feature the book in this way. In fact, she's listening to the Hamilton cast recording--which is phenomenal, by the way--while preparing this post.)

Visit Melissa Baldwin at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

In honor of my newly released novel, See You Soon Broadway, I would like to share my Top Five favorite Broadway shows. This was harder than I thought…

1.) Annie- Yes, I know this is old school but I have loved this show since I was a little girl and watched it with my grandma. I have since introduced it to my daughter and she is now as obsessed as I was. :)
2.) Mamma Mia- Every time I hear "Dancing Queen," I feel the need to break out into dance (but who doesn’t? :)). I absolutely love this show. The music, the location, the fun, everything about it brings a smile to my face.
3.) Wicked- This show definitely lived up to all the hype. The soundtrack is fantastic and it is my go to music while I’m cleaning my house.
4.) Rent- Ok, so I know this one is kind of depressing but again the music is fantastic and that’s why we are supposed to love musicals, right? (At least it’s not as depressing as Les Miserables.)
5.) The Phantom of Opera- Classic! I think I adore this one so much because it was my grandma’s favorite. The haunting music still gives me chills.

Honorable Mentions: As I said this was harder than I thought so I have to give a shout out to a few more! The Sound of Music, Jersey Boys, and The Lion King.
I have to stop now or the list will go on! :)

Synopsis of See You Soon Broadway:
Maris Forrester has a wonderful life with an amazing boyfriend and a fulfilling job. She’s happy and content . . . or so she thinks. Maris has always had huge dreams of being on Broadway. Ever since her very first performance as a child, she has envisioned herself on the stage under the shining lights. Now she has to decide whether she should to give up her wonderful life to chase those dreams. When her parents announce they are moving, she comes across a long-lost family treasure. She doesn’t realize that this treasure may hold the key to her future and to all her dreams coming true. And if that wasn’t sign enough, a mysterious stranger throws another wrench in the mix at a dazzling rooftop party benefiting the Arts. These could be signs of things to come. But will she remain content in her perfect world, or will she step into the unknown world she has always dreamed of?

Thanks to Melissa for sharing her favorite Broadway shows with us and for sharing an Amazon gift card with our readers.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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Worldwide. Giveaway ends October 7th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reviews at Amazon--September edition

We're posting some reviews at our Amazon account, as either they've been sitting in queue for a while and deserve their time in the sun or they're new reads that we couldn't wait to post at the blog. You can check them out at the links below. Hope we can help you find your next favorite book!

Becky's review
Becky's review

Becky's review
Jami's review

Melissa A's review
Melissa A's review

Melissa A's review
Sara's review

Book Review: Biglaw

By Denise Keliuotis

Sometimes, we connect with a book because we relate to the main character. Sometimes, it’s the plot that hooks us. Other times, the setting feels so familiar, we cannot help but become drawn in. If we are lucky, we relate in more than one way. I was quite fortunate here: BIGLAW ticked off all the boxes for me.

The heroine, Mackenzie Corbett, attended a top-tier law school. So did I. After graduation, Mackenzie began practicing at a large, international law firm (commonly referred to as “Biglaw”). I did the same. Mackenzie worked ridiculously long billable hours surrounded by worn-out, neurotic associates and seemingly sociopathic partners, all in the name of securing a partnership of her own. Me, too! Mackenzie regularly, and with good reason, questioned her own sanity and the sanity of those around her. Also true for me. And then Mackenzie reached a point in her career where she needed to decide how much of her life she was willing to sacrifice in the name of success, a question I also asked and one many of us face as we climb the corporate ladder, only to find that the view from the top might not be what we’d long imagined.

BIGLAW is funny, compelling, and genuine – so much so, I experienced some PTSD-like symptoms while reading the novel. I unconsciously tugged at the skirt of the ubiquitous suit I wore back in my own “biglaw” days; I laughed out loud when Mackenzie explained that she had never, ever used the “f” word until she joined the firm. (I’ve long blamed my ugly tendency to curse on my choice of career.) I was not surprised to learn that author Lindsay Cameron spent six years at a large law firm. Her descriptions were spot on. I could feel Mackenzie’s angst oozing from the pages.

You certainly don’t have to be an attorney to enjoy BIGLAW, nor must you have worked in a large law firm. Cameron’s characters are well developed, and her dialogue feels real. I’ve no doubt that, regardless of your choice of career, you will identify with someone or some situation painted by Cameron. More than once, I found myself thinking, “Oh, I worked with a guy like that!” It wasn’t necessarily a happy memory, but it sure felt real.

BIGLAW is a light mystery, and Mackenzie spends some of the story unraveling a puzzle that affects both her personal and professional lives. I figured out the answer fairly early on, as it was somewhat predictable, but that in to way detracted from the novel, as the beauty of BIGLAW lies not in this curious subplot but instead in the greater mystery that is human behavior. Again and again, as I read, I asked myself: Why do people behave like this? And why do other people put up with it? I never once doubted Cameron’s character and behavior descriptions, even at their most absurd. Verbal abuse? A regular occurrence, in my experience. A partner who throws office supplies? In my world, we call that Wednesday. And much like Mackenzie, I almost always win the “most shocking company holiday party story” contest. (Thus, the PTSD.)

BIGLAW held my attention from start to finish. Entertaining and light on the surface, BIGLAW touches on themes that run through every professional woman’s life: what success means, how it feels, what it looks like, what it costs – and whether biggest and shiniest always really means best.

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. This is part of their 2015 Fall Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: After You

By Melissa Amster

Most people are either big fans of Me Before You or they just couldn't get behind it at all. Trust me, my book club had a huge debate about this novel, so it's definitely worthy of hours of discussion. (Lots of gray area....) In any case, I am in the first group, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of After You and put all other books aside to devour it right away.

Please keep in mind that I can not review this book without giving spoilers for Me Before You, so if you haven't read that one yet, pick it up and then come back here. Or just bypass the review to go to the giveaway for a chance to win this fabulous follow-up!

SPOILERS ahead for Me Before You in the synopsis and review.

LAST CHANCE to turn back!!!

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Now that I've shared some spoilers for Me Before You, I will not do the same for After You, which makes it hard to discuss one aspect of the story. However, it's worth the chance to be surprised. I can tell you this...I really enjoyed it. I found myself laughing out loud a bunch of times and cheering Lou on throughout the story (even when her own family wouldn't). She reminded me of myself in some ways. While I had never been through a tragedy like hers, I came close to it at one point in my life and that did a number on me and how I view life. While we get to see a different side of some characters from Me Before You, we also get to meet some new and interesting ones. The members of the Moving On group, for starters. They're quite an interesting bunch, especially Fred and Daphne. There were some interesting stories and group dynamics and Jojo gives us the chance to get to know everyone better and feel sympathy toward them.

While it feels like most of the synopsis unfolds in the first few chapters, there's still a lot in store for Lou. I love the relationship she develops with the person from Will's past and we learn more about that person from their side, as well. Overall, it's a strong sequel and I definitely recommend it to fans of Me Before You. (And even to those who weren't fans, as you might have a different perspective this time around.)

Since Me Before You is already being made into a movie, it's hard not to think of other casting ideas in my head, at least for Lou. Everyone else was not really imagined as a celebrity in my head, but maybe there will be a movie for After You, as well.

Thanks to Viking for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy for a lucky US reader!

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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US only. Giveaway ends October 6th at midnight EST.

More by Jojo Moyes:

Friday, September 25, 2015

What's in the mail...plus a giveaway

Melissa A:

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain from St. Martin's Press

Star Craving Mad by Elise A. Miller from BookSparks

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh from Book of the Month Club
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling from
Penguin Random House

The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman from
St. Martin's Press

Dear Internet: It's Me, Avery by/from Jennifer Ammoscato (e-book)

Before We Were Strangers by/from Renee Carlino, won from Great Thoughts' Great Readers

Melissa A and Amy:

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth La Ban from Lake Union Publishing


Whistling Women by Kelly Romo
from Lake Union Publishing

Melissa A and Jami:

Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain from St. Martin's Press and BookSparks (respectively)


Biglaw by Lindsay Cameron from BookSparks


Meet Me On The Beach by Hilary Boyd from Quercus

Tremarnock by Emma Burstall
from Head of Zeus

The Twelve Dates of Christmas 
by Lisa Dickenson from Sphere

What could be in YOUR mail:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Courtesy of Penguin Random House, we have one copy for a lucky reader anywhere in the world!

From the author of the beloved New York Times bestselling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and the creator and star of The Mindy Project comes a collection of essays that are as hilarious and insightful as they are deeply personal.

In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)

Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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Worldwide. Giveaway ends September 30th at midnight EST.