Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review: Home for Christmas

By Becky Gulc

Back in 2011 I reviewed Cally Taylor’s romantic comedy novel Home for Christmas and I just loved it.

‘Beth Prince has always loved fairy tales and now, aged twenty-four, she feels like she's finally on the verge of her own happily ever after. She lives by the seaside, works in the Picturebox - a charming but rundown independent cinema - and has a boyfriend who's so debonair and charming she can't believe her luck! There's just one problem - none of her boyfriends have ever told her they love her and it doesn't look like Aiden's going to say it any time soon. Desperate to hear I love you' for the first time Beth takes matters into her own hands - and instantly wishes she hadn't. Just when it seems like her luck can't get any worse, bad news arrives in the devilishly handsome shape of Matt Jones. Matt is the regional director of a multiplex cinema and he's determined to get his hands on the Picturebox by Christmas. Can Beth keep her job, her man and her home or is her romantic-comedy life about to turn into a disaster movie?’ (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

When given the opportunity to view the film version of the novel I jumped at the chance. I’d followed Cally’s Facebook posts regarding the production of the film and the fact that it was made by a small independent film company and financed through crowdfunding/an auction night (as well as private funding) made it all the more intriguing and I was rooting for its success.

Here is the trailer:

When you’ve loved a book so much you always wonder if a film version is ever going to live up to your expectations. To be honest I also wondered if it was going to appear low-budget on screen, I really hoped it wouldn’t. I’m pleased to say I enjoyed the film very much.

I was admittedly a bit unsure about the casting of Matt when I first heard who it was (I used to watch Emmerdale and remember his character as being moody so I was basing it purely on this!), but I have to say Karl Davies who plays Matt won me over very quickly. He lights up on screen when interacting with Beth, I could see Matt falling for Beth, lovely chemistry. April Pearson who plays Beth was also great.

I haven’t got the best memory in the world so I was never going to recall all the details of the novel to know what had changed or stayed true to the novel so instead I referred back to my review. All of the things I loved about the book which I noted in my review were also featured in the film. It made me laugh, it made me cry, just as the book did, what more can you ask for? I also loved the soundtrack to the film and it felt very contemporary and quirky throughout.

There were recently screenings taking place at Picture House cinemas across the UK. Unlike regular cinema screenings this is an 'on demand' way of getting independently made films out there i.e. they'll only be screened if there's enough interest and pre-bookings. You can now pay to watch the film online (provided it is available in your region), if you missed the showings but like the sound of it.

Thanks to Our Screen for the opportunity to watch the movie in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Katie Jansson Shahin's new book makes sense to us all

Introduction by Tracey Meyers

Recently, I told someone that my favorite part about getting to know people is when I find out about the struggles they've faced.  This may seem odd, but we've all had something happen that had a significant impact on our lives and defined us--for better or worse--as a person.  That, in my opinion, is when you truly get to know someone.  However, many of us don't go around sharing that thing--or things--freely...myself included.

Author Katie Jansson Shahin is not a stranger when it comes to keeping to herself the big things that have happened in her life.  She's also not a stranger to writing.  Born in Sweden, Katie moved to California in 2010 and currently resides in North Bay.  Most of her writing career has been spent working on screenwriting.  When she's not writing, Katie is a Human Resources and Recruiting professional.  Her debut novel, One Day This Will All Make Sense (December 4, 2014; also available on Amazon UK) is heavily inspired by her experiences moving from Sweden to Los Angeles. 

Now, please give a warm Chick Lit Central welcome to Katie Jansson Shahin! 

How Releasing My Debut Novel Helped Me With My Anxiety
By Katie Jansson Shahin

A few years back, I took a short story creative writing class. We were supposed to write a scene from our experience and it had to be true. I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I emailed my professor and asked him, “does it have to be all real? I don’t know if I want to do that. If the other person in the scene sees it, they will know what my opinion of that situation is.”

He responded that I would have a hard time ever becoming a writer if I wasn’t willing to open myself up and sharing my own experiences. But he let me decide for myself what to write.

I couldn’t see why on earth a writer had to be an open book regarding his or her own life in order to ever become a good one. I was even a little offended that he didn’t believe I could be a writer without sharing too much of my own experiences. As if my vivid imagination wasn’t enough. Wasn’t writing fiction all about telling a made up story? At least the word “fiction” implied so.

For years I attempted to write my first novel. Usually I didn’t get further than an rough bullet point outline. I had no idea what I was doing. I could write screenplays and TV scripts with no problem, and I had gotten good at it. But novels were a whole new territory where you didn’t just type what was seen or heard on the screen.

As it turns out, it wasn’t until I went through one of the most difficult times in my life, that I was finally able to start writing a novel. And it wasn’t until I was willing to pour my heart and soul into it, share my inner most secret feelings and thoughts with no censorship, that it got any good.

I am an introvert with social anxiety, which currently seems to have been “cured.” I am also Swedish. (Ever seen Welcome To Sweden? We actually do hide from our neighbors. Embarrassing, I know.) So you can imagine it wasn’t easy sharing. I many times found myself makings changes, trying to downplay certain feelings or reactions. I was terrified of people reading it. But eventually I managed to convince myself that the raw reality was what would make this novel. Without it, it was just another story about a girl trying to make it in Hollywood.

Although not everything in One Day This Will All Make Sense is real, most of it is. There are things in there I never told even my closest friends. They called me after having read half the book, feeling terrible for not knowing all the things that I was now sharing. Some felt they had failed me as a friend by not knowing how bad it was or not being able to help. There were two reasons I didn’t tell them. I wanted my conversations with them to be happy ones, not another chance for me to dwell on my current situation. But mainly, I simply didn’t want them to know. And then I went ahead and put in a novel. Slightly contradictory, isn’t it?

And now One Day This Will All Make Sense is out. It is the best thing I have ever done for myself. Not only was it cathartic to write it—it’s helped a lot with my social anxiety as well. After having shared what’s in the novel, I feel I have nothing to hide anymore and it doesn’t matter a whole lot what people think or know of me. In comparison to what I share in my novel, few things can be too difficult to tell people or worth keeping secret. If they want to judge me or have an opinion about me, they can. But at least now they have all the information. It is such a freeing feeling.

Synopsis of One Day This Will All Make Sense:

In the three years since Emma, Human Resource professional by trade and writer at heart, moved to Los Angeles from Sweden it has been anything but smooth sailing. When she was offered a new job Emma thought she had finally found the security she’d been looking for since moving to the city of her dreams.
The bliss is short-lived as Emma struggles to adjust in her new role and environment. She fails to learn how to play by the unwritten rules and office politics of corporate America, leaving her defenseless against a new boss who soon makes it clear that he wants her gone. After having put her writing before her HR career for so long, Emma knows it was just a fluke when she was hired and is determined not to let it slip away. But she cracks under the pressure and is ultimately fired. Will she be able to dig herself out again? Or has she peaked at 27? More importantly, will she survive in the city that represents everything she has dreamt of becoming?

Check out an excerpt.

Thanks to Katie for inspiring us to write outside of our comfort zones.

To learn more about Katie and her novel, visit her at her blog and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Things are gonna get ugly

Introduction by Melissa Amster

It's no secret that I LOVE going to the thrift store. I could get "lost" in there for hours. At times, I've come across the most atrocious looking shirts and would stare at them, wondering who in their right mind would be caught in such an embarrassing item. (I'm a snob, what can I say?!? ;) ) Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for me, I've never been invited to an ugly holiday sweater party where I could justify buying such shirts. (Some of them aren't really holiday themed, but I'm sure I could glue fake coins or candles to them for a festive Hanukkah feel. Today, Chick Lit Cheerleader Jen Tucker takes us behind the scenes of a such a party and gives us the good, the bad, and the--um--ugly about her experience.

Twice as "nice"

I’m ├╝ber competitive. I might nonchalantly mention rivalry isn’t a big deal. I’ll even laugh it off as unimportant in my crazy world. I’m lying. Don’t buy it for a second. The person I’m most cutthroat with is me. Over the summer I began swimming laps three days a week when our local YWCA indoor pool reopened. Swim teams were my life growing up and I couldn’t wait to dive back in the water. My vocabulary has changed a bit since hitting the lanes. When Mike asks, “How was your swim today, Jenny-fish?” I answer, “I did 50 in 28 minutes and 6-100 sprints.” His eyes glaze over while nodding and smiling yet I know, in his mind, he’s already moved on with his life. You swimmers feel me though, don’t you? I’m always racing against my personal best, and for the love of the gold medal I imagine waiting for me once I break my record.

My quest for the gold found its way into my soul a few weeks ago after receiving an invitation to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party. The thrill of having the most gaudy, glittered, unique outfit speaks to me. Last year, Mike and I won at a different gathering, thanks in part to googly eyes and foam stickers. This year, I wanted to turn it up a notch and really bring home the prize.

Tiffany and I as conjoined twins!
The epiphany for my killer outfit struck while hanging with my friend, Tiffany, in her kitchen. She was also going to Jill’s party as well and I asked her if she’d plotted out her ugliness yet. I remember having a moment of brilliance, angels sang and my mission became clear. “We should go as conjoined twins!” I screamed.

Tiffany cocked her head to the side, thought for a moment, and unconvinced replied, “Okay?”

I sensed she needed some prodding. “This will be the blue ribbon winner, I’m telling you! Trust me! We got this, girl,” I assured her.

Tiffany was buying into my madness as I narrated the use of jingle bells on a big shirt, pompoms attached via staples or craft glue, whatever it took. My arms furiously flailed about like I was landing a plane at O’Hare. She was in. I had her at pompoms.

Secret Keeper is my middle name. There was no squealing to a soul about our plan. What if conjoined triplets showed up? That would be anarchy—and cheating—just saying. We were so cloak and dagger, we hid behind my van while our hubbies tied us into our shirt before heading inside. It’s all about making an entrance.

We maneuvered the front steps, turned awkwardly to walk through the front door, and there before us was a plethora of ugly sweaters, holiday getups, and some true works of art. I noticed none of the other contenders for top prize considered using dental floss to stitch jingle bells onto their shirt like we did, and since two party goers work in dentistry, I felt this upped our chances to earn their votes. There was a whole hullabaloo of creative genius going on in that room. I knew the competition would be fierce. I thought we had a fighting chance. That was, until I saw my friend, Staci.

Staci crafted a work of pure brilliance. Her ugly sweater contribution? A mantle complete with all the fixings: stockings hung by the chimney with care, a roaring fire, holiday greetings from loved ones near and far, and a framed photo of Jesus. You bring Him into the equation, and you’re opponents are toast. Isn’t she adorable? She should’ve won simply for the serious biceps and triceps you must acquire to hold your arms outstretched like that to preserve the outfit’s integrity. Staci swept the congressional votes. Her prize was a chocolate Advent calendar which she quickly opened and let those of us she left in her faux snow dust have a nibble. She’s the best.

Staci's mantle sweater that won the coveted prize

Gathering with those I hold near and dear during the busyness of the holiday season always brings a smile to my face. And although Tif and I didn’t bring home the gold, we did represent and bring the ugly to the best of our ability. For now, I’ll take my dark horse-self back to the pool and duke it out with the time keeper on the wall saving all my energy to battle for the win next year. If you have any holiday themed parties you’ve thrown or attended, we’d love to hear all about them! I promise I won’t lift any of your ideas, as far as you know.

Happiest of Holidays to each and every one of you from our family here at CLC!

Jen Tucker is the author of the funny and true stories, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out and The Day I Lost My Shaker of SaltIn September 2012, she had her children's book, Little Pumpkin published as an e-book. She also blogs monthly for Survival for Blondes. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, three kids and two dogs. You can find her at TwitterFacebook, her blog and on her website. And in case you missed them. check out her previous Chick Lit Cheerleader posts here.

Book Review: Snow Angels, Secrets, and Christmas Cake

By Sara Steven

The Angel sisters are as different as night and day. Sam is down-to-earth and believes in working hard to achieve her dreams. Tamsin has a maid for that. Sam owns her own bakery and puts in long hours. Tamsin has top-notch chefs on speed-dial. While one wouldn’t be caught dead in anything without a designer label, the other wears overalls and prefers to walk in flip flops, even in the winter. It’s truly bizarre that these two come from the same gene pool, let alone had the same upbringing.

Tamsin didn’t start out pampered and pristine. Both women saw the same dark childhood and dealt with skeletons in their family’s closet, although Tamsin bore the brunt of it. For most of her life, she’s been trying to run away from the past. When her husband suddenly disappears without a trace, leaving her thousands in debt and without a penny to her name, she turns to Sam for help. Sam has her own heartache, having lost her husband too young and raising a son alone. She has a hard time letting go of what was and embracing the future. The Angel sisters hold onto one another for dear life, weathering the storms and finding their way through tragedy, and healing.

I’ve read nearly all of Sue Watson’s books, and Snow Angels, Secrets, and Christmas Cake is by far the most touching and engrossing I’ve had the privilege to review. It wouldn’t be a Watson book without her signature humor, and you get that in spades. New, though, are the deeper elements, the story line that really humanizes the characters. Sam and Tamsin are very flawed and very real, each dealing with their own conflicts and painful pasts, and each showcasing the ability to grow. Towards the end of the book, there is a surprise, and I won’t lie; I got a little teary-eyed, which isn’t like me. I’m not one to get sentimental while reading a book, but I did with this one.

Don’t let the wet eyes fool you, though. There are a lot of funny scenes, especially with Tamsin and a potential love interest. Lots of zany, interesting characters who provide the comic relief, balancing the emotion in this book to perfection. When I said you’d get Watson’s signature humor, I wasn’t kidding. A must-read for the holidays!

Thanks to Bookouture for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sue Watson:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Light the Menorah with Meredith an e-book giveaway

It's time to revive Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song, but maybe he could list some famous Jewish authors. Meredith Schorr would be up there along with Jennifer Weiner, Stacey Ballis, and Dana Bate. And she definitely deserves to be, as her novels are fun, entertaining, humorous, sexy, and romantic. The perfect beach read...or something to curl up with in front of a fireplace (or a menorah) on a cold day.

Today, Meredith is here to celebrate the recent release of her fourth novel, How Do You Know? which is first in a new series she is starting up. She's also helping us bring in Hanukkah at CLC, by sharing some special memories. Finally, she has something else to celebrate along with Hanukkah...her upcoming birthday next week! And for a gift, she has one e-book of How Do You Know? for a lucky reader anywhere in the world! I just finished reading it the other night and gave it FIVE stars on Goodreads.

A born and bred New Yorker, Meredith Schorr discovered her passion for writing when she began to enjoy drafting work-related emails way more than she was probably supposed to. After trying her hand penning children’s stories and blogging her personal experiences, Meredith found her calling writing chick lit and contemporary women’s fiction. She secures much inspiration from her day job as a hard-working trademark paralegal and her still single (but looking) status. Meredith is also the co-founder of BookBuzz, a live author/reader event held annually. She is a loyal New York Yankees fan and an avid runner. To learn more fun facts about Meredith, visit her at Whitney Dineen's blog, where she's talking about the things she can't live without.

Visit Meredith at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Nosh on this!

My family is not religious, but being Jewish is a big part of what keeps us close. The holidays are when we come together for family dinners. Although members of the family have come and gone for various reasons (divorce, death, etc.), the holiday menus have not changed all that much throughout the years. We have matzo brie during Passover; brisket and matzo ball soup on Rosh Hashanah; bagels and cream cheese to break the Yom Kippur fast; and latkes—fried potato pancakes—for Hanukkah. Latkes are neither low calorie nor healthy, but they sure are yummy!

When my maternal grandmother (“Nanny Tessie”) was alive, she was the master of the latkes. I remember the smell of the pancakes fresh from the frying pan—piping hot and the perfect combination of soft on the inside and crispy on the outside—wafting into the kitchen, and running circles around Nanny Tessie waiting for samples. Even into her eighties, Nanny Tessie refused to use a food processor to grate the potatoes because she said they didn’t taste as good. Instead, she worked tirelessly all afternoon, grating each potato by hand. As she got older and her arthritis intensified, she called upon her granddaughters—Melissa, Marjorie, and Meredith (me) to help. Even though it was hard work, I loved taking even a small amount of credit for the resulting deliciousness. (And assisting Nanny Tessie meant more samples for me…)

I’m not a good cook. At all. Though I’m a foodie and have a strong palette, I am much better at eating food (and getting it all over my clothes) than preparing it. Each member of my family is expected to supply something edible to our holiday gatherings. Through the years, my contribution has tended to be something store-bought, like a bottle of wine or dessert from a bakery. My family has always accepted this. They never questioned it or expressed dissatisfaction with this arrangement and it never bothered me either—that is until I turned forty.

When I reached the big 40, I decided it was time to do some heavy lifting. I wanted to prove to my family and to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to—even cook. I put very little pressure on myself, choosing a single side dish and usually one with a very simple five ingredients or less recipe.

Most recently, I made the stuffing for Thanksgiving—a side dish that my family all but gave up on after Nanny Tessie, the queen of stuffing, passed away. Mine wasn’t nearly as good as Nanny Tessie’s, but it was passable. I’m also the go-to person for charoset on Passover. With Hanukkah approaching, I might tackle latkes. And just like Nanny Tessie, I will grate the potatoes by hand. But not because it will taste better—because I can’t figure out how to use my food processor…

I’m not a good cook and I’m also not good with electronic appliances. :)

Happy Hanukkah!

Did this leave you craving latkes? If so, visit our holiday post from a few years ago, where Melissa A shares a recipe.

Synopsis of How Do You Know?:

What if you were approaching the end of your thirties and all of the life milestones you took for granted in your youth suddenly seemed out of reach?

On the eve of her thirty-ninth birthday, Maggie Piper doesn't look, act, or feel much different than she did at twenty-nine, but with her fortieth birthday speeding toward her like a freight train, she wonders if she should. The fear of a slowing metabolism, wrinkling of her skin, and the ticking of her biological clock leaves Maggie torn between a desire to settle down like most of her similarly aged peers and concern that all is not perfect in her existing relationship. When a spontaneous request for a temporary "break" from her live-in boyfriend results in a "break-up," Maggie finds herself single once again and only twelve months from the big 4.0. In the profound yet bumpy year that follows, Maggie will learn, sometimes painfully, that life doesn't always happen on a schedule, there are no deadlines in love, and age really is just a number.

Read an excerpt over at Book Mama Blog.

Thanks to Meredith for sharing her memories, as well as her latest book!

~Introduction by Melissa Amster

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 December 21st at midnight EST.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Save Me

By Melissa Amster

I have to admit that the topic of infidelity in chick lit and women's fiction has become quite popular. However, coming up with a new twist on the concept takes a special writing talent and Kristyn Kusek Lewis demonstrates this with her sophomore novel, Save Me.

Daphne Mitchell has always believed in cause and effect, right and wrong, good and bad. The good: her dream job as a doctor; Owen, her childhood sweetheart and now husband; the beautiful farmhouse they're restoring together. In fact, most of her life has been good--until the day Owen comes home early from work to tell her he's fallen head over heels for someone else.

Unable to hate him, but also equally incapable of moving forward, Daphne's life hangs in limbo until the day Owen's new girlfriend sustains near-fatal injuries in a car accident. As Daphne becomes a pillar of support for the devastated Owen, and realizes that reconciliation may lie within her grasp, she has to find out whether forgiveness is possible and decide which path is the right one for her.
(Synopsis courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.)

I sometimes shy away from novels about infidelity because they seem to follow a certain pattern after a while. Since I liked Kristyn's debut novel, How Lucky You Are, I decided to give this one a fair chance. I was pleasantly surprised at the direction in which she took the novel, as well as the twist she added, causing not only her characters to think and react on different levels, but also causing readers to question each decision Daphne made. "Would I have made similar decisions in her shoes? Am I allowed to judge Daphne, Owen, and their marriage the way her family and friends do?" The characters in Save Me are well developed and seem to jump off the pages. The dialogue is genuine and feels realistic. While there were times when I felt like parts of the story were hitting a stalling point, Kristyn still found a way to move things along. I think it was more the circular effect of Daphne and Owen's relationship that could get frustrating sometimes. Like she was really mad at him one moment and then wanted him back shortly after, and then it would go back into the same pattern a few times.

Overall, Save Me is well-written and great for book clubs to discuss, as there are a lot of ups and downs, as well as gray areas. In terms of casting for the movie version in my mind, I chose Rosamund Pike for Daphne and Orlando Bloom for Owen.

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. This is part of their 2014 Fall Reading Challenge. (#FRC2014)

Friday, December 12, 2014

What's in the a giveaway

Melissa A:

Early Decision by Lacy Crawford  from Harper Collins (won from Liz and Lisa)

Wynn in Doubt by/from Emily Hemmer (e-book, currently 99 cents)

A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate from Kensington and BookSparks

Save Me by Kristyn Kusek Lewis from BookSparks

12 Daves of Christmas by Juliet Madison from Harlequin AU

Party Girl by Rachel Hollis from Lake Union Publishing

The Resurrection of Tess Blessing by Lesley Kagen from BookSparks

How Do You Know? by Meredith Schorr from Booktrope

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward from Random House/Ballantine (e-book)


House Broken by Sonja Yoerg from Penguin Random House


Caching In by/from Tracy Krimmer (e-book)

I'll Take New York by Miranda Dickinson from Avon Books

Now that I've Found You by Ciara Geraghty from Hodder and Stoughton

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah from Doubleday

Wake by Anna Hope from Transworld

What could be in YOUR mail:

Party Girl by Rachel Hollis and a fun swag package! Lake Union Publishing has one set for a lucky reader in the US or Canada!

Synopsis of Party Girl:
Landon Brinkley’s dreams are all coming true. She’s landed an internship with the fabulous Selah Smith, event planner for the Hollywood elite, taking her from small-town Texas to the bright lights of LA. Landon soon finds herself in a world in which spending a million dollars on an event—even a child’s birthday party—is de rigueur and the whims of celebrity clients are life-and-death matters. At first, the thrill of working on A-list parties and celebrity weddings is enough to get Landon through the seventy-five-hour workweeks and endless abuse at the hands of her mercurial boss. But when the reality of the business reveals itself, she’s forced to make a choice: do whatever it takes to get ahead, or stay true to herself.

Drawing on the author’s real-life experiences as an event planner to the stars, Party Girl takes readers on an adventure among Hollywood’s most beautiful—and most outrageous—people, revealing the ugly side of Hollywood’s prettiest parties.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Looking for a fun recipe to make for your next gathering? Try Rachel's recipe for chocolate coconut cream pie!

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/Canada only. Giveaway ends December 16th at midnight EST.