Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Review: Night Music

By Sara Steven

Charlotte Parsons is devastated over losing her brother in the Vietnam War. Desperate to learn more about the war, she joins a group of college women who send letters to soldiers and befriends Joseph Russo, a young soldier. But a few months after they begin corresponding, his letters stop coming, and Char moves on, still confused as to why so many young lives are being lost so far away from home.

Two years later, Char begins college in her small Illinois town of Grand Falls. She’s been dating her brother’s long-time best friend, Deke Masterson, who is a senior in college and is deep into the anti-war movement. Char isn’t sure how she feels about the war. Then a stranger comes to town and changes everything. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

It was so easy to appreciate the small-town nostalgia of Night Music. The quiet backdrop of neighbors who know one another, a downtown filled with local businesses who rely and support one another, and characters who are focused on connecting within their own relationships. But as sweet and good as the good old days might have been, there were conflicts. It was a scary time for many who had loved ones overseas, enlisted in the Vietnam War. Charlotte loses her own brother to the war, and makes the decision to reach out to soldiers in an effort to learn more about the world her brother had lived in. Joseph is someone she can talk to, someone she can share her ideas and thoughts with, but he’s so far away from the life she knows. Until she finds him living within her small Illinois town.

I liked the sweet premise behind the story of Charlotte and Joseph, the way they reconnect in person, how close they are through the letters they’ve written to each other. The fact that her letters compelled him to move to the town she’s described in her letters, so he can experience the peace she spoke of. All he wants to do is move on with his life and heal from his experiences in the war.

There were a lot of conflictual moments, which I imagined to be quite real for those who lived in the late 60’s. The country was divided on the Vietnam War, contention well represented by Deke. While Joseph showcases the men who fought bravely for their country, Deke showcases the many questions that surfaced during that time. Was it a necessary war? Was it worth it? Charlotte has a hard time making her own mind up on all of it, not sure on who’s right, and ultimately, who’s right for her. I really felt as though it was refreshing to read a story based on the late 1960’s, before the internet and social media and cell phones. A simpler time, that, after delving deeper in, really wasn’t so simple.

Thanks to Deanna Lynn Sletten for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Deanna Lynn Sletten:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jessica Strawser Is a book giveaway

Photo by Corrie Schaffeld
We're pleased to have Jessica Strawser here for the first time to celebrate the upcoming publication of her sophomore novel, Not That I Could Tell (reviewed here), and to share a few laughs with us as we get near the end of Humor month. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy to share with a lucky reader!

Jessica Strawser ( is the editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth cover interviews with such luminaries as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She’s the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You (reviewed here), now new in paperback, and Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month selection and Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction pick for March 2018. She has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly and other fine venues, and lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati. Connect with her at her website, on Twitter @jessicastrawser and on Facebook @jessicastrawserauthor.

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her—and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions—especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Your online go-to source for laughter:
Oldie-but-goodie The Onion

Favorite funny video:
The “Dennis Quaid Is Here” hidden camera skit from The Ellen Show—he was in a Starbucks with Ellen’s voice in an earpiece, with instructions to repeat everything she told him to, and… I seriously can’t watch it enough times. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. I’ll wait.

Favorite comedy film:
There’s nothing quite like re-watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every December. My brother and I will randomly text each other lines like, “And why is the carpet all wet, Todd?” starting around Thanksgiving.

Funniest misunderstanding you've had with someone:
My husband is a not-great speller who tends to blame autocorrect for a lot of things. When I was pregnant with our first child, he tried to text and tell me his coworkers were pitching in to buy us a BabyBjorn, but the message I received proudly announced that we were being gifted “Big Ron.” (A true autocorrect error? Who can say?) We fondly called the Bjorn “Big Ron” for the years we used it for both kids, and later when we got a bigger carrier for hiking trips, we named it “Giant Ron.”

Favorite joke:
I like old Mitch Hedberg one-liners best, but they don’t translate super well to being retold out of context. (“I don’t need a receipt for a donut. … We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this.”) On the other hand, the impatient cow knock knock joke (where you interrupt the return “Impatient cow who?” with a shouted “MOO!”) gets my kids every time.

Who is the funniest person you know personally? 
My good friend Erin, who lives in Chicago now, never fails to make me laugh until my eyes water. (That’s really the best feeling, isn’t it?) I think we just have a very similar sense of humor, paired with excellent recall for ridiculous things that happened to us many years ago when we were new to “adulting” and had standard weekly happy hours that cemented our friendship.

Thanks to Jessica for all the laughs and to St. Martin's Press for sharing her book 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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Giveaway ends March 27th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Go-to-Gay: Get with the times, Stoker!

When we told Go-to-Gay Keith Stewart that he had creative license with this month's theme (humor), he really went with it! That's all we really need to say about what we have to present today. Just don't eat or drink anything while reading this, as we don't want to be responsible for any choking incidents!

A Modern Rejection of a Classic Novel
Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula was published in 1897, thus beginning our love affair with literary, and eventually cinematic, vampires. It’s a good thing Bram’s book was the first of its kind published because his vision of undead bloodsuckers was much, much different from today’s modern demons.
 Bram Stoker
In fact, if Bram Stoker tried to submit the original Dracula manuscript for publication today, I fear the following would be his editor’s response:

March 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Stoker,

Thank you for submitting your work to my office. When I saw the subject, I couldn’t wait to dig into your novel as there is nothing I enjoy more than a good vampire story. Plus, they tend to lend themselves to so many great marketing tie-ins and additional media deals.

As I began your narrative, however, I was struck by the darkness and gloom oozing from each page. I suppose you were trying to do something different with your tale, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work. Your Dracula is far too serious and depressing to be a credible leading vampire. Perhaps with some additional research, you would have realized all vampires are very wealthy, live in elaborately decorated homes, and have no problem finding first class transportation. However, your vampire makes do in a dilapidated castle and travels by sneaking aboard a run-down Russian freight boat.

edward glitter
Never forget the glitter-skin. Ever.

Even more horrifying is you have him sleep in the dirt. The dirt! The constant layer of dirt and grime that must coat his skin due to this unsanitary sleeping habit prevents Dracula from sparkling in the sunlight. You are missing a wonderful opportunity by not having at least one sunburst available to this poor man while his pores are dirt-free. Let him show his softer, more dazzling side! Sun-induced-glitter-skin is one of the most sought features of any vampire and is a can’t-miss element of character development in this genre.

dracula novel 1
(Poor ‘ol Stoker’s Ugly Vamp)
I was particularly disappointed you took the liberty of making Dracula such a hideously ugly character. Everyone knows, at least I thought everyone knew, all vampires are beautiful. There is no such thing as a homely vamp, and I just don’t see Dracula with his pointed ears and beady-fire eyes as remotely believable. Also, you’ve made him an older gentleman. I’m guessing he was in at least his late 50’s or early 60’s when he was turned, which again, goes against the vampire code. Vampires are made at the height of their attractiveness and sexual prowess, and trust me when I say to you, Mr. Stoker, a man that age is at neither. Perhaps this lack of virility is why it takes so long for Dracula to turn his victims into vampires. He must bite them repeatedly in order to get any sort of supernatural action, whereas leading vampires who are much younger and potent are able to turn a victim immediately, and often have multiple victims in one night.

lestat and louis
What real vampires look like.
Because of these fatal roadblocks with the main character, I am afraid we cannot extend an offer to work with you at this time. If you are willing to rework your piece—freshen up Dracula, turn him into a sexier, eastern European bad boy (I’m thinking a cross between Colin Ferrell and Liam Neeson)—I would gladly take a second look. Another suggestion is completely changing the location of the story.

Transylvania, and Europe in general, is very 1990’s for this genre. I would suggest setting the story in the American South. In fact, there is a Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. A fraternity vampire named “Drac” (now I’m thinking of a cross between Colin Ferrell and Zac Efron) attending Transy is a much better choice than an ugly, old man with bad ears who lives in a castle.

Oh, and you also may want to consider adding the additional element of either a fairy or a werewolf. Readers today love fairies and werewolves.


Ima Trubie

Keith Stewart is the author of Bernadette Peters Hates Me – True Tales of a Delusional Man. A native of Appalachia, he splits his time between his hometown of Hyden and nearby Lexington, Kentucky. His blog is You can find him on Twitter at @Shiglyogly and Facebook at @AMSCOT (A Strong Man’s Cup of Tea). He is a regular contributor to and the He lives with his husband, Andy, and their two dogs, Duke and Dudley.

Book Review: Snow Falling

It’s been a lifetime (and three seasons) in the making, but Jane Gloriana Villanueva is finally ready to make her much-anticipated literary debut!

Jane the Virgin, the Golden Globe, AFI, and Peabody Award–winning The CW dramedy, has followed Jane’s telenovela-esque life—from her accidental artificial insemination and virgin birth to the infant kidnapping and murderous games of the villainous Sin Rostro to an enthralling who-will-she-choose love triangle. With these tumultuous events as inspiration, Jane’s breathtaking first novel adapts her story for a truly epic romance that captures the hope and the heartbreak that have made the television drama so beloved.

Snow Falling is a sweeping historical romance set in 1902 Miami—a time of railroad tycoons, hotel booms, and exciting expansion for the Magic City. Working at the lavish Regal Sol hotel and newly engaged to Pinkerton Detective Martin Cadden, Josephine Galena Valencia has big dreams for her future. Then, a figure from her past reemerges to change her life forever: the hotel’s dapper owner, railroad tycoon Rake Solvino.

The captivating robber baron sets her heart aflame once more, leading to a champagne-fueled night together. But when their indiscretion results in an unexpected complication, Josephine struggles to decide whether her heart truly belongs with heroic Martin or dashing Rake.

Meanwhile, in an effort to capture an elusive crime lord terrorizing the city, Detective Cadden scours the back alleys of the Magic City, tracking the nefarious villain to the Regal Sol and discovering a surprising connection to the Solvino family.

However, just when it looks like Josephine’s true heart’s desire is clear, danger strikes. Will her dreams for the future dissolve like so much falling snow or might Josephine finally get the happy ever after she’s been dreaming of for so long?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Sara Steven:

It took a little while for me to get into seeing Jane the Virgin, initially, and it was only after Melissa had suggested I watch it that I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! It’s still one of my favorite shows, and if you’re a Jane fan, too, you’ll want to read Snow Falling. It’s a definite read for fans! Following much of the story line found in the TV series, the book characters were a near-identical match to their small screen counterparts. Although a big difference would be the way that Jane finds herself in the adverse situation that is pretty much the premise of the whole show. In the book, it’s much steamier, and much more realistic to the time period. I appreciated that. The subtle nuances that let me know where I was, and most importantly, when it was. It reminded me of the historical romance novels I used to read when I was a kid.

While I was a little thrown off by the narrator, who works well on the show but I felt didn’t translate as well on paper, I loved the scenery, I loved having the chance to re-experience what made me fall in love with Jane to begin with. She’s quirky and fun, and it stands to reason that the heroine in Snow Falling, Josephine, is quirky and fun, too, but in a way that identifies and works well with the early 1900’s. And as always, we’re still thrust into one of the best love triangles in history, no matter what century, only in this version, it’s Team Rake and Team Martin.

Melissa Amster:

I had a feeling Jane would use situations from her life for her first novel, but I didn't know how much Snow Falling would mirror season one (and part of season two) of the TV series. I'm sorry to have to contradict Sara, but if you are a fan of Jane the Virgin, this book is basically the show with a few changes and a different time period. I didn't even feel like the time period made a difference, as I could only picture everything happening in the present and the hotel was basically The Marbella for me. I didn't even need to cast this novel since each character was based on a character from the show with a similar name.

What did work was the writing. It was engaging and funny. I found it to be an easy read, and since there were some changes, I was even surprised a few times. The scenes between Josephine and Rake were steamy and exciting. (#TeamRake). While Sara felt the narrator didn't work, I thought it added humor to the story. However, he should not have said "straight out of a telenovela" to stay true to the time period. I don't think telenovelas existed in 1902.

If you have not seen Jane the Virgin yet, this is a good way to get into the series quickly. However, some of the changes might be confusing if you start the show in the third season. In any case, it was a light and entertaining read that I might have appreciated a bit more had I not already watched the show. I understand why Jane wanted to write this story, but if she ever writes another novel, I'm hoping it would be something new that has nothing to do with anyone else on the show.

Thanks to Adams Media for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

K.J. Farnham is a a book giveaway

We're pleased to have K.J. Farnham visiting with us today. When Melissa A received her interview answers, she wrote to her immediately to tell her all the things they have in common. K.J. has a lot to laugh about during humor month, as well as her latest novel, A Case of Serendipity (which published today), to share with a lucky reader!

K. J. Farnham writes contemporary fiction for women and young adults. Her works include the Click Date Repeat series and Don’t Call Me Kit Kat. A former educator who grew up in the Milwaukee area, she now resides in western Wisconsin with her husband and three children. Visit K.J. at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Ruth Bateman is at her wit’s end. If Bucky’s Beans doesn’t stop spamming her phone with discount codes for frou-frou java concoctions, she’s going to flip. After multiple failed attempts to unsubscribe, Ruth takes to the company’s Facebook page to vent her frustration over the never-ending texts.

When attorney, Henry Mancuso, stumbles upon Ruth’s complaint, he has no idea that a simple Facebook scroll is going to change his life. Now, he has to get Ruth to agree to a class action lawsuit when she’s just looking for some peace on her mobile device—not a drawn-out case against a coffeehouse giant.

As Ruth and Henry battle the legal waters, a friendship full of fun and spontaneity blooms. But could something more be brewing between these two and this coffeehouse case?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Most recent thing you laughed about:
​I have three children: ages 13, 10 & 5. At least one of them makes me laugh every single day. They recently watched a popular movie together and have been quoting lines from it ever since. Today I was rolling with laughter when the youngest was practicing the "Bend and Snap" maneuver. Can you name the movie?​

Favorite funny meme:

Favorite sitcom:
​Pre-kids: Sex and the City
Post-kids: The Goldbergs

Favorite comedian:
​Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres always make me laugh, and I miss Robin Williams. I'm also a bit embarrassed to admit that I have a hard time looking away when my kids watch Miranda Sings on YouTube.

Funniest song you've heard:
This is a tough one for me because I usually listen to broody coffeehouse music. But one song that recently made me laugh is the Miranda Sings rendition of "Call Me Maybe."

Which classic Saturday Night Live skit/character is your favorite?
​Sorry, but it's impossible for me to name just one.​ I grew up watching SNL!

Top Five off the top of my head:
​Toonces ​the Driving Cat
Mary Katherine Gallagher
Debbie Downer
Tom Hanks as Mr. Short-term Memory
The Spartan Cheerleaders (Will Ferrell!)

I also LOVED Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.

Thanks to K.J. for visiting with us and sharing her book 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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Giveaway ends March 26th at midnight EST.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review and Giveaway: The Recipe Box

By Melissa Amster

Growing up in northern Michigan, Samantha “Sam” Mullins felt trapped on her family’s orchard and pie shop, so she left with dreams of making her own mark in the world. But life as an overworked, undervalued sous chef at a reality star’s New York bakery is not what Sam dreamed.

When the chef embarrasses Sam, she quits and returns home. Unemployed, single, and defeated, she spends a summer working on her family’s orchard cooking and baking alongside the women in her life―including her mother, Deana, and grandmother, Willo. One beloved, flour-flecked, ink-smeared recipe at a time, Sam begins to learn about and understand the women in her life, her family’s history, and her passion for food through their treasured recipe box.

As Sam discovers what matters most she opens her heart to a man she left behind, but who now might be the key to her happiness.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

I have to be honest about something...when I read The Recipe Box back in January, I had a whole review in my head. Then life got in the way and I forgot to write it down. I knew I was going to post it here today, which is why I ended up procrastinating a bit on what to say. Having said that, this review will be much shorter than my reviews for The Hope Chest and The Charm Bracelet (the reviews are linked to the titles here). The good news is that I tried out a couple of the recipes and will be sharing my experiences here (and photos), as well!

Like its predecessors, The Recipe Box was a charming and enjoyable story. And also like those books, instead of charms or treasures telling the story, it was recipes this time around. I love how each recipe was tied to the characters' experiences and memories. In her other novels, Viola gave a preview of how she writes a good baking scene, so I knew I was in for a treat this time around. I could practically smell the food as it was baking. It was also easy to visualize not only the food, but also the characters and settings. The Mullins orchard gave off a cozy feel that enhanced the story even more. It made me think of when I would go to a quaint shopping village near my home where they had an apple store that made fresh cider donuts. Reading about the "misfits" (donuts that were not sell-able) took me back to the taste of those donuts from my childhood.

Since I read the previous two novels as audio books, I had Andi Arndt's voice in my head while I was reading this one in print. I couldn't wait for audio this time around (to get a review done by publication time), but I also learned that there's a different narrator for this book anyway.

Sam was a likable character and I also enjoyed reading about Willo a lot, as well. They had some meaningful moments together that made me think of how I bake with my kids and hope to pass a love for baking down to future generations.

I mentioned in my reviews of Viola's previous novels that the language gets to be too sappy. I felt the same way about this book, but I'm used to it by now and I still felt an emotional tug from the story anyway. I even got teary-eyed toward the end. I recommended it to a friend who needed something light and happy after two sad books.

Overall, The Recipe Box is a sweet and heartwarming story with delicious sounding recipes! I look forward to whatever Viola comes up with next, as I'm always up for a comfort read. (Side note: I guess this review ended up being longer than I was expecting!)

Dream cast:
Sam: Caitlin Thompson
Willo: Sharon Gless
Deana: Elisabeth Shue
Angelo: Carlos PenaVega

Recipes I tried:

Strawberry Shortcake: The dough was very sticky, so I had to add a lot of flour to get it just right. I also missed hearing the oven timer go off, so I may have left it in a few minutes longer, but it looked good coming out. I let the cakes stay covered overnight so I could have them the next evening with my family. The shortcakes came out a little harder than I was expecting, but they still tasted good with the strawberries and frosting. (I think the hardness was due to me adding extra flour to balance out the stickiness. I need to figure out a different way to work with it next time.) The cinnamon sugar enhanced the flavor, as well. This dessert was definitely a hit for my family.

Thumbprint cookies: Dough is extremely easy to make and work with. It can even be vegan if you substitute butter with margarine. I used strawberry jam and orange marmalade for the fillings (as that was all I had that I thought would taste good in these cookies). The frosting was a bit thick and I had to loosen it up a bit, but then it worked just fine, and it enhanced the flavor of the cookies. Everyone in my family enjoyed them.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy to give away! I also have a copy of The Hope Chest to share with a lucky 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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Giveaway ends March 25th at midnight EST.

Friday, March 16, 2018

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
See Her Run by Peggy Townsend from Thomas & Mercer
The Ever After by Sarah Pekkanen from Atria (e-book via NetGalley)
*The Lemonade Year by Amy Willoughby-Burle from Shadow Mountain
All the Little Lights by Jamie McGuire from Montlake Romance
The Forgotten Ones by Steena Holmes from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)

Girls' Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson from St. Martin's Press
*Unwifeable by Mandy Stadtmiller from Gallery
The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel from Thomas Nelson (e-book via NetGalley)
Messing with Matilda by Cat Lavoie from Karan & Co (e-book via NetGalley)
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin from Ballantine
Summer on the River by Marcia Willet from Thomas Dunne
Other People's Houses by Abbi Waxman from Berkley
Beach House Reunion by Mary Alice Monroe from Gallery

*Enter to win these books!

Flying at Night by Rebecca L. Brown from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)

The Big Job by/from Libby Kirsch (e-book)
Order Up by/from Barb Valentin (e-book)
Heaven Adjacent by Catherine Ryan Hyde from Little Bird Publicity(e-book via NetGalley)