Friday, July 29, 2016

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
Along the Infinite Sea (paperback) by
Beatriz Williams from Putnam
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by
Bryn Greenwood from Macmillan
Where is Emma Butler's Life Plan? by/from Julia Wilmot, won from Neverland Blog Tours

Love, Alice by Barbara Davis from Penguin Random House

Melissa A and Gail:
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris from
St. Martin's Press

Housebroken by Laurie Notaro from
Random House

A Spoonful of Sugar by/from Amanda Orr
The Regulars by Georgia Clark from BookSparks
The Girl Who Slept with G-d by Val Brelinski from Viking

Book Review: What Happens at the Beach (plus a giveaway)

By Sara Steven

It’s finally time for Natalie Dryden to decide what she really wants! After ditching her sparkling engagement ring, and her ghastly fiancĂ©, she jets off for the sun-kissed shores of Southern France – the only place that has ever truly felt like home. For the first time ever, Natalie is determined to forget all about men and follow her dreams!

…head to the French coast!

Only, avoiding the male population isn’t quite so easy, especially when she meets smooth-talking Philippe and gorgeous fisherman, Remy! But then Natalie, quite literally, bumps into brooding millionaire Mark whilst swimming in the glittering azure-blue bay – and her life is turned upside-down.

Love might be off the cards for Natalie, yet suddenly she finds herself in her dream job and working with her dream man! But is it all too good to be true?
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

One of the things I appreciate most about T.A. Williams, are the exotic locations his novels are always set in. You want nothing more than to be where he’s describing, and he describes the scenery so well! While Natalie finds herself in a bit of a dilemma, she’s dealing with her own personal roller coaster ride while enjoying the beauty of Southern France. It definitely takes the edge off her failed engagement, as well as the unwanted advances she’s finding herself in where local men are concerned.

Only, there is one man she can’t seem to shake. Mark is someone she is instantly drawn to, and when he hires her to help him with a novel he’s writing, using her expertise in Medieval History, she’s near him as much as he’ll allow. For some reason, he’s standoffish with her, making it seem as though there is no interest there, whatsoever. A wall is built up between them, no matter how hard Natalie tries to penetrate it.

Natalie is trying desperately to stick with the plan, the goal for her life. To find a long-term career. The job Mark has offered her will only last so long, and afterwards, there’s no guarantee that she’ll remain in his life, especially if she’s offered jobs outside of France. And, if he’s involved with someone else, a real possibility, where would that leave Natalie?

One of the main characters is Natalie’s ninety year-old grandmother, someone who Natalie feels very close to, like a surrogate mother. I could really identify and relate with that relationship, considering my own experiences with my grandmother. She tries hard to steer Natalie in the right direction, at times the voice of reason. It’s like a touch of nostalgia and familiarity, making What Happens at the Beach a very sweet read, indeed.

Thanks to KEPR for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're giving away e-books of some previous novels in this series. Visit the other stops on T.A. Williams' blog tour.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reviews at Amazon--July 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, fall under our new featuring policy, 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!

Jami's review
Gail's review

Melissa A:





#SRC2016 July Books

We're featuring some more books from BookSparks' July 2016 Summer Reading Challenge. Be sure to add these to your shelves!

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

The next blockbuster thriller for fans of The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive — with film rights already snapped up by Reese Witherspoon.

In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut, everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town – or perhaps lives among them – drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

Visit Wendy Walker at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

The audacious new novel about family and ambition from "one of the best living mystery writers" (Grantland) and bestselling, award-winning author of The Fever, Megan Abbott.

How far will you go to achieve a dream? That's the question a celebrated coach poses to Katie and Eric Knox after he sees their daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful, compete. For the Knoxes there are no limits--until a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community and everything they have worked so hard for is suddenly at risk.

As rumors swirl among the other parents, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself irresistibly drawn to the crime itself. What she uncovers--about her daughter's fears, her own marriage, and herself--forces Katie to consider whether there's any price she isn't willing to pay to achieve Devon's dream.

From a writer with "exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl" (Janet Maslin), You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of parental sacrifice, furtive desire, and the staggering force of ambition.

Visit Megan Abbott at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Excerpt and Giveaway: Truly Madly Guilty

Truly Madly Guilty published yesterday, but has been building up hype well before then, thanks to Liane Moriarty's popularity from Big Little Lies. Melissa A is reading and already enjoying this brand new novel. Today we are sharing the first chapter and thanks to Flatiron Books, we have FIVE copies to give away!

Chapter One

“This is a story that begins with a barbecue,” said Clementine. The microphone amplified and smoothed her voice, making it more authoritative, as if it had been photoshopped. “An ordinary neighborhood barbecue in an ordinary backyard.”
Well, not exactly an ordinary backyard, thought Erika. She crossed her legs, tucked one foot behind her ankle, and sniffed. Nobody would call Vid’s backyard ordinary.
Erika sat in the middle of the back row of the audience in the event room that adjoined this smartly renovated local library in a suburb forty-five minutes out of the city, not thirty minutes, thank you very much, as suggested by the person at the cab company, who you would think would have some sort of expertise in the matter.
There were maybe twenty people in the audience, although there were foldout chairs available for twice that many. Most of the audience were elderly people, with lively, expectant faces. These were intelligent, informed senior citizens who had come along on this rainy (yet again, would it ever end?) morning to collect new and fascinating information at their local Community Matters Meeting. “I saw the most interesting woman speak today,” they wanted to tell their children and grandchildren.
Before she came, Erika had looked up the library’s website to see how it described Clementine’s talk. The blurb was short, and not very informative:

Hear Sydney mother and well-known cellist Clementine Hart share her story: “One Ordinary Day.”

Was Clementine really a “well-known” cellist? That seemed a stretch.
The five-dollar fee for today’s event included two guest speakers, a delicious homemade morning tea and the chance to win a lucky door prize. The speaker after Clementine was going to talk about Council’s controversial redevelopment plan for the local pool. Erika could hear the distant gentle clatter of cups and saucers being set up for the morning tea now. She held her flimsy raffle ticket for the lucky door prize safe on her lap. She couldn’t be bothered putting it in her bag and then having to find it when they drew the raffle. Blue, E 24. It didn’t have the look of a winning ticket.
The lady who sat directly in front of Erika had her gray, curly-haired head tipped to one side in a sympathetic, engaged manner, as if she were ready to agree with everything Clementine had to say. The tag on her shirt was sticking up. Size twelve. Target. Erika reached over and slid it back down.
The lady turned her head.
“Tag,” whispered Erika.
The lady smiled her thanks and Erika watched the back of her neck turn pale pink. The younger man sitting next to her, her son perhaps, who looked to be in his forties, had a bar code tattooed on the back of his tanned neck, as if he were a supermarket product. Was it meant to be funny? Ironic? Symbolic? Erika wanted to tell him that it was, in point of fact, idiotic.
“It was just an ordinary Sunday afternoon,” said Clementine.
Noticeable repetition of the word “ordinary.” Clementine must have decided that it was important she appear “relatable” to these ordinary people in the ordinary outer suburbs. Erika imagined Clementine sitting at her small dining room table, or maybe at Sam’s unrestored antique desk, in her shabby-chic sandstone terrace house with its “water glimpse,” writing her little community-minded speech while she chewed on the end of her pen and pulled all that lavish, dark hair of hers over one shoulder to caress in that sensual, slightly self-satisfied way she had, as if she were Rapunzel, thinking to herself: Ordinary.
Indeed, Clementine, how shall you make the ordinary people understand?
“It was early winter. A cold, gloomy day,” said Clementine.
What the…? Erika shifted in her chair. It had been a beautiful day. A “magnificent” day. That was the word Vid had used.
Or possibly “glorious.” A word like that, anyway.
“There was a real bite in the air,” said Clementine, and she actually shivered theatrically, and surely unnecessarily, when it was warm in the room, so much so that a man sitting a few rows in front of Erika appeared to have nodded off. He had his legs stretched out in front of him and his hands clasped comfortably across his stomach, his head tipped back as if he were napping on an invisible pillow. Perhaps he’d died.
Maybe the day of the barbecue had been cool, but it was definitely not gloomy.Erika knew that eyewitness accounts were notoriously unreliable because people thought they just pressed Rewind on the little recorder installed in their heads, when in fact they constructed their memories. They “developed their own narratives.” And so, when Clementine remembered the barbecue, she remembered a cold, gloomy day. But Clementine was wrong. Erika remembered (she remembered; she was absolutely not constructing) how on the morning of the barbecue, Vid had bent down to lean into her car window. “Isn’t it a magnificent day!” he said.
Erika knew for an absolute fact that was what he’d said.
Or it may have been “glorious.”
But it was a word with positive connotations. She could be sure of that.
(If only Erika had said, “Yes, Vid, it certainly is a magnificent/glorious day,” and put her foot back on the accelerator.)
“I remember I’d dressed my little girls extra warmly,” said Clementine.
Sam probably dressed the girls, thought Erika.
Clementine cleared her throat and gripped the sides of the lectern with both hands. The microphone was angled too high for her, so it seemed as though she were on tippy-toes trying to get her mouth close enough. Her neck was elongated, emphasizing the new skinniness of her face.
Erika considered the possibility of discreetly edging her way around the side of the room and zipping over to adjust the microphone. It would only take a second. She imagined Clementine shooting her a grateful smile. “Thank God you did that,” she would say afterwards, while they had coffee. “You really saved the day.”
Except that Clementine didn’t really want Erika there today. Erika hadn’t missed the horrified expression that flashed across her face when Erika had suggested she’d like to come along to hear her speak, although Clementine had quickly recovered herself and said it was fine, lovely, how nice, they could have coffee in the local food court afterwards.
“It was a last-minute invitation,” said Clementine. “The barbecue. We didn’t know our hosts that well. They were, well, they were friends of friends.” She looked down at the lectern as if she’d lost her place. She’d carried a little pile of handwritten palm-sized index cards with her when she walked up to the lectern. There was something heartbreaking about those cards, as if Clementine had remembered that little tip from their oratory lessons at school. She must have cut them up with scissors. Not her grandmother’s pearl-handled ones. They’d gone missing.
It was odd seeing Clementine “onstage,” so to speak, without her cello. She looked so conventional, in her blue jeans and “nice” floral top. Suburban mum outfit. Clementine’s legs were too short for jeans, and they looked even shorter with flat ballet shoes like she was wearing today. Well, it was just a fact. She had looked almost—even though it seemed so disloyal to use the word in relation to Clementine—frumpy, when she’d walked up to the lectern. When she performed, she put her hair up and wore heels and all black: long skirts made out of floaty material, wide enough so she could fit the cello between her knees. Seeing Clementine sit with her head bowed tenderly, passionately toward her cello, as if she were embracing it, one long tendril of hair falling just short of the strings, her arm bent at that strange, geometric angle, was always so sensual, so exotic, soother to Erika. Each time she saw Clementine perform, even after all these years, Erika inevitably experienced a sensation like loss, as though she yearned for something unattainable. She’d always assumed that sensation represented something more complicated and interesting than envy, because she had no interest in playing a musical instrument, but maybe it didn’t. Maybe it all came back to envy.
Watching Clementine give this halting, surely pointless little speech in this little room, with a view of the busy shopping center parking lot instead of the hushed, soaring-ceilinged concert halls where she normally performed, gave Erika the same shameful satisfaction she felt seeing a movie star in a trashy magazine without makeup: You’re not that special after all.
“So there were six adults there that day,” said Clementine. She cleared her throat, rocked back onto her heels and then rocked forward again. “Six adults and three children.”
And one yappy dog, thought Erika. Yap, yap, yap.
“As I said, we didn’t really know our hosts, but we were all having a nice time, we were enjoying ourselves.”
You were enjoying yourself, thought Erika. You were.
She remembered how Clementine’s clear, bell-like laughter rose and fell in tandem with Vid’s deep chuckle. She saw people’s faces slip in and out of murky shadows, their eyes like black pools, sudden flashes of teeth.
They’d taken far too long that afternoon to turn on the outdoor lights in that preposterous backyard.
“I remember at one point we were listening to music,” said Clementine. She looked down at the lectern in front of her, and then up again, as if she were seeing something on the horizon far in the distance. Her eyes were blank. She didn’t look like a suburban mum now. “‘After a Dream’ by the French composer Gabriel FaurĂ©.” Naturally she pronounced it the proper French way. “It’s a beautiful piece of music. It has this exquisite mournfulness to it.”
She stopped. Did she sense the slight shifting in seats, the discomfort in her audience? “Exquisite mournfulness” was not the right phrase for this audience: too excessive, too arty. Clementine, my love, we’re too ordinary for your highbrow references to French composers. Anyway, they also played “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses that night. Not quite so arty.
Wasn’t the playing of “November Rain” somehow related to Tiffany’s revelation? Or was that before? When exactly did Tiffany share her secret? Was that when the afternoon had turned to liquid and begun to slip and slide away?
“We had been drinking,” said Clementine. “But no one was drunk. Maybe a little tipsy.”
Her eyes met Erika’s, as though she’d been aware of exactly where she was sitting the whole time and had been avoiding looking at her, but had now made a deliberate decision to seek her out. Erika stared back and tried to smile, like a friend, Clementine’s closest friend, the godmother of her children, but her face felt paralyzed, as if she’d had a stroke.
“Anyway, it was very late in the afternoon and we were all about to have dessert, we were all laughing,” said Clementine. She dropped Erika’s gaze to look at someone else in the audience in the front row, and it felt dismissive, even cruel. “Over something. I don’t remember what.”
Erika felt light-headed, claustrophobic. The room had become unbearably stuffy.
The need to get out was suddenly overpowering. Here we go, she thought. Here we go again. Fight-or-flight response. Activation of her sympathetic nervous system. A shift in her brain chemicals. That’s what it was. Perfectly natural. Childhood trauma. She’d read all the literature. She knew exactly what was happening to her but the knowledge made no difference. Her body went right ahead and betrayed her. Her heart raced. Her hands trembled. She could smellher childhood, so thick and real in her nostrils: damp and mold and shame.
“Don’t fight the panic. Face it. Float through it,” her psychologist had told her.
Her psychologist was exceptional, worth every cent, but for God’s sake, as if you could float when there was no room, no space anywhere, above, below, when you couldn’t take a step without feeling the spongy give of rotting stuff beneath your feet.
She stood, pulling at her skirt, which had gotten stuck to the backs of her legs. The guy with the bar code glanced over his shoulder at her. The sympathetic concern in his eyes gave her a tiny shock; it was like seeing the disconcertingly intelligent eyes of an ape.
“Sorry,” whispered Erika. “I have to—” She pointed at her watch and shuffled sideways past him, trying not to brush the back of his head with her jacket.
As she reached the back of the room, Clementine said, “I remember there was a moment when my friend screamed my name. Really loud. I’ll never forget the sound.”
Erika stopped with her hand on the door, her back to the front of the room. Clementine must have leaned toward the microphone because her voice suddenly filled the room: “She shouted, Clementine!”
Clementine had always been an excellent mimic; as a musician she had an ear for the precise intonations in people’s voices. Erika could hear raw terror and shrill urgency in just that one word, “Clementine!”
Erika knew she was the friend who had shouted Clementine’s name that night but she had no memory of it. There was nothing but a pure white space where that memory should have been, and if she couldn’t remember a moment like that, well, that indicated a problem, an anomaly, a discrepancy, an extremely significant and concerning discrepancy. The wave of panic peaked and nearly swept her off her feet. She pushed down the handle of the door and staggered out into the relentless rain.

Liane Moriarty has sold over six million copies of her books worldwide and her novels have been translated into thirty-nine languages. She lives in Sydney with her husband, son and daughter. When she’s not writing she can be found reading, demanding coffee, clutching her forehead and occasionally falling to her knees on the soccer field sidelines (the grief, the joy, the drama!) demanding chocolate, skiing like she’s thirty years younger than she is, recovering from skiing injuries, doing the school run, walking around the block to avoid writer’s block, talking to old friends about getting old, listening to her children explain the wonders of MineCraft, watching TV series far too late into the night and reading, which has already been mentioned, but deserves a second mention. (Bio courtesy of Liane's website.)

Visit Liane on Facebook.

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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Ends August 1st at midnight EST.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Beth Kendrick is a book giveaway

Beth Kendrick's Black Dog Bay novels never fail to entertain and make us smile, so we're excited to read her latest, Once Upon a Wine. And who can resist the cute dog on the cover of this one?!? Thanks to Penguin Random House, we have a copy to give away!

Some fun facts about Beth, courtesy of her website: She's a Leo, a middle child, and a formidable Trivial Pursuit opponent. She reads everything she can get her hands on, from the classics to comic books. She doesn’t drink coffee (something she has in common with Melissa A, along with her favorite Girl Scout cookie...which you'll find out about soon). Beth lives in Arizona in a very cute fixer-upper that she bought in a burst of totally delusional, can-do confidence. And finally, she has two large dogs (possibly Rhodesian Ridgebacks) named Roxie and Friday. Visit Beth on Facebook and Twitter

Beth is here to celebrate her pub day and play Loaded Questions with us, so let the game begin!

Cammie Breyer needs a big glass of cabernet—her restaurant failed and her chef boyfriend left for a hotter kitchen. Just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, her Aunt Ginger calls with a surprise. She’s bought a vineyard—in Delaware. At Ginger’s command, Cammie returns to Black Dog Bay, the seaside town where she spent her childhood summers with her aunt and her cousin, Kat.

The three women reunite, determined to succeed. There’s only one little problem: None of them knows the first thing about wine making. And it turns out, owning a vineyard isn’t all wine and roses. It’s dirt, sweat, and desperation. Every day brings financial pitfalls, unruly tourists, romantic dilemmas, and second thoughts. But even as they struggle, they cultivate hidden talents and new passions. While the grapes ripen under the summer sun, Cammie discovers that love, like wine, is layered, complex, delicious, and worth waiting for…
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is your favorite Girl Scout cookie?
Thin Mints, always and forever.

What makes you comfortable?
Giant, ungainly dogs trying to sit on my lap and leaving fur all over my black pants. It’s what I’m used to!

What movie should have been a lot funnier?
In order to answer this question, I would actually have to go to a movie, which hasn’t happened in…um…wait, hang on…carry the three…a really, REALLY long time. (Deadlines, single parent, etc.) The obvious solution is for me to throw caution to the wind, go to a theater--preferably one of the swanky ones with leather recliners and cocktails--and report back next week.

If you could give anyone a big hug, who would it be?
My son, the light of my life. He’s at the age where he’s starting to resist hugging and holding my hand in public. *sob*

If you were to change your first name, what would you change it to?
I could see myself as a “Gwen.”

What is way too dangerous for you to even try?
Starting to watch a new TV series (like oh, say, “Bloodline”) when I’m on deadline. I’m not really known for my self-control, so the result would inevitably be binge-watching, a word count of zero, tears, desperation, and excessive Thin Mint consumption. Ask me how I know.

Thanks to Beth for visiting with us and Penguin Random House 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 July 31st at midnight EST.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath

By Jami Deise

What makes you turn the page?

As a reader, I’m mostly drawn to genre fiction. Loosely speaking, genre fiction is plot-based fiction that follows a certain set of parameters. Mysteries, thrillers and suspense keep readers turning pages as they wonder who did it and whether the protagonist and her friends and family will survive. Romance readers are looking for those magical moments that drive two people together, and the required happily-ever-after. Fans of women’s fiction, including chick lit, want to know how the heroine will cope with the new relationship circumstances and what epiphanies she will have.

And literary fiction? I have to be honest – I’m not a huge fan. I’m not into quiet stories, pages of description, long scenes where very little happens. I don’t believe writing should be admired for clever turns of phrase, complex sentence structure or unique metaphors. Tell me a story. Tell me a story that keeps me turning pages, wondering and guessing about what’s going to happen next.

Literary fiction usually reveals itself in an Amazon or back cover blurb, and other than certain book club selections, I’ve done a fair job of avoiding it. However, The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath, Kimberly Knutsen’s debut novel, slipped in under my radar. I thought I was requesting women’s fiction. But there’s very little plot in this nearly 400-page book.

Also, no Sylvia Plath. And her journals remain lost.

The journals in question are the conception of Wilson Lavender, women studies instructor and PhD candidate. He already has one perfect sentence, and he’s confident that these fictional lost journals, his planned dissertation, will shoot out of him like a missile. He is, after all, a genius.

Too bad his wife Katie – who already earned her PhD in psychology, although she’d prefer to spend her days eating chocolate, reading People magazine, and seducing her 15-years-younger neighbor – doesn’t think so. She sees Wilson as a morose recovering alcoholic who’d rather sleep than work, help around the house, or kill the mice who’ve infested the kitchen of their too-small condo.

This condo, already stuffed with the couple, their three kids, and their old dog, becomes suffocating when Katie’s pregnant sister January moves in. With all three children and the dog now sleeping with their parents, it’s not surprising that Wilson starts to see his co-worker Alice Cherry as more than just a colleague – especially when she asks for his help on her dissertation about life as a stripper.

Knutsen is an enormously talented writer, and this novel is a true achievement. But for a genre fan like myself, reading it was a chore. It is a completely character-driven book, written from the points of view of Katie, Wilson and January. There are pages and pages of characters staring up at the ceiling, having panic attacks, fighting insomnia, chasing lost dogs, and ruminating about past loves. Despite all the education between them, Wilson and Katie are both about as mature as the average 13-year-old. (January, a high school dropout, has that excuse for her attitude.) And Katie and January both have sexual violence in their past. The sections of the book that deal with what happened to them are so specific, that readers who are triggered by these events might not be able to handle reading them. I’m not sure whether I was supposed to connect Katie’s childhood abuse to her casual attitude toward adultery; January’s incident happened when she was (legally) an adult.

These are not likable characters. Yet, they are incredibly real and vivid. But I wouldn’t want any of them in my house. January would smoke pot in my bathroom, Katie would try to seduce my son, and Wilson would leave behind a mess. I feel awful for their kids.

The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath is a very well-written book. For fans of both women’s fiction and literary fiction – for readers who like uncomfortable characters – it might be perfect. But if you’re looking for a quick read with plenty of plot twists, you may want to keep looking.

Thanks to Northern Illinois University Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.