Friday, August 26, 2016

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner from Atria (e-book via NetGalley)

The Secret Ingredients of Wishes by
Susan Bishop Crispell from Thomas Dunne

Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave by Jill Kargman from Ballantine
Amy:

Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell from Berkley

Who's that Girl? by Mhairi McFarlaine from HarperCollins

Becky:

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan from HarperCollins



Sara:

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson from Viking (e-book via NetGalley)


Jami:

The Real Liddy James by Ann-Marie Casey from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)

Book Review: My Everything

By Becky Gulc

‘On the day Hannah is finally going to tell her husband she's leaving him, he has a stroke . . . and life changes in an instant.

Tom's only 32. Now he can't walk or cut up his own food, let alone use his phone or take her in his arms. And Hannah's trapped. She knows she has to care for her husband, the very same man she was ready to walk away from.

But with the time and fresh perspective he's been given, Tom re-evaluates his life, and becomes determined to save his marriage. Can he once again become the man his wife fell in love with, or has he left it too late?’
(Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton.)

I was intrigued by the concept of My Everything. Hannah has made the difficult decision to leave her husband and go and follow her dream of teaching in Tanzania. Yet just as she’s about to do so, Tom has a stroke. Hannah’s secret plans are then shelved and she feels more trapped than she perhaps ever has felt before. Can a truly horrific event and feeling compelled to stay with someone when you wanted to leave ever lead to anything other than resentment? I was interested to follow their stories and see.

The narrative of the story worked really well, switching between the present and key moments in the pair’s relationship from the past. I particularly enjoyed the chapters giving us insight into their past, lots of lovely moments and memories of their relationship building. Their relationships with key family members are also explored, with some difficult events covered.

What I would say is that I found it was certainly a book that grew in strength for me as it progressed, I only really warmed to the characters when, as a reader, I understood more about the history, about why Hannah was unhappy, as well as learnt of Tom’s perspective in it all. It took me a while to get into the book because I didn’t feel any warmth towards Hannah to begin with, as we were slowly introduced to their back-story, but looking back I appreciated this build-up. As a reader I didn’t feel Hannah fall in love with Tom even in the beginning, but I did feel Tom fall for Hannah, so I guess he had my loyalties until later on in the novel when I came to feel equally fond of both characters.

I enjoyed seeing the characters evolve, and their relationship evolve throughout the novel. The stroke itself and its impact was covered extremely well without being a depressing novel or overly medical in the descriptions. It’s very moving at times and a thought-provoking read. Overall I’d say this a great debut novel from Katie.

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Katie Marsh:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

We're fans of Liberty Kontranowski...plus a special giveaway

Today Liberty Kontranowski is here to talk about her debut novel, All Access, which is the first in her Fangirl series. To celebrate, she's giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to a lucky reader!

Liberty Kontranowski is a romantic women’s fiction author who adores all things lovey-dovey with a pinch (or more) of hubba-hubba. When she’s not at the keyboard, she’s taxiing around her three boys, knocking back craft beers with the hubs, blogging, fangirling, and dreaming up more fake people. She also spends an inordinate amount of time drinking coffee and dreaming of the day she can bid adieu to far-too-wintry Michigan and move to a place where she can write with her toes in the sand.

Liberty loves to hear from her readers (and otherwise cool people) so give her a yell. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and through her blog.


Synopsis:
Every fangirl has a fantasy . . . what happens when that “if only” dream comes true?

Though she’s a single mom wedged firmly into thirty-something territory, author Kallie Reagan’s devotion to rock star Niles Russell knows no bounds. To pay homage to her muse, Kallie writes a smokin’ hot novel featuring a hero who looks and acts an awful lot like Niles — and a heroine who may or may not have a smattering of herself thrown in for fun.


When Niles learns about the book and surprise-texts Kallie, the two deliciously complicated creatives become fast friends . . . and so much more. But trying to define a relationship that’s laced with closeted skeletons, half-truths, and constant question marks proves harder than making it big. If they’re going to progress from Fangirl Infatuation to The Real Deal, these two need to give each other All Access to the most important place of all: their hearts.


How do you define the genre, "Chick Lit"?
The Chick Lit genre has become quite fluid over its lifetime, which is both exciting and encouraging. So I think there’s lots of wiggle room as far as definitions go. That said, I’d classify Chick Lit as any story that women (and men, if they want!) can learn from, escape with, or fall into. These stories might include serious subject matter, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. And the best part? They almost always guarantee you’ll have a really great time!

What is it about writing that brings you the most satisfaction?
The act of writing is my therapy. It helps me make sense of the world through a creative person’s eyes. (Which is, in my opinion, a much different approach to life than that of a non-creative.) Writing keeps my imagination busy and allows me to funnel my creativity toward something productive. Plus, I can make those “big dreams” of mine come true . . . by flinging them into a fictional person’s life!

Bonus benefit? After publication, writing nets a whole new type of satisfaction: resonating with readers! By far, reader feedback has been the coolest part of being published. There’s nothing more incredible than hearing how your writing has affected (or inspired) someone else. I swear I’ll never get used to that. :)

Which authors have influenced your writing?
I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but no other authors have really influenced my writing. Don’t get me wrong — there are a ton of amazing Chick Lit, women’s fiction, and RomCom authors that I admire, but I’ve always kind of done my own thing. Every writer has his or her own voice, approach, style, nuances. That authenticity is what makes you stand out. So, I try to tune into my own “Higher Author Chick” and challenge/influence myself that way. The hope is, of course, that pushing myself will help me improve with each story, and ultimately connect with more and more readers.

After loved ones and friends, what three things could you not live without?
Sunshine (!), coffee (!!), and my computer (of course)!

One thing I’m too afraid to do is:
Drive on highways. I loathe this about myself, but somewhere along the line I developed a tremendous fear of driving on highways and now I simply can’t do it. (I can be a passenger, but I can’t actually drive.) When you read ALL ACCESS, you’ll notice that’s a trait I passed on to poor Kallie. Except she can do it . . . she just doesn’t like to!

If you could bottle up one thing from the summer to carry with you throughout the year, what would it be?
Warm temperatures! I am an island girl trapped in a Michigander’s life and, no lie, I am counting down the years until I can shove out and relocate to somewhere warm. Only 11 more years to go! ;-)

Thank you so much for having me! This was a ton of fun and I love being able to chat with the incredible CLC Community! If you read ALL ACCESS, thank you in advance. I hope you love the few hours of pure escapism!

Thanks to Liberty for visiting with us and sharing a gift card with our readers. Thanks to Chick Lit Plus for arranging the interview.


~Interview by Tracey Meyers


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 August 30th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review: Tailored for Trouble

By Sara Steven

Taylor Reed is trying hard to recover after being fired, all for speaking her mind and delivering the truth to a less-than-caring CEO. She knows she should have bit the bullet, but the man in question was well-known for his treatment of fellow female employees, often crossing the line with his harassment. She can see a silver lining to her situation, though. Maybe she can create an executive training program, something to assist those in high ranking positions to be better bosses to their employees. It’s sound in theory, but launching it off the ground is a cumbersome prospect, especially when her first client is none other than the less-than-caring CEO who fired her in the first place!

Bennett Wade has a reputation that precedes him. Women want to sidle up to him, and men want to be him. Unless you work for Bennett. Then, all bets are off. It’s about the dollar signs and how much he can acquire, so when he discovers Taylor was let go due to his own actions, it’s not about making amends, but figuring out a way to become part of her program, a great idea that she’ll have no way of launching off the ground without his influence. It always boils down to, “what’s in it for him”, but in this case, he’s getting way more than he could have ever bargained for.

Tailored For Trouble is a cleverly-written novel that takes us on a romantic roller coaster, the kind that leaves you breathless in anticipation. There’s much to discover for both characters, the inner workings of a couple who are nothing short of explosive! Will Taylor ever be able to find what really makes Bennett tick, and can Bennett let go of the safety net he’s built around his heart, to let Taylor in? It's hard to anticipate from one page to the next, how their story will turn out. I also found "Tailored" to be full of surprises of the, ahem, provocative sort, as well. What starts out innocently enough streamlines into a steamy experience that made me blush, but totally in a good way. Well worth the read!

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cathy Kelly has all her sisters with her...plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to feature Cathy Kelly today, who is here to talk about her latest novel, Between Sisters, which was published earlier this month. Thanks to Grand Central Publishing, we have TWO copies to give away.

Cathy Kelly is published around the world, with millions of copies of her books in print. A #1 bestseller in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, she is one of Ireland's best-loved storytellers. She lives with her husband, their young twin sons, and three dogs in County Wicklow, Ireland. Visit Cathy at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


Synopsis:
Meet the women of Delaney Gardens, a bustling suburban village in the outer reaches of Dublin. There's Cassie, who's spent her married life doing everything right for her children, husband, and mother-in-law, yet feels so exhausted that "wine o'clock" comes a littler earlier each afternoon. There's her sister Coco, who runs a vintage dress shop, but has avoided the complications of romantic commitment. Watching over them is their grandmother Pearl, who, despite caring deeply for her family, is contending with a long-buried secret. And then there's Elsa, the polished face of daytime TV, who's triumphed over demons before, but is now facing her toughest battle yet. At every crossroad these women face, readers are taken deeper into the heart of what it means to be a family.

Which authors have inspired you?
Too many to mention, almost. I read a bit the same as I breathe, like many of you. I read the cereal packet in desperation if nothing else is there. Among the thousands of writers I love are Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, Maya Angelou, and Colette. I will think of ten more as soon as I get up from this chair.

What is one piece of advice you could offer to aspiring novelists?
Trust in yourself and BE yourself. I have mentored a lot of writers and it's so easy to think your own voice is not good enough and try to channel someone else. Honestly, the authenticity of your own voice is what makes it work.

Describe your writing in three words.
Warm, wise, hopeful.

If you could cast Between Sisters as a movie, which actors would you choose for the lead roles?
I love Reese Witherspoon so can she be Coco, because she would be funny and convinced of her own hopelessness as her. For Cassie . . . that's tougher. I can see Jennifer Aniston being Cassie as she plays a harried woman so well, and Cassie, despite having all she ever wanted - a family - is harried because she's a working mom trying to hold it all together.

What is your theme song?
My theme song is definitely one my own sister, Lucy - in whose house in London I am currently staying - and I consider OUR song: Sister Sledge's "We Are Family."

What is the last restaurant you ate at and what did you eat there?
We have just come back from seeing the Georgia O'Keefe exhibition at London's Tate Modern - I am a huge fan of O'Keefe and adore her work - and we had coffee (short skinny cappuccino for me) and a nutty bar. I am a slave to the carb! They have a fancy restaurant too but this was sort of afternoon tea and a chance to rest our feet!

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 August 28th at midnight EST.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Monsters-A Love Story

By Jami Deise

The Cinderella story is as old as, well, Cinderella. (Some sources put the first Cinderella story as early as the first century, about a Greek slave girl who becomes an Egyptian queen.) Beyond the Disney tale of the mistreated stepdaughter whose fairy godmother helps her attract a prince, a Cinderella story encompasses any tale of an underdog who becomes a champion. The movie Working Girl is as much a Cinderella story for Melanie Griffith’s success in the boardroom as her winning the love of Harrison Ford. And of course, any time a small college goes far during basketball’s March Madness, it is dubbed “This season’s Cinderella story.”

The appeal of these stories isn’t just winning the prince, the championship, or the promotion. It’s that the Cinderella character is an appealing underdog. Would we root for Cinderella to win the heart of the prince if she’d been one of the evil stepsisters instead? Of course not.

And yet, that’s the tactic author Liz Kay – a poet making her fiction debut – uses in Monsters: A Love Story. Her protagonist, poet Stacey Lane, is a Cinderella twice over, in work and in love. Yet she’s a horrible person, both due to her personality and because some of Kay’s choices for the character’s situation. This is a very bold choice for a narrative that’s based on a trope almost always used for romance, romantic comedy, and inspirational stories. But it’s not like Kay doesn’t warn us – it’s right there in the title, and in the book’s promotional blurb. Will this negative take on a common structure work for readers of women’s fiction, to whom this book will undoubtedly be marketed? The jury is still out on that.

Stacey Lane’s husband Michael died eight months before the book starts, leaving her with two young sons in Omaha, Nebraska. Right away this is a set up for extreme sympathy from the reader, but Michael was such a careful planner, he left an estate so substantial that Stacey will never have to work a day in her life. And rather than being overwhelmed with single motherhood, Stacey’s sister Jenny literally moved down the street from her and is available at a moment’s notice to take her kids any time Stacey has a last-minute trip to LA. (As you’ll see, this happens a lot.) Rather than being grateful for these circumstances, Stacey takes them for granted.

Cinderella moment #1 happens when Stacey gets an email from a huge Hollywood producer that he’s interested in turning her poem/novella, “Monsters in the Afterlife” into a book. “Monsters” is a modern-day retelling of Frankenstein; in Lane’s version, the monster is a female built to the specifications of society’s demanding expectations for women. (This is not an original idea – see The Stepford Wives or even the Anthony Michael Hall 1980s masterpiece Weird Science.) Even though Stacey doesn’t have an agent (and strangely, not one calls her even after the news hits the trades), she manages to obtain a deal which not only garners her hundreds of thousands of dollars that she doesn’t need when she sells the rights, but producer/movie star Tommy DeMarco wants to keep her on the movie, even though he’s already hired a well-known screenwriter to turn her poem into a script. Again, rather than being grateful or awed or even momentarily stunned by this amazing turn her life has taken, Stacey immediately goes into full-fledged bitch mode, holding fast to her concept of the project and acting condescendingly toward Tommy. (In Kay’s defense, a lot of novelists who sell the screen rights to their books act this way. However, it would have been interesting to read a few pages from the fictional book to see if Stacey’s possessiveness is justified. All we have is Lane’s word that it is the most amazing, beautiful, forthright, inspiring, stunning poem/story ever written; Homer be damned.)

Naturally, in Cinderella moment #2, Tommy becomes completely enamored of Stacey, and she sleeps with him the first night they meet, relatively new widowhood notwithstanding. As the novel – and work on the movie – progresses, Tommy continues to pursue Stacey, although the reasons behind his attraction are never fully expounded. (Then again, the book is written solely from Stacey’s first-person point-of-view, so Kay is limited in this respect.) Tommy seems to be based on Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor/producer who has both blockbusters and serious work on his resume, and is just as well-known for his pursuit of pretty young women as his acting roles. Stacey has no trouble sleeping with him, but she’s careful to keep a wall around her emotions; after all, she is well aware of Tommy’s promiscuous reputation. This secrecy extends to Jenny as well as Tommy’s sullen 15-year-old daughter Sadie, a cutter/anorexic who for some unfathomable reason becomes strongly attached to Stacey from practically the moment they meet.

The book unfolds over a couple of years, as the movie goes from concept to script to shooting to premiere and afterward. And Stacey, rather than becoming more sympathetic, becomes even more insufferable. She appears to be developing a serious drinking problem. She’s dismissive to the point of cruelty to Michael’s mother, a woman who has lost her child and therefore should be cut some slack – especially as Stacey is a mother herself. She lies to Jenny and to the star of the movie, Sarah -- Kate Winslet to Tommy’s Leo -- who inexplicably wants to be Stacey’s best friend. She’s condescending toward the other parents on her son’s baseball team. And she strings along a nice man while she continues to answer Tommy’s booty calls, lying to him about the true nature of their relationship. As for Tommy, even though the book is titled Monsters, not Monster, he never appears any worse than one would expect from a Hollywood superstar.

I’ve written before about the preoccupation in fiction over the likable female protagonist, and this book seems like a giant middle finger from author Liz Kay to the publishing Powers that Be who insist that female characters be everyone’s best friend or little sister. For this alone, I applaud her. It’s an even bigger feat that she was able to attract a traditional publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, to this vision. (Strangely enough, though, their pre-release reviews are calling the book a comedy. I didn’t find a single sentence funny.) However, I have to admit, I need a reason to root for a protagonist. I don’t need to like her, but the fact that Stacey was never an underdog, that she’s a snob who rarely mourns her dead husband nor appreciates the amazing opportunity she’s been given, made me want to see her fall on her face rather than succeed. A reader should root for the protagonist to either achieve her goals or learn a lesson through trying; the antagonist is the one we want to fail.

Does this mean I wouldn’t recommend the book? Absolutely not. Women’s fiction fans should definitely take the time to read it and weigh in on the whole “likable protagonist” debate. Monsters: A Love Story, which combines a structurally perfect Cinderella story with a truly horrible Cinderella, is the perfect novel to jump start this debate. As for me, though, I’m starting to think that these “likeability” evangelists in publishing may have a point.

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Guest Book Review: Sweet Breath of Memory

By Caryn Strean

Years ago I read a novel called Friendship Bread by Darien Gee, about several women coming together in a small town where their new friendship helps heal them from their pasts and allows them to grow into stronger women. As I read Sweet Breath of Memory, I was reminded often of this book and its similarities.

Ariella Cohen’s novel tells the story of Cate Saunders, a newcomer to Amberley, Massachusetts, who needs a fresh start. Having just lost her husband to war in Iraq, she is eager to find a job and a home. Immediately upon arriving, she is welcomed by the town’s mayor, Sheila, who also runs the town’s Italian bakery. Sheila soon introduces Cate to her best friends, diner owner Gaby and mechanic MaryLou.

As Cate soon discovers, each woman in town has a background they’ve been keeping a secret, including the woman who used to live in Cate’s new apartment. Her diary entries keep appearing, leading Cate and her friends to some troubling discoveries about the past.

For me, reading stories of friendship amongst women can be as comforting as a cup of tea. My only struggle with this novel was how Cohen tried to balance many women’s backgrounds at once. Each character had a lot on their plate and had a significant backstory. I thought she took on too much at once instead of just focusing on one or even two characters.

These characters are thoroughly drawn out, with each woman having qualities Cate attaches to. Cohen manages to balance the atrocities of war with a heartwarming small town tale, where secrets shared lead to friendships Cate never could have expected.

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

Caryn Strean is a mom by day and reader by night. Asking her to name her favorite book is like asking her to choose a favorite child. Her friends call her The Book Whisperer. Caryn can be reached on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.