Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: The Mother's Promise

By Melissa Amster

All their lives, Alice Stanhope and her daughter Zoe have been a family of two, living quietly in northern California. Zoe has always struggled with crippling social anxiety and her mother has been her constant and fierce protector. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works until it doesn t. Until Alice gets sick and needs to fight for her life.

Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers, but who are her only hope: Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets secrets about abandonment, abuse, estrangement, and the deepest longing for family. Imbued with heart and humor in even the darkest moments, The Mother s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, and the new ways in which families are forged. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I'm a fan of Sally Hepworth's writing and her third novel is equally compelling to her previous two. I normally shy away from books about women who are potentially dying, but I've made exceptions here and there. I knew that with Sally's name on the cover, the story would be sensitively written, but also would tug at the heartstrings. She did not disappoint in that regard. I even got teary-eyed a few times.

What I loved most about this book was Zoe's narrative. I tend to flock to the teenager's point of view in a novel, whenever that is available. Zoe was especially interesting to read about with her social anxiety and how she deals with some new situations in her life. She was the easiest to visualize and the one I wanted to give a big hug to when I was finished.

There was one aspect that reminded me of a book I read a few years ago, which made it a bit predictable. I won't say which book as to not spoil things, but if you also read that book before reading this one, you will know exactly what I'm talking about. There were still other surprises in store, so having this parallel didn't bother me too much.

Overall, we have another winner from Sally Hepworth and I already can't wait for her next novel.

Dream cast:
Alice: Jennifer Morrison
Paul: Breckin Meyer
Zoe: Oona Laurence (I pictured her from the very beginning.)
Sonja: Robin Wright
Kate: Ginnifer Goodwin

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have TWO copies for some lucky 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 February 26th at midnight EST.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Licking Flames

By Sara Steven

This collection of stories, culled from Kirk’s adolescence as well as the early years of her marriage through the present day, is a must­ read for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in between the stereotypes of the virgin, the whore and the soccer mom. These laugh­-out-loud stories are equally funny, sarcastic, witty and sentimental and readers will feel like they are reading their best friend’s journal...or their own. Kirk is ballsy, brainy, brave and brilliant and readers will love her. (synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

So many of us strive to fit within the confines of what others deem as normalcy, and it can be downright unforgiving. It’s hard to be perfect all the time, to do the right thing, to gain acceptance. And yet we still try, often failing and feeling as though we don’t belong or don’t measure up.

Diana Kirk asks a very important, albeit subtle question in Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. Why does it matter? Why try to fit into some box when it’s a lot more fun and freeing to to just be yourself and live the life you want to really live?

Licking Flames is unfiltered and real. Divided into short stories that delve into the mind of Kirk, we get an idea of what it’s really like. What it’s really like to be married, have children. Have friends who aren’t perfect and do some really stupid things. There were moments where I felt a little judgmental of her choices, because they were choices I’d never make in my own life, but that’s the point. Whether you agree with her or not, Kirk is true to her experiences and who she is, regardless of what any of us think.

Where I identified with her the most was when she recounts her experiences as a teenager. I certainly never colored inside the lines during my teen angst years, behaving boldly and brashly. There are times I’ve wondered if I’d change things if given the opportunity to go back in time, yet ultimately, I wouldn’t. I was very brave back then, a strength I wish I could get back now, in my late thirties. You can tell how much confidence she has in her own skin. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to strive for. Normalcy is overrated.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Brea Brown's amazing undertaking...plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to have Brea Brown visiting us today to talk about The Family Plot, which was published last summer. Melissa A connected with her through Chick Lit Chat on Facebook and found they have a lot in common, including their day jobs as administrative assistants and being from the Midwest (although Brea still lives there).

Brea Brown is a humble Indie author who lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her three hilarious sons and her amazing husband. Her passions include writing, daydreaming, laughing, football, and not taking anything too seriously. When she’s not doing those things, she hangs out on Facebook and Twitter or blogs as “The Reluctant Blogger.” To learn more about Brea and her novels, visit her website.

Brea has THREE e-books of The Family Plot for some lucky readers to win.

Whitney Faelhaber is a strong, independent woman. Just ask her, and she’ll tell you. Over and over again. When her favorite aunt passes away and bequeaths to her what feels like an entire life in Small Town, USA, Whitney’s supposed strength and independence meet their biggest challenge, to date. Leaving her family, a boyfriend, and a budding career in academia, Whitney moves to Morris, Maine, to settle her aunt’s numerous affairs and take up running Velvet Printing, Aunt Vel’s pride and joy.

“Culture shock” doesn’t begin to describe Whitney’s intro to Morris. To make things even more uncomfortable, the townsfolk seem intent on matchmaking her with the local oddball, Eric Mulligan. But romance with anyone—much less a socially awkward mortician—is the last thing on Whitney’s agenda. Her goal is to learn everything about her aunt’s business as quickly as possible, so she can return to her “real” life in Boston and oversee things from afar.

As Whitney digs through her aunt’s finances, looking for spare change to fund the operational fixes that will allow her to escape back to Boston, she discovers some strange discrepancies with no obvious explanations. But Weirdo Mulligan seems to know more than he’s letting on. And when Whitney finally drags the truth from him, it changes her entire view of the aunt she thought she knew… and the course of her own life.

Why did you decide to write chick lit?
Chick lit has been my favorite genre to read since before I even realized it was a genre. My intro to it was Jane Green's Jemima J, followed closely by such classics as The Devil Wears Prada, Good in Bed, and In Her Shoes. My favorite chick list author of all time is Jennifer Weiner. Her books were the ultimate inspiration for me writing my own stories. I just wanted to make readers feel as good as I felt when I read one of her books.

Do you base any of your characters on yourself?
Every single one of my characters has a little bit of me in her... or him. Even Nate in my Nurse Nate trilogy. I'm a fairly introspective person, so I'm hyper-aware of my quirks. I try to give one of them to each of my fictional friends. It helps me to better get into their heads and write what I hope are realistic characters. And after all, misery loves company, right?

What was the inspiration behind The Family Plot?
I get most of my ideas while driving. I don't have a particularly long commute to and from my day job, but it's the only alone time I have all day. I tend to study the people in the cars around me at stoplights. Daily, I'm caught staring as I wonder, "What's their life like?" Most of my books, though, start with a main character's job, and that was definitely the case with THE FAMILY PLOT. I drove past a funeral home one day near my neighborhood and thought, "Wow. What inspires someone to be a mortician?" That led me to think about the stereotypical undertaker (creepy!) and what it would be like to meet someone who defied some of those preconceptions. Eric Mulligan in all of his awkward, misfit glory was born. I'd also been mulling over an idea for a story taking place in a small New England town. I could definitely picture Eric in that town, working at his family's funeral home. Now all I needed was the perfect fish-out-of-water female protagonist. Enter Whitney Faelhaber, reluctant heiress to her aunt's print shop on Main Street, U.S.A.

If The Family Plot were made into a movie, who would be in the lead roles?
Reese Witherspoon would definitely play Whitney, and I'd love for funnyman Rob Delaney to play Eric.

What is your longest friendship?
I'm still in touch on Facebook with friends from elementary school. That has been the best benefit to social media, hands down.

Which TV show, book, or movie reminds you most of your own life?
I'd love to be able to cite something cool like The Mindy Project or Sex and the City, but alas, it is as if the creators of the show, The Middle, have been camped outside our windows, changing tiny details here and there to protect the innocent. I have three sons, and my organizational style is best described as, "Stores quilts in the oven." I'm basically Frankie Heck... on a good day.

Thanks to Brea 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 February 21st at midnight EST.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Where's the popcorn?

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I recently saw a post about movies that came out 30 years ago and got all nostalgic. I can't believe Dirty Dancing, The Princess Bride, Adventures in Babysitting, Overboard, and Spaceballs are all included!

Our Chick Lit Cheerleader is here today to make us feel even more nostalgic about movies.

Movies That Shape Us

When I was eight years old, I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John. The hot pants and stilettos she wore in the hit musical Grease might’ve been a little much for me to wear as a second grader, yet I have the blonde hair going for me, which is nice. In the mid 1970’s, that was enough to win the coveted role of Sandy Olsson when playing Rydell High with the girls in my Naperville neighborhood. Some didn’t think that automatically made me Danny Zuko’s girlfriend (point taken), but that’s when I pulled the “I’m older than you so I’m making the rules” clause.  

Movies shape us—the ones we love and ones we loathe. The flicks we quote on cue. The ones we immediately freeze the T.V. on when flipping channels. The ones we wouldn’t watch again if you paid us—cough—Last Action Hero—cough. Since we’re amid awards season, let’s keep the red carpet rolling with the Films Jen Loves from Her First Twenty Years of Life category. Wouldn’t it make a stellar Jeopardy category? Probably more fitting of an SNL sketch. Probably.

  • The Natural (1984)- I grew up watching my dad play baseball in a league with his engineering cohorts. A rabid Detroit Tigers fan, my mom made sure I knew coach Sparky Anderson chewed sunflower seeds, not tobacco. And then there’s the movie’s lead, Robert Redford—swoon! He plays an extremely talented player who comes to the game at an age when most are hanging up their cleats. It’s not just about baseball; you’ll find love, mystery, and some dastardly devils as well.  
  • Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)- This doesn’t require an explanation, right? It’s chocolate and Gene Wilder magic when a down-on-his-luck yet ever hopeful boy wins the equivalent of the 1971 HGTV dream home and an Undercover Boss career of a lifetime!
  • The Accidental Tourist (1988)- Kooky Muriel Pritchett (Gina Davis) woos a travel guide writer (William Hurt) who’s mourning the loss of his son while his marriage unravels. The frailty and strength of these characters has stuck with me for almost 30 years, as well as, “Muriel. Muriel Pritchett. Remember, Muriel Pritchett.”
  • Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope (1977)- A princess, a Wookiee, a suave yet cocky pilot, and a Jedi-in-training walk into a battle station… Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? I had never seen anything like this sci-fi, cinematic masterpiece before it premiered in 1977. Let’s talk about badass princesses for a minute—Princess Leia was a rebel in the best way possible and her action figure became my favorite go-to toy, besting Barbie, for a long time. At my house, Leia commanded the Millennium Falcon, not Han Solo. Just saying.  
  • The Bad News Bears (1977)- Heh-heh. Beer chugging Coach Buttermaker and his merry band of little leaguers, who swear like sailors, team up to take us out to the ballgame. Don’t tell my parents, but I saw this movie with my cousins when it was released. Even though I’m 46-years-young, they’d be mortified.
  • Animal House (1978)- Speaking of movies that would make my mother gasp that I watched with my cousins, let’s add Animal House to the mix. Oh, the tale as old as time of a fraternity trying to escape double-secret probation. My husband has laid down the law with our son, a high school senior, that this movie is a college prerequisite. I’m so proud of his parenting choices…sometimes.    
  • Caddyshack (1980)- If you didn’t catch the earlier “Carl” reference about the time he shared space with the Dali Lama, then you just might need to watch Caddyshack. A coming of age, teen-angst comedy starring heavy hitters Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield, and the iconic Bill Murray—who have their own issues—show us the other side of country club living in the 1980’s. I never ate a Baby Ruth candy bar before seeing this film, and I still maintain that perfect record.  Ew!
  • Dumbo (1941) - I sobbed, and I sobbed, and I sobbed the first time I watched Dumbo as a little girl. I still do. Much like Dorothy had the power to leave Oz and return home to Kansas the entire time, Mrs. Jumbo’s baby-mine had the power to fly without Timothy Mouse’s feather. You know that one thing you feel like you can’t accomplish? If Dumbo can fly, you can fly, too!
  • St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)- “It’s not easy being me.” If you’ve ever heard me say this phrase, now you know its origin. Recent college graduates attempt to find their place in the world after graduation. In other words, adulting is hard. The ties that bind them are also the same bonds that drive wedges between these friends. And then there’s sweaty, pretty, and timeless Rob Lowe playing the saxophone. It’s a not a bad thing.
  • Herbie The Love Bug (1968)- The reason I’ve always wanted a Volkswagen Beetle. The good news is my friend, Nikki, just bought one and I plan on living vicariously through her. This slug bug had heart and soul, plenty of spunk, and seemed to always find a way to fight through the toughest of situations to cross the finish line. A nice transferable sentiment to real-life from reel life.
  • Back to The Future (1985)- Who’d a thunk you could make a time machine out of a DeLorean! Michael J. Fox takes the epic journey we’ve all been curious about. If we could travel back in time, what future occurrences might we disrupt in our lives or the lives of others? For better or for worse? “You are my density.”   

It’s difficult for me to keep the list abbreviated yet must for editorial reasons. I’m hoping you’ll chime in with some of your favorites! Mainstream or obscure, I want to hear all about those one-liners you know and love, and the flicks you feel defined a specific time in your life. Remember, what makes us all amazing is our diversity. It’s OK if you don’t have the same passion for Jaws, The Wizard of OZ, Weekend at Bernie’s, or Nightmare on Elm Street that I do. I hope you’ll mention some flicks I’ve forgotten about—my grey matter isn’t what it used to be.

You heard Jen! Please comment about your favorite films. We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Spotlight and Giveaway: This is How it Always Is

We're pleased to feature Laurie Frankel's latest novel, This Is How It Always Is. The subject matter is relevant in this day and age and Laurie writes from personal experience. 

Thanks to Flatiron Books, we have TWO copies to give away!

When it comes to being different and standing out, stories are the key to opening minds and winning hearts. Laurie Frankel’s novel THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS (Flatiron; January 24, 2017) does just that. Everyone from bestselling writer Maria Semple to beloved librarian Nancy Pearl to Man Booker Prize finalist Ruth Ozeki to Bustle to Publishers Weekly has already singled out Laurie’s novel as a breakout book, and they’re all falling for the little girl at the center of the story: Poppy.

When Rosie and Penn and their four sons welcome the newest member of their family, no one is surprised that it’s yet another baby boy. At least their large, loving, chaotic family knows what to expect. But Claude is not like his brothers. One day he puts on a dress and refuses to take it off. He wants to bring a purse to kindergarten. He wants hair long enough to sit on. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn try to take the news in stride. They alert teachers. They do their research. But for Poppy—as Claude now wants to be called—and her family, the journey is only just beginning. It takes them from Wisconsin to Seattle to Thailand, and somewhere along the way Rosie and Penn start to see that the fairy tale ending doesn’t always look the way it does in stories, that no family conforms perfectly to the cookie cutter model, and that in many ways, this is how it always is.

In the tradition of The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg and Little Miss Sunshine, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS reminds us all that family means protecting each other’s secrets, and standing united when those secrets find their way out.

Laurie has a very personal connection to this story. Check out her New York Times Modern Love column about her own daughter, who is transgender. Laurie has drawn on her own experiences as a parent to write a novel for anyone who has to toss out the best laid plans in the face of the unexpected, for anyone who finds change both terrifying and miraculous, and for anyone who delights in watching their loved ones grow and change.

Laurie Frankel is the author of two previous novels, The Atlas of Love and Goodbye for Now. She lives in Seattle with her daughter and husband.

Find Laurie online:

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 February 20th at midnight EST.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Review: Talking as Fast as I Can

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Melissa Amster:

You're about to hear perspectives on Lauren Graham's new tell-all from an avid Gilmore Girls watcher and a late-to-the-game binge-watcher who has only just finished season one. I happen to be the latter. The issue with that is most of this book is about Gilmore Girls and there are a lot of spoilers. I listened to the parts about the original series and will probably forget most of the spoilers by the time I get around to them anyway. Even hearing the spoilers for the season one finale did not ruin the fun of watching them come to life. However, I opted to skip out on the last chunk of chapters (or last 40 minutes on audio) as I have not seen the new episodes from Netflix. Perhaps I'll revisit this book when I finish.

I enjoyed listening to Lauren read her book aloud. She is really funny and has a certain nuance to the way she speaks. I'd hear her voice in my head at random times while I wasn't listening to the book. I enjoyed learning about her life and especially liked hearing about her camaraderie with the cast of Parenthood, which is a series I loved (and also happened to binge on). There are some funny moments that work better on audio than in a book, such as when she's singing a song the wrong way. However, she should not refer to photos in an audio book. If you get the book from Audible or Overdrive, you don't get the pleasure of seeing the pictures. You need to have the print version nearby as an accompaniment.

Overall, this was an easy listen during my rides to and from work or while doing mindless busywork at the office (which sometimes needs to be done).

As Lauren says..."But wait...there's more!"

Tracey Meyers:

As I attempt to write a review of the audio book version of Lauren Graham's memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (And Everything in Between),  my TV is on and Facebook is up and running on both my computer AND my phone. At one point I got up to make a cup of tea and had a cookie while I was for the water to boil. At this point you may be asking yourself why am I sharing this information with you. The Answer: I am sharing this information with you because as soon I sat down at my computer again I thought of something Lauren Graham said about the challenges she faced during the writing process. This advice caused me to turn my TV off and turn-off Facebook - on both my computer AND my phone so I could concentrate on my writing process.

The advice she gave about the writing process wasn't the only piece of wisdom I got from this "read," which is a bit surprising. I have to confess my desire to read and review this memoir was solely based on the the fact that I am a HUGE Gilmore Girls (GG) fan. Like many, my first introduction to Lauren Graham's acting was through this show. Admittedly I didn't follow the show from the very beginning, but once I started I was hooked. My association with Lauren as Lorelai Gilmore was so strong that it took some getting use to when I watched her in the 2007 movie Because I Said So and later in the TV series, Parenthood. As much as I enjoyed her as other characters, she was first and foremost Lorelai Gilmore. So as you might imagine seeing Lauren as an author is a bit hard for me. Thankfully, it didn't take me long to get past that challenge.

Now that I've gone on and on about how much LOVE Lauren Graham's acting, I will actually address what I thought of the audio book version her memoir. I had only one problem with this memoir and it's a problem that is easy to solve. Though I loved to hear Lauren narrate her book, it did bother me that I couldn't see the pictures she referred to throughout the book. Yes, it's my fault for not getting a physical or electronic copy so I'm not going to a huge deal of it. So consider this more a warning about purchasing the audio version of this book than a fault of the book itself. Aside from that one small issue, I flew through this recording. Listening to this book was like listening to an old friend tell you about their life. As I mentioned, Lauren is a great narrator which helps a lot as not all audio book narrators are created equal. However, the content of the book as good as well. I really enjoyed getting to learn more about her background and her life prior to GG. How Lauren got into acting, paid her dues and landed the role of a lifetime. If you haven't watched GG and/or the GG reboot, and plan to watch you may want to hold off on reading this book until after you've watched the show. Lauren talks a lot about the original show and the reboot so there is a lot of potential for spoilers. (Melissa, it was wrong of me to question you on how much of the book contained potential spoilers. I am sorry for doing so.)

Though my inner GG groupie loved all the talk about the show, I also enjoyed learning about Lauren's insecurities and life lessons she's acquired throughout her years. The one life lesson that stuck out and really struck a cord with me had to do with having patience for things we want - like an amazing job, love, etc. - to arrive in our life. I know this frustration all too well and when Lauren mentioned that the "train" will arrive when it's meant to arrive isn't a new lesson; however, it's a lesson I forget - periodically - and hearing a warm, sincere voice utter the reminder made my heart feel a little warmer on what was a cold January day.

I guess what I'm trying to say in all my rambling is that I thoroughly enjoyed Lauren Graham's memoir not only because it was written by Lauren Graham, which is a big plus in its favor, but due to the fact that it is a fun read that helped me escape my world for a few hours. It also gave me better insight into the humbleness of this star and how in many ways she is just like you and me.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop by Isabella Louise Anderson from Book Buddy Author Services (e-book)
Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson from St. Martin's Press (paperback)
The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert from Gallery
Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen from Berkley
Love the Wine You're With by Kim Gruenenfelder from St. Martin's Press
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson from William Morrow
Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher from St. Martin's Press
Eggshells by Caitriona Lally from Melville House (e-book via Edelweiss)
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks from St. Martin's Press

Melissa A and Sara:
Super 40 by/from Lucy Woodhull (e-book)

Beautiful Bodies by Kimberly Rae Miller from Little A

The Housekeeper by Suellen Dainty from BookSparks (e-book via NetGalley)
The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White from Berkley  (e-book via NetGalley)