Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: What Comes Next and How to Like It

By Denise Keliuotis

A confession: I struggled in writing this review.

I struggled not because this book isn’t beautiful and honest and well-written – all of which it is. No, I struggled because of those reasons. How could I find the words to describe Abigail Thomas’ wonderful work? How could I talk about someone else’s remarkable life in just a handful of sentences? The task daunted me.

What Comes Next and How to Like It is a singular piece of art; as such, summing it up in a few hundred words borders on unfair. In a mere 219 pages, Thomas manages to capture the almost indescribable emotions she’s experienced over the decades as she’s faced life events that would have brought weaker women to their knees, literally. But not Thomas. Instead, she talks about these experiences – the death of her husband, the ups and downs of a life-long friendship, the complexities of her relationship with one of her children – with an honesty so raw and so real, I actually had to put the book down about two-thirds in and take a break. I needed a breath. I needed time to truly absorb this formidable woman’s life, to truly take in her words. I refused to rush.

Thomas’ book follows her down the road as she navigates life in the aftermath of some major events, tracing what her life looks like after she loses a spouse, after her relationship with a lifelong friend is rocked to its core, after she and one of her daughters almost lose each other – twice. Thomas writes about the jarring and the mundane: the meals, sleeping with her dogs, a phone call with a friend, the sometimes endless lonely hours. But there is nothing mundane about her writing, and her message is always clear: this is what life has dealt me and where it has taken me, and this is how I have learned and continue to learn to be okay with that.

Reading What Comes Next and How to Like It felt a bit like looking into Thomas’ windows – ironic, really, as her favorite hobby is to paint glass windows, most often creating blue skies on the smooth panes. And that’s ironic, too, because events in Thomas’ life are often much less than sunny. Perhaps that is why she creates her own light.

I hesitate to give away too much detail about Thomas’ story, because joining her on her path – complete with surprises big and small – is a huge part of the joy of reading this book. But I will share one passage that, to me, sums up Thomas’ book. It is from the essay Scraping, and Thomas writes: “The first time I scraped off most of a painting I turned it over and saw streaky white trees and a lot of Spanish moss. That wasn’t what I’d planned, it was better than what I’d planned.” Those words apply to Thomas’ life, maybe to all of our lives.

Thomas broke her book into small essays, each of which easily stands alone but which also fit beautifully together. Each essay holds a message, each essay is a piece of a theme. Together, they form a beautiful literary jigsaw puzzle. Hands down, my favorite essay is entitled, Too Much, which is a half-page long and which made me laugh aloud. Not surprising, because one of the ways Thomas has learned to be okay is to find the humor in a not-so-funny situation. (Often, that humor is dark, as in Too Much, which I greatly admire; so few authors truly master that art.)

If you are looking for a light beach read, What Comes Next and How to Like It is not that book. But if you are looking for a thoughtful, well-written, honest look into the life of a talented, loving, genuine woman, I could not recommend "What Comes Next" more. I’m adding Abigail Thomas to my list of authors with whom I wish I could eat lunch, and I’m adding her other books to my “to be read” pile. I highly recommend you do the same with "What Comes Next."

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

More by Abigail Thomas:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Elisabeth Egan's "Glamour"-ous a book giveaway

I can’t remember the last time I read Glamour magazine. This may seem like a truly random statement to be starting out the beginning of an introduction, but it really isn’t, since our guest author today is the Books Editor at Glamour.

In addition to Glamour, Elisabeth Egan’s essays and book reviews have appeared in other publications such as Self, O, People, Publishers Weekly, Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune…. just to name a few. Today, she is celebrating the release of her debut novel, A Window Opens. Elisabeth lives in New Jersey with her family. You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

So, without further ado, please give a warm Chick Lit Central welcome to Elisabeth Egan.

Thanks to BookSparks, we have one copy of A Window Opens for a lucky US reader. 

Check out a review by our Author Liaison, Cindy Roesel.

How did being the Books Editor at Glamour magazine impact your writing as an author? 
My job at Glamour made me aware of exactly how many books are published every year. On good days, this gave me hope that mine would be published, too. In low moments, I’d look at the stacks of galleys on my desk and the piles of envelopes waiting to be opened and I felt like I was staring down a long tunnel. Luckily, I’m surrounded by smart, fun colleagues who are the perfect antidote to lonely days of writing—when you’re in my office, it’s hard to feel discouraged for long.

Where does the inspiration for your writing come from? 
From my own life, mostly. Not always from my own experiences, but from conversations I’ve overheard, people I’ve observed at the grocery store, situations I’m curious about. For instance, I grew up near the Thomas Edison Museum and I’ve always loved his mad genius ways—so I had my main character’s mother work at the museum in A Window Opens. This gave me an excuse to learn a little more. For instance, did you know that Edison proposed to his first wife by Morse Code?

What are three things you always have with you when you write? 
My laptop, my red earbuds and (depending on the time of day) a cup of coffee, a can of seltzer or a glass of wine. I used to eat gummy bears but had to cut back.

If money were’t an issue and you had 48 hours to do whatever you wanted, what would you do? 
I’d plan a whirlwind family trip to the Grand Canyon with my family. The itinerary would include hiking, horseback riding, napping on a warm rock and reading. If my personality weren’t an issue, we’d camp under the stars; but in reality, we’d bunk in a luxurious lodge with delicious food and high-end bedding. The soundtrack would be James Taylor meets the Indigo Girls meets 10,000 Maniacs and nobody would make fun of me for listening to music from another century.

What are your three favorite memories from the summer of 2015? 
The time I took a moonlit stroll on the beach with my sister; the time I stayed at the pool until it closed; the time we finished shipping the September issue and I fell asleep on the front porch after dinner.

My all-time favorite meal is: 
Sushi with chocolate cake for dessert.

Thanks to Elisabeth for visiting with us and BookSparks for sharing her book with our readers as part of their 2015 Summer Reading Challenge (#SRC2015).

~Introduction and 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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US only. Giveaway ends September 1st at midnight EST.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Meet our new review associate!

Introduction by Melissa Amster

We've added on a new review associate. Denise Keliuotis (pronounced Kelly-Otis) has been a guest reviewer over the past year and I've really enjoyed her reviews. I'm excited to have her as part of the CLC team. She likes memoirs a lot, but I know she'll be reviewing fiction too. We'll be posting one of her reviews later this week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here is a review she did a few months ago.

Denise is a Chicago native who recently relocated to Middle Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, three daughters, and four cats. She practices a little law and is still editing that memoir and volunteering with hospice patients and wondering if the addition of the fourth cat now qualifies her for the title of “crazy cat lady.” Visit her at her blog.

Side note: If you're looking to talk about Bon Jovi, John Hughes films, or chocolate desserts, Denise is your go-to gal!

Name three of your favorite chick lit authors:
Beth Hoffman
Jen Lancaster
Mary Kay Andrews

Which chick lit novel would you like to see on the big screen?
Bitter is the New Black and Such a Pretty Fat, both by Jen Lancaster, would make great comedies. Her dialogue cannot be beat, and the situations she finds herself in are nothing less than hilariously brilliant.

Which chick lit novel has had an impact on you and stayed with you for a long time?
Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding. In my opinion, she created the chick lit genre, and she set the bar pretty high. I still recite lines from the book (and the movie).

What is something about you that would surprise most people?
I scored really well on the LSAT, the law school admission test. Like ridiculously well. And then people meet me and they are all, "You're an attorney? Really?" I'm much more logical than I appear.

What are some of your hobbies?
Reading, of course. I also love to bake (but not cook). I flea market and thrift. I also love home decorating. I do some crafting, mostly upcycling and repurposing stuff I find at the flea markets and thrift stores. I walk almost every day, too.

Where is your favorite place to vacation?
It's a toss up between Savannah, Georgia, and London, England. Two of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen.

Book Review: Broken Homes and Gardens

By Sara Steven

I have to admit, I initially wanted to read Broken Homes & Gardens because I grew up in Salem, Oregon, located about an hour from Portland, where the story primarily takes place. I found myself feeling quite homesick. Rebecca Kelley is so incredibly descriptive, I felt like I was sitting right there with her, during the drizzly rains and evergreen landscapes. It’s that descriptive quality that brought forth Joanna and Malcolm, two characters who you immediately become attached to. So much so, you don’t want to stop reading, wanting to know where their journey takes them.

After Joanna meets Malcolm at a party, there’s an instant connection between the two of them. She finds herself in a bit of a situation with him, only to say goodbye as he heads off to the Peace Corps for two years. Even though they decide to date separately, no one else can ever measure up to what Joanna and Malcolm have. Even after he returns, and she’s moved on, neither of them can ever move on from one another. It constantly feels as though there’s unfinished business between them.

Malcolm never wants to get serious over someone, and Joanna is afraid to get too close. She’s a product of divorced parents, and doesn’t want to ever go through that again. It’s a lot easier to date someone until it runs it’s course. Malcolm doesn’t want to get tied down, either. What do you do when you find yourself in love, even when you don’t want to be in love? Often, these two run away from it, and hide from their true feelings. It’s safer, but it creates a lot of problems. Not to mention heartache.

My only gripe with "Broken Homes" was the ending. After reading the very last sentence, I felt disgruntled. It was beautifully written, like the rest of the book, yet it left me wanting more. Where do they go from here? What's next? Hopefully, Rebecca Kelley has plans for Joanna and Malcolm, extending on their story. It’s an unconventional romance worth reading and falling in love with.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the book in exchange for an honest review. See which other blogs are participating in this tour.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Jules Moulin stays a book giveaway

We're happy to celebrate the publication of Jules Moulin's debut novel, Ally Hughes has Sex Sometimes. Even though it is her first novel, Jules is no stranger to writing as she has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and spent her twenties writing the Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning series Party of Five (a favorite of Becky and Melissa A's) and The West Wing. She left Hollywood five years ago in order to work as a full-time mom and splits her time between New York City and Pasadena, California.

Thanks to Dutton, we have TWO copies of Ally Hughes has Sex Sometimes for some lucky US readers!

Visit Jules on Facebook and Twitter.

What was it like to transition from writing for TV series to writing a novel?
Writing for TV is a much more collaborative process. Novel writing is much more solo, until the editing begins -- but even then, it was just the book’s editor and myself working together. We didn’t have other writers, producers, a director, the studio, network executives and the cast getting to add his and her two cents to our story. It was me and my publishers at Dutton, and that felt wonderful.

What was your inspiration for writing Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes?
Honestly, my main inspiration: bills. I wish I could say I had the overwhelming need to impart some kind of profound wisdom to the world, but no. It was really about the electricity bill, because I live in California where it’s hot all year and our AC is pretty much always cranking…

As a newly published author, what are you doing to celebrate?
Someone sent me a bottle of champagne when I sold the book -- that was almost a year ago, and it’s still sitting on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Honestly, I’ll probably just send gifts to my agents and the amazing people at Dutton who made the book really happen after I made it sort of happen.

If you could cast your novel for the big screen, who would play the lead roles?
Thank you! My favorite question ever! One of my best friends is a casting director, Mary Margaret Kunze. We should ask her. But here are my two cents: Tina Fey as Ally, Josh Hutcherson as Jake, Blake Lively as Lizzie. Or…Reese Witherspoon as Ally, Ian Somerhalder as Jake, Dakota Fanning as Lizzie. Or... Julia Roberts as Ally, Rupert Grint as Jake, Jennifer Lawrence as Lizzie.

What was the last book you read that you would recommend?
Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. It won the Pulitzer.

Which character from Party of Five was your favorite to write scenes for?
I liked writing scenes for Matthew Fox’s character, Charlie Salinger. Matthew is such an amazing and passionate actor. It was always a thrill to watch him bring a scene to life.

Thanks to Jules for a lovely interview and to Dutton for sharing her book with our readers.

~Interview by Melissa Amster

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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US only. Giveaway ends August 31st at midnight EST.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Legacy of Us

Liz Moretti thought she knew almost everything about her grandmother, Ella, from her love of The Golden Girls to the perfect pound cake recipe. But when Ella passes away and Liz finds a cameo locket with a marriage proposal engraved inside (from a man who was not her grandfather), she realizes that sometimes a person's secrets are discovered only after they're gone.

On top of losing Ella, Liz's career as a jewelry designer is stagnant and her love life lacks sparkle, too. When she reconnects with the one who got away, Liz thinks maybe things are finally starting to look up. But after a few drinks and a trip down a flight of stairs, Liz wakes up to realize the cameo is gone. Her ex offers to look for it, but so does Justin, the intriguing new guy in her apartment building.

While dealing with her feelings for two very different men and generally trying to reinvent her mess of a life, Liz finds answers and solace in Ella's diary. The story of the cameo, and the relationship between her grandmother and great-grandmother, an outspoken socialite from Italy, inspires Liz to grow up and accept responsibility for her missteps. Eventually she must choose between the life she thought she wanted and the promise of something better.

Kristin Contino grew up in a world of writing and reading, which evolved into a career as a freelance writer, editor and women’s fiction reviewer. Kristin enjoys spending time with her family and loves travel, photography and dreams of moving to her favorite city, London. The Legacy of Us is her debut novel. Visit Kristin at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thanks to BookSparks, we have one copy to share with a lucky US 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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

US only. Giveaway ends August 30th at midnight EST.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

Satisfaction by Andee Reilly from BookSparks

What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross from Gallery Books

Put a Ring On It by Beth Kendrick from Penguin

While You Were Gone by Kate Moretti from Sage's Blog Tours (e-book)

Come Away with Me by Karma Brown from Mira

Life with a Sprinkle of Glitter by
Louise Pentland from Gallery Books

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan from BookSparks (We'll be featuring this next week!)


All the Difference by Leah Ferguson from Penguin

What a Girl Wants by Lindsey Kelk from HarperCollins


Mamarazzi by/from Brooke Williams

Play for Me by Celine Keating from BookSparks (e-book)

Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer from Gallery Books


The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo from David Ratner PR and Consulting

Surface by Stacy Robinson from BookSparks

The Black Velvet Coat by Jill G. Hall from BookSparks (e-book)

A Proper Family Adventure by
Chrissie Manby from Hodder & Stoughton

The Beachside Guest House by
Vanessa Greene from Little, Brown

The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller from Penguin Random House