Thursday, July 2, 2015

Book Review: Cocktails at Le Carmen

By Becky Gulc

‘When job cuts at Chloe Saddler's London communications firm result in an unexpected transfer to Paris, she finds herself leaving behind her friends, family, and boyfriend Scott to start a new life in the City of Light. Getting to grips with La Vie Parisienne and keeping a long-distance relationship afloat is not made any easier by the culture shock. Committing the odd French faux pas and inadvertently indulging in a few too many flirtations with her very sexy (and very taken) boss, Jean-Luc, is just the start of it. Factor in her bridezilla of a sister's wedding (the hottest event of the year in the Saddler family's social calendar), an unexpected session of hot, naked yoga, a slightly psychotic stalker, and one incredible kiss at an infamous Montmartre nightspot, and Chloe can say au revoir to her old, safe London life and bonjour to the romance, splendour, and glamour of Paris’ (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Cocktails at Le Carmen is a book I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. I suppose the older I get the fewer books I seem to read where the lead characters are in their twenties like Chloe is, yet again there is a slight fear I will no longer find this relatable, but yet again I just found it completely refreshing, and yes it probably did transport me back to those early days I started to read ‘Chick Lit.’

Chloe is a great character. She’s a good friend, a loyal girlfriend, quirky and very pragmatic. When it’s a case of losing her job completely or going to work in Paris for a year she’s there, even if it does pull at her heart strings to leave behind her boyfriend; but they’re solid, and it’s only a year isn’t it? I just loved the setting in Paris, as Chloe learned to speak French. This isn’t a completely alien setting for her and I think that makes you as the reader a little more relaxed with the setting too, although there are some funny moments she seems to fit in pretty quickly to Parisian life.

I enjoyed the scenes in Paris more so than the scenes with Chloe’s family in the UK, particularly the ones surrounding her (not very likable) sister’s wedding preparations; sometimes these felt a bit shoehorned in for me, I wanted to get back to hearing about other things, like her nights out with Rosie and her flirtations with Jean-Luc. Some things towards the end of the novel seemed to just happen with little foundation, even if I liked this progression anyway. There is also a great character in the novel (the slightly psychotic stalker) where I thought there was more room for development, some scenes made me feel this was going to go further than it did and so I felt a little disappointed by some of her scenes towards the end of the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed Isabelle’s style of writing, it just flowed and had the funny moments and self-deprecating humour I enjoy. This was a great light read that pleasantly surprised me and I’d love to catch up with Chloe and her friends again.

Thanks to Simon and Fig for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: The Lives Between Us

By Jami Deise

Writing about politics is supposed to be the kiss of death for authors. Apparently readers just aren’t that interested and these books won’t sell. I don’t know who made up that rule and I don’t agree. Stories sell books, and politics shapes stories. In women’s fiction especially, politics is personal. When politicians want to have a say about the most basic decisions people make in their lives, it creates drama and conflict – the back bone of story telling.

Author Theresa Rizzo has followed up her “conception after death” novel, Just Destiny, with another gripping read mixing the personal and political. In Just Destiny, Jenny Harrison fights a court battle with an in-law for the right to inseminate herself with her dead husband’s sperm. The Lives Between Us (in which Jenny appears in a minor role) is also concerned with the products of conception. In this case, though, it’s the moral and religious question of whether embryos should be used for medical research and treatment – specifically, the embryotic stem cells that some scientists believe can help a broken body heal itself.

Reporter Skylar (Skye) Kendall has a nine-year-old niece, Niki, whom she adores. Niki is in the hospital with a failing heart, and Skye and her parents believe that stem cell treatment will cure the girl … if only they can find a match. But stem cell donations are not catalogued, and research on them is being stymied by politicians like Senator Edward Hastings, who is morally opposed to anything that might lead to the destruction of an embryo. Faith, Niki’s mother, almost died of pre-eclampsia when pregnant with Niki. She and her husband Peter tell Skye they have a plan to save their daughter. But six months later, Niki is dead of a heart attack. Faith is pregnant with twins, a pregnancy that could kill her, and Skye blames Senator Hastings for her family’s pain. She shows up at his televised press conference and attacks him for his stand against research: “Don’t you think it’s unfair to force your personal religious beliefs on the rest of us?”

Not only does Skye put her job in jeopardy, her appearance at the press conference piques the curiosity of Edward’s best friend, Mark Dutton, who just so happens to be in the stem cell business. Mark and Skye have a coincidental meeting, and he’s immediately drawn to her. They begin dating, and Mark is stuck with the dilemma of when to tell Skye that the man she hates is his best friend.

The Lives Between Us is a hugely ambitious project, and an appropriate follow up to Just Destiny. It’s clear that author Rizzo has done an enormous amount of research on the issues driving her story. And her characters are all very well-versed in the political and medical aspects as well. In fact, they were all too well-informed; she was missing the naïve character who could stand in for the reader and let the writer directly explain, for example, the benefits of cord blood or the differences between adult and embryotic stem cells. I’m interested in scientific research and try to stay current on these issues, but I’m a lay person and I did get lost several times.

More broadly, though, the biggest problem I had with "Lives" was its structure. (I also found structural issues with Just Destiny.) By killing Niki off so early, Rizzo denies herself the most obvious plot for the book – a race against time to convince (or blackmail) the one Senator who is keeping a dying girl from getting the experimental medical treatment she needs. And without a bill in the Senate, Skye doesn’t have a specific goal in dealing with Hastings – just a vendetta. It doesn’t give away too much to reveal that Skye learns of Mark and Edward’s friendship early on in the book, so that dilemma is resolved relatively quickly.

Rizzo extends her story by incorporating many other points of view in addition to Skye’s. As a result, Edward’s story dominates the book far more than Skye’s does. And Rizzo goes to Herculean lengths to justify Edward’s stance by revealing tragic back story after tragic back story. An ironic plot twist should force Edward to question his beliefs, but Rizzo avoids that by turning the last section of the book into a thriller and keeping decisions and actions out of Edward’s hands.

Even with its flaws, the book is a page-turner (or, in my case, a Kindle-tapper.). While the plot twists don’t organically follow from the story’s original concept, they are good twists and keep the story centered around the topic of stem cells, if not focused on the protagonist’s goal.

With her use of multiple protagonists, Rizzo creates characters who have strong reasons for their personal beliefs. In doing so, however, she avoids Edward having to search his soul to answer Skye’s question from the beginning of the book: “Don’t you think it’s unfair to force your personal religious beliefs on the rest of us?”

That’s the question at the heart of personal versus political. And it can’t be answered, because one side’s “personal religious beliefs” is the other side’s “truth.” I expect Rizzo will continue to explore these issues in her upcoming books, and I look forward to reading more of them.

Thanks to Theresa Rizzo for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has one e-book of The Lives Between Us for a lucky reader anywhere in the world!

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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Worldwide. Giveaway ends July 7th at midnight EST.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spotlight and Giveaway: A Week at the Lake

From the USA Today bestselling author of The House on Mermaid Point comes a powerful novel about secrets, loyalty, and the bonds of true friendship . . .

Twenty years ago, Emma Michaels, Mackenzie Hayes, and Serena Stockton bonded over their New York City dreams. Then, each summer, they solidified their friendship by spending one week at the lake together, solving their problems over bottles of wine and gallons of ice cream. They kept the tradition for years, until jealousy, lies, and life’s disappointments made them drift apart.

It’s been five years since Emma has seen her friends, an absence designed to keep them from discovering a long-ago betrayal. Now she’s in desperate need of their support. The time has come to reveal her secrets—and hopefully rekindle their connection.

But when a terrible accident keeps Emma from saying her piece, Serena and Mackenzie begin to learn about the past on their own. Now, to heal their friendship and their broken lives, the three women will have to return to the lake that once united them, and discover which relationships are worth holding on to.

Wendy Wax, a former broadcaster, is the USA Today bestselling author of ten novels, including While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, Ten Beach Road, and Ocean Beach. The mother of two college-age sons, she lives in the Atlanta suburbs with her husband, and is doing her best to adjust to the quiet of her recently emptied nest. Visit Wendy at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Penguin Random House has one copy of A Week at the Lake for 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.

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US only. Giveaway ends July 6th at midnight EST.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Worthy

By Sara Steven

Virginia finally had the chance to explore a relationship with Aaron when he asked her on a date. She had been waiting, hoping that the widower and his young son, Buddy, would welcome her into their lives. But a terrible tragedy strikes on the night of their first kiss, crushing their hopes for a future together.

Nineteen years later, Virginia is engaged, though she has not forgotten Aaron or Buddy. When her dog goes missing and it comes to light that her fiancé set him loose, a distraught Virginia breaks off the engagement and is alone once again. A shy young man has found the missing pet, and although he’s bonded with the animal, he answers his conscience and returns the dog. Before long, Virginia and the young man discover a connection from their pasts that will help them let go of painful memories and change their lives forever. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This book is a masterpiece of words, woven intricately into the story like a jigsaw puzzle. I felt like the character evolution for Virginia and Jody (the shy young man) had been slowly revealed to me over time. Nothing was forceful or abrupt, and I really appreciated that. I got to really delve into the emotional psyche of both main characters while they are dealing with their own losses and heartaches. The twist is, Virginia and Jody are connected on a level that neither character can even fathom or comprehend, and fate put these two together at the most inopportune time.

A common bond: Worthy, the dog Virginia has been searching for. Her terrible ex-fiance sets Worthy loose many miles from home, unbeknownst to her but discovered by Jody. Worthy is the catalyst that will bring everything full circle, changing lives and opening up painful wounds that Virginia and Jody have buried deep inside, for many years. It’s through tragedy that these two people become forever joined, and through this discovery they can begin to heal.

Once I started reading Worthy, I couldn’t stop. It flowed that well and I wanted to invest myself into these characters. I wanted to find out what would happen next, and anticipated the moment Virginia and Jody would discover just how much they had in common, and how much they ultimately need one another. While I’ve yet to read any other novels from Catherine Ryan Hyde, I plan on it and highly recommend Worthy and other books she’s written, as I'm guessing they're equally as good. (Pay It Forward is next on my list.) This novel by far has become one of my top favorites!

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out Book Mama Blog's review, as well.

More by Catherine Ryan Hyde:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Guest Book Review: The Art of Baking Blind

By Courtney Marzilli

"There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved." ~ Kathleen Eaden, The Art of Baking

I was so excited to receive a copy of The Art of Baking Blind, the first novel for author Sarah Vaughan. The book takes place in England and centers around a baking competition that is based off of a very popular and classic cookbook from the '60s, The Art of Baking by Kathleen Eaden. There are five competitors, Jenny, Vicki, Karen, Mike and Claire, all who come from different backgrounds and all facing their own struggles. The one thing they have in common is they love to bake and want to prove they are the best.

Throughout the story we get glimpses not only into the competitors lives but the past life of Kathleen Eaden. This is one of the things I loved so much about the book in that Vaughan would weave in and out of past and present all while keeping the common themes of family, baking and relationships. Each character is dealing with a personal problem, all of which are very different, but each utilize baking as a way to cope. The language that Vaughan uses along with the recipes and ingredients made this novel easy to devour, no pun intended. The descriptions of the desserts and meals were so descriptive you could taste the words. Bust aside from food also being a key character, the common theme of family and relationships was so sweet. Being a new mom myself I really appreciated this and loved reading about the memories and bonding that can be created through food and cooking. Even if you aren't a foodie or enjoy cooking, these themes in the book made the story very relatable.

I am so glad I came across this book as I am not a huge cook but do enjoy baking. After reading this book I am excited to bake with my daughter and create traditions and recipes with her. Kathleen Eaden was a mother herself and what I loved most about her was her love of baking with her kids and the joy they had with her. The Art of Baking Blind is a delicious read for all and what seems like a great start for Sarah Vaughan!

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Courtney Marzilli is a book blogger and beauty junkie. She's always had a love for reading and hopes to share this love through her blog. Her favorite genres are women's lit, mysteries and pop culture non-fiction. When her nose is not buried in a book she off on adventures with her family near the Boston area. You can find her at her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beatriz Williams welcomes us to the ' a book giveaway

Photo by Marilyn Roos
We're happy today to have Beatriz Williams back at CLC. Her latest novel, Tiny Little Thing, just came out this week. Today she's talking about writing a novel that takes place in the 1960s. Stay tuned for a review, as well. Thanks to Putnam, we have FIVE copies for some lucky US readers!

A Stanford University honors graduate with an MBA in finance from Columbia, Beatriz Williams lives in Connecticut with her husband and children. She is the author of the international bestsellers Overseas, A Hundred Summers, and The Secret Life of Violet Grant.

Visit Beatriz at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Making "History"

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be writing a book set in the 1960s—let alone three of them—I’d have called you a sweet little dear and bought you another drink. I’m more of a historical fiction kind of girl, and by that I mean history history, the turn of the century and the First World War, the tumultuous Twenties and the threadbare Thirties, not a decade so close I just missed living in it. (Yep, you know you’re getting old when the year of your birth starts to hover dangerously above the category of “history.”)

But here I am. And here’s my latest novel, Tiny Little Thing, darting back and forth between 1964 and 1966, during a pair of sultry summers in Boston and Cape Cod, and you know what? I loved writing it. I loved exploring the world of a glamorous, ambitious couple at the dawn of celebrity politics, and the secrets that lay beneath those television-perfect facades. I loved the Sixties! I loved how social change rubbed up against tradition, creating all kinds of narrative friction…just like, say, the 1920s. Or the turn of the century.

Or 2015. We’re heading into another presidential election cycle, and it’s the same old script, at least as far as the candidates’ wives are concerned. Perfect hair, perfect knee-length dress, perfect mask of makeup, perfectly-groomed children performing perfect Miss America waves to the crowd. And that all started in the 1960s, when television invaded every home, and a young, glamorous couple stepped into the White House and onto the world stage. Whether you adored the Kennedys or loathed them, whether you agreed with their politics or not—or whether you even knew what those were—you had to acknowledge that their good-looking public image was a fundamental part of their message. The politician and his wife have become celebrities, and the camera stands always at the ready, and what the women wear seems to matter much more than what they think.

Of course, that’s where the fun lies, because when you have a perfect public image you must inevitably be hiding a few things from the world, right? Admit it: aren’t we all just waiting for the secrets to come tumbling out of the closet? Aren’t we all just waiting for the scandals to strike, for the facades to crack? In Tiny Little Thing, everybody’s got a secret, everybody’s got a hidden self kept safe from the eyes of the world, and as the summer of 1966 gets underway in Cape Cod, and Tiny’s husband begins his campaign for Congress, the secrets start bubbling to the surface.

So this is my Sixties novel, the novel I never imagined I would write. Which is fitting, really, because Tiny’s journey is all about breaking free of the life she planned, and finding the courage to explore roads she never dreamed of traveling.

Thanks to Beatriz for visiting with us and Putnam 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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US only. Giveaway ends June 30th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's no secret...we love Jane Green! And you can win her latest novel.

There's a reason Jane Green was our 2012 nominee for the International Chick Lit Month Hall of Fame. She writes novels dealing with real women, real life, and all the things life throws at them, while incorporating her trademark wisdom, wit and warmth. We absolutely love Jane and her novels, and we're glad to celebrate the recent publication of her 17th novel, Summer Secrets, with a special tribute to her.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have FIVE COPIES of Summer Secrets for some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada!

Visit Jane at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Need a quick read? Check out Jane's FREE short story e-books:
A Walk in the Park
Cat and Jemima J (no spoilers for Summer Secrets)

Synopsis of Summer Secrets: When a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It's a mistake for which she can't forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it's time to grow up. But she doesn't know if she'll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.

As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

Told with Jane Green's keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart,
Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

**Check out Author Liaison Cindy Roesel's review.**

Amy's top five favorite things about Jane Green:

1. She's extremely personable and approachable. I met Jane at a signing a couple of years ago, as well as at a signing for Wade Rouse's compilation, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationshipback in September of 2011. At the Wade Rouse event, Jane knew who I was right away and that I was with Chick Lit Central!

2. Well, of course she's a wonderful writer and storyteller. Her books are just fabulous. Speaking of her books, why hasn't one of them been turned into a movie yet? I hope this gets rectified soon!

3. All I have to say is that Jane Green's house in Connecticut is just gorgeous. Check out pictures of Figless Manor and learn the story behind it.

4.  She also cooks some fabulous food. She has a Kickstarter campaign for her cookbook, Good Taste, Good Food, A Good Life. Learn more about it, but not on an empty stomach. ;)

5. I was SO excited when I saw that Jane Green mentioned both Melissa A and I in her Saving Grace acknowledgements. What an honor! My excitement lasted for quite a while.

NYC, 2011

Melissa A's top five favorite Jane Green novels:

1. Jemima J: This book got me started on reading Jane's novels and also motivated me to exercise. There's a reason women sigh contentedly when they hear this title spoken aloud. It's THAT good!

2. Bookends: What book lover doesn't dream of opening her own store? Live the dream vicariously through this novel.

3. Babyville: If a close friend's pregnancy (back in 2004) didn't inspire me to want a baby of my own, then this book sure did the trick. I love how it was told from three different perspectives and all the characters were endearing to me.

4. To Have and to Hold: This was just a heartfelt novel about a marriage gone wrong and Jane's beautiful writing just flowed throughout the story, giving me hope that something good would come of Alice's situation.

5. Another Piece of My Heart: I really like how it not only showed Andi's perspective, but also her step-daughter Emily's. I ended up liking them both as a result. (See my review.)

Northvale, NJ, 2009: She signed a copy of Babyville

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/Canada only. Giveaway ends June 29th at midnight EST.