Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: Girl Underwater

By Jami Deise

We all know the statistics about air travel. How it’s so much safer than driving a car. How the number of people dying in plane crashes grows smaller every year, while the number of people who survive them grows larger. How, despite recent news, plane travel continues to get safer and safer every year. Yet who among us does not squeeze the arm rest just a little tighter during take-off and landing? Driving a car at least provides an illusion of being in control. There’s no such illusion strapped into a plane seat.

For Avery Delacorte, the protagonist of Claire Kells’ Girl Underwater, the airplane that takes her and her college swim teammates, Phil and Colin, from their California school to their hometowns near Boston, only represents the six hours in between her and reuniting with her family for Thanksgiving. Sophomore Avery finds Colin, a powerful senior, particularly intimidating, and is dismayed when he plops down on the seat next to her. But when the flight goes down somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, she’s glad that calm, strong Colin was her seatmate. Avery and Colin help three small boys out of the plane; Colin carries an unconscious pregnant woman on his shoulder. They’re the only survivors, and they watch the plane sink into an enormous, cold lake. Luggage floats nearby, but the lake is cold and the swimmers are hurt. They’re in the middle of nowhere and winter is coming. How will they survive?

While structured differently, Girl Underwater reminded me a lot of Tracey Garvis-Graves’ novel On the Island, as both books made me think about how long I’d survive in such conditions. Maybe about eight hours. I don’t know how to make a fire from two sticks, or stitch a wound together, or which mushrooms are safe to eat. Books like these are not only entertaining, they’re survival guides.

But structure is key in differentiating these two books. While On the Island (soon to be a major motion picture!) was told in a linear fashion that kept readers wondering if there would ever be an "Off the Island," Girl Underwater alternates between the plane crash and its immediate aftermath with Avery’s story a month later, as she tries to physical and mentally recover. The boys are hospitalized but okay, while Colin is still in critical condition and being transferred to a hospital closer to his home.

As this structure reveals itself within the first few chapters, I’m not giving anything away by describing it. I did, however, wonder why author Kells chose to tell the story this way. As it’s told from Avery’s first person point of view, it seems obvious that all five crash survivors go on to survive their five-day stranding. The mystery then boils down to simpler questions about why Avery doesn’t want to see the boys or Colin again. What exactly happened while they were stranded? Why does she feel so guilty? What is she hiding?

Girl Underwater is a thoroughly engrossing book. The scenes with the five stranded in the snowy Rocky mountains are so well-written, I was completely transported to the setting. However, the scenes of Avery coping after her rescue are sometimes confusing when they should have been mysterious. There are plot holes and inconsistencies that made me wish that such a wonderful book had had a better editor. And while I had no trouble believing that Avery’s surgeon father would have taught her basic – even advanced – life-saving medical techniques, it was too much that he’d taught her advanced survival skills as well. As the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live used to say, "how convenient." Still, these problems only slightly diminished my enjoyment of the book. Despite these flaws, it’s “unputdownable.”

Many readers take up the hobby to be transported to happier, more romantic places – Elizabethan England, high school romance. Then there are those of us who read to go to those bad places – haunted houses, war, desert islands, plane crash aftermath. These books show that not only can man triumph over nature’s worse impulses, we can also triumph over our own.

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sarah Colonna brings on the laughs...plus a book giveaway

Photo from Sarah's Instagram
Today we introduce the hilarious Sarah Colonna. Sarah was a popular roundtable regular on the late night talk show, Chelsea Lately. She also served as a full time writer on the show, as well as a producer, writer and star of the show’s spin-off scripted series After Lately. Sarah appeared in the movie Back in the Day, alongside Nick Swardson, Harland Williams, Morena Baccarin and many others. See more of her other TV and movie appearances here.

Her first book, Life as I Blow it, debuted at number five on the New York Times Bestseller list. It was also sold to NBC to be developed for television with producers Happy Madison two years in a row. Sarah continues to tour across the country headlining comedy clubs regularly. She’s appeared on several other TV shows, including The United States of Tara, Scare Tactics, and Monk, and was a semi-finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

Sarah is here on her pub day to help us finish off "Books and Reading Month," and Gallery Books is giving away a copy of her latest book, Has Anyone Seen My Pants? to TWO lucky winners in the US and/or Canada!

You can learn more about Sarah by visiting her at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Synopsis of Has Anyone Seen My Pants?:

How does a gal with a successful career, great friends, and a razor-sharp wit find herself wandering pants-less through the hallways of a casino hotel in Iowa on New Year’s Eve?

Ask Sarah Colonna.

Has Anyone Seen My Pants? is a laugh-out-loud trip around America (and Mexico!) with Sarah as she braves crying in nail salons, mother-daughter road trips, Iowan casinos, and single-shaming resorts. From a fling-gone-wrong to friend breakups and a new romance, Sarah’s signature wit and sharp observations take you on a journey at once so deviously funny and surprisingly compassionate that it might just steal your heart—not to mention your pants.

What book do you think everyone must read at least once in their lives? 
Old Yeller, just to make sure you aren't dead inside. If you don't cry, you have your answer.

If you could only have one book with you on an island, which would it be? 
Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan. It made me laugh so hard, and if I could only have one book, I'd want it to be one that made me laugh a lot.

What book genre would surprise someone if you told them you read it? 
 Medical/Homicide thrillers-(is that an actual genre?) Specifically, Tess Gerritsen. I'm too afraid to watch scary movies, but I love her books so much. And this was before Rissoli & Isles became a TV show, just for the record! I will also read any book about JFK, which I think always surprises people.

What book should be made into a movie? Should never be made into a movie? 
Was She's Come Undone ever made into a movie? I don't think it was-right? And I think it should be. For the latter, I'd say all of the Real Housewives books.

Which book would make a great TV series?
 Has Anyone Seen My Pants? by Sarah Colonna. Have you guys ever heard of her? She's pretty!

Do you read books if you've seen the movie version first?
 I do sometimes. I usually like to read the book first, but I did see American Sniper and still haven't read the book. I know, I know...

Thanks to Sarah for chatting with us and to Gallery Books 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/Canada only. Giveaway ends April 5th at midnight EST.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Traveling Tea Shop

By Becky Gulc

Belinda Jones is one of those authors I enjoy following on social media, particularly the adventures of her dog, ‘Bodie on the Road’ on Facebook. I loved Belinda’s novel, Winter Wonderland (reviewed here), so I was very happy to review to her latest novel, The Traveling Tea Shop. This was released in the US earlier this month and is Belinda’s 13th book, most of which have been labeled as offering the reader a "vacation-for-the-price-of-a-paperback."

Here is the synopsis:

‘A delectable tale of love, friendship and cake...

Laurie loves a challenge. Especially if it involves tea-time and travel. So when British baking treasure Pamela Lambert-Leigh needs a guide on a research trip for her new cookbook, she jumps at the chance.

The brief:
Laurie and Pamela - along with Pamela's sassy mother and stroppy daughter - will board a vintage London bus for a deliciously unusual tour of the USA's East Coast, cruising from New York to Vermont.

Their mission:
To trade recipes for home-grown classics like Victoria Sponge and Battenburg for American favourites like Red Velvet Cake and Whoopie Pie.

All the women have their secrets and heartaches to heal. As well cupcakes galore, there's also the chance for romance...

But will making Whoopie lead to love?’ (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK.)

A mixture of cake and travel, well it sounded like a combination I would truly enjoy, even if I was on a diet when reading this. I was frustratingly salivating throughout, so the baking descriptions clearly worked for me!

I was so pleased that this book’s lead character (Laurie) is someone I had met and liked during Winter Wonderland; even Krista the lead character from that novel features in this one. I like it when books cross over like this. Laurie is an ambitious, down-to-earth and very likable character, she’ll give as much as gets in any given situation and we see that particularly with her relationship with the ‘stroppy daughter’ in this novel, Ravenna. This is actually my favourite relationship in the book.

I enjoyed finding out more about Laurie’s back story and perhaps even wished this was brought into the present a little more than it was, I suppose I felt a difficult family situation for Laurie was discussed in the novel but then quickly addressed in the epilogue. As our main character, it was Laurie I was most interested in so I was keen to learn if and how the situation would resolve itself in more detail, however I understand it would have maybe got in the way of this fabulous trip round the East Coast.

In this kind of novel it’s important to get a good sense of place and Belinda yet again delivers on this. She uses real rather than fictional locations and venues throughout, which I personally enjoy about Belinda’s writing. As the characters are on a tour, factual information is, of course, going to be presented. Laurie is their tour guide, and Belinda herself is a former travel editor and this shone through. I did enjoy much of the information, particularly in terms of film history and the history of some classic recipes, as I enjoy baking myself. However, there was perhaps a little too much factual information at times, sometimes it didn’t feel like it sat naturally, particularly in dialogue, and I’ve gone over this in mind as to why because I knew I was going to be joining the ‘tour’ so to speak. I guess there were just a lot of places covered and several characters were delivering the information at times, it just felt a little forced on occasion, but as I say, overall I enjoyed the factual side of things.

One of my favourite characters in this novel was Gracie, the grandmother. She’s also a no-nonsense kind of woman who has a huge heart and I was sad when events led to her leaving the tour early, as the early chapters of the novel with her in were amongst my favourites. Thankfully Gracie still features in the remainder of the novel and has a little romance of her own.

If you love finding out about new places and have a sweet tooth I think you will particularly enjoy this novel. Belinda Jones is definitely an author I would recommend for taking you on a trip without even leaving home.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Belinda Jones:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: The Secrets of Midwives

By Melissa Amster

I've decided several years ago that I'm finished having children. I have three and love them dearly, but that's all for me. Even so, reading The Secrets of Midwives, by Sally Hepworth, reminded me of the joy and beauty of giving birth and, for a few moments, made me want to have another go at the experience. (Then my daughter woke me up at two a.m. the other night and I reverted to my original decision.)


Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden? (Synopsis adapted from Goodreads.)

I absolutely loved this novel and it's already a contender for my 2015 favorites (not sure if I'll put it on my chick lit list or my general fiction list, but it will be there). I've been recommending it to everyone and that was even before I finished. Whenever I had to get back to real life, I missed the characters and yearned to know what was going to happen next. The dialogue was genuine and the descriptions made everything easy to visualize. Sally writes so beautifully and emotionally that you can see why I'd consider having more children while reading it. The only thing I would have done differently with it is write at least one character in third person. Having all of them in first person made things confusing. Even if Neva (name pronounced like "never") and Grace referred to their parents with different identifiers, I still had to go back to the beginning of the chapter to see who was speaking. This did not take away from my enjoyment of the story, however. This would make an excellent movie and I already have some casting ideas...

Grace: Ann Dowd
Neva: Deborah Ann Woll
Floss (2014): Piper Laurie
Floss (1954): Nathalia Ramos
Patrick: Henry Cavill or Chris Riggi (perhaps one could play Sean otherwise?)

I won this book from Reading with Robin. St. Martin's Press has a copy 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 April 1st at midnight EST.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

We're not letting Bethany Chase get away...plus a book giveaway

Bethany Chase and I first connected on Facebook due to our mutual love for chick lit (no surprise there, right?). We also found out that we are both Weird Al fans, but that's another story for a different time. Anyway, I was thrilled to find out that she was publishing a book and eagerly awaiting the day it would be published. Well, that day is almost here, as her debut novel, The One That Got Away, hits shelves on March 31st! It's already generating buzz with rave reviews from Emily Giffin, Allie Larkin, Patti Callahan Henry, and Liz and Lisa...just to name a few. Her writing style is being compared to Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner. Needless to say, her book is next in my TBR pile and I can't wait to dig in (I just hope to not get any matzah crumbs on it).

Thanks to Penguin Random House, FIVE lucky US readers will be in my shoes soon!

You can find Bethany on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Today, she's here to talk about books and reading with us.

Synopsis of The One That Got Away:
Sarina Mahler thinks she has her life all nailed down: a growing architecture practice in Austin, Texas, and an any-day-now proposal from her loving boyfriend, Noah. She’s well on her way to having the family she’s hoped for since her mother’s death ten years ago. But with Noah on a temporary assignment abroad and retired Olympic swimmer—and former flame—Eamon Roy back in town asking her to renovate his new fixer-upper, Sarina’s life takes an unexpected turn. Eamon proves to be Sarina’s dream client, someone who instinctively trusts every one of her choices—and Sarina is reminded of all the reasons she was first drawn to him back in the day. Suddenly her carefully planned future with Noah seems a little less than perfect. And when tragedy strikes, Sarina is left reeling. With her world completely upended, she is forced to question what she truly wants in life—and in love.

Full of both humor and heartbreak, The One That Got Away is the story of one woman’s discovery that, sometimes, life is what happens when you leave the blueprints behind. (Courtesy of Random House).



What is your guilty pleasure read?
Dlisted.

Which book do you wish you wrote?
Joshilyn Jackson’s Gods in Alabama is a masterpiece in my opinion. Brilliant plotting, sharply drawn and interesting characters, an authentic and vivid setting, terrific humor—this book just has everything going for it.

What was your favorite book (or series) to read as a child/pre-teen/teenager?
Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Those series are basically the Bookish Young Girl’s Guide to Life.

What is your favorite book to movie translation?
A Room With a View! It was my mother’s favorite movie, and one of mine as well when I was growing up. Terrific cast, terrific writing, sumptuous settings, wonderful wit, and swoonable romance – I adore that movie.

What book genre would surprise someone if you told them you read it?
Probably fantasy. I don’t read a ton of it, but some of the books on my keeper shelf are Guy Gavriel Kay’s quasi-historical epics and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. And as always I love me some Chuck Wendig.


Is there a certain place you've visited that inspires you to write? Or a specific environment you need to be surrounded by for inspiration?
I have a long-standing tradition of getting big bouts of writing done when I am on my annual Florida vacation with my husband and his brother and sister-in-law. I have literally nothing to do all day except write, drink beer and eat, and it is absolutely divine. I have many fond memories of developing good ideas while a half-empty Blue Moon is within hand’s reach. I’ll let you decide if that’s causation or correlation.

Thanks to Bethany for visiting with us and to Penguin Random House for sharing her book with our readers. 

~Introduction by Melissa Amster


Aside from our giveaway here, you can also enter to win THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY through Bethany's blog tour (US only, ends 4/16), Confessions of a Bookaholic (worldwide, ends 3/31; also at @jenny_oregan), and Manic Mommy Reviews and Reads (US only, ends 3/29)!


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 March 31st at midnight EST.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What is CLC without readers?

Since we asked authors questions about books and reading this month, we thought it was only fair if we answer them too. Lots of good book recommendations here, so get your spring reading on!

Melissa A:

What is your favorite book that you had to read for school?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it before I had to, which helped. I still wish it were a movie!

Where is the strangest place that you've been able to sit and read? 
I've read at baseball games. Mostly when the opposing team was up.

What book were you hesitant to read but then completely devoured?
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I had to read it for book club and I just couldn't put it down! (See my review.)

What is your guilty pleasure read?
I'd read books for kids around my sons' ages if I had more time. I sometimes will pick up Diary of a Wimpy Kid and laugh out loud. I'd even re-read all The Baby-Sitters Club books if I had time and no one saw me doing it. :)

If you wrote fan fiction for a standalone or series, which would you choose and what is something you'd do for the characters?
I already started fan fiction for The Baby-Sitters Club. I want to write more of it but haven't figured out where I want to go with it yet. I imagine what the girls are like as adults.

What is your favorite book to movie translation? 
Where the Heart Is by the late, great Billie Letts. I loved the movie even more than the book and it's since become my all-time favorite. I can't get through it without crying.


Amy:

When you go to the library or bookstore, which section do you hit up first?
Well, of course that would be the women's fiction section.

What was your favorite book (or series) to read as a child/pre-teen/teenager?
You can make fun of me all you want when I say it was the Sweet Valley High series. I can be such a girly girl. I also really enjoyed The Baby-Sitters Club series.

Where is your favorite place to sit and read? 
Either at a beach or by a pool with the sun shining and the breeze blowing.

What book do you think everyone must read at least once in their lives? 
For every girl definitely Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Print or digital? 
I will always prefer the real, original form of a book. I only pick up my iPad to watch Good Morning America while I'm getting ready for work in the morning.

Do you read books if you've seen the movie version first? 
Generally I don't.


Melissa P:

What is your favorite book that you had to read for school?
My favorite book that I had to read from school is The Great Gatsby. It also happens to simply be my favorite book of all time. I can read it over and over again.

When is the first time a book touched your soul? 
The first book that touched my soul, I mean REALLY touched my soul was P.S. I Love You  by Cecelia Ahern. I have never bawled so hard reading a book before. It was incredible, I loved that book.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
The last book I read that I would recommend is one I literally just finished called The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. I also just found out they are making a movie of the book starting Keira Knightly!

Print or digital? 
I prefer print. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I see how far into the story I am.

What is your favorite book to movie translation? 
My favorite book that was turned into a movie is The Devil Wears Prada. Although there were some great scenes they left out, the movie is still one of my favorites. Meryl Streep did an amazing job playing Miranda Priestly.

What is your favorite humorous book?
My favorite humorous book would literally be anything by Marian Keyes. Her characters are hilarious and the Walsh parents that reappear in many of her books are the best!


Jami:

How does being an author affect your reading choices/experience?
I doubt I’m the only author who reads a fantastic book and then puts it down, whining, “I’m never going to be this good! Why do I even try??” Waaa. Please excuse the pity party.

For me, being an author means it’s almost impossible to completely lose myself in the world of the book. In the back of my mind, I’m always analyzing how the writer tells her story, presents her characters, and builds her universe. So an experience that should be pure pleasure is also work, but I hope it helps me become a better writer.

It also affects my reading choices. I’m currently writing a mystery taking place in a planned community. The most well-known fictional planned community is the lovely town of Stepford, so I read and outlined that book while working on my own plot points. It’s not something I ordinarily would have chosen, but it was a good story. (I hope mine is, too.) Since I write in a few different genres, I try to read the genre I’m working in while I’m writing. I think this is the opposite of what many writers do – they try not to read similar books out of fear their voice will get contaminated or they’ll subconsciously steal plot points. I do all my stealing consciously! ;-)

Becky:

Which book do you wish you wrote?
Tricky one, lots of books! Quite different authors but I'd be very proud to write the same style of books as either Lisa Jewell or Paige Toon.

When is the first time a book touched your soul?
I read Marley and Me when it first came out and I had my first Labrador at the time so I would cuddle him when I was laughing and crying at this book which was just a wonderful book. If only I'd written "Rooney and Me" first, I definitely had similar cheeky tales to tell!

What are your favorite snacks/drinks to have while reading?
Aero Bubbles dipped in hot chocolate mmmm.

Print or digital?
Print, I've owned a Kindle for a couple of years now and have still only read a handful of books on it, I just prefer holding a 'proper' book. I don't care how heavy my suitcase is when going on holiday, I'm taking print books!

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I would recommend lots of books that I read to others but sometimes there are stand out ones that I've heard little about that I feel deserve greater recognition. Liberty Silk by Kate Beaufoy is the last book I read which I felt this strongly about. Wonderful book. (Reviewed here.)

What book are you looking forward to reading this year?
We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman

Sara:

What was your favorite book (or series) to read as a child/pre-teen/teenager? 
Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley High series

Print or digital?
Print, hands down

Sci fi or fantasy?
Sci-Fi

Do you read books if you've seen the movie version first? 
I do. I find the book is almost always better than the movie

Which book would make a great TV series? 
Kim Harrison's The Hollows series. I could see it on Fox, or the WB. Or even on the big screen

When is the first time a book touched your soul? 
Stephen King's The Stand. I was 16. I read the novel in one day

Guest Book Review: Deathbed Dimes

By Michelle Drodge

When the opportunity to read a book penned by a writer in my city arose, I jumped at the chance. For whatever reason, it’s rare to come across a writer from Toronto reaching out to Chick Lit Central for a review. Hailing from Toronto my whole life, I was excited to see what our local talent could do.

I am here to report, us ‘Torontonians’ do not disappoint.


Naomi Elana Zener’s novel, Deathbed Dimes, was a fun take on what can happen when life throws you lemons. The novel starts out with Joely coming home to find her apartment empty at the hands of her fiancĂ©, who has up and left her (and wants the ring back!). At the advice of her best friend Coco, a fellow lawyer whom she’s known since law school, she throws herself back into her work, only to be repeatedly ‘sandbagged’ by her nasty colleague, Chip – one who must have bribed the professors into granting him his law degree. Upon a sudden decision by the partners at her firm, Joely walks out and must make a new life for herself.

Fleeing to her parents in LA (famous Hollywood actress mom Sylvia, and washed-up TV director Armand), Joely has a chance encounter with Etsy, the niece of her former client who was entitled to a hefty inheritance, but whom no one could locate – until now.

With the help of Coco, and her other long-time lawyer friend Ethan, who come to her side in her time of need, they develop a plan to open their own firm and represent Etsy to get her the money was supposed to inherit. Unfortunately, proving that the questionable second Will executed Aunt Ivana’s nurse Mandy, which conveniently left Etsy nothing and Mandy everything, complicated matters.

Of course, no chick lit novel would be complete without a knight in shining armour, but this love triangle is best left for the reader to enjoy, as the triangle of affairs is rather complicated and will keep you guessing where Joely’s loyalties lie. In addition to her own love life, someone close to her reveals a secret that will keep you laughing throughout the book, but also make you shake your head at the capabilities of some (albeit fictional) characters!

On the whole, Deathbed Dimes was an entertaining, light read, and I am proud to say that Naomi Zener has done us Canadians proud – I definitely look forward to reading more from my fellow Torontonian in the future!

Thanks to Naomi Elana Zener for the book in exchange for an honest review.


Michelle Drodge is 29 and lives in a small town north of Toronto in Canada with her daughter, who is five going on fifteen. She works in Restaurant Development during the day, but moonlights as an aspiring writer after her daughter goes to sleep. One day she hopes to see her own book on the shelf alongside her favourite Chick Lit authors!