Friday, October 24, 2014

Double Feature Book Review: Better Late than Never!

By Melissa Amster

I haven't done a double feature review in a while, but wanted to do it again for some books I enjoyed but have been slow to review for some reason. Maybe it was a matter of finding the right ways to say how I felt about the books. In one case, the review notes I had written got erased and I had to start over while trying to remember all the details. (I have learned to make a second copy of my review notes since then!)

In any case, both books are by authors I respect and whose voices have a similar feel to the point where I think they should write a book together. Also, both books have some similar themes running through them.

Both synopses are courtesy of Amazon.

On Grace by Susie Orman Schnall

Meet Grace, who is actually excited about turning 40 in a few months, that is, until her job, marriage, and personal life take a dizzying downhill spiral. Can she recover from the most devastating time in her life, right before it's supposed to be one of the best? Fans of Emily Giffin will love Susie Orman Schnall's debut, which is all about rediscovering yourself--with grace--well after you think it's even possible anymore. On Grace deals with themes such as divorce, infidelity, re-entering the workforce after children, breast cancer, and of course, turning 40. 


It was easy to get into On Grace and stick with the story throughout, as it was engaging and comfortable, like chatting with a close friend. The story and the way it was written reminded me of Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda (also the author of the book sharing this review space). The dialogue felt genuine and flowed nicely. I liked the interactions between Grace and the other characters in the story and felt I could easily visualize them. The only thing that didn't work as well was that I had a hard time feeling sorry for Grace since she seemed to have a lot of money and friends in high places. She was still a sympathetic character overall, but sometimes she had it a little too easy. If I were to cast the role of Grace for a movie (as it would be an awesome chick flick), I'd go with Gwyneth Paltrow or Cameron Diaz. Both women could add their own flair to Grace's personality and I'd have a tough time deciding between them. Then again, one could play her best friend, Cameron (maybe Ms. Diaz to make things less confusing?) and I think they'd portray a convincing friendship.

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

In the Mirror by Kaira Rouda

In the Mirror is the story of Jennifer Benson, a woman who seems to have it all. Diagnosed with cancer, she enters an experimental treatment facility to tackle her disease the same way she tackled her life - head on. But while she's busy fighting for a cure, running her business, planning a party, staying connected with her kids, and trying to keep her sanity, she ignores her own intuition and warnings from others and reignites an old relationship best left behind.

If you knew you might die, what choices would you make? How would it affect your marriage? How would you live each day? And how would you say no to the one who got away?


I think part of the delay in reviewing this is that the subject matter was rather heavy for a mom, such as myself, to think about. So even revisiting it after I finished the story felt daunting. I even wrote a blog post that touched upon certain feelings this story brought up, and that was before I even read it. Having said that, I was impressed with Jenn's need to embrace life while knowing it could quickly come to an end. One of the main focuses of the story is that Jenn is planning a party for herself, but it's not so people can feel sorry for her. It's just one more way for her to embrace life and all the people who have touched hers in some way. Throughout the story, it's interesting to ponder how we see things at the end of our lives and the choices we make when we have the luxury (or doom) of knowing we'll be meeting our maker soon. Kaira's characters are all strong and well-developed and I enjoyed seeing them interact. I would have loved more history between Jenn and her sister though. The only things that didn't work so well for me were Jenn calling her father "daddy" while she's an adult and some parts seeming a bit far-fetched. It was a good story overall and went along at a nice pace, never feeling like it was stuck at all. If I were to cast In the Mirror as a movie (you'd need to bring a box of tissues though), Rachel McAdams would play Jenn.

Thanks to Kaira Rouda for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jessica Barksdale Inclán bakes *with* a man...plus a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to have Jessica Barksdale Inclán at CLC to talk about her baking experiences when she tries out all the recipes in her latest novel, How to Bake a Man. Thanks to Ghostwoods Books, we have TWO copies for readers in the US or UK!

Jessica Barksdale Inclán is the author of twelve traditionally published novels, including the bestselling Her Daughter's Eyes, The Matter of Grace, and When You Believe. She has also published several e-books and a women's studies textbook. Her work had been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Czech.

Ms. Inclán teaches composition, creative writing, mythology, and women’s literature at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, as well as online novel writing courses for UCLA Extension. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and is currently at work on a young adult novel.

Visit Jessica at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Synopsis:
When Becca Muchmore drops out of grad school, all she has left to fall back on is her baking. Ignoring her mother's usual barrage of disapproval and disappointment, she decides to start a small business hand-delivering her wares. A friend introduces her to an office of hungry lawyers, who agree to give her a try. Her lizard-booted neighbor Sal is happy to help out when he can, and almost before she knows it, Becca's Best is up and running.

Before she can settle into a routine, things get complicated. The office ogress could easily be Becca's sister and has absolutely no patience with cookies or other frivolities. Even worse, her boyfriend is the man of Becca's dreams--kind, funny, successful, and brain-meltingly gorgeous. As the dark undercurrents threaten to pull her down, Becca swiftly finds herself neck-deep in office politics, clandestine romance, and flour. Saving her business (and finding true love) is going to take everything she's got, and more.


Test Kitchen

The task? Bake all the recipes included in my novel How to Bake a Man.
The objective? Make sure the recipes are locked down and clear, as some of them go back over one hundred years, back to my great-grandmother. She, my grandmother, and mother wrote down directions in an almost shorthand, their beautiful cursive fading on the 3 X 5 cards and sometimes a bit terse.
The bakers? My husband Michael and me.
The location? Our kitchen.
Ready, set, go.
Of course, I’d been eating and baking these delicious treats most of my life, but I wasn’t going to unleash bad math and chemistry out into the world. So Michael and I started in.
“How much all-purpose flour do we have?” Michael called out from the kitchen, where he was making Honey Nuts.
“How much do you need?” I asked.
“All of it. And more.”
A drive to the grocery store and six cups of flour later, we had the full recipe chilling in rounds in the fridge.
We peeked in. “How many will it make?” Michael asked, fear in his voice.
I shook my head. “Grandma never said.”
About 100 cookies later, we’d figured it out. Suffice to say the recipe is spot on math wise, but cut it in half. Or wait till Christmas to make them.


We gave them to our dog sitter.
Next up? Sand tarts. Delicious. We ate them all.
“No more until I lose five pounds,” I said to Michael.
“No time for that. Go buy some yeast.”
Three batches of cinnamon rolls later (two delivered to our beloved next-neighbors, who stopped answering their doorbell after that second batch) we knew the recipe was perfect. We added a bit more butter, though I still think nuts would be a good option.


“Stick to the recipe,” Michael said. “Onward.”
The rum cake was perfect, as always, so delicious that we ate half of it for dinner.
“Who needs broccoli?” Michael said.
“Bring the second half next door,” I said.
“What second half?” Michael said, his mouth full.
The brownies—the recipe I made throughout my sons’ childhood—magically vanished. I’m still not sure who ate them. Cheesecake, sugar cookies, pumpkin muffins, chocolate chippers, we baked late into the nights. Sometimes I thought I heard Michael upstairs at 2 am, the glug of milk into a glass. In the morning, crumbs on the counter.
By the end of all the baking, we were sugar high and slightly plump. But the good news is that all the recipes Becca makes in How to Bake a Man you can make, too. Trust me, we’ve tested them all. Now, off to the gym.

Thanks to Jessica for an entertaining guest post and to Ghostwoods Books for sharing the book with our readers.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


US/UK only. Giveaway ends October 28th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Little Free Library

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I love sharing books with people, whether it is friends, co-workers, or e-mail pals. Some people consider my house to be a library. One of my friends bought me a stamp that allows me to emboss my name in all my books. It even implies that I have my own personal library. I've even participated in Paperback Swap from time to time.  At work, I started a program where people could exchange books every so often. This was inspired by the times I'd go into Starbucks or a train station and see bookshelves encouraging people to take and leave books. Now that our office is in a new location with a bigger breakroom, I asked the facilities manager about adding in a bookshelf so that we could take and leave books whenever we wanted, instead of having days designated for this activity.

I've seen pictures of Little Free Libraries, but haven't encountered one in person. I'm sure that my bookshelves would be begging for mercy if I ever did happen upon one! Therefore, I'm jealous of our Chick Lit Cheerleader, Jen Tucker, who was invited to be the guest of honor at a Little Free Library dedication!

From the Library of....

One of the things I love about living not too far from Indianapolis, Indiana, is discovering the cozy suburbs surrounding the capital city. From artsy to industrial, great places and spaces abound. One of my favorite little burbs is Zionsville. Fine cuisine, art galleries and quaint shops line the downtown streets. It’s one of my favorite halfway points to meet my friend, Christy, for dinner. One night after chowing down with our hubbies, we strolled along the sidewalks admiring the rows bungalows. Perched in the front yard of one was something I’d never seen before. At first, I thought it was a birdhouse, yet as we moved closer, I realized this small wooden structure had a window paned door with a little sign above it. I had just been introduced to my first Little Free Library.





This movement to provide a place for neighbors to swap books was the brainchild of Todd Bol and Rick Brooks. Bol was looking for a way to honor the legacy of his mother; a retired teacher who was passionate about reading. Brooks was investigating ways to make a social impact through enterprise. Together, they set out to create a non-profit organization setting a lofty goal, inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s financial backing of 2,509 libraries across the country at the turn of the century, to match that number in Little Free Libraries being created around the world. They surpassed it. Today there are over 15,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide with thousands in the process of completion.

I had no idea how this little book swap box came to be when I snapped a photo of the one I was so taken with and shared it on Facebook. After posting the photo, I received a message from a reader I’ve had the pleasure to get to know via social media. Jane Cook, who lives in Westfield, Indiana, broke the exciting news to me that she was in the process of having a Little Free Library built in her neighborhood and asked if I’d be willing to donate a book. I excitedly packed up a box full, eager to help. I asked her to let me know when it would be finished, that I would love to see it. Jane so graciously invited me to be the guest of honor at the dedication. Believe you me, I was the one honored to see how a woman rallied her community to install this treasure trove of literacy.



Jane and I spent time together in her home before the ribbon cutting ceremony. Being the curious girl I am, I asked her about how her love of books developed. She shared with me she grew up on a farm, an only child, and books became her friends. She traveled to many lands, met many interesting people, and experienced things beyond compare while delving into the pages of novels. That passion for reading followed her into adulthood yet came to a halt after the death of Jane’s husband. For hours, she’d tenderly read to him while he was ill in the hospital. Once he passed away, books were too painful to open.

Through the connectedness of the internet, Jane shared with me she noticed people discussing books they enjoyed. She began reaching out to authors whose work spoke to her. Slowly, she began turning pages again. Another step in healing from her loss was dreaming of a place, a Little Free Library, where children and adults could share books with one-another.

And it has come to pass. And it’s beautiful.


The big picture is what a team of people can accomplish when they share a mission, a passion, a drive to make something better for others. The power of one is strong. The power of many is a force to be reckoned with. No goal or ambition is too big when you dream dreams. Not to get all science fiction geek on you, but as Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try.” And that’s exactly what this little band of book lovers did. They made the Little Free Library so. Again, pardon the Captain Picard sidebar.

Jane, this column is dedicated to you and all those making a difference in literacy each and every day across the globe. You saw a need in your community, you acted upon it with a team of volunteers and friends, and you’ve left a lasting imprint. You are a treasure. I’m proud to call you friend. Thank you for allowing books to pick you up and sweep you away once again. They never left you. The pages held fast waiting until you were ready to turn them again.

Jen Tucker is the author of the funny and true stories, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out and The Day I Lost My Shaker of SaltIn September 2012, she had her children's book, Little Pumpkin published as an e-book. She also blogs monthly for Survival for Blondes. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, three kids and two dogs. You can find her at TwitterFacebook, her blog and on her website. And in case you missed them. check out her previous Chick Lit Cheerleader posts here.

Book Review: Love Me or Leave Me

By Becky Gulc

I’ve been lucky enough to review a couple of Claudia Carroll’s novels now and have enjoyed each one, particularly Me and Youwhich is just a wonderful story. Needless to say I was very happy to review Claudia’s latest novel, Love Me or Leave Me. Here is the synopsis:

‘Chloe Townsend was dumped at the altar. But now she's landed an incredible new job.

She’s running a pioneering boutique ‘divorce hotel’. It will make every aspect of breaking-up pain-free – all in a single weekend.

No one is better qualified than Chloe to deal with relationships at crisis point, but, with three unhappy couples needing her help, she's forced to tackle her own secret heartbreak.

Can she hold it together and prove that she's over it and up to the job?

The opening weekend approaches, and it soon becomes clear that some endings can be VERY exciting new beginnings…’ (Courtesy of HarperCollins UK.)

Whilst the premise for a ‘divorce hotel’ made me go ‘really?’ to begin with, if I’m honest, such a thing does actually exist and I thought it sounded like an interesting concept for a book. I thought the introductions to each character were great. We feel for Chloe and like her immediately, and we get a real sense of the dynamics at play for each of the three couples at the centre of the book by way of seeing their wedding invitations, completely different couples.

Even though there are three different couples as well as Chloe (the only one in first person narrative), I never found it confusing to keep up with who was who, Claudia’s characters are all very distinctive. Whilst Chloe is keen to vet everyone staying at her hotel to make sure it’s fairly amicable between people and they’re sure divorce is right for them, it would be too easy wouldn’t it if it were this straightforward?

I enjoyed all the couples’ stories, we slowly find out more and more about their histories. I particularly warmed to Jo and Dave as characters, even though Jo appears uptight, much of what we learn of the relationship is through seeing their quite harsh email exchanges. I felt like as a reader her defences were slowly broken down and of course we learnt more about what had happened in their relationship to bring them to the hotel, I was really routing for these two.

My only criticism, and this is very minor, is that some of the logistics didn’t seem to stack up or weren’t explained fully, but apologies if this is just my interpretation or I missed something. It was explained that Chloe interviews everyone personally before agreeing to them staying at the hotel, with a lot of guests from overseas (who were supporting rather than main characters). I didn’t see how this would have been possible, and skype or telephone interviews weren’t mentioned. I also wondered about the practicalities of Chloe taking the second weekend off that the hotel has been open especially if the emphasis is that the divorces are sorted out over a weekend. These things didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel at all, but I did wonder about them.

Overall I loved this book and it was a book I got through quite quickly as I was keen to see what happened to all the couples. A great book and I look forward to the next one. When I think about which author’s books I would actively go out and buy, if I weren’t reviewing Claudia’s would definitely be on that list.

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

More by Claudia Carroll:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A star-studded shopping trip with Sophie Kinsella...plus a book giveaway

I can't decide if it's a good thing or not that Sophie Kinsella is in New Jersey today and I live four hours away. The not-so-good thing is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet one of my all-time favorite chick lit authors. On the other hand, if we were to be in the same room, I probably would be all star-struck and not have a single witty thing to say to an author whom I consider as more of a celebrity.

If only I were like Becky Brandon and could easily schmooze with my favorite celebrities (or authors, in my case) the way she does in Shopaholic to the Stars, Sophie's latest novel in the popular series. I read it recently (review coming soon) and it's hilarious, as always. Thanks to Penguin Random House, we have TWO copies for some lucky US readers!

Sophie is here today to talk about shopping (what else?!?)....and to get us psyched up for next month's theme, which is CELEBRITIES!

Tell us about a memorable purchase or shopping trip.
I remember once I had told my whole family to leave me in peace to write. I decided to pop out for coffee... saw an amazing evening dress in a shop window... and found myself edging in to try it on, even though I had no idea where I'd ever wear it. Then my husband phoned: 'How's the writing going? Can I do anything to help?' I couldn't tell him I was in a changing room with one foot in a sequinned evening dress! (But I did buy the dress. And I did wear it!)

If you were to take Becky on a shopping spree, what three stores would you HAVE to visit?
Ooh, very tough! Anthropologie for sure, it's such a feelgood place. Liberty because it's a wonderful old store with a great atmosphere. And Jimmy Choo, because Becky loves her shoes!

Which celebrity would YOU like to style?
I love Lupita N'yongo, she's absolutely gorgeous, and I would be very happy dressing her up.

What is the best deal you ever received on a purchase?
I was once in a charity shop and found a Moschino skirt for ten pounds. It was the most beautiful red pure wool skirt, with a heart shaped button - for a mere ten quid! I couldn't believe my luck and I wore it to death.

What is your favorite thing to buy when you go shopping?
I used to say shoes, but I have noticed that my new tendency is coats. I think it's because I can just swing them over whatever I'm wearing.


If you could go shopping in any city in the world, where would you go and why?
I'd go to Melbourne, as I've never been to Australia, and I've heard Melbourne is a fabulous shopping mecca, so I'd be killing two birds with one stone!

Thanks to Sophie for a fun chat and to Penguin Random House for sharing her book with our readers.

~Introduction and interview by Melissa Amster

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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US only. Giveaway ends October 26th at midnight EST.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Guest Book Review: Driving with the Top Down

By Amber Myers

Road trip!

Who doesn't love a fun road trip?

Colleen was looking forward to one. She finds antiques and other old things and turns them into something fantastic. She was planning on searching for antiques on her road trip while her husband and son go on a boy only trip.

But then her husband asks if she'll take their 16 year old niece, Tamara, with her. Tamara has gotten in trouble. A lot. It's probably because her mother died and she was put in the charge of a father who did not want a kid. (It's called a condom, dude.)

Colleen agrees to take her and they begin their trip. Colleen makes a stop in her old college town and while in a diner she used to frequent, she runs into Bitty, an old friend. (Bitty is not an old lady. I thought so because I immediately thought of "old bitty" which I know is probably rude of me. No, Bitty is called Bitty because she's tiny.)

Bitty has her own share of problems. She ran away from her marriage. Her mother raised her to be a creepy lady (meaning, she wasn't supposed to eat much. Hence why she's Bitty.) Bitty even debates killing herself. But then she sees Colleen and agrees to join in on the road trip.

All these women have their own set of problems. Will the problems be solved on the road trip? Or will they explode?

I enjoyed the friendship and the fact that they all helped each other in a way. Driving with the Top Down had me rooting for everyone. With all the depressing stories in the news, this was a nice escape. And yes, it made me want to go on a road trip. I also wanted to stick my feet in the air like on the book cover, but then I'd frighten those around me. I don't have the prettiest feet, after all.

Amber Myers is a military wife and mom to a son with Aspergers and a daughter who is dramatic. She blogs over at Airing My Dirty Laundry, One Post At A Time and loves to read and write when her children allow it.

More by Beth Harbison:

Friday, October 17, 2014

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel from Gallery Books

Walking on Trampolines by Francine Whiting from Gallery Books

A Gift to Remember by Melissa Hill from St. Martin's Press

Amy:

Saving Grace by Jane Green from Sarah Hall Productions

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen from Random House

Jami:

Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney from Penguin/Berkley (e-book)

The Resurrection of Tess Blessing by Lesley Kagen from BookSparks PR (e-book)

Sara:

Snow Angels, Secrets, and Christmas Cake by Sue Watson from Bookoture (e-book)

Waking Up Joy by Tina Ann Forkner from BookSparks PR (e-book)

Maybe Tonight by/from Kim Golden (e-book)

Becky:

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe by Judy Astley from Bantam Press

Kathryn:

The Reluctant Elf by Michele Gorman from Notting Hill Press