Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: Don’t Tell the Brides-to-Be

By Becky Gulc

Last year, I really enjoyed reading Don’t Tell the Boss, the second book in the ‘Don’t Tell the…’ series by Anna Bell (reviewed here). So when approached, I jumped at the chance of reviewing the next book in the series, Don’t Tell the Brides-to-Be. Here is the synopsis:

‘Things are looking up for Penny Robinson. She's kicked her gambling addiction and even started her own business: Princess on a Shoestring, an all-inclusive service for brides-to-be looking to pinch pennies on their big day.

Between family rows and wardrobe calamities, wedding planning is no piece of cake... but Penny's got it all under control. That is, until a rival planner decides to take her down - one hard-won bride at a time.

Now Penny must fight to save her reputation and her livelihood before it’s too late. But when a romantic weekend away has some unexpected consequences, Penny's expectations for her career are brought back down to earth with a bump.’ (Courtesy of Amazon UK.)

Penny is just beginning her new business as a budget wedding planner. She’s confident, enthusiastic and willing to work hard to make this succeed, but when she meets a rival ‘luxury’ wedding planner, someone is clearly determined to hinder Penny’s business in a whole range of ways. Can Penny overcome the many obstacles thrown in her way? And just how much is too much for Penny when secret surprises and past addictions present their own issues for our lead character?

Penny is just as lovely as I found her to be in the previous novel, she’s a wonderful character to spend time with, key for when the book is her narrative alone. When the rival planner starts to make trouble, I was rooting for Penny all the way. There were some great twists in this story, just when you think this rival planner can’t do any more, here comes something else.

There were some very comical moments in the novel, generally centred around when Penny was getting involved in taste testing and hen do’s whilst trying to hide quite a big secret from the brides-to-be. There are also some very moving scenes, heart-warming and emotional, in particular around the scenes involving Nanny Violet, Penny’s husband’s Nan.

Once again I enjoyed reading a novel where the central character is already loved up and happily married. I knew I didn’t have to worry about this pair and that’s quite refreshing. This is a novel about a strong woman trying to make her passion a career and the ups and downs that come with that, and the day to day issues that affect family life.

Even though this book is part of a series, you don’t need to have read either of the previous two books to enjoy it. I still haven’t read the first book (Don’t Tell the Groom) but I’m very intrigued to based on the references to Penny’s own wedding build-up and her gambling addiction in the subsequent novels. I also want to go back and spend time with some of the key characters from this novel such as Penny’s husband’s Nanny Violet.

Once again I found this to be an engaging and warm read, I enjoy Anna’s style of writing (including the use of tweets at the start of chapters), I like spending time with Penny and the supporting characters. I’m looking forward to Anna’s next book already. I would definitely recommend this series.

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

More by Anna Bell:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: Kingston’s Project

By Melissa Patafio

I was utterly surprised in so many ways by this book. It’s not that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it, I just could not have foreseen just how MUCH I would love it. Carrie Beckort is an amazing emerging author and one to keep an eye out for. She gives many a run for their money. I said I would write an honest review, and here it is.

Not only is Kingston’s Project a wonderful story, but it is full of mystery, romance, and emotion. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, I thought maybe I would enjoy it and it would be a “feel-good” story, but it was so much more than that. It took me longer to read than I would have liked because of my schedule, but it in no way disappointed. Once I started it, I literally wanted to read it day and night until I knew what the ending was.

The story is about a May/December “love story”, but not in the way you would expect. It isn’t necessarily a romance of love and attraction, but more about the positive light and friendship that two people at different crossroads can bring to one another. The relationship is one of mutual respect and genuine care for one another. The main characters are both so different but manage to teach each other many valuable lessons throughout the book.

Our heroine, Sarah, has literally been through hell, and when she gets the chance to leave it all behind and start over, she does just that. Elijah Kingston is a man that has pretty much made his life as charming as he is and takes Sarah under his wing by offering her the opportunity of a lifetime. The story takes us from Sarah’s lonely and sad home in Indiana to the beautiful mountain scenery of Colorado. What Sarah has to face in order to make this journey is devastating and what she encounters once there, is enough of a distraction to start her healing process. The two then navigate the frightening and unknown together and the result is a story that will leave you thinking about it long after you finish the book.

I laughed, I cried, and I never wanted it to end. This is one of those rare books that really pulls you in and makes you question your own life and the way you live it. While reading this story I constantly heard in my head, "Songbird," by Eva Cassidy. If the book were ever made into a movie, that should be the theme song. All in all, Kingston’s Project was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone looking for the next great read. Thanks for asking me to review this Carrie, I am honored and also forever changed by your amazing story.

Thanks to Carrie Beckort for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out Kingston's Promise, as well.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Highlights from 2014

By Melissa Amster

My book review queue has been huge lately and I've been neglecting to share my thoughts on some books I read in 2014 and enjoyed. I am sharing some mini-reviews and hope you will check these books out sometime soon.

All synopses adapted from Amazon.

Damsels in Distress by Laura Kenyon

After watching her fairy tale go up in flames, Belle is finally starting over. With a baby on the way, a business to run, and a new love interest she just can't shake, things are finally looking up. That is, until she learns her independence might revive broken curses the world over.  Meanwhile, Dawn still longs for the life she had three centuries earlier, so when the childhood sweetheart she believed to be dead resurfaces, she must suddenly choose between the past she once wanted and the present she never knew she did. As both women struggle between love and obligation, they fail to see a great danger brewing in the capital. One that could change everything forever.

I enjoyed Desperately Ever After back in 2013 (see review) and thought that this book picked up nicely where the previous one left off. It was equally compelling and full of vivid description. There were a lot of new twists that I never saw coming. I'm excited for the final book in this trilogy and hope Laura will have it published soon! My only concerns were that there was almost too much visualization at times and the political stuff got confusing (but politics is always confusing for me anyway). It's an enjoyable read that got me into the mood for Into the Woods this past winter. I have some more casting ideas (the other ones are in my DEA review).
Snow: Michelle Trachtenberg
Angus: Alan Rickman
Dr. Frolick: Peter Dinklage


Binds That Tie by Kate Moretti

Love ties. Murder binds. Maggie never felt as though she belonged until Chris Stevens showed her what true happiness meant. Ten years into their marriage, miscarriages and infidelities have scarred them both. Despite their perfect-couple image, Maggie can’t look at Chris with anything but resentment. When a charismatic stranger offers the opportunity for a little harmless flirtation, she jumps into the game. But charm soon turns to malice, and a deadly split-second decision forces Maggie and Chris onto a dangerous path fraught with secrets, lies, and guilt. With no one else to turn to—no one she dares trust—Maggie will ultimately learn just how binding marital ties can be.

I occasionally enjoy a good psych thriller, and Binds That Tie definitely kept me on my toes. Kate Moretti once again proves her strong flair for storytelling, but this has more of an intense edge than her previous novel, Thought I Knew You (reviewed here). I liked all the little surprises Kate threw in to throw her readers off guard, but thought she could have had less flashbacks, as some of them took away from the story a bit. Fans of Gone Girl will enjoy this novel, and if it ever gets movie rights, I have the following ideas in mind.

Maggie: Kate Bosworth
Chris: Charlie Hunnam
Jake: Brandon Routh
Miranda: Laura Prepon

The Story of Us by Dani Atkins

Emma Marshall can't wait to marry her childhood sweetheart, Richard. But then a tragic accident changes everything, and introduces a stranger, Jack, into her life. Gorgeous and mysterious, Jack is like no-one Emma has met before. But Richard is the man she loves...

Two different men. Two different destinies. How will Emma end her story?

I loved Fractured a.k.a. Then and Always (reviewed here), so I jumped at the chance to read The Story of Us. It was a sweet story with a nice balance between conflict and contentment. I found the people and scenery easy to visualize. There was even an element of suspense. I think I was just expecting a shocking twist after reading Fractured and being blown away. However, there were some surprises in store and Dani kept me guessing the whole time. It's definitely a story you can cozy up to on a winter's day. And I can't leave it un-casted!

Emma: Karen Gillan
Richard: Kristian Bruun
Jack: Jeremy Jordan (maybe because I just saw The Last Five Years and he plays a hot author in that too)

Thanks to Laura Kenyon, Red Adept Publishing, and Head of Zeus for the books in exchange for honest reviews.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Laura Chapman is a book "Bridezilla"...plus a special giveaway

We're pleased to introduce you to Laura Chapman. Like Melissa A, she is a fan of The Mindy Project. And like Sara, she lives in Nebraska. Two brownie points right there! She's here today to talk about how she got into the mood for writing her latest novel The Marrying Type and she has a "Wedding Planner Prize Package" for a lucky reader in the US or Canada! (It can be used for planning other types of events too.)

Laura  is also the author of Hard Hats and Doormats (reviewed here) and the "Autumn and Tuck" series, which appear in Merry & Bright and A Kind of Mad Courage. A native Nebraskan, she loves football, Netflix marathons, and her cats, Jane and Bingley. Until she fulfills her dream of landing a British husband or becoming a Disney princess, you can find her in a bar penning her next novel.

You can find Laura at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Always the wedding planner, never a bride, Elliot Lynch is famous for orchestrating the splashiest weddings in Charleston, South Carolina. When her father’s sloppy management practices leave them on the brink of bankruptcy, Elliot will do whatever it takes to save the family business. When asked to appear on “The Marrying Type,” a reality TV show about the people behind the scenes as couples exchange I dos, she says yes to the invasion of privacy (and the hefty paycheck that comes with it).

With a camera crew capturing every detail of her life, Elliot faces her most challenging contract yet: planning a wedding where her ex is involved in every part of the process. Add in a lazy assistant, liquor-loving bridesmaid, and rival planner encroaching on her turf, and Elliot’s wedding season goes from high-end to high-stress.

Forced to confront her past, Elliot must live out her troubled present on national TV if she has any hope of saving her future.

View the book trailer:


Becoming a (Fake) Wedding Planner

One of my favorite parts about writing a book about a wedding planner was getting to plan a wedding. While most of the weddings featured in my new novel, The Marrying Type, are light on detail, I still had a blast looking up everything from dress designs to place settings to help me get in the spirit of the process. There’s something deliciously fun about writing a book about wedding planning. Though I’ve never planned a wedding of my own, the Type A person within me adored the idea of making lists and doing research to imagine someone else’s fictitious perfect day.

Plus, it was nice to have an excuse to spend hours on wedding sites and Pinterest oohing and ahhing over lace and bling. As a single gal of adequate fortune, it was nice to have a free pass without people assuming I must be in desperate want of a husband.

For research purposes, I spent the most amount of my “research” time checking out wedding dresses. Like a proper bride-to-be, I recognized how much the dress can set the tone for a wedding. I spent several minutes (okay, hours) looking at dresses, imagining how I might describe them in the story. Along the way, I had some definite favorites (here and here). I also had a dress or two that gave me a double-take in a “seriously?” kind of way (like here).

I’ve gone to a couple of bridal boutiques as a friend of the bride, and each of those experiences was lovely and drama-free. Unfortunately, lovely and drama-free doesn’t necessarily make for great storytelling. To help myself get into the mindset of what could go wrong with wedding dress shopping (or the dresses in general), I turned to the good people of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta. With my story set a few hours down the road in Charleston, South Carolina, I watched the show thinking, “These are my people.”

In addition to being amused (or suitably horrified), I had the added bonus of learning more about the terminology involved in wedding dresses. I could see what styles are fashionable, what certain cuts are called, and how those styles fit various brides.

Hours and hours of watching Lori, Monte, and the rest of the Bridals by Lori crew also gave me an extra bit of help I hadn’t expected. I gained inspiration on how to write the reality TV show elements of the book. While watching an episode, I would often find myself imagining how it was filmed and what went into making the finished product.

Whether or not my imagination was correct, it stirred my creative juices. (And here's a photo that delighted me when it appeared on Lori's Facebook page last month.)

Along that same grain, I turned to Netflix, WE, and TLC for more inspiration. I binge-watched episodes of Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, Platinum Weddings, and Four Weddings, always imagining what it must have been like behind the scenes of the behind-the-scenes shows. I owe a lot of gratitude to the people who made those shows for helping me research.

In preparation for writing this book, I also used The Everything Bachelorette Party Book and The Everything Wedding Book for insider tips on party planning best practices.

Here's what you could win!
I devoted more than a few minutes to creating a wedding board on Pinterest featuring some of the wedding designs, floral arrangements, dresses, and more that I used for inspiration throughout the writing process. You can view it here.

But even now that that book is being published, I’m hardly an expert on weddings. Still, I had a lot of fun in the process. I hope you will see that when you pick up your copy of The Marrying Type. It can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Marching Ink.

Thanks to Laura for visiting with us and sharing her Wedding Planner Prize Package with our readers. You can enter to win a copy of The Marrying Type from Goodreads. (Also US/Canada.)

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/Canada only. Giveaway ends March 1st at midnight EST.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: Bad Will Hunting

By Jami Deise

I have a soft spot for Heather Wardell’s novel Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many – it was the review I submitted to earn a spot at Chick Lit Central, and it was one of the first self-published books I read that demonstrated how the work of an indie author could be just as professional as a book by a traditionally published author (or even better). The concept behind it is incredibly clever and has that contemporary feel that’s so necessary for a romantic comedy to work. It’s a Survivor meets The Bachelor mash-up in which the protagonist, a woman nicknamed MC, ends up on a deserted island with a team of seven of her ex-boyfriends, fighting a tribe led by her ex-boyfriend Kent and seven of his ex-girlfriends, for a million-dollar prize.

So, when Wardell came out with a follow-up called Bad Will Hunting, I was eager to read it. Not a traditional sequel, Hunting isn’t about Kent or MC, but about Ashley, one of Kent’s exes. Her story picks up at the end of the show – a show on which Ashley is nicknamed “Angry Ashley.” It’s well-earned. Ashley is still furious that she was tricked onto the show, when she thought she was trying out for a reality show called Stranded. Even worse, her cousin Brett, to whom she was as close as a brother, was going to try out for the show with her – but he died of an undiagnosed heart defect while training. On the plane home, Ashley sits next to a lawyer, Will, who takes her contract and promises to help her sue the producers. But the producers laugh at her threat and Will disappears after making her watch an episode of the show with all his friends. Now Ashley’s determined to track down Will and have her revenge on him.

A common debate in literary circles is whether the main character needs to be likeable in order for readers to identify with the protagonist and the book to work. Usually this debate comes up when the main character is female, so sexism could be a factor. But the argument played out in my head as I read the book. In short, I just didn’t like Ashley – even though she has a Dickens-type back story and, if it weren’t for bad luck, she wouldn’t have any. As the book progresses, Ashley becomes more and more bitter, and keeps adding people to her revenge target list. Her external conversations and internal monologues center around how awful the world is, how bad people are, and what they deserve. Yes, Ashley is desperate and unhappy and has good reasons to be, and she does become friends with Sam, a contestant on the show who has just as much reason as Ashley to be angry and bitter. But he’s mature enough to realize that wreaking havoc on the ex-girlfriend and ex-best friend who made a baby behind his back won’t do anything to improve his situation. Ashley, however, just thinks he’s a fool for letting them get away with it.

Usually the reader roots for the main character to get what she wants. In this case, I rooted for Ashley not to get what she wanted – instead, I wanted her to get over her revenge fantasies and learn from Sam’s example.

Wardell’s book is well-written and structured, and as I got to know Ashley more, I found myself feeling sorry for her. But the question of whether a protagonist needs to be likeable – especially in first person women’s fiction – is one worth debating, and this is a book that’s worth reading.

Thanks to Heather Wardell for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Heather Wardell:

Friday, February 20, 2015

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke from Washington Square Press

Miracle in March by/from Juliet Madison (e-book)

French Coast by/from Anita Hughes

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman from Penguin Random House

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson from Tandem Literary

The One that Got Away by Bethany Chase from Penguin Random House

Recipe for Disaster by Stacey Ballis from Penguin Random House

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell from Atria

Pieces of it All by/from Tracy Krimmer (e-book)

Blame it on the Fame by/from Tracie Banister (e-book)


Amy:

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot from HarperCollins

Amy and Tracey:

I Regret Nothing by Jen Lancaster from Penguin



Amy and Melissa A:

French Coast by/from Anita Hughes

Sara: 

Heartbreak Cake by/from Cindy Arora

Six Months to Get a Life by Ben Adams from Authoright (e-book)


Becky:

Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace from Ebury Press

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan from Sphere

His Other Life by Beth Thomas from Avon

The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine from Transworld


Jami:

Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron from Penguin Random House (e-book)

Haven Lake by Holly Robinson from Penguin (e-book)


Book Review: Seeing Other People

By Becky Gulc

I thoroughly enjoyed The Stag and Hen Weekend by Mike Gayle, so was pleased to receive his latest release, Seeing Other People, for review. I received a hardback copy and I was drawn to the cover which I thought was memorable. Here is the synopsis:

‘Father of two Joe Clarke is about seventy-eight per cent sure he's just had an affair. After all that is the hopelessly attractive office intern in bed next to him isn't it? But then again if he did have an affair why can't he remember anything at all about the night in question? Mortified by his mistake, Joe vows to be a better man. But when his adored wife Penny puts two and two together and leaves him, things start to take a turn for the decidedly strange.
Joe is told for a fact that he DIDN'T have an affair after all.

He just thinks he did.

Which is great news...or at least it would be if the person who'd just delivered it wasn't the crisp-eating, overly perfumed and mean-spirited GHOST of his least favourite ex-girlfriend...’(Courtesy of Mike Gayle's website.)

I’ll admit that I was a bit ambivalent about the idea reading a book with a ghost in it, even though I was drawn to the idea of the story itself. I haven’t read many books in the genre that feature a ghost but actually, I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read that have, so I approached the book with an open mind.

Another Mike Gayle book I enjoyed from start to finish. I enjoyed seeing the world through a man’s viewpoint (and Joe’s is the only viewpoint) and going through the emotional roller coaster ride with him. Joe appears to have it all, but this one night where his fidelity in question threatens everything and we certainly feel his world crumble around him.

I initially found the build-up to the night in question a bit strange, in that I never particularly felt Joe was leaning strongly towards any kind of affair, and we know from the blurb that he never actually has one, but I suppose that we need to like Joe and we perhaps need to be a bit flummoxed ourselves as readers, just as Joe is. So I did have to get my head around the fact that a majority of the book is played out as if Joe has been unfaithful, even though we know he hasn’t had one by the blurb, and hints by Fiona the ghost at different intervals. I was eager to know how it would resolve itself, how and would Joe ever be able to get his family back in his present or an alternative one?

Clearly Fiona the ghost was important for the narrative, and after the first couple of appearances she appeared less frequently and I sometimes completely forgot she ‘existed,’ I was so immersed in life as Joe was experiencing it. The emotion was very raw at times, it really tugs at the heartstrings, both in terms of Joe’s relationship with his children and the scenes with his new-found friends at a divorced dad’s club (I loved these characters).

The book has a bit of a feel of It’s a Wonderful Life about it and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I enjoy Mike’s style of writing very much and if you haven’t read anything by him yet, I’d definitely recommend his work.

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Mike Gayle: