Friday, August 23, 2019

Book Review: Theme Music

By Jami Deise

There are some things that just naturally go together: Peanut butter and jelly. Ham and cheese. Crabs and beer (that last one might just be a Maryland thing). Other things don’t seem to go together at all, but once you try them, they work. Like pineapple on pizza. Who would have thought that would work?

Similarly, books are an almost non-detectable melding of voice and genre. A writer’s use of language creates an atmosphere that creates humor, suspense, dread, or other emotion. Depending on which words are used, the same setting could create anticipation or fear.

That’s how it usually works, anyway.

Maryland author T. Marie Vandelly turns this rule on its head in her debut, Theme Music. While the book is a psychological thriller, it’s written in the tone of chick lit. By playing against expectation in this way, Vandelly actually amplifies the horror. It’s an interesting choice that might annoy horror fans while attracting fans in other genres.

The protagonist of Theme Music is Dixie Wheeler, who, as a one-year-old, was the sole survivor when her father killed the rest of their family (mother and three older brothers) with an axe, then dragged a knife across his own throat. Having been raised by her mother’s sister, Dixie is now 26 and looking forward to moving into a place with her boyfriend, Garrett. But when she spies her childhood home on the market, she decides to move in, even after the nosy neighbor tells her the place is haunted. After Dixie tells him the truth about the house, Garrett decides not to move in with her. So Dixie is alone when she starts to have visions of her murdered family. And when her aunt tells her that her uncle never believed Dixie’s father killed the family, she becomes determined to re-open the investigation.

Oh, and there’s a love triangle among Dixie, Garrett, and Dixie’s childhood crush and former neighbor, Rory, whose last girlfriend died mysteriously…

At times, Theme Music feels like Amityville Horror (and some of the descriptions may be too explicit for sensitive readers.) At others, it’s more like Bridget Jones’s Diary. But strangely enough, it works. That may be because the tone (it’s written in first person) completely matches that of a millennial who’s been beaten down by life. Or perhaps the unintentional humor of certain metaphors and phrases helps to mitigate the effects of the graphic imagery. And there are a couple of really nice twists that keep the pacing quick.

My only quibble was with the ending, which seemed both predictable and illogical. More broadly, an issue with psychological thrillers is that, with a necessarily small cast, it’s fairly easy to evaluate possible villains. Part of the fun of reading mysteries is guessing correctly who the bad guy is. But the best experience is being fooled in a way that makes the reader want to go back and take a second look at the book, to see what clues she missed. While Vandelly isn’t there as a writer yet, I’m confident that’s a level she’ll be able to obtain.

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Spotlight and Giveaway: Postcards for a Songbird

Today we are featuring Postcards for a Songbird by Rebekah Crane. Thanks to KTK Publicity, we have THREE copies to give away!

Everyone eventually leaves Wren Plumley. First it was her mother, then her best friend, and then her sister. Now living with only her cop father and her scattered dreams, Wren feels stranded, like a songbird falling in a storm.

When Wilder, a sickly housebound teen, moves in next door, Wren finally finds what she’s always wanted—a person who can’t leave. But a chance meeting with Luca, the talkative, crush-worthy boy in her driver’s ed class, has Wren wondering if maybe she’s too quick to push people away. Soon, Wren finds herself caught between the safety of a friendship and a love worth fighting for.

Wren starts to dream again. But when postcards begin arriving from her sister, Wren must ultimately confront why her mother left fourteen years before and why her sister followed in her footsteps. For her new life to take flight, Wren will have to reconcile the heartbreaking beauty of lost dreams and the beautiful heartbreak of her new reality.

Inspiring, charming, and quick to become a favorite summer read, POSTCARDS FOR A SONGBIRD tugs at your heart strings as you root for Wren to understand that she’s not alone and fully embrace the love and friendship that surrounds her.

Photo by Kate Testerman
Rebekah Crane is the author of several critically acclaimed young-adult novels, including The Infinite Pieces of Us, The Upside of Falling Down, The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland, Aspen (currently being adapted by Life Out Loud Films), and Playing Nice. Crane is a former high school English teacher who found a passion for writing young-adult fiction while studying secondary English education at Ohio University. After living and teaching in six different cities, Crane finally settled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to write novels and work on screenplays. A yoga instructor and the mother of two girls, Crane spends many of her days tucked behind a laptop at 7,500 feet, where the altitude only enhances the writing experience. To learn more about Crane, visit her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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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Giveaway ends August 27th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Go-to-Gay AND Chick Lit Cheerleader: Happy trails to you

Keith and Jen are back this month to share their travel expertise with everyone. If you've finished your traveling for the summer, perhaps this will be useful for future trips. If you haven't gone anywhere yet, here are some good tips to start you on your dream vacation!

The Only Travel Guide You Need
Go. Go forth and see all the things.....

J: Vacation is calling and asking you to stop by, sit a spell, and bring home a suitcase filled with memories—or collector spoons—who are we to judge? It’s a good time for seasoned travelers to dispense wisdom to those hitting the open road and flying the tiny seats and rows skies this summer. Instead, you lucky ducks are getting top-notch travel insights from us.

K: Travel insights from us are better than a professional traveler, anyway. I mean, what are they going to tell you? Pack travel-size toiletries and take your shoes off when going through airport security? Peeshaw, we all know that stuff. We are here to give you the real down-and-dirty on how to travel like, well, us.

Gone Girl 
J: That friend. The one who’s always going, doing and traveling here, there and everywhere. I’m curious. Is her name Felicia? Because people seem to say goodbye to her all the time. Seriously, all. the. time!
K: Don’t try to compete with girl. YOU WILL NOT WIN. She has enough frequent flier miles to jet off to Aspen or Tokyo or Dayton without thinking twice. And if I am being catty, which I am, she probably has no close friends or family. That is why she is always traveling. Just “Heart” her Insta pics and be done.

The Budget
J: You’re thoughtfully considering whether or not you can afford that trip to Greece while making a deposit at the bank, and you swear you heard the teller, under his breath, say, “Honey, you can’t even afford to walk back to your car.”
K: Jen, have you been following me to the bank? I don’t let things like budgets get in the way of a good trip. You are only in Minneapolis once, right? You MUST splurge and go to the Spam museum.

Travel Light 
J: While packing, be sure to include that dress. The one with price tags still attached that’s been hanging in your closet since 2016. This time, you’ll wear it. Oh, and don’t forget the matching pumps! The pinchy ones that have only been on your feet when you tried them on at the department store. Those make great hiking shoes.
K: And while you are at it, go ahead and throw in enough underwear and socks to last you the remainder of 2019. You never know. You never know.

TSA Screening 
 J: When the metal detectors sing out that you left something in your pocket and you’re the recipient of an extra-special pat down, now is the time to give a shout out to the culprit: your Buns of Steel!
K: And if you are lucky, the TSA Agent won’t be rude, and will be pretty. Also, don’t announce you have Buns of Steel because then everyone in the area will be staring at your rump the rest of your time in the security area.

Nothing but love for Tamilee Webb!

[Aggressively speaks in a Scottish accent]
If that's not a pure mess... (Courtesy of Tumblr)

Rock Your Accent 
K: This is mine alone. Jen doesn’t have an accent that others deem hard to understand. Oh sure, plenty people find a Southern drawl cute, sometimes sexy, but just wait until you are in Chicago, New York, or Gettysburg and try to order a cup of ice at a restaurant or ask a clerk in Boise for pen. It is as if I am speaking a different language. It used to frustrate me so much I would change my accent and use a “Yankee” inflection, but then I got old and crabby and decided it was not worth it. It was their problem if they couldn’t understand my sweet, sweet drawl. So, my advice is to go full force with whatever accent you have. It is beautiful and who you are. The whole point of traveling is to experience new people and things. You may as well expose the locals to something different as well.

Hopefully, these tips will help you at least think about your next trip or start your planning something fun. Let us know where you have been this summer or where you are heading in the near future. We live through you!

Buen Viaje! Buon Viaggio! Bon Voyage! Have a Great Trip!

Keith Stewart is the author of Bernadette Peters Hates Me – True Tales of a Delusional Man. A native of Appalachia, he splits his time between his hometown of Hyden and nearby Lexington, Kentucky. His blog is You can find him on Twitter at @Shiglyogly and Facebook at @AMSCOT (A Strong Man’s Cup of Tea). He is a regular contributor to and the He lives with his husband, Andy, and their two dogs, Duke and Dudley.

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: Banished From Memory

By Sara Steven

It’s 1960. Sixteen-year-old Dianna Fletcher has been accustomed to the bright lights of Hollywood all her life-but now they are casting shadows on her family’s past and on her own future.

Dianna fears she is losing her talent and failing to live up to her family’s legacy. When she does land a part, she finds an unexpected enemy in brilliant actor and womanizer, Bill Royce, who not only attacks her confidence but holds a deep grudge against her family. Dianna comes to believe Bill’s resentment is related to her suspicion that her parents harbor a secret linked to the blacklist. But even as their friendship grows despite their misgivings about each other, Bill will not confess what he knows.

As Dianna struggles with her career in a rapidly changing industry, she urges Bill to share his dark past with her, only to discover secrets that could destroy her family’s prestige and power.

Banished From Memory highlights the conflicted relationship between two legacies of the blacklist, the sunset of classic Hollywood, the challenges and gifts of acting, and a determination on the part of one generation to exhume the truth of another’s. But at what cost? (synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Banished From Memory presented an intriguing and unique concept, with bringing in real-life celebrities and characters most of us are very familiar with, blending in with fictional people who feel true to life and more than believable. Not only that, but the celebrities we’ve come to know and often love have a voice within this story that fits their individual characteristics and mannerisms, an uncanny representation that aided in bringing forth Dianna’s inner struggles. I really couldn’t get enough of the nostalgia!

Dianna is the type of character who we hate to love, initially. Born with extreme privilege within a world that revolves around the silver screen, there are moments of brattiness and cattiness, showcasing her immaturity and inability to understand what’s behind the gilded curtains of her life. Yet, as her story progresses, we see her change and evolve, and while she still holds on to her youthfulness, there is a gritty edge that comes out when she begins to see the world for how it really is. This is due largely in part to her new friend and potential love interest, Bill Royce. I could feel the pangs of a girlish crush from Dianna, and the yearning he has for her, even though he feels as though it’s not right, and in some ways, forbidden. There is a lot stacked against the both of them, and a lot of baggage, which makes the reader feel torn about seeing them as a couple, bringing out the best and the worst within one another.

In reading about the history of the blacklist within Banished, I felt I learned a lot more than I ever imagined I could. While I knew of its legacy, I did not know the intricacies involved. I know the characters in this story are fictional, even the ones whose names we know well, but their stories and what they’ve had to endure is very real, a moment in our history that has not been brought to light in a very long time. Running alongside it are the various ways women were treated or “handled”, a time where certain behaviors were much more accepted than they are now, something that is very relatable to more recent events. Dianna questions all of it, and it’s from her perspective that we find ourselves asking the same thing that she does throughout the novel: What is a woman’s worth? It's in this that we really see the changes in Dianna and those around her, an eye-opening revelation worthy of discovery.

Thanks to JKS Communications for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Katherine Center is on a book giveaway

Photo by Skylar Reeves
We're thrilled to have Katherine Center at CLC today. Melissa A listed How to Walk Away as one of her 2018 favorites (reviewed here). Katherine's latest novel, Things You Save in a Fire (published August 13th by St. Martin's Press) is already on Melissa A's 2019 favorites list (reviewed here). Katherine has one copy of Things You Save in a Fire for a lucky reader!

Katherine Center is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of How to Walk Away. She’s also written five other bittersweet comic novels about love and family, including The Bright Side of Disaster, The Lost Husband, and Happiness for Beginners. The Lost Husband is currently in production as a feature film starring Josh Duhamel and Leslie Bibb. Katherine’s work has appeared in Redbook, InStyle, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, InTouch, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and many others.

Katherine’s novels have been published in translation all around the world. She has won many awards for her work, including the Rose State President’s Distinguished Author Award, the Girls, Inc. Strong, Smart & Bold Award, the Writers In The Schools Founders’ Award, the St. John’s School Maverick Award, and the Vassar College Fiction Prize.

Katherine is also a speaker on writing, and reading, and how the stories we tell impact our lives—and she recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy. She lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her awesome husband, two sweet children, and their fluffy-but-fierce dog. (Bio adapted from Katherine's website.)

Visit Katherine online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she's seen her fair share of them, and she's a total pro at other people's tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie's old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren't exactly thrilled to have a "lady" on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn't seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can't think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping...and it means risking it all—the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

Katherine Center's Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt and healing tour-de-force about the strength of vulnerability, the nourishing magic of forgiveness, and the life-changing power of defining courage, at last, for yourself. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
Last year, during the same summer, I got compared in reviews to both Jane Austen and Nora Ephron—two of my writing heroes. That has been my standing Greatest Compliment for a full year. But the other night, a woman on one of my book tour stops for Things You Save in a Fire told me that she'd loved reading the book so much, that when she got to the end, she hugged it. That was a pretty great moment, too.

How are you similar to or different from Cassie?
Cassie is basically about a third me, a third my volunteer firefighter husband, and a third her own self! Her love of firefighting, her physical courage, and her calm-in-the-storm quality, that’s all my hubby. Her gumption and grit and refusal to give up—that’s all me. And as she becomes more tender-hearted during the story, that’s my own tenderness I’m giving her. I came to really love Cassie—for how tough she is, but also for the courage it takes for her to let herself open up.

If Things You Save in a Fire were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
That is a tough question! It’s always hard for me to fan-cast my books because the characters feel so real and specific to me. I’m not sure who I would pick to be Cassie—but I’d want her to be warm-hearted and able to convey both vulnerability and badassery. As for the rookie, I’d want him to have a very expressive face—you know, one where you can read his emotions as he’s watching Cassie. I’d want to see his admiration for her, and feel his longing to be closer to her. I’d want the attraction between them to be palpable.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I read a time-travel love story by Bee Ridgway called The River of No Return this summer, and it has really stayed with me. Eloisa James blurbed it as “ the love-child of Jane Austen and Dr. Who,” and I was like, Sold!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
At the start of my book tour for Things You Save in a Fire, I got to do two launch events in my hometown of Houston, and during both of them, I got to pull my volunteer firefighter hubby up in front of the crowd and ask him a little bit about firefighting. My husband is the funniest person I know, even just around the house, but he’s ten times funnier in front of a crowd. He got up there and told firefighter stories and cracked the whole room up—myself included.

If you were to take us on a tour of the town where you live, what are some must-see places we would visit?

I would take us on an eating tour. There are things to see, sure—but mostly there are things to EAT. Eating is basically our national sport down here—and we have food from every nook and cranny of the globe. We know how to eat in this town! We’d have to bring wheelbarrows with us to cart ourselves home, we’d get so full.

Thanks to Katherine for visiting with us and 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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Giveaway ends August 25th at midnight EST.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Review: City of Girls

By Melissa Amster

"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves - and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life - and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. "At some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time," she muses. "After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is." Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection,
City of Girls is a love story like no other. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Until now, I've only read one of Elizabeth Gilbert's books--Eat, Pray, Love obviously. I really enjoyed it, but somehow never got around to reading anything else she has written in the past eleven years. I had no idea what she was capable of when it came to fiction, so I was pleasantly surprised with City of Girls.

I loved everything about this novel. It is extremely well-written and captivating throughout. The vivid imagery made it so easy to picture everything that was going on. I felt like I was stepping back in time to visit New York City in the 1940's. The focus on musical theater was a big draw for me and I love how that aspect was played out (excuse the pun). Vivian was so relatable, regardless of the fact that she lived in a different time period. Her "voice" was witty and compelling. I enjoyed getting to know her and seeing where her path in life took her over the years that this novel spanned. Elizabeth had great characters and their interactions and dialogue were so genuine that it made the story flow beautifully. I had no idea where anything would go, as it was not predictable, and I enjoyed the journey from start to finish.

City of Girls is such a beautifully told story about love in its many forms. I recommend it to everyone as a must-read. It is definitely one of my favorite novels from this year.

Movie casting suggestions:
Vivian (20s): Maya Hawke
Vivian (30s-50s): Jamie Clayton
Olive: Alex Borstein
Anthony: Noah Centineo
Peg: Christine Elise
Celia: Conor Leslie
Marjorie (adult): Gabby Hoffman
Frank: Alessandro Nivola
Edna: Cate Blanchett
Arthur: Chris Pine
Billy: Johnny Depp

I won this book from Reading with Robin and am so thankful for the opportunity to read it this summer.

More by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Book Review: False Step

By Jami Deise

Thanks to reality TV, Instagram, YouTube, etc., it seems that everyone is looking for fame that lasts much longer than the promised fifteen minutes. Even those of us whose only public display is Facebook carefully curate what we post in order to put forth the most flattering portrait of ourselves as possible. But sometimes people end up as a supporting character in someone else’s movie, and that’s when we can’t control the narrative any longer.

In Victoria Helen Stone’s latest thriller, False Step, occupational therapist Veronica Bradley is stuck in a dead marriage to personal trainer Johnny, staying only because of their daughter Sydney. But when Johnny finds a missing child, suddenly he’s a hero to their Denver, Colorado town… and everyone wants to know about him and his family. As Veronica is having an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Micah, she wants nothing to do with the press coverage, the fawning fake friends, or the police. And as Johnny’s behavior grows more strange, she’s forced to wonder if her husband is hiding something big.

Veronica should be an unlikable character, but Stone does such a good job describing an insecure woman who married too soon, who now feels trapped because of her daughter’s hero worship of her father, that the reader roots for Veronica regardless. While the novel’s prose could have been more sophisticated, it works well with Veronica’s view of the world. As the stakes get higher, Veronica’s choices become more urgent, and the book becomes more of a page-turner. Even though I predicted the ending, it’s an earned one.

False Step probably won’t make any “best of” lists, but it’s a fast, enjoyable read for domestic thriller fans.

Thanks to Little Bird Publicity for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Victoria Helen Stone: