Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: Who We Were Before

By Melissa Amster

I don’t normally gravitate toward books involving the loss of a child. As a mother, they are hard for me to read. I have stumbled across a few that sneaked it into a story after I was gripped. However, I knew about it already going into Who We Were Before by Leah Mercer, as it is the main premise of the book, but the aftermath is what interested me enough to give it a chance.

Zoe knows that it wasn’t really her fault. Of course it wasn’t. But if she’d just grasped harder, run faster, lunged quicker, she might have saved him. And Edward doesn’t really blame her, though his bitter words at the time still haunt her, and he can no more take them back than she can halt the car that killed their son.

Two years on, every day is a tragedy. Edward knows they should take healing steps together, but he’s tired of being shut out. For Zoe, it just seems easier to let grief lead the way.

A weekend in Paris might be their last hope for reconciliation, but mischance sees them separated before they’ve even left Gare du Nord. Lost and alone, Edward and Zoe must try to find their way back to each other—and find their way back to the people they were before. But is that even possible?
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

You may have already read a book (or two) by Leah Mercer. She writes romantic comedies as Talli Roland. I understand why she needed to change her name for this novel, as it is not a comedy at all. However, there are some romantic aspects that take place during some flashback scenes. While the subject matter is a heavy and emotional trigger, I was able to read the entire novel and get caught up in the story. Yes, it was sad to think about, but Leah writes sensitively about what happened and gives her characters realistic levels of grief, while also trying to help them move forward in their lives and relationship.

I like how Leah alternated between Zoe and Edward’s narratives, as well as between past and present. She wove a story that flowed really well regardless of character or time changes. Both characters were sympathetic and I wondered what would happen for each of them and if they’d come out okay on the other end. There were some painful parts regarding the loss of their child, but they also satisfied my curiosity about what happened and I treated them as a cautionary tale.

Overall, it was a really well-written and engaging novel. I'm impressed by Talli's morph into Leah and her new writing style, as a result. I almost forgot these authors were the same person shortly after starting the book. The only concern I had was that it went on a bit long toward the end, but I like the way it ended. I have no idea who to cast for a movie version, but would love to hear your ideas after you read this. Of course, there's the option of taking a chance on unknown actors....

Thanks to Lake Union for the book in exchange for an honest review. Enter to win a Kindle version at Goodreads (US only). It's also $1.99 for Kindle First members. (Both the giveaway and the deal end on September 30th.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

What's in the mail...plus a giveaway

Melissa A:
A Lowcountry Christmas by
Mary Alice Monroe from Gallery
In Need of Therapy by/from Tracie Banister (plus swag; won in a contest)
The Girl Before by JP Delaney from Ballantine (e-book via NetGalley)
Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks from
Grand Central Publishing (e-book via NetGalley)
The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth from St. Martin's Press
The Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill from
St. Martin's Press
The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley from William Morrow
Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes from
St. Martin's Press
A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly from BookSparks
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter from BookSparks

Melissa A and Amy:
Always by Sarah Jio from Ballantine

Amy:
The Flower Arrangement by Ella Griffin from Berkley

Jami:
The Taste of Air by Gail Cleare from Red Adept (e-book)
Out of Practice by/from Phoebe Fox (e-book)

Sara:
Lovers and Newcomers by Rosie Thomas from The Overlook Press

Denise:
My (Part-Time) Paris Life by Lisa Anselmo from Thomas Dunne Books





What could be in YOUR mail:

Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks

Grand Central Publishing has TWO copies to give away!


#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an emotionally powerful story of unconditional love, its challenges, its risks and most of all, its rewards.

At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear...and no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding-one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined.

**Read an exclusive excerpt here.**

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 September 28th at midnight EST.


Book Review: Where the Light Gets In

By Denise Keliuotis

Most people likely know Kimberly Williams-Paisley from her role as Annie in Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II. In those films, Williams-Paisley portrayed a young woman from a loving, stable (if not often a bit wacky) family as she married, and then, in the sequel, as she had a baby. Viewers laughed and cried for the two hours or so each movie lasted, perhaps recognizing some of their own family members in the characters, or perhaps wishing their families were more like the Banks. The movies followed the traditional three-act arc to a happy ending, and when the lights rose and the credits rolled and viewers rose from their seats, they did so believing Williams-Paisley’s character and her fictional family all lived happily ever after.

It would be easy to assume such a storybook existence for the vibrant young actress who brought Annie Banks to life; easy to assume that Williams-Paisley’s own family was as loving, as stable, as hilariously quirky as the one on the giant screen. Such an assumption was largely true, for many years. Williams-Paisley grew up with a supportive but somewhat passive father; an encouraging but sometimes demanding mother; and two younger siblings, Jay and Ashley, in New York. Her family wasn’t wealthy, and Williams-Paisley began acting at a young age in part to help pay for private-school tuition. She won a role on her first audition – a commercial – and by the age of 14 was signed with the William Morris Agency. Her star continued to rise when she attended Northwestern University’s prestigious drama program (where she learned of the Father of the Bride audition). Williams-Paisley’s family supported her as she pursued her career; her mother, Linda Williams, even has a brief cameo in the original film as a wedding guest.

Of course, Linda Williams was also a guest at her daughter’s wedding to musician Brad Paisley in late December 2003. Ironically, it was at that wedding where Williams-Paisley first noticed some unusual behavior from her mother: a spate of uncharacteristic moodiness, a struggle to read a Bible passage during the ceremony. Less than a year later, a doctor recommended some neurological testing for Mrs. Williams, and in October of 2005, Linda Williams was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA), a rare neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak, write, and understand language. Linda Williams was sixty-two years old.

Where the Light Gets In tells the story of Linda Williams’ journey with PPA, and the effects Mrs. Williams’ illness has had on her and on her family. The story is told from Williams-Paisley’s perspective, with great candor and depth. Williams-Paisley’s memoir strikes the perfect balance, offering a compelling mix of explanation and exposition. But, most of all, Williams-Paisley offers an honest, heartfelt tale of what illness can do to a family – even a famous family.

Williams-Paisley could have penned Where the Light Gets In so as to leave readers sad, even heartbroken. But that is not who she is, and she refuses to allow PPA to take such joy from her family, no matter how frustrating, depressing, and hopeless some moments have felt. Instead, Williams-Paisley chose to find the upside of the downside. She writes:

"My mother is not only presenting me an opportunity to love unconditionally, she’s also allowing me to practice being comfortable with what is uncomfortable. To grieve and also embrace what is broken. To know that some days I can receive who my mother is now and some days I struggle with it. To allow that two opposing thoughts may exist in my head at the same time. . . . In accepting our limited wisdom, we allow for infinite possibility."

Where the Lights Gets In is not only a warm, honest tribute to Williams-Paisley’s mother, it is also an inspiration to others dealing with PPA and dementia and similar neurological diseases. It is as moving as any movie Williams-Paisley could film, and it left me knowing that Williams-Paisley will, indeed, live happily ever after, even though that life may not look anything like what she’d ever imagined.

Thanks to Crown Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

At home with Kate Moretti...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Pooja Dhar at PR Photograph  
We're excited to have Kate Moretti back at CLC today to talk about family and feature her upcoming novel, The Vanishing Year. Melissa A enjoyed this novel and recently reviewed it at Goodreads. Thanks to Atria, some lucky readers have a chance to win this book as part of Kate's blog tour. (However, since they're hosting the giveaway, it is US/Canada only.)

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at her website, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Synopsis:
Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

“THE VANISHING YEAR is a stunner. A perfectly compulsive read that's impossible to put down.”
-Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Don’t You Cry

"Engaging, intriguing, heart-pounding… the twists had me gasping, the details had me transfixed. I cared about Zoe right away, which along with everything else, made it impossible for me to stop reading this book."
-Amy Sue Nathan, author of The Glass Wives

“Expertly told with secrets, twists and whip-smart prose, Kate Moretti shows in her third book that she deserves her New York Times best seller status. THE VANISHING YEAR will live in your mind long after you put the book down.”
-Ann Garvin, author of The Dog Year

What is something essential to have in order to be a family?
Love, connection, the desire to protect each other. That's pretty much it. I try to hammer home to the kids that families can look so different, that there's no such thing as a wrong family, as long as they love each other. We've gone through so many iterations: a mom and dad, two moms, two dads, just a mom, just a dad, a grandma that lives with you, etc.

What is your favorite family-themed movie?

This is ridiculous I know, but probably Christmas Vacation. It captures the craziness of the holidays with family so well. Plus, it has Uncle Eddie.

What is your favorite memory from a family vacation?
We used to camp when I was a kid with my cousins. I was eighteen before I knew that people rented hotel rooms. Those trips are a montage in my mind: Uno on the picnic table, the year it rained five of the seven days and we spent most of the time in the movie theater or the laundromat, using the dryer, the year we went to Fenway in 100 degree heat. My best childhood memories are those camping trips. As a mother, we take our kids to the same beach every year with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, great aunts. It's just a wonderful week.

Share a recent or favorite family portrait.
We're not really a "portrait" kind of family. I don't know why, I just don't do it that often. But here is a group shot of us on vacation at Disney World, and then my favorite picture with my kids. This was two years ago, but I love it anyway.




What is your favorite family tradition?
Not to go back to Christmas again, but we do Christmas eve at my mom's house every year. We open presents from my side of the family then. We eat the same food my grandmother used to make -- stuff from the 50's like Gherkins and salami. Nothing is allowed to change. If we ever have to get snowflake rolls from another bakery, I'm not sure what will happen.

Have you ever found long lost relatives? If so, what was the experience like?

No, I haven't. But we did find relatives that lived in Hungary. Our families kept in touch and I actually visited them when I traveled after college. They made us dinner and we stayed in their rental apartment. The whole experience was fantastic.

Thanks to Kate for chatting with us and to Atria for sharing her book with our readers. You can also win a copy from Confessions of a Bookaholic through September 27th.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here

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US/Canada only (part of a blog tour). Giveaway ends October 20th.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Go-to-Gay: Chosen Family

We're glad to have Keith Stewart back this month for his first actual Go-to-Gay column. (He started out by doing an interview with us in July.) And readers, you are in for a treat! This month, he's talking about family and what it means to him.



From My Family to Yours

“Family” is a word that is overused, overexposed, and overdone. In this day of click-bait hyperbole ("Read This Expose and You Will Never Feel the Same About Sanford & Son," "You Won’t BELIEVE What Hillary Said Now," "Click Here and Be Forever Skinny!"), the word “family” is used to describe your co-workers, friends, people who attended the same school as you, people who support the same sports team as you, and even people who have the same favorite movie as you. That is all fine and good, but does someone who loves the Savannah Bananas baseball team and the Star Wars trilogy really deserve the title “Family?”

I was born and raised in the southern Appalachian Mountains. There, family is important. Family is who you go to in times of trouble, when you want to celebrate good news, when you don’t have anywhere else to go or anything else to do, and in my personal case, when you are looking for a home cooked meal. I have a gaggle of first cousins who are so close to me I honestly feel like they are my siblings.

Family certainly doesn’t have to mean blood-kin. Chosen family is often the best kind. They are the ones you picked to be your “people.” If we are being honest, these family members are the ones you’d prefer to go on vacations with instead of some of those blood relatives you are usually stuck in a small condo at Gulf Shores with for a week each summer.



For gay and lesbians, chosen family is crucial. So many of us are ostracized or completely disowned by our blood-related families when we come out of the closet. We are suddenly in the world with no family at all—a terrifying and soul-crushing experience for someone used to those close familial ties. Thankfully, I never had to go through that myself, but I know many who have, and I always make a point to include them in any family event I may be hosting or attending. Aside from the fact that it is an awesome song with a beat that will NOT allow you sit still and NOT dance to it, this is probably why Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” has always been a gay anthem.

I think family boils to down to two characteristics: undying loyalty, and, of course, love.

Face it, members of the “Dairy Queen Oreo Blizzard Family” are not going to be very loyal to you when something inconvenient comes along, say a fist fight at a funeral. When someone throws a punch at you at the burial service of a loved one, it takes undying loyalty from someone to jump into the fray in their best suit and tie and fight off the people who are attacking you. What? This has never happened to you? Just my family? Well, maybe not the most relatable example then, but my family IS a little odd. The point is being loyal means doing things you don’t necessarily want to do, but if a family member needs it done, you at least try.

When a member of my chosen family was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago, the first thing another family member and I did was make plans to get to Houston, Texas, where she lived, as fast as possible. Neither or us knew anything about caretaking someone undergoing chemotherapy, and I pass out at the sight of blood, but someone we loved was in need, and all other issues fell away until we got there. Of course, I ended up clogging her kitchen sink so bad it flooded her kitchen had to call in a professional plumber, then spilled a large glass of red wine on her brand-new white arm chair (which she thankfully had already had Scotch- guarded), but I was there, helping in my own way. No members of the “Celine Dion Fan Family” made an appearance.


Since my book was published earlier this spring, I am so thankful to have family to share my experiences with along the way. You know when you get a really good compliment or review, you can’t just tell everyone about it without looking like a braggart. With family, I can just say, “Oh my God! Look at what so-and-so posted about my book!” without fear of eye rolls and knives in the back. The same when I get bad reviews or rejected for some event. I know I am safe complaining to them, and I know they will sympathize and join in the mutual griping to make me feel better.

Back to the hyperbole click bait, I should have titled this CLICK HERE TO SEE WHY I AM THE MOST BLESSED MAN ALIVE! I really do feel this way. I have a large, extended family of blood relatives that I am close to and genuinely adore. They accept me for who I am and let me be who I want to be. I have a group of chosen family members who I love and care for as if they were my siblings. I never feel alone in this world because of them.




I’m curious, ChickLit Central family, what characteristics do you think define the word “family?”


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 www.astrongmanscupoftea.com . 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 HumorOutcasts.com and the GoodMenProject.com. He lives with his husband, Andy, and their two dogs, Duke and Dudley.

Spotlight: Ark

Introduction by Melissa Amster

When I was visiting family in NYC a few weeks ago, they introduced me to an author they know and he told me about his latest book, Ark. The author, Julian Tepper, was very nice and I enjoyed chatting with him. I later looked up the book and found out that it was narrated from a female perspective. I love when male authors write from a woman's point-of-view (ex. Wally Lamb) and thought it would be great to feature at CLC. 

Ben Arkin, patriarch of the family, is an artist who has never sold a piece. His children, Sondra, Doris, and Oliver run a record label that has never produced a hit, and that Ben and his wife have bankrolled. When Doris strikes out to form her own label, Sondra sues the entire Arkin family, setting about a series of events that ultimately lead to their demise. The story is told primarily from the perspective of Oliver’s daughter, Rebecca, an attorney who might be the only redeeming member of the Arkin family. Rebecca attempts to keep the family from collapsing, while trying desperately to extricate herself from their grasp.

Julian Tepper is an American author, born in Manhattan, in 1979. In 2011, he co-founded the Oracle Club, an arts club, in New York City. His first novel, Balls, was published in 2012. Ark is his second novel. His writing has appeared in the Paris Review, Manhattan Magazine, Kindling Quarterly, and the Huffington Post. Visit Julian at his website.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: The Real Liddy James

By Jami Deise

In 2012, former Hillary Clinton aide Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” which landed like a meteor on a dinosaur-dominated Earth. While Slaughter’s observations were spot-on, her personal story read more like #1stWorldProblems than a scenario most women could emphasize with. To wit, Slaughter, a tenured professor at Princeton, left her university to take a position in Clinton’s State Department – a senior position requiring long hours, occasional TV appearances, and a weekly commute to DC. Leaving her two sons in the very capable hands of her professor husband – who had long ago agreed to become “lead parent” – it looked like Slaughter did indeed have it all, and at a very high level, too. But her older son turned into a juvenile delinquent, forcing Slaughter to quit her job so she could be constantly on hand to keep her son’s self-destructive behavior in check. It’s hard to see Slaughter’s experience as a universal look at what’s keeping women from the upper echelons , and more of a very personal tale of how one woman’s fabulous career was derailed by a self-centered, bratty teenager. (I’m sure Slaughter and her husband don’t look at it that way. She has always been very generous toward the boy – more than I might have, in a similar situation.) To her credit, Slaughter didn’t let this experience keep her home licking her wounds. She’s been an outspoken expert on the subject of caregiving, publishing a book last year, and is rumored to be up for another high-level position in a potential Hillary Clinton Administration. The troubled son is now in college. (Her tale is a lot more well-known than that of a similar woman, former George W. Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes, who quit her job and moved back to Texas because her teenage son didn’t like DC. Maybe Hughes should have written an article, too.)

Another Anne-Marie, Anne-Marie Casey, found Slaughter’s tale so compelling, it inspired her to write a book about a similar woman, fictional New York City divorce attorney Liddy James. James is a very specific character – well-known (and well-paid) in her field, she’s written a book and often appears on TV to talk about celebrity divorces and parenting after a break-up. She has two sons – teenage Matty, fathered by her ex-husband Peter, and six-year-old Cal, the result of a one-night-stand that broke up her marriage. Peter is now in a common-law marriage with Rose, who is more of a parent to Matty than Liddy is. With apartment fees, private school tuition, the nanny, the dog-walker, and a hefty settlement to Peter (a professor who couldn’t afford to live in New York without his ex-wife’s alimony), Liddy can’t get off her gerbil wheel of work without having to sacrifice everything. And no one in her life is grateful for everything she does – rather, she’d judged for never slowing down.

Reading about Liddy’s life is exhausting, and Casey makes an interesting choice by including Rose as a point-of-view character. A professor as well, Rose has put her position in jeopardy by taking care of Matty rather than following the “publish or perish” edict. She loves Matty as if he were her own, and routinely puts his and Peter’s needs first. When Rose has an unexpected, later-in-life pregnancy, Liddy points out that as Peter’s unmarried partner, Rose has no rights to his house or his son. In fact, Rose’s own health insurance is paid by Liddy’s company! Then Rose develops complications and is put on bedrest. This requires Matty to move back in with Liddy, and he immediately starts to make her life a living hell the way teenage boys seem to be best at.

While the book is pitched as another I Don’t Know How She Does It, its most touching and unique aspect is the relationship between Liddy and Rose. Far from being a typical war between the ex-wife and the new partner, Liddy and Rose both realize they are dependent on each other for their completely different lifestyles, and appreciate rather than resent each other. The resentment seems to be reserved for Peter and Matty, who both sulk through most of the book.

Structurally, I found a few issues. There were a few cases of “head-hopping” (when a character who shouldn’t be suddenly becomes a point-of-view character); more broadly, the pacing of the final quarter of the novel was off. Because of this, the last quarter seemed to belong to a completely different novel entirely, and poor Rose was almost forgotten.

Overall, though, I enjoyed The Real Liddy James and think it’s a nice addition to the “working mother tries to have it all but falls on her face” genre. Although the fact that there is such a genre is sad. Women write these books; women read these books; they are fiction but still adhere to the trope of “women can’t have it all.” And it’s not because we’re bad at our jobs; it’s because there’s someone at home that trips everything up. I’d love to read a book where a woman triumphs at home and in the office. So far, though, that seems as big a fantasy as “Cinderella.”

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