Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book Review: Well, That Escalated Quickly

By Jami Deise

I usually plan my reading carefully – a book is a several-hour commitment, so I evaluate summaries and reviews, even when deciding whether to buy a free book for my Kindle. But in choosing Franchesca Ramsey’s Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes from an Accidental Activist, I was a bit more cavalier. I’d seen that the title was getting some buzz, so I requested it, even though I knew nothing about the book or the author. Had I known more, would I have still requested it? I’m not sure. As its long title implies, there’s a lot going on in this book. Some chapters I loved, some chapters I skimmed, and some left me weeping for humanity.

Ramsey is one of the first people to become famous through a YouTube video going viral (“Sh*t White Girls Say… to Black Girls,”) and even though the content pigeonholed her as a social justice warrior before being an SJW was cool/an alt-right insult, Ramsey was an actress and a comedian who carefully developed her YouTube channel as a springboard to an entertainment career. As someone whose early videos were hair-style tutorials for black women, it’s not surprising that Ramsey landed at the intersection of entertainment and advocacy. But the resulting book, while mostly linear, lacks focus; a criticism that makes me wonder if Ramsey feels that way in her own life.

The first several chapters of the book describe Ramsey’s early attempts at pursuing an entertainment career. She’s humble and self-deprecating in these accounts of her early YouTube videos (bad lighting, shower-curtain cameos) and her attempt to balance this work with her day job. Then “Sh*t White Girls…” goes viral, and suddenly she had an agent and an invitation to audition for SNL. At the same time, her new fame coupled with her already-established internet presence meant she became a fat target for every racist with a modem. When she tried to appease them, the black community called her an apologist and questioned her marriage to a white man.

Fame really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Ramsey is a thoughtful, earnest writer who sometimes bends over backwards to see the good in other people, even people who say things like, “She’s pretty for a black girl.” Sometimes, though, she’s a little too earnest. The book has a long section of social justice vocabulary words, a section on music she can’t listen to anymore, and a list of words and phrases that people committed to equality shouldn’t say. Reading those sections left me feeling exhausted… and guilty. Exhausted because who wants to be excoriated for using the word “gypped?” And guilty because, as a white woman, I can decide how committed I want to be to this movement. I didn’t have to have “the talk” with my white son, who will never be arrested for waiting for someone at Starbucks; no one will call the police on me because I did not wave at a neighbor when leaving an AirBnB. Ramsey, her friends, and family do not have that choice. They can’t just decide one day not to be black because it’s exhausting.

I do wonder, however, if Ramsey will someday feel the need to make a choice between comedy and social justice activism. While occasionally in the book she was able to mix them (such as her flowchart titled “Should I Unfriend This Person?”), most sections were either funny or earnest, but not both. Then again, there’s an old saying about comedy being tragedy plus time. Our country’s current social and political environment is definitely a tragedy. It’s going to take a long time before any of this can seem funny

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Amy Blumenfeld picks the a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome Amy Blumenfeld to CLC today and celebrate the publication of her debut novel, The Cast. Amy is here to tell us about some of her favorite movies from two genres we enjoy and thanks to Get Red PR, we have one copy of The Cast to give away!

Amy Blumenfeld’s articles and essays have appeared in various publications including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, Prevention, and on the cover of People.

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Amy was a shy child who sat in a coat cubby for the first six weeks of kindergarten. Lured out by carrot sticks and crayons, she eventually made her way into the world and graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University and received a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism where she was the recipient of the James A. Wechsler Award for National Reporting.

Amy has been interviewed on MSNBC, CBS Evening News, FOX News, and contributed to two non-fiction books. She has been a featured speaker for several national organizations and during one keynote address made Robin Williams laugh. It is one of her most treasured memories.

Amy lives in New York with her husband and daughter.

Visit Amy online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Twenty-five years ago, a group of ninth graders produced a Saturday Night Live–style videotape to cheer up their ailing friend. The show’s running time was only ninety minutes, but it had a lasting impact: Becca laughed her way through recovery, and the group―Jordana, Seth, Holly, and Lex―became her supporting cast for life.

On the silver anniversary of Becca Night Live, the friends reunite over the Fourth of July to celebrate Becca’s good health―but nothing goes as planned. The happy holiday card facades everyone’s been hiding behind quickly crumble and give way to an unforgettable three days filled with complex moral dilemmas and life-altering choices. Through humor, drama, and the alternating perspectives of five characters, The Cast explores the power of forgiveness, the importance of authenticity, and the immeasurable value of deep, enduring friendships to buoy us when life plays out differently than expected.

*Bio and synopsis courtesy of Amy's website.

Top Five Favorite Chick Flicks:
  • Love Actually
  • The Big Sick
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • Pretty Woman

Top Five Favorite Animated Films:
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Boss Baby
  • Stuart Little (partially animated)
  • Charlotte's Web (sort of animated with the animals)
  • The Princess and the Frog
Thanks to Amy for visiting with us and to Get Red PR 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 19th at midnight EST.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Book Review: Summer Secrets at the Apple Blossom Deli

By Sara Steven

Lily Holmes is ready for a fresh start. And there’s no better place to begin again than the idyllic seaside town of Marram Bay.

All Lily wants to do is focus on making her new deli a success and ensuring her son’s happiness. Not the postcard creeping out of her handbag, and definitely not finding a new man in her life!

But this isn’t going to be as easy as she first thought. The town is in uproar about the city girl who’s dared to join them and she’s fighting a battle at every turn.

Perhaps with a little help from the gorgeous cider farmer next door, she may be able to win them over, but her past secrets threaten to ruin everything… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Portia MacIntosh has a way of developing characters who have the ability to bring out a range of emotions from within. The way she describes the connections between Lily and her son, or the way Lily is not welcomed into the town of Marram Bay, even the first visit with the next door neighbor- I was on a roller coaster.

Lily wants to create a better life for her son, but she’s fighting against what feels like impossible odds. In her way are the various townspeople, who don’t take kindly to outsiders, doing all they can to muddle up her plans. This trickles down into the experiences Lily’s son has at school, which really got me going. I found myself cursing under my breath from time to time, or rolling my eyes. It felt true to life and close to home, since so many of us have been in Lily’s shoes.

Even Lily’s experiences with that gorgeous cider farmer next door are tinged with contention, when she discovers she’s not the only one who’s interested in him. Yet, through all the muck is this undeniable spirit, a fighting spirit. I really appreciated that about Lily. Her ability to keep going, even with all the negativity. It would be so easy for her to run for the hills, and not that she doesn’t feel like she wants to several times along the way, but witnessing her ability to take a few steps forward, a ton back every time feeds into that need to see the underdog achieve the impossible. The question, though, is whether it’s all worth it, and what’s the end result? The changes Lily goes through during all of this, it’s fun to witness, and is inspiring.

This truly was a sweet read, mixed in with strong undertones of strength and courage while facing less than stellar odds.

Thanks to Portia MacIntosh for the book in exchange for an honest review. Summer Secrets at the Apple Blossom Deli can be purchased here.

More by Portia MacIntosh:

Friday, August 10, 2018

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson from Gallery
Dear Santa by Nancy Naigle from St. Martin's Press
The Last House on Sycamore Street by Paige Roberts from Kensington (ebook via NetGalley)
The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay from St. Martin's Press

Jami and Melissa A:
The Guests on South Battery by Karen White from Berkley (Jami got an e-book via NetGalley)

I Give You My Heart by SarahJane Ford from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
The Exes' Revenge by Jo Jakeman from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)

Go On, Girl by/from Hilary Grossman (e-book)
Pictures in the Sky by Amanda Paull from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)

Book Review: The Bucket List

By Jami Deise

While breast cancer isn’t the leading cause of death for women—heart disease is—we fear it like no other disease. Perhaps because it’s seen as a uniquely female disease (it’s not—my father and my uncle both had it), perhaps because it happens to a body part that physically marks us as female. I had my first mammogram at 37; when I told my gynecologist it felt like everyone I knew was getting that diagnosis, she said it was time, and I’ve had one every year since. And while every film save one was clean, finding out that my former state, Maryland, was a breast cancer hot spot helped reinforce the decision to leave.

Thirty-seven felt young; I can’t imagine dealing with these issues at 25. In her follow-up to her 2016 book about New York millennials who magically become pretty (The Regulars), Georgia Clark brings us another New York millennial, Lacey, a 25-year-old who just tested positive for the BCRA1 mutation, meaning the question of breast cancer is not an if but a when. Her question actually is, does she get a preventative mastectomy and breast reconstruction, or wait and see what happens? Her mother died at 31; her older sister Mara, with a daughter of her own, doesn’t want to get the test at all. It’s heady stuff, and in a less sure hand, it would have been a Lifetime movie or weepy women’s fiction. But The Bucket List is, as Clark describes it, “a sexy mastectomy book.” Lacey is much more than her mutation; she has a full, rich, complicated millennial life, and Clark explores all its aspects.

I admit, I was overwhelmed and not as drawn in as I wanted to be in the beginning of the book. Lacey is, fittingly enough, a “trend forecaster” for a fashion publication in New York; she’s also working on a shopping app with a friend. Clark fully immerses readers in the fashion world and with her fast-paced, present-tense, millennial voice, there were times I found it hard to keep up. When Lacey decides to have the surgery, she creates a bucket list for her breasts, with items like threesomes, sex with a woman, and topless sunbathing. At times, the diagnosis and upcoming surgery practically disappear while Lacey deals with work, friends, competing love interests, etc. At other times, it felt like the diagnosis and surgery dilemma were metaphors as well as plot points—with the country and the world being in the shape that it’s in, don’t all millennials feel they’re living in a ticking time bomb, even if it’s not in their own bodies?

When Clark gets the story out of Fashion Week and Lacey puts the bucket list on the back burner to pursue her life and her health, things fall into place more tightly and the story finds its rhythm. Lacey’s biggest physical problem is BCRA1, but her biggest emotional problem is that she would rather lie to the people she’s closest to instead of telling the truth and dealing with the fall-out. This doesn’t make her an unlikeable character; it adds to her complexity.

The Regulars was one of my favorite books from 2016; the only flaw I found was an ending that was too neat. The Bucket List also delivers an ending that’s wrapped in a tidy little bow; so much so I’d call it a fairy tale ending. It’ll please folks who enjoy books with happily-ever-afters; I felt it was a simple ending that didn’t work for a character who had so much going on in her life. Still, I enjoy Clark’s depiction of New York millennials, and I look forward to her next book.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Catching a matinee with Rea a book giveaway

Photo by Alex Holguin
Today we welcome Rea Frey to CLC to talk about movies for our latest theme month. Her novel is publishing on August 21st and we have a copy for one lucky reader, thanks to St. Martin's Press!

​Rea Frey is an award-winning author of four nonfiction books. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter. Not Her Daughter is her debut novel. Visit Rea at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her―far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“In Not Her Daughter, Frey pulls off a difficult task: balancing a nail-biting plot with a thought-provoking question — is a crime committed with the best intentions still a crime? A chilling, powerful tale of love and sacrifice, of truth and perception, Not Her Daughter will make you miss your bedtime, guaranteed. A stunning debut.” 

—Kimberly Belle, Internationally Bestselling Author of The Marriage Lie

"Women who do not embrace motherhood or "bad mothers" are a taboo subject -- in both real life and fiction -- but Frey tackles it with aplomb in her taut debut, NOT HER DAUGHTER. The story begs the question: who is more mother -- the one who gives birth or the one who rescues? The plot twists here are brave, the themes are both poignant and unsettling, and the resolution is deeply resonant. A page-turner with heart!" 

New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti

Top Five Movies of the 90’s.

1. Edward Scissorhands: I remember being transported to another world entirely with Johnny Depp’s sad face and those tragic hands. What imagination.
2. Clueless: When Clueless came out, I immediately went out and bought all of the same clothes and wore them to the first day of eighth grade. (Sadly, I did not have a Cher Horowitz experience.)
3. Pretty Woman: Who doesn’t love Richard Gere and prostitutes? This was such a “play” on the traditional love story that stuck with me for years.
4. Ghost: Pottery, murder, Swayze, Whoopi, and ghosts. Pretty much all of the good things. I watched this movie when I was way too young, but it was one of the most visceral love stories I’d seen (and still remember).
5. Good Will Hunting: This movie still makes it in my top five of all time (oh how I mourn the loss of Robin Williams). I love everything about this movie: how smart, how touching, how the phrase: “how do you like them apples?” is still used today. How you don’t have to go to some fancy school to be smart. How addictive Boston accents can be. How you can change your life and take a risk, no matter who you are or where you’re from.

Top Five Indie Films:

1. Dirty Dancing: This movie was my life.
2. House Party: Can someone please resurrect Kid ‘N Play? Pretty please?
3. Sideways: I love depressed writers and red wine. This one struck a chord.
4. La Fille Sur Le Pont (The Girl on the Bridge): One of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. Who doesn’t love a hot dude throwing knives at a beautiful French girl? C’est magnifique!
5. Teen Wolf: Michael J. Fox and the 1980's. Was there really anything better? I think not.

Thanks to Rea for visiting with us and to St. Martin's Press 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 14th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Book Review: Summer on the River

By Sara Steven

As summer beckons, Evie’s family gathers once more at the beautiful old riverside house they all adore. But when Evie discovers a secret that threatens their future, a shadow falls over them all: this summer by the river could be their last together...

For Charlie, a visit home to see stepmother Evie is an escape from his unhappy marriage in London. Until a chance encounter changes everything: in the space of a moment, he meets a woman by the river, falls in love, and his two worlds collide.

As Evie and Charlie struggle to keep their secrets safe, they long for the summer to never end... 

Can the happiness of one summer last forever? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

While reading Summer On The River, I had this easy feeling creep in, the kind that makes you feel as though you’re sitting in peace, sipping herbal tea, or maybe you’re sitting in a hammock surrounded by flowers and sunshine, the sounds of nature all around. A relaxing discovery of intricate connections between characters, with a spider web of hidden agendas and secretive innuendos.

There were a lot of parallel experiences for the characters in Summer too, falling onto and into one another. Tied up and twisted without knowing they are, without knowing that the actions and choices made from one person can influence and change the course for another. I really felt that a lot between Evie and Charlie, and Evie and Jason, a man who is still reeling from the choices Evie made for her life several years before, that he feels have come back to haunt him, and ultimately haunt her, too. A lot of cause and effect scenarios that lead to the very center of what this novel is about, which to me feels like a lesson in acceptance and progression. Of moving on.

And even though Charlie finds himself in a serious predicament, you can’t help but root for him. It’s not so much that he’s an underdog, but a man who struggles with a connection that feels too large to ignore. I really appreciated the dynamic of an inner struggle between doing what’s right, and what feels right. And, what is the right thing, anyway? A lot of blurred, gray areas that really played into what real life is like when it comes to matters of the heart.

While it did take some time for me to get into the groove of this story, once it picked up, I felt connected to all of the characters here, and I really appreciated the various perspectives from each one. It helped to better identify what their motivation is. The fact that Summer won’t give us a perfectly wrapped gift with a bow on it only added to the appeal of this story. What you’re given is a messy box filled with deep emotions and purpose-driven complexity, mixed in with a slow intensity reminiscent of cinematic ambiance. Ultimately, a great summer read!

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Marcia Willett: