Friday, September 21, 2018

Book Review: Famous Last Words

By Jami Deise

As an avid Twitter user, I sometimes get tweets like this: Morena Baccarin Compares Kissing Ryan Reynolds to ‘Kissing a Giant Latex Condom’. Now that I’ve read former People magazine reporter Sara Hammel’s latest, Famous Last Words, I have a much greater understanding of everything that went into turning one or two salacious quotes into a Twitter-worthy story. (Spoiler alert: It was Ryan’s costume, not the actor himself, that was the problem.)

Ever since she was a child, Augusta Noble has worshipped celebrities. When she was overweight and lonely, they provided comfort from the classmates who bullied her. Now an adult, she uses them to hide from the fact that she could be a murderer.

A hard news reporter, Augusta quits her reporting job and becomes the London stringer for CelebLife, a People-type magazine that only prints the best about the celebrities it covers, after the traumatic event. Pursuing stars for quotes such as the Morena Baccarin line above, Augusta finds that some celebrities are nice and others are mean. Having once told her mother that it would take 107 celebrity encounters to make up for not having a lot of friends, Augusta works toward that number while dealing with the shaky fortunes of print journalism in the twenty-first century. At the same time, police are hounding her to remember exactly what happened that night at her best friend Caroline’s apartment that left someone dead. And there’s a possible romance with a member of the British aristocracy.

There’s a lot going on in this book, including multiple time lines and locations, and there were times I got confused. Hammel has a strong narrative voice, and her characterization of Augusta is multi-faceted and generous. Strangely enough, I would have appreciated more time in the past with Augusta and the mystery of Caroline than chasing after real-life stars. Undoubtedly, many of the tidbits Hammel drops as Augusta flits from red carpet to after-party are based on the author’s real-life encounters. But save for the dirt about the Beckhams and Princess Kate, nothing she reveals would surprise anyone who has ever stood in a check-out line at the grocery store.

Although this is Hammel’s second book, she may be better known for the scathing public letter she wrote when resigning from People magazine after a 14-year career. (That letter is also available on Amazon, as a Kindle document entitled Red Carpet Regrets.) The question of whether the public really needs weekly musings on the contents of Jennifer Aniston’s womb notwithstanding, underlying Hammel’s career and Famous Last Words is a very real crisis in journalism. As talented, seasoned reporters are pushed aside for struggling freelancers and established newspapers are bought by organizations in order to silence their voices, folks who strive to tell the real stories may become an endangered species. And then none of us will be able to difference between tabloid news, “fake news,” and what is really going on.

Thanks to Jed Hammel (Sara's brother) for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Paige Roberts is in the a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome Paige Roberts to CLC today. We featured her debut, Virtually Perfect, last year. Melissa A really enjoyed it (see her review) and is excited to read her latest, The Last House on Sycamore Street. Paige is here today to talk about her novel and thanks to Kensington, we have one print copy to give away!

Paige Roberts is a former journalist who has written for publications such as McSweeney’s, Culinate, and She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children, as well as an ever-expanding collection of cookbooks. Visit Paige at her websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

When Amy Kravitz opts to leave Washington, D.C., behind in favor of a less stressful life in the Philadelphia suburbs, she has a certain kind of house in mind. And on a charming street in a family-friendly neighborhood, she and her husband Rob find it. It’s a perfect brick colonial with plenty of space, a beautiful yard, and great schools nearby. The sellers, Julian and Grace Durant, are eager to make a deal. In an unexpected bonus, the Durants’ young son, Ethan, strikes up a friendship with Amy and Rob’s introverted four-year-old, Noah.

Soon, Amy is unpacking boxes in her new home and arranging play dates for Noah and Ethan. But as weeks go by, Amy suspects something isn’t quite right. Julian’s mail keeps arriving at their old address, and Amy can hardly miss the “Final Notice” stamped on the envelopes in big, red letters. Behind the laid-back veneer projected by the Durants, Amy senses lives reeling out of control. But how much does Grace know, how much is she choosing to ignore—and is there more at stake in Amy speaking up or in staying silent? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is something you learned about yourself between writing Virtually Perfect and The Last House on Sycamore Street?
The one thing I noticed had changed with writing The Last House on Sycamore Street is that I had a lot more trouble keeping the outside world from creeping in. I think most people would agree 2017 was a pretty turbulent year, and there were times I felt my writing got very dark, which reflected the news cycle and my engagement with it. Some days I could feel my mood leaking onto the page in a way it hadn't with Virtually Perfect.

What was the inspiration behind The Last House on Sycamore Street?
A few things. I'd been reading a lot about the opioid crisis around the time I was coming up with the idea for a second book, and I also happened to pick up Sam Quinones' Dreamland, an excellent book about the origins of the epidemic. It got me thinking about the people ensnared by the crisis, directly and indirectly. I also happened to be moving around the time I started writing the book, so I was thinking a lot about owning a home that once belonged to someone else. What would it be like to befriend the seller? Would that be awkward? What makes a "home"?

If The Last House on Sycamore Street were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
I'm terrible at this kind of question! Maybe Ellie Kemper for Amy and Olivia Munn for Grace. For the men...I have no idea. Like I said, I'm terrible at this kind of question!

What is your favorite thing about autumn?
Apple picking! And by cider donuts. There is an orchard near where I live where you can go apple picking and then buy hot apple cider donuts afterward at a store on the premises. They are HEAVEN.

What is the last movie you saw that you'd recommend?
To give you a sense of the life I lead at the moment: the last movie I saw in the theater was The Incredibles 2. And before that...I can't remember (both because my brain is mush and also because it has been that long). But I actually really enjoyed The Incredibles 2! I'm much better at TV recommendations.

Where was the last place you traveled and what was your favorite thing to do or see there?
I just got back from a week in Avalon, NJ with my family (location of Virtually Perfect!). I'm actually not a huge beach person, but there is something about being by the ocean that is very relaxing. There are many fun things to do in Avalon, but I particularly love getting ice cream from Sundae Best. My favorite flavor is It's All Good -- vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirl and chocolate covered pretzels. YUM.

Thanks to Paige for chatting with us and to Kensington for sharing her book with our readers.

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Giveaway ends September 26th at midnight EST.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chick Lit Cheerleader: The Big Move

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I received some amazing news at the beginning of the summer. Our Chick Lit Cheerleader, Jen Tucker, was going to be moving to Maryland! Instead of being almost 10 hours away, she would only be about ONE hour away. Since that time, we've had her and her lovely family over for a barbecue and she and her husband got to see my son's Bar Mitzvah service. I know we'll be getting together again in the near future and I'm looking forward to any time we get to hang out. Jen is here today to tell us all about moving halfway across the country and what the adjustment has been like so far.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, or Indiana for that matter…

On July 21 at 10:00PM, two-thirds of my spawn and I landed on a turbulent and rain-soaked Saturday night at Baltimore Washington International Airport. It rained non-stop for the following week, too. And I wondered what the heck were we thinking when we agreed this Maryland trek was the best “next step” for our family.

My husband, Mike, accepted a position with a company in Maryland. There would be no communing because, well, we lived in Indiana and he’d be way late for dinner every night. Indiana…where all three of my children were born. Where my middle son attends college. Where my parents and many of my BFFs live. Where I knew the backroad shortcuts to Starbucks to beat out the morning school busses. Where I always found Annie’s gluten free mac & chees on my Wal-Mart’s shelves. Where my bank, post office, drycleaner and favorite resale shop employees all greeted me by name when I walked into their respective establishments. Where I perpetually sat in my favorite row during 8:30AM Sunday morning church service whispering with my friend, Jill. Who is actually lunatic enough to leave behind all of those things and more? Obviously, friends, that’s rhetorical.

There’s something about picking up stakes and challenging life on your own terms. That’s not something many of us ever have the chance to do and even when presented with the opportunity, many don’t take it. It’s not for everyone; to be uncomfortable yet also be OK at the same time. To forgo the familiar and boldly discover new places, friendships, and experiences. It’s all about attitude—it’s what YOU make of it. And although I lightheartedly questioned our sanity the waterlogged night Mike picked us up at the airport, this was my new stomping ground and I was thrilled to make it my own…once it stopped raining.

Now, don’t ask me about my shortcuts around town just yet. I’m still getting used to Maryland drivers who feel speed limits are merely laughable suggestions to lollygaggers. You don’t want to know how my forehead wrinkles when my Wal-Mart is constantly sold out of gluten free mac & cheese no matter what day of the week, or varied time, I shop. My best friend, Nancy, set me straight when I complained that tampons here cost ten dollars—TEN DOLLARS—a box.

“Order them on Amazon!” was her way to tell me to quit whining, and at the same time questioning why I wasn’t already doing so. Look who just caught up to more perks of her Prime Membership—me.

When people aren’t behind the wheel (seriously, tailgaters, and you know I’m right), I think Maryland is filled with some of the friendliest folks that rival Midwesterners. Not only do some areas near our home feel somewhat rural like my former hometown of West Lafayette, the cornfields here are framed by mountains and green valleys. It can’t get more picturesque than that. And I’m getting to know my local businesses here too! Like the checkout clerk at the liquor store (we’re besties) because I can’t buy wine at Aldi’s in Maryland due to state laws. The horror…

Here’s the best part. Not only did I take all the love and friendships with me when we relocated, I have several people in my life I’m now closer to geographically. My childhood friend, Mary, lives just outside DC. She’s like my sister and we’ve made her a key to our house, so she can come home anytime she wants. I’m 50 minutes away CLC’s very own Melissa Amster! Mike and I were fortunate enough to be able to attend her son’s bar mitvah last month. It meant the world to us to be a part of such a momentous occasion. She’s so close, I can reach out and hug her, and her sweet family, whenever I want. My friend who’s more like a cousin, Paul, and his wife live in Annapolis. With the exception of my parents Paul has known me longer than anyone, and the thought of being just miles away, compared to hours away, is a total bonus. Paul’s reaction when he learned we were moving: “It’ll be so great to be close to our family again.”

Maryland, I’m falling a little more in love with you each day. My house is transforming into home with each room painted and another box unpacked. Seeing my husband love his job, our daughter thrive amid a massive tween life change, and our oldest making his way around the city reinforces that this was the perfect next step for our family come rain or shine. Ryan’s Thanksgiving flight is booked and his bed waiting for him when he returns home. See? Only six weeks in and I’m already calling Maryland home. I think I’m becoming comfortable here, and we’re absolutely OK.

Jen and her lovely family


Close to a year ago, I took a hiatus from writing to tend to some personal family matters. My mind and heart were not in the right place to be here with you as I wished to be; as you deserved as a community. Yet, here I am, again, and it feels so good! Just like Sade sings about brand new shoes but I’m thinking it’s more comparable to those comfy slippers you yearn for after a long day. I want to take a moment to thank our fearless and fantastic phenom (alliteration is like riding a bike for me), Melissa Amster, for not only being so understanding but also one of the most caring and kind kindreds a gal could have on the planet. Melly, you’re amazeballs. A big hug to Keith Stewart as well. There’s a reason he’s not only CLC’s Go-To-Gay but he’s also been mine for the past two-ish years. I love you, Boo. To the entire CLC family—because that’s what we are whether you’re an author, reviewer, reader or all of the above—it’s good to be home.

Peace, love, and books,

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.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Book Review: Last Chance to Fall

By Sara Steven

I’ve often found that reading subsequent books in a series, while good, can’t hold a candle to that very first one. I’m like this with sequels and prequels, too. It’s not that I don’t find them enjoyable, but I hold a special place in my heart for the initial read that hooked me.

That’s not the case with the Kinney Brothers book series. The experience, the characters, all of it, it just keeps getting better and better, and what better example than Sean Kinney? He’s my favorite brother, and that’s hard to say, considering the other two- Patrick in One Night to Fall (reviewed here), and Ryan in To Fall for Winter (reviewed here). All three are incredible characters, but there’s something special about Sean. It could be his vulnerability, the fact that he felt real. The fact that he is full of mannerisms that wouldn’t ordinarily be considered girl candy. But he more than is.

Even Lindsey Molloy can see it. After dealing with a bad break-up, she meets Sean under strange and unusual circumstances, the kind that she’d ordinarily shy away from. They’re both similar in personalities, wanting to stay protected within their security blankets of routine and regularity. But Lindsey has been rattled, in her past and in the present, the kind of rattled that provokes her into asking Sean, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

And they try to figure that out, as best they can, within a small window of time that feels even smaller depending on the moment. It was nice to see both Sean and Lindsey work hard at breaking out of their shells, the added bonus of Sean’s brothers getting thrown into the mix of it all, and the additional characters that made the other books in this series come to life and add more of a landscape and solidity to who Sean is and what he’s really about.

There are plenty of moments in my life where I feel a lot like Sean, that it’s easier to stay within the comforts of my routine, not to extend myself outside of that fragile box. But his experiences and the relationship he forms with Lindsey filled me with the need to live to the fullest, even if that means tripping and falling and failing. That’s what it’s all about, in the end. The moments where you try and fail and learn something from it, and often times, it turns out just fine in the end, anyway.

While Last Chance to Fall can easily be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading all three books in the Kinney Brothers series. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that will leave you wondering on which brother is YOUR personal favorite, but I can tell you, it won’t be an easy choice. As for this girl? I will forever remain on Team Sean.

Thanks to Kelsey Kingsley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Review: A Little Bird Told Me

By Becky Gulc

‘Besides, if you were one half evil, wouldn’t you want to know about the other half?

In the scorching summer of 1976, Robyn spends her days swimming at the Lido and tagging after her brother. It’s the perfect holiday – except for the crying women her mum keeps bringing home.

As the heatwave boils on, tensions in the town begin to simmer. Everyone is gossiping about her mum, a strange man is following her around, and worst of all, no one will tell Robyn the truth. But this town isn’t good at keeping secrets…

Twelve years later Robyn returns home, to a house that has stood empty for years and a town that hasn’t moved on, forced to confront the mystery that haunted her that summer.

And atone for the part she played in it.’(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK.)

A Little Bird Told Me is one of those books that I’ve had to leave a few days after finishing to decide how I felt about it. My conclusion? This is an atmospheric ‘classic’ feeling novel that I’m sure will stay with me. It’s wonderfully written, engaging, unnerving at times, but well-balanced.

The narrative worked so well, switching between the present and past, cementing interest in the very beginning (half evil?) and building slowly until an unpredictable clever conclusion. I loved how I was kept guessing, but what I’d been trying to guess wasn’t right!

I loved the dynamic between Robyn and her brother Kit. There’s such a strong bond there which is often played out, yet Robyn doesn’t divulge everything to him and this was frustrating at times, particularly in the ‘present day’ story, but it made for interesting consequences. The childhood narrative also made for a very interesting read; the naivety, loyalty, protectiveness, fear and hope all executed well. How this evolved into their adult stories was also gripping.

I thought this was a wonderful debut novel and Marianne is certainly an author to watch. I won’t shake this one off easily, and that’s not altogether a bad thing. A fantastic read; if you’re looking for something a bit deeper and darker, this may well be for you.

Thanks to Agora Books for the novel in exchange for an honest review. Visit all the stops on the blog tour. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Dinner List

We are excited to feature The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle, which published on Tuesday. Thanks to Flatiron Books, we have one copy to give away!

“We’ve been waiting for an hour.” That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.”

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, THE DINNER LIST, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, THE DINNER LIST is a romance for our times. Bon appetit. 
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives between NYC and LA. Serle co-developed the television adaptation of her YA book entitled Famous in Love, for Freeform and Warner Brothers Television. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California. Visit Rebecca at her website and on Twitter and Instagram.

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Giveaway ends September 19th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book Review: The Exes’ Revenge

By Jami Deise

I read a lot of domestic thrillers and watch a fair amount of crime TV. One thing I’ve learned from those two media is never marry a cop. If you do, he will become abusive and since he’s buddies with everyone on the force, he can beat you up without worrying he’ll get arrested.

Sadly, no one gave this advice to the women of Jo Jakeman’s debut thriller, The Exes’ Revenge. Protagonist Imogene (the current estranged wife), veterinarian Ruby (the first wife), and former foster child Naomi (the live-in girlfriend) all have their own horror stories when it comes to dealing with the man they have in common, Philip. But Imogene has the most to lose—Philip torments their son, Alistair, and when he threatens to kick her out of the house and sue for custody of Philip, Imogene knows she has to do something drastic.

Since the book starts with the three women at Philip’s funeral, the reader knows Imogene will be successful. This narrative choice dissipates the tension of the conflict between Philip and his women, instead leaving open the questions of who was responsible for the accident years ago that killed Imogene’s baby; what happened to Ruby’s dogs, and where is Naomi’s mother. As the three work together to keep Philip contained, Imogene wonders if she can really trust the women who came before and after her.

Philip is a cartoon villain, and as such, some of the moments that should be scary come across as comical, while others are genuinely frightening. The cat-and-mouse antics between Philip and his women are the best part of the book, as Philip continues to escape impossible situations and constantly ups the ante. I also enjoyed seeing the three women bond and learn to trust each other.

Knowing that Philip ends up in a coffin, though, keeps the reader from believing that the women were in any real jeopardy. Honestly, the ending is a bit of a let-down, with fate stepping in and secrets revealed that were not surprising. But it’s a quick-paced, engaging read, even if it’s more about the how than the why.

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