Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: The Matchmaker

48-year-old Nantucketer Dabney Kimball Beech has always had a gift for matchmaking. Some call her ability mystical, while others - like her husband, celebrated economist John Boxmiller Beech, and her daughter, Agnes, who is clearly engaged to the wrong man - call it meddlesome, but there's no arguing with her results: With 42 happy couples to her credit and all of them still together, Dabney has never been wrong about romance.

Never, that is, except in the case of herself and Clendenin Hughes, the green-eyed boy who took her heart with him long ago when he left the island to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist. Now, after spending 27 years on the other side of the world, Clen is back on Nantucket, and Dabney has never felt so confused, or so alive.

But when tragedy threatens her own second chance, Dabney must face the choices she's made and share painful secrets with her family. Determined to make use of her gift before it's too late, she sets out to find perfect matches for those she loves most. The Matchmaker is a heartbreaking new novel from Elin Hilderbrand about losing and finding love, even as you're running out of time. (Synopsis courtesy of Hachette.)

Amy Bromberg:

The Matchmaker is the latest from Elin Hilderbrand, who has been dubbed as the “Queen of the Summer Read.” I 100% agree with this because one, I love her novels, and two, I always have them on my beach read list. So it should come as no surprise that Elin has crafted another grand slam of a story.

Every summer while reading Elin’s newest release I’m always motivated to visit Nantucket. It’s a yearly mental vacation for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t visited the island yet, but I hope to very soon. With each new book I feel I know Nantucket that much better, be it the restaurants and boutique stores on Main Street, the beaches, and some characters that show up from time to time in other novels of hers.

I fell in love with Dabney from the very beginning of the story. Her adoration and zeal for Nantucket really touched my heart. Unfortunately you don’t see this very often, where someone is this dedicated to his or her town and community (at least I don’t). I love how she was also 100% devoted to her daughter, husband, and Clendenin. To say that she has a lot on her plate is an understatement.

Talk about a fantastic love story between Dabney and Clendenin. You know what they say, first loves never die. It’s very rare that first loves get a second chance later in life. Dabney and Clendenin were very lucky.

I was drawn in right from the get go and I couldn’t put this book down. That being said, it went by way too quickly. The Matchmaker is definitely one of my favorite books of 2014 so far. Be warned though; make sure you have a box of tissues near by for the end of the story.

As a side note,  I recently had the pleasure of seeing Elin again (my first time meeting her was at Book Expo America 2013) at Books and Greetings on July 11th. Yes, I was very happy!

Melissa Patafio:

I am a huge fan of Elin Hilderbrand and it is for a good reason. She somehow manages to put every major ingredient for a great book into her stories, every single time. The Matchmaker is another perfect example of Hilderbrand's ability to write with wisdom, empathy, honesty, and wit. I couldn't put this book down, literally. I devoured it within a day and was sad when I had to say goodbye to the characters that were so real to me for the duration of the story. I found myself thinking about this book long after I finished it, and I still do.

If you are looking for something to take to the beach, any of Hilderbrand's books are perfect, but this latest gem will not disappoint you. I was surprised by the twists and turns, even though sometimes there were clues that gave away what MIGHT happen, I was still pleasantly left wondering where it was taking me. As in all of her books, the Nantucket setting is brought to life with the mention of many of the wonderful places that make Nantucket a truly magical place. Having been lucky enough to visit the Island, I can envision exactly where the characters are and appreciate the beauty they are seeing throughout the story.

While the true basis of the story is ultimately heartbreaking, the hope and love that remains a constant theme kept me smiling. I love Elin's writing and her ability to connect us so wholly with the characters each and every time. If you have not read The Matchmaker yet, you are missing out!

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have THREE copies for some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada!

Visit Elin's website to learn more about and purchase her novels.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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US/Canada only. Giveaway ends August 5th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: Best Supporting Role

By Melissa Amster

Ever since I read Apocalipstick on my honeymoon 10 years ago, I have become a huge fan of Sue Margolis' novels. They're so funny and entertaining, featuring characters who end up in some crazy situations from time-to-time. There's a lot of Jewish humor (which I can definitely appreciate), and Sue knows how to work it into a story seamlessly. And then there are the "romantic" scenes. While I was sad to hear that Sue was toning down on them starting with her previous couple of novels, I now know what to expect and still enjoy her novels nonetheless. Best Supporting Role is her latest masterpiece and it shows that she hasn't lost her touch one bit!

After Sarah Green's gambling addict husband dies and leaves her practically penniless with two children to raise on her own, she decides to live a safe and practical life with a stable job and a responsible boyfriend. That seems to work pretty well for her until her aunt passes away and leaves her with a lingerie shop to manage and two employees who are practically part of the family. Soon, she's taking on some gambles of her own that put her relationship and financial state at risk, but heap on some rewards in turn...such as the attractive actor/handyman who helps her fix up the shop.

I had a lot of fun reading Sue's latest novel. She had me laughing out loud many times with her witty humor, especially when it came to conversations between Sarah and her kids. The dialogue and interactions between all the characters was strong and kept the story moving along nicely. I especially loved Sarah's "aunties." They were so much fun and also provided much needed comic relief. Even with all the laughter, I got misty-eyed at times. And while the "romantic" scenes were absent (which I was prepared for this time around), she tossed in some teasers to get the imagination going. Since the story was so strong and compelling, the lack of "romantic" scenes wasn't as big a deal this time around. They weren't needed to carry along the story.

My only complaint is that there was some Holocaust humor in the form of Nazi jokes. Maybe I was reading it at a bad time because of everything going on in the Middle East, but I was also shocked that a fellow member of the tribe would include such humor. I'd be laughing about something and then a comment related to Nazis would stop me in my tracks. It only happened twice and it wasn't horrifying, I just would have been happier without it. Aside from that, the story wrapped up a little too neatly, but by that point I only wanted good things to happen for Sarah after all she had been through.

If you want a fun, light-hearted story, you've come to the right place. If you want to know how well Sue can write a really steamy "romantic" scene, definitely check out some of her previous novels (and read them in the privacy of your bedroom to avoid blushing). While I couldn't come up with a movie cast for this book, I did picture Alex O'Loughlin as Hugh (the actor/handyman). Hope that will get your imagination going too!

Thanks to Berkley (Penguin) for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy for a lucky US reader!

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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US only. Giveaway ends August 4th at midnight EST.

More by Sue Margolis:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Splashing in the waves with Erika Marks...plus a book giveaway

Let’s give a warm welcome to Erika Marks. Her latest novel, It Comes in Waves, came out on July 1st. The first book of hers I read was The Guest House, which came out last year. I absolutely loved it. After that I ran to my library and took out her other two, The Mermaid Collector, and her debut, Little Gale Gumbo. Erika grew up in Maine and then went to New Orleans to study architectural preservation. She met and fell in love with her now husband, Ian, when they were walking their dogs on the levee in the rain. They now live in North Carolina with their two children. Before turning to writing Erika was an illustrator, an art director and a cake decorator.

Thanks to Penguin, we have one copy of It Comes in Waves for any US reader.

Visit Erika at her website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Favorite thing about summer: 
No school schedule. My husband is a teacher so our summer routine means NO routine which is such a gift. Later nights, lazier mornings. I know how lucky we have it, believe me. But most of all, I treasure the time we have to be together as a family.

Annual summertime tradition: 
A road trip! Some summers we head north to see family and friends in Maine; other summers (like this one) we head west to visit my brother in Colorado. Usually we camp along the way and it’s always an adventure. I am a car nut—I love driving and I love the experiences that come with car trips and the open road. Our girls are still young and it’s important to my husband and I that we make the most of this time to explore the landscape together and show them that there are always new places to see and experience.

Favorite summertime food: 
My husband grows a wicked garden so my favorite summertime food would have to be the fresh salsa he makes from his tomatoes and peppers. Un. Real. I have been caught eating it by the spoonful. And honestly, I will put it on anything. Seriously. Name a food and I could almost guarantee I have covered it with his salsa.

Favorite summertime beverage:
Sangria, no contest. To me there is nothing more seasonal or festive than a pitcher of sangria and scooping out that wine-soaked fruit from the bottom of the glass. Blueberries, raspberries, chunks of nectarines, watermelon. Whatever’s in the fruit basket goes in.

When I go to the beach, I MUST bring these three things: 
Sunglasses, a good straw hat, and something to store shells in after an afternoon of beachcombing. I love to read at the beach, but with two little mermaids, there’s not a whole lot of time for books when the sand and surf are calling!

Favorite amusement park:
Growing up in Maine, we always went to Funtown in Saco. I haven’t been back for years but I have very fond memories of the rides, the loud music, the photo booths, and the sticky smell of cotton candy and fried dough.

Thanks to Erika for celebrating summer with us and Penguin for sharing her book with our readers.

~Introduction by Amy Bromberg

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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US only. Giveaway ends August 3rd at midnight EST.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summertime fun with CLC

We answered some of the same questions we asked the authors who visited this month. Read about how we've been spending our summer! We'd love to hear about how your summer has been so far, as well.

Maryland State Fair, 2012
Melissa A:

Favorite thing about summer:
That's when my birthday takes place.

Did you go to camp as a kid? Day or overnight? Favorite memory from camp?
I went to both at different times. My second year at this one popular day camp, I met my BFF. We were in the same group and she asked me what it was like to have braces. We've been best friends for 27 years and even did one summer together at an overnight camp.

Song that reminds you most of summer:
"Accidentally in Love" by Counting Crows. I always think of Shrek and Fiona playing around on the beach. Really though, it's a fun and playful song and I always heard it during the first summer after I got married, so I just make that association.

Favorite ice cream flavor:
Chocolate chip cookie dough

Favorite movie that takes place in the summer: 
Tie between Dirty Dancing and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Have you been to the Renaissance Faire? If so, what was your favorite thing about it?
I've been several times and love the atmosphere. It reminds me of The Princess Bride. It's fun to watch people who aren't working there walk around in their elaborate costumes. And it's fun to see performances, especially of the comedic kind. (One time a juggler made me kiss him and he moved his face right as I was going for his cheek.)

Maryland Renaissance Festival


Amy:

Favorite summertime food:
Corn on the cob, raspberries and blueberries.

When I go to the beach, I MUST bring these three things: 
Sunscreen, a towel and of course a beach read.

Do you like waterslides?
Absolutely! I'm a Pisces through and through. I actually was called fishy when I was in day camp because I was always under water.

Favorite carnival food:
Fried oreos and funnel cake.

Song that reminds you most of summer:
Definitely "All Summer Long" by Kid Rock

Favorite place to get ice cream:
That has to be either Emack & Bolio's  or Thomas Sweet.


Melissa P:

Favorite thing about summer:
My favorite thing about summer is being outside! I love to sit by the pool and read, have cocktails on a fun patio with my friends, or go hiking/walking outdoors. Moving to Colorado from Arizona was a big change because in AZ we are always outside, even in the heat. I've had to find any way possible to be outdoors here, even if it means just a glass of wine on my balcony, looking at the Rockies and the view of downtown :)

Freedigitalphotos.net
Favorite summertime food:
My favorite summertime food is all the fresh fruit! I could live off of a great fruit salad for days! :)

Did you go to camp as a kid? Day or overnight? Favorite memory from camp?
I went to overnight camp as a kid. It was on whitefish lake in Minnesota and was a private catholic camp. I learned to sail, shoot rifles, water ski, and we had church services every Sunday morning. It was a great experience for me!

Favorite summertime memory from when you were growing up:
My favorite summertime memory from growing up is playing ghost in the graveyard or kick the can with all the kids on our block in Chicago. Our parents would all sit in lawn chairs on one of the driveways and drink wine while we played. We also used to ride our bikes all over the neighborhood and swing on a rope across the creek and catch bull frogs and fish off the dock. It was the most idyllic childhood ever.

Bikini or one-piece?
Bikini

Favorite ice cream flavor:
My favorite ice cream flavor now is half baked by Ben and Jerry's. When I was little it was either chocolate or mint chocolate chip. It was such a treat to get a cone and sit in the sun


Jami:

Favorite summertime food:
I’m a born and raised Maryland girl. My husband is a born and raised Maryland boy. Both sets of parents were Maryland born and raised.... along with all four sets of grandparents! For us, summer food means only one thing – steamed crabs. Yes, we were both born with wooden mallets in our hands. From a very early age, we were handed a steaming hot blue crab, covered with Old Bay seasoning, and instructed not to rub our eyes. We were taught to pull off the claws first, bend them back, pull out the claw meat and stuff it in our mouths. (Only the front few claws have enough meat to make it worth the work.) Then turn over the crab, peel up “the apron,” bend the body in half, pull off the shell, throw away the devil’s meat, and dig out the juicy white meat. Maybe swirl it in some more Old Bay for extra spice. What about that mallet? Oh, only amateurs actually use it. Real Marylanders can crack open a crab with our bare hands. Of course, the ultimate irony is that after 45 summers of enjoying this regional treat, my husband and I moved to Florida. We’re surrounded by sunshine and sea water 12 months out of the year, but the crabs here are stone or Alaskan King. And there’s not a single container of Old Bay in sight.

Becky:

Favorite summertime beverage:
Elderflower & Lime Kopparberg, you could forget it's alcoholic it's so refreshing.

Favorite ride at an amusement park:
I enjoy a good water ride, I could literally spend all day going on the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios I've been on it a fair few times and never tired of it.

Ocean/lake or pool?
Ocean. I grew up by the sea and I love spending time there still. I love closing my eyes listening to the waves and picturing myself somewhere a bit more exotic. I like a little paddle too, tend to save swimming in the sea for when I'm on holiday somewhere warmer!



Sandals or flip-flops?
I have wide feet so i have less issues with flip flops!

Favorite ice cream flavor:
I would say mint chocolate chip, although I had a turkish delight flavour recently which was amazing!

Favorite chick lit novel that takes place in the summer:
The Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Gail:

Favorite thing about summer:
Laying out in my giant hammock in the backyard, reading the day away in the sunshine.

Did you go to camp as a kid? Day or overnight? Favorite memory from camp?
I went to day camp as a kid for a few summers. I remember a gym n swim with one of my sisters (gymnastics in the morning, swimming lessons in the afternoon), but the BEST one I went to was at the local zoo. Because I was in the group of oldest kids (I was 12!) we got to prepare meals for some of the animals and I remember being allowed to hold a tiger cub. He was very warm and VERY heavy, but it was awfully neat to be allowed to hold him.

Freedigitalphotos.net
Ocean/lake or pool?
I prefer the pool....no greeblies on the bottom to grab at my feet. But I also enjoy summertime out at my parents' cabin at the lake. Just maybe not so much being in the lake. Seaweed. Enough said.

What is your favorite way to cool off?
Daiquiris. No....wait...margaritas. No...Mexican Bulldogs on the patio. Please can I have all three?

Time to barbecue...what will you be grilling?
Would you believe pizza?? My husband and I found a recipe for pizza on the barbecue and it's phenomenal! We put artichoke hearts, black olives, onions, green peppers, feta cheese, and spinach on it. Amazing. Also, spaghetti squash done on the barbecue is seriously delicious.

Favorite ice cream flavor:
Lemon sorbet. But not the sweet lemon kind. The super tart "omg it tastes like they put 900 lemons into this but I can't stop eating it" kind. Mmmmm....

Favorite movie that takes place in the summer:
Dirty Dancing!

Book Review: The Way Back Home

By Becky Gulc

I’ve been an avid reader of Freya North’s books for a number of years now and very much enjoyed a talk given by Freya at York library a couple of years ago. In the busy world of reviewing I’d admittedly bought but not got round to reading Freya’s last two novels (Chances and Rumours), but I’d loved the last book of hers I did read, Secrets. I even visited some of the settings from this novel in Saltburn last year. So when I was approached to review Freya’s latest novel, The Way Back Home, I was delighted and couldn’t wait to prioritise reading another book by one of my favourite all time writers, and this time with my reviewing hat on. So what is all about?

One summer, something happened that changed everything forever…

Growing up in an artists’ commune in Derbyshire, Oriana Taylor has freedom at her fingertips in a house full of extraordinary characters. Her closest friends, brothers Malachy and Jed, share their childhood with her. There, in the rambling old house and tangled grounds, their dreams and desires take wing unchecked.

But too much freedom comes at a price. Something happens the summer they are fifteen. And now, having been gone nearly twenty years, Oriana is back.

This is their story. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK)

This book was everything I hoped it would be and more. I’ve read that Freya was inspired to write this story after visiting her friend’s apartment in a Georgian mansion, which was also a former artist’s commune. Windward, the house in this story was destined to be a leading character in the novel, and it really is such a fantastic place to set a story. With such rich description of the setting, I could vividly picture Windward back in the day with the various interesting characters living there, separate but amongst one another, and also in the present when much has changed in many respects, while in other respects nothing has changed at all.

I was intrigued from the very beginning of the novel, we learn something serious happens in Oriana’s life when she is 15, and we are cleverly given snippets of information at different points in time during Oriana’s childhood. This kept me intrigued as to what exactly what happened until we near the end of the novel when all is revealed. Yes I may have seen it coming as we got nearer the end, but that didn’t spoil it for me at all, it just raised more questions for Freya to answer for me on how relationships could ever be salvaged after the incident, thankfully my questions were answered.

There were three very strong characters in this novel. I cared about all three of them; Oriana, Jed and Malachy, all flawed, realistic, a bit lost. I loved the complex relationships between them all, with some things clearly left unresolved from twenty years ago. Mistakes were made, but who hasn’t made mistakes, especially when young? Again I enjoyed the slow reveal of the past, what exactly was Oriana’s relationship with each of the brothers? I enjoyed Oriana working through her current dilemmas when returning from the US after so long, and felt the emotion and regret along with her. I willed her to speak up about her true feelings once she acknowledges these herself, even if there are potential repercussions. I was on edge as to how things would end up for them all, and I was pleased with how everything was tied up.

I always love it when authors bring back characters from previous novels, and Freya brings back Cat and Django in this novel which I’m sure will delight fans. (I pictured Django very clearly as David Essex thanks to some Facebook chat quite a while ago now!)

If you haven’t yet read a book by Freya North what are you waiting for?

Thanks to HarperCollins UK for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Guest Book Review and Giveaway: Styling Wellywood

By Jacqueline Friedland

How do you handle an upsetting situation? Do you face the music, try to come to grips with whatever happened, work through the issues and move forward? Or do you run? Do you evacuate the premises, the neighborhood, the state even? Perhaps you refuse to see or hear anything related to the harrowing incident that has gotten you down. If you ditch the group of friends that made you mad, or drop the class with the professor you accidentally offended, you know what you are: An escapist. You’re one of those people who thinks that if you never return to the store where the salesclerk bitched you out, it’s almost as if that lady does not exist. And if she doesn’t exist, you don’t have to feel bummed that she called you a stuck-up pig, right?

Wrong. In her debut novel, Styling Wellywood: A fashionable romantic comedy, Kate O’Keeffe drives home the point that you cannot always escape from your problems, no matter how far you run. The book’s protagonist, young, attractive, self-deprecating Jessica Banks, is an escapist extraordinaire. The book begins as Jessica reluctantly returns to her hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, single and unemployed. After a mysterious tragedy four years earlier, Jessica had left her family and her besties behind, hightailing it out of town. She spent the next few years living it up in London, but sadly, her visa expired, and she has been forced to return home. The story opens with Jessica watching her younger cousin’s school play, in the same auditorium where she performed as a child, and wondering how she has ended up exactly where she started.

Luckily for Jessica, she has at least arranged a professional venture with one of her best childhood friends. The beautiful and fashion-forward Morgan has agreed to include Jessica as a junior partner in her personal styling business. Jessica also reconnects with her old friend Laura, who is now a spit-up covered, harried mother of twins and Ben, the guy who has been vetting Jessica’s boyfriends since high school. Laura tries to convince Jessica to visit the parents of their other childhood BFF, Lindsay, who is mysteriously absent during much of the story. In typical escapist fashion, however, Jessica continually avoids the task, thereby letting us know that there is a big unresolved issue awaiting consideration.

Meanwhile, Jessica’s mother convinces her to play tennis at the local country club as a means of getting her single self out there. Before she knows it, the world’s hottest tennis pro is pursuing her. His looks make up for what he’s missing between his ears, and Jessica feels her time in Wellington might not be as bad as she expected. Sadly, just a couple of weeks into her return, everything seems to fall apart. Morgan disappears, leaving nothing but a hasty text message and Jessica holding the proverbial styling bag for many a high maintenance client. Worse yet, Laura loses her patience with Jessica’s apparent self-involvement, and Ben turns out to be not at all what Jessica always thought.

Jessica reaches a point where she can do little more than return to the single bed in her very lavender childhood bedroom and hide under her very lavender covers. She is finally motivated by financial necessity to continue the styling business in Morgan’s absence. Although she is petrified to fail without Morgan’s help, she soon learns that she is more capable than she realized. She also discovers that helping her clients deal with personal problems (like getting over a divorce or building self-esteem) through fashion and styling improvements actually helps her make many discoveries and positive changes to herself, as well. It’s not until she goes on a trip to visit her father and his new-age second wife, Morning (yes, that’s her name), that she understands she must face her Wellington demons before she can move forward with her life. Once she stops trying to escape, she might even discover that she doesn’t want to.

Part Bridget Jones’s Diary and part Eat, Pray, Love, O’Keefe’s book blends multiple styles to form a novel that is all its own. At first glance, the book presents like a light, summer beach read. The pacing is fast and there are many romantic conundrums and slapstick snafus. However, underneath the apparent light-hearted fluff are several weighty issues, which O’Keeffe treats with sensitivity, finesse and just the right touch of humor.

This ambitious novel tackles topics ranging from friendship, motherhood and divorce to sexual orientation and mental health issues, all while presenting a charming travelogue about the windiest city in New Zealand (which is apparently the windiest city on the entire Earth). Pieces of the novel might seem trite, like Jessica’s cocktail-drinking man-obsessed divorced mother, her high school arch nemesis who has of course, grown into a beautiful and successful woman, and the romance that you can predict from the novel’s start. Even so, the story’s circuitous path and the meatiness of the underlying issues are sufficient to set this book apart. It is worth escaping to a quiet spot to read O’Keeffe’s engrossing tale.

Thanks to Kate O'Keeffe for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has TWO e-books (Kindle) for some lucky readers anywhere in the world! 

How to win:
We're making it easy this time. Just comment below with your e-mail address or another way to reach you if you win (i.e. Twitter handle)

Entries without contact information will NOT be counted (and we do NOT count "Google +" as contact information).

Worldwide. Giveaway ends August 3rd at midnight EST.


Jacqueline Berkell Friedland is currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she is studying fiction. She if a former attorney and law school professor. When she is not writing, Jacqueline can be found plowing through novels or chasing after her four young children.


Friday, July 25, 2014

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

Twisted Straight by Elizabeth E. Zerman

When You Make it Home by Claire Ashby from Red Adept (e-book)

Amy:

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand from Hachette

Becky:

It Had to Be You by Ellie Adams from Transworld

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand  from Hodder & Stoughton

Kathryn:

When We Fall by Emily Liebert from Sarah Hall Productions

Gravel on the Side of the Road by Kris Radish from BookSparks (e-book)

Ameera Unveiled by/from Kat Varn