Monday, October 20, 2014

Guest Book Review: Driving with the Top Down

By Amber Myers

Road trip!

Who doesn't love a fun road trip?

Colleen was looking forward to one. She finds antiques and other old things and turns them into something fantastic. She was planning on searching for antiques on her road trip while her husband and son go on a boy only trip.

But then her husband asks if she'll take their 16 year old niece, Tamara, with her. Tamara has gotten in trouble. A lot. It's probably because her mother died and she was put in the charge of a father who did not want a kid. (It's called a condom, dude.)

Colleen agrees to take her and they begin their trip. Colleen makes a stop in her old college town and while in a diner she used to frequent, she runs into Bitty, an old friend. (Bitty is not an old lady. I thought so because I immediately thought of "old bitty" which I know is probably rude of me. No, Bitty is called Bitty because she's tiny.)

Bitty has her own share of problems. She ran away from her marriage. Her mother raised her to be a creepy lady (meaning, she wasn't supposed to eat much. Hence why she's Bitty.) Bitty even debates killing herself. But then she sees Colleen and agrees to join in on the road trip.

All these women have their own set of problems. Will the problems be solved on the road trip? Or will they explode?

I enjoyed the friendship and the fact that they all helped each other in a way. Driving with the Top Down had me rooting for everyone. With all the depressing stories in the news, this was a nice escape. And yes, it made me want to go on a road trip. I also wanted to stick my feet in the air like on the book cover, but then I'd frighten those around me. I don't have the prettiest feet, after all.

Amber Myers is a military wife and mom to a son with Aspergers and a daughter who is dramatic. She blogs over at Airing My Dirty Laundry, One Post At A Time and loves to read and write when her children allow it.

More by Beth Harbison:

Friday, October 17, 2014

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel from Gallery Books

Walking on Trampolines by Francine Whiting from Gallery Books

A Gift to Remember by Melissa Hill from St. Martin's Press

Amy:

Saving Grace by Jane Green from Sarah Hall Productions

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen from Random House

Jami:

Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney from Penguin/Berkley (e-book)

The Resurrection of Tess Blessing by Lesley Kagen from BookSparks PR (e-book)

Sara:

Snow Angels, Secrets, and Christmas Cake by Sue Watson from Bookoture (e-book)

Waking Up Joy by Tina Ann Forkner from BookSparks PR (e-book)

Maybe Tonight by/from Kim Golden (e-book)

Becky:

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe by Judy Astley from Bantam Press

Kathryn:

The Reluctant Elf by Michele Gorman from Notting Hill Press

Book Review: Bad Bridesmaid

By Sara Steven

When I was asked to review Bad Bridesmaid, I immediately accepted. I loved MacIntosh’s How Not to Be Starstruck, so it seemed fitting that I check out her latest novel.

Formerly pudgy and plain, Mia Valentina (who used to be Mia Harrison; she wanted something a little more spectacular in the last name department) has a bad rap. She moved from England to get away from her overly-critical family and after planting roots in sunny L.A., she lost weight, worked hard to have the body she always wanted and made a name for herself in the movie industry. She figured this would at long last bring her the respect she’s always craved from her family, but it doesn’t play out that way. When she’s invited back to England as a bridesmaid for her younger sister Belle’s wedding, everyone expects the absolute worst from Mia. After unintentionally injuring the groom, finding herself in bed with one of the groomsmen and constantly placing herself in uncompromising positions, Mia finds herself alone and disliked. Well, that’s not entirely true. Her pre-teen cousins absolutely adore her, especially after she allows them to watch Pulp Fiction. This doesn’t go over well with Mia’s aunt. Not after the boys walk around quoting various phrases from the film; the ones that contain the most swear words, of course.

I found myself annoyed with Mia’s family. Even when she tries her best, they constantly negate her which only facilitates and feeds into the bad behavior. And Belle blames Mia for everything that is going wrong with her wedding, even the stuff that has nothing to do with Mia and is out of her control. I wondered if this train wreck of a family would ever right itself back on track or if Mia would be able to stick it out until the big day. Sure, she’s rough around the edges but you can tell she’s got a heart of gold. She has to, in order to put up with her jerky relatives.

True to MacIntosh’s style, there are a lot of comedic moments, a lot of “Oh wow, did that just happen???” situations that made it very hard to put this book down. There’s also a sweet little twist at the end, too. I was emotionally invested in Mia, the proverbial underdog. It’s hard not to be, and I appreciate that MacIntosh’s characters always show growth and development, never stagnant. Never one dimensional. A great read!

Thanks to Portia MacIntosh for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: A Pretty Mess

By Jami Deise

Writers are geniuses at finding ways to get out of writing, and one of our favorite methods of procrastinating is getting our stuff organized. We love to go through our little piles, clip articles out of magazines, make sure all our paperclips are together in that cute little Mexican bowl. And next to book stores and libraries, there is no place we like more than a huge office supply store. Look at all those folders! Worship at all those white boards!

Celeste Pretty and I would get along just fine.

Australian Celeste is the heroine in Carla Caruso’s romantic comedy, A Pretty Mess. A former interior designer for the most well-known (and bitchy) designer in town, Celeste has just gone on her own as a professional organizer. Her first client is the celebrity lifestyle/fitness guru Natalia Samphire, who has just moved to tony Astonvale and is in desperate need of Celeste’s services. Not only is her new estate a mess, but it’s undergoing renovations as well – and builder Lenny Muscat is a good-looking (if annoying) distraction. Another distraction is Celeste’s young cousin Flip, whom she’s been bullied into taking on as an assistant. When Celeste finds a blackmail note addressed to Natalia, she and Lenny team up to find out what she’s hiding – after all, their paychecks could be at stake. But Celeste has a secret of her own – her own father is a hoarder!

A Pretty Mess is a very neat little book – just what readers are looking for from the chick lit genre. With her hoarder father, ex-boss frenemy, milquetoast boyfriend, flaky assistant and mysterious solo client, Celeste is sympathetic without feeling sorry for herself. She and Lenny have an entertaining love/hate relationship, and the question about Natalia’s secret adds a fun dash of mystery to the mix. However, the book is predictable, and the characters pretty stock for the genre.

Caruso provides a fast-paced, witty addition to the chick lit world. It’s a quick read and most people will find it preferable to cleaning out the cabinet underneath the sink. However, once you’re finished the book, you may find yourself motivated to throw out all those old Tupperware containers after all.

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

More by Carla Caruso:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: Big Little Lies

By Melissa Amster

There's a reason Big Little Lies was one of this past summer's bestselling novels. Not only was it playing off momentum from Liane Moriarty's previous novel, The Husband's Secret, but the combination of chick lit and a murder mystery is enough to get a buzz going amongst avid readers. I'm pleased to report that it was definitely worthy of all the hype it is still continuing to generate!



Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .

A murder...a tragic accident... or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This novel was definitely what the doctor ordered to overcome Desperate Housewives withdrawal. Liane gives us three compelling women who are each sympathetic in their own ways. Madeline is having a hard time enjoying turning the big 4-0 when her daughter makes her feel inferior to her ex-husband's new wife and starts keeping secrets from her. BIG secrets. And speaking of secrets, Celeste has one of her own to deal with, and she can't even tell her best friend. Meanwhile, Jane is trying to overcome a past shame and worries that it could be affecting her son in more ways than she was expecting. And it doesn't help that everyone is turning against her and her son either.

I could easily relate to how parents get judgmental of other parents and their kids. Either it's about being a stay-at-home mom vs. a working mom, or if a kid is accused of acting out, the responsibility falls upon the parents. Social situations can be fraught with stress sometimes. There were moments in this story where I just cringed at how either a mother or a child (or both) was being treated. I could definitely relate to Madeline the most. She always looked after her friends' well being, even when she had stress going on at home. I also know that I'm going to embrace turning 40, just like she did (or at least tried to do).

The stories of all three women became intertwined at certain points, which had an impact on the outcome of the story. However, one of the connections seemed forced and made another aspect predictable. I still was surprised by the answer to the murder mystery and didn't see that part coming, in terms of how it would all unfold. After the climax, things seemed to slow down while feeling rushed at the same time. It was still interesting to see what would happen though.

I was very impressed by Big Little Lies and have been recommending it to everyone I know. I am already clamoring for Liane's next novel!

Of course, this review wouldn't be complete without my dream movie cast!
Jane: Carey Mulligan
Celeste: Jacinda Barrett
Madeline: Toni Collette
Perry: Christian Bale

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

More by Liane Moriarty:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Janis Thomas dares you to "Say Never"...plus a book giveaway

"Never say never." 

 It's a phrase I often utter.  Especially when I think about all the things I've done that I swore I'd never do.  This is not to say I don't believe in using the word "never;" however, from an early age I was taught to be careful when using such definitive words, and as time has passed I have understood why.


Today, our guest Janis Thomas is happy to utter the words Say Never as it is the title of her latest novel. And as a special treat, Janis has TWO copies for some lucky readers anywhere in the world! Janis currently resides in Orange County with her husband, two children and dog Rudy.  Additionally, she is fortunate enough to have her parents, siblings and treasured loved ones nearby. You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Synopsis of Say Never:
Sometimes the last thing you want is the one thing you need…

Snarky radio personality Meg Monroe thinks she has the perfect life: no husband, no kids, and best of all, an Upper West side apartment three thousand miles from her family and her childhood demons. But when her brother calls to ask for Meg’s help with his three kids, she is forced to do the unimaginable: go home and step into the dreaded role of ‘parent.’

With no maternal skills whatsoever, Meg is thrust into a world of diapers, tantrums, and projectile vomit, and her decision not to procreate is stunningly validated—she could never be a mom. But as the days go by, and she starts to connect with her nieces and nephew, Meg discovers that her family is not the nemesis she feared, and she might not be the person she always thought she was. 


After writing three novels, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about the writing process?
I wrote the first draft of SOMETHING NEW in six weeks, from start to finish. The story unfolded exactly as I wanted it to. With SWEET NOTHINGS, I wrote 54 pages before I realized that something was amiss. I trashed the pages and started fresh. I wrote 121 pages of SAY NEVER and ended up dumping every last one. Both of those novel beginnings were fine, well-written, entertaining. But I didn’t feel I was writing the story I wanted to write. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to tell the right story. If it’s not working, if it feels wrong, and if no amount of tweaking can help, I’m probably not telling the right story.

What do you feel is the greatest misconception about writing books?
“You’re a writer? Oh, that sounds like so much fun!” Giggle, giggle. “But really, what do you do for work?” A lot of people think that writing a book is a piece of cake and that being a writer is the Disneyland of careers. It’s not. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love it. Compared to being in combat or cleaning sewage pipes or working in a biochemical lab trying to keep all those killer viruses from escaping, writing is easy. But it’s not easy easy. It’s a lot of work. It often requires blood, sweat, and tears to create an engaging story. It can take years to produce a halfway decent manuscript. Rejection and brutal criticism are constants in the writer’s life. And there is no guarantee of success no matter how hard you work or how fantastic your novel is. Woohoo! Doesn’t that sound like fun?

How do you handle writers block?
Okay, I’m going to be one of those annoying people who says she doesn’t believe in writers block. I don’t. For me, it has to do with discipline. The daily routine. Forcing myself to park my butt in front of the computer and put my fingers on the keyboard and ignore the phone and the texts and the dogs and the Facebook pokes. If I can get myself in front of the computer, the words come. They may not be brilliant. They might be utter crap. They might get thrown in the trash the next day. But they come. It’s Discipline Block I have to contend with.

What is something you said you’d never do, but then ended up doing?
This is going to sound totally boring, but I always claimed I would never read books on a Kindle. “Never in a million years,” is what I said. But darn it, the Kindle is so easy! One click shopping and instant gratification. I can make the letters bigger, which is great for my middle-aged eyes. I can read at night without a light. I can carry twelve books without breaking my back. I’m hooked. I’m ashamed, but hooked.

My favorite form of caffeine is:
For a while, I really went crazy for the Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino (with whipped cream, of course. Need you ask?). But then I noticed that my waist was expanding in direct proportion to how many Fraps I was drinking per week. My favorite form of caffeine is the first cup I drink in the morning, strong with cream and Sugar-in-the-Raw. That’s my husband’s favorite form of caffeine also—he won’t bother trying to have a conversation with me until I’ve downed the entire mug.

What animal do you feel best represents you?
Oh, wow. That’s a doozy. I don’t think there is one particular animal that represents me. Maybe a combination of lion, dolphin, sloth, and turtle. (What an extraordinarily ugly animal that would be, huh?) But I’ll explain. Lion: I’m loyal and fierce when it comes to protecting my family and friends. Dolphin: I love to spend whole days swimming and frolicking in the ocean. Sloth: I can be extremely lazy and just want to hang out and examine my navel. Turtle: I jog more slowly than a snail on downers, but I keep going and going and going. The Lidoslortle. That’s me.

Thanks to Janis for a fun interview and for sharing her book with our readers.

~Introduction and interview by Tracey Meyers

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Worldwide. Giveaway ends October 20th at midnight EST.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest Book Review and Giveaway: My Other Ex

By Denise De Fabio Keliuotis

**Giveaway is now closed**

I’ve never been one to have many female friendships. After reading My Other Ex, I now understand why.

From the time I was a small girl, the bulk of my close friendships have been with males. I’ve often wondered why but usually wrote it off to the fact I grew up on a street with a dozen boys and one lone girl: me. Almost every single one of those friendships remains to this day, a time period spanning four decades. And now, it all makes sense. Friendships with males are easy. They’re straightforward. They take minimal emotional commitment and not a whole lot of cultivating. The men in my life are what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guys, and in turn, our relationships aren’t all that deep. They don’t take a whole lot of work.

But, as the editors of My Other Ex so honestly explain, female relationships are different, more complicated. “There is so much good, so much power, so much love, in female friendships,” they write. “But there is also a dark side of pain and loss.” That darkness, it seems, flows from the fact “women require such an overwhelming intensity in their relationships with each other.” For that reason, the authors surmise, the ending of a female friendship is immensely painful.

The stories contained within My Other Ex highlight that intensity, and the profound feelings of grief and loss that accompany the end of female friendships. Each essay centers around a death of sorts, the cessation of a relationship so vital, its ending has left the author mourning, often for years or even a lifetime.

This anthology grew out of The Herstories Project editors Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger’s desire to answer the question of why the dissolution of female friendships often leave “wounds deeper than the scars left from romantic relationships,” why female friendships differ so from those of men. Not surprisingly, the editors found no definitive answer. Instead, they were merely left to wonder as to the awesome power of a female friendship – both good and bad.

My Other Ex is divided into five sections, covering the different times of the women authors’ lives when friendships blossomed and then died – and sometimes resurrected. The essays span adolescent friendships and move into adult relationships, including a special section regarding the toll motherhood can take on female friendships. Finally, the book ends with “Reflections” on female relationship breakups and the scars left behind.

Although I don’t have many close female friendships, I greatly value the ones I’ve managed to grow, and I struggle to imagine losing any of my great girlfriends. For that reason, I connected closely with the stories in My Other Ex. The essays are well written and, just as importantly, brutally honest. I truly felt the authors’ pain emanating through their words; the emotional intensity shone through on every page. Some stories left me feeling angry ("Delilah;" "The Girl With the Pink Bow"), while others made me cry ("An Ear For Language"). Still others struck a bit too close to home for comfort ("On The Back Stoop;" "The Breakup;" "Girls, Interrupted").

Without a doubt, you will see yourself in more than one of these essays, and I’d venture to guess you’ll identify with the emotion rippling through them all. My Other Ex will let you openly grieve the girlfriendships you’ve lost, and it will remind you to cherish those onto which you currently cling. Happy ending or sad, My Other Ex will allow you to think about your female friendships in a new light. And it will leave you feeling happy that you’ve been willing to give at least a part of your soul to another woman, good or bad, even if for just a little while.

A huge thanks to The Herstories Project Press for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. They have TWO copies for some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada!

How to win:
Please tell us about your other ex. (No need to give names, you can just talk about how you met them to begin with or how the friendship dissolved.)

One entry per person.

Entries without contact information (e-mail address, Twitter account, Facebook page, etc.) will NOT be counted (and we do NOT count "Google +" as contact information).

US/Canada only. Giveaway ends October 19th at midnight EST.

Denise De Fabio Keliuotis is a Chicago native who recently relocated to Middle Tennessee with her husband and three daughters (one of whom is off at college – gasp!) She’s a licensed attorney but is not currently practicing, instead spending her time writing a memoir, volunteering at a hospice, and debating whether to break down and buy those cowboy boots.