Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wendy Francis is not "lion" a book giveaway

Photo by Brenda Bersani
Introduction and interview by Melissa Amster

**Giveaway is now closed**

As 2013 began, people started looking for ways to be more positive about their lives. There's been the concept of a "joy jar," where you put little pieces of paper with good things that have happened to you, even in the smallest of ways. There's even a virtual version on Facebook. It's so nice to read about the simple things in life that make people happy on a daily basis.

Our guest today, Wendy Francis, captures that concept in her debut novel, Three Good Things. It's about two sisters who aren't completely satisfied with their lives and long for the advice from their mother, who passed away years ago. Her motto was: "At the end of every day, you can always think of three good things that happened." 

Wendy Francis is a former senior editor in book publishing. Her writing has appeared on The Huffington Post. (Great article about When Harry Met Sally. A must read!) She's also been featured in local magazines, such as The Improper Bostonian. Wendy is currently a freelance editor and writer living with her family (including a four year-old son; she and I should definitely talk...) outside of Boston.

She's here today to answer some fun questions...which are in groups of three! It's the last day of animal month and I think you'll enjoy what she had to say on the topic! Additionally, Simon and Schuster has FIVE copies of Three Good Things to share with some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada!

Visit Wendy at her website and on Twitter.

Three things you can't be without when you're writing:
Aside from a cooperating laptop, I rely most days on the following three things to jumpstart the writing process:
Hazelnut coffee with a dash of cream. As my family knows all too well, nothing gets done around here until I’ve had my early morning infusion of caffeine.
Multiple Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball pens. Have you tried them? It’s easily the best pen in the world. I like to review what I’ve written the day before and edit on the page with these pens. It probably makes me old-school, but old habits die hard.
A picture of my four-year-old grinning. Whether it’s on my laptop, my phone, or a framed picture on my desk, his impish grin spurs me on. On really tough writing days, I have a bag of red Twizzlers at the ready.

Three authors who have inspired you:
Oh, there are so many! I guess if I had to narrow it down to three, it would be Elizabeth Strout, Elin Hilderbrand, and Lee Woodruff.
• I love Elizabeth Strout’s characters and her finesse for bringing a place to life, as if the book’s setting is a character unto itself. She’s a master at crafting both beautiful stories and gorgeous prose.
Elin Hilderbrand’s affection for Nantucket, one of my favorite places on earth, wins me over anew with each book she writes as does her ability to conjure up wholly new and wonderful characters and storylines time and again.
Lee Woodruff was an author I first discovered in her memoir, In an Instant, where she tells the harrowing story of her journalist husband Bob Woodruff’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury. I’ve since read her other books, including her recent novel, Those We Love Most, and I’ve come to admire her work even more.
• If I could have a “baker’s three,” I’d have to add Claire Cook to the list, whose sense of humor and nod to “late” bloomers in fiction inspire me every day.

Three pieces of advice you have for someone who wants to write a novel:
• Be patient. You won’t write your first novel or your best novel in the span of a few weeks. It takes time, and often setting your pages aside for a few days or weeks can give you some fresh perspective when you go back. Writing is a labor of love; it needs a lot of nurturing.
Be honest with yourself about what’s working -- and what isn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to let things go that aren’t working. I’d written a few chapters that were getting in the way of the overall narrative for Three Good Things, and they ended up on the cutting room floor. But it was for the best. The book was stronger for having lost them!
When you tell a story. . .“Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the (reader).” As Steve Martin famously says in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, it helps to keep the plot/purpose/point of your story in mind as you’re writing. You can have dynamite characters and crystalline prose, but it doesn’t add up to a novel until you have a real narrative thread.

Three favorite animals from TV shows:
Snuffleupagus. Is there any animal better than Snuffy? He’s everyone’s hero because he persevered for so many years despite the fact that no one believed in him.
Snoopy. So he’s a cartoon character, but he’s one of my favorites of all time. When he gives Lucy a big, sloppy kiss and she runs around screaming, “Help! Help! I need disinfectant!” I find him especially irresistible.
Eeyore. Who doesn’t feel a little sorry for and enamored of Eeyore? He’s so gloomy, he makes everyone else’s life look like roses.

Three favorite animals from movies:
Brinkley in You’ve Got Mail: To quote directly from the movie: “Brinkley is my dog. . .[He’s] a great catcher who was offered a tryout on the Mets. But he chose to stay with me so he could spend 18 hours a day. . . sleeping on a large pillow the size of an inner tube.” I think that pretty much secures Brinkley’s place in movie lore.
The penguins in March of the Penguins. The penguins in this movie deserved Academy Awards as far as I’m concerned. The cold, the hardship, windswept Antarctica! How on earth did they survive it all? I live in awe of those birds.
Marley in Marley & Me. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right. I’m a dog person, and I think every dog person fell in love with that rascal Marley and his antics. Just so long as we weren’t the ones taking care of him. . .

Three favorite zoo animals:
The gorilla. I like the gorilla’s expressions and the way he watches you through the glass, as if he’s about to reach out and grab you. You know those gorillas are thinking wise thoughts and if only they could talk, they’d have some good stories to share.
The lion. I like the lion because of his regal bearing but also because he seems to nap a lot. I’m slightly jealous that he gets to be king and still get all that sleep.
The giraffe. He strikes me as a rather elegant, somewhat smug animal who figured out long before everyone else that if he grew a long neck he’d have access to all those leaves up there on the tree.

Thanks to Wendy for spreading her good cheer and to Simon and Schuster for sharing Three Good Things with our readers.

How to win Three Good Things:
Please comment below with your e-mail address. (Please note: Entries without an e-mail address will NOT be counted. You can use AT and DOT to avoid spam. Or provide a link to your facebook page or blog if you can receive messages there.) 

Bonus entries (can be listed all in one post):
1. Please tell us: Who are your three favorite animals from a movie or TV show (or a combination of both, such as two from a movie and one from TV)?
2. Follow this blog and post a comment saying you are a follower (if you already follow, that's fine too).
3. Post this contest on Facebook or Twitter or in your blog, and leave a comment saying where you've posted it.
4. Join Chick Lit Central on Facebook. Edit settings if you don't want to receive a lot of messages at your e-mail account. Please read our posting guidelines as well. (If you're already a member, let us know that too.)

5. Follow us on Twitter and/or Pinterest.
6. Add a friend to our Facebook group. (Tell us who you added.) Be sure to remind them to edit their settings.

US/Canada only. Giveaway ends February 6th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What’s Behind My "No"

By Jami Deise

I’ve spent the past year trying to get an agent for my novel Keeping Score. This process entails looking up agents in a literary guide or reading about them in Writer’s Digest, finding the ones who represent women’s fiction, and sending them my carefully crafted query letter. Rejection usually follows, either immediately or a few weeks later.

It’s a bummer.

Ironically, during the past year I’ve also been in the position of rejecting. As a reviewer for Chick Lit Central, I receive a number of emails a week from writers pitching their books for review. When I first signed up as a reviewer, I said yes to almost every book that came my way. Then the books started piling up, and I had to decline to write some reviews because the writing wasn’t professional.

I got a little pickier.

It occurred to me that agents probably underwent the same metamorphosis. Eager in the beginning, they say yes to a number of queries that cross their desk, only to be overwhelmed and disappointed. Then their interests narrow; they become more adept at spotting weaknesses in the query itself, and their rejections go way up.

My interests have narrowed considerably. Yet at the same time, it’s hard to say what I am or am not interested in without reading the book’s summary. Generally, I don’t like straight romance. If the heroine’s biggest problem is choosing between Guy A and Guy B, I’ll generally choose not to read her story. If she’s just been dumped and struggling to get over it, I really don’t care about that either. Stories set around the holidays? Nah. Whirlwind romance on a European vacation? Nope.

I am partial to women struggling to be successful in a demanding profession. I like stories set in big cities – Washington, LA, NYC – and the industries there. I’m obsessed with HGTV, so a book that features home renovations would interest me. I’d rather read humor than drama, but a “family in crisis” story would get me. Pregnancy and motherhood of kids at any age is a favorite.

A sharp, funny, well-written synopsis on any subject is more likely to interest me than a poorly written summary about one of my favorite subjects. What makes a summary well-written is specificity and character. The first sentence describes who the protagonist is and what her life is currently like. Then, the bombshell that changes her world. Next, how is she going to solve this problem? Then a line about a complication and maybe a romantic subplot. End it with a question or provocative summation.

A synopsis that does not work is one that talks more about the themes of the novel rather than the plot. Love, forgiveness, longing, desperation… a summary that talks more about the protagonist’s emotions rather than her actions is not going to get my attention. Those emotions can be inferred from a specific synopsis; conversely, plot cannot be determined through a description that “this is a story about one woman’s search for love, forgiveness and hope during a trying time.” Furthermore, when I read such a summary, I suspect that since the writer could not create a compelling synopsis, the novel itself might not be well written, either.

Similarly, I like a clever title. Titles that get my attention have a cute play on words, use a cliché in a new way, or contain a contradiction or paradox. Vague titles are a turn-off. I wouldn’t find something like A Magic Life very magical.

However, these are just my preferences. Other reviewers or agents might be intrigued by pitches that center on emotion rather than plot points. And there are many agents and reviewers who only want pure romance, who enjoy holiday-themed stories, and who love literary vacations. In fact, there may be many more of them than those who share my preferences.

After all, I have a clever title, a well-written synopsis, and a heroine who cares about things other than her potential love interests. And I still don’t have a sale.

Book Review: Love and Other Subjects

By Jami Deise

It is more difficult to get into “Teach for America” than it is to get into Harvard. While that statistic may be alarming to undergrads who would like to spend a few years teaching at poor inner city schools, it’s a positive sign for the country that so many of its best and brightest are willing to forgo starting their careers in investment banking and finance in order to make a difference in the lives of the nation’s youngest, poorest, and most vulnerable citizens.

Carolyn Jenkins is not a “Teach for America” recruit. The heroine of Kathleen Shoop’s novel, Love and Other Subjects, 23-year-old Carolyn is a first-year teacher in an old, overcrowded elementary school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, back in 1993. It’s a time before “Teach for America,” when the needs of this vulnerable population were often overlooked in favor of celebrating the successes of their wealthier cohorts. Carolyn’s classroom is particularly challenging – she has 36 fifth and sixth graders, mostly black (Carolyn is white), all poor, and almost all performing well below grade level. What’s worse, Carolyn’s principal, Principal Klein, has had it in for her ever since she pointed out the shortcomings of his curriculum.

Love and Other Subjects spans not quite the school year – it ends when the school year does, but starts somewhere in the middle – and Carolyn’s classroom and her children are its main focus. While Carolyn has friends and a love life, the children’s stories are so compelling that the subplots seem intrusive by comparison. Carolyn is determined to make a difference in these children’s lives, so much so that she defines Klein’s orders and develops her own curriculum. At the same time, she realizes that the children’s home lives impact their education, and tries to get to know them beyond the classroom.

Shoop does a terrific job of establishing the individuality of each child in Carolyn’s classroom. She goes out of her way to show that each child is different in temperament, curiosity, and circumstances, making sure to avoid easy stereotypes and clichés. Shoop’s years in the classroom and her PhD in education are evident while never lecturing or explaining. The classroom scenes and political struggles at Lincoln Elementary feel heartbreakingly real. Carolyn loses energy sometimes, but she never gives up on those kids. At the same time, the year is a real learning experience for her, and she is able to learn from her children and from advice offered by her roommates and fellow teachers.

Because most of the action takes place in the classroom and the stakes are so high, the novel suffers from some unevenness. The conflicts between Carolyn and her roommates seem petty by comparison, and I found it hard to believe that three college best friends would all find jobs teaching at the same elementary school. In fact, the conflicts could have been more meaningful if each of the three women ended up at completely different types of schools. (At one point, Carolyn’s roommate Nina mentions she had gone to Sidwell Friends, an elite private school where presidents send their children. What a contrast to Lincoln that would have been.) Similarly, I found the relationship between Carolyn and her instant love interest to be less than compelling. Based on the novel’s blurb, I believe Shoop was attempting to write a more encompassing novel about the first year of a woman’s “real life.” But Carolyn’s work issues are so specific and gripping, they overshadow the rest of the novel and make her story too unique to be marketed as a typical tale about a young woman trying to make it right out of college. And the humor in the sections dedicated to her personal life contrasts so much with the drama of Carolyn’s work life that the tone of the book feels uneven. I was also frustrated that Shoop chose to start the novel after Carolyn had already been in the classroom for a while. I would have liked to hear Carolyn’s youthful, naïve, idealistic voice and see her earliest attempts to reach her kids and work with that principal. On the book’s first pages, Carolyn is already a bit cynical and slightly sarcastic. She sounds more like a 40-year-old than someone who’s only 23.

Reading Love and Other Subjects reminded me of all the issues I had with my son’s education as we navigated the K-12 system. It’s the teachers like Carolyn – and, I assume, Shoop herself – that make the difference, that look beyond the day’s requirements and state tests and state-mandated processes to reach each individual child where he/she is and help them up to where they want to be. From a personal standpoint, I was struck that Carolyn was living in Laurel, Maryland in 1993, as that year my husband and I also lived there. We moved out of Prince George’s County shortly after our son was born. The public schools just weren’t good enough.

Thanks to BookSparks PR for the book in exchange for an honest review. Learn more about Jami over at Kathleen Shoop's blog.

You might also enjoy:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jen Lancaster claims her chick lit turf.... plus a giveaway!

Photo by Jeremy Lawson
**Giveaway is now closed**

Introduction and interview by Tracey Meyers

This past July, I met Jen Lancaster at a book event that featured four prominent Chick Lit authors.  At the time, I had only read one thing that Jen had ever written - a blog post she wrote about a guy who wanted her to help him make amends with his wife after he cheated on her.  From that one post I had formed my impression of her - a tough, no nonsense chick with a larger than life personality, whom I could never imagine being a softie.

Upon finally making it to the front of the line to meet Jen,  her first words to me were something to the effect of, "I was wondering when I was going to get mine" as I handed her a homemade baby strawberry pie and asked her to sign what I affectionately call my "author apron" since I didn't have any a book of hers to sign, just like what I had done with the other authors in attendance that evening. (Yes, Jen, I'm the pie chick!)

In the brief moment I got to speak with her, what I found out is that behind her snarky, tough wit and humor, there's a genuine and caring individual who is sincerely appreciative of the success her readers have afforded her. 

Today, we celebrate the publication of Jen's second novel, Here I Go Again (reviewed here).  Despite many people telling me I must read her memoirs, and the fact that I have two of her memoirs in my possession, this book is actually the first Jen Lancaster book I have ever read.... and now I know why she's a must-read author! She's here to talk about her writing experiences and tell some crazy and funny pet stories (she has a bunch!)

Jen can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter. You can also view the trailer here. (It's definitely worth a watch...or two!)

Thanks to Penguin Group, THREE lucky (and we mean VERY lucky this time) readers located in the US will win a copy of Here I Go Again!

If Lissy Ryder, from your new book Here I Go Again, had a pet, what kind of pet would it be? What would its name be? What would its personality be like? 
Lissy would have the kind of pet that looks cool but requires very little interaction – I imagine her with an exotic cat. She’d name this cold, dismissive, prone-to-bite something like Miss Dior or Chanel or Tawny Kitten. I could also see her with something ridiculous and attention-seeking, like Paris Hilton’s kinkajou or the IKEA monkey (with bonus shearling coat.)

You have several pets. If you were to write a book about them, what do you think the central plot would be?
I should specify what I have so readers understand exactly what a softie/sucker I am when it comes to rescue pets. I have two pit bulls, a black shepherd, and five cats – a pair of sisters and a trio of brothers. The girl and boy cats are the feline versions of the Bloods and the Crips. They actively despise one another. Except instead of trying to assassinate one another, they just pee on everything to claim it as part of their turf. Awesome.

Last year I was headed out on book tour and my cat Gus managed to nail every single bra I’d packed, so I spent the first night in Seattle trying to unsuccessfully exorcise the evil smell with hotel shampoo. Didn’t work. So, the book about my menagerie would be This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things or perhaps Yes, I’m Aware I Smell Like Urine; Shall I Sign Your Book Now?

Shhh!!!! Don't tell anyone, but when it comes to my pets I:
I have unlimited patience. Whereas I pace like a caged tiger when stuck waiting in line and I have a hair-trigger any time I deal with a customer service agent, I’ll happily endure every bit of their abhorrent behavior as I continue to train them. I never give up on them. Just know that when you’re downwind from me at an event, I’m actively - if not successfully - working on the naughty behavior you may smell.

What do you think someone should consider the most before adopting a pet?
Pets are not an accessory. They’re living, sentient beings and require a commitment for their entire lives. And sometimes they’re expensive and sometimes they’ll wreck your nice things, but if you return the love they’re so anxious to give, you won’t sweat their minor indiscretions.

Here I Go Again, is your eighth book and second novel. What prompted you to write another novel?
My goal is to make the transition into fiction full-time. As much as I enjoy writing memoirs, I’m at the point where I’ve kind of figured out my life. The best books have an element of conflict and I’ve worked really hard to eliminate sources of conflict. I don’t want to manufacture drama in order to write about it; that doesn’t feel genuine.

The beauty of fiction is that the bizarre can happen to a character, yet I don’t actually have to live through it. That’s so liberating! For example, when I wrote If You Were Here, my characters had just purchased their first home. In real life, my husband Fletch and I had done the exact same thing. I originally wanted to write a memoir about renovating a house ourselves but I realized we’d get divorced. So while I happily wrote about toilets raining from the ceiling and having to eat Spaghetti-os hobo-style from the can due to having no kitchen, a skilled professional was stripping my wallpaper and painting my cabinets. (Also? Not divorced!)

What do you find most amazing when you see how successful your writing career has been?
I’m amazed every time people actually come to my book events. Because when I started? That wasn’t the case. There’s nothing more awkward or disheartening than looking at a sea of empty chairs. What blows me away is when fans tell me they’ve been reading since my old website I started back in 2002. I’m so grateful to them for sticking around and it’s because of them that I keep striving to be better. (P.S. Lest you think I’m Mother Theresa, I also like that this career has enabled me to buy stuff. Just so we’re clear.)

If you could co-author a book with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why that person?
I’d say my chick lit idol Helen Fielding but we’d likely not get much work done, what with all my squealing and genuflecting. FYI? When I found out there was going to be a third Bridget Jones book recently, I completely lost my mind. Like, I couldn’t concentrate on anything because I was so excited. Rumor has it that Bridget has taken to Twitter. And now my life is complete.

What is the #1 thing on your life "to-do" list?
Someday I want to sit in a darkened movie theater and read the credit that says Based on a Book by Jen Lancaster. Memoir, fiction – I’m not picky.

Until then, I’d be satisfied if I could get the cats to stop peeing in my laundry. 

Thanks to Jen for knowing exactly how to make us laugh and Penguin for sharing Here I Go Again with our readers.

How to win Here I Go Again:
Please comment below with your e-mail address. (Please note: Entries without an e-mail address will NOT be counted. You can use AT and DOT to avoid spam. Or provide a link to your facebook page or blog if you can receive messages there.) 

Bonus entries (can be listed all in one post):
1. Please tell us: What is the craziest or funniest thing you've seen any animal (a pet or even at the zoo) do?
2. Follow this blog and post a comment saying you are a follower (if you already follow, that's fine too).
3. Post this contest on Facebook or Twitter or in your blog, and leave a comment saying where you've posted it.
4. Join Chick Lit Central on Facebook. Edit settings if you don't want to receive a lot of messages at your e-mail account. Please read our posting guidelines as well. (If you're already a member, let us know that too.)

5. Follow us on Twitter and/or Pinterest.
6. Add a friend to our Facebook group. (Tell us who you added.) Be sure to remind them to edit their settings.

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

Chick Lit is Not Dead and Booking with Manic are also doing giveaways for Here I Go Again.

Both are US/Canada only and end on February 4th.

Book Review: Here I Go Again

Lissy Ryder was the teen queen who rose to the top by bringing everyone else down. No one was safe from Lissy’s clever put-downs. Then she grew up...but did she really? Karma has Lissy divorced, living in her parents’ house and trying to start a new PR business with very little luck. Then she has a run-in with an old classmate who decides to give her a dose of clarity. Before she knows it, she’s in good ol' 1991, trying to make a fresh start that will hopefully change her karma for the better. However, the results are more than what she bargained for and soon she has to figure out what version of Lissy Ryder she is meant to be.

Tracey Meyers:
Normally, I wouldn't do this, but I'm making an exception . . . I have two reviews of Jen Lancaster's second novel, Here I Go Again.

First Review: Cliff Notes Style
BUY THIS BOOK! I know I'm a random stranger urging you to spend your hard earned money on a book I'm not telling you much about, but you have to trust me on this one... This book ROCKS as much as the song it's named after.

Seriously! Typically I don't read books as quickly as I read this one.  If I didn't have to work or sleep, I probably would have gotten through it even faster than I did.

Actually, don't tell my boss, but I did in fact read some of this book while I was "on the clock".

Phew! Now that that is out of my system .....

Second Review: A Detailed Review
Though I haven't read anything written by Jen Lancaster, after reading the synopsis for this book, I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on a copy of this book ASAP!

I have to admit I didn't expect the book to be as complex and full of depth as the story actually was.  The twists and turns of this story really hit at so many facets of what is possible when it comes to the idea of righting the wrongs of our past.  Also, just when I thought I had the main character, Lissy Ryder, figured out I saw there was another layer to her which chipped away at my initial impression that she was a self-absorbed, snot who didn't have an ounce of compassion or concern for others.  By the end of this book I not only liked her, but was rooting that she too would get her happy ending.

I also liked the characters that were part of Lissy's life.  Each of them helped me understand her more and how she became the person she was at the beginning of the book.  Of all of these characters, her mother was the one that gave me the greatest insight as to why she was the way she was at the beginning of the book while her father gave me the most insight into who she would be by the end of the story. 

Overall, not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book to the point I plan to pick it up again, but it also makes me want to dig into Jen Lancaster's other novel, as well as her memoirs!  If they are even half as good as Here I Go Again, I know I am in for quite a treat.

Melissa Amster:
Recently, on Facebook, an author asked if her readers would want to read a novel where the main character was not very likable. At the time, I responded that I wouldn’t want to read a novel like that. However, thanks to Jen Lancaster’s witty portrayal of Lissy Ryder in her second fictional novel, Here I Go Again, I changed my mind. See, I didn’t like Lissy Ryder. At all. She was selfish, bratty and incredibly delusional. I enjoyed seeing her receive the karma that had been awaiting her since her high school bully days. However, just like Darcy in Something Blue (Emily Giffin) and Taylor in Mrs. Perfect (Jane Porter), Lissy eventually grew on me as a sympathetic character for whom I ended up rooting by the end.

Needless to say, I LOVED Here I Go Again! The end.

Just kidding! I wouldn’t leave you without reasons. I am a sucker for time travel stories and this one spoke out to me in so many ways. First of all, it was like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion meets Back to the Future with a little 13 Going on 30 mixed in. Next, part of it took place in the 1990s! Needless to say, there were a lot of 90s pop culture references and I’m all about that! And having a lead character named Melissa (even though I would never go by “Lissy”) was a huge plus, as well. From beginning to end, it was a suspenseful page turner, as I was dying to find out if Lissy would ever get things right in her past or in her future. The fact that it was purely fictional made it a perfect escapist read. It also carried Jen Lancaster’s trademark snarky humor. I could tell that Jen put a lot of thought and love into this novel and it totally shows!

The only criticisms I have are just me being picky. Like I thought Lissy’s mom was awful. What a poor role model for a daughter to have! However, I know there was a reason she was like that and she added extra fuel to Lissy’s motivation to change her ways. Even so, she seemed like a caricature while the other characters seemed more genuine. I also thought it was a bit strange that people would refer back to the same event when stating why their lives turned out a certain way. Like one night made such an impact on so many lives. Maybe I’m so far removed from high school that I can’t really pinpoint the outcome of my life to one particular event from that time. And since the characters are in their mid-late 30s, it seems odd for them to blame everything on an isolated event in high school.

Overall, I can’t stop raving about Here I Go Again and I encourage each and every one of you to go out and get it ASAP!

Thanks to Penguin for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're giving away some copies over at our interview with Jen Lancaster.

More by Jen Lancaster:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Books of the Week: January 28th

Thanks for checking out Books of the Week! There are nine of us and we can't keep up with the many review requests we receive, even though we'd love to read everything sent our way. Therefore, we have decided to give some books their time in the spotlight and introduce you to them through this new blog feature. We will be featuring two books a week. We hope you will take the time to check these books out. (Click the titles to find them on Amazon.) If you read them and want to write a guest blogger review for us, please e-mail us and we'll be glad to work with you!

Authors: Please see our current review policy for more information about the Books of the Week feature. Thank you.

The Winter Witch
by Paula Brackston

In the small Welsh town of Cwmdu, there is no one quite like Morgana. She has not spoken in years, and her silence, as well as the magic she can’t quite control, makes her a mystery to everyone she meets. Concerned for her safety, her mother quickly arranges a marriage with Cai Bevan, the widower from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumors that swirl around her. Refusing to speak even on her wedding day, Morgana nods her head “I do” and marries a man still in love with his dead wife.

After their marriage, Morgana anticipates that her new, strange life away from her beloved mother will end in sadness and disappointment, but she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the rugged mountains that surround it. Even Cai himself begins to win her heart. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her love, and herself from the town’s inhabitants, Morgana must learn to harness her power or she will lose everything.

Paula Brackston can be found on Facebook and at her blog.


Just Add Water 
By Jinx Schwartz

Hetta Coffey is a woman with a yacht—and she’s not afraid to use it! A globe-trotting civil engineer with attitude, Hetta is working on coming of age—albeit a little late. Pushing forty, and still single, Hetta has left a life-long swath of failed multi-national affairs in her jet stream, so it is no wonder she prefers living with her dog, RJ. But old habits die hard, and trolling for triceps is Hetta’s hobby.

Plying the waterfront in search of Saturday brunch, Hetta’s attention is snagged by a parade of passing yachts—especially their predominantly male skippers—and experiences a champagne-induced epiphany: If she had a boat, she could get a man. In hopes a floating Valhalla will overcome an all-time low water mark in her life, Hetta buys her dream boat in spite of a spectacular ignorance of all things nautical. It seems living aboard is just her cup of spiked tea until a shadowy stalker, an inconvenient body, and Hetta’s own self-destructive foibles imperil not only a fresh lease on life, but an unexpected romance.

Hetta Coffey brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “sink or swim!”

Just Add Water is $2.99 on Kindle.

Jinx Schwartz can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Katy Regan's "tall" a book giveaway

**Giveaway is now closed**

Introduction and interview by Tracey Meyers

Over the past couple of years, I've come to realize what a unique gift it has been to have known a handful of my friends since I was a preteen.  I couldn't imagine my life without my friends in general, so it should come as no surprise that trying to imagine life without this handful of folks is even harder - many times over. 

Today's guest on Chick Lit Central takes a look at what happens in when a tight-knit group of friends loses one of their own in her third novel, How We Met (scheduled to publish on January 29th). 

Journalist Katy Regan is proud of her brief stints at 19 different magazines before finally joining Marie Claire in 2002.  In 2009, she added "author" to her list of accomplishments with her debut novel, One Thing Led To Another.

Although I don't know her in person, I feel like the below interview gives me a good sense of her personality and approach to the world.  So, without further ado, I give you Katy Regan.

Thanks to HarperCollins UK, we have FIVE copies of How We Met to give away to some lucky readers anywhere in the world!

You can find Katy at her Facebook and Twitter pages.
What animal do you think would make a unique pet and why?
I think I'd love to have a giraffe in the back garden. Giraffes strike me as very cool, self-contained animals who would probably be good listeners and conversationalists if they could talk, philosophising over life as they chewed the cud! They also look amazing in the wild, they are so TALL they look prehistoric, literally out of this world..

Also, they have really pretty long eyelashes!

Of all the animals you've encountered, what meeting stands out the most?
I would definitely say (if this counts, as we were in a Land Rover and therefore not actually 'meeting' them as such) watching a pride of lions tear at a zebra carcass in the Masai Mara. The inside of the zebra was bright red and looked like the velvet interior of a jewelry box, it was amazing.

Is there any animal you are scared of? If so, which one and why?
I'm not really an animal lover to be honest, I am scared of lots of animals! I wouldn't pick up a guinea pig or hamster for example, as I hate the feeling of tiny bones beneath fur and I would freak if a big dog came bounding towards me - although I like some friendly dogs. I don't mind insects, funnily enough, but the creature I am prob most scared of (or dislike the most) is the slug. This is due to an unfortunate incident I had with a slug when I was nine. Myself and some friends were playing on a building site (it was the 80s) and I fell in this little pit, came up and a big, orange slug was hanging off my fringe!! Yuk! I've been traumatised ever since.

I think pet clothing is:
Mmm.....the fact i don't even understand that question.shows how much I am NOT au fait with animal habits. Do you mean like a dog coat?

What inspires you to write?
Paying the mortgage? (no, I'm joking...) Probably some strange need to dissect the human condition and understand the world and therefore feel more in control and sane!

What distracts you the most from writing?
Social networking DEFINITELY (it's got worse this last year) and finding the sudden need to wash clothes / hang out clothes / fold clothes even though i am very behind with my novel.

Which was easier to write - your first novel or your third novel? Why?
They were probably equally hard and easy for different reasons (my second was harder than both of them, and my fourth is proving harder still, so maybe I just don't get on with even-numbered books...) but I would say that the first was hard because I was still learning how to write fiction (not that you ever stop learning) and i really had no idea at first, so it took soooooo long and yet it was about me and my story, so that made it a lot easier. My third novel really flowed and I loved writing it but it was harder in a way, because it was more ambitious, and dealing with bigger / more universal issues.

How has your writing changed as you progress in your career?
Mmm..I'm not really sure. Sometimes I read my old manuscripts and hope to be wowed with how much I've matured and improved but I think you are so close to your own writing, it's hard, and you are always hyper-critical no matter how much you have improved. I think I've probably become better technically and that is mostly down to reading a lot, I am also more confident, (as with How We Met) with dealing with more complex, deeper issues. In How We Met for example, the drama centres around the untimely death of a friend . I don't think I would have been confident enough to tackle something like this in my first two books. One thing I think has definitely improved is the use of humour: it's tempting at first to go down the gag route, but I've tried with each book just to make the characters genuinely funny people in themselves so that the dialogue and their actions make the reader laugh, rather than the writer's gags!

Thanks to Katy for chatting with us and to HarperCollins UK for sharing How We Met with our readers.

How to win How We Met:
Please comment below with your e-mail address. (Please note: Entries without an e-mail address will NOT be counted. You can use AT and DOT to avoid spam. Or provide a link to your facebook page or blog if you can receive messages there.) 

Bonus entries (can be listed all in one post):
1. Please tell us: Which animal scares you the most?
2. Follow this blog and post a comment saying you are a follower (if you already follow, that's fine too).
3. Post this contest on Facebook or Twitter or in your blog, and leave a comment saying where you've posted it.
4. Join Chick Lit Central on Facebook. Edit settings if you don't want to receive a lot of messages at your e-mail account. Please read our posting guidelines as well. (If you're already a member, let us know that too.)

5. Follow us on Twitter and/or Pinterest.
6. Add a friend to our Facebook group. (Tell us who you added.) Be sure to remind them to edit their settings.

Giveaway ends February 3rd at midnight EST.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: The Meryl Streep Movie Club

By Melissa Amster

There's something so inviting about a bowl of popcorn and a cozy couch, which is why I was drawn in to reading Mia March's debut novel, The Meryl Streep Movie Club. Wait...who am I kidding? I LOVE movies and the fact that this book was about a movie CLUB was enough to grab my attention right away! Needless to say, the story was impossible to put down!

One summer weekend, two sisters are summoned to the home (and bed and breakfast) of their aunt and cousin, with whom they've been living since their parents died in a car accident that also claimed their uncle. Their aunt has news for everyone, something she even kept from her own daughter until this time. Isabel welcomes the opportunity to flee from her husband, whom she caught cheating. She's not sure whether to be sad or relieved, since their marriage went downhill after she threw a wrench into their secret pact. Her sister, June, works at a bookstore and the branch where she felt safest is closing down, taking her home along with it. She also is trying to find the father of her child and what she finds out about him will affect all the hopes and dreams she's been holding on to since the day he abandoned her. Their cousin, Kat, wants to start her own bakery. She's been best friends with Oliver ever since they were kids. Now he promises to give her everything she wants, but in the wake of her mother's announcement, she's not so sure she wants it. Meanwhile, the women and their aunt/mother gather to watch and discuss Meryl Streep films, which may be holding the answers they've been looking for all along.

I had heard about this novel almost a year before it was published and was definitely intrigued. I wouldn't say Meryl Streep is my favorite actress of all time, but she is very talented and I've seen a bunch of movies she starred in. However, the largest draw to the novel was finding out what would happen for each of the women. They all had intriguing and even heartbreaking stories. Each character was interesting and sympathetic in her own way and I looked forward to seeing what would happen for them. I was worried that I'd have to wait too long between each woman's chapter to find out what was going on in their life, but through the other chapters, I'd find out bits and pieces of what was going on with them. In the meantime, there were little cliffhangers to keep me guessing until their turn came up again. The story was beautifully written and I even cried without expecting to. (I won't say why as to not spoil things.) There were some really touching moments that just seemed effortless from the author's end. It was like the words just flowed out of her and she knew how to access some genuine emotions. It balanced out the moments that actually were sappy (those "Hallmark" moments that require the music at the end of a Full House episode). Also, the descriptions were great. I could practically taste Kat's delicious cupcakes and smell the sea mist while walking around the town by the harbor. I could even feel the heat from the last days of summer. (Perfect for winter months like this.)

While I enjoyed the way the events of the women's lives tied in to the movies they were watching, I also felt those parts were forced. During the times they talked about the movies, the dialogue did not seem as realistic. Compared to the effortlessness of the other parts of this novel, it felt like Mia was trying too hard during these scenes. Also, if you have not yet seen certain movies that they watched and don't want spoilers, you may need to skip over those parts. I am not a fan of spoilers, but I will admit that Mia had me intrigued about some movies that I would have never thought to watch before. Aside from that, things wrapped up a bit too neatly in the end, but I didn't mind because it was such a great story overall!

And since this book is all about movies, I could even see it being cast as a movie. (Instead of books within books, this could be movies within a movie....) If I were the casting director, I would choose...
Isabel: Claire Danes (I just pictured her the entire time I was reading this novel. I saw a picture of her in a magazine where her hair was darker and that just sealed the deal for me!)
June: Larisa Oleynik (I haven't seen her around on the big screen in a while, but she has this soft look that would work well for June. I also think someone who isn't as huge of a name in the media should play this role.)
Kat: Emma Stone (Same as for Claire Danes as Isabel, this was who I pictured based on descriptions and age range. Now that she's gone blonde, it works even better!)
Lolly: Blythe Danner (She just works well for this part.)

My casting choices differ greatly from Mia's (see our interview from last year), but that makes it even more fun!

Overall, I loved The Meryl Streep Movie Club and am eagerly anticipating Finding Colin Firth this summer!

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winner of "We Hope You Like This Song"

To find our winners, we assigned a number to each entry (from only the entries with contact info) and asked to choose one number. The lucky number is 3!

Congrats to rubynreba!

Here's a message from Bree Housley:
One of my goals in writing We Hope You Like This Song was to encourage people to think about their own friendships and celebrate all the weird/awesome/lovely little things that make them so special. I want to spread this message to everyone in the whole world, but I’m about a-million-and-five dollars short on airfare, which is why I want to give a huge thanks to Chick Lit Central for connecting me with all of you. When you’re not a celebrity author (ya know, like Snooki or a Real Housewife), it’s extremely challenging to get the word out, especially for a first-time author. I LOVED reading the comments about your best friends and hope you share this book with them as well.

If you’re the winner, congratulations! I truly do hope you like my song. If not, I want to offer you my deepest gratitude as a consolation prize. (Kinda like winning paper towels on The Price is Right.) Okay, one more time: THANK YOU. For real.

Reminder: If you have won a book, you have about 48 hours to claim it by sending your contact information. (You will be e-mailed if you have won, as well.) After that time, a new winner will be picked.

Thanks to everyone for participating and telling us what animal your human best friend would be!

Thanks to Bree for a fabulous interview, for sharing her memories of Shelly with us and for sharing her book with our winners.

Check out our latest giveaways and also enter ones from other blogs and websites on our giveaways page.

Sophie King is cool bean(o)s!

Sophie King recently made Chick Lit Central headlines, when her previous novel, The School Run, was chosen as one of our favorite books of 2012! In fact, our reviewer, Jami liked it so much that she immediately replied when an opportunity to review Sophie's latest novel, Divorce for Beginners, was presented. (And you can check out her review here.)

Sophie King (who also writes as Janey Fraser) is a journalist and novelist. She has had seven novels published, including The School Run, which was a best-seller, and The Wedding Party, which was short listed for the RNA Love Story of The Year (in 2010). Her first short story collection, Tales from the Heart, also received accolades from Jami this past year.

Sophie has also written numerous non-fiction books including Family Memories (a series of children's books); How To Write Your First Novel; How To Write Your Life Story; along with a few books about parenting and children.

In between novels, Sophie writes short stories and has had hundreds published in magazines such as Woman's Weekly and My Weekly. She also gives regular talks/workshops at bookshops and literary festivals including Winchester and Guildford. Before moving to Devon, she tutored at Oxford University and West Herts College. She also worked at a high security men's prison (!!!) as a writer in residence.

Sophie is here today to talk about her latest novel, writing, and her dog (since she's here during animal month).

You can find her online at her website, Facebook and Twitter.

To celebrate the launch of Divorce for Beginners, she has a FREE short story available on her website.

You also go by the name Janey Fraser. How does your writing style differ between your two pen names?
To be honest, it’s quite similar. However, I have fewer main characters with my Janey Fraser books; usually two women and one man. I try to tell a good tale which is funny but which also deals with the darker sides of life that we all have to go through.

How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?
I generally have the germ of an idea and then think of the right kind of characters that would ‘people’ it. Then I allow myself some time to let the story start to ferment in my head while I do other things. I write down lots of notes and leave myself messages on the answer phone if I’m out and can’t find something to write on. I also collect magazine pictures of characters who look similar to the ones in my head. I try to think of a problem that the main character might have to deal with and then I go from there. As I write, I constantly get more ideas for the plot and write them down in my notepad. It’s a bit like driving a car with a rough idea of where you’re going but with enough time, hope and faith to admire the view on the way.

Do you base any of your characters on yourself?
There are usually bits of any author in a character. But if I did myself all the time, it would get very repetitive!

What was your inspiration for writing Divorce for Beginners?
When I got divorced myself, I discovered a whole new world out there of friendship and support. It taught me a lot of lessons. Even though I’m married again, I’m very aware of those lessons.

What is the funniest thing your dog did recently?
He’s started to steal socks. Anyone’s. None of us have a complete pair between us. I’m thinking about sock therapy. For all of us.

What is your dog's name and what is the story behind that name?
I’ll tell you about my old dog because there’s a story to do with his name. He was called Beano; so-called, because my children used to get The Beano [a children's comic book in the UK] . We lived in the country and he would run alongside our bikes to collect The Beano from the post box at the end of the lane. Then he would sit on the carpet and apparently read it. Honestly.

What do you enjoy most about having a dog?
The company. He’s also a great guard dog. And he likes listening to me when I play the piano which is brave of him as I am only a beginner.

Who is your favorite animal from a movie?
Bambi. It was the first film I was taken to. Apparently I had to be taken out of the cinema in Harrow, in floods of tears, when Bambi’s mother died.

Thanks to Sophie for chatting with us and to Great Stories with Heart for facilitating this interview.

Book Review: Divorce for Beginners

By Jami Deise

While conventional wisdom states that half of all marriages will end in divorce, that statistic is actually more of an old wives’ tale that a true reflection of the state of marriage. Rather, divorce rates for first marriages peaked at 40 percent in 1980 and has been declining ever since. Today, it’s closer to thirty percent. Still, despite the trend in “starter marriages” that seemed to peak in the 1990s, it seems that most women in the middle of their child rearing years have several friends whose marriages have ended. Nearly seventy percent of those divorces are initiated by women (although the statistic doesn’t say whether the initiation was followed by the discovery of a husband’s adultery or other peccadilloes.)

British author Sophie King’s latest novel, Divorce for Beginners, takes an up-close and personal view on how divorce affects several characters, from the day they discovered their marriages were ending to 18 months later. The novel takes the point of view of four people: Lizzie, a magazine editor with two children who discovers her husband’s toothbrush at the home of her best friend, Sharon; Allison, a stay-at-home mom whose husband announces he’s leaving after they get home from taking their younger child to college; Karen, a classified ads salesperson and grandmother who has been separated for years; and Ed, a wealthy businessman who has been divorced twice, was recently dumped by his fiancé, and who longs for children. The four are brought together when Karen impulsively decides to start a group, based on the belief that since she survived her split, she has the skills and knowledge – if no formal training – to help people throughout their personal crises.

I thoroughly enjoyed King’s short story collection, Tales from the Heart, and her novel, The School Run, was my favorite review book from 2012. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy Divorce for Beginners as much as the other two. While its format was similar to The School Run, featuring the point of view of multiple characters, the characters in Divorce for Beginners are not as likeable as in her previous novel. Even though her husband has impregnated her best friend, Lizzie still wants him back, engaging in juvenile attempts to gain his attention. Ed is ungrateful for the support he receives, judgmental toward the other group members, and self-centered. Although Karen and Allison are both strong and sympathetic, half of the novel is spent in the point-of-view of the less enjoyable characters.

Furthermore, King spends too much time dealing with the personal problems of people other than the main characters – Karen is overly involved with her son’s relationship, and Ed is supposed to be taking care of his younger stepbrother, Jamie, who is more interested in partying and drinking than schoolwork. Because of these subplots, the book feels overly long. Finally, Allison, the strongest and most likeable of the characters, is the subject of a hoax so cruel that it feels out of place with the other domestic dramas in the book.

However, each character shows growth throughout the course of the book. Allison, in particular, is an inspiring character, and the book is worth a read just to see how she copes with the complete upheaval of her life. King wraps up their stories nicely, and I do believe the changes that each character achieves could provide hope to readers who are in similar situations.

In any case, the book can provide comfort to readers by illustrating that there are always people who have it worse – even if they are fictional.

Thanks to Great Stories with Heart for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sophie King:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Let's talk about pets!

Just as pets are important to characters in chick lit novels, they're also special to us in real life! Here are some thoughts about pets from a few of us at Chick Lit Central!


Besherte.  The term is often used when two people find each other.  They are called each other's "besherte" because they were meant to be together.  In this case, how my cat, Elsie, came to be mine was completely "besherte".
At the beginning of 2012, I went to my county's animal control to look at cats.  I had had one before, but had to give it away.  I felt after not having one for several years, it was time for me to adopt a cat again.  However, on that particular day I did not find one that I wanted to take home with me.  In the months that followed I pretty much put looking for a cat on hold as life got busy.  It wasn't until I attending a family gathering on Memorial Day that I even really spoke of it. During this conversation it was mentioned that my brother and his family were experiencing troubles with their new dog and their cat Elsie and how they might need to take Elsie back to the shelter if things didn't improve.  About a week or two later my sister-in-law contacted me to find out if I was interested in adopting Elsie instead of them taking her back to the shelter where they had originally found her.  I'll be honest, the pace at which this idea went from just an idea to reality kind of scared me.  Sure I had thought about adopting a cat, but I wanted to slow things down a bit.  However, that was not in the cards and before I knew it I had agreed to take Elsie home with me for a week trial.  If things "didn't workout" I would take her to the shelter.

Our "trial run" ended the moment I got her home and she stepped out of her carrier.  I'm not sure what changed in that moment, but when I looked into her little eyes I instantly fell in love, and knew she was home.  Over six month later, E and I have adjusted to having the other around.  She is one of the many reasons I consider myself blessed and have learned a lot about myself, and life because of her.

(Note from Melissa A: Elsie is even a part of CLC now, as she wrote her first book review!)


The rescue people told me Lady was “protective.” I envisioned the German Shepherd by my side, sitting nobly, refusing to let me leave her sight. The reality was a bit more complicated. In dog –speak, apparently, “protective” means “try to kill anyone who gets close to your human.” So I have to lock her away when people come to visit. (This can be particularly challenging considering she can open certain types of doors.) And if I’m walking her and someone says, “What a pretty dog,” I have to warn them not to get any closer. And she is pretty – beautiful, in fact. And she does stay by my side and follow me from room to room. At night, she jumps on the bed and sleeps between my husband and me. The “protective” stuff has an upside – I always feel safe when I’m with her. The irony is, people tell me that when I’m not around, she’s docile and sweet to everyone. So please, meet my dog Lady. You’ll just have to do it when I’m not around!


No secret here, I absolutely love my shih tzu, Sassy who we’ve had for coming up on two years. I love taking walks with her, posing in pictures together I even sign cards from the two of us. Unless you’re dog obsessed like me, you probably think that I’m a dog freak, but that’s okay. We dog fanatics think something is wrong with the rest of you! But I was kind of unknowingly faking it with Sassy until recently.

Cindy with Princess
We lost our other shih tzu, Princess two Decembers ago, after having her for nearly fourteen years. She had put on a brave battle against cancer. Princess was the “child I’ve never had,” another one of those freak things unless you haven’t been able to have children and you are grateful for your dog. When Prinny passed away two years ago, I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to experience joy in my life again. Perhaps that sounds dramatic to some, but I’m being completely honest. I mean full heart-felt, deep soul joy; belly laughs were definitely a thing of the past. Princess had helped me through a divorce, let me cry on her more nights without a walk, never peeing in the house…not that it would have mattered. The truth is a piece of my heart was shutting down and a bit of sadness was setting in that had the potential to take up residency in my heart and brain and that’s not the Cindy I am.
Well, it was two years last month since Prinny passed and we’re coming up on two years since Miss Sassy has moved into our home and hearts. As much as I love her, I haven’t been totally sure she’s truly a part of our family. I guess it’s because she’s a rescue dog, but she’s always had her guard up a bit. Maybe it’s been me who has had the guard up. Well, when she got into bed the other night something had changed. She’s never licked me like Princess did and the other night, Sassy licked me. It made me so happy; I broke down and kissed her until I know she wanted to bite me. I know Prinny told Sassy, through the heavenly puppy channels to take care of me. She must have told her it’s going to take a little more work! I am so blessed! This is my post-Holiday Puppy Miracle.

Melissa A:

You're probably expecting me to write about my most recent pet, a cat named Winnie. However, the pet that sticks out for me the most is Buddy, the beagle my family had from when I was 12 till I turned 21. He had some behavioral issues, but I think he was meant to prepare me for kids. (Of course, I don't cover messes with paper towels for someone else to clean, like I did when I was a teenager.) He got into EVERYTHING! He would attack the garbage can every day, looking for food. He'd eat everything he wasn't supposed to. He even "defiled" some pillows when we had guests over. (That wasn't embarrassing or anything. :P) I've decided to share some of Buddy's craziest and funniest quirks and some of my favorite memories here!

*He would do this thing where he'd spin in a circle over and over on his behind. I called him "el tocadiscos" (record player) because of it.
*If you scratched a spot just under his front leg, while he was laying down, he'd kick his back leg really fast.
*He let a cat who was more than half his size boss him around!
*He was obsessed with the cat who wanted nothing to do with him and he recognized her name. If I dared to mention her, he would howl and go crazy.
*When we went on walks, he tended to hyperventilate, making this loud snorting sound. I'd have to stop every so often to help him calm down. He just loved going on walks and was so excited! He'd even stop at every tree to lift his leg but not do anything else.
*I taught him some basic commands in Spanish and he knew what I was saying!
*He would wear a scarf around his neck (like Stan's dog on South Park) and if someone took it off, he'd freak out until someone else put it back on him.
*The picture above is my absolute favorite. I caught him just at the moment he was licking his nose and it looked so funny and cute.
*He once tried to grab a sandwich but only got the bread and left the meat.
*He hated vegetables and would actually spit them out if we gave him one. (This prepared me for my older son's picky eating habits.)

That is just some of what made Buddy such a memorable dog. He was really sweet though and I loved his companionship and loyalty. He truly was a "buddy" to me.


Becky and Roony
Rooney was in my heart before he arrived in this world, he remains in my heart as much as ever five months after he left this world.
My happy sweet handsome boy, I miss you so much. I miss our adventurous walks, I miss our routine walks, I miss your sweet personality, your eyes telling me what you were thinking, I’m sure you were human in a former life, a lovely human. I miss playing oranges and lemons on the beach, singing ‘Good Morning’ from Singin’ in the Rain to you every day with you wagging along, dancing to Paolo Nutini with you, I miss you humping your rug embarrassingly whenever anyone came to the house. I could go on, and on and on...I miss your company, my best friend.

I believe in soul mates, Rooney was mine.

Guest Book Review: May This Be the Best Year of Your Life

By Miriam Plotinsky 

“If the best I could do with two graduate degrees was a nanny job, then India looked even better than it had before.”

The above thought from author Sandra Bornstein pretty much sums up a great deal of her memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Bornstein’s book covers the span of a year when, after her husband gets a job overseas, she finds herself living, and ultimately teaching, in India.

Initially, the book appears to be in the Eat, Pray, Love genre of non-fiction, in which a woman of a certain age explores an unfamiliar country and culture only to emerge from the experience revitalized. As the story progresses, Bornstein spends the majority of the book chronicling the various struggles and roadblocks she encountered on her journey. Large numbers of people in the book, from a rabbi in Colorado to fellow teaching colleagues to workers in government agencies all make Bornstein’s year difficult. Though the book’s title sounds optimistic, a better title might have been something along the lines of My Struggles with Bureaucracy.

At times funny (Bornstein has a great many run-ins with monkeys in India) but mainly straightforward, the book reads like what it is: a collection of thoughts that Bornstein assembled from journaling, blogging, and her own memory. The result, while meticulously detailed and vivid, is so immersed in the little moments as they occur one after another that there is no real overarching picture or thematic thread. The best scenes in the book center on events in India, especially teaching scenes, in which Bornstein describes classroom events with a lot of energy and obvious passion.

As is appropriate with memoir, a strong sense of “I” also pervades the text, and though Bornstein talks frequently and lovingly about her family, it’s clear that this journey to India, initially taken with her husband Ira, becomes hers alone. In fact, though Bornstein initially moves to India because Ira has been outsourced, she eventually leaves him in the United States after he endures a serious skiing accident and forges ahead on her own as a teacher in India. Her sense of adventure is palpable, but it’s not quite clear why Bornstein leaves her nearly incapacitated husband alone in America when her initial reason for moving to India is to be with him.

The book ends on a puzzling note, with Bornstein back in Colorado and teaching in a school “where only some students cared to listen and most ignored me.” The reader gets the sense that, as with the previous year, Bornstein will wind up butting heads with more than a few people in her pursuit of the life she wants. It’s hard to believe that this new school will provide Bornstein with what she hopes “could be the best year of my life,” but her optimism is a nice way in which to end, even though the story does cut off abruptly.

Bornstein’s memoir is a good read for anyone who might be considering living overseas as a means by which to achieve a life transition. Furthermore, the descriptions of various locations within India are both entertaining and informative. Though her year away doesn’t provide Bornstein with the best year of her life, it certainly sounds like it was a worthwhile experience.

Thanks to Sandra Bornstein for the book in exchange for an honest review. This is part of Sandra's blog tour.

Miriam Plotinsky is an English and creative writing teacher. She lives in the DC/Metro area with her husband and three kids, who occasionally give her the time she needs to write and eat sushi.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Book Review: Pie

By Elsie Meyers

Raise your paw if you don't like pie?

If you're expecting me to raise mine, think again!  Just because I'm a cat doesn't mean I can't appreciate pie.  Actually I LOVE pie!  This works out well for me as my cat mom, Tracey, is a fantastic pie baker - or at leas that is what I've heard.  I've tried to sneak a taste each and every time she makes pie, but I can't seem to get to it in time.

For her birthday, Tracey received the book Pie by Sarah Weeks.  I have to admit, the minute saw her put it down on the table I scampered over to it and snatched it from her.  Why did I do this you ask?  Well, anyone who is anyone knows that this book is about a cat named Lardo who inherits a greatly sought after pie crust recipe (lucky cat!) and the adventures that take place to Alice, the girl who inherited Lardo, as a result. 

Once I finally dove into this book, I couldn't stop reading it.  I flew through it in record time.  Besides being an easy read, Sarah developed many likeable and endearing characters such as Aunt Polly and Alice.  Also, there is a character named Elsie, so she also gets props for that, too!

I'm not sure what I expected from the plot of the story overall, but it kept me engaged and wanting to know the answer to the big question - who did it?  Who was going to be the next notable pie baker in the town? And, there is also a love story that develops!

Sweet as the dessert it's named after, Pie is surely an indulgence in book form.  Overall, I give this book four paws up!

OH, one more thing!  The added bonus to this books is that each chapter begins with a different pie recipe (which was the only reason I gave the book back to Tracey - I  hope she makes a few of these and gives me some)!!!

Elsie Meyers is a short-haired domestic cat who resides in the Chicagoland area.  When she's not busy with her main job of looking after her cat mom's stuff, she enjoys causing mischief, napping and running around after invisible things.  After writing this review, she now hopes to pursue a writing career, too.

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