Friday, March 29, 2013

Guest Book Review: Ellie Andrews Has Second Thoughts

By Miriam Plotinsky

Perfect men might be boring, but perfect (or seemingly perfect) women are completely detestable. That’s why women everywhere adored Helen Fielding’s very flawed Bridget Jones when she burst onto the chick lit scene, and why they forgave Becky Bloomwood’s uncontrollable shopping addiction in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. Now, along comes Ellie Andrews, whose built-in inferiority complex and irrepressible curvy figure both serve to make her incredibly charming and relatable.

In Ruth Saberton’s Ellie Andrews Has Second Thoughts, Ellie is about to get married, and as wedding-day jitters threaten to throw off her nuptials, she begins to look back upon her previous relationships. What ensues is a hilarious romp back and forth in time while we meet all of Ellie’s loves, past and present. The big mystery (very much like the premise behind the sitcom How I Met Your Mother) is the groom’s identity, and Saberton keeps us guessing through the entire novel, even inserting a neat twist into the final chapters to bring the suspense to maximum intensity.

Though she is often blind to other people’s weaknesses as well as to her own failings, Ellie is sweet and it’s easy to like her. For instance, Ellie often brings up her struggles with weight, which she’s dealt with by simply not dieting. Yet, despite her size, Ellie is fascinating to any number of handsome and clever men, and this fact sends an important message to women who feel that they have to starve themselves to be good dating material. In fact, Ellie’s fun-loving personality and her modest self-image (she thinks too little of herself, but that’s sadly symptomatic of women) is probably what attracts all of these men to her.

The novel, reminiscent of Sophie Kinsella’s work, is simply delightful from start to finish, and though (like Ellie herself) it’s not particularly deep or thought-provoking, we leave the experience feeling happier and satisfied. Saberton keeps us guessing about the story’s outcome until nearly the final page, and with Ellie for company, the journey to that moment is well worth the read.

Thanks to Trafalgar Square Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nancy Stampahar makes pasta with a side of a book giveaway

***Giveaway is now closed***

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I've recently experienced another instance of "book besherte." This time, it came in the form of Nancy Stampahar. I saw an ad for her website on Facebook, right at the beginning of Foodie month, and I knew I had to contact her to visit CLC. Not only does she share recipes and cooking tips, but she also gives lessons on women's empowerment! How perfect is that for chick lit readers?!? Her lesson today is on dealing with difficult people. Someone I'm close with recently had an experience with a difficult person, so I wish these tips had been available to them at the time this was happening. (However, given the difficult person is still driving them crazy, this still may come in handy.)

Nancy is also sharing a tasty Italian recipe with us AND she has her own personal growth book, Peace, Love and Lemonade: A Recipe to Make Your Life Sweeter, to give away to one lucky reader anywhere in the world!

Nancy Stampahar has over 15 years’ experience in public speaking and training, as well as triumphant lemons to lemonade personal stories to share with audiences in need of some inspiration and a good ol' kick in the pants. Aside from being an award-winning author, she is also the creator of the first empowerment-cooking web show, Life in Nancy’s Kitchen – Dishin’ It with Zest! Nancy has grabbed the attention of The Rachael Ray Show and the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Nancy earned her BSBA degree in human resource management from Robert Morris University and as a professional development and personal growth expert, has been sought for her knowledge, candor and inspiring stories that change the attitudes and behaviors needed to achieve positive results. Nancy’s authentic and enthusiastic personality makes her one of today’s most dynamic female motivational speakers. Born into inspiration, she returned to her hometown, Pittsburgh, where she lives today. Her greatest influences are her mother, who raised her as a single parent and worked her way off welfare to earn a law degree, and her late brother, who was intellectually-disabled.

For more recipes and empowerment ideas, visit Nancy at her website, Facebook and Twitter.

5 Tips to Deal with Difficult People

With today’s globally-connected world, we are fortunately exposed to the goodness of diversity. There are many enriching types of people to learn from and enjoy both professionally and personally. While having different experiences brings tremendous opportunities for growth and fulfillment, different ways of working, living and communicating can be uncomfortable and difficult. Then, there are people who are difficult no matter what you say or do.

A difficult person is defined as someone who continues to demonstrate unfavorable, disrespectful or immature behaviors. All attempts to remedy a situation have not worked. The unpleasant, unhealthy or even toxic encounters keep happening. Perhaps there has been no resolve because of how the difficult person was or was not approached to fix the situation. Or perhaps, the difficult person does not “get it” and never will. Then, it’s up to you. You have a choice on how you will think and react the next time the situation occurs.

Tips and Insights for Dealing with Difficult People:

1) Keep in mind, that 90% of what someone says is about them, which means only 10% is about you. There are a lot of self-absorbed people with a low self-esteem. They only talk about themselves and hardly ever ask you a question about you and your life. Try not to take these people personally…it’s all about them.

2) People with low self-esteem love to gossip and make fun of people. This makes them feel superior to stroke their own self-esteem. They are pointing out your faults (real and not for real faults) instead of fixing their own. Ignore them and do not participate in the gossip. 99% of gossip is false information anyway.

3) Do not rise to their level of yelling and screaming. Keep your cool.

4) Most important, if someone continues to treat you with disrespect after you have set clear boundaries remove or distance them from your close circles. You deserve to be treated better. If you do not take this important step, you are the person who is now responsible for allowing the situation to keep happening in YOUR life.

5) Seek relationships with positive, giving, easy-to-get-along-with people.

Whoever the difficult person is in your life or workplace, you are probably fueled by negative emotions and stress when you interact with them. Your own well-being and performance are being jeopardized. You don't have to feel that way anymore. Keep in mind that you cannot change others. You can only change yourself. You can choose to respond differently each time you deal with a difficult person. There is always a way to get happy.

To your happiness,

Check Out Nancy’s Fun Message Here About Passionate Communication – That’s Italian!

Dishin’ Passion with Nancy’s White Pasta Fagioli Recipe

Now, that’s Italian! Italians are known for their great food and passion. But Mama Mia, when their hands go flying in the air and the yelling begins, some people can get overwhelmed with fear. It’s not intentional. Understanding different communication styles can make things tolerable.

Recipe type: Soups
Cuisine: Italian

Ditalini Pasta
Cannellini Beans
Chicken Broth
Celery (chopped)
Parmesan Cheese
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

Sauté chopped celery, onions, carrots and garlic in olive oil.
In a large pot, add al dente Ditalini pasta, cannellini beans, chicken broth, salt and pepper.
Stir up your passion, heat it up and fold in baby spinach leaves, chopped parsley and parmesan cheese.
Serve and top with more grated parmesan cheese. Buon appetite!
Finding your passion and communicating with respect for others will bring you una vita molto felice.

Thanks to Nancy for visiting with us and sharing her book with our readers.

How to win Peace, Love and Lemonade:
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 most difficult recipe you've ever tried to make? Were you able to conquer it?
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 April 3rd at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Anita Hughes gets "fresh" with a book giveaway

Anita Hughes returns to Chick Lit Central today to feature her latest novel, Market Street (reviewed here), which came out yesterday!. Her debut novel is Monarch Beach.

Anita was born in Sydney, Australia, and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named "One of Australia's Next Best Writers." (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley's Masters in Creative Writing program. Presently, she lives in Dana Point, CA with her family, where she interrupts her writing to watch the glorious sunsets.

Since Market Street is all about food, we thought Anita would be a perfect addition to foodie month. And for a tasty treat of your own, St. Martin's Press is giving away FIVE copies to some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada.

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

I am a great lover of fruits and vegetables - my new novel, Market Street, is about opening a food emporium in Fenton's, an exclusive San Francisco department store. It's full of descriptions of delicious local grown produce. It's not surprising then, that one of my favorite recipes involves fresh cheese and tasty vegetables.

Melted Mozzarella and Peas

One heirloom tomato
One cup of steamed baby peas
Four slices of fresh mozzarella cheese

Slice the tomato on an oven-proof plate.
Cover the tomato with a layer of peas.
Place slices of mozzarella cheese over the peas.
Sprinkle salt and pepper and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes or until the cheese starts bubbling.
Remove and serve (preferably with a loaf of crusty sourdough bread!).

This recipe is special to me because it is my mother's recipe. I grew up in Australia and when I was six years old my mother went on a health kick - that lasted the rest of my childhood! We weren't allowed to eat sugar or sweets or meat or anything that wasn't sold at the local market. You can imagine what that was like for a child - seeing all my friends eat Good Humor Ice Cream Bars, sausage rolls and meat pies, all the normal things children ate.

Surprisingly, my mother's choice of eating brought us closer as a family. She made sure we had the most exotic fruits - mangos, melons, grapes, peaches, the most delicious nuts - Brazil nuts, Macadamia nuts, Walnuts, Almonds. And she tried dozens of recipes to find dishes that enticed us.

Whenever I make Melted Mozzarella and Peas, I think about my mother. And I always laugh when I see my children do exactly what I did: stand in front of the oven and watch the mozzarella cheese turn golden brown and bubble. Eating is about family and a great recipe is one that makes your children smile!

Thanks to Anita for sharing her delicious sounding recipe with us and to St. Martin's Press for sharing Market Street with our readers.

How to win Market Street:
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 a food you didn't want to try for a long time, but once you did, you liked it?
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 April 2nd at midnight EST.

Book Review: Market Street

By Melissa Amster

When Anita Hughes writes a novel, her words flow like butter. Seeing that it's Foodie month at CLC and that Market Street is about food, that's the best way I could think of to describe what I had read. In this case, the butter is the kind they use at the fanciest and most expensive with flavor, enhancing anything it comes in contact with.

Cassie Blake is the heiress to Fenton's, an exclusive department store in San Francisco. Instead of spending most of her time there, she's content to volunteer at an organic school garden and take care of her husband when he comes home from a long day at work. However, when she receives unsettling news about her husband, and her mother offers her an opportunity to oversee Fenton's new food emporium, she has to decide what she truly wants to do with her life. Complicating matters further is a guy who is also vying for her attention....especially once she starts working with him.

Just like in Monarch Beach, the descriptions of food and locations, as well as fashion, are decadent. Anita really knows how to show her readers how the other half live. (If you are part of this "other half," you'll have to let me know how accurate she is.) She was also, once again, able to make me blush. Maybe not as deeply as I did for Monarch Beach, but there were still some "hot" moments. I like that Cassie was more down-to-earth than others around her, as it made her more of a sympathetic character. I liked that she wasn't so passive about what she wanted and stood up for herself. I could even feel her anxiety when she found out the unsettling news about her husband.

Throughout the novel, I felt a reverse form of schadenfraude, if that is possible. It was this annoyance with people being able to have things so easy with just the snap of their fingers. They seemed to have unlimited money at their disposal to make things happen faster than most entrepreneurs would. There was also a "wealth" of connections that made things even easier! I'd love to see Anita write about a woman working her way up from nothing and not having the support of rich family members either. I'd cheer for her that much more if she became successful. Alternately, I'd love to see Cassie's friend Alexis in her own story that would be similar to Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter. (Then again, she'd probably have some connections to turn things around for herself in no time.)

Overall, Market Street is an entertaining and beautifully written novel. I look forward to reading Lake Como when it comes out later this year.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're giving away copies at Anita's visit to CLC.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Books of the Week: March 25th

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. We now have a Book Shelf page, and it will eventually be replacing Books of the Week.

Thank you.

A Girl’s Guide to Fairy Tales
By  Laurey Buckland

For daydreamer Maddie, obsessive compulsive Clare, over dramatic Isobel and happy-go-lucky Sophie, life is more a world of tragic than magic. For Maddie it’s a constant battle against the monotony of a job she hates while her heart aches to be somewhere else, for Clare it’s a perpetual struggle to vanquish her teenage insecurities and to see herself for the woman she really is, for Isobel it’s a refusal to reveal her true self for fear it’s not what everyone imagined her to be and for Sophie it’s a willingness to believe in a rumour that threatens to poison her perfect relationship.

But with the love and support of their friends and a little bit of luck, the girls soon realize that happy ever afters are not just reserved for fairy tale fiction – as long as they start believing in them.

A Girl's Guide to Fairy Tales is $1.99 for Kindle.

Laurey Buckland can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Atomic Summer
By Elaine Walsh

In 1953, three teenage girls’ innocent conversations about what each of them would do if the end of the world were imminent, coupled with a friend’s obsession, become the catalyst for a prank that spins wildly beyond control and draws in an entire town. Left behind in the wake of that summer’s events are their unrealized dreams and open wounds. In 1973, a reunion trip to the small town of their youths returns them to the summer of 1953 and the passion and betrayal that changed their lives.

Take a journey back to the days of your youth through the eyes of the teenagers in Atomic Summer, and remember all the friends that have shaped who you are today.

Elaine Walsh can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Love or Money?
By Carrie Stone

How does a successful, money-driven woman act when her world is turned upside down and her values are brought into question? Felicity Harroway is about to go on a journey. A long distance one.

Housewife and best friend Zara is also about to undertake new changes with a baby on the way. Just not quite in the way she’s expecting. For husband Steve isn’t as honest as he appears...
Can Felicity’s anxious and downtrodden mother Glenda guide both women in the right direction? Will fellow friend Sylvia lead by example and find happiness with her celebrity boyfriend?

Join the four women as they battle with the trials of work and relationships, and begin to question the all important dilemma… Love or Money? Or can you have both?

Love or Money? is $1.50 for Kindle.

Carrie Stone can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Sophie's Run

By Melissa Amster

Sophie Penhalligan is back....with a vengeance! (Not really, I just thought that would be fun to say.) This time, she isn't being forced to choose between two men. However, her story still comes action-packed with plenty of drama and lots of twists. Hopefully, you've read Sophie's Turn so that you're all caught up and I'm not spoiling anything. If not, read no further until you've delved into that novel. at your own risk. Just don't say you weren't warned.

After turning down proposals from Tim (her now ex-fiance) and Dan (her rocker friend who still wants to be part of her life anyway), Sophie finds the guy with whom she is meant to fall in love. And then he disappears, leaving her to only hope she'll find him again somehow. When she does, the results are rewarding, until one heartbreaking day when her world comes crashing around her, thanks to a misunderstanding with her new love and her best friend's betrayal. What else is Sophie to do but run....far away! Will she even want to be found by those she cares about most, even though they hurt her terribly?

I found it very easy to get into Sophie's Run, right from the beginning. It picked up seamlessly from where it left off and even though I read Sophie's Turn a while back (reviewed here), I had no problem remembering what happened from one book to the next. I found Sophie to be more likable than she was before, even though I felt she over-reacted and jumped to conclusions in regards to both the misunderstanding and the betrayal. It was like she made everything all about herself instead of considering what was going on in other peoples' lives. Still, she seemed less uptight this time around, which made her more fun and entertaining. I enjoyed living vicariously through her, like when she got to travel or do fun things with Dan. How cool would it be to be best friends with a rock star, no strings attached?!? (Not that some of us would mind the strings....just saying.) I appreciated the "Rocky Horror" references at one point in the story, but that's just me and my nostalgic side.

There was really a lot of drama this time around. That made for a very long story, where some scenes got dragged out several chapters. I think they could have been cut down and the story still would have flowed nicely. And although I mentioned Sophie's exaggerated reaction to the misunderstanding and betrayal, I liked where it led her. That part of the story was very interesting and made me feel like even more of an armchair traveler.

Now that I've become strongly acquainted with Sophie through two books, I'm interested to see where the next book will take her and what adventures she'll face along the way.

In the meantime, here are some treats for you:

Nicky Wells is giving away one delicious chocolate gift to a lucky winner in the UK or North America!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The small print: This Gift prize is a product of Unique Chocolate. The Gift prize is subject to availability in your country. If the Gift prize is not available in your country, Nicky Wells reserves the right to offer a substitute gift prize of a similar nature at her discretion. Nicky Wells will require the winner’s postal address for shipping purposes.

Bonus Giveaway: Nicky Wells offers a giveaway of ONE Amazon gift voucher worth $20/£15 for one lucky winner. To enter, simply share your thoughts on Sophie’s Run with Nicky. Email your comments to and your name will be entered into the drawing. Competition closes May 1, 2013.

Thanks to Nicky for the e-book in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: Baby Bumps

By Jami Deise

I believe your age predicts your reality show addiction. Women in their 40s like me enjoy the home buying/home renovation shows on HGTV. Women in their 20s enjoy The Bachelorette and wedding shows. Women in their late 20s and 30s are addicted to those baby stories. And men have golf. Whatever life stage you’re at, there’s a block of reality TV programming just for you.

If you’re at the life stage where a baby is the next item on your to-do list, you may want to think twice before reading Mommy Blogger Amy Sprenger’s not-quite-fiction debut novel Baby Bumps. Not because it isn’t good – it is – but because expectant or to-be-expectant moms already worry too much as it is without this detailed guide to things that can go wrong in your pregnancy. At least, that’s what my ob-gyn told me 20 years ago. That particular book was the back chapters of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but I believe the lesson holds true today. Worrying about what might happen never makes it easier, and Sprenger’s book will make pregnant women worry every time they go to the bathroom. Which is a lot.

I’m not sure how much worrying Sprenger’s heroine, Annie, got in at the beginning of her pregnancy. The novel starts when she’s about 20 weeks along, far enough to know she’s carrying a boy she and her husband Jake have nicknamed the Blob. Annie seems more concerned about looking cute in her maternity wear and getting her Starbucks fix than about getting to her ultrasound on time. Unfortunately, the images reveal that Annie has an incompetent cervix. That doesn’t mean that the sensitive piece of female anatomy is unable to make its own legal or medical decisions; rather it means it’s not up to the task of keeping in the Blob for his required 40 weeks. In fact, Annie’s uterus is already protruding into the birth canal. She’s hospitalized and her cervix is stitched up and told to behave itself for 20 more weeks.

If everything went swimmingly from that point on, Annie would be the protagonist of a short story, not a novel. But she’s not, and more complications happen. Eventually, Annie’s required to go on complete bed rest. At the same time, her husband has a job that takes him out of town during the week; they’re in the middle of completely rehabbing their Chicago home, and they have a crazy – although very supportive and close-by – family.

Annie narrates the tale with a brave sense of humor. She’s determined to keep joking, and keep everyone laughing while going through scary and sometimes painful and humiliating procedures. (Sprenger’s descriptions of medical appointments and procedures are highly detailed, and perhaps not for the very squeamish.) This is a book that easily could have delved into pity-party territory, but Annie refuses to go there … although she does act bratty during certain times, such as a falling-out with her mother over socks.

My one quibble with the book is Sprenger’s decision to write, as she puts it, an “Almost, Barely, Not-Quite-True” story. In her forward to readers, Sprenger says she started to write a memoir but realized it would be funnier if she could make stuff up. So she wrote a novel, but, she says, “The framework of the story is true… names have been changed… timelines have been compressed and events have been slightly altered. Slightly.” If most of the book is true, why not just write the memoir? Sprenger’s voice is funny enough that “making stuff up” really isn’t necessary. And it left me wondering if she really is married to someone who gets drunk at an office party and humiliates his wife. I really hope not. I would have preferred the true story, and as a blogger, it’s certainly something Sprenger is capable of delivering.

And I would like to add one caveat to my warning to women who haven’t yet but will soon bear children: You may decide to wait to read this book until after you’ve had your brood. But by all means, give it to your husband or significant other and make him/her/them read it right away. The universe has a way of laughing at expectant fathers who think it’s OK to be hours away from a woman who could go into labor at any minute. The sooner they learn this lesson, the better.

Thanks to Amy Sprenger for the book in exchange for an honest review. Baby Bumps is $2.99 for Kindle.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Guest Book Review: Moving up on Manolos

By Michelle Drodge

Jane Allen is probably one of the luckiest girls in the world – she’s best friends with Alex Canty, an A list superstar who is fondly called ‘sex on legs’ by Jane’s roommate. After a tumultuous relationship ended leaving her despondent and full of self doubt, she’s invited by Alex to visit him in Malibu, but just can’t seem to get the courage to go – that is until her roommate decided to intervene and give her a makeover, complete with four-inch Manolos that gives her the confidence she needs.

The book continues with Jane giving in and heading to Malibu, where she is greeted by Michael Canty – Alex’s cousin and famed horror writer. While the banter between them is seemingly that of two very different people who don’t care for one another, it is easy to read through the lines and know that they are attracted to each other, but when Alex needs to ditch his tag-along lady friend, he spreads a rumour about himself and Jane that makes Michael second guess his feelings.

I really did enjoy this book, even though it was very predictable and a bit outrageous to think that someone can just pick up and leave home, fly to LA, audition and get a prestigious role and fall in love all at the same time. Although I do wish for myself that all it took were a pair of Manolos to land my dream job!

The most prevalent issue in this book, however, is the extensive amount of typos and misuse of words. The one that stood out most to me, was when Velma Kelly became Velmer Kelly in reference to Chicago. I picked it up right away and wasn’t impressed that this typo slid through the cracks, considering the importance of Chicago in this book.

When I closed the book, I have to admit I was sad it was finished. Sometimes a feel good story is all you need when you’ve had a hard day at work or the kids are being bad. I definitely look forward to reading more from Nina Whyle and hope that one day there’s a sequel to Moving Up on Manolos.

Thanks to Nina Whyle for the the book in exchange for an honest review. Moving Up on Manolos is 99 cents for Kindle.

Michelle Drodge is 27 and lives in a small town north of Toronto in Canada with her husband and three year-old daughter. She works at a pharmaceutical distribution company during the day, but moonlights as an aspiring writer after her daughter goes to sleep. One day she hopes to see her own book on the shelf alongside her favourite Chick Lit authors!

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What's In The Mail

Melissa A:

The Witch of Little Italy by Suzanne Palmieri from St. Martin's Press

Free from Amazon (at time of purchase):

The X by Lorena Bathey

Field of Schemes by Jennifer Coburn

The Frog Prince by Elle Lothlorien


Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany from Simon Schuster.

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan from Random House

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Gals of CLC talk food!

You couldn't expect the ladies of CLC to go through Foodie Month without sharing some thoughts on food themselves. Gail, Jami and Melissa A. are here to give you the dish!


Favorite food from another country:
Fish tacos from Mexico. Or spicy satay soup from Vietnam. Mmmmmm...

What is your go-to breakfast item?
Every morning I have a small cup of Greek yogurt with fruit and a bowl of oatmeal. And coffee. (Although I've recently become obsessed with Chocolate Rocket maté from David's Tea. It's so delicious!!!)

To what food item(s) do you have a strong aversion?
Mayonnaise. Ick. It's like thick grease.

Do you have any food-related hobbies?
I decorate wedding cakes as a hobby. My husband helps bake them (because turning out 120 cupcakes in a normal kitchen is no easy feat), and I decorate the cakes and/or cupcakes. I usually do about 3-5 contracts a year (very small scale, which works for me), and it's so nice to be able to offer this little piece of myself to help make my friends' weddings even more spectacular.

What is the last meal you cooked using a recipe book?
I made a from-scratch poppy seed cake for a New Years dinner that we were invited to. I don't generally use recipes when I cook, but I had never made a poppy seed cake before so I decided to go the safe route. Result: it was absolutely delicious (and not dry at all, contrary to what I assumed it would turn out like!)

Do you watch food shows on TV?
If so, which is your favorite? I love Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Although, I hate when it's on at the gym. Worst show to do cardio with EVER.


I know there are some people out there who just love cooking, who spend their time watching cooking shows and trying new recipes. I am not one of those people. Anything with over five ingredients makes me nervous, especially if those ingredients include strange vegetables that need to be at a certain stage of ripeness and/or cut a specific way. Luckily, I married a man who’d rather eat dry cereal from a box than a meal hot out of the oven. Cereal for dinner worked for several years, and then we had a child who preferred to be fed actual meals. Said child grew up rather quickly, and soon required to be fed large amounts of food so he could keep up with all of his sports activities. Cooking large amounts of food that would be ready the minute he got home from practices or games defied the laws of physics and the time-space continuum, so I brought out the crockpot I had not seen since my husband and I opened our wedding presents. Low and behold, several recipes actually met my five-ingredient maximum list! This one below is one of my favorites:

Southwestern Chicken

2 15 ¼ oz. Cans of corn, drained (I use a brand that has pieces of hot peppers to continue the Mexican theme)
15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained (I always skip this ingredient)
16-oz jar chunky salsa, divided (or bigger)
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I usually only used 3 for my son and myself)
1 cup shredded cheese (3-Cheese Mexican is the best)
Combine corn, black beans, and ½ cup salsa in slow cooker.
Top with chicken. Pour remaining salsa over chicken.
Cover. Cook on high 3-4 hours or low 7-8 hours.
Sprinkle with cheese. Cover 5 minutes for cheese to melt.
I also sprinkled the cheese with small tortilla rounds to give it some crunch. I served this recipe with Uncle Ben’s 90-Second Rice, the Cajun style.

Melissa A:

I know it's a less than a week before Passover, so I shouldn't be tormenting my fellow members of the tribe with this delicious recipe, but bookmark this post and save it for a post-Pesach treat!

My mother-in-law made this delicious sweet noodle kugel whenever I came to visit for Shabbat. This was prior to my marriage. The last visit to her before our wedding, she walked me through the steps of the recipe and I wrote everything down. I make it all the time and I love it. My kids like it too (and it's a challenge to get them to like most new foods). When we had a power outage last summer, we ended up eating it cold and it still tasted really good. It was a refreshing treat on a hot day.

Sweet Noodle Kugel

Boil one package of thin egg noodles until soft. Drain the noodles when done boiling and put them back in the pot.

Add 3 eggs (broken separately) and beat with the noodles.

Combine with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 stick of margarine (softened)

Add a medium jar of apricot jam

Put in baking pan and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Easy and delicious! Enjoy!

Lisa Verge Higgins is fond of friendship and food, plus a giveaway

Introduction by Tracey Meyers

***Giveaway is now closed***

Friendship is a topic that I've had a lot of conversations about over the past several months.  Specifically, how people make new friends, what I need from my friends and what they need form me, and the importance of friendship overall.

As you might imagine, a majority of these conversations between these friends and myself have been while dining or partaking in coffee (tea for me).  Sometimes there is even a snack involved.

Today, author Lisa Verge Higgins joins us to discuss her new book, Friendship Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, and her fondness for food.  Thanks to Grand Central Publishing, we have TWO copies of this novel for some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada.

Lisa Verge Higgins can be found at her website and on Facebook.

Friendship Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Monique Franke-Reed, one of the characters in my next novel, Friendship Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, likes to whip up some of her grandmother’s Caribbean cooking in order to tempt her moody daughter to the table. Monique spends hours dicing onions, garlic and tomatoes and mixing them in with “green seasoning,” a Trinidadian combination of cilantro, lime juice, garlic, scallions, parsley, and pimiento peppers. After browning chicken thighs and adding the mix, she lets the whole pot burble until the house smells divine. She serves this up with a side of callaloo, which is chopped dasheen leaves and okra sautéed in oil, then simmered in coconut milk.

I’m getting hungry just writing about it! While researching this book, I found a bunch of traditional recipes and gave them a go in my kitchen. Even though I’m a terrible cook—and I am!—they all came out pretty darn tasty.

One of the great perks about writing is that I get to experience different lives and different adventures through my characters. In The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship, I send Kate the mother-of-three jumping out of an airplane. In One Good Friend Deserves Another, I forced Dhara the Indian-American cardiologist into an arranged marriage. Now, in Friendship Makes The Heart Go Fonder, I get to take off for Europe with two of my best buddies for a vacation that doesn’t go at all as planned. I also get to pretend that, like the young widow Monique, I’m capable of whipping up a Trinidadian feast that would draw hungry, envious neighbors to my door.

If you’re looking for a great recipe for the Trinidad callaloo, I suggest Chef Khalid Muhammad’s mouth-watering version.

 And here’s a great recipe for Trinidad Stewed Chicken, complete with instructions on how to make a version of the green seasoning, which can also be found bottled on some supermarket shelves or in bodegas.

Bon Appetit!

Thanks to Lisa for this lovely post and to Grand Central Publishing for sharing her book with our readers. To read an excerpt of Lisa's latest novel, visit her website .

How to win Friendship Makes the Heart Grow Fonder:
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 new recipe have you tried in the past six months?
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. 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 March 26th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Lovin' from Grandma's oven

Introduction by Melissa Amster

When it comes to the topic of food, Jen Tucker and I have a special relationship. I'm her "Gluten Free Girl Friend" (or GFGF). Don't get me wrong...I am all about gluten in my food. However, I know Jen has to deprive herself of gluten for health reasons, so whenever I find free online GF cookbooks or new websites and Facebook pages for GF products, I send them her way. Being gluten-free, Jen has opened my eyes to a world where not everyone can have the cookies, cakes and pastas I so desire. Recently, I brought GF cookies to another friend who also can't have gluten. And, of course, I connected this friend with Jen online. GF gals need to stick together! (I'm sure she'd hook me up with some other Kosher women if she knew them.)

Jen is the author of the funny and true stories, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out and The Day I Lost My Shaker of SaltIn September 2012, she had her children's book, Little Pumpkin published as an e-book. She also blogs monthly for Survival for Blondes. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, three kids and two dogs. You can find her at TwitterFacebook, her blog and on her website. And in case you missed them. check out her previous Chick Lit Cheerleader posts here.
Since it's Foodie month, Jen is here to talk about the woman from whom she inherited her passion for cooking.

From Grandma’s Kitchen, With Love

Grandma Ponicki is making Thanksgiving
dinner in the kitchen (1960s)
My Grandma Ponicki had magic in her arthritic fingertips. Whether it was a Swiss-dotted dress she lovingly stitched for me, her perseverance to command her hands not to shake as she painted my little fingernails, everything she did was laden with love. As much as those memories mean to me, when I think about my grandma, nothing said lovin’ like somethin’ from Grandma’s oven. *QUICK! Someone beat-box while I rap!*

For a woman whose kitchen was as big as most American’s half bathrooms, June Ponicki’s meals could’ve put any stop on the television show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to shame. A child of The Great Depression, her meals were hearty and filling, yet never broke the bank. Her minimal countertop space was never a hindrance to rolling out pie crusts or sugar cookies. Her macaroni and cheese would’ve made Kraft’s little blue box run for its life. Take out? Frozen pizza? Are you mad?! I can hear my grandma’s eyes roll at the thought of such a kitchen nightmare in her eyes.

When I reflect on Grandma’s cooking, the mini movies that play in my mind are filled with delicious smells, her encouraging me to snitch a bite before everyone else, and me rubbing my belly after consuming mass quantities. Sure, I might have helped stir a pot, or grabbed a stick of butter now and again, but it was clear Grandma was head chef. No one ever messed with her utensils. Period.

This dictatorship came from a place of love; a place of wanting to serve her family the best of herself, and that was evident through her heaping bowls buttery mashed potatoes and endless platters of juicy, baked chicken. Her meals weren’t complete without a dessert drenched in Cool Whip. The transference of love wasn’t just about the food we consumed; it was also about the family time at the table. Yet, as my mom would share with you, growing up in a home with a parent who is a culinary skill-hoarder doesn’t come without its kinks.

My grandmother’s need to shower her family with love through doing everything for them (Did I mention Grandma made everyone’s bed until the day they left the nest?), led my mother to newlywed meltdowns. I think Grandma pretty much handed my mom a cookbook, and said, “Good luck with that,” as my parents left on their honeymoon. After several months of burnt meals and disproportionate dinners for six people (when it was just the two of them), my mom got her bearings around the tongs and colanders. Yet slyly, she realized, she and my dad could easily sustain themselves through his graduate school years on grilled cheese and scrambled eggs, and let the recipes of her mother’s four course meals collect dust. Can you blame the girl?

My young bride story is not much different than that of my mother’s. You see, she was the duly elected "Queen of Fast Food" when I was growing up. She learned to make a mean meatloaf over the years, yet with my father teaching late into the night at the local college; it was just the two of us each night breaking bread. The difference in my newlywed kitchen story, has to do with the man I married. Mike loves to cook; it’s therapy for him to chop the snot out of carrots after a long day at work. He was very patient with me, and also showed me that cooking together would be some of the greatest times we’d ever have together. Although I now make a mean roast and potatoes, it’s still nice to share my utensils with someone. Mike also taught me family time in the kitchen doesn’t have to begin when you’re seated at the table. Whereas my grandmother showered her family with love with the end product, Mike’s Grandma Theil taught him how to boil an egg, and julienne a cucumber, while conversation and bonding happened merrily along the way. What a precious gift she gave him.

Wil and his "Annoying Orange Cake"
That gift continues in our home today. I’m proud to say Wil’s pasta is always al dente, Ryan cracks eggs with no renegade shell making it into the bowl, and Gracie can measure milk for cakes to perfection. We’ve pledged our three children will have a minimum of three descent recipes in their repertoire. While studying cooking at Team Tucker Culinary Institute, they’ve learned much more than not to accidentally set the oven to broil rather than bake (not that I’d know anything about that). They’re learning love is served in many forms. It can arrive while watching others enjoy a meal you’ve crafted solo with lots of TLC. You might see and feel love working alongside those you hold dear after negotiating who’ll chop the onion and sacrifice their tears for the greater good. Yet, it is my hope their favorite moments remain at the dinner table. That they’ll take inventory of family and friends seated around them, and feel blessed while making memories at the same time. Even if they never bust out the Cool Whip to top dessert as my granny always did, I feel her looking down on them, and me, with pride and joy.

Book Review & Giveaway: Heart Like Mine

***Giveaway is now closed***

By Amy Bromberg

Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time step-mom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be? At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again. But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover that there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew. (Summary courtesy of Amazon)

I’ve been dying to read Heart Like Mine since the minute I discovered it was coming out. Right away, I contacted Amy and Atria Books to say I MUST read this! Heart Like Mine alternates between the voices of Grace and Ava, with flashbacks into Kelli’s past. I'll admit that when I first read the synopsis, it made me think of Stepmom, the movie with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. However, this book was different in many ways.

Due to circumstances, more or less, Grace raised her baby brother all on her own. I can’t imagine how tiring this must have been for a young girl. She barely had the chance to experience childhood and do all the things children are supposed to do. Grace went on to college and built a successful career for herself. She’s fairly content with her life being focused on her career. This all of a sudden changes when Victor’s ex-wife, Kelli, passes away. The thought of being a step-parent to Ava and Max terrifies her. Does she have what it takes, the mother instinct, to be there for these two children?

Ever since Ava’s parents split, she has been taking care of her mother the way a mother should be taking care of a child. As the days go by, after Kelli and Victor’s divorce, Kelli keeps sinking deeper into despair, and Ava continually has to soothe her. She even ends up helping her mom pay the bills. Ava keeps telling herself she has to stay strong because this is her mama and she loves her so much. Of course, deep down inside, there’s this wish that maybe her parents will get back together. Talk about something taking a toll on a child. I can’t imagine having to take on the role of a parent at twelve years old.

Ava and Grace have a huge thing in common. Both have to take on “adult” responsibilities at such a young age.

I wish we were able to learn a little more about Kelli. But since she dies at the beginning, there’s only so much Amy can share about her.

I can’t imagine losing a parent, especially at such a young age. My heart was breaking each time I read how sad Ava and Max were. I wanted to dive into the pages and hug and hold them so tightly. With Amy’s imagery, characterization and wonderful writing I was able to almost feel the exact same emotions that Ava was experiencing.

Even though Heart Like Mine is a very sad and painful story, I fell in love with the characters. Amy has an extraordinary way of capturing her audience and really grasping the souls of each character. This is a compelling, sweet and tender story about the obstacles of marriage, love and family relations. I highly recommend book clubs putting this on the top of their list.

Thanks to Atria for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy to share with a lucky US reader!

How to win Heart Like Mine:
Since it's still foodie month, but we're keeping in theme with the book, please tell us: What was the first thing you learned to cook by yourself when you were growing up?

One entry per person.

Please include your e-mail address or another way to reach you if you win. Entries without contact information will NOT be counted.

US only. Giveaway ends March 25th at midnight EST.

More by Amy Hatvany:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: Family Pictures

Sylvie and Maggie are as different as two women can be. A soon-to-be empty-nester, Sylvie spends her days in California making candles, wining and dining with her closest friends and attending to her mother's needs. Maggie, mother of three, lives the high society life in Connecticut, trying to impress her neighbors with her wealth. However, these women have something in common that they would have never expected. And when something happens to bring them together in the worst possible way, they have to decide who is to blame and whether they can forgive.

Amy Bromberg:
Reading a Jane Green novel can be compared to a hearty stew. SO many yummy foods and ingredients go into one, including beef, chicken, carrots, beans, mushrooms, peppers, potatoes, onion, various seasonings, wine, stock, flour, etc. Just like a stew, which has layers and layers of deliciousness, a Jane Green novel has layers and layers of hearty characters, plot lines and emotions. Be prepared for a read like no other....the stew in Family Pictures.

Jane Green develops her characters and settings beautifully. Each character has such deep and intense layers. Just when the reader thinks they know Sylvie and/or Maggie, she learns something new about them. I felt I was sitting with both women and experiencing their hardships. I also love the way that Jane describes and illustrates Maggie and Sylvie’s homes. I’m somewhat familiar with the various wealthy towns and communities in Connecticut, with huge houses on gorgeous pieces of land, but unfortunately I’ve never visited one. (Side note…I love looking at houses, especially mansions. Since I’ve been little it’s something I’ve really enjoyed). The way Jane describes Maggie’s home, it’s like I was there experiencing and seeing everything. The same goes for Sylvie’s place in La Jolla, CA.

One of the things that Sylvie and Maggie have in common is never feeling like their good enough, and constantly having to prove themselves. I can definitely relate to this. Growing up nothing I ever did was good enough for my mother. She often compared me to one of the students in my class who always got A’s. It seemed that I always made the wrong decisions. There are still times now, as an adult, where I feel I’m trying to prove myself to others.

As many of you know most novels that I love I have trouble putting down and just breeze right through them. In the case of Family Pictures, I found myself savoring every word, which was such a comforting experience. It was like snuggling up with a blanket and a cup of tea or hot chocolate, or sitting in front of a fire in a log cabin. I sat with each chapter and let it resonate, especially at the end.

Family Pictures is a story about the importance of family, friendship, and a mother’s love for her children. It’s also about finding your true self when you’ve been faking it for so many years. Apparently, tragedies can help people find their inner selves. I can’t recommend this book enough, and it would make a wonderful book club pick. I’m so excited to be seeing Jane tonight at her New York book signing at the Barnes and Noble on the Upper East Side.

Melissa Amster:
I have never met a Jane Green novel I didn't like and Family Pictures is definitely no exception! I devoured it from beginning to end, reading a huge chunk of it in the span of one day. This ranks as one of my favorites of Jane's novels. I really felt like it was truly her voice again. (In the past couple of novels, she had sounded like Kristin Hannah, but this time, it was all Jane coming through on the pages.)

Family Pictures was beautifully written with lots of detail that only enhanced the story. I could really visualize the characters and locations. I like how she distinguished between voices by having one woman in first-person and one woman in third-person. The women were such a contrast to each other, but I liked them both. I thought I wouldn't like Maggie at first, since she seemed so uptight, but then she grew on me. Sylvie was easily likable from the beginning. The teenagers in the story made me worried for when my daughter eventually reaches her teens. Some of the stuff they said or did was so disturbing. Jane handles a common issue amongst teenage girls with sensitivity, but also tough love. She doesn't hold back in terms of the consequences involved. Mothers should show this novel to their teenage daughters if they're worried about this issue being a reality for them.

The story had a few tear-worthy moments. I didn't expect myself to get choked up, but it happened nonetheless. In contrast, there are some good steamy moments. Nothing over the top, but enough to whet the appetite. The only concern I had was that the coincidence that happened at the climax of the story seemed a bit forced. Like, what are the odds of something like that actually happening?

Overall, I loved Family Pictures and have been recommending it to family members and friends. I'm already clamoring for Jane's next novel, even though I'll have to wait another year for it!

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're giving away some copies at Jane's special food-themed post on CLC.

More by Jane Green:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Books of the Week: March 18th

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. We now have a Book Shelf page, and it will eventually be replacing Books of the Week.

Thank you.

Alice in Wonderland
By Elle Lothlorien

When high school math teacher Alice Faye Dahl attends a Texas Hold'em home poker tournament, she doesn't know a royal flush from a toilet flush. Four months and dozens of "wins" later, she's one of the Final Nine--the championship table at the International Poker Tour in Surfer's Paradise, Australia--and way out of her depth. When a fluke shark attack throws her and sports reporter Lapin "Rabbit" Montgomery together, it seems to challenge the saying “lucky at cards, unlucky at love.” A veteran of the poker circuit (and gorgeous besides), Rabbit offers to help her go all the way to win the multi-million dollar prize, a deal she can't refuse. In this modern-day twist on Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Alice discovers much too late that when it comes to poker (and love), sometimes you win, sometimes you lose—and sometimes it's both.

Elle Lothlorien can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Blue Suede Shoes
By Deborah Reardon

Deep in the woods of Wisconsin, Little Mary Martin has been missing for five weeks.

Thirty-one year old Clare Paxton opens the door to her childhood friend Derek and his discovery. Little 4-year-old Mary Martin had been missing and all that was left were her articles of clothing and a large pool of blood.

Blue Suede Shoes is an engrossing criminal drama that takes dramatic twists and turns in a small Wisconsin town that has been torn apart by tragedy. Clare, a woman with an unfinished dream of leaving behind her hometown, finds herself drawn into the investigation of a young girl's murder after her lifelong friend Derek finds a critical clue. From that point on, secrecy, gossip, suspense, and betrayal lead the narrative to its fast-paced, climactic ending.

Deborah Reardon can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Peaches and the Gambler
By A.T. Hicks

What Does a Strip Club, a Dead Man and a Dove Ice Cream Bar All Have in

Peaches Donnelly.

Peaches Donnelly has a major problem: she's just been fired. Unaccustomed to filling her days with nothingness, she embroils herself toute suite in the recent murder of a childhood friend. 
However, standing between her and the solving of this heinous crime are two pesky daughters, a selfish opera singer sister, the diet from hell and two sexy men she can't resist. Add to this bubbling pot a hasty decision to go undercover as a stripper and you have a story rife with drama, laughs and a little dash of danger.

Follow Peaches and the always funny cast of characters in this first installment of a rollicking series of cozy mysteries.

Peaches and the Gambler is 99 cents for Kindle.

A.T. Hicks can be found on Facebook and Twitter.