Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Friendship Bread

By Melissa Amster

A few years ago, I was visiting my family and my mother introduced me to "Friendship Bread." It was absolutely delicious, but when I found out how much work went into maintaining the mixture for it, the chances of making it on my own were slim to none. After reading Friendship Bread by Darien Gee, I'm glad I made the decision to only try it at someone else's house. However, this novel is definitely a treat in its own way.

One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.

When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.

In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.

About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family,
Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

This was my first experience reading one of Darien Gee's novels. Darien also writes under the name Mia King, but I haven't read her books under that name either. However, after reading Friendship Bread, I definitely want to experience more of her beautiful and gentle prose written under either name.

I will preface the rest of this review by saying that this novel tackles a heavy and sensitive subject matter, which is apparent right away in the story. Being a mother, it is harrowing to read about the death of any child, whether real or fictional. I felt that Julia was written in a realistic manner and Darien handled the topic gently and honestly, while also being sensitive to the emotions of her readers, whether or not they experienced this in their own life.

Then there's the matter of the "Friendship Bread" itself. Darien shows the ups and downs of distributing and baking this special recipe. It's not just a one time experience. You get a starter and have to maintain it over 10 days and then start the process all over again. In the meantime, you also are giving a bag of starter to three other people, who also get pulled into the process as a result. The bread is worth it in the end, as it is so delicious. And the intent of sharing the bread and starter has a good meaning behind it. However, I can see how this would be a major hassle in a small town such as Avalon, after a while. Personally, I do a hassle-free version of "Friendship Bread," as I give a loaf of homemade challah to a friend or neighbor from each batch I make.

Friendship Bread is as addictive as the food item being featured. I found it very hard to put down and loved the relationships and interactions between the characters. The dialogue and descriptions only served to enhance the story throughout. Darien knew how to create a cozy feel akin to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I felt she was fully invested in the town she created, allowing me to get to know the characters like they were real friends and neighbors. The only downside was the amount of characters, which become overwhelming at times. I didn't mind that there were a lot of secondary characters with their own stories, but there were almost too many to keep track of. I kept mixing up names and situations as a result. I know that some of these characters are reintroduced with main roles in The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, which I plan to curl up with for a cozy read later this autumn.

If you're looking for a sweet story, definitely check out Friendship Bread. Even though I'm not baking the bread, I am glad I got a chance to share this novel with my mother instead.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio by Penguin (Amy also got this)

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen from Gallery Books


Confessions of a Hater by Caprice Crane, won at Shelf Awareness


The Bitches of Brooklyn by/from Rosemary Harris

Book Review & Giveaway: Rock Radio

By Jami Deise

**Giveaway is now closed**

Like Elton John, I too remember when rock was young. While I never had fun with anyone named Susie, I did enjoy listening to local radio. My friends and I all had the same favorite station and DJ; we would call in every weeknight to vote for the “Top Five at Ten.” The only syndicated program I knew was Casey Kasem’s Weekly Top Forty.

Lisa Wainland’s Rock Radio helps bring back the days before radio was forever changed by two factors: Clear Channel Communications, and Ryan Seacrest. Set in the 1990s, the book features multiple characters and plot lines, but one absolutely could not happen today: The story of a local band that makes it big through the help of the local radio station. Thanks to Clear Channel and the rampant syndication of L.A. based disc jockeys, local radio is becoming a relic of the past.

The story takes place in Miami, centered around rock station WORR. WORR’s two most popular DJ’s are Jonny Rock, who’s married to Jill but having an affair with intern Heather, and Dana Drew, who’s in a dying relationship with a lawyer named Sam and the object of the creepy attentions of stalker-in-training Larry. When Jonny and Dana hear a song by local band the Cody Blue Experience, they are impressed by the band’s talent – and Dana is especially impressed by lead singer Cody Blue. As the station gets ready for a major promotion in the Bahamas, all these plot threads come together.

Wainland’s writing is strongly reminiscent of Danielle Steele’s. She employs the point-of-view of multiple characters; her chapters are short and sweet; the writing simple and direct. Like Steele, Wainland spends a lot of time describing characters, settings and small details. In some scenes, I found the details to be too much – I didn’t need a description of the food on people’s plates. Wainland also goes into the point-of-view of nearly every character who appears in the book, including hotel desk clerks, and switches among points-of-view in single scenes. This error is the mark of a beginning writer; experienced writers who use multiple points-of-view keep them limited to major characters and switch between them after chapter breaks.

Overall, though, Rock Radio offers a strong story that builds nicely toward its climax. With its Miami setting, short chapters and clear writing, it’s a great book to take along to the beach (or read in cooler seasons to experience the summer heat again).

Thanks to Lisa Wainland for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has FIVE e-books for some lucky readers anywhere in the world!

How to win:
Tell us your favorite song from the 1990s.

One entry per person.

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

Open worldwide. Giveaway ends October 2nd at midnight EST.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sharon Simons counts her a book giveaway

As "Happiness Month" draws to a close, we have a guest who truly feels blessed and is sharing her list of joys with us today. Sharon Simons is the author of Mom at Last, her memoir about how she became a mother to the two adorable boys pictured with her. You can learn more about her book over at Book Mama Blog.

Sharon Simons had a dream to become a mother which she was determined to follow. Her path was difficult but ultimately successful, due to International Adoption. Born in New Jersey and currently living in Delaware, she is married to her soul mate Rick and the very proud Mom to her two sons Dylan and Hunter. Sharon is inspired to share her experiences, to offer insight, and inspire other women find their strength to achieve their goal of becoming mothers. Her passion involves using her journey to motherhood to educate and help women become a "Mom at Last."

You can read about her journey if you're one of the lucky winners living in the US and/or Canada, thanks to McAllister PR, who has TWO books to share!

Visit Sharon at her website, Facebook and Twitter.

The Five Joys of My Life

1. My Two Sons:
They have brought more joy into my life than I could ever have imagined. Everyday they make me smile and I appreciate the gift of Motherhood.

2. My Marriage:
My Life’s journey led me to my soul mate Rick. He has filled my life with love and support since the first day we met and I look forward to continuing our beautiful journey.

3. My Girlfriends:
I am fortunate to have many strong women in my life who are there to pick me up when I fall and celebrate my achievements. We bring happiness and growth to each others lives.

4. Helping Other Women On Their Journey To Motherhood:
The writing of my book, development of the Adoption App and the launching of have brought me much happiness. Knowing that I have helped to ease the struggle of woman on their journey to motherhood makes me fulfilled.

5. Understanding Life’s Lessons and Appreciation of Life:
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, words I live by taught to me by my Grandmother . I also have come to understand that when one door closes and other one opens.

Thanks to Sharon for visiting with us and to McAllister PR for sharing her book with our readers.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

US/Canada only. Giveaway ends October 1st at midnight EST.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Cheering Myself Up

Introduction by Melissa Amster
Jen Tucker and I got along so well right from the start because we are both generally very happy and positive people. Her zest for life shows in her personality and writing style and it is definitely infectious, which is why we invited her to be the Chick Lit Cheerleader in the first place. However, there are times when happy people like us tend to get the blues. Maybe wearing panties inside out or losing salt shakers is the LEAST of our worries during those times. Still, we look for those glimmers of light to keep us motivated and bring us out of our slumps. I recently shared what makes me happy and now it's Jen's turn!

C’mon Get Happy!

Have you ever held a number two pencil and filled in that dot-to-dot test that gives some insight into your personality? It labels one as introverted or extroverted, merciful or judging, and the like. When I took this little quiz, it told me what I already knew about myself. That I’m the extroverted cheerleader type of gal. The go-getter. The one who rallies the troops. The ever annoying happy-go-lucky ducky. Nice traits to have, right? Yet, when I’m not feeling joyous, how does someone disgustingly bubbly like me get happy?

Gracie enjoying some puppy love
Happiness is a warm puppy…or two
What is it about dogs? You scold them for eating bacon grease covered paper towels they magically retrieved from the trash can and they cower in shame (not that I’d know anything about that). Five minutes later, you lovingly call for your four-legged fur baby and they slip and slide across the hardwoods dying to reach you. There’s nothing like the unconditional love of a pet to perk you up, make you laugh, and feel loved.

There’s a unique thread I’ve found that links only children. When I meet others who have no siblings too, there’s one giant thing we have in common. We love our alone time. Most people I talk with find it bizarre that someone who grew up without pesky sisters, or torturous older brothers, would like solitude. As a child, I had to entertain myself. I had to find the fun in being alone; being quiet. I love being loud (I’m an extrovert, remember?), yet I embrace silence too. When I can shut out all the noise of life, even for a short while, I can find bliss.

Need I say more?

A birthday calendar made of chocolates!

The Forgotten are Remembered
The kitchen junk drawer. You have one too, right? It’s the burial ground for all things necessary, unnecessary, and the crap that slides right inside before company comes that you swear you’ll go through later. Recently, I opened said drawer to find a whatnot or doodad that one of my offspring desperately needed. I took the time to stroll through the contents and reminisce while digging. I found a ticket to a Colts football game (GO BLUE) that I attended with Mike and our boys; an out of focus photo of my BFF, Nancy, and me that Gracie had taken at a wedding; and a Ethiopian New Year, love letter from the sweet child in Africa our family sponsors. I love reuniting with memories, don’t you? It gives us the chance to appreciate them all over again.

Going to the Colts game

It’s Not About Me
The last way I find happiness is very telling of Jen Tucker. To me giving happiness is receiving happiness. Don’t misunderstand me. If I have one, just one, Hershey’s Kiss left in the zombie apocalypse, I won’t have a morsel to spare for you even if we share DNA. I meant that with love. I do love making someone’s day when they least expect it; when I didn’t have that angle in mind in doing something nice for someone else. The radiance of pure joy on someone’s face, or the sneaky things I do out of love that others may never know about blesses my soul and truly make me happy.

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

Book Review: The Wishing Hill

By Miriam Plotinsky

Whenever life gets boring and I wonder where my next big rush is coming from, I remember this ancient curse: may your life be exciting. With excitement often comes drama and trauma, and perhaps a few mundane days or weeks trumps being in a state of upheaval. In Holly Robinson’s The Wishing Hill, protagonist Juliet Clark’s life gets turned upside down when she has to leave her job (and recently estranged husband) in Puerto Vallarta to care for her ailing mother, Desiree, in New England.

What sets Desiree apart from most mothers is that, as an actress, she lacks most of the natural warmth and nurturing that Juliet has needed her whole life. Instead, Desiree embodies whatever role suits her best in any given situation. Exasperated but practical, Juliet sets about trying to be an effective caretaker for an impossible woman. Tangled into the conflict is Claire, a next-door neighbor who is harboring some pretty explosive secrets about Desiree, Juliet, and the past. And if that weren’t enough, Juliet is pregnant and single, and while her changing body’s demands grow increasingly tiring as the days go on, Desiree is so self-absorbed that she fails to notice what Juliet is going through.

While good male characters grace the pages of the novel, this book is mainly concerned with women and the lies they tell for reasons that may or may not be necessary. Without getting too specific (why ruin the book?), Juliet is the victim of a lifetime of scheming. Her character isn’t as distinct or memorable as Desiree’s, but that makes sense, given her mother’s overbearing sense of entitlement. As for the meeker Claire, who is roughly the same age as Desiree, she provides a good foil for the drama queen next door.

The Wishing Hill is absorbing. As the book continues, layers of deception gradually become exposed, and watching the characters react to that process is intriguing. After all, while we’re leading our boring lives, it’s fun to live vicariously through a more dramatic series of events. Still, I’d rather be cuddled up with a good book and my kids without much happening than be cursed with a life that’s just a little too exciting.

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

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jennifer Tress is "pretty" happy and has a book to give away

Photo by Jaime Windon
Introduction by Melissa Amster

I was born with naturally curly hair, and over time it became frizzy and practically unmanageable. I suffered through various bad haircuts and questions about whether I had a perm or stuck my finger in an electric socket. Some obnoxious guy even called me "Frizzles." No joke! During my early years of high school, I met girls with similar hair to mine and we bonded over this. Then around my senior year of high school, someone told me I looked like Magenta from Rocky Horror. I embraced that and formed an identity from performing as Magenta in local Rocky Horror stage shows. While I no longer have this persona as part of my life, I've learned to enjoy having wild curls, even on their craziest days.

Having said that, the title of Jennifer Tress' book, You're Not Pretty Enough, resonated with me immediately and I knew we had to invite her to CLC for a visit. Of course, I'm not the only one who has felt self-conscious at some point in their life. There's the YNPE movement going on in connection with Jennifer's book. You can watch videos and connect with other people, empowering each other in the process. Jennifer is here today to tell us what makes her happy and to share copies of her book with TWO lucky readers in the US and/or Canada.

Here's more about the book (courtesy of Jennifer's website), which also gives insight to Jennifer's life:
You’re Not Pretty Enough is like Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened meets Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar. From the “Sex Papers” Jen drew as a four-year-old when her mom was pregnant with her younger sister to her sole teenage act of rebellion: going to church. “We’re very disappointed in you,” her nonreligious parents said. When she was sixteen, Jennifer fell in love with Jon Bon Jovi and felt certain that if he just met her, he’d feel exactly the same way. They met all right. But that’s not what happened.

At 23, Jen married her college sweetheart and divorced him at 26 after he’d had an affair. Affairs happen every day. What doesn’t happen every day? The wife and the girlfriend meeting at a bar, discovering they liked each other, and then confronting Jen’s husband that same night.

Smart, uproarious and utterly relatable, You’re Not Pretty Enough is chock full of truths and provides an example of how to be comfortable in your own skin and ultimately live a full life (even if you screw up, royally, along the way).

You can learn more about Jennifer at her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Top 5 Happy List (in no particular order)

1. Hanging out with people I like, which includes (most!) of my family, my friends and people in my community. We usually have interesting, fun conversations and I always feel happy while spending time with them.

2. Alone time. Whether it's reading or taking a walk while listening to music, I love time by myself to reflect internally or just clear my head nearly as much spending time with people.

3. Exploring. I'm often happiest in a new city/town poking around its neighborhoods and ducking into its shops, cultural institutions and restaurants/bars.

4. Doing my best at work. All (well most) of us have to pay the bills by working a job we don't necessarily love, but spend a lot of time at/on. A few years ago I learned that if you do the best job at the task in front of you (no matter the task), you'll feel happier. And if you just can't, it's time to look for a new thing (easier said than done in this economy, I realize).

5. And the last is a tie for french fries and ice cream. Give me a lightly salted, slightly vinegary, slightly crispy/oily on the outside, fluffy on the inside batch of fries or pretty much any Ben and Jerry's pint (froyo too) and I'm a real happy camper.

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

US/Canada only. Giveaway ends September 29th at midnight EST.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happiness...the CLC way

Not only did we ask authors to share top five lists of what makes them happy, but we also are sharing what makes us happy! Check out what Melissa A. and Amy are smiling about...

Melissa A:
I've decided to stray from the obvious (people I love and books) and just list some fun things and activities that make me happy.

1. Music. I love listening to music whenever I have a chance. I also love singing either when a good song comes on, or just while I'm doing things around the house. The music I listen to ranges from pop to country to the Rat Pack era to Broadway, with a few Disney songs tossed in. 

2. Thrift shopping. Value Village is where I become a shopaholic. It's not just for clothes either (even though I do get some fashionable finds). I get books, DVDs, CDs, bags, etc. If I can go for a shopping trip there without my kids, I will end up spending hours browsing the aisles. 

3. Having my cooking praised. It's not just enough that I went through the effort of making the food, but when someone really likes even the most simple thing I've made, I just glow from happiness.

Adam Pascal in NYC: July, 2001
4. Meeting celebrities. Such a natural high. I really hope to meet Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked, Glee) this fall, as she's starring in a musical being previewed in the city closest to me. She's on my bucket list of celebrities to meet. (Anthony Rapp, also from Rent, will be in the same show and it would be cool to meet him too!) I also found out that Wally Lamb and Helen Fielding are coming to town. Two legendary authors that have reached celebrity status for me. Aside from meeting Joey from NKOTB, one of my favorite times meeting a celebrity was with Adam Pascal from Rent. I was flying high from that the rest of the day!

5. Autumn. I love this time of year, when the leaves change color, the weather cools down, and it's all about pumpkins, hot cocoa, and this hearty vegetable soup that my husband makes (from a recipe we got after one of our favorite restaurants closed down). Sukkot also takes place in Autumn and it's a lot of fun to decorate and eat in the sukkah and visit with friends in their sukkahs. 

Our sukkah a.k.a. The French Bistro 


1. Going on vacations:
Let's see, do I really need to say any more?

This says it all for #1 and #2...Palm Beach in Aruba
2. Going to any tropical area where there are white sands and turquoise beach waters.
Raise your hand if you don't like these beautiful spots in the world. Didn't think I'd see any.. I don't believe everything about astrology but I do believe that I'm truly a Pisces because I'm most relaxed and in my element when I'm hear any body of water.

3. For all of you that follow me on twitter and are friends on Facebook you know that I LOVE dogs. Just passing by a dog and saying hi brings such joy. My mom doesn't like this, but when we go visit my parents I always go say hi to Shaina first.

4.Once again for all of you that follow me on twitter and are friends on Facebook you know that I love chocolate and ice cream. ENOUGH SAID!

5. Last, but of course not least, a good book. Again, don't need to say anymore :)

Guest Book Review: The Carolyne Letters

By Sara Steven

Set in the 1960s, this uniquely written novel centers around Amelia, a young naive college student who has fallen in love with Geoff, an emotionally unavailable young man. When Amelia discovers that she is pregnant, there are three options available to her: keeping her child, abortion, or adoption. Told in Amelia’s own perspective in diary fashion, The Carolyne Letters takes a hard look at reality. Amelia knows in her heart the struggles she will face (and the stigma surrounding her "delicate" situation) if she decides to keep her baby, but she also knows the pain she’ll endure if she chooses to give her baby to strangers. Abortion is cruel, but it’s still an option- and it’s the choice that Geoff supports. Amelia is fully aware of the consequences of each and every decision she makes, and it makes the outcome that much harder to deal with.

Amelia shares the outcome (dependent on the decision made) through reflective letters that are written years later. I appreciated that tremendously. I'm a mother myself, and remember how I felt while pregnant with my first child. It could be daunting, and at times confusing. For Amelia, add to that the pressures that come from her family, as well as the views society had at that time regarding unwed mothers. It's a lot for a young woman to shoulder alone, and Calkin describes Amelia's internal struggles beautifully.

Will Amelia decide to keep her baby? Will the love between Geoff and Amelia survive? It’s a realistic take on subject matter that it still very relevant for today.

Thanks to BookSparks PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Sara Steven is a wife and stay-at-home mother of two rambunctious boys in Bellevue, NE. When she’s not running marathons, or working on her novel, she takes a break and opens up a good book (or turns on her Nook). Find her at her blog.

About the Author: Abigail B. Calkin’s first novel, Nikolin, was a finalist for the 1994 Benjamin Franklin Award. She is currently working on her third novel, a historical fiction sequel to Nikolin. She is a consulting editor for the Journal of Precision Teaching. Raised in Framingham Centre, Massachusetts, and New York’s Greenwich Village, she now lives in rural Alaska. You can learn more about her at her website.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book Review: This Is How It Ends

By Becky Gulc

This Is How It Ends was a book that took me a good couple of months to read from start to finish and it’s taken me even longer to get round to reviewing it, finally being prompted into it as I noticed the book has recently been released in paperback. But before anyone assumes I didn’t enjoy the book, that isn’t the case at all. I started reading the book last summer and this was the book I was reading on the morning of the day my beloved dog passed away last August. I couldn’t separate the association especially as a dog plays quite a prominent part in this book, so it was a while before I felt able to pick it up again. Here are my reflections on the book a good few months on. But firstly, what’s it all about?

‘A heartbreaking love story, This Is How It Ends is set in the winter of 2008. The novel tells the story of two people who collide with each other just as the whole world seems to be caught between the drama of Obama’s election and the catastrophic collapse of the global economy.

Bruno is a middle-aged American banker who has come to Ireland as a refugee from the financial meltdown in his own country. Addie is an out of work Irish architect. When she meets Bruno, her life seems to be on a downward spiral.

Addie and Bruno’s story is a story of nationality and identity, of the power of optimism to defeat despair and the unstoppable march of time. It’s the story of two people who find joy together when they were least expecting it. It’s about family and dogs and swimming in the sea. It’s about the past and the future and the elusive skill of living in the moment.’ (Synopsis courtesy of Kathleen MacMahon's website.)

My expectations had been built up by reading that Kathleen had received a six figure advance for this novel and some of the claims on the Amazon product description reviews (e.g. saying if you enjoyed One Day, which I did, you’ll love this).

With hindsight what I enjoyed about this book was that it offered something completely different to what I usually read so it was very refreshing. Quite often I didn’t know what kind of book this was, where it was heading, where I wanted it to head, or whether it was, quite frankly, just a bit strange! It’s very much a character driven novel, mostly centering on Addie and her quite isolated and lonely life when we meet her and her difficulties of life growing up without her mother. When she meets Bruno, I thought the internal dialogue surrounding Addie’s fears but hopes for allowing herself to fall for someone was really strong and it was this which made me care about her as a character when I’d previously felt ambivalent towards her as she comes across as a bit neurotic.

For all the hype of the love story between Addie and Bruno however it was Addie’s relationship with her dog which stood out for me, probably because I love dogs and because of what was happening when I read it but this was the real love story for me. Addie shares such a lovely bond with her dog, she spends lonely days walking and swimming with her dog and this is written about so eloquently and vividly. There were moments that this relationship really made me cry quite a lot, both with sadness and comfort and this is what I’ll take from the book.

I thought the sense of place in this novel was fantastic with some very symbolic references to the sea and sky which added depth to the novel and almost gave it an eerie feel at times.

If I were to give this book a star rating it would probably be 3.5 out of 5, I loved that it was different, quirky even, self-reflective and atmospheric. Whilst reading it though, I was sometimes confused by what kind of book I was meant to be reading, maybe that’s just me though, whilst that was a challenge whilst reading it though once I got to the end though I appreciated this. I wouldn’t compare it to One Day, the ‘love story’ element wasn’t that fundamental for me when I was reading it and it I didn’t cry at all the bits I felt I was expected to, so I maybe lacked the emotional attachment to the characters that I would hope to have by the end of the novel.

Thanks to Little, Brown for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Double Feature Book Review: Books written by actresses

By Melissa Amster

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates-Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material-and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.

Meanwhile, she dreams of doing "important" work, but only ever seems to get auditions for dishwashing liquid and peanut butter commercials. It's hard to tell if she'll run out of time or money first, but either way, failure would mean facing the fact that she has absolutely no skills to make it in the real world. Her father wants her to come home and teach, her agent won't call her back, and her classmate Penelope, who seems supportive, might just turn out to be her toughest competition yet.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and, most difficult of all, finding an acting job. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Being a fan of Smash and Glee, this novel definitely held my interest. I enjoyed reading about the audition process and acting classes. I liked that Lauren Graham gave a realistic feel of how difficult it is for someone to make it big in the city that doesn't sleep. For every "up," there are several "downs." I found the time setting choice of 1995 interesting. I'm sure it's because that's the time period when Lauren was first auditioning to be an actress, but it's also hard to visualize NYC the way it was back then. The lack of cell phones and social media made for other challenges that Franny had to work with. The only thing that really gave it a 90s feel was the pop culture references peppered throughout the story. I also could have done without her weekly calendar entries. Overall, it was a light and cute story that had a Stacey Ballis feel. It brought up some interesting points and didn't tie everything up into a neat little bow, leaving readers guessing what could possibly happen next for Franny.

Thanks to Ballantine Books for the book in exchange for an honest review.

When it Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life—revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all.

In "The Harvest Moon," a stay-at-home mom grapples with age, infertility, and an increasingly distant husband. In "Ursa Minor," a former children's television star tries to rebuild his life after being hospitalized for "exhaustion." An elderly woman mourns the loss of her husband and her estranged relationship with her daughter in "The Little One." In "My Olivia," a single mother finds untapped reserves of strength to protect her flamboyant six-year-old son who wishes only to wear dresses and be addressed as Olivia. And in the devastating title story, a betrayed wife chronicles her pain and alienation, leading to an eviscerating denouement.

As the lives of these characters converge and diverge in unexpected ways, Ringwald reveals a startling eye for the universality of loss, love, and the search for connection. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

I read this novel earlier in the year for my book club and it brought up a lot of interesting discussion topics. It is definitely something that would appeal to chick lit readers, so I wanted to share my thoughts about it at CLC. I was very impressed with Molly Ringwald's writing style. It is engaging and has great use of description and detail. She accesses real feelings with an honest approach, making her characters seem very genuine and vulnerable. I liked how they were connected between the different stories and I was able to keep up with their lives, even when someone else was in the spotlight. The only thing that didn't work as well was when she switched narrators within a story. It became confusing when that happened. When it Happens to You is really good throughout and definitely something you'll want to check out.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: Coconuts and Wonderbras

By Gail Allison

Literary agent Libby Holmes only wants two things in life: to be slim and to have her boyfriend Toby propose to her. When neither of these appear to be going her way, she allows herself to be sent abroad to Cambodia to accompany one of her company’s up-and-coming hotshot authors on a book tour. Ex-SAS officer (and author) Alex Bryant is everything you’d want in a hero: tall, dark, and smoldering. Libby is cheered on by her best friend Issy towards adventure and romance (while being held back by her boyfriend Toby, the obvious villain of the novel). When a series of Bridget Jones-esque events come to pass, Libby ends up going completely off the radar with Alex, with nothing but time to consider her options. With Toby, Issy, and Libby’s parents flying out to her rescue, hilarity ensues, but underneath it all, Libby can’t help but wonder: is her tried-and-true Toby really the man of her dreams? Is this all that life has to offer, or is it time for Libby to finally take a chance and break free of the expected?

Coconuts and Wonderbras was a cute, fun read from Lynda Renham. It was light and easy to pick up any time. I did find Libby’s obsession with her weight to be a little grating, and found myself wishing at times she could see herself on a deeper level than what she had eaten or how much she weighed. She’s also a bit of an airhead, but when we meet her mother we can chalk that up to genetics (her mother has an alarming habit of referring to her Blackberry as a "blueberry"…). Overall, it’s an effortless read, mainly due to the fact that the characters aren’t that complex. Libby is the quintessential Bridget Jones-y, Shopaholic-type heroine. Alex is the obvious masculine, handsome hero. Toby is the perfect foil to Alex, and is painted so not only in his mannerisms, but also in his appearance. Issy is a great friend…bouncy and fun and up for anything.

I enjoyed how some of the chapters were written from Issy’s point of view, and some from Alex’s. I wish these had been notated a bit better, as I found myself reading a page, figuring out who was talking, and then having to go back and re-read it, but these glimpses into other minds and viewpoints were invaluable in moving the storyline ahead and letting the reader see the situation from new eyes. I especially enjoyed the chapters written from Alex’s point of view, as they were a welcome break from the fluffy, girlish chapters. Overall, I really enjoyed the character development that we saw in Libby, as well. She seemed to grow from a one-dimensional cardboard girl who was only worried about her weight and getting a ring on her finger, into a woman who became aware that she was the creator of her own destiny.

If you’re looking for a light read, I’d definitely recommend Coconuts and Wonderbras by Lynda Renham. For less than $3 on Kindle, this fun romp that travels from the streets of London to the jungles of Cambodia is a steal!

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

More by Lynda Renham:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review & Giveaway: The Partner Track

By Jami Deise

**Giveaway is now closed**

Several years ago, as an editor of Diversity and the Bar magazine (published by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association), I worked on an article analyzing the law schools attended by partners at the country’s largest law firms. The research showed that while white male partners had attended schools of a variety of quality, minority partners had almost all come from the top law schools in the country – Harvard, Yale, Columbia. To me, this showed that a minority lawyer needed to be the best of the best to achieve partnership, while white men were able to take many different paths to the top. A white man with whom I discussed the article saw things completely differently: “It’s affirmative action,” he sneered. “Those law schools are so desperate for minorities, they’re shoo-ins. Minorities don’t go to those other law schools.”

That is what 21st century racism sounds like.

During the period of time when I was reading Helen Wan’s compelling debut novel The Partner Track, a brouhaha exploded on Twitter under the hash tag “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.” Used primarily by African-American feminists, these tweets detailed how the issues white women fought for ignored the concerns of women of color. Indeed, when I raised my hand to review this novel, I assumed it was about a woman juggling marriage and children while working for the law firm brass ring. In other words, a typical white woman “Lean In” issue.

Instead, Wan’s novel gave me a first person look at the daily slights endured by a brilliant, hard-working (and single without children) Asian-American female lawyer. Ingrid Yung is an eighth-year associate up for partnership at a major New York law firm. Specializing in mergers & acquisitions, she’s personally tapped to lead an important deal for one of the firm’s largest clients. Her work could make or break her career. But at the same time, she’s “encouraged” to participate on the firm’s new diversity committee, and babysit a new paralegal who’s also the son of another major client. As she works her butt off, Ingrid is assured she’s a shoo-in for partner – after all, all the other minority women left a long time ago.

While Ingrid is occasionally forced to deal with out-and-out racism – catcalls on the street that turn into derogatory racist comments – mostly she deals with the casual boys’ network that never actively seeks to shut out minorities and women (as an Asian woman, Ingrid is a “two-fer”), but never seems to notice that when they hire their friends’ sons or only golf with men who played for their high school, they end up leaving out people who don’t look like them.

Even so, Ingrid keeps her head down and her nose to the grindstone. She still believes that she who works hardest will be ultimately successful. Her biggest downfall is her inability to grasp that those around her are not playing by the same rules.

The Partner Track is written in first person, which allows the reader to experience exactly what Ingrid does and feel how she feels. Never strident nor shrill, Ingrid reacts in the moment and then tries to move on. The reader never feels that Ingrid might be overreacting or judging others too harshly. At the same time, she gives other characters enough of a voice that the reader is able to see how even those who have benefitted from the boys’ network might also be trapped by it. (While the novel is engaging and accessible even to someone who earned a C in her journalism law class, its personal treatment of important national corporate issues make me think that The Partner Track will, in a few years, be required law school reading. Or at least for law firm diversity managers.)

Somehow, author Wan managed to write this stunning novel while working as an associate general counsel for Time, Inc. (although apparently it took her a decade.) Her grasp of plot and character seem much more advanced than is typically found in a debut novel. I hope it doesn’t take her another ten years to write her second.

Thank to Wunderkind PR for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have THREE copies for some lucky US readers.

How to win:
Tell us if anyone ever made an assumption about you and how you proved them wrong. (Or if you made an assumption about someone else and how they proved you wrong.)

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 September 24th at midnight EST.

BookTrib is also giving away copies of this novel through September 20th. (US/Canada)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: The Lemon Orchard

By Miriam Plotinsky

Santa Monica is one of those mythical places to me, a sun-drenched piece of California paradise where beautiful people live and the weather is always sunny and in the mid-seventies. Mind you, I’ve never actually been there. I’ve read plenty of books and seen even more films set in Santa Monica, but until I read The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice, I never saw it as anything other than a place where over-privileged people spent their days lolling around on beaches. However, viewed through the lens of two people who are suffering, Santa Monica acts as a perfect and unexpected backdrop to a story about loss and redemption.

Five years after the sudden death of her teenage daughter, Julia heads to her family’s lemon orchard in Santa Monica to housesit while her uncle and aunt are away. While there, she quickly bonds with the orchard’s overseer, Roberto. They sense one another’s pain almost immediately, and as they get to know one another, Roberto gradually reveals his story. As it turns out, Roberto lost his own daughter, Rosa, while crossing the border from Mexico to the United States. Six years old at the time, Rosa is now presumed dead, and Roberto cannot investigate further, mainly because of his status as an illegal immigrant. Julia’s background in anthropology comes in handy as, with a fierce passion born out of her own grief, she tries to help Roberto get closure about what happened the day Rosa disappeared.

Of course, a romance develops between the two protagonists, and their relationship is a welcome note of lightness in a book that deals with heavy subject matter. Though neither character has unforgettable traits, that works for a story in which the plot drives almost the entire book forward. It is more Rice’s message about border crossings and immigration laws that takes center stage, and Roberto’s experience is one that creates a great deal of interest. We want him to be able to learn what happened, one way or another, with Rosa.

Certain dramatic moments, like a fire threatening the orchard, lend additional suspense to the book that is already hard to put down. Furthermore, Rice tells the story from the perspective of various characters, from the border agent who handled Rosa’s case to Roberto himself. Getting inside the head of each of the characters as the story progresses, particularly the highly empathetic Julia’s, makes it even harder not to get invested in the ultimate fate of everyone involved.

The Lemon Orchard takes a highly sensitive and controversial topic and handles it with grace. Rather than make the book seem like a long one-sided diatribe, Rice instead gives life to her story, balancing the various perspectives about immigration laws by focusing on the people who live through the effects of such legislation. With the added, and very enviable, setting of Santa Monica adding a lushness to the book that another place would not be able to provide, The Lemon Orchard is a mesmerizing balance of romantic escapism and hard reality.

Thanks to Viking Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Luanne Rice:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review & Giveaway: Lake Como

**Giveaway is now closed**

Hallie Elliot has a perfect life. She is an up-and-coming interior designer in one of San Francisco’s most sought after firms, and has just recently become engaged to Peter, a brilliant young journalist. But when she stumbles upon Peter and her boss in what seems to be a compromising position, her trust in her perfect life is shaken.

So Hallie escapes to Lake Como, Italy to spend time with her half-sister, Portia Tesoro, an Italian blueblood dealing with the scandal of a public estrangement from her cheating husband. While staying in the Tesoro villa, Hallie falls in love with the splendor and beauty of Lake Como, and finds work designing the lakeside estate of a reclusive American tech mogul. The caretaker of this beautiful estate is a handsome man named Angus, and Hallie finds herself drawn to his charm and kindness, despite hints of a dark secret in his past.

But just as Hallie is beginning to find her footing on Italian soil, she uncovers a family secret that upends all the truths she’s believed about herself, and calls into question the new life she’s built in Lake Como.

Sisterhood, family, career, and sumptuous descriptions of Italian life fill the pages of this newest offering by Anita Hughes.
Lake Como is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story of love, self-discovery, and the quest for truth. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Amy Bromberg:

Anita Hughes takes the reader on a decadent, beautiful, and unforgettable journey to the vibrant and beautiful Lake Como. I've never been to Italy (or anywhere in Europe for that matter), but after reading this book, Lake Como is definitely on my must-travel-to list.

Anita is a master in developing characters and the relationships between them. Even though Hallie's mother didn't act like a "mother," it must have been wonderful to have her and her grandmother there to raise her. I love the special relationship Hallie has with her grandmother, a lady who has a great dry sense of humor. She made me laugh several times. It felt as if I was right there with Hallie and Portia when they went to the fancy parties in the beautiful villas. It reminded me of dressing up to go to the prom or high school dances, but of course their dresses and gowns were much fancier and more elegant. And of course I can't not say something about the romance and heat between Hallie and Angus. From Anita's descriptions of him he seems like a pretty dreamy guy.

Lake Como will take the reader outside of their everyday life and into a fairy tale of scrumptious tasting and salivating foods, gala parties and beautiful settings that one will only find in Italy.

The only complaint I have is that it wrapped up a little too neatly. But other than that it's definitely a beautiful and quite romantic read.

Melissa Amster:

As with her other books, Anita devises a life of decadence for her characters, in terms of location, food, and fashion. While it's so far beyond my own means, it's nice to delve into this world and soak up all the richness she provides. The visualizations are outstanding and I feel like I'm standing right next to her characters.

Lake Como was an enjoyable story, full of mystery and intrigue. There were so many secrets that Hallie had to uncover during her stay in Italy. My favorite part was reading about her mother, Francesca's past and finding out new truths that she didn't tell Hallie in person. The characters and plot were very strong and interesting throughout.

As far as Hallie goes, I found myself getting frustrated at her for overreacting sometimes. While her reactions were warranted at times, I felt she usually made too big a deal about things or acted too impulsively. I wanted to tell her to take two steps back, breathe deeply, and really think before speaking. Also, I am hoping this will not be made into an audio book, based on how often the characters mumble or murmur throughout the story. It would be very hard to understand what was going on if I had to listen to them speak that way.

Overall, Lake Como was a great summer (or any time of year) escape read and provided a delectable armchair adventure. I look forward to what Anita will be coming up with next!

Movie cast suggestions:
Hallie: January Jones
Peter: Tobey Maguire
Portia: Alessandra Mastronardi
Angus: Michael C. Hall

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have TWO copies for some lucky US readers!

How to win:
Since it's happiness month, please tell us a travel experience that made you really happy.

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 September 22nd at midnight EST.

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