Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spotlight and Giveaway: A Week at the Lake

From the USA Today bestselling author of The House on Mermaid Point comes a powerful novel about secrets, loyalty, and the bonds of true friendship . . .

Twenty years ago, Emma Michaels, Mackenzie Hayes, and Serena Stockton bonded over their New York City dreams. Then, each summer, they solidified their friendship by spending one week at the lake together, solving their problems over bottles of wine and gallons of ice cream. They kept the tradition for years, until jealousy, lies, and life’s disappointments made them drift apart.

It’s been five years since Emma has seen her friends, an absence designed to keep them from discovering a long-ago betrayal. Now she’s in desperate need of their support. The time has come to reveal her secrets—and hopefully rekindle their connection.

But when a terrible accident keeps Emma from saying her piece, Serena and Mackenzie begin to learn about the past on their own. Now, to heal their friendship and their broken lives, the three women will have to return to the lake that once united them, and discover which relationships are worth holding on to.

Wendy Wax, a former broadcaster, is the USA Today bestselling author of ten novels, including While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, Ten Beach Road, and Ocean Beach. The mother of two college-age sons, she lives in the Atlanta suburbs with her husband, and is doing her best to adjust to the quiet of her recently emptied nest. Visit Wendy at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Penguin Random House has one copy of A Week at the Lake for a lucky US reader!

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

US only. Giveaway ends July 6th at midnight EST.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Worthy

By Sara Steven

Virginia finally had the chance to explore a relationship with Aaron when he asked her on a date. She had been waiting, hoping that the widower and his young son, Buddy, would welcome her into their lives. But a terrible tragedy strikes on the night of their first kiss, crushing their hopes for a future together.

Nineteen years later, Virginia is engaged, though she has not forgotten Aaron or Buddy. When her dog goes missing and it comes to light that her fiancĂ© set him loose, a distraught Virginia breaks off the engagement and is alone once again. A shy young man has found the missing pet, and although he’s bonded with the animal, he answers his conscience and returns the dog. Before long, Virginia and the young man discover a connection from their pasts that will help them let go of painful memories and change their lives forever. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This book is a masterpiece of words, woven intricately into the story like a jigsaw puzzle. I felt like the character evolution for Virginia and Jody (the shy young man) had been slowly revealed to me over time. Nothing was forceful or abrupt, and I really appreciated that. I got to really delve into the emotional psyche of both main characters while they are dealing with their own losses and heartaches. The twist is, Virginia and Jody are connected on a level that neither character can even fathom or comprehend, and fate put these two together at the most inopportune time.

A common bond: Worthy, the dog Virginia has been searching for. Her terrible ex-fiance sets Worthy loose many miles from home, unbeknownst to her but discovered by Jody. Worthy is the catalyst that will bring everything full circle, changing lives and opening up painful wounds that Virginia and Jody have buried deep inside, for many years. It’s through tragedy that these two people become forever joined, and through this discovery they can begin to heal.

Once I started reading Worthy, I couldn’t stop. It flowed that well and I wanted to invest myself into these characters. I wanted to find out what would happen next, and anticipated the moment Virginia and Jody would discover just how much they had in common, and how much they ultimately need one another. While I’ve yet to read any other novels from Catherine Ryan Hyde, I plan on it and highly recommend Worthy and other books she’s written, as I'm guessing they're equally as good. (Pay It Forward is next on my list.) This novel by far has become one of my top favorites!

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out Book Mama Blog's review, as well.

More by Catherine Ryan Hyde:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Guest Book Review: The Art of Baking Blind

By Courtney Marzilli

"There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved." ~ Kathleen Eaden, The Art of Baking

I was so excited to receive a copy of The Art of Baking Blind, the first novel for author Sarah Vaughan. The book takes place in England and centers around a baking competition that is based off of a very popular and classic cookbook from the '60s, The Art of Baking by Kathleen Eaden. There are five competitors, Jenny, Vicki, Karen, Mike and Claire, all who come from different backgrounds and all facing their own struggles. The one thing they have in common is they love to bake and want to prove they are the best.

Throughout the story we get glimpses not only into the competitors lives but the past life of Kathleen Eaden. This is one of the things I loved so much about the book in that Vaughan would weave in and out of past and present all while keeping the common themes of family, baking and relationships. Each character is dealing with a personal problem, all of which are very different, but each utilize baking as a way to cope. The language that Vaughan uses along with the recipes and ingredients made this novel easy to devour, no pun intended. The descriptions of the desserts and meals were so descriptive you could taste the words. Bust aside from food also being a key character, the common theme of family and relationships was so sweet. Being a new mom myself I really appreciated this and loved reading about the memories and bonding that can be created through food and cooking. Even if you aren't a foodie or enjoy cooking, these themes in the book made the story very relatable.

I am so glad I came across this book as I am not a huge cook but do enjoy baking. After reading this book I am excited to bake with my daughter and create traditions and recipes with her. Kathleen Eaden was a mother herself and what I loved most about her was her love of baking with her kids and the joy they had with her. The Art of Baking Blind is a delicious read for all and what seems like a great start for Sarah Vaughan!

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Courtney Marzilli is a book blogger and beauty junkie. She's always had a love for reading and hopes to share this love through her blog. Her favorite genres are women's lit, mysteries and pop culture non-fiction. When her nose is not buried in a book, she is off on adventures with her family near the Boston area. You can find her at her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beatriz Williams welcomes us to the '60s...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Marilyn Roos
We're happy today to have Beatriz Williams back at CLC. Her latest novel, Tiny Little Thing, just came out this week. Today she's talking about writing a novel that takes place in the 1960s. Stay tuned for a review, as well. Thanks to Putnam, we have FIVE copies for some lucky US readers!

A Stanford University honors graduate with an MBA in finance from Columbia, Beatriz Williams lives in Connecticut with her husband and children. She is the author of the international bestsellers Overseas, A Hundred Summers, and The Secret Life of Violet Grant.

Visit Beatriz at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Making "History"

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be writing a book set in the 1960s—let alone three of them—I’d have called you a sweet little dear and bought you another drink. I’m more of a historical fiction kind of girl, and by that I mean history history, the turn of the century and the First World War, the tumultuous Twenties and the threadbare Thirties, not a decade so close I just missed living in it. (Yep, you know you’re getting old when the year of your birth starts to hover dangerously above the category of “history.”)

But here I am. And here’s my latest novel, Tiny Little Thing, darting back and forth between 1964 and 1966, during a pair of sultry summers in Boston and Cape Cod, and you know what? I loved writing it. I loved exploring the world of a glamorous, ambitious couple at the dawn of celebrity politics, and the secrets that lay beneath those television-perfect facades. I loved the Sixties! I loved how social change rubbed up against tradition, creating all kinds of narrative friction…just like, say, the 1920s. Or the turn of the century.

Or 2015. We’re heading into another presidential election cycle, and it’s the same old script, at least as far as the candidates’ wives are concerned. Perfect hair, perfect knee-length dress, perfect mask of makeup, perfectly-groomed children performing perfect Miss America waves to the crowd. And that all started in the 1960s, when television invaded every home, and a young, glamorous couple stepped into the White House and onto the world stage. Whether you adored the Kennedys or loathed them, whether you agreed with their politics or not—or whether you even knew what those were—you had to acknowledge that their good-looking public image was a fundamental part of their message. The politician and his wife have become celebrities, and the camera stands always at the ready, and what the women wear seems to matter much more than what they think.

Of course, that’s where the fun lies, because when you have a perfect public image you must inevitably be hiding a few things from the world, right? Admit it: aren’t we all just waiting for the secrets to come tumbling out of the closet? Aren’t we all just waiting for the scandals to strike, for the facades to crack? In Tiny Little Thing, everybody’s got a secret, everybody’s got a hidden self kept safe from the eyes of the world, and as the summer of 1966 gets underway in Cape Cod, and Tiny’s husband begins his campaign for Congress, the secrets start bubbling to the surface.

So this is my Sixties novel, the novel I never imagined I would write. Which is fitting, really, because Tiny’s journey is all about breaking free of the life she planned, and finding the courage to explore roads she never dreamed of traveling.

Thanks to Beatriz for visiting with us and Putnam 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. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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US only. Giveaway ends June 30th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's no secret...we love Jane Green! And you can win her latest novel.

There's a reason Jane Green was our 2012 nominee for the International Chick Lit Month Hall of Fame. She writes novels dealing with real women, real life, and all the things life throws at them, while incorporating her trademark wisdom, wit and warmth. We absolutely love Jane and her novels, and we're glad to celebrate the recent publication of her 17th novel, Summer Secrets, with a special tribute to her.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have FIVE COPIES of Summer Secrets for some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada!

Visit Jane at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Need a quick read? Check out Jane's FREE short story e-books:
A Walk in the Park
Cat and Jemima J (no spoilers for Summer Secrets)

Synopsis of Summer Secrets: When a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It's a mistake for which she can't forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it's time to grow up. But she doesn't know if she'll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.

As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

Told with Jane Green's keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart,
Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

**Check out Author Liaison Cindy Roesel's review.**

Amy's top five favorite things about Jane Green:

1. She's extremely personable and approachable. I met Jane at a signing a couple of years ago, as well as at a signing for Wade Rouse's compilation, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationshipback in September of 2011. At the Wade Rouse event, Jane knew who I was right away and that I was with Chick Lit Central!

2. Well, of course she's a wonderful writer and storyteller. Her books are just fabulous. Speaking of her books, why hasn't one of them been turned into a movie yet? I hope this gets rectified soon!

3. All I have to say is that Jane Green's house in Connecticut is just gorgeous. Check out pictures of Figless Manor and learn the story behind it.

4.  She also cooks some fabulous food. She has a Kickstarter campaign for her cookbook, Good Taste, Good Food, A Good Life. Learn more about it, but not on an empty stomach. ;)

5. I was SO excited when I saw that Jane Green mentioned both Melissa A and I in her Saving Grace acknowledgements. What an honor! My excitement lasted for quite a while.

NYC, 2011

Melissa A's top five favorite Jane Green novels:

1. Jemima J: This book got me started on reading Jane's novels and also motivated me to exercise. There's a reason women sigh contentedly when they hear this title spoken aloud. It's THAT good!

2. Bookends: What book lover doesn't dream of opening her own store? Live the dream vicariously through this novel.

3. Babyville: If a close friend's pregnancy (back in 2004) didn't inspire me to want a baby of my own, then this book sure did the trick. I love how it was told from three different perspectives and all the characters were endearing to me.

4. To Have and to Hold: This was just a heartfelt novel about a marriage gone wrong and Jane's beautiful writing just flowed throughout the story, giving me hope that something good would come of Alice's situation.

5. Another Piece of My Heart: I really like how it not only showed Andi's perspective, but also her step-daughter Emily's. I ended up liking them both as a result. (See my review.)

Northvale, NJ, 2009: She signed a copy of Babyville

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Patti Callahan Henry's great idea...plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome back Patti Callahan Henry and to celebrate the publication day of her latest novel, The Idea of Love. Thanks to Sullivan and Partners, we have a copy for a lucky reader in the US or Canada!

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including The Stories We Tell, And Then I Found You, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story. Visit Patti at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Synopsis of The Idea of Love:

Ella's life has been completely upended. She's young, beautiful, and deeply in love--until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she'll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers' block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He's on the look-out for a love story. It doesn't matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It's the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It's an opportunity to live out a fantasy - the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what's a little white lie between strangers?

But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is one of your favorite compliments that you received on your writing? What is a piece of constructive feedback that has affected how you approach writing each of your novels?
My favorite compliments are the ones where the reviewer or reader somehow tells me that I've accomplished my goal -- hitting the heart. I also smile whenever I'm compared to my favorite writers (ie: Anne Rivers Siddons in this last book) or if my writing is called "lyrical."

A piece of constructive criticism that has affected my approach to writing? That would be anything really. If a reader doesn't resonate with the story, I want to know why and I take it to heart and try to fix the next time around. An example would be if a reader complains they didn't understand why a character did or didn't do something, I know that I need to spend more time showing (not telling) their motivation for action.

What is one piece of advice you can offer aspiring novelists?
Stop trying to be perfect and just set your aim for the heart. You can fix it later.

What did you enjoy most about writing The Idea of Love?
I loved weaving together their stories and watching the two main characters -- Blake and Ella -- get to know each other through stories (both true and false). I loved writing about how this changed their lives.

Since your latest novel is about love and even has the word in the title, please finish the following statements:

The last person I said "I love you" to was: My son, Rusk. Ten minutes ago.

My favorite song with the word "love" in the title is: "When Love Finds You" by Vince Gill

Something I always love to do is: Read!

Thanks to Patti for visiting with us and to Sullivan and Partners for sharing her book with our readers.

~Interview by Melissa Amster

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

US/Canada only. Giveaway ends June 28th at midnight EST.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Things You Won't Say

How far would you go to save your family?

Every morning, as her husband Mike straps on his SIG Sauer and pulls on his heavy Magnum boots, Jamie Anderson tenses up. Then comes the call she has always dreaded: There’s been a shooting at police headquarters. Mike isn’t hurt, but his long-time partner is grievously injured. As weeks pass and her husband’s insomnia and disconnectedness mount, Jamie realizes he is an invisible casualty of the attack. Then the phone rings again. Another shooting—but this time Mike has pulled the trigger.

But the shooting does more than just alter Jamie’s world. It’s about to change everything for two other women. Christie Simmons, Mike’s flamboyant ex, sees the tragedy as an opportunity for a second chance with Mike. And Jamie’s younger sister, Lou, must face her own losses to help the big sister who raised her. As the press descends and public cries of police brutality swell, Jamie tries desperately to hold together her family, no matter what it takes.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Amy Bromberg:

I need to say that I absolutely adore Sarah Pekkanen. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at Watchung Booksellers (along with Randy Susan Meyers). I love how this time around Sarah chose to bring a different type of depth into the story. It’s simply a coincidence that this book came out around the time that our nation has been seeing multiple police shootings of African American youngsters. I can imagine this being a difficult topic to write about, one that is emotionally charged.

Things You Won’t Say is now my favorite of all of Sarah’s books. It actually got crowned my first 2015 favorite. (Note that my previous one was Skipping a BeatI highly recommend it!)

I really enjoyed how the story is alternately narrated from the perspectives of Jamie, Lou and Christie. Jamie is the nurturing type, and would do anything for her family. She’s the kind of person that will go to the ends of the earth for her loved ones. Lou is the epitome of an animal lover. She’s a zoo keeper, who would actually love to live at the zoo, as opposed to leave work at night and go to her “home.” She finds such peace when she’s with her animals. With Christie, in the beginning I thought she was just going to be up to no good. However, as the story goes on, we start to see her trying really hard to be a mother that her son deserves.

If you’re looking for an emotional read filled with complex characters, strong women’s relationships, marriage, and family, then definitely add this to your beach reads list!

Melissa Amster:

I have to agree with Amy about Things You Won't Say not only being a favorite of Sarah Pekkanen's novels, but also earning a spot on my 2015 favorites list. I was blown away by this compelling story that allows readers to see both sides of a controversial issue. Sarah writes about this issue in a heartfelt and sensitive way, leaving me teary-eyed quite a few times.

I felt an instant kinship with Jamie, as we're both mothers of three kids and trying to balance everything in our lives. When one person experiences a stressful situation, although ours is not as stressful as Mike's, it still takes a toll on everyone emotionally. I liked how Lou was able to drop everything to help her sister in a time of crisis. Even though she messed things up at times, her heart was in the right place. And I agree with Amy about how it was hard to trust Christie at first, based on how she was described in the synopsis, but then we both warmed to her.

Overall, Things You Won't Say was hard to put down and felt so realistic that I kept forgetting it was a book. The ending wrapped up a bit too neatly, but it was also a nice respite from the heaviness. The story had a Jodi Picoult feel, and not just because of the elephants. Sarah Pekkanen has a true winner on her hands and I'm already clamoring for what she'll come out with next!

My dream movie cast...
Jamie: Katherine Heigl
Lou: Natasha Lyonne
Christie: Ali Larter
Mike: Joe Manganiello
Donny: Steve Zahn

Thanks to Atria for the books in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sarah Pekkanen:

Friday, June 19, 2015

What's in the mail

Melissa A:

Vote for Remi by Leanna Lehman from BookSparks PR

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes from Penguin Random House (Viking)

Stir by Jessica Fechtor from
Penguin Random House (Avery)

Lola Carlyle's 12 Step Romance by Danielle Younge-Ullman  from
SE Reviews and Reads (won a giveaway)

Melissa P:

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot from HarperCollins


Love and Miss Communication
by Elyssa Friedland from William Morrow

Sweet Forgiveness by/from
Lori Nelson Spielman


The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by
Ali McNamara from Sphere

Dream a Little Dream by Giovanna Fletcher from Penguin

The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon from Allen & Unwin

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase from Michael Joseph (Penguin)


Just the Facts by Ellen Sherman from BookSparks PR (e-book)


Jay Walking by/from Tracy Krimmer (e-book)

That Thing You Do by/from Maria Geraci

Book Review: Accidents of Marriage

By Jami Deise

People in healthy marriages dismiss their spouses’ faults all the time. It’s okay that he forgets my birthday because he gets my car washed every month. She forgets to pay the bills but it’s because she’s so busy taking care of the kids. She’s never on time but she always stays late to help clean up. He doesn’t like my parents, but at least he makes an effort. It’s a normal part of a strong marriage.
And then there are the excuses made in unhealthy marriages. Justifications like, "she drinks too much but it’s okay because she never drives when she’s drinking." And, "he yells and screams and throws things, but he’s never actually hit me."

But sometimes the guy who forgets his wife’s birthday becomes the guy who throws a plate against the wall when she complains about it. And the wife who forgets to pay the bills because she’s so stressed turns to pills and alcohol to manage it. Where does that slippery slope start?

When we first meet Maddy, protagonist of Randy Susan Meyers’ Accidents of Marriage, she’s dreaming about what pill she can take to make her husband Ben’s nightly rages more palatable. With three children and a fulltime job as a social worker, Maddy is just as stressed out as Ben, who runs Boston’s public defender’s office. But Ben blames Maddy for anything that goes wrong at home, from their son cutting his foot on broken glass or Maddy forgetting to renew her car’s registration. His rages can be triggered by the smallest things, and often include throwing things against the wall and screaming at their seven-year-old daughter. And God help Maddy if she asks Ben for any help whatsoever with their children or her own needs.

Maddy should have gotten out a long time ago.

But she didn’t, which is why she has to call Ben when her car is towed because of the unpaid registration. It’s raining, and he’s already angry about having to drop off his kids at camp, and now this. On the highway, he’s tailgated by an SUV and lets road rage get the best of him. When the cars collide, Maddy – who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as she was going through files in the back seat – is thrown from the car and suffers severe head trauma.

The question underlying the book is, when is it appropriate to say something when you think a friend or family member may be in danger? Or may be the danger? After the accident, Ben and Maddy’s friends and family are quick to blame Ben and his nasty temper for what happened. There’s a lot of talk about what should have been said or done. But no one thought it was their place, even Ben’s own parents, who’ve been trying to rein him in since he was a child.

Accidents of Marriage is told from three points of view – Ben’s, Maddy’s, and their 14-year-old daughter Emma’s, both before and after the accident. Before that day, Maddy had already recognized how Ben’s anger had shaped the lives of her and her children. She was lying to him and sneaking pills, and the kids were avoiding him or fawning all over him to keep his anger at bay. Ben’s point of view shows an incredibly self-centered, immature man, who believes he’s entitled to act on every emotion he has. And Emma is a typical 14-year-old, chafing at the bit of parental authority and already feeling burdened by too much responsibility for her younger siblings. Naturally, the accident changes everything. Ben, perhaps unrealistically, becomes consumed with guilt and stops yelling. Emma becomes even more burdened with child care and household chores, while her own needs are completely ignored. Although she’s only fourteen, Emma may be the character whom readers identify with the most. With all the responsibility for her siblings and no power to change her own life, her mother’s accident affects Emma the most, and it is Emma who eventually brings everything to a head.

The novel moves along at a breathless, “can’t put it down” pace for about three fourths of the book. My one quibble is the last quarter is relatively slow, and the story ends a few chapters before the book does.

Accidents of Marriage will resonate strongly with anyone who’s been the brunt of a loved one’s anger, and anyone who’s ever born witness to a friend exploding or being verbally abused. For a bystander, it’s painful. It’s embarrassing. We don’t know what to say, or if we should say anything. Thanks to Randy Susan Meyers, words are not necessary. The next time your friend’s husband interrupts your coffee date to scream at her for not doing his laundry, hand her a copy of this book.

Thanks to Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Randy Susan Meyers:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

We're sweet on Lori Nelson Spielman....plus a book giveaway

Lori Nelson Spielman was last at CLC a couple of years ago to talk about her debut novel, The Life List (reviewed here). I loved it and recommended it to my mom, who couldn't stop talking about how great it was. Lori is so genuinely nice and it's always a pleasure to e-mail with her. Her writing is reflective of her gentle personality, as you can gather from this interview. She is back today to talk about her sophomore novel, Sweet Forgiveness. It's in my TBR pile and I'm excited to see what's behind the very unique and artistic cover. Also, author Samantha Stroh Bailey recently said the following:

"With impeccable skill and beautiful prose, she deftly pens a story of forgiveness, acceptance, and love, creating such fully developed characters that I could feel them next to me."

(Since Samantha and I have similar tastes in books, I have a feeling I'll enjoy it too.)

Lucky for our US readers, Lori has THREE copies of Sweet Forgiveness to give away.

Visit Lori at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

What is your favorite compliment that you've received about your writing?
Thank you so much for hosting me today, Melissa. I’m always humbled when readers tell me THE LIFE LIST comforted them while they grieved the loss of their mother. I also love when I hear the books inspired readers, either to follow their dreams or forgive. I just received a message from a woman in Israel who asked if I would send a wedding message to her friend, who followed Brett’s journey after reading THE LIFE LIST. She quit her job and uprooted her life, including accepting a date that she normally wouldn’t have. She is now marrying the man!

What is a piece of constructive feedback from The Life List that you used for Sweet Forgiveness?
One of my characters had a potty mouth. Her voice sounded authentic to me, since I have a few friends who can drop the F Bomb as easily as the word “the”! But some readers were offended, especially older women, and I regretted that. One woman wrote to say THE LIFE LIST was the filthiest book she’d ever read. “I loved it, but I could never recommend it to my friends.” I wasn’t sure whether to say I’m sorry or thank you!

Did you learn anything new from writing Sweet Forgiveness?
I learned so much! First, writing a second book is terrifying! Still unpublished, I had no pressure when writing THE LIFE LIST. I figured my mother would read it, but other than that, I had no expectations. (Hope, yes; expectations, no!) Suddenly, the book sold and my agent was asking for the second novel. I’m a people-pleaser, so I was desperate to write a novel that wouldn’t disappoint. It was nearly crippling. Additionally, I was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was in the midst of writing, so that added an additional hurdle. It was hard to be light and breezy during those days and, for better or worse, I think this book is heavier because of my illness.

Can you tell us what the most difficult scene to write in Sweet Forgiveness was, and how you got through it?
Oh, my gosh! The very first scene was the hardest for me. Where, exactly, should the story begin? The Forgiveness Stones concept had to be introduced quickly, and I needed to do it in a way that was organic, without too much backstory. It couldn’t read like a non-fiction self-help manual! I must have scrapped a dozen versions of the beginning scene before finally settling on my character reading a newspaper article.

If you could cast the movie version of Sweet Forgiveness, who would play the lead characters?
First let me say, if the movie were ever made, I’d be happy with ANYONE in the leading roles! But if I could offer my two cents, I’d suggest Hannah be played by someone attractive but not gorgeous, someone with personality, but also a quiet vulnerability, like Rachel McAdams, Jennifer Garner or Reese Witherspoon. Hannah’s love interest is in his early 40’s, and I could imagine Mark Ruffalo, Matthew McConaughey, or my favorite, Hugh Jackman!

Playing off your title...
What is your favorite sweet treat?
I confess, I am a sugarholic! My very favorite treat is my mother’s homemade pie, lemon meringue, in particular.

What is a behavior you consider unforgivable?
I’d love to say I could forgive anything, but sadly I don’t have that much grace. I’m horrified by what’s happening in the world with terrorism. When I watch footage of inhumane murders and destruction of ancient artifacts, I find no mercy in my heart. (Sorry! I didn’t mean to end our conversation on such a downer!)

Thanks to Lori for visiting with us and sharing her latest novel with our readers.

~Introduction and interview by Melissa Amster

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Curve Ball

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I recently got to meet up with our Chick Lit Cheerleader, Jen Tucker, when she was in town for her husband's business conference. The first time I got to see her, my family and I drove out to her hotel, all ready to go swimming with her at the rather small pool available. When we got to the pool area, all decked out in our swim gear, we were informed that the pool was CLOSED! 

There is an upside to this...the hotel worked out an arrangement with another hotel down the street for us to swim there instead. And good thing, because the pool was slightly bigger and there was a hot tub! In the meantime, we had to walk around the streets of DC in our bathing suits and towels. (Unlike Jen, I forgot to bring a cover up, so I looked even more ridiculous. And no, I'm NOT posting pictures!) 

It just goes to show that when something unexpected happens, it can lead to a good thing, 

Unfortunately for Jen, she recently received a heavier curve ball. However, she still found a way to look on the positive side of things. 

A Friend Like That

Life throws curve balls our way. That’s just a part of the journey. Monday morning I was balancing a steaming travel mug of tea while trying to get out the door for a meeting as my cell phone sounded the alarm a new text had arrived. I looked down at my phone and noticed it was from my best friend, Nancy. Six words changed the course of my day: Tina Bowling passed away last night.

Now, before you worry this is going to be a melancholy post rest assured that’s not happening here. Tina would not like that one bit. She’d smack me from the pearly gates and we just can’t have that, can we? This is a story about friends, the passage of time, and living big for 30 days.

When I graduated from college, I worked part-time at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and full-time at a little clothing store as an assistant manager. From the first moment Tina came into Paul Harris, we were instant kindreds. Two girls connected, who loved clothes and accessories, and they lived happily ever after. Isn’t that how we prefer stories to end?

Once I was hired on full-time at the museum, I left the world of retail and began living the dream working at the “Do-seum” filled with five floors of fun. I remember telling Tina all about my new job, we’d promised to have lunch soon, and she’d try to shop and enjoy it without me if that was even possible. As time usually does, it marched on.

Five years after our last hug, I saw Tina again in the craziest of places: Babies R Us. Maybe not so crazy since we both had babies now that I think about it. It was Wil’s first day of preschool and I refused to leave the vicinity of the building I’d abandoned him at for four hours of his little life. Ryan was just a tiny tot sitting in the shopping cart, playing innocently with a container of cereal from the diaper bag while I cried standing in some random aisle. Sobbing is a better descriptor, really. I recall feeling a gentle hand on my shoulder, looked up, and it was Tina shopping with her mom and her little girl, Grace. I didn’t recognize her at first, then it clicked. She hugged away my tears and fears. I fawned over her daughter. We exchanged emails to have a playdate and then I immediately left to sit in the preschool parking lot for an hour while Ryan snoozed away in his carseat. It warmed my heart to see her and I knew I had to meet her for lunch soon.

I joined Facebook in 2008 (if my braincells are on task today in the memory department). At first it was only to keep in touch with friends from high school and college for reunions. Why else would someone in their thirty-something years do such a silly thing? At least, that’s what I believed at the time. Once I navigated my way through the friending thing, and friend’s of friends that might be your friends too, I saw her photo and knew that smile anywhere.


She knew my BFF, at least that’s what Facebook proclaimed. A connection I never knew existed. Tina and I connected, instant messaged and couldn’t wait to gather for some girl time. We attempted to get tickets, along with Nancy, to see Grease on stage in Indianapolis, yet one of us couldn’t make it for some reason. We wanted to meet halfway between Lafayette and Indy for lunch, yet were both so consumed with the tornadic activities of our children we had a difficult time selecting a date. We were in a happy place connecting through social media and joked that once the kids were in college that maybe, just maybe, we could finally spend some time together.

Many of us have a friend like that, don’t we? The one where years tick by, you care about each other very much, yet life continues. Tina is loved so deeply, so missed by so many. Her husband, three children, and close gaggle of friends. She never lacked a smile. She was the ultimate cheerleader and good samaritan. She loved pulling off surprises, dancing with friends, capturing the perfect photo, and living her life for others. Tina fought a short battle with brain cancer. So quick, I didn’t realize the depth of her opponent or how ill she truly was. Knowing her, she probably pushed aside the aches, pains and feeling crummy for awhile before seeing a doctor because she had too much life to live, things to do, and memories to make with her family.

Many of us take time in November to find something we’re thankful for each day leading up to Thanksgiving. One of Tina’s friends commented on a post the other day which was originally written by Tina in 2009. I’m so thankful that new comment bumped it so others could read her thoughts. Tina’s words:

Think about the next 30 days. Consider doing something you’ve always wanted to do, then make it happen. I’m not talking about what might be impossible like being a dancing shark during Katy Perry’s halftime show. I mean a shift in the everyday. Dance in the rain. Go crazy and order something different at your favorite restaurant and not your same old-same old. Have ice cream for breakfast. Turn off the electronics and enjoy the silence. Make plans to have coffee with that one friend you’ve been meaning to see for ages. Not your best friend, not someone you meet with all the time, I’m talking about that one person who immediately comes to mind you haven’t seen or hugged in a very long time.

Whether you’ve never used that waffle iron that’s been sitting in a box for ten years, or watched the sunrise while still in your pajamas, I’d love to hear what’s on the docket. Your ideas and dreams inspire others. They’ll inspire me. And Tina will be ever so pleased.

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 and Giveaway: Wishful Thinking

By Melissa Amster

Jennifer Sharpe is a divorced mother of two with a problem just about any working parent can relate to: her boss expects her to work as though she doesn’t have children, and her children want her to care for them as though she doesn’t have a boss. But when, through a fateful coincidence, a brilliant physicist comes into possession of Jennifer’s phone and decides to play fairy godmother, installing a miraculous time-travel app called "Wishful Thinking," Jennifer suddenly finds herself in possession of what seems like the answer to the impossible dream of having it all: an app that lets her be in more than one place at the same time. With the app, Jennifer goes quickly from zero to hero in every part of her life: she is super-worker, the last to leave her office every night; she is super-mom, the first to arrive at pickup every afternoon; and she even becomes super-girlfriend, dating a musician who thinks she has unlimited childcare and a flexible job. 

But Jennifer soon finds herself facing questions that adding more hours to her day can’t answer. Why does she feel busier and more harried than ever? Is she aging faster than everyone around her? How can she be a good worker, mother, and partner when she can’t be honest with anybody in her life? And most important, when choosing to be with your children, at work, or with your partner doesn’t involve sacrifice, do those choices lose their meaning? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

When I finished Wishful Thinking a few weeks ago, I immediately e-mailed Kamy Wicoff to see if she'd be at Book Expo America on the day that I was attending. I just had to meet the person responsible for this delightful story. Not only did Kamy fit some time into her schedule to meet me (although I have to wonder if she used a certain app...), but she was also very friendly and gracious!

Wishful Thinking is a clever and entertaining debut novel. Even with being married, I could still relate to Jennifer's struggles to keep everything in her life going smoothly. Realistically, it's impossible for working parents to be in two places at once. Finding childcare can be so stressful, especially when it falls through at the last minute. There's also the extra-curricular stuff that I can't even get my kids involved in because of the timing with my work schedule. And let's not forget getting time off for all the appointments and other things that only happen during the nine-to-five workday. Wouldn't we all be happier with an app like "Wishful Thinking," whether we're parents or not? I can think of many, many times it would have come in handy!

I loved that the story wasn't predictable. I thought it would go in one direction and then a surprise came into place, throwing off any predictions I might have held onto until that happened. The secondary characters were well developed and I enjoyed seeing Jennifer interact with all of them. Her kids seemed so realistic and reminded me of my own kids. There was even an aspect of the story that made me think of one of my favorite television series, Orphan Black.

The only criticism I have is regarding the explanation of time travel. Given that I over-analyze how things worked in Back to the Future, time travel is usually perplexing to me. In this instance, Jennifer is time traveling within the same day to be in two--or sometimes even three--places at once. I had trouble wrapping my head around all the rules and details involved. I will admit that Kamy's approach to the explanation was creative and she definitely put a lot of thought into it. Since I didn't do too well in high school physics and have since forgotten most of what I learned, I just have to trust that she knows what she's talking about.

Overall, I loved Wishful Thinking and have been recommending it to everyone who is in need of something new and fresh to read. I even included it in a list of favorite time travel novels over at Julieverse. Fans of The Balance Project (by Susie Orman Schnall) and The Status of All Things (by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke) will enjoy this story for sure, as will anyone who wants a bit of escape from reality with a real life lesson that makes you think.

Of course, I was casting this as a movie. You know, just in case...
Jennifer: Michelle Monaghan
Vinita: Archie Panjabi
Diane: Annette Bening
Owen: Johnny Whitworth
Norman: Sam Page
Alicia: Maya Rudolph

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy and a journal from She Writes Press (of which Kamy is the founder) to give to one lucky US reader!

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lisa Jakub looks like that girl from CLC...plus a book giveaway

If you look at Lisa Jakub and find yourself wondering “Where do I know her from?”...you’re not alone. A budding actress at the age of four, Lisa has been in many small screen and major motion picture ventures (ever hear of Mrs. Doubtfire, or maybe Independence Day?). She’s worked with big name actors, like Robert Duvall, and the late Robin Williams. She was the teen actress of the 90’s, until she’d made the decision to leave Hollywood at the age of 22.

I first saw Lisa in Mrs. Doubtfire. It was easy to identify with Lydia, the angsty teen Lisa portrayed. I was fifteen years old at the time, also angsty, and had gone through a divorce in my family, similar to the story line of the movie. Add to that the striking physical resemblance between Lisa and myself. My grandma was the first to point out just how much I looked like Lisa. Schoolmates made comments. Even a boyfriend of mine insisted I watch George Lucas in Love, because I looked just like the girl who played George’s love interest. While I feel our physical similarities have waned over the years, we’ve still got a few things in common. We’re attached to our Converse Chuck Taylors, the shoe of choice for both of us since the 90’s (I call mine my “dancin’ shoes”). We’re both viewed as extroverts, when in reality we’re closeted introverts. We’re also big into writing, something that has been a lifeline since childhood.

You Look Like That Girl gives an honest, candid look into Lisa’s life. We learn what it was like growing up a child actress, living like a vagabond amidst the many actors and actresses who have helped to shape who Lisa is today. It’s hard not to feel like she’s a close, personal friend- the girl next door with whom we can easily identify. It's thrilling to have her here, giving us insight into her writing rituals, her Converse shoes, and what truly makes her tick.
Twins? (Lisa is on the left and I'm on the right.)

Thanks to Kelley and Hall, we have FIVE copies of You Look Like That Girl for some lucky US readers!

Visit Lisa at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing You Look Like That Girl?
My biggest challenge was the spelling; I'm a terrible speller.

But really, I know that writers are supposed to say how hard it is to write a book and we're supposed to be dark and dramatic artists about it. It is challenging - but I enjoyed every minute of the experience. Writing is such a joy for me, so even when it is difficult, I am enormously happy about it.

I think the bigger challenge is what's happening now - the part when my book is out in the world and I'm talking to people about it. I'm an introvert, and so the phase when I just sit in my office with my dog and put words on paper is very comfortable. The solitary writer life suits me perfectly. But now that my work is not just a Word document, now that it is something public - that is out of my comfort zone. It feels pretty vulnerable to open up myself and my work to criticism. But it is thrilling to be able to share this book, and the fact that it already seems to be resonating with people is really meaningful to me - so I try my best to not crawl under the couch and hide.

Tell us about your writing process. What rituals or habits help you to stay motivated?
I am a big believer in boundaries as a writer. From 8:00 AM to noon is writing time. That is sacred space for me. I protect it pretty fiercely - no distractions, no brunch with friends, no cleaning the gutters just because I'm desperate to avoid facing down that blank page. I just write. I used to think that I needed to be "inspired" to write, but I learned that what I need most is to get myself in front of a keyboard. The inspiration always shows up after I do.

The other thing that is important is not to edit while writing. First drafts are terrible. That's what they are supposed to be. There was a time when I wanted the work to be instantly spectacular, but that pressure blocks the creativity. For me, it's all about flow and writing prolifically. I can always go back and clear away all the terrible stuff and really get to the heart of the piece. But in the beginning, I write like no one is ever going to read it.

That freedom of writing only for myself was the only way I could have ever written my book. When I originally wrote it, I had no intention of publishing. I had always used writing as a way to process the world, and I wanted to think through my life and my transition out of Los Angeles in a linear way. At a certain point, I realized that the theme I was noticing - trying to live an authentic life regardless of what people might think - was really universal. I realized it might be reassuring for other people to know that they are not alone with these struggles. Maybe the details look different, maybe someone is deciding whether or not to go back to school or work in the family business or marry the person who they are expected to marry - but the desire to stay true to who you are is innate and challenging and ultimately incredibly rewarding.

You're in inspiration to many of us who are working on our own masterpieces. Who are the authors that inspire you?
Well, let me just say, that first sentence makes me grin with joy. If I can inspire even one person to pursue their passion, whatever that is, I've done my job.

I recently went to the historic Algonquin Hotel in New York, a famed gathering place of writers. I spent most of the time in tears of awe, because writers like Dorothy Parker were my superheros when I was growing up. I still find writers to be absolutely magical. I find so much inspiration from the work of Barbara Kingsolver, Zadie Smith, Elizabeth Gilbert, John Irving, Donna Tart, David Sedaris, JD Salinger and Anne Lamott.

Like you, Chuck Taylors are my preferred shoe of choice. What do your Chucks do for you?
I do love my Chucks! I've been wearing them since I was 15. Now, I'm 36 and I think I'll wear them forever. At times, I wonder if I should wear proper gown-up-lady shoes, but I have some issues with these silly feminine ideals that have been foisted upon our culture. I think it's possible to be feminine without wearing stilettos. I like to feel comfortable and cute and like I'm not pretending to be someone I'm not. That's what makes me feel most confident. Chucks embody that for me.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years, I hope to be doing another one of these interviews with you about my fifth book. I hope to be spending my time writing, doing yoga and hanging out with my family. So, I hope it's a lot like my life now, but perhaps I'll be a little wiser by then.

If you had the chance to live your life all over again, what changes, if any, would you make?
I wouldn't change a thing. Everything that ever happened has led me to this moment, and this moment is pretty perfect. One of the amazing things I've learned while writing this book, and looking back at my life, is that everything that I've experienced has made me who I am. Everything happened in just the right time and for a specific reason. Even the most difficult times in my life gave me important insight and understanding.

Wait, I take it back. There was one really atrocious haircut when I was about 16. I'd change that in a heartbeat.

Thanks to Lisa for visiting with us and to Kelley and Hall for sharing her book with our readers.

~Introduction and interview by Sara Steven

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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US only. Giveaway ends June 21st at midnight EST.