Friday, July 31, 2015

Guest Book Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

By Jacqueline B. Friedland

So often, we are told that we shouldn’t let food define us. We hear constantly from health professionals, media outlets, friends and family that we cannot be slaves to our appetites, that we must try to find non-food-centered means of celebrating, of communing, of commiserating. Conventional wisdom complains that we have become a culture too obsessed with food, that it’s time to back up and regroup. In his new book, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal asserts a different view, bucking this trend of shame and deprivation. Instead, with persuasive wit and grace, he exalts food, and the foodies too.

In this delightfully absorbing debut novel, Stradal has created a meandering saga about one girl’s inauspicious arrival as an infant, and her slow but consistent rise from orphaned baby to world-renowned, supreme, mysterious, celebrity chef. With a deft hand, Stradal employs multiple players to tell the story of a central captivating character, Eva Thorvald. Through vignette-style chapters, each of which seems to focus on a different person, Stradal manages to paint a thorough picture of Eva. Each section highlights not only a person who has somehow been relevant to Eva’s journey through life, but also a specific dish that has had great significance for her at a pivotal moment in her personal development.

In the first chapter, which focuses on her father, Lars, the reader learns that Eva’s mother abandoned her, as well as Lars, shortly after Eva’s birth. Feeling she simply was not cut out to raise a child, Eva’s mother left her family in Minnesota and relocated to California wine country. Eva’s father immediately dedicated himself to raising his daughter, but sadly, he collapsed from a fatal heart attack while she was still an infant. Eva is instead raised by her Aunt Finoa and Uncle Jarl, who decide to pose as her birth parents. The reader learns fairly early in the story that Eva is unusually astute, with an exceptionally large vocabulary for a child her age, a highly discerning palate and penchant for very spicy peppers. It’s not long before she’s onto her aunt and uncle’s ruse.

As Eva ages, we see her as a tormented middle schooler. Notably, this is the only chapter where she is the ostensible “main character”. After Eva gets in trouble at school for exacting revenge on a few bullies, the narrator moves on and begins to follow the storyline of other characters. Only after considering these subsequent chapters together will readers realize that they’ve been reading Eva’s story all along. On this seemingly desultory journey, Stradal depicts Eva’s cousin Braque at college, but then Eva comes for a visit. Next is a chapter about the tormented teenage boy who is suffering from unrequited love. It turns out that the object of his affection is Eva. As the book progresses, the characters’ connections to Eva become increasingly attenuated, ranging from a wannabe yuppie who happens to be in a cooking club that Eva joins to a struggling youth whose brother’s girlfriend makes a cameo appearance: Eva. Each time it seems that Eva couldn’t possibly be connected to the character at a chapter’s center, Stradal uses skillful sleight of hand to reveal the relationship he has concocted.

As Stradal depicts Eva’s rise to culinary fame, he also manages to tell an additional story. The dishes that Eva cooks and eats throughout the novel do their own work towards the story’s development. They paint a picture of Eva as an unparalleled cook and also a complex but much loved character. Moreover, the foods Stradal describes provide surprisingly insightful socio-economic commentary. He uses food and recipes as shorthand to reveal moral character and social status. When he introduces characters who have created a raw organic no-bake chocolate torte, readers will know exactly what type of people they are dealing with. For Eva in particular, food becomes a way of anchoring herself and keeping a clear head when other parts of the world cease to make sense.

In addition to these food-related story elements, Stradal also peppers full-length recipes throughout the book. At times, the plotline of the novel is simply too engrossing for one to stop and consider the ratios of butter to sugar that have been laid out in painstaking detail, but surely each recipe is worth returning to and sampling after finishing the story. It becomes increasingly apparent that for Eva Thorvald, food is thoroughly tied up with emotion, and that the ingredients in a dish can become the most effective manner of expressing herself. Stradel shows Eva using food as such an effective interpersonal tool that the reader can’t help but wonder if we’ve been wrong about food all along. In Stradal’s world, where characters use food to overcome obstacles, to communicate, to relate to each other, food is the great connector, a universal language, and especially, a way of defining oneself.

Just like the dishes that Eva enjoys, Stradal presents multiple stories throughout this book that enhance the flavor of the novel as a whole, like a single grand feast. With ample helpings of family drama, teenage angst, enduring friendship and confusing romance, this book will satisfy a wide array of appetites and should not be missed.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have an online book club kit you can use if your club is reading this novel.

Jacqueline Berkell Friedland is currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she is studying fiction. She is a former attorney and law school professor. When she is not writing, Jacqueline can be found plowing through novels or chasing after her four young children.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Spotlight and Giveaway: If I Could Turn Back Time

DC darling Beth Harbison recently celebrated the publication of her ninth novel, If I Could Turn Back Time. (Yes, we know you have that Cher song in your head now!) Melissa A is especially excited because she LOVES time travel novels (and that the story takes place in Maryland). And we're all excited that St. Martin's Press has THREE copies to share with some lucky readers in the US and/or Canada!

This summer, from New York Times bestselling author Beth Harbison, comes an extraordinary story of self-discovery. In IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME. Beth Harbison employs her signature wit and warmth to tell the story of every woman who has ever thought, “if I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I’d do things so differently…”

Thirty-six year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. She made her fortune and now she hob nobs with the very rich, and occasionally semi-famous, and enjoys luxuries she only dreamed of as a middle-class kid growing up in Maryland. But lately Ramie has begun to feel a bit…empty.

While partying on a boat with friends off the Florida coast, no one notices as Ramie gets up to go to the diving board. So no one notices when she hits her head on the board on her way down…

She wakes some time later with a throbbing headache and something beeping next to her. She strains to understand a voice calling in the distance: “Wake up!” It’s her mother. “You’re going to be late for school again. I’m not writing a note this time…”

An exploration of what life teaches us, and what we can learn from the past, IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME is the next hilarious and heartwarming novel from the beloved Beth Harbison.

See more information and excerpts here.

BETH HARBISON is The New York Times bestselling author of Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger; When In Doubt, Add Butter; Always Something There To Remind Me; Thin, Rich, Pretty; Hope In A Jar; Secrets of a Shoe Addict; and Shoe Addicts Anonymous. She grew up in Potomac, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., and now shares her time between that suburb, New York City, and a quiet home on the eastern shore.

Visit Beth at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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/Canada only. Giveaway ends August 4th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jami and Melissa A dish up some soup

Since authors and guests are sharing their good things and heartwarming stories, Jami and Melissa A felt moved to do the same! Enjoy your "soup."

Melissa A:

Birthday gift from Marlene at
Book Mama
Something good that happened to you recently: CLC hit 3500 likes on Facebook! And all the online and in-person love I got on my birthday.

Something good that happened to someone you know recently: My first cousin graduated from medical school. She also got married to a great guy in May. She's so kind and remarkable and I'm happy to see all these good things happen for her at once.

Something good you witnessed: My daughter hugging her friends at school. I just love that she's making friends and that she knows how to be one, as well.

Something good you heard on the news: Free book vending machines from Jet Blue for children. Yay for literacy promotion!  I also just saw a picture and story on Facebook about a man in Italy who gives out free children's books. There's also the mail carrier who helped a young boy get books, as he had access to none.

Something good someone did for you: A friend from work bought me lunch for my birthday (we went the day after, but still). It was a nice treat and a fun excuse for some work friends and I to do a lunch gathering again. Also, a close friend drove my husband home last week after his car got stuck in a garage. I know it was convenient since she was in the same area at the time, but it really helped a lot. It happened around the time our kids go to bed, so that's just insanity in my house!

Something good you did for someone else: A few years ago, my friend was taking her son to see The Laurie Berkner Band in concert. Her son is a huge fan, but didn't win this one contest Laurie was having. Since I had won a Skype interview with Laurie (for my younger son), I was connected with her publicist and got my friend and her son in to meet Laurie after the concert. My friend later posted a video of the experience. Her son made these cards for everyone in the band and was so excited to hand them out in person. :)


Although most people on this site know me as a reviewer and writer, I wear another hat when it comes to vocation – Realtor. After spending three years trying to sell my house in Maryland, find a house to rent in Florida, then a house to buy in Florida, it seemed silly not to apply everything I’d learned to help others who wanted to move to the Sunshine State. I joined Century 21 Beggins on St. Pete Beach last year.

I had a couple who was desperate to sell their condo and move to a more laid-back neighborhood. Problem was, there were a lot of two-bedroom condos in their development that were similar to theirs, and priced for less. We were getting a lot of lookers, but no buyers. When the listing approached its expiration date, they told me they wanted to list with a local brokerage that specialized in condos in the development. I did some research and gave them names of Realtors in that company who had actually sold some. I also utilized a Realtor old wives’ tale – that burying a statue of St. Joseph in the front yard would help sell the unit. (Since it was a condo, the seller placed it in a flower pot outside.)

Two weeks before expiration, I got a call from a buyers’ agent. Her buyers were in a hurry. Could they see the condo today? And how soon would my sellers be able to move out? That was on a Tuesday. We had a fully executed contract on Friday. The sale closed the last day in June.
Was it St. Joseph performing his magic again? Or had I put good karma into the universe by helping my sellers find another agent? I don’t know… but now I have to find them a place to buy!

Book Review: Pretty Baby

By Melissa Amster

I had been hearing good things about Pretty Baby, Mary Kubica's sophomore novel. Needless to say, I was intrigued. When I found out she was going to be signing copies at BEA, I made sure to schedule that into my day. And yes, it was worth waiting in line for!

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can't get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family's objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow's past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she's willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Similar to what those memes say, "I don't always read psychological thrillers, but when I do, I make sure they are related to women's fiction." Pretty Baby definitely fits into this category. It's not just about the act of kindness Heidi exhibits, but also about Heidi's past and what drives her to help Willow and her baby. And then we get to Willow's story, which is just crazy and horrifying, but also impossible to break away from. I almost wish Willow told the entire story because I really liked her "voice." If this is another sign I should be more open to YA novels, then so be it! (She's a teenager more than a "young woman.")

Mary Kubica writes in a way that compounds a heartbreaking situation, making it feel so real. She also makes her villains more evil and hateful than I've seen in a while from a book. I felt equally sympathetic toward Willow and Heidi, as both their situations were really sad. I don't want to give away too much though. I was able to figure out a few things on my own as the story came together, but there were still other surprises in store. Some things I would have liked to see are an epilogue for Heidi and Chris and chapters from their daughter Zoe's point of view.

I recommend Pretty Baby to anyone who wants a good edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. I'm excited to read The Good Girl soon, as I recently couldn't resist buying it!

Some casting ideas:
Heidi: Amy Adams
Chris: Jeremy Sisto
Willow: Mae Whitman (If she could play a teenager in The DUFF earlier this year, then why not? I kept picturing her in this role.)
Cassidy: Jena Sims

Thanks to MIRA (care of Book Expo America) for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nicola Kraus shares the a book giveaway

L to R: Nicola and Emma
Today we are celebrating the publication of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus' ninth novel, How to Be a Grown-up, about a forty-something wife and mother thrust back into the workforce, where she finds herself at the mercy of a boss half her age. Fans of the TV show (and book) Younger might appreciate this premise, even though the main character in this story isn't disguising her age.

In honor of this special day, Nicola is here to share a heartwarming story with us. 
She also has THREE copies of How to Be a Grown-up for some lucky US readers!

Visit Emma and Nicola at their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Hug in the Mail

My mother died recently and it gave me time to spend with her girlfriends. It’s always interesting when you get to see your parent in another context, as a person who moved through the world long before you were ever in it. My sister and I got to hear wonderful stories, some of which we’d heard before, like the time my mom and her college buddies borrowed a hearse and drove from Buffalo to Florida. That made the papers.

But at her service a friend of hers I had never met in person came up to me, wanting to be sure we spoke before she left. Her name was Maria and she wanted to tell me that twenty years ago she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease. It was severe and she was very ill and living alone at the time. Apparently my mother had stepped beside her at an art opening and softly said, “I’m worried about your head. I think your head is cold.” Maria said a few days later a hat arrived for her in the mail. It was a lilac wool hat, lined with velvet. She wore it through her whole treatment and then for years afterward whenever she needed comfort. She said, “That was so like your mother. To see that I was in need in a way I hadn’t even been able to articulate for myself. But more than that, to make me feel loved.”

It was hard to say good bye to my mother, but to be in a room with hundreds of people whose lives had been similarly touched made me feel like a pebble surrounded by ripples of love in an invisible ocean that my mother is now a part of. And I will think of that story every time I see someone who could use a hug in the mail.

Thanks to Nicola for sharing her mother with us in this way and 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 August 3rd at midnight EST.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Jenny O'Regan is "positively" a special giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

We are honored to have the delightful Jennifer Tropea O'Regan here today. I met Jennifer via Facebook last year, when Stephanie Elliot of SE Reviews and Reads shared one of her giveaways. I then saw that she liked the same books as I did and that she lives not too far from me. I connected with her and we instantly became friends. 

"Chick Lit Soup for the Soul" month is a perfect time to have Jennifer here, as she is full of kindness, generosity, and positive energy. If I'm having a bad day, I just need to message with her and I instantly feel better. (Keep in mind, I don't run to her with my problems, I just bask in her warm glow of happiness.)

In addition to fostering a love of literacy within her unprivileged high school students, Jennifer has many noteworthy philanthropic accolades. During her husband’s plight with cancer, she single-handedly raised over 3,000 books for the Johns Hopkins Hospital Oncology Patient Library. Jennifer is now sharing her unbridled passion for reading via Confessions of a Bookaholic —a page dedicated to celebrating female authors. She's also hanging out on Twitter and Instagram, just waiting to celebrate authors and books with her followers over there. Jennifer lives in the DC area with her husband and two of the cutest dogs ever. And she sometimes gets mistaken for Elsa from Frozen.

Since Jennifer is well-known for her incredible book giveaways, she has a special treat for our readers: a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card for readers anywhere in the world to try and win! (Note: if the winner is outside of the US, they will receive a different prize of equal value.)

Something good that happened to you recently.
I received an email from a former student detailing his profound gratitude for my guidance during a tumultuous time in his life. He wrote, quite candidly, that he would not have graduated from high school or gone on to college were it not for my encouragement. (Blinking back tears as I recount the details!) His words, forever resonant, are a strong reminder that we should never underestimate the power of kindness.

Something good that happened to someone you know recently.
My handsome hubby, Mike, was selected for promotion to Commander in the Navy Reserves!

Something good you witnessed.
I observed a young man, presumably 18-19 years old, escort an elderly woman through a busy DC intersection. It warmed my heart. His mama taught him well!

Something good you heard on the news.
University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono rejected a $200,000 bonus, asking for the money to instead be donated to charities and scholarships. Talk about a shining example of selflessness. Bravo, President Ono!

Something good someone did for you.
A kind man insisted on paying for my coffee at Starbucks recently. His only contingency—pay it forward! Consider it done, sir!

Something good you did for someone else.
I aspire to do good each and every day, without exception--whether in a grander sense (running an 8K for The Wounded Warriors Project) or via simple everyday benevolences (bringing a sick neighbor chicken soup).

Thanks to Jennifer for making us smile and for sharing such a special prize 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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Worldwide. Giveaway ends August 2nd at midnight EST.

Friday, July 24, 2015

What's in the a giveaway

Melissa A:

Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope (won from Great Thoughts' Great Readers)

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy from Penguin Random House

Losing Me by Sue Margolis from
Penguin Random House
(Don't miss out on our giveaway!)

I'm Not Her by Cara Sue Achterberg

The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur from Thomas Dunne Books

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon from Putnam

The Woman in the Photograph
by Dana Gynther from Gallery Books

Hello? by/from Liza Wiemer

The Silver Cord by/from Alison Caiola

Starting from Lost by/from S.K. Wills (e-book)


The Invisibles by Cecilia Galante
from William Morrow

Becoming Ellen by Shari Shattuck from Putnam

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams from Putnam

A Remarkable Kindness by Diana Bletter from William Morrow


Family Trees by Kerstin March from Kensington (e-book)


Pippa's Cornish Dream by Debbie Johnson from Harper Impulse

The Great Village Show by Alexandra Brown from Harper Collins

What could be in YOUR mail:

The Someday Jar by Allison Morgan
Berkley has TWO copies to give away!

Real-estate broker Lanie Howard figures she has the perfect man, the perfect job, and the perfect life. Then she stumbles across her old Someday Jar, the forgotten glass relic where she stashed all the childhood wishes—no matter how crazy—that her father encouraged her to write down on the backs of Chinese restaurant fortunes. She used to be fun once! What happened to her?

Although Lanie is wary of uncorking her past, when an attractive stranger saves her from a life-or-death encounter with a lemon peel at the bottom of a martini glass, she realizes that life is way too short for regrets. Now, jar in hand, Lanie decides to throw caution to the wind, and carry out everything she had once hoped to do, even if it means leaving her perfectly “perfect” life behind…

Fans of Sophie Kinsella and the Shopaholic series will fall in love with Lanie Howard—young, fabulous, and desperate to transform her life—in this funny, quirky, and endearing story about finding perfect happiness in life’s most imperfect moments. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

You also have a chance to win this special prize:
Like BookBub? Then you’ll absolutely and irrevocably fall madly in love with Forewordz (coming soon), a book lover’s community connecting authors and readers through daily eBook deals and special promotions. We heart readers so much that we're giving away a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card before we even launch! Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

**Both giveaways are US only**

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 July 29th at midnight EST. First winner who is chosen by Rafflecopter will receive the gift card.

Double Feature Review: Romantic Getaways

By Melissa Amster

Both these books are about travel and romance, as well as women facing some problems back home, so I thought it would work well to pair them up for sharing about some hot summer reads. Also, both covers feature women in wide brimmed hats at the beach, facing the ocean.

**Both synopses courtesy of Goodreads**

French Coast by Anita Hughes

Serena has the job she's always dreamed of and Chase, the man her heart never dared to. As a new editor at Vogue, she bags the biggest interview of the year with Yvette Renault, the infamous former editor of French Vogue, in The Carlton-InterContinental Hotel during the Cannes Film Festival. She eagerly jets off to France while Chase stays home, working with her father, a former senator, on his upcoming mayoral campaign.

Everything feels unbelievably perfect...until it doesn't. The hotel loses her reservation hours before her big interview. Serena fears that she'll have to go home without her story, but then she meets Zoe, a quirky young woman staying in the suite below Yvette's who invites Serena to stay with her. Serena is grateful for her mysterious roommate's generosity, but it seems that there's more to her story than meets the eye. To make matters worse, soon after arriving in Cannes, Serena learns a shocking secret about her parents' marriage, and it isn't long before she begins to question her own relationship.With her deadline looming and pressure mounting, Serena will have to use her investigative journalism skills, new friendships, and a little luck to get her life and love back on track.

If you're looking for an indulgent, escapist read, you've come to the right place! In typical Anita Hughes style, she delivers exquisite settings, delicious sounding food, and hot romantic scenes. Readers will be in for quite an armchair adventure! While I don't know enough about fashion to picture certain designer couture, the name dropping was lost on me. However, I'm guessing the clothes were amazing too. There were some interesting twists that I did not see coming and kept me on my toes throughout the story. I did have a couple of concerns. One was that there was too much description nestled within each scene, which included people talking about clothes they wore decades ago to enhance a visualization. The other was that some chapters or sections ended abruptly instead of transitioning to the next chapter or section. Even so, it was an enjoyable novel and I'm excited to read Rome in Love soon.

Dream movie cast:
Serena: Laura Ramsey
Chase: Chris Pine
Nick: Adrian Grenier
Zoe: Tatiana Maslany
Yvette (young): Odette Annable

Thanks to Anita Hughes for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Truly, Madly, Greekly by Mandy Baggot

Sun, sea and a sexy stranger - a whole lot of fun just got a lot more complicated.

Capable, confident and career-driven, Ellen had her dream job and a marriage proposal from boyfriend Ross. Life was good, her future set. Until it wasn’t and everything fell apart…

Whisked off to the beautiful island of Corfu to plan her sister Lacey’s big, fat, Greek wedding, Ellen is hoping some time out will help clear her head and heal her heart. But letting go of her past is not going to be easy.

With Lacey in full on Bridezilla mode, Ellen is soon distracted from her own problems. And when the all-inclusive treats on offer at hotel Blue Vue include one gorgeous, brooding Adonis – Yan – Ellen finds him difficult to resist.

But Ellen isn’t looking for love or lust, or anything involving too much ouzo…or is she?

I read Excess All Areas a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so it was nice to be back in Corfu, albeit with a new set of characters. The setting reminded me of the all-inclusive resort where I stayed for my honeymoon, even though that was in St. Lucia. It made me want to go back there, all the same! Overall, Truly, Madly, Greekly was a fun and entertaining story. There were some interesting conflicts that had an element of mystery and suspense to them, as they were built up throughout the story. The romantic chemistry was at just the right notch and there were some scenes that got the imagination going. Some aspects of the story made me think of Dirty Dancing, such as how Ellen and Lacey spent so much time with the resort staff and how Lacey was boy crazy and Ellen felt the need to protect her. If you're looking for a delightful beach read, you've found it!

Dream movie cast:
Ellen: Felicity Jones
Lacey: Lily James
Yan: Justin Baldoni

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

More by Anita Hughes:

More by Mandy Baggot:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: The Cake Shop in the Garden

By Becky Gulc

‘Fay Merryweather runs her cake shop from her beautiful garden.

She whips up airy sponges and scrumptious scones while her customers enjoy the lovely blossoms and gorgeous blooms.

Looking after the cake shop, the garden and taking care of her cantankerous mother means Fay is always busy but she accepts her responsibilities because if she doesn’t do all this, who will?

Then Danny Wilde walks into her life and makes Fay question every decision she’s ever made.

When a sudden tragedy strikes, Fay’s entire world is thrown off balance even further and she doesn’t know which way to turn. Can Fay find the strength to make a life-changing decision – even if it means giving up the thing she loves the most?

Life, love and family are about to collide in . . . The Cake Shop in the Garden. (Synopsis courtesy of Carole Matthews' website.)

This book has such an amazing cover, it’s so enticing with all that cake, and doesn’t it just have a lovely spring/summertime feel to it? Perfect! Definitely eye-catching and makes you want to dive straight in. And what a stamp of approval to have from the queen of baking herself, Mary Berry. The synopsis also enticed me, being a keen amateur baker.

Well, I told my mum she had to take this book on holiday with her, I loved it. Fay runs the cake shop from the garden of her much-loved but somewhat neglected home which she shares with her mother. The garden backs onto a canal where the family’s narrow boat lives, the Maid of Merryweather. This narrow boat also serves as a shop for the produce Fay and her assistant Lija create. The setting was so vivid in my mind, I could just imagine myself having an afternoon tea in the garden watching the world--and ducks--go by. And if Danny Wilde was there doing a bit of DIY around the place whilst I was there, well even better!

Fay is someone who works hard and plays...well pretty much never; she is someone growing old before her time. She’s in a relationship with Anthony, a relationship that she’s quite passive about, they don’t live together and everything seems to be on his terms (he is very busy bell ringing...). With Fay caring for her mother as well as running her business, the situation kind of suits her. I liked Fay a lot, although this passiveness did frustrate me at times. She was continually convincing herself Anthony was a good catch, but that made some of the plot twists more interesting later on. As for Fay’s mother and sister, well, you’ll have to read it, but gosh--Fay has the patience of a saint! Great characters though, again leading to twists and turns I wasn’t expecting in the second half of the novel, which were gripping.

My favourite characters were Lija, Fay’s assistant at the cake shop, and Stan, the elderly regular customer. Both of these characters treated Fay the way she deserves and have her best interests at heart. Lija may seem aloof and unfriendly to most people but she has a lovely relationship with Fay. And Stan, well I was on tenterhooks at the end of the novel. It was quite an emotional ending as these characters drew me in to their world.

If I were to be picky the only thing I maybe didn’t like about this novel was some of the language used to describe the ‘love’ scenes, but these scenes must be so hard to write to everyone’s taste!

I’ve read a few of Carole’s books now, and to quote the lovely character of Stan from I would have to say this is ‘my favourite.’ A perfect setting and a perfect range of characters. I really hope there will be a sequel to this as there seems to be some much more scope for these characters, and the cake garden which I wish was real.

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

More by Carole Matthews:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chick Lit Cheerleader: The First Bird

Introduction by Melissa Amster

With my youngest about to graduate in less than a year (from Pre-K, but still...) and my oldest getting closer to his Bar Mitzvah (three years to go), I can relate to this post from our Chick Lit Cheerleader, Jen Tucker, written in honor of "Chick Lit Soup for the Soul" month. I met her son, Wil, who is the main subject of today's post. He's a remarkable young man and is so funny and charismatic. I couldn't be happier for him (and Jen) with reaching this milestone. 

Fair warning: Have some tissues handy...

The Best is Yet to Come

Rites of passage. We anxiously await their commencement, we meet the milestone with pomp and circumstance, and we look behind us as they roar past, wondering, “Where did the time go?” I’m not the first nor last person to have her first baby bird jump out of the high school graduation nest. I knew this day was coming for 18 precious years.

And I was hanging in there.

Until a few weeks before graduation when Wil paraded into the kitchen and asked, “What do you think?”

Standing before me was my son wearing his navy gown lined in orange around the zipper, his cap crookedly resting upon his head and his tassel swaying to and fro. I saw his life flash before my eyes. And because so much of my writing tells stories about my family, I feel like Wil’s journey in a way is yours as well.

“Mommy, how I yook?” Wil asked. Three years old, dressed as Buzz Lightyear for Halloween. With a year of speech therapy under his belt, any words from his lips were music to my ears. “To affinity and pee-yond!” was his candy haul battle cry.

“Mommy, is this cool (school) clothes?” The first day of kindergarten. His backpack gave him a run for his money to balance and navigate. A Blue’s Clues tee shirt and matching shorts gave him the confidence to go out and face the day. I on the other hand was in la-la land, convincing myself kindergarten was just preschool with homework accompanied by a bonus bus ride meaning my tears were minimal.

“Mommy! Did you know trees have leaves?” Wil cheered as we drove home from the eye doctor. Wearing his first pair of glasses, bifocals no less, this mother of the year thought he was being lazy when he colored outside the lines. Turned out he couldn’t see lines nor leaves on tress, obviously. Best mom ever.

“Mommy, this isn’t mine!” Wearing his little brother’s size 2T Baby Gap shirt, I have no idea how he even got it over that huge melon of his, let alone his arms through the sleeves. Bare midriffs are not a good look for him.

“They shrunk at the night time!” Wil was seven and woke to the harsh reality that his favorite Thomas the Train pajamas seemed to be a little smaller in the morning. How did that commercial go? “If they could just stay little ’til their Carter’s wear out.”

“I don’t think this looks like this.” Soccer. Shin guards and socks. Yeah, I had no idea how to work that combo.

“This doesn’t match?” Chilly air outside means wearing more layers in Indiana. October of his Freshman year of high school, Wil walked into the kitchen wearing a lime green V-neck sweater and navy track pants. Befuddled after I gave him “the look” and told him his top and bottoms were not even on the same playing field, he returned to his room and changed. He put a cordovan colored v-neck on instead hoping that was the winning combination with his athletic bottoms. Not so much.

“So, what do you think?” His high school Bowling Team uniform. He ironed it himself. Why is it his pleats crease better than mine? Why do I care? This means he should iron for the entire family from now on.

“Did you see me?” he asked Mike and me after scoring four strikes in row while competing in the Special Olympics State Bowling Championship games. He joined Special Olympics one year after leaving the school’s bowling team. Where high school sports were not a place of acceptance, patience, or tolerance for Wil, being brave in the attempt with others with special needs was bliss for him. He made friends. He did his best. He was accepted just the way he was. He won the silver medal at State his first year. His joy filled our hearts ten times over. I had never seen him so happy in his teen years as I did that day. That’s worth a Turkey any day.

This young man on the precipice of graduation stood before me. He wanted me to compliment him. Tell him how handsome he made the gown look. Tears welled as I embraced him. I wiped them away, saying, “You look amazing. Like you’re ready to start the rest of your life.”

School was never a place of comfort, friendship, success or ease for Wil. It was simply a means to a diploma so he could move on and move on out. His strength and courage will always astound me and put my whiny bad days about “First world problems” to shame. On his saddest and darkest of days living in an apraxic body that, at times, refuses to do what he wills it to, he remains the brightest star of all.

I stepped back drinking in the sight of my handsome young man on the verge of experiencing life after school. Wil took my hands into his and said, “Mom, don’t cry now. Save some for the ceremony, will you?”

You’ll be happy to know Wil made it across the stage in the weeks following the kitchen crying incident. I didn’t cry once at graduation. Not even the excusable “It’s just my allergies” tears fell. Instead, I cried seven times before we even arrived on campus for the ceremony.

Fly my little bird. May you see wonders, live life loud and proud, and know that no matter what happens, the best is yet to come.

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: 15 Minutes of Summer

By Jami Deise

There are two types of people in this world: People who love the Kardashians, and people who hate them. And I’d bet a significant subset of people who follow all things Kardashian are hate-watchers, which would put them in the latter camp. It’s not that the Kardashians are any more heinous than other famous families out there. But many people have an aversion toward those who are famous just for being famous. And what kind of person is so needy that their lives aren’t fulfilling unless the cameras are on them?

15 Minutes of Summer gives readers a peek into the mind of someone who’s so desperate to be famous, she violates her own personal code of ethics. It’s the third book in Heather Wardell’s Seven Exes are Eight Too Many series. The last book, Bad Will Hunting, featured one of Kent’s exes, Ashley; this one features his ex-wife Summer, the only woman Exes protagonist MC (yes, you really do need to read the first two books to appreciate this one) really felt threatened by. In Exes, Summer was your basic cheerleader type – gorgeous, outgoing, always smiling, and obviously still soft on Kent. In her own book, her insecurities take center stage: She’s the “stupid one” in a family of geniuses. While this doesn’t completely explain why she’s so enamored of the spotlight, it keeps her from seeming shallow.

The book picks up near where Bad Will Hunting ends, then back tracks over some of the same timeline so readers can see how Summer ended up doing what she did. Unlike "Hunting," in which Ashley comes across as a very unlikeable protagonist, Summer is sympathetic, and her thoughts and actions are mostly understandable. And Wardell gives herself a way out when Summer doesn’t take the most logical action – by establishing her heroine as not the sharpest knife in the drawer, it makes sense when she can’t see her way out of traps of her own making.

After the wrap-up show, the show’s producer makes an off-hand comment to Summer that she could be in the TV business. That sets Summer – who already has a custom swimsuit business that’s taking off because of the reality series – on a quest to make that happen, even though it requires her to work for sleazy Simon and ingratiate herself into the lives of celebrities as she seeks to find the scoop to make her career as a gossip reporter. Of course, the biggest get in reality-TV land is her own ex-husband Kent and MC. Will Summer betray her friends in order to get the career she wants?

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of reality TV (other than the shows on HGTV). In fact, when the movie EdTV came out, I couldn’t believe anyone in America would watch a show about real people living their lives, much less obsess over it. Boy was I wrong. But I really enjoy Wardell’s writing, and I love how she develops her characters. What made Summer so interesting to me, as a fan of the previous two books, was how Summer’s perception of herself was so different from how MC and Ashley perceived her. And frankly, MC does not come across in this book very well. While Summer never disparages her – she’s actually eager for her friendship – MC is a mouse of a person, and the pettiness that bothered me near the end of the first book rears its ugly head here as well. This point is not meant as a criticism of the book, but as a point in its favor. We are all protagonists in the book of our life, and our friends, family and acquaintances the main characters in theirs. How much overlap is there in how we perceive ourselves, and how others perceive us?

I did have a few issues with the book, but they are minor. Wardell spends a lot of time on the details of Summer’s celebrity journalist gig, which meant a lot of made-up celebrities and their exploits. It was hard to keep track of who was whom in fake celebrity world, and I didn’t really care about any of them. Also, Summer seems to have only one friend other than the people from the "Seven Exes" crew, and she’s not a good one. For someone as outgoing as Summer is, I found it hard to believe that she was so isolated. But these are quibbles, and don’t take away too much from the enjoyment of the book.

If you haven’t read the first two books of the series, download them before reading this one. All three together could make for a fun beach-reading weekend. And as for those of us who have read the books, let’s get started guessing which movie title Wardell will use for book number four. Sleepy in Seattle? Nothing Hill?

Thanks to Heather Wardell for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Heather Wardell:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Amy E. Reichert is the frosting on the literary a book giveaway

Photo by Kelly Johnsen
We're pleased to have Amy E. Reichert here to talk about some of the good things in life, as part of our "Chick Lit Soup for the Soul" month. We're also celebrating her pub day today. Thanks to Gallery Books, we have TWO copies of her debut novel, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, for some lucky US readers. 

Amy Reichert earned her MA in Literature from Marquette University, and honed her writing and editing skills as a technical writer (which is exactly as exciting as it sounds). As a newly minted member of the local library board, she loves helping readers find new books to love. She’s a life-long Wisconsin resident with (allegedly) a very noticeable accent, a patient husband, and two too-smart-for-their-own-good kids. When time allows, she loves to read, collect more cookbooks than she could possibly use, and test the limits of her DVR. (Bio courtesy of Amy's website.) 

Visit Amy on Facebook and Twitter.

Something good that happened to you recently.
It’s been an abundance of riches for me, lately. With THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE finally coming out, everything is shiny and bright! It’s kind of hard to top that. If I were to name something specific, visiting the printing plant to see my book be printed rates very high. Everyone was so generous with their time. I’ll never forget seeing an entire palette of my books.

Something good that happened to someone you know recently.
A friend recently visited India, where she and her family had lived for a short time six years ago. People they knew during their first stay recognized them and even with the language barrier, were able to express their delight at the reunion. (You can read more here.) I love stories that remind me that kind people are everywhere.

Something good you witnessed.
I’m currently helping out at Girl Scout camp for my daughter’s troop. Our group is a mish-mash of five different troops—some of the girls came to camp all alone. I’m delighted that they have mixed up and made sure no girls are left out without any adult prompting. It’s so rewarding to see these girls become compassionate and caring young women.

Something good you heard on the news.
This is a bit silly, but I read a story that Channing Tatum helped 92 year-old Stan Lee off a Comic-Con stage. It’s a small thing, but reveals so much about the kind of person Channing Tatum is. I just love it.

Something good someone did for you.
My sister, Pam Lehman, is like my angel. I’m the worst sister. I never call (unless I need to ask for something), and she’s still waiting for her signed copy of my book, but she is always there for me. Always. Most recently, she volunteered to take a day off of work to help with my book launch party. Seriously, she’s an angel!

Something good you did for someone else.
My mom is moving out of her house after 40 plus years. So my sister (the above mentioned angel) and I are helping her pack things up, put her house on the market, and find a new place to live. It doesn’t really feel like I’m doing anything special, because she’s my mom and I’d do anything for her, but I know there are a lot of people who don’t have that type of support.

Thanks to Amy for warming our hearts and to Gallery 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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

US only. Giveaway ends July 27th at midnight EST.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sue Margolis spreads the a book giveaway

When I first started CLC in 2010, I wrote a tribute to Sue Margolis because she had no online presence and wasn't available for interviews at the time. However, I loved her books so much that I wanted her to get the publicity she deserved! I got my wish to connect with Sue when she finally created an online presence about a year later. Since then, we e-mail or Facebook message each other from time to time, especially when Orange is the New Black is on! We also talk about Judaism, children, and other fun topics. I'm hoping we'll finally get to meet in person when she's next in the US to visit her family. In the meantime, I'm honored and thrilled to feature her at CLC on my birthday! Such a nice treat, and not only for me.

Sue worked as a reporter for the BBC, before leaving broadcasting to write her first novel. She lives in London with her journalist husband Jonathan. They have three grown-up children (and now grandchildren, as well). Sue’s hobbies include napping, constantly interfering in her children’s lives, not going out, eating - especially the remains of the previous night’s take-out curry straight from the fridge, and watching made-for-TV true-life movies in her PJs.

Her latest novel, Losing Me, about a woman whose life is changed by a troubled little boy, sounds like it will be a heartwarming story, making it a perfect fit for "Chick Lit Soup for the Soul" month. She's here today to share her own heartwarming story, which is about a story itself. Penguin Random House has one copy of Losing Me for a lucky US reader, but Sue is also generously sharing THREE more copies for readers in the US! (She'll also send signed bookplates to all the winners.)

Visit Sue at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sue's Chicken Soup (with matzo balls) for the Soul

Back in the early 90s, there was a book that my four year-old daughter insisted I read to her over again. It was called Ned and the Joybaloo. It’s out of print now, but I still have our battered hardcover copy. I keep it on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, along with a handful of other favourite children’s books that I’m unable to part with.

The other day a small child came to visit. She pulled all the children’s books onto the floor and spent a quiet hour enjoying them. After she’d gone, I began tidying the books away. But I couldn’t put Ned and the Joybaloo back in the bookcase without taking a few minutes to read it. I’ve kept it, not just because it was Ellie’s favourite and the illustrations are magical, but because like so many children’s books it carries a profound message for grownups.

Ned is a little boy who wakes up every morning with a frown on his face. But on Fridays he wakes up with a smile as bright as an upside down rainbow. This is because: ‘Friday was the day of the night he met the Joybaloo.’ The Joybaloo is a giant spotty puppy-come-blimp “with a funny leathery nose and its breath full of paper roses.” He lives in the airing cupboard.

On Fridays, Ned and the Joybaloo bounce higher and higher until ‘the ceiling opened and let in the stars’.

They make each other laugh so hard that their laughter takes them up an up ‘on past everyday night and every night dreams to the playgrounds of the Joybaloo.’ They slide in ‘slow dark mud’ and swim in ‘warm fast streams’. They lose themselves for hours in the ‘long wayward grass.’

Having squeezed the ‘last drop of mischief out of the night’ they agree to meet every Friday night, forever.

The problem for Ned is that he loves the Joybaloo and the fun they have together so much, that the wait between one Friday and the next seems interminable. He doesn’t know what to do with himself. He can’t eat, he doesn’t practice his recorder and he draws on every wall. He even puts tacks in peoples’ shoes.

Finally he gets angry with the Joybaloo. “I don’t believe you’re a real Joybaloo … If you were and you cared about me you’d come out and play every night.”

The Joybaloo says he can’t play every night because he’d get used up. But Ned doesn’t listen. He forces the Joybaloo to play every night. Slowly the Joybaloo ‘gets smaller, its colours fewer and fewer, its breath emptier and emptier.’

Then one night, Ned opens the airing cupboard door and the Joybaloo is gone.

After that Ned has no choice but to make his own joy. He struggles, but in the end he discovers it’s not so hard.

The Joybaloo has taught Ned something that so many of us adults fail to learn - that we can’t rely on other people – husbands, wives, partners, children, friends - to make us happy. That is something we must do for ourselves. If we don’t, if we are too needy of other people, we risk destroying our most important relationships.

Ned and the Joybaloo by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura. Used copies and some new ones are available at

Thanks to Sue for visiting us and for sharing her book (along with Penguin Random House) with our readers.

~Introduction 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 only. Giveaway ends July 26th at midnight EST.