Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reviews at Amazon--December edition

We're posting some reviews at our Amazon account, as either they've been sitting in queue for a while and deserve their time in the sun, fall under our new featuring policy, or they're new reads that we couldn't wait to post at the blog. You can check them out at the links below. Hope we can help you find your next favorite book!



Melissa A:




Book Review: Chasing Chris Campbell

By Sara Steven

Violet is living a pleasant, simple life with her boyfriend, Michael. She’s used to his penny pinching ways, his penchant for all things cheap. They’ve made a decision to save as much money as they can for their future, only, when Violet discovers he's squandered away a large portion of what they’ve worked so hard to set aside, she sees through her pleasant life. There are serious cracks in the foundation.

Chris is the complete opposite of Michael. He’s spontaneous, adventurous. He’s the one who got away, Violet's first real love. In fact, she met Michael while she was this close to sealing the deal with Chris, and in so many ways she feels she’s settled for second best. When fate steps in and puts Chris in Violet’s path once again, years later, she’s compelled to go on the journey of a lifetime!

Who would have ever thought that Violet could travel the world, in search of love? Hong Kong, Vietnam. India. Through every new experience, she’s brought closer and closer to Chris, always a step behind, right on his heels. Along the way she encounters new friends and life-long connections with people she’d never thought she would form such strong bonds with! In the end, she has to decide if true love is reality, or if she’s been living a fantasy world and should go back to the life she was used to living.

I thought Chasing Chris Campbell was a sweet read, full of adventures and misadventures. Genevieve Gannon did a wonderful job at creating believable characters. While I can’t fathom ever having the opportunity to travel the world like Violet did, considering my own life experiences wouldn’t really allow for such a luxury, it’s nice to live vicariously through someone who can. And who knows? Maybe someday, my husband and I can travel the world, chasing one another in the process!

Thanks to Genevieve Gannon for the book in exchange for an honest review. Chasing Chris Campbell and her debut novel, Husband Hunters, are both $1.99 for Kindle.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Stars over Sunset Boulevard

By Melissa Amster

I will first admit that I'm not much of a Gone with the Wind fan. I saw the movie a long time ago, but it didn't do much for me. However, I was interested to read Stars Over Sunset Boulevard because it was a glimpse into Hollywood in the 1930s and I thought it would be interesting. What unfolded was a story that was hard to put down!

Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie…

Los Angeles, 1938. Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide. What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Susan Meissner describes the movie set so vividly that I felt like I was right there with Violet and Audrey, watching scenes from the iconic film fall into place. What was even more interesting was Violet and Audrey's personal journeys. They contrast in a way that reminds me of Firefly Lane and some other books about unlikely friendships. Violet seemed so passive and kind, that I didn't expect her to pull off certain actions that were integral to the plot. Audrey was colorful and dynamic and I always felt like I was on an adventure with her. Both of their stories were compelling and I felt sympathetic toward each of them. Susan talks about issues that still take place in Hollywood now, but showed how women dealt with them back then. They definitely did not have social media to air their grievances about certain things that were happening.

While some parts felt predictable, there was still some comfort in that and there was still a road ahead that was unknown. I enjoyed learning about how the hat ended up where it did. The only thing that seemed odd to me was Bert's career choice. It didn't really fit in that well with the story. Obviously, it was a minor issue in the grand scheme of how enjoyable the story was overall.

I like Susan Meissner's writing style and I definitely want to read more of her novels in the future (as well as the ones she has previously written).

A movie about a movie? Works for me! (My casting ideas for the characters in the 1930s and 40s.)
Audrey: Blake Lively
Violet: Emma Watson
Bert: Miles Teller

Thanks to Berkley/NAL for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Susan Meissner:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our 2015 Favorites

Once again, we present to you our favorite books that were published in 2015. Please keep in mind that we could not get to every book written this year, so just because it's not on our list, it doesn't mean we didn't like it. We just might not have read it yet. It was also very hard to narrow down our choices in order to make this post not turn into a novel itself! Hope you get a chance to read all of these books. Please share your favorites in the comments below.

*We will only post links to the books when a review isn't available by the person who listed it as their favorite.

Melissa A:

1. Come Away with Me by Karma Brown: I'm still having a book hangover! (Reviewed here)
2. Things You Won't Say by Sarah Pekkanen: So poignant and relevant; beautifully told. (Reviewed here)
3. The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes: I want to marry this book! (Review coming soon...)
4. Becoming Ellen by Shari Shattuck: A wonderful follow up to Invisible Ellen. (Reviewed here)
5. Twin Piques by Tracie Banister: Hard not to love the twins who are opposite in so many ways and their hot romantic interests too... (Reviewed here)

(See some more of my favorite books I read this year at Merrylandgirl.)


1. Things You Won't Say by Sarah Pekkanen (See review above)
2. Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (See review)
3. Has Anyone Seen My Pants by Sarah Colonna (See review)
4. Dog Crazy by Meg Donohue (See review)
5. The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel:
I just loved it.

Melissa P:

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes because I missed Marian's witty and fun writing style. She always makes the characters so well rounded and REAL. I also loved how she worked in the rare disease that Stella becomes inflicted with and how it affected her life in so many ways even after she was well again.

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand, because I always love a good summer read and Elin has that genre down. Also, the way she uses different points of view throughout the story kept it interesting.

With reviewing for Chick Lit Central, reading for a NYC-based literary agency, and my own book habit, I’ve easily read over 150 books this year. But narrowing them down to just two favorites isn’t as hard as it may seem. I’m a reader who is hard to please, and these two books stood out dramatically above anything else I’ve read or reviewed this year.

My favorite of the books I’ve reviewed for Chick Lit Central was Lisa Doyle’s debut novel, Milked, published by Simon and Fig. A fresh, funny, modern take on the centuries-old practice of wet nursing, Milked also has a strong political statement at its core. It’s a must read for anyone who likes their comedy closer to satire than screwball.

For the books I’ve read on my own, my completely unoriginal favorite is Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. I stayed up all night to finish it, and had a big ugly cry at the end. It’s a much more emotionally engaging story than Pulitzer winner All the Light We Cannot See, another World War II novel. As a longtime fan of Hannah’s, it’s been gratifying to see her mature and deepen as a writer, and I’m so impressed with the research it must have taken to create The Nightingale. I can’t imagine she’ll ever be able to top this book, but I look forward to seeing her try.


1. Second Chance Friends by Jennifer Scott - A fantastic story that weaves the lives of four strangers, who become entwined for the rest of their lives. (Reviewed here.)

2. Broken Homes and Gardens by Rebecca Kelley- Descriptive, heartbreaking, hopeful. And set in Oregon, my home state. I immediately fell in love! (Reviewed here.)

3. Summer Flings and Dancing Dreams by Sue Watson - Sue Watson has never disappointed me. Her novels are always fun, flirty, and lovingly written, giving us a much-needed dose of motivation! (Reviewed here.)

4. Family Trees by Kerstin March - You always hurt the ones you love, and often, they are the hardest ones to forgive. A great story regarding moving on and learning to love again. (Review coming soon.)

5. The Last Dreamer by Barbara Solomon Josselsohn - I identified so much with the main character. Is it ever too late to pursue your passions in life? (Reviewed here.)


It's Not Me, It's You by Mhairi McFarlane
This was my favourite read of the year, another fantastic book by someone who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. The book has everything going for it, very fitting with the ‘chick lit’ genre but with a bit of a thriller aspect to the story too. Great characters and story all round. (Reviewed here.)

Always the Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk
This was a witty and engaging read from start to finish and had all the elements I love in a book. I can't believe this was the first book I'd read by Lindsey, I've been missing out! (Reviewed here.)

We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman
A book that stays with you long after you've finished. Covering a tricky subject but oh so well and managing to be uplifting at the same time. (Reviewed here.)

Meet Me in Manhattan by Claudia Carroll
This book totally transported me to New York at Christmas time, just perfect descriptions and led to me feeling like I was really there, experiencing the hidden gems of Manhattan for myself. A great story and setting. (Reviewed here.)


Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews - Because anything by MKA? I'm a fan. Her novels never disappoint and are always tinged with the right amounts of comedy and romance to keep anyone who enjoys chick lit coming back for more. (Reviewed here.)

Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella - Because who doesn't love Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood)? Her sparkling personality sees her through questionable decisions with style and humour, as always. Pure delightful escapism!

The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft - Darker chick lit, but it's stuck with me since I read it. The kind of book that makes you wonder what's really going on beneath the surface when you meet someone new or read a news story about a tragedy. (Reviewed here.)


What Comes Next and How to Like it: Man, I loved this book. This is probably the best book I read in all of 2015, and I really enjoyed reviewing it, even though I struggled to find the words to do the book justice. I ran out and bought Abigail Thomas' other books and loved those, too. She's amazing. (Reviewed here.)

Furiously Happy: I rarely pre-order a book, but I pre-ordered this one. Of course, Jenny Lawson did not disappoint. Furiously Happy offers a glimpse inside the heart and mind of the sometimes complicated, always entertaining Bloggess, whose second book openly discussed the issues with which Lawson copes: depression, anxiety, low self-esteem. Yet Lawson tells her tale with a genuine heart and loads of humor, as only the Bloggess can do. (Reviewed here.)

The Girls of August: I'm so happy to have discovered Ann Rivers Siddons this year. The Girls of August was my second Siddons' novel and I practically inhaled it. Siddons created memorable characters and a compelling story line, with a twist or two where I least expected them. A great beach read; not too heavy, but enough substance to make you wish for more. (Reviewed here.)

What were your favorite books from 2015?

Book Review: Chance Harbor

By Jami Deise

Nature vs. nurture. It’s one of the oldest debates in psychology. Is the person you become determined by the genes you inherited or the environment you grew up in? Thanks to so many of those poor identical twins who were raised apart, there’s enough data to make a firm determination of: It depends.

This question hums along in the background of Holly Robinson’s engaging women’s fiction novel, Chance Harbor. Solid, dependable Catherine was nothing like her scatterbrained younger sister Zoe, a drug addict who dumped her 10-year-old daughter Willow on Catherine and then disappeared five years ago. Now Willow is fifteen, and the formerly straight-laced girl is sneaking out, lying, shoplifting and more. Are Zoe’s damaged genes at fault? Or does Willow’s behavior have more to do with her uncle/guardian Russell, a teacher who has dumped Catherine in order to be with an 18-year-old student at Willow’s school, Nola, a spoiled little rich girl pregnant with his child? And what secrets does Eve, the sisters’ mother, hold about their past that play directly into their relationship?

Obviously, there is a lot going on in this novel!

Although the story is told from the viewpoints of Catherine, Eve, and Willow, Catherine feels like the center of this universe. The book starts with a prologue, describing the night she got a call from Willow that Zoe had left her at a bus station with instructions to call Aunt Catherine. Ever since, she’s been more mother than aunt, and her husband Russell the only father Willow has ever known. But that universe is shattered when Russell announces he’s impregnated Nola – and now he wants a divorce so he can marry her. With Willow’s abrupt change in behavior, Catherine’s family is on the verge of breaking down completely.

As for Eve, she’s still dealing with the death of her husband Andrew. Their second home on Chance Harbor, part of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, is both a refuge and a reminder of their marriage. She’s decided to fix it up and sell it, but will the memories prove too much? Eve confides in Russell that her own marriage had some equally rocky times. Later, she’s forced to reveal exactly what they were.

Most of the important plot twists in the book are fairly predictable, mostly because Robinson’s set-ups are a little too obvious. However, this does not lessen enjoyment of the book. Rather, it lets the reader sit back and wait for what’s inevitable.

The most surprising part of the book is the burgeoning relationship between Willow and Nola, who’d been her school’s Regina George before committing social suicide by hooking up with "Coach Carr." At first, Willow had been a bit in awe of Nola, then she hated her for breaking up her parents’ marriage. But forced to spend time together, the two find themselves unlikely confidants. Nola is an intriguing character all on her own: She’s rich, independent and beautiful. Why on earth would a girl like that have an affair with a history teacher? The book does a solid job in exploring this question as part of the subplot.

Unlike the author’s previous book, Haven Lake, the setting does not play as much of an impact on the characters. And Chance Harbor is more similar to Jennifer Weiner’s Fly Away Home than Robinson’s earlier novel.

Chance Harbor is a nice addition to the women’s fiction lexicon, with complex characters, family dysfunction and inappropriate relationships. Although it was somewhat predictable, it kept me turning pages.

Thanks to Berkley/NAL for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Holly Robinson:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You

By Becky Gulc

‘“It went like this: I proposed. Paul said yes, not particularly enthusiastically. Then we went for drinks, and he sent a text to the Other Woman saying “oh god, Delia wants to marry me” TO ME by mistake…”

Delia thought she knew where her story was headed, but she’s been dealt a nasty plot twist. It’s time to become author of her own fate…

Delia Moss isn’t quite sure where she went wrong.

When she proposed and discovered her boyfriend was sleeping with someone else – she thought it was her fault.

When she realised life would never be the same again – she thought it was her fault.

And when he wanted her back like nothing had changed – Delia started to wonder if perhaps she wasn’t to blame…

From Newcastle to London and back again, with dodgy jobs, eccentric bosses, secret superheroes, message board trolls and annoyingly handsome journalists thrown in, Delia must find out where her old self went – and if she can ever get her back.’ (Synopsis courtesy of Mhairi McFarlane's website.)

Wow. Well even before I started reading It's Not Me, It's You, I knew I enjoyed Mhairi’s books, You Had Me at Hello, Mhairi’s debut, is a great read! Perhaps my memory had faded a little, but I still wasn’t prepared for how wonderful this book would be, it reaffirmed to me what a fantastic author Mhairi is and I won’t leave it so long before I read her work again this time around. This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year. Here’s why:

I was instantly engrossed in this novel, the writing seems effortless, and you can’t help but feel for Delia. Here she is living a comfortable life, a job at the local council, living with her long-term boyfriend Paul and their beloved dog when one little text changes everything. When Delia proposes to Paul his response is lackluster at best, but when Delia then receives a text from Paul meant for another woman, well, cue a rollercoaster of a story that had everything going for it.

Whilst you feel empathy for Delia, this isn’t a sad story. It’s actually really funny and just a joy to read throughout. The way Delia reacts to the betrayal and how she analyses it seemed very real and fitting for a long-term relationship; this isn’t a situation which is easily resolved. As well as her relationship going wrong, Delia’s work situation is fast becoming a nightmare. Delia is tasked with finding out who the secret ‘Peshwari Naan’ is. Yes, that’s right...‘Peshwari Naan’ a secret person who appears to just love berating the local councilor online. I just loved this aspect of the story and this character. I was never sure what to expect with the character and that was part of the charm.

When events lead to Delia moving in with a friend in London for a while, the pace increases. With a new job at PR company ‘Twist & Shout’--which is a bit questionable quite frankly--and a bribery situation going on with a local reporter, Delia’s new life in London is perhaps not quite the new beginning, and new her, she was imagining. Delia is often a character who doesn’t know what to do for the best and I totally understood that. When a new love interest emerges, the pull towards Paul was perfectly written to keep the reader guessing as to how things would end up. Even though Paul is a cheat, it’s a strength to the writing style that he still comes across as somewhat likable; the history of the relationship reminding us of what the pair once had. The scenes with their dog, well...were very emotional indeed.

The range of characters was fantastic, from the Naan to Delia’s brother and boss, all were just so great to feature in their own way. I loved the different settings of Newcastle and London. Both felt very vividly described. I always love when there is a northern location in books, as a true northern girl myself! For me this book contains all the elements of what a perfect ‘chick lit’ book should have. I loved it!

Thanks to HarperCollins UK for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book Review: Bella's Christmas Bake Off

By Sara Steven

Bella Bradley is the queen of television baking – a national treasure. Her Christmas specials have been topping the ratings for years and her marriage to Peter ‘Silver Fox’ Bradley is the stuff of Hello magazine specials.

But this year things are going to be different.

For Amy Lane, Bella’s best friend from school, life hasn’t held quite the same sparkle. And when Amy’s husband walks out three weeks from Christmas, it seems their lives are further apart than ever.

Amy has watched Bella’s rise to fame fondly, despite the fact Bella was always a terrible cook. But when she realises that Bella’s latest Christmas book is made up entirely of Amy’s mother’s recipes, the gloves are off…

After winning a competition to appear on Bella’s TV show, Amy is going to make sure that for Bella and her viewers, this will definitely be a Christmas to remember…(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I identified with Bella the most, while reading Bella’s Christmas Bake Off. She could easily be pigeon-holed into the villain role, but there is always more to a story, especially from the villain's viewpoint. What possessed her to steal Amy’s mother’s recipes and claim them as her own? Why is Bella so intent on giving off a false persona to the world, not revealing herself for who she really is? Amy wants the friend she remembers from childhood. The one who was a little rough around the edges, but had a heart of gold. After Amy is submerged into Bella’s world, she wonders what happened to her best friend from all those years ago, and whether Bella will ever be able to forgive her. There’s a big secret between these two, and Amy can’t help but feel her own actions all those years ago was the catalyst for why Bella has become the way she is.

This wouldn’t be a Sue Watson book, without creative individuals and emotional evolution. What I’ve always appreciated most is how Sue shows you the full journey for her characters, from start to finish. It’s real and honest, and makes you appreciate Bella and Amy all the more.

I spent a good portion of my teen years living with my best friend’s family. I joke and say that they had semi-adopted me, during one of the most difficult and turbulent times in my life. Although my best friend’s mother wasn’t much of a cook (unless you count the microwave oven as gourmet cooking), I know she did a lot for me and always made me feel like I was part of the family. In so many ways, Bella’s Christmas Bake Off reminded me of my own journey, and the power of friendship and love.

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

More by Sue Watson:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: What Happens at Christmas

By Sara Steven

The holidays are usually a time for reflection. We often think of our loved ones, family. The people who are still with us, and the ones we’ve lost along the way. What Happens at Christmas is the perfect book to engage in this time of year. Here’s a synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:

“For the perfect Christmas…

When career-girl Holly Brice learns that her estranged father has died, she decides to take a trip down memory lane and find out about the man she never knew.

Arriving in the sleepy little Dartmoor village, she’s shocked to discover that she’s inherited the cosy little cottage she remembers so fondly, a whole load of money – and her father’s adorable dog, too!

Head to snow-covered Devon!

And as the first snowflakes begin to fall and Holly bumps into her gorgeous neighbour, Jack Nelson, life gets even more complicated! Men have always been off the cards for high-flying Holly, but there’s something about mysterious writer Jack that has her re-thinking her three-date rule…” (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Holly has a long journey ahead of her. She knows absolutely nothing about her father. All she’s been told is that he abandoned her, and her mother, many years ago. That is the impression she’s held onto for most of her life, and it’s hard for her to let go of that. It’s also caused issues for her, when trying to form relationships with men. It’s easy for her to walk away and not invest herself or her heart, afraid that if she does, the man she loves will leave her.

As with most scenarios, there are always two sides to a story. Holly discovers much more about her father and her own past, by going to Devon, visiting his cottage, talking to the residents of the small-town, who loved and adored him. Along the way, she forms a connection with her neighbor, Jack, who had a close friendship with her father. But when she decides to let him into her world, he backs off considerably. Has he been kind to her out of obligation, or is there more to the story?

I thoroughly enjoyed Holly, and her journey. Having read and reviewed another one of T.A. William’s novels, When Alice Met Danny, I have come to expect that I’ll be whisked away to places I’ve never seen before and probably will never get to visit in my lifetime, but T.A. brings it to life, so much so, I feel like I’m virtually there. It makes me yearn for the chance to live in my own little cottage in a beautiful, remote town in England, just like Holly does, while she’s re-discovering who she is and what (and who) she wants out of life.

Thanks to T.A. Williams for the book in exchange for an honest review.

See what T.A. Williams wants for Christmas and enter to win an e-book of What Happens in Cornwall from This Chick Reads. (Worldwide. Ends 12/26.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spotlight: Key Change

(Assignment: Romance #3)
Barbara Valentin
Romantic Comedy, 236 pages
Gemma Halliday Publishing

The first thing Sara Cleff, a hard-edged, shower-singing rock music critic, wants to do after following a band on tour is crawl into her nice comfy bed in her well-appointed, optimally located vintage apartment. But before making it home, she learns her roommate-slash-boyfriend has apparently broken up with her while she was away on assignment and sublet their apartment out from underneath her. Ouch! When her key no longer fits in the lock, the last person she expects to find on the other side of the door is Andrew Benet, a wickedly gorgeous music director from a nearby church.

Something about the brash music critic strikes a chord with Andrew, and he offers her the chance to stay on one condition—she has to join the choir at his church. While Andrew may hold the lease on Sara's apartment, does he have the key to unlock her heart?

Buy Links:  
Amazon * B&N * Gemma Halliday  * iBooks    Kobo * Smashwords *  Print

Follow the tour HERE 

Up as usual at the crack of dawn, Andrew trudged to the bathroom, almost forgetting to close the door behind him before he spotted Sara's bangles on the counter next to the sink. Reaching over, he shut the door and locked it.
Fifteen minutes later, he was showered, clean-shaven, and ready to go, except he didn't have to be at the church until four-thirty that afternoon.
Unplugging his phone from an outlet in his room, he brought it with him into the kitchen, transferred Sara's clothes that she had washed the night before into the dryer and poured himself some coffee. He sat on a barstool, debated throwing a sweatshirt on over his plain, blue, short-sleeved T- shirt to ward off the chill, but started scrolling through his email instead.
His eyes, however, kept drifting over to Sara, out like a light on the sofa sleeper. While most of her was wrapped in the blankets like a human burrito, with the sun starting to break through the bare branches of the ancient oak tree blocking the expansive bay window, he could see her face quite plainly. Without all that the heavy dark makeup, he noted, she looked younger. And kinda sweet, actually.
But then again, she wasn't talking. Still, he was glad he invited her to stay the night before.
But what about tonight? And tomorrow night? And the night after that?
While he mulled the possibilities, she rolled over and stretched, arching her back and groaning as she did. Resuming her curled-up burrito pose, she opened her eyes and mumbled, "How long have you been sitting there?"
Looking at his watch, he admitted, "About a minute. Or five. Maybe ten." His cheeks suddenly felt a lot warmer.
With a loud yawn, she sat up. "I slept so good." Patting the thin mattress with her hand, she added, "So comfy."
The words hung in the air between them.
Sarcasm before coffee. Great.
Still, the sight of her in his pajama top seemed to lobotomize him. All he could do by way of a reply was nod.
With a shrug, she added, "Seriously, on a sleeper sofa—who knew?"
Snap out of it.
With no small amount of effort, he turned and glanced at the dryer. "Your clothes should be ready in about twenty minutes."
At that, Sara took a deep breath and yanked the covers back, revealing two impossibly long bare legs as she flung her feet to the floor. 
Knowing full well that the sudden blast of heat he felt was not delivered by way of the gilded vents along the floorboards, Andrew got up to check the thermostat on the wall next to the upright piano anyway, mumbling, "Gotta love old buildings."

About the Author: 
Barbara Valentin is an award-winning novelist and second-generation journalist. After spending a decade in maternity clothes, she has five boys to show for it and much fodder for her column, "The Plate Spinner Chronicles," a long-running feature in the Chicago Tribune. A member of RWA's Windy City chapter, she still dreams of the day when her to-do list includes "Send NY Times book critic thank you note" and "Accept Godiva's request to be a taste-tester."  Contact Barbara by e-mail, and at her Website,  Facebook, AmazonGoodreads, and Twitter.

Giveaway: $25 Amazon gift card...Ends tonight!

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Review: The Last Dreamer

By Sara Steven

Most of us have heard the expression, “When one door closes, another one opens.” We rely on that analogy when pursuing opportunities in life. But, what if it’s not real? What if, in reality, there’s only one chance, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever?

That’s what Iliana Passing asks herself nearly every day of her life. She gave up an incredible journalism career to start a family and become the #1 support system for her husband, Marc. She planned on going back to work when her children and her husband wouldn't need to rely on her as much, yet she finds out the hard way that there really aren’t any open doors available to her. It’s not for lack of trying. She’s sent out multiple queries, to editors at various magazines. She even sends one to a former colleague, a man who began his career under her tutelage. He’s got a lot of nerve, rejecting her ideas! Iliana can’t help but feel like a washed-up has been.

One night, while licking her wounds and surfing the boob tube, she discovers an old tv show she used to watch when she was a teen. Jeff Downs, known as the shy guy on the show, was the hottest guy on the planet, back in the day. Whatever happened to him? Once his show went south, where did he end up? Illiana soon devises a plan to find Jeff and get his backstory. Maybe with a celebrity in her pocket, someone will notice her and allow her to pursue her journalistic dreams once again.

What starts out as a simple interview turns into so much more than Iliana could have ever bargained for. She’s having a hard time separating the woman she is now from the girl who fell head over heels in love with a tv personality. It’s hard not to, when Jeff gives her that signature shy smile. Safe boundaries have been drawn, yet she crosses the line and never looks back. She’s a lot more involved in his life than she’d ever intended, but it’s for her career, isn’t it?

It’s hard not to identify with Iliana, and her story in The Last Dreamer. So many of us have dreams, passions in life we’ve wanted to pursue, yet never got around to it. Life tends to get in the way, sometimes. Can we ever go back and try again? Or, do we try to find happiness in where we're at, regardless? That’s the central theme, here. It’s a constant struggle between doing what’s best for others, vs. doing what’s best for your soul, and trying really hard to find a happy medium between the two.

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review. This is part of their Cozy Reads blog tour.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What's in the a giveaway

Melissa A:

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne from Edelweiss (e-book)

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield from Gallery (e-book)

The Year We Turned Forty by/from
Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Lies and Other Acts of Love by/from Kristy Woodson Harvey

Melissa A and Amy:

Some Women by Emily Liebert from
Goldberg McDuffie and Penguin (respectively)


The Hole in the Middle by Kate Hilton from Penguin

Enter to win from Goodreads by 12/22 (US only)

Melissa P:

Raising the Barre by Lauren Kessler from
Da Capo Press


The Widow by Fiona Barton from Berkley

Casualties by Elizabeth Marro from Berkley


Key Change by Barbara Valentin from Bridging the Gap (e-book)

What could be in YOUR mail:

My Fat Dad by Dawn Lerman

Dawn has TWO copies to share with readers anywhere in the world!

Visit Dawn at her website, Facebook, and Twitter

Melissa A recently interviewed Dawn for The Jewish Food Experience. Check out the article and try making the recipe she shared.

Dawn Lerman spent her childhood constantly hungry. She craved good food as her father, 450 pounds at his heaviest, pursued endless fad diets, from Atkins to Pritikin to all sorts of freeze-dried, saccharin-laced concoctions, and insisted the family do the same—even though no one else was overweight. Dawn’s mother, on the other hand, could barely be bothered to eat a can of tuna over the sink. She was too busy ferrying her other daughter to acting auditions and scolding Dawn for cleaning the house (“Whom are you trying to impress?”).

It was chaotic and lonely, but Dawn had someone she could turn to: her grandmother Beauty. Those days spent with Beauty, learning to cook, breathing in the scents of fresh dill or sharing the comfort of a warm pot of chicken soup, made it all bearable. Even after Dawn’s father took a prestigious ad job in New York City and moved the family away, Beauty would send a card from Chicago every week—with a recipe, a shopping list, and a twenty-dollar bill. She continued to cultivate Dawn’s love of wholesome food, and ultimately taught her how to make her own way in the world—one recipe at a time.

In My Fat Dad, Dawn reflects on her colorful family and culinary-centric upbringing, and how food shaped her connection to her family, her Jewish heritage, and herself. Humorous and compassionate, this memoir is an ode to the incomparable satisfaction that comes with feeding the ones you love.

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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Open worldwide. Giveaway ends December 23rd at midnight EST.

Book Review: Meet Me in Manhattan

By Becky Gulc

‘In a New York minute, everything can change …

Holly Johnson is at a crossroads in her life. She wants to make it as a real journalist, and she’s dreaming of falling in love.

She’s so close to getting her break at work, and she’s met a very special guy. Well, she hasn’t actually met him … not yet. But everyone knows most relationships start online these days. And she’s on to a winner with this one. Isn’t she?

But something is not quite right with Andy McCoy – and he’s about to learn you don’t mess with Holly Johnson. She decides to fly to New York to find the truth.

Holly is about to get the shock of her life.

What she finds in Manhattan swiftly turns into a nightmare. But maybe – just maybe – if Holly is true to herself, she can turn this nightmare into a dream come true.’ (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK.)

Claudia Carroll has become a firm favourite author of mine in recent years, a reliable author who always delivers a book that’s a great story, easy to read and absorbing. Meet Me in Manhattan is right up there with Me & You, a book of Claudia’s I just loved.

There definitely feels like there are two clear segments to this story and this worked so well. Firstly, we join Holly as she’s about to meet an online love interest for the first time in real life: an American pilot, Andy McCoy, single dad and all round good guy, or at least he seems. When their planned encounters don’t exactly go to plan, there becomes reason for Holly to question Andy. Is he hiding something, does he actually want to meet up, or has she just been taken for a fool? This is a woman who is going to get to the bottom of the situation! With nothing tying her to home at Christmas time, and with the potential for a scoop at work (in media research) off she jets to New York, just before Christmas.

Cue part two, and although I loved part one, I so wanted Andy to be genuine as I felt her falling for him, I loved this second part even more. This book is so atmospheric, Christmas time in New York. Idyllic! Well it would be if Holly were visiting for more positive reasons! The descriptions were just fantastic, I was cosy in my bed reading this but felt like I was there, with the snow around me, discovering the hidden gems of New York that Holly gets to know on this trip. (If I’m lucky enough to go again I have to try at least one of these!). The characters Holly meets are great and seemed just what Holly needed at this stage in her life to mix things up a bit. I’d say more but I don’t want to give away any spoilers!

Needless to say, this book had it all; it really is such a lovely Christmas read. I was sad when I finished it. I wanted more; please can there be more? My only niggle was the epilogue, again I don’t want to say what exactly didn’t sit right with me but just an element of it seemed unnecessary to finish the story off, otherwise I’d say this was pretty much a perfect read for me.

With a tagline of ‘a sparkling, feel-good romantic comedy to whisk you away from it all,’ well I couldn’t agree more. Looking forward to Claudia’s next book already.

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

More by Claudia Carroll:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spotlight and Giveaway: Postcards from the Sky

Postcards from the Sky by Erin Seidemann is part of BookSparks' 2015 Fall Reading Challenge. They have one copy to share with a lucky US reader!

The aviation world is a man’s world—it always has been, and it continues to be so today. In fact, women make up a mere 5 to 6 percent of the total pilot population worldwide. But from the first time Erin Seidemann experienced what it was like to see the world from a small plane’s perspective, she was hooked—and she’s spent much of her time since then fighting her way into becoming one of that 5 to 6 percent. Postcards from the Sky: Adventures of an Aviatrix tells of the struggles and adventures one encounters as a woman in the male-dominated space of aviation. With humor and equanimity, Seidemann recounts her varied experiences as a female pilot—from the chauvinistic flight instructor she makes the mistake of falling in love with to the many, many customs agents who insist she can’t possibly be her plane’s owner (“Where’s your boyfriend?”)—while at the same time giving insight about just what makes flying so incredible . . . and so very addictive. Frank, funny, and full of adventure, Postcards from the Sky is an entertaining foray into a world few women have dared enter.

Erin Seidemann was born and raised in New Orleans in Southeastern Louisiana, a part of the state often described as "south of the South." She attended Loyola University New Orleans and graduated cum laude with a degree in English Writing. Her professional career started with a job in San Francisco editing financial research. While working in San Francisco, Erin took up flying lessons and immediately became addicted. She also took up tailwheel flying, aerobatics, and helicopters, always in search of the next aviation thrill. In the little bit of time she doesn't spend working or flying, Erin is also a voracious reader, a rabid runner despite the threat of heat stroke, and insatiable traveler. Visit Erin at her website and on Facebook.

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 December 22nd at midnight EST.