Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: Lessons from the Prairie

By Jami Deise

The 1970s was a great time to be a girl who loved stories. Not only were the Little House on the Prairie books ubiquitous, but the TV show was the star of every Monday night. Playing “Little House” was a favorite game for my friends and me. We all fought over who got to be Laura. In fact, some of my very first writings were what I now know was fan fiction… a tale called “Light Up the Sky with Firecrackers,” painstakingly written and illustrated on those tablets given to first graders back then. My mom may still have them. (I know she still has the poem I wrote about loving cats and ants.)

This is my long-winded way of saying that when Chick Lit Central was pitched Lessons from the Prairie, written by former Little House child star and current Fox News reporter Melissa Francis, I was game… but wary. For as much as I loved Little House as a grade-schooler, by the time Melissa Francis joined the show, Mary and Laura were all grown up and I was more interested in General Hospital. Furthermore, my political tastes run more toward the Rachel Maddow end of the spectrum.

Still, I was curious about whatever backstage melodrama Francis might have to offer… as well as the inner workings of a brain on Fox News. Coincidentally, the Little House franchise has recently been claimed by conservatives, pointing to its can-do frontier spirit—and disdain for government and politicians—as proof that the best way to help people is to let their neighbors do it. (This outlook is burnished by the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane were outspoken in their opposition to FDR’s New Deal. No one had helped them out on the prairie, so why should the government help those crippled by a national unemployment rate of twenty-five percent?)

While Lessons does offer a glimpse of behind-the-scenes life on the set, I might have gotten more bang from my buck by reading Francis’s first book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. Lessons tries to offer a few concrete rules from Francis’s time on the show and her current career, but these are buried in long-winded (albeit interesting) anecdotes from her past. Francis’s recollections about how Michael Landon treated everyone on set equally (except for salaries, of course) devolves into memories of the Sony versus Betamax VCR wars. And while Francis recounts a fairly recent meeting with Little House co-star Melissa Gilbert in which the two reminisced about Landon, there’s no mention whether she debated politics with the grown-up Half-Pint, who’s a well-known Democratic activist and union supporter.

Francis airs some of her dirty laundry—she touches on her mother’s mismanagement of her finances (I suppose she goes into detail in her first book), while acknowledging her mother deserved some kind of compensation for the hours she spent managing Francis’s career. She’s also upfront about her early reporting missteps and the truth about her appearance before the Fox hair and makeup folks have their way with her. I appreciated the tales of her early gumption in going after news jobs—she called up small TV stations, pretended to have already lined up interviews with their rivals, and proposed the “favor” of dropping off her reel while she was in town. That takes chutzpah, something young women fresh out of college—even if that college is Harvard—seem to lack, while their male counterparts have in spades.

Still, the book’s shortcomings left me unable to appreciate the few lessons she detailed. Francis holds a degree in economics from Harvard, yet the book is written at a fifth-grade level. Did her publisher assume that readers attracted to Francis’s story would only comprehend writing at that level, or is this her true voice? Fox declares that while its commentators are unabashed conservatives, its reporters—Francis is on the financial beat—are unbiased. Yet Francis doesn’t try to hide her conservative leanings, even repeating the tired joke about Al Gore inventing the internet. (I find this lie particularly galling—as a financial reporter, Francis should know that Gore rightly took credit only for authoring the legislation that funded DARPAnet’s transition to the internet, not for its creation.) Honestly, I was interested in how Francis developed her political beliefs –she calls herself a Republican as early as her freshman year at Harvard—yet there’s no self-reflection on how she came to believe what she believes.

The behind-the-scenes at Fox News stories are equally sparse. While Francis gushes over Megyn Kelly, she doesn’t seem to have an opinion on Kelly’s revelations in her own book, nor the timing of its release. She mentions that Roger Ailes repeatedly talked about bedding her, but her blasé reaction to his come-ons hints that the women who sued him for sexual harassment just aren’t as strong as she is. She belittles Democrat Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy, advising young women to choose careers that are flexible with the demands of motherhood. Yet she doesn’t talk at all about how difficult it is for women who have “leaned out” for a few years to resume their careers at the same place they left them, or even to be taken seriously at all once they have pared back to take care of their children.

Despite the book’s shortcomings, there is an authenticity that comes across in Francis’s writing. She doesn’t hold herself up as a model for women who want to balance a high-profile career with demanding (she has three children) motherhood. She’s honest about her weaknesses as a reporter (although she seems unable to see the other side of issues she’s covering). And the overall lesson she imparts—there’s no substitute for hard work—is one she practices as well as preaches.

And lastly, Francis recognizes and appreciates the shining light that is Oprah. As Oprah was one of President Obama’s earliest and most fervent supporters, if Francis can still value her, perhaps she’s not quite as conservative as she leads readers to believe.

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

What's in the mail...plus a giveaway

Melissa A:
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman from Berkley
Making Waves by Laura Moore from Ballantine
Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer from Lake Union
Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery from HQN Books
How to Change a Life by Stacey Ballis from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The One that Got Away by Melissa Pimentel from St. Martin's Press
It Happens in the Hamptons by Holly Peterson from William Morrow
The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances from Kensington (e-book via Edelweiss)

Jami:
Before this is Over by Amanda Hickie from Little, Brown (e-book via NetGalley)

What could be in YOUR mail?

A random assortment of books! (Or e-books, if you live outside the US.) CLC is approaching SEVEN years, so we want to do something to celebrate!




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


Giveaway ends May 1st at midnight EST.



Book Review: Kim vs. the Mean Girl

By Melissa Amster

I don't always review YA novels, but when I do, it's because they're written by my favorite chick lit authors. Recently, Meredith Schorr published a YA prequel to her Blogger Girl series. It was fun to see what Kim and Hannah were like in high school.

High school sophomore, Kim Long, is no stranger to the “mean girl” antics of Queen Bee Hannah Marshak. When Hannah steals Kim’s diary and in front of the entire class reads personal (not to mention humiliating) entries Kim wrote about her crush, Jonathan, Kim vows to enact revenge.

Kim and her loyal best friend, Bridget, come up with the perfect plan to put the evil Hannah in her place once and for all. But will their scheming have the desired effect of getting even, or will Hannah emerge more celebrated by her peers than ever?

Kim vs. The Mean Girl can be read as a young adult standalone novel, but it is also a prequel to the popular Blogger Girl adult romantic comedy series and is set in 2000. Told in the duo perspectives of teenage Kim and Hannah, fans of the series will get an inside look into Kim’s early passion for reading, writing (and Jonathan) and find out why Hannah is so darn mean. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

As you can see on the cover, the only thing I didn't like was that it had to end. It reminded me of the Taffy Sinclair books by Betsy Haynes that I read in my preteen years, as well as Caprice Crane's Confessions of a Hater.

I enjoyed reading both Kim and Hannah's perspectives. I found myself laughing out loud at times, as well as cringing. I also enjoyed seeing Kim's friends Bridget and Jonathan as teens, as well as meeting some new characters.

Overall, it's an entertaining story that adults and teens will enjoy.  There were also some good lessons that I took from it. Maybe Meredith can fit in another prequel about Kim and Hannah's college years. (Although I also look forward to a follow-up from Novelista Girl.)

Thanks to Meredith Schorr for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Meredith Schorr:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spotlight: Click. Date. Repeat. Again


Title: Click. Date. Repeat. Again
Series: Click. Date. Repeat. 
Author: K.J. Farnham
Release Date: April 19th, 2017
Genre: women’s fiction
Tour Dates: April 19th – 23rd, 2017



Never in her wildest dreams would Jess Mason ever imagine herself being a part of the online dating hype. Yet here she is smack-dab in the middle of it all. And she’s dated her fair share of online crazies to be a new connoisseur of all the weirdos out in the cyber world. After a slew of bad dates and pussy (cat that is) pictures, Jess knows that she needs to finally commit to something—or someone. And suddenly there he is, a man she can actually imagine herself with.

But when Jess is faced with an undeniable attraction to a handsome, unavailable co-worker, she’s conflicted about continuing her quest for Mr. Right-At-Her-Fingertips. Now, it’s feast or famine—and she’s not willing to starve. She certainly can’t have both–that wouldn’t be right. After all, that’s the “old Jess.” The new Jess is ready to start clicking with someone special and make a real love connection.

**This book is a spinoff of Click. Date. Repeat, so it can be read as a standalone.**

Buy the Book:

AmazonUS | AmazonUK | AmazonAU | AmazonCA





Say Hello to author K.J. Farnham!

Bio:

K. J. Farnham writes contemporary fiction for women and young adults. A former educator who grew up in the Milwaukee area, she now lives in Western Wisconsin with her husband and three children. When not keeping up with her kids, she can usually be found reading or writing. Beach outings, coffee, acoustic music, and road trips are among her favorite things. She currently has several projects in the works!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

It's a Series:

If you haven't checked out the first book in the series, you should!


Title: Click. Date. Repeat.
Series: Click. Date. Repeat.
Author: K.J. Farnham
Release Date: August 21st, 2014
Genre: women’s fiction

Blurb:

These days, finding love online is as commonplace as ordering that coveted sweater. But back in 2003, the whole concept of internet dating was still quite new, with a stigma attached to it that meant those who were willing to test the waters faced a fair amount of skepticism from friends and family.

Such is the case for Chloe Thompson, a restless 20-something tired of the typical dating scene and curious about what she might find inside her parents’ computer. With two serious but failed relationships behind her, Chloe isn’t even entirely sure what she’s looking for. She just knows that whatever it is, she wants to find it.

Chloe’s foray into online dating involves a head-first dive into a world of matches, ice breakers and the occasional offer of dick pics, all while Chloe strives to shake herself of the ex who just refuses to disappear. Will she simultaneously find herself and “the one” online, or will the ever-growing pile of humorous and downright disastrous dates only prove her friends and family right? There’s only one way to find out…

Click. Date. Repeat.

Buy the Book:

AmazonUS | AmazonUK | AmazonAU | AmazonCA

Visit all the stops on the tour:

April 19th

On The Run Book Reviews - Book Excerpt
Amanda's Book Nook for Adults - Book Review
Kelee Morris - Author Spotlight
CLiK Book Blog - Book Review
For the Love of Chick Lit - Book Excerpt

April 20th

Chick Lit Central - Author Spotlight
Jena Books - Book Review
Wild & Sexy Book Blog - Book Review

April 21st

ItaPixie's Book Corner - Book Excerpt
GW Reviews - Book Review
Bookish Lifestyle - Book Review
Judging More than Just the Cover - Author Interview

April 22nd

Book Lover in Florida - Book Excerpt
Sylv.Net - Author Spotlight
Romance Rendezvous Book Blog - Book Review

April 23rd

Kristin's Novel Cafe - Author Spotlight
Second Run Reviews - Author Spotlight
Ramblings From Beneath The Sheets - Book Excerpt
Lindsay's Book Blog - Book Review


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Night the Lights Went Out



By Jami Deise

Most of my reader friends and I are just as hooked on serialized TV series as we are on our favorite books. I’ve participated in several blog hops in which we’ve discussed the ups and downs of loving shows about zombies, hot hospital doctors, shady politicians, and grown-up triplets. So when southern women’s fiction author Karen White’s latest book, The Night the Lights Went Out, was pitched as Desperate Housewives meets Revenge, naturally I was game.

I’ll be honest: There are some significant problems with this book, mainly its reliance on too many coincidences, an uneven tone, an obvious villain, and too many flashbacks. However, I enjoyed the book so much, I looked past its faults even while I was categorizing them.

Like the title implies, Night takes place in Georgia – specifically, Sweet Apple, Georgia, a sprawling Atlanta suburb where farms and forests are being bulldozed for neighborhoods and shopping malls. It’s not quite paving paradise to put up a parking lot, but it’s close. Ninety-three-year old Sugar Prescott isn’t happy about all these changes, but what choice does she have? As developers sniff around what’s left of her farm, she’s forced to rent out her guest cottage to newly divorced Merilee Talbot Dunlap and her two children. But she’s not going to be forced to like it, or Merilee. Just because she’s a landlord doesn’t mean she’s a friend.

Merilee is so vulnerable, readers have to root for her. Her husband Michael left her for their children’s math teacher, forcing Merilee not only to move out of her marital home, but to find a new school for their children – the private Windwood Academy, where all the moms are thin, spend their days doing yoga, and drive enormous SUVs. This clique should turn their backs on Merilee, but surprisingly, queen bee Heather Blackford takes the woman under her wing. While Merilee navigates PTA politics, she and Sugar bond about their pasts: Merilee feels responsible for her younger brother’s drowning when she was a teenager, and Sugar shares tale after tale of her Perils of Pauline past. This section of the book, which feels like Desperate Housewives meets Driving Miss Daisy, slows down the book enormously and is responsible for its problems with tone.

Once Sugar’s tales of woe are done, the book concentrates on Merilee’s relationships with the PTA women, and that’s when the book hits its stride. Even though I knew what was coming and why, and even though the coincidences piled up, I read along eagerly. While the writer wasn’t brave enough to pull off the final twist I was hoping for, the climax is nothing less than solid, campy fun. And yes, it happens during a power outage.

I wish White had had a stronger editor for Night, but I suppose when you’ve written as many books as she has, you get a pass. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s time to update the lyrics to Vicki Lawrence’s most famous song. That back woods southern lawyer isn’t the only one you shouldn’t trust your soul to.

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

More by Karen White:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Uncle Bud

When Chick Lit Cheerleader Jen Tucker came to us to tell us her beloved uncle passed away, we thought she should give him a tribute he'd be proud of. She did us proud too!

My Favorite of Uncles

I’d never attended a graveside military funeral before. I’m not foreign to burying loved ones, that’s a part of living. Aunts, uncles, friends, my mother-in-law, my best friend’s son—I’ve said farewell to many. Yet this was different. My favorite of uncles.

Crazy handsome Marine!
Not that I’m biased or anything… 
Uncle Bud is my dad’s younger brother. Thick as thieves as kids, close friends as adults. When my father was eight-years-old, his mother died. In the years following, he and his two brothers were shuffled between family members. His widowed father finding solace in alcohol. My dad spent time with his ever loving yet childless aunt and uncle. His older and younger brothers shifting into other homes as well. When the three Herrick boys were reunited, they spent days playing, and nights sharing a full-sized bed. They loved one another. They missed one another.

Uncle Bud, Virgil if you check his birth certificate, joined the Marines and served during the Vietnam war. Electronics fascinated him and became his field of interest. When he returned home he opened a repair shop in Michigan and settled into family life in Michigan.

Jarts in the grassy field behind my Aunt Lauretta’s home, Thanksgiving pig-outs, and summers at the lake flooded my mind as our procession wound through the military graves. I closed my eyes, and reflected on Uncle Bud as the bells tolled noon at the cemetery.

Present Arms. Uncle Bud, remember when you tried to convince me the Tootsie Roll man existed? And when I excitedly went to find what he’d left behind, it was not candy but puppy poo by the backdoor on the linoleum?

Rifle Volley. Remember when you paid $100 to dance with me at my wedding? You whispered how proud you were of me and reinforced the well-known truth that Mike “married up.” We laughed. You tried not to step on my toes. Next in line, waiting to dance with me, was Grandpa Herrick wearing his little red chapeau. Was he first to greet you at the pearly gates? Maybe your mom?

Taps. Remember the summers when you and Aunt Penny lived on the lake? When Joyce (Uncle Bud’s daughter) and I were pee-you-pants scared to jump off the high dive? You told us to close our eyes, count to three, then jump. You gave us a big old shove off the end when we reached, “two” and plunged into the frigid water. Not cool.

Uncle Bud with his children, Joyce and Robert,
and two of this three grandchildren.

American flag presented to my aunt. Remember when we flew out to watch Purdue play in the Rose Bowl in 2000? I’m not sure what was funnier during our time in Studio City, California. How much Aunt Barb hated seeing “Castaway” or your visceral reaction to seeing the giant meatballs at Buca di Peppo for the first time. It’s a tossup to this day.

Chaplain spoke. Remember how just three weeks ago you were at my house? Mom and Aunt Barb played marathon Scrabble games while you bonded with Ryan over his crazy Skittles socks. Do you know he’s wearing them today? Just for you? Why didn’t you tell us you felt bad that weekend? That you had heartburn, which was truly an aftereffect of a heart attack? I wish you would’ve said something. Anything.

Gracie nuzzled into my wool coat, crying. Remember when you dressed up as Santa during the 1970’s family Christmas gatherings? You tossed baby powder into your beard and filled out the roomy, red-velvet jacket with pillows. A black trash bag containing gifts slung over your shoulder. You told my five-year-old self it wasn’t you. You almost had me fooled. Almost.

It’s so hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? To someone who means so much to you; to others. Yet it’s a part of this life we live. Just as eating potato salad and swapping memories are afterwards. The reuniting of loved ones and introductions with strangers aplenty. The feeling like your loved one is going to walk in the room at any minute and this is all just a dream; a bad joke. Is that just me?

Thank you for letting me share this with you all. It’s a little deep compared to what I usually write, I know. Yet if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a plethora of times, CLC is one big family I’m proud to be a part of. So, it was about time you all met Uncle Bud. What a guy, right?


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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Review: Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses

By Becky Gulc

Bestselling author Carole Matthews is back again with a beautiful looking book for the spring/summer. What’s it all about?

‘Christie Chapman is a single mum who spends her days commuting to her secretarial job in London and looking after her teenage son, Finn. It's not an easy life but Christie finds comfort in her love of crafting, and spends her spare time working on her beautiful creations. From intricately designed cards to personalised gifts, Christie's flair for the handmade knows no bounds and it's not long before opportunity comes knocking.

Christie can see a future full of hope and possibility for her and Finn - and if the handsome Max is to be believed, one full of love too. It's all there for the taking. And then, all of sudden, her world is turned upside down.

Christie knows that something has to give, but can she really give up her dreams and the chance of real love? Will Christie find her happy ending in . . . Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses.(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon UK.)

I’ve read a few of Carole’s books now, so I am familiar with her style of writing and the books are always warm and engaging. They often make me want to take up a new hobby or vocation, and this one is no exception! Whilst I read the book quite quickly, there were several times I became completely side-tracked by googling die-cutting machines, leading me on to all sorts of crafting goodies and videos (this year’s Christmas list is sorted already, thanks Carole!). I used to enjoy making my own cards, and this book has stirred a passion for getting back on with it. There is rich description of crafting and Christie is very passionate about it. I enjoyed following her story and seeing whether she can turn a hobby into a livelihood and all the ups and downs involved.

A really strong part of this story was the family. Christie is a single parent to her teenage son Finn and they get a lot of support from her lovely parents who go above and beyond for them on a daily basis. With Christie commuting to London every day for work from Milton Keynes, she needs all the support she can get. I just loved Finn, such a lovely character, loves his mum and grandparents, which is so nice to see for a teenage character. He doesn’t have the easiest ride and his story pulls at your heartstrings.

I thought the commute Christie withstands every day to work lent itself to some interesting scenes that were quite vivid in my mind, and I enjoyed the friendships Christie developed on her commute and through her crafting. The ‘love interest’ element of the story didn’t go the way I thought it would, but it was quite nice to have that as a surprise really rather than be predictable. I didn’t, however, feel the warmth to one of the characters that I felt I should perhaps have done by the end, so I didn’t feel as invested in that element of the story as the rest, but that didn’t stop me enjoying it.

Overall a nice easy read with a lovely central character who is trying to provide for her small family and juggle lots of plates. When life throws opportunities at her at the same time she is faced with one of the hardest periods of her life, it’s an interesting story to follow.

Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit all the stops on Carol's tour:


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book Review: The Cows

By Becky Gulc

The Cows is the debut adult novel by Dawn O’Porter. Dawn’s YA novel (Paper Aeroplanes) was very well received so quite rightly there is much excitement about this new release. Here is the synopsis:

COW [n.]
/kaʊ/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are strangers living their own lives as best they can – though when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

When an extraordinary event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other, but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.(amazon.co.uk)

I just loved this book from start to finish. With the brief synopsis, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but it definitely captured my attention and I hoped ‘not following the herd’ would mean the book would offer something different to readers.

The book is about three unconnected very distinctive women, Cam, Tara, and Stella. Cam is a successful lifestyle blogger, self-assured, living the life she wants to lead with no ties. Tara is a single mother who works as a documentary maker and is unwittingly about to be trending on twitter, and not for anything to do with work. Stella is newly single and is struggling with bereavement following the death of her twin sister, as well as her mother. Essentially the book concerns each of these women’s experience of the route to motherhood, or not, as well as exploring identity (including how motherhood is linked to this) and society’s perceptions of motherhood and what it is to be a woman in 2017.

The book also explores how we often judge ourselves and judge other people even if we don’t feel we’re that kind of person! This is all done in a bang up-to-date way, with social media playing a big part in elements of the story. There is also a surprising story line involving Tara that you just don’t see coming (no room for being prudish!); not one you’d read about every day so it was fascinating to explore this story line, but I won’t spoil it by saying more.

In books involving multiple narratives I often find myself being drawn to certain ones, or favouring certain characters, not so with this book. All three women are distinctive, three-dimensional, memorable and as a reader I felt heavily invested in all their stories. Even if I have no personal experience of some elements of their stories, I could relate to them and the actions and feelings of these characters.

For a long time, I didn’t see how the characters would be connected, but their stories are cleverly woven together in a gripping and emotional way. There will be moments when you gasp, cringe, laugh and just feel emotionally drained but in a good way, I couldn’t put it down.

These are characters that I definitely think will stay with me, and I have quite a bad memory! This book is one of the best I’ve read in quite a while, I rarely re-read books but I think this will be one that I will read again. One of those books that make you sigh when you’ve finished, because it’s finished, and you have to give the book a cuddle for being fantastic! Highly recommended.

Thanks to HarperCollins UK for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit the other stops on Dawn O'Porter's blog tour.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: One Perfect Lie

By Jami Deise

Years ago, when my baseball-playing son was in the eighth grade, he was recruited by the coach of a well-known private high school. We left the meeting unconvinced that changing schools for the sake of a better baseball program was the right choice. Even so, the coach advised us as we left, we should be very careful of the people we let near our son. Everyone would want a piece of him, and not everyone’s motives would be pure. Sure enough, years later our son’s former tennis coach was arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old player, and his former travel baseball coach was arrested for a relationship with a teenage student. We had dodged the worst bullets… but others got him.

Prolific author Lisa Scottoline has set her latest thriller, One Perfect Lie, in the world of high school baseball. As soon as we meet Chris Brennan, as he’s applying for a job as high school government teacher and assistant baseball coach, we know that every word out of his mouth is a lie. He sees the boys on the team as pawns in his plan. And his plan involves fertilizer bombs and hate against the government. At the same time, Scottoline introduces us to the mothers of the three players whom Brennan has targeted – Susan, whose son Raz is struggling to keep his position as the team’s pitcher while dealing with his grief over his father’s death; single mom Heather, whose son Jordan is a junior with a hard fastball and worries about taking Raz’s job; and wealthy Mindy, who rarely worries about spoiled son Evan, the catcher, because she’s so concerned that her husband is cheating on her again.

Despite careful research, Scottoline gets some of the baseball details wrong (she seems to think that a high school team has only one starting pitcher, and he starts all their games, for example). And her narrative voice is simplistic, almost James Patterson-ish. But the tension she creates while detailing the mind games Chris plays in order to infiltrate the team and choose the best player to manipulate is masterful. To me, that was the true horror in the book – how easy it is for someone with these skills to turn friends against each other for his own purposes. I was also very impressed about how Scottoline got into the mind-set of folks who think that the federal government is the country’s true enemy, and how she used current political issues to create a plot that feels both timely and timeless.

During the first third of the book –but late enough that revealing any details would constitute a spoiler—Scottoline pulls the rug out from under readers, revealing things are not as she led us to believe. For me, this made the book more enjoyable, as it allows a true hero to emerge. (Yet a hero who is just as skilled at mind games as the villains of the piece, which gave me great pause.) Still, I also wondered how the book might have turned out had our initial impressions been true.

Thanks to the direct language and quickly moving plot, One Perfect Lie is a very quick read. My Kindle clocked me in at under two-and-half hours. It was a great read on the plane, as I was traveling to attend what will be one of my son’s final competitive baseball games ever, as his thirteen-year career is weeks away from ending. While I enjoyed Scottoline’s portrayal of a manipulative baseball coach as fiction, it couldn’t help but remind me of all the other manipulative coaches out there, and how they destroy kids’ dreams as they so easily replace one hopeful player with another.

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

More by Lisa Scottoline:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: Playing House

By Sara Steven

She's a work in progress . . .

Bailey Meredith has had it. As an assistant at a prestigious interior design firm, she’s tired of making coffee and filing invoices. She’ll do just about anything to get out from under the paperwork and into the field for real experience. Then she sees an ad for a job that seems too good to be true.

He's a fixer upper . . .


Wilder Aldrich knew she would be perfect for the crew the moment he saw her. His hit home improvement show only hired the best, and Bailey had potential written all over her. It isn’t just her imaginative creativity and unmatched work ethic that grabs his attention. There’s just something about her.

With chemistry on screen, it’s only a matter of time before sparks fly behind the scenes as well. But with Bailey’s jaded views on romance and a big secret that could destroy Wilder and everyone he cares about, are either of them willing to risk it all for love? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’m not nearly as skilled as I’d like to be with a hammer, and have no clue how to decorate, but I love home improvement shows. Which is why the premise of Playing House appealed to me as much as it did. Yet, as often is the case with anything you read by Laura Chapman, there’s more to it than that. So much more.

When it comes to the small screen, we’re only privy to the scenes that are given the green light. How much of it is real can be a toss up. Bailey can only imagine what might be in store for her, in choosing to work for a show that only showcases successful outcomes, never the work that goes on behind the scenes. Given her situation, however, there’s not much choice in the matter. It’s either that, or continue to feel undervalued with her current employer.

And for Wilder, Bailey is like a breath of fresh air. He’s been locked inside deadlines and contractual obligations for so long, he has a hard time imagining what life was like before the show. Before he’d been thrust into a spotlight. Those things don’t apply to Bailey and don’t mean much to her, which only makes her all the more attractive. And, she’s feeling him, too, yet she knows picturing any sort of future with Wilder is totally off-limits. No ifs, and’s or but’s about it.

I really appreciated the honest look at what might potentially go on behind the scenes of a home improvement show. Given some of what I’ve seen in the headlines as of late, I’m guessing it’s not far off. There are plenty of smiles and cordial attitudes to go around, and we can often forget that the people we see on the television are still real people with lives that go on behind the scenes. And sometimes, a scenario is created in order to not only project a certain look or feel to the outside world, but to protect the people we love. I really felt that when Bailey and Wilder are at a loss on how to proceed in their own lives. On finding a way to skirt the line of what’s morally right or wrong.

I’ve read nearly all of Laura’s novels, and while I love them all, there was something particularly special about this one. I really felt a deep emotional connection to the characters and the rough situations they find themselves in. Maybe because I’ve gone through my own tough times, too, and I could relate and identify with Bailey, with Wilder, and even with a few of the others who make life hell for everyone around them. Playing House deserves every single one of the five stars I’ve given it.

Thanks to Laura Chapman for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Laura Chapman:

Friday, April 7, 2017

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
Memories of May by/from Juliet Madison (e-book via NetGalley)
White Sand, Blue Sea by Anita Hughes from St. Martin's Press
Everything We Left Behind by/from Kerry Lonsdale
The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti from Atria (e-book via NetGalley)

A Comfortable Madness by/from Francine LaSala (e-book)
The Good Widow by/from Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (e-book via NetGalley)
The Act by/from Nicole Waggoner (e-book)
You're the One that I Want by Giovanna Fletcher from St. Martin's Press
The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Little Old Lady Who Struck Lucky Again by Catharina Inglelman-Sundberg from Harper

Sara:
Motherhood Martyrdom and Costco Runs by/from Whitney Dineen (e-book)
Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan from HarperCollins (e-book via NetGalley)
One Wrong Turn by/from Deanna Lynn Sletten (e-book via NetGalley)

Jami:
One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Getting comfortable with Francine LaSala...plus a special giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

The last time I saw Francine LaSala in person was in 2015. First at Book Expo, when we had dinner out with a group of wonderful authors and bloggers. Then a few weeks later, when she and our Chick Lit Cheerleader were out in my neck of the woods. Francine is so genuine and easy to get along with. She has a great sense of humor too (which is evident from the first book of hers that I read, Rita Hayworth's Shoes-reviewed here). However, she's taking her writing in a new direction this time around with her latest novel, A Comfortable Madness. To celebrate the recent publication, Francine has a $20 Amazon gift card for one lucky reader!

Francine LaSala has written nonfiction on every topic imaginable, from circus freaks to sex, and edited bestselling authors of all genres. She is now actively taking on clients for manuscript evaluations, editing services, copy-writing (covers, blurbs, taglines, queries, and more), website and blog creation, and developing kickass social media campaigns, all through her creative services business, Francine LaSala Productions.

Her other novel is The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything (reviewed here). She is also the creator of The “Joy Jar” Project. Francine lives in New York. Visit her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


Synopsis:

When Annie and Hugh first meet in a Long Island cemetery, they’re each dwelling in their own darkness. Hugh is a “serial monogamist” whose romantic fervor ruins every relationship he gets into, and Annie is still reeling from a dark secret from her past involving her dead ex-husband--one she’s been drowning in alcohol and quick, failed relationships for years. That, and the terror that love may push her over the edge... Again…

When they run into each other at a party in Manhattan later that night, they are surprised at how easily they connect. Despite their insistence to remain “just friends” to protect each other – and themselves – their chemistry is intense and their attraction soon becomes impossible to deny. Can they see beyond the damage they're convinced they’ll do to each other and finally give in to the love they so desperately crave? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What was the inspiration behind A Comfortable Madness?
I started writing A Comfortable Madness at the end of 2001 after two consecutive heartbreaks. It was the first real fiction I ever tried to write – except that I started writing it to right... (see what I did there?) those two messes. Suffice it to say, this is an absolutely terrible reason to write a book. The first draft was over 100K words of emotional vomit. Eventually I scaled it back. I saw the big strength in all of it was the dialogue and as I am generally more, well, comfortable, with script writing, I made it into a screenplay – and a great one, actually. Except I had no connections to sell a screenplay, so back to a novel it went. A process that itself took about seven years post-script. (I started writing and published both Rita Hayworth's Shoes and The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything in the first three years of that slog.) What I realized in the process of creating ACM was that I wasn't just dealing with romantic heartbreak. That deep down inside, there was also considerable pain over elements of my childhood and the way Catholicism had strangled me, for want of a better way to say this, instead of empowering me. I had all these crazy ideas about a lot of things, and went along with them for years because that's what one does. Because that's easier than facing the crazy and ironing it all out. That's really the essence of the concept of “a comfortable madness” - that you swirl in the spiral of these things because it can be easier to do that in some ways than taking a step back, being honest, and pulling out of it. In any case, I am delighted, relieved, and at peace that the book is finally done.

What was the most rewarding and most challenging parts of writing A Comfortable Madness?
For me, writing starts with emotion and dialog; out of there, a story forms. ACM is the product of that process. The challenge is to actually make a story out of the mess, and a good one. It was challenging for me to find a way to make readers like and sympathize with Annie. Hugh was always easy – he's a doll. But Annie's anger, especially, has made her unlikable. When I first wrote her, I wrote her very close to me, and people would come back to me and say “Wow, I really can't stand her!” You can imagine how much that hurt. :-) When I released her from me and let her be Annie, let her tell me who she was and what was going on with her, she started to become likable and relatable to others – so this element of telling this story is both the most challenging and most rewarding.

What is the best compliment you've received on your writing? What is some constructive feedback (from a review) that you've applied to your current novel?
The best compliment I ever received for my writing was in a text from a writer whom I deeply admire, Jen Tucker, who read this just before it was published. She called me a "master storyteller." That's when I knew I did my job. As far as reviews, as my writer friends will attest to, I don't normally read them. I have, but they aren't always constructive. Example: A common criticism of Rita Hayworth's Shoes is that there's too much dialogue and not enough narrative. A common criticism of The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything is that there's too much narrative... Sigh. Hopefully this time I got it right? Who knows. Every story is different, and needs to be told differently. In this story, the balance feels right for me. We'll see!

Side note from Melissa A: For those of you who don't know Jen yet, you'll meet her in a few weeks. ;)

If you could cast A Comfortable Madness as a movie, who would play the lead roles?
When I started writing this, it was Reese Witherspoon as Annie and Paul Rudd as Hugh. I think they may be too old now. :-) How about Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Emily Rossum recently stood out for me as a good Charlotte. I can see Jason being played by Jared Leto. Maggie, Walter, and Phillip weren't in the story in the beginning. In fact, Father Phillip wasn't in the story until about a month ago! Maybe Kristen Bell as Maggie? Ryan Gosling as Walter? Jake Gyllenhaal as Father Phillip? I do have a Pinterest board made.

What is the most comfortable item you own?
I have a ratty old gray zip-up hoodie I bought in Santa Cruz the first year I went to the beach with the "Beach Babes." It's really vile but I freaking love it and will never throw it away.

What is the last thing you got really mad about?
In the context of this story, the "madness" is not technically anger, but craziness. I did recently go batsh*t nuts over a bag of Tate's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies. :-) I try not to get really "mad-angry" about anything, though, because it never leads to anything productive. I'm not always successful, but I am the "Joy Jar" girl after all and I do try my best to keep it "sunny."

Thanks to Francine for chatting with us and for sharing an Amazon gift card 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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Giveaway ends April 13th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Book Review: It Happens All the Time

By Melissa Amster

Ever since I picked up Safe With Me and found myself glued to the pages, I have been a fan of Amy Hatvany's writing. Even with my full TBR, I have managed to read all but two of her books so far. (I still plan to!) Having said that, I was eagerly awaiting her latest novel and devoured it in a short amount of time. Once again, she didn't disappoint!

"I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong."

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever.

In alternating points of view,
It Happens All the Time examines the complexity of sexual dynamics between men and women and offers an incisive exploration of gender roles, expectations, and the ever-timely issue of consent. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Hearing that this novel was personal to Amy Hatvany made the impact of the story even more powerful than it already was to begin with. I found it so interesting that she chose to write from two perspectives. Not only does she use them to build up to the situation at hand, but also to share their thoughts on the aftermath. This gives the story a Jodi Picoult feel, as some gray area begins to trickle in. The reader feels awful for what Amber went through, but then Tyler tries to plant that seed of doubt by also sharing what he thinks happened. He even makes the reader feel sorry for him, as well. (Yes, Amy is that incredible with her writing.)

I really have no complaints over this novel, but I would like to point out that it is not told in a linear fashion, so what happens is revealed before it actually occurs. Even so, there's an adrenaline kick during the build-up and when the actual situation happens. Both Amber and Tyler seem so genuine that it's hard to dislike either of them, while sometimes you'll also want to be mad at them in equal measures.

I do want to warn readers that there are triggers, in case they have ever been in an unwanted sexual situation of their own. I would be remiss to not give such a warning, as some parts do get intense and upsetting.

With It Happens All the Time, Amy has outdone herself once again and I am already awaiting her next novel.

Movie casting time!
Amber: Vanessa Marano 
Tyler: Max Thieriot 
Daniel: Justin Baldoni
Helen: Maura Tierney
Liz: Katherine LaNasa
Jason: Neal McDonough
Mason: Joe Manganiello

Thanks to Atria for the book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to BookSparks for sharing a copy with one lucky reader!

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

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Giveaway ends April 12th at midnight EST.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Spotlight and Giveaway: If Not For You

Last year, Melissa A read and fell in love with A Girl's Guide to Moving On, which was the first book she has ever read by Debbie Macomber. So she was thrilled to find out that one of the characters is making an appearance in Debbie's latest novel, If Not For You. Not only does this story also sound really interesting, but the cover is gorgeous and just evokes the feeling of Spring. Thanks to Penguin Random House, we have TWO copies to give away!


If not for her loving but controlling parents, Beth Prudhomme might never have taken charge of her life and moved from her native Chicago to Portland, Oregon, where she’s reconnected with her spirited Aunt Sunshine and found a job as a high school music teacher. If not for her friend Nichole, Beth would never have met Sam Carney, although first impressions have left Beth with serious doubts. Sam is everything Beth is not—and her parents’ worst nightmare: a tattooed auto mechanic who’s rough around the edges. Reserved and smart as a whip, Beth isn’t exactly Sam’s usual beer-drinking, pool-playing type of woman, either.

But if not for an awkward setup one evening, Beth might never have left early and been involved in a car crash. And if not for Sam—who witnessed the terrifying ordeal, rushed to her aid, and stayed with her until help arrived—Beth might have been all alone, or worse. Yet as events play out, Sam feels compelled to check on Beth almost daily at the hospital—even bringing his guitar to play songs to lift her spirits. Soon their unlikely friendship evolves into an intense attraction that surprises them both.

Before long, Beth’s strong-willed mother, Ellie, blows into town spouting harsh opinions, especially about Sam, and reopening old wounds with Sunshine. When shocking secrets from Sam’s past are revealed, Beth struggles to reconcile her feelings. But when Beth goes a step too far, she risks losing the man and the life she’s come to love. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Debbie Macomber, the author of Sweet Tomorrows, A Girl’s Guide to Moving On, Twelve Days of Christmas, Dashing Through the Snow, Silver Linings, Last One Home, Love Letters, Mr. Miracle, Blossom Street Brides, and Rose Harbor in Bloom, is a leading voice in women’s fiction with more than 200 million copies of her books in print worldwide. Ten of her novels have reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller lists, and five of her beloved Christmas novels have been hit movies on the Hallmark Channel, including Mrs. Miracle and Mr. Miracle. Hallmark Channel also produced the original series Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, based on Macomber’s Cedar Cove books. Visit Debbie at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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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Giveaway ends April 9th at midnight EST.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review: Super 40

By Sara Steven

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Super 40. Sure, I was aware that it was a super-heroine novel, an ordinary woman who ends up with a radioactive tampon and the ability to shoot cramp-inducing lasers from her fingers. That premise in and of itself is entirely unique and unusual. But little did I know that in essence, the story of Shannon Johnson and her ability to change and save the world would have so many layers to it, a message for every woman who feels as though she’s getting lost behind the shuffle of society.

Shannon is nearing forty, an age she’s trying desperately to avoid. She thought she’d be farther ahead in life. Not living with her parents, divorced, childless. There’s so much she wanted to accomplish, an entirely different person she wanted to be when she grew up. So, when she finds herself with new superpowers, this creates a new outlook on life, or so she thinks. She could never have anticipated the amount of responsibility that comes from being a super-heroine, the choices she’ll have to make to save others, or save her own pajama-clad skin. It’s enough to drive any normal person insane.

While figuring it out, Shannon discovers an inner strength she never knew had been there. And while having the ability to bring a full-grown man down to his knees writhing in pain may have a little something to do with it, ultimately, she finds out that she’s had a lot of power inside her the whole time. It’s an affirmation for most of us who think we’ve passed our prime in life.

There are a whole slew of interesting superhero characters. Like Dolly Poppin’, Shannon’s telekinetic teleporting partner in fighting crime.Or Karma Kameleon, the hottest crime fighter in town. Even an anti hero, aptly named Antihero, gets in on the game, making this novel an incredibly interesting read. There was never a dull moment, full of action and suspense from start to finish, giving me an enlightened look at what it’s like to feel down and out, and doing what it takes to change that perspective on life.

Thanks to Lucy Woodhull for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Lucy Woodhull:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

By Melissa Amster

Being a book blogger has opened my world, as I've connected with readers across the country and around the world. So I can definitely relate to Sara and her friendship with Amy, a woman she has never met but with whom she exchanges books and letters. One of my book-loving e-mail (and blogging) friends lives on the other end of the country and we give each other book recommendations. I am always thrilled when he loves a book I recommended. He also sent me one of his favorites recently, even though I won it through one of the giveaways on his blog. I've also been known to send many a book to online friends whom I've never met in person.

Books connect people in so many different ways, whether they live locally or a far distance away. This is evidenced in Katarina Bivald's debut novel, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Through her love of books, one woman wakes up a sleeping town.

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor—there's not much else to do in a dying small town that's almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn't open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You'd need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy's house is full of them), and...customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel's own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I don't know if it's a coincidence that I read this close to the release of the new Beauty and the Beast movie. It just happened to be the next book on my TBR pile though. It went along nicely with the movie, as Sara and Belle both are fixated on books and could read while ignoring the world around them. They both live in small towns (although Sara was more recently located to her small town) where people are set in their ways. Like Belle, Sara reminds me of myself in some ways. I also have a tendency to find the right book for someone.

While the book started off a bit slow, as I was getting to know the characters and their quirks, it quickly picked up speed and was difficult to put down! I enjoyed reading about the town of Broken Wheel and some of the residents who became part of Sara's life. I also loved seeing some of my favorite books receive a shout-out, as well as learning about others (although there are spoilers for some books, as well....these books have been around for a while though). Chick lit definitely received a lot of love, with mentions of Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, and Marian Keyes.

The only issue I had was with some of the characters' ages being vague. I couldn't tell if they were around my age and being cheeky about others being youngsters or if they were significantly older. Even Sara's age wasn't directly stated, but I guessed she was in her thirties, given some of the context. Regardless of age, Katarina Bivald gives us a charming set  of characters!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was truly a delightful story and perfect for that book lover in your life (or yourself, if this refers to you).

For the movie version of my dreams:
Sara: Siri Svegler
Tom: Lee Pace
Grace: Fortune Feimster
Caroline: Tina Fey
Jen: Jennifer Garner
John: Ron Cephas Jones
Claire: Sara Rue
Andy: Zachary Levi
Carl: Josh Henderson
Josh: Tyler Posey