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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Other La Bohème

Opera is another form of musical theater, and La Bohème is especially well known because it is the inspiration for RENT. (There's even a song, "La Vie Bohème.") So we figured The Other La Bohème by Yorker Keith would be a perfect way to end our musical theme month! He even has FIVE copies to share with some lucky readers!

The Other La Bohème is literary fiction that depicts the lives and loves of four friends who pursue opera singers' careers in present-day New York City. Jennifer (soprano), Stephanie (mezzo-soprano), Henry (tenor), and John (baritone) met in music school in Manhattan, where they performed Puccini's famous opera La Bohème at their graduation concert. After graduation they banded together as a group called the Dolci Quattro, pledging to support one another in their professional pursuits. Several years later, they have landed the roles of Mimi, Musette, Marcello, and Rodolfo in the nearly forgotten opera La Bohème by Leoncavallo--known as "the other La Bohème"--which is to be produced by the New York Bel Canto Opera.

The novel begins with arias and a duet sung by Henry and Stephanie in the Café Momus. Jennifer and John come in, and they congratulate each other on their new roles. Immediately, though, the thoughts of the current state of their personal lives cool their enthusiasm.

As the story unfolds, Jennifer discovers that her fiancé, Richard, an investment banker and a fiction writer, is having an affair with another woman. Stephanie struggles to find a steady love, while perturbed by a strained relationship with her father, a billionaire hedge fund manager, who abandoned her late mother. Henry faces a pressure from his family to renounce his bohemian life for a more respectful career as he meets his new love, Christine, a poet. John receives a summons for divorce from the lawyer of his wife Michelle, a painter.

Set in the rich artistic backdrop of New York City, the Dolci Quattro's lives and loves go through ups and downs in joy and despair, while true to their pledge they give one another much-needed moral support. As the opening night nears, the Dolci Quattro make their utmost efforts to perfect their singing for the opera that will determine their future.

Yorker Keith lives in Manhattan, New York City. He loves literature, theatre, classical music, opera, and art. He holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. His literary works have been recognized four times in the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition as a finalist or a semifinalist.

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 4th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Melissa Baldwin is dancing through a special giveaway

Melissa Baldwin is no stranger to talking about musical theater with us. She was here in 2015 to feature See You Soon Broadway (currently 99 cents for Kindle) and share her top five favorite musicals. Now she's sharing her top five favorite show tunes in honor of the sequel, See You Later Broadway (available next week). She has a $10 Amazon gift card for one lucky reader (so you can treat yourself to both books)!

We also want to point you in the direction of Melissa's "Seasons of Summer" novella series:
Fall Into Magic (free)
Winter Can Wait (99 cents)
To Spring With Love (coming soon)

To learn more about Melissa, visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Top Five Songs from Broadway Musicals

In honor of my upcoming release, See You Later Broadway (sequel to See You Soon Broadway), I would like to share my top five favorite songs from Broadway musicals. There are so many fantastic songs, so I had to give this quite a bit of thought…

"For Good" from Wicked- Who doesn’t love the music from this amazing show? (Spoiler alert… There is a mention of this song in See You Later Broadway)

"Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You" from Jersey Boys- Ahhh…this song makes me smile☺ Jersey Boys reminds me of my dad.

"Defying Gravity" from Wicked- I think we can all agree on this one!

"Seasons of Love" from Rent- Oh how I adore this song. Just listen to the lyrics; the message of love says it all.

"All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera- This song gives me chills, as does every song from this brilliant show!

Honorable Mentions: There are so many songs that I love so I had to include a few honorable mentions. "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, "As Long As You’re Mine" from Wicked, and every song from Mamma Mia. ☺

Thanks to Melissa for visiting with us and 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 3rd at midnight EST.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nicole Waggoner is not throwing away her a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

We're so glad to have Nicole Waggoner back at CLC today. She was here last year to talk about her debut novel from her Circus of Women trilogy, Center Ring (reviewed here). The second book in the trilogy, The Act, will be available sometime soon. (We just have to wait for it....we had to for almost a year anyway!) Nicole has one set of both books for a lucky reader! (How lucky you are to be alive right now!)

In the year between Nicole's publication dates, she and I have bonded over lots of common interests. Something we both love right now is Hamilton! When I invited her back to CLC, we decided to do a Hamilton-themed interview.  It was a lot of fun, as you'll see below. She really is a mind at work!

To learn more about Nicole, visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Your top three favorite songs from Hamilton:
That’s akin to picking a favorite child, but my absolute favorites are “Helpless”, “The Schuyler Sisters”, and “Satisfied”. I am fascinated by structure and multiple perspectives, as evidenced in my work, and adore the point of view shifts and mesh of musical techniques.

Which of the Schuyler sisters is your favorite?
Eliza! Am I the only one who sang that answer? The English teacher in me would argue that the show’s title is referring as much to Elizabeth Hamilton as to Alexander. LMM is telling her story as much as his. I admire her unconditional love and extraordinary ability to forgive, not only in word but in action.

Which quote from Hamilton resonates with you the most when it comes to writing?
“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” When I am in the zone, I can write non-stop. I relish the time when my home is quiet and I can spend time crafting my imaginary friends’ (AKA the characters of the Circus of Women trilogy) lives. An incredibly generous reader recently sent me a shirt with this quote and a note that said ‘because the world is waiting for book two’. My husband always says he knows how their stories end and can be bought.

What was your last Hamilaria moment? (Like when you heard something that reminded you of a Hamilton song and you started singing.) 
I was waiting to meet a reporter in a little café when another patron asked me what time it was. I said "SHOWTIME!" complete with jazz hands. The explanation was more than awkward.

Note from Melissa: There is a cure for that! 

What is something you learned about history from Hamilton that you didn't know before?
I never knew how many ships were in New York Harbor, nor that Alexander Hamilton was the creator of the Coast Guard and founder of the New York Post. I also didn’t know that during our country’s early administrations the loser became Vice President.

Which character from your book series would enjoy Hamilton the most?
Definitely the “Leila” character. She is the most like me and would have been first to catch the Hamilaria. The “Ellie” character would have the connections to sit front row. The “Cami” character would see an interval soundtrack for her run. The “Norah” character would be oblivious until she delivered her nineteenth Eliza (and Peggy) of the week. “Kate” would be engrossed in the pageantry of the costumes and impact on pop culture.

Thank you for hosting me today! Chick Lit Central is definitely the site where it happens.

Thanks to Nicole (and Peggy) for visiting with us and sharing her book with our readers!

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

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Giveaway ends April 2nd at midnight EST.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Guest Book Review: After Perfect

By Denise Keliuotis

We all know that girl. The pretty one. The one whose family has a lot money. The one with the happy, loving parents. The one who lives in the in the big house and who drives the nice car. The one with the perfect life. We all know her and we all envy her.

Christina McDowell was that girl – until it all came crashing down.

A grand childhood in a tony suburb of Washington D.C. was part and parcel of being the daughter of corporate attorney Thomas Prousalis, Jr., until Prousalis was convicted of numerous fraud charges. McDowell’s ignorant bliss ended the day the FBI raided her family’s home, unearthing the kinds of secrets that truly upend everything and ushering in unexpected, earth-shattering changes. Changes like losing your family home to foreclosure and losing almost every other personal possession to auction. Watching lifelong family friends disappear in the wake of scandal. Visiting your father in prison. Worst of all, realizing your father – your family, your legacy – isn’t at all who or what you believed them to be.

The aptly named After Perfect tells the story of just that: what happens after a seemingly perfect private life publicly implodes.

With beautiful, sometimes stinging honesty, McDowell shares the part of the story that the media never seems to touch upon; the pain and desperation of a family left in the aftermath when its patriarch makes criminal choices. She details the mistakes her father made before his arrest and those made by her and her mother after, in their attempt to survive. She describes the stress of unpaid bills (including the one for her college tuition), of debt made in her name without her knowledge or permission, of her newly found responsibility for her mother, who’s never once paid a bill or even written a check. Through vivid flashbacks, McDowell contrasts the ideal life she once had with the uncertain, uncomfortable life that appears to be her heritage.

Most captivating, she also contrasts the father she thought she knew – the one who showered her with attention and gifts – with the man who completely abandoned her and her family once he regained his freedom.

McDowell manages to convey heavy, almost unimaginable emotions without ever wallowing. Her writing is crisp and tight yet evocative, and she excels at capturing her sense of loss without the melodrama that might tempt a lesser writer. About surveying the contents of her childhood bedroom before the foreclosure, she writes:

"What I don’t want to let go of? I don’t want to let go of any of it, I thought as I looked around at my yellow Laura Ashley balloon curtains, where I used to hide my cigarettes, Andrew’s love letters, and the occasional bag of weed. My hand-painted MacKenzie-Childs desk, where I spent countless hours crying over chemistry assignments. . . . The bookshelf. Fine, but that was it. That was all I was willing to let go of. Everything else would be shipped to California; my entire bedroom set. I would take it all with me. . . . I wanted my possessions to cocoon me, wrap me up, and keep me safe from a world that was trying to rip it all away. It would become my way of holding on, believing someday I could put it all back the way that it was and the way that it felt when I walked inside my bedroom that night. Because I would never get the chance to say good-bye before it was already gone."

After Perfect is a story of damage and devastation, yes, but it is also a tale of redemption and renewal, if not for the man who destroyed everyone’s lives, then for his daughter – the one who found a way to pick up the pieces and build herself her own perfect life.

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

Denise De Fabio Keliuotis is a Chicago native who recently relocated to Middle Tennessee with her husband and three daughters (one of whom is off at college – gasp!) and four cats.  She’s a licensed attorney but is not currently practicing, instead spending her time writing a novel, working as a non-legal special education advocate, and debating whether to break down and buy those cowboy boots.

Friday, March 24, 2017

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
In This Moment by Karma Brown from HarperCollins
Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan from HarperCollins
It Started with Goodbye by Christina June from Blink (e-book via NetGalley)
Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser from St. Martin's Press
Kim vs. The Mean Girl by/from Meredith Schorr (e-book)
Good Karma by Christina Kelly from HarperCollins
The Sisters of Blue Mountain by Karen Katchur from St. Martin's Press
Secret Sisters by Joy Callaway from HarperCollins
The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
The Swallow's Nest by Emilie Richards from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
The Housekeeper by Suellen Dainty from BookSparks
Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi from BookSparks
Navigating Life: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me by Margaux Bergen from BookSparks
The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White from Berkley

You are Here by Jenny Lawson from Flatiron

Who Knew? Lessons from My First Forty Years by/from Christine Andola (e-book)
G-d-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo from Sourcebooks (e-book via NetGalley)

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day from HarperCollins (e-book via Edelweiss)

Book Review: The Little Teashop of Lost and Found

By Becky Gulc

With a beautiful cover and a story set in Haworth (known for its link with the Bronte sisters),  I was drawn to the latest novel by Trisha Ashley. The story focuses on Alice ,who as a baby was left abandoned in an isolated spot just outside of Haworth.

Luckily, she was found and raised by a loving adoptive father, although also by an uncaring adoptive mother. When her father passes away Alice feels lost and subsequently life sees her move from place to place without every really settling down or feeling like she belongs anywhere.

Just when Alice is starting to feel settled in a place and in a committed relationship a sad event throws her life into turmoil once more. This time Alice is feeling impulsive and when she sees a lovely teashop for sale in Haworth she strongly feels it’s her calling to go back there, run her own business for the very first time, and hopefully find out more about her birth family. But will the teashop be as good as it seems and will there be a family there to welcome this stranger into their lives?

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found is such a lovely heart-warming book and it was lovely to escape to the setting each night. I’ve visited Haworth and surrounding areas a couple of times and it’s such a picturesque and atmospheric place to visit. The feel of this location resonates through Trisha’s writing, and it definitely makes me want to go back and soon! From the eerie isolated setting of Oldstone where Alice is abandoned to the snicket in Haworth where the teashop is located, I really felt like I was there. Lovely rich description, which I felt was built upon as the novel progressed.

The story itself is well-balanced and it’s not all about searching for Alice’s birth family, although this is an important element and I was very interested in this story. The narrative is cleverly structured so each chapter begins with a couple of paragraphs from the perspective of the person who left Alice on the moors all those years ago, before going into Alice’s story. I loved these snippets of insight, just a little to make us question who this person is and get to know them, even if they are seemingly very cold.

The setting up of the teashop was covered in a lot of detail but interestingly so. (Especially for someone like me, who daydreams about running a quaint little teashop in a beautiful setting!). This is a teashop Alice pretty much has to set up from scratch and I enjoyed reading about all the decisions Alice has to make, from crockery to the bakes for the afternoon teas. I’m glad I live in York as I can go and get myself a fat rascal tomorrow, as these were referenced a few times, it has made me want one!

I loved the mix of characters from the lovely Giddings family that embraces Alice when she arrives, to the brooding Nile who runs the antiques shop opposite her teashop, and the rudest waitresses in Yorkshire Alice employs! It felt like a tight-knit community that has all the different types of characters you’d expect to see.

My only slight criticism would be that some aspects of the story became a bit repetitive, Alice being invited to stay at Oldstone, talk of Sunday dinners, just little things that I ended up wondering whether some could have been omitted to shorten the story a bit. I don’t think this would have detracted from the story in some places, but as I say only a minor thing and I still loved it!

I obviously don’t want to give anything away about Alice’s birth family but to suffice to say as a reader you probably have an inkling of how things will pan out. However, there is also a twist I didn’t see coming near the end but one of those which leaves you wondering how reliable the character is! All in all, a very satisfying, lovely read.

Thanks to Transworld (Penguin Random House UK) for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit all the stops on Trisha's blog tour.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Take a chance on Isabella Louise a book giveaway

We're glad to have Isabella Louise Anderson back at CLC today. She was here three years ago when her debut, The Right Design (reviewed here), came out. We've been in touch with her throughout these past few years and are excited that her sophomore novel, Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop, is finally available, after hearing so much about it. Isabella has TWO copies to give away (one print and one e-book)!

Isabella grew up with a book in her hand, and to this day nothing has changed. She focuses her time on featuring other writers on her blog, Chick Lit Goddess, along with organizing Goddess Book Tours, and is a member of the Romance Writers of America.

She lives in Dallas with her husband, enjoys spicy Mexican food, margaritas, gin on the rocks (with a splash of lime). She loves spending time with family and friends and cheering on the Texas Rangers. Not only is Isabella an author, she’s also a Scentsy consultant and hoarder.

Aside from Isabella's aforementioned novels, she has a short story, “Meet Me Under the Mistletoe,” that was featured in Simon & Fig’s Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright. She’s currently working on another book. You can find Isabella at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

As the owner of a successful florist shop, Khloe Harper trusts her instincts. She has a strong bond with her family and friends, but after being betrayed by her last love, she's kept herself at arms’ length from romance. When dashing entertainment attorney Derek Thomas walks into her store, Khloe’s interest is piqued. What at first seems like a business relationship quickly turns into romance, and Derek slowly plucks away the petals she’s been hiding behind. Just as Khloe lets down her guard, she discovers that Derek may not be worthy of her love after all.

Frumpy Connie Albright has a faux fascination with an imaginary man named Walt, thinking that by sending herself flowers from him she’ll feel less out-of-place with the “mean girls” she works with. When she comes face to face with her possible prince charming and thinking she might have a happy ending, when a truth is revealed, she wonders if she’ll ever have a Cinderella story.

A recently widowed senior, Gabby Lewis, isn't ready to give up on love—which means releasing herself from survivor's guilt and taking a chance on finding happiness and companionship again. After signing up for an online dating site for senior citizens, much to her surprise, she’s matched with Harry, an energetic and loving man, who quickly eases himself into her heart. Will Gabby take the leap of falling in love again, knowing it’s possible to have two loves of her life?

As each woman’s story develops through flowers and cards sent from Khloe's shop during the Fall months, they begin to learn that love can only truly blossom when you trust your heart.

If Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop were to become a musical (stage or movie), what would the showstopping song be titled? Would it be a ballad or something upbeat?
It would definitely be a very moving ballad—something that would make the audience and people around the world “know” the song and resonate with the musical.

Who would star in the lead roles of the Cards... musical?
Khloe: Amy Adams
Derek: Josh Duhamel
Gabby: Blythe Danner
Harry: John Mahoney
Connie: Mayim Bialik
Walt: Adam Levine

Which musical do you fantasize about starring in and which role would you play?
I would love to be Sophie in Mamma Mia!

What is your favorite movie musical?
Mamma Mia! It’s my absolute favorite musical, (and, of course, Pierce Brosnan is pretty hot!).

What is the last musical you saw?
The Lion King! While I wasn’t a fan too much of the costumes, the music and acting was great!

Which chick lit novel (aside from your own) would you like to see as a musical?
This is such a hard question, mainly because there are so many great books, but I’d have to say Speak Now: or Forever Hold Your Peace by Becky Monson!

Thanks to Isabella for chatting with us and sharing her book with our readers. Thanks to Book Buddy Author Services for including us in Isabella's blog tour.

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 March 28th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spotlight and Giveaway: New Attitude

Kathryn Biel's latest novel, New Attitude, was recently published. To celebrate, she is giving away e-books of Completions and Connections and Made for Me!

**May contain spoilers for MADE FOR ME**

As if it's not bad enough that I didn't win the reality design TV show I was on, try coming home to a one word note indicating that my ten-year marriage is over. So here I am, a suddenly single mother in my mid-thirties, doing what everyone advises me to do—have a fling. Except it doesn't go as planned, so I do the next best thing, which is sit on the couch and mope. But having to provide for a five-year-old doesn't let me stay home for too long. Before I know it, I'm back to dying my hair wild colors and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Except Tony, the fling that wasn't, keeps popping up in the most unlikely places and won't leave me alone. I'd like to be strong—I'm way too old for him—but he's cute and funny and sexy and oh, my ex is getting married to a girl named Bambi. All I know is the way I'm doing things isn't working. If I want to be happy again, I'm going to need to get a new attitude.

Telling stories of resilient women, Kathryn Biel hails from Upstate New York and is a wife and mother to two wonderful and energetic kids. In between being Chief Home Officer and Director of Child Development of the Biel household, she works as a school-based physical therapist. She attended Boston University and received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from The Sage Colleges. After years of writing countless letters of medical necessity for wheelchairs, finding increasingly creative ways to encourage the government and insurance companies to fund her clients' needs, and writing entertaining annual Christmas letters, she decided to take a shot at writing the kind of novel that she likes to read. Her musings and rants can be found on her personal blog, Biel Blather. She is the author of Good Intentions (2013), Hold Her Down (2014), I'm Still Here (2014), Jump, Jive, and Wail (2015), Killing Me Softly (2015), Completions and Connections: A Romantic Holiday Novella (2015), Live for This (2016), and Made for Me (2016). Visit Kathryn on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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Giveaway ends March 27th at midnight EST.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Viola Shipman takes us over the a book giveaway

We're pleased to bring back our first Go-to-Gay, Wade Rouse, to celebrate the publication of his latest novel, The Hope Chest, written under the pen name Viola Shipman as a tribute to his grandmother, whose heirlooms inspired him to write it, along with his debut novel, The Charm Bracelet. Today, he's taking us back in time to the musicals his grandmothers loved. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have TWO copies of The Hope Chest to give away!

Visit Viola online:


The discovery of one woman’s heirloom hope chest unveils precious memories and helps three people who have each lost a part of themselves find joy once again.

Ever since she was diagnosed with ALS, fiercely independent Mattie doesn’t feel like herself. She can’t navigate her beloved home, she can’t go for a boat ride, and she can barely even feed herself. Her devoted husband, Don, doesn’t want to imagine life without his wife of nearly fifty years, but Mattie isn’t likely to make it past their anniversary.

But when Rose, Mattie’s new caretaker, and her young daughter, Jeri, enter the couple’s life, happiness and the possibility for new memories return. Together they form a family, and Mattie is finally able to pass on her memories from the hope chest she received from her mother.

With each item―including a favorite doll, family dishes, an embroidered apron, and an antique Christmas ornament―the hope chest connects Mattie, Don and Rose to each other and helps them find hope again in the face of overwhelming life challenges.

A beautiful story about the unconditional love and support of family, The Hope Chest by Viola Shipman will remind you that hope can be found where and when you least expect it.

“Hope Sounds Like Judy Garland”

The first musical I remember watching as a child with my grandmothers was The Wizard of Oz. It didn’t turn out so well. The flying monkeys scared me so badly that I covered my eyes, screamed and finally went running out of the TV room to bury my head under the covers in my bedroom.
That didn’t deter my grandmothers from making me watch movies with music (Fantasia went much more smoothly) or further indoctrinating me to Judy Garland.

The next Judy musical I watched – snuggled between them, eating candy straight out of my basket – was Easter Parade.

This time, I didn’t cover my eyes, scream or run out of the room. I sat up a little straighter and smiled. When Judy and Fred Astaire sang “A Couple of Swells,” I remember getting up and taking a seat right in front of the TV, mesmerized, watching them dance in a fantasy world as make-believe characters.

Next came Meet Me in St. Louis, which, ironically, was the big city I dreamed of living in as an Ozarks child (my grandfathers and father LOVED the St. Louis Cardinals and listened to every game on the radio). This one hooked me even more with its songs and its beauty, and I eventually would live in St. Louis partially because of the spell this movie cast on me.

That started a tradition: Whenever a movie musical was on, my grandmothers would call me, and we’d plan a night together, just the three of us, and our imaginations.

We watched more than Judy, of course – Oklahoma, Auntie Mame, The Sound of Music – but Judy’s musicals remained our favorites. Whenever one of her movies was shown on TV, or featured at the local, old-time theatre, we would watch or go, the three of us.

I asked my grandmas once why they loved musicals so much. My Grandma Shipman took my hand in hers and said, “They’re like living a dream. The actors sing everything we think in our heads and feel in our hearts but that we are never able to demonstrate in real life.”

“And why do you love Judy Garland so much?”
“If hope had a voice, it would be Judy’s,” she said.

I use her quote in my new novel, The Hope Chest. In fact, one of the chapters in the book centers around an old Judy Garland ticket stub that is found in the long-forgotten hope chest of the main character, Mattie, a woman in the final stages of ALS. Mattie grew up loving Judy Garland (and living in St. Louis), and she passes along her love for the star and of movie musicals to her caregiver, Rose, and Rose’s young daughter, Jeri (who is named after my own mother).

Watching musicals with my grandmas still fills me with great warmth and memories, but, more importantly, that experience changed me greatly. It caused me not only to see the world differently but also challenged how I wanted to be a part of it. As a result, I took music lessons. I played trombone. I sang. I acted in plays and musicals. I read books. And, of course, I began to write.
Like my debut novel, The Charm Bracelet, The Hope Chest is inspired not only by my grandmas’ heirlooms but also by their lives, lessons and love. It was their belief in me and sacrifices for our family that changed the course of our lives and allowed me to be who I am today. Viola Shipman – the pen name I use for my fiction – is my maternal grandmother’s name, and I chose it to pay tribute to my grandmothers as well as all of our elders, whose voices, stories and sacrifices are too often overlooked today.

I still curl up on the couch and watch musicals, old and new, and I continue to feel the presence and impact of my grandmothers when I do. I recently saw a new movie musical, LaLa Land, and I thought of my grandmas much of the time, thinking of how much they’d love the movie. Near the end, when Emma Stone’s character – who is about to give up her dream of being an actress – sings a number entitled "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," I began to weep openly. So loudly, in fact, that many turned around to see if I were OK.

I had been where Emma Stone’s character had been many times in my career, on the verge of quitting, of thinking that my dreams of being a writer were simply pipe dreams. But something deep inside me always urged me on, sang to me, like my grandmas did when we watched musicals together.

It was fierce determination and a bit of madness, of course, but most of all it was hope. Hope that I could make the world feel, think, see just a little bit differently from my words.

In the end, hope sang to me, so loudly it won out.

And it sounded just like Judy Garland’s voice.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: Beyond the Lens

By Sara Steven

When twenty-six-year-old Lucy Mitchell loses her job, she momentarily loses her mind too and agrees to take part in a reality TV show. Before she knows it she’s jetting off to a piece of paradise on a beautiful Spanish island.

Much to her surprise, Lucy makes new friends and has the time of her life, even indulging in a behind-the-scenes romance with a hunky cameraman.

Convinced the production will never make it to the screen, Lucy returns home on cloud nine, but soon finds that things are not always as they seem. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I’m a huge fan of reality TV, especially when it pertains to putting random strangers together. Think Survivor. While Beyond the Lens isn’t set on some remote island with participants battling it out for first place, there are certainly some similarities. As with most reality tv, what’s filmed isn’t always what we see on the small screen, and that’s exactly what Lucy encounters after being part of her own reality TV show.

It seems too good to be true. She’s getting along well with the other cast members. The locale is breathtaking. It seems that every need is provided for. There is no real guarantee that the show will even air, so she might as well enjoy the week as an all expenses paid trip. Only, she finds out the truth behind the show, the lies and the deceit, that turn her into a carbon copy of Courtney Robertson (think The Bachelor).

I’ve often wondered what’s real, what’s not when I’m watching reality TV. Hannah Ellis takes us into that world wonderfully, showcasing what it’s like behind the lens, and what goes into creating the people we often consider to be celebrities, even though they’d been like the rest of us before their fifteen minutes of fame. And what happens after their time is over? Can they ever return to any sense of normalcy? That dynamic is showcased well for Lucy, and for the relationship she tries to hold onto through the whole process of returning to the life she’d known before the cameras. A sweet, relatable read!

Thanks to Hannah Ellis for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Hannah Ellis:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Josie Brown's Red Carpet a book giveaway

Green room photo
We're pleased to have Josie Brown here today to talk about her recent Oscars experience. We love Josie and her books (especially the Totlandia series) and we think you'll enjoy what she has to say. She even has an e-book giveaway at the end.

I'd like to thank...

Contrary to anything you may have heard from Chick Lit Central’s Melissa Amster, I had nothing to do with the envelope mix-up at the Oscars.

But yes, I was on the scene—at least, on the red carpet (before and during); and in the Green Room (a day before); and in Press Room during the one Academy Awards ceremony that will go down in history for the sole purpose that, for the first time in this eighty-nine-year event, a wrong winner was called in the most important category of all: “Best Picture.”

If you don’t already know, Moonlight won, although the envelope for Best Actress was handed to Warren Beatty, which is why Faye Dunaway, who presented it with him, called out La La Land.
At the time, I was backstage in the Press Room. EVERYONE gasped.

Almost every question asked of Emma Stone and anyone with a La La Land Oscar grasped in their hands —or for that matter, to Moonlight’s director, Kevin Johnson, its screenwriter, Tarell Alvin McCraney, or Mahershala Ali, the film’s stars and the winner of Best Supporting Actor—was about the envelope mix-up. 

It may have been the most talked about incident, but for someone like me, who was attending the Academy Awards for the very first time, this historical event was just the icing on the gooey confection of flashing cameras, screaming fans, and glamorous stars.

I was invited as the guest of a journalist friend. My role there was to help him with his social media. In return, I’d get great background research for any future glam lit novels (in fact, both Hollywood Hunk and Hollywood Whore have Oscar scenes in them) and I certainly got up close to some folks emitting enough star wattage to send a message to Mars.

Scarlett Johansson
The Academy Awards take place at the Dolby Theatre, which is part of a multi-level outdoor mall complex (with more than three-hundred days of sunshine, of course it would be outdoors!) at the corner of Highland and Hollywood Boulevards. Flanking all of this is Loews Hollywood Hotel, which is essentially Ground Zero for all the action when it’s not on the red carpet or in the theater.

Yes, I was impressed. Make that mesmerized.

Every day—several times a day, in fact—I’d be running from the hotel through the mall and onto the red carpet: the length of several football fields. This gauntlet has numerous security checkpoints, for which the proper passes are needed.

The press shows up as early as the Wednesday prior to the event. By then, the bleachers are in place for fans on one side, and risers for the press on the other, along the “boulevard”—the path between the underground garage and the theatre. The red carpet has also been laid down, although you wouldn’t know it, considering the layers of plastic covering it, so that workmen, camera people, and the news talent can’t sully it before the first stars make his or her appearances on Sunday.

To add to the mystique, a three-story curtain blocks that end of the mall.

Matt Damon
The only way onto the red carpet—or for that matter, into the Dolby Theatre—is through several layers of security. If you don’t have a pass, forget about it. It truly is the golden ticket!

By now, news crews from all over the world are arriving. Each has been given a small piece of real estate—at the most three feet by three feet—on one of the press risers that runs the full length of the red carpet. And yet, my friend was able to make "entertainment news magic," despite my fumbles and lack of a learning curve).

(By the way, the red carpet is not a straightaway. It bends, like an elbow, in front of the largest of the two stages set up for the sponsoring network’s news talent: in this case, ABC’s Good Morning America.

Between now and Saturday, several times a day the news talent and his or her camera crew will shoot and edit short segments and teasers in order to excite their networks’ audiences. Remember: the Oscars are the entertainment industry’s equivalent to the Superbowl. Just as much ad revenue is on the line. The more viewers you can get, the more money you can demand from advertisers.

They will also rehearse what they’ll say to the stars. For example, an assistant will hold up a placard that says “Emma Stone” and the on-air talent will reel off a question or two he hopes will be original enough that she’ll be delighted to answer it. (Even if it’s not so original, she’ll pretend it is. It isn’t much of a stretch for a great actress.)

With each passing day, something new is revealed on the red carpet: a change in the backdrop, say; or how the lights are hung. Workmen are everywhere, doing the tiniest of things, including polishing every surface to a far-thee-well.

We were allowed a full hour in the Green Room (in this case, it truly is green) which gave us time to give my friend’s audience a walkthrough teaser. Think of it as an elegant party room that looks out onto a beautiful forest—an optical illusion, really, since the room has no exterior windows. However, the walls are lined with backlit photographic panels of copses of trees. Besides a wet bar and healthy buffet, there are several couches and comfortable chairs. A few photos of past winners line one wall. The Green Room is an oasis of calm: much appreciated, I’m sure, considering the energy level throughout the big night.

Viola Davis
For the next forty-eight hours leading up to the event, the Lowes Hotel goes into lock-down for anyone NOT connected to the Oscars—staff, press, publicist, handler, or star.

Every day came with new instructions from the journalist’s producers as to suggestions on story angles. For example: what fashion trends could the audience expect to see? And, how much would politics affect this year’s event?

As it turns out, politics were big—and not just in the speeches given on stage. One of the talent agencies, UTA, actually held a demonstration in its parking lot. Yes, we covered it. The next morning, a pro-Trump group held one on the mall side of the red carpet. Again, we were there, getting photos. Talk about a different spin on an entertainment story…

On the day of the big event, I got up early in order to get ready: make-up, gown, French Twist.

Had I been the one walking the red carpet instead of standing on the sidelines, believe me, I would have had an entourage to help me. (It takes a village to get me into fashion plate mode.)

Samuel L. Jackson
Everyone must dress up, even the cameramen and women. That means the guys where tuxes (some of the ladies, too) but at least they can wear sneakers.

My biggest dilemma was deciding which shoes to wear. I’d been told: make sure they are comfortable.

Really? Sneakers under a gown, when I bought some beautiful sparkly ones, just for the occasion? I just couldn’t….

I’d been forewarned.  

Fans lucky enough to hold a lottery ticket to get them into the bleachers were already there. Their shouts would crescendo with the arrival of the stars. Then things happened fast. From our little sliver of riser, we took pictures quickly and uploaded them onto Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. In the ninety minutes of red carpet fanfare time flew by.

And then it was over.

Onto the Press Room…

Food. YES!

Shoes: OFF! I wasn’t alone. Practically ever woman had yanked them off by the time I reached the Press Room—unless they were smart enough to just wear booties, flip-flops, or sneakers under their dresses.

Comfortable chairs. I grabbed one in the second row, which was great for catching all the interview questions.

By the way, no photos or video can be taken in the Press Room unless you’re one of the few photographers licensed to do so. At this point, my role is strictly transcription.

Truly, there aren’t words in which I can describe this experience—

Okay, I’ll try. Let’s start with

- EXHILARATING. The Academy prides itself on glitz and glamor. It never fails.

- MESMERIZING. There is an energy coming off the stars walking the red carpet to stop you in your tracks. Forget yoga pants and sans makeup, as you’ll probably catch them in the Verve coffee bar in WeHo. While the Oscars Red Carpet in all their finery, they look exactly like you’d hope to see them: emitting enough star power to light up a galaxy.

- The PERFECT place for stargazing (if you aren't under eight different media deadlines within a two-hour period). 

-  FREEZING, especially if it’s unseasonably chilly, and you’re wearing a dress with either a plunging neckline or a scoop back. (Since you asked, mine had the latter.)

And last but in no way least…UNFORGETTABLE.

And yes, I came home with a chocolate Oscar, courtesy of the Governor’s Ball and Wolfgang Puck.

Will I eat it? No way! I’d rather hold it and while I give an acceptance speech.

In honor of my Oscars experience, I’m giving away two digital copies of my 3-episode novella set, Hollywood Hunk.  To enter this drawing, you must read the excerpt here, and correctly answer this question: What is the name of Louis’s talent agent?

**Send your answer to, SUBJECT: Oscars Answer, by March 20th at midnight EST**

You can also get a copy of another True Hollywood Lies novel, Hollywood Whore, just by signing up for my eLetter.

Thank you, Josie, from all of us at CLC!

**All photos courtesy of Josie Brown.**