Friday, March 30, 2018

What's in the a giveaway

Melissa A:
Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Carousel Beach by Orly Konig from Macmillan (e-book via NetGalley)
The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis from Kathleen Carter Communications

A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard from Titan Books (e-book)

What could be in YOUR mail?
Ghost Gifts and Foretold by and from Laura Spinella (1 set of signed print copies)

Ghost Gifts:
All Aubrey Ellis wants is a normal life, one that doesn’t include desperate pleas from the dead. Her remarkable gift may help others rest in peace, but it also made for an unsettling childhood and destroyed her marriage. Finally content as the real estate writer for a local newspaper, Aubrey keeps her extraordinary ability hidden—until she is unexpectedly assigned the story of a decades-old murder.

Rocked by the discovery of a young woman’s skeletal remains, the New England town of Surrey wants answers. Hard-nosed investigative reporter Levi St John is determined to get them. Aubrey has no choice but to get involved, even at the terrifying risk of stirring spirits connected to a dead woman’s demise and piquing her new reporting partner’s suspicions.

As Aubrey and Levi delve further into the mystery, secrets are revealed and passion ignites. It seems that Aubrey’s ghost gifts are poised to deliver everything but a normal life.

A mysterious death in a muddy swamp, missing children in different states…psychic Aubrey Ellis and her partner, investigative reporter Levi St John, have their hands full.

Enter Zeke Dublin—Aubrey’s first love from her carnival past. Tensions escalate when it’s clear that the attraction between them is alive and well. But as Levi discovers disturbing clues about the body pulled from the swamp, he begins to suspect Zeke’s sudden presence is more than coincidence.

As Aubrey’s uncanny abilities take an unsettling turn, who can she trust to help solve the unknowns surrounding her life?
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon, edited to remove spoilers)

Thanks to Laura Spinella for sharing her books with our readers. Watch for Echo Moon, coming in May!

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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: The Beloveds

By Jami Deise

With books like You by Caroline Kepnes and Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda, thriller readers are “enjoying” the experience of living in the mind of a male psychopath. A mini-genre whose best-known character may be Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, it tends to feature male protagonists, which makes sense: Psychopaths tend to be men. Or perhaps female psychopaths are much more clever, and do not get caught.

Elizabeth “Betty” Stash is a psychopath. The protagonist of Maureen Lindsay’s latest novel The Beloveds, Betty has always despised her younger sister, Gloria. Gloria is a “beloved” – a golden child grown into lucky adult, whom everyone loves and for whom life can do no wrong. These lucky people are all around Betty, and she hates every one of them. Betty tips her hat to the reader when she tells of drowning her sister’s kitten as a young child—a clear sign of psychopathy.

Yet, unlike the psychopaths in the books above, it’s not too difficult to see Betty’s side of the story at times. The sisters are now grown up, and Gloria is married to Henry, whom she stole from Betty. Her best friend is Alice, who was once Betty’s best friend. Gloria and Henry are living rent-free with the sisters’ mother in their English estate, whom Betty has named and whose voice she hears talking to her. (The house only calls her Elizabeth, never Betty.) Betty loves this house the way Scarlett O’Hara loved Tara, and Gloria and Henry take it for granted, leaving messes everywhere. Even though Betty is married to Bert and lives with him in a London apartment, her true home is in this English village.

So when the women’s mother dies and leaves the estate to Gloria, Betty is destroyed. And while Gloria, too, is grief-stricken about her mother, she seems to feel entitled to the estate by virtue of Betty’s London address. Gloria quickly announces she’s pregnant, which seems to cement her entitlement to the estate even further. And while Gloria seems happy enough to have her sister hanging out all the time, Henry and Alice make it clear that they think Betty should hightail it back to London and leave the expectant couple at peace in their home.

As Betty fumes, Gloria and Henry decide to have a clown painted on the wall of their baby’s nursery. They decide to completely remodel the house and throw out their mother’s keepsakes, calling her a packrat.

Sometimes, Betty is not the only one who wants to kill these people.

But as much as I enjoyed the first half of the novel and wanted to see Betty vindicated in some way, I found my attention lagging in the second half. Betty is no Tom Ripley, even though she reads Ripley’s Game in a scene. The book becomes episodic and the pacing erratic. Betty becomes a drunk, and much less self-aware. She may be seeing things. The events in the book unfold over years, and the story doesn’t end as much as stop. As a fan of contemporary thrillers, these shortcomings irritated me. Still, I stuck it out till the end.

However, the book’s publishers are comparing it to Rebecca, and describing it as gothic fiction rather than horror. Approached in that manner, other readers may find the novel’s second half just as gripping as the first.

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

More by Maureen Lindley:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Review: Bitter Sweet Street

By Sara Steven

Angelica “Angie” Parker earned the right to be bitter when she walked into a conference room and found her husband of twenty plus years on top of a twenty-something girl.

Not in the mood to believe that she’d seen what she saw, Angie immediately decides that it’s high time to take care of the house in a small town in the Rockies she inherited from her estranged aunt a while back. When she gets there, her cute neighbor Louise hands her the keys to the property and, followed by the strange chirping sound from a tree outside, Angie walks inside to /try to/ ignore the nightmare that is her life, and face her poop-colored house.

Follow Angie’s journey through renovations and revelations in the second stand-alone short story about the people on Sweet Street. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I know from personal experience how hard it can be to start over in your life. I could identify with a lot of the way that Angie feels while she’s navigating from the world she’d always thought she’d known, into new territory. There’s a sense of loss, of not really knowing what your role is. And to top it all off, she’s having to do this while trying desperately to hold it all together in order to still be the best person, the best parent, she can be.

It’s never easy, and it’s ultimately a wild roller coaster ride, but it’s well worth it to experience it and see it through Angie’s eyes. From the get go, when she finds her husband in a very uncompromising position, to the point where she’s realizing in order to move forward, she’ll have to let go- it’s all told from a very realistic perspective. There are even moments where she’s feeling left out when it comes to her new neighbors, the ones who appear to have the perfect marriages and families, while her marriage and family is falling apart. It felt so true to how someone jilted would feel, that even though they can appreciate someone else’s happiness, it still feels bittersweet.

There are many more untruths that are discovered for Angie, the kind that cause irreparable damage, the kind that there is no coming back from. Ultimately, it’s in moments like that where we find out how much strength and perseverance we’ve got hidden inside ourselves, and Angie is working hard on discovering hers through all of this.

Thanks to Lena North for the book in exchange for an honest review. Bitter Sweet Street is available for 99 cents on Kindle. See Sara's review of 47 Sweet Street.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Harmel and Harvey are a comedy a book giveaway

Kristin Harmel and Kristy Woodson Harvey have a few things in common:
  • Their first names start with "Krist" and their last names start with "Har."
  • They both have blond hair.
  • They both live in the southeast region of the US.
  • They have books publishing within a week of each other, that have five words in the title.
  • Melissa A has met them both in person.
  • They both have sons.
  • And, of course, they both have lots to laugh about during Humor month at CLC!
Kristy and Kristin have teamed up to answer some funny questions for the month and you'll be cracking up from their answers. Thanks to Gallery, we have two sets of each of their books to give away: The Room on Rue Amélie and The Secret to Southern Charm.

Kristy Woodson Harvey is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a master’s in English from East Carolina University, with a concentration in multicultural and transnational literature. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Southern Living, Traditional Home, Parade, USA Today, Domino, Our State and O. Henry. She has been seen in Women’s Health, The Washington Post, US News and World Report, The Huffington Post, USA Today’s Happy Every After, Marie Claire’s The Fix, Woman’s World, Readers’ Digest and North Carolina Bookwatch, among others. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and six-year-old son where she is working on her next novel. Visit Kristy at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo by Wenona Christensen
Kristin Harmel is an international bestselling novelist whose books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all over the world. A former reporter for People magazine, Kristin has also freelanced for many other publications, including American Baby, Men’s Health, Glamour, Woman’s Day, Travel + Leisure, and more. Kristin grew up in Peabody, Mass.; Worthington, Ohio; and St. Petersburg, Fla., and she graduated with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida. After spending time living in Paris, she now lives in Orlando, Fla., with her husband and young son. Visit Kristin at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey:
Leaving fans “practically [begging] for a sequel” (Bookpage), critically acclaimed author Kristy Woodson Harvey returns with the second novel in her beloved Peachtree Bluff series, featuring a trio of sisters and their mother who discover a truth that will change not only the way they see themselves, but also how they fit together as a family.

After finding out her military husband is missing in action, middle sister Sloane’s world crumbles as her worst nightmare comes true. She can barely climb out of bed, much less summon the strength to be the parent her children deserve.

Her mother, Ansley, provides a much-needed respite as she puts her personal life on hold to help Sloane and her grandchildren wade through their new grief-stricken lives. But between caring for her own aging mother, her daughters, and her grandchildren, Ansley’s private worry is that secrets from her past will come to light.

But when Sloane’s sisters, Caroline and Emerson, remind Sloane that no matter what, she promised her husband she would carry on for their young sons, Sloane finds the support and courage she needs to chase her biggest dreams—and face her deepest fears. Taking a cue from her middle daughter, Ansley takes her own leap of faith and realizes that, after all this time, she might finally be able to have it all.

The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel:
When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

Review by Melissa A.

Most recent thing you laughed about:
Kristin Harmel: I broke my knee in February, and as it heals, I have a wonderful physical therapist named Tony coming to the house twice a week. On his second visit, I was saying goodbye to him at the door, and my 2-year-old son flew around the corner, announced “Tony poop!” for no apparent reason and ran off giggling, totally delighted with himself. This kid never forgets anything, and now, every time Tony arrives, my son declares “Tony poop!” and then collapses in giggles. Even though it’s completely nonsensical, the humor is contagious, and Tony and I have a good laugh about it too. Tony left an hour ago — so that was my last good laugh!

Kristy Harvey: Every time my mom tells the voice connect in her car to to “Call Kristy Harvey,” it says, “Finding nearest fitness center.” Without fail. It’s hilarious in any case but particularly because I’m a health nut and I’m always trying to make sure everyone is exercising enough. She is totally convinced that I have programmed her car to say that! (It’s even funnier because it is definitely something that Caroline in my Peachtree Bluff series would do to her mother. I am definitely writing a scene with that!)

Favorite funny video:
Kristin Harmel: Every time I need a laugh (and "Tony Poop" isn't around), I can turn to this 2008 Saturday Night Live clip featuring Christopher Walken.
It’s about a gardener who pastes googly eyes on his plants so that he can get to know them better. And it’s so ridiculous, both in the writing and delivery, that it’s perfect. Now, my friends and I paste googly eyes on things when we need to cheer each other up.

Kristy Harvey: It’s not on YouTube or anything, but my favorite video is this one of my son when he is like 9 months old. He can’t walk yet, but he could stand pretty well. In the video he is jamming out on the drums, intermittently falling and taking dance breaks and my husband, mother-in-law and I are narrating as though it is his E! True Hollywood Story. It always makes me laugh!

Funniest misunderstanding you've had with someone:
Kristin Harmel: In high school, I had to give an off-the-cuff presentation to my Spanish class and wound up telling an entire story about a time that being embarazada held me back, and how my parents didn’t want me to be embarazada, and my friends told me that if I just believed in myself, I wouldn’t be embarazada anymore. My teacher kept trying to correct me, and I thought she was just telling me I didn’t need to be embarrassed. It was only at the end that she reminded me that embarazada doesn’t mean “embarrassed.” It means “pregnant.” Oops.

Kristy Harvey: A friend gifted my husband and me a dinner at our house with a chef, so we decided it would be fun to use it for our supper club for a really special experience. The chef had come to our house and looked at the kitchen and we had talked about Thursday night, but evidently, I had texted him later the date for Wednesday night. So he arrived at our house on Wednesday night with all his supplies—and fresh fish. I was horrified, of course. So my husband and I had a gorgeous meal for two. And, for the supper club, we served Domino’s!

Funniest thing you've heard a child say:
Kristin Harmel: When my nephew was little and just learning animal sounds, he asked me what a camel says. Obviously, I had to tell him a camel says, “Hump-dayyyyyyy” (From the 2013 Geico commercial). It was awesome to hear him very seriously go through all the animals he knew — “Moooo. Neigh. Oink. Hump-dayyyyy!” Of course now that I have a toddler of my own, my sister has returned the favor.

Kristy Harvey: This may not be the funniest thing I’ve ever heard a child say, but it was pretty funny. I was practicing my talk for my The Secret to Southern Charm launch at the Pat Conroy Literary Center and I mentioned my six-year-old son, who was in the room. He said, “Mom, when you say my name should I stand up?” And I joked, “Maybe you should just be up on stage with me.” And he said, “Maybe I should just do the talk. I can read it off your iPad.” Pretty funny to me!

What is the strangest thing you've ever laughed about?
Kristin Harmel: When I broke my knee recently, I didn’t just break it. I shattered it. As in, the kneecap broke in half and shot into two different areas in my leg. It was horrific. When the paramedics arrived and looked in horror at it, I just broke down — in giggles, not tears. It was terribly painful, and I was scared to death, but apparently my in-shock coping mechanism was to laugh. Later, on the way to the hospital, I was telling the paramedic jokes in the back of the ambulance. Jokes! But by that time, the pain medications they had given me had started to kick in, so at least that makes a bit more sense!

Kristy Harvey: My husband and I have moved several times over the past few years and I was setting the table a few weeks ago for a book club luncheon that someone had won at an auction. I wanted it to be really nice, so I went to fish out our crystal, which we never use, and couldn’t find it. I assumedI had taken it to my parents’ house, but they couldn’t find it either. Long story short, after a few phone calls, I realized that I had inadvertently donated all of our wedding crystal to the local SPCA with a bunch of furniture, toys etc that we were giving away. It shouldn’t have been funny at all, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

What is the funniest thing you own?
Kristin Harmel: A full-on Little Orphan Annie costume, complete with a red wig, from a long-ago Halloween. And it still fits—and looks entirely ridiculous!

Kristy Harvey: I have a collection of tiaras from going to The Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriend weekends. But you never know when you might need a tiara!

Thanks to Kristin and Kristy for the giggles and to Gallery for sharing their books 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 26, 2018

Book Review: Before I Let You Go

By Jami Deise

From the days of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, we view addiction as a failure of character and willpower, not a perfect storm of personal pain and neurotransmitter dysfunction. It’s common knowledge that the opioid epidemic is sweeping the country. But it’s one thing to read that over 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2016, and another to be swept along in the story of a single addict. Even if that story is fiction… perhaps especially if that story is fiction. Studies have shown that, more than reading non-fiction, reading fiction leads people to develop empathy. If there’s anything that this country needs to battle this epidemic, it’s empathy—empathy for those suffering with this disease. Too many see addiction as a disease that the sufferer brought onto herself.

Stories like Before I Let You Go will help develop that empathy. Kelly Rimmer’s latest novel deserves the widest possible audience. While the book is clearly based on extensive research, at no point does it ever feel that the author is lecturing. This not an entertaining read. This is the kind of read that changes hearts and minds, that could possibly change lives.

Dr. Lexie Vidler seems to have a charmed life. She’s engaged to a surgeon, Sam; they’ve moved into a cute house, and she enjoys her job at a clinic. All this is disrupted by a 2:00am call from her sister, Annie. Annie is a heroin addict, and Lexie hasn’t heard from her in years – since Annie broke into Lexie’s clinic for drugs. Now Annie is pregnant and desperate. And once again, Lexie can’t turn away from her sister.

Amazon pitches Before I Let You Go as a family saga, and while the relationship between the sisters is at its heart, it feels so much more sweeping than that. While Annie is a specific, unique, and very well-defined character, she also represents every woman who’s become caught in the system because of how pregnant addicts are treated—especially in red-state Alabama, where the story takes place. Again, it’s one thing to read about laws that lock up women whose infants are born with narcotics in their bloodstreams—and to read about the suffering these babies go through as they withdraw—but it’s so much more personal when reading about the character who’s living it. Annie knows she risks losing custody of her baby and going to jail if she goes to the hospital, which will test her urine. So why would she go? How do laws like these help addicts and their babies?

The story is told from two points-of-view: Lexie’s first-person account, and Annie’s as written in her journal. At first, I thought my sympathies would be primarily with Lexie, who tried so hard to help her sister. But as Annie’s story unfolded, it was impossible not to empathize with her. She tells a story of two sisters whose lives are upended when their father dies, whose mother then marries into a Christian cult that forces them into stereotypical gender roles, and worse. Lexie escapes at 16, but by the time Annie can get out, the damage is done.

Through the journal, Annie’s personality shines through. While Lexie is able to play the good girl and hide her true self, Annie was born to question authority, and she does it even when she knows she’ll suffer for it. Rimmer does a sensitive job in never blaming Annie for this character trait, but cluing in readers that it’s something that might hinder her recovery. Her descriptions of using heroin are so specific and sensory, it’s not hard to understand how addiction results.

Lexie’s fiancé Sam also plays an important role in the drama, although both Lexie and readers sometimes feel he’s too good to be true. Annie’s counselor Luke and the sisters’ mother also figure in.

Even as readers will hope that Annie will overcome her demons, Rimmer tells a realistic story that cannot provide a clean, happy ending. The most she can do is offer insight into the life of a creative, strong-willed, loving, stubborn woman whose troubled childhood led to the disease of addiction. It’s one small step toward solving this crisis, but it’s a step nonetheless.

Thanks to Little Bird Publicity for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kelly Rimmer:

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Review: Night Music

By Sara Steven

Charlotte Parsons is devastated over losing her brother in the Vietnam War. Desperate to learn more about the war, she joins a group of college women who send letters to soldiers and befriends Joseph Russo, a young soldier. But a few months after they begin corresponding, his letters stop coming, and Char moves on, still confused as to why so many young lives are being lost so far away from home.

Two years later, Char begins college in her small Illinois town of Grand Falls. She’s been dating her brother’s long-time best friend, Deke Masterson, who is a senior in college and is deep into the anti-war movement. Char isn’t sure how she feels about the war. Then a stranger comes to town and changes everything. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

It was so easy to appreciate the small-town nostalgia of Night Music. The quiet backdrop of neighbors who know one another, a downtown filled with local businesses who rely and support one another, and characters who are focused on connecting within their own relationships. But as sweet and good as the good old days might have been, there were conflicts. It was a scary time for many who had loved ones overseas, enlisted in the Vietnam War. Charlotte loses her own brother to the war, and makes the decision to reach out to soldiers in an effort to learn more about the world her brother had lived in. Joseph is someone she can talk to, someone she can share her ideas and thoughts with, but he’s so far away from the life she knows. Until she finds him living within her small Illinois town.

I liked the sweet premise behind the story of Charlotte and Joseph, the way they reconnect in person, how close they are through the letters they’ve written to each other. The fact that her letters compelled him to move to the town she’s described in her letters, so he can experience the peace she spoke of. All he wants to do is move on with his life and heal from his experiences in the war.

There were a lot of conflictual moments, which I imagined to be quite real for those who lived in the late 60’s. The country was divided on the Vietnam War, contention well represented by Deke. While Joseph showcases the men who fought bravely for their country, Deke showcases the many questions that surfaced during that time. Was it a necessary war? Was it worth it? Charlotte has a hard time making her own mind up on all of it, not sure on who’s right, and ultimately, who’s right for her. I really felt as though it was refreshing to read a story based on the late 1960’s, before the internet and social media and cell phones. A simpler time, that, after delving deeper in, really wasn’t so simple.

Thanks to Deanna Lynn Sletten for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Deanna Lynn Sletten:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jessica Strawser Is a book giveaway

Photo by Corrie Schaffeld
We're pleased to have Jessica Strawser here for the first time to celebrate the upcoming publication of her sophomore novel, Not That I Could Tell (reviewed here), and to share a few laughs with us as we get near the end of Humor month. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy to share with a lucky reader!

Jessica Strawser ( is the editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth cover interviews with such luminaries as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She’s the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You (reviewed here), now new in paperback, and Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month selection and Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction pick for March 2018. She has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly and other fine venues, and lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati. Connect with her at her website, on Twitter @jessicastrawser and on Facebook @jessicastrawserauthor.

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her—and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions—especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Your online go-to source for laughter:
Oldie-but-goodie The Onion

Favorite funny video:
The “Dennis Quaid Is Here” hidden camera skit from The Ellen Show—he was in a Starbucks with Ellen’s voice in an earpiece, with instructions to repeat everything she told him to, and… I seriously can’t watch it enough times. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. I’ll wait.

Favorite comedy film:
There’s nothing quite like re-watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every December. My brother and I will randomly text each other lines like, “And why is the carpet all wet, Todd?” starting around Thanksgiving.

Funniest misunderstanding you've had with someone:
My husband is a not-great speller who tends to blame autocorrect for a lot of things. When I was pregnant with our first child, he tried to text and tell me his coworkers were pitching in to buy us a BabyBjorn, but the message I received proudly announced that we were being gifted “Big Ron.” (A true autocorrect error? Who can say?) We fondly called the Bjorn “Big Ron” for the years we used it for both kids, and later when we got a bigger carrier for hiking trips, we named it “Giant Ron.”

Favorite joke:
I like old Mitch Hedberg one-liners best, but they don’t translate super well to being retold out of context. (“I don’t need a receipt for a donut. … We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this.”) On the other hand, the impatient cow knock knock joke (where you interrupt the return “Impatient cow who?” with a shouted “MOO!”) gets my kids every time.

Who is the funniest person you know personally? 
My good friend Erin, who lives in Chicago now, never fails to make me laugh until my eyes water. (That’s really the best feeling, isn’t it?) I think we just have a very similar sense of humor, paired with excellent recall for ridiculous things that happened to us many years ago when we were new to “adulting” and had standard weekly happy hours that cemented our friendship.

Thanks to Jessica for all the laughs and to St. Martin's Press for sharing her book with our readers.

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

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Giveaway ends March 27th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Go-to-Gay: Get with the times, Stoker!

When we told Go-to-Gay Keith Stewart that he had creative license with this month's theme (humor), he really went with it! That's all we really need to say about what we have to present today. Just don't eat or drink anything while reading this, as we don't want to be responsible for any choking incidents!

A Modern Rejection of a Classic Novel
Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula was published in 1897, thus beginning our love affair with literary, and eventually cinematic, vampires. It’s a good thing Bram’s book was the first of its kind published because his vision of undead bloodsuckers was much, much different from today’s modern demons.
 Bram Stoker
In fact, if Bram Stoker tried to submit the original Dracula manuscript for publication today, I fear the following would be his editor’s response:

March 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Stoker,

Thank you for submitting your work to my office. When I saw the subject, I couldn’t wait to dig into your novel as there is nothing I enjoy more than a good vampire story. Plus, they tend to lend themselves to so many great marketing tie-ins and additional media deals.

As I began your narrative, however, I was struck by the darkness and gloom oozing from each page. I suppose you were trying to do something different with your tale, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work. Your Dracula is far too serious and depressing to be a credible leading vampire. Perhaps with some additional research, you would have realized all vampires are very wealthy, live in elaborately decorated homes, and have no problem finding first class transportation. However, your vampire makes do in a dilapidated castle and travels by sneaking aboard a run-down Russian freight boat.

edward glitter
Never forget the glitter-skin. Ever.

Even more horrifying is you have him sleep in the dirt. The dirt! The constant layer of dirt and grime that must coat his skin due to this unsanitary sleeping habit prevents Dracula from sparkling in the sunlight. You are missing a wonderful opportunity by not having at least one sunburst available to this poor man while his pores are dirt-free. Let him show his softer, more dazzling side! Sun-induced-glitter-skin is one of the most sought features of any vampire and is a can’t-miss element of character development in this genre.

dracula novel 1
(Poor ‘ol Stoker’s Ugly Vamp)
I was particularly disappointed you took the liberty of making Dracula such a hideously ugly character. Everyone knows, at least I thought everyone knew, all vampires are beautiful. There is no such thing as a homely vamp, and I just don’t see Dracula with his pointed ears and beady-fire eyes as remotely believable. Also, you’ve made him an older gentleman. I’m guessing he was in at least his late 50’s or early 60’s when he was turned, which again, goes against the vampire code. Vampires are made at the height of their attractiveness and sexual prowess, and trust me when I say to you, Mr. Stoker, a man that age is at neither. Perhaps this lack of virility is why it takes so long for Dracula to turn his victims into vampires. He must bite them repeatedly in order to get any sort of supernatural action, whereas leading vampires who are much younger and potent are able to turn a victim immediately, and often have multiple victims in one night.

lestat and louis
What real vampires look like.
Because of these fatal roadblocks with the main character, I am afraid we cannot extend an offer to work with you at this time. If you are willing to rework your piece—freshen up Dracula, turn him into a sexier, eastern European bad boy (I’m thinking a cross between Colin Ferrell and Liam Neeson)—I would gladly take a second look. Another suggestion is completely changing the location of the story.

Transylvania, and Europe in general, is very 1990’s for this genre. I would suggest setting the story in the American South. In fact, there is a Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. A fraternity vampire named “Drac” (now I’m thinking of a cross between Colin Ferrell and Zac Efron) attending Transy is a much better choice than an ugly, old man with bad ears who lives in a castle.

Oh, and you also may want to consider adding the additional element of either a fairy or a werewolf. Readers today love fairies and werewolves.


Ima Trubie

Keith Stewart is the author of Bernadette Peters Hates Me – True Tales of a Delusional Man. A native of Appalachia, he splits his time between his hometown of Hyden and nearby Lexington, Kentucky. His blog is You can find him on Twitter at @Shiglyogly and Facebook at @AMSCOT (A Strong Man’s Cup of Tea). He is a regular contributor to and the He lives with his husband, Andy, and their two dogs, Duke and Dudley.

Book Review: Snow Falling

It’s been a lifetime (and three seasons) in the making, but Jane Gloriana Villanueva is finally ready to make her much-anticipated literary debut!

Jane the Virgin, the Golden Globe, AFI, and Peabody Award–winning The CW dramedy, has followed Jane’s telenovela-esque life—from her accidental artificial insemination and virgin birth to the infant kidnapping and murderous games of the villainous Sin Rostro to an enthralling who-will-she-choose love triangle. With these tumultuous events as inspiration, Jane’s breathtaking first novel adapts her story for a truly epic romance that captures the hope and the heartbreak that have made the television drama so beloved.

Snow Falling is a sweeping historical romance set in 1902 Miami—a time of railroad tycoons, hotel booms, and exciting expansion for the Magic City. Working at the lavish Regal Sol hotel and newly engaged to Pinkerton Detective Martin Cadden, Josephine Galena Valencia has big dreams for her future. Then, a figure from her past reemerges to change her life forever: the hotel’s dapper owner, railroad tycoon Rake Solvino.

The captivating robber baron sets her heart aflame once more, leading to a champagne-fueled night together. But when their indiscretion results in an unexpected complication, Josephine struggles to decide whether her heart truly belongs with heroic Martin or dashing Rake.

Meanwhile, in an effort to capture an elusive crime lord terrorizing the city, Detective Cadden scours the back alleys of the Magic City, tracking the nefarious villain to the Regal Sol and discovering a surprising connection to the Solvino family.

However, just when it looks like Josephine’s true heart’s desire is clear, danger strikes. Will her dreams for the future dissolve like so much falling snow or might Josephine finally get the happy ever after she’s been dreaming of for so long?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Sara Steven:

It took a little while for me to get into seeing Jane the Virgin, initially, and it was only after Melissa had suggested I watch it that I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! It’s still one of my favorite shows, and if you’re a Jane fan, too, you’ll want to read Snow Falling. It’s a definite read for fans! Following much of the story line found in the TV series, the book characters were a near-identical match to their small screen counterparts. Although a big difference would be the way that Jane finds herself in the adverse situation that is pretty much the premise of the whole show. In the book, it’s much steamier, and much more realistic to the time period. I appreciated that. The subtle nuances that let me know where I was, and most importantly, when it was. It reminded me of the historical romance novels I used to read when I was a kid.

While I was a little thrown off by the narrator, who works well on the show but I felt didn’t translate as well on paper, I loved the scenery, I loved having the chance to re-experience what made me fall in love with Jane to begin with. She’s quirky and fun, and it stands to reason that the heroine in Snow Falling, Josephine, is quirky and fun, too, but in a way that identifies and works well with the early 1900’s. And as always, we’re still thrust into one of the best love triangles in history, no matter what century, only in this version, it’s Team Rake and Team Martin.

Melissa Amster:

I had a feeling Jane would use situations from her life for her first novel, but I didn't know how much Snow Falling would mirror season one (and part of season two) of the TV series. I'm sorry to have to contradict Sara, but if you are a fan of Jane the Virgin, this book is basically the show with a few changes and a different time period. I didn't even feel like the time period made a difference, as I could only picture everything happening in the present and the hotel was basically The Marbella for me. I didn't even need to cast this novel since each character was based on a character from the show with a similar name.

What did work was the writing. It was engaging and funny. I found it to be an easy read, and since there were some changes, I was even surprised a few times. The scenes between Josephine and Rake were steamy and exciting. (#TeamRake). While Sara felt the narrator didn't work, I thought it added humor to the story. However, he should not have said "straight out of a telenovela" to stay true to the time period. I don't think telenovelas existed in 1902.

If you have not seen Jane the Virgin yet, this is a good way to get into the series quickly. However, some of the changes might be confusing if you start the show in the third season. In any case, it was a light and entertaining read that I might have appreciated a bit more had I not already watched the show. I understand why Jane wanted to write this story, but if she ever writes another novel, I'm hoping it would be something new that has nothing to do with anyone else on the show.

Thanks to Adams Media for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

K.J. Farnham is a a book giveaway

We're pleased to have K.J. Farnham visiting with us today. When Melissa A received her interview answers, she wrote to her immediately to tell her all the things they have in common. K.J. has a lot to laugh about during humor month, as well as her latest novel, A Case of Serendipity (which published today), to share with a lucky reader!

K. J. Farnham writes contemporary fiction for women and young adults. Her works include the Click Date Repeat series and Don’t Call Me Kit Kat. A former educator who grew up in the Milwaukee area, she now resides in western Wisconsin with her husband and three children. Visit K.J. at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Ruth Bateman is at her wit’s end. If Bucky’s Beans doesn’t stop spamming her phone with discount codes for frou-frou java concoctions, she’s going to flip. After multiple failed attempts to unsubscribe, Ruth takes to the company’s Facebook page to vent her frustration over the never-ending texts.

When attorney, Henry Mancuso, stumbles upon Ruth’s complaint, he has no idea that a simple Facebook scroll is going to change his life. Now, he has to get Ruth to agree to a class action lawsuit when she’s just looking for some peace on her mobile device—not a drawn-out case against a coffeehouse giant.

As Ruth and Henry battle the legal waters, a friendship full of fun and spontaneity blooms. But could something more be brewing between these two and this coffeehouse case?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Most recent thing you laughed about:
​I have three children: ages 13, 10 & 5. At least one of them makes me laugh every single day. They recently watched a popular movie together and have been quoting lines from it ever since. Today I was rolling with laughter when the youngest was practicing the "Bend and Snap" maneuver. Can you name the movie?​

Favorite funny meme:

Favorite sitcom:
​Pre-kids: Sex and the City
Post-kids: The Goldbergs

Favorite comedian:
​Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres always make me laugh, and I miss Robin Williams. I'm also a bit embarrassed to admit that I have a hard time looking away when my kids watch Miranda Sings on YouTube.

Funniest song you've heard:
This is a tough one for me because I usually listen to broody coffeehouse music. But one song that recently made me laugh is the Miranda Sings rendition of "Call Me Maybe."

Which classic Saturday Night Live skit/character is your favorite?
​Sorry, but it's impossible for me to name just one.​ I grew up watching SNL!

Top Five off the top of my head:
​Toonces ​the Driving Cat
Mary Katherine Gallagher
Debbie Downer
Tom Hanks as Mr. Short-term Memory
The Spartan Cheerleaders (Will Ferrell!)

I also LOVED Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.

Thanks to K.J. 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 March 26th at midnight EST.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review and Giveaway: The Recipe Box

By Melissa Amster

Growing up in northern Michigan, Samantha “Sam” Mullins felt trapped on her family’s orchard and pie shop, so she left with dreams of making her own mark in the world. But life as an overworked, undervalued sous chef at a reality star’s New York bakery is not what Sam dreamed.

When the chef embarrasses Sam, she quits and returns home. Unemployed, single, and defeated, she spends a summer working on her family’s orchard cooking and baking alongside the women in her life―including her mother, Deana, and grandmother, Willo. One beloved, flour-flecked, ink-smeared recipe at a time, Sam begins to learn about and understand the women in her life, her family’s history, and her passion for food through their treasured recipe box.

As Sam discovers what matters most she opens her heart to a man she left behind, but who now might be the key to her happiness.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

I have to be honest about something...when I read The Recipe Box back in January, I had a whole review in my head. Then life got in the way and I forgot to write it down. I knew I was going to post it here today, which is why I ended up procrastinating a bit on what to say. Having said that, this review will be much shorter than my reviews for The Hope Chest and The Charm Bracelet (the reviews are linked to the titles here). The good news is that I tried out a couple of the recipes and will be sharing my experiences here (and photos), as well!

Like its predecessors, The Recipe Box was a charming and enjoyable story. And also like those books, instead of charms or treasures telling the story, it was recipes this time around. I love how each recipe was tied to the characters' experiences and memories. In her other novels, Viola gave a preview of how she writes a good baking scene, so I knew I was in for a treat this time around. I could practically smell the food as it was baking. It was also easy to visualize not only the food, but also the characters and settings. The Mullins orchard gave off a cozy feel that enhanced the story even more. It made me think of when I would go to a quaint shopping village near my home where they had an apple store that made fresh cider donuts. Reading about the "misfits" (donuts that were not sell-able) took me back to the taste of those donuts from my childhood.

Since I read the previous two novels as audio books, I had Andi Arndt's voice in my head while I was reading this one in print. I couldn't wait for audio this time around (to get a review done by publication time), but I also learned that there's a different narrator for this book anyway.

Sam was a likable character and I enjoyed reading about Willo a lot, as well. They had some meaningful moments together that made me think of how I bake with my kids and hope to pass a love for baking down to future generations.

I mentioned in my reviews of Viola's previous novels that the language gets to be too sappy. I felt the same way about this book, but I'm used to it by now and I still felt an emotional tug from the story anyway. I even got teary-eyed toward the end. I recommended it to a friend who needed something light and happy after two sad books.

Overall, The Recipe Box is a sweet and heartwarming story with delicious sounding recipes! I look forward to whatever Viola comes up with next, as I'm always up for a comfort read. (Side note: I guess this review ended up being longer than I was expecting!)

Dream cast:
Sam: Caitlin Thompson
Willo: Sharon Gless
Deana: Elisabeth Shue
Angelo: Carlos PenaVega

Recipes I tried:

Strawberry Shortcake: The dough was very sticky, so I had to add a lot of flour to get it just right. I also missed hearing the oven timer go off, so I may have left it in a few minutes longer, but it looked good coming out. I let the cakes stay covered overnight so I could have them the next evening with my family. The shortcakes came out a little harder than I was expecting, but they still tasted good with the strawberries and frosting. (I think the hardness was due to me adding extra flour to balance out the stickiness. I need to figure out a different way to work with it next time.) The cinnamon sugar enhanced the flavor, as well. This dessert was definitely a hit for my family.

Thumbprint cookies: Dough is extremely easy to make and work with. It can even be vegan if you substitute butter with margarine. I used strawberry jam and orange marmalade for the fillings (as that was all I had that I thought would taste good in these cookies). The frosting was a bit thick and I had to loosen it up a bit, but then it worked just fine, and it enhanced the flavor of the cookies. Everyone in my family enjoyed them.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy to give away! I also have a copy of The Hope Chest to share with a 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 March 25th at midnight EST.

Friday, March 16, 2018

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
See Her Run by Peggy Townsend from Thomas & Mercer
The Ever After by Sarah Pekkanen from Atria (e-book via NetGalley)
*The Lemonade Year by Amy Willoughby-Burle from Shadow Mountain
All the Little Lights by Jamie McGuire from Montlake Romance
The Forgotten Ones by Steena Holmes from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)

Girls' Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson from St. Martin's Press
*Unwifeable by Mandy Stadtmiller from Gallery
The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel from Thomas Nelson (e-book via NetGalley)
Messing with Matilda by Cat Lavoie from Karan & Co (e-book via NetGalley)
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin from Ballantine
Summer on the River by Marcia Willet from Thomas Dunne
Other People's Houses by Abbi Waxman from Berkley
Beach House Reunion by Mary Alice Monroe from Gallery

*Enter to win these books!

Flying at Night by Rebecca L. Brown from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)

The Big Job by/from Libby Kirsch (e-book)
Order Up by/from Barb Valentin (e-book)
Heaven Adjacent by Catherine Ryan Hyde from Little Bird Publicity(e-book via NetGalley)

Book Review: Let Me Lie

By Jami Deise

Like most thriller fans, I began reading them at an early age. One of the first books I read in the genre was Mary Higgins Clark’s debut, Where Are the Children? Clark’s heroine, Nancy, had a husband who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge and leaving behind personal items. His body was never found. Even though I was only nine years old when I read the book, I wondered why everyone took at face value that Nancy’s husband was actually dead. There was no body. Couldn’t he have just faked his death?

British author Clare Mackintosh’s third book, Let Me Lie (read my reviews of her first two books, I Let You Go and I See You) solidifies her standing as a thriller writer worth following. However, a thriller writer must be careful not to fall into two traps: One, relying so strongly on what has worked in previous books to fool readers in the same way. And two, forgetting that thriller readers are quite savvy—definitely more savvy than thriller protagonists—and drawing out clues that readers will quickly pick up on. Like Where Are the Children?, Let Me Lie also features characters who commit suicide by jumping into the sea and leaving behind personal items but no actual bodies. And thriller fans—even nine-year-olds—will immediately wonder why no one questions whether the dead are actually dead.

Mackintosh’s protagonist is Anna Johnson. It’s her parents who separately committed suicide, seven months apart, by jumping off the same cliff. When the novel begins, it’s Christmastime, and around the first anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death. (She jumped second.) Anna has lived life at warp speed since then, moving into her parents’ house, trying to run her parents’ car dealership with her Uncle Billy, falling in love with the therapist she saw to get over her grief, and having a baby girl. Even with all the activity around her, the anniversary accentuates the grief and guilt Anna has been carrying around. And then, on the actual day, Anna opens the door to a card reading “Happy Anniversary! Suicide? Think again!”

It seems like a cruel joke, and I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Anna was being told that her mother had staged her death. But Anna thinks it’s murder. She takes the card to the police, and retired detective Murray Mackenzie—now manning the front desk—takes her case. He can’t do it officially, of course, since he’s retired, but he knows that if he refers it to a detective, it will be tossed in the circular file.

Anna and Murray are both point-of-view characters, along with Anna’s mother, who could be narrating from the great beyond, or not. It’s a slow start, with a lot of back story and characters – Anna’s boyfriend, her mother’s goddaughter, Uncle Billy, Murray’s personal life—and it took awhile for me to get into the story.

Then Murray proves his worth, and he begins to figure things out just as events start heating up for Anna. The pacing takes off, plot points start to click, and the story starts to work.

Mackintosh made a name for herself for pulling off one of the greatest twists in the genre in the past few years in I Let You Go. So as I read Let Me Lie, in the back of my mind I tried to figure out what this book’s twist could be, if any.

I thought I did. But I was wrong. Again, Mackintosh plays with the unspoken assumptions and expectations about gender. Her sleigh-of-hand is so careful, I didn’t realize what she’d done until the implications exploded across the page. In this case, the author didn’t fall into a trap of relying on previous tricks. She let her readers fall into it while she kept going.

Bravo, Ms. Mackintosh.

Let Me Lie has a bit of a slow start, and I honestly didn’t find Murray as compelling as the other (female) detectives in Mackintosh’s first two books. But stick with it. She’ll surprise you.

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