Friday, August 30, 2019

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
Delicious Disasters by/from Isabella Louise Anderson (e-book)
No Time to Say Goodbye by Kate Hewitt from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella from Dial Press (e-book via NetGalley)
A Million Dreams by Dani Atkins from Head of Zeus (e-book via NetGalley)
Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain from St. Martin's Press
The Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen from Gallery
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
Love on Lexington Avenue by Lauren Layne from Gallery

Sara:
Honeymoon for One by Frankie Collins from Boldwood (e-book)
Relatively Happy by/from Whitney Dineen (e-book)
The Little Bookshop on the Seine by/from Rebecca Raisin (e-book via NetGalley)
Escape to Giddywell Grange by Kim Nash from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Right for Me by Cindy Dorminy from RedAdept (e-book)

Book Review: Love and Other Battles

1969: Free-spirited hippie Jess James has no intention of falling for a soldier ... but perhaps some things are not in our power to stop.

1989: Jess's daughter, Jamie, dreams of a simple life - marriage, children, stability - then she meets a struggling musician and suddenly the future becomes wilder and complex.

2017: When Jamie's daughter, CJ, brings home trouble in the form of the coolest boy at school, the worlds of these three women turn upside down ... and the past returns to haunt them.

Spanning the trauma of the Vietnam War to the bright lights of Nashville, the epidemic of teenage self-harm to the tragedy of incurable illness, Love and Other Battles is the heart-wrenching story of three generations of Australian women, who learn that true love is not always where you seek it. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Sara Steven:

I loved the way that each woman’s story within Love and Other Battles blends into one another, so that we’re able to learn more about each character. Those varying perspectives also allowed the opportunity to see the dynamics between mother and daughter, particularly when dealing with chaotic and trying situations. I appreciate that Tess Woods writes about the tough stuff, the subject matter that at times can even be viewed as controversial. That brave approach offers up another way to approach subject matters that we might not be as comfortable with.

I couldn’t help but feel for the varying romantic relationships depicted here; Jess and the deep, often self-sacrificing love she has for her husband, Jamie and the walls she has put up in order to protect herself from potentially feeling anything, and CJ with her newfound romance. I think there are times when the scenarios in stories don’t match up for the characters in the story, like with CJ and the experiences she has with the new boy from school. But, the way it’s described in this story and the way CJ lets us know, reminded me of what it was like to be a teenager again, with all the pressures and self-professed expectations that go along with that. It was real and very, very honest. The same thing could be said for all three women.

There is a big twist for Love and Other Battles, and even though I saw it coming, it didn’t lessen the shock value for me. I wanted to see how it would be portrayed, and I think it was done perfectly. Really, the whole book was perfection, a worthy five-star read!

Melissa Amster:

I read most of this novel in the span of one day. I just couldn't put it down. When I had to pause for real life, I wanted to get back to it as soon as possible, as I was worried for the characters.

Love and Other Battles is a powerful story about relationships between significant others and between family members. It deals with current issues, as well as some from previous eras that still make sense for this day and age. Fans of the hit television series This is Us will enjoy this novel, as it has a similar feel and not just because of the Vietnam parts. There's a lot of jumping back and forth between times and we get to see the characters from 1969 and 1989 as they age and change over time. All three main characters were put into tough situations and it was interesting to see how they weathered their storms, both for themselves and for each other. Some parts I did not see coming left me reeling when they hit me all of a sudden. I went through a book hangover that lasted from Saturday night until Wednesday morning, during which time I wasn't ready to start a new book.

Tess Woods continues to impress me with her thoughtful and sensitive writing style and I miss her characters so much afterward. (I still think about characters from her previous novels and I no doubt will continue to think of the ones from Love far into the future.) I already am clamoring to read whatever she writes next. I only wish there had been a soundtrack with CJ's songs to accompany this novel. (Like what Jodi Picoult did for Sing You Home.)

Movie casting suggestions:
Jess (1969): Katherine Langford
Jamie (1989): Daisy Ridley
Jess (2017/18): Stockard Channing
Jamie (2017/18): Saffron Burrows
CJ: Lara Robinson
Finn: Cole Sprouse
Simon: Mark Deklin
Frank (1969): Lincoln Younes

Thanks to Tess Woods for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Tess Woods:

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Reviews at Amazon-July/August 2019

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

Sara:

Review
Review

Review
Review



Melissa A:

Review 
Review
Review 

Review 
Review 
Review 

Review
Review
Review



Spotlight and Giveaway: How Sweet the Bitter Soup

Today we are pleased to feature Lori Qian's memoir, How Sweet the Bitter Soup. Thanks to KateRock LitChick, we have TWO copies to give away!

Her mom was working as a maid. Her dad’s Alzheimer’s was in high gear. And the rent on her parents’ small Chicago apartment had just gone up. Again. But Lori was holding it all together: helping care for her dad and pay her family’s bills, figuring out how to navigate graduate school and four jobs on top of her family responsibilities, and, somehow, continuing to believe that there was more to life than this.

And there was. An exciting job teaching at a prestigious school in China. Although the previous month, she had turned down a job offer in Iowa―thinking it was too far away from her family―she felt completely at ease accepting the job in China. Grasping on to the fierce determination she’d had since childhood, Lori found herself in Guangzhou, China, where she fell in love with the culture and with a man from a tiny town in Hubei province. What followed was a transformative adventure―one that will inspire readers to use the bitter to make life even sweeter. 


After living in China for more than a decade, Lori Qian relocated with her family to Alpine, Utah, ready to embrace an entirely new adventure--from a city of 15 million to a city of 15 thousand!

Lori was the first in her family to graduate from college and thus is a strong advocate of education and its life-changing power. She has subsequently contributed as a teacher and school leader for more than 20 years. Lori holds a BA in anthropology and philosophy, an MA in applied linguistics, and has advanced graduate training in school leadership, literacy instruction, and elementary education.

As a part of her quest for continued learning and self-improvement, at the age of 45, Lori began an entirely new career. She has embraced her role as a Licensed Mortgage Broker, helping people secure funding for their dream of home ownership, a concept that resonates deeply with her as her family builds their own “American Dream”.

More than anything, Lori enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her husband, their 3 children, and their mini golden doodle. She loves every aspect of living the quiet, suburban American lifestyle, from yard work and neighborhood dinners to exploring beautiful hiking trails all around her.

Learning about the world is a high priority, though, and having been blessed to travel to over 20 countries, Lori and her family are looking forward to future chances to learn, explore, and serve around the world. Qian is currently working on her second book, Fighting for Fitness, a self-help guide for making dramatic life changes, particularly in health and fitness, but in all areas of our lives as well.

Visit Lori online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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


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Giveaway ends September 3rd at midnight EST.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: Is There Still Sex in the City?

By Jami Deise

In the wake of my divorce last year, I comforted myself by climbing in bed and bingeing on old episodes of Sex and the City. Even though I was a good fifteen years older than Carrie and her crew – and the explosion in email, social media, and texting made many of the episodes seem woefully out of date – I was cheered up by their friendship and humor as they dated a series of losers. Staying at home watching TV seemed like the logical choice when there was no one out there who’d show me a better time.

Of course, Carrie and her friends all had happy endings, or what seemed like happy endings for women in their thirties (or in Samantha’s case, late forties). As much as I enjoyed the TV series (please don’t get me started on the movies!), they were in completely different places than I was.

Fifteen years later, does anyone think Carrie and Big are still together? I rooted for them at the time, and worried when SATC cast Mikhail Baryshnikov to play Carrie’s lover in the final season because the show’s creator, Candace Bushnell, had married a retired ballet dancer. It would be too poetic for Carrie to do the same thing. Fortunately for me, Carrie chose Big; unfortunately for Bushnell, she divorced her dancer in 2012.

Sex and the City began life as a book; a series of essays Bushnell wrote about thirtysomething women looking for love in New York City. Is There Still Sex in the City? is its natural follow-up; while I’m sorry Bushnell ended up divorced, reading this book made me feel less alone, and even hopeful. At their core, both books share the same message: Women can get through any relationship disaster as long as they have strong female friendships to hold them up.

Is There Still Sex in the City? kicks off with Bushnell getting denied a mortgage because of her newly divorced status, a symbol from the universe that as a 50-year-old divorcee, she doesn’t count. It follows her as she leaves the city, moves to Southampton Village with a group of girlfriends in similar straits, and tries to manage dating, friends, middle-aged madness, and more. Just like in the original book, she tells her story while sharing her friends’ adventures as well. (I particularly liked one acronym she came up with – MNB, short for My New Boyfriend, which definitely works for the serial monogamy I’ve also experienced.) Again, like an anthropologist, Bushnell introduces us to the type of men that women in their fifties end up dating: the Cub, the Hot Drop, the ubiquitous Bicycle Guy, and more.

Will any of these guys become as well-known as "Mr. Big?" Since Paramount Television and Anonymous Content have optioned the book for TV, it's possible. No word yet on which network or streaming service will host Is There Still Sex and the City? or on possible stars. But the series is an exciting sign that women over 50 are being seen as an important part of TV offerings, not just its audience. I can only hope that men on Match.com will start to see their value as well.

Thanks to Grove Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Candace Bushnell:

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

See what's cooking with Isabella Louise Anderson....plus a special giveaway

We're pleased to have Isabella Louise Anderson back at CLC today.  Melissa A enjoyed her previous novels, Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop (reviewed here) and The Right Design (reviewed here). Sara also enjoyed The Right Design (reviewed here). Therefore, we are excited about her latest novel, Delicious Disasters, as it sounds like quite a treat! Isabella has a treat for one lucky reader...a $50 Amazon gift card!

Isabella Louise Anderson grew up with a book in her hand, and to this day, nothing has changed. Aside from writing, she focuses her time on featuring other authors and their books on her blog, Chick Lit Goddess, along with sharing book reviews. Isabella Louise is also a member of the Romance Writers of America.

She lives in Dallas with her husband and their two cats, enjoys spicy Indian and Mexican food, margaritas, and red, white, and rosé wines. She loves spending time with family and friends and cheering on the Texas Rangers. Isabella is currently working on her next release.

Visit Isabella online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Synopsis:
When Tessa Markham’s bookstore gets bought out, she is forced to face an uncertain future. After her best friend challenges her to start baking, she accepts—even if the last time she baked wasn’t what she would call a delicious success.

After a small kitchen fire, Tessa’s life begins to change. She finds encouragement from a sexy fireman, agrees to a questionable ruse to help another business owner with a complicated situation, and needs to be there for her best friend now more than ever.

Can a delicious disaster lead to a new future and a successful baking career?


What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
There have been so many, but my favorite one was that I made someone cry. As a reader, I think it’s really important to relate to either the characters in the book and/or the story line. So, when someone told me that, it really hit me hard . . . in a good way.

How is Tessa from Delicious Disasters similar to or different from you?
Tessa and I are VERY similar. We both love drinking rosĂ© (even while baking), we don’t like chocolate, and baking once was like speaking a foreign language that has turned into something we both love. (Thanks, Food Network!)

If Delicious Disasters were made into a movie, who would play the leading roles?
Tessa: Jana Kramer (country music singer and actress of many Hallmark movies)
Brye: Josh Duhamel (Do I even need to explain myself? 😉)
C.C.: Hannah Brown (from The Bachelor & The Bachelorette)
Jake: Nick Viall (from The Bachelor & The Bachelorette)
Gavin: James Remar (he was Dexter’s dad on Dexter)

Tell us about your most epic cooking/baking disaster.
One year for my dad’s birthday I planned to make his cake. Well, after using a box of cake mix, I thought everything was fine until I took it out of the oven. Come to find out, it wasn’t cooked nearly enough and fell apart. I had to go back to the store and bought more ingredients. It was quite embarrassing when the cashier asked, “Weren’t you just here buying the same things?” Well, that cake didn’t work out either, but my husband came home from work and saved the day.

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
Honestly, I don’t watch that many movies (I’m more of a reality show kind of girl), but if one’s looking for a movie that will make you laugh and cry, I always recommend my favorites that I could watch over and over, When Harry Met Sally and P.S. I Love You.

What is your favorite back-to-school memory?
Every year, to get myself excited for the upcoming year, I would stock up on way too many notebooks, pens and pencils, backpacks, and books that I already had way too much of. At that time, instead of Amazon, I would head to Office Depot and spend hours in the store.

Thanks to Isabella for chatting with us and for sharing an Amazon gift card with our readers.

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


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Giveaway ends September 2nd at midnight EST.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Book Review: Silent Night

By Jami Deise

After I graduated from the Trixie Belden and the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators mystery series for kids, I moved onto Dame Agatha. I raced through her novels, eager to reach the climax where Hercule Poirot reveals all. Re-reading her books as an adult, I was annoyed by Christie’s tendency to withhold key evidence until that final reveal. I like to have the chance to solve the mystery myself. With American and U.K. crime writers being equally popular on the New York Times bestseller lists, I find it interesting to compare and contrast European writers to American ones. Perhaps the desire to solve the mystery herself is unique to American readers.

British publisher Bookouture has released Irish author Geraldine Hogan’s first crime novel, Silent Night, which is the first book in her Detective Iris Locke series. With its Irish setting, police detective protagonist, and gut-wrenching crimes, Silent Night strongly reminded me of a Tara French novel. The book has a strong premise and a shocking resolution, but the middle is a little slow.

Twenty-five years ago, Anna Crowe’s baby sister disappeared from her carriage when she was so young, she hadn’t even received a proper name. Now Anna herself is dead, along with her two young children – shot to death, then their bodies burned. The case becomes Iris’s when she accepts a temporary move to the Murder division. It’s what she’s always wanted, but it comes with a catch – the precinct is her father’s old station, and he was the officer in charge of the missing baby case – which was never solved. Iris is convinced that there has to be a connection between the two cases, although the other detectives on the case don’t seem to agree.

This is a fascinating plot, but the novel is more of a police procedural than a thriller. Many chapters center on detectives musing on who did it. With multiple third-person points of view, the reader never really identifies with Iris in a way that one expects to with the star of a new series. Other characters are bogged down with personal problems that have nothing to do with the case at hand. While such subplots can work to flesh out supporting characters, in Silent Night, it was more of a distraction, and kept Hogan from really delving into her protagonist’s personal life. Hogan’s resolution is fantastic, but it felt a bit like a Hercule Poirot summary. She withholds key information until the ending, which prevents the reader from figuring out the mystery on her own. That element may not bother U.K. readers, but it made the novel less enjoyable for me.

Still, all the elements of a strong procedural are here. Hogan leaves her heroine in pieces, a wounded bird that makes the perfect protagonist for noir. While not perfect, Silent Night is a good start for a series. I expect the next book will be even better.

Thanks to Bookouture for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit the stops on the blog tour.



Friday, August 23, 2019

Book Review: Theme Music

By Jami Deise

There are some things that just naturally go together: Peanut butter and jelly. Ham and cheese. Crabs and beer (that last one might just be a Maryland thing). Other things don’t seem to go together at all, but once you try them, they work. Like pineapple on pizza. Who would have thought that would work?

Similarly, books are an almost non-detectable melding of voice and genre. A writer’s use of language creates an atmosphere that creates humor, suspense, dread, or other emotion. Depending on which words are used, the same setting could create anticipation or fear.

That’s how it usually works, anyway.

Maryland author T. Marie Vandelly turns this rule on its head in her debut, Theme Music. While the book is a psychological thriller, it’s written in the tone of chick lit. By playing against expectation in this way, Vandelly actually amplifies the horror. It’s an interesting choice that might annoy horror fans while attracting fans in other genres.

The protagonist of Theme Music is Dixie Wheeler, who, as a one-year-old, was the sole survivor when her father killed the rest of their family (mother and three older brothers) with an axe, then dragged a knife across his own throat. Having been raised by her mother’s sister, Dixie is now 26 and looking forward to moving into a place with her boyfriend, Garrett. But when she spies her childhood home on the market, she decides to move in, even after the nosy neighbor tells her the place is haunted. After Dixie tells him the truth about the house, Garrett decides not to move in with her. So Dixie is alone when she starts to have visions of her murdered family. And when her aunt tells her that her uncle never believed Dixie’s father killed the family, she becomes determined to re-open the investigation.

Oh, and there’s a love triangle among Dixie, Garrett, and Dixie’s childhood crush and former neighbor, Rory, whose last girlfriend died mysteriously…

At times, Theme Music feels like Amityville Horror (and some of the descriptions may be too explicit for sensitive readers.) At others, it’s more like Bridget Jones’s Diary. But strangely enough, it works. That may be because the tone (it’s written in first person) completely matches that of a millennial who’s been beaten down by life. Or perhaps the unintentional humor of certain metaphors and phrases helps to mitigate the effects of the graphic imagery. And there are a couple of really nice twists that keep the pacing quick.

My only quibble was with the ending, which seemed both predictable and illogical. More broadly, an issue with psychological thrillers is that, with a necessarily small cast, it’s fairly easy to evaluate possible villains. Part of the fun of reading mysteries is guessing correctly who the bad guy is. But the best experience is being fooled in a way that makes the reader want to go back and take a second look at the book, to see what clues she missed. While Vandelly isn’t there as a writer yet, I’m confident that’s a level she’ll be able to obtain.

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Spotlight and Giveaway: Postcards for a Songbird

Today we are featuring Postcards for a Songbird by Rebekah Crane. Thanks to KTK Publicity, we have THREE copies to give away!

Everyone eventually leaves Wren Plumley. First it was her mother, then her best friend, and then her sister. Now living with only her cop father and her scattered dreams, Wren feels stranded, like a songbird falling in a storm.

When Wilder, a sickly housebound teen, moves in next door, Wren finally finds what she’s always wanted—a person who can’t leave. But a chance meeting with Luca, the talkative, crush-worthy boy in her driver’s ed class, has Wren wondering if maybe she’s too quick to push people away. Soon, Wren finds herself caught between the safety of a friendship and a love worth fighting for.

Wren starts to dream again. But when postcards begin arriving from her sister, Wren must ultimately confront why her mother left fourteen years before and why her sister followed in her footsteps. For her new life to take flight, Wren will have to reconcile the heartbreaking beauty of lost dreams and the beautiful heartbreak of her new reality.

Inspiring, charming, and quick to become a favorite summer read, POSTCARDS FOR A SONGBIRD tugs at your heart strings as you root for Wren to understand that she’s not alone and fully embrace the love and friendship that surrounds her.


Photo by Kate Testerman
Rebekah Crane is the author of several critically acclaimed young-adult novels, including The Infinite Pieces of Us, The Upside of Falling Down, The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland, Aspen (currently being adapted by Life Out Loud Films), and Playing Nice. Crane is a former high school English teacher who found a passion for writing young-adult fiction while studying secondary English education at Ohio University. After living and teaching in six different cities, Crane finally settled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to write novels and work on screenplays. A yoga instructor and the mother of two girls, Crane spends many of her days tucked behind a laptop at 7,500 feet, where the altitude only enhances the writing experience. To learn more about Crane, visit her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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


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Giveaway ends August 27th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Go-to-Gay AND Chick Lit Cheerleader: Happy trails to you


Keith and Jen are back this month to share their travel expertise with everyone. If you've finished your traveling for the summer, perhaps this will be useful for future trips. If you haven't gone anywhere yet, here are some good tips to start you on your dream vacation!

The Only Travel Guide You Need
Go. Go forth and see all the things.....


J: Vacation is calling and asking you to stop by, sit a spell, and bring home a suitcase filled with memories—or collector spoons—who are we to judge? It’s a good time for seasoned travelers to dispense wisdom to those hitting the open road and flying the tiny seats and rows skies this summer. Instead, you lucky ducks are getting top-notch travel insights from us.

K: Travel insights from us are better than a professional traveler, anyway. I mean, what are they going to tell you? Pack travel-size toiletries and take your shoes off when going through airport security? Peeshaw, we all know that stuff. We are here to give you the real down-and-dirty on how to travel like, well, us.



Gone Girl 
J: That friend. The one who’s always going, doing and traveling here, there and everywhere. I’m curious. Is her name Felicia? Because people seem to say goodbye to her all the time. Seriously, all. the. time!
K: Don’t try to compete with girl. YOU WILL NOT WIN. She has enough frequent flier miles to jet off to Aspen or Tokyo or Dayton without thinking twice. And if I am being catty, which I am, she probably has no close friends or family. That is why she is always traveling. Just “Heart” her Insta pics and be done.

The Budget
J: You’re thoughtfully considering whether or not you can afford that trip to Greece while making a deposit at the bank, and you swear you heard the teller, under his breath, say, “Honey, you can’t even afford to walk back to your car.”
K: Jen, have you been following me to the bank? I don’t let things like budgets get in the way of a good trip. You are only in Minneapolis once, right? You MUST splurge and go to the Spam museum.



Travel Light 
J: While packing, be sure to include that dress. The one with price tags still attached that’s been hanging in your closet since 2016. This time, you’ll wear it. Oh, and don’t forget the matching pumps! The pinchy ones that have only been on your feet when you tried them on at the department store. Those make great hiking shoes.
K: And while you are at it, go ahead and throw in enough underwear and socks to last you the remainder of 2019. You never know. You never know.

TSA Screening 
 J: When the metal detectors sing out that you left something in your pocket and you’re the recipient of an extra-special pat down, now is the time to give a shout out to the culprit: your Buns of Steel!
K: And if you are lucky, the TSA Agent won’t be rude, and will be pretty. Also, don’t announce you have Buns of Steel because then everyone in the area will be staring at your rump the rest of your time in the security area.

Nothing but love for Tamilee Webb!

[Aggressively speaks in a Scottish accent]
If that's not a pure mess... (Courtesy of Tumblr)

Rock Your Accent 
K: This is mine alone. Jen doesn’t have an accent that others deem hard to understand. Oh sure, plenty people find a Southern drawl cute, sometimes sexy, but just wait until you are in Chicago, New York, or Gettysburg and try to order a cup of ice at a restaurant or ask a clerk in Boise for pen. It is as if I am speaking a different language. It used to frustrate me so much I would change my accent and use a “Yankee” inflection, but then I got old and crabby and decided it was not worth it. It was their problem if they couldn’t understand my sweet, sweet drawl. So, my advice is to go full force with whatever accent you have. It is beautiful and who you are. The whole point of traveling is to experience new people and things. You may as well expose the locals to something different as well.

Hopefully, these tips will help you at least think about your next trip or start your planning something fun. Let us know where you have been this summer or where you are heading in the near future. We live through you!

Buen Viaje! Buon Viaggio! Bon Voyage! Have a Great Trip!

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 www.astrongmanscupoftea.com. 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 HumorOutcasts.com and the GoodMenProject.com. He lives with his husband, Andy, and their two dogs, Duke and Dudley.

Jen Tucker is the author of the funny and true stories, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out and The Day I Lost My Shaker of SaltIn September 2012, she had her children's book, Little Pumpkin published as an e-book. She also blogs monthly for Survival for Blondes. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, three kids and two dogs. You can find her at TwitterFacebook, her blog and on her website. And in case you missed them. check out her previous Chick Lit Cheerleader posts here.



Book Review: Banished From Memory

By Sara Steven

It’s 1960. Sixteen-year-old Dianna Fletcher has been accustomed to the bright lights of Hollywood all her life-but now they are casting shadows on her family’s past and on her own future.

Dianna fears she is losing her talent and failing to live up to her family’s legacy. When she does land a part, she finds an unexpected enemy in brilliant actor and womanizer, Bill Royce, who not only attacks her confidence but holds a deep grudge against her family. Dianna comes to believe Bill’s resentment is related to her suspicion that her parents harbor a secret linked to the blacklist. But even as their friendship grows despite their misgivings about each other, Bill will not confess what he knows.

As Dianna struggles with her career in a rapidly changing industry, she urges Bill to share his dark past with her, only to discover secrets that could destroy her family’s prestige and power.

Banished From Memory highlights the conflicted relationship between two legacies of the blacklist, the sunset of classic Hollywood, the challenges and gifts of acting, and a determination on the part of one generation to exhume the truth of another’s. But at what cost? (synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Banished From Memory presented an intriguing and unique concept, with bringing in real-life celebrities and characters most of us are very familiar with, blending in with fictional people who feel true to life and more than believable. Not only that, but the celebrities we’ve come to know and often love have a voice within this story that fits their individual characteristics and mannerisms, an uncanny representation that aided in bringing forth Dianna’s inner struggles. I really couldn’t get enough of the nostalgia!

Dianna is the type of character who we hate to love, initially. Born with extreme privilege within a world that revolves around the silver screen, there are moments of brattiness and cattiness, showcasing her immaturity and inability to understand what’s behind the gilded curtains of her life. Yet, as her story progresses, we see her change and evolve, and while she still holds on to her youthfulness, there is a gritty edge that comes out when she begins to see the world for how it really is. This is due largely in part to her new friend and potential love interest, Bill Royce. I could feel the pangs of a girlish crush from Dianna, and the yearning he has for her, even though he feels as though it’s not right, and in some ways, forbidden. There is a lot stacked against the both of them, and a lot of baggage, which makes the reader feel torn about seeing them as a couple, bringing out the best and the worst within one another.

In reading about the history of the blacklist within Banished, I felt I learned a lot more than I ever imagined I could. While I knew of its legacy, I did not know the intricacies involved. I know the characters in this story are fictional, even the ones whose names we know well, but their stories and what they’ve had to endure is very real, a moment in our history that has not been brought to light in a very long time. Running alongside it are the various ways women were treated or “handled”, a time where certain behaviors were much more accepted than they are now, something that is very relatable to more recent events. Dianna questions all of it, and it’s from her perspective that we find ourselves asking the same thing that she does throughout the novel: What is a woman’s worth? It's in this that we really see the changes in Dianna and those around her, an eye-opening revelation worthy of discovery.

Thanks to JKS Communications for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Katherine Center is on fire...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Skylar Reeves
We're thrilled to have Katherine Center at CLC today. Melissa A listed How to Walk Away as one of her 2018 favorites (reviewed here). Katherine's latest novel, Things You Save in a Fire (published August 13th by St. Martin's Press) is already on Melissa A's 2019 favorites list (reviewed here). Katherine has one copy of Things You Save in a Fire for a lucky reader!

Katherine Center is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of How to Walk Away. She’s also written five other bittersweet comic novels about love and family, including The Bright Side of Disaster, The Lost Husband, and Happiness for Beginners. The Lost Husband is currently in production as a feature film starring Josh Duhamel and Leslie Bibb. Katherine’s work has appeared in Redbook, InStyle, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, InTouch, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and many others.

Katherine’s novels have been published in translation all around the world. She has won many awards for her work, including the Rose State President’s Distinguished Author Award, the Girls, Inc. Strong, Smart & Bold Award, the Writers In The Schools Founders’ Award, the St. John’s School Maverick Award, and the Vassar College Fiction Prize.

Katherine is also a speaker on writing, and reading, and how the stories we tell impact our lives—and she recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy. She lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her awesome husband, two sweet children, and their fluffy-but-fierce dog. (Bio adapted from Katherine's website.)

Visit Katherine online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis:
Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she's seen her fair share of them, and she's a total pro at other people's tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie's old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren't exactly thrilled to have a "lady" on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn't seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can't think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping...and it means risking it all—the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

Katherine Center's Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt and healing tour-de-force about the strength of vulnerability, the nourishing magic of forgiveness, and the life-changing power of defining courage, at last, for yourself. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
Last year, during the same summer, I got compared in reviews to both Jane Austen and Nora Ephron—two of my writing heroes. That has been my standing Greatest Compliment for a full year. But the other night, a woman on one of my book tour stops for Things You Save in a Fire told me that she'd loved reading the book so much, that when she got to the end, she hugged it. That was a pretty great moment, too.

How are you similar to or different from Cassie?
Cassie is basically about a third me, a third my volunteer firefighter husband, and a third her own self! Her love of firefighting, her physical courage, and her calm-in-the-storm quality, that’s all my hubby. Her gumption and grit and refusal to give up—that’s all me. And as she becomes more tender-hearted during the story, that’s my own tenderness I’m giving her. I came to really love Cassie—for how tough she is, but also for the courage it takes for her to let herself open up.

If Things You Save in a Fire were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
That is a tough question! It’s always hard for me to fan-cast my books because the characters feel so real and specific to me. I’m not sure who I would pick to be Cassie—but I’d want her to be warm-hearted and able to convey both vulnerability and badassery. As for the rookie, I’d want him to have a very expressive face—you know, one where you can read his emotions as he’s watching Cassie. I’d want to see his admiration for her, and feel his longing to be closer to her. I’d want the attraction between them to be palpable.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I read a time-travel love story by Bee Ridgway called The River of No Return this summer, and it has really stayed with me. Eloisa James blurbed it as “ the love-child of Jane Austen and Dr. Who,” and I was like, Sold!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
At the start of my book tour for Things You Save in a Fire, I got to do two launch events in my hometown of Houston, and during both of them, I got to pull my volunteer firefighter hubby up in front of the crowd and ask him a little bit about firefighting. My husband is the funniest person I know, even just around the house, but he’s ten times funnier in front of a crowd. He got up there and told firefighter stories and cracked the whole room up—myself included.

If you were to take us on a tour of the town where you live, what are some must-see places we would visit?

I would take us on an eating tour. There are things to see, sure—but mostly there are things to EAT. Eating is basically our national sport down here—and we have food from every nook and cranny of the globe. We know how to eat in this town! We’d have to bring wheelbarrows with us to cart ourselves home, we’d get so full.

Thanks to Katherine for visiting with us and for sharing her book with our readers.

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

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Giveaway ends August 25th at midnight EST.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Book Review: City of Girls

By Melissa Amster

"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves - and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life - and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. "At some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time," she muses. "After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is." Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection,
City of Girls is a love story like no other. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Until now, I've only read one of Elizabeth Gilbert's books--Eat, Pray, Love obviously. I really enjoyed it, but somehow never got around to reading anything else she has written in the past eleven years. I had no idea what she was capable of when it came to fiction, so I was pleasantly surprised with City of Girls.

I loved everything about this novel. It is extremely well-written and captivating throughout. The vivid imagery made it so easy to picture everything that was going on. I felt like I was stepping back in time to visit New York City in the 1940's. The focus on musical theater was a big draw for me and I love how that aspect was played out (excuse the pun). Vivian was so relatable, regardless of the fact that she lived in a different time period. Her "voice" was witty and compelling. I enjoyed getting to know her and seeing where her path in life took her over the years that this novel spanned. Elizabeth had great characters and their interactions and dialogue were so genuine that it made the story flow beautifully. I had no idea where anything would go, as it was not predictable, and I enjoyed the journey from start to finish.

City of Girls is such a beautifully told story about love in its many forms. I recommend it to everyone as a must-read. It is definitely one of my favorite novels from this year.

Movie casting suggestions:
Vivian (20s): Maya Hawke
Vivian (30s-50s): Jamie Clayton
Olive: Alex Borstein
Anthony: Noah Centineo
Peg: Christine Elise
Celia: Conor Leslie
Marjorie (adult): Gabby Hoffman
Frank: Alessandro Nivola
Edna: Cate Blanchett
Arthur: Chris Pine
Billy: Johnny Depp

I won this book from Reading with Robin and am so thankful for the opportunity to read it this summer.

More by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Book Review: False Step

By Jami Deise

Thanks to reality TV, Instagram, YouTube, etc., it seems that everyone is looking for fame that lasts much longer than the promised fifteen minutes. Even those of us whose only public display is Facebook carefully curate what we post in order to put forth the most flattering portrait of ourselves as possible. But sometimes people end up as a supporting character in someone else’s movie, and that’s when we can’t control the narrative any longer.

In Victoria Helen Stone’s latest thriller, False Step, occupational therapist Veronica Bradley is stuck in a dead marriage to personal trainer Johnny, staying only because of their daughter Sydney. But when Johnny finds a missing child, suddenly he’s a hero to their Denver, Colorado town… and everyone wants to know about him and his family. As Veronica is having an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Micah, she wants nothing to do with the press coverage, the fawning fake friends, or the police. And as Johnny’s behavior grows more strange, she’s forced to wonder if her husband is hiding something big.

Veronica should be an unlikable character, but Stone does such a good job describing an insecure woman who married too soon, who now feels trapped because of her daughter’s hero worship of her father, that the reader roots for Veronica regardless. While the novel’s prose could have been more sophisticated, it works well with Veronica’s view of the world. As the stakes get higher, Veronica’s choices become more urgent, and the book becomes more of a page-turner. Even though I predicted the ending, it’s an earned one.

False Step probably won’t make any “best of” lists, but it’s a fast, enjoyable read for domestic thriller fans.

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

More by Victoria Helen Stone:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Spending time in France with Kristin and Sarah...plus a book giveaway

This is not the first time we've featured books by Kristin Harmel and Sarah Jio together. Melissa A reviewed both of their books in a post back in 2015. This is the first time they're doing an interview together, as their latest novels, which published on Tuesday, have some similar characteristics:
  • Both take place in France
  • Both take place during WWII/Holocaust
  • Both have characters named CĂ©line who are Jewish to some extent
  • Both switch between the past and the present
Melissa A has read The Winemaker's Wife (Kristin; see review) and is excited to read All the Flowers in Paris (Sarah) soon. Thanks to Gallery and Random House, THREE lucky readers can win copies of both novels!

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. Her latest novels — The Room on Rue AmĂ©lie, The Sweetness of Forgetting, The Life Intended, How to Save a Life, and When We Meet Again — were published by Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. 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 websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram. (Bio adapted from Kristin's website.)

Photo by Brandon Ebel
A #1 international, USA Today and New York Times bestselling author, Sarah Jio has written nine novels with Penguin Books (Plume) and Random House (Ballantine). Her novels include THE VIOLETS OF MARCH (a Library Journal Best Book of 2011 and a USA Today bestseller), THE BUNGALOW, BLACKBERRY WINTER (an instant New York Times and USA Today bestseller, as well as an international bestseller), THE LAST CAMELLIA (a Kirkus Books Most Anticipated Book of 2012), MORNING GLORY, GOODNIGHT JUNE, THE LOOK OF LOVE (an iTunes Best Book of November 2014), ALWAYS, which debuted in hardcover from Random House (Ballantine) on February 7, 2017 and in paperback a year later. To date, Sarah’s novels are published in more than 25 countries, including Italy, France, Brazil, Turkey, Slovenia, Russia, China, Norway, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, and many others. A magazine writer and former columnist for Glamour magazine, Sarah has written thousands of articles and blog posts for national magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Redbook, O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, SELF, Real Simple, Marie Claire, The Nest, The Seattle Times, Parents, Woman’s Day, Parenting, and many others. She has also appeared as a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition. Sarah lives in Seattle with her husband and three young sons. Visit Sarah at her website, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (Bio adapted from Sarah's website.)

Synopses (both courtesy of Amazon):

The Winemaker's Wife:
Champagne, 1940: InĂšs has just married Michel, the owner of storied champagne house Maison Chauveau, when the Germans invade. As the danger mounts, Michel turns his back on his marriage to begin hiding munitions for the RĂ©sistance. InĂšs fears they’ll be exposed, but for CĂ©line, half-Jewish wife of Chauveau’s chef de cave, the risk is even greater—rumors abound of Jews being shipped east to an unspeakable fate.

When CĂ©line recklessly follows her heart in one desperate bid for happiness, and InĂšs makes a dangerous mistake with a Nazi collaborator, they risk the lives of those they love—and the champagne house that ties them together.

New York, 2019: Liv Kent has just lost everything when her eccentric French grandmother shows up unannounced, insisting on a trip to France. But the older woman has an ulterior motive—and a tragic, decades-old story to share. When past and present finally collide, Liv finds herself on a road to salvation that leads right to the caves of the Maison Chauveau.



All the Flowers in Paris:
When Caroline wakes up in a Paris hospital with no memory of her past, she’s confused to learn that for years she’s lived a sad, reclusive life in a sprawling apartment on the rue Cler. Slowly regaining vague memories of a man and a young child, she vows to piece her life back together—though she can’t help but feel she may be in danger. A budding friendship with the chef of a charming nearby restaurant takes her mind off her foggy past, as does a startling mystery from decades prior.

In Nazi-occupied Paris, a young widow named CĂ©line is trying to build a new life for her daughter while working in her father’s flower shop and hoping to find love again. Then a ruthless German officer discovers her Jewish ancestry and CĂ©line is forced to play a dangerous game to secure the safety of her loved ones. When her worst fears come true, she must fight back in order to save the person she loves most: her daughter.

When Caroline discovers CĂ©line’s letters tucked away in a closet, she realizes that her apartment harbors dark secrets—and that she may have more in common with CĂ©line than she could have ever imagined.

All the Flowers in Paris is an emotionally captivating novel rooted in the resiliency and strength of the human spirit, the steadfastness of a mother’s love, and the many complex layers of the heart—especially its capacity to forgive.



What inspired you to write a novel about WWII/Holocaust that takes place in France?

Kristin Harmel: This is actually my third WWII novel set in France (and my fourth overall novel set in France), so you could definitely say I've found something I'm very passionate about! I actually lived in Paris in my early twenties, and it was while living there that I made my first real attempt at writing a novel. (Several re-starts and revisions later, I finished HOW TO SLEEP WITH A MOVIE STAR, a chick lit novel, which was published by Warner Books (now called Hachette Book Group) in 2006.) Since that time, Paris--and France as a whole--have always meant a great deal to me; it's my favorite place in the world, the place where I feel most creative, and even the place where my now-husband proposed (back in 2013). I set my 2008 chick lit novel, THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING in Paris, and in 2010, when I knew I wanted to be writing books that were a bit more serious, I came up with the idea for THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING (which was published in 2012), which centered around a real-life escape line that operated through the Grand Mosque of Paris and ultimately saved around a thousand Jewish refugees. It was an extraordinary story that I knew about because I had spent so much time in Paris and fallen in love with the city and its history. Paris will always hold a special place in my heart, and because of that, I find myself coming back to it--and to the stories of WWII heroism among its ordinary citizens--again and again. It was while researching that novel that I had the idea for my 2018 novel, THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE, and in turn, it was while researching RUE that I began to look into what had happened in the Champagne region of France (which I had fallen in love with on my honeymoon in 2014) during World War II. When I discovered that the French Resistance had been very active there, I knew it would be the perfect place to set a novel, and voila! THE WINEMAKER'S WIFE was born!

Sarah Jio: This book was born out of both my longstanding love of Paris and fascination with the ins and outs of the World War II era. First, Paris: I’ve visited many times, and especially loved the two trips I made researching this book. (Funny confessions: I once tried to devise a (totally impractical) plan where I lived in Paris every other weekend.) I always wanted to set a book in my second favorite city (next to my hometown of Seattle, of course) and this story provided the perfect opportunity. As for the 1940’s setting, all I can say is that I am endlessly smitten with this decade—the fashion, music, lifestyle, and also the strength and resilience of the people, most especially those who encountered Nazi terrorism as my characters in ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS did.


What do you feel the symbolism is in using wine/flowers throughout your novel?

KH: I'm not sure that wine is symbolic in the book, exactly; the novel centers around a champagne house (and the wine making that takes place there), so the wine is really quite literally at the center of nearly everything the characters do. For me, though, it's fascinating to now know the history of what happened in Champagne during World War II (which you'll learn about in THE WINEMAKER'S WIFE). That knowledge adds a great deal of symbolism and meaning to every glass of champagne I have today. There's extraordinary bravery, heroism, and love behind those bubbles, and that makes every sip special in a way I never understood before.

SJ: As you might have guessed, I love turning to nature for symbolism and layers of meaning in my novels. In this new novel, my character and her father own a flowers shop on the rue Cler. Flowers are so delicate, just as humans are, and yet I loved writing about the lotus flower, in particular, and its shocking bold journey to survive. For me, that became an important metaphor for my characters.

If you could cast three of the lead characters from your novel in a movie version, who would you choose for those roles?

KH: I am TERRIBLE at this; I never visualize actors as my characters as I'm writing (they exist entirely independently in my head!), so it's very difficult for me to "cast" actors in roles that still feel to me like real people. It's kind of like asking who should play me in the biopic of my life (which, if you're asking, would be Reese Witherspoon or Kristen Bell, both of whom I adore!). On this one, I'm going to take the easy way out and hand the casting director role over to Melissa Amster, who always has incredible casting ideas: her ideas for Courtney Eaton as Ines, Mathilde Olivier as Celine, Jeremy Irvine as Michel, John Reardon as Julien, and Katherine Waterston as Liv are spot on! (Also, Melissa, why are you NOT working as a casting director? You're amazing at this!)

SJ: Oh goodness, I hate to say this but I’m so out of touch with the latest actresses these days. I read more than I watch (in fact, if you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that movie screens are a sure-fire way to get me to fall asleep, ha. No, really, I’m fun! I promise! Zzzzzzzzzzz.) In that sense, I don’t know that I’d have a good cast in mind. But for some reason, I feel like Reese Witherspoon would make a fabulous lead for Caroline!

Which is your favorite of each other's novels? If you haven't read any yet, which one would you want to start with?

KH: I loved BLACKBERRY WINTER, Sarah's 2012 book (I think), which takes place in two time periods and concerns a missing child cold case. I liked the dual timelines and the way Sarah always writes so beautifully about the Seattle area. I've never visited, but I feel as if I've traveled there through her books. I'm looking forward to seeing her take on my beloved Paris in ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS!

SJ: I’m certain that Kristin Harmel and I would be great friends. She writes about the same kinds of topics that I do with a special interest in topics of love, which I’ve always been drawn to in my stories. I have a copy of THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING on my bookshelf the is beckoning me to be read! I plan to pack it along on my next beach vacation, along with her latest.

What is your favorite WWII/Holocaust novel that you did not write?

KH: Of course THE NIGHTINGALE and SARAH'S KEY are both brilliant, as are Kate Quinn's THE HUNTRESS, Ann Mah's THE LOST VINTAGE, and Pam Jenoff's LOST GIRLS OF PARIS. I also loved the YA novel CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, as well as Irene Nemirovsky's SUITE FRANCAISE, written during the early years of the war; the real story behind it is tragic, as author Nemirovsky, who was Jewish, was arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz, where she died.

SJ: There are so many good ones, but one that has stayed with me all these years later is SARAH’S KEY. It was so touching and emotional, I even had to set it down for a few days to recover before reading further. When a book makes you feel that deeply, you know it’s excellent.

What is the strangest thing currently residing in your purse/handbag?
KH: Oh my goodness, everything in there is strange; I have a three-year-old! But at this moment, it would have to be the pirate-themed rubber duck that is squished between my wallet and hairbrush, courtesy of our trip this morning to an indoor bounce house park!

SJ: I love this hilarious question! I have three boys (ages 12, 10 and 8) so you know that on any given day, I have the most bizarre things in my bag (a giant Louis Vuitton Neverful bag, which my boys call “Louie.”) Presently, I’ve been carting around two lemon cucumbers a friend gave me from her garden, which I’m just now realizing I forgot to put in the fridge! I’m also pretty sure I have nine pairs of sunglasses, four dozen Band Aids and at least enough snacks to feed a small army. Mom life!

Thanks to Kristin and Sarah for chatting with us and to Gallery and Random House 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 August 20th at midnight EST.