Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reviews at Amazon--December 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!

Melissa A:



Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 Favorites

There were so many great books published in 2019 that it was very hard to choose between them. Here are some of the books that topped our lists. However, any book we gave glowing reviews and five stars to this year is definitely recommended for your TBR!

*Links are to reviews, unless indicated otherwise.

Melissa A:
1. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
2. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
3. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
4. Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey (review coming soon)
5. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis-Graves

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle
Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald
(All links are for Amazon.)

I sweated over this list… it’s not easy picking five favorites for the year when you read two or three books a week! Nevertheless, here’s my best shot:
My favorite overall book of 2019: Candace Bushnell’s Is There Still Sex in The City? The writer whose book launched my favorite TV series released this follow-up, which was enormously comforting in the wake of my divorce and showed me that it was possible to find new love after 50. And I did.
Favorite Mystery/Thriller: Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman. Since the debut of her Baltimore-based female PI Tess Monaghan series in the 1990s, Lippman has gotten better with every book. It’ll be hard to top this one, though, which wraps an intriguing mystery around racism, sexism, and other isms in 1960s Baltimore. (Runner up: The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware)
Favorite Historical Fiction: The Things We Cannot Say, Kelly Rimmer. A triumph for an author who excels in different genres. (runner up: Lost Roses, Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls prequel)
Favorite Sci-Fi: Recursion, Blake Crouch. (Link is to Amazon.) If all you know about this author is that he wrote the Wayward Pines trilogy on which the 2015 series was based, you don’t know the full story. Read this amazing look at parallel universes… then go back and read everything else on his back list.
Favorite Non-Fiction: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb. (Link is to Amazon.) This memoir from The Atlantic’s resident therapist is almost as good as going to therapy yourself. (Runner up: Once More We Saw Stars, Jayson Greene.)

1. The Year Marjorie Moore Learned to Live by Christie Grotheim
2. Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde
3. Emily, Gone by Bette Lee Crosby
4. Starfish: A Rockstar Romance by Lisa Becker
5. Twine by Monica Duncan

The Lives We Touch by Eva Woods - moving, thought-provoking and memorable, Eva makes my annual favourites list for the second year running. (US title: The Inbetween Days.)

The Day We Met by Roxie Cooper - reflecting back on the novels I’ve read this year this was one that remains memorable. Frustrating, moving, the story and characters have stayed with me and I’d read this one all over again.

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman - just an exquisite novel that ticks all the boxes.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Book Review: Surviving Valencia

By Sara Steven

A car accident robs the Loden family of twins Van and Valencia shortly after they start college. Charmed, bright, and beautiful, they held their family together and elevated the Lodens to greatness. In their loss, a shadow is cast upon the family, particularly on the remaining child, who lacks the easy grace and popularity her older siblings took for granted.

As an adult, her life begins to turn from mediocre to amazing when she is saved by cool, artistic Adrian. The kind of happiness once reserved only for others is finally hers, until pieces of the past begin ruining what seems to be a perfect life. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

There are times when I go into a book with certain expectations on how I think it’s going to go, and where it’s going to end up. Surviving Valencia completely derailed my expectations.

The protagonist is dealing with the loss of her siblings, not only from her own perspective, but in having to try and still maintain some sort of relationship with her parents after this tragic fall out. The parents are grieving, which I felt was written perfectly by way of seeing this grief through the protagonist’s perspective. The way they treat her, which already had been on shaky ground due to their intense favoritism towards the twins. I could see a coming-of-age experience, combined with a means to finding her way amidst being last on everyone’s priority list, bordering at times on potential abuse. But then, the twists and the turns.

Tierney-Bedord is known for her twists and turns- The Port Elspeth Jewelry Making Club is a good example of this. One moment you think the story is going one way, yet through flashbacks in the past, and propelling forward into the present, we discover that there is much more to this protagonist’s story. Her present begins to bleed into the past, slowly, showcasing a mystery that she begins to research into, not really knowing if she wants to. I wasn’t even sure, as the reader, if I wanted her to. We know her as someone who has already gone through so much in her life. Can she handle the rest? Yet this made me feel even more invested in her, in finding out the truth.

I go back and forth on how much I wanted from the ending to Surviving Valencia. On the one hand, I wanted a little more from some of the revelations, yet at the same time, it felt right for the situation and for the character. If there were moments in the story I would want to see revisited, that’s the only one. I felt the protagonist was written perfectly, in a way that really showcases what it’s like to live in someone else’s shadow, even after the shadows are no longer there, and what that means for someone when they become an adult carrying that emotional baggage with them into their relationships and beyond. The back and forth from present to past worked well in telling her story, and in helping us to better understand who she is, and where she has come from.

Thanks to Holly Tierney-Bedord for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Holly Tierney-Bedord:

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Book Review: Extracurricular (Book One)

By Melissa Amster

Audrey Thorpe's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her high school alma mater.​

It's your child's senior year. A private prep school's reputation is at stake. A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. And a few desperate parents have much more money than brains.

Extracurricular, new lust, old loves, a dark family secret, and rich crazy parents behaving badly lead to a college admissions cheating scandal, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator, and the students involved —

And a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

The synopsis above doesn't really give a flavor for what Extracurricular is really about. The beginning plays on the college admissions scandal from earlier this year (the one involving Aunt Becky from Full House). Then it goes back in time to when Audrey was in high school and a new, very handsome teacher is employed there. Reeling from a recent breakup, Audrey now has her eye on this teacher. However, he acts like she doesn't exist. And there are other factors at play, as well. (Audrey's mom runs the school, so this complicates things even more.)

I wasn't sure where this story was going originally, but I like where it went. It definitely satisfied the void that The Politician left when I was finished binge-watching that show. It has the same level of scandal and deceit, told in Josie Brown's compelling gossipy style. I couldn't stop reading it because I just needed to know what would happen. There were lots of interesting surprises and twists...and this is only book one! One aspect of the story reminded me of when I did speech team in high school.

I just wish there wasn't all the extra material afterward, because it was misleading on my Kindle. I was at 75% and it just finished and then there were excerpts from other books Josie has written. I can't wait to read books two and three, but I also need to spread around my attention to other authors. I hope to get back to them soon though!

Binge-worthy TV series casting ideas:
Audrey (late 90s): India Eisley
Audrey (present): Rachael Leigh Cook
Egan: Henry Cavill
Mandy (late 90s): Debby Ryan
Lavinia: Tina Fey

Thanks to Josie Brown for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Josie Brown:

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book Review: Split-Level

By Sara Steven

In Split-Level, set as the nation recoils from Nixon, Alex Pearl is about to commit the first major transgression of her life. But why shouldn’t she remain an officially contented, soon-to-turn-thirty wife? She’s got a lovely home in an upscale Jersey suburb, two precocious daughters, and a charming husband, Donny. But Alex can no longer deny she craves more—some infusion of passion into the cul-de-sac world she inhabits.

After she receives a phone call from her babysitter’s mother reporting that Donny took the teen for a midnight ride, promising he’d teach her how to drive, Alex insists they attend Marriage Mountain, the quintessential 1970s “healing couples sanctuary.” Donny accedes—but soon becomes obsessed with the manifesto A Different Proposition and its vision of how multiple couples can live together in spouse-swapping bliss. At first Alex scoffs, but soon she gives Donny much more than he bargained for. After he targets the perfect couple to collude in his fantasy, Alex discovers her desire for love escalating to new heights—along with a willingness to risk everything. Split-Level evokes a pivotal moment in the story of American matrimony, a time when it seemed as if an open marriage might open hearts as well. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The vantage point within Split-Level gave me a quiet cinemagraphic experience, contributing to the nostalgia of the 70’s. I felt transported to a time when it was expected that a woman take care of her family, the home. That outside interests were merely hobbies, and she was more defined by the image she portrayed than the individual she could become. Alex is full of contrasting emotions and feelings on practically everything, fighting within herself to do what’s socially correct, but yearning to break out of the confines of her life.

The Donny/Alex dynamic made it clear as to why they go to Marriage Mountain. While it’s partly due to Donny’s midnight ride with the teen babysitter, there are deeper issues that have been there beneath the surface, and many are brought to light over the course of reading Split-Level. The scenes showcasing spouse-swapping, they felt gritty and raw, uncomfortable and awkward, yet there are seeds of potential hope and even a lifeline, where Alex’s happiness is concerned. As the reader, I wondered constantly on whether what this couple chooses to do is a good thing, or not. Where those morality lines lie, and if it even matters. I wanted so much for there to be some happy ending for Alex, that she could find happiness outside of what she’s been told is the only way to obtain it.

While this story is about a married couple who makes the decision to do something that isn’t conventional, it’s primarily about a woman who goes through a life-altering experience, one that, in the end, has her re-evaluating what’s important, and how she wants to proceed going forward. This involves her family, the other couple, the men in her life, and making the decision on doing what’s best for everyone else, or what’s ultimately best for her. This takes place in the 70’s, but there are a lot of subtleties that can apply to our society in the present, too, making it relevant to and even at times, relatable.

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

More by Sande Boritz Berger:

Friday, December 20, 2019

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
Extracurricular (Book 3) by/from Josie Brown (e-book)
Who Rescued Who by Victoria Schade from Berkley (along with chocolates)
The Forgotten Wife by Emma Robinson from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
Westering Women by Sandra Dallas from St. Martin's Press
Summer Longing by Jamie Brenner from Little, Brown (e-book via NetGalley)
The Man She Married by Alison James from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
No, We Can't Be Friends by Sophie Ranald from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
The Day that Changed Everything by Catherine Miller from Bookouture (e-book)
You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer from William Morrow (e-book via NetGalley)
You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen from St. Martin's Press
The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren from Gallery (e-book via NetGalley)
Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
Celia at 39 by/from Jason Pomerance (e-book)

Honeymoon Alone by Nicole Macaulay from Author Marketing Experts (e-book)
Payback by Gemma Rogers from Boldwood (e-book via NetGalley)
Dear Future Self by/from Lisa Becker (e-book)

Book Review: Roar

US cover
By Becky Gulc

I have adored many of Cecelia Ahern’s novels (e.g. P.S., I Love You; Where Rainbows End; A Place Called Here), I’ve always found them to be truly unique, magical and memorable. I admit there’s been a bit of a gap in recent years though where I’ve not kept up to date with her work, so I welcomed the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Cecelia’s writing through Roar, a collection of 30 short stories. Would I love these short stories as much as her novels?

In a word, yes! I didn’t really know what to expect from the stories, but I was instantly enraptured in each and every one. Each story centers on a woman overcoming adversity, however this presents itself in her life, from marriage and motherhood to careers and politics. Each story is unique, thought-provoking and has a bit of magic/surrealism thrown in. I read these and thought they were often just genius, just brilliant ideas one after the other. These are certainly different to anything I’d personally read before, and all the more delightful for it. There are certainly some powerful and thought-provoking messages in these stories, and I admire the impact some of these had on me within just a few short pages.

UK cover
This is a perfect collection of short stories to make you think and inspire you. I am so pleased I read this collection and look forward to reading more once again from Cecelia. Thoroughly recommended.

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

More by Cecelia Ahern:

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Jessica Leed's most wonderful time of the year....plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to introduce Jessica Leed to you all today. Her debut, Nine Years, published this fall (or spring, if you live in Jessica's neck of the woods). Jessica has THREE e-book copies to share with some lucky readers!

Jessica Leed is a 30 year-old school teacher, former fitness professional and dancer. She was born and raised in Bendigo, Victoria before moving to Melbourne in 2008. For as long as she can remember she has had a passion for storytelling—in all forms. From writing countless short stories as a child to later being inspired to complete a creative writing course, written by her favourite and best-selling author, Karen Kingsbury, Jessica was adamant to become a published author.

NINE YEARS is the first book in the two-part series BENEATH THE CLOUDS. (Bio courtesy of Jessica's website.)

Visit Jessica online:

Website * Facebook * Instagram

You would think Sienna Henderson had the perfect life. She has a successful career, a loving family and is engaged to be married. From the outside she appears to have it all together, yet on the inside she is coming undone.

Caught inside a dysfunctional relationship and with her work environment intolerable, she finds herself slipping further from the life she has envisioned.

After reuniting with a man from her past, Sienna's life is turned upside down in a way that has her questioning everything she has ever known.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

In one sentence, describe your road to publishing.
A long, challenging, but rewarding process.

How are you and Sienna alike or different?
We have similar perspective on how we approach life and have a heart that is wide open to loving others. We are different in the way we process information where Sienna, perhaps, held on a little too tightly to things in her life that she needed to let go of.

If Nine Years were to become a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
It would be a dream for Sienna to be played by either Jennifer Lawrence or Amanda Seyfried, Ethan to be played by Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling and Patrick to be played by Liam Hemsworth.

What is your favorite winter holiday song?
My favorite Christmas/ Summer song would have to be ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’. Even though we don’t have the snow- it truly is a beautiful time filled with family, friends, community and giving.

What is your favorite winter holiday beverage?
I don’t think I could ever go past a good Belgium Hot Chocolate with extra marshmallows!

Tell us about a winter holiday tradition you have with your family.
Since I am an Australian author, our Christmas break takes place over the Summer (December/ January). It is celebrated very differently here-with a BBQ Christmas lunch and shorts and t-shirts! Unfortunately, no eggnog for us!

Thanks to Jessica 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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends December 23rd at midnight EST.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Chick Lit Cheerleader: Married to a Grinch

Introduction by Melissa Amster

We're glad to have Chick Lit Cheerleader Jen Tucker back with us today....for one last post. Yes, you heard that right. Starting next year, we're taking a different approach to columns and focusing within our team. This also affects our Go-to-Gay, who sends his love but has a whirlwind month going on. We're hoping to have them back for visits from time to time, so this isn't the end end. 

Jen has been with CLC since almost the beginning. I don't remember how she found our blog, but suddenly she was there and she had me cracking up in public from her first book, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out. Her first e-mail to me sparked a whole chain of e-mails that had nothing to do with books. She's just so funny and good-natured. A joy to be around. This made her an instant choice to be our guest columnist. We first met in person in 2014, when she still lived in Indiana and we were on our way to Chicago from DC. Then she came to DC in 2015 and we got to hang out again. Even when we didn't get to see each other for a while, we'd always stay in touch and keep each other up to date on the ups and downs of our lives. When I found out she was moving to my neck of the woods, I was beyond thrilled. Even though we are both busy, we find time to get together. Most recently, we met up at a high school production of Legally Blonde, with (some of) our family members in tow. While Jen was befriending me this whole time, she also befriended my older son. (Like an honorary cool aunt.) So when we met up at the show, I had decided to make it a surprise for him. And boy, was he surprised! (Of course, nothing compared to his reaction when he first found out she was moving out here.) I could think of a billion more reasons why I adore Jen so much and why I'm so fortunate to have her in my life. However, we know you have places to go, people to see, and gifts to wrap!

We hope you have enjoyed getting to know Jen these past seven or so years, both as an author and as a columnist. Her final column (we're not crying...YOU'RE crying) is sure to put you in a holiday mood!

Side note: Jen also connected us with Keith, our Go-to-Gay since 2016. She knows the best people!

Legally blonde...and brunette

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I love Christmas. Like, you don’t even understand love Christmas. The only hiccup is I married a Grinch. A man who thinks the commercialism of the holiday dampens the true meaning of the season. He wasn’t raised by Scrooges. Many a beautiful holiday I’ve spent with his family over the years. So, what’s the difference in our holiday attitudes? Perhaps it can be summed up by a bird.

My mother’s parents, June and Ernie, we’re magical grandparents. Gramma let me have a spoonful of sugar with just about everything. Grumps carried me around Kalamazoo, Michigan in his arms, on his shoulders and even piggyback until I was in third grade. Neighbors would tease, “Ernie, doesn’t that girl have any legs?” If Baby Bjorns were a thing back then, Grumps would’ve utilized that little helper until I could drive.

With the Grinch

My December memories with my grandparents run deep. Gramma lovingly sewed new pajamas for me every Christmas. The year I opened Donnie and Marie Dolls: holy purple socks, honey. The Christmas when Gnip Gnop battles were epic and cutthroat. The time my mom and her brother bought Gramma new dishes. She was so overcome, her tears kept her from opening the crate until later in the day. No matter the year, one thing remained constant. The bird who lived in my grandparents’ Christmas tree.

Christmas 1971

After the long drive from our home (I’d sleep the entire way from Naperville, Illinois—winning!), I’d run downstairs to see the tree. Twinkling lights. Heirloom ornaments. A few decorations made with love by me. Grumps always made me pause before that last step into the basement, close my eyes so there would be no peeking, and wait until I heard the sound. Suddenly, the bird call would instinctively jar my hands away from my eyes and I knew I could head towards the tree. Grumps would rib me that some crazy bird landed inside the faux conifer and he couldn’t get the deadbeat to leave. Every year, until they sold their home and downsized, this was our thing. I’d close my eyes and listen to the chirps and songs and sit with him in the tree’s warm glow. If I close my eyes, I can hear the bird whistles to this day.

I can’t tell you if it was an ornament or a sneaky sound system. Perhaps it was a legit freeloading bird. Magicians never reveal their secrets. I’ve never been attached to things; you can’t take them with you when you check out in this life. Yet if I could turn back time, I would beg and borrow to have that mystifying bird call thing-a-ma-jig to carry on the tradition with my children. It wasn’t the cornerstone of my early Christmases. It is what made the season bright and made my tiny-tot eyes glow. The magic of Christmas, friends.

I’m lucky enough to have inherited the Christmas stockings Gramma stitched with love, her desire to spend hours baking in the kitchen and I think her genuine heart of love and service for others in need. Gramps imparted to me his wit, memories of skipping stones across Lake Michigan and the reminder to get out and enjoy fresh air when life feels stale. Those are my true cornerstones. They come in handy when reminding Mike that this is the season of love and miracles. Reunification and forgiveness. Blessings and peace. And that even a heart like his—the most loving I’ve ever known—can grow three sizes on Christmas Day. I mean, if it happened to the Grinch…

Happiest of holidays to you and yours,

Christmas 2016

Christmas 2018

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: Never Have I Ever

By Melissa Amster

Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it—teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, her adorable infant son. And, of course, the steadfast and supportive Charlotte. But Amy’s sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.

Sultry and magnetic, Roux beguiles the group with her feral charm. She keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way—a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did.

When they’re alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn’t give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she’s going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.

To protect herself and her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must beat the devil at her own clever game, matching wits with Roux in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets. Amy knows the consequences if she can’t beat Roux. What terrifies her is everything she could lose if she wins.

A diabolically entertaining tale of betrayal, deception, temptation, and love filled with dark twists leavened by Joshilyn Jackson’s trademark humor,
Never Have I Ever explores what happens when the transgressions of our past come back with a vengeance. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This is my first experience reading a Joshilyn Jackson novel. She has impressed me right off the bat! The premise of Never Have I Ever is interesting. It uses a classic drinking game to unearth a secret from Amy's past that threatens to upend her safe and happy life.

The story is definitely suspenseful. Even though Amy says early on what she did, there is still a lot to unwrap with many surprises along the way. I really had no idea where the story would go and Joshilyn kept me guessing the entire time. Just when I thought I had an idea of what would happen next, she threw me for a loop. Amy made some decisions I wasn't expecting her to make. At first, I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel, but then I couldn't put it down. It is definitely a thriller that had me on the edge of my seat.

I'm not personally into scuba diving (let alone any kind of diving), but it was cool to read about what happens during a dive. I learned some new things and thought it was a unique career for a character to have. There were times that the story felt too introspective, but it didn't take away from the plot too much. Joshilyn made some bold choices with some of her character's names, such as Panda and Tig.

Overall, I liked this novel a lot and would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a unique thriller.

Movie casting suggestions:
Amy: Lauren Ambrose
Char: Nina Dobrev
Roux: Erica Cerra
Davis: Adam Scott
Maddy: Landry Bender
Luca: Charles Vandervaart
Tig: Casey Affleck

More by Joshilyn Jackson:

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Emily Belden has great reading material for us

We're pleased to welcome Emily Belden to CLC today. Melissa A really enjoyed her sophomore novel, Husband Material, which publishes at the end of this month. Check out her review. She's here to talk about her novel and about the winter holidays and we enjoyed what she had to say.

Emily Belden is a food journalist, social media marketer, and storyteller. She is also the author of Hot Mess (reviewed here) and Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals. After she tiled her bedroom floor in over 60,000 pennies - all heads up for good luck - she was a guest on The Today Show and her story was covered by media outlets across the country. A Chicago native, Emily lives with her rescue dog in the West Loop, conveniently close to many of the city's best restaurants. (Bio adapted from Amazon.)

Visit Emily online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But when her quest reveals a shocking secret, Charlotte is forced to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at a new life arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“By turns heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny.”
—Kristin Rockaway, author of How To Hack a Heartbreak

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing? 
That I write like I'm having a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend and just telling a story. It's "voicey" without being too casual, which is pretty hard to do!

What is something you learned from writing Hot Mess that you applied to Husband Material
That being authentic is very important to the story. There were lots of first-person experiences that helped me write Hot Mess in an effective way. With Husband Material, in order to maintain that authenticity, I needed to do a lot more research and interview people to nuance the story.

If Husband Material were made into a movie, who would play the leading roles? 
Charlotte would be Lily Collins. Brian would be Kit Harrington. Decker's Mom would be Jean Smart. Decker would be Derek Hough. I love this game!

What is your favorite activity to do during the winter holidays?
My husband and I always do a staycation in downtown Chicago and get a little Michigan Avenue shopping done. It's super fun since we don't venture to the tourist spots otherwise. It definitely makes us feel like we are just visiting, taking in all the sights and sounds of the city.

What is your favorite winter holiday snack? 
I have been on a kick lately of making Muddy Buddies (also known as Puppy Chow). It's addicting and tossing in a few green and red M&M's puts me in the holiday spirit.

What was the best gift you gave or received last year? 
I took a photo of the gorgeous tile floor pattern in our hotel in Positano, Italy (where we got engaged) and had a woman turn it into a fabric and she made a pillow for us. I gave it to my husband, but really it was a gift for both of us!

Thanks to Emily for chatting with us and to Harlequin for arranging the interview.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Book Review: Losing My Inhibitions

By Sara Steven

A year after leaving her controlling ex, Roxy’s divorce is finally official. She’s got her confidence and career back on track and is ready to start enjoying some no-strings-attached fun.

But just when Roxy thinks she has her dating plan all mapped out, a hot younger single man unexpectedly appears. On paper, he sounds like exactly what Roxy’s been looking for, until she’s warned that he’s strictly off limits. Getting involved with him will put her career, home and everything she’s worked for in extreme jeopardy. There’s a million reasons why Roxy shouldn’t give into his charms. The trouble is, he’s just too tempting...

Will Roxy take a chance and risk it all to pursue a forbidden fling? And if she does, can she find a way to let him rock her world, without turning it upside down? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I could really relate to Roxy and the way she’s trying to find her footing after a major change in her life. Having been divorced myself, I know how it can feel to try and not only find a new norm when the rug has been pulled from beneath you, but to also create and find a new identity within the shades of who you’d been before. I think Olivia Spring really nailed those emotions for Roxy, starting off this comical read with a bang. Well, a lot less than a bang, poor girl!

The younger single man comes with all sorts of strings attached, only adding to the attraction she feels for him. The old adage, “you always want what you cannot have” comes into play here, but as the synopsis suggests, the risks involved are great. It doesn’t help that the feelings she has for him are reciprocated, adding elements of heat and rawness that really created a few spicy atmospheres within the pages of Losing. In allowing herself to feel those temptations, Roxy is allowing herself to feel alive, something she hasn’t felt in a very long time. She’s waking up, but at what cost?

There are a few elements at play here, where Roxy is concerned. Will she allow herself to fall for someone again, risking potential heartache? Or worse, a possible rebuttal? She’s fourteen years his senior. How will that look to the outside world, and should she even care, if it means a freedom she’s never had before? And really, where do you draw the line between what’s right, and what’s right for you?

My favorite moments in Losing My Inhibitions are the character changes that takes place within Roxy. Granted, her new potential fling is a catalyst, but it is all Roxy. The internal dialogue she experiences is one of a woman who has gone through a very trying and emotional experience, working towards finding a way back to something good. It’s in those moments where I cheer her on, enabling her to be a bit of a personal hero for me. With Roxy, you really feel as though age really is just a number.

Thanks to Olivia Spring for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Olivia Spring:

Friday, December 13, 2019

Book Review: A Christmas Hamster...plus a special giveaway

By Sara Steven

Cam’s career and romantic prospects take a nose dive once she becomes guardian to her young nephew. She leaves a bustling Dutch city to move to a small, dull country town in England, and where once she restored magnificent old paintings to their former glory, now she operates the paint-mixing machine at a soulless hardware store. As much as she adores little Rowan, life has lost some of its sparkle.

However, a handsome and charming customer causes her heart to flutter once more. Fate, alas, seems determined to hamper any possibility of them getting together. So what chance does a tiny, naughty hamster have of bringing happiness this Christmas? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

The hamster, or should I say “The Harley”, is a modern-day rodent Houdini!

A Christmas Hamster is a sweet story in and of itself, but The Harley really takes center stage here, weaving a “tail” that brings Cam closer to the dreams she never knew she wanted, or had. Within this hamster’s many tiny escapes and near magical hits and misses, Cam’s story unfolds a little at a time, giving us the background needed to better know and understand the type of relationship she has with her nephew, and why she’s made the choices she’s made that have placed her where she is.

I could appreciate the hard work and dedication she puts into everything, even when it isn’t her ideal life. But when she runs into the handsome and charming customer (Declan), we begin to see that there are times where we find out we are right where we need to be, even when we don’t see it yet. This also includes the animal force in Declan’s life, a precocious cat who at times interjects and gives his two cents’ worth, whether the reader asks for it or not. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel at first in hearing the cat’s point of view, but I found those scenes amusing and it gave us a look into what is going on behind the scenes with Declan. I think it would have been too easy to switch the point of view from Cam to Declan. It felt fitting to have an animal call the shots.

There are plenty of comical scenes sprinkled throughout, one of the most memorable being the pet store chaos. Cam really finds herself in a mess, and I was right there with her! Lisa is a really funny secondary character who works at the pet store, and every time Cam has a run in with her, it’s hilarious! It’s even more hilarious when identifying that there really are employees out there in similar stores and shops who are just like Lisa, and it was nice to see that Cam didn’t always handle those situations as well as she could have.

It’s been a while since I’ve been introduced to such a zany, carefree character like The Harley, and I’m not sure how I’d handle it if any of my pets (the guinea pig in particular) had near as much gumption as this little hamster has. It made for a super special spirited read, the perfect experience for the holidays!

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Author Bio:
I'm an English expat living in France, having moved here with my family in 2006 after fourteen years as an expat in Ireland. Taking on seventy-five acres with three lakes, two hovels and one cathedral-sized barn, not to mention an ever increasing menagerie, makes for exciting times. The current array of animals ranges from alpacas to zebra finches, with most letters of the alphabet represented. And of course there are hamsters!

I'm a traditionally-published author of many children's books, and have been self-publishing fiction and non-fiction for adults for the last seven years. I combine freelance work as an editor with running carp fishing lakes with husband Chris. When time allows I enjoy cycling, geocaching, knitting and gardening.

Social Media Links:
Website * Facebook * Twitter: @llamamum/@penandfinch

Giveaway to Win a Hamster Christmas Tree Decoration (Open INT)
*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within seven days, then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organizer and used only for fulfillment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. We are not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

'Tis the season for Rachel Winters...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Lou Abercrombie
Calling all rom com fans! Today we have Rachel Winters here to talk about her debut novel, Would Like to Meet. It's perfect for anyone who loves a good romantic comedy film (or novel). Thanks to Putnam, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Rachel Winters has lived and worked in London since graduating with a degree in Creative Writing, and a Masters in Publishing. She's spent most of her twenties freelancing for local papers and online magazines—including writing a weekly column about her cat (though she has never owned one). It's very Sex and the City. She firmly believes there are few problems that can't be solved with good friends and very large glasses of wine. She's currently an editor at Orion Books. Visit Rachel on Twitter and Instagram.

Can you fall in love like they do in the movies?

It's Evie Summers's job to find out. Because if she can't convince her film agency's biggest client, Ezra Chester, to write the romantic-comedy screenplay he owes producers, her career will be over. The catch? He thinks rom-coms are unrealistic--and he'll only put pen to paper if Evie shows him that it's possible to meet a man in real life the way it happens on the big screen.

Cynical Evie might not believe in happily ever after, but she'll do what it takes to save the job that's been her lifeline . . . even if it means reenacting iconic rom-com scenes in public. Spilling orange juice on a cute stranger? No problem. Leaving her number in books all over London to see who calls? Done. With a little help from her well-meaning friends--and Ben and Anette, the adorable father-daughter duo who keep witnessing her humiliations--Evie is determined to prove she can meet a man the way Sally met Harry. But can a workaholic who's given up on love find a meet-cute of her very own?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

In one sentence, tell us what your road to publishing was like.
Long and unusual (heyoo)! I wanted to be a writer since I was little, did a Creative Writing degree, had my confidence knocked, went into publishing instead and ended up finding my way back to writing.

How are you similar to or different from Evie?
A great question. Eagle-eyed readers might notice that my surname – Winters – and Evie’s – Summers – is similar, however it’s a lovely coincidence. I’m a big Buffy fan. My friends who read the early drafts said it felt like they were inside my head, but as I found Evie’s voice, and how strong it was, it became very much her journey and her story to tell. I did have a similar experience to her as my confidence in my writing was knocked by someone in a role that was supposed to be supportive. In the end, she turns out to be far braver than I am, though she definitely shares my sense of humour (I spared her the dad jokes).

If Would Like to Meet were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
I honestly didn’t start thinking about this until after I’d written it. But, since watching LAST CHRISTMAS, I can only see Henry Golding as Ben, and, as I’ve grown up watching her in films, I can’t think of anyone more perfect than Emma Watson to play Evie and give her earnestness and heart. Also, how brilliant would Hugh Grant be as Evie’s terrible boss Monty?

What is your favorite winter holiday activity?
My family and I have a tradition of going out for a curry on Christmas eve with some old family friends. I don’t know where it came from, but my fondest memories are of crisp, wintery evenings, slightly tipsy on rose wine, walking back from the restaurant together on quiet streets with snow crunching underfoot.

That, and rewatching THE HOLIDAY (because Jude Law will one day turn up on my doorstep)

What is your favorite winter holiday dessert?

Chocolate Yule Log! Desserts should always include some variation of chocolate/caramel in my humble opinion. I will never understand the British fondness for Christmas pudding.

What is your favorite winter holiday song?
One of my family’s first CDs was an old Christmas album. I’ve no idea who the singers were, or what it was called, but their rendition of "Winter Wonderland" feels like the only correct version. As a kid, I remember belting out ‘Then pretend that he is Parson Brown’ and feeling like he was the only one who truly understood me.
I wish that was a lie.

Thanks to Rachel for chatting with us and to Putnam 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 December 17th at midnight EST.