Thursday, April 30, 2020

Reviews at Amazon--April 2020

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:

Review 
Review 
Review (Goodreads)
Review 
Review (Goodreads)
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We can't help falling for Kristy Woodson Harvey...plus a book giveaway

Today we welcome Kristy Woodson Harvey back to CLC to celebrate the publication week of her latest novel, Feels Like Falling. In honor of our upcoming ten-year blogiversary, we've been asking authors to write letters to themselves either ten years ago or ten years into the future. Kristy wrote one to her past self and it's lovely. Thanks to Gallery, we have one copy of Feels Like Falling for a lucky reader!

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

Synopsis:
It’s summertime on the North Carolina coast and the livin’ is easy.

Unless, that is, you’ve just lost your mother to cancer, your sister to her extremist husband, and your husband to his executive assistant. Meet Gray Howard. Right when Gray could use a serious infusion of good karma in her life, she inadvertently gets a stranger, Diana Harrington, fired from her job at the local pharmacy.

Diana Harrington’s summer isn’t off to the greatest start either: Hours before losing her job, she broke up with her boyfriend and moved out of their shared house with only a worn-out Impala for a bed. Lucky for her, Gray has an empty guest house and a very guilty conscience.

With Gray’s kindness, Diana’s tide begins to turn. But when her first love returns, every secret from her past seems to resurface all at once. And, as Gray begins to blaze a new trail, she discovers, with Diana’s help, that what she envisioned as her perfect life may not be what she wants at all.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

Hello Chick Lit Central Readers. So, I have to say, writing a letter to yourself feels kind of strange. But it was also cathartic, especially now, and it felt fortuitous that ten years ago was the first time I sat down at my computer to attempt to write a novel. So, thank you for the opportunity to give some advice to my younger self. (My older self needs it, as well!) And I hope that maybe it will help someone else out there too.
Xo,
Kristy Woodson Harvey

To my twenty-four-year-old self,

Right now, you are getting ready to embark upon the most amazing, transformational decade of your life. You sort of feel it coming, but don’t exactly trust it yet. The hobby you have picked up in the evenings after work, the story that you are toying with, the one that keeps getting longer and longer, it’s a start for you, the beginning of something really amazing that you never would have expected. Not during journalism school, not while you were getting your Master’s and imagining yourself teaching at a college, and certainly not now, while you’re spending your days setting up 401ks and making life insurance recommendations.

Let’s just say, a passion for writing novels is not the only surprise you’re going to get in the next few years. Your beautiful baby boy will be even better and, in so many ways you can’t understand yet, open you up enough to let you write a story that really needs to be told, one that will lead you to people and places that will transform the rest of your own story. It will make you brave, too, which is something you’ve never really felt, even though you’ve acted it.

The process of writing query letters, of getting rejections, of finding an agent and then an editor, of putting yourself out there in the biggest way that you ever have, will make you braver still. It’s going to be fun and magical and scary all at once, and you’ll forget that you were very recently a girl who hated public speaking and who was terrified of airplanes, two things that have now become mainstays of your life. You’ll forget how you never ever thought that this would happen to you, that this was a thing that happened to other people, to ones with connections and New York City addresses.

Ten years from now you’ll look back and marvel at how it all came together, at how the day you rode over the Beaufort, NC bridge for the first time and proclaimed (ridiculously) that you would live there one day, the Universe was listening. (Yup. You’re actually going to live there. Crazy, right?) Or how when you wrote on that assignment your junior year of college that you would write a novel and have it published before you turned thirty, some great, wide, unknown force started working on that very thing. Or how when you saw that boy walk into the restaurant that night and told your friends you were going to marry him that you really would. (But you already know that, of course.)

That, and a million other pieces came together to put you where you are now and where you’ll be when, instead of stressing about your impending twenty-fifth birthday and how far you have to go, you’ll be a few months from celebrating your thirty-fifth birthday and so grateful that you’re where you are. You’re going on an awesome trip, by the way. (And your thirtieth birthday party was pretty epic, so you’re wrong in thinking that when you turn thirty your life will be less fun. It’s actually even more fun, if you can even grasp that.)

You’re going to go through some really hard things over the next decade. An illness that will change nearly every aspect of your life, losing some people that you really love, losing your beloved home in the hurricane of the century, and launching your sixth novel during the middle of a pandemic that has rocked the world.

But each of these challenges will teach you something about yourself, about your life, about how truly adaptable you can be (which you already know) and about how strong you are (which you don’t know).

So, I guess, what I want to say to you is that, I know it all feels impossible now, but it isn’t. It really, truly isn’t. One of your favorite quotes ten years from now will be this: Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait and wait without anxiety. So try to do that now. You don’t have to answer every question today. You don’t have to have it all figured out at once. And you don’t have to be in such a rush. You’re getting there. You’ll get there. Try to remember, along the way, to take a deep breath every once in a while, to take a day to relax every now and then and to enjoy the journey. You’ll look back on these as some of the most carefree days of your life. And, I hate to tell you: Your metabolism will never be this fast or your skin this good ever again… Live it up while you can!

Love,
My thirty-four year old self

Thanks to Kristy for the inspiring message and to Gallery 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 May 5th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Book Review: The First Date



By Sara Steven

After breaking up with her childhood sweetheart, clueless dater Rosie has found herself in a boyfriend-drought. So when she finally swipes right on a guy who seems interested, she can’t wait to meet up IRL.

Until she’s left standing alone. In a bar. Ghosted.

Enter Noah. Confident, funny … and a serial first dater. Offering to give Rosie a crash course in seduction, this could be just what she needs. Until her matchmaker turns out to be the best date she’s ever had – and Rosie wonders if she wants the fake dates to be the real ones after all… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Where's a real-life Noah when you need one?

The First Date starts out as a lighthearted read, a funny situation for both Rosie and Noah, in meeting each other randomly in a bar, after Rosie has been stood up by a blind date. Yet further in, we begin to see the reasons behind why Noah is a serial first dater, and why Rosie has chosen not to get deeply serious with anyone, not even her former childhood sweetheart. While I appreciated the lively banter and interesting situations both characters find themselves in, it was in the deeper meanings where I really found myself enjoying this relationship.

Rosie has seen a lot of heartbreak in her life. This has greatly impacted her viewpoint on relationships and what they ultimately mean to her, and why she chooses to always go the safe route in life. Noah is dealing with a similar situation, in witnessing tragedy and the fallout from it. It’s no wonder they feel bonded together, given they both share similar fears. But in trying to protect their hearts, it also causes undue distance, even when they both know there is a good chance they might fall for one another. Rosie can’t take Noah seriously because he reminds her too much of the trauma, and Noah won’t allow himself to fall in love because he has seen what love can do to a relationship.

This also means having to look back in the past and face the traumas, and neither of them wants to do that. There has to be a means of letting go in order to move forward. It was interesting to see from the outside in how bad things can change and alter the choices made, even if it’s detrimental.

While there were plenty of growth moments witnessed within The First Date, it was also funny and charming, and one of my favorite characters had been Rosie’s mother. Usually secondary characters don’t have nearly as much change occur as the primary characters do, but it was awesome being privy to some of her decisions, in order to change her life for the better. I think it was a catalyst for Rosie, too, in making more concrete decisions based on love, not fear.

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

Purchase links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

USA Today bestselling author Zara Stoneley writes funny, contemporary romances that will whisk you away from the humdrum of everyday life and make you laugh out loud.

Growing up she wanted to be James Bond or UK veterinary surgeon James Herriot - instead she dallied with a career in IT consultancy, ran a dog grooming business, and had a brief spell teaching (variety is the spice of life!) before finally writing a bestselling novel and realising that at heart she'd always been an author.

She enjoys torturing (in a nice way) her characters for your pleasure and writes about friendship, pesky pets, troublesome relatives, hopes, dreams, love and happy ever afters. Her aim is to make you laugh a lot, cry a little, and occasionally say 'ahhh'.

Follow her Facebook page to find out more about her home life in a Cheshire village with her family, a (very) lively cockapoo called Harry, and a bossy (and slightly evil) cat called Saffron. Zara’s bestselling novels have been translated into several languages and sold around the world. They include Four Christmases and a Secret, Bridesmaids, No One Cancels Christmas, The Wedding Date, The Holiday Swap, Summer with the Country Village Vet, Blackberry Picking at Jasmine Cottage, and the popular Tippermere series - Stable Mates, Country Affairs and Country Rivals.

Visit Zara online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Visit all the stops on the blog tour.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Viola Shipman's new novel is in full bloom...plus a book giveaway

We always enjoy having Wade Rouse at CLC. He used to be our Go-to-Gay and now he is the author of five novels as Viola Shipman, which is his late grandmother's name. His latest novel is The Heirloom Garden. Melissa A really enjoyed it and recently posted her review. Today, Wade is here to share a guest post with us. We've been asking authors to write letters to themselves either ten years ago or ten years into the future. Wade took some liberties with this topic and wrote a beautiful and heartfelt letter. Check it out and then enter to win a copy of The Heirloom Garden, thanks to Graydon House.

Wade Rouse is the internationally bestselling author of nine books, which have been translated into nearly 20 languages. Wade chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as a pen name to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his fiction.

Wade’s novels include The Charm Bracelet, a 2017 Michigan Notable Book of the Year; The Hope ChestThe Recipe Box and The Summer Cottage.

Library Journal writes that Wade has “hit upon the perfect formula to tell heartwarming, intergenerational family stories by weaving together the lives, loves and history of family through cherished heirlooms.” 

Wade's books have been selected multiple times as Must-Reads by NBC’s Today Show, featured in the New York Times and on Chelsea Lately and chosen three times as Indie Next Picks by the nation’s independent booksellers. His writing has appeared in a diverse range of publications and media, including Coastal Living, Time, All Things Considered, People, Good Housekeeping, Salon, Forbes, The Washington Post, Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly.

Also a noted humorist of four memoirs, Wade was a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards in Humor (he lost to Tina Fey) and was named by Writer’s Digest as “The #2 Writer, Dead or Alive, We’d Like to Have Drinks With” (Wade was sandwiched between Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson).

Wade earned his B.A. from Drury University and his master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. He divides his time between Saugatuck, Michigan, and Palm Springs, California, and is also an acclaimed writing teacher who has mentored numerous students to become published authors. (Bio adapted from Viola's website.)

Visit Viola online:
Website * Wade's website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Viola Shipman (Wade's grandmother)

Synopsis:
Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to illness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind the towering fence surrounding her home, Iris has built a new family…of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to a garden filled with the heirloom starts that keep the memories of her loved ones alive.

When Abby Peterson moves next door with her family—a husband traumatized by his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability—Iris is reluctantly yet inevitably drawn into her boisterous neighbor’s life, where, united by loss and a love of flowers, she and Abby tentatively unearth their secrets, and help each other discover how much life they have yet to live.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)


A Letter to My Mom 10 Years Ago

Dear Mom:

I miss you so much. I can’t believe it’s been a year since you’ve been gone. Every day is still like walking on quicksand. Nothing makes sense. The only time the pain lessens, and my heart doesn’t feel as if it’s been shattered into a million pieces, is when I am able to sleep. But even then I dream of you and I eventually wake, reality smacking me in the face once more: I will never see my best friend again. You weren’t just my mom, you were my cheerleader, supporter, confidante, the person who loved me unconditionally no matter what.

Dad is not doing well. He is lost without you. And, as you predicted, his memory is worsening. He refuses to see the doctor. He refuses to see his old friends. He fights me when I try to help. He fell down the stairs of the house, and I begged him to sell it and move somewhere less dangerous. He has finally consented but wants no part in the final decision. It’s so, so hard.

I’ve spent the past few days in the garage and the attic, trying to clean things out in preparation for dad’s move. I’m going through decades of memories we collected as a family. I found all the old games we used to play, like Candyland, Lite-Brite, Battleship, Crazy Eights and Monopoly. I donated a lot of the furniture to Goodwill. But you’ll never guess what else I found? All of grandma’s old heirlooms. I found a jewelry box with her charm bracelet. Remember? It’s so heavy and absolutely chock full of charms. I found your and grandma’s recipe boxes, too. All the family favorites – written in your and grandma’s handwriting – are in there, from the cherry chip cake to the apple turnovers. I also found grandma’s hope chest. I opened it, and it smelled like it always did: Cedar! Inside, I found her old quilts, beloved Bible, desert rose dishes and scrapbooks.


I spent hours looking through all of that, and I finally realized that even though we never had much money, we were the richest people in the world. I’ve decided to keep all of it. In fact, I think I want to write about these heirlooms, too, because they tell the story of our family, our history, as well as that of so many families. I don’t know yet how I’m going to do it, but these things have reminded me how precious life is, that the greatest things in the world are the simplest and that we all need to slow down to remember what’s most important in life: Each other.

What was it you used to say as a hospice nurse? Life is as short as one blink of God’s eye? I see that now. It is. You also told me not to have any regrets, like too many of those you cared for and comforted at the end of their lives.

And I won’t. I will continue to write books that offer readers hope, that unite us – no matter how different we may be – and make us laugh, cry, remember and reconnect.

I think of how you went on without grandma. How you said life would never be the same, but it could still be stunningly beautiful and filled with miracles. Every time I watch the sun rise or set, I see a mom hug her child, or I run into the arms of my husband, I understand that.

As I was sitting here in the heat, I just jotted down The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman on the lid of a box. What do you think? Me writing fiction under grandma’s name? I kind of like it, and my mind is spinning with ideas. I know, I know, it all sounds like a terrible literary remake of Victor Victoria, doesn’t it? But, to me, it would be the smallest thank-you I could give to her, to you, to my elders for all that you gave to me.

How did you survive such tragedy? You lost a son, your parents, and still you forged on with such grace, strength, hope and beauty? How did I go on, too? Because we had each other? Because of our faith? Or did we have such a foundation of love and strength that even when we wobbled we never collapsed? I guess you prepared me to walk on quick sand.

That’s what it’s like to be an author. We walk on quick sand every day. But you knew that. You were so proud to see my book featured on the Today show a few weeks before you passed. “You did it. I always knew you would, my talented, beautiful boy,” you said.

I will not waste the blink I’ve been given. And I know that the stories I write of you and our family will never die. You will live on in the hearts, souls and minds of readers forever.

And that will be my gift to you and our family.



I miss you, mom. Every day. But I know you’re still with me. I can feel you talking to me, walking beside me, propping me up when I need it most. Grandma, too. And you will always be with me.

I’ll talk to you later, mom.

Now, I have to start writing all the stories that are filling my head and my heart.

Love,
Wade

Thanks to Wade for the lovely letter and to Graydon House for sharing his 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 May 4th at midnight EST.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Book Review and Giveaway: Big Summer

By Melissa Amster

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

A sparkling novel about the complexities of female relationships, the pitfalls of living out loud and online, and the resilience of the human heart,
Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I've been a fan of Jennifer Weiner's writing ever since I picked up Good in Bed in 2002. I always know that I'll get a high quality novel when I see her name on the cover. While last year's novel, Mrs. Everything, was a heavier story, Big Summer gets back to the (somewhat) lighter side. If you liked Good in Bed, Best Friends Forever, and/or Goodnight Nobody, you will definitely enjoy this novel!

I was drawn into this novel right away and it kept me engaged and entertained the entire time. There was even a mystery aspect to it, which added to the excitement. I didn't even see that part coming either. I liked the use of social media to carry the story along, in terms of how people present themselves online and what it means to be an influencer in this day and age. The descriptions of people, locations, food, and clothing (even though I am not up to date with fashion labels) enhanced the story even more. It speaks volumes about body shaming, as well. I was so angry reading the part with Daphne's Nana.

This was a great story about a complicated friendship and whether or not people can change from who they used to be. Some of it reminded me of Mean Girls. I enjoyed it thoroughly and had fun getting to know Daphne, Drue, and some of the secondary characters. It's the perfect summer read and a great escape from our current reality.

Movie casting suggestions:
Daphne: Jillian Bell
Drue: Rebecca Rittenhouse
Darshi: Vella Lovell
Nick: Steven Strait
Aditya: Himesh Patel
Leela: JuJu Chan

Thanks to Atria for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy to give away!


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 May 3rd at midnight EST.

More by Jennifer Weiner:

Friday, April 24, 2020

Book Review: Every Little Secret


By Jami Deise

In the domestic thriller space, sometimes it seems that every author is trying up the ante with the twists and turns of the protagonist’s husband’s secret. In U.K. author Ruby Speechley’s thriller debut, Every Little Secret, the lies start with a single tiny omission, then cascade until they destroy lives.

When Maddy’s five-year-old daughter Chloe dies overnight of meningitis, it seems like nothing worse could ever happen to her. But they do: Only a few weeks later, the police arrive at her door to tell her that her husband, Max (whom she thought was away for work) was seen jumping off a bridge… and his backpack with his ID and his car were found nearby. The police search the river for days, but a body is never recovered.

Pregnant and out of her mind with grief, Maddy can’t believe that Max would do this to her. Even with his sorrow over Chloe, he never would have committed suicide. The police have to be wrong. Maddy goes looking for him herself….and finds evidence that Max had a whole other family. Is the other woman hiding Max from her, or is she another victim of his lies?

Speechley uses multiple third-person points of view to tell this story, planting subtle clues that pay off as the novel progresses. As Maddy searches for Max in the present, Max in the past tells his story of being down on his luck, meeting Maddy and quickly moving in with her. Near the mid-point, Speechley adds the point of view of Max’s other woman.

Initially, I found the voice in the novel to be a bit off-putting: It’s written in present tense, in a clipped British tone. But the story is so intriguing, I went along for the ride, and after awhile the voice didn’t bother me anymore. Similarly, the scenes in the past felt like filler in the beginning, but Speechley drops enough subtle clues so that everything that Maddy does makes sense for the character.

Even with the other points of view, Maddy is clearly the heroine of this story, and watching her react to every new revelation was like watching a car wreck happen in slow motion. The cars are moving toward a head-on collision and bystanders can only watch the carnage unfold. With all the horrible things that have happened to her, there’s no possibility of a happy ending for Maddy, only something that looks like survival.

Speechley writes an author’s note at the end of the book explaining her interest in the subject and the readings and interviews she did to research the material. In it, I inferred a sympathy for the man in the middle that I think she used to develop Max’s character. This reader, however, did not feel an ounce of sympathy for him. Read the book; you might feel differently.

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

Ruby Speechley is a psychological thriller writer. Her debut novel, Someone Else’s Baby, was published by Hera Books on July 25, 2019.

Visit Ruby online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Visit all the stops on the blog tour:

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Spotlight: Art and Soul




There’s no problem Becky Watson can’t fix. Except her own love life…

Struggling single mother Becky Watson longs to revive her career as a life-fixer, working miracles to solve her clients’ problems, no matter how big or small. Since the birth of her two-year-old son she has been stuck preventing wedding fiascos for the richest and rudest residents of the Comptons, a charming, leafy area of southern England known for its artistic heritage.

So when semi-reclusive local artist Charlie Handren reluctantly hires Becky to fix his six-year creative slump, she’s delighted to set him up with a come-back exhibition and Rachel Stone, the woman of his dreams.

Though they get off to a rocky start, Becky and Charlie soon become close. But as the beautiful Rachel becomes Charlie’s muse, Becky is forced to wonder: will giving Charlie everything he wants mean giving up her own happily ever after?

A heart-warming, uplifting romance served with a generous slice of cake. Perfect for fans of Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde and Cathy Kelly.


Purchase links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Art and Soul is her first novel.

A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for all the cakes mentioned in Art and Soul at Claire's website, along with over 100 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

Visit Claire online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Pinterest

Visit the stops on Claire's blog tour.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sara and Melissa talk about....Social Distancing

We recently started a new column series to get more personal with our readers. This month, we're talking about social distancing. We're open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them.

Sara Steven:
I know I’m not alone when I say how much more of an appreciation I have for teachers. And schools. And school administrators. Really, any establishment or person in that establishment that provides a safe place for my kids.

I’m trying to maintain some sense of normalcy right now. That’s the type of advice we’re given, while attempting to navigate through the great unknown of COVID-19, right? Stick with routines. Stick with schedules. Get up and keep active and go about your day as “normally” as you possibly can.

I have two sons. One is a freshman in high school, the other one is a third grader. Monday through Friday, weekdays which now feel blended together like the movie Groundhog Day, have continued on as a “school” week for them, with online classes, tutorials and assignments. I attempt to wake my beautiful boys from their restful slumbers at eight in the morning in an effort to hold onto that routine I’ve been told I so desperately need. And let’s face it, before COVID, they had to wake up much earlier than that. The freshman has no trouble, but the third grader isn’t having it. I walk into his room every few minutes with gentle reminders of, “come on kiddo, it’s time to get up and get dressed” and when that goes unnoticed, it’s every few minutes of direct orders, that he needs to get up because he has a Zoom call with his teacher and fellow classmates at nine, and before that, he needs breakfast and you’d think with an hour’s notice, there will be plenty of time, but there never is. In an effort to speed up the process, I place clothing on his bed, right next to his head, but he casually strolls out of his room nearly a half an hour after I’d initially woken him up wearing something completely different from what I’d put next to his head.

During this drainage of time, the freshman sits on the sofa, looking at his cell phone. Scrolling and reading and texting friends, laughing. At least he’s willing to show me what he’s humored by. A cat that looks as though It’s been engulfed by another cat. I tell him to please put his phone away, it’s time for the morning routine. And a shower. Yes, he needs a shower. But my request is ignored, as if he’s forgotten our special morning routines established since quarantining away in the house early March. He doesn’t want to take time away from the cell phone to take a shower, but he begrudgingly does it, grumbling all the way to his bedroom, a room with leftover Legos and dirty clothes on the floor, and a makeshift blanket bed he set up for the family cat who likes to lay around and catnap the afternoons away, but the cat has chosen the basket of clean clothing that I’d told the freshman to put away the day before. The freshman tells me, “I forgot” when I remind him again. “I can’t do it now, I have to shower.”

Somehow, I manage to get them to eat a little something for breakfast. It can be tough, considering the freshman has decided that breakfast really isn’t the most important part of his day anymore, he’s never hungry in the mornings. And because the third grader wants to do whatever his big brother does because he absolutely idolizes him, he’s not really hungry, either. Even when he is. I cheat by cutting up some fruit for the both of them. I guess this doesn’t count as breakfast food. And, wonder upon wonders, they agree to a slice of banana bread, too. Maybe they think it’s dessert.

While they eat, I water my outdoor plants and can hear their conversation through open windows, and it always starts out so nice. It really does. And then they begin to banter. And the banter turns into a full-blown argument. And somehow, the freshman’s banana bread has ended up a smooshed disaster on his shirt and on the kitchen floor, completely the third grader’s fault, or so believed, not realizing his own antagonizing brought the third grader into a fit of rage and hence the smooshed bread. And there is yelling and screaming and finger pointing, and now I’m yelling, too, and all before the morning Zoom meeting at nine.

While the third grader Zooms from my laptop at the kitchen table, I work on laying out what needs to be done from his computer. The assignments given for the day. The to-do list. I consider myself to be a fairly organized person, but it astounds me how his teacher has it together, not only in maintaining the twenty-three students in her class, but the fact that she is working from home with two of her own. And I can hear her while she’s conversing with her students. She sounds so chipper. How is she so chipper? Meanwhile, the freshman has changed his shirt and is brushing his teeth and keeps walking out to his computer with toothpaste gunk in his mouth, brush dangling from his lips, wanting to know when I’m going to unlock his computer so he can use it. “Get back in the bathroom and brush!” I tell him.

And I know it should be an easier time for me, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. Given the age of my children. But the seclusion has taken a toll on all of us. They were used to their own routines, spending time five days a week in a school setting, getting to see their friends, getting to take a much-needed break away. The third grader had two recesses a day. Now it’s daily walks or bike rides. Or the trampoline. But it’s not the same, and even that becomes a routine. And of course, they are stuck with me now, 24/7. (Cue the foreboding music..)

I think this quarantine has shown us the best and the worst in people, but it’s also shown tolerance and patience. Particularly where our loved ones are concerned. Sure, my boys can drive me a little nutty, but I would do anything to protect them. Even if that means quarantining myself away with them for as long as it takes, until it's a safe environment again. It hasn’t been easy, but I know we’ll all get past this. It’s a little mantra I tell myself, when my boys argue and fight or make messes or make me want to eat my lunch in my bedroom. In the meantime, I continue to say a little blessing for my children’s teachers and all the hard work they’ve put in, in trying to make my job at home with them easier, as well as the other parents who are doing all they can for their kids, too. We’re all trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, as best we can. Even if that means eating your lunch in the bedroom.


Melissa Amster:

Two months ago, we never thought we'd be home almost 24/7, away from friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. for an indeterminable amount of time. Well, here we are. And since we have to make the best of things for the unforeseeable future, I am going to share what is making this quarantine more bearable for me. Even though I am happy to be quarantined with my husband and kids, I will admit that I am stressed about various things right now. While I am thankful to be able to work from home, my work has felt more stressful as a result of not being in the office. My kids may be independent, but they also fight with me on certain issues and seem to think that we're made of money and that food will magically appear in the pantry. My daughter has trouble falling asleep, which impacts my ability to sleep. Attempting to go to the store feels like visiting the "Upside Down" from Stranger Things. (Thankfully, Target has drive-up service!) And just thinking of how long this quarantine could potentially last is emotionally draining, to say the least. (And not for first world problems, but just for the anxiety it provokes in general.) So I need certain constants to get me through all of this.

First of all, I want you to know that we care about your well-being at CLC. If you have any need for the following contact information, don't hesitate to use it:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or https://www.thehotline.org/help/

I have posted the information for the US, but if similar organizations are available in your country, please use them if you need to.

If you just need to vent, please feel free to post your feelings in the comments. You can even post anonymously if you would like. (Please keep politics out of this, as we aim to be neutral as a blog, regardless of how we personally feel.)

The things that are helping me stay positive during this time:

Staying connected to family and friends: I've been reconnecting with friends I haven't talked with in a while and video chatting more often with my family. During this time, the extra moments of connection are so vital.

Reading (like that's not obvious or anything): I've read a lot more lately than ever before. Books are such a necessary escape for me. I've heard of a lot of people saying they have lost the motivation to read. I can't imagine losing interest in reading. Even just thinking about what I've read gets me through a long day. I've been sharing lots of books with friends and people in my community. It also makes me happy to help someone find their next favorite novel.

Music: Listening to music has always been comforting to me, and even more so nowadays. My older son and I sing show tunes together a lot. I even brought him with me to pick up a Target drive-up order so we could listen to a Broadway CD in my car, like we used to when I drove him to school. Recently, Marie's Crisis Café started performing from home every night and it's fun to watch live on Facebook. That's another excuse for my son and I to sing show tunes together. My younger son plays piano a lot (self-taught) and I love listening to him figure out a new song on his own. I did most of my Passover cooking while listening to 80s and 90s music on Pandora.

Board games: I've been playing games more often with my husband and kids lately. We recently bought Codenames, which we all enjoy. We also got into some really long Taboo competitions and recently played Trivial Pursuit together. (We have a Stranger Things version of the game, as well.)

Laughter: Being able to laugh right now is so important. As I mentioned in February's post, my husband makes me laugh every day, even if it's over something really small. We recently had a funny psychic moment involving The Princess Bride. My kids have also been making me laugh a lot. My favorite moment recently was when we were playing Taboo and my older son didn't know what a "bookie" was, so he came up with this hilarious clue. Even memes about Coronavirus make me laugh. My favorite is one with the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Thanks to Jenny from Book Coffee Happy for this one.)


There you go.

I hope you are staying safe and healthy and that you are finding things to help get you through the days and weeks that have passed and the ones that are still ahead of us.

Please let us know how you are doing and what is keeping you going these days.

Book Review: Master Class

By Jami Deise

One of the drawbacks to releasing a new book during a pandemic is that it’s hard to find traction when everything else in the world is going crazy. This is especially true for speculative fiction, which relies on the comparison and contrast between today’s world and what the future might look like if the worst aspects of today’s society were amplified. For Christina Dalcher’s second novel (her first, Vox, was widely acclaimed speculative fiction as well) Master Class, the issues it raises seem out of step with a nation that is now stuck in a “master class” of what happens when an infectious disease runs through a country where medical care is a for-profit industry.

The protagonist of Master Class is Dr. Elena Fairchild, who lives in a version of the United States where the country’s obsession with testing its schoolchildren has gone to the extreme. In this America, babies are given a prenatal “Q-score;” children are tested monthly and sorted according to their results. The best go to elite “silver schools;” the middle to neighborhood “green schools,” and the failures sent off to state schools, their parents forbidden to contact them. And the parents also get a score that determines their fitness; their scores decline for events like divorce or part-time work.

Elena teaches at the silver school that her older daughter Anne attends; she’s married to an Education Department proponent of the system, Malcolm. Elena has always known her younger daughter Freddie might have issues—she refused the in-utero test and forged the results for Malcolm—but when Freddie fails her test and is sent to a state school, the drama goes into high gear. Unwilling to be separated from her sensitive nine-year-old, Elena flubs her own test and arranges to be sent to Freddie’s state school in Kansas. What she finds is worse than her darkest nightmares.

Master Class is an overtly political book, but it will be equally offensive to conservatives and progressives alike. The novel is a not-so-subtle warning against eugenics; Elena even has a German grandmother to act as a constant, obvious reminder that sorting people into categories can lead to killing people who fall in certain more vulnerable groups. Progressives will be annoyed at the book’s regurgitation of classic anti-choice dogma that birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger supported eugenics and the implication that abortion on demand morphs into state-mandated abortion. Conservatives will chafe at the one-dimensional portrayal of villains like Malcolm, who seems like a Stephen Miller clone, and Education Secretary Madeleine Sinclair, a Betsy DeVos/James Dobson hybrid.

Underneath the over-the-top plot points, though, lies a very real commentary on our current educational system and the priorities the country places on academic achievement. Especially in the Washington, D.C. area, where the story takes place and where author Dalcher studied and taught for many years, the pressure for children to achieve scholastically and athletically is relentless. The recent “Varsity Blues” scandal shows that even rich celebrities resort to cheating to ensure their offspring gain places in prestigious colleges. In this light, it’s not so far-fetched that society could evolve to ensure that parents would no longer face the burden of children whose achievements might not mirror their own or that society would no longer be required to support them.

It remains to be seen whether the current pandemic will leave in its wake a kinder, gentler nation, or whether this crisis is just a hiccup on our road to a permanent ruling class of the one percent. Hopefully books like Master Class and Vox will one day serve as a reminder of the road not taken, and not as a warning for a winner-take-all country that society did not heed.

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Abby Jimenez is playing a happy tune...plus a book giveaway

Today we're pleased to welcome Abby Jimenez to CLC. Her latest novel, The Happy Ever After Playlist, published last week. It looks like a fun story, especially with a dog at the center of it. Thanks to Grand Central Publishing, we have THREE copies for some lucky readers! 

USA Today bestselling author, Abby Jimenez, is a Food Network champion and motivational speaker living in Minnesota. Abby founded Nadia Cakes out of her home kitchen back in 2007. The bakery has since gone on to win numerous Food Network competitions and has amassed an international cult following. Abby's wry literary wit was spotlighted as the admin behind the hilarious viral comments on the now famous Nadia Cakes Vageode™ cake. Abby loves a good romance, coffee, doglets, and not leaving the house. (Bio courtesy of Abby's website.)

Visit Abby online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis:
Two years after losing her fiancé, Sloan Monroe still can't seem to get her life back on track. But one trouble-making pup with a "take me home" look in his eyes is about to change everything. With her new pet by her side, Sloan finally starts to feel more like herself. Then, after weeks of unanswered texts, Tucker's owner reaches out. He's a musician on tour in Australia. And bottom line: He wants Tucker back.

Well, Sloan's not about to give up her dog without a fight. But what if this Jason guy really loves Tucker? As their flirty texts turn into long calls, Sloan can't deny a connection. Jason is hot and nice and funny. There's no telling what could happen when they meet in person. The question is: With his music career on the rise, how long will Jason really stick around? And is it possible for Sloan to survive another heartbreak? (Courtesy of Amazon.)


What did you learn from writing The Friend Zone that you applied to The Happy Ever After Playlist?
Well, I wrote The Happy Ever After Playlist first and then The Friend Zone, so I'm going to swap the books when I answer the question. LOL

I think my biggest takeaway after having one book under my belt, is to rely on my instincts. I was so focused on doing things the "right way" when I wrote HEAP that it stilted my writing a bit and I actually had to go back and redo a lot of it. For example, I write in the first person so a lot of sentences start with "I". Several people in my critique circle told me you can't start too many sentences with "I". That it's a big no no. So to avoid it, I'd change "I got up and went to the door" to "getting up, I went to the door." That's crazy—because literally nobody talks like that! One of the strengths of my writing is the conversational tone of it. And when I tried to follow all these silly rules, I ended up ruining what was so great about my voice. My instinct was to do it my way, too many "I's" be dammed, but I was too afraid to do things wrong. By the time I wrote The Friend Zone, I'd moved on from that and decided that I would make my own rules.

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
I love it when people say they feel like they're in the room with my characters. Making imaginary people feel real is a huge compliment.

If The Happy Ever After Playlist were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
Theresa Palmer for Sloan and a bearded Chris Evans for Jason.

What are some songs on your The Happy Ever After Playlist playlist?
“In the Mourning” by Paramore is the opening song for the book, chapter one, and it's beyond perfect. I love “Electric Love” for the chapter where Jason and Sloan kiss for the first time and “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls for the chapter where Sloan finds out who Jason really is.

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
I can't really remember the last movie I watched, but can I recommend The Tiger King?

What is the first thing you plan to do when the social distancing orders are lifted (whenever that may be)?
I can't wait to sit in a restaurant and order a drink and a nice dinner!

Thanks to Abby for visiting with us and to Grand Central Publishing 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 April 26th at midnight EST.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Book Review: The Closer You Get

By Jami Deise

One of the reasons I enjoy the domestic thriller genre so much is that it takes place in an environment that every reader can identify with. Spouse, home, children… these are the touchstones for so many of us, which is why it feels so personally frightening when things go wrong. And the big reveal, while often far-fetched, still resonates. Husband was secretly replaced by his identical twin? Long-dead mother wasn’t dead after all? Our best writers pull off these twists with ease.

And yet, sometimes the best writing is the most predictable, when everything unfolds in a natural way, and characters reveal themselves to be exactly who they seem to be. In times of crisis, there’s a comfort when the road stays straight until the end.

In Mary Torjussen’s latest psychological thriller The Closer You Get, character isn’t so much revealed as it is confirmed. The book begins with Ruby leaving her husband Tom in order to begin a new life with her boss Harry, with whom she’s been having an affair. It’s Friday night, and she and Harry have agreed to meet at a hotel to begin their lives together. Harry is also married, and also planned to tell his wife Emma that he’s leaving her that night. But when Ruby arrives at the hotel, Harry isn’t there… and he never shows up. Ruby spends an agonized weekend wondering what happened to him (they had a pre-arranged agreement not to call), only to come into work to learn he went on a two-week holiday with his wife. Who’s pregnant. And, by the way, Ruby… you’re fired.

Any judgment a reader might have had toward Ruby’s adultery is immediately nullified by Ruby’s predicament. Even though it would be easier to swallow her pride and return to her controlling husband, she rents a tiny, rundown apartment and hits the pavement job-hunting. Unfortunately, it seems that somehow everyone knows about her affair with Harry… she’s virtually unemployable. And then she starts getting strange calls…

As I plowed through this book, I wanted very much for Harry’s actions to be part of the general mystery around who was stalking Ruby. (I also wanted Ruby to hire a lawyer and sue Harry for wrongful termination… but this is a U.K. story; maybe they don’t do that there.) But as the narrative progressed, my rooting value changed: Instead, I wanted Ruby to stand on her own two feet, to prevail over her controlling, gaslighting ex and get on with her life on her own terms.

Torjussen throws a wrench into the story by incorporating Emma’s point of view about halfway through the novel. (This isn’t a spoiler; it’s obvious in the chapter headings.) I was expecting certain things to unfold with her inclusion, but the twists took the story in a completely different direction. At the same time, it put the focus squarely on the real villains of the piece.

The Closer You Get begins like a soap opera: Lovers married to other people scheming to be together. And while love quadrangles and triangles were a staple of that genre for decades, modern storytelling requires more than just two women fighting over a man. In a love story, the man has to be worth it. In a thriller, he rarely is.

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

More by Mary Torjussen:

Friday, April 17, 2020

What's in the mail

Melissa A:
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by/from Samantha Verant (e-book via NetGalley)
Happily Whatever After by Stewart Lewis from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
The Closer You Get by Mary Torjussen from Berkley
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel from Gallery (e-book via NetGalley)
Another Us by Kirsten Hesketh from Canelo  (e-book via NetGalley)
Little Threats by Emily Schultz from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin from St. Martin's Press
Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith from HarperCollins (e-book via NetGalley)
Swipe Right by Stephie Chapman from Hera Books (e-book via NetGalley)
Ten Little Words by Leah Mercer from Amazon UK  (e-book via NetGalley)

Jami:
Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer from Park Row (e-book via NetGalley)
Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger from Park Row (e-book via NetGalley)
Still Here by Amy Stuart from Gallery (e-book via NetGalley)
Until I Find You by Rea Frey from St. Martin's Press  (e-book via NetGalley)
Sara:
Wiving by Caitlin Myer from Mindbuck Media (e-book)
A Million Little Lies by Bette Lee Crosby from Bent Pine Publishing (e-book via NetGalley)
Fast Girls by Elise Hooper from SparkPoint Studio (e-book via NetGalley)

Book Review: That Night in Paris


By Sara Steven

Note to self: don’t sleep with your flatmate after a curry and three bottles of wine… especially if he’s secretly in love with you and wants you to meet his mum.

Cat Parsons is on the run. She doesn’t do relationships. After ten years of singlehood even the hint of the ‘L’ word is enough to get Cat packing her bags and booking herself onto a two-week holiday.

A European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.

Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I think one of the best aspects to That Night in Paris is the hodgepodge group of characters that suddenly find themselves spending a two-week trip together, people who might not ordinarily seek out one another in the vein of friendship. It made the experience all the more interesting and fun for not only Cat, but for the reader, too. It is a whirlwind adventure, with quick stops and trips through some of the most pivotal sights in the world- and I felt like I was right there with Cat through all of it.

She’s not the only one who is on the run from something. It appears that nearly every character who is on this fly by the seat of their pants adventure has used it as a means of escape. That added a nice layer of depth, because it is something we can all identify with and while most of us won’t ever have the opportunity to tornado ourselves away to places like Paris, we can live vicariously through Cat and the group. While they are all so vastly different in personalities, in where they come from, and how they live their lives, they all have that commonality between them, making their bond all the more feasible.

Of course, it helps to have a love interest thrown into the mix for good measure. Cat finds herself catapulted back in time, not at all expected. I appreciated the backstory given, and I also appreciated the backstory given where a former long-term relationship is concerned, because it is what bleeds into why she “doesn’t do relationships”, and why it’s hard for her to trust in it, even when it’s someone she once considered to be of importance to her. It made me question what would happen for her and her love life in the not-so-distant future.

While I appreciated the information given in terms of Cat’s failed relationship, I felt it was hard to follow at times because of the back and forth of time frames, from past to present. It could feel jarring. But the beauty of the tour, the bonds of new-found friendships and the excitement of letting it all go and seeking out adventure far outweighed it, lending into an enjoyable experience for me.

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the book in exchange for an honest review. Visit the other stops on the blog tour.


About Sandy Barker

I’m a writer and traveler with a lengthy bucket list and cheeky sense of humour, and many of my travel adventures have found their way into my books. I’m also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover, and a coffee snob, though my writing is mostly fuelled by copious mugs of strong, milky tea (no sugar).

Visit Sandy online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


More by Sandy Barker: