Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: Pretending

By Jami Denison

There’s a joke that straight women like to make when the subject of sexual orientation comes up. It goes something like this: “If being gay was a choice, most women would have chosen it by now.”

Pretending, the U.S. debut of U.K. author Holly Bourne, reminded me of that joke—at least, the first few pages did. These pages are basically a diatribe of how much April, Pretending’s 32-year-old single protagonist, hates men. Once again, she’s been dumped after a fifth date (and sex) by a man who can’t take it when she commits the unforgivable crime of being real. Convinced that what men really want is a combination of Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne’s “cool girl” and the manic pixie dream girl of indie romantic comedies, April reinvents herself as Gretel, a carefree Londoner who doesn’t immediately reply to texts, is too busy to commit to dates, and most importantly, stands up for herself rather than backing down. Gretel attracts the attentions of Joshua, a nice guy who works in IT and who seems to genuinely want a girlfriend. But can April be truthful about who she really is? Or is Joshua the one who’ll end up getting hurt this time?

The opening chapter of Pretending had me laughing out loud, bringing back happy memories of the first Bridget Jones book. But April is not Bridget, and Pretending is a much harder read than Bridget. April works at a charity where she helps rape victims; even more painful, April herself is a rape survivor, having been physically and emotionally abused in a two-year relationship. Her scars from that man go deep, and while there’s never anything graphic or explicit in her recollections, April’s emotional wounds could be triggering for readers in similar situations. 

Even women who haven’t personally experienced such horror will still be reminded of the jerks in their past who stood them up, belittled their feelings, cheated on them, refused to “put a label” on their relationship, and the myriad other ways men make women feel small for wanting to be treated well. There were several times I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room as I remembered all the jerks I dated before I was lucky enough to meet my second husband. I got divorced after 28 years of marriage, and the biggest surprise was that the men were exactly the same as they had been when I was in college. I could understand not wanting to get tied down as a 21-year-old, but the guys pushing sixty, with two divorces under their belts that support huge beer bellies, also eschew commitment to keep playing the field. No wonder women joke about wishing they were gay. 

Perhaps there is a woman out there, one woman, who has been treated like a queen by every man she ever dated. That woman will be able to enjoy Pretending without her stomach twisting into knots during certain scenes. For the rest of us, especially those who are searching for The One, stocking up on multiple copies of this book might be advised. Give a copy to the new man in your life. If he refuses to read it, you’ll know he’s not worth your time. If he reads it and it breaks his heart, you’ll know he’s a keeper. 

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

More by Holly Bourne:

Friday, November 27, 2020

Book Review: Love is the Reason

By Sara Steven

To Katie With Love, by Erica Lucke Dean: Banker Katie James would almost rather settle for a fictional boyfriend than risk her heart on a flesh-and-blood man. Besides, the only real guy she’s remotely interested in is her rich, unattainable client, the mysterious Cooper Maxwell. When Cooper crashes Katie’s 29th birthday party, one too many drinks lands Katie in uncharted territory… Cooper’s bedroom! As if things couldn’t get worse, her meddling mother makes a surprise visit, digging up a whole new set of problems. Who would have guessed having an assassin for a boyfriend would be the least of her worries?

In a Jam, by Cindy Dorminy:
Andie Carson has to do three things to inherit her grandmother’s lottery winnings—sober up, spend a month running her grandmother’s Georgia coffee shop, and enter homemade jam in the county fair. Once she completes them, Andie plans to sell the shop, take the money, and run back to Boston. After a rough breakup from his crazy ex-fiancĂ©e, Officer Gunnar Wills decides to take a hiatus from women, but when wild and beautiful Andie shows up, Gunnar’s hesitant heart begins to flutter. Even though Gunnar makes small-town life seem a little sweeter, Andie has to decide if she’s ready to turn her world upside down and give up big-city life. One thing’s for sure—it’s a very sticky situation.

Better in the Morning, by Fern Ronay: Veronica Buccino has a plan: marry John Del Monico and quit her soul-sucking job as a lawyer. But instead of proposing, John informs her that he’s moving to London. Heartbroken, Veronica feels lost. Salvatore and Antoinette, her dead grandparents,begin to visit her dreams in an attempt to steer her in the right direction. At their suggestion, Veronica takes a news reporting class, which leads to a challenging freelance assignment covering a conspiracy trial. Just when her love life and career are looking up, Veronica is tossed back to square one by an event that makes her question all her new choices. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I very much enjoyed reading this three-book bundle! While I’ve already read and reviewed In a Jam for Chick Lit Central, the other two novels were new reads for me. Love is the Reason proved to be a lot of fun and it couldn’t have been a more perfect love fest collection!

To Katie With Love: Talk about a plot twist! This was my first foray into novels written by Erica Lucke Dean, and it won’t be my last. The characters, particularly the ones who work with Katie at the bank, were such an abstract to Katie’s more meek and subdued personality. It felt like I had a front row seat when someone would try to get her to come out of her shell, to become more bold and brazen. It seemed the only person who could make that happen was Cooper, one of her clients. I loved how so much of his life and backstory was shrouded in mystery, providing many of the twists and turns that made this book so enjoyable. This was a love story shrouded in mystery.

In a Jam: Reviewed here (post link)

Better in the Morning: I’ve read Better Believe It, the follow up to Better in the Morning, and I can honestly say that it doesn’t matter which order you read them in. They are both great reads! I love the premise behind the storyline, that we have the ability to see our loved ones in our dreams, a fact Veronica believes in whole-heartedly, even when she doesn’t want the help. There seems to be a lot of that, that Veronica doesn’t want help and doesn’t think she can change the course of her life and the path she’s on. The want in switching from lawyer to news reporter only adds to that, and there are so many deeper layers weaved in. I loved how steadfast she is in her beliefs, in what she thinks she really wants to live a happy life, when it turns out what will really make her happy are the things she needs. She just hasn’t discovered what that is yet, and isn’t sure she has the strength to accept it. A powerful story about love, family, and personal growth.

Thanks to Red Adept Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by the authors featured in this collection:

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Book Review: The Night Swim

By Jami Denison

Although I’ve been a huge fan of crime thrillers and mysteries since I picked up my first Agatha Christie at age 10, I’ve never really gotten into the true crime genre. To me, it just seems a little ghoulish to follow along on a story centered around a real dead woman (and they are almost always women). I feel the same way about crime podcasts, even though many of those are geared toward freeing a person unjustly accused. Megan Goldin has followed up her breathless debut thriller, The Escape Room, with The Night Swim, a novel that centers around a true crime podcast, and while the story it covers is strong, I found it had many of the same issues that keep me from enjoying podcasts in real life. 

Rachel Krall is a true crime podcaster credited with setting an innocent man free. Seeking to top herself in the third season of her show, she travels to an insulated seaside town to report both sides of a trial in which the 16-year-old granddaughter of the town’s police chief has accused an 18-year-old champion swimmer of rape. But when she arrives, Rachel receives a letter asking her to look into the case of Jenny Stills, a 16-year-old who accidentally drowned 25 years ago. Jenny’s younger sister Hannah remains convinced that she was murdered. At first, Rachel is annoyed and a little scared by the woman who stalks her anonymously. But as she carefully follows the rape case and receives more letters, Rachel begins to think that Hannah is right. 

Both stories have sensational elements, and just like The Escape Room, feel very timely. But the choices Goldin makes to tell the tale result in a slow pace and a slackening of tension. Rachel, a third-person protagonist, has no personal connection to either story, and remains a cipher throughout the book, lacking any emotional or personal life. A reporter in the true sense of the word, she rarely feels anything strongly – not passion, not fear, not outrage. Her careful interviewing and sleuthing are described in minute detail, which slows down the story enormously. The podcasts themselves are designed to get listeners to tune in again, which result in a manipulative feel—for instance, Rachel draws out the circumstances of the rape into so many separate episodes that it becomes enormously frustrating for the reader/listener. 

When Hannah takes over, the novel becomes much more personal. Hannah’s point of view is shown in the letters she writes to Rachel, describing her life with Jenny and the cancer-stricken single mom who died soon after Jenny did. The family was poor, and Jenny was a victim many times before her death. Hannah is too traumatized to approach Rachel directly, which is unfortunate as it keeps Hannah from becoming a real person and blocks an avenue in which Rachel could have become more well-rounded. 

Despite these narrative frustrations, the two plots are compelling enough that readers will want to finish the book to see how everything ties together. And in this insulated beach town, the ties may be a little too obvious. Both threads are resolved if not ended; the 16-year-old rape victim may never recover, but Rachel looks forward to the next season of her podcast. 

Readers who see a similarity between Rachel’s podcast case and the Brock Turner trial may wish to check out Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. While fiction provides structure and closure, some subjects deserve the emotional exploration that only a memoir can provide.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Julie Valerie's fabulous a book giveaway

Photo by Kim Brundage

We're thrilled to have Julie Valerie back at CLC to celebrate the publication of her sophomore novel, The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks (reviewed here), which is the second in her Village of Primm series. While it can work as a stand-alone, you're best off reading Holly Banks Full of Angst to become familiar with the characters and the village itself. Julie is here today to take on our ten year letter challenge. Her letter to her 2010 self is so much fun to read, just like her novels! Julie has one signed copy of The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks for a lucky reader!

Julie Valerie is the bestselling author of the Village of Primm series. She serves on the board of directors for James River Writers; earned an editing certificate from the University of Chicago Graham School; and has a master’s degree in education, a bachelor of fine arts in fashion, and certification in wilderness first aid. A former trend forecaster, Julie enjoys books, the study of wine, hikes on the Appalachian Trail, and travel. She married her college sweetheart, and they live in Virginia with their four children and two English Labradors. Holly Banks Full of Angst released December 2019 with Lake Union Publishing. The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks, the standalone second installment in the Village of Primm series, is now available, also with Lake Union Publishing. Learn more about Julie and join her author newsletter at her website.

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

Holly Banks is on a desperate mission to have it all, but nothing in life goes according to plan. She’s quickly learning that keeping up with the Joneses is a full-time job, especially when the women of Primm, her new neighborhood, seem to have it together all the time.

With her husband’s job in flux, her daughter’s difficulty with learning to read, and her mother’s new zest for dating, Holly’s life is already anything but picture perfect. Then her dog digs up an old artifact in the village center, and the mishap draws the attention of local media. Because of course it would.

Holly finds herself at the center of a mystery between two rival towns that, if solved, could change the Village of Primm forever. Attention is the last thing she needs as she’s launching a new business, the village-wide “Parade of Homes” is approaching—though she’s hardly unpacked—and she needs to submit her entry for an upcoming film festival. Can Holly still create her perfect (looking) life? Or is fate about to go off script and give her a story she never could have imagined? 

“Picking up where Valerie’s first novel, Holly Banks Full of Angst, left off, this will fit right in with loyal Kinsella readers, fans of Tom Perotta’s Mrs. Fletcher, and those who enjoyed the suburban intrigue of the Netflix show Dead to Me.” 

“Valerie combines laugh-out-loud situations with heart as Holly navigates her newest challenges…Recommended for those who enjoy reading about relatable heroines and parents who are trying to have it all.” 
Library Journal

“Both down to earth and beautifully surreal, Holly Banks’s latest adventure is a story about courage, family, and friendship that had me hooked from the very first page.”
 —Lea Geller, author of Trophy Life

Melissa, thank you for inviting me to Chick Lit Central with a guest post “letter to myself either ten years in the past or future.” It was hard to decide, but I chose to write a letter to myself set ten years in the past.

Here goes . . .

November 24, 2020

Dear Julie,
It’s November 24, 2010, and you have NO CLUE the Lake Union imprint at Amazon Publishing will publish your second novel on this day in 2020. Likewise, you have no clue about the many things that will transpire in 2020. If I told you, you’d never believe it, and it would probably scare you. What a wild ride 2020 is going to be . . .

It turns out, a lot of crazy things have happened on November 24th throughout history. In the year 1759, Vesuvius erupted. Yup. Same Vesuvius that erupted in 79 AD, destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum. On November 24, 1874, a patent was granted to Joseph Glidden for barbed wire. But sadly, on November 24 in 1963, the world watched the first live murder on TV when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. On the bright side, Apollo 12 returned to Earth on this day in 1969.

So here we are. It’s November 24, 2010, and you’re busy with four kids, one husband, two dogs, two cats, two beta fish, and too many carpools to count. The house is a wreck, the laundry’s piling up, and you’re juggling 200 college students in the courses you’re teaching in the art school at your alma mater. There’s hardly time in your day to catch your breath. But catch that breath because I’m about to deliver some really great news.

In ten years, you’re going to wake up on November 24, 2020, and witness the publishing of The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks, the second installment in the Village of Primm series your agent sold to Lake Union Publishing. Your first novel, Holly Banks Full of Angst, pub’d less than a year ago, on December 1, 2019.

I know this is hard to believe considering the stage of life you’re in on November 24, 2010, but it’s true. So raise a glass. Hug your kids and kiss your husband. You did it, girl.

Okay, STOP. 

You have to call for pizza because it’s 2010. You’re running solo with the kids because your husband’s out of town for work again and there’s nothing to eat. But it’ll get better. 

In ten years, you’ll still be busy, but the kids will be ten years older, and though they'll still need you, they won't be tugging at your pantleg quite like they are right now. Try to capture these crazy days in fiction so other women who are just like you and living this wild and crazy life can read your stories and escape the mayhem of motherhood for a bit. Maybe laugh. Maybe, feel understood.

Yours truly,

From the future. From that awful, dreadful 2020, writing this letter to show you a bright day in a dark, dark year: November 24. 

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

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

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Giveaway ends November 30th at midnight EST.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Jessica Leed has high a book giveaway

We are pleased to have Jessica Leed back at CLC today. She was here last winter to feature her debut novel, Nine Years, so it's fitting that we've asked her to write a letter to herself in ten years! She now has a sequel, Here I Stand, and she has FIVE e-book copies for some lucky readers!

Jessica Leed is a 31 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. 

HERE I STAND is the second book in the two-part series BENEATH THE CLOUDS. (Bio courtesy of Jessica's website.)

Visit Jessica online:

Website * Facebook * Instagram

A compelling tale about redemption, unlikely relationships and an unforeseen event that will stir your emotions and have you reflecting on what is most important in life.

Healing from the past is difficult. Especially when it has a way of following you everywhere you go.

New beginnings are often faced with challenges. But not in the way Sienna Henderson could have ever anticipated when she comes face to face with an unexpected truth that will change her life forever. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

Dear Older Me,

First, I would just like to say, you're getting old … It’s weird to think about myself 10 years from now. I imagine I’ll be close to entering into a mid-life crisis, or maybe I’ll be fully living out my calling. 

I hope it’s the latter. 

I figured maybe I should give you an insight first, on what life is like now. Currently, I am a school teacher who’s attempting to balance a social life whilst working as an author in the evenings. 

I’m in that in-between phase of finding out how I manage to pursue both of these loves of mine (teaching and writing) to my full capacity. I’m starting to realise that I’m not ‘Wonder Woman’ (as much as I wish I could be) and have discovered that burn out is a real thing. Navigating how I can do both to the best of my ability I hope now, 10 years later, I have perfected.

I’m hoping at this point, life still excites you where you wake up happy to go to work every day and have trouble sleeping at night because you’re dreaming about what’s yet to come. I hope you own the beautiful house that you've always envisioned – the one with a white picket fence with perhaps a couple of Alpacas out the back. I hope you have found the man who makes you laugh, inspires you and loves you unconditionally. 

Maybe you have even created a family together? 

I hope the stories are still pouring out of you when you write, you haven’t lost your quirk, and you’re finding ways to bless those around you. I hope you can look back at the life you have lived so far with a smile on your face knowing you have loved well.

I clearly have very high hopes for us 10 years from now. Most importantly, I hope we are happy, healthy and a good human being. I hope that all the efforts I’m making now have helped us reach the desires of our heart 10 years later.

Your 10-year younger self

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

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Giveaway ends November 29th at midnight EST.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: A Woman Alone

By Jami Denison

There are two camps of people when it comes to technology: Those who love the ease of using facial recognition to open their iPhones, and those who are convinced that Bill Gates is developing a COVID-19 vaccine so he can surreptitiously plant trackers in their arms. Both groups should enjoy A Woman Alone, the latest psychological thriller from Nina Laurin. When the Holmes family—Scott, Cecelia, and their 3-year-old daughter Taryn--moves into a SmartHome in the IntelTech city of Venture, Illinois, they willingly agree to be chipped in order to make the most of the technology. Now they have a house with a door that automatically unlocks just for them, a shower that turns on at just the right temperature, a car that automatically drives Cecelia to Taryn’s daycare, and a coffee maker that makes every cup perfectly. Who wouldn’t want to live this way?

The technological bliss is short-lived, as minor glitches in the house’s programming—Cecelia gets the wrong coffee—turn dangerous, and Cecelia feels her complaints are ignored by the company that runs Venture. When the house begins calling Cecelia “Lydia,” Cecelia becomes convinced that the previous owner was killed in the home—even though IntelTech insists that the Holmes family is the only family to live at that address. While Scott thinks that Cecelia is suffering from PTSD after being attacked in their previous home, Cecelia believes one of their neighbors is spying on her. After learning that other residents of Venture are also high-profile crime victims, Cecelia tries to find out if this common link is the reason her house is trying to kill her. 

A Woman Alone is built around a fantastic concept that is both timely and timeless. Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, fiction has almost always sounded a warning that science leads to destruction—think Godzilla, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Fly; any of the Jurassic Park movies. The theme of these works is always the same: Even when a scientist with the best of intentions tries to play God, innocent people get hurt or killed. 

The innocent victim is a necessary ingredient for this recipe to work, and it’s here that I think Laurin went off the rails a bit. Two years ago, when I reviewed Laurin’s What My Sister Knew, I felt the same way—a strong story diluted by an unlikeable protagonist. While I’m not a reader who believes that all protagonists must be likeable, I do think that in a thriller—especially one in which the protagonist is accused of being paranoid by others in the story—the protagonist needs to be a stand-in for the reader. When the reader cannot identify with the protagonist, she doesn’t care if the protagonist ultimately becomes a victim. (Last summer’s thriller bestseller about too-good-to-be-true real estate, Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door, is a great example of how this works.) 

Cecelia is not an everywoman, and as the reader learns more about her past, it becomes harder and harder to root for her. And the ultimate reveal turns on coincidences that are hard to swallow. Rather than proving that too much science is a bad thing, Laurin’s theme turned out to be another timeless classic: What goes around comes around.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Nina Laurin:

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Lori Nelson Spielman is a a book giveaway

Photo by Matthew Dae Smith
 It's been over five years since Lori Nelson Spielman last visited us, and we're so glad to have her back. Her latest novel, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is totally worth the wait. Check out Melissa's review to see why she loved it so much! Thanks to Berkley, we have one e-book for a lucky reader (via NetGalley)! Lori also has a paperback copy for another lucky reader!

Lori Nelson Spielman is a New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author whose novels have hit #1 in six different countries. Formerly a homebound teacher in an inner-city school district, she holds master's degrees in speech pathology and guidance counseling. She lives in Michigan with her husband.

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

A trio of second-born daughters set out to break the family curse that says they’ll never find love on a whirlwind journey through the lush Italian countryside by New York Times bestseller Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.

Since the day Filomena Fontana cast a curse upon her sister more than two hundred years ago, not one second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love. Some, like second-born Emilia, the happily-single baker at her grandfather’s Brooklyn deli, claim it’s an odd coincidence. Others, like her sexy, desperate-for-love cousin Lucy, insist it’s a true hex. But both are bewildered when their great-aunt calls with an astounding proposition: If they accompany her to her homeland of Italy, Aunt Poppy vows she’ll meet the love of her life on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her eightieth birthday, and break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all.

Against the backdrop of wandering Venetian canals, rolling Tuscan fields, and enchanting Amalfi Coast villages, romance blooms, destinies are found, and family secrets are unearthed—secrets that could threaten the family far more than a centuries-old curse. (Courtesy of Goodreads.)

What was the inspiration behind The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany?
Thanks so much for hosting me, Melissa, and a big hello to everyone at Chick Lit Central! 
When I worked as a high school guidance counselor, it wasn’t unusual for my young female students to come to me, heartbroken over some doomed teenage romance. I tried to assure them they were young and had decades ahead of them, that if I had a crystal ball, we’d see that one day they would be happily in love. But I wondered, might the opposite be true as well? What if someone knew, from a very young age, that they would never find love? Might they actually live more fully, more authentically, without the pressure of finding love? That became the premise of the second-daughter curse. 
The novel’s secondary story, that of eighty-year-old Aunt Poppy and Rico, was inspired by my elderly German friend Dieter, who grew up during World War II and later escaped communist East Germany, leaving behind the love of his life. 
How are you similar to or different from Emilia?
That’s such a great question, and one I’ve never been asked. Like Emilia, I tend to be a people pleaser and I avoid conflict, I’m superstitious and dream of finding that elusive place to call home. And, of course, we’re both writers—I used to write secretly, too. But unlike the early version of Emilia, I am much less giving than she is! I am more assertive and don’t allow others to take advantage of me to the degree she allows it.  

If The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany were made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
I love a good soundtrack, and the right song can add so much emotional punch to a scene. Because this is a story of women and empowerment and love, I’d choose mainly female artists, like Alicia Keys’ GIRL ON FIRE or UNDERDOG, Lady Gaga’s A MILLION REASONS and BORN THIS WAY. Little Big Town’s GIRL CRUSH and Marin Morris’s MY CHURCH. I can vividly imagine Katy Perry’s ROAR playing when the women are driving the winding, clifftop roads to the Amalfi Coast. It’s a bit “on the nose,” but I can hear Miranda Lambert’s THE HOUSE THAT BUILT ME when Poppy steps into her childhood home. I’d also include my current favorite MIRROR by Madison Ryann Ward. Oh, and I can’t forget Dean Martin’s THAT’S AMORE, playing in the background at Lucchesi’s Bakery and Delicatessen! 

What is something you've learned about yourself during this pandemic?
I’ve learned that focusing on what I CAN do beats focusing on what I can’t. I’ve learned to honor essential workers and medical professionals. I’ve learned we must work to abolish the blatant inequities in our society. I’ve learned not to feel guilty for long and lazy binges on Netflix. I’ve learned that human touch carries extraordinary power. I’ve learned that Anthony Fauci is a national treasure (and so cute!). I’ve learned that I can start crying over absolutely nothing. I’ve learned that an evening around a firepit with good friends is a gift. I’ve learned that Michigan winters last far too long! I’ve learned that wine is the most important item on my shopping list. I’ve learned that being productive is good for the soul. I’ve learned that if my uncle Bud was willing to give his life to protect our country, I can wear a damn mask.   

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
Ah, movies…what a quaint memory! My husband and I were huge movie goers before Covid, and were always up on the latest films. Now, we’re mainly binging on Netflix and Hulu series. The most recent feature-length movie we watched was The Trial of Chicago 7, which was great.

What is something you eat on Thanksgiving that is outside of the standard holiday fare?
Yum! I love this question! In the last several years, our family has incorporated my friend’s Grape Salad into our traditional Thanksgiving feast. In short, blend together one cup of each: cream cheese, sour cream, and sugar. Add a teaspoon of vanilla and fold into a 9 x 13 pan of seedless grapes. Top with a cup of brown sugar and a cup of toasted pecans, and refrigerate overnight. It’s become a favorite for the kids and adults alike, and best of all, it’s fruit, so you can devour it guilt-free! (Wink! Wink!) 

Thanks to Lori for visiting with us and to both Lori and Berkley 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 November 24th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Sara and Melissa talk about...Being Thankful

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This month, in honor of Thanksgiving, we're talking about what makes us thankful.

We're always 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.

Melissa Amster:

Thanksgiving is going to look strange this year, with not having a family gathering the way we have every single year. It will be small and quiet with the same four people I've had meals with every day since the pandemic started in husband and kids. And yet I am thankful. I'm not thankful for the pandemic, obviously, but for other things that either have to do with the pandemic or are just the same things I am thankful for every year. 

My family: I love my husband and kids more than anything and I am thankful that we've been able to weather this past year together without fighting all that much (aside from normal sibling rivalry issues). We still have a good time together and I feel like all this quality family time has brought us even closer. I also am thankful for my extended family, which includes my parents, sister, in-laws, aunt, uncle, cousins, etc. 

My friends: I love my friends and am so glad we are able to stay in touch, no matter how far apart we are from each other. Even the friends who live close by but we can't always see in person, we make sure to stay connected with in one way or another. 

Technology: If the pandemic happened in the early nineties, it would have been a whole different story. Right now, I'm thankful that my kids can still get an education, even though it's from a computer in their bedroom. I'm also thankful that my husband can work remotely for his new job. And, of course, we can video chat with anyone we want, which is so amazing. Technology is keeping us in each other's lives, even if we can't do it in person right now.

Love: Aside from the love of my family, two women I am really close with have found their beshert (what we call "meant to be" in Yiddish, meaning their "true love" or "soulmate") over the past couple of years and I am so happy for both of them!

Entertainment: While being cooped up at home, I've been treated to some great TV shows this past year. Highest honor goes to Schitt's Creek, which I finally decided to watch this year and then re-watched with my older son because I love it so much. Dan Levy has created a true gem and it rightly deserved all those Emmys! I also love @mjudsonberry on Instagram and TikTok, who keeps the humor going for me through his wonderful impressions. Because of Schitt's Creek, I decided to invest my time in two other shows that I now love: The Umbrella Academy and Degrassi: The Next Generation. I started watching Umbrella because I had heard that the motel from Schitt's Creek is used in a couple of episodes. I didn't expect to love this show as much as I do though! Then I found out that Dan Levy was on Degrassi Goes Hollywood and I watched it to see him, but was then intrigued enough to try the series from the beginning. I have been binge watching it ever since and it is saving my sanity. (I even got Sara hooked on both shows. ;) ) Aside from these shows, I've watched a few other ones this past summer that I really like, namely Love, Victor and Never Have I Ever. I still have others to watch as well, along with the shows that I regularly watch and have now returned (even though This is Us is on break until January). My other current addiction is the musical Six. While I haven't seen it, I've been listening to the music and it's currently playing in my head. It's very catchy and a whole lot of fun.

Opportunity: When one door closes, another one opens. This past summer, I was laid off from my full-time non-profit job that I had been doing for the last ten-and-a-half years. While I miss the people I worked with, I am still in touch with a bunch of them. However, this was the push I needed to look for work in the book industry. I've already done some freelance jobs working for authors, publicists, and publishers. I am enjoying the new challenges and am gaining more experience in the field. 

Finally, I am thankful that no one in my family has gotten Covid. I pray that we continue to stay safe and healthy. Same goes for everyone reading this post!

I could go on and on about things I am thankful for, but now it's time to give Sara the floor. 

Sara Steven:

In the time of Covid, it can be hard to feel thankful. The longer this year has gone on, I discover more and more people in my close-knit circle are either affected financially or physically by Covid, having had it themselves, or they know someone who has been affected. I haven’t seen my extended family in I don’t know how long, due to travel concerns, and I miss them so much. I’ve had to make agonizing decisions in cancelling plans, trying to weigh the pain in not allowing my loved ones to visit, vs. trying to be cautious and careful. It can seem as though there is no end in sight, and so many of us are secluded away, or when we venture out, we’re wearing masks. It’s the new abnormal normal.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, my goal has been in trying to appreciate what I do know. And what I have, even if it’s not right in front of me. My immediate and extended family are healthy, knock on wood. I know I can’t see everyone in person, but thankfully, there is technology available that allows me to “see” them, even if it's by camera. I know it’s nowhere near the same, but it’s something. 

I’m beyond grateful for the friendships I have in my life, the people who support me and support my decisions. I’ve had to cancel trips and reservations, I’ve had to gently tell people from out-of-state that it’s just not a good time to travel right now, and even if they’re not on the same page that I am regarding Covid, they’ve been nothing but respectful. There have been no emotional guilt trips or accusations. We respect each other, regardless.

I’m so glad my boys attend schools in a district that encourages online learning right now. Schools out here in Arizona have opened their doors to their students, but they’ve also allowed children to attend online, too, and I know how hard the teachers work in providing both experiences to their classrooms. The same goes for my college experience with Arizona State University. The news focuses a lot on the students who are holding Covid parties on campus, and I get it. But ASU has also allowed their instructors the opportunity to work from home and hold Zoom classes, or utilize their Sync program, where a student can choose to do the class from home via Zoom, or go in person with their mask, whatever their comfort level.  It’s nice that no one feels forced to do something that they aren’t comfortable with, and I appreciate that from all angles.

So many of us are wishing this year would hurry up and end already, and I feel that way, too. My hope is that things will get better in 2021, on so many levels. But in the meantime, I’m going to continue to try and find what I can to be thankful for, and I hope no matter what it is, that you’re able to do that, too. 

What are YOU thankful for this year?

Book Review: It's Raining a special giveaway

By Sara Steven

On a dare, Faith Daniels tosses a coin into the infamous “Fountain of Love” and wishes for the perfect man, laughing it off as the dumbest thing she’s ever done. Like magic, her quiet life turns upside-down when men begin to appear out of nowhere, like zombies, but drop-dead gorgeous and without the odd limp. There’s a doctor, a lawyer, a firefighter, and a swimwear model, for starters. All of them are kind, generous, and successful. All of them are interested in Faith. But who is Mr. Right? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

It’s Raining Men is a romantic comedy, with a twist. A BIG twist. While I was reading about Faith and her experiences, particularly with one of the eligible bachelors in question, I thought about how entirely unconventional their relationship could be. It made for an interesting angle that not only added something unique, but it provided more of a risk for Faith. Falling in love could potentially lead to losing friendships, a major high stakes game for me.

I loved Faith’s story, and why she ever felt the need to toss a coin into the “Fountain of Love.” We get to see a lot of transition for her, given what she has been through over the last several years. While she holds onto a lot of who she is and what makes her special, at the same time she discovers different ways of coming out of her shell, mostly attributed to her best friends who have been with her through it all, and want the very best for her. It was fun to see her dealing with the various men who are interested in her and delve deeper into this second chance love story, but I enjoyed the close-knit relationships she has with her friends, too. 

Any good read needs to have an arch nemesis, and I need to mention Pam, Faith’s nemesis. We never really get the concrete reason behind why Pam is so evil and dislikes Faith as much as she does, but she sets out to be obnoxious, and I don’t know if I’ve eye-rolled more at any other character! It was equal parts wanting to see what would happen next and what Pam would do, and wanting to see how Faith would handle it or what sort of comeuppance would come from it. It was a nice balance from how wonderful Faith and her friends are, to how annoying Pam is. 

I’ve yet to read an Amooi novel and not love it. This is yet another five-star experience to add to my list!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Rich Amooi is the Amazon #1 Bestselling author of 15 romantic comedies, including It's Not PMS, It's You, Dying to Meet You, There's Something About a Cowboy, and Madam Love, Actually

A former radio personality and wedding DJ, Rich now writes romantic comedies full-time in San Diego, California, and is happily married to a kiss monster imported from Spain. Rich believes in public displays of affection, silliness, infinite possibilities, donuts, gratitude, laughter, and happily ever after.

Visit Rich online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Giveaway to Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card (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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Giveaway ends November 28th.

Visit all the stops on the blog tour:

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rachel Bloom is the coolest girl in the a book giveaway

Photo by Robyn Von Swank
Introduction by Melissa Amster

I am beyond excited to share my interview with Rachel Bloom today! Ever since I first fell in love with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (read my posts from the bottom up), I have admired Rachel's creative talent. Her love for Broadway also resonates with me. Last year, my husband and I got to see her perform live and she was absolutely hilarious! 

Rachel's memoir, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, published today. To celebrate, Grand Central Publishing (who also helped arrange this interview) has FIVE copies for some lucky readers! The title makes me think of a line from "Part of Your World" (The Little Mermaid). However, I'm sure there's more to it than that, and I can't wait to dive into this book and find out!

Rachel Bloom is a comedian, actress, writer, and singer born and raised in Los Angeles. Rachel co-created and starred in the TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on The CW Network and earned a Golden Globe and Critics Choice award for her performance, as well as a Primetime Emmy Award for the songwriting. In 2019, she toured her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live show across the US and Europe, selling out at iconic venues such as Radio City Music Hall and the London Palladium. Rachel is currently executive producing a new romantic mystery comedy drama television series for The CW Network titled I’m In Love With The Dancer from My Bat Mitzvah, and she is set to write the Untitled *NSYNC Comedy for TriStar pictures. She is also penning the lyrics for an upcoming Broadway musical of The Nanny. Rachel’s first book, I Want To Be Where The Normal People Are, was published by Grand Central Publishing on November 17, 2020. 

Visit Rachel online:

Rachel Bloom has felt abnormal and out of place her whole life. In this exploration of what she thinks makes her "different," she's come to realize that a lot of people also feel this way; even people who she otherwise thought were "normal."

In a collection of laugh-out-loud funny essays, all told in the unique voice (sometimes singing voice) that made her a star; Rachel writes about everything from her love of Disney, OCD and depression, weirdness, and Spanx to the story of how she didn't poop in the toilet until she was four years old; Rachel's pieces are hilarious, smart, and infinitely relatable (except for the pooping thing).
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is one thing you hope people who read your book will learn about you?
That I have a debilitating series of checks and balances in my brain.

What were the easiest and most challenging parts of writing I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are?
The easiest part was the interview with my dog because obviously I just had to interview my dog. The most challenging part was finding a structure for my essay about my mental health in my twenties.

What is your writing environment like? 
My writing varies between my bathtub, a table on my patio that overlooks the street, and my tiny desk in my chaotic office made chaotic because half of my house is unusable due to construction.

What are some of your favorite books of all time?
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, The Giver by Lois Lowry

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as a new mother?
Just today, I was putting on my own makeup for a news piece, because the makeup artist I had hired couldn’t get a Covid test in time, while I was pumping with a bra that makes the breast pump stick to your nipples. So I was putting on eyeliner as these pumps were sticking out of my tits and it was just very on the nose.

What was your favorite song to perform on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?

"Heavy Boobs." A couple years ago there was a performance in Austin and it happened to fall on National Women’s Day so I invited all of the women with heavy boobs in the audience to come up on stage with me and do the song. 

Thanks to Rachel for visiting with us and to Grand Central Publishing for facilitating the interview and sharing her book with our readers.

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

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Giveaway ends November 22nd at midnight EST.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Book Review and Author Interview: Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Sitter

By Cindy Roesel

After losing her job at 50, Laura Marchant decided to follow her dream and become a petsitter. She tells her story in the book, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF A PET SITTER. She had fond memories of growing up and loving her dog, Frisco.

Her story begins when she and partner, Mike decide to buy a golden retriever and name him Brece (pron: Bray-eece). Laura's excited to bring her angelic puppy home. After going on vacation and leaving Brece at a kennel, Laura and Mike come home to find Brece traumatized. They make up their minds never to leave a dog in a kennel again. Before you know it, Brece comes between Laura and Mike and they split up. Soon Laura is walking dogs and housing pets when their owners go away.

Science proves that owning and spending time with a four-legged pet, reduces stress, anxiety and depression. We follow Laura for five years while she takes care of Miss Tilly, Rocky, Wasabi, Stodge, Mckenzie, Nelson, Doug the pug and others. Breece is the Alpha female and helps Laura check out other dog's temperaments to decide whether they make it into their pack. Sometimes there's bad dog behavior like pulling on leashes, being extremely boisterous, getting out of control and ignoring commands.

Laura points out a dogs disposition is similar to a Buddhist. Dogs act in the here and now, don't hold grudges, don't lie awake worrying and they don't want material possessions. They provide compassion and companionship without expecting anything in return. We could learn a lot from our furry friends.

Laura believes her job is a privilege, she gets paid to do what she loves and everyday the guest list changes. Maybe you'd like to become a pet sitter? Laura Marchant's book, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF A PET SITTER is a good place to start.

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Laura Marchant was born in 1959 in the seaside resort of Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, England. Both her parents were born in the same town, so not exactly a family of intrepid travellers! As a child Laura and her siblings were fortunate enough to own shares in the families pets. Unbeknown to Laura at the time, her love for the animals formed the blueprint for a large part of her life. In 2011 she finally found her vocation, and in the comfort of her own home, set up a pet boarding business. For the next 7 years she shared her abode with a pack of dogs. A lot of this time was spent watching over the animals and observing their behaviour, which in turn inspired her to write her first novel Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Sitter.

Visit Laura on Facebook and Twitter.

Cindy's interview with Laura Marchant:

Why did you decide to write this book?
Because I wanted to share my passion with others and also to tell of the many highs and lows that the humble pet sitter faces on a daily basis. I think people would be surprised at the many hurdles that are encountered. I also wanted my observations of the pack mentality to be heard. I have spent a great deal of time watching and learning from our friend the dog, and I think this qualifies me to make some unique points about their behaviour. But I think most of all I want my book to reach young people who may be thinking about a career working with animals, dogs in particular. Perhaps it would be good for these children to learn just how rewarding such a career could be, but also at the same time, how challenging. I feel sorry for people who are not fond of dogs, in my opinion they are missing out on such I lot. If I can reach young children and share may passion, then perhaps the child wont reach adulthood feeling dismissive of dogs!   

You didn't have any background working with pets when you decided to start this business. Tell us what was hard and easy about creating a start-up.
The actual setting up of the business was relatively easy. I received great financial support from the government and also help in setting up my self assessment tax. I started to work with an established pet sitting company so I had support from the other members and I inherited a few dogs from them, which was a great help in those early days. I suppose the hardest part was building up my client base, this came in time. But it did mean that in the beginning I took just about all dogs on that came may way, some of these dogs were quite challenging which made my job that bit harder. It was also a stark realisation that I didn’t know my own dog as well as I thought I did. She was a different beast in the company of other dogs!
What are the highs and lows of owning your own business?
The highs are:
Freedom and flexibility
Personal choice, I don't have to take on a dog if I don’t think it will fit in with the pack, by the same token I don't have to work for people that I don’t warm to.
The lows are:
If you don’t work, you don’t get paid
Asking people for payment can sometimes feel uncomfortable
Arranging holidays is very difficult as you can’t just let people down
I shoulder the responsibility alone – if anything detrimental happens its solely down to me, and me alone
There are so many stories in the book. Tell us a story about an incident with one of your pets.
I think my favourite story about my own dog Brece when she discovered the missing Schnauzer, this was after I had been frantically searching for the illusive dogs for five hours. Brece picked up the scent and alerted me to the dog who had been shut in the cloakroom. If she had not pointed me in the right direction its hard to know how things would have turned out.
We love our pets. Why is there such a strong connection?
In my opinion we love our dogs unconditionally because:
They totally accept and love us for who we are, warts and all. 
They never judge us, where as a person may do so.
They are incredibly loyal, and enthusiastic to be with us, this makes us feel appreciated and loved.
They can emphasise with us. When we are down they generate extra love and affection in our direction, thus lifting our spirits.
They are asthetically pleasing.
There are many more reasons that we have such a strong bond with our dogs but I think another very important reason is eye contact. The dog has amazing eye contact with us. He has learned to bore into our eyes (not many animals have this ability) He looks at us with pure adoration and we return the adoration. This process releases oxytocin in both dog and person, thus making us feel warm and happy. This feeling can be compared to the same feeling that a mother experiences when looking at her new born, a feeling of pure love.

Friday, November 13, 2020

What's in the mail

The Guncle by Steven Rowley from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)
The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
The Truth and Other Hidden Things by Lea Geller from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
Games We Played by Shawne Stieger from Red Adept (e-book)
Dear Emmie Blue
by Lia Louis from Atria (e-book via NetGalley)
Seven Perfect Things by Catherine Ryan Hyde from Lake Union (e-book via NetGalley)
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder from Abrams (e-book via NetGalley)
A Special Place for Women
by Laura Hankin from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave from Simon & Schuster (e-book via NetGalley)
One Two Three by Laurie Frankel from Henry Holt (e-book via NetGalley)
The Social Graces by Renee Rosen from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)

Aunt Ivy's Cottage by Kristin Harper from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
The Family Ship by Sonja Yoerg from   (e-book via NetGalley)

Book Review: Dictatorship of the Dress

By Melissa Amster

As the dress-bearer for her mother’s wedding, Laney Hudson has a lot more baggage than the bulky garment bag she’s lugging from New York to Hawaii. Laney is determined to prove she’s capable of doing something right, but running chores for her mom’s fairytale nuptials is proving to be a painfully constant reminder of her own lost love.
So when she’s mistaken for the bride and bumped up to first class, Laney figures some stress-free luxury is worth a harmless white lie. Until the flight crew thinks that the man sitting next to her is Laney’s groom, and her little fib turns into a hot mess.
The last thing Noah Ridgewood needs is some dress-obsessed diva landing in his first-class row. En route to his Vegas bachelor party, the straight-laced software designer knows his cold feet have nothing to do with the winter weather.
When a severe storm leaves them grounded in Chicago and they find themselves booked into the last available honeymoon suite, Laney and her in-flight neighbor have little choice but to get better acquainted. Now, as her bridal mission hangs in the balance, perhaps the thing Laney gets right is a second chance at love.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I won a copy of Dictatorship of the Dress from Cindy Reads & Writes. Even though it published in 2015, I had not heard about it until now. And after finishing, all I could think was that it was a hidden gem that everyone should know about!

I really enjoyed this story. I wasn't sure where it would go, but I loved the journey. I enjoyed getting to see both perspectives and really liked Noah and Laney. Jessica Topper took some creative liberties while also staying true to some of the locations in the story (I asked her about a restaurant that was featured, as it sounded really cool, but she told me that it was a fictional place). The travel aspect of this novel was a lot fun, even though most of it took place in a city that I know well. I did enjoy revisiting Chicago this way though! One part even made me think of Adventures in Babysitting (which also takes place in Chicago). 

The dialogue and descriptions were great, really bringing this novel to life and allowing the characters to jump off the pages. I could even feel the stinging cold of a Chicago winter. I enjoyed the flashback scenes, as they gave the characters more depth and motivation and allowed me to get to know them in new ways. Laney had so many layers to her and she was not what I was expecting from seeing the cover. I also liked that she was Jewish. And I won't complain about the steamy factor one bit! ;) 

I had a lot of fun reading Dictatorship of the Dress. I had been reading another wedding-themed novel at the same time and there were some similarities in terms of certain things being mentioned, but overall they were two completely different stories. I hope to read Courtship of the Cake soon!

Movie casting suggestions:
Laney: Stacey Farber
Noah: Finn Wittrock
Allen (flashbacks): Garrett Hedlund
Anita: Alison Sudol
Dani: Candice King
Vera: Jennifer Grey
Sloane: Amber Heard