Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Book Review: A Slow Fire Burning

By Jami Denison

International bestselling author Paula Hawkins may always be best-known for her record-shattering debut, The Girl on the Train. But her newest thriller, A Slow Fire Burning, may be the one that haunts readers long after they’ve finished it. With characters and a setting similar to HBO’s streaming sensation Mare of Easttown, this story seems tailor-made for the streaming treatment.

Hurt people hurt people. It’s a saying well-known to those recovering from destructive relationships, and it’s also the theme of the book. Every character in A Slow Fire Burning has suffered, sometimes horribly, sometimes by the people they loved and trusted the most. While the structure of the novel is a murder mystery, the killer’s identity is almost the least interesting aspect of the book. Readers root for an end to the characters’ pain, no matter how that happens.

Twenty-three-year-old Daniel Sutherland is found stabbed to death on the shabby houseboat where he lived, mere weeks after his alcoholic mother Angela died alone, falling down the stairs. Angela’s neighbor, a senior citizen named Irene, found her; likewise, the marina’s resident busybody, Mariam, found Daniel. Angela’s sister, Carla, and Carla’s ex-husband, Theo, never recovered from the death of their three-year-old son Ben 15 years ago when he was in Angela’s care, and the two-one punch of these deaths is a painful reminder of Ben’s. 

The main suspect in Daniel’s murder is 20-year-old Laura, whose promising future was curtailed ten years ago when she was hit by a car. With a brain injury that left her volatile and troubled, Laura stormed off Daniel’s boat after a one-night stand. She’s already awaiting trial for stabbing a man with a fork. She’s the most likely suspect. But is she the one?

A Slow Fire Burning, as the title implies, takes its time with the storytelling, concentrating instead on character back story and motivation. And the back stories are tragic. Except for Irene, every other character in the book had a trauma almost too horrible to imagine. As a result, they’re angry, defensive, mistrustful and scared. None of them are likeable, and none of them see any of the other characters in a good light, either. 

While no scenes are graphic or gratuitous, A Slow Fire Burning is a difficult book to get through. Not in the writing—the writing is seamless. But the pain of each character is so overwhelming, and communicated so well, that the reader takes on their pain as their own. Laura, especially; she was left hobbled and damaged and then betrayed over and over by the people who should have been there for her. Every chapter in her point-of-view is almost excruciating. 

The New York Times review says that “only a clairvoyant could anticipate the book’s ending.” I disagree; Hawkins tells her tale so thoroughly that the pieces are obvious and careful readers will know who did it and why. Her clarity does not take away from the book’s rewards; rather, it feels like everything falls into place the way it should. Wrongs are righted, wounds are healed, justice is done and a new day dawns once again. 

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

More by Paula Hawkins:

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Monday, September 20, 2021

Happy to have Jamie Beck here...plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome Jamie Beck to CLC today. Her latest novel, The Happy Accidents, publishes tomorrow. It sounds like a great story that we hope to check out soon. We also think you will enjoy getting to know her. Thanks to BookSparks, we have one copy of The Happy Accidents to give away!

Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author Jamie Beck’s realistic and heartwarming stories have sold more than three million copies. She is a two-time Booksellers’ Best Award finalist, a National Readers' Choice Award winner, and critics at Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “poignant,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing novels, she enjoys dancing around the kitchen while cooking and hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah. Above all, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family. 

Fans can learn more about Jamie at her website, which includes a fun extras page with photos, videos, and playlists. She also loves interacting with everyone on Facebook 

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

Synopsis:
Three women wake up to the consequences of one impulsive pact in an insightful novel about friendship, love, and fulfillment by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jamie Beck.

While at a casino to celebrate her birthday, Jessie Clarke proposes a pact to her reserved sister, Liz, and their childhood friend Chloe: the three women will say yes to any adventure that comes their way. Jessie is mourning her recent divorce, so the other two reluctantly agree. Twelve hours later, they awaken to the shocking consequences of their behavior.

A viral video throws Liz’s career and reputation into question. A major loss at the craps table rocks the foundation of Chloe’s staid marriage. And Jessie’s desperate bid to unblock her artistic creativity results in a life-changing choice. Staring down the crossroads, each woman finds her relationships―with herself, with each other, and with loves both old and new―tested. At every turn, they struggle not to let fear decide their fates. Will they give in, or will their misadventures lead to the greatest fulfillment of all?

“Beautifully moving, masterful storytelling that weaves the nuances of relationships and finding yourself while facing the intricacies of life-changing decisions and their consequences.” 
—Priscilla Oliveras, USA Today bestselling author

“Jamie Beck has moved from a heavy-hitter in romance to a sure-thing in women’s fiction, and The Happy Accidents shows why she can do both. In this novel, three old friends make a pact that changes everything…and may just be the best decisions they ever made. You won’t regret your decision to one-click this book.” 
—Liz Talley, USA Today bestselling author

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
My stories usually include serious issues that require a lot of research (mental illness, abandonment, infertility, etc.), so when I get a reader letter from someone suffering with whatever is in that story who tells me that I really got it right, it is very satisfying. 

What did you learn from writing your other novels that you applied to The Happy Accidents?
This is hard to answer because The Happy Accidents is a bit of a departure for me. I wrote the book when the pandemic lockdown began and while the election was happening—two very stressful events. As a result, I decided to make the story less angsty and fraught than I generally prefer. I figured readers would be world-weary and want to escape into something gentler and hopeful. The change isn’t a result of things I learned from my prior writing experience, but rather my general sense of where the world was headed.

If The Happy Accidents was made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
Fun question! Hm. I could see Jennifer Garner as Chloe, the married mother of two. Perhaps Natalie Portman would play Liz, the driven television journalist. And Jennifer Lawrence would probably bring a fun vibe to Jess, the joie de vivre artist.

What has happened in your life that you would consider to be a happy accident?
I am currently recovering from a “surgery gone wrong” that made me septic and required a second surgery to correct. Last month I spent an agonizing eight days in the hospital and am told it will be weeks longer before my pain is gone and my energy returns. It was awful, and yet it really taught me some important lessons. First, about advocating for oneself (particularly as a woman, whose concerns are often minimized). Second, about how health really is more important than almost anything else. 

From now on, I am dedicating a decent portion of every day to making sure I’m taking care of my body and mental health. And third, about stress and balance. I’ve worked hard these past several years publishing multiple books per year. After this experience, I’ve decided to slow down so that I am not missing out on other important aspects of my life. These silver linings of my horrible experience really are happy accidents.

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?
We just finished Mare of Easttown, which was excellent and dark. For fun, Grace & Frankie makes me laugh (reminds me of my mom and her artist friend, Ria). And I’m going to look into Ted Lasso because everyone I know keeps talking about it.

Side note from Melissa: You will love Ted Lasso!

What is something you have learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’m an introvert, so at first I was doing pretty well despite the lockdown. However, as time wore on, I realized how much I missed in-person events and writing group meetings. Those things really give me a lot of energy that sustains my writing. I also miss travel immensely and can’t wait to get back in the sky. Finally, I’ve been disappointed by the lack of unity and community in fighting the virus. Maybe it’s my age, but I’m shocked that so many people refuse to be part of solutions advocated by the science community despite the death toll and the mutations. It’s made me more cynical about my countrymen, which is an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic.

Thanks to Jamie for visiting with us and to SparkPoint Studio 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 September 26th at midnight EST.

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Book Review: Taylor Partially Matured



By Sara Steven

Now that she's been admitted to the Sweet Water Circle, a group of long-time friends now in their 30s and 40s who love to push each other to be their best selves, Taylor is tasked with growing up. God knows they have no hope of curing her inappropriate behavior. After calling for a Sweet Water Circle intervention, fellow Circle member and Taylor's boss, Shelly, puts Taylor on the clock: figure out what she wants to do with her life or join the unemployment line. Who knew getting paid to do nothing wasn't a long-term career option? Taylor certainly didn't, so of course, she rebels. Why think about the future when she's having so much fun in the present?

The pressure on Taylor intensifies when the a love match set for Shelly falls for Taylor instead. This love match is none other than Benjamin Bach (Billionaire Ben), a contemporary of the Sweet Water Circle who has since made it big in Silicon Valley. Should Taylor take Ben on as her sugar daddy or pursue her own career? Or will the Sweet Water Circle's top-heavy nemesis, Sasha, beat her to it?

Follow Taylor on a journey of self discovery and misadventure (and total inappropriateness) in love and life. If you've read Project Kaitlyn or Jenn Reinvented you know that full maturity for Taylor is out of the question, but perhaps partial maturation is possible? Or maybe not. How can Taylor grow up and find her passion and still be Taylor? You'll laugh out loud as she tries. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ve had the pleasure of reading the other two books in this series, and I’m so glad we get one from Taylor’s perspective! 

Maybe it was just me, but the match between Ben and Taylor reminded me a little of Pretty Woman. You’ve got Taylor, who is incredibly brash and loud, constantly saying things that not only shock her Sweet Water Circle, but completely shocks Ben. Ben on the other hand is more quiet and contained and prefers a quiet night at home versus the late nights out at bars and clubs, which is more Taylor’s scene. Their social statuses and monetary means are completely different too, with Ben being a billionaire, while Taylor is deep in debt and about to lose her job. You’d think there would be no way that the two of them would connect with one another, yet Taylor brings out the voice within Ben, while Ben attempts to smooth out the rough edges on Taylor. It could be a classic tale of opposites attract, or it could be an epic disaster! 

It’s hard not to love Taylor’s “live for today” motto. I never knew for sure what I’d get to witness, considering she appears to be up for anything. But while keeping with this type of lifestyle, it also means keeping all of her relationships at arm’s length. There’s never any future. That combined with a lot of crazy, wild snafus can mean confusion and feeling upended, even for someone as content with going where the wind blows like Taylor tends to be. 

I appreciated all of it. The vulnerability as Taylor begins to trust Ben, and the armor she puts up when she feels she can’t. I love the way Grayson Avery writes the dialogue and scenery, too. There is a lot of witty banter and funny punches that really showcase each character’s personalities. It was nice to acquaint myself with former stars in this series, like Kait and Jenn, and I’m fairly certain I saw something indicating that the next book in this series will be about the queen of mean, Sasha. I can’t wait!

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

Grayson Avery is the author of The Sweet Water Circle Series, a romantic comedy series that focuses on childhood friends in their 30s and 40s as they help each other navigate the stormy waters of dating, marriage, divorce, and a whole lot of inappropriate, naughty, and downright hysterical situations.

Visit Grayson online:
Website * Facebook * Amazon * Goodreads

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Food

 We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. Since lots of chick lit novels focus on food and cooking, we decided to share our own thoughts on this topic. 

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.

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                         
I’m in my final year at Arizona State University, and I find myself with nothing but electives to get me through the next two semesters. One of the classes I’m enrolled in for this semester is a food and human health course, because I love food. And I love health.                                                                                                                                      But now I’m sort of regretting it.
It’s not the class. The instructor is great, and I feel like I’ve learned so much so far. But that’s the problem. Last week we learned about the changes that have occurred in our food sources--the amount of nutrients derived from food, the soil our fruits and vegetables come from. The thing is, it’s not nearly as good as it once was, before industrialization took over. Before pesticides, before the dreaded GMOs. It’s all about supply and demand, which means producing produce and food that lasts longer and is convenient and available, but this means producing food that isn’t as high in quality.

In the back of my mind, I know this. In fact, when we moved to Arizona six years ago, I discovered that our next door neighbor was in charge of a food co-op and we were lucky enough to receive fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally by surrounding farms, all for a very affordable price. Twenty-five dollars a week. But then the co-op shut down. And the new grocery store just two miles down the road called out to me, and while it’s easy to buy the organic produce in the store, it’s just as easy not to. 

We have farmer’s markets out here. In over one hundred degree temperatures. I know. It sounds like I’m making excuses, doesn’t it? And I am. Because the convenience factor is so nice to have, but the more weeks that go by, I can’t ignore all of the factual information I’m learning in this food class. 

Courtesy of The Sugar Free Diva

I’ve always said that I’m a fairly healthy person, but I notice that as I age, some of the comfort foods I’ve always enjoyed are the same ones that cause a lot of chaos now. I can’t out-eat anyone at a buffet anymore--trust me, that was a sight to behold. I can’t outrun the calorie-laden meals, most likely due to my metabolism or my age or the fact that I’m not as strict about exercise like I once was. Certain foods cause me misery, and the ones full of sodium make me feel like I’ve taken up salt licking as a hobby. I figure I can try to make some small changes right now, like eating more produce, produce that comes from local farms. I put in a little research and found that there’s a market that’s close by, open seven days a week, and why not check it out, just to see what’s out there. It’s a small step, but it could be a huge step into living a healthier lifestyle, while helping out the local farms and businesses nearby. It can’t hurt. 

First step: eating healthier produce. Second step: curtail the daily sweets rations. Huh. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty with that...


Melissa Amster:                                                                                                   
I realize that I am sharing this post right before a fasting holiday is about to start. However, it's fitting for this topic as I wanted to talk about something significant that has to do with what I eat. If you didn't know this already, I keep Kosher. Simply put, I follow some rules about eating based on commandments given in the Torah, such as not mixing meat and dairy and not eating shellfish or pork. There's more to it than that, such as dipping new utensils, glassware, and metal ware (such as pots and pans) into a mikvah before being able to use those items. I also keep separate sets of dishware, pots and pans, utensils, cups, etc. My house has two ovens and two sinks, as well. 

The food items that I purchase need to have a symbol, known as a hecksher, in order to be allowed in my house. Usually this is a circle around a U, known as OU, or a star with a K inside, amongst a few other certifiable symbols. Thankfully, a lot of name brand foods I like (and the store versions) are usually Kosher, such as Oreos (and most Nabisco products), Kellogg's cereals, most ice cream brands, you know...the important stuff. ;) Unfortunately, Kraft macaroni and cheese is not certified, but I've found some decent Kosher substitutes. Also, I need to buy specially certified meat and cheese products. 

One of my favorite lines from The Office

I didn't always keep Kosher and only started about eighteen years ago, after my husband and I got engaged. We eased our way into it with baby steps instead of just going cold turkey on giving up items we were used to. I had stopped eating at McDonald's a little while before we started on our Kosher journey. I don't even miss it now. There are some things we both miss, but my husband is an amazing chef and has been able to recreate a lot of the things we used to enjoy prior to keeping Kosher. 

A few years ago, we started purchasing Gardein vegan products. (Thankfully, those are sold at our local Kosher supermarket!) That has made a huge difference for us, as it has opened up a lot of cooking options. When we want to have tacos or put meat into lasagna, we get the Gardein soy crumbles and my husband flavors them according to what we're eating them with. They're really good! When we want chicken parmigiana or chicken Fettucine Alfredo, we use the crispy chick'n patties. They are perfect for either meal. We've also enjoyed their meatless meatballs ("it tastes the same...if you close your eyes"--Rent) with spaghetti and parmesan cheese, or their chick'n strips in fajitas. We also enjoy their Mandarin crispy chick'n. (And then we can have ice cream afterward.) 

When Passover comes around, there's a new set of Kosher rules that we have to follow, which means no bread, pasta, green beans, corn, rice, and some other products, as well. We also have different sets of pots, pans, plates, utensils, etc (also for both meat and dairy). However, my husband has been able to make some delicious dishes where you can't even tell they're for Passover. He adapts a lot of his regular recipes for the holiday. I make matzah lasagna and matzah mac n' cheese, as well. Both are favorites in our house. And then there's matzah pizza, which tastes best on shmurah matzah, as it is thinner and crispier. 

I hope this gives you some insight into what it's like keeping Kosher. I'm always glad to answer any questions you may have. Sara has heard me talk about all the rules and products so often that she could easily keep Kosher if she ever wanted to. :)

Talk about food with us! Just share your thoughts on the topic in the comments.

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Book Review: Will They, Won't They


By Sara Steven

When life goes off track, sometimes the only thing you can do is go back to where it all began...

Emmy Palmer is the star of Bragadon Forest, the biggest fantasy series on TV; adored by the public, living the life of glamour and luxury in London.

But when scandal strikes, Emmy must escape the city and return to her seaside hometown to lie low and wait for the storm to pass.

Emmy's agent decides it would be a good look to star in the community Christmas pantomime, but who else could be playing her leading man but her ex-boyfriend who she may or may not have ditched to move to London a decade ago...

As the show approaches, love and friendships blossom and the real question is - Will they? Won't they? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

From the get-go, I knew Emmy’s story would be an interesting adventure. We learn that she portrays a Daenerys-like character on a television show that reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones,  and when the tabloids and paparazzi run rampant, along with sudden family tragedy, she decides to head to her hometown in order to get away from the limelight and seek solace. 

Being back in Marram Bay reads like a comedic tragedy. In one scene, she finds herself in a unique potential love triangle with two unsuspecting men, as well as back-and-forth banter with a handyman. Her two teen siblings don’t care one iota that she’s famous, giving her grief whenever they can, and Emmy’s aunt Vee is hilarious. There were times I actually snorted at some particular line or retort. I really loved the dialogue that went on between all of the characters, and when theater owner Felix Valentine puts pantomime player Pippa in her place--ooh, boy!

Will They, Won’t They? is a story filled with humor and fun, as well as emotional connections that tie into how Emmy feels about her family, but I think the biggest thing of all is discovering what makes Emmy tick, and what she ultimately wants out of life. While she has enjoyed her time on Bragadon Forest, the reader gets the sense that there is something out there for her, that she’s looking to maybe do more, and be more. Whether she can find that back at Marram Bay through redefining lifelong friendships and relationships with family, through a Christmas pantomime--well, that becomes a question of, will she, won’t she? And I really hoped she would. This was a charming, five-star read!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Portia MacIntosh is a bestselling romantic comedy author of 16 novels, including The Plus One Pact and My Great Ex-Scape. Previously a music journalist, Portia writes hilarious stories, drawing on her real life experiences.

Visit Portia online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: Apples Never Fall

We are excited to celebrate the publication of Liane Moriarty's latest novel, Apples Never Fall. Melissa is currently reading this and enjoying it so far. Thanks to Henry Holt, we have FIVE copies to give away!

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. 

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

"I loved it. An absolute page-turner with all the wit and nuance that put Liane Moriarty head and shoulders above the crowd. Liane Moriarty shows once again why she leads the pack."
―Jane Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The Dry and The Survivors

Liane Moriarty is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret, and Truly Madly Guilty; the New York Times bestsellers Nine Perfect Strangers, What Alice Forgot, and The Last Anniversary; The Hypnotist’s Love Story; and Three Wishes. She lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two children.

Visit Liane online:
Website * Facebook 

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

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Giveaway ends September 19th at midnight EST.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Book Review: The Juggle


By Sara Steven

It was only a blip. Just a little mistake. But in the world of television, Dan Whitehead’s little slip could cost him his career. 

His only chance is to swap roles with his wife, Molly, who works part-time behind the scenes at the show. It’s just for a few weeks. Easy. What’s so hard about looking after their twins and taking a step away from the limelight for a bit? Only, it’s not quite as simple as Dan may think. With more time, his past begins to haunt him. Then, when a friendly school-mum makes him an offer he can’t refuse, is she everything she seems?

Meanwhile, Molly is more than happy in her hoodie and yoga leggings - not that she ever does yoga. She’s more of a stay at home and listen to self-help kind of girl. Why would she want to go back on-screen when she doesn’t even like leaving the house? But she needs to save her husband’s job, after all, it is all her fault. Then, when she’s offered an exclusive interview on the other side of the world, her life in Cherry Blossom Park is under threat. Why is she the only person to ever be offered this interview? Dan must never know the truth.

The Juggle is more than just a story about parents keeping everything in the air. It’s about secrets from the past and hopes for the future. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

There are two polarizing personalities at play within Molly and Dan’s marriage, with Dan being the frontrunner, the one who seeks the limelight, while Molly prefers to hide away in the shadows, convinced she wouldn’t be good enough to be on-screen, anyway. It wasn’t always that way, though. Flashback moments provide a lot of important background information into the eventual breakdown of who Molly used to be, before the husband and the kids. It was something I could really relate to, as a wife and mother, too. Dan’s mistake becomes her potential step back into a life she hasn’t lived in years, and the whole prospect of it seems daunting.

Dan has a lot of secrets. At first, I wondered if The Juggle would focus primarily on this couple’s eventual decline from the way they once were, but Dan’s secrets paralleled the premise perfectly. On top of the secrets are the strange and unusual activities that are happening in Cherry Blossom Park, and when Dan finds himself caught up in the middle of it all, it threatens his self-identity, as well as his marriage and family. While I had a pretty good hunch as to what was going on behind the scenes, I appreciated the way it all unfolded for the reader, dodging us down one potential hypothesis to the next. 

Dan isn’t the only one with secrets. Molly’s exclusive interview involves someone from her past that Dan has no idea of, which went against the type of character Molly appears to be. I really liked that. If nothing else, no one can pigeon-hole Molly into being something that she ultimately isn’t. Or, maybe she is? That became one of the larger questions that needed answered, since Molly doesn’t think very highly of herself, compared to how everyone else around her feels about her. It made me wonder if the biggest interview of her life and career would have the expected results we might expect, or if it would stir up more trouble. 

I’ll be honest: due to various reasons, I read The Juggle in one day! I don’t ordinarily do that. But, what started as an innocent peek into Molly and Dan's stories, turned into an hours-long bender into the night, and into the morning, too. It kept me engaged, and given the way the dialogue and scenes are set up, I wanted to keep going. It was an intimate look into self-identity and self-worth, and worthy of the five stars I’ve given it!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

*This novel is part of a series but can be read as a standalone.

Ellie Barker is a television reporter and presenter. The Juggle is her second book. She lives in Bristol with her husband, two sons, and a Labrador named Cookie. 

Visit Ellie online:
Website * Facebook 



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Friday, September 10, 2021

What's in the mail

Melissa:

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
Hate Me Like You Mean It by various authors from Tracy Krimmer (e-book)
A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery from Europa Editions (e-book via Edelweiss)
The Bookbinder's Daughter by Jessica Thorne from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
The Paid Bridesmaid by Sariah Wilson from Kaye Publicity
The Liz Taylor Ring
by Brenda Janowitz from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting from St. Martin's Press
Somebody's Home by Kaira Rouda from Thomas and Mercer (e-book via NetGalley)
A Day Like This by Kelley McNeil from SparkPoint Studio  (e-book via NetGalley)
Bad Luck Bridesmaid by Alison Rose Greenberg from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)



Sara:
Taylor Partially Matured by Grayson Avery from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
The Juggle by Ellie Barker from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
Couples Wanted by Briana Cole from SparkPoint Studio (e-book via NetGalley)
The Perfect Find by Tia Williams from Grand Central Publishing 
Five Years Later by/from Sarah Kraft (e-book)


Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop
by Jessica Redland from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
A Little Piece of Paradise by T.A. Williams from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Beneficence by Meredith Hall from Jennifer Musico (e-book)
Jami:
The Child of Auschwitz by Lily Graham from Grand Central Publishing 
The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino from Grand Central Publishing 
The Arc by Tory Henwood Hoen from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)





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Spotlight: Paper Airplanes

It’s the end of summer, 2001. Erin O’Connor has everything she’s ever dreamed of: good friends, a high-powered career at a boutique Manhattan firm, and a husband she adores. They have plans for their life together: careers, children, and maybe even a house in the country. But life has other plans. Daniel is a trader who works on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center.

Erin is drinking margaritas on a beach in Mallorca, helping her best friend get over a breakup, when she hears a plane has crashed into Daniel’s building. On a television at the smoky hotel bar, she watches his building collapse. She makes her way home with the help of a stranger named Alec, and once there, she haunts Ground Zero, nearby hospitals, and trauma centers, plastering walls and fences with missing-person flyers. But there’s no trace of Daniel.

After accepting Daniel’s death, Erin struggles to get her life back on track but makes a series of bad decisions and begins to live her life in a self-destructive fog of booze and pills. It’s not until she hits rock bottom that she realizes it’s up to her to decide: Was her destiny sealed with Daniel’s? Or is there life after happily ever after?

“This haunting novel captivated me from the beginning. Forney pulled me in with her gorgeous prose and a heroine who made my heart ache. I rarely cry when I read, but Paper Airplanes had me sobbing. This is the kind of book that only comes around once in a lifetime.”
—Laura Heffernan, internationally best-selling author of Finding Tranquility and Anna’s Guide to Getting Even

Purchase Paper Airplanes

Tabitha Forney writes books to appease the voices in her head. She’s a mom, attorney, and yoga devotee who lives in Houston with her three kids and a husband who was on the 85th floor of the North Tower on 9/11 and lived to tell about it.

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Book Review: The Living and the Lost

By Jami Denison

Just as traditional romance books have a prescribed ending—the Happily Ever After—historical fiction novels also have their own pre-conceived conclusion: The War is Over! But just like a wedding doesn’t end life’s complications, the end of a war doesn’t stop the misery and suffering. Historical fiction author Ellen Feldman’s latest release, The Living and the Lost, takes place in post-World War II Berlin. The war may be over, but no one is happy. What’s left when the bombs have stopped dropping? 

Millie (Meike) Mosbach and her younger brother David are both posted to Berlin in late 1945, as U.S. soldiers serving in the American occupation. Millie, a Bryn Mawr graduate, is working to keep Nazis out of the media, while David is helping to settle displaced persons. But Millie and David aren’t Americans—they’re German Jews who escaped Berlin shortly before Kristallnacht. Millie, especially, finds it hard not to judge all the Germans harshly, especially the “Frauleins” in her office who trade favors with U.S. soldiers for lipstick, nylons, and chocolates. “Fraternization” is strictly prohibited, and when Millie spies David out with a German woman one night, it breaks her heart.

Most wartime novels tend to be plot-driven with an obvious structure and conclusion. The Living and the Lost, which takes place in pre-and-post war Berlin as well as the United States, isn’t quite so linear. The story, told in third person, is almost all Millie’s, with only occasional segues into David’s point-of-view. Millie is haunted by how she and David left Berlin, and what happened to the parents and younger sister they left behind. Shortly after the story begins, Millie is confronted at work by her long-lost cousin, Anna, who begs Millie to help her find the daughter she left behind with a German Aryan neighbor. I thought this plot would feature heavily throughout the book, but it’s wrapped up rather quickly. 

Episodic and atmospheric, The Living and the Lost is less about what Millie does and more about who she becomes. Can she find it in her heart to forgive Germans who did what they had to do to survive? Can she find it in her heart to forgive herself? When does the quest for justice become a thirst for revenge? 

The setting also works to challenge expectations. Readers first see Millie as she’s picking out an apartment in Berlin. But that apartment is already occupied by a woman and her young daughter; Millie is requisitioning it, and the tiny family is forced out of their home. I’d read such scenes many times in World War II fiction taking place in France; I never expected to find an American army officer doing the same thing. Similarly, Feldman peppers the book with scenes of desperation in black markets and among the ruins of Berlin, while U.S. officers and their friends and family get everything they need in the PX. The juxtaposition is jarring.

Why is World War II fiction so popular, especially among American readers? I think there are two reasons in particular: One, we are the “good guys” who saved France and England, defeated the Germans, and liberated the camps (even if we didn’t join the war until 1941), and two, the assurance that “it could never happen here.” I read The Living and the Lost the same week Tucker Carlson broadcast from Hungary, praising the country’s authoritarian leader for his approach to immigration and calling recent arrivals to the U.S. “chaos and filth and crime growing all around us.” 

Carlson has the most-watched cable news program in the country. 

I no longer believe it could never happen here. Rather than a comfort, books like The Living and the Lost feel like a warning. 

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

More by Ellen Feldman:

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Book Review: The Dating Game


By Sara Steven

Once upon a time, twelve women joined the hottest reality TV show looking for love. Except one had a secret identity . . .

Abby Jones is a serious writer. Or at least she will be, one day. Right now, she spends her time writing recaps of reality television under a secret identity.

When a recap for The Stag – the must-watch dating show – goes viral, her editor thinks she should be on set, writing the drama as it happens. The good news: the next season will be filmed in Sydney. Sun, sea and a glamorous trip abroad, this could be Abby’s big break.

The bad news: the producers don’t just want Abby to write the recaps, they want her to be on the show. Abby can’t think of anything worse than being undercover and followed around by cameras. But her career depends on it, and when she meets gorgeous producer Jack, Abby begins to wonder if this job might not be so bad after all . . . (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The Dating Game transported me back to my Bachelor days--I think the last time I tuned in was the season where a woman named Courtney regaled everyone with her villainous skills when she would declare she was “winning” every chance she got. The thing is, what I saw was what I got. I wasn’t given a backstage pass to what really went on behind a reality show meant to showcase people in love, and Abby’s experiences did that for me. From breaking down the women who are on The Stag--potential brides, villains, dark horses, miscellaneous and fillers, to the actual stag himself, I felt like I got a much better view into reality tv shows and the many imaginary strings that are pulled, all for the likes of the audience who are watching.

Placing Abby into the thick of things was an excellent way to ignite trouble. Tasked with pretending to be one of the contestants so she can write real-time commentary on what really goes down on the show, she immediately feels as though she’s stuck in a corner, particularly when she meets Jack. Her role on the show is to fall for the stag, but she feels as though she’s falling for Jack, and that could lead to losing her job, along with all credibility as a serious writer. All of it can jeopardize Jack, too, so it’s an even bigger lose-lose situation. 

Many of the scenes made me laugh or cringe inwardly. There were times where the women, or Does as they’re referenced, are having honest moments, then producers interfere and ask the women to repeat a scene, walk back into a venue, show a little more interest, tone down the interest, etc. And I know that’s most definitely a true take on what really happens with reality television! What we see is often manufactured to look a certain way, and it was interesting to witness Abby’s reaction to that. 

What I loved most about The Dating Game were The Does. Abby is trying to navigate The Stag, Jack, and how to be true to herself, but her budding relationships with the other women were a must-read. From tender friendships to cackling fights, I didn’t know what I would get from one page to the next. Was Courtney really a villain on her season of The Bachelor? Or was that the way we were meant to take her in? I am sure I’ll never really know the answer to that one, but I know Sandy Barker’s take on reality TV made me wonder, creating characters who show both sides of the coin, pretty or not. This was a definite five-star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK * Apple Books * Google Play * Nook * Kobo


Sandy Barker is a writer, traveler and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob. 

She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while traveling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins. 

Visit Sandy online:
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Friday, September 3, 2021

Book Review: Hot Desk


By Sara Steven

Alice loves her job and wants to keep it – whatever the price. But then she’s told the company is switching to flexible working and hot desking…Alice’s desk might look a mess, but she knows exactly where everything is. Or she did. Until she found out she’s going to share it with the most annoying guy in the office.

Jamie can work from anywhere. He’s quite happy to sweep his work life into a box at the end of the working day. But can sharing a desk with Alice be as much fun as teasing her in person?

With no option but to try it and see, will their relationship turn into open warfare or will it ever progress beyond a post-it note? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I’ll be honest, I had never heard of the term, “hot desk” until reading Hot Desk! After learning more about the premise behind it, and then later finding out that Alice would have to share her workspace with none other than Jamie, I knew I’d be in for a treat! 

Jamie could easily be described as her work nemesis, and for good reason: There is obvious baggage going on between the two of them, on top of deeply seeded unfinished business that Alice is very aware of, even if Jamie isn’t. Then there’s the fact that Alice has a tough time with being assertive with others, particularly when someone feels the need to take advantage of her. While Jamie doesn’t seem to come off as the type of guy who would ever want to intentionally do that, it gets hard for Alice to distinguish between  what’s genuine and what’s fake. I appreciated seeing the strides Alice takes, not just with Jamie but with everyone in her life. 

The post-it note angle was really sweet and funny, providing an even more in-depth look into Alice and Jamie; their personalities, their motives, and what makes them tick as individuals and frenemies. I also liked the addition of what we’re all dealing with right now--dreaded Covid. It made the scenarios even more believable, and fit in with the current atmosphere of life as we all know it. It was nice to have that back and forth, will they won’t they cliffhanger, determining whether Alice and Jamie could ever become more than just two people who hot desk. The highlights though, for me, really were the moments when we got to see Alice connect the dots on finding ways to be the happiest she can be in her own life, without putting everyone else ahead of her own wants and needs. I am always a sucker for a good character evolution story, and Hot Desk provided that in abundance.

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

USA Today bestselling author Zara Stoneley was born in a small village in the UK. She wanted to be a female James Herriot, a spy, or an author when she grew up.

After many (many) years, and many different jobs, her dream of writing a bestseller came true, and more than half a million copies of her books have now been sold worldwide.

She writes about friendship, dreams, love, and happy ever afters, and hopes that her tales make you laugh a lot, cry a little, and occasionally say 'ahhh'.

Zara now lives in a Cheshire village with her family, a lively cockapoo, a cocker spaniel puppy and a very bossy (and slightly evil) cat. 

Visit Zara online:
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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Bethany Crandell's snappy sophomore novel...plus a book giveaway


Bethany Crandell is back at CLC today, and we welcome her with open arms. She was here earlier this year to talk about her debut adult novel, The Jake Ryan Complex (reviewed here). Her sophomore adult novel, See Jane Snap, is publishing next week. Melissa enjoyed it as much as its predecessor (see her review). Bethany may be really busy with writing, but she has graciously answered more of our pressing questions. She's also giving away a signed print copy and an audio book of See Jane Snap to some lucky readers!

Bethany lives in San Diego with her husband, two teenage daughters, and two darling and ridiculously destructive puppies. She lives and dies by her routine, watch more than she reads, and does her best brainstorming while blowing her hair dry. They’re called “hairdryer epiphanies.” (Bio adapted from Bethany's website.)

Visit Bethany online:

Synopsis:
Handsome, successful husband. Adorable daughter. Chairwoman of the PTA. Security for her ailing mom. Jane’s got everything life has to offer. Including the lie that could destroy it all.

See Jane smile. Thirty-nine-year-old Jane Osborne appears to the world like she has a charmed life. Her daughter attends private school. Jane chairs the PTA. Even her marriage to Dan, the handsome, prominent surgeon, is blissfully happy. Her universe is stable, and her future is fixed…just like that smile. Because it’s all a ruse. Unbeknownst to anyone, after eighteen years of marriage, Dan’s revealed that he’s been living a double life and is in love with a man. But for the sake of his career, Jane must keep that secret, secret.

See Jane lie. With their livelihood on the line, Jane agrees to maintain appearances. But soon the weight of Dan’s deception and the pain of his betrayal get the better of her. Something’s got to give.

See Jane snap. Quite publicly. And a bit unlawfully. With brutal honesty, Jane must confront her choices head-on and determine—for herself—if the facade of stability she’s been protecting is worth the price of her own sanity and happiness. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What did you learn from writing The Jake Ryan Complex that you applied to See Jane Snap?
THE JAKE RYAN COMPLEX was my ninth completed novel, but the first one I wanted to read myself. Those before it – all in the young adult genre — were fun to write but I wouldn’t have picked them up off the shelf on my own. Adopting a ‘write what I want to read’ mindset while writing JAKE was beyond liberating and definitely carried over when I set out writing SEE JANE SNAP.

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing See Jane Snap?
I wrote the majority of this book during Covid lockdown, so I struggled with “escaping” the intensity and emotional drama of my story since the real world waiting for me felt just as challenging as the fictional one I’d left behind. That made for a more intense writing experience for me, but it also lent to a more authentic, relatable experience for Jane. I wasn’t just “creating” her internal turmoil, in many respects, I was living it myself.  

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring novelist?
Over the years, I’ve adopted a writing practice that may sound a little silly but has served me very well: Flat documents (.pdf) read very differently than live documents. I write my manuscripts in Word then review them for edits as a .pdf.   I’m not positive, but I think my brain associates a flat document to that of a final, printed book, so I’m actually able to read it and in turn see all the echoes, typos, plot-holes, etc., while it sees the blinking cursor on a live document as “work” that needs to be done, thereby taking me out of a reader’s at-a-glance perspective and instead keeping me stuck in writer-mode, too deep in the forest to see the trees…or, rather, the typos.

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
BRIDESMAIDS. I’ve seen it before, but I just introduced my eighteen-year-old daughter to it a couple of months ago and holy moly, did we laugh hard! If you like 12-year-old boy humor mixed with a little sweet romance & some solid chick bonding, this is the movie for you!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
Since the most recent events all involve the personal embarrassments of family members who will likely be reading this, I’ll refrain from sharing any of those and instead tell you a memory that still brings a smile to my face, even ten years after the fact. 

My husband and I were at airport security en route to his class reunion and the TSA agent insisted she had to pat down my hair before she’d let me through the detector. (Yes, my hair is that big) It took me a minute to process what she was saying, but as soon as she did, I about busted a gut laughing so hard…as did the dozen or so people in line behind us. Good times at the San Diego airport…good times. 

What is the strangest thing currently residing in your purse?

Pretty sure there’s still half a bag of baby carrots in there from our trip to Disneyland last week…

Thanks to Bethany for chatting with us and for sharing her book with our readers.

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Giveaway ends September 8th at midnight EST.

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