Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Review: The Women of Chateau Lafayette

By Jami Denison

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. It’s a common phrase, attributed to several 20th century statesmen, including Winston Churchill. But the more one learns about history, the more it seems that humans are doomed to repeat it regardless. 

The Women of Chateau Lafayette is historical fiction author Stephanie Dray’s latest offering, and it may be her broadest and most sweeping work yet. Dray, whose most well-known book might be My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, seems to have been inspired by her research on Alexander Hamilton to delve more deeply into the life of his friend and comrade-in-arms, the Marquis de Lafayette. While he’s credited as one of the founding fathers of liberty in both the United States and France, Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne, may have done just as much as her husband for the cause of freedom. 

The novel centers around two real-life figures and one composite character: Adrienne, whose story begins in 1774; Beatrice Chanler, an Aston by marriage who in 1914 wants America to fight on France’s behalf during World War I; and Marthe Simone, a French woman in 1940 whose life is changed by the Nazi occupation. The women are linked not just by Lafayette’s castle (which eventually Beatrice buys and turns into the orphanage where Marthe grows up and then teaches) but also by Lafayette’s ideals. The structure of the book makes it clear that, throughout history, people have been fighting the same wars: The aristocrats versus the peasants. The believers versus the non-believers. The oppressors versus the oppressed. 

Told in first person and hopping back and forth between centuries and decades, The Women of Chateau Lafayette strives to give a complete picture of each woman, beyond her work in wartime and her relationships. The Lafayettes’ early life in King Louis XVI’s court is portrayed; so is Beatrice’s tumultuous marriage and Marthe’s yearning for her friend Anna. But it’s the wars—the French Revolution and First and Second World Wars—that provide the conflicts that test and mold the women’s characters. As the novel progresses, Dray folds events and people together, so that Beatrice and Marthe are connected by more than the castle. 

While I’ve been a fan of World War II historical fiction for a while, my knowledge of the French Revolution and World War I is more limited—for the former, basically the Scarlett Johansson movie Marie Antoinette, the musical Les Miserables, and a few lines from Hamilton; for the latter, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the German use of mustard gas. With Dray’s use of first person, I did feel lost several times during Adrienne’s narrative. Readers who are more well-versed in Lafayette’s history and the relationship between the American and French Revolutions will probably enjoy being so completely immersed in Adrienne’s point-of-view. For others like me, who spent World History with a novel in their lap, reading up on the time period and the players before cracking open the book is encouraged. Although Dray wrote an impressive author’s note at the end of the book detailing her research and the decisions she made about what to include and what to change in the story, it’s a coda, not an introduction. 

Another famous saying about history states that behind every great man is a great woman. I’m grateful to authors like Stephanie Dray for telling their stories. Her back list is impressive, and I plan on working my way through it. 

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

More by Stephanie Dray:

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Reviews at Amazon - March 2021

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





Spotlight and Giveaway: The Last Carolina Sister

Today we are featuring The Last Carolina Sister, which is the third novel in the Magnolia Sisters trilogy by Michelle Major. Thanks to Kaye Publicity, we have one copy for a lucky reader.

In Magnolia, North Carolina, love might be waiting right next door…

Meredith Ventner knows a wounded creature when she sees one. Though her temporary new neighbor may be—on the surface at least—a successful, drop-dead gorgeous doctor, she recognizes the deep hurt Ryan Sorensen is carrying, and it’s catnip to her soul. But even though Meredith is the youngest, scrappiest and single-est of Magnolia’s most famous sisters, she’s committed to expanding the animal shelter on her newly inherited farm. She can’t waste her energy on a man who’s only passing through town.

Ryan is hoping that after a month of small-town living he’ll be healed enough to return to his busy ER. His injured leg isn’t half as painful as his guilt from the tragedy he's trying to forget. Yet somehow, helping feisty, tenderhearted Meredith care for her menagerie is making him question his career-first priorities. Here in this quirky small town another future is coming into view, but can he change his life, and open his heart, to claim it?  

The Magnolia Sisters series:

Book 1: The Magnolia Sisters

Book 2: The Merriest Magnolia

Book 3: The Last Carolina Sister

USA Today bestselling author Michelle Major loves stories of new beginnings, second chances and always a happily ever after. An avid hiker and avoider of housework, she lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains with her husband, two teenagers and a menagerie of spoiled fur babies. 

Visit Michelle online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends April 4th at midnight EST.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Book Review: Flowers of Darkness

By Jami Denison

Ask any writer what she needs to finish her latest project, and most will reply with that timeless Virginia Woolf answer – a room of her own. Freed from mundane responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, child care, and that pesky day job, most of us wannabe writers have a fantasy that if only we could isolate ourselves in a home fully equipped to serve our writing needs, we’d be quickly finishing our masterpieces. 

In Tatiana de Rosnay’s new book, Flowers of Darkness, author Clarissa Katsef is given an opportunity to live in such a place, a modern artist’s colony where her every need is taken care of by her apartment’s AI assistant, whom she’s named Mrs. Dalloway. Reeling from the abrupt break-up of her marriage and anxious to work on her latest novel, Clarissa, a British citizen living in Paris who’s fluent in both languages, is at first grateful and impressed at life in the modern building. But soon she starts to feel like she’s being spied on, and that something sinister is going on.

The book’s throughline reminded me a lot of Riley Sager’s Lock Every Door. But there’s a lot more going on in de Rosnay’s story than just a creepy apartment building, and some of the elements don’t gel together seamlessly. There’s the backstory about the breakup of Clarissa’s marriage, which de Rosnay hints at but doesn’t dwell on. Another backstory about the breakup of her first marriage long ago, and the sadness that tore it apart. The story takes place in a future Paris, year unknown, in which terrorists have destroyed the Eiffel Tower (it’s remembered in a hologram), climate change causes life-threatening heat waves in Europe, and Brexit has isolated Great Britain. Clarissa’s fascination with Virginia Woolf and author Romain Gary—both writers who killed themselves—hint of a dark ending to come.

De Rosnay’s writing style isn’t a complete match for the psychological thriller at the heart of this novel, and I had trouble getting into the book. It took me until I was about twenty percent into the book before I was completely committed to finishing it. The character of Clarissa is compelling, however. As a grandmother with a teenage granddaughter, she’s older than the usual protagonist in psychological thrillers, and her life story adds a gravitas that’s sometimes missing in stories featuring twentysomethings who’ve just recently left the nest. 

Overall, though, I’m just not sure that all the disparate threads come together tightly enough. Some threads are much more interesting than others. Some plots conclude with shattering revelations, while others are anticlimactic. De Rosnay, however, is a captivating writer—her novel Sarah’s Key was made into a movie—and for many readers, her name alone is enough of a reason to pick up the book. Although plot-wise the future de Rosnay offers in Flowers of Darkness is a bleak one, thematically hope springs eternal as humans always seem to find a way to carry on. 

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

More by Tatiana de Rosnay:

Friday, March 26, 2021

Book Review and Giveaway: Careful-ish

By Cindy Roesel

CAREFUL-ISH (Slow Burn Marketing) by Honey Parker is a “ridiculous romp through COVID living as seen through the eyes of ridiculous people.” Author Honey Parker captures the irony of living in our current pandemic situation, including wearing masks, stocking up on toilet paper and Purell, social distancing, face-time and zooming while dressed from the waist up. It’s 2020 and six friends are quarantined in various states of living in New York City. There’s no way out, but it’s not the end-of-the-world, or is it?

The Joy, not just Joy, is a hairdresser who has taken in her friend, unemployed florist, Kimi. She’s given her a recliner in the corner of the apartment and a shower curtain to give her privacy. Unemployed restaurant worker, Benji is roommates with finance guy, Shad who works remotely in his underwear from their apartment. Steph works in television news and is on the brink of being fired. Jackson is a good-looking unemployed actor who never works. The novel follows their new downtime lives, while they struggle not to lose their minds. Once a week they all zoom in for cocktails and gossip. 

I started reading CAREFUL-ISH with some skepticism wondering if it was too soon to laugh at how we’re handling life with this pandemic. My doubts were quickly mitigated. Honey Parker is a clever writer who knows how to put to paper tight-humorous dialogue. You’re still laughing at one joke when you read another. The scenes are pithy and witty. The characters jump off the page. 

Don’t be surprised if you’re humming ABBA's “Waterloo” when you finish this book.

Thanks to Honey Parker for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has THREE copies to give away!

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends March 31st at midnight EST.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

We're sweet on Lisa a book giveaway

Photo by Jeff Wojtaszek

We are pleased to have Lisa Scottoline here today. Her latest novel, and historical fiction debut, Eternal, published this past week. Thanks to Putnam, we have FIVE copies to give away!

Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times–bestselling and Edgar Award–winning author of thirty-three novels. She has thirty million copies of her books in print in the United States and has been published in thirty-five countries. Scottoline also writes a weekly column with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and those critically acclaimed stories have been adapted into a series of memoirs.  She has served as President of Mystery Writers of America and has taught a course she developed, “Justice in Fiction” at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater.  She lives in the Philadelphia area.

Visit Lisa online:

What war destroys, only love can heal.

Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro grow up as the best of friends despite their differences. Elisabetta is a feisty beauty who dreams of becoming a novelist; Marco the brash and athletic son in a family of professional cyclists; and Sandro a Jewish mathematics prodigy, kind-hearted and thoughtful, the son of a lawyer and a doctor. Their friendship blossoms to love, with both Sandro and Marco hoping to win Elisabetta's heart. But in the autumn of 1937, all of that begins to change as Mussolini asserts his power, aligning Italy's Fascists with Hitler's Nazis and altering the very laws that govern Rome. In time, everything that the three hold dear--their families, their homes, and their connection to one another--is tested in ways they never could have imagined.

As anti-Semitism takes legal root and World War II erupts, the threesome realizes that Mussolini was only the beginning. The Nazis invade Rome, and with their occupation come new atrocities against the city's Jews, culminating in a final, horrific betrayal. Against this backdrop, the intertwined fates of Elisabetta, Marco, Sandro, and their families will be decided, in a heartbreaking story of both the best and the worst that the world has to offer.

Unfolding over decades, Eternal is a tale of loyalty and loss, family and food, love and war--all set in one of the world's most beautiful cities at its darkest moment. This moving novel will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of readers. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What was it like to go from writing thrillers to writing a historical fiction novel?
Truly, it’s the same thing only different. It’s the same thing because I have always written stories with themes of family, love, and justice, and ETERNAL is no different, just set in a different place and time. As a logical matter, that’s a distinction without a difference. But ETERNAL is different in one very profound way, in that there is a shocking true event at the core of this novel that had real victims in a world history that is still not widely known. It truly is a story that begged to be told and needed to be. I was very mindful when I was writing about that I wanted to bring justice to the victims as best as I could, however belatedly, even though they are gone and so are the perpetrators. All we can do is tell their story, and I hope I did them justice.
What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
I must tell you, I love any and all compliments of my writing. I care about what every reader says, and I read all my email and reply to as much as possible. I read every Goodreads review, and every review I can. I am really interested in what people think of my work. If there’s a consensus about something wrong, then I would try to fix it, but luckily that doesn’t happen much. I love it when people say that they laughed and they cried during one of my books, and I think that will definitely happen to anyone who picks up a copy of ETERNAL. I like to write about emotions, and Italian culture gives permission to feel all the feels.
If Eternal were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?
Honestly, I’m going to punt here and I’ll explain why. I love to read and I love that every reader has his or her own image of what the character looks like, in their mind. And all of our images are different and all of them are true. That’s why I’m happy that Elisabetta’s back is turned on the cover, because I want to privilege the reader’s view of her. That’s the sheer joy of books, that they can spark our imagination, and I celebrate that. It’s one of the reasons I’m so lucky to have a life in books.
What is something you’ve learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’ve learned that everyone I know, including me, is stronger then we thought before. I have friends who have fallen ill with Covid and they were lucky enough to recover, with the love and support of their families. I have friends who changed their life to teach their kids at home, and take care of their grandkids. I have another friend who dedicated herself to taking care of her ailing mother. I have friends in the health care profession, and they’re working around the clock to keep us all safe. Everyone I know is finding power in themselves that they never knew they had, and in this impossibly difficult time, I think we are all learning that if we act collectively, we can save the world.
What TV show are you currently binge watching?
I’ve been very locked down during the pandemic, so I’ve been reading like a fiend and watching everything like a fiend. Like everybody else, I’m crazy about Bridgerton right now, and there’s a wonderful show called Giri/Haji, a romantic crime thriller that got only one season, but is terrific. I’ll watch anything by Harlan Coben, and I really love some of the hard-core Italian mob series like Gomorrah, but my daughter Francesca is starting to look at me funny….
What is your go-to dessert?
Dessert is my go-to. If I had married dessert, I wouldn’t be divorced. I’m a big-time chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookie fan. The key word is chocolate.

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends March 30th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Book Review: The Right Kind of Wrong

By Sara Steven

The last thing I expect is to wake up in bed next to my brother’s best friend. It’s a mistake I hope to forget when I go back to my life in Madrid.

But Camden is determined to pursue me despite the distance. I was wrong to think an ocean apart would be far enough to clear him from my mind and move on.

Especially when a positive pregnancy test shatters every plan, every dream.

Now I’m forced to tell a man who hasn’t had a serious relationship in all the years I’ve known him that he’s about to be a dad.

As soon as he learns the news, he’s on my doorstep, winning my heart and proving that he’s set on being a father to this child.

I begin to see a different version of the man I thought I knew, but life has other plans for us. And right when I think I’ve found a way to be with him, the unexpected throws our lives into chaos, threatening to rip it all apart. (Synopsis courtesy of Bare Naked Words.)

Since reading various books in the Everton series, I looked forward to what might be next for Fabiola Francisco, and which direction she’d want to go in with her future stories. I’m so glad we got to learn more about Allyson and Camden, secondary characters who are related to the main characters from My Way to You, and an incredible way to carry on with the Everton traditions that have captured so many hearts, my own included!

After an out-of-character move from Allyson--meaning, waking up next to Camden after her brother’s wedding--she thinks it’s no big deal, since she lives in Madrid, and Camden lives in Virginia. They both decide to keep their one night a secret, considering Allyson’s brother is Camden’s best friend and might not take kindly to any of it. Yet, their initial plans fall by the wayside after she discovers that she’s pregnant. 

It’s hard for Allyson to take Camden seriously, considering his relationship track record. And, while Camden feels a strong connection to Allyson, more than with any other woman he’s ever been with, he knows that watching the string of women come in and out of his life has left a lasting impression on her. Yet, they both have to face up to their responsibilities, and deal with a lot of tough decisions.

I thoroughly enjoyed the budding relationship angle in The Right Kind of Wrong. There are a lot of predisposed assumptions on both ends, a lot of trust issues that need to be worked out, and through it all there is an undercurrent of strong physical attraction that connected Allyson and Camden from the get go. Francisco always writes the best steamy scenes, and that is no different in this read. Yet, it goes beyond and into more murky territory, when it comes to acceptance, understanding, and the other relationships involved here. Will Allyson’s brother accept Camden as more than just his best friend, and can he trust his sister’s heart to a man who has never had a serious relationship? And what about their families--will they be supportive? The love that encompasses everyone involved goes beyond the romance, and that was refreshing to see.

Thanks to Bare Naked Words for the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Right Kind of Wrong by Fabiola Francisco



Buy the Book:

Trope: Brother's Best Friend/ Surprise Pregnancy/Standalone read

#TheRightKindofWrong #FabiolaFrancisco #AvailableNow

Fabiola Francisco loves the simplicity—and kick—of scotch on the rocks. She follows Hemingway’s philosophy—write drunk, edit sober. She writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance, dipping her pen into new adult and young adult. Her moods guide her writing, taking her anywhere from sassy and sexy romances to dark and emotion-filled love stories.

Writing has always been a part of her life, penning her own life struggles as a form of therapy through poetry. She still stays true to her first love, poems, while weaving longer stories with strong heroines and honest heroes. She aims to get readers thinking about life and love while experiencing her characters’ journeys.

She is continuously creating stories as she daydreams. Her other loves are country music, exploring the outdoors, and reading.

Visit Fabiola online:
Website * Facebook * TwitterInstagram 

Sign up for Fabiola's newsletter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: A Million Reasons Why

Today we are featuring A Million Reasons Why by Jessica Strawser, in honor of today being publication day. Melissa says it's a thought-provoking read that is worth checking out. (See her review.) Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

When two strangers are linked by a mail-in DNA test, it’s an answered prayer—that is, for one half-sister. For the other, it will dismantle everything she knows to be true.

But as they step into the unfamiliar realm of sisterhood, the roles will reverse in ways no one could have foreseen.

Caroline lives a full, happy life—thriving career, three feisty children, enviable marriage, and a close-knit extended family. She couldn’t have scripted it better. Except for one thing:

She’s about to discover her fundamental beliefs about them all are wrong.

Sela lives a life in shades of gray, suffering from irreversible kidney failure. Her marriage crumbled in the wake of her illness. Her beloved mother and lifelong best friend passed away. She refuses to be defined by her grief, but still, she worries about what will happen to her two-year-old son if she doesn’t find a donor match in time.

She’s the only one who knows Caroline is her half-sister. That Caroline may be her best hope for a future. But Sela’s world isn’t as clear-cut as it appears—and one misstep could destroy it all.

After all, would you risk everything to save the life of the person who turned yours upside down?

From the moment Caroline meets Sela, both must reexamine what it really means to be family, the depths of a mother’s love, and the limits and the power of forgiveness.

Photo by Corrie Schaffeld
Jessica Strawser is the editorial director of Writer’s Digest magazine and the author of Almost Missed You, named to Barnes & Noble’s Best New Fiction list for March 2017 and PopSugar’s Best Spring Reads. She has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly and other fine venues, and lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.

Visit Jessica online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends March 29th at midnight EST.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Book Review: The Downstairs Neighbor

By Jami Denison

There’s something uniquely British about domestic thrillers that are built around questions of community and neighborhood. Louise Candlish, Lisa Jewell, and Ruth Ware are just a few female British writers who’ve made London neighborhoods into places of murder, mystery, and mayhem. Now debut author Helen Cooper joins them with The Downstairs Neighbor, a thriller that reminds readers that you never really know the people you share space with.

Emma is the downstairs neighbor in question, living in a tiny basement apartment, in a home she shares with two other families in suburban London. She often hears the sounds of her upstairs neighbors—Steph, Paul, and their teenage daughter Freya. They share the space with driving instructor Chris and his wife, a nurse. But when Freya fails to come home from school one afternoon, everyone’s life is turned upside down. Is someone in the building responsible for Freya’s disappearance? 

The Downstairs Neighbor is a complicated book, with multiple (third-person) points of view and two timelines, one present-day and one 25 years in the past. And it turns out everyone has secrets to hide, and while some of those secrets impact Freya, others are red herrings. Although every character was unique and compelling, sometimes I felt the need to take notes or draw a map to keep track of who was who and what they had done. 

Thematically, though, the story is much less complicated. It asks a clear question: How much honesty do parents owe their children, or spouses owe each other? Every subplot hinges on this question, and each time the answer is the same: Tell the truth. Lives could depend on it.

The Downstairs Neighbor is a captivating debut, and its complicated twists will satisfy readers who enjoy complex puzzles. I look forward to seeing what Cooper writes next. 

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

What's in the mail

Off the Wild Coast of Brittany by Juliet Blackwell from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Magic of Found Objects by Maddie Dawson from Amazon
A Trail of Lies by Kylie Logan from Minotaur
Sophie Valroux's Paris Stars by Samantha VĂ©rant from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Finding Tessa by Jaime Lynn Hendricks from W.W. Norton and Co. (e-book via NetGalley)
The Break-Up Book Club
by Wendy Wax from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Love Like That by Emma Duffy-Comparone from Henry Holt
Pack Up the Moon by Kristan Higgins from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)


The Right Kind of Wrong by Fabiola Francisco from Bare Naked Words (e-book)
Frieda's Song by/from Ellen Prentiss Campbell (e-book)
Text Me on Tuesday by/from Whitney Dineen and Melanie Summers (e-book)
Ruthless Women by Melanie Blake from Kaye Publicity (e-book via NetGalley)
Life's a Beach by Portia MacIntosh from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
One Snowy Night by Patience Griffin from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Uncork My Love by Rich Amooi from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller from Riverhead (e-book via NetGalley) 
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins from Riverhead  (e-book via NetGalley)
Just Get Home by Bridget Foley from Mira (e-book via NetGalley)
Ruby Falls by Deborah Goodrich Royce from Emi Battaglia PR/Posthill Press (e-book)
Haven Point by Virginia Hume from Emi Battaglia PR/St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)

Book Review: Project Kaitlyn

By Sara Steven

Meet Kaitlyn Colby, a clumsy, inappropriate blurter with self-esteem issues, but also quite handy with an axe. She's certainly no superhero, but she fights the battles of a single mom with sweet snarkasm. Between work and pining for and co-parenting with her man-child ex (is there any other kind?), Kaitlyn has no time to find that special someone. And if she did, would he really want her anyway? Kaitlyn's sister and friends (The Sweet Water Circle) say yes, so following a typical Kaitlyn slip up, The Circle intervenes to force her out of the funk that she fell into following her unwanted divorce.

When Kaitlyn makes a decision to pursue her advertising career over love, she tumbles (like no tumble you've ever seen…or heard) into the life of hunky, bay breeze-drinking Hunter Dixon, an ad exec who is intrigued enough by Kaitlyn that he hires her firm to revive a struggling project, much like herself.

Can Kaitlyn become the woman she needs to be to land the man of her dreams? Maybe. Maybe not. But you'll laugh out loud as she tries. There's no doubt you'll be rooting for the lovable, hilarious, and relatable Kaitlyn. And you'll probably love her friends, too, which is good, because their stories are ready to be told in the Sweet Water Circle series!
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The blunt honesty in Project Kaitlyn was nothing short of refreshing! Kaitlyn tells it like she sees it, even when she shouldn’t, and it is what so many of us wish we’d have the allowance to say out loud when faced with similar scenarios and situations. 

Kaitlyn's getting hit from all directions when it comes to her love life and her work life, which ends up intersecting in only the best way possible. Hunter Dixon reminded me of a Mr. Big-type character, you know, from Sex and the City. Only, the life that Kaitlyn lives isn’t anywhere near as cosmopolitan as the ladies from New York City, not when she’s strapped with her man-child ex—what a perfect way to describe him, and the floozy acerbic coworker who seems taken with Hunter, too, going out of her way to torture Kaitlyn on a near daily basis. Kaitlyn’s not sure which direction she should go in, in order to find her own means of happiness while making sure her children are taken care of, too. And, it doesn’t help that she has a tough time asserting herself when she needs to the most.

Despite the self-esteem issues, it was fun to witness the banter between the characters who mean the most to Kaitlyn, and the ones she’d rather toss an axe at. Project Kaitlyn was chock full of sweet, sweet dialogue, and I could easily picture the scenarios, the settings, could place myself in Kaitlyn’s shoes, even in the moments that were cringeworthy and incredibly awkward; there were a lot of those. But at the heart of it all is a path to evolvement, and I really enjoyed watching Kaitlyn find her way through the pages and the heartache and the triumphs, too, because deep at the heart of it, this is really a story about a woman who has lost herself, and needs to rediscover who she is.

Kaitlyn is funny. Charming. Quirky and Awkward. But most importantly, she’s real. I really enjoyed her and her story, making this a worthy five-star experience!

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 30's and 40's 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

Visit all the stops on Grayson's blog tour:

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Book Review: Those Who Are Saved

By Jami Denison

Nearly every mother has had that sinking feeling at least once: You’re in the mall or the grocery store; you look down, and your child, who was right there just a second ago, is gone. Whether that moment lasts mere seconds or much longer, that horrible, stomach-falling sensation can never be forgotten. And it lasts until your child is found. 

Imagine feeling that way for years.

In Those Who Are Saved, historical fiction writer Alexis Landau’s second novel, a split-second decision ends up putting Vera an ocean apart from her four-year-old daughter Lucie. As Russian Jews living in France in the 1930s, Vera and her husband Max believe they are safe from the Germans, and ignore friends who urge them to flee to America. But one morning they awaken to the news that foreign nationals are being rounded up and put into French interment camps. Believing it’s a temporary situation, they leave French-born Lucie with her Catholic governess and report to the camps. But when news hits that France is sending the Jews to concentration camps, Max, Vera and their friends escape. There’s no way to get Lucie as they trek to freedom… and eventually find their way to California. While Max finds work as a composer for Hollywood studios, Vera is frozen in her panic over Lucie and her guilt in leaving her. As the news gets worse and worse and the years pass, Vera wonders if she’ll ever see her daughter again.

While I’ve read a lot of historical fiction around the World War II time period, this book is a gut punch like no other book I’ve read. Parents are supposed to put their children first, but what does that actually mean? In the interment camp, Vera is grateful that Lucie is being well-cared for elsewhere while the camp children grow feral. But behind her back, the other mothers judge Vera, saying they’d rather have their children with them no matter what the circumstances, and what kind of mother could leave her daughter behind? When Vera judges Max’s concern for Lucie insufficient, it cracks the marriage in ways that are unrepairable. 

Landau tells the tale from three (third person) points-of-view: Vera, Lucie, and Sasha, a Hollywood screenwriter with a mysterious past whose story intersects Vera’s. The juxtaposition of Vera’s luscious life in L.A. with Lucie’s hard-scrabble existence in war-torn France is jarring. Even Vera herself realizes how grotesque it is that she’s living in paradise, surrounded by gossipy LA types who barely care about Europe, while her daughter is caught in the middle of worst war ever fought. 

The tension Landau creates is almost unbearable, and I found myself tapping the side of my Kindle as fast as I could. For me, the only frustration was the inclusion of Sasha’s point-of-view. He’s a great character, and in any other book I would have enjoyed learning more about him. But his chapters got in the way of learning more about Vera and Lucie and took up time that I wanted reserved to the mother and daughter trying to find their way back to each other. 

While this is one specific historical fiction story, the experiences of parents like Vera are not fictional. As I read Those Who Are Saved, I could not help but think of the parents who brought their children to the United States looking for asylum, only to have their children cruelly ripped away from them by government officials and then lost to the system. And these parents are also judged—for bringing their children to the U.S., for living in violent countries, for the steps they took to get here. 

Those Who Are Saved is an excellent reminder of the vagaries of fate. An accident of birthplace, a chance meeting, turning left instead of right. The wrong decision and a mother could lose her child forever. While we weep for Vera, we cannot forget the mothers who are living this real-life nightmare right now. 

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

More by Alexis Landau:

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sara and Melissa talk about...Last Words

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This month, we're exploring a topic we explored in a blog project group we used to be a part of: Having the last word. If you could have the last word with someone, what would you say to them? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section. For reference, here are the posts we wrote a while back: Melissa talked about a toxic friend and Sara talked about a former colleague. This time around, we're going in a new direction. 

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:                                                                                                                                       
For most of my life, I called myself a “people collector.” I would befriend someone, then maintain that friendship, for better or worse, for as long as I could. I told myself that it was something I did because friendships are one of the most important relationships to me, and that still holds true. My close friends are like family to me. But often, I would hold on to a friendship that could be harmful and damaging, or hurtful. Then I’d chalk it up to their personality, that it was who they were, as a person. That it wasn’t right or fair for me to expect more because it isn’t my job to change someone. You love people, as is.                                          

Growing up, I didn’t have a stable childhood. I was never in one place for very long, shifting between my parents, grandparents, friends and their parents. Anyone I could hold onto for longer than a minute had been my way of surviving through a lot of youthful trauma and fear, which is why I never wanted to let go of anyone, and it carried over into my adult years. The thought of someone disliking me, or having any anger towards me, had become the worst imagined scenario.

As I’ve gotten older, as I’ve had my children and settled into my years, I’ve learned how to set boundaries, to pick out the friendships that are genuine and healthy, and to walk away from the ones that are not. It’s not always easy, and I never would have guessed that having adult friendships could be even more complicated and harder to decipher and figure out.

Five years ago, I had one friend completely ghost me. I had an idea as to why, given the people who were in her life and how complicated her relationships were. But we’d been friends for nearly a decade when this happened, and it felt like it had come from out of nowhere. And it started on Facebook, of all places. Since I’m not that big into social media, it only added to the bewilderment I’d felt when she’d blocked me. We had a unique friendship that had been born from similar backgrounds and at times, I felt as though we leaned on one another because we’d both “been there.” It hurt to lose that and to be completely shut out of her life. 

Last year, she reached out to me, on Facebook. She sent a message and said it had been “a hot minute” since she’d last talked with me. She briefly filled me in on what she’d been doing, the latest in her life, and that she “missed my mind.” There were no apologies. No, “Hey, I’m sorry I walked away from our friendship five years ago.” She dropped in and expected that we could pick back up where we left off, and I had to think on it “a hot minute” on whether I wanted to talk with her again. When I reflected on my feelings, I realized that I didn’t find value in that friendship anymore. That I’d done plenty in my life, had gone through things, had so many ups and downs that she didn’t know about, just as she had gone through too, I imagine. But, I didn’t see a need in picking back up or finding out why she’d blocked me to begin with. It was no longer important or relevant, so I never replied to her. I let the message sit, and a week later, she retracted the message--I didn’t even know that was an option on Facebook! There were no “last words” between us, and it felt fitting in that scenario.

The last friendship I had to let go of, though, was a much more recent event, and it was much harder for me to do because it was a friendship that had gone on for much longer and there were so many ties between us, personally, familially. I have this habit of wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses when I love someone, and the lenses were thick. In the end, it got to be too toxic. I’d asked for only one thing--honesty. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that honesty can be the hardest thing to give to a person. 

I hope the best for her. I still love her, of course. That will never go away. My last words to her would be to take care of herself and I really do wish her well, on so many levels. Over the course of walking away from that friendship, I’ve flitted back and forth between feelings of anger, loss, confusion, and pain, but sitting here now and writing this last words post, I don’t have animosity towards her, not anymore. And maybe that’s what has made it an easier process for me in letting go. 

I used to think that expression, “Friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime” didn’t really apply to me, because when I made a friend, it was always for life. But now, I get it. It doesn’t mean those friendships are buried away and never amounted to anything, because I do feel like every single person who has come into my life, for whatever reason, or how long of a season, has added something (or lessons learned) to my life. I only hope I’ve been able to do the same for them.

Melissa Amster:                                                                                       
Six years ago, I found out from a close friend that she was in a really bad situation. I cannot elaborate too much on this, but read Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill (reviewed here) if you want to get an idea of the nightmare my friend has been going through (and it's still going on for her). Like the book, the situation does involve her scumbag of an ex-husband (and that's putting it nicely).                                                                                                                                                                                                              Having said that, I'd want to have last words with both my friend and her ex-husband. The only way I could do this with her would be to time travel to about seven years ago and warn her to be ready for what will happen, so that she can prepare herself for anything her ex throws at her to put her in the position she's in now. I'd tell her to do whatever it takes to make sure she and her kids are protected from his cruel and inexplicably vindictive behavior. (I would probably have to tell her that I'm from the future and hopefully arm myself with some proof of that.)

Seeing that time travel doesn't exist, unfortunately I can't go back to right things before they went so horribly wrong for her. However, I would LOVE to tell off her ex-husband. I would not hold back with all the cussing I would launch his way. I'd spew vitriol at him for hours and hours. I would ask him how he can even live with himself, being such a spiteful and disgusting creature. I've been saving this anger and hatred toward him for the past six years and I would not hesitate to let him hear every. Last. Word. 

I really hope things will turn around for my friend soon. I've constantly been praying for her. (I've also been praying for her ex to get his long overdue karma already.) If anyone reading this knows of a pro bono lawyer she could speak with for legal advice, or has other resources that could somehow help her out, please don't hesitate to contact me. I will definitely get that information to her. (Read the synopsis of the book I mentioned earlier, as the situations are very similar.)

Tell us who you'd like to have last words with.

Book Review: Are We There Yet?

By Jami Denison

There’s a meme that’s been popular for over a decade among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, a photo of a teenager doing something stupid with the phrase, “Why I’m glad there was no social media when I was a kid.” Yes, we did a lot of the same stupid stuff today’s teens and tweens are doing now, but without cell phones, cameras on those phones, and the internet, most of those moments are preserved only in our memories. But for the Gen Xers who have children posting this stuff, the relief is definitely short-lived. Understanding the actions of pubescent kids is hard enough. But when your kids get in trouble doing things that were literally not possible in the 1980s, how do we know the best way to help them?

Despite its humorous title, Are We There Yet, author Kathleen West’s follow-up to her debut Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is an earnest thoughtful look at parenting a middle-schooler and being one in today’s social media jungle. Told from the third person points-of-view of mothers and children, West does the impossible: She makes a middle-aged mom understand a 12-year-old boy.

Interior designer Alice Sullivan is overwhelmed with work and parenting her two children solo during the week while her husband works out of town. On the same day she learns her second-grade daughter isn’t reading at grade level, she’s called into the junior high to deal with her son’s bullying. It seems that Teddy pulled down the pants of a soccer teammate in front of the entire school. And everyone knows about the “Teddy vs. Tate” rivalry but her. 

What would cause a previously good-natured boy to turn into a sarcastic bully? West gives us Teddy’s point-of-view – Tate threatens Teddy’s status on the soccer team, and he likes the same girl Teddy does – and suddenly Teddy’s actions are understandable. The impulsiveness, the bewilderment, the emotional roller coaster of adolescence are behind every action, and even in third-person, West creates a fully dimensional character. 

As Alice struggles to deal with Teddy, her friends begin to judge her, blaming her parenting for Teddy’s acting out. And her mother Evelyn, coincidentally a psychologist, tries to help, but she’s pre-occupied with her own life-changing events. 

West tells the story through five points-of-view: Alice’s, Teddy’s, Evelyn’s, Sadie’s (the 13-year-old girl caught between Teddy and Tate), and Meredith’s, Sadie’s mother. Meredith is the woman who judges Alice the most—she’s a helicopter mom with only one child, and believes that Sadie’s good grades and behavior are a direct result of her parenting. 

Most “mom lit” books deal with younger children and babies, while high school is usually cited as the hardest time for a teen. Middle school is almost ignored, even though those are the years that are the most trying. Are We There Yet? brings it all back, both the pain of being a 12-year-old whose friends have all suddenly moved on to something different, as well as the fear that parents have when their children first begin to struggle. The book’s pacing is as breathless as a thriller’s; I couldn’t put it down.

My only quibble is with the subplot about Alice’s mother Evelyn. It’s a soap-opera like detour that, while well integrated into the main plot, doesn’t seem to fit with the book’s themes. Evelyn was the only character I had trouble relating to; although she was helpful to Alice, she came across as self-absorbed in a way that I found surprising for a psychologist. 

While Are We There Yet? is not a sequel to Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, it takes place in the same town and deals with the same themes. As a former middle and high school teacher, West has strong fingers on the pulse of this milieu. She understands educators, parents, and students in a way I haven’t seen in other books in this genre. While I’m grateful that these days are behind me both as a parent and a student, I’ll keep an eye out for all of West’s offerings.  

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