Friday, April 30, 2021

Reviews at Amazon--April 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!







Book Review: Dial A for Aunties

By Jami Denison

As parents, we Generation Xers are the first cohort to be disparaged as being “helicopter parents” just because we did things like help our kids with their homework and sign them up for afterschool activities so they didn’t come home to an empty house like we did. But helicopter parents did not suddenly burst into being in the 1990s. For people who grew up in Jewish, Italian, Asian and other homes led by involved, overprotective mothers, the helicopters have been hovering for decades. 

And what’s wrong with that? 

In Jesse Q. Sutanto’s new book Dial A for Aunties (movie rights optioned by Netflix), Meddy Chan has made every life decision in deference to her mother and her mother’s three sisters—where to go to college, where to work, even to give up her college boyfriend rather than choosing him over them. The husbands have left; her male cousins moved across the country, but Meddy is a loyal daughter. Now a wedding photographer in the family business and perennially single, Meddy is chagrined to learn her mother impersonated her on a dating web site… and now she has to go on a date and pretend she’s been chatting with the guy. When she finds out he’s the owner of the resort hotel where they’re working a wedding that weekend, things perk up. Unfortunately, the guy’s a creep and when he drives Meddy down a deserted road, she tases him and he crashes the car. When Meddy wakes up, he’s dead. Convinced the police will never believe he attacked her, she drives home with the body in the trunk and asks her family for help. 

The aunties get right to it. They stash the body in a cooler, planning to deal with it after that weekend’s wedding of the century. But the cooler ends up going to the wedding with them. Now they have to dispose of the body while dealing with the over-the-top bride and groom and their families, friends, and attendants. And the icing on the cake—Meddy’s murder victim wasn’t the hotel owner after all. The real owner is Meddy’s old college boyfriend, Nathan—and the spark is still between them.

Dial A for Aunties is a hoot, a mash-up of Crazy Rich Asians and Weekend at Bernies.  Meddy is an adorable heroine, loyal to her mother and aunts even while the women compete to be recognized as the most clever in the family. It’s a fast-paced, high-energy romp where anything that can go wrong does go wrong. At the same time, Meddy is the link between the reader and the rich (in both ways) culture of Americans with an Indo-Chinese background. Her warmth, loyalty, and commitment to doing a good job shine through even while the dead body of her murder victim seems to follow her wherever she goes. 

The book’s not perfect—things wrapped up a little too easily at the end, and Nathan is too good to be true – but these complaints are like saying the icing on the wedding cake is too sweet. Dial A for Aunties will appeal to a wide range of fans, from Stephanie Plum die-hards to lovers of Hallmark movies. 

For helicopter moms like me, though, it demonstrates exactly why it’s a bad idea to impersonate your adult child on dating sites. Even if it seems like you’re never going to get grandchildren. Even though you spent your entire adult life… you gave up … !!! 

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

More by Jesse Q. Sutanto:

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: Six Weeks to Live

Today we are excited to feature Catherine McKenzie's latest mystery/thriller, Six Weeks to Live. Melissa has it in her TBR and looks forward to reading it soon. Thanks to Atria, we have THREE copies to give away!

Jennifer Barnes never expected the shocking news she received at a routine doctor’s appointment: she has a terminal brain tumor—and only six weeks left to live.

While stunned by the diagnosis, the forty-eight-year-old mother decides to spend what little time she has left with her family—her adult triplets and twin grandsons—close by her side. But when she realizes she was possibly poisoned a year earlier, she’s determined to discover who might have tried to get rid of her before she’s gone for good.

Separated from her husband and with a contentious divorce in progress, Jennifer focuses her suspicions on her soon-to-be ex. Meanwhile, her daughters are each processing the news differently. Calm medical student Emily is there for whatever Jennifer needs. Moody scientist Aline, who keeps her mother at arm’s length, nonetheless agrees to help with the investigation. Even imprudent Miranda, who has recently had to move back home, is being unusually solicitous.

But with her daughters doubting her campaign against their father, Jennifer can’t help but wonder if the poisoning is all in her head—or if there’s someone else who wanted her dead.

"In Six Weeks to Live, her eleventh novel, Catherine McKenzie masterfully spins an exceptional story that is darkly  funny, poignant, and grippingly suspenseful. A fresh take on the who-done-it, this addictive novel will both tug at  your heart strings and make you frantically flip the pages to unlock the key to the mystery. A mesmerizing read!" 
—Samantha M. Bailey, bestselling author of Woman on the Edge 

"Six Weeks to Live begins with a gut-punch of an opener: a poisoning with a fatal diagnosis, a woman with a mere  six weeks to find the killer. Grief, secrets, revenge, guilt and blame—McKenzie weaves them all with a deft hand,  turning up the heat with every chapter. A gripping page-turner that held me captive until the shocking end.” 
—Kimberly Belle, bestselling author of The Stranger in the Lake and Dear Wife 

"A smart, gripping, twisted story of dark family secrets. Six Weeks to Live will have readers feverishly turning pages  until the final jaw-dropping conclusion." 
—Robyn Harding, #1 bestselling author of The Swap 

Photo by Fany Ducharme

Catherine McKenzie is a bestselling author who has sold over a million books. She practiced  law in Montreal for twenty years before retiring to write full time. Her most recent novel, You  Can’t Catch Me, has been optioned for a television series by Paramount TV. An avid runner,  skier, and amateur tennis player, Catherine lives and writes in Montreal, Canada.  

Visit Catherine 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.

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Giveaway ends May 4th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Starstruck with Sariah a book giveaway

Photo by JordanBree Photography
We're glad to have Sariah Wilson back at CLC today. She's here to talk about the time she met Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars movies) and how he inspired her latest novel, The Seat Filler. Thanks to Kaye Publicity, we have one copy to give away!

A passionate believer in happily-ever-afters, Sariah and her own soulmate live in Utah with their four children and the two family cats. Her belief in true love has inspired several bestselling romance series, including End of the Line (THE FRIEND ZONE, JUST A BOYFRIEND); Lovestruck (#STARSTRUCK, #MOONSTRUCK, #AWESTRUCK);  Ugly Stepsisters (THE UGLY STEPSISTER STRIKES BACK; PROMPOSAL), Royals of Monterra (ROYAL DATE, ROYAL CHASE, ROYAL GAMES, ROYAL DESIGN), and many standalone novels, including her most recent smash hit from October--ROOMMAID.

Visit Sariah online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

The meet-cute award goes to dog groomer Juliet Nolan. It’s one of Hollywood’s biggest nights when she volunteers as a seat filler and winds up next to movie heartthrob Noah freaking Douglas. Tongue tied and toes curling in her pink Converse, she pretends that she doesn’t have a clue who he is. It’s the only way to keep from swooning.

She’s pretty and unpretentious, loves his dog, and is not a worshipping fan. No way Noah’s giving up on her, even if his affectionate pursuit comes with a bump: Juliet has a pathological fear of kissing and the disappointments that follow. What odds does romance have without that momentous, stupendous, once-in-a-lifetime first smooch? Patient, empathetic, and carrying personal burdens of his own, Noah suggests a remedy: they rehearse.

The lessons begin. The guards come down. But there’s another hitch they weren’t betting on. As for that cue-the-orchestra-and-roll-credits happy ending? It might take more than practice to make it perfect.

THE SEAT FILLER: How meeting Adam Driver IRL inspired my newest romance novel 

**Contains Star Wars spoilers.**

Being a lifelong Star Wars fan, I was excited by the recent sequel trilogy. I went to see The Rise of Skywalker, and given that I am a romance author, was keenly disappointed by the ending. Ben Solo should have lived, and heroine Rey should have won her soulmate. I needed to know if there had been an alternate ending for Reylo (Rey and Ben Solo), but there was no one to ask.  

 Until I saw that Adam Driver was doing a charity auction for his charity, Arts in the Armed Forces. It was a chance to meet him on the red carpet at the SAG-AFTRA Awards. This felt like the stars aligning—here was my chance to ask my question! I bid and won and flew out to Los Angeles with my then 12-year-old daughter.  

We were put in bleachers next to the red carpet, and it was everything you’d hope for. Glitz, glamour, lights, and all kinds of celebrities. I had the absolute best time getting to briefly chat with stars like Rachel Brosnahan, Henry Winkler, Helena Bonham Carter and Christian Bale, getting autographs and pictures.  

Getting to meet Adam was like being involved in a military operation—I met with several different members of his team to get everything arranged beforehand. I continued meeting some of my favorite stars while waiting for him to arrive. A few days before I’d interacted with some other Adam Driver fans online, telling them about my chance to meet him. They told me that he is a bit socially awkward and doesn’t like these kinds of events, so it would be up to me to make conversation. I felt fully prepared to carry on a one-sided chat.   

Then…he came over to meet us. He’s a very large, imposing man and my brain short-circuited. I have no explanation as to why I was so overwhelmed. He greeted us, shook our hands, thanked us for our donation and then asked where we were from. I remember thinking, “Why the freak does Adam Driver care where I’m from?” Obviously, he was trying to make small talk but I wasn’t processing conversation on a normal frequency. He had to ask me the question again and I finally managed to answer. He asked where our city was located and I told him, using a landmark he was probably unfamiliar with.  

I asked him to sign a couple of autographs for us, a Vanity Fair Kylo Ren cover for me, my daughter’s autograph book for her. He signed a very sweet message to her, and then read the message to us (given his messy handwriting). But because it was so loud, I thought he was saying goodbye. So I somehow managed to pull my wits together and ask for a photo, which he was more than happy to take with us. He shook our hands again and wished us a good night.  

As he walked away, still kicking myself over my inability to have a conversation, I thought, “This is a book.” A girl meets her favorite celebrity at an awards show and can’t speak. I called my agent that night (even though she was several time zones ahead of me) and pitched her the idea. She loved it, and so did my editor, and thus THE SEAT FILLER was born.   

(In case you’re curious, I did eventually get to find out whether or not there had been an alternate ending filmed when I won another charity auction and had a Zoom call with co-star Daisy Ridley, and she confirmed that there was no other ending.) 

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

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Giveaway ends May 3rd at midnight EST.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Jane L. Rosen sparks things a book giveaway

Photo by Lori Berkowitz
We're pleased to have Jane L. Rosen at CLC today. Melissa has e-mailed with her in the past and she's so kind and friendly. Her latest novel, Eliza Starts a Rumor, is now available in paperback. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy for a lucky reader. 

Jane L. Rosen is an author, screenwriter, and Huffington Post contributor. She lives in New York City and Fire Island with her husband and three daughters. (Bio courtesy of Penguin Random House.)

Visit Jane online:

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Eliza Hunt created The Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board fifteen years ago she was happily entrenched in her picture-perfect suburban life with her husband and twin preschoolers. Now, with an empty nest and a crippling case of agoraphobia, the once-fun hobby has become her lifeline. So when a rival parenting forum threatens the site’s existence, she doesn’t think twice before fabricating a salacious rumor to spark things up a bit.   

It doesn’t take long before that spark becomes a flame.  
Across town, new mom and site devotee Olivia York is thrown into a tailspin by what she reads on the Bulletin Board. Allison Le is making cyber friends with a woman who isn’t quite who she says she is. And Amanda Cole, Eliza’s childhood friend, may just hold the key to unearthing why Eliza can’t step out of her front door. 
In all this chaos, one thing is for sure…Hudson Valley will never be the same. 

Funny, romantic, raw, and hopeful, this is a story about being a woman and of the healing power of sisterhood.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

“Exactly what I needed! Highly recommend!”
Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author of 28 Summers

“The magic of Jane L. Rosen’s novels is that they reveal the cracks in women’s facades just enough to let their true strength shine through. I loved it.”
Jamie Brenner, bestselling author of Summer Longing

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
When you publish your first book everything is new—including suddenly being complemented all the time.  It’s like walking around with a fabulous new haircut and hearing various iterations of “Your hair looks great!” over and over again. At one of my first signings for Nine Women, One Dress, a woman approached and while I was signing her book, she said rather quietly, “Meg Wolitzer told me I had to read this book.” I though I misheard her and asked her to repeat it. She did and I jumped out of my seat at the thrill of it.  I couldn’t believe that Meg Wolitzer read my book, let alone recommended it. That was my favorite complement, and still is.
How is Eliza similar to or different from you?

Well, if you would have asked me this question pre-pandemic, I would have solely said we have a similar sense of humor, but now I must admit, I can really relate to her not wanting to leave the house. I think many people can.
If Eliza Starts a Rumor was made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?

Aaaah, my favorite game! Emmy Rossum as Olivia,  Maggie Q. as Alison,  Sterling K Brown as Jackie, January Jones as Amanda ( I miss Betty Draper!) and for Eliza I’m torn between Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore and Melissa McCarthy.
Which TV series are you currently binge watching?

I just learned that my favorite pandemic series, The Restaurant,  has returned with four new episodes.  It’s a Swedish show about a family and their posh restaurant at the end of World War Two. I’ve loved every minute of it!
What is something you have learned during the pandemic?

That JFK was right—-What unites us is greater than what divides us. And also, cleaning your own toilet is really not so bad.
What piece of advice would you give the teenage version of yourself?

Major in English in college. Travel while you’re young. Hold on to the friends who have your back.

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

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

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Giveaway ends May 2nd at midnight EST.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Book Review: A Sunday in Ville d'Avray

By Cindy Roesel

I love reading novels about sisters and their relationships. In French author, Dominque Barbéris’s novel, A SUNDAY IN VILLE-d’AVRAY (Other Press), which has recently been translated from French to English, we meet Jane and her sister Claire Marie. The novel is different from anything I’ve read before. Jane lives with her partner Luc in central Paris and Claire Marie lives a suburban life with husband, Christian and daughter, Melanie in Ville d’Avray.

Jane and Claire Marie grew up in Brussels and Sunday nights were always sad. The author describes those evenings as “turmoil under calm” filled with dreams and fears. Their mother called Sunday nights “unbearable” and forced the girls to learn poems. It’s easy to read Barbéris’s novel as a simple story about sisters, but it is so much more. It reveals the depth of human souls.

Jane doesn’t frequent Ville-d’Avray often because her partner Luc finds her sister boring. “Your sister has never had her feet on the ground. It’s a family trait.” His words are also a commentary on how he feels about Jane. You can feel both, Jane and Claire Marie yearning to be close, like they were as children, despite the obstacles.

Jane goes out one Sunday to visit Claire Marie without Luc. Over several glasses of wine, Claire Marie shares a well-kept secret with her sister. She had a relationship with a man and kept it secret for fifteen years. While reading, I felt a wall come down between the sisters and a closeness grow. I knew they were going to grow close again.

Barbéris’s prose is eloquent and the narrative complex revealing the women’s midlife dreams and regrets. The setting for the novel has a feeling of melancholy that keeps pushing you forward. I felt a dark hole filling up as I read, eventually leading to a satisfying ending.

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

Friday, April 23, 2021

Book Review: Rhapsody

By Jami Denison

Historical fiction, soaked in details about iconic times in history, is one of the most challenging genres to write in and one of the most enjoyable genres to read. Historical fiction about real people is even more challenging; the goal is to convey the essential truth of a person’s life, looking backwards for meaning and even themes while creating dialogue and confrontation. At the same time, the author must account for the times in which the protagonist lived. Balancing all these elements is quite an act. 

Author Mitchell James Kaplan has written his third novel, Rhapsody, about Katharine “Kay” Swift, an American composer who was George Gershwin’s collaborator and lover, despite being married to another man and mother to his three children. I’m not a huge Gershwin fan and had never heard of Swift, but missing Broadway desperately, was eager to learn more about these musicals and the woman that helped create them. 

“Behind every great man is a great woman,” is the saying, but sometimes the woman would prefer not to be behind the man, but standing by his side. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible for women in the early part of the 20th century, and Swift was no exception. A classically trained pianist who grew up working class, her fortunes changed when she met Jimmy Warburg, scion of a wealthy banking family. They married and Kay gave him three daughters, but never got over her love for the piano. Introduced to Gershwin, she fell for both the man and his talent—her open marriage to Jimmy (and constant child care) allowing her much freedom to pursue her romantic and creative goals. While Kay’s musical talent and aspirations are an important part of her character, most of the book centers Kay’s identity in relation to her husband or George; the author even chooses to end the book with Gershwin’s death, although Kay continued to work and lived until age 95. 

A person’s life doesn’t move in a straight line, but most books are linear and focus on plot points that get the protagonist closer to her goal. Writers of historical fiction need to square a circle, to keep the focus on events in the protagonist’s life, but at the same time, feature the historical incidents of importance. Swift’s relationships with her husband and Gershwin unfolded against the backdrop of tumultuous times—the end of World War I, suffragism, the Great Depression (which did not affect Kay’s family at all) and the build-up to World War II. Swift and Gershwin aren’t directly affected by any of this, so Kaplan has to thread the needle by having his characters comment on these crises but never participate in them. (At times, they appear absolutely callous, such as a scene where the two step over families sleeping on the sidewalk to get to their premiere.) They’re more involved in the civil rights issues of the age, as Gershwin spends years developing Porgy and Bess, learning about the Gullah culture, and working with African-American artists. These episodes seem timely and consequential, as the musicians grapple with cultural appropriation and who has the right to tell certain stories, issues artists deal with today.

I found Rhapsody to be an uneven book. The beginning is cluttered and noisy; the language pretentious. Some of the dialogue was the kind of complicated, overwritten, arch exchanges found in Hollywood movies of the time. But as Kaplan got further into the story, those trappings fell away and a more streamlined structure emerged. At its best, the novel reminded me of last year’s Fosse/Verdon mini-series, two collaborative geniuses producing art together but unable to make the personal relationship work. (Swift actually wrote shows both with Gershwin and her husband, who worked under the name Paul James.)

But the music is the core of the story, and this presents Kaplan with his greatest challenge. While paintings and dance and other types of art can be depicted on the page, music can only be described, and it has a special vocabulary not necessarily known to non-musicians. Jazz, in particular, defies written description, yet the Jazz Age is vitally important to the story. Kaplan gives it his best shot, citing specific pieces by Beethoven and Mozart that classically trained Kay plays; in other passages, metaphors do the work of conveying the sound. 

Swift was definitely a trailblazer, the first woman to score a hit musical completely. Rhapsody is an interesting look at what it took to be a female artist a century ago. At the same time, many women today make some of the same sacrifices for their art. Behind every great man is a great woman, but behind every great woman is effective child care and a room of her own. If Swift hadn’t had nannies and an absent husband, would she have blazed those trails? What art today has not been produced by female artists, thanks to the challenge of the COVID age?  

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

More by Mitchell James Kaplan:

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A blissful visit from Dee a book giveaway

We're pleased to have Dee Ernst here today. Her latest novel, Maggie Finds Her Muse, published this week. Dee has TWO copies to share with some lucky readers!

Dee Ernst was born and raised in New Jersey, which explains a great deal about her attitude towards life. She loved reading at a very early age, and by the time she was ten she had decided to become a writer. It took a bit longer than she expected.

She went off to college, moved around a bit, had a job or two, a husband or two, and a daughter or two. It was the birth of her second daughter at the age of forty that got her thinking about what to do with the rest of her life. That was when she decided to give writing a real shot.

Dee loved chick-lit and romantic comedy, but hated the twenty-something heroines who couldn't figure out how to go and get what they wanted. She began to write about women like herself -- older, confident, and with a wealth of life experience to draw upon. She got an agent but no sales, and took the plunge into self-publishing in 2010.

In 2012, Better Off Without Him became an Amazon bestseller. She signed with Montlake Publishing, which went on to re-release Better Off Without Him and launch A Slight Change of Plan in 2013.

2016 brought two 'firsts' for Dee -- a series of cozy mystery novellas, and the release of her first full-length novel with Lake Union Publishing, Stealing Jason Wilde.

She is still in New Jersey, where she writes full-time. She lives with husband #2, daughter #2, a few cats and a needy cocker spaniel. She loves sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a really cold martini. (Bio adapted from Amazon.)

Visit Dee online:

All Maggie Bliss needs to do is write. Forty-eight years old and newly single (again!), she ventures to Paris in a last-ditch effort to finish her manuscript. With a marvelous apartment at her fingertips and an elegant housekeeper to meet her every need, a finished book―and her dream of finally taking her career over the top―is surely within her grasp. After all, how could she find anything except inspiration in Paris, with its sophistication, food, and romance in the air?

But the clock is running out, and between her charming ex-husband arriving in France for vacation and a handsome Frenchman appearing one morning in her bathtub, Maggie’s previously undisturbed peace goes by the wayside. Charming and heartfelt, Dee Ernst's Maggie Finds Her Muse is a delightful and feel-good novel about finding love, confidence, and inspiration in all the best places. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
The best thing that’s ever been said to me – and I’m pleased to say it’s been said several times – is that the writer was in a bad place (usually left by her partner!) and that reading my book helped her get through the tough time. Doesn’t get better than that.

What is something you've learned from writing your previous novels, that you applied to Maggie Finds Her Muse?
I’ve always written the ‘older heroine ‘and all the feedback I’ve gotten from my previous works has reinforced the idea that readers want to see themselves on the page, especially if they’re over forty!

If Maggie Finds Her Muse was made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
Wow – I really had to think about this one. I’m a huge fan of older music – Gershwin and the like, so of course  I’d want Edith Pilaf in there, and Chopin. I think Frederic Chopin is very romantic and evocative.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. Just a wonderful book.

What is something you've learned about yourself during the pandemic?
That as much as I missed my friends, I was okay being by myself. I’m happily married and my daughter still lives with us, so I wasn’t ALONE alone, but I was fine with my own company. With books, of course.

What is your go-to dessert item?
Rice pudding. I try it whenever I eat out someplace new. Still searching for the perfect combination of creamy to soft rice. No raisins please!

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

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

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Giveaway ends April 27th at midnight EST.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Sara and Melissa talk about...Regrets

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This month, we're talking about regrets. What do you regret? Please share your thoughts in the comments on this post. 

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them.

Melissa Amster:                                                                                   
Earlier this year, I got into a really great TV series called Being Erica. The main concept of the show is that this woman is sent back in time to resolve various regrets from her past. It inspired me to choose this particular topic for our column. However, I'm going to add a small spin to it!      

Oddly enough, I started The Midnight Library this week and it is also about regrets. Such interesting timing! The book has a Being Erica feel to it. 

Things I regret:

Not asking one of my closest friends to the prom because I was worried about what people would think, since he was a few years behind me in school. I shouldn't have cared at that point, since this friend was nicer to me than most people in my class had been for the past four years. 

* Dating my second serious boyfriend in college. There would have been less heartache all around if we had stayed friends instead of pursuing anything more. We probably could still have been friends at this point in time. However, things just ended on such an ugly note that I don't ever see that happening. There were other complications in our relationship that I don't feel like going into, lest this turn into an essay. 

* Not majoring in something like business or marketing because I could have started doing book publicity right out of college. I am dipping my feet into the water of this field and loving it so far. 

* Not going on a major vacation before having kids. It would have been fun to travel through Europe with my husband, but we just never did it. 

*The fight I got into with my best friend 17 years ago. We patched things up and are stronger than ever, but I wish it hadn't happened in the first place and I regret some things I said to her at the time. 

* Not standing up to a toxic friend in high school. I sometimes really wish I could have told her off in person, instead of just in a blog post that she'll never see. 

* This job I had in my late twenties. I got it because I wanted to leave the current job I was working at, as my boss was a total handful and we didn't get along that well. However, I took the first way out I could get and ended up tied to a cell phone 24/7 to answer emergency maintenance calls. I hated it so much and felt stuck there for the duration of my three-year contract. 

Things I do NOT regret:

Marriage and motherhood, obviously.

* The job I had for about ten years. It might not have been in my field of expertise, but I did learn and grow from it and made some great friends there too. 

* Keeping my kids home from school this past year. Most of the time, I had no choice, but even when the choice became available, I do not regret opting to continue keeping them home. I respect that everyone makes their own decisions when it comes to sending kids to school or not during the pandemic. I hope people can respect mine too. Thankfully, all three of my kids did really well in their classes this year. The ones who wanted to see friends still got to hang out with their friends six feet apart with masks on or through Zoom. 

* Starting this blog. ;) 

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                   
Seven years ago, when Melissa and I participated in a monthly blog group that voiced opinions on various topics, one of our fellow bloggers had suggested we write about the worst mistakes we’d ever made. For me, it was how I’d pissed away my high school education. In fact, that was the exact phrase I’d used. “Pissed away.” I was never a model student. I didn’t excel at much of anything in those days, unless they give awards for truancy. In fact, I’m fairly certain the laws that ensure children attend school had a lot to do with how often I missed class.   

I had no intentions of returning to the academic world. At least, not when I wrote the blog post, June of 2014. In fact, when looking back at my educational blunders and reminiscing on the lost days that had gone by, I said: “College is my only option, but since I’m not entirely sure what I want to be when I grow up, shelling out the money for a college degree wouldn’t do me any favors right now.” There were a lot of other factors that went along with that mindset, though. Like, how I’d never really seen myself as capable of doing well in a scholarly setting. That I had crippling test anxiety, even into my adult years, which held me back from various endeavors in life. The thought of having to step back into a classroom made me anxious, but I couldn’t forget about the multitude of times I used to picture myself in college, that I’d recognized and identified how many of my friends had gone into successful careers after achieving their degrees. I’d let myself “go there,” only later letting the thought go, because it was so much easier to. School wasn’t for me, and it never had been. Game over, man. Game over. 

Only, that hasn’t been the case at all. I decided to conquer my preconceived notions just a couple of years after I’d written that post. I started out super small, with one class. That was the fall of 2016. When I finally decided to really go for it, I received my associates from Chandler-Gilbert Community College the spring of 2020, and I’m currently at Arizona State University, set to graduate with a Bachelor’s in English next year. 

Which is all well and good, it really is. I’m proud of that accomplishment. But I can’t help but wonder where I’d be right now, had I actually gone to college when it felt like everyone else did. You know, much earlier in life. 

I’m in my forties now. It takes me hours, literally hours to get everything done. I’ve also got a family, two sons who are currently at home attending school virtually, so I’m juggling my workload and making sure that my fourth grader stays on task, and assist him when he needs it, while I help my tenth grader out if he needs it, at times reminding him that he needs to keep at it, too. My husband has been incredibly supportive, but he works from home, too. So, I feel like there is a lot going on, with not as much time as I’d like to focus more on my courses. 

There’s the guilt factor, too. No one makes me feel guilty; I do that to myself. The constant, “Am I spending too much time on this?”  “Am I spending enough time with my family?”  “Am I putting too much onto other people?”

I figure if I’d attended college earlier in life, I’d have a lot more energy and time to devote to it. I don’t think I’d do as well, because with age, for me at least, has come patience. I might take a lot longer to get things done now, but the end result has been successful. Yet, what would I be doing, or where would I be, or what type of career would I have embarked on, had I cared more about my education back then? I often live with the motto, “All things happen for a reason,” and I do believe that life has brought me here, right this second, to where I need to be, the way I need to be. I am glad I have the opportunity to go to college. But I can’t help but wish that I’d cared more about my education and thought more about myself, to know that I would have been capable of doing it, particularly after learning over the years just how important knowledge can be.  

What is something you regret?

Book Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Dumped

By Cindy Roesel

Posy Fairweather should be on top of the world when her boyfriend, Matt proposes to her – oh right, she is on a mountain in the Alps when he drops to his knee. But in Jenny Colgan’s latest novel, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE DUMPED (LittleBrown/HarperCollins), Matt’s proposal has Posy rethinking her past boyfriends and wondering why they didn’t work out. So, she does the obvious thing and reconnects with them. Because if you’re worried about getting married, why not lie before you take the plunge. It didn’t make sense to me, either, but I went along with it to finish the book.

Posy’s would-be fiancé, Matt is a personal trainer at a gym, and somewhat frowned upon in her circle. Mom’s a psychologist divorced from her dad and basically thinks men are scum. Posy looks up her boyfriend from University, Chris and finds him in a remote part of the Shetland Islands. She braves the elements to visit him and finds out she doesn’t love him, but news of her trip leaks to Matt and he takes back his ring. Her resistance to follow the grass is always greener syndrome doesn’t stop there. Then she’s on to Adam, a true wanker by all her friends accounts. Then she’s off to find Almaric and things continue to get complicated and not any better with Matt who still apparently loves her.

I couldn't really figure out where Jenny Colgan was going with this novel, or what was the point. It took on a bunch of different focuses without really settling on one, until the end. We learn her mom has bad mouthed her dad, and Posy has been estranged from him all these years. Turns out, her main problem has been not resolving her relationship with her dad. By the time we get to that, we're at the end and readers have either hung in there or closed the book on THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE DUMPED. It's cute, but not one of my favorite Jenny Colgan novels. But of course, that's just my opinion. Maybe it'll be different for you.

Thanks to William Morrow for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Jenny Colgan:

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A social call from Renée a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I'm so pleased to welcome Renée Rosen to CLC today. I've read a bunch of her novels and have loved them all. (I still have two others to check out soon.) Her latest, The Social Graces (out today), actually got me interested in the Gilded Age, which had never interested me in the past. (Check out my review.) I recently got to "meet" her at my friend's online book club meeting and she was absolutely delightful. I'm so excited that she'll be speaking at my book club next month, as well! In all our e-mail exchanges, she has been so friendly and fun to work with. I hope you all will enjoy getting to know her better today. And thanks to Berkley, one lucky reader will receive a copy of The Social Graces!

Renée Rosen is the bestselling author of historical fiction. Her novels include Park Avenue Summer, Windy City Blues, White Collar Girl, What the Lady Wants, and Dollface, as well as the young adult novel, Every Crooked Pot. Her new novel, The Social Graces, a story about Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Vanderbilt vying for control of New York society during the Gilded Age, is now available from Penguin Random House/Berkley.

Renee is a native of Akron, Ohio and a graduate of The American University in Washington DC.  She now lives in Chicago where she is at work on a new novel. (Bio adapted from Renée's website.)

Visit Renée online:


1876. In the glittering world of Manhattan's upper crust, women are valued by their pedigree, dowry, and, most importantly, connections. They have few rights and even less independence—what they do have is society. The more celebrated the hostess, the more powerful the woman. And none is more powerful than Caroline Astor—the Mrs. Astor.

But times are changing.

Alva Vanderbilt has recently married into one of America's richest families. But what good is dizzying wealth when society refuses to acknowledge you? Alva, who knows what it is to have nothing, will do whatever it takes to have everything.

Sweeping three decades and based on true events, this is the mesmerizing story of two fascinating, complicated women going head to head, behaving badly, and discovering what’s truly at stake.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
I love hearing from readers and because I tend to mix fictional characters with real-life figures in my novels, one of the greatest compliments I get is when an email arrives from someone who was Googling my characters, surprised to learn that they weren’t real. When I get those comments from readers, then I know I’ve done my job.   

What were the biggest rewards and challenges from writing The Social Graces?
I think that with this book, my greatest challenge also became my greatest reward. When I sat down to write The Social Graces, I had a difficult time adding dimension to my main characters, Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor. On the surface they seemed superficial and frivolous, so getting to the heart of them really took some doing. I had to drill down deep to find their humanity and ways to make them relatable to today’s readers. One of the things that helped was to think of Caroline Astor as the CEO of a major corporation, which was exactly how she ran society. Another was to think of them both not just as wealthy society ladies, but as wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. 

The good news is that I absolutely love the editing phase of the writing process. For me, revision is where the magic happens so while crafting the characters might have been my greatest challenge, watching them come to life on the page definitely became my greatest reward. 

If The Social Graces were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
Oh, what a fun prospect to ponder! I think Kathy Bates would make an amazing Mrs. Astor and for Alva Vanderbilt, I could see, Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore from Ozark). She’s young but such a terrific actress. I think she could bring all of Alva’s spit and vinegar to the screen. 

Which period of history are you interested in writing about soon?
The book I’m currently working on, about the cosmetic icon, Estée Lauder is set in the late 1930s and runs through the mid 1940s. This is a totally new time period for me to play with and spans the Great Depression, the war (though it’s not a WWII novel) and the economic boon that followed. 

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?
We’re very late to this party but have been enjoying The Americans on Netflix.  Also really loved Last Tango in Halifax, Lilyhammer, and Afterlife

What is something you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I learned that I’m really good at working jigsaw puzzles and am seriously considering entering a competition. (Yes, they really do have puzzle contests).  I also learned time and time again how very fortunate I am to have love, laughter and good health in my life.    

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends April 26th at midnight EST.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Book Review: Surviving Savannah

By Jami Denison

When it comes to historical fiction, I have two interests: World War II and the Titanic. While Patti Callahan’s latest, Surviving Savannah, doesn’t take place in either of these time periods, her story is inspired by a shipwreck nicknamed “the Titanic of the South.” So naturally I wanted to learn more. 

In 1838, the steamship Pulaski exploded, 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina, on its way from Savannah, Georgia, to Baltimore, Maryland. Onboard were families from the cream of Savannah society… as well as the enslaved people forced to serve them. This is the event that prompted Callahan, a big fan of Savannah and its complicated history, to write the novel. Fortuitously, she had just begun the writing process when the remains of the ship were discovered. 

Callahan’s work of fiction tackles the story through three third-person points-of-view: Everly, a Savannah native and museum curator still mourning the death of her best friend in a hit-and-run in the present day; Lilly, a new mother in 1838 who desperately wishes to flee her abusive husband; and Augusta, Lilly’s maiden aunt and best friend. Augusta and Lilly are both on the Pulaski, along with Augusta’s brother, his wife and their six children, and Lilly’s husband, baby, and enslaved nursemaid Priscilla. 

When Everly is first tasked with curating a project about the doomed steamship, she demurs – she’s still mourning the death of her best friend, Mora, and the project would bring her too close to Mora’s fiancé, Oliver. But she’s captivated by the people involved, and still drawn to Oliver. As she tries to find out what happened to the passengers on the Pulaski, her story alternates with Lilly’s and Augusta’s. Lilly’s, in particular, has always been a mystery. Her husband Adam commissioned a statue of her at the docks, and her name was on a list of survivors in North Carolina—but no trace of her was ever found. 

Also drawing the stories together is the question of fate. Everly is haunted by the capricious nature of Mora’s death—if she hadn’t bumped Mora, Mora wouldn’t have been in the path of the car. And Augusta and Lilly, in their separate lifeboats, wonder why they were saved while others perished. 

While I found the writing to be a little overdone at times, the story drew me in so quickly and completely that I stopped reading halfway through in order to surf the web about the tragedy and the real-life people involved. It was an unnecessary step, though, because Callahan provides a lot of information at the end in a few author’s notes. I also thought she did a sensitive job including issues around slavery in the novel. With a book taking place in the antebellum south, featuring characters who owned other people, some authors want to ignore the “peculiar institution” to focus on other aspects of their story. Callahan’s characters grapple with the institution, and her enslaved character is a vital part of the narrative. The Savannah setting itself acts as an additional character; its past and present coming together vividly. 

My only quibble is that Callahan had some trouble keeping the pace of the novel consistent among the three point-of-view characters. With Lilly and Augusta’s stories concluding before Everly’s, there is some summarizing in place of scene work, and some telling over showing. At times, near the end, her close third-person became omniscient. But these are minor issues in a book that overall works very well. 

There’s something uniquely gratifying about discovering an historical event through fiction rather than a textbook; it prompts the reader to look for information herself rather than having it dictated to her. Not only will Surviving Savannah impress fans of historical fiction, it may also prompt many of them to plan a trip to the city. 

Thanks to Tandem Literary for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Patti Callahan:

Friday, April 16, 2021

What's in the mail


Have We Met? by Camille Baker from Blankenship PR
See Jane Snap by Bethany Crandell from Montlake (e-book via NetGalley)
Heard it in a Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves from St. Martin's Press (won from Goodreads)
The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery from Harlequin (e-book via NetGalley)
The Bennett Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi from Kathleen Carter Communications
The Photographer
by Mary Dixie Carter from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)
The Mix-Up by Elizabeth Neep from Bookouture (e-book via NetGalley)
Meant to Be: If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy from Disney-Hyperion (e-book via NetGalley)
We Can't Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon from Simon & Schuster (e-book via NetGalley)
Imagine Summer by Shelley Noble from HarperCollins

When I Last Saw You by/from Bette Lee Crosby (e-book)
A Second-Hand Husband by Claire Calman from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Waiting to Begin by Amanda Prowse from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
Darkness & Grace by Kathryn Schleich from Book Publicity Services (e-book)
A Hand to Hold in Deep Water by Shawn Nocher from Wunderkind PR (e-book)

The Woman at the Front by Lecia Cornwall from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Husbands by Chandler Baker from Flatiron
The Paris Connection by Lorraine Brown from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)
We Share the Same Sky by Rachael Cerrotti from Blackstone (e-book via NetGalley)
The Light of Luna Park by Addison Armstrong from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)