Thursday, September 30, 2021

We trust Heather Frimmer to write great novels...plus a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

We're thrilled to welcome Heather Frimmer back to CLC today. I read her debut novel, Bedside Manners, a few years ago and really enjoyed it. When I received Better to Trust this year, I couldn't wait to read it! It was also really interesting and thought-provoking and I'm glad we can finally share it with you today. (See my review.) Aside from having a love of books in common, Heather and I also can relate about being Jewish and enjoying all things musical theater. Heather is friendly and easy to chat with, and she always supports other authors. I hope you will enjoy getting to know her! Thanks to Get Red PR, we have one copy of Better to Trust for a lucky reader!

Heather Frimmer is a radiologist specializing in breast and emergency room imaging. Her first novel, Bedside Manners, was published in 2018 and has received several awards including National Indie Excellence, Readers' Favorite and Independent Press awards. She completed her medical training at Weill-Cornell Medical College, New York Presbyterian-Cornell and Yale New Haven Hospital. She lives with her husband and two children in suburban Connecticut.

Visit Heather online:

Synopsis:
When trust is violated, can it ever be recovered?

Alison Jacobs needs brain surgery and places ultimate trust in her sister's husband, Grant Kaplan, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and expert in treating her condition. But Grant is hiding a dark secret which threatens the outcome: an addiction to prescription pills. As Alison struggles to rebuild her life, Grant's daughter, Sadie, spends more time with a new friend. Frustrated that her parents exclude her from the conversations about her beloved aunt, Sadie makes increasingly risky choices which could endanger not only her, but her entire family.

Alison is also harboring her own secret-an extramarital affair with a woman. Her close call with mortality spurs her to take a closer look at her marriage, explore her newfound sexuality and figure out what she wants for her future. How will she rebuild her life and move forward? Can she find a way to repair her broken relationship with her only sister?

Secrets swirling around drug use and sexual identity must be dealt with in order for the family to learn to trust each other again

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
By far the best compliments I’ve received are from readers who are personally familiar with a condition explored in one of my novels. Readers of Better to Trust who’ve survived brain surgery and resultant disability or those who’ve been touched by addiction have told me the scenes in the story hit close to home and the emotions rang true. I am truly honored this special group of readers took the time to read my story and I couldn’t imagine higher praise.

What did you learn from writing Bedside Manners that you applied to Better to Trust?
As I was writing Bedside Manners, I was figuring out the plot points and how to write a novel at the same time. It was certainly a steep learning curve. One of my goals was to make the story as true to life as possible. I later learned that in order not to bore the reader to tears, fiction must be much more dramatic than reality. I eventually had to go back and rewrite the whole book, amping up the tension and drama in nearly every scene. For Better to Trust, I inadvertently created a difficult challenge for myself with a much more complex structure (two timelines and three points of view). But I’d learned to keep the tension level high in order to keep readers turning the pages.

If Better to Trust were made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
As you know, I’m a massive Broadway enthusiast. In fact, the only music I listen to with any sort of regularity are show tunes. Since I don’t think that’s the right vibe for this story, I would leave the choice of soundtrack music to someone who is much more up to date than I am. My teenage children often ridicule me for not being familiar with popular songs on the radio. When I take solo walks, I almost always wear headphones, but I listen to audiobooks rather than music. Anytime I can pack in more reading, I grab the chance. 

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?

I just finished listening to the audiobook of We Are the Brennans, a debut novel by Tracey Lange. It’s a messy family drama that follows multiple members of a large Irish clan in Westchester County, New York. The story is chock full of secrets, lies, unbreakable family bonds, and loves lost and found. The narrator, Barrie Kreinik, does an incredible job voicing the disparate family members and she also puts on a wonderful Irish accent. I loved every minute of the listen. 

Side note from Melissa: I added this to my five-book print queue recently, thanks to your recommendation!

What is something you've learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’ve always known I’m an introvert, but more than a year essentially locked in my home confirmed that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. I can stay home for hours—reading, writing, taking walks around my woodsy Connecticut neighborhood—and be perfectly content. When the world began to open up, I was simultaneously relieved and secretly disappointed. Going forward, I will make sure to carve out alone time for myself on a regular basis, to recharge my batteries and keep myself mentally healthy. 

What is your favorite autumn treat?

I am one of those people who loves the pumpkin flavored confections that show up in every store at the beginning of September. Sickeningly sweet iced pumpkin scones call to me from the glass case at Starbucks, though I don’t allow myself the indulgence too often.  I also enjoy going apple picking on a cool fall day and then coming home to make apple crisp topped with French vanilla ice cream. 

Thanks to Heather for chatting with us and to Get Red PR 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 October 5th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Book Review: The Woman at the Front

By Jami Denison

Author Lecia Cornwall is well-known for her Highlander and Regency romances. But inspired by her grandfather’s World War I recollections, her latest release takes readers away from the pageantry of royalty and mires them in the mud and blood of war. With a hefty dose of sexism and classism as well, The Woman at the Front is a compelling book about a compelling character. 

Inspired by her doctor father, Eleanor Atherton graduated at the top of her medical class in 1917. But in her tiny English village, no one takes her seriously as a doctor—not even her father or her twin brother Edward. But when a local Countess’s son is hurt at the front, she presses Eleanor into going to war-torn France to take care of Louis and bring him home. Defying her family, Eleanor heads to the aid station where Louis is recovering. But since female doctors are not permitted at the front (female nurses and ambulance drivers are), and Eleanor is not in the military, things get complicated for her very quickly. Can the handsome Scottish stretcher-bearer help her find her way?

I’ve always enjoyed stories about female trailblazers, and I can’t imagine the courage it takes to become a doctor in a world where sex roles are so strongly and clearly defined. Add a war to that equation – a war at a time when modern medicine was in its infancy but warfare, including gas, was growing in its cruelty--and Eleanor certainly has the deck stacked against her. What I liked the most about this character is that she’s not exceptionally fearless or forthright. She’s hurt by her family’s rejection and doubtful about her own abilities. That makes it even more satisfying to watch her come into her own. 

I also appreciated the scenes that demonstrated the difference between the British upper classes and the men who were dying in the trenches. While recuperating at the aid station, Louis is visited by Ladies who’d rather be drinking champagne and shopping in Paris than supporting the soldiers. The contrast is illustrative, and seemed to hint at issues beyond the scope of the book.

Still, there were times that Cornwall’s romance roots showed. Many of the characters were one-dimensional; their arcs as it came to Eleanor were unsurprising. There were multiple POVs but not multiple storylines; all these characters’ thoughts revolved around Eleanor. And the love scenes seemed too romantic for a war novel for my taste. Romance is the world’s most popular genre, and I wish I could write it, so this note is not a criticism of the genre. But the “hearts and flowers” of the love-sick gentlemen didn’t mesh too well with the blood and mud of the war. 

Cornwall pulls off a nice trick at the end: Most traditional romances tie up things with a nice “happily ever after” bow. She does this, but also skips ahead to preview World War II. It’s a prescient reminder that while a war may end, war never does.  

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

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: Both Are True

Today we are pleased to feature Both Are True by Reyna Marder Gentin. Thanks to Get Red PR, we have one copy to give away!

Judge Jackie Martin's job is to impose order on the most chaotic families in New York City. So how is she blindsided when the man she loves walks out on her?

Jackie Martin is a woman whose intelligence and ambition have earned her a coveted position as a judge on the Manhattan Family Court-and left her lonely at age 39. When she meets Lou Greenberg, Jackie thinks she's finally found someone who will accept her exactly as she is. But when Lou's own issues, including an unresolved yearning for his ex-wife, make him bolt without explanation, Jackie must finally put herself under the same microscope as the people she judges. When their worlds collide in Jackie's courtroom, she learns that sometimes love's greatest gift is opening you up to love others.

"Poignant and funny, Both Are True is simultaneously a compassionate tribute to the complexity of family life in New York City and an intimate portrait of one unlikely couple-a love story you'll think about long after you turn the last page." 
--Elyssa Friedland, author of Last Summer At The Golden Hotel

"Reyna Marder Gentin writes compelling women's fiction with just the right blend of romance. Both Are True is the moving story of two lovers at a crossroads, and if you're anything like me, you'll be rooting on these perfectly flawed characters. Gentin captures the subtle nuances of relationships and what it means to open ourselves to others. Fans of legal thrillers will appreciate the courtroom drama, a testament to Gentin's years practicing law, and I, for one, appreciated the quick wit throughout. I'm a fan. Brava, Reyna!"
--Rochelle Weinstein, bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends

"Gentin deftly weaves a story of a complicated relationship with fascinating legal insight, exploring themes of parenting, love, and all the difficulties and nuances involved with both."
--Susie Orman Schnall, author of We Came Here to Shine

In the fall of 2014, Reyna Marder Gentin left her practice as a criminal appellate attorney with a nonprofit public defender's office where she'd worked for many years. It was time to try something new. What began as a lark when a friend asked Reyna to join her in a writing class at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College has turned into her passion. Reyna's first novel, a romantic legal thriller entitled Unreasonable Doubts, was published by She Writes Press in 2018 and was named a finalist in the Women's Fiction Writers Association Star Award for debut fiction. William Landay, bestselling author of Defending Jacob, called the novel an intriguing blend of romance and legal suspense from a new writer to watch. 

In 2021, Reyna took a foray into children's literature. TouchPoint Press published her middle grade novel My Name Is Layla, which features a dyslexic protagonist and is a story about resilience and empathy. My Name Is Layla is for young readers -- and for all readers -- who are inspired by the idea of a kinder world. School Library Journal said Layla's struggles at school and home are authentically depicted and readers who face their own challenges will relate. With Both Are True, Reyna has returned to contemporary fiction, the law, and New York City. If you love these three as much as she does, this novel is for you. Reyna is married to Pierre Gentin, whom she's known since her high school days on Long Island. Their two children, Ariella and Micah, are the light of their lives.

Visit Reyna 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 October 4th at midnight EST.

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Monday, September 27, 2021

Jacqueline Friedland's fabulous writing tips...plus a book giveaway

We are so excited to have Jacqueline Friedland back at CLC today! Melissa loved her latest novel, He Gets That from Me and said it's one of her 2021 top picks. Check out her review. There are some gray areas in this novel and Jacqueline has some tips for writing about characters who are put in these kinds of situations. 


Thanks to SparkPress, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Jacqueline Friedland is the author of the award-winning novels Trouble the Water and That’s Not a Thing. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York for a hot second before transitioning to writing full time. She lives in New York with her husband, four children, and two very bossy dogs.

Visit Jacqueline online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Synopsis:
As a young mother with a toddler and a live-in boyfriend, Maggie Fisher’s job at a checkout counter in downtown Phoenix doesn’t afford her much financial flexibility. She dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher, options she squandered when she fled her family home as a teenager. When Maggie stumbles onto an ad offering thousands of dollars to women who are willing to gestate other people’s babies, she at first finds the concept laughable. Before long, however, she’s been seduced by all the ways the extra money could improve her life. Once she decides to go for it, it’s only a matter of months before she’s chosen as a gestational carrier by Chip and Donovan Rigsdale, a married couple from New York.

After delivering twin babies and proudly handing them off to the Rigsdales, Maggie finally gets her life on a positive trajectory: she earns her degree, lands a great job, and builds a family of her own. She can’t fathom why, ten years after the fact, the fertility clinic is calling to ask for a follow-up DNA test.

High-energy and immensely readable, He Gets That from Me explores what it really means to be part of a family.

“A heartfelt exploration of what it means to be a family, He Gets That From Me is a fascinating story of strength, humanity, love, and perseverance. This is one you won’t stop thinking about.” 
―Allison Winn Scotch, best-selling author of Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing

“A piercing, mesmerizing look into the fragility and resiliency of the human experience...An absolute home run.” 
―Amy Impellizzeri, award-winning author of Lemongrass Hope and I Know How This Ends

He Gets That from Me is a potent reminder that we can’t always choose what life hands us―but we can decide whether to rise to the occasion when faced with seemingly impossible choices. With expert plotting and unwavering empathy toward her characters, Jacqueline Friedland has written a novel as unexpected as it is riveting. I read it in a single sitting.”
―Camille Pag├ín, best-selling author of This Won’t End Well

Tips for Writing Morally Ambiguous Characters 

Many of literature and television’s most beloved characters fall under the oft-referenced category of “morally ambiguous.” Think Jay Gatsby, Edward Rochester, even Don Draper! Creating morally ambiguous characters can serve a myriad of functions in modern literature, from boosting suspenseful moments to providing readers with a better way to relate to a book’s characters. 

What Does it Mean:

So what is a “morally ambiguous” character anyway?

Characters are morally ambiguous when they behave in a way that cannot clearly be classified as “right” or “wrong.” They fall into the gray area between. Often, these characters are portrayed as well-intentioned people who have suffered some tragedy or hardship in the past and suddenly, the choices they face, as well as how they will meet those choices, becomes more complicated.

A character can start out as pure, altruistic, or unfalteringly righteous, and grow morally questionable as a literary work progresses. Once something terrible befalls certain characters, they often lose their will to be angels. Or conversely, a character can be depicted as pure evil, a quintessential “bad guy,” who is finally offered redemption. 

The truest form of morally ambiguous characters are those who remain in the gray area for the entirety of the work that portrays them. These characters possess positive qualities and negative from the start. Although readers likely hope that the character will evolve and continue moving in the direction of goodness over time, sometimes the character simply cannot be changed. 

Why We Love It:

Moral ambiguity amps up the intrigue in most stories. For example, take your typical bad guy who’s busy trying to ruin everything for everyone. We hate him, but we’re also kind of bored by his predictability. But then we see him bringing breakfast to his bedridden grandma, or stooping to help a toddler who has wandered into the street. Now we see a crack in the armor, a hint that the villain is perhaps not as bad as we thought. Suddenly, the story has become so much more interesting.  

How to Do It:

In order to create characters with the type of moral ambiguity that speaks to readers, it’s important to provide some backstory or other credible reason why that character might be acting in a way that is both “wrong” but also potentially justifiable.

Backstory—What happened in your character’s past that has led her to want something that doesn’t seem fair or right? There is always the question of nature versus nurture, but when readers can trace a character’s flaws back to a wrong that was perpetrated against that character, suddenly the character becomes much more sympathetic. Was the character victimized in some way? Have they suffered a trauma? What can you tell us to make us understand them better? 

Goals—Determine your character’s mission and then force them to make difficult choices in order to advance that mission. Hard choices make for good reading. 

Positives—This may seem obvious, but don’t forget to give your character good qualities to go along with the bad! We need to sympathize with characters or feel some sort of connection in order to want to know more about them.

Arc—The character must evolve and change as the story progresses. This doesn’t mean they have to choose a side between good and evil and move in that direction, but the character must change. The events of the novel must eventually affect their outlook, even if not their behavior.

Maybe we love morally ambiguous characters because they make us feel better about ourselves and our own moral failings or pitfalls. Or perhaps we just enjoy puzzling out why a character is behaving in a certain way and wondering what she will do next. Ambiguity is often what makes each of us interesting as people, and the same is true of the people we read about in our books. So go forth and create ambiguity!

Thanks to Jackie for the writing lesson and to SparkPress 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 October 3rd at midnight EST.

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Double Feature Spotlight: On Location and When Sparks Fly

Today we are featuring two novels that were published this past week: On Location by Sarah Echavarre Smith and When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting!

Nothing like a rocky start between enemy coworkers stuck together on location to prove that love isn't just a ploy for ratings—it's a force of nature.

Alia Dunn has finally gotten her big break. After years of working her way up at TV's top outdoor travel channel, she gets the green light from network executives to bring her dream project to life: produce a series about Utah's national parks. It's a touching tribute to her late apong, who sparked Alia's passion for travel and the outdoors as a kid.

Alia is thrilled—until she meets her newest crew member, Drew Irons. The same Drew she had the most amazing first date with two weeks ago—who then ghosted her. The same Drew who has the most deliciously thick forearms and who loves second-guessing her every move on set in front of the entire crew. It's not long before the tension between them turns hotter than the Utah desert in the dead of summer, and their steamy encounters lead to major feelings.

But when the series host goes rogue one too many times, jeopardizing the entire shoot, Alia realizes that she'll need to organize one hell of a coup to save her show—and she'll need Drew's help to do it. It's the riskiest move she's ever made. If she pulls it off, she'll end up with a hit series and her dream guy . . . but if it all goes wrong, she could lose both. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)


Photo by Daniel Muller
Sarah Smith
is a copywriter-turned-author who wants to make the world a lovelier place, one kissing story at a time. Her love of romance began when she was eight and she discovered her auntie's stash of romance novels. She's been hooked ever since. When she's not writing, you can find her hiking, eating chocolate, and perfecting her lumpia recipe. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and adorable cat Salem. (Bio courtesy of Sarah's website.)

Visit Sarah online:
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Avery Spark is living her best life. Between her friends, her sisters, and Spark House, the event hotel her family owns, she doesn’t have much time for anything else, especially relationships. She’d rather hang out with her best friend and roommate, Declan McCormick, than deal with the dating scene. But everything changes when she is in a car accident and needs someone to care for her as she heals.

Declan avoids relationships, giving him a playboy reputation that he lives up to when he puts a one-night stand ahead of a promise he made to Avery. While he may not have been the one driving the car, he feels responsible for Avery’s injuries and is determined to make it up to her by stepping into the role of caretaker.

Little did they know that the more time they spend in compromising positions, the attraction they’ve been refusing to acknowledge becomes impossible to ignore. When they finally give in to the spark between them, neither is prepared for the consequences. Their love is fragile and all it will take is a blow from the past to shatter it all. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Check out Sara's review.


NYT and USA Today Bestselling author, Helena Hunting lives outside of Toronto with her amazing family and her two awesome cats, who think the best place to sleep is her keyboard. Helena writes everything from contemporary romance with all the feels to romantic comedies that will have you laughing until you cry. (Bio courtesy of Helena's website.)

Visit Helena online:

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Catching up with Juliette Fay...plus a book giveaway!

We're happy to have Juliette Fay back at CLC today. Her latest novel, Catch Us When We Fall, published this week. She's here to talk about it, as well as share some other fun facts about herself. Thanks to Get Red PR, we have one copy of Catch Us When We Fall for a lucky reader!


Juliette Fay is the bestselling author of five previous novels including City of Flickering Light and The Tumbling Turner Sisters, a USA Today bestseller. Other novels include The Shortest Way Home, one of Library Journal’s “Top 5 Best Books of 2012: Women’s Fiction”; Deep Down True, shortlisted for the 2011 Women’s Fiction award by the American Library Association; and Shelter Me, a 2009 Massachusetts Book Award “Must-Read Book” and an Indie Next pick. Juliette is a graduate of Boston College and Harvard University and lives in Massachusetts. Visit her at juliettefay.com.   

Visit Juliette online:
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Synopsis:
On her own since the age of eighteen, Cass Macklin dated brilliant and troubled Ben McGreavy, convinced he was the smartest person she’d ever known. They partied their way through their twenties, slowly descending into a bleak world of binge-drinking and broken promises, inebriated for most of a decade. Now Ben is dead, and Cass is broke, homeless, scared…and pregnant.

Determined to have a healthy pregnancy and raise Ben’s baby, Cass has to find a way to stop drinking and build a stable life for herself and her child. But with no money, skills, or sober friends or family, the task seems insurmountable. At her wit’s end, Cass turns to the only person with the means to help her: Ben’s brother Scott, third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, a man with a temper and problems of his own. The two make a deal that neither one of them is sure they can live up to. As Cass struggles to take control of her life and to ask for help when she needs it, Scott begins to realize there’s a life for him beyond the baseball diamond. 

Heartbreaking and humorous, with its message that change is possible, that forgiveness can be freely given, and that life, though imperfect, is worth embracing, CATCH US WHEN WE FALL is a story of human connectedness and hope. 

“A redemption story if ever there was one: Juliette Fay’s Catch Us When We Fall gives us a character who seems almost beyond help, beyond reach, even to herself—but finds ways to prove us all wrong, one baby step at a time. A beautiful look at the strength it takes to save ourselves, the love it takes to save each other, and the hopeful truth that it’s never too late to start over.”
—Jessica Strawser, author of A Million Reasons Why
 
“When I’m done reading one of Juliette Fay's books, her characters always exist in my memory like people I've actually met. Catch Us When We Fall is full of hope and heart and genuine love. I already miss checking in with these beautiful people who are trying their hardest to heal and connect.”
—Allie Larkin, bestselling author of Stay, Why Can’t I Be You, and Swimming for Sunlight

Catch Us When We Fall by Juliette Fay introduces us to Cass Macklin, a former addict who finds herself alone and pregnant. Can Cass stop drinking and create a healthy life for herself and her unborn child? A novel about resilience and the power of human connection, Catch Us When We Fall is perfect for fans of emotionally honest women’s fiction.”
—Brenda Janowitz, author of The Grace Kelly Dress

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
There is nothing more meaningful to me than when a reader says, “This book helped me.” Whether it’s because they feel understood in some way, or one of the characters now feels like a friend, or that they’ve learned something that helps them with their own struggles, readers experiencing hope, connection, or support from my writing is the greatest compliment of all.

My favorite compliment on Catch Us When We Fall so far is from a bookseller who wrote to me: “I am a recovering alcoholic myself, sober now for over 3 years. I just thought it was spot on, both Cass and Laurel. The horrible nature of the disease, the recovery, the cravings, all of it. You handled it so well and with much compassion.”

How is Cass similar to or different from you?
Cass and I both grew up with an alcoholic parent, waitressed in our twenties, and love a cappella music. Other than that, we’re pretty different. I was fortunate enough to be raised by two supportive parents (not that there wasn’t drama, but they loved me and did their best). Despite a familial predisposition for alcoholism, compounded by a lot of excessive drinking in college, I somehow never developed substance issues. I am a mediocre basketball player, and I do not know any Red Sox players personally. Or professionally. Basically in any capacity.

If Catch Us When We Fall was made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
I like Shailene Woodley for Cass. She’s great at playing someone who’s a little lost, but also kind of edgy and with a wry sense of humor. Jake Lacy would be a solid choice for Scotty. He’s got that guy’s guy vibe, but with a vulnerability that makes you want to hug him. Also he was born in Massachusetts, so I’m hoping he wouldn’t butcher the highly butcherable Boston accent. Honestly, though, whoever was chosen, I’d be pretty tickled just to have the movie made!

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
I’ve watched more movies and TV in the last 18 months that I probably did in the previous 10 years, so I’ve seen a lot that I would recommend. One that stands out is a documentary called Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution about a camp in the 1970s for kids with disabilities that was so accepting and empowering that many of them went on to have a tremendous impact on improving the lives of disabled people. It’s irreverent, informative, and so inspiring!

What is something you've learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’m a pretty big extrovert, and in the beginning I was panicked about not going out and seeing people. I missed hugging my friends so much! But as time went on, I found that I was okay with a smaller circle, and with just being home. It helped that we found fun ways to be with people safely. We bought electric throw blankets and hosted people on our screened porch in the dead of winter. It was actually pretty fun.

What is your favorite thing about autumn?
Everything! It’s my favorite season. The weather is perfect – cool with low humidity. I love the leaves turning and all that, but even more, I love the smell of autumn. It’s somehow both ancient and refreshing. 

Thanks to Juliette for visiting with us and to Get Red PR for sharing her book with our readers.

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

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Giveaway ends September 29th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Book Review: The Fortunate Ones

By Jami Denison

While romance is not my genre, I’m familiar with the requirements (HEA) and the tropes. Romeo and Juliet-style “warring families” have been popular since, well, Romeo and Juliet, but not all warring tribes are created equal. Setting this type of romance in World War II Germany is a highly controversial choice, and authors who have tried it have sometimes been widely criticized. Historical fiction is my genre, though, and when I heard about a book that seemed to dip its toe in that controversial water, I was intrigued. The Fortunate Ones, by historical fiction writer Catherine Hokin, is summarized like a romance novel. But the book itself, which originally came out in January 2020 and was released in paperback this summer, is anything but. 

In 1941 Berlin, eighteen-year-old Inge Ackermann, the spoiled only daughter of a wealthy factory owner, is preparing to marry Max Eichel, an older doctor who is prominent in the Nazi party. But her best friend Liesl talks her into sneaking out to an illegal club, and that’s where she meets Felix. The dark-haired boy catches her eye, and soon they’re kissing in a corner before the police raid the party. They meet up once more in a park, where he gives her a drawing he’s done of her, and then fate sends them their separate ways. Inge marries her Nazi; Felix is sent to a concentration camp. The only thing that sustains him is the memory of Inge, whom he believes is named Hannah.

I have to admit, the book didn’t grab me at first. While teenage Inge can be absolved for her early immaturity, Felix’s self-absorption is harder to take. He’s a Mischling – “half-blood” – with a Jewish father and Aryan mother; he has never been to temple. His father is deteriorating under the new laws, and Felix wonders why his mother doesn’t just leave him. He seems almost oblivious to the suffering of the Jewish people, immediately fixating on “his Hannah.” As the story unfolds, however, Hannah becomes less of a real person and more of an ideal that Felix focuses on to stay alive in a concentration camp. As a counterfeiter, Felix receives slightly better treatment than the others in the camp, and the disparity haunts him. 

Trapped in a loveless marriage to a high-ranking Nazi, surrounded by people who believe in the Nazi cause, Inge has no way out. She risks her life to save Felix and pays dearly for it. With no one in her life that truly cares for her, Inge is in her own fight for survival as well.

This is not a book for romance fans. It’s a sweeping journey that takes Felix and Inge well past the end of the war, revealing that the suffering didn’t stop just because Germany surrendered. The research is meticulous, as author Hokin takes readers to post-World War II Argentina, revealing that Nazis out of power are still Nazis. 

The ending was perfect for both the characters and the story, but left me feeling that there was still so much more to be told. Sometimes happily ever after isn’t possible; sometimes the true happy ending is justice. 

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

More by Catherine Hokin:

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Book Review: A Slow Fire Burning

By Jami Denison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More by Paula Hawkins:

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Monday, September 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side note from Melissa: You will love Ted Lasso!

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

Thanks to Jamie for visiting with us and to SparkPoint Studio for sharing her book with our readers.

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

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Giveaway ends September 26th at midnight EST.

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Book Review: Taylor Partially Matured



By Sara Steven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Grayson online:
Website * Facebook * Amazon * Goodreads

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Food

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of The Sugar Free Diva

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

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


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

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

One of my favorite lines from The Office

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Will They, Won't They


By Sara Steven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

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

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