Monday, October 18, 2021

Book Review: The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess

By Jami Denison

Whether it’s Stephen King, The Walking Dead, or Stranger Things, horror fiction almost always delivers the same message: The supernatural is frightening, but humans are the real monsters. Domestic thrillers deliver that message as well, minus the paranormal villains. Now author Andy Marino has pushed the envelope for domestic thrillers, offering a book that starts with a home invasion but turns into horror.  In The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess, the monster isn’t always other people. Sometimes, the monster is yourself.

In domestic thrillers, the sanctuary of the home turns into a place of terror. Marino kicks this off immediately by having Sydney return home to surprise a home invader. He attacks her, and when she wakes up in the hospital, it’s to the startling news that she killed the intruder. And it doesn’t just look like self-defense – she slashed his face to bits. Recovering from her wounds, Sydney refuses the heavy-duty painkillers she’s offered – she’s nine years sober, and her recovery and her life with her boyfriend Matt and 11-year-old son Danny are her most precious things. She’d do anything to keep them. 

But the attack has left Sydney with some strange battle scars; her body appears to be changing and her mind isn’t always her own anymore. As she tries to learn more about the man who broke into her house, she finds herself asking the question that all heroines of domestic thrillers ask: Who is this man sleeping beside me? But the answers take Sydney in an unexpected direction; she becomes a protagonist who is drawn to the darkness rather than fights it.

The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess is written in first person from Sydney’s point of view, and it moves backward and forward in time without warning. At first, Sydney’s memory problems seem to be a result of the attack; later it seems that they pre-date the attack. And the problems go beyond memory holes; Sydney appears to be hallucinating, so it’s sometimes difficult to tell if something is really happening, or whether Sydney is only imagining it. 

Reading the book, I found myself wondering if the narrative would have been clearer had it been written by Stephen King—who always writes in third-person—or even Robin Cook, as the book veered into medical-type horror. I had trouble understanding what was going on at times, and the imagery was sometimes difficult to picture.  

By the end, everything comes together neatly: Sydney’s past and present;  what happened to Sydney and why. Not surprisingly, Sydney’s addiction—a real-life monster—plays a prominent part. While I appreciated that Marino tied all his strands together, I didn’t feel that the supernatural result was a natural segue from its source. 

Still, what looms over the entire book is the theme that addiction turns humans into monsters. And whether that’s the supernatural horror of an entity that burrows inside a person, or the realistic horror of a mother selling a child’s prized possessions to feed her habit, the result is always unbearable. 

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

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Friday, October 15, 2021

Book Review: The Reboot


By Sara Steven

Ella and Roly have bright futures ahead of them when they meet as teenagers and strike up an unlikely friendship. She has her career in academia all mapped out, and his star is in the ascendant as member of a manufactured boy band.

But ten years later, neither is where they expected to be. A chronic illness forced Ella to abandon her studies and put her dreams on hold, while Roly got kicked out of the band and lost everything – all his money, his career in music, even the underwear-model girlfriend. 

When they cross paths again they’re both ready to start over, and they rekindle their friendship as they each try to get back what they lost.

But Ella didn’t tell Roly what really happened the last time they met. And if he finds out, will it be the end of their new beginning? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The Reboot was full of unexpected surprises. Given the quirky banter between Ella and Roly, I expected an uber-sweet friendship that blossoms into potentially more, but it was so much more than that. Both characters appear to be such polar opposites of one another, yet they’re both lost when it comes to their futures. Ella had been derailed due to chronic illness, and Roly really loses himself when fame propels him into hitting rock bottom. 

What to do when you’re at the bottom? You climb your way back up, and misery loves company! I love the way they team up to try to achieve their goals, both commiserating in what had once been, trying to capture those bygone days. But in trying to do that, neither knows for sure if getting back to those so-called glory years is the right decision, or if the changes that have been pushing from all corners is the right path to go by. It often takes strong events to change the course of someone’s life. Maybe it really was all meant to be.

I appreciated how this story is told from both Ella and Roly’s perspectives. The reader gets to see how they view one another, and at the same time we get a better feel for the types of lifestyles they’re accustomed to, what they’ve lived through, and the ideals and opinions on life that makes each character tick. I also liked how balanced it is, where there isn’t someone who is more in the wrong than the other. Usually there’s a clear-cut protagonist and antagonist, but with The Reboot, they share the protagonist role but in different ways, their various parts making up the whole. 

I think my favorite parts were the dialogue. As mentioned before, there were amazing moments of banter, feeling like true conversations overheard while sitting in a diner, or at a park, or as a guest in someone’s home. I could easily picture myself sitting in on Ella and Roly’s conversations, true to who they are as characters. I wanted this friendship to succeed despite their differences, against the odds--because they really were so good together. This was a wonderful, five-star read!

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

Purchase The Reboot at these locations.


Clodagh Murphy lives in Dublin, Ireland and loves writing sassy, sexy romantic comedies. She has worked as a bar waitress, cleaner, secretary, editorial assistant, mystery shopper and movie extra. But she always dreamed of being an author, and after more jobs than she cares to remember, she now writes full-time. For more information about her books or to sign up to her newsletter, visit her website.

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

It's the Great Pineapple, Angela Terry....plus a book giveaway

We're so glad to have Angela Terry back at CLC today. Her sophomore novel, The Trials of Adeline Turner, is just as charming as her debut! Check out Melissa's review. Angela is answering some more questions today and has a really funny story that goes along with our heading for this post. She also has a copy of her novel to share with a lucky reader!

Angela Terry is an attorney who formerly practiced intellectual property law at large firms in Chicago and San Francisco. She is also a Chicago Marathon legacy runner and races to raise money for PAWS Chicago—the Midwest’s largest no-kill shelter. She resides in San Francisco with her husband and two cats, and enjoys throwing novel-themed dinner parties for her women’s fiction book club. (Bio courtesy of Angela's website.)

Visit Angela online:
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Synopsis:

Thirty-three-year-old corporate attorney Adeline Turner has built her adult life around stability. Her professional life is thriving, but her personal life . . . not so much. Deep down she wants more, but finds it’s easier to brush aside her dreams and hide behind her billable hours. That is, until a new client and a chance encounter with her high school crush have her taking leaps she never planned. Suddenly, unadventurous, nose-to-the-grindstone Adeline finds herself moving across the country from her predictable life in Chicago to San Francisco, falling into messy romantic situations, and trying to unravel an office-sabotage plot before it ruins her career.

Without the safety net of her old life in Chicago, Adeline must become her own advocate and learn that people aren’t always who they seem. Which makes her wonder if the key to having the future she desires lies in uncovering the truth of the past.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)


What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
One of my favorite compliments from readers is when they say they found my characters to be relatable and that the characters felt real to them. When writing, I spend a lot of time on character development and the protagonist usually goes through many iterations until I find her voice. Once I have her voice down, then the story can follow. I also like to create backstories for the supporting characters. Even though not everything about a character makes it into the book, this process makes them more real for me.

What is something you learned from writing Charming Falls Apart that you applied to The Trials of Adeline Turner?
Ha! I learned that no one wants to read a drawn-out description of someone grocery shopping. I love everything about food, and so once I start writing about it…look out! There’s a scene in Charming Falls Apart where Allison goes to the grocery store. In the early draft, it went on for pages as I described in detail each section and aisle, what she bought, and what she contemplated making. The final version for the book was edited to two paragraphs. Similarly in the early drafts of The Trials of Adeline Turner, every time someone eats a salad I described each ingredient; but this time I knew it would be edited down to simply “salad.” (Readers will just have to trust me that there are no sad desk salads in this book!) 

If The Trials of Adeline Turner was made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
Since Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” is referenced in the first chapter, that would be the first song on the movie soundtrack. I have to admit that while I love music, my knowledge of current tunes is lacking. But since I do a lot of “writing” while running, I can tell you which songs on my playlist inspired the book: “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, “Shake It Out” by Florence + the Machine, “I Bet My Life” by Imagine Dragons, and “Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay.

What TV series are you currently binge watching?
Right now I’m bingeing Ted Lasso and Only Murders in the Building and am loving them! Also, I just started watching season two of The Morning Show. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are brilliant! 

What is something you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, I learned that I might be less of an introvert and homebody than I thought. I need the night out with friends to balance out the night I sit at home reading. Also, the lack of in-person socializing affected my writing. I get most of my inspiration from being out in the world—interacting with others, people watching, eavesdropping, etc. And a lot of communication is accompanied by body language and facial expressions. I think this is why I started watching so much television during this time—I needed to see people. And when I was in an editing phase, I would pause the screen during a show and study the actor in order to better describe facial expressions for certain emotions. So maybe I’m an introverted person, but an extroverted writer? 

What is your favorite Halloween memory?
As a kid, my favorite memory was always at the end of the night when my brother and I would dump out our loot on the family room floor. The rest of Halloween was a blur (probably from the sugar-induced coma). A more recent Halloween memory that will serve as a PSA was the year my husband and I decided to get creative with our décor and went with a fruit-inspired theme. Instead of carving a pumpkin, we carved a pineapple into a Jack-O-Pineapple. Well, there’s a reason to carve pumpkins and not pineapples. The next day our front steps were a sticky gross mess. Since then our rule is: For fall décor, go with gourds!

Thanks to Angela for chatting 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 October 19th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Work

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. Today, we're talking about anything to do with working, jobs, careers, etc. That's definitely a central focus in a lot of chick lit novels! 

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:                                                                                                   
I've held office jobs ever since I graduated from college. Even before that, since I did some summer jobs at an office, as well. When I lived in New Jersey, I had my first work-from-home job doing medical billing for a couple that also worked out of their home. After I moved to Maryland, from late 2009 until the spring of 2020, I had been working in an office. Since then, I've become a work-at-home mom again, thanks to the pandemic. So today, I'm going to talk about the benefits of working at an office vs. working at home.

Working at an office:
* I had a social life. I usually had friends at whichever office I was working at. I'd have lunch with friends in the office or we'd go out somewhere for a meal. I spent a lot of time chatting with colleagues. (Well, when I was at the facilities management job, I was more of a loner but I did meet a few nice people. I ate lunch with the company of a book until my husband started working for a different company in the same building.) 

* I had a reason to dress up. Even when my office went casual, I still tried to wear something nice. 

* I listened to audiobooks. It kept my commute interesting and I'd also have them available for when I was doing something tedious. (My older son thought my job mainly consisted of stuffing envelopes.) 

* Two words: Free food. There was never a shortage of snacks or meeting leftovers and people were always bringing in baked goodies (present company included). 

* Office parties. They were a nice break from the day-to-day routine and a fun way to connect with colleagues. 

* My own desk and comfy work chair. I also got to decorate my desk to suit my personality. 

Side note: I saw on my Facebook memories feed that today is the seven year anniversary of when I moved into the new office building.

At my desk on the last day at the old building, showing off my candy basket


Working from home:
* No commute. Even though I miss listening to audiobooks, I don't miss traffic! (And I've seen all the road construction leading to my former office. It's not pretty.) 

* I can work in my pajamas if I want to. I don't usually do that, but it's nice to have the option. Even so, I'm saving a lot of money on clothes.

* I'm on my own schedule. If I don't start at 9:00 a.m., no one is complaining. I also can take my kids to appointments and not have to worry about their end of day schedule either. 

* Saving money on not dining out so often, even though I do miss my lunch outings.

* Everything is contained on my laptop so I don't need to worry about two separate computers. 

* My husband works from home too, and it's nice being together even when we're doing completely separate things. The house doesn't feel totally quiet. 

* I don't need to wear a mask at home. If I were to go to an office, I'd be masked up all day long.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to the different work environments. Maybe, in the future, I'll want to go back to an office job. When it's safe to not have to wear masks anymore, perhaps? For now, working from home works well for me. 

Sara Steven:                                                                                                                                         
My sixteen year-old is just beginning to venture into the work realm. Now that a few of his closest buddies have secured themselves part-time jobs, he’s thinking of putting himself out there and has even applied for a job at a nearby Harkins theater. The zest for independence and freedom, along with a much-desired need for a little extra dough reminded me of my own jobs when I was his age, during a time when earning a dollar an hour babysitting was considered a pretty decent wage. I think like most young girls, that was my first foray into the workforce, when overworked parents were looking for a break and decided to give the mousy book reading kid next door a chance. That job had become a central theme during my teen years, actually. Having four siblings of my own, taking care of children seemed to be a great fit in my wheelhouse. But it wasn’t all diaper changes and Chutes and Ladders.

At fourteen: I worked with my grandmother. She was an office manager for the nearby elementary school, and she’d let me hang out and photocopy documents and file them, or sometimes she’d give me organizational projects to bide my time until she was off the clock. I didn’t get paid, unless you count the trips to Dairy Queen afterward, but it didn’t matter to me. I couldn’t wait for my school day to end, so I could take the city bus out to the elementary school and start my “real” job assisting her and the other ladies in the office. 

At fifteen: a family friend needed a sitter, so I regressed back into my former profession. But man, was that a sweet gig! Someone would pick me up from school, drive me out to the house, and I would provide care for one of the sweetest little preschoolers I’d ever met. His name was Willie, and his mom was pregnant at the time with who would soon be Coral, and when Coral turned six weeks old, I had another child to tend to. I still can’t get over the fact that anyone would have thought a fifteen year-old was old enough to take care of a new baby, but I honed my skills with Coral. I’m still the sleeping baby whisperer, and can get any baby to fall asleep in my arms, guaranteed. I owe that all to Coral.

At sixteen: I went to work after school for my best friend’s family business. Her dad owned an electrical shop, and when I wasn’t filing, typing, doing data entry or answering calls, I would solder circuit boards. I had a steady hand in those days.  



At seventeen: I found out that a nearby daycare center needed workers who could helm a before and after school program for a Catholic church I’d driven by or walked by plenty of times, but had never stepped foot in. I would get up really early to keep an eye on the private school children, then skedaddle on over to my high school to start my day, then head on over to the Catholic school again when class let out. This went on all school year, and the center also provided care for the holiday seasons and when various school breaks occurred. Parents would sign their kids up for summer break--which is three long months out in Oregon, where I’m from--but I relished in the extra money as well as the freedom to create group activities and go on field trips to the library, museums, or local parks. This was the job I stuck with until I moved from Oregon shortly after I turned nineteen. 

I don’t know what kind of memories my son will have where first jobs are concerned. It’s so different now, with Covid and social distancing. I noticed a “Help Wanted” sign at the local McDonald’s, but it also said: “must be 18+.” You know it’s different when the classic employers from our youth who notoriously would give teens a chance only want someone who is eighteen and older. I’m encouraging him to find a job, but I’m not pressing too hard, either, given the current environment out there. I figure he’ll find what works for him when he’s ready, and someday, he’ll have his own first job(s) to reminisce over. 

Side note: I did work for a sandwich shop for two weeks--the longest two weeks of my life. After burning my hand on scalding hot coffee and scoring second degree burns, for which a doctor had written a note forbidding I put that hand in hot water, my manager insisted I wash dishes anyway. When I refused, she fired me. We all have that kind of story to tell, I imagine...    

Share your thoughts about jobs and/or careers with us!

Book Review: Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop


By Sara Steven

Sometimes you just need a little Christmas magic to make your wishes come true...

When master chocolatier, Charlee, takes the leap to move to the picturesque seaside town of Whitsborough Bay, she is determined to follow in her grandfather's footsteps and set up a chocolate shop.

Luckily, she finds the perfect location for Charlee's Chocolates on beautiful Castle Street... Now she just has to refurbish it in time for Christmas!

With a useless boyfriend and countless DIY disasters, Charlee doesn't know if she'll make it in time. With no 'traditional' family to support her, she feels lost in her new surroundings and the secrets of the past are weighing her down.

But the warmth and festive spirit of the Whitsborough Bay community will surprise her, and when plumber, Matt, comes to the rescue, it might be that all of Charlee's dreams could come true this Christmas, and she could learn what family really means...  (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Most of the time when I’m tasked with reading a holiday book, I have a pretty good idea that the majority of it will be holiday-themed, a heavy emphasis on sweetness and romance. That isn’t the case with Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop, and I found that to be incredibly refreshing! 

The holidays are still well and good within Whitsborough Bay, but intermixed are events that Charlee has to deal with and go through; family tragedies, hidden secrets that ultimately are revealed, and the useless boyfriend leaves little to be desired. Then when Matt enters the picture--a man who Charlee finds herself drawn to, but he’s taken--it only adds more drama to the situation. Charlee has always fancied herself to be the type to remain within a committed relationship, but given how poorly she’s been treated by her boyfriend, it’s hard not to enjoy the company of someone who has shown nothing but respect and decency to her. 

There are a lot of changes that happen all at once for Charlee, and it was obvious just how hard it was for her to take a moment and just breathe. But the new business on Castle Street requires every waking moment of her time, and as the synopsis indicates, she finds out soon enough who her real “family” is, and who it isn’t. What’s tradition, anyway?

I enjoyed Christmas Wishes! It spoke volumes on what it takes to gather up the strength and courage to branch out on your own, that gleaming entrepreneurial spirit that Charlee has and wants to contribute to Whitsborough Bay. There is scandal, too, mixed in with moments of humor and humility, with Charlee and other characters having to decide on what needs to be done to best serve not only their own needs, but those of the townspeople, too. This may not have been completely oozing with holiday cheer, but it fulfilled my Christmas quota and then some; still sweet, but with an edge. A worthy five-star read!

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

Purchase Links: 

Jessica Redland writes uplifting stories of love, friendship, family and community set in Yorkshire where she lives. Her Whitsborough Bay books transport readers to the stunning North Yorkshire Coast and her Hedgehog Hollow series takes them into beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire Wolds. 

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sophie Kinsella is the life of the party...plus a book giveaway

Photo by John Swannell
Sophie Kinsella is a household name at CLC. We always enjoy having her here for a visit and devouring her humorous romcom novels. Today, we're celebrating the publication of her latest novel, The Party Crasher. Melissa recently read and enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it soon. Check out her bookstagram post in the meantime. Thanks to Random House, we have TWO copies to give away!

Sophie Kinsella is the author of the bestselling Shopaholic series, as well as the novels Can You Keep a Secret?, The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me?, Twenties Girl, I've Got Your Number, Wedding Night, My Not So Perfect Life, Surprise Me, I Owe You One, and Love Your Life. She lives in London.
 
Visit Sophie online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis:
It’s been almost two years since Effie’s beloved parents got divorced, destroying the image of the happy, loving childhood she thought she had. Since then, she’s become estranged from her father and embarked on a feud with his hot (and much younger) girlfriend, Krista. And now, more earth-shattering news: Greenoaks, the rambling Victorian country house Effie called home her whole life, has been sold.


When Krista decides to throw a grand “house-cooling” party, Effie is originally left off the guest list—and then receives a last-minute “anti-invitation” (maybe it’s because she called Krista a gold-digger, but Krista totally deserved it, and it was mostly a joke anyway). Effie declines, but then remembers a beloved childhood treasure is still hidden in the house. Her only chance to retrieve it is to break into Greenoaks while everyone is busy celebrating. As Effie sneaks around the house, hiding under tables and peeping through trapdoors, she realizes the secrets Greenoaks holds aren’t just in the dusty passageways and hidden attics she grew up exploring. Watching how her sister, brother, and dad behave when they think no one is looking, Effie overhears conversations, makes discoveries, and begins to see her family in a new light. Then she runs into Joe—the love of her life, who long ago broke her heart, and who’s still as handsome and funny as ever—and even more truths emerge.

But will Effie act on these revelations? Will she stay hidden or step out into the party and take her place with her family? And truthfully, why did she really come back to Greenoaks? Over the course of one blowout party, Effie realizes that she must be honest with herself and confront her past before she’ll ever be able to face her future.

What is the inspiration behind The Party Crasher?
I think The Party Crasher was subconsciously inspired by lockdown – I was desperate to write about a party as a kind of escapism!

How is Effie similar to or different from you?
I’m much more conciliatory than Effie and I always like to see the best in people, like her sister Bean - although I can sometimes have a stubborn streak, which is how I was able to write Effie!

If The Party Crasher were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?
"I Gotta Feeling," "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "I’m Still Standing," and "We Are Family."

Tell us something memorable about the last party you attended.
I’ve just been to my first big party since lockdown. The theme was ’The Golden Age of Steam’ and I rented a gold jacket to wear. This was my first ever fashion rental - and it was fantastic! I’m hooked.

What is something you've learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’ve learned how to cut my family’s hair. (Very badly.)

Since Halloween is almost here, what is the most creative costume you've ever worn?
When I was pregnant, I wore a big shiny pumpkin costume. It fit perfectly over my bump and people didn’t even realise I was pregnant!

Thanks to Sophie for visiting with us and to Random House 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 17th at midnight EST.

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Monday, October 11, 2021

Book Review: The Fault Between Us

By Sara Steven

April 18, 1906 – A devastating earthquake rocks San Francisco and Templeton Morehouse fears her husband is lost forever. A powerful and compelling story from USA Today bestselling author Bette Lee Crosby

Chances were a million to one that a girl born and raised in Philadelphia would encounter a stranger from California on the trolley and fall madly in love, but that’s what happened. Templeton was not only taken with John Morehouse, but also with his tales of life in San Francisco. As an aspiring fashion designer, the dazzle of a city called the Paris of the West, with its towering department stores and European couture was too much to resist.

Despite her family’s objections, she and John are married and, on their way back to California, before the month is out. To ease the heartbreak of such a move, Templeton promises to return for a visit every summer. She intends to keep that promise, but when her design business grows more demanding, the trips back to Philadelphia become less frequent and she makes foolish choices she will come to regret.

Now, when she is on the verge of having everything she’s ever wanted, a devastating earthquake tears across San Francisco and she discovers the father of her baby is missing. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

You know a historically relevant romance read is pretty incredible when you constantly ask  yourself, “Did this really happen in real life?” I did that a lot while reading The Fault Between Us. Templeton’s story of perseverance in the fashion industry, while also attempting to balance out her career passions and familial passions, felt very familiar and all too true to what I’d imagine life to be like in the early 1900s. And really, it’s something that can still be very relevant to how so many women might feel today. 

She met a stranger on a trolley, and fell in love. This might be acceptable behavior in modern times, but it was frowned upon in Templeton's time. I appreciated the way that Crosby gave us background into Templeton’s psyche, that entrepreneurial, early feminist spirit that would counteract any potential suitor her parents felt were worthy of her. It was fate that brought John into her life, and the strength of their love catapulted her from the familiarity of Philadelphia, to the uncharted territories of San Francisco. I’m not a fashion follower by any means, but I found it really charming to follow along as Templeton braves the shops and big stores, intent on either making or breaking her. I wasn’t sure how she’d be received, or if anything would come from the gigantic change she’s made in her life by moving to the west coast with John. 

I had to look up the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, in order to compare the image Crosby created with the image of what had really occurred on April 18th of that year. I’d have to say that she was spot on. The damage was massive, and there were so many cliffhangers in this book, I wasn’t sure who might make it out alive. That added a nice layer of suspense to my reading pleasure. Really, this book was a pleasurable experience from start to finish, with Templeton the shining star with a lot of grit, in a time when that wasn’t really encouraged. It was a definite five-star adventure!

Thanks to Bette Lee Crosby for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, October 8, 2021

Book Review: The Child of Auschwitz

By Jami Denison

While all authors of historical fiction need to base their novels in fact, writers exploring World War II are especially obligated to ground their stories in truth. Stories dealing with the six million Jewish people who were murdered in the Holocaust try to give a voice to those who were silenced. Author Lily Graham, who alternates her beach-read romances with heavier World War II fiction, based The Child of Auschwitz on a true story. Before picking up the book, it was important for me to know this; otherwise, the concept felt like playing down the worst crime against mankind in history. The book, originally published by Bookouture two years ago, was reissued by Grand Central Publishing (Amazon’s imprint) in September.

Because The Child of Auschwitz begins in the voice of the child, readers know the baby survived to tell her story. The story, however, is mostly her mother’s: Eva Adami, who, in 1942, boarded a train to Auschwitz in hopes of reuniting with her husband Michal, who’d been sent there six months earlier. She figured that Auschwitz couldn’t be much worse than Terezin, the ghetto where she’d been sent with other Czechoslovakian Jews after the Nazis invaded. 

She was wrong. 

In the horror that is Auschwitz, the only comfort for Eva is her friendship with Sofie, a woman who is also looking for a family member in the camp. In her case, it’s the cousin who betrayed her, stealing her son and turning Sofie into the Nazis. Finding this cousin is Sofie’s only hope at finding her boy. Together, the two women try to stay alive by navigating the life-or-death politics of the camps. Is survival a question of every woman for herself, or should a prisoner lend a helping hand when she’s able? Eva, an optimist by nature, insists on doing the right thing. And Sofie, a cynic, finds herself following Eva’s example. Eva’s optimism seems to pay off when she’s finally reunited with Michal. But when she finds out she’s pregnant, how will she survive?

With the ending already known, the tension of the book derives from the supporting characters—mainly Sofie—and the flashbacks of Eva’s earlier life in Czechoslovakia. Her romance with Michal is almost a fairy tale, but the clouds of war cast a shadow over it. As Hitler marches through Europe and the news spreads of his treatment of the Jews in the countries he’s conquered, Eva’s family debates on whether to stay or head to a family friend in London. Again and again, the family comforts itself with the assurance that “it can’t happen here.” 

But it can, and it did. While Eva’s story ends on a positive note—revealed in the prologue—the question of “Can it happen here?” is one that remains unanswered. Authors like Lily Graham provide more than entertainment by basing their stories on the Holocaust—they provide a reminder of the worst that humans can do to other humans. And a warning that since it happened before, it can happen again. 

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

Also by Lily Graham:

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Maggie Knox cooks up a delicious holiday story...plus a book giveaway

L to R: Karma and Marissa
Photos by Jenna Davis and Eugene Choi

Karma Brown and Marissa Stapley have written some great novels over the past years. Now they have come together as Maggie Knox to write an adorable and heartwarming winter romance novel, The Holiday Swap. Melissa really enjoyed this novel and will be reviewing it soon. In the meantime, you can check out her Bookstagram post. Today, they are here to talk about holiday food with us, so don't read this on an empty stomach! Thanks to Putnam, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Visit Maggie Knox on Twitter and Instagram.

Karma Brown is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author of five novels, including the #1 national bestseller Recipe for a Perfect Wife, as well as the non-fiction bestseller The 4% Fix: How one hour can change your life. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Self, Redbook, Today’s Parent, and Chatelaine. She lives just outside Toronto with her family and a labradoodle named Fred. 

Visit Karma online:


Marissa Stapley is a former magazine editor and the internation­ally bestselling author of four novels: Mating for Life, Things to Do When It’s Raining, The Last Resort, and Lucky. Marissa’s journalism has appeared in magazines and newspapers across North America, including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Elle, Today’s Parent, and Reader’s Digest. She lives in Toronto with her family and a pre­cocious black cat named Oscar.

Visit Marissa online:


Synopsis:
All they want for Christmas is a different life.

When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell--both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie's identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family's bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won't get the memo that they're over.

With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven't done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins' identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“An utterly adorable, pitch-perfect romance with just the right amount of Christmas cheer. The Holiday Swap is a pure delight, I couldn’t stop from smiling.”
—Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six

“I devoured this delightful romantic comedy in two nights. It's like Gilmore Girls meets The Parent Trap meets Cake Wars. In other words, it's perfect.”
—Colleen Oakley, USA Today bestselling author of You Were There Too

“The Holiday Swap is the cozy holiday rom-com you crave, complete with double the swoony meet-cutes, scrumptious desserts, and happily-ever-afters. With small-town gossip and reality-TV drama, Maggie Knox serves up a treat that will have foodie fiction fans begging for seconds.”
—Amy E. Reichert, author of The Kindred Spirits Supper Club

“This debut from Maggie Knox about twins who swap places for 12 days at Christmas is twice the fun, double the trouble and all the feels. Warm cozy bakeries, cold snowy nights, holiday traditions and two-TWO!-romances to steal my heart—what’s not to love? The smart, quick-paced writing, witty dialogue and swoon-worthy date scenes had me up all night, turning the pages to see what would happen next. I absolutely adored this book—and I can’t wait for more rom-coms from Maggie Knox!”
—Chantel Guertin, bestselling author of Instamom

Taken in 1974
Karma Brown:

I grew up baking with my mom, especially during the holidays, as showcased in the photo below (this was during Canadian Thanksgiving, and I was about two years old). One of my favorite family traditions, which we continue to this day, is gathering to bake my Great-Grandmother Helen (Nellie) Christie's Christmas Cake. Each year a few weeks before Christmas my mom, sister and I spend a morning gabbing, singing carols, and making the cakes--in the very same pans my great-grandmother used over a hundred years ago. And just like my great grandmother (and then grandmother) did, we continue to line the pans in folded brown Kraft paper, which keeps the batter nestled safely inside during baking. The recipe makes both a light and dark version of the cake (for those unfamiliar with Christmas cake, also called "fruit cake", it's a dense vanilla/butter/flour based batter that is dotted with blanched almonds, raisins, currants and candied fruits), and we typically double the batch so we each go home with enough cake to last well into the new year. I have been known to keep some in the freezer so I can enjoy my Christmas cake in the off-season, too! 

Now, I understand fruit cake can be a touch controversial (there are those who believe raisins and candied fruit are inedible items, and should be kept far away from cake of any kind), but it remains my absolute favourite sweet treat at Christmastime. All it takes is one whiff during baking and I am filled with nostalgia and a deep sense of family legacy. It's a tradition I plan to continue with my daughter, and I'm hopeful she'll carry it on with her own family one day. I love imagining that hundreds of years from now my great grandmother's Christmas cake continues to grace the ovens of future generations. 

Marissa Stapley:

Grandma Jean’s Prizewinning Peanut Butter Fudge

My older brother and I adored this fudge, which our Grandma made for us every Christmas —  even when we got far too old to be eating recipes where mini rainbow marshmallows figure so prominently. Just one bite of this takes us back in time to family Christmas dinners we could hardly eat because we’d stuffed ourselves with rich, peanut buttery goodness.  In keeping with the way my Grandmother (and my mom) cooked and baked — by instinct; this could go either way, to be honest — this recipe of mine has no measurements. You just have to wing it.  Decide for yourself if you want a higher butterscotch chip/peanut butter to coloured marshmallow ratio or vice versa and conduct yourself accordingly. 

No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite seem to make this fudge taste exactly the way Grandma’s did (I suspect she used margarine and imitation vanilla extract) — and that’s okay. She was one of a kind, a spunky, Faye-type character who always told it like it was and never gave away her secrets. One thing I know for sure: she was quite smug about her fudge, and in an informal annual holiday fudge-making competition she had going with my stepdad and his chocolate fudge, always declared herself the prizewinner. 

Ingredients: 
  • Peanut butter (never crunchy; and I do not recommend using all-natural peanut butter here, either)
  • Butter (salted if you’re into sweet and salty)
  • Butterscotch chips
  • Rainbow mini marshmallows
  • Vanilla
Method: 
Combine peanut butter, butter and butterscotch chips in a large pan; turn the heat to medium low. Stir patiently and frequently until the chips are all melted and the consistency is smooth. Let cool for a few minutes, then splash in vanilla and fold in marshmallows. Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a parchment paper lined or well greased 8 x 8 or 9 x9 inch pan. Spread evenly. (It helps to put a bit of butter on the spatula so everything doesn’t stick.) Allow to set in the refrigerator, cut into squares and enjoy! 

Thanks to Karma and Marissa for whetting our appetites and Putnam for sharing their 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 12th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Book Review: The Neighbor's Secret

By Jami Denison

In my opinion, The Husband’s Secret is Liane Moriarty’s strongest work, an enthralling and ultimately heartbreaking tale of domestic secrets held by people who could live next door. So her high praise of L. Alison Heller’s The Neighbor’s Secret prompted me to read the book right away. Moriarty’s words were not hyperbole: The Neighbor’s Secret delivers in all areas, and may even be better than Moriarty’s own masterpiece.

Like Little Big Lies, The Neighbor’s Secret starts with a murder, but whose murder—and the first-person narrator who describes what she saw before it happened —goes unnamed. The three named (third person) protagonists are Lena, who was once the life of the party but has been a recluse since an unnamed tragedy 15 years ago; Jen, a book club newbie who’s worried that her 14-year-old son Abe may be a sociopath; and Annie, a part-time school counselor and mother of 14-year-old Laurel. Living in the exclusive, well-off suburb of Cottonwood, the women are brought together by the neighborhood book club and by worry about a vandal who targets cherished community landmarks. Annie befriends Lena, but she may have a bigger agenda than just bringing an older woman out of her shell. As Annie reintroduces Lena to neighborhood life, and Laurel befriends Abe, all the elements move toward each other like an impending car crash. 

Heller is a master chef who blends her ingredients smoothly. Understanding her readers, she gives just enough information to lead them to certain inferences—and then smashes those inferences apart. The number of times when I thought I knew what had happened, only to be proven wrong, were too numerous to mention. What exactly happened 15 years ago, and how does that affect Annie’s family today? The tension Heller builds from this question is so taut, I almost forgot that the book started with a murder.  The ending is a jaw-dropper, a climax that ties every plot thread in the book into a tight knot. 

Even with all that suspense, the book doesn’t lack humor—the emails from the book club’s organizer, and the descriptions of the books they are reading, are hysterical. 

The Neighbor’s Secret has all the elements of an HBO or Hulu series—wealthy suburb, female friendships, troubled children, secret pasts, and murder. Fingers crossed that the book will get picked up soon. 

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by L. Alison Heller:

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: A Holly Jolly Diwali

Today we are celebrating the publication of Sonya Lalli's latest novel, A Holly Jolly Diwali. Thanks to Berkley, we have one e-book to give away!

One type-A data analyst discovers her free-spirited side on an impulsive journey from bustling Mumbai to the gorgeous beaches of Goa and finds love waiting for her on Christmas morning.

Twenty-nine-year-old Niki Randhawa has always made practical decisions. Despite her love for music and art, she became an analyst for the stability. She's always stuck close to home, in case her family needed her. And she's always dated guys that seem good on paper, rather than the ones who give her butterflies. When she's laid off, Niki realizes that practical hasn't exactly paid off for her. So for the first time ever, she throws caution to the wind and books a last-minute flight for her friend Diya’s wedding.

Niki arrives in India just in time to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, where she meets London musician Sameer Mukherji. Maybe it's the splendor of Mumbai or the magic of the holiday season, but Niki is immediately drawn to Sam. At the wedding, the champagne flows and their flirtatious banter makes it clear that the attraction is mutual.

When Niki and Sam join Diya, her husband and their friends on a group honeymoon, their connection grows deeper. Free-spirited Sam helps Niki get in touch with her passionate and creative side, and with her Indian roots. When she gets a new job offer back home, Niki must decide what she wants out of the next chapter of her life—to cling to the straight and narrow like always, or to take a leap of faith and live the kind of bold life the old Niki never would have dreamed of. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“A delicious holiday romance, cozily wrapped up in a story about rediscovering your roots and taking a chance on newfound love. Niki’s decision to attend her friend’s wedding in India provides a compelling exploration of family, reinvention, South Asian culture, and newfound love. What a fun read!”
--Uzma Jalaluddin, bestselling author of Hana Khan Carries On

“Funny and heartwarming, with lush descriptions of Indian beach resorts and chaotic city streets, Lalli’s latest multicultural romance is extremely satisfying; her characters are refreshingly relatable. Highly recommended for fans of Sonali Dev and Sophie Kinsella.”
--Booklist

Photo by Ming Joanis/
A Nerd’s World
Sonya Lalli is a romance and women’s fiction author of Punjabi and Bengali heritage. Her books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Washington Post, Glamour and more. She lives in Vancouver with her husband.

Visit Sonya 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 10th at midnight EST.

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Monday, October 4, 2021

Book Review: A Little Piece of Paradise


By Sara Steven

When Sophie’s uncle leaves her a castle in the Italian Riviera in his will, she can’t believe her luck. The catch? She and her estranged sister, Rachel, must live there together for three months in order to inherit it.

Having worked in Rome for four years, Sophie’s excited to revisit to Italy, even if it reignites memories of a cheating ex who soon learns of her return and wants to rekindle their spark. Sophie realises that distance does indeed make the heart grow fonder – but for her friend back home, Chris, who she discovers is more to her than just a friend.

With the clock ticking, can Sophie and Rachel stick it out and heal old wounds, or are the sisters destined to go their own way at the end of the three months? And does Chris feel the same way about Sophie as she does for him? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

T.A. Williams always creates the best written destination romance novels, and Paradise is no exception! Paridiso is yet another locale I’d love to visit someday, with its gorgeous views and soft sandy beaches, the kind of experience Sophie can really get behind. The biggest issue involves a sister she hasn’t seen in years, not to mention the situation that has brought the two of them back together again--the death of their beloved uncle, George. 

He has bequeathed his castle to them, but in order for that to occur, the two sisters must live together first. Sophie has a lot of deep-seeded resentment towards Rachel due to past hurts, and the same can be said for how Rachel feels about her big sister. It made me question whether they’d be able to fulfill their obligations on time, and amicably. With that potential blockage is the potential love triangle that Sophie finds herself in. This is another great premise to Williams’s writing; someone almost always finds themselves in some pretty amazing messes where the heart is concerned, and Sophie questions whether her best friend Chris, or the next door neighbor Dan could be a potential relationship. But Rachel has always been the one to attract the most attention, which throws yet another wrench into the fold. 

Much like the synopsis states, my biggest question of all pertained to the relationship Sophie and Rachel have. Will they stick together for now, for the greater good, then later drift apart, or did George have the best of intentions in bringing the two sisters together to work out their differences? Secondary for me is where Sophie will land--with someone she’s known for years and has always considered to be her best friend, or with a new certain someone who lives right next door. I could understand her anguish over potentially ruining the great friendship she already has with Chris, while also potentially making things awkward with a neighbor she’ll have to live next to for a few months. In the end, the heart wants what the heart wants! 

I almost always mention how setting is yet another strong character in a Williams novel, and that is so true with the backdrop in Paradiso, and that castle! I’ve yet to see anything like it in my own world, so it was nice to live vicariously through Sophie. I can’t even imagine A Little Piece of Paradise without that special castle, and not to sound too cliched, but the experience really was a piece of paradise for me. A well-deserved five star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Author Bio:

I’m a man. And a pretty old man as well. I did languages at university a long time ago and then lived and worked in France and Switzerland before going to Italy for seven years as a teacher of English. My Italian wife and I then came back to the UK with our little daughter (now long-since grown up) where I ran a big English language school for many years. We now live in a sleepy little village in Devonshire. I’ve been writing almost all my life but it was only seven years ago that I finally managed to find a publisher who liked my work enough to offer me my first contract.

The fact that I am now writing escapist romance is something I still find hard to explain. My early books were thrillers and historical novels. Maybe it’s because there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that I feel I need to do my best to provide something to cheer my readers up. My books provide escapism to some gorgeous locations, even if travel to them is currently difficult.

Visit T.A. Williams online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter

More by T.A. Williams:

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Friday, October 1, 2021

What's in the mail

Melissa:
Just Haven't Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens from Putnam (e-book via NetGalley)
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor from Harper Perennial (e-book via NetGalley)
This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
The Wish by Nicholas Sparks from Grand Central Publishing
Mom Walks: Catching Up by/from Rebecca Prenevost (e-book)

Sara:
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bar by Isabella May from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
My Famous Brain by Diane Wald from SparkPoint Studio (e-book via NetGalley)
My Secret Sister by Lauren Westwood from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book via NetGalley)
The Reboot by Clodagh Murphy from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
How to Love Your Neighbor by Sophie Sullivan from St. Martin's Press (e-book via NetGalley)

Rivers
by David Gaffney from Scandal Co-active (e-book)
A Christmas Caroline by Camilla Isley from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
Brooklyn Monroe Wants It All by Karen Booth from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)
A Royal Farce by/from Laura Heffernan (e-book)
The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo from Leo PR (e-book via NetGalley)

Jami:
Out of Love by Hazel Hayes from Dutton (e-book via NetGalley)
Geography of an Adultery by Agnès Riva from Other Press (e-book)
Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto from Berkley (e-book via NetGalley)
Cheat Day by Liv Stratman from SparkPoint Studio (e-book via NetGalley)



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