Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Lighting the Menorah with Jean Meltzer...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Lisa Damico
Introduction by Melissa Amster

With all the Christmas themed chick lit novels out there, it was refreshing to see that one about Hanukkah was now available. I added it to my five-book Kindle queue as soon as I got it and was excited to read it, based on all the recommendations. I really enjoyed it and contacted Jean Meltzer afterward to invite her to CLC for a post during Hanukkah. I also started sending her pictures of funny Hanukkah items, like the ones from Bed, Bath, and Beyond that tend to mix up Hanukkah and Passover. Jean is absolutely delightful and I found out that we live a short distance from each other, so I hope to meet her in person one of these days. 

I will be reviewing The Matzah Ball soon, but here is my Bookstagram post. This is Jean's debut novel and she has another one coming in 2022 that also looks delightful. Jean is here today to talk about her Hanukkah decorations that also have a Christmas vibe. Thanks to Mira, we have TWO copies of The Matzah Ball to give away!

Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch and has earned numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. Like her protagonist, Jean is also a chronically-ill and disabled Jewish woman. She is an outspoken advocate for ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), has attended visibility actions in Washington DC, meeting with members of Senate and Congress to raise funds for ME/CFS. She inspires 9,000 followers on WW Connect to live their best life, come out of the chronic illness closet, and embrace the hashtag #chronicallyfabulous. Also, while she was raised in what would be considered a secular home, she grew up kosher and attended Hebrew School. She spent five years in rabbinical school before her chronic illness forced her to withdraw, and her father told her she should write a book―just not a Jewish one because no one reads those. 

Visit Jean online:
Website * Facebook * Instagram


Oy! to the world.

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.

But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.

Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“A love letter to Judaism and an utterly charming romance. With two irresistible leads, a scene-stealing bubbe, and plenty of holiday magic, The Matzah Ball is a luminous celebration of all types of love, threaded with the message that everyone is worthy of it.”
—Rachel Lynn Solomon, author of The Ex Talk

"A laugh-out-loud treat. Written in bright, witty prose and with a heroine to root for, it's a light holiday concoction that delivers a deeper message about love and acceptance at the same time. The perfect addition to your holiday reading!"
—Anita Hughes, author of Christmas in Vermont

“Grab a jelly doughnut and get ready for a holiday rom com unlike any other! The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer brings the fun while also delivering an important message about being true to yourself. A refreshing and delightful read."
—Brenda Janowitz, author of The Grace Kelly Dress


By Jean Meltzer

I remember the first time I brought home a Christmas tree. 

I was standing in Kohl's, passing that small section of electronics and candles, when I noticed the seasonal holiday display. There, smack-dab in the middle of the aisle, like it was made for me, was a tiny two-foot silver Christmas tree, with pre-lit white lights, and small blue ornaments. All at once, my heart began pounding inside my chest. Beads of sweat pooled around the nape of my neck. I told myself all the reasons why it was wrong, why it was unnecessary, why it went against all the beliefs and values I had been raised with. And then … I picked up that Christmas tree and threw it into my cart. 

Oh, the feeling of excitement that met me when I brought home my first-ever Hanukkah bush. Unwrapping the box, figuring out how to set up a Christmas tree, I plugged my purchase into the wall. The lights turned on. The tiny glow of silver and blue caused my heart to swell. I felt unadulterated joy. Love at first twinkle. And then, just as quickly as I had purchased it, I hid that Hanukkah Bush in my office.  

I was in my early thirties. Married. I lived in my own apartment, far away from the influence of my parents, but it didn’t matter. I had been raised a nice Jewish girl. And in my house growing up, among the many rules we were raised with, was this: there would be absolutely no celebration of Christmas. That also included Hanukkah décor that mimicked Christmas decorations. 

Traditional and observant Jews will tell you that this prohibition stems from a Jewish law which prohibits mimicking your foreign neighbors. In simpler terms, or as Tevye reminds us in the opening act of Fiddler on the Roof, what keeps us Jewish is our traditions. Like separating Shabbat from the rest of the week, Jewish law is designed to keep Jewish people distinct and different. And yet, as the author of The Matzah Ball—a book which explores the juxtaposition of these tensions—I am spending a lot of time answering questions about my Hanukkah decor. 

It’s a fair inquiry. Over the last decade, that one single Hanukkah Bush has morphed into eight. My love of Christmas decor has become an all-out weirdo Hanukkah swag collection, featuring a Santa wearing a prayer-shawl and a llama menorah. But it wasn’t until I began decking out the exterior of my house—with blue and white lights, giant inflatable menorahs, and twinkling dreidels—that I understood something important about my mini Hanukkah revolution. 

It was never about Christmas. 

Why don’t Jews decorate their houses for Hanukkah? It would make sense that we do. Jews are commanded to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah, to place our menorahs in our windows, and boldly announce to the world the celebration of our faith. And yet, growing up, there was something about that act which felt dangerous. Indeed, I still remember my grandmother warning me in the car one evening, when I questioned her directly about why we couldn’t have lights, that putting them up would attract too much attention. 

What she really meant, of course, was unwanted attention. The world can be a dangerous place for Jews. And so, like many Jewish children, I learned to keep my Jewishness on the down low, to announce only when the act was safe, to code-switch between communities. There was a way I could behave with Jewish people, and a way I could behave with non-Jewish people, and never the two should mix. 

I understand why these lessons were ingrained in me. As a Jew in America, I am no stranger to anti-Semitism. I have lived in more than one city which has been vandalized by swastikas and cruel words. I have been harassed, both in person and online, for being Jewish. I grew up with Holocaust survivors at my kitchen table, and I knew someone, personally, in the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh. I am well aware of the dangers of living authentically in our world. And yet, every year… my Hanukkah collection grows  

I suppose if you could boil my life down to one theme, it would be this: I don’t like feeling silenced. It’s why I began to write. Putting words on the page gave me a safe space to talk about all the things I could not say aloud. I became an advocate for ME/CFS (myaglic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) for the same reason. As a patient, I realized that no one was going to speak out for me. And when I look at what propelled my love of Hanukkah decor—really analyze that question of where it stems from and what it means—I think it comes from that same instinct. 

I don’t want to be afraid of being Jewish. I don’t want to feel ashamed for something that is part of my authentic and essential self. We all have the right to live freely, and safely, in our truth. And though I appreciate my parents, and the traditions I was raised with, I now see my Hanukkah décor for what it truly is. Not an act of rebellion. Not some effort to center my identity around Christmas or other—but a defiant act of courage.

I love being Jewish.  

And every holiday season, my front lawn and home reflects that.  

Thanks to Jean for visiting with us and to Mira 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 December 5th at midnight EST.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Book Review: Toni's Blind Date

By Sara Steven

Toni Spielman and Will Thomas have no plans to date -- anyone -- but when fate throws them together on a TV dating show, they have to smile, pretend, and rethink their plans. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

This is my first trip through a Rosie Dean book, and it was totally enjoyable! Written from behind-the-scenes of a potential up-and-coming dating show, and told from both Toni’s and Will’s perspectives, we learn that Toni is there due to familial obligations, and Will is there because of possible future career endeavors, and the same puppet master is pulling the strings! As time progresses and they get to know each other even better, the reader wonders what’s beyond the dating show. If Toni and Will might have a chance at a real relationship, or if it’s all for the cameras.

I loved the background scenery. When they’re out and about at restaurants or skiing together down snow-covered hills, the camera crew are often right there with them, making sure to get their best angles, conversation, and sweet moments of a budding romance. It made the situation feel realistic. I imagine in most reality tv shows, the same thing happens--cameras want to show the most heightened moments that will create the most buzz for the viewers. But it was nicely balanced out with scenes where Toni and Will can be themselves without the cameras around, and that’s when we really get to see where all of this might go. 

Due to the puppet master I’ve mentioned earlier, both characters can’t divulge their reasons for going on the show. And this creates a potential lack of trust between the couple. But given the short length of time they’re tied to one another, is any of it worth it? Maybe it’s destined to be something that is short and sweet, an endearing memory they can both look back on with fond memories, never meant to turn into forever. 

I liked the banter between Toni and Will. I also liked Toni’s snarky attitude and how she stands up for herself and will often tell it like it is. Over time, we see that there is a lot more going on for this couple, particularly with past hurts and responsibilities, that really fleshes them out and makes them more than just some two-dimensional duo on the page. They felt like living, breathing people. It was a sweet, fun adventure, and a worthy five-star read!

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

Purchase Toni's Blind Date.

Rosie Dean writes romantic fiction with a sense of humour and, sometimes, a sense of the ridiculous; because we all know life and love aren't exactly how we'd like them to be. 

She has won a Readers' Choice Award from Ancient City Romance Authors (part of Romance Writers of America) and been a finalist in the 2017 Maggie Awards for Excellence. 

Before writing novels, Rosie wrote training courses and marketing copy for the corporate world - a far cry from teaching Art and Pottery, where her career began.

She lives on the Isle of Wight, within sight and sound of the sea, with her partner and her dog.

Visit Rosie online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Pinterest

Giveaway to win a paperback copy of Toni’s Blind Date and a 200ML Coco Mademoiselle Body Lotion by Chanel (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions
 –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within seven days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organizer and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  We are not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.

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UK only. Giveaway ends December 2nd.

Visit all the stops on Rosie's blog tour: 

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Book Review: We are the Brennans

By Melissa Amster

When twenty-nine-year-old Sunday Brennan wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital, bruised and battered after a drunk driving accident she caused, she swallows her pride and goes home to her family in New York. But it’s not easy. She deserted them all—and her high school sweetheart—five years before with little explanation, and they've got questions.

Sunday is determined to rebuild her life back on the east coast, even if it does mean tiptoeing around resentful brothers and an ex-fiancé. The longer she stays, however, the more she realizes they need her just as much as she needs them. When a dangerous man from her past brings her family’s pub business to the brink of financial ruin, the only way to protect them is to upend all their secrets—secrets that have damaged the family for generations and will threaten everything they know about their lives. In the aftermath, the Brennan family is forced to confront painful mistakes—and ultimately find a way forward, together. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I had received We Are the Brennans through a promotional giveaway the publisher was doing on Facebook. When it arrived, I just put it on my shelf for a while, as I had a lot in my TBR already. Then I started seeing recommendations, so I added it to my five-book pile. I am glad I gave it a chance, as it was a really well-written debut! 

The story was interesting throughout and told in an engaging fashion. I liked seeing the variety of perspectives and enjoyed getting to know Sunday and her brothers, as well as some other characters, this way. The descriptions and dialogue brought the story to life in a genuine way. I felt like I was in the middle of all the family drama throughout. I was also trying to guess at what the family secrets would turn out to be. While some parts felt predictable in that regard, there were a lot of surprises too. I like how a quote at the end of each chapter would lead into the next chapter. I also loved how Sunday and her brothers all looked after each other. It reminds me of the kind of bond my kids have now and I hope they will continue to have that as they get older. 

Overall, I'm glad I read this novel. Fans of family sagas will really like it and it was just the right length, even though each chapter was long. 

Movie casting suggestions:
Sunday: Hari Nef
Jackie: Joe Keery
Vivienne: Brianne Howey
Theresa: Ali Cobrin

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

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Becoming friends with Sara Goodman Confino...plus a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I recently found out about Sara Goodman Confino and her debut novel from a friend. As it turns out, Sara and I have a few things in common: We're Jewish moms who live in the same county and we both have sons, as well. Her answer to our Thanksgiving question is another similarity! (And just like our review associate, she spells her name without an H.) Her novel, For the Love of Friends, sounds like a lot of fun (I love the cover, as well) and I'm excited to read it soon, now that it has been added to my five-book pile! (I saw that she has another one publishing next year.) Sara took the time to answer some questions today and she has THREE copies of her book for some lucky readers!

Sara Goodman Confino teaches high school English and journalism in Montgomery County, Maryland, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and miniature schnauzer, Sandy. When she’s not writing or working out, she can be found on the beach or at a Bruce Springsteen show, sometimes even dancing onstage. 

Visit Sara online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Lily Weiss is her mother’s worst nightmare: thirty-two and single—the horror! She’s also a talented writer but hides behind a boring job at a science foundation. To her friends, she’s reliable and selfless, which is how she winds up a bridesmaid in five weddings in six weeks. Anything for her three best friends and two (younger) siblings, right? Even if her own love life is…well, she’d rather not talk about it. To keep her sanity, Lily needs a safe place to vent.

And so her anonymous blog, Bridesmania, is born. The posts start pouring out of her: all the feels about mom-zillas, her vanishing bank balance, the wicked bridesmaids of the west, high-strung brides-to-be, body-shaming dress clerks, bachelorette parties, and Spanx for days, not to mention being deemed guardian of eighty-eight-year-old Granny (who enjoys morning mimosas in the nude) for her brother’s destination wedding.

So far the blog has stayed anonymous. But as everyone knows, few things online remain secret forever…

When all is said and done, can Lily help all five couples make it to happily ever after? And will her own happy ending be close behind? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“Whether you’ve been a bridesmaid a dozen times or somehow avoided the whole mess, For the Love of Friends is not to be missed. Funny and touching, Sara Goodman Confino has created a story that’s as wild as a good bachelorette party and as romantic as a first dance. I gobbled it up like wedding cake!” 
—Kelly Harms, Washington Post bestselling author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

“When Lily Weiss agrees to be a bridesmaid in five weddings over six weeks, she finds herself and her bank account stretched to the breaking point in this hilarious novel filled with bridal meltdowns, handsome and obnoxious groomsmen, meddling mamas, wayyyyy too much Spanx, and one supposed-to-be-anonymous blog that allows Lily to vent. Sara Goodman Confino hits every note just right, with pitch-perfect dialogue and a healthy, fun dose of snark, along with plenty of love and warmth. A laugh-out-loud read.” 
—Maddie Dawson, Washington Post bestselling author of Matchmaking for Beginners

“Amid a flurry of ‘I dos,’ bridesmaid Lily Weiss navigates five weddings in six weeks—her saving grace the Bridesmania blog she writes exposing the high stakes and high costs of wedding culture for those in the throes and woes of love. With Lily’s love life woven throughout, our bighearted heroine’s misguided attempts at bridesmaid wizardry will engage readers invited to attend this rollicking—and at times emotionally bruising—march down multiple aisles. Say yes to this story about self-reflection, forgiveness, and, ultimately, courageous leaps of faith, written with wit and razor-sharp truth. A real gem of a bridesmaid tale!” 
—Julie Valerie, bestselling author of Holly Banks Full of Angst and The Peculiar Fate of Holly Banks

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you? 
There were a lot of bumps along the road, as I self-published two books in the 2010s, but once I wrote For the Love of Friends, everything kind of just fell into place. 

How is Lily similar to or different from you?
Lily definitely has pieces of me in her, but she is a little less self aware (at the beginning at least) than I hope I am. She has my sense of humor and love of writing. And she’s a people pleaser who has trouble saying no--which was me for a long time. It took the process of getting published and working on my next book for me to get to the point where I learned to prioritize myself and say no when there’s too much on my plate, which is a lesson that Lily learns as well. She’s far from perfect, but she tries hard, which I would say about myself. But the blog ventures into passive-aggressive territory, and I’m a lot more aggressive-aggressive in that I speak up when something is bothering me. 

If For the Love of Friends was made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles
I had the idea of Emma Stone in mind while I was writing because she can do comedy so well (honestly, she can do anything well!). I think she’d be able to capture the descent from wanting to help her friends no matter what to passive-aggressive outrage and back to redemption. Of course, casting her makes my Alex choice a little awkward, as I could see Andrew Garfield being awesome in that role. (John Kraziniski is my real choice, but he’s too old for it.)
I think Margot Robbie would be AMAZING as Caryn. Annie Murphy would be a great Megan. Margaret Qualley as Amy. Catherine O’Hara as Lily’s mom. And Shirley MacLaine as Grandma!

Side note from Melissa: After seeing Tick, Tick, Boom recently, it will be interesting to picture Andrew Garfield when I read this book.

What is something you have learned about yourself during the pandemic? 
I always knew that I worked well under pressure (my mother once said that if you gave me a deadline and coffee I could take over the world), but I experienced a whole new level of pressure during the pandemic. I signed my deal with Lake Union in May 2020, right when everything was at its scariest, then had my second baby at the end of that month. And I spent the following school year teaching from home with a baby and writing my next novel at night after the kids went to bed. I’d always done my writing during the summer before because I didn’t think I had time during the school year. But I learned this year that when something is important enough, I can find a way to accomplish it, no matter how daunting or impossible it seems. My second novel, She’s Up to No Good, is due out this summer and while I still don’t know how I wrote it while teaching full time with a baby in the middle of a pandemic, I’m extremely proud of it!

If someone were to visit you, what are some must-see places you would take them to check out?
That’s actually a hard question! I’m in the DC area, so there are just SO many must-see tourist spots. In spring, the cherry blossoms are absolutely worth a visit (despite the crowds), and the Smithsonian museums year-round. I’m a sucker for the American History museum (despite the fact that they won’t let me try on the ruby slippers), but I also like to brag at the Air and Space museum because my dad assembled their Saturn V rocket launcher. Because I have kids who are too young to be vaccinated, we stick to outdoor activities like the zoo and walking the canal tow-path these days, but I can’t wait until the little one is old enough to mask so we can start taking advantage of more of what DC offers. (And pre-kids, I’ve been known to make out-of-towners climb the Exorcist steps!)

What is your favorite thing about Thanksgiving? 
Being with family, of course. But beyond that, I love to bake, so I’m always in charge of desserts for my family and I think the preparation for that is one of my favorite parts. I love planning out my menu and trying new recipes that I don’t have a reason to make the rest of the year. And my four year old loves helping me bake--it’s a lot more work and a lot messier with him, but sharing that with him is really special, especially because I learned to bake with my mother and grandmother.

Thanks to Sara for visiting with us and for sharing her book with our readers!

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

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Giveaway ends November 28th at midnight EST.

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Cover Reveal and Book Review: A Royal Farce

By Sara Steven

Lila needs to pay her soul-crushing debt. Pierre needs a wife. Maybe they can help each other.

Once she finishes these renovations, Lila can finally sell her money pit and get back on her feet. But on box store wages, that’ll take decades. Then her friend Pierre proposes the perfect solution: he needs a green card. If Lila marries him, he'll pay for the job.

One problem: who is going to believe the gorgeous, brilliant investment banker fell for little Lila? Everyone, if they have any say. Not even their closest friends can suspect the truth. Lila fakes the walk of shame, feigns shock at Pierre's staged public proposal, and plans their wedding with a single-minded determination rivaled only by her Yorkie begging for treats.

Their fake relationship is so perfect, Lila starts to wish it was real. Then Pierre's brother drops a bombshell: they are royalty, princes to a tiny island nation, and Lila isn't princess material. Now, instead of studs and sandpaper, Lila finds herself worrying about titles and tiaras. Will she get her happily ever after, or will Lila's prince decide she's not so charming after all? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

A Royal Farce was a little bit like the movie Green Card, sprinkled with a little bit of Coming to America, added with a lot of Heffernan’s witty dialogue and charm!

Lila had a tiny bit of a crush on Pierre when she first noticed him in her apartment building, but never thought anything could ever come from it. He’d been dating a model at the time, which sets the stage for the type of women she felt he would go for. Namely, not someone like her. But friendship-wise, they connect in so many ways, so how could she say no when he proposes marriage in order to keep him in the country? 

From the get go, I wondered what would happen over time for Lila and Pierre. It’s hard to hold back on the feelings you might have for someone, and even harder when you don’t think the feelings will ever be reciprocated. And in so many moments, she waits to hear some sort of recognition of that, yet over and over, it never happens. I appreciated the struggle we get to see within Lila; she wants to help her friend, yet at the same time, she’s trying to preserve her heart. 

The bombshell comes at a great moment in the story, when Lila discovers that Pierre hasn’t been who he said he is, preferring to keep her in the dark. And Pierre’s brother Henri is a piece of work! I’m not sure why, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he could be in the second installment in the Retail to Riches series. No matter who we’ll get to discover next-- I’ll definitely read it! Heffernan has a way with the back-and-forth banter that I love to read between characters, and what I really like is when the protagonist discovers new things about themselves that really creates the character evolution I hold so dear to my heart. Maybe she'll let herself fall for Pierre, or maybe she won't. But ultimately, it will be on her terms. This really was a sweet, funny, five-star experience!

Thanks to Laura Heffernan for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Laura Heffernan:

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Friday, November 19, 2021

Book Review: Four Christmas Novellas

Just in time for the holidays, we have some bite-sized treats to share with you today. Amazon has published four holiday novellas by authors we all know and love. See what we thought of these stories and get your hands on as many as you want!

Like all Amazon Original Stories, these four separate holiday reads are available for free to read or listen to with Prime, and included in Kindle Unlimited membership. (They are $1.99 each otherwise.)

Oh. What. Fun. by Chandler Baker

Reviewed by Jami Denison

A perfect follow-up to her novel The Husbands, Chandler Baker introduces us to the Clauster family in the novella Oh What Fun. If you love the Family Guy Christmas episode where Peter gives the presents to charity, Brian burns the house down, and Lois remains in the holiday spirit until the paper towels run out… or the Saturday Night Live Christmas short about the mom who gets a robe, this is the story for you.  

Claire Clauster, mother to three adult children and grandmother to four-year-old twins, is the backbone of her family when it comes to Christmas. She cooks their favorite meals, buys the perfect gifts, and plans elaborate distractions for the twins. And her family doesn’t notice any of it. 

All Claire wants for Christmas is to win a contest sponsored by her favorite morning talk-show host. And all her children want is for Claire to leave them alone while they do their thing—as long as she’s always ready to cook or babysit. And she is. 

Until the night they realize that she has vanished. 

Narrated by Claire’s children, as they retrace the steps that led up to their mother’s disappearance, the disdain they have for all the effort she puts into their holiday is obvious. (“She loves wrapping presents at 2am!”) They prefer Dad. Dad is the fun one. After he comes home from work, he’s always available for an impromptu snowball fight or video game session. 

Of course he’s available! Because Mom is in the kitchen making dinner, or in the laundry room ironing shirts. 

Oh What Fun is a funny story, in the way Homer Simpson might say, “It’s funny because it’s true!” Come for the laughs, stay for the playing-out of emotional labor and how the women who perform it are ignored and taken for granted. This isn’t a story for women—this is a story for women to give to their husbands and older children, in the hopes that they’ll recognize everything she does for them. 

But will they even bother reading it? 

Model Home by J. Courtney Sullivan

Reviewed by Sara Steven

Not happy? No problem. Fake it. From New York Times bestselling author J. Courtney Sullivan comes a sharp-witted short story about the reality of reality TV.

Judging by the popularity of her home-makeover show, Katie has it all: a sweet-natured husband, Damian, as her cohost; adorable tween daughters; a designer mansion; and a just-folks appeal that has made the happy couple home-renovation royalty. Out of the spotlight, it’s a different story. Katie’s marriage is disintegrating, her spoiled daughters despise her, and her money can’t do anything to repair her personal problems—or her professional ones. With a contract up for renewal and Damian ready to bail after one last holiday special, Katie can kiss her artificial world goodbye too. But if there’s one thing a pro like Katie knows how to do, it’s negotiate. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Satire? Check. Reality TV? Check. A home-makeover and renovation show-like plot featuring characters who aren’t really who they claim to be? Double check. Model Home was short, but sarcastically sweet, giving its reader the potential truthfulness behind some of our most favorite home renovation shows. While I felt that Katie and Damian were drawn from shows like Fixer Upper or Property Brothers, I could also see snippets of shows like Flip or Flop, primarily due to the way they are when the camera is on, versus the way they really are when the cameras are off.  

I couldn’t help but side with Damian. He’s tired of not living the life he feels he was meant to live; freedom from a made-up persona. Privacy and anonymity from society. They might not be Hollywood walk of fame celebrity level television personalities, but everyone knows them, and that means Katie can’t even run errands without the paparazzi on her tail. But while that doesn’t bother her, it bothers Damian a whole lot. Katie more than appreciates the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to. She can’t imagine going back to the way things were, when they were struggling. And while I can appreciate having your own television show to call your very own, I would hate not feeling like I can navigate my life without the input of a manager, a director, an agent, or society. The whole world, really. When is enough, enough?

The twist at the end was really clever, and something I’d imagine could happen in real-life, particularly within the realm we live in today with how glamorized social media is. I liked how the ending was its own, with no claim to any sort of happily-ever-after, because again, life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. And the truth isn’t always evident on the small screen. Chances are, what we see really isn’t what we’d get if we encountered half the people who entertain us on reality shows. This acerbically witty short story is a definite five-star read!

If the Fates Allow by Rainbow Rowell

Reviewed by Melissa Amster

Social distancing came easily to Reagan. Maybe a little too easily. She’s always liked people better from afar. But Reagan doesn’t want her grandpa to be alone for Christmas this year—he’s already spent too much time on his own in 2020. So she heads back to her hometown with a dish of holiday Jell-O salad, hoping they can have a little normalcy. Hoping it will be safe…

She isn’t expecting to run into the boy next door. Mason is all grown up now. He’s considerate. He’s funny. He doesn’t mind how prickly Reagan is—he maybe even likes it. And it makes Reagan feel like her defenses are falling. She needs her defenses, doesn’t she? In a time when six feet is close enough, how long can they keep their distance? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I haven't read anything by Rainbow Rowell in a while. (Unfortunately, I'm not into the Simon Snow books, but that's just a personal preference.) So it was really nice to read this story. I also found out after I finished it that it featured Cath's roommate, Reagan, from Fangirl. It's been so long since I read that book. 

If the Fates Allow was a cute story. I could totally relate to Reagan with how she's being careful to avoid getting Covid, but no one else in her family is. I caught so much flack for my husband, kids, and I wearing masks when we were in town to visit family this past summer. Four-fifths of us were vaccinated and we weren't taking any chances. 

This was a refreshing treat from Rainbow. Her snarkiness was funny and she made great use of description to bring everything to life. The dialogue was spot on and completely genuine. I wish there had been more time to explore things between Reagan and Mason. Maybe this can expand into a full story someday? I would love for Rainbow to write more adult novels! (I did enjoy the two YA novels I read though.)

Overall, a cozy holiday story that is true to the time we are living in now.

Casting ideas:
Reagan: Nikki Blonsky

by Suzanne Redfearn

Reviewed by Melissa Amster

When Ava Barnes’s boyfriend, Justin, proposes after a whirlwind romance, the young couple embarks on a quest that will test their love. For generations, engaged couples in Ava’s family have traveled into the Everglades to retrieve the egg of the magnificent frigate bird in order to bake it into a marriage cake. Those who succeed live happily ever after, while those who fail are destined for heartbreak. With Ava’s beloved grandmother gravely ill, never has the marriage tradition meant so much. Ava’s dream is to pass the test so her grandmother can attend Ava’s holiday wedding to the man she loves.

So Ava, Justin, and their best friend Walton as a witness set off on a remarkable adventure that will challenge the true depth of their character and devotion. An emotional, heartrending journey of self-discovery, The Marriage Test turns out to be far more than any of them imagined.

Is there any test more challenging than a test of love? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I haven't read anything by Suzanne Redfearn yet. I have some of her books and have been intending to. This story was a nice appetizer though. It displays her beautiful writing style and has shown me what else she is capable of producing. I'll definitely have to add some of her books to my queue soon!

The Marriage Test was a good story overall. It was set up nicely and was engaging and thought-provoking. The descriptions helped me visualize everything that was going on without detracting from the narrative. The characters were really interesting, especially the supporting ones like Esther and Aylan. I loved Ava's connection with her feisty Granmama. I also loved the descriptions of baking cakes and the contrasts between the different techniques being used. 

I didn't really see a Christmas connection aside from her plans to have a wedding around that time, so I was surprised at it being used for this holiday set. I felt like there were some gaps that could have been filled in better, like more backstory about Walton and Justin having a falling out. What was Walton's motive for not wanting Justin to be with Ava? The story did not go in the direction I was expecting and now I want it to continue to see what comes next. 

Casting ideas:

Thanks to Amazon for the books in exchange for honest reviews.

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Ringing in a new novel with Kerry Rea...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Simon Yao
Today we are pleased to welcome Kerry Rea, who recently published her debut novel, The Wedding Ringer. We love the cover of this one and the story sounds like so much fun. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Kerry Rea is a 2017 and 2019 #Pitchwars mentee. Her work has appeared in Seventeen Magazine. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four dogs.  (Bio courtesy of Kerry's website.)

Visit Kerry online:

After finding her fiancé in bed with her best friend, once-successful blogger Willa Callister has sworn off love and friendship. She now spends her days performing at children's birthday parties in a ball gown that makes her look like a walking bottle of Pepto Bismol and dreaming of a fresh start. All she needs is the money to make it happen.

Maisie Mitchell needs something too: another bridesmaid for her wedding. After a chance encounter at a coffee shop, Maisie offers to pay Willa to be in her bridal party. Willa wants nothing to do with weddings—or Maisie—but the money will give her the freedom to start the new life she so badly desires.

Willa's bridesmaid duties thrust her into Maisie's high-energy world and into the path of hotshot doctor Liam Rafferty. But as Willa and Maisie form a real friendship, and Liam edges his way into her heart, Willa starts to rethink her plans. And when a secret from Maisie's past threatens to derail the wedding, Willa must consider whether friendship—and romance—are worth sticking around for.

"Kerry Rea hits it out of the park with her touching and hilarious debut. The fake bridesmaid premise and pre-wedding shenanigans had me howling, but it was the friendship between Willa and Maisie that captured my heart."
—Sarah Smith, author of Simmer Down

"I loved this warm hug of a book! The Wedding Ringer explores the pitfall-filled world of adult friendships, from the shock of an unexpected friend breakup to the difficulty of making new friends. Most importantly, it shows that no matter what tough situation you’re facing, you can get through it by being vulnerable and finding support. Full of hilarious dialogue and heartstring-tugging moments, this book made me laugh and cry. I loved every second of it, and I can’t wait to read what Kerry Rea writes next."
—Kerry Winfrey, author of Not Like the Movies

"Get ready to be charmed! Funny and witty, The Wedding Ringer reminds us that the right people in our lives lift us up. Rea's debut is a page turner of unlikely friendship and blossoming romance that keeps you smiling."
—Kelly Siskind, author of The Knockout Rule

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you?
I wrote three novels, completed two rounds of the Pitch Wars mentorship program, and received lots of rejections before finally signing with my agent, but I didn’t give up! 

How is Willa similar to or different from you?
Willa and I both subscribe to the motto “what doesn’t kill you makes you funnier”—and we both turn to The Golden Girls as our comfort TV show. Plus, we share the key belief that tacos make everything better. But we’re different in a lot of ways, too. She’s way more adept at social media than I am, and I tend to have more of a glass-half-full outlook than she does. And I’m quicker to warm up to people than Willa, or at least the Willa we meet at the start of the book. 

If The Wedding Ringer were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
Willa - Jenny Slate
Maisie - Anna Kendrick or Ellie Kemper
Liam - Giacomo Gianniotti (DeLuca from Grey’s Anatomy)

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?
Midnight Mass on Netflix

What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’ve learned that I’m a lot stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I think a lot of people have discovered that about themselves! It takes resilience and gumption to find joy in times like these. And I’ve definitely learned that you can never own enough pairs of leggings. 

What is your favorite thing about Thanksgiving?
Stuffing! And spending time with family, of course. But mostly stuffing. 

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

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

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Giveaway ends November 23rd at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Home

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. Sara's husband came up with the theme for this month. His prompt was "Home is where ____ is." We thought it was fitting with the month of being thankful. 

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:                                                                                                                                     
Home is where your home is.                                                                                                        When I was growing up, I lived in a lot of apartment communities and complexes, with brief stints with my grandparents and at one point, I stayed with my best friend’s family before I left my hometown of Salem, Oregon for Arizona. Although I lived in the same capital city for most of my childhood, I moved so frequently and often that I ended up attending five elementary schools before going to middle school, then high school...all in all, when it was all said and done, eight schools in total! One of the biggest things I’d learned from this type of nomadic lifestyle had been to acclimate to varying environments, particularly with new friends, new teachers, and new surroundings. But at the same time, I never felt settled. I never felt like I could put roots down and just be.

Given my childhood experiences, I wanted something different for my children. My eldest son had gone to one elementary school for his kindergarten through fourth grade years before we moved out of state, then he finished up at a new elementary school for fifth and sixth grade, before moving on to his own middle school and high school. He hasn’t been shuffled around nearly as much as I’d been, yet I remember I still felt immense guilt when we had to leave the friends and school he knew so well.

We recently moved into a new home. We haven’t left the city we live in. In fact, the move placed us closer to everything; grocery stores, freeways, our appointments, if we need to make one. My sons and their respective school district. Even though we only moved six miles closer to civilization, I felt that guilt again. That I was stripping my kids from the house they’d lived in for the last six years, only to make them start over somewhere else. 

But the other thing I learned from getting shuffled around from place to place, is that your primary people--family, close friends, your support system--doesn’t have to change. I still have close childhood friendships that have lasted for decades, no matter where I moved to. And as an adult, some of my close-knit groups of people have been military families who have moved from state to state, yet we are still there for one another, as best we can be, given the circumstances. I think what makes a home, is the people in it. The friends who support you. And I want my sons to learn that, too. That home is where your home is. It doesn’t really matter where that might be--as long as you create long-lasting roots with your family and loved ones, in whatever capacity.  

This is our new home. We moved in just a couple of months ago, but I’m looking forward to making new memories here with my husband and sons, and our dog, cat, blue-tongued skink, and soon, the two parakeets our youngest wants to add to our menagerie. It’s an interesting adventure, but it’s ours. 

Melissa Amster:                                                                                                     
My answer to this prompt is pretty obvious: Family. Due to the pandemic, I've been spending a lot of time with my husband and kids over the past year and a half. I feel like we've bonded more as a result, even though we have our own various interests. My favorite times are when we play a game together where we come up with a lot of inside jokes. I'm very thankful to have this closeness with my family and not get bored of being around them all the time. I think being home together all the time has shaped our personalities and our relationships with one another. 

My husband and I will be together a total of 20 years at the beginning of next year. I never thought I'd ever be in a serious relationship that was this long-term, but I'm still very happy with him and he always makes me laugh. I got him back into reading books a while ago and we are sometimes happy to just share a couch while reading our own books. We still have our individual interests when it comes to TV shows and movies, but we also share a few. We recently watched Ted Lasso, Maid, and Only Murders in the Building together. A few weeks ago, my husband noticed my Ted Lasso theme song ringtone and took my phone and made some voiceover changes to it with his impressions of the characters from the show. It was, and still is, hilarious!

My older son and I have always been close, but we've connected even more over the past year. Now that he's back at school in person, he texts me a lot during his breaks and we joke around together often. He's also learning how to drive and while I swore I would never be in the passenger seat until he got his license, I am somehow now the primary adult around for all his practicing. (It's not as scary as I imagined.) 

Even though my younger son is a teenager now, he still loves being around me and is always affectionate. He's gotten into some Broadway musicals over the past year or so and now he and I listen to the soundtracks together. (In the past, I was just listening to them with my older son.) He's more of an introvert, but I think going back to school has brought him out of his shell. 

My relationship with my daughter is more complex, as she's a tween and it shows. I'm reading the third book in Rebecca Prenevost's Mom Walks series and I feel less alone now. However, she still likes talking with me and always trying to get to know me better. We joke around a lot too. I recently introduced her to a TV series that I love and now she's obsessed with it, so that's something new to bond over. She also loves going thrift shopping, even though she never can decide what she likes when we're there. 

I love spending time with my family, whether it's at home or traveling. (We did get some trips in this past summer, such as staying at a cabin, a road trip to Chicago for my sister's wedding, and a couple of days at Virginia Beach.) I know my older son will be going to college in a few short years, so I want to latch on to this time when all five of us are together for as long as it lasts!

Here are some pictures from our camping trip earlier this year:

Tell us what defines "home" for you.

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Book Review: White Wedding

By Sara Steven

Take one lavish holiday wedding. Add one evil ex and his bridezilla. And toss in a smoking-hot chef from the past. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Victoria Blackwood has spent years trying to redeem herself after falling victim to a blackmail scheme that cost her father thousands. So, when he insists she coordinate a big Christmas wedding at her family’s winery, she can’t say no. Even if the groom is her ex, and the caterer just quit.

For Rafael Sanchez, a last-minute call to cater a huge society wedding is a golden opportunity. If he can prove he’s up to the challenge, his brothers might entrust him with a larger role in the family catering business. But when he meets Victoria, he can’t believe his eyes. Five years ago, they had a passionate fling that rocked his world. Until she left him with only a fake name to remember her by.

To pull off the perfect wedding, Victoria and Rafael can’t afford to get caught up in the past. But keeping things professional won’t be easy, not when the attraction between them burns hotter than Christmas in July. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I loved White Wedding! I hadn’t anticipated how quickly I’d finish the book--in one day--but from the get go, I was instantly hooked on Victoria’s story, and I had a really hard time putting it down. I couldn’t believe that Victoria had been forced into being the wedding coordinator for her ex fiancée and his new fiancée. I couldn’t stand her father. But I could also tell that the dynamic between Victoria and her father was one of constant need for approval; she never felt like she measured up in his eyes, and it was obvious she was willing to do whatever it took to make him proud.

When Rafael and Victoria meet up again after not seeing each other for so long, it was a perfectly awkward scene! I loved how Carla Luna set up the moment when they first laid eyes on each other, because it set the stage for everything going forward. Both characters have a lot on the line when it comes to the wedding. Victoria seeks redemption and eventually, freedom. And Rafael seeks approval and eventually, trust. If there are any slip-ups, they could lose a lot. 

While I appreciated the connection between Rafael and Victoria, what I loved the most was the transition Victoria goes through while attempting to mature and get out from under her father’s thumb. There were so many moments where I wanted to yell at her, to tell her to stand up for herself, and not let him get to her or treat her the way he does. And I wanted to yell at her father, too. I felt really emotionally invested in Victoria’s struggles, and I’d hoped to see where things would end up for her and her familial relationships, as well as where things could potentially go with Rafael.

This is my first book in the Blackwood Cellars series, but I want to read the first two, because this one was just so good! A definite five-star experience!

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

Carla Luna writes contemporary romance with a dollop of humor and a pinch of spice. A former archaeologist, she still dreams of traveling to far-off places and channels that wanderlust into the settings of her stories. When she’s not writing, she works in a spice emporium where she gets paid to discuss food and share her favorite recipes. Her passions include Broadway musicals, baking, whimsical office supplies, and pop culture podcasts. Though she has roots in Los Angeles and Victoria, B.C., she currently resides in Wisconsin with her family and her feisty Siberian cat.

Visit Carla online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Visit all the stops on Carla's blog tour:

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Singles Table

Today we are celebrating the publication of Sara Desai's latest rom-com novel, The Singles Table. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away!

Zara Patel is proud of her track record of helping friends find their happily-ever-afters, and she is done trying to find her own. So even though she’s undeniably attracted to Jay Dayal, who she meets at her cousin’s bachelor-bachelorette party, she accepts the challenge of helping him find his soulmate. In exchange for an introduction to one of the high-profile celebrities he works with.

As a former military security specialist who takes his work very seriously and has no time for dating, Jay accepts Zara’s offer. But the more time they spend together—particularly at every singles table of the wedding season—the more the two start to wonder if they’ve already found their perfect match in each other.

“You won’t feel lonely at the singles table with this book to keep you company. A charming and hilarious rom-com filled with wonderful characters. One of my favorite books of the year.”
—Jackie Lau, author of Donut Fall in Love

"Desai’s latest is the best way to dive into a rom-com if you have yet to make it back into theaters. In fact, it’s even better."

Credit: Linda Mackie Photography 2020
Sara Desai has been a lawyer, radio DJ, marathon runner, historian, bouncer and librarian. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband, kids and an assortment of forest creatures who think they are pets. Sara writes sexy romantic comedy and contemporary romance with a multicultural twist. When not laughing at her own jokes, Sara can be found eating nachos.

Visit Sara 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 November 21st at midnight EST.

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