Thursday, March 31, 2022

Spotlight and Giveaway: Books for a New You!

We don't normally feature self-help books, but when these two came across our desk, we wanted to share them with our readers, as they are both empowering for women. The authors even have one copy of each for a lucky reader!

Like a Spark From Fire: Break Free From the Past, Shine Your Brilliance and Become Your True Self by Debra Berndt Maldonado

If you are feeling stuck in life but know somehow you were meant for more, this book is an invitation for women to finally break free.

Over the course of your life, you developed an identity that helped you function and survive in the world but also covered up your true power. The flame of passion and limitless possibility of your true nature is still there as brilliant as ever waiting to be rediscovered.

Like a Spark From Fire, inspired by the psychology of Carl Jung and Eastern spirituality, empowers you to let go of your past, express your brilliance and become your True Self. That Spark (divine nature) is within you and ready to be awakened into your life. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Debra Berndt Maldonado is a Certified Master Jungian Life Coach Instructor and bestselling author of LET LOVE IN. She is the CEO of CreativeMind, a personal development and Life Coach Training company founded with her husband Robert Maldonado PhD, where they developed a unique coaching methodology based on Jungian Psychology, Eastern Spirituality, and Social Neuroscience

Visit Debra online:
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RadiantHow to Have All the Energy You Need to Live a Life You Love by Iris van Ooyen

Are you struggling with your energy level? Living from weekend to weekend? Unsure why you feel the moods, energies and actions of others so deeply? You may be a sensitive soul.

Being busy and tired is a disease of our time. Some people wear their exhaustion like a badge of honor. Today’s pressure for high-energy performance, all the time, has trained us to ignore our body’s signals. But it is not normal to be tired most of the time.

TRUTH: We must learn how to take good care of ourselves, because we have never been taught.

Using personal stories, tips, and insights, Radiant will teach you how to move from being drained to having plenty of energy, and each section ends with an invitation to help you put the insights into practice. 

Iris van Ooyen is the creator of the SWEET POWER™ approach to personal and career development, growth, and self-care. An MBA with a background in corporate marketing, Iris combines her extensive business experience with her renowned razor-sharp intuitive insights in order to support thousands of clients in living fuller, healthier lives.

Visit Iris online:

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

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Giveaway ends April 5th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Review: A Year of Mr. Maybes

By Sara Steven

Val didn’t expect to be starting again in her seventies, but when life gives her lemons, Val is determined to make lemonade.

Settled into her new home – a picture-perfect fisherman’s cottage in the small Cornish seaside town of Lowenstowe – Val is ready to start a new chapter. And with her son due to get married next Christmas, there’s also the little job of finding herself a plus-one to help her face her ex-husband and his new girlfriend.

With the support of her neighbour Connie, and after decades of married life, Val takes the plunge back into the world of dating with trepidation and excitement. But can she remember how the single life works, let alone what her type is? There seem to be plenty of Mr Maybes, but no sign of Mr Right.

As the year passes, and as friendships and community life flourish, Val begins to blossom. And as Christmas approach, she might just decide she doesn’t need that plus-one after all - although never say never... (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I always appreciate a good book that allows women to continue to live their lives beyond a certain age when we’re often told we’re “past it.” Past the romance. Past the intrigue. Past the youthful zest. For Val, she’s starting over in her seventies, but in many ways, it’s as if her life is truly just beginning.

After experiencing a life-altering, world shattering moment, she decides to move to a new town, within a new neighborhood, where she has the opportunity to meet new friends. I love how Judy Leigh portrays that kind of community and bonding between Val and her neighbors, because while trying to move on and move forward, I could tell just how much Val needed that support, and how much her new friends needed her support, too. It’s the kind of friendship we can only hope for in our golden years, but along with that are independent relationships–the couple who lives next door to Val, the single woman who lives across the street from her, and the never-home fisherman who Val often tries to engage with, but he’s never available. 

With the help of her new friends, Val sets out to ensure that she won’t show up alone to her son’s wedding. She notes how in wedding photos, it wouldn’t seem balanced or fair to see her ex-husband and his new girlfriend on one side of their son, yet she’d be all alone on the other side of him. Having gone through a divorce myself, I could relate and identify with those emotions. It’s a tough road to navigate until finding that “new normal,” and Val wonders if it might be time to embark on a new adventure: finding a new man to go with that “new normal.”

Following Val's humorous dating experiences was a lot of fun. Each division for each “Mr. Maybe” is designated as “Mr. February, or Mr. March,” etc. It seems each month brings along a new prospect–although maybe not. Through it all, there were some stand-outs that she really couldn’t stop thinking about, only adding to the intrigue as the months went by. I thought it was great that Val was given the liberty to seek out new relationships, platonic or otherwise, proving that it really doesn’t matter how old you are–it’s the spirit inside of you that dictates how you choose to live your life.

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Judy Leigh is the bestselling author of Five French Hens, A Grand Old Time and The Age of Misadventure and the doyenne of the ‘it’s never too late’ genre of women’s fiction. She has lived all over the UK from Liverpool to Cornwall, but currently resides in Somerset.

Visit Judy online:
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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Book Review and Giveaway: The Diamond Eye

By Melissa Amster

In 1937 in the snowbound city of Kiev (now known as Kyiv), wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son—but Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.

Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.

Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Ever since I read The Alice Network, I knew Kate Quinn was going to be one to watch for. Since then, I've read all her recent World War II themed historical fiction novels. I don't even have to look at the synopsis to know I want to read her next book. So when I got my hands on an advanced copy of The Diamond Eye, I didn't check the synopsis until right before I started reading it. Imagine my surprise at the initial location of this novel, based on the timing of everything going on right now. 

This was a compelling narrative. I didn't know anything about Lyudmila Pavlichenko, so it was interesting to see her story brought to life in this way. I appreciated Kate's notes at the end and how she explained where she took liberties with Mila's story. She also provided other sources to find out more. This was the first of Kate's recent novels to focus on one heroine (with some villain narrative interspersed throughout). I was wondering if there would be enough for her to fill an entire novel, but she clearly did an amazing job with it.

Mila was fierce and passionate about her work and I was cheering for her the entire time. There are some sad moments, as well as some really good redeeming ones. I love Mila's friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. It's so unexpected and really sweet too. I couldn't imagine leaving my kids behind for so long to do everything Mila was doing to protect her country and I commend her for that. 

I don't really have any casting ideas for this one, but I pictured Alexandra Krosney as Mila the entire time. 

Thanks to William Morrow for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy for a lucky reader!

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

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Giveaway ends April 3rd at midnight EST.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Book Review: Four Aunties and Wedding

By Jami Denison

**Review may contain spoilers for Dial A for Aunties**

Right after author Jesse Q. Sutanto turned in her final manuscript for her blockbuster debut Dial A for Aunties (reviewed here), she began work on its sequel. Four Aunties and a Wedding features the same madcap energy as the original, which combined all the best elements of Wedding Crashers, Crazy Rich Asians, and Weekend at Bernie’s. But with the stakes now so much more personal for Sutanto’s protagonist Meddy Chan, there’s a sadness to the frenzy that makes the humor bittersweet.

Meddy is finally marrying her college sweetheart Nathan, in England where his parents live, and she’s persuaded her wedding-planner family to hire out the work so they can enjoy the festivities in style. And the aunties have found the perfect company—another Indo-Chinese family, led by a grandmother and her grown sons, organized by granddaughter Staphanie. Meddy bonds quickly with Staphanie, who’s a wedding photographer just like Meddy.

The gang flies out to England, where the first fly lands in the ointment: Nathan’s parents aren’t exactly charmed by Meddy’s aunts, whose flamboyant outfits and over-the-top antics make them the star of every scene. But things get even messier when Meddy overhears a chilling phone call that reveals Staphanie isn’t who she says she is—and neither is her family. In fact, they aren’t wedding planners, they’re mafia—and they’re here to assassinate someone in the middle of Meddy’s wedding. And if Meddy tries to tell anyone—including Nathan—they’ll tell the police about the man they killed last year. Meddy has no choice but to go through with the wedding, while the aunties try to protect the woman they believe is the assassin’s target. 

Naturally, mayhem ensues, including a few kidnappings, some drug overdoses, and lots of threats. Through it all, Meddy tries to take part in her wedding while keeping Nathan in the dark. 

I absolutely loved Dial A for Aunties, and I wanted to love Four Aunties just as much. But the similarities to the first book, coupled with Meddy’s anguish over lying to Nathan and missing huge chunks of the festivities, made this book harder to love. In Dial A for Aunties, the dead guy deserved it, and there’s nothing funnier than dragging a dead guy around a formal setting. But now Meddy is missing her own wedding—and stuck with a fake photographer, meaning even the pictures won’t be any good—to save a woman she doesn’t even know. Even worse, her in-laws don’t seem to like her. I found it hard to laugh when my heart was breaking for Meddy. 

Still, the bickering between the aunties and their absolute loyalty toward Meddy make this a series worth following (the end of Four Aunties sets up a sequel, even though one hasn’t officially been announced yet.) I remain envious of this close-knit family and look forward to their antics when Meddy finally delivers the grandchild they’re hungering for. 

I still haven’t impersonated my son on a dating website yet. But that day might come. 

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

More by Jesse Q. Sutanto:

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Friday, March 25, 2022

What's in the (e)mail

The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch from Berkley (NetGalley)
Something Wilder by Christina Lauren from Gallery (NetGalley)
Booked on a Feeling by Jayci Lee from St. Martin's Press (print)
Stay Awake by Megan Goldin from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)
Nothing But the Truth by Holly James from Dutton (NetGalley)
Part of Your World
 by Abby Jimenez from Forever (NetGalley)
The Change by Kirsten Miller from HarperCollins (print, won from Goodreads)
Blaine for the Win by Robbie Couch from Simon and Schuster (NetGalley)
The Stand-In by Lily Chu from Sourcebooks (NetGalley)
The Summer of Christmas by Juliet Giglio and Keith Giglio from Sourcebooks (NetGalley)
Café Con Lychee
 by Emery Lee from HarperCollins (NetGalley)
What Happens in Denver by Liz Crowe from Backlit PR (NetGalley)
Meant to Be by Emily Giffin from Penguin Random House (print)

And So We Dream by/from Linda Mahkovec (ebook)
A Week of Warm Weather by Lee Bukowski from SparkPoint Studio (ebook)
The Meet Cute Method by Portia Macintosh from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead from Kaye Publicity (ebook)
Keeping Up with the Kershaws by Helen Buckley from Rachel's Random Resources (e-book)

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken from Boldwood (NetGalley)

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Book Review: Bad Penny


By Sara Steven

Penny isn’t the girl she used to be, or the woman everyone thinks she is now. At 19, she bolted for London and never looked back. Nobody there knows who she was - not her care home colleagues, her boss, her clients or even her best friend and flat-mate. Auntie Mags is her only connection to her past, and she’s keeping schtum.

Oli can’t believe his luck. Not only is he about to fulfill his dream of really making a difference (assuming he wins his seat in the upcoming general election), now he’s met the perfect woman. Within a few dates he’s sure he wants to spend the rest of his life with Penny, and it’s all he can do not to shout it from the rooftops.

But Penny has hidden her secret by not shouting from any rooftops. In fact, the quieter, the better. So when Oli’s campaign swings into gear and the reporters start circling, it’s not only her future that’s about to come crashing down.

How can she find a happy ending with Oli when her past will definitely ruin his future, yet living with the lie will ruin their future together?

Then Penny’s past gets out of prison, and he’s about to turn up like a... bad penny. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I couldn’t help but feel for Penny. There are some legitimate reasons as to why she doesn’t want anyone in her current life, other than her Auntie Mags, to know about her past. She’s done well at turning her life around and moving on–a wonderful career that helps others, coworkers who care about her, and a best friend she lives with. I don’t blame her for wanting to keep her childhood a secret from the world, at all cost. 

Oli and Penny are cute together. Regardless of how much Penny tries to keep up walls and protect herself from ever revealing the truth on who she really is, she can’t help but fall head over heels for Oli, and it’s obvious that Oli feels the same. But I could tell that Penny struggles with that, considering that the person he’s in love with isn’t at all who he thinks she is. At least, not entirely. It really boils down to whether she has any sort of moral obligation to let him know about her sordid past or not. 

Having Oli as someone who is out there front and center and in the public eye was a nice way to add another difficult layer to all of this. If anyone were to find out that he was involved with someone like Penny, the real Penny, it could end up becoming detrimental to his career. But is Penny’s past really her fault? That was something I struggled with while reading Bad Penny, because she admits to her blame in all of it, but I didn’t entirely agree with her sentiments. We often do a lot for those we love, and given how lonely and starved Penny had been for love and affection, particularly from motherly figures, I can see how those lines between right and wrong would become blurred.  

If you really love someone, do you love all of them–the good parts and the bad? That’s what Bad Penny asks its readers. Through it all, I really pushed for the relationship between Oli and Penny, because they both deserved their own happily-ever-after, and when the moment comes where everything comes crashing down, I was just as devastated as the main characters. There was a lot of heart and emotion in this read, making it an easy five-star experience! 

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

Purchase links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Michele Gorman writes comedies packed with lots of heart, best friends and girl power. She is both a Sunday Times and a USA Today bestselling author, raised in the US and living in London.

Michele also writes cozy comedies under the pen-name Lilly Bartlett. Lilly’s books are full of warmth, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.

Visit Michele online:
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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Book Review: An Escape to Remember

By Sara Steven

When Louise surprises her boyfriend by returning early from a work trip, safe to say she wasn’t expecting to see him in flagrante delicto with another woman. Heart-torn and vowing to stay away from men, when Louise’s next project involves restoring an ageing hotel in Italy, she leaps at the chance to get away.

Managed by a crew of sextagenarians, the Grand Hotel del Monferrato needs all the love and care Louise can give it. But it’s hard to stay focused on the job when her thoughts keep straying to Vito, the reclusive and mysterious neighbour.

With his tragic past and her no-romance policy, Louise knows they can’t have a future. Yet something keeps pulling the two together… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Take me to the Grand Hotel del Monferrato!

I know I say this with every T.A. Williams novel, but I love how the reader gets to live vicariously through his characters, particularly in remote locations that are nothing short of beautiful and exotic. For Louise, this means traveling to Italy–and it’s a requirement for her job. (Where can I get a job like the one Louise has?) The trip can’t come soon enough, though, considering her long-term relationship has come to an abrupt end after she discovers her boyfriend with another woman! 

Louise makes the decision to focus solely on the task at hand–the Grand Hotel del Monferrato. Even at its worst, it still portrayed the type of unique hotel that I’d love to visit someday, along with a crew who feel like a close-knit family. It seems like the perfect place for Louise to gain some distance from her recent heartbreak, but it’s not so easy to stick to the hotel and nothing else, particularly where matters of the heart are concerned. As mentioned in the synopsis, Vito is an intriguing character. At one point, Louise even mentions how she felt instantly drawn to him; that he felt familiar. Yet it isn’t apparent as to whether he feels the same way for her, considering how quickly he seems to want to find something else to do, anything other than spending time with Louise. 

Both characters are reacting to their past experiences with love. Louise worries that her prior relationship ultimately ended due to not being around enough. Granted, he was the one who didn’t respect what they had, but she feels responsible since her job often sends her to remote locations, as though she drove him into the arms of another woman. Vito was all in with his romance in the past, but it backfired in the most tragic of ways, lending into his need to seclude himself and keep from allowing himself to ever fall in love with anyone else ever again. I wondered if they could ever get over their hurdles, or if Louise and Vito would go their separate ways. 

The other strong factor within An Escape to Remember is the element of change. Can Louise continue to live her life the way she’s always lived it, or would it be better to make a change that could ultimately make her feel even happier and more fulfilled? The same could be said for Vito–can he change his mind and his heart, allowing love in? It was a really sweet five-star read, much like I’d expect from this author.  

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

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Book Review: Curfew

By Sara Steven

Imagine a near-future Britain in which women dominate workplaces, public spaces, and government. Where the gender pay gap no longer exists and motherhood opens doors instead of closing them. Where women are no longer afraid to walk home alone, to cross a dark parking lot, or to catch the last train.

Where all men are electronically tagged and not allowed out after 7 p.m.

But the curfew hasn’t made life easy for everyone. Sarah is a single mother who happily rebuilt her life after her husband, Greg, was sent to prison for breaking curfew. Now he’s about to be released, and Sarah isn’t expecting a happy reunion, given that she’s the reason he was sent there.

Her teenage daughter, Cass, hates living in a world that restricts boys like her best friend, Billy. Billy would never hurt anyone, and she’s determined to prove it. Somehow.

Helen is a teacher at the local school. Secretly desperate for a baby, she’s applied for a cohab certificate with her boyfriend, Tom, and is terrified that they won’t get it. The last thing she wants is to have a baby on her own.

These women don’t know it yet, but one of them is about to be violently murdered. Evidence will suggest that she died late at night and that she knew her attacker. It couldn’t have been a man because a CURFEW tag is a solid alibi. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Curfew was a bit of a dystopian thriller that focused heavily on the appearance of things, vs. the way things really are when the timeframe of this epic novel takes place. Is it really all men who are to blame for the social discrepancies for women? It was an interesting question, and one that Cass continually asks when she’s trying to understand why her father was sent to prison for breaking curfew–did he really deserve it? And does curfew need to apply to all men, regardless of who they are, or should it be determined on a case by case basis? 

Pamela is one of the officers who has been assigned to the recent murder case–a woman found dead, and due to the curfew laws and regulations, fingers are pointed towards the murderer being female vs. male. As Pamela discovers, no one wants to focus on the fact that the curfew system might not be as sound or as accurate as what has been depicted, and her higher ups would rather peddle an image of a female killer to the media than to admit that it could be a man who’d been out past curfew. Appearance over truth.

What I loved about Curfew were the role reversals and the deeper meaning behind it. A good example of this would be Cass’s friend Billy, who has been relegated to wearing a tagging device since childhood, as all males have, simply due to his sex and not because of his character. As he ages and grows even more within the curfew system, will it change him? Will his character darken, much like a wild animal who has been caged and stripped of their freedom–has the curfew system done that to all men who endure it, or is it really a needed protective measure?

The next question would be: is the perpetrator male, or female? And, what does that really mean for society as a whole? The whole point of the tagging system is to ensure the safety and security of women, but if there’s a woman who has committed murder, what does that say about the curfew system as a whole? It was that sort of constant back and forth mentality that really led me down some dark alleyways in my own mind, not ever sure who the perpetrator really was until the very end and what is morally right when it comes to the proper treatment of humankind. There were a lot of deep messages here, along with the mystery and intrigue, which made Curfew a downright scary (in a good way) five star experience! 

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

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

What Jessica Strawser a book giveaway

Photo by Corrie Schaffeld
Introduction by Melissa Amster

We're pleased to have Jessica Strawser back at CLC today. I have read and enjoyed her previous novels and am excited for her latest, The Next Thing You Know, which releases today. I was first introduced to an end-of-life doula in The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult, and I am interested to see how Jessica goes about portraying this career through her lead character, Nova. Jessica is here to tell us more about The Next Thing You Know and thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Jessica Strawser is the editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth cover interviews with such luminaries as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She’s the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You, a Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction pick; Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month bestseller; Forget You Know Me, awarded a starred review by Publishers Weekly, and A Million Reasons Why, called “a standout” in a starred Booklist review and named to Most Anticipated lists from Goodreads, SheReads, Frolic, E! News & others ahead of its March 2021 release. (All from St. Martin’s Press).

Honored as the 2019 Writer-in-Residence at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Strawser has written for The New York Times "Modern Love", Publishers Weekly and other fine venues, and lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children. A contributing editor for Career Authors and an active Tall Poppy Writer, she keynotes frequently for writing conferences, book fairs and festivals, book clubs, libraries, and other events that are kind enough to invite her. 

Visit Jessica online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

As an end-of-life doula, Nova Huston’s job—her calling, her purpose, her life—is to help terminally ill people make peace with their impending death. Unlike her business partner, who swears by her system of checklists, free-spirited Nova doesn’t shy away from difficult clients: the ones who are heartbreakingly young, or prickly, or desperate for a caregiver or companion.

When Mason Shaylor shows up at her door, Nova doesn’t recognize him as the indie-favorite singer-songwriter who recently vanished from the public eye. She knows only what he’s told her: That life as he knows it is over. His deteriorating condition makes playing his guitar physically impossible—as far as Mason is concerned, he might as well be dead already.

Except he doesn’t know how to say goodbye.

Helping him is Nova’s biggest challenge yet. She knows she should keep clients at arm’s length. But she and Mason have more in common than anyone could guess… and meeting him might turn out to be the hardest, best thing that’s ever happened to them both.

Jessica Strawser's
The Next Thing You Know is an emotional, resonant story about the power of human connection, love when you least expect it, hope against the odds, and what it really takes to live life with no regrets. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"Jessica Strawser does it again―first-rate storytelling, a fresh, unique premise, and a didn't-see-that-coming twist, resulting in a book that's unputdownable! Strawser spins a wise, thought-provoking story that crackles with tension and intrigue. Perfect for book clubs, The Next Thing You Know will have you pondering end-of-life issues, and guessing the final, shocking twist." 
―Lori Nelson Spielman, internationally bestselling author of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

“A breathtaking, emotional, and compelling novel, The Next Thing You Know is a poignant look at love and hope, and the importance of living every moment with no regrets. Unflinching and unforgettable, this one will crack your heart open and slowly stitch it back together.” 
―Christina McDonald, bestselling author of The Night Olivia Fell

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing The Next Thing You Know?
Rewards: It was humbling to learn so much about what end-of-life doulas do. When I first became aware that they existed, I couldn’t stop thinking about what a special person it would take to do that job—which is what made me want to write about one. 

Challenges: The pandemic began when I was midway through my first draft, and it was heartbreaking to think about all the people who were sick and scared and couldn’t get access to doulas (or loved ones) from quarantine, when they needed them most.

Ultimately, even though the pandemic does not factor into the actual story at all, the challenges of timing made me appreciate the subject matter that much more. Especially since at its heart, this is a story about the power of human connection and getting out of your comfort zone to live life to its fullest.

How is Nova similar to or different from you?
Nova has had a series of unique life experiences—one in particular, with an intense ripple effect—that re-shaped her into an entirely different person than she was even five years ago. This makes her way of looking at the world very different from mine, and also from 99% of the people she encounters on a daily basis… but they don’t know it, because she’s intensely private about what she’s been through. 

In short, Nova is gutsy and up for anything and a lot of people think they have her pegged but are very wrong… all of which made her tons of fun to write. I’m much less interesting than she is, but if we have one thing in common, it’s probably her fiercely independent streak that makes her reluctant to open up when things get hard.

 If The Next Thing You Know were made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
I love this question! Since Nova’s highest-profile client, Mason, is a musician struggling to say goodbye to his lifestyle on the road and on stage, I thought about music constantly when I was writing their story. 

There’s a Khalid song, “Outta My Head,” about the tension of realizing you’re secretly falling for a friend, you can’t get them out of your head—and near the end, John Mayer comes in with a killer guitar solo that screams of longing. That solo? That’s Mason.

Also, I’m totally going to blend genres here, but that’s Mason too. So: Marshmello & Jonas Brothers’ “Leave Before You Love Me.” Chris Stapleton’s “You Should Probably Leave.” John Craigie’s “Rough Johns.” Sturgill Simpson’s “Long White Line.” Ben Taylor’s “Nothing I Can Do.” Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.”

Which TV series are you currently binge-watching?
I just finished binging Ted Lasso from the beginning (very late to that party, but I’m a believer now!) and am counting down the days until the new season of Better Call Saul drops! I’m also savoring every last episode of This Is Us—I’m sad to see it end, but admire the show creators for sticking to their vision instead of stretching it out.

What is something you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
That my kids would much rather learn from their amazing teachers than from me! And I’m on board with that.

What is your favorite way to unwind at the end of a long day?
A bedtime story with my second-grader. I’ve always loved reading to my kids every night. Now, she’s onto chapter books, and she reads to me! It’s the best.

Thanks to Jessica for chatting with us and to St. Martin's Press for sharing her book with our readers.

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Giveaway ends March 27th at midnight EST.

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Book Review: The Woman with the Map

By Sara Steven

February 1941

The world is at war and Joyce Cooper is doing her bit for the effort. A proud member of the ARP, it is her job to assist the people of Notting Hill when the bombs begin to fall. But as the Blitz takes hold of London, Joyce is called upon to plot the devastation that follows in its wake. Each night she must stand before her map and mark the trail of turmoil inflicted upon the homes and businesses she knows so well.

February 1974

Decades later, from her basement flat Joyce Cooper watches the world go by above her head. This is her haven; the home she has created for herself having had so much taken from her in the war. But now the council is tearing down her block of flats and she's being forced to leave. Could this chance to start over allow Joyce to let go of the past and step back into her life? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Joyce Cooper’s experiences during the war are snippets of a world we’re not often privy to, particularly from a woman’s perspective. What I know about Notting Hill boils down to the movie, Notting Hill, so to say The Woman with the Map had been eye-opening for me would be an understatement! Night after night, brave individuals like Joyce did all they could for the war effort–even children who masqueraded as couriers–all in an effort to survive. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have everything you know and often, those you love, stripped from you. And even when that happened, there was only one option: to carry on. 

I appreciated the two polar timeframes represented in Joyce’s life. We get the Joyce from 1941, a young woman faced with an impossible fate, and later the much older but not necessarily wiser Joyce, who has learned it’s best to shut out the world because the world has not been kind to her. It was an interesting contrast to see someone who is so steadfast in being alone and shutting everyone out, yet she wants to surround herself with the past, thereby embracing that painful time in her life. Her home reflects the past and despite all of that, it’s her safe zone. Jan Casey did a great job of showing that division, even more so when Joyce is forced to make a choice on where she wants to live going forward, and in letting go of her flat, she’s letting go of that painful past. Maybe.

Out of the two timelines, 1941 was my favorite. It was the building block for the future Joyce, and I felt like I was right there with her while she and the rest of her district endure constant bombings and destruction, and you wonder how anyone could withstand it. Given everything going on in our current world affairs right now, it really brought the reality of the present even closer to home. A constant thread through the pain and loss were continual glimpses of hope and endurance. It was reflected in Joyce’s familial relationships, her budding romance, and at times, when she notices little things like the fighting spirit of the crocus plant that grows in Notting Hill, attempting to make its way despite the frailty of the environment around it. 

The Woman with the Map is a historical fiction novel, but it felt like it could be a true story told by the women who endured during World War II. Joyce was easily a recognizable representation from that era, and her story (and all it holds) was well told. 

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Jan Casey's novels, like her first - The Women of Waterloo Bridge - explore the themes of how ordinary people are affected by extraordinary events during any period in history, including the present. Jan is fascinated with the courage, adaptability and resilience that people rise to in times of adversity and for which they do not expect pay, praise or commendation. Jan is also interested in writing about the similarities as opposed to the differences amongst people and the ways in which experiences and emotions bind humans together.

Jan was born in London but spent her childhood in Southern California. She was a teacher of English and Drama for many years and is now a Learning Supervisor at a college of further education.

When she is not working or writing, Jan enjoys yoga, swimming, cooking, walking, reading and spending time with her grandchildren.

Before becoming a published author, Jan had short stories and flash fictions published.

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Friday, March 18, 2022

Book Review: Murder at the Summer Fete

By Sara Steven

A fete worse than death…

After finding the killer of Lucy Roth six months ago, life has settled back to normal for bookshop owner, Nancy Hunter, and her grandmother, Jane. The annual Dedley End village fete is just around the corner, and Nancy is delighted when bestselling author, Thomas Green, agrees to launch his first new novel in ten years there.

But then a series of sinister events lead Nancy to realise someone is trying to sabotage their fete, so she, along with Jane and their journalist friend Jonathan, must turn detective to discover who isn’t at all thrilled about the return of Thomas Green.

When a body is discovered at the summer fete, the death scene mirroring that in Thomas’ latest bestseller, they realise that there’s another killer in Dedley End, but can they outsmart someone who appears to have pulled off the perfect crime?

The clues are right under Nancy and Jane’s noses, if only they can find them. Because the answers to life’s questions can always be found in a book…! (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I didn’t read the first book in the Dedley End Mystery series, but that was totally fine–there was no problem with following along and gaining a strong understanding that both Nancy and Jane have a prior history with solving crimes they’d never intended to solve. It seems they’re always in the wrong place at the right time, and that’s the same premise for Murder at the Summer Fete

What I really loved about this book is that I really didn't know who the culprit would be. I had my hunches, yet they were quickly disproven. From one moment to the next, we’re on the journey right along with Nancy, Jane, and their reporter friend Jonathan, trying to figure out not only who the culprit is,  but what the motive is. I thought it was unique and clever to incorporate a murder scene from writer Thomas Green’s latest novel–the murder scene becomes the actual murder scene at the fete, which leads everyone down a potential path to discovering who the murderer might be, or might not be. 

The police become an antagonistic quality during the investigation. I thought that was an interesting perspective, considering we’re often taught that law enforcement is there to help. And that is still the case regarding the murder at the fete, but due to Nancy’s involvement in finding Lucy Roth’s killer, it’s apparent that there is a bit of bad blood between the head policeman and Nancy. They’re both trying to achieve the same thing–discover the murderer from the fete–yet they are trying to achieve that in different ways, often stepping on one another’s toes in the process. It was a fun hurdle to toss into the story. 

While I enjoyed putting the clues together to bring the true murderer to justice, I felt the steps in getting there took a little too long at times. The dialogue seemed to drag on in certain areas, but overall, this was an enjoyable read and a fun cozy mystery experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK * Kobo * Apple

Victoria Walters writes up-lifting and inspiring stories. She's the author of the bestselling GLENDALE HALL series, which continues with its third book HOPEFUL HEARTS at GLENDALE HALL in September, as well as two other standalone novels - SUMMER at the KINDNESS CAFE, and THE SECOND LOVE of my LIFE. She has been chosen for WHSmith Fresh Talent and shortlisted for two RNA awards. Victoria was also picked as an Amazon Rising Star, and her books have won wide reader acclaim.

Victoria is a full-time author. She lives in Surrey with her cat Harry, and loves books, clothes, music, going out for tea and cake, and posting photos on Instagram.

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Thursday, March 17, 2022

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Do-Over

Today we are pleased to feature Bethany Turner's latest romcom, The Do-Over. Melissa enjoyed her previous novel, Plot Twist (reviewed here), and is excited to read this one too. Thanks to HarperCollins, we have THREE copies to give away!

Sometimes dreams come true. Other times, the best outcome begins with an epic fail.

Career-driven McKenna Keaton has devoted her life to attaining the senior partnership at her law firm. So asking a man on a date should be nothing. But the past four days have been the worst of her life and have called everything she thought she knew about herself into question. Besides, she can’t remember her last real date—one that didn’t involve using a blind date as an opportunity to get a stranger’s perspective on effective cross-examination techniques. (It’s like sharing fondue with a jury!)

But a real date? And with shy, nerdy Henry Blumenthal—McKenna’s high school rival for valedictorian who once took three hours to beat her at chess? Scratch that. He’s Hank Blume now, the famed documentarian, Durham’s darling son, who has attained all his dreams and more. He also happens to look like he stepped out of an Eddie Bauer catalog.

Whereas McKenna is a disgraced workaholic from New York on unpaid leave, accused of a white-collar crime she would never commit, succumbing to panic attacks, watching her dreams unravel. At age thirty-eight—and destined by the family curse to die before she turns forty, it appears—it’s absolutely the wrong time to have a major crush on a man. Especially one who treasures his memories of McKenna as the girl Most Likely to Succeed. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“Pitch-perfect comedic timing, a relatable heroine, and a refreshing sweetness elevate this novel above the sea of modern rom-coms. The rare author who can make me laugh-out-loud, The Do-Over is Bethany Turner at her best.” 
—Lauren Layne, New York Times bestselling author

“Bethany Turner has crafted a delightful, witty story with zippy dialogue, warmly relatable characters, and hilariously apt pop culture references. I found myself sneaking off to read just one more chapter. I’m still smiling thinking about this book. Reading it felt like eating a big bowl of Lucky Charms mixed with Fruity Pebbles. A colorful explosion of happy.” 
—Rachel Linden, bestselling author of The Enlightenment of Bees

Bethany Turner has been writing since the second grade, when she won her first writing award for explaining why, if she could have lunch with any person throughout history, she would choose John Stamos. She stands by this decision. Bethany now writes pop culture–infused rom-coms for a new generation of readers who crave fiction that tackles the thorny issues of life with humor and insight. She lives in Southwest Colorado with her husband, whom she met in the nineties in a chat room called Disco Inferno. As sketchy as it sounds, it worked out pretty well in this case, and they are now the proud parents of two teenagers. Connect with Bethany at her website or across social media, where she clings to the eternal dream that John Stamos will someday send her a friend request.

Visit Bethany 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 March 22nd at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Book Review: The Stepchild

By Sara Steven

It’s the phone call every mother dreads.

I’m climbing into the car after a trip to the grocery store. As the engine starts, my phone rings. It’s my stepdaughter, Shelby, who is babysitting my three-year-old little girl Millie.

‘I only went upstairs for a second,’ she says through her sobs. ‘She’s gone.’

I race home to find my blue-eyed baby girl missing, and my heart ripped out of my chest.

When the police turn up, Shelby’s story starts to unravel. What is she hiding?

Then I get a message saying, ‘Your husband is not who you think he is.’ Could he be lying?

Suddenly, my family feel like strangers. Everyone has a secret – even me.

No one knows why I was late coming back from the store, and the guilt I’ve been feeling ever since…

Once the truth comes out, all of our lies exposed, will it be too late to save my precious child? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

There is a reason behind my reading The Stepchild within a two day window. It had everything to do with how incredibly suspenseful it was, from the first page to the last. What begins as an ordinary day, with a mother (Leslie) relying on her stepdaughter (Shelby) for help in taking care of her three-year-old daughter (Millie), turns into the worst nightmare any parent dreads: when their child goes missing. 

But even in the ordinary, there are secrets and underlying hidden truths that permeate this entire story, and from one chapter to the next I had no idea what would be lurking. Even in the moments that seem pretty banal, like when Leslie goes to the grocery store, the reader discovers that there is always more to it; there is always more involved that adds a little more chaos to whatever is happening between characters. We discover that Leslie wasn’t where she said she’d be, that Shelby isn’t being honest when it comes to Millie, and there’s even an added character weaved in later on who provides a lot more background into the family dynamics that can ultimately change a person, giving us the why; the motives. 

The biggest lingering question of all is–what happened to Millie? Where is she? Is she okay? It was central in my mind the entire time, and it left me with the need to know, making it hard to put the book down and not try to figure out what everyone is hiding in order to ultimately discover what really happened to Millie. The eventual understanding of it all was pretty epic and a huge shock. It wasn’t written in a way that is a straight easy answer, either, which made The Stepchild the ultimate psychological thriller.

Having read The Boy in the Photo, also by Nicole Trope (see my review), I knew just how high the bar had been raised where suspenseful reads are concerned. She’s a master at that. But I think the bar has been set even higher with The Stepchild. It kept me on my toes the entire time, making this a much-deserved five-star read!   

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

Nicole Trope went to university to study Law but realized the error of her ways when she did very badly on her first law essay because-as her professor pointed out- 'It's not meant to be a story.' She studied teaching instead and used her holidays to work on her writing career and complete a Masters' degree in Children's Literature.

The idea for her first published novel, The Boy under the Table, was so scary that it took a year for her to find the courage to write the emotional story. She went on to publish a further five novels in Australia before joining Bookouture in 2019. She is a USA Today and Amazon bestseller in the USA, UK, AUS and CAN.

She lives in Sydney with her husband and three children.
Visit Nicole online:

Purchase links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US * Apple * Kobo * Google

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