Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Book Review: Sweet Love and Country Roads



By Sara Steven

Samantha Baker is a high-flying movie producer living in New York City. She loves her shoes, drinking cosmopolitans, and wouldn’t trade the comforts of city life for anything in the world. But when her job is put on the line, Samantha has no other choice than to move to the middle of nowhere to straighten out the filming of her latest romantic comedy blockbuster.

Her new country home has no Starbucks, no Pilates, and the one pub in town has never heard of appletinis—only serves beer and whiskey neat. On the plus side, the views are scenic. And not just for the aerial shots, as the local eye-candy provides a welcome distraction.

At least until Samantha discovers a native cowboy, Travis Hunt, is the source of all her troubles...

And the battle begins.

Each has something the other wants, but as Samantha and Travis go head to head, they might discover the endgame has changed. When hate turns to heat, all becomes fair in love and war for these two sworn enemies who’ve been playing a game of hearts.

But will a roll in the hay be enough to make Samantha decide there’s no sex in the city and convert to country living? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Sweet Love and Country Roads is my favorite Camilla Isley novel so far, hands down! I really enjoyed the stark contrasts between the life Samantha is used to living while she’s in New York City, to the down home country life in small-town Indiana–there’s a great moment when she’s reflecting on how she can’t get any sleep with how quiet it is there, and there’s no app available on her phone that will play screeching tires and honking cars. The city backdrop is what she’s used to and she doesn’t want it any other way. 

But, little by little, it grows on her. The shift starts out small–the animals that she swears she’s never liked before, yet now she feels a bit of an attachment to. The gorgeous sunrises and sunsets she’s never appreciated or really noticed before. And then there’s Travis, a man who in equal parts infuriates her, yet sets her soul on fire. She’s only in Indiana short-term to fulfill her employment obligations before she’s due to head back to NYC, and Travis has made it perfectly clear that he isn’t into flings. But that doesn’t stop either of them from feeling a strong attraction towards one another, to the point where it begins to feel like torture. 

I could understand the situation from both perspectives, well defined and described within the pages of this book. Samantha has worked her entire adult life on creating a name for herself, with a job she could never sustain in Indiana. Travis has been hurt before. He doesn’t want to get put into that position again, no matter his feelings. Of course, the old adage, “you want what you can’t have” strongly comes into play, which only adds to the heated tension between them. Neither wants to change their minds, or compromise on what they firmly believe is the right thing to do.

I loved the banter between Samantha and Travis. The heat. Travis reminded me of Justin from the movie, Hope Floats, all sinewy and cowboy-like. With such opposing personalities, it was bound to be an exciting read, and it really was. Sweet Love and Country Roads was a five-star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK * Apple  

Camilla Isley is an engineer who left science behind to enter the whimsical realm of romantic fiction.

She writes contemporary rom-coms. Her characters have big hearts, might be a little stubborn at times, and love to banter with each other. Every story she pens has a guaranteed HEA that will make your heart beat faster. Unless you're a vampire, of course.

Camilla is a cat lover, coffee addict, and shoe hoarder. Besides writing, she loves reading—duh!—cooking, watching bad TV, and going to the movies—popcorn, please. She's a bit of a foodie, nothing too serious. A keen traveler, Camilla knows mosquitoes play a role in the ecosystem, and she doesn't want to starve all those frog princes out there, but she could really live without them.

Visit Camilla online:
Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * TikTok

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Friday, May 27, 2022

What's in the (e)mail

Melissa:

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid from Ballantine (NetGalley)
The Man I Never Met by Elle Cook from Ballantine (NetGalley)
The Make-Up Test by Jenny L. Howe from St. Martin's Press (print)
Good Morning, Love by Ashley M. Coleman from Simon & Schuster (print)
Henry Hamlet's Heart by Rhiannon Wilde from Charlesbridge (NetGalley)
Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin from Celadon (NetGalley)
Sugar and Salt
by Susan Wiggs from William Morrow (print)
Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley from St. Martin's Press (print)
Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta from Scribner (NetGalley)
These Numbered Days by Anna E. Collins from Red Adept (ebook)

Sara:
Come Here Often? by Ellie Center from Bookouture (NetGalley)
Wild at Heart by Stacy Gold from PR by the Book (ebook)
His Other Wife by Nicole Trope from Bookouture (NetGalley)
The House Sitter by Ellery Kane from Bookouture (NetGalley)

Jami:
The Forgotten Cottage by Courtney Ellis from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck from Berkley (NetGalley)






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Spotlight: A Mother's Heart

“Do you know lots of people believe that when you die, you become a star? I think so too. And that your mammy and daddy are now stars in the sky, shining their light on us all.” Rachel pulled her two stepchildren into her arms. “And they know you’re safe down here with me.”

When Rachel met handsome Irish widower Lorcan it was a whirlwind romance. Her family back in New Zealand thought it would never last. But it did, and they were so happy. Bringing up two children hadn’t been in her life plan, but it had become her joy, and she was as proud of them as if they were her own.

She’d say to them “even though you didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in my heart”, and they’d all laugh, knowing they were loved. Their little family wasn’t quite the same as everyone else’s, but it was beautiful, it was happy, it was home.

Until now. Because when Lorcan’s life is taken in a tragic accident, it feels like Rachel’s world has died with him. She knows in her heart that she wants to take the children back to the country she grew up in. Where she’d have support, because they’d be surrounded by her family. Where she could grieve and heal; and the children could have a new start.

However, she doesn’t count on the children’s own grandparents. Their blood relations, who say Rachel isn’t their real mother, and so can’t take them away from Ireland. Who say they won’t let her.

As Rachel finds herself fighting against the only people who might love the children as much she does, everyone will have to ask – what makes a parent? What makes a home? And with whom do the children of her heart have a future?

An utterly unmissable and powerful story about families, love and heartbreak, perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes, Maeve Binchy and Jodi Picoult.

Purchase A Mother's Heart here.

Carmel Harrington is an internationally published novelist from Co. Wexford, where she lives with her family and rescue dog, George Bailey. She has published eight novels, sold into fourteen territories, been shortlisted twice (2016 & 2017) for an Irish Book Award, and won Kindle Book of the Year and Romantic eBook of the Year in 2013. An Irish Times bestseller often compared to Maeve Binchy, Carmel has established herself as a warm, contemporary storyteller who writes with heart, humour and hope, capturing the issues facing families and relationships in modern Ireland. 

Visit Carmel online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Spotlight and Giveaway: Adult Assembly Required

The books we're featuring this week for spotlight posts have the same color on their covers. Another fun coincidence! Today we are featuring Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman. It sounds like a sweet story and we're there for it! Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

New York native Laura Costello never expected that a big move to Los Angeles would find her facing homelessness. What started out one week ago as a shiny new adventure and a fresh start has turned into a nightmare: Laura’s apartment is burned to the ground and she has nowhere to live. Not to mention, she’s already running from a breakup and an overbearing family back on the East Coast, and she is hoping to leave a traumatic accident in the dust. Laura quickly learns that this whole “adulting” thing is actually pretty hard, no matter where you are.
 
But when Laura, at rock bottom (and also soaking wet), steps inside a Larchmont bookstore, she meets a gregarious, quirky bookseller who seems to want to solve all of her problems.
 
It’s not long before Laura finds herself adopted by said bookseller, installed in a lovely but completely illegal boardinghouse, and challenged to save a losing trivia team from disgrace. Add in a gorgeous housemate and her ex-boyfriend determined to put himself back in the running, and Laura’s life has gotten even more interesting overnight. Could this strange new life be everything she needs to grow?

Check out an excerpt from Adult Assembly Required.

“If you love quirky, heartfelt stories about interesting characters and starting over, then Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman is definitely the book for you."
—PopSugar

“Waxman's quick-witted and pithy prose gives readers a fun take on Melrose Place, but instead of back-stabbing and bed-hopping there are trivia clubs and some old-fashioned will-they-or-won't-they?”
—USA Today

Photo by Leanna Creel 

Abbi Waxman
is the USA Today bestselling author of I Was Told It Would Get Easier, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Other People’s Houses, and The Garden of Small Beginnings. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and three children.

Visit Abbi online:
Website * 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

Giveaway ends May 31st at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Book Review: The Paris Showroom

By Jami Denison

 “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, for I was not a Communist…” Thus begins one of the most well-known laments after World War II, a poem that ends “… and then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out.” 

Juliet Blackwell’s latest novel, The Paris Showroom, is about a lesser-known chapter of World War II—that Nazis ran prison camps right in the heart of Paris, hiding them from the citizens who lived there.  The book takes us into a France that’s divided among French loyalists, German collaborators, innocent victims, and those who tried to look away from it all.

Capucine Benoit and her father Bruno run a fan-making business in the heart of Paris, working with top designers to dress the rich women of the city. A widow, Capucine is estranged from her daughter Mathilde, who lives in the suburbs with her wealthy conservative grandparents. But German occupation has hit the Benoits’ business hard, and when Bruno is outed as a communist, they’re both arrested. Bruno is sent out of the country, but Capucine’s design knowledge gets her sent to a little-known prison camp within the LĂ©vitan department store. There, along with Jewish people married to Aryans and others with special artistic skills, Capucine sorts through confiscated furniture, art, rugs, dishes, and other luxurious items so that high-ranking German soldiers can furnish the apartments where they live with their French mistresses. This job brings her in touch with myriad people who populate Paris during the war: The French guards and drivers keeping the prisoners in line. The German soldiers whom they report to. The French girlfriends. And, of course, the other prisoners.

Meanwhile, Mathilde is twenty-one and hasn’t talked to her mother in years. According to her grandparents, her mother is a wild woman who had behaved shamefully, hanging out in jazz clubs all night and dating inappropriate men. Seeming younger than her years, Mathilde finally begins to grow up when she discovers her childhood best friend is working for the French Resistance. As Mathilde starts to question everything her grandparents have told her, she longs to reconnect with her mother.

The Paris Showroom features characters I hadn’t seen in other World War II fiction I’ve read. Capucine, who lived her life as a bit of a hedonist before the war, was so ignorant of the people around her that she had to ask her fellow prisoners to explain Passover. Both Capucine and Mathilde have friends who become involved with Nazis. And others, while not collaborators, make compromises every day to ensure their own survival. 

The most extraordinary heroes of the war are off-screen in this book. And for me, that made The Paris Showroom almost more accessible than other books of the period. Capucine and Mathilde are not breathtakingly brave. They did not speak out when the Germans first came; they are frightened by the smallest of rebellious acts. And yet they do act, and it’s those small acts that add up to the big victories. While Capucine does what she needs to do to survive, Mathilde’s character arc is particularly gratifying. 

The narrative encompasses the end of the war, and the scenes where French resistance fighters chased German occupiers out of Paris were extremely rewarding. (Although Blackwell breaks out of the close point-of-view she’d used throughout the book to give a wider lens to these events, losing some emotion in the process). With similar scenes happening today in Ukraine, one can hope that the world has learned some lessons from World War II. They came for the Ukrainians, and everyone spoke out. 

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

More by Juliet Blackwell:


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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Spotlight and Giveaway: Set on You

It looks like this week's theme is fitness (at least for now). Today we are featuring Amy Lea's debut novel, Set on You. It looks like an entertaining romcom, based on the cover and synopsis, and we look forward to checking it out soon. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away!

Synopsis:
SET ON YOU follows Crystal Chen, a curvy fitness influencer who has built a successful career online by breaking wellness stereotypes and promoting a message of body acceptance. As a Chinese-American woman grappling with her own journey of self-love, the gym has become her safe space. And while her Instagram posts do get attention from the occasional troll, Crystal has learned to ignore them and focus on her supportive community.
 
That is, until Scott Ritchie, a criminally gorgeous and incredibly smug new gym patron, enters the picture and continually steals her favorite squat rack. The two quickly become fitness foes, pressing each other’s buttons at every turn while battling for gym dominance. Crystal can’t deny that she and Scott have chemistry, but whether that chemistry is of the romantic or hate-filled kind remains to be seen.
 
As the pair gets to know each other, Crystal finds an unexpected soft side under Scott’s arrogant and muscled exterior. When a picture of them goes viral, unleashing relentless internet vitriol, Crystal and Scott’s budding relationship—and the future of Crystal’s career—is put to the ultimate test.

“Fresh, fun, and extremely sexy. Set on You is a romance of unexpected depth.”
—Helen Hoang, New York Times bestselling author of The Heart Principle

“Just the right dose of delicious steam. Amy Lea has crafted an ode to all of us who struggle with self-acceptance while remaining determined to love ourselves.”
—Ali Hazelwood, New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis

Set on You is energetic, steamy, bubbly, and so, so fun. But more than that, it’s also a hugely important book that celebrates body positivity in the most joyous way possible.”
—Jesse Q. Sutanto, author of Dial A for Aunties
 

Photo by Amy Lea
Amy Lea is a Canadian bureaucrat by day and contemporary romance author by night (and weekends). She writes laugh out loud romantic comedies featuring strong heroines, witty banter, mid-2000s pop culture references, and happily-ever-afters. When Amy is not writing, she can be found fan-girling over other romance books via (@amyleabooks), eating potato chips with reckless abandon, and snuggling with her husband and golden doodle. 

Visit Amy online:
WebsiteTwitter * 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

Giveaway ends May 30th at midnight EST.

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Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: Come Here Often?

By Sara Steven

Ever been in the gym, about to jump on a bike, when you get dumped and fired within minutes? Then you have a panic attack and you’re physically unable to walk out of the door, so you’re stuck there? Yeah, that.

I’m Kat and today is officially my Day of Change. Step 1: signing up to Nashville’s fanciest health club. My idea of aerobics is lifting Dunkin’ Donuts, so I thought the toughest part would be getting on a treadmill. Wrong! I didn’t count on being dumped over the phone and fired from my job in the space of minutes. Now, that’s how you work up a sweat.

As my world unravels, and I have visions of turning into Great Aunt Gladys with her surplus of cats, I’m paralyzed by a panic attack. I can’t physically walk out of the door.

Unable to step outside into the hot mess of my life, I secretly spend night after night sleeping on massage tables, avoiding security guards, hiding from my ex, and drinking a lot of green juices. I won’t lie, flirting with blue-eyed personal trainer Marcus, who’s carved like a Greek god and has a smile that makes my stomach flip-flop, definitely takes the edge off.

But it’s just a matter of time before I’m caught… Can I get my act together? Will Marcus forgive me if he finds out the truth? And how personal is too personal when it comes to personal trainers? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

In some ways, Come Here Often? reminded me of the movie The Terminal–but the main character in this story isn’t stuck in an airport terminal. She’s stuck inside of a health club! 

That type of scenario alone had me intrigued. What would that even look like? I felt the author did a great job of showing that with Kat. Ellie Center also delved deep into the inner workings of someone who is dealing with panic attacks and anxiety, and each and every time that Kat would try to break free from the confines of the health club, I was right there rooting her on, wondering if today would really be the day. And when it didn’t happen, I felt the same burning disappointment that Kat felt. 

I appreciated how on one hand, there was a certain thrill and adventure in living in secret within the confines of a gym. It becomes a bit of a security blanket for Kat, while she’s dealing with recent traumas that only aggravate her anxiety. On the other hand, there was truth and honesty in how morose she feels in having to even hide out there in the first place. What started out as a means in taking those first steps into change, and I think initially wanting to do something that would impress her ex, slowly begins to change who she is–the question is whether that change is for the better, or if it’s at a detriment to her. She’s not entirely sure. 

I liked the other characters within Come Here Often? I think there can be a certain stigma about people who practically live at the gym, but the people who support Kat at her health club are motivational and caring, not to mention HOT. (Marcus in particular) One of my favorites had been a fellow female health club member who Kat discovers is just as secretive as she is–and super competitive. The scenes with the two of them were funny with witty dialogue while they tried to one up each other. And I really enjoyed the ending, where we get to see Kat step up and find ways to overcome the anxiety. It was touching. The premise behind this story was unique and engaging, making this a five-star read for me!

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

Ellie Center was born in Savannah, Georgia and raised by a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst. She studied philosophy in college but eventually went on to become an audiologist. After traveling to Israel and living in a Kibbutz, she moved to Nashville, where she started her own business and also started writing novels, falling in love with the process of putting her imagination down on paper. She writes songs in her spare time and lives with Hannah, her cat and a Lab named Joey.

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Friday, May 20, 2022

Book Review: Magpie

By Becky Gulc

‘When Marisa meets Jake, everything falls into place. But then their new lodger Kate arrives.

Something isn’t right about her. It’s the way she looks at Jake, keeps her toothbrush right next to theirs and constantly asks questions about the baby they are trying for. Or maybe it’s all in Marisa’s head. That’s what Jake thinks. And she trusts him, doesn’t she?

But Marisa knows something is wrong, and she is determined to find out why, even if it costs her everything’. (Synopsis courtesy of HarperCollins UK.)

I’m going to start with letting out a big "oooooh"! Because this book was just fantastic! The synopsis above set me up for a great read without spoilers and, wow, what a rollercoaster I went on as a reader.

It would be very hard to say much about this book without revealing spoilers, so I’ll keep it simple. This is a great psychological thriller that is so tumultuous you’ll be wanting to go back and re-read it immediately. I was questioning everything at one point as a reader; surely that couldn’t be right, maybe things will still pan out the way I think they will… Well, it was certainly a captivating read to find out. 

There are some hard-hitting topics in this novel, including sexual violence, mental health issues and struggles to conceive. There are some aspects of the plot relating to some of these that you have to view as a work of fiction rather than something that might legitimately be possible, but that was fine with me and I didn’t overly reflect on this. The topics were covered with sensitivity and detail, allowing real insight into how some of these issues (particularly the struggle to conceive) can impact on a person and couple in so many ways. 

This is a clever, clever book that had me on tenterhooks until the very end. Who to like, who to trust, it’s all so up in the air! Elizabeth was great at making me feel both empathy for the main characters but also dislike/mistrust too, it was never straightforward and I loved that. I really thought I had the ending figured out but was so glad when I didn’t! It was just refreshingly gripping throughout. Wholeheartedly recommend this novel if you enjoy a thriller.

Purchase Magpie here.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jenn Bouchard serves up something special...plus a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to welcome Jenn Bouchard to CLC. Her debut novel, First Course, was published last year, so we are celebrating its first birthday with an interview. Jenn also has FIVE copies for some lucky readers!

Jenn Bouchard's debut novel First Course was published in 2021 by TouchPoint Press and has been the recipient of twelve awards and distinctions. Her short stories have appeared in the Bookends Review, Litbreak Magazine, the Penmen Review, and the Little Patuxent Review, with an additional short story forthcoming in MARY. A high school social studies teacher of twenty-two years, she lives with her family in the Boston suburbs. She is currently seeking representation for her second novel Palms on the Cape.

Visit Jenn online:

Synopsis:

Second acts can be delicious.

When four life-altering catastrophes hit in just one day—including the loss of her parents in a tragic plane crash—twenty-four-year-old Janie Whitman retreats to her family’s summer house in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Here she tries to provide stability for her older sister Alyssa and two young nieces by cooking them amazing food.

Through a mix-up with the alumni office at her parents’ alma mater, Janie meets a young high school guidance counselor named Rocky at a volunteer event, and their fast-tracked romance helps Janie to see possibilities beyond the life she had known just a few weeks prior. But with her ex-boyfriend (and former boss) making overtures beyond her wildest dreams, as well as Alyssa’s estranged husband willing to do whatever it takes to win her back, the Whitman sisters are faced with big decisions.

Despite the obstacles in their way, when Janie and Alyssa are tasked with establishing a lasting memorial for their parents, they just might find the second acts they are seeking. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"The food and the characters are equally scrumptious in First Course—a delicious debut from Jenn Bouchard." 
–Emily Belden, author of Hot Mess and Husband Material

“Jenn Bouchard’s debut, First Course, is a sweet, romantic story about Janie, a young woman who, after a series of traumatic events unfolding in less than 24 hours, learns how to pick herself up again and rediscover who she is as a sister, daughter, aunt, girlfriend...and cook. Bouchard’s writing is snappy and smart and whisks the reader away on a virtual summer tour of Maine. First Course is the perfect book for readers to take on their own trip to the beach or pool.” 
–Sarahlyn Bruck, author of Designer You and Daytime Drama

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing? 
That it makes them hungry! Food is something that brings us together, whether it be the act of cooking food with someone you love or for people who you care about. The thoughtfulness and deliberate nature of cooking appeals to me. When I am writing about food and cooking, I'll spend extra time in the kitchen making things I might want to include in the book or story. I pay close attention to the process, the smells, the flavors, and the textures both during the process and when enjoying the outcome. When I wrote First Course, I thought a lot about when I was in my mid-twenties and all that went into becoming a better cook, as well as the things I made for my family and friends at that stage of life. It helped me to get into Janie's head and to write her character better.

How is Janie similar to or different from you? 
She's a bit younger than I am, so I had to think about things from her perspective, but also what it would be like to be in my mid-twenties around now instead of the early 2000s like I was! There are smartphones, social media, etc. She's also a much bigger risk taker than I am. There's no way I would've gotten involved in a secret relationship with Cole, her boss. There are also decisions she makes later in the book about her family's next steps that I really admire, but I'm not sure I would've had the guts to take that leap. I found her to be very aspirational in that sense.

If First Course was made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles? 
I always thought Emma Stone would make a great Janie. I could see Frances McDormand pulling off the role of nosy neighbor Meredith Ashton so well. She would provide great comic relief.

Which TV series are you currently binge watching? 
I am almost finished watching Julia on HBO Max. It is fabulous. The acting, the cooking, and the social commentary are sublime. I love the attention to every single detail. I'm also finally watching Ted Lasso. I'm a big sports fan, and my kids are both athletes, so I find it very entertaining and enjoyable. I also can't wait for season five of The Crown later this year.

If we were to visit you, what places would you take us to see? 
If we were sticking close to home, I'd take you for a walk around Walden Pond and perhaps one down the Battle Road Trail at Minute Man National Park. I'm lucky to live near these treasures. If we were venturing further, I'd love to take you to the ocean. A favorite spot about fifty minutes away is Crane Beach in Ipswich MA. I'm trying to figure out how to include it in my next book. It's pretty spectacular.

What is something you learned about yourself during the pandemic? 
I had to completely change the way I drafted and edited my writing. Before the pandemic, I wrote mostly in coffee shops and hotel lobby bars. I loved being surrounded by people and conversations. These observations of human behavior and interaction influenced much of First Course. I drafted almost all of my second book Palms on the Cape from my house. I wrote much of it from my front porch. I live on a side street with a decent amount of activity, so that helped a bit. Still, it was a mind shift for me. The great thing is that I can now write from almost anywhere. I rely more on jotting down random notes as ideas come to me and piecing it all together when it's time to write.

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

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

Giveaway ends May 24th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Graduation

 We've been running a column series (for over two years now!) to get more personal with our readers. This month, we're talking about graduation, since we can both relate to that topic this year.

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:                                                                                                                               
May 12th, 2022 had been a day that was a long time coming for me.                                                                                                                            I finally, FINALLY graduated from college.                                                                                          I hadn’t always known that higher learning was in the cards for me. In fact, I barely made it through my high school years. If you would have asked me if college was in my future even ten years ago, I would have probably said that there was no way in hell I’d ever go back to school. I never felt I was any “good” at it. 




But when my then kindergartener started his first year of elementary school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my own life. I felt I was at a crossroads. I’d spent over a decade working in property management while living in Nebraska, which I enjoyed a lot, but the circumstances felt different in Arizona. We had moved to the Grand Canyon State in 2015, and I spent the first year working with my youngest son in order to prepare him for kindergarten–I found a homeschool program I could utilize that would help me to teach him his numbers, letters, how to write, how to read…the preschool programs we’d considered that were in person had been full by the time we moved to Arizona, the timing of enrollment so completely different than what I’d been used to in Nebraska. 

And while I felt proud of my son and proud of myself for helping him to achieve the benchmarks he’d needed to start kindergarten, I knew it would mean a change for me, considering his older brother had started his sixth grade year at the same elementary school. 

I decided to try one class at the local community college. I figured if I didn’t like it, I could always leave it there. But I liked it. A lot. So I decided to enroll in two classes the following semester, with the same mindset. It wasn’t until the start of 2018 that I actually buckled down and sought out an advisor who could help me figure out what courses I needed to enroll in, in order to gain my associates degree. I discovered during that meet-up that I could become part of the Pathways program offered through Maricopa Community Colleges, where I could earn my associates through any of the community colleges under the Maricopa umbrella, then transfer to one of the four year institutions here in Arizona. Considering Arizona State University had one of the closest campuses to where I live–ten minutes–I knew that would be the best fit for me and my family.

The girl who had skipped the majority of her junior year of high school, who had become quite familiar with the letter “F” and had thought she was a terrible student, turned out to be an awesome student at the college level. I graduated with an accumulated GPA of 3.9 while in Community college, and a 4.21 GPA at Arizona State University. 

It wasn’t easy. I spent several hours a day on my studies. There were semesters where I juggled five courses–eighteen credits. There were classes that were required, like anything math-related, that frustrated me and felt like torture. But there were writing-inspired classes that filled me with energy and excitement, because I’d felt like I was surrounded by other people (online or in person) who got me. I didn’t do it alone, either. My family, especially my husband, was a huge support. He picked up the slack if need be, and my kids knew if my bedroom door was closed, it most likely meant that Mom was studying. My parents were supportive, my friends let me vent to them when I needed to. I had a really great support system that got me through the four years it has taken me to graduate with honors. 

My father let me know the other day that he’s considering going back to school! The oldest graduate in my class had been seventy-seven, and my father said he’d noticed the man mixed in within the group of graduating students at my convocation ceremony. I believe that it’s never too late. I also hope my boys are a little inspired by their “old” mom going back to school. I like to joke with them and say, “If I can do well in college, and I can’t even remember what I did yesterday, then I know you can do well when you go to college, too.” 

With family

With family and friends





Melissa Amster:                                                                                                 
This year, two of my kids are graduating. One is graduating eighth grade and the other is graduating fifth grade. So I will have two kids in high school this fall. (Gasp!) The last time we had a graduation in our family was when my oldest graduated eighth grade in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. They did a virtual graduation and we were thrilled when he won one of the highest awards at his school. 

Eighth grade graduation (at home), 2020
Currently in tenth grade

I think the fifth grade graduation will be the most bittersweet for me as this is my last child to graduate from elementary school. We started there in 2009 when we moved to the DC area and my oldest had recently turned four. They have an amazing pre-K program. My other two kids eventually joined him at this school. They all had the same teacher for second grade, which I thought was really cool, especially since she's one of the best teachers they've had. My younger two also had the same kindergarten teacher. Needless to say, we've had a long history with this school between all three kids and it will be strange for none of them to be going there in the fall. 

Fifth grade graduation, 2019
Graduating eighth grade soon


I haven't had much involvement with my eighth grader's school. He spent part of sixth grade and all of seventh grade learning from home. My fifth grader will be going there in the fall, so maybe I'll be able to get more involved while she's there for the next three years. 

Pre-K graduation, 2016
Graduating fifth grade soon

All I know is that I'm not ready for my oldest to graduate high school, but at least he has two more years to go until then. I'm sure that time will just fly by though, as it always tends to do! In the meantime, I'm going to share a fun memory from my high school graduation. One of my closest friends was a freshman at the time and he was in either band or chorus, but it somehow put him and everyone else in that group close to the front. When I went up to get my diploma, I heard him cheer for me and that just made my day and meant a lot to me. (Clearly it still does if I am talking about it this many years later!)

My high school graduation, with my
friend from Amsterdam


Tell us about the graduations in your life!

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A visit with Sam and Meri...plus a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

When I talk about Sam and Meri, I am referring to Samantha M. Bailey and Meredith Schorr. I met both of these wonderful women and authors a couple of years after I started CLC and connected easily with them right away. They are lovely online and in person. And their writing is just fantastic. They both have new books out this year and they're here to talk about them today. Sam's latest thriller, Watch Out for Her, released last month (reviewed here) and Meri's latest romcom, As Seen on TV, releases on June 7th (reviewed here). Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada and Forever, we have TWO sets of both books to give away!

Samantha M. Bailey is the USA TODAY and #1 nationally bestselling author of WOMAN ON THE EDGE, which has sold in eleven countries to date, and the instant #1 national bestseller, WATCH OUT FOR HER. She is also a journalist and freelance editor; her work has appeared in NOW Magazine, The Village Post, The Thrill Begins, and The Crime Hub, among other publications. Samantha lives in Toronto, where she can usually be found tapping away at her computer or curled up on her couch with a book. (Bio courtesy of Samantha's website.)

Visit Samantha online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


A born and bred New Yorker and lifelong daydreamer, Meredith Schorr fueled her passion for writing everything from restaurant reviews, original birthday cards, and even work-related emails into a career penning romantic comedies. When she’s not writing books filled with grand gestures and hard-earned happily-ever-afters or working as a trademark paralegal, she’s most often reading, running, or watching TV…for research, of course. (Bio courtesy of Meredith's website.)

Visit Meredith online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis of Watch Out for Her:

Wherever you go… she’ll be watching.

Sarah Goldman, mother to six-year-old Jacob, is relieved to move across the country. She has a lot she wants to leave behind, especially Holly Monroe, the pretty twenty-two-year-old babysitter she and her husband, Daniel, hired to take care of their young son last summer. It started out as a perfect arrangement—Sarah had a childminder her son adored, and Holly found the mother figure she’d always wanted. But Sarah’s never been one to trust very easily, so she kept a close eye on Holly, maybe too close at times. What she saw raised some questions, not only about who Holly really was but what she was hiding. The more Sarah watched, the more she learned—until one day, she saw something she couldn’t un-see, something so shocking that all she could do was flee.

Sarah has put it all behind her and is starting over in a different city with her husband and son. They’ve settled into a friendly suburb where the neighbors, a tight clique of good citizens, are always on the lookout for danger. But when Sarah finds hidden cameras in her new home, she has to wonder: has her past caught up to her, and worse yet, who’s watching her now?

A spine-tingling, page-turning novel from USA TODAY and #1 national bestselling author Samantha M. Bailey, Watch Out for Her is psychological suspense at its very best—a chilling look at trust, voyeurism, and obsession in the modern age, and how far we will go to watch out for those we love. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

Synopsis of As Seen on TV:
Emerging journalist Adina Gellar is done with dating in New York City. If she’s learned anything from made-for-TV romance movies, it’s that she’ll find love in a small town—the kind with harvest festivals, delightful but quirky characters, and scores of delectable single dudes. So when a big-city real estate magnate targets tiny Pleasant Hollow for development, Adi knows she’s found the perfect story—one that will earn her a position at a coveted online magazine, so she can finally start adulting for real . . . and maybe even find her dream man in the process. 

Only Pleasant Hollow isn’t exactly “pleasant.” There’s no charming bakery, no quaint seasonal festivals, and the residents are more ambivalent than welcoming. The only upside is Finn Adams, who’s more mouthwatering than the homemade cherry pie Adi can’t seem to find—even if he does work for the company she’d hoped to bring down. Suddenly Adi has to wonder if maybe TV got it all wrong after all. But will following her heart mean losing her chance to break into the big time?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is something you loved most about each other's latest books? (Spoiler free, of course.)

Samantha Bailey: I love all of Meredith Schorr’s books because they make me feel so happy. But she absolutely knocked it out of the park with AS SEEN ON TV. The premise itself hooked me the minute she told me about it on our annual Beach Babes trip in Santa Cruz, California, and when I read it, I was so incredibly proud of my best friend. I loved Adina, the main character, because she’s funny, feisty, imperfect, a woman trying to better herself and her life, stumbling and picking herself up along the way. I’d totally hang out with her.

Meredith Schorr: Both of Sam’s books have impressed the hell out of me! She’s one of the most loving and “glass is half full” people I’ve ever been blessed to know, but she can write dark like nobody’s business! What particularly wowed me in WATCH OUT FOR HER was how well fleshed out the characters are. I was especially drawn to Holly, who just wants to be seen, loved, and feel she belongs somewhere. The lengths she took were usually misguided but she touched me. I was also really impressed with the way Sam subtly used random objects as clues, like Mr. Blinkers. Who knew a stuffed bunny could be so creepy?

How are you similar to or different from your lead characters? 

SB: When I started writing WATCH OUT FOR HER, it was right before the pandemic. I wanted to explore middle-aged motherhood because I was forty-six then, and the concept of identity—how we women separate ourselves from being only mothers and find who we are and want to be. At the time, I’d achieved somewhat of a sense of balance between parenting and my career; I wrote during “mom hours” when my kids were at school, allowing me to be fully present when they were home, volunteer in their classes, and have two roles that fulfilled me. I understood Sarah Goldman, one of my lead characters, a mother of a six-year-old, struggling to regain that piece of herself she’s lost, but I wasn’t her. Then the pandemic hit, everything was locked down, my kids were now learning remotely. Suddenly, my kitchen/office was the main hub in the house, and I no longer had any space or time of my own. I ended up writing the bulk of the book during the pandemic and identified with Sarah’s longing to have something all her own much more than I’d anticipated.

MS: On paper I'm very different from Adina Gellar. I was raised in the suburbs, the youngest of three children in a crowded extended family that, at times, included grandparents and step-family. Adina was raised in the city as an only child of a widowed mother and it was always just the two of them. However, we share a love/hate relationship with Manhattan. Like Adina, I have, at times, romanticized small towns and wondered how living in the "big city" has negatively impacted my life and been tempted to pack things up and head to Stars Hollow where Luke would be ready to pour me coffee and steal my heart.

If your books were made into movies, what songs would be on the soundtracks?

SB: I love this question because I love music so much. “Somebody’s Watching Me”: Rockwell; “Every Breath You Take: The Police; “Poison”: Bell Biv DeVoe; “Above”: Mad Season; “Got Me Wrong”: Alice in Chains; “The Day I Tried to Live”: Soundgarden; “Possession”: Sarah McLachlan; “You Can Do It”: Ice Cube; “Something I Can Never Have”: Nine Inch Nails; “What’s Up”: 4 Non Blondes.

MS: This was not an easy question for me because, while I love music, I need silence to write, and I’ve never made soundtracks for my books. That said, this was SO FUN.

In order:
"I hate New York" - Anna Bergendahl
"Shake it Off" - Taylor Swift
“Unwritten”- Natasha Beddingfield
"People are Strange" - The Doors
"Accidentally in Love" - Counting Crows
"Masterpiece" Jessie J
"Fine by Me" - Andy Grammer
“What I’ve Been Looking For” – Olivia Rodrigo and Matt Commett

Melissa and Sam, 2015

If you could ask each other one question, what would it be?

SB: I’ve stayed with Meredith in her apartment in Manhattan, and we always share a basement bedroom when we go to California. She bunked with me in my hotel room in Dallas when we went to Bouchercon together. We’ve been joined at the hip so many times, but I don’t really know what Meredith’s work day is like. I know her as an author, but she’s also a fulltime trademark paralegal, so I think I’d ask her to describe a typical day at the office. 

MS: Hmm, I don't think I've ever hesitated to ask her anything, to be honest! But I do wonder, if she was told she wasn't allowed to write thrillers anymore, whether she'd go back to writing edgy romcoms or something new entirely. (I'd also ask if she wanted to do all my promo because she never seems to get tired!)

If you got to switch places for a day, what is something that would surprise the other about your life?

SB: That’s such an interesting question! Meredith and I have known each other for over ten years, and the minute we connected online, it felt like we’d been friends forever. But we haven’t even seen each other in two and a half years, and she doesn’t witness my parenting life in person. I think what would surprise her most is the sheer magnitude of tasks I have to get done throughout any given day, and how often she would hear, “Mom” instead of “Sam.” 

MS: How even living in a huge city with millions of people in a skyrise apartment with 36 floors, there are days when I don't talk to anyone at all! If I'm working from home that day and have no plans at night and don't happen to talk on the phone, I can actually go an entire day without speaking! It sounds lonely, but usually it's by choice :)

Melissa and Meri, 2015

What is something you're looking forward to doing this summer?

SB: Seeing Meredith! It’s not really summer yet, but at the end of May, I’m going to New York City for ThrillerFest. And while I am incredibly excited about that experience, I mostly cannot wait to hug Meredith after more than two very long years without her.

MS: SO MANY THINGS that I can't limit it to one. 

ONE: My traditional debut romcom releases this summer. I’ve been waiting more than a decade for this!

TWO: I get to see Sam face-to-face for the first time in more than two years. I CANNOT WAIT for that.

THREE: I just learned that I've been invited on a panel for the Bryant Park Reading Room summer program. To be a participating author on one of these panels is a dream come true for me and I’m so excited. 

Thanks to Sam and Meri for chatting with us and to S&S Canada and Forever for sharing their books 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

Giveaway ends May 23rd at midnight EST.

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