Friday, June 24, 2022

Book Review: Solving Shelly

By Sara Steven

With most of her besties (The Sweet Water Circle) in good relationship standing, The Circle spins to Shelly with a long-overdue intervention. It's time for her to find her forever man. Or at least a guy without a foot fetish who doesn't text pictures of himself in his tighty whities.

Shelly wants no part of the dating scene, but no matter what she tries, The Circle is ahead of her, so eventually she relents to the torturous trio of speed dating, online dating apps, and blind dates. Will she find a diamond in the rough or will it just be rough?

Meanwhile, the only Circle member still looking for love, Donna, is back from L.A., divorced and crashing with Shelly. When Donna's new man makes a play for Shelly, it sets off shockwaves that could fracture The Sweet Water Circle's thirty-year friendship, just as Taylor's wedding to billionaire Ben Bach brings the crew from Sweet Water to Ibiza and Paris, not once, but twice. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ve read every single book in The Sweet Water Circle series, and this was a great series finale. As mentioned in the synopsis, Shelly’s story has been long overdue, since she’s been content to let everyone else have their turn in finding love while she watches from the sidelines. Given her past, she’s had a tough time with trusting anyone she’s romantically involved with, preferring the safety and security of being alone. 

I liked the prospect of having two best friends (Donna and Shelly) deal with developing feelings for the same man. And the man they’re feeling for did come as a shock to me–he’s been part of the series and readers have learned a lot about his backstory too–but everyone deserves the chance to find love again, and that can apply to all three characters. The bigger question becomes: at what cost? For Shelly, there is nothing that is more important to her than her friendships. The Sweet Water Circle is a tight sisterhood. Should she set aside her strong feelings in order to spare Donna’s, or should she do something that is out of the ordinary and do everything she can to live a happy existence? 

The same quirky group of characters are back for this last hurrah, which was really nice to see. It felt fitting that they’d all gather at Taylor’s wedding, sort of like the perfect ending for everyone. I also thought that the use of a wedding plotline was a great way to bring out the various emotional dramas that I think can often occur at real-life weddings. It can bring out the best and the worst in someone, which was highlighted well for both Shelly and Donna, and those romantically linked to them. 

To say I’m sad to see this series end would be an understatement. It’s been a lot of fun, with a lot of emotional growth. This was Shelly’s story, but it was the Sweet Water Circle’s send-off. A job well done.

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

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

Visit Grayson online:
Website * Facebook * Amazon * Goodreads

Visit all the stops on Grayson's blog tour:

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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Spotlight and Giveaway: Community Klepto

Today we are featuring Community Klepto by Kelly I. Hitchcock. It released earlier this week and, while we don't have a review available, you can see how much Annie Cathryn (whose debut novel is releasing next year) loved it on her Bookstagram. Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, we have TWO advanced reading copies to give away! 

Ann Josephson is a twenty-five-year-old sociopath whose compulsive kleptomania manifests itself in the most unlikely of places: the community center where she works out every day. The walls of the community center insulate her from the terrors of the outside world, which include her freelance work as a graphic artist; her socialite parents, who pay the better part of her living expenses; her therapist, who devotedly punches the clock; and the dark void of romantic relationships.

As Ann battles the inner demons that plague her millennial psyche, she must also battle the fiends that plague her at the gym: the loudly grunting beefcake who can’t be bothered to drop his weights at a reasonable volume, the naked old lady in the locker room using a towel as butt floss, the housewife in yoga pants that obviate the need for yoga wheeling her double stroller up and down the indoor track. Set in suburban Kansas City in the early 2010s, Community Klepto—a droll combination of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Choke—makes incarnate the characters and shenanigans that go on in every gym in the world.

Photo by Danielle Selby
Kelly I. Hitchcock is a literary fiction author and poet who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published several poems, short stories, and creative non-fiction works in literary journals and is the author of the coming-of-age novel The Redheaded Stepchild, a semi-finalist in the literary category for The Kindle Book Review’s “Best Indie Books of 2011,” and Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook. Her work has appeared in Clackamas Literary Review and Foliate Oak Literary Journal, in anthologies by Line Zero and Alien Buddha Press, and more. Kelly holds a BA in creative writing from Missouri State University. She has six-year-old identical twins and a full-time job, so writing and picking up LEGO are the only other things she can devote herself to. 

Visit Kelly 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

Giveaway ends June 28th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Book Review: His Other Wife

By Sara Steven

She has my husband. She has my child. She has my life.

I never thought I would end up here. Alone, in a cold one-bedroom apartment, only seeing my precious daughter once a week.

Another woman is living the life that was once mine. I wish I was still married to my ex-husband, the love of my life. I dream of tucking my five-year-old child into her ballerina bed sheets every night. I miss living in a beautiful house, the perfect family home, with a winding staircase and a sprawling garden.

I’d do anything to be with my family again. To start over and prove to them that I’ve changed, that I won’t lose control like before.

But when I get my second chance, the vicious messages come. The noises at night. The feeling of being watched. It’s happening all over again. I know I’m not going mad, but no one will believe me. I don’t know if I even believe myself.

All I wanted was my life back. But now my life is under threat – and my darling little girl is in danger…(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Nicole Trope does something magical with her storytelling. It’s subtle and smooth, providing day-to-day insights for all of her characters, and while weaving tales that so many of us can easily slip into, she begins to add in suspenseful elements that gradually raises your blood pressure, putting your guard on high alert, until BAM! The unexpected happens. 

That’s how I felt while reading His Other Wife. Sarah is the ex-wife, the reflective voice in the synopsis. Someone who has battled a lot after dealing with a terrible tragedy, often feeling as though she can’t seem to get over the past and all that she’s lost. It has manifested into hearing noises, especially at night–one voice in particular that continually haunts her. The way it’s written gave me chills. I can’t even imagine dealing with something like that, imagined or not. 

Then you have Gideon, Sarah’s  ex-husband, who is trying so hard to do all he can for Sarah and for their daughter, Emily. He wants to believe Sarah. He wants to trust in what she tells him, but everything she tells him seems so far-fetched and not real. Not to mention that Sarah could be potentially providing an unsafe environment for Emily. 

Charlotte is the new wife who can’t help but feel insanely jealous about the relationship Gideon and Sarah still have and their bond with Emily. There are so many deep-seated reasons as to why she feels so strongly against Sarah, many that stem from her own past, with the constant feeling that she will never be enough for Gideon or for anyone, really. She doesn’t feel she’s allowed to be.

All of this blends together into an insanely psychological thriller–from the get go, I wanted to try and figure out on my own what would happen, who would be the culprit, or whether there really was a culprit at all. It was one of those experiences where you really can’t put the book down because you need all of the answers, and once discovered, you’ll end up shaking your head in disbelief. It was that good. I could not get enough of it–a definite five-star read!

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

Purchase links:
Amazon * Apple * Kobo * Google

Nicole Trope went to university to study Law but realised 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:
Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Lauren Ho's romantic new a book giveaway

Photo by Marvin Kho
We're pleased to welcome Lauren Ho to CLC today. Her sophomore novel, Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic, releases today and she's here to talk about it and share some other fun things about herself. Melissa has Lucie Yi in her five book pile and is excited to read it soon, as she enjoyed Last Tang Standing back in 2020 (reviewed here). Thanks to Putnam, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Lauren Ho is a reformed legal counsel who now prefers to write for pleasure. Hailing from Malaysia, she is currently based in Singapore, where she’s ostensibly working on her next novel while attempting to parent. She is also the author of the international bestseller, Last Tang Standing.

Her mother still wishes Lauren had gone to medical school, though.

Visit Lauren online:
Website * Twitter * Instagram * TikTok


Management consultant Lucie Yi is done waiting for Mr. Right. After a harrowing breakup foiled her plans for children—and drove her to a meltdown in a Tribeca baby store—she’s ready to take matters into her own hands. She signs up for an elective co-parenting website to find a suitable partner with whom to procreate—as platonic as family planning can be.
Collin Read checks all of Lucie’s boxes; he shares a similar cultural background, he’s honest, and most important, he’s ready to become a father. When they match, it doesn’t take long for Lucie to take a leap of faith for her future. So what if her conservative family might not approve? When Lucie becomes pregnant, the pair return to Singapore and, sure enough, her parents refuse to look on the bright side. Even more complicated, Lucie’s ex-fiancĂ© reappears, sparking unresolved feelings and compounding work pressures and the baffling ways her body is changing. Suddenly her straightforward arrangement is falling apart before her very eyes, and Lucie will have to decide how to juggle the demands of the people she loves while pursuing the life she really wants.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

“If Jane Austen and Kevin Kwan had a love child, it might well be Lucie Yi Is Not a Romantic. Lauren Ho’s most recent novel sits delightfully at the juncture of modern fertility, modern women, and modern romance.”  
—Jodi Picoult, author of Wish You Were Here

“After Last Tang Standing, my expectations were unreasonably high, but Lauren Ho somehow managed to exceed them with Lucie Yi Is Not A Romantic. Prepare yourselves for a heroine who is laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly savvy. Lauren Ho is an auto-buy author for me!” 
—Jesse Q. Sutanto, author of Dial A For Aunties

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing? 
The best ones are always the ones that say I made their day somehow, that I made them laugh and reflect. Both my novels, Last Tang Standing and now Lucie Yi Is Not A Romantic, feature so-called 'messy' (or maybe let's call them 'realistic!) women from this part of the world (South-East Asia), and explore intergenerational conflict, complex family dynamics, and the search for identity in the face of cultural and societal pressures, even as they shine a light on uncomfortable truths . I use humour to approach difficult subjects tangentially. 

How is Lucie similar to or different from you? 
Whenever I create a character, I draw inspiration from people around me, and sometimes my own experiences. I would say that with regards to Lucie, we are very different. She's the put-together, career-minded version of me that my mother would have adored.

If Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?  
Fiona Xie as Lucie Yi, Lewis Tan or Manny Jacinto as Collin, and Chris Pang as Mark

What TV series are you currently binge watching? 
Stranger Things, Season four

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see? 
I would take you to see the Botanic Gardens of Singapore, Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Zoo. 

Tell us about your best or worst date ever. 
Do date nights after ten-plus years of marriage and 2 kids under 5 count? My best dates these days involve going out for a quick drink or two at the local wine bar, after we slump in front of whatever is trending right now on Netflix, silently enjoying each other's company.

Thanks to Lauren for chatting with us and to Putnam 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 June 26th at midnight EST.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: The House Across the Lake

By Jami Denison

Grieving single woman? Check.

Alcoholic? Check.

Spying on the neighbors? Check.

Convinced she’s seen a murder? Check.

No one believes her? Check.

Huge secret she’s hiding? Check, check, check.

These questions could describe dozens of books published since Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train came out in 2015. The elements are so well known that earlier this year, Netflix ran a very popular parody series, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. Starring Kristen Bell, its critics complained that it hewed so closely to the genre that the satire was too thin. 

But it is possible to still wring surprises from these tropes, as proven by Riley Sager’s latest thriller, The House Across the Lake. 

In this case, the grieving drunk protagonist is Casey Fletcher, a C-list actress still mourning her husband’s drowning death fourteen months ago. After a drunken escapade costs her her Broadway role and leaves her on Page Six, Casey’s mother banishes her to the family lake house in Vermont—which also happens to be on the same lake where her husband drowned. Not surprisingly, Casey can’t stay away from the bourbon, nor the binoculars her husband left behind. She passes her time spying on the house across the lake, a glass monstrosity recently purchased by tech millionaire Tom Royce and his model-wife Katherine. After Casey saves Katherine from drowning herself, the two women become friends. Casey, however, continues to spy on Katherine, and she’s concerned about the relationship between the Royces. When Katherine disappears, Casey is convinced that Tom had something to do with it.

Because these details are so familiar by this point—and Casey’s constant descriptions of bourbon (sometimes vodka) were tiresome—I found The House Across the Lake somewhat hard to get into. But it’s a fast read, with lots of action, quick descriptions, and short chapters. 

And then, three-quarters of the way in, there’s a twist so fantastic that I literally gasped when reading it. 

Do not put this book down if you think it’s predictable or boring. It’s not. Stick it out for this twist!

The sleight-of-hand Sager pulls here is masterful. A few years ago, another domestic thriller writer tried something similar (I won’t give away the name as it might reveal too much), and the author was criticized for breaking the genre rules. That book became a Netflix series, and the same criticism occurred all over again.

Sager probably won’t get the same critique. From the get-go, he lays out hints about the type of story he’s really telling, but drops them so casually and buries them so carefully that the reader won’t pick them up. When he finally reveals his true game, the reveal feels earned, not gimmicky. By that point, it’s a wild ride till the end, flying down the hill of the world’s tallest roller coaster.

The House Across the Lake is Sager’s sixth book, and while it’s missing some of the character depth of earlier books, it may be his biggest yet. 

It might even earn him a Netflix series.  

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

More by Riley Sager:

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Friday, June 17, 2022

What's in the (e) a (print) giveaway

Stuck with Him by Danielle Owen-Jones from Bookouture (NetGalley)
And Then There's Margaret by Carolyn Clarke from Black Rose Writing (NetGalley)
One Last Gift by Emily Stone from Ballantine (NetGalley)
The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul from William Morrow (NetGalley)
The Ghosts of Paris by Tara Moss from Dutton (NetGalley)
When It Falls Apart by Catherine Bybee from Pitchlit (NetGalley)
Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun from Atria (NetGalley)
The It Girl by Ruth Ware from Gallery (NetGalley)
Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade from Avon (NetGalley)
The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle from Park Row (NetGalley)
The Baker and the Badge by Tracy Krimmer from Booksprout (ebook)
Dog Friendly by Victoria Schade from Berkley (NetGalley)
Where Wild Peaches Grow by Cade Bentley from Amazon Publishing (NetGalley)
Cop a Plea by/from Hilary Grossman (ebook)
After Everyone Else by Leslie Hooton from Wunderkind PR (ebook)
The Accidental Pinup by Danielle Jackson from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Other Girlfriend by Alex Stone from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Scandalized by Ivy Owens from Gallery (NetGalley)
Addicted to You by Krista and Becca Ritchie from Berkley (NetGalley)

The Precious Jules by Shawn Nocher from Wunderkind (ebook)
The Second Husband by Kate White from Wunderkind (ebook)
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn from Berkley (NetGalley)

What could be in YOUR mail:

Gilt by Jamie Brenner

Thanks to Putnam, we have FIVE copies to give away!

One perfect diamond is all it takes to divide a family. Could one summer be enough to fix it?
The Pavlin family built an empire on love. As the first jewelers to sell diamond rings exclusively for proposals, they started a tradition that has defined engagements ever since. But when an ill-fated publicity stunt pits the three Pavlin sisters against one another for a famous family jewel, their bond is broken. No ordinary diamond ring, the Electric Rose splinters the sisters, leaving one unlucky in love, one escaping to the shores of Cape Cod, and the other, ultimately, dead. 
Now, over a decade later, Gemma Maybrook is still reconciling the reality of her mother's death. Left orphaned and cast out by her family after the tragic accident, Gemma is ready to reclaim what should have been hers: the Electric Rose. And, as a budding jewelry designer in her own right, Gemma isn't just planning on recovering her mother's lost memento, she's coming back for everything.
From Manhattan’s tony Fifth Avenue to the vibrant sands of Provincetown, Gilt follows the Pavlin women as they are forced to confront the mistakes of the past if they have any hope of finding love and happiness of their own. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

"I completely lost myself in Brenner’s blissful, heartfelt novel, centered around a family curse and a luscious pink diamond. A joyous story about shifting family dynamics, self-discovery and the power of forgiveness. The perfect summer read." 
—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace

Gilt is a dazzling page-turner. Family intrigue, sparkling gems, long-buried secrets, juicy twists and turns…what more could you ask for in a novel? Jamie Brenner is my go-to author for my beach bag!” 
–Elyssa Friedland, author of Last Summer at the Golden Hotel

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 June 22nd at midnight EST.

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Book Review: Scotsman in the Stacks

By Sara Steven

Paige wants two things: to land a full time librarian job and find the man of her dreams. On the cusp of thirty, she finds herself suddenly single and working part-time in a Michigan library. A handsome patron with a delicious accent appears at the reference desk, inadvertently sparking an idea that might help her land the promotion she so desperately needs. But that's not the only thing he sparks.

James is in town from Glasgow, Scotland, on a summer artist residency. Luckily, the trip got him away from the pressure he feels to take over his uncle's river tour business. He only wanted to clear his head and make his art in peace, but he wasn't counting on finding an attractive librarian to fill his days.

With only eight weeks before James goes home to Scotland, Paige knows she should protect her heart. After all, she already wasted years with her commitment-phobe ex. But the more she gets to know James, the less she can stick to her plan to just be friends. Is she just wasting her time again, or can they bridge the ocean between them to find a happily ever after of their own? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

There were two important relationships within Scotsman in the Stacks: the one between Paige and James, and the one between Paige and her best friend, Kayla. The best friend relationship is a focal point, because it serves as a major catalyst for the decisions Paige makes when it comes to James. 

Given her recent break-up, Paige wants to be careful. While it would be nice to find a man she can develop the perfect relationship with–the kind Kayla has with her husband, Eric–Paige still feels as though it’s best to put her guard up, particularly where James is concerned. He might check off a lot of her boxes, but given he’s only in town for a short time, she doesn’t feel it would be practical to allow herself to fall for him. 

Yet, what she wants to do is best in theory and really hard to put into practice. The way she feels about James is a total contradiction to what her brain tells her to do, and it’s obvious the chemistry between them is a two-way street. I thought the author did a great job of highlighting that; the hesitant, careful steps that both characters take towards one another, almost shy and awkward, much like you’d expect from the newness of potential love, with a gradual progression into trust and allowing those walls to come down. But when tragedy strikes, leaving uncertainty, Paige wonders if the choices she’s been making have been the right ones or if she’s acted too impulsively, with the potential for heartbreak.

I really liked this couple. From the get go, I could appreciate their sweet budding relationship, and I liked how Kayla rooted for them, too, which attributed to Paige’s decisions when it came to her own matters of the heart. And while I also appreciated the conversation, there were some tough moments when reading through James’s dialogue. Given he’s from Scotland, he had a Scottish dialect to him, but it didn’t always read well on the page and could be heavy-handed. Aside from that, though, I had no troubles with falling into the relationship between Paige and James, and much like Kayla, I found myself rooting for them and hoping for their happily-ever-after. 

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Alana Oxford is a Michigan author of romcoms, sweet romance, and humorous women's fiction. She wants her stories to bring sunshine and smiles to her readers. She enjoys improv comedy, moody music, everything book related, and has an ongoing love affair with the United Kingdom.

Visit Alana online:

Visit all the stops on Alana's blog tour:

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

Kid-ding around with Sariah a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to feature Sariah Wilson and talk about her latest rom com, Cinder-Nanny. Melissa read it last weekend and loved it! She will be reviewing soon, but you can check out her Bookstagram post in the meantime. Thanks to Kaye Publicity, we have one copy to give away!

Credit: JordanBree Photography
Sariah Wilson
is the author of CINDER-NANNY (June 21, 2022; Montlake). A passionate believer in happily-ever-afters, Sariah and her own soulmate live in Utah with their four children and the two family cats. Her belief in true love has inspired many other standalone novels including ROOMMAID (2020), THE SEAT FILLER (2021) and THE PAID BRIDESMAID (2022), and several bestselling romance series, including End of the Line (THE FRIEND ZONE, JUST A BOYFRIEND); Lovestruck (#STARSTRUCK, #MOONSTRUCK, #AWESTRUCK); Ugly Stepsisters (THE UGLY STEPSISTER STRIKES BACK; PROMPOSAL), and Royals of Monterra (ROYAL DATE, ROYAL CHASE, ROYAL GAMES, ROYAL DESIGN). 

Visit Sariah online:

With her sister’s medical bills mounting, Diana Parker can’t say no to a high-paying opportunity like this: accompany a wealthy couple to Aspen and nanny their precocious five-year-old son for three months. Necessary qualifications? She must know how to ski and teach math, speak fluent French, excel at social graces, and hold a master’s degree in childhood development. Who’ll be the wiser that Diana’s only skill is packing for Colorado?

So far, so good—having a con woman for a mother has turned out to be a benefit, even if Diana has complicated feelings about telling lies. But she’s doing this for her sister. And the perks—like a ticket to a lavish charity fundraiser, a new gown, and a Prince Charming–adjacent earl named Griffin Windsor—are pretty irresistible. Diana can’t deny the Cinderella vibe.

Wary of gold diggers and scandal, England’s most eligible bachelor is nevertheless falling for Diana, and sweeping the not-quite princess off her feet.

The warmer their relationship becomes, the slipperier the slopes are for Diana. Sooner or later, she’ll have to come clean. When that happens, does an honest-to-goodness happy ending stand a chance?

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Cinder-Nanny?
One of the biggest rewards was finally getting to write an English nobleman. I’ve enjoyed British lords in historical romances and kind of had one of those lightbulb moments of, “Why don’t I just write a modern day one?” Griffin was a fun hero to write! I think one of the challenges was dealing with the issue of dyspraxia. My youngest son is dyspraxic, and I think it’s something that a lot of people are unaware of (I’d never heard of it before his diagnosis!) and I wanted to represent it in a way that felt true for my family and our experiences.  

What is something you learned from writing your other books that you applied to Cinder-Nanny?
Well, the first thing I always apply is telling myself that I absolutely can write a whole book because I’ve done it so many times before (because sometimes you really doubt yourself and your abilities!) I also knew going into this one that there would be readers who would have an issue with my heroine Diana lying, but I tried to make that as understandable and sympathetic as possible. 

If Cinder-Nanny were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?
Oh, I’m not a cool music person who has the perfect, indie playlist for their books. I listen to music while I’m writing, but it’s mainly the same pop songs over and over again, particularly ones that evoke a certain mood. I really love “Wildfire” by Natalie Taylor. That’s one that I play when I’m writing kissing scenes. Some other songs I listened to while writing Cinder-Nanny include: “Release Me” by Agnes, “Lightning” by The Wanted and “Love, Save the Empty” by Erin McCarley. I feel like listening to the same music tells my brain that it’s time to write and create.  

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
The last movie I saw that I would wholeheartedly, one hundred percent recommend, is The Lost City. I don’t understand why Hollywood is not making more romantic comedies, especially ones with an adventure driving the story forward. It was funny, it was romantic, I have seen it four times already. People should watch it!  

What is something funny that one of your kids has said when they were little?
I have a couple of favorites – my toddler daughter made a giant mess of her toys and I said something to her about it, and in the sweetest most adorable voice she said, “I sorry I make a mess. I didn’t mean it.” We actually recorded her saying it because SO CUTE. Another—my youngest son and I came home from preschool one day and our cat Tiger was meowing at us. I asked my son, “What do you think he’s saying?” My son said, “I don’t know, I only speak a little bit of cat,” and got on the floor to meow back at Tiger.  

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
That might be a hard one because I’m an introvert who never goes anywhere. I could show you my family room and my bedroom where I write (although the second one would depend on how clean my bedroom is, so probably not that one ever). I hear there’s a lot of nature type stuff you can do here and hiking and mountains and possibly skiing, but meh. I do like Sundance, though. I could take you to Sundance. And shopping, since that’s my daughter’s favorite sport, so I know where to go for that. 

Thanks to Sariah for chatting with us and to Kaye Publicity 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 June 21st at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Pride

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 LGBTQ+ pride, since it's currently Pride Month and there are a lot of books that feature LGBTQ+ characters or storylines. 

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

Melissa Amster:                                                                                                 
This past Sunday, I attended Pride Fest in DC. I hadn't been to a Pride event in such a long time. Probably not since I attended a Pride parade in Chicago in the early 2000s. If more cities did the parade on Sunday, it would be more of a possibility, but at least Pride Fest was an option this year and I didn't even know it was happening on Sundays in the past. (I still wish the parade would be on Sunday too though...) Anyway, my husband and I took two of our three kids (all are pro-LGBTQ+, but one is an introvert and doesn't like crowds). The two who attended had such a great time. They couldn't stop talking about it afterward. We met up with our cousins whom we hadn't seen in a few years due to the pandemic, so that was really nice too. 

If you combine the Renaissance Faire with Rocky Horror, that's what the experience felt like. I mean this all in a good way. I loved that everyone was there for the same reason and we were all on the side of pride! It was so much fun to see all the outfits everyone was wearing and people just felt free to be themselves and live it up. It was all so wonderful and I loved basking in the pure joy all around. Plus, they had really good hot buttered corn on the cob like you get at a carnival. 

While I loved being there with my family, it made me miss my two gay best friends and how we would hang out around Halsted Street in Chicago and go to the clubs or attend street fairs. We all attended the Pride parade together one year too. However, it also made me glad to see that the LGBTQ+ community is still going strong even with oppressive forces at play. I'm keeping this post short in order to share a few pictures from Sunday's event. 

Throwback to the Chicago Pride parade in 2001

Sara Steven:

Years ago, while living with my grandparents, I’d been tasked with walking over a mile to the city bus stop in order to catch a ride to my high school. I’d start my mornings in total darkness, a fun side effect of living in the great Pacific Northwest, never knowing whether I’d have to bring an umbrella with me or risk the potential for muddy shoes–so often, that was almost always the case. It was cold and dreary, and even when I’d begin to see the sun peek out from beyond the horizon, it was never enough.  

At some point, a young man joined me on my morning walks. I can’t remember how it started or when it happened. Zach lived in the duplex next to my street, and one fateful day he’d happened to leave his place around the same time I’d turned the corner, and that was that. 

At the time, I was a meager freshman who hadn’t made a whole lot of friends, the kind of kid who hadn’t really found her identity yet. I wore stained white Keds and jeans some jerk senior referred to as “highwaters” when he’d seen me standing in the lunch line the first week of school, and it really stuck with me. I didn’t know what it meant to be “cool,” but Zach–well, he was all-out cool.

He reminded me of Pauly Shore from the 90s. He wore bell bottoms and trainers, with his pant legs dragging along the watery banks of Skyline Rd., red fiery hair flowing effortlessly into the wind. He wore vests and chokers and he talked about the music he listened to, most of it Lynyrd Skynyrd and Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, the kind of stuff I’d listen to on the classic rock stations. 

We bonded over our mutual need for the bus stop. Waking up before dawn, the walk of shame for two high schoolers who weren’t old enough to have their driver’s licenses yet. I don’t remember how old he was, but I always felt like he was so much older than me. He probably was. He made the mornings so much more bearable, and it was even better when I’d find him waiting at the same bus stop in the afternoons to take us back to our respective homes. How lucky was I to be in his presence twice in one day?

I don’t think we hung out at school. I’m sure our circles never touched, but when we’d see each other, it felt like two long-lost friends who hadn’t seen each other in years.

I don’t remember when he’d felt safe enough to confide in me that he was gay. It might have been at the start of our friendship, or towards the middle. Back in those days, there were a lot of preconceived notions of what that meant, and he vented to me about how trapped he felt, how there were many times he felt alone in his feelings.

There were two important lessons I’d absorbed and held onto from my friendship with Zach. The smaller lesson had been about relationships–we both felt that at our age, romantic relationships were like stepping stones of learning and growth that would eventually lead us to our people; lessons that would teach us what we wanted or didn’t want, what we needed or didn’t need, in order to find the “perfect person.” A moment of brilliant clarity for two kids who really had no clue what it meant to be in a relationship. 

But the other lesson, the big lesson, had been about the right to love whomever we choose to love. I didn’t come from the kind of household or background that supported LGBTQ+, terminology that was just beginning to become more known to me and to others at that time, in the early 90s. Zach opened my eyes to the disparities he faced, to the frustration he felt at not feeling as though he could be himself without persecution or judgment. Times have changed a lot since then, but it’s still there. That disparity. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it.

Zach moved away, and I remember feeling lost for a long time after that. I don’t think he realized how much I learned from him in the brief amount of time we spent together–the lessons in grace and love that have extended out into many other facets of my life. Sometimes when I listen to Fleetwood Mac, I think of him. Or when I see wayward teens hanging out at a bus depot, it reminds me of our time together. 

It sounds so simple in theory, but seriously–Love is Love. It really is as simple and beautiful as that. 

I know that June is Pride month, but Pride should be celebrated every day. It’s important. Out here in Arizona, the Phoenix Pride Festival will happen in October this year from the 15th-16th, and if you live in my neck of the woods, I hope you’re able to attend, too.  

Did you attend any Pride events this month? Tell us about your experience!

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Book Review: The House Sitter

By Sara Steven

‘You’re just the girl I’ve been looking for,’ Iris told me, her blue eyes sparkling, when she offered me the job as her live-in helper. Little did she know, I thought the exact same about her. And she was wrong to trust me...

As I clean Iris’s large, old house in Pacific Heights, my boyfriend Seth works outside, tending to the lawn and fixing the broken gate. I can’t help but notice Iris’s steely eyes watching our every move. Does she know why we’re really here?

Most days we live in perfect harmony, but today Iris is confused. She thinks we moved in uninvited. I pass her a tablet from the medicine cabinet, knowing she’ll soon calm down and remember how lucky she is to have found us.

Later that night, the police arrive to find Iris’s perfect house turned upside down, the telephone lying on the floor, its cord severed. They walk through each room, calling out, but the house remains totally silent.

You will think you know what happened that night, but when the police discover something unexpected hidden amongst the wreckage in Iris’s bedroom, you’ll find you don’t know a thing. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

I read The House Sitter within twenty-four hours, so to say it was riveting and had me hooked would be a total understatement! The story starts out innocently enough: an elderly woman who is in need of assistance, with a down-on-their-luck couple who needs someone to take a chance on them. But as the synopsis indicates, all preconceived notions of what happened that fateful night, the one where Iris’s home has been turned upside down and no one is there to account for anything, will completely disappear because the reader will have no clue as to what is happening. There will be suspicions, but in the end, prepare to have your mind blown!

About three-quarters of the way through is when I figured it all out. So much so, that I announced the discovery out loud, to no one in particular. Just a declarative discovery for myself, really. But it was enough of one to really affect me and inwardly congratulate the author on her creative mystery writing skills! I felt sure the culprit was one character, yet that hadn’t panned out, only to feel steadfast against someone else, but I was going down a dead end, which only made me want to continue on the journey to figure out what had really happened and more importantly, who Iris, Seth and Lydia are.

Another important character is Maureen, a rookie cop who felt compelled into that line of work due to her own tragic past. I really loved her unique background; a former pianist turned police officer makes for a very interesting story. She’s the one that propels The House Sitter forward, despite the many obstacles she faces along the way while looking for the ultimate truth. In finding it, she feels she can in some ways right the wrongs of her own experiences, which added a nice intricate touch to everything. 

In the end, I felt the story was justified and satisfying. The perfect ending for the perfect mystery thriller. I pictured The House Sitter up on the small screen someday, the kind of thriller you watch while burrowed under a favorite comforter or throw blanket. You never know what the future holds. But I can say with 100% certainty that it definitely deserves a five-star review!

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

Forensic psychologist by day, novelist by night, Ellery Kane has been writing--professionally and creatively--for as long as she can remember. Just like many of her main characters, Ellery loves to ask why, which is the reason she became a psychologist in the first place. Real life really is stranger than fiction, and Ellery's writing is often inspired by her day job. Evaluating violent criminals and treating trauma victims, she has gained a unique perspective on the past and its indelible influence on the individual. And she's heard her fair share of real life thrillers.

Ellery lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, a picturesque setting that provides the backdrop for many of her novels. If you don't find Ellery interviewing murderers behind prison walls or pecking away at her latest novel, she is probably at the gym landing a solid jab-cross to a punching bag; riding bicycles with her special someone; or enjoying a movie the old-fashioned way--at the theater with popcorn and Milk Duds.

Ellery was previously selected as one of ten semifinalists in the MasterClass James Patterson Co-Author Competition, and she recently signed a three book deal with Bookouture for her new Rockwell and Decker mystery thriller series. The first book is scheduled for release in 2020.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

So happy to meet Celia a book giveaway

Photo by Leonora Anzaldua
We're halfway through Pride Month and are pleased to welcome Celia Laskey to CLC today to talk about her latest LGBTQ-themed novel, So Happy for You. Thanks to Hanover Square Press, we have TWO copies for some lucky readers!

Celia Laskey is the author of Under the Rainbow, a finalist for 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her work has appeared in Guernica, The Minnesota Review, and more. She has an MFA from the University of New Mexico and was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Celia lives with her wife in Los Angeles, where she writes for ad agencies.

Visit Celia online:


A wedding weekend spirals out of control in this bold, electrifying, hilarious novel about the complexities of female friendship 

Robin and Ellie have been best friends since childhood. When Robin came out, Ellie was there for her. When Ellie's father died, Robin had her back. But when Ellie asks Robin to be her maid of honor, she is reluctant. A queer academic, Robin is dubious of the elaborate wedding rituals now sweeping the nation, which go far beyond champagne toasts and a bouquet toss. But loyalty wins out, and Robin accepts. 

Yet, as the wedding weekend approaches, a series of ominous occurrences lead Robin to second-guess her decision. It seems that everyone in the bridal party is out to get her. Perhaps even Ellie herself. 

Manically entertaining, viciously funny and eerily campy, So Happy for You is the ultimate send-up to our collective obsession with the wedding industrial complex and a riveting, unexpectedly poignant depiction of friendship in all its messy glory. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"Hilarious and wise, So Happy for You reveals the deeper and more sinister truths behind one of society’s most commonplace institutions—marriage, and does so with a pitch-perfect, relentlessly inquisitive narrator at the helm. At its core, this is an investigation of friendship and just how much we will sacrifice of our true selves in the name of tradition. This novel made me laugh, made me think, and spun its way to a wholly surprising and thrilling conclusion, where ‘together forever’ takes on a much more terrifying connotation than most of us can imagine. Laskey is a magician, combining the important social commentary this genre needs with a knock-out page-turning narrative that will leave you guessing to the last page."
—Chelsea Bieker, author of Godshot and Heartbroke

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
Probably when the New York Times called Under the Rainbow "fresh" and "essential!" Pretty hard to top that. 

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing So Happy For You?
The biggest challenge was when all the editors we initially pitched the book to said no—but I got really helpful feedback from two editors who encouraged me to turn the book into more of a thriller, which I did, and when we sent it out again, one of those editors ended up saying yes and I decided to work with him! I really believe that most writers who get published are just the ones who refuse to give up. 
One of the biggest rewards happened recently, when I read from the book at a reading series for the very first time. I kind of hate reading my work, because I hate being the center of attention, but as soon as I started reading, the crowd started laughing, and they didn't stop! It felt incredible to hear people connecting with the book and it made me feel hopeful about its reception by the larger public. 

If So Happy For You were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
I've actually been thinking about this for a while! Since Robin, my main character, is a redhead, I've always pictured Emma Stone in the role. I feel like she'd really be able to pull off the abrasive and vulnerable sides of Robin's character. And for Ellie, I feel like Anne Hathaway or Elizabeth Olson could really nail that comedic basic bitch vibe. 

Since it is Pride month, what is your favorite LGBTQ movie or TV series? 
One of my favorite LGBTQ movies is The Handmaiden, a South Korean film based on the book Fingersmith by my queen Sarah Waters. It has such idiosyncratic characters, a propulsive plot with twists and turns, and a lot of unexpected humor.

What is something you had a good laugh about recently?
Recently my wife and I were talking about the type of signs you find in a store like Hobby Lobby or HomeGoods that say stuff like "family is everything" or "but first, coffee" or "love never fails" and how they're just so hilariously straightforward and corny. We were riffing on them and came up with ones that said "I love my son" or "to be absolutely clear, I'm married with children." We were like, rolling around on the floor laughing. I think so much of my writing is about the tension between people who would put those signs up in their house and people (like me and my wife) who would mock them. 

What is the oldest piece of clothing you own?
I have this ratty purple tank top with red triangles on it that I wear around the house or to bed and my wife constantly rags on me for not throwing it away, because I got it over ten years ago at a clothing swap with friends, so it wasn't even new when I got it! To be honest, I'm wearing it right now lol. I'll probably throw it away when it literally starts falling apart! 

Thanks to Celia for chatting with us and to Hanover Square Press 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 June 19th at midnight EST.

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