Friday, July 29, 2022

Book Review: The Other Girlfriend

By Sara Steven

She loves him…

Lizzie Green once loved Tom Murphy with a passion that bordered on obsession. All she wanted was his love to be returned. Then one night something terrible happened and Tom left Lizzie broken hearted. She swore she would never let him hurt her again….

She loves him not.

Now, ten years later, Tom turns up on Lizzie’s doorstep still as charming as ever. Lizzie knows he still has the power to break her heart and destroy her life again. But Lizzie can’t say no to him….

Can she? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The Other Girlfriend was the type of psychological thriller I can get behind. Some thrillers are really in your face about it–there are blatant obstacles and over-the-top moments that are fun for the genre, but I prefer the stories that are more subtle, because you never know what’s going to happen next or what might be lurking around the corner. That’s how it felt with the dynamic between Lizzie and Tom. Is Tom back in Lizzie’s life because he missed her? Or is there something more sinister involved?

I’m not always a big fan of flashbacks, but in this case, the flashbacks provided within the story show us the past for Lizzie and her friends, and the fast forward to the current time really helped the reader get a sense for how much Lizzie had changed from her uni years to now. It also provided the backdrop for why she’s changed–and why she has become ‘Beth,’ the new persona she’s taken on in order to live her life as best she can, despite the past. With Tom’s reappearance, she can’t help but miss the young man she remembers, but his presence threatens the safety and security she’s put in place for herself. She’s equal parts excited and anxious, and Alex Stone really did a great job of showing that constant tug-of-war that Lizzie has within herself.  

Granted, this is fiction, but I feel there are some relatable moments within this story. Many of us can remember a time when there might have been someone in our lives who we thought the world of, but there were others who protested our vision of that person. Sometimes you’re too close to a situation to really see it for what it is, and that is what Lizzie experiences. That kind of scenario only drew me further in, because I’ve been there. 

I wondered what kind of choices Lizzie would make in the end, and if it would include Tom or not. The ending did not disappoint. The Other Girlfriend was the perfect subtle psychological thriller.

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Alex Stone, originally an accountant from the West Midlands, is now a psychological suspense writer based in Dorset. This beautiful and dramatic coastline is the inspiration and setting for her novels. She was awarded the Katie Fforde Bursary in 2019 and her debut thriller, The Perfect Daughter, was published by Boldwood in October 2021.

Visit Alex online:
Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Thursday, July 28, 2022

Jayci Lee's latest rom com will fly off the a book giveaway

Photo by Nichanh
Nicole Photography
Today Jayci Lee is here to talk about her latest novel, Booked on a Feeling, which published earlier this week. Book lovers (and rom com readers) will swoon over this tantalizing tale. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy to give away!

Jayci Lee writes poignant, sexy, and laugh-out-loud romance every free second she can scavenge and is semi-retired from her fifteen-year career as a defense litigator. She loves food, wine, and travelling, and incidentally so do her characters, in books like The Dating Dare and A Sweet Mess. Jayci lives in sunny California with her tall-dark-and-handsome husband, two amazing boys with boundless energy, and a fluffy rescue whose cuteness is a major distraction.

Visit Jayci online:

Lizzy "Overachiever" Chung, Esq. has her life mapped out neatly:

* Become a lawyer. Check.
* Join a prestigious law firm. Check.
* Make partner. In progress.

If all goes to plan, she will check off that last box in a couple years, make her parents proud, and live a successful, fulfilled life in L.A. What was not in her plans was passing out from a panic attack during a pivotal moment in her career. A few deep breaths and a four hour drive later, Lizzy is in Weldon for three weeks to shed the burnout and figure out what went wrong. And what better place to recharge than the small California town where she spent her childhood summers with her best friend, Jack Park.

Jack Park didn't expect to see Lizzy back in Weldon, but now he's got three weeks to spend with the girl of his dreams. Except she doesn't know of his decades-long crush on her--and he intends to keep it that way. She's a high-powered attorney who lives in L.A. and he's a bookkeeper at his family's brewery who never left his hometown. He can't risk their friendship on a long shot. Can he? When Lizzy decides that the local bookstore needs a little revamp, of course, Jack is going to help her bring it back to life. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to ignore there might be more than just friendship among the dusty shelves and books...

"Lee seamlessly spins a tale that offers her readers laugh-out-loud moments, with touching pages of raw honesty and heartfelt passion. A romance full of heart and second chances." 

"Lee has written another heartwarming, upbeat, rom-com featuring Korean American protagonists in the ultimate friends-to-lovers plot." 
--Library Journal

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
One reader emailed to thank me for writing A Sweet Mess. She said her sister bought her a copy the same day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told me that losing herself in Aubrey and Landon’s story helped her through her surgery and treatment. 

Her email meant everything. What more could I want from my writing career? Helping that brave, beautiful woman in and of itself made everything I went through to become a published author worthwhile. Her words inspire me to keep writing even through the toughest times.

What is something you learned from your previous books that you applied to Booked on a Feeling?
I need to follow my instincts. I have to stop listening to my inner critic and let my words spill out onto the pages. And if I put my heart into my stories, it will touch my readers’ hearts. My writing has been described as “raw” and “vulnerable,” and it is terrifying to let myself be raw and vulnerable on the pages, but I believe that my readers deserve nothing less than my everything—my truth.

If Booked on a Feeling were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
I would request that we do an open casting call for all the incredible Asian actors who are yet to be discovered—those who haven’t had a chance to shine because there aren’t enough leading roles for them in Hollywood.

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
The last book I read was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I absolutely loved it and heartily recommend it. It’s beautifully poignant and contemplative. It stayed with me for a long time.

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to check out?
I love hanging out at Torrance Beach. It’s a quiet, local beach with a beautiful view of the peninsula, and a few minutes’ drive to a quaint “village” filled with shops and restaurants with beach town vibes.
I would also take you guys to the Getty Museum. The architecture, garden, and views alone constitute art, not to mention the exhibits.

What is your favorite summertime beverage?

Alcoholic? Or non-alcoholic? Haha. I love a tropical iced tea on a hot summer day. Ooh and boba milk tea. Yum. A chilled sauvignon blanc? Ice cold prosecco? Margarita on the rocks?
Oh, boy, I’m thirsty now.

Thanks to Jayci for chatting with us and to St. Martin's 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 August 2nd at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Book Review: The Swell

By Jami Denison

Snowboarding is basically surfing on a mountain, so it’s not surprising that thriller writer Allie Reynolds has followed up her “locked room” murder mystery Shiver (reviewed here), about snowboarders being targeted in the French Alps, with The Swell, about surfers being targeted on an Australian beach. Both books feature an athletic female protagonist trying to discern which one of her friends is a killer. While Shiver was a layered, complicated book, featuring past and present and complicated rivalries, The Swell asks a question that even non-athletes contemplate: How far will people go to win their friends’ approval? 

Kenna and Mikki grew up together in England, best friends who loved to surf. But when Kenna gave up the sport after her fiancĂ© drowned and moved to London, Mikki took off for Australia. When Mikki tells Kenna she’s engaged to a guy she barely knows, Kenna drops everything to fly to Australia to stop the wedding. Instead, Kenna finds herself draw in by Jack and the rest of the couple’s friends—Clemente, Victor, Sky, and Ryan. Hardcore surfers and backpackers, they call themselves The Tribe and have each taken a vow to train hard, work through their personal fears, encourage each other, and guard the location of their secret beach with their lives. Kenna is especially impressed with the work that Mikki has put in—formerly a timid surfer, afraid of moths, Mikki now seems fearless. But after watching the group angrily defend their turf, and learning about previous Tribe members who have disappeared or even died, Kenna begins to have serious misgivings about her new friends. And then a body washes up on the beach…

The Swell is mostly told through Kenna’s first-person point-of-view, and she’s the perfect protagonist for this type of story. Initially wary of the Tribe—especially of Sky, who seems like a cult leader—Kenna also likes to push herself physically, and soon she finds herself back in the water as a result of their encouragement. With her sports therapist background, Kenna almost seems like she might challenge Sky as the group’s alpha. But as she seeks to find out the group’s secrets, she might end up their next victim. 

Occasionally, Reynolds goes into the first person POV of other characters as well. While this type of structure isn’t too unusual with thriller writers—many of them provide an anonymous look into a killer’s thoughts or motivations—Reynolds takes it a step further by revealing the killer at the halfway mark. It changes the feel of the tension in the book and lets readers know exactly who are the sitting ducks as well.

Reynolds also touches on issues beyond the mystery, such as immigration and “localism,” which gives the characters a resonance beyond the immediate story. And her descriptions of the physicality of surfing, the water, the woods, the heat and the insects bring the setting right into readers’ homes. 

While The Swell will be compared to Reynolds’ debut novel, it also has much in common with Rachel Hawkins’s January release, Reckless Girls, which also features a remote beach and a group of tourists   whose members begin to disappear. Both books are terrific beach reads. 

British-born Allie Reynolds is a former professional snowboarder who gave up the snow for the surf and life in Australia. I look forward to seeing which athletic feats she’ll incorporate into her next mystery. 

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

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Erin La Rosa is heating up our a book giveaway

Photo by Cathryn Farnsworth
We're pleased to welcome Erin La Rosa to CLC today, to celebrate the publication of her debut rom com, For Butter or Worse! The premise is as sizzling as butter in a frying pan, so we know you're going to love it. Thanks to Harlequin, we have one copy to give away!

Erin La Rosa has written many highly engaging...tweets, as a social media manager. But on her way to writing romance, she's also published two humorous non-fiction books, Womanskills and The Big Redhead Book. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three daughters (one human, two felines). 

Visit Erin online:
Website * Twitter * Instagram * TikTok

All chef Nina Lyon wants is to make a name for herself in the culinary world and inspire young women everywhere to do the same. For too long, she’s been held back and underestimated by the male-dominated sphere of professional kitchens, and she's had enough. Now, as co-host of the competitive reality TV series The Next Cooking Champ!, she finally has a real shot at being top tier in the foodie scene.

Too bad her co-host happens to be Hollywood’s smarmiest jerk.

Restaurateur Leo O’Donnell never means to get under Nina’s skin. It just seems to happen, especially when the cameras are rolling. It's part of the anxiety and stress he has come to know all too well in this line of work. So nothing prepares him for the fallout after he takes one joke a smidge too far and Nina up and quits—on live TV.

To make matters worse, the two are caught in what looks like a compromising situation by the paparazzi…and fans of the show go absolutely nuts. Turns out, a “secret romance” between Nina and Leo may just be what their careers need most.

Now all they have to do is play along, without killing each other...and without catching feelings. Easy as artisanal shepherd's pie. Right? 

“With great tension, simmering heat, and clever banter, FOR BUTTER OR WORSE is a mouthwateringly delicious enemies-to-lovers romance.”
—Helen Hoang, USA Today bestselling author of The Heart Principle

"For Butter or Worse is a melt-in-your-mouth good time. A deliciously fun take on enemies to lovers with just the right amount of sweet and spice. From page one I was rooting for Nina and Leo to put aside their past differences and embrace their show-stopping chemistry."
 —Bridget Morrissey, author of Love Scenes

In one sentence, tell us what the road to publishing was like for you.

Loaded with bowls of ice cream, very late nights rewriting pages, and getting to know fellow 2022 debut romance authors so we can vent to each other.

How is Nina similar to or different from you?
I saw a lot of myself in Nina, in that I've been in situations at work where I felt I was outnumbered by men and had to stand my ground. But because of that, then became somewhat misunderstood or known as being "tough." I think many women have been put in a position where they're made to feel bad for acting exactly as a man would, and that's where I drew a lot of inspiration from for Nina.

If For Butter or Worse were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
·  :::sends this message into the movie universe and hopes for it to happen::: I compared Leo to Jamie Dornan, and I think he would play the role of a secretly sweet hero very well. And for Nina, Kat Dennings was someone I pictured as I wrote. 

What food item tastes best with butter on it?
Ha! This is a great question, because I immediately have an answer: cinnamon raisin toast. That was an early childhood comfort food, and remains that way now.

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?

Love Island UK—if you love reality TV (and I do!) there are so many episodes, and the drama is really fantastic. 

What is the last thing you had a good laugh about?
I just turned in edits on my second book, and my husband knew how hard I'd worked on it. So when I finished, he came into the room shouting, "Go honey! Go Honey! Go Honey! Go Honey Go!" and dancing wildly, and that made me very happy and laugh quite a lot!

Thanks to Erin for chatting with us and to Harlequin 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 July 31st at midnight EST.

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Monday, July 25, 2022

Book Review: Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair

By Marisa Appleton

When Gina Mulley turns 18, it is time for her to find a job. Ever many failed attempts, Gina gains a reputation for quitting jobs before she's even given them a chance. The issue is that Gina Mulley is determined to become a tattoo artist. Set in 1985 Long Island, Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair by June Gervais is a coming-of-age story, following Gina’s journey as an apprentice tattooist. When she is employed by her brother Dominic in his tattoo shop, Gina has to work hard to prove herself.

The family dynamic changes when Dominic meets Jeri Harrison. Jeri and her father invest in the shop, which leaves Dominic out of control and unable to meet the needs of Gina’s apprentice contract. Once, Dominic and Jeri fall in love, Gina is outcast by her brother and is left to rely on her new, mysterious friend Anna. Working as a psychic’s assistant, Anna makes Gina finally feel confident in herself. The closer their bond gets, the less Dominic welcomes Anna. 

When Gina and Anna fall in love, Dominic gives Gina an ultimatum. She's faced with an impossible choice: Is the romance and newfound independence she's found worth sacrificing her dreams? Or can she find a way to have it all?

Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair is a heart-warming novel about a young girl’s search for a sense of belonging and self-identity. Throughout the novel, Gina desperately wants to become a tattoo artist but that is not easy given the setting of 1985 Long Island. June Gervais creates a loveable, relatable character who has had a traumatic life before we meet her. With an abusive, alcoholic mother, Gina relies on her brother Dominic for everything; she even aspires to be a tattoo artist just like him. I’m sure all teenagers can relate to the difficult decision of deciding what career path to follow, especially when your family is steering you in the opposite direction. 

Gina’s relationship with Dominic breaks down throughout the novel, with him failing to stick up for her and failing to give her the training he promised. The turning point of the novel is when Dominic forces Gina to choose between her apprenticeship and her relationship with Anna. Whilst this homophobic attitude is unsurprising given the time period that the novel is set in, Dominic’s failure to stick up for Gina to his soon-to-be father-in-law shows how much his character has diminished since the start of the novel. The queer representation in this novel is significant as it is not your traditional love story with a happy ever after! 

If you are looking for a heart-warming read that is different to your typical love story, give Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair a go!

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

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Friday, July 22, 2022

Book Review: The Last House Party

By Jami Denison

When I was in high school in the eighties, a rumor went around about a popular senior girl: that she’d gone to a party with the football team, gotten drunk, and had sex with all of them. What a scandal! I was a junior, so I never spoke to her directly, but I remember being equally impressed and horrified. I wondered if it was true, but I never wondered if it was rape. We didn’t have the vocabulary back then.  

Today, I would never assume that a seventeen year-old girl would willingly engage in group sex. "Me Too" has given us a new lens to look back on these stories; girls are less likely to keep quiet about football teams and fraternities. 

Kelly Simmons’s latest novel, The Last House Party, reminded me of that girl and those rumors. Taking place in 1983, it’s about a mother who finally learns what happened at a party in her home 10 years ago. Will her curiosity lead to the people she loves the most?

Lily Knight is the mother, and in 1973, she was fighting cancer. Her three teenage daughters took advantage of her illness to run wild. It’s the first thing we learn when we pick up the book, and for that reason, it was hard for me to feel sympathetic toward Jane, Penelope, and Faith. Eventually, the girls acknowledge that they were jerks (with a stronger word), but it takes a while to get there.

The book starts in 1983, and Faith, the youngest at twenty-two, has just announced her engagement. She wants to have the wedding at her parents’ lovely home in upper crust Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia. This leads Lily to a cleaning frenzy that results in the discovery of compromising photos of Faith, and a class ring belonging to Jordy, a teenage boy who’d committed suicide. Jane tells Lily that Faith had had a crush on Jordy, and had been devastated by his death—please don’t bring it up to her.

It's not true. The two older sisters reveal that a drunken Faith had been taken advantage of during their last house party, in her own bedroom. The photos were proof. And Jordy’s death was no suicide. As the women try to keep their mother from finding out the truth or telling Faith (she has no memory of the event), Lily becomes friendly with the teenage boy who has just moved next door, who’s heard rumors about the parties that used to happen on the street. 

The book is written in close third-person from Lily, Jane, and Penelope’s points of view. Ironically, Faith, the golden girl around whom the novel revolves, is not a point-of-view character, and seems like a minor character in her own life story. As the women deal with the ramifications of what happened ten years ago, they’re also forced to confront their own casual racism, sexism, and the excuses they’ve made for people in their social circle. 

Amazon has categorized the book as historical fiction due to its 1980s time period (GULP for those of us who grew up then), but it really defies categorization. It has elements of mystery and thriller, but the relationships are truly what is front and central here. The interior monologues are crafted at a level I’ve rarely seen; the setting is meticulously described. The story almost seems secondary.

I did have one quibble; Simmons never really describes exactly what happened the night of the party. She leaves hints and clues, but they don’t quite add up. A Rashoman-style series of flashbacks might have served the story well. 

Thanks to Kelly Simmons for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kelly Simmons:

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Checking in with Carolyn a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome Carolyn Clarke to CLC today to celebrate the publication of her debut novel, And Then There's Margaret. If you have a difficult mother-in-law, or even if you don't, this story is sure to amuse and delight you. Carolyn even has one signed copy for a lucky reader!

Carolyn Clarke is the founder and curator of HenLit Central, a blog  
focused on ‘life and lit’ for women over forty. She has been an ESL teacher for over sixteen years and has co-authored several articles and resources with Cambridge University Press, MacMillan Education and her award-winning blog ESL Made Easy. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her partner, Tony, her two daughters and of course her bulldog, Sophie. 

Visit Carolyn online:

Marriage and midlife can be difficult. And when you add a controlling, manipulative, and self-absorbed mother-in-law into the mix, things can get worse—much worse. Toxic even. Especially when Allison Montgomery’s beloved father-in-law, and long-time confidant, George, passes away and her mother-in-law, Margaret, ‘temporarily’ moves in. 

From rearranging the furniture and taking over the kitchen to embarrassing and undermining Allie at every turn, including funding her daughter’s escape and throwing hissy fits in public, Margaret turns Allie’s life upside down. 

Allie bounces between a sincere desire to be supportive of her grieving mother-in-law and the occasional, intense urge to push her out the nearest window. Feeling annoyed, trapped and even a little childish, Allie struggles to avoid a complete meltdown with help from her fearless and audacious best friend, a plan for reinventing herself and, yes, a few glasses of Chardonnay. Can Allie survive her mother-in-law, all while navigating through the trials and tribulations of midlife, the anxieties of parenting adult children, and a twenty-two-year-old marriage? Maybe… 

You can love your mother-in-law, doesn’t mean you have to like her...

"And Then There’s Margaret is a lively, satirical, contemporary debut by Carolyn Clarke, a talented writer  (and also a heralded book blogger)."
– Marilyn Simon Rothstein, Author of Crazy to Leave You 

"And Then There's Margaret explores the delicate mother-in-law relationship with humor and heart. I  found myself nodding my head over and over again as Clarke captured the all too real joy and sorrow  of family. Fans of Marilyn Simon Rothstein will devour this one. A fun and relatable debut."
– Rochelle  Weinstein, USA Today and Amazon Bestselling Author of When We Let Go

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you?
Challenging and exhausting but fun and exciting when I let go and let it be.
How is Allie similar to or different from you?
Hmmm, good question. In a way, some of me is incorporated into Allie’s character - certainly when it comes to the angst and anxiety she has over all the stuff we women face at this stage of life. 
For the sake of And Then There’s Margaret, I’ve altered the intensity of Allie’s emotions which were sometimes off the chart when battling the ‘day to day’ with her mother-in-law, Margaret. I never had the chance to meet mine (which I’m sure we would’ve been good friends) so through observation and listening to the MIL confessions, sins and stories of my closest friends, she’s pretty much them who have had a tumultuous relationship with their mother-in-law rolled up into one relatable heroine that’s flawed and familiar. 
If And Then There's Margaret was made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
At one time, I had Kathryn Hahn in mind to play Allie. Then it was Toni Collette on my script board. Both of these incredibly talented actors could pull off the snark and wit yet become a sympathetic character–enough so for readers to want to wrap their arms around her.
For Margaret, I’d love to see Meryl Streep. She’s uber talented and does dramedy well–even in her darkest roles, you can’t help but fall in love with her– which is what I hope readers will do with Margaret in the end.
Tell us more about what inspired you to start HenLit Central.

I started Henlit Central around the same time I started And Then There’s Margaret. And boy, am I ever glad I did the research on how to become an author – because one of the things I learned in the pre-stages of writing, was that aspiring authors need to be on social media or at least have some kind of presence out there.

Another inspiration for the blog is that there’s an entire genre that’s underrepresented in the literary world — and it’s us, middle-aged women looking for books that are mature, relatable, and fun. I always love to do interviews with the authors of these books and help promote them too! 
What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I just finished When We Let Go by Rochelle Weinstein. It was so well written and moving. And because I love stories that involve a complex and challenging relationship - and especially a family drama that has a ‘beach feel’ read to it–this book was for me! 
What is your favorite summertime activity?

In no particular order, hammocking, gardening, and escaping out of the city for a day or two with family or friends.

Thanks to Carolyn 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 July 26th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Book Review: And So We Dream

By Sara Steven

In this coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, a lonely boy finds acceptance when he spends the summer in a loving family with three beautiful daughters.

Twelve-year-old Joey Roland is sent away to family friends while his parents try to work things out. He’s eager to leave sadness and secrets behind in Chicago and head downstate to the small town of Greenberry, where the Vitale family awaits him. He thinks of their town as boyland—a world of bike riding, fishing, and going barefoot. Though initially shy of the teenaged daughters—Anne, Vita, and Beth—they welcome him into their lives of adventure, beauty, and dreams.

Joey especially bonds with the middle sister, Vita, and her all-or-nothing pursuit of an acting career. Joey’s “there must be more” merges with Vita’s “I must make it happen” resulting in a magical summer where the town of Greenberry becomes the crucible for two desperate dreamers. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I think what I appreciated most about And So We Dream were the true-to-life characters and the portrayal of actual preteens, teenagers and young adults in 1970. The dialogue was superb, and not once did I feel as though the author went above and beyond who each character was. Joey felt like a real-live twelve year-old boy on the cusp of teenhood, recalling pivotal moments that changed the course of his world. 

There was an ethereal feel to the writing style–the kind that allowed me to step back into my own childhood shoes and vicariously see what that looked like. Like the synopsis states, it really was magical. I could  relate with Vita, because I think I might have been a lot like her when I was her age. But really, readers will identify with many of the characters because it takes us back to a time when the road ahead was long and murky, but full of chances and opportunities. 

What I also liked were the many moments of clarity. Even though Joey spends time with his friends, the protective youthful bubble he resides in is constantly pressed on by outside forces, like the Vietnam War that had taken something away from someone he holds dear to him, or the fact that Vita isn’t who he thought she was and has a lot more self-doubt, which makes him wonder about his own future dreams. His parents have a lot more going on beneath the surface, and it makes it difficult to continue to see it all through a child’s eye. This really was a coming-of-age story in that respect. 

And So We Dream reminded me of the days when I’d spend all day outside with my friends, often barefoot, wading through creeks or running through tall grass, certain that my summer experiences would never end. It brought on a heavy dose of nostalgia, mixed in with the fixed reality that it will end sometime. We all have to grow up at some point. But we don’t want to. I really enjoyed Mahkovec’s masterpiece; a definite five-star experience! 

Thanks to Linda Mahkovec and Author Marketing Experts for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Book Review and Giveaway: The Bodyguard

By Melissa Amster

Since reading How to Walk Away in 2018, I have become a big fan of Katherine Center's writing. Her narrators are always witty and dynamic and I love the stories she tells. When I heard about The Bodyguard coming out this year, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible and, as always, it was an enjoyable read from start to finish!

She’s got his back.
Hannah Brooks looks more like a kindergarten teacher than somebody who could kill you with a wine bottle opener. Or a ballpoint pen. Or a dinner napkin. But the truth is, she’s an Executive Protection Agent (aka "bodyguard"), and she just got hired to protect superstar actor Jack Stapleton from his middle-aged, corgi-breeding stalker.

He’s got her heart.
Jack Stapleton’s a household name―captured by paparazzi on beaches the world over, famous for, among other things, rising out of the waves in all manner of clingy board shorts and glistening like a Roman deity. But a few years back, in the wake of a family tragedy, he dropped from the public eye and went off the grid.

They’ve got a secret.
When Jack’s mom gets sick, he comes home to the family’s Texas ranch to help out. Only one catch: He doesn’t want his family to know about his stalker. Or the bodyguard thing. And so Hannah―against her will and her better judgment―finds herself pretending to be Jack’s girlfriend as a cover. Even though her ex, like a jerk, says no one will believe it.

What could possibly go wrong???
Hannah hardly believes it, herself. But the more time she spends with Jack, the more real it all starts to seem. And there lies the heartbreak. Because it’s easy for Hannah to protect Jack. But protecting her own, long-neglected heart? That’s the hardest thing she’s ever done.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Once again, Katherine had me glued to my seat. I could not get enough of this story and finished it in one day. I loved both Hannah and Jack and their easygoing banter throughout. There was such a fun set of characters (including the ones I was not supposed to like) and a compelling plot! It was very easy to visualize people and places, thanks to Katherine's great use of detail. 

I felt like the story wrapped up too quickly and neatly. That didn't detract from my enjoyment, but it seemed like a shorter book, whereas there could have been more complexity to the situation and the conflict could have been fleshed out more instead of being resolved so quickly. 

Recently, a post came up in my Facebook memories referencing a song that is mentioned in this book. Then the same song was used in an episode of Stranger Things that I was watching later that same day. Funny timing!

Overall, another enjoyable treat from Katherine Center. It's available now, so don't hesitate to get started on reading it. 

Movie casting suggestions:
Connie: Melissa Leo

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They have one copy for a lucky reader!

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

Giveaway ends July 24th at midnight EST.

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Monday, July 18, 2022

Book Review: The Night They Vanished

By Jami Denison

True-crime podcasts and documentaries are all the rage these days, but I’ve never found them particularly enjoyable. While I love domestic thrillers and horror movies, when it comes to true crime, I can’t forget that real people were hurt, are still hurting. That isn’t entertainment for me.

Author Vanessa Savage may feel the same way, as her latest novel, The Night They Vanished, kicks off with a website called The Dark Tourist, “where you can explore the darkest places in Britain, the sites of some of the most notorious crimes the U.K. has ever seen…” When Hanna’s best friend sets her up on a date with Adam, she’s surprised and intrigued by his hobby of dark tourism. But her interest turns to horror when her own family is featured on Adam’s web site. While Hanna has been estranged from her family for 14 years, as far as she knows, they’re alive and well! Is this some kind of bad joke on Adam’s part? But Adam insists he didn’t upload the post about Hanna’s family—he was hacked. And when Hanna goes to find her father, stepmother, and teenage half-sister, they have vanished. Did Adam have something to do with their disappearance? Or has Hanna’s destructive past come back to haunt her?

The Night They Vanished is narrated by two characters—Hanna, in the present, and her sister Sasha, three months earlier. Both points of view are in the first person, and both characters come across very strongly. Hanna is haunted by a secret in the past she refuses to describe, a secret that drove her away from home. And Sasha lives with the consequences of Hanna’s youthful indiscretions, as her father denies her every privilege enjoyed by her peers, even the freedom to walk home from school on her own. As a result, Sasha is bullied and ostracized, leaving her vulnerable to manipulation. Sasha is truly the heart of this novel, and it’s heartbreaking how she tries so hard to please her cruel father, and how she longs for a sister who would care about her. 

Hanna isn’t so easy to know. Caught up in the drama about what happened to her family, wondering the truth about Adam, hiding her secret, and coming face-to-face with her former neighbors who still blame her for said secret, she has so much going on it’s hard to determine who she really is. 

This is a plot-driven book, though, so long scenes of Hanna getting in touch with her feelings weren’t really necessary. Pacing, however, is important for a thriller, and Vanished moves forward at a nice clip, resulting in a satisfying climax.

The reveal about Hanna’s secret wasn’t so satisfying, though. The way she’s treated by her old hometown and her own family made me think she and her old boyfriend were followers of a Charles Manson-like cult leader. Perhaps Savage is making a case that girls and women are often blamed for the mistakes of men, but it made the book feel unbalanced, that the punishment did not fit the crime. Savage doubles down on this by allowing the true villain of the piece to get off scot-free. 

The website, though, is what kicks off this book, and what makes Hanna and Sasha so relatable. Having your worst secrets, your grief, your embarrassment, even your nude pictures circulated on the internet is a nightmare that could happen to any of us.  

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

More by Vanessa Savage:

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Friday, July 15, 2022

Book Review: The Birdcage

By Jami Denison

A birdcage has long been a metaphor for something pretty trapped behind bars. In British author Eve Chase’s latest novel The Birdcage, three pretty things are trapped together, and the result isn’t… pretty. 

Flora, Kat, and Lauren are half-sisters, all products of their artist father Charlie’s randy ways. As kids, they used to spend every August together at their father’s summer home in Cornish; Flora and Kat teaming up against Lauren, whom they resented since her mother was Charlie’s favorite. But they haven’t been together for twenty years, ever since a tragedy happened at the home. Now Charlie has summoned his daughters home, ostensibly to clean out the place since their grandmother passed away. But old resentments die hard; Charlie has an announcement that will stun them, and someone is leaving anonymous threatening notes. What really happened on the night of the eclipse twenty years ago? And who will pay for it now?

The Birdcage is marketed as a mystery full of dark secrets and twists, but I found the carefully constructed characters to be the most intriguing part of the book. The novel goes back and forth between Lauren’s 1999 point-of-view, and each sister’s contemporary POV. Flora is trapped in a marriage that looks gilded from the outside, but she’s secretly miserable. Kat is a workaholic who rejects love if it makes her vulnerable. And Lauren, grieving the recent death of her mother, has holes in her memory when it comes to that fateful night. Will her sisters tell her the truth? Their relationships with each other are weighted with the dynamics of the past but are buoyed by adult knowledge and compassion. 

Similarly, there’s a wealth disparity between the sisters that impacts them, with Kat and Flora both enjoying a high standard of living, and Lauren living a less privileged life with her mother. As children, this leads Lauren into befriending Gemma, the daughter of the house cleaner, and the imbalance plays out in that relationship as well. Chase uses a subtle hand with these conflicts, but they pay off in the end.  

I found the mystery to be less mysterious than manipulative—Flora and Kat both know exactly what happened that night; author Chase chose to structure the book to hide it from the reader till the last pages. As a result, the tension felt artificial. The anonymous notes never quite felt like a real threat, and the book’s final reveal was obvious. 

For me, the biggest mystery was Charlie and all the women who birthed his babies. What made him so irresistible? And did he ever hear of birth control? 

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

More by Eve Chase:

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Thursday, July 14, 2022

Holly James is true to a book giveaway

Photo by 
Ariel Blandford Photography
We're pleased to welcome Holly James to CLC today. Her debut novel, Nothing But the Truth, published this week. Melissa added it to her five-book TBR pile and is excited to read it soon! It sounds like the movie Liar Liar, but with a chick lit angle. Thanks to Dutton, we have one copy for a lucky reader...and that's no lie!

Holly James holds a PhD in psychology and has worked in both academia and the tech industry. She loves telling stories with big hearts and a touch of magic. She currently lives in Southern California with her husband and dog.

Visit Holly online:
Website * Twitter * Instagram


It’s the eve of super-publicist Lucy Green’s 30th birthday, a day she hopes will bring the promotion she deserves and a proposal from her boyfriend. But when said boyfriend stands her up in favor of his job, yet again, she instead finds herself alone making a wish for a perfect birthday over a cocktail, with only the hot bartender to keep her company. The next morning, Lucy finds herself forgoing her usual morning workout, indulging in a delicious cheesy bagel sandwich, deciding against the work dress that requires shapewear in favor of a flowy summer frock, and is feeling weird—but good. It’s only when she’s at work and her honestly begins to escalate that she realizes: she can’t lie. Not to strangers on the street, her clients, her boyfriend, her creep of her boss, or even herself.

With a big promotion on the line, a client to secure, a noncommittal boyfriend to figure out, and—what was up with that bartender?—Lucy has to confront every injustice she faces on a daily basis at work, as a woman in the city, in her relationship, and in every other aspect of her life…and there’s no escaping from the truth.

"The balm for the soul that I needed. We women don’t need to smile more or look pretty or conform to expectations…we just need to read this, buy a copy for our best friends, and toast to the truth."
—Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here

 “In Holly James’s Nothing But the Truth, a magical twist—publicist Lucy Green wakes up on her thirtieth birthday unable to tell a lie—turns out to be the spark that sets fire to a woman’s life, launching an urgent journey of self-reflection, self-empowerment, and workplace revolution. At once charmingly effervescent and seriously introspective, James skillfully balances a call to arms with a story of romantic love and personal awakening. Readers will fall head over heels for Lucy and for James, a fresh, sharp new voice in women's fiction.”
—Ashley Winstead, author of Fool Me Once and In My Dreams I Hold a Knife

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you?
The road to publishing was long, humbling, challenging, rewarding, and inspiring, which I think is true for many authors!  
How is Lucy similar to or different from you?
Lucy and I are both very ambitious and driven. I like to think we could hang out and be friends. She is far more fashionable and stylish than I am, but I too like succulents and bagel sandwiches. 
If Nothing But the Truth were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?

I had Chloe Fineman in my head while writing Lucy. She is hilarious and has the right energy for the character. I’d love to see an icon like Reese Witherspoon as Joanna, and I think Daniel Levy would make a perfect Oliver. Leo Ash is partially based on Harry Styles, so that’s an easy fit, and I can picture Glen Powell as Hot Bartender, aka Adam. 
Share a random truth about yourself.

I know every line from the movie The Birdcage

Note from Melissa: Impressive! I love that movie and I only know a few lines off the top of my head. "Albert, you pierced the toast. So what!"

Also, we have a review for a book titled THE BIRDCAGE this week.
What TV series are you currently binge watching?

I just finished Stranger Things season 4 and loved it! I recently also binged The Afterparty and could not stop laughing. 
What is your go-to summer comfort food?
Summer is my favorite time for fruit! I grew up with fruit trees in my backyard and love nothing more than fresh nectarines, peaches, and plums. 

Thanks to Holly for chatting with us and to Dutton 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 July 19th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Teenagers

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 what it's like parenting teenagers. There are a lot of books where the main character is the parent or guardian of a teenager, and now we can finally relate to their experiences, especially since our oldest kids are close in age.

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:                                                                                                                                       
I want to start this off by saying that it feels pretty strange to have a teenager in my world. I used to imagine what that might look like for him and for me, and well–it looks a little like this:

Ten years old

Seventeen years old

He’d probably get upset if he knew I shared either photo–particularly the second one, since I’d caught him off guard and afterward he said, “Don’t take my picture, Mom.” You can tell just how enthused he’d been to put up with me.

There are a lot more boundaries that are in place with my teen son. He wants more privacy. He doesn’t want me to know every single minutiae of his day like he used to. He tends to rely on his friends for that. He confides more in his stepdad, which is great. I encourage that and I get it, but I do miss our daily conversations when he was an open book for me and wanted to tell me about his Minecraft excursions or what he ate for lunch that day.

When I’m missing the little boy he used to be, I remember how it felt to be a teenager at seventeen. That’s a tough year. You’re on the precipice of becoming an “adult,” which looking back, I know isn’t really. Eighteen is a far cry from adulthood, but when you’re seventeen, you can’t see that yet. I know my son is trying to find his footing and find his independence, and I want that for him. I wanted that for myself when I was his age. I didn’t want my parents to become involved in every single facet of my life, but I wanted to know that they were there for me, just in case. And that’s what I try to do for my kid. I’m here if he needs me, and he knows it. Even when he rolls his eyes when I tell him so. 

The moment I realized he’d passed me in height

We had a conversation recently about the importance of education, which was something I don’t feel I had much support with when I was his age. My son is at an age now where he “gets it,” and even thanked me for caring so much and supporting him. Man, that felt good! When we talk about his favorite television shows, like Better Call Saul, the level of thought is highly elevated. He’s very perceptive and I can’t believe how philosophical he can get. I won’t say it out loud, but I think, who is this kid? He has strong opinions and feelings on various subjects, and even if I don’t always agree, I can’t help but feel proud. He’s a great human being. I also appreciate the many inside jokes we share, because I think it adds a deeper level to our relationship, and I love his sense of humor. I like to say that he gets that from me. 


I’ll continue to give him his space, when he needs it. I’ll continue to be here for him when he needs me. I’ve always felt that one of my biggest goals as his parent is to teach him to become independent–and we’ll keep working on that. I won’t lie–I miss the little boy. But I also embrace the young adult he’s becoming.

Melissa Amster:                                                                                                   
There are lots of things one can talk about when it comes to raising teenagers: their social life, dating, preparing for college, part-time jobs, etc. However, I'm narrowing it down to driving, for the sake of this post. And no, it's not about driving me up the wall. :) 

My oldest got his driver's license a few months ago, which is probably one of the most nerve-wracking things to experience as a parent. It means that he can drive by himself whenever he wants to. I'm used to it now, but it was definitely more stressful in the beginning. Especially the time he went to Starbucks with his sister and didn't tell me he arrived safely and was unreachable even though Starbucks clearly has WiFi. But that's another story for another time....

Then and now...behind the wheel

When my son was first learning how to drive, I expected my husband to be the one behind the wheel with him at all times. However, it soon made more sense for me to be in that role. I was really nervous about it, but then my husband had me come with during one of their driving lessons so I could see what it was like. After that, it was smooth sailing. Yes, we did have our moments where I wish I had the emergency brake on my side of the car. However, he did a really good job overall. He's very cautious and responsible and takes every driving critique to heart. It was nice having bonding time being in the car with him and it reminded me of when I would drive my dad to school before he took the car to work during my permit period. 

My son also took three lessons from the driving school, which was really helpful to enhance everything he was practicing with me. The first time, the instructor took him out on the highway. That's something we haven't even attempted with him yet. If he really needs to go anywhere on the highway, we can cross that bridge when we come to it, but right now he's mostly driving within a few miles of our house. 

These days, the biggest challenge is sorting out schedules when he has one car and my husband and I have to share the other one. Thankfully we both work at home, but if either of us has to go on an errand and the other one also has something going on, that can be complicated. Like the one time I was supposed to pick my daughter up early from school and my husband had to go to the dentist. Thankfully, my husband was able to do the pickup afterward. The current advantage is that my oldest has been driving his sister to and from camp, which will change when he's no longer working at the camp next week. I also like that we can now listen to music together when he's driving, and it's always Broadway. :)

We do have rules for when he's driving without us in the car. He needs to let us know when he gets someplace and when he's leaving. Not much to ask in this age of cell phones. I am sure I have already received my karma from the time I forgot to call my parents when I got to school in my early days of driving (from the phone that only works when it's plugged into the car). Hence, the Starbucks incident. 

Taken last week when we went to a show together

In a couple of years, it will be my younger son's turn behind the wheel and I am NOT ready for that at all. Here's hoping it will be just as easy the second time around....

If you are raising a teenager, tell us about your experience. Otherwise, tell us what you were like as a teenager.

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