Monday, August 15, 2022

Book Review: Someone Else's Honeymoon

By Sara Steven

When Charley finds herself suddenly single on Christmas Day it feels like her world has fallen apart.

Forced to move back in with her parents, she embarks on a journey of re-invention. When she meets Ed, who is on honeymoon alone after being jilted at the altar by a bride he's never met, it looks like her life may be taking a turn for the better.

Fate, however, has other ideas, and she and Ed are forced apart.

Will she find her way back to him, or are they just not meant to be? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I love the very first paragraph that starts off Someone Else’s Honeymoon: “A toothbrush. That’s what finally unraveled just over ten years of Josh and me. A fu***** toothbrush–can you believe it?” Right there, I knew I would be in for an interesting ride where relationships are concerned, and Charley’s experience doesn’t disappoint. There is a lot more involved than just the toothbrush and why she finds herself alone on Christmas Day. And all of it is the catalyst for the fateful trip she takes with her parents, discovering Ed. 

Charley is a likable character. Immediately you root for her, given the circumstances. It was also fun to witness the slow transformation of someone who has been stuck in a rut within a dead end relationship, and how she comes out of that. I think a lot of people can relate to that; finding the strength to go on without the person you’ve been with for so long. The struggle was shown well within the writing. 

It was fun to witness the budding relationship between Charley and Ed. It was an accidental romance in a sense, considering how they meet and what lends into the two of them even having a chance at something more. The scenario surrounding why Ed is on his own “vacation” was an interesting twist to things, too, one I didn’t see coming for Charley. 

The start of the story began with a bang in a sense, with the whole toothbrush debacle, and then it slowed down for me until about the middle. I kept waiting to see how Charley, or anyone else, would be on someone else's honeymoon, and when we discover that, the story begins to roll along again at a nice pace. Overall, I really enjoyed Charley’s experiences and misadventures with her love life, along with the road she takes while rediscovering herself. It was a sweet summer read. 

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Phoebe MacLeod is the author of several popular laugh-out-loud romantic comedies. She mainly sets her books in her home county of Kent and her first new title for Boldwood will be published in November 2022. They will also be republishing her existing titles from August this year.

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Friday, August 12, 2022

Book Review: The Making of Her

By Jami Denison

With the country under turmoil after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, historical novels about women facing crisis pregnancies have more meaning and resonance than ever before. While The Making of Her, Irish-Australian author Bernadette Jiwa’s debut novel, has some issues, it’s a mesmerizing look at how a woman’s lack of choice reverberates over her entire life. 

In 1960s Dublin, Joan is the eldest daughter of an alcoholic dock worker, a man so weak that he gave up his younger children when his wife died in childbirth. Working in a factory and keeping house, Joan’s life has little sunshine until she spots a cute bike messenger. After they meet and flirt, Joan is stunned to learn that Martin is the scion of one of the most successful business owners in the city. Martin’s overbearing mother disapproves of the relationship, but the young couple continues to meet in secret until the inevitable happens…

In 1996, Joan and Martin have been unhappily married for 30 years. They still live with his mother, and their adult daughter, Carmel, helps out in the business. When the daughter they gave up for adoption finally contacts Joan, Martin doesn’t want her to respond due to fear for their reputation. But Joan has missed this girl every day since she gave her up. What will she do?

While the prose was often unsophisticated, this story drew me right in. It has a lot of classic soap opera beats, and I’ve always loved a good soap opera. The scenes in 1960s Dublin were especially compelling; Call The Midwife from the hardscrabble woman’s point-of-view. Jiwa demonstrates how sexism, classism, and religion combine to keep a poor young woman firmly in her station. Even when she manages to escape her old neighborhood, she’s still judged for it.

The novel is written in third person, from the points-of-view of Joan and her two daughters. While each of these women comes across as three-dimensional, Martin and his mother are opaque. Martin’s love for his younger daughter makes his decision to ignore his older one a mystery that the writer never really solves. And his mother never has a single human moment in the entire book. Still, it’s good soap opera and Jiwa delivers the emotional experience the reader wants.

The past, as the saying goes, is prologue, and as the nation reacts to women losing their bodily autonomy, books like The Making of Her are an important reminder of what’s at stake. Without options, an unplanned pregnancy can derail a woman’s entire life, or even end it. And that’s exactly what many forced-birth supporters want. 

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

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Raise a glass to Toni Glickman

Today we are pleased to welcome Toni Glickman to CLC. Her debut novel, Champagne at Seven!, is the first book in the Bitches of Fifth Avenue series. It sounds like a fun story and it's already getting great reviews on Amazon. Toni is here to tell us more about it and share some interesting things about herself, as well. Getting to know her is like having coffee, or champagne, with a close friend.

Toni Glickman is a former retail executive, who spent twenty years in the cashmere and silk-studded front lines in the luxury space of this piranha infested industry. Toni, in her provocative new book series Bitches of Fifth Avenue, reveals the story of life behind the luxury lines—what the client never sees. The exhaustion, depression, and anxiety-ridden days of an employee’s experience, which clients never realize. The fear of low sales numbers, of losing rank, of losing a job to someone with a better client book. Also, there’s the fear of returned merchandise and the constant worry of losing a client to another salesperson. Never a moment of purity, or peace, or calm. It is a life lived constantly on the edge. Saks Fifth Avenue, Prada, Jil Sander, Chanel, Bloomingdale’s and Burberry—these were just a few brands in which Toni achieved success before ultimately being backstabbed by those she thought she could trust. 

​Moving up the ladder from sales associate to industry executive, Toni compares working in the field to the front lines of a minefield. Her colleagues exemplified the mines in which she had to navigate through in order to survive and make her sales numbers, which is all that matters at the end of the day when the cash registers close. An employee in this industry is only respected by how much business is done, in business lingo: “day over day, month over month, and year over year”. Expectations run high, illness is not permitted, and personal lives are ignored. It is report after report, endless conference calls, sales strategies, and goals. Personal shoppers do whatever it takes—it is sell, sell, sell.

​Toni now enjoys life as a real estate professional, where she sets her own schedule and no longer needs to contend with maneuvering “bitchy” retail colleagues. She’s also a Francophile, plays classical piano, loves the cinema, travel, her children, family, friends, and Teacup Pomeranian—her very bold, spirited, and lovable pet dog. Visit Toni on Instagram.

Synopsis:
Olivia Wyatt, a mid-40s, rich Washingtonian who beautifully plays the part of mother, socialite, philanthropist, wife, and Stepford cut-out doll in the chardonnay and whiskey-wrapped superficial world in which she lives. Her exclusive last minute D.C. dinner party didn't quite end how she had anticipated. Tragic news was served up late night instead of her planned dessert of luscious and blissful black forest cake. Olivia and her daughter, Gwynnie, suddenly need to rebuild their lives—and themselves.

Olivia reluctantly moves from her Georgetown high society personal battlefield back to New York City, and is on the prowl for work, only to find herself fighting in the trenches of a new, more intense luxury retail sales war. She dodges designer landmines in her new job as a high-end personal shopper—which only catapults her into a fifth gear spin cycle of anxiety, insanity and toxicity. She is now working alongside Bitches of Fifth Avenue in a gut-wrenching and nerve-wracking struggle to maintain her sanity, and her bank account. Olivia needs to find her way, and fast, before she loses her mind—and her job.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

"Champagne at Seven! was everything you want from a summer read--smart, funny, and packed with heart. If you loved Sex and The City, Schitt's Creek, or The Devil Wears Prada, you'll love Champagne at Seven!"--Amazon reviewer

"Entertaining summer read that I was so engrossed in, I read it without stopping. Had to find out how Olivia and the elite DC scene live. Looking forward to Toni Glickman’s next book, and finding out how Olivia reinvents herself. Go Olivia!" --Amazon reviewer


In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you? 
Ha! It was interesting. I had a book agent in NYC for a while who ultimately retired...I was lucky enough to sign with another agent who sold my MS to Speaking Volumes, LLC...a fabulous traditional small press publisher. Getting published takes a lot of time and patience.

My MS was originally one book but then my agent had the great idea to separate into a three book series - of course, I’ve had to go back in, change the endings of books one and two and the beginnings of two and three. And, giving each book its own name? It’s been fun!

How is Olivia similar to or different from you? 
I am similar to Olivia in the fact that I love to entertain, I love beautiful things and I lived in Georgetown - the historical DC neighborhood. I would add that I am also a little sassy and am true to myself, just like Olivia is. I always add one interesting and memorable accessory to every outfit!

If Champagne at Seven! were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles? 
I have so many ideas of who would play who...maybe Rachel McAdams, Sienna Miller, Katherine Heigl for Olivia, Neil Patrick Harris, Rupert Everett, Victor Garber or Jim Parsons for Felix? Emma Stone for Zoe. Maybe also Emma Mackey or Lili Reinhart as Gwynnie...this would be so fun to do! May I be that lucky!

Where is your favorite place to spend money? 
My answer to this question has changed over the years....Twenty years ago, I would have said the great luxury brands of the world. Now....it's depositing money into the bank!

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend? 
I just saw Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris...it's the story of a lovely English widow who works as a housekeeper, becomes enamored with a Christian Dior dress and finds herself in hot pursuit for one of her own!

Tell us about a memorable experience you had this summer. 
I just got back from a long weekend trip to NYC with my son. (My daughter Gigi was too busy to join!) Bruno and I hit the pavement and did the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, Empire State Building, Central Park tour, Broadway Show (Mr. Saturday Night...amazing!), Nintendo store (three visits to be specific), and had countless slices of pizza...all of that and even more Starbucks coffees for me to keep up with Bruno!

Thanks to Toni for visiting with us!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Book Review: The Split



By Sara Steven

Two decades on from a passionate courtship and marriage, Lucas and Esther are getting divorced.

For Esther, it’s proving hard not to feel bitter watching Lucas enjoying his successful career, not to mention the attentions of his gorgeous, intelligent, and predictably younger lover. She meanwhile is struggling to forge a new life for herself, navigating the pitfalls of modern dating, while trying not to despair at the cost of living as a single woman of a certain age.

Then Lucas faces a shattering accusation at the same time as their children Dylan and Lily, start to implode. When Dylan runs away, and as his father fights to save his reputation, Lucas and Esther find themselves back in each other’s lives, whether they like it or not.

Has too much water passed under the bridge, or will long-forgotten loyalties and feelings bring the family back together, just when they need each other the most? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

It seems that nearly every character within The Split is going through major changes in their lives. Not only has Esther attempted to move on after divorcing her husband, Lucas, but her children are at an age where she’ll become an empty nester soon. Lucas believes he has found happiness again, only to have it threatened by the accusation mentioned in the synopsis. Lily is dealing with an unbearable secret, while Dylan decides to run away from what has tethered him to his family. The reader witnesses the slow unraveling of various choices made by each character, and the eventual outcome of those choices. 

I couldn’t help but feel for Esther. It appears as though she doesn’t have much support and has had to find a new way of life after the divorce. But it was nice to see the strength she has and how she endures, rediscovering herself. I could relate. I think many women can sort of lose themselves within their families and children, forgetting who they originally had been, and I could tell that she wanted to find some kind of balance between motherhood and newfound womanhood. 

Lucas was a gruff character. He reminded me of my grandfather, who had a much softer side to him tucked deep inside, and it was only on rare occasions when you’d get a glimpse of it. There is a backstory connected to Lucas’s personality which made sense and gave me a deeper understanding of who Lucas is. He can’t be trusted because he can’t trust. The accusation he’s dealing with sent me back several pages, in order to re-read the events that led to everything, trying to figure out if what he went through was justified. To be honest, I’m still not sure, because I could see both sides to the situation. 

Lily and Dylan had their own burdens to bear, yet given everything going on with their parents, the siblings chose to keep quiet. I thought the author did a great job of showing the slow burn that can happen when you are living with something that settles poorly on your psyche. Overall, The Split did that–showed what could happen if you choose to “live with” something instead of tackling it and moving on from it. All four characters have to figure it out, in order to find their way to one another again; in order to remain a family. It was an interesting look into quiet disarray, well written and expansive. 

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

Purchase Links:

Amanda Brookfield
is the bestselling author of 16 novels including Good Girls, her first book for Boldwood, Relative Love and Before I Knew You, as well as a memoir, For the Love of a Dog starring her Golden Doodle Mabel. She lives in London and has recently finished a year as Visiting Creative Fellow at University College Oxford.



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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Jean Meltzer's perfect new novel...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Lisa Damico
We're so glad to have Jean Meltzer back at CLC today, to celebrate the publication of her delightful sophomore rom com, Mr. Perfect on Paper. Melissa loved this one just as much as The Matzah Ball, if not more. (See her review.) Jean is here to talk more about her writing, dating, and Jewish traditions. Thanks to MIRA, we have one copy to give away!

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

Visit Jean online:
Website * Facebook * Instagram

Synopsis:
The perfect Jewish husband should be:
  • A doctor or lawyer (preferably a doctor)
  • Baggage-free (no previous marriages, no children)
  • And of course—he must be Jewish
As the creator and CEO of the popular Jewish dating app J-Mate, matchmaker Dara Rabinowitz knows the formula for lasting love—at least, for everyone else. When it comes to her own love life, she’s been idling indefinitely. Until her beloved bubbe shares Dara’s checklist for “The Perfect Jewish Husband” on national television and charming news anchor Chris Steadfast proposes they turn Dara’s search into must-see TV.

As a non-Jewish single dad, Chris doesn’t check any of Dara’s boxes. But her hunt for Mr. Perfect is the ratings boost his show desperately needs. If only Chris could ignore his own pesky attraction to Dara—a task much easier said than done when Dara starts questioning if “perfect on paper” can compete with how hard she’s falling for Chris… (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“A delightful romantic comedy that reminds us to follow our hearts.”
—Brenda Novak, New York Times bestselling author

"Grab some popcorn! Mr. Perfect on Paper reads so cinematically, I felt like I was watching my favorite rom-com for the first time. This book is delightfully Jewish—it had me absolutely kvelling over the representation. What a joy to read!"
—Haley Neil, author of Once More with Chutzpah

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
For me, it’s less about the writing itself and what my books put into the world. I’m always so beyond touched when someone who has read my books tell me that they felt seen. That how I described an experience—such as living with ME/CFS in The Matzah Ball or living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Mr. Perfect on Paper—resonates with them in a way that feels truthful. Or, to hear a reader say, “This book put into words what I experience but could never explain.” People need language to help them express themselves, and their reality to others. I love when my books can facilitate that.  

Beyond that, and something I’m truly proud of as a rom-com author, is how many people have reached out to me to tell me that my books have made them laugh during a period of difficult. That after a death, or during challenging times, my books were their safe space. I guess the old saying holds true. You can take the girl out of rabbinical school…

I feel so darn blessed that I have a job where I get to put good things into the world, where I get to write books that ultimately help other people. It’s interesting that so many people think of romance as fluffy, or predictable, because in my experience, it is the exact opposite. Romance can be healing in profound and important ways. 

What did you learn from writing The Matzah Ball that you applied to Mr. Perfect on Paper?
One thing that’s important to remember about my writing journey, is that I never expected The Matzah Ball to get published. I wrote that book during the pandemic, as a way to hold onto my joy, and as a gift for my niece who needed a book where Jewish women loved their noses. Everything else which came after writing it was wonderful, but it wouldn’t have changed my experience, or feelings, about that book. 

And so, when I sat down to write Mr. Perfect on Paper—I tried to hold on to that aspect of what brings me to the page. I tried to keep writing with joy. And I putting all the rest of it—deadlines, sales, publicity, etc.—out of my mind. 

If Mr. Perfect on Paper were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
I always get this question, and I always answer it the same way. I do not know celebrities, at all. Unless they are Real Housewives. Sadly, I don’t think any of them are right for Mr. Perfect on Paper

What is the strangest Jewish ritual for you to have to explain to someone? 
EASY! Hoshana Rabbah, which is the holiday right at the end of Sukkot and before Simchat Torah. During the service, a bunch of people in Tallit (prayer shawls) go around in a circle, over and over, shaking and waving lulav (long ancient palms) all while holding an etrog (a lemon, but with a fancy tip.) And then, during the circle dancing, after waving and shaking and chanting, you take those palms and that fancy lemon, AND SMASH THEM ALL OVER THE GROUND! Then you go around and do the whole thing again, and again, and again…  chant, wave, shake, smash… chant, wave, shake, smash… 

Honestly, the first time I saw it I thought, “This is the most pagan thing I have ever seen in my whole life.” Participating in it is even weirder. You really do feel like you’re in a Fellini movie. It’s actually so hard to explain that, even though Mr. Perfect on Paper covers the High Holiday cycle from Rosh Hashanah to Simchat Torah and into Hanukkah, I purposefully left Hoshana Rabbah out. 

Tell us how you met your husband.
I met my husband on a cruise to Bermuda. I was a first year rabbinical school, and he was a college student, in the military, about to deploy to Iraq. Plot twist—he also wasn’t Jewish. We clicked immediately, and two weeks later, he came to my house for Rosh Hashanah, took one bite of my brisket, and said, “Jean. I’m going to marry you.” LOL 

Thankfully, everything worked out for us in the end. But our relationship, the idea that you could be deeply committed to your faith, but fall in love with someone outside your faith, despite your best intentions to do otherwise, became the inspiration for my second book, Mr. Perfect on Paper

Since Dara has a few bad dates, tell us about the worst date you've ever been on. 
Oh man. I would feel too bad telling those stories! But I will say that one of the dates in Mr. Perfect on Paper was inspired by a real life event. I’ll leave it to you to guess which one, though. 

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

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

Giveaway ends August 14th at midnight EST.

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Monday, August 8, 2022

Book Review: The Forgotten Cottage

By Jami Denison

Every genre has its tropes, and historical fiction is rife with them. Some of the more popular ones include inheriting heretofore unknown property, the elderly relative who dies with a secret, a modern-day protagonist with a burden, and of course, world war. But just because a book includes some or all of these tropes doesn’t mean it’s not good. Historical fiction writer Courtney Ellis utilizes all of them in her latest novel, The Forgotten Cottage. She still creates a unique, captivating story that never feels predictable. 

In 2014, disgraced American nurse Audrey Collins treks to North Yorkshire, England, having just inherited a cottage from her grandmother that she knew nothing about. So devastated over her grandmother’s passing that she fell off the wagon after a year of sobriety, Audrey is amazed to discover the cottage is a time capsule from the day her grandmother left England in 1941. As she pokes around the home and talks to the villagers in this tight-knit community, Audrey begins to realize that the secret to her grandmother’s past actually lies in the story of her great-grandmother, Lady Emilie Dawes.

The Forgotten Cottage suffers from the same quandary as nearly every historical fiction novel that features a past and present protagonist: The challenges the historical protagonist faces are so enormous that the modern-day heroine pales in comparison. And Lady Emilie Dawes is exceptionally compelling. Growing up on a fine estate with staff at her beck and call, and promised to a lord, Emilie is determined to live life on her own terms. And that means falling for a man born outside of society and rejecting her family in order to serve World War I soldiers as a nurse. The contrast in descriptions of Emilie’s privileged life on the manor versus the austere life in a field hospital is stark, and her strength of character is revealed again and again. Near the end of the book, when she makes a calculated decision to lie to protect someone vulnerable, her actions are understandable. Audrey’s journey of getting the cottage ready to sell, discover her grandmother’s past, and stay sober, can’t really compete with that, even though she is a sympathetic character.

The novel feels strongly researched, and many of the descriptions of the horrors of World War I made me tear up. The first conflict to use modern warfare and gas, it was fought by English nobility and commoners alike, who signed up believing it would only last a few months. Through Emilie’s eyes, readers get an up-close look at the amputations, chemical burns, and PTSD that resulted—as well as the unkind reactions to the latter. 

Ironically, I read The Forgotten Cottage on the plane home from a trip to England. While there, I visited the Imperial War Museum, which has a floor dedicated to World War I. As an American, it was eye-opening to read analyses of the war written by English historians who put the conflict in a global context. World War I happened more than 100 years ago, but the struggles of class and the questions about who gets to rule never really seem to get resolved. Perhaps that’s why these books continue to be so compelling: There’s always the unspoken suggestion that something similar could happen again. And here. 

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

Also by Courtney Ellis:
 

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Friday, August 5, 2022

What's in the (e)mail?

Melissa:
The Marsh Queen by Virginia Hartman from Gallery (NetGalley)
Take My Husband by Ellen Meister from Harlequin (NetGalley)
A Secret in the Family by/from Leah Mercer (NetGalley)
Small World by Laura Zigman from Ecco (NetGalley)
The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique by Samantha Vérant from Berkley (NetGalley)
Not the Plan by Gia De Cadenet from Random House (NetGalley)
The Friendship Breakup by/from Annie Cathryn (NetGalley)
A Guide to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan from St. Martin's Press (print)
Twice in a Lifetime by Melissa Baron from Alcove Press (NetGalley)
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto from Random House (NetGalley)
Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey from William Morrow (NetGalley)


Sara:
I Told You This Would Happen by Elaine Murphy from Grand Central (print)
The Split by Amanda Brookfield from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes from Dutton (NetGalley)
The Break-Up Agency by Sheila McClure from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
This is Us by Helen McGinn from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Just Date and See by Portia Macintosh from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Such a Pretty Girl by T. Greenwood from BookSparks (ebook)







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Book Review: The No-Show

By Marisa Appleton

Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane are all stood up on Valentine's Day. What connects the three women? Joseph Carter. All three women go on well-needed, but very different journeys of self-discovery.  They experience love, loss, and self-acceptance. There’s more to Joseph than meets the eye. Is he simply a lying womanizer? You’ll have to read to find out.

The No-Show starts off as a typical, predictable romance. I love Beth O’Leary. Her stories are normally happy, albeit predictable, but heartwarming reads. Going into this book, I expected a similar vibe. It starts off that way, we initially learn about three different women Siobhan, Miranda and Jane. All three women have been stood up on Valentine’s Day. Siobhan is an Irish life coach; Miranda is a tree surgeon and Jane works in a charity shop. Each woman is different, but they all have some deep-rooted trauma that we unpack throughout the story. 

The one thing that all the women have in common is Joseph Carter. Somehow though, he manages to show up and apologise to the women the following day. They all forgive him and go on to have very different relationships with him. I fully expected a The Other Woman kind of scenario where all the women met up and plotted their revenge. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This story really exceeded my expectations.

I didn’t know what to make of Joseph Carter. In some ways, he was a swoon-worthy boyfriend. I didn’t blame the girls for falling for him. But in the back of my mind, I still knew that he was a three-timing cheater. When the secrets start to unfold, we discover a different side to Joseph. Throughout the novel, I felt a darker undertone. I wasn’t sure what it was, I could just tell that this story wasn’t going to be your traditional happily ever after. I can honestly say that this book is worth reading just for the twist. I really did not see it coming and that’s saying a lot. The twist did make everything just click. Spoiler alert – I cried. As soon as I figured out where the story was going, it was tinged with sadness. O'Leary has created fully formed characters in this novel; they all have their own secrets and sadness. 

There’s not much else I can say that won’t spoil the novel; all I can do is encourage you to go read it! I’m predicting that this novel is going to be Beth O’Leary’s most successful novel yet. 

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

More by Beth O'Leary:

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Thursday, August 4, 2022

Double Feature Spotlight and Giveaway: Ben and Beatriz & Mika in Real Life

Today we are featuring Ben and Beatriz by Katalina Gamarra and Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean. Both novels were published this past week and they sound amazing. We have THREE copies of each for some lucky readers, thanks to Harlequin and William Morrow!

Which of his bad qualities did she fall for first?

Harvard senior Beatriz Herrera does not have a post-graduation plan. What she does have is a shaved head, a sharp tongue, political views that skew so far left she’s this close to eating the rich, and deeply rooted trauma from the results of the 2016 election.

Still, she would do anything for her sweet, opposite-from-her-in-every-way prima, Hero. Even if it means watching Hero and her boyfriend, Claudio, make googly eyes at each other all spring break. And even if it means spending that week at the Cape Cod mansion of Claudio's best friend and Beatriz's worst nightmare: arrogantly attractive playboy Ben Montgomery. Ben is everything Beatriz can’t stand: he’s white, he’s rich, his taste in literature is the embodiment of toxic masculinity, he’s already got a post-grad job lined up in Boston’s Financial District (with a cushy loft that's paid for, of course), and he’s a walking reminder of the steamy night they spent together four years ago, during their very first week of college. A night that cemented her disdain toward him forever—not that she plans on telling him why.

When a night of drinking games takes a terrifying turn, Ben and Beatriz are forced to put aside their dislike for each other to save someone’s life. What follows--over the course of several months--is an unraveling, as both of them learn how wrong they've been about the other, and a rebuilding of something new and surprisingly tender. But does a country so bitterly divided have space for this kind of love story?

"BEN AND BEATRIZ should be required reading. I want to scream at the entire world to pick up this book and read it! At times, I was shaking while reading because it made me feel so seen. Gamarra's novel is an incredible love story, yes, but beyond that it's also a deeply complex study on racism and privilege that goes so far beyond the surface. Its approach to mental health, consent, and sexual identity is brilliant and compassionate and so, so authentic. We should be studying this book. AAHHH!!!" 
— Jesse Q. Sutanto, author of Dial A for Aunties

Katalina Gamarra earned a BA in English from Drew University, where she received accolades for both creative writing and academic prowess, as well as an award in Shakespeare Study. Before becoming an author, she worked in bookselling and literary scouting. She lives in Boston with her husband, cat, and dog.

Visit Katalina online:
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One phone call changes everything. 

At thirty-five, Mika Suzuki’s life is a mess. Her last relationship ended in flames. Her roommate-slash-best friend might be a hoarder. She’s a perpetual disappointment to her traditional Japanese parents. And, most recently, she’s been fired from her latest dead-end job.  

Mika is at her lowest point when she receives a phone call from Penny—the daughter she placed for adoption sixteen years ago. Penny is determined to forge a relationship with her birth mother, and in turn, Mika longs to be someone Penny is proud of. Faced with her own inadequacies, Mika embellishes a fact about her life. What starts as a tiny white lie slowly snowballs into a fully-fledged fake life, one where Mika is mature, put-together, successful in love and her career. 

The details of Mika’s life might be an illusion, but everything she shares with curious, headstrong Penny is real: her hopes, dreams, flaws, and Japanese heritage. The harder-won heart belongs to Thomas Calvin, Penny’s adoptive widower father. What starts as a rocky, contentious relationship slowly blossoms into a friendship and, over time, something more. But can Mika really have it all—love, her daughter, the life she’s always wanted? Or will Mika’s deceptions ultimately catch up to her? In the end, Mika must face the truth—about herself, her family, and her past—and answer the question, just who is Mika in real life? 

"A wonderful, life-affirming story about second chances, parenthood and love. By turns tender, funny, and deeply romantic, I was rooting for Mika, Penny and Thomas." 
— Lauren Ho, author of Lucie Yi Is Not A Romantic 

Credit: Susan Doupé
Photography
Emiko Jean is the author of Tokyo Dreaming, Tokyo Ever After, Empress of all Seasons, and We'll Never be Apart. When Emiko is not writing, she is reading. Most of her friends are imaginary. Before she became a writer she was an entomologist (fancy name for bug catcher), a candle maker, a florist, and most recently a teacher. She lives in Washington with her husband and children (unruly twins). She loves the rain.

Visit Emiko online:
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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 9th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Book Review: The Precious Jules

By Jami Denison

What does it mean to do what’s best for your child? What does it mean to be a good mother? A believer in God? What happens when these values collide? In Maryland author Shawn Nocher’s latest novel, The Precious Jules, when a daughter in a large Catholic family turns out to have special needs, the impact of her family’s choices reverberates throughout the years. 

In 1969, when Hillary Jules was pregnant for the third time, her doctors missed that it was a twin pregnancy. So after Belle was born, Ella remained trapped in the womb for several precious minutes. As she got older, Hillary, with another child born after the twins, was overwhelmed by Ella’s needs. The baby who had seizures grew into a toddler who would attack her siblings. In the book’s opening scene, she nearly bites off an older brother’s face. When Ella is eight, the family made the decision to send her to an institution. And now, in 2009, that institution is closing. And even though Lynetta, the gentle African-American woman who has cared exclusively for Ella since she was 13, has applied for guardianship, Hillary has decided it’s time to move Ella back into the family’s sprawling Maryland home. For Ella’s “welcome home” dinner, her four siblings have arrived to talk their mother out of this terrible idea. 

This novel is an incredibly moving, thoughtful work that will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult and Kelly Rimmer. Told from the third-person points of view of Hillary, all the children minus Ella, and Lynetta, readers will identify with every character—although I was often left wondering about the inner workings of Jules’ patriarch Stone. Oldest son Jax is burdened with keeping his mother’s secrets; the younger children are heavy with the weight of their parents’ expectations and the unspoken threat that children can be sent away. The timelines alternate, so readers are in the moment with Hillary and Lynetta as they make decisions that impact the rest of Ella’s life. 

1970s Hillary, with the expectation of perfect grooming, perfect children, a pregnancy a year and little-to-no help, is extraordinarily sympathetic. 2009 Hillary, who never asks what is in Ella’s best interest, is decidedly less so. And while Ella’s story isn’t unusual—many families were faced with this question when institutions began closing in the 1980s—her circumstances are. The enormous privilege of this family, who live in a sprawling home in an upper-class Maryland suburb, who have four well-off children, who have a caretaker eager to bring Ella into her own home, belies the fact that these real-life scenarios are often faced by families with very little resources, and state and federal programs that barely help. 

The best fiction immerses the reader in the problems of the characters, so much so that these problems feel like the readers’ own. But these days, it’s harder and harder to separate characters’ problems from what’s really going on in the world around us. Hillary Jules is a fictional creation, but many real women will become just as trapped as she was—and in a prison much worse than Hillary’s nice home. 

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Also by Shawn Nocher:

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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

What Sara Goodman Confino has been up to...plus a book giveaway


Introduction by Melissa Amster

We are thrilled to have Sara Goodman Confino back at CLC today, to celebrate the publication of her sophomore novel, She's Up to No Good. If you read her debut, For the Love of Friends, you will recognize Evelyn, the quirky grandmother. While No Good is a standalone, there are some spoilers for Friends, so just keep that in mind. 

Since Sara was last here, I devoured For the Love of Friends (reviewed here) and got my hands on an early copy of She's Up to No Good, which is also really great (reviewed here). I also have enjoyed getting to know Sara even more over the past year and she is absolutely delightful. She also has a great sense of humor and I enjoy chatting with her. I'm hoping we'll meet up in the near future since we live relatively close. Today she's sharing a guest post about her writing inspirations and it's just as much fun as her books! Thanks to Get Red PR, we have one copy of She's Up to No Good for a lucky reader!

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

Visit Sara online:
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Synopsis:
Thirty-four-year-old Jenna is expecting to buy a house and have a baby soon, not receive the abrupt announcement that her husband has met someone else. Bored, dateless, and living with her parents, Jenna jumps at the chance to get away when her quirky grandmother, Evelyn, announces she’s driving from Maryland to her Massachusetts hometown to attend to some mysterious personal business. 

Soon Jenna learns that there’s much about her grandmother’s life that she never knew about, including an ill-fated romance with a man named Tony more than seventy years ago. Evelyn and Tony couldn’t marry  because he wasn’t Jewish, and although she insists the trip isn’t about him, Jenna doesn’t quite believe it. 

Tony’s handsome great-nephew, Joe, turns out to be their Airbnb host, and as she lets her guard down and enjoys the coastal scenery, Jenna  realizes that maybe she can move on, after all. 

Alternating between the present and 1950s Massachusetts, this  heartwarming story of second chances is the perfect novel for your beach bag this summer.

“You can almost taste the lobster rolls and smell the warm salt air in Sara Goodman Confino’s latest, which will leave you smiling long after you turn the last page. When Jenna agrees to a road trip with her sassy grandmother, Evelyn, she never could have imagined how her life would change. Confino deftly weaves together two time periods to tell a charming and funny story of true love, second chances, and why we should always be open to new beginnings.” 
—Susie Orman Schnall, author of We Came Here to Shine

“A heartfelt and endearing story where generations of women do what women do best—keep one’s feet firmly planted while simultaneously moving forward with love.” 
—Ann Garvin, author of I Thought You Said This Would Work

How to win friends and influence people: Don't write a book about them

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all writers steal from anything that inspires them. 

See what I did there?  Stole from Jane Austen. And shamelessly stole a line from The Great Gatsby in my first novel, For the Love of Friends, then had to explain to my copy editor that, yes, I was allowed to because it had entered the public domain. Which, fun fact, is why you’re seeing so many Gatsby retellings coming out now, old sport!

But the reality is, authors borrow details most from their lives. I have a mug on my desk at work that says, “Do not annoy the author. She may put you in a book and kill you.”

It gets a lot more complicated with friends and family though. Sylvia Plath, for example, literally had a clause in her contract that The Bell Jar could not be published under her real name while her mother was alive. 

Friends and family members of authors often struggle to separate the person they know from their work. Which also drives authors nuts, but that’s a story for another day. So if you use too many real details, you wind up with a lot of people pointing fingers—sometimes not so nicely. 

I learned this lesson the hard way with a now-scrapped early novel. My grandmother was a consummate storyteller, filling my young head with tales of her childhood in the seaside town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. They say to write what you know, and some of those stories were so fantastic that I decided to use them in a fictionalized frame story. Sounds good, right? 

Nope. 
Here’s the problem: When you’re relating real events, you’re not creating, you’re transcribing. And when you’re transcribing an event, you’re going to upset the other people who witnessed it and had a different experience than you did. I have a relative who still isn’t speaking to me over that unpublished mess.

But, as I like to tell my students, nothing is a waste of time as long as you learn from it. And what I learned is that you wind up stuck when you use actual people and events. It’s harder to put them into fictional scenarios, because that isn’t what happened. When you create an entirely new character, their world is a blank page.  

Some situations though, are too good to not steal. My best friend keeps saying she’d like Reese Witherspoon to play “her” if they make a movie of For the Love of Friends. But which bride is she? (Correct answer? Whichever one she wants to be. Love you Jen and Reese!) The real answer is that she’s none of them. And a little bit of several of them. She kept texting me while re-reading (she read the draft early on) and saying, “Oh no! I did that to you, didn’t I?” She never told me to get Botox or that I couldn’t date a groomsman. But there are some situations that I’m sure feel vaguely familiar to certain bridal parties that I was in.

It’s impossible to see those traces of real life when you know the author and not want to paint it in terms of black and white which character is who. My mother, knowing this, insisted that I put a disclaimer in the acknowledgments that my main character’s mother was NOT her. Which, ironically, is exactly what that character would make her daughter do.

Joan Weiss, however, has an entirely different inspiration, and it’s one that no one in my circle guessed, those some reviews mentioned that she had that vibe: I borrowed from Ms. Austen again in the relationship Lily has with her parents. Joan is the long-suffering Mrs. Bennett, concerned with marrying off her children, while Lily’s father exudes Mr. Bennett’s droll support of his still single daughter. Yet Mrs. Bennett is the last woman I would compare my own mother to. (Lady Catherine, anyone? Just kidding, Mom!)

I teach creative writing. And I frequently have students come to me and say they want to write about something that happened to them. If it’s for a journal, great! Do it. Writing is an amazing form of therapy. But if it’s something you’d like to share with the larger world, the best advice I have is to fictionalize as much of it as you can.

The idea for She’s Up to No Good came out of my real-life grandmother planning a trip home to Gloucester for a week with my uncle. She insisted, at ninety-two and after a small stroke, that she could drive it all herself. And I asked myself where would I have to be in my life to say, “Nope, I’m driving you”? 

In my original concept of She’s Up to No Good, much of the story took place in Gloucester. But I hadn’t been there since I was fourteen. And with a baby in a pandemic, a research trip wasn’t happening. I asked my parents for old photos to help set the scene, but my father was the one who suggested I create a fictional Cape Ann town. I thought about what that would look like, and suddenly the whole story bloomed in front of me. Gloucester was absolutely the wrong setting. My family had too much history there. I’d feel constrained by what had really happened. In a fictional town, Evelyn, the star of She’s Up to No Good, could grow and change and do literally anything that my real grandmother never did (and a handful of things that she did do).

Your own history means more to you than it ever will to others. Using it as inspiration instead of gospel allows you the freedom to create something unique and really special. And it also lets you avoid being the drama at family reunions; I’d rather sit in the corner and take notes to use as inspiration for a future story when the bickering inevitably starts any day.

Thanks to Sara for this wonderful guest post and to Get Red PR 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 7th at midnight EST.

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Monday, August 1, 2022

Book Review: The Other Guest

By Jami Denison

British author Helen Cooper has followed up her twisty debut thriller, The Downstairs Neighbor (reviewed here) with another thriller about a secretive family. While The Other Guest doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as its predecessor, Cooper continues to demonstrate the tight plotting that all thriller readers appreciate. 

Nine months ago, 21-year-old Amy drowned accidentally at her family’s upscale resort on Lake Garda, Italy. Now her aunt, Leah, has come to Il Mandarino to comfort her sister Charlotte and try to come to terms with the girl’s death—especially her guilt about avoiding her niece’s last call. But Charlotte, her husband Gordon and younger niece Olivia seem more concerned with the resort’s reputation than mourning Amy. Leah’s questions remain unanswered, and the family is quick to parrot the police investigation’s finding of accidental death. Going through Amy’s room, Leah finds a photo of her niece with the resort’s bartender, who left the resort after the girl died amidst rumors that they were involved. Could Nate have had something to do with Amy’s death?

In London, Joanna is reeling from a break-up with her fiancé, Luke, and the attempted suicide of a student under her care. When she meets a new bartender, Callum, at her favorite local pub, she’s quickly charmed. And when Callum is injured in a hit-and-run at work, Joanna lets him recuperate at her home. But soon his stories don’t add up, and Joanna realizes Callum is hiding something big…

Cooper has created an interesting structure in The Other Guest, with two protagonists who never meet. While Leah is the more pro-active of the two, aggressively pursuing leads about Amy’s death even when her own safety is jeopardized, Joanna is the more sympathetic. Heartbroken and vulnerable, Joanna is an easy mark for Callum, and readers will worry for her when she takes the man into her home without telling anyone she knows. 

Cooper also gives us Amy’s actions on the day she died, as well as the girl’s background growing up at the resort. Gordon comes across especially poorly in these pages, more concerned about the resort’s reputation than his daughters, and treating Amy as a prisoner. She isn’t even allowed to go to college, forced instead to remain at Il Mandarino to act out a charade of a perfect family. Amy is especially appalled at Gordon’s tendency to hire attractive women to hang around the resort to make the place more appealing to wealthy powerful men. While the fingers point at Nate as being responsible for Amy’s death, Gordon is the obvious villain. 

For me, this family dynamic is the biggest difference between The Downstairs Neighbor and The Other Guest. In Cooper’s debut, everyone in the book cared enormously about each other, and their lies and secrets were in order to protect their loved ones. In The Other Guest, Amy’s family seems more concerned about the running of the resort than what really happened to her. Even a last-minute revelation that puts certain actions into perspective does not lessen the impact about how Amy was treated before she died. And when the truth finally comes out, it lacks the emotional punch that most reveals deliver in thrillers. In the climax, Cooper does tie everything together more tightly than I’d first anticipated, but even so, a sense of meaninglessness pervades the ending. 

There’s a saying that truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s because we require our stories to make sense, to avoid coincidence, for everything to have a reason. Reality doesn’t work that way; accidents happen, even death can be arbitrary. That may be the reason that while Cooper ties up her plot threads well, she leaves some characters still unsettled and out-of-sorts. When death is arbitrary, a true sense of closure can feel impossible.      

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

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