Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Book Review: The Lost Ticket

By Jami Denison

“Fate” is a common subtext across many genres. Romance asks readers to believe two people are meant to be together; sci-fi explores parallel universes in the belief that every action and decision has meaningful consequences. In real life, we tell ourselves that things will work out if they are supposed to, that “everything happens for a reason.” As we grow older, we look back on our lives and wonder how things might have turned out differently if we’d chosen another school, job, or partner. 

In The Lost Ticket, British author Freya Sampson’s latest book, an elderly London man named Frank has spent the past 60 years riding the number 88 bus, hoping for a glimpse of the red-haired artist he fell in love with but never saw again after he lost the bus ticket with her phone number. He never even got her name! When Libby Sampson hears his story, she’s inspired to help. Out of sorts since her boyfriend of eight years broke up with her, now acting as an unpaid live-in nanny for her sister, Libby is hungry for a sense of purpose and romance. Even learning that Frank’s carer is a punk named Dylan with whom she had a nasty run-in isn’t enough to deter her. And time is of the essence, as Frank’s daughter Clara is about to move him into a home because of his worsening dementia, where he won’t be able to take the 88 anymore. Even worse, what if he forgets about his red-haired girl completely? Libby is especially moved because Frank’s motivations are altruistic. He just wants to thank the girl for inspiring him to tell his parents he didn’t want to run their shop; he wanted to be an actor. After meeting her, he went to drama school and became a working actor. That one conversation changed his life. 

Libby’s point-of-view is interspersed with that of Peggy’s, an elderly London woman who often misses seeing a poster about Frank’s story, or running into Frank and Libby on the bus. Is she Frank’s mystery woman? She’s alone, narrating her day to a person who’s no longer there, and missing a busy adult child. The reader wants Peggy to be Frank’s girl, because they obviously need each other.

The Lost Ticket is a cozy blanket of a book, with kindness emanating from every page. It would have been easy for Libby, with everything else going on in her life, to forget about Frank, the way society as a whole has dismissed the needs of the elderly cohort. But she throws herself into helping him achieve this last dream of his. Similarly, Frank inspires everyone he meets, encouraging them to chase after their dreams and take care of each other. Dylan, the punk, was a huge surprise, a marshmallow of a person devoted to Frank and his other clients, including a young woman with Down Syndrome who is about to get married. The only character who didn’t quite work for me was Libby’s four-year-old nephew Hector, an angelic boy with a vocabulary and temperament of a much older child. 

We live in challenging times, and as a reader, I tend to choose books that reflect that—either historical fiction about the horrors of war or thrillers that showcase the worst things that people do to the ones they love. The Lost Ticket was a welcome break from these realities, a reminder that there are good people in the world that put the needs of others first. Even if those people are fictional. 

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

Also by Freya Sampson:

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Ellen Marie Wiseman is a wise a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

Ever since I picked up What She Left Behind, I have become a fan of Ellen Marie Wiseman's harrowing and haunting novels. They're all amazing and so hard to put down. I still need to read The Plum Tree, but I am sure I will enjoy that one too. Her latest novel, The Lost Girls of Willowbrook, will have you on the edge of your seat. I was lucky enough to obtain an advanced copy and I completely devoured it! (Check out my review.) Ellen is here to talk more about this novel, and she has TWO copies to give away!

Ellen Marie Wiseman is the New York Times bestselling author of the highly acclaimed historical fiction novels The Orphan Collector, What She Left Behind, The Plum Tree, Coal River, and The Life She Was Given. Born and raised in Three Mile Bay, a tiny hamlet in northern New York, she’s a first-generation German American who discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in New York State. Since then, more than one million copies of her books have been sold in the United States. Her novels have been published worldwide, translated into twenty languages, and named to “Best Of” lists by Reading Group Choices, Good Housekeeping, Goodreads, The Historical Novel Society, Great Group Reads, and more. A mother of two, Ellen lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and dog.  (Bio adapted from Amazon.)

Visit Ellen online:


Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.
Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her deeply. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.
Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could have imagined . . .
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
That’s a hard one! I think I have to go with the numerous letters I’ve received from readers thanking me for writing THE PLUM TREE because the novel shows what it was like for many average, working-class Germans during WWII, especially the women and children who were left behind while the men were off fighting. Readers, especially those whose families experienced it, were extremely grateful to have that side of the story revealed. 

Another letter that meant a great deal to me was from the child of a Holocaust survivor who said reading THE PLUM TREE made her see the German people in a better light. To think that my work changed the way someone feels about a group of people is utterly unbelievable and tremendously rewarding at the same time. I was also exceptionally moved when Dr. Mike Wilkins, the doctor who secretly gave a key to Geraldo Rivera so he could get inside Willowbrook State School to film the terrible conditions there, said that reading THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK made him proud to be instrumental in getting the institution shut down. 

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing The Lost Girls of Willowbrook?
The biggest reward was when the plot finally came together after three tries! The biggest challenge was the heartbreaking research. As you know, I write about difficult subjects in my novels, but reading about Willowbrook State School was some of the hardest research I’ve ever done. It was also a challenge to tone down the actual conditions inside the institution because on one hand, I wanted people to know how horrific it truly was, on the other hand, adding those details would have made for an almost unbearable read.   

What is something you learned from your research for this novel that you were not expecting? 
I was shocked to learn that medical experiments were actually being conducted on the young residents. Some of the top virologists in the U.S. used the school as a hideout for developing vaccines for hepatitis, measles, and other diseases. And it was funded by the Defense Department. Also, I was surprised when I realized that this year is the 35th anniversary of Willowbrook’s final closure and the 50th anniversary of Geraldo Rivera’s groundbreaking exposé. 

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe.  

Which character do you identify with the most from all the books you've written?
Probably Christine from THE PLUM TREE because the story is loosely based on family history and my mother’s experiences growing up in Germany during WWII. 

What autumn activities are you looking forward to?
Does going on book tour count? Seriously though, after two years of virtual events, I’m really looking forward to meeting readers in person again. Of course I love other fall activities, like apple picking and trick-or-treating with my grandkids, but I’m always a little sad to see summer come to an end. 

Thanks to Ellen 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 September 5th at midnight EST.

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Monday, August 29, 2022

Spotlight: The Newlyweds' Window

Who are Africa's most promising emerging short story writers? Mukana Press sought to answer this question by scouting the continent for largely undiscovered talent. The Result? This Collection!

Africa's stories have largely been relegated to themes of poverty, and war; yet there is so much more brilliance, texture, and layers to our stories. This collection seeks to provide a platform for the rest of the world to become acquainted with the excellence of talent outside of the mainstream, as well as tell our stories from fresh vantage points.

A young woman creates an alternative identity on social media in Nigeria, a little girl discovers hidden photographs of the father she never met, a serial killer stalks his victims, a woman watches the evolution of a newlywed couple's relationship through their window in Zanzibar. The stories in this collection are eclectic, breathtaking, and illuminate readers to an Africa that has largely been left untold. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

The Newlyweds’ Window by Mukana Press contained some of the best short stories I have ever read. Not one of these tales failed to capture my rapt attention over what would happen next. If you enjoy short stories, or stories full of drama, suspense, mystery, and excitement, this book is for you.” 
– Seattle Book Review

“Each story offers something brilliantly new and wholly irresistible, meaning that the book, when taken as a whole, presents a cohesive collection of tales that render the reader incapable of tearing their eyes away, like a curious neighbor caught in the act of peering out their window onto a world that both dazzles the mind and delights the soul.” 
– Portland Book Review

Mukana means “opportunity” in Shona, a language spoken in Southern Africa. Their Press was formed out of a desire to give writers from underrepresented communities the opportunity to share their work. They seek to champion authors from Africa, South America, The Middle East, and Asia. In a world where publishing hubs are predominantly in the west, minority writers the world over often lack access. Their mission is to increase representation and diversity among published authors. Mukana Press’s team comprises African writers, poets, and journalists living in the United States, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya 

Visit Mukana Press online:
Website * Twitter

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Friday, August 26, 2022

What's in the (e)mail?

The Half of It by Juliette Fay from William Morrow (NetGalley)
Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo from Putnam (NetGalley)
Code Name Sapphire by Pam Jenoff from Harlequin (NetGalley)
Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall from Forever (NetGalley)
The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges from Berkley (print)
Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez from Forever (NetGalley)
One Month of You by Suzanne Ewart from Sourcebooks (NetGalley)
The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise by Colleen Oakley from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)

Midnight Duet by Jen Comfort from Amazon Publishing (NetGalley)
The Three Loves of Sebastian Cooper by Zoe Folbigg from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
The Darkness of Others by Cate Holahan from Grand Central Publishing (print)
The Rise by Shari Low and Ross King from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
A Chance in a Million by T.A. Williams from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Single All the Way by Portia MacIntosh from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)

None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive by Carolyn Prusa from Emi Battaglia PR (NetGalley)

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Book Review: Tell Me Everything

By Becky Gulc

‘Would you entrust your life choices to someone hell-bent on avoiding theirs?

Natasha has everything under control, at least that's what her clients think. As a therapist, she has all the answers but when it comes to her personal life, she seriously needs to start taking her own advice.

Still living with her ex-girlfriend, Natasha's messy love life is made up of dates and one-night stands. After all, why would you commit to one person, when there is an endless stream of people waiting for you to swipe right? Besides, people always leave.

But when Margot arrives on the scene, everything changes. Flailing between mending long broken relationships and starting new ones, Natasha's walking the line between self-actualisation and self-destruction... With denial no longer an option, it is time for Natasha to take control of her own happiness’. (Courtesy of Amazon UK.)

As the synopsis outlines, Natasha is a therapist, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that means she is somewhat ‘together’ although this is far from the case sometimes; particularly with regards to her love life. Why has she continued to live with her ex-girlfriend Georgia for so long after they split up? Will new relationships and encounters be the fresh starts they both need? Natasha might only be ready to face the future if she can face the past, and she’s not quite ready for that when we meet her. 

I raced through this book and devoured it all, it was fresh, fun, and warm. The characters are great. Natasha has some fantastic friends and a twin sister whom I could all see being the main characters in their own novels, there’s so much more of them to uncover! It really makes you think about what love means and love just shone from the page at times, even if the characters couldn’t always see what was right in front of their faces! And it’s not always romantic love, the love of family we’re born with and the family we make for ourselves is such an important thread in this novel and the balance was spot on. Similarly the balance between humour and emotion is also spot on, and I just loved that it provided both in bucket loads!

My only very slight quibble was that the ending felt a little rushed due to a time-skip of several months and I would have perhaps preferred to stay in the present somehow as the story was tied up. 

I was lucky enough to be sent Tell Me Everything for review and I wholeheartedly recommend this book and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on The Split which was Laura’s debut novel. 

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

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Pernille Hughes is having a great year!

We're pleased to welcome Pernille Hughes to CLC today. Her latest rom com, Ten Years, releases at the end of this month. It sounds like a great story and Sara currently has it in her TBR, so be on the lookout for a review in the near future. Pernille is here to tell us more about Ten Years and share some other fun facts, including a very easy recipe.

Before she moved to writing full-time, Pernille Hughes studied Film & Literature at university. After she graduated, she went on to market Natural History films before working in Children’s television, which meant living in actual Teletubbyland for a while. From 2011–2015, she was a regular contributor for The Sunday Times column ‘Confessions of a Tourist’.  Pernille lives in Buckinghamshire and while the kids are at school she scoffs cake and writes stories in order to maintain a shred of sanity. 

Visit Pernille online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


They’re perfect for each other
They just don’t know it yet

Becca and Charlie have known each other for years – ever since they met at university.

And for every one of those years, they’ve bickered, argued, offended, mocked and generally rubbed each other up the wrong way.

Until now. Until Ally’s bucket list. The death of their loved one should mean Becca and Charlie can go their separate ways and not look back. But completing the list is something neither Charlie nor Becca can walk away from.

And sometimes, those who bring out the worst in you, also bring out the very best…

Over the course of ten years, Becca and Charlie’s paths collide as they deal with grief, love and life after Ally. Not since Emma and Dex in One Day and Will and Lou in Me Before You will you root for a couple as much. (Courtesy of Pernille's website.)

"I laughed, I cried, I swooned – I was utterly swept away from the very first page. Ten Years is a wonderful emotional roller coaster that is sure to pull at the heartstrings of every reader." 
~Kate Bromley, Talk Bookish To Me

"I absolutely loved this gorgeous, funny, touching book – it’s utterly romantic, with gloriously real characters you’ll fall in love with."
~Rachael Lucas

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
I’m a typical Brit when it comes to compliments, so any received are bashfully brushed off and put down to the complimenter simply being kind. Therefore, really, the best compliment has been my publisher offering me a contract*. (On the flip side – the smallest of critiques is always taken as Gospel truth and will play in my head for years :) )

*My inner critic will still insist that she’s just being kind too…

On my evil side, any reader saying my writing made them cry just THRILLS me. As penance, any review that says my writing isn’t funny slays me. Every time.
What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Ten Years
Finishing!!! On both counts.
Ten Years was predominantly written during Lock-down, so research opportunities were limited. For example, I had been up Mount Snowdon, but I hadn’t walked up it like Becca and Charlie do. Youtube and the internet were life-savers. The Cannes scenes were based on my work trips there in my earlier life, at the MIPTV shows. As is so often the case, necessity forces you to revise and adapt, drawing on the amenities you already have.

I’m easily distracted, so having family at home during the pandemic was tricky. But we got there in the end, and I’m very proud of it now. Obviously, given the title, it is a slow burn, but hopefully readers will feel it’s a real burn, and that Charlie and Becca’s characters and relationship, while messy, ring true. 
If Ten Years were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
I try not to be too descriptive with what my characters look like when I write them, as I like the reader to fill in the visual gaps to meet their own desires. But in my head, Becca would look like Eleanor Tomlinson, Ally would be Antonia Thomas and Charlie would be a young David Giuntoli (pre-beard). 

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
I don’t go to the movies very often to be honest, not unless it’s to the latest Bond or Bourne with my husband. (Which is mad, given I have a degree in Film & Literature, but having lots of kids in a short space of time kids and not living near a cinema broke my habit.) Can I recommend a TV series instead? The Split is a BBC series (three seasons in all and available on US streaming sites), with Nicola Walker (who I think is amazing) It’s about family and marriages and it is both exquisitely written and perfectly acted. Totally binge-worthy. I’ve also come late to This Is Us and oh man, SO good…
If we were to visit you right now, where are some places you would take us?
At the point of receiving this questionnaire, I’m in Denmark, at the most northern tip of the country, Skagen. I would take you, on our bicycles (of course), through the little streets of yellow-walled, red-roofed houses, out to see where the North Sea and Baltic Sea meet and get you to stand with a foot in each. Then we’d cycle out to the buried church, where only the tower remains, and then onto Raabjerg Mile, a migrating dune, like a mini-desert, and enjoy the views from the top. We’d end at Skagen’s Bryghus for a home-made beer and then watch the sun set into the sea in the old town.
What is your go-to summertime dessert? 
Really simple (it’s too hot to faff with anything complicated, right?)
Mix a punnet of each of the following; strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in a serving bowl. 
Melt white chocolate and cream together and bring to the boil. Make sure it’s all melted, then cool. (If you like a thicker cream go mad with the chocolate, or less if you like more of a pour.)
Serve together. That’s it. Simple, but lovely. (Like me)

Thanks to Pernille for chatting with us today!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Kristin Rockaway's hot a book giveaway

Today we welcome Kristin Rockaway back to CLC to talk about her latest novel, Smart Girl Summer. Melissa really enjoyed this novel and posted about it on her Bookstagram recently. She will be reviewing it soon, as well! Kristin has a copy to share with a lucky reader!

Kristin Rockaway is a native New Yorker and recovering corporate software engineer. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she finally traded the city for the surf and chased her dreams out to Southern California, where she spends her days happily writing stories instead of code. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, taking naps, and planning her next big vacation.

Visit Kristin online:


This summer’s not going as Abby Atkinson planned. A thieving PhD advisor, a screeching halt to her grad program, and zero job offers have left her high and dry. Nothing a little eat, pray, love across the Mediterranean can’t fix, right?

Or eat, pray, tutor, more like. Her dissertation might be dead, but she can still teach. She’ll just have to do it for six weeks on a superyacht with a billionaire and his daughter.

A playboy billionaire, according to the tabloids—but Abby’s not so sure. As big as his bank account is, his heart’s that much bigger, especially when it comes to his daughter. Their strained relationship could use some mending, though, and Abby can help. She was hired to teach junior high math, but she’ll make room in her lesson plans.

Falling for her boss wasn’t part of the plan either, but…

Maybe it’s time she let her heart, not her head, teach her something new.

“Rockaway (Life, Unscheduled) strikes gold with this beachy rom-com. Smart, snappy prose, a lovably nerdy billionaire for a hero, and a complex tween who steals most scenes she’s in, make this instantly appealing. It’s perfect summer reading.” 
Publishers Weekly

What is something you learned from writing your previous novels that you applied to Smart Girl Summer?
I learned not to expect it to go the way I planned. :-) Every book is its own journey. Whenever I think I've got a plotting method down pat, or I know exactly how long it will take me to write a certain number of words, I'm inevitably proven wrong. So I've figured out that it's important to go with the flow -- that although I have to stick to a writing routine, I should also remain open to unforeseen possibilities.

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Smart Girl Summer?
I faced so many challenges while writing this book. My original deadline was during the pandemic, so I wound up pushing it back for multiple reasons (homeschooling, civil unrest, existential dread). Then when I could finally sit down and focus on it, my head was such a mess that I wound up scrapping and rewriting the manuscript twice. The biggest reward was typing The End!

If Smart Girl Summer were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?
Since most of the story takes place in the Mediterranean, I think the soundtrack would call for chill music with a European vibe. Songs like "Je disparais dans tes bras" by Christine and the Queens, "Les etoiles" by Melody Gardot and "Lejana" by Juan Manuel Canizares fit the bill. And we'd have to throw some classic Italian mandolin instrumentals on there, too, like "Piccola Maria."

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?
FBoy Island. It's the best reality dating show I've ever seen and the host, Nikki Glaser, is absolutely hilarious.

What has been the most memorable part of your summer so far?
My family and I sandwiched the summer with cruises. We spent the first week of summer vacation on a seven-night journey through Alaska's Inside Passage, and just last weekend -- the last before school starts -- we took a short three-night getaway to Ensenada. Even though it wasn't on a billionaire's superyacht, it was still incredibly fun and incredibly memorable.
What is something that made you laugh recently?
A few weeks ago, I saw one of my favorite comedians do some live stand-up: Tony Baker. I discovered him during the pandemic, because he posts these hilarious animal voiceover videos to Instagram. My favorite ones feature Gerald, the silverback gorilla:

Thanks to Kristin 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 August 29th at midnight EST.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Spotlight and Giveaway: Please Join Us

Today we are celebrating the publication of Catherine McKenzie's latest novel, Please Join Us. Melissa read this earlier in the year and really liked the premise. Check out her review. Thanks to Atria, we have THREE copies to give away!

At thirty-nine, Nicole Mueller’s life is on the rocks. Her once brilliant law career is falling apart. She and her husband, Dan, are soon to be forced out of the apartment they love. After a warning from her firm’s senior partners, she receives an invitation from an exclusive women’s networking group, Panthera Leo. Membership is anonymous, but every member is a successful professional. It sounds like the perfect solution to help Nicole revive her career. So, despite Dan’s concerns that the group might be a cult, Nicole signs up for their retreat in Colorado.

Once there, she meets the other women who will make up her Pride. A CEO, an actress, a finance whiz, a congresswoman: Nicole can’t believe her luck. The founders of Panthera Leo are equally as impressive. They explain the group’s core philosophy: they’re a girl’s club in a boy’s club world.

Nicole is all in. And when she gets home, she soon sees dividends. Her new network quickly provides her with clients that help her relaunch her career, and a great new apartment too. The favors she has to provide in return seem benign. But then she’s called to the congresswoman’s apartment late at night where she’s pressed into helping her cover up a crime. And suddenly, Dan’s concerns that something more sinister is at play seem all too relevant. Can Nicole extricate herself from the group before it’s too late? Or will joining Panthera Leo be the biggest mistake of her life? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

"Catherine McKenzie's latest is a triumph. I was infatuated with this brilliant, tangled web of lies, cover ups and deception. Totally thrilling and empowering, Please Join Us shows how some people will stop at nothing to get what they want. McKenzie never fails to impress!" 
—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Local Woman Missing

“This searing take on professional networking from Catherine McKenzie is a fast-paced, intriguing, intense read that is as smart as it is suspenseful. Original and thought-provoking, it has plenty of twists and turns to satisfy even the most seasoned thriller reader, and the women of this tour de force will haunt you long after the final page is turned.” 
—Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and This is How I Lied

Photo by Fany Ducharme
Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill University in history and law, Catherine practiced law for twenty years before leaving to write full time. An avid runner, skier, and tennis player, she’s the author of numerous bestsellers including I’ll Never Tell and The Good Liar. Her works have been translated into multiple languages and Please Join Us, I’ll Never Tell, and You Can’t Catch Me have all been optioned for development into television series. 

Visit Catherine online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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

Giveaway ends August 28th at midnight EST.

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Monday, August 22, 2022

Book Review: Scandalized

By Sara Steven

Exhausted and on deadline with a story that could make or break her career, investigative journalist Georgia Ross is on the verge of a meltdown when a cancelled flight leaves her stuck in the airport overnight. But when a familiar face appears—the older brother of her childhood friend—and offers help, Gigi seems to have caught a break.

Alec Kim is handsome, humble, and kind—exactly the sort of man that Gigi has forgotten existed after her own painful heartbreaks. An evening of reconnection followed by a night of no-strings-attached passion with Alec feels like a gift—that is, until Gigi finally realizes that their childhood connection isn’t the only reason he seems so familiar to her.

Alec is determined to prove to Gigi that he is truly the man she thinks he is, even if it means coming clean about his fame—and his family’s connection to the story Gigi’s been working so hard to break. But as their feelings for each other grow deeper, Gigi and Alec must navigate a new reality…one where both of their hard-won careers are put directly in the path of an international scandal.
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

If Scandalized had to be described by using only one word, the word that comes to mind for me is SIZZLING. This book was an absolutely sizzling experience! From the get go, Alec and Gigi have an instant connection, and it shows within their dialogue, the scenery, and the plot moving forward. Given the short amount of time they’ve become reacquainted with one another, it might have felt forced or awkward, but there was none of that. It was effortless and forthcoming, and it kept me wanting more–in a good way.

There is an understated elegance to Alec, despite his fame and notoriety. It made him a very likable character, the perfect match to Gigi’s go-getter attitude when it comes to her journalistic career. But one of the major potential snags appears to be forming any kind of serious relationship. I got the impression that Gigi didn’t feel as though she could ever match up to Alec, given his status, and Alec always feels he has to protect himself because of his career. Their shared past history from childhood was a nice touch, because it provided a nice sense of familiarity and foundation between them, yet living in separate countries is a major issue. It was the perfect “will it work out or won’t it” scenario.

After the fall out, I think I felt as gutted as the characters did! Scandalized is right. Gigi’s research has led her to some pretty awful potential crime scenarios and Alec is connected to it–which would cause issues in any relationship, but even more so when it comes to Alec and Gigi! There is no privacy, feeding into the chaos. 

And did I mention the sizzling aspect to Scandalized? The first few pages sort of alluded to this being “that” kind of book, and to my delight, it was.  There were some pretty steamy scenes that only elevated the sizzle and fed more into the deep connection the two characters have formed so quickly. Many times, even they’re amazed and in awe of it, which made it all the more believable to the reader, too. It was an intense, powerful experience–a mighty five-star read!

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

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Friday, August 19, 2022

Book Review: The Wedding Cake

By Sara Steven

One steamy summer in Spain. One accidentally double-booked eight-tier wedding cake that needs to put in a same day appearance at a rustic countryside finca AND a beachside villa. Two brides. Two grooms. Hundreds of hungry guests.

FREYA ASHCROFT, owner and culinary whizz at Marbella’s five star bakery (and general queen of dating disasters), is going to need a miracle to save this date. If only that was her sole dilemma. She's also fallen head over heels in love with super hot fitness instructor, TIM NUTKINS... and his rippling abs.

Which would be fine, if he wasn't one of her aforementioned male clients.
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

This is my favorite read from Isabella May! 

Freya was such a great character. She gets by on her determination and grit, which has led to her becoming a much sought-after baker where wedding cakes are concerned. But while she does all she can to be as professional as possible with all of her clients, there is something different about Tim, the hot fitness instructor who ends up showing up for a cake tasting sans fiancée. It was neat to see the contrasting emotions Freya has when working with him, trying to maintain her professionalism despite the muck up that is their initial meeting. 

And poor Tim. He’s really stuck his foot in it where relationships are concerned, and it’s obvious his fiancée is a huge pain in the neck. I despised her, yet I wanted to keep reading all I could about her, because she’s the type of character that you just can’t tear your attention away from. You want to see what will happen next. 

The Wedding Cake
is told in three different perspectives; Freya’s, Tim’s, and there is a third individual who is a past character I’ve read about in other Isabella May books, but she’s not mentioned in the synopsis, so I’ll keep mum on who it is. I really appreciated all three viewpoints, because eventually they all cross paths with one another, ending with a really fun showdown between characters–and all for good reason. Particularly with Tim’s situation. While reading the outcome, I nodded my head and silently gave praise for a job well done, not only for Tim but for his fiancée, too. It was extremely fitting. 

The dialogue was really elevated, a really engrossing experience. My favorite interactions were the ones between Tim and Freya, and Tim and his fiancée. It was just so much fun and I always wanted to know what was next for all of the characters. It was a wild five-star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Isabella May
lives in (mostly) sunny Andalusia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the mountains and the sea. She grew up in Somerset on Glastonbury's ley lines and loves to feature her quirky English hometown in her stories.

After a degree in Modern Languages and European Studies at UWE, Bristol (and a year working abroad in Bordeaux and Stuttgart), Isabella bagged an extremely jammy and fascinating job in children's publishing... selling foreign rights for novelty, board, pop-up and non-fiction books all over the world; in every language from Icelandic to Korean, Bahasa Indonesian to Papiamento!

All of which has fueled her curiosity and love of international food and travel - both feature extensively in her romcoms.

Isabella is also a Level 4 Pranic Healer and a stillbirth mum.

Visit Isabella online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Visit all the stops on Isabella's blog tour:

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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Checking in with Dee a book giveaway

Today we welcome Dee Ernst back to CLC to talk about her latest rom com, Lucy Checks In. If the stunning and picturesque cover hasn't already grabbed you, then the synopsis definitely will. Her previous novel is Maggie Finds Her Muse, but Dee is here to tell us how she found HER muse. She also has TWO copies of Lucy Checks In to give away!

Dee Ernst was born and raised in New Jersey, which may explain her attitude toward life. She moved around a bit, had a husband or two, a daughter or two, and settled back in New Jersey where she writes women's fiction, romance, and cozy mysteries. And a bit of YA and SFF.

She has self-published under the 235 Alexander Street imprint. She has been published by Montlake, Lake Union, and in 2021, released Maggie Finds Her Muse with St. Martin's Griffin. 

Visit Dee online:


Lucia Giannetti needs a fresh start. Once the hotel manager of a glamorous NYC hotel and intimately involved with the hotel’s owner, Lucy had her entire future planned out. But when the owner disappears, taking millions of dollars with him, Lucy's life as she knows it falls apart.

Two years later, forty-nine years old and unemployed, Lucy takes a job in Rennes, France to manage the Hotel Paradis. She pictures fur quilts and extravagant chandeliers, but what she finds is wildly different. Lucy is now in charge of turning the run-down, but charming hotel into a bustling tourist attraction. 

Between painting rooms, building a website, and getting to know Bing, the irritatingly attractive artist, Lucy finds an unexpected home. But can she succeed in bringing the Hotel Paradis to its former glory?

Witty and heartfelt, Lucy Checks In is an inspiring and feel-good novel about reclaiming your life, finding love, and creating a home in places you never thought possible. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"This funny, heartwarming story has all the charm of a small-town romance, with a delightful French twist." 
~Publishers Weekly

How I went to France and wrote my heart out

Five years ago, my oldest daughter decided to move to France. Rennes, in Brittany, to be precise. She wanted to study at the University there and decided, on a previous visit, that Rennes was ‘her place.’ She worked, sold everything she owned, got the money she needed and, with literally all her possessions in a backpack and two suitcases, flew to Paris, then took a train to Rennes to start her new life.

As her mother, of course I had to go with her. After all, she needed somebody to claim that extra suitcase of belongings, right? And help her move into her new place?? And to see Paris???

We had an amazing time playing tourists; we stayed in fabulous apartments through VRBO, ate incredible food and saw all the sights. I was smitten. I thought that maybe France could be my place too.  I returned to New Jersey desperate to write about what I had seen, heard, ate and drank. 

I was fascinated with the country and its people. For one thing, everything there is so old. Yes, I know that we’re a younger country, and we don’t have buildings dating back to the 1300’s.  But it’s not just the age of the buildings. Those buildings are not torn down and replaced with something new. Tommy Hilfiger shops are in 16th century storefronts. Cobblestone streets remain smooth and well-used. Timber framed houses lean and no one thinks to tear them down. 

Are there cultural differences? You bet. You bag your own groceries, for example, in your own bags. No tipping. When you enter a shop, you’re expected to say hello. People in cafes talk to each other, not their phones. I wanted to write about all of it.  In a casual conversation with my accountant – probably over wine (yes, she’s a friend) – she told me that if I wrote a book that took place in Paris, I could deduct the cost of the whole trip as research. 


So, I wrote Maggie Finds Her Muse, about a romance writer who’s on deadline, is totally blocked, and goes to Paris for inspiration. And why not? After all, I’d been inspired. The book sold to St. Martin’s Press and came out in 2021 and readers loved the descriptions of the city, the people, and the food.  Everything I had found so interesting about France went into Maggie Finds Her Muse and helped bring the story and country to life.

When I went back two years later — another research trip — I took notes. And pictures. My daughter, still living in Rennes, had just gotten married to a French musician, so we saw life through the eyes of a native, not a tourist, and what a difference! Then I went home to write my newest book, Lucy Checks In.

Lucy Checks In takes place mostly in Rennes, because it is such a beautiful city. Walking down its streets, you can easily imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago. I wanted my character, Lucy, to find a new life for herself in an unexpected place. I wanted a fish-out-of-water story, and I really wanted her to be in charge of a hotel that people would want to visit in real life. The Hotel Paradis is not real, but if it was, it could easily be in Rennes.

I can’t wait to go back to France. This time, I want to go to Avignon. And Lyon. And…well, anywhere would suit me just fine. And will I write another book? You bet. After all, why waste all that research!

Thanks to Dee for visiting 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 August 23rd at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Pets

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 pets. Pets are featured prominently in chick lit novels. Cannie Shapiro's dog from Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner definitely stands out in that category. And most recently, there's the pampered pooch in The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London. We've read many, many, many books that feature pets (dogs, cats, birds, turtles, etc.) in some way or another!

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

Melissa Amster:

It's been a very rough and hectic week due to a death in the family (on my husband's side), so I am sharing and modifying part of an old post I wrote at my personal blog.

I want to briefly share my family's pet “history” from when I was growing up.

When I was a baby, my parents had a West Highland Terrier named Fluffy. She was very sweet and easygoing. She died when I was seven, on Christmas (not that I even celebrate it). My parents then tried to fill the void with other dogs, but their stays with us were short-lived for various reasons. 

After that, we got our first cat, T.J. (the name she came with at the shelter). I didn’t know what to make of her at first, but she was really sweet. She managed to gain a lot of weight and our visitor from England called her “massive.” Another friend called her a “Mama Pillow Kitty.” The following year after we got T.J., we saw a kitten that looked similar to her at the same shelter. We decided to adopt her too and named her Cassie (because of “A Chorus Line.”) She was very cute and sweet, but a nervous wreck. This was brought to light when we got a beagle named Buddy (the summer I turned twelve). Buddy was rather quirky, but we managed to keep him around for a long time. Despite the fact that he drove my mom up the wall, he was my faithful friend. I took him on walks all the time and loved playing with him. He did things to embarrass me in front of my friends, but that’s okay. It made for interesting conversations later. :) 

T.J. hanging out by the front door

Cassie by her favorite hiding spot

Anyway, Cassie would hide under my bed and Buddy knew she didn’t like him. He’d come in my room and howl at the bed. I think he needed a new distraction. In the spring of my freshman year of high school, we got Velvet, a black kitten. She was nice and extremely vocal at times. We had these four pets until I graduated high school. Then we got another cat (just because we were browsing at a shelter and he liked my dad) and named him Kitty (so original…not my idea). My grandpa thought we had too many pets at the time so we pretended that he was really Cassie. We couldn’t trick him though. Kitty was a match for Buddy. This little cat could intimidate him from eating his own food or keep him away from my parents’ room, just by blocking the entrance and hissing at him. In 1997, T.J. died from feline diabetes. The following fall, Cassie met T.J.’s same fate. Velvet died from a brain tumor in 2002 and Kitty died from diabetes at some point later on. (I think it was well after we had moved out east.)

My all-time favorite picture of Buddy
Kitty and Velvet getting some fresh air

In the meantime, I moved into a condo in 2000 and got two cats a week later. I had some allergy problems with Dixie (a tabby), which I ignored until my husband also developed allergic reactions to her. We found her a new home with some friends though. Winnie stuck around the summer of 2009, due to our older son’s allergies (which weren’t tested until spring of that year). We also found her a new home and I found out earlier this year that she passed away about six years ago. I'm glad to know that she had a loving home between ours and the time she passed away. We currently do not have any pets and I do miss having them in my life. Especially after seeing my parents and sister with their dogs.

Winnie (sometime around 2005?)

While it would be fun to get a dog again someday (I’d love another beagle), I don’t know if they’ll bother people (including our children) with allergies. We’ll enjoy everyone else's dogs in the meantime...

Sara Steven:

We always seem to have a zoo at my house. I’m not sure why or how. We’ll start out with the customary dog and cat. Then we’ll add red-clawed crabs and a snake. Mice. Guinea pigs. Random insects my children have found outside that they attempt to keep as pets. And always fish. 

I’m sure a big reason for our large animal roster is due to my own love for animals. I was raised to love and appreciate all pets; furry, scaly, slimy, or otherwise. That viewpoint has extended out to my children and my ever patient husband who continually tells me, “no more pets,” but we seem to end up with them anyway. I think he secretly enjoys them just as much as the rest of us do!

Here is our family pet roster:

Chance: This little boy, or big boy nowadays–he’s twenty pounds–was found abandoned on a farm out in Nebraska. A good friend of mine had asked that I keep an eye on him for her while she was out running errands, and when she showed up carrying a small shoe box with a tiny kitten inside of it, I was a goner. I knew he would be my cat. The eight years since have been a bit of a rollercoaster with Chance. He was diagnosed with FIV in his younger years, which means he has a compromised immune system and we have to be a bit more careful with him. Despite that, he’s been healthy and ornery, nicknamed “el gato diablo” by those who know him best. Thankfully he’s mellowed out a lot in his older years. 

Mojo: We found Mojo at a PetSmart adoption event. A local animal shelter had set up shop indoors, with cages housing dogs of various sizes and shapes, and Mojo was the only one who didn’t appear to be antsy or like he wanted to put on a show for anyone. Sure, we could have adopted the adorable little chihuahua who pranced and danced about on its tiny little paws, but I felt drawn to Mojo and his super calm and chill attitude. We weren’t entirely sure yet, though, so when we left PetSmart I said, “If he’s still around next weekend, we’re going to adopt him.” And sure enough, he was. He was four when we brought him home, and despite some comments from well-meaning friends who warned me that a shelter dog could spell trouble for our family and more importantly, the safety of our children, Mojo proved the naysayers wrong. He’s sweet and kind and has been the perfect addition. 

Peter: Peter Skinkledge is my oldest son’s blue-tongued skink. He was another pet store find, a rarity, all things considered. It’s not often you see blue-tongued skinks at pet stores. Despite his scaly reptilian appearance, he’s a very sweet creature who literally cuddles on my son! I enjoy talking to him and holding him, particularly when he burrows inside of the hood of my sweatshirt. 

Last but not least, are Lemon and Mist: My younger son developed a strong interest in birds, and wanted to adopt two. He even went so far as to create a slideshow presentation so we could see just how serious he was about the birds! They’ve been a lot of fun to have around and a great way for my eleven year-old to learn to take care of something other than himself. The birds enjoy chirping (a lot) and flying around when we open up the doors of the bird cage. Lemon is a lot more laid back, while Mist thinks she’s the one in charge. 

Do you have any pets? If so, tell us about them. If not, do you want a pet?

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