Friday, September 23, 2022

Book Review: Anyone for Seconds?

By Becky Gulc

‘Life has been going downhill for ex-TV chef Lizzie Partridge ever since she famously ended her career by throwing a chocolate mousse at the couch pilot of Midlands This Morning.

The nest is empty, her lover has fled and Nigella and Jamie have the cookery scene sewn up. Can things get any worse? To avoid finding out Lizzie runs away, from the unpaid gas bill and the mouse under the sink. And in wet and wintry Aberystwyth she experiences a brush with her past and a glimmer of new prospects.

Her nephew, formerly an odious little tyke, has grown up and blossomed. He has a girlfriend who’s a TV producer and she has plans. Is Lizzie’s luck about to change?’ (Synopsis courtesy of Laurie's website.)

Anyone for Seconds? is a sequel to Laurie Graham’s previous novel Perfect Meringues, which was published way back in 1996, a book which in Laurie’s own words focused on ‘the HRT-fuelled rant of a middle-aged single mother (Lizzie Partridge), set in the world of TV cook shows’ (Perfect Meringues - Laurie Graham). Anyone for Seconds? brings us up to date with how life is treating Lizzie. 

I haven’t read Perfect Meringues and I did wonder if it would make any difference to my enjoyment of this book, but thankfully it didn’t. I suppose it’s a book I may not have chosen of my own accord had I not been sent it for review because of this being a sequel, but it absolutely didn’t matter and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Lizzie is feeling unwanted and unneeded when we join her, hence her disappearing off to Wales without telling a soul. Her daughter doesn’t need her anymore; she’s no longer with her ex Tom; her Mum doesn’t need her thanks to her ‘perfect’ brother who takes her of all her needs; her career has flatlined and her best friend is too busy for her. She hopes her trip makes people sit up and take notice that she’s not around, not available, only it doesn’t! The trip does lead to some bizarre and fun adventures for Lizzie though!

This was a fantastic light read, which is just so funny, Lizzie is a proper character who reminded me a lot of my late Grandma! Lizzie tells it how it is, she’s direct, says what she’s thinking; she is living life to the fullest and is vibrant and vulnerable at the same time. She was a joy to spend time with! 

I guess I don’t often read novels with older main characters (mid-sixties) and it was different in that respect and broke the stereotypes we see with older characters in many novels. Lizzie’s age was irrelevant, she is as old as she feels, the same for all of us! Like all of us, she can also still be childish (hence rushing off to Aberystwyth to see if anyone misses her!). Her love life is certainly eventful. 

I enjoyed how every area of life Lizzie was frustrated with when we first meet her was tackled during the novel, even if not resolved. The story with her Mum and brother was particularly moving in terms of how that unravelled, yet the wit remained throughout. 

Overall I’d say this is a great witty book with a strong central character and I will certainly be trying to get hold of Perfect Meringues to spend some time with Lizzie and find out exactly what went on to end her career! 

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

More by Laurie Graham:

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

Jamie Beck has got what it takes...plus a book giveaway

Today we welcome Jamie Beck back to CLC. She was here about a year ago and the time has just flown by! Her latest novel, Take It from Me, sounds really interesting and we look forward to checking it out. She's here to tell us more about it and thanks to BookSparks, we have THREE copies to give away!

Jamie Beck is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author whose realistic and heartwarming stories have sold multimillions of copies. She is a two-time Booksellers’ Best Award finalist and a National Readers’ Choice Award winner. Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “uplifting,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing novels, she enjoys hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah and dancing around the kitchen while cooking. Above all, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family. Fans can get exclusive excerpts and inside scoops and be eligible for birthday-gift drawings by subscribing to her newsletter

Visit Jamie online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Synopsis:

Wendy Moore hides her collection of pilfered bric-a-brac from everyone, including her husband. He thinks she licked her kleptomania in therapy more than a decade ago. Therapy did help, as did focusing her attention on motherhood. But now Wendy’s gardening and furniture-refinishing hobbies fill up only so much of the day, leaving the recent empty nester lonely and anxious—a combination likely to trigger her little problem. She needs a project, fast. Luckily, Harper Ross—a single, childless younger woman in desperate need of highlights—just moved in next door.

The only thing Harper wants to change is the writer’s block toppling her confidence and career. Then a muse comes knocking. Sensing fodder for a new antagonist, Harper plays along with Wendy’s “helpful” advice while keeping her career a secret so Wendy keeps talking. Sure, she’s torn about profiting off her neighbor’s goodwill—especially when Wendy’s matchmaking actually pans out—but Harper’s novel is practically writing itself.

Just as a real friendship begins to cement, their deceptions come to light, threatening Wendy’s and Harper’s futures and forcing them to reconcile who they are with who they want to be. Easier said than done.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

“[Jamie Beck delivers] an observant and compassionate story about the power of women’s friendship to challenge and change us.” 
—Virginia Kantra, author of Meg & Jo

“Clever, insightful, and brimming with empathy, Take It from Me is Jamie Beck at her best. The story of two very different neighbors closely guarding secrets who have more in common than either woman can imagine, Beck’s latest novel is a potent reminder that we are able to know the interior lives of those we care about—if only we can find the courage to ask.” 
—Camille Pagán, bestselling author of This Won’t End Well

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Take It from Me?
The biggest challenge I faced involved writing somewhat exaggerated characters with a bit of wry humor, which was different from all my prior work. My need to stretch into new territory grew out of feeling “trapped” by the pandemic. Giving myself this challenge was a mental way of breaking free! Another challenge involved the research around kleptomania and the OCD umbrella of issues.

Whenever I include a mental health issue in a book, I feel a huge responsibility to depict it accurately, and to make sure the character is more than simply that one thing. While I have some experience with family members with OCD, kleptomania is wholly new to me, and there isn’t a ton of data on that particular condition, which researchers say is because the people who live with it often feel too much shame to seek help. The biggest rewards have been seeing early readers remark about how they enjoyed the character development and the unlikely friendship, and the compliments received from the sensitivity reader my publisher hired, who commended my portrayal of the mental health issues in the story. 

How is Wendy similar to or different from you?
Wendy is similar to me in age (I’m slightly older), in being a stay-at-home-mom and recent empty-nester, and in the way she worries about the happiness of the people she loves. This book is also set in my town, so her “ordinary world” is very familiar. She’s different from me in that I do not have a significant mental health issue, I do not meddle in other people’s lives (unless invited in), and I found a second career that fulfilled me without needing a lot of nudging. 

If Take It from Me were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?
This is an impossible question because I love music and could take days to compile the perfect soundtrack. Off the top of my head, here are three songs that speak to the heart of the matters examined in the book:
Coldplay’s "Trouble" (because of the character’s secrets);
U2’s "Song for Someone" (because of the self-doubt both characters suffer); and
The Beatles "With a Little Help from My Friends" (because, despite their differences, Wendy and Harper show up for each other when it counts).

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?

Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry. This original novel (and confident debut) features a quirky, memorable protagonist (Elizabeth Zott) and a hilarious dog’s point-of-view. It’s a feminist story with so much heart and humor, you will whip through its 400 pages in no time at all. And as a woman who butted against patriarchal structures in my former career (a lawyer), I could wholly relate to EZ’s frustration. 

What is your favorite thing to do in the fall?
Fall is my favorite season. Who doesn’t welcome crisp, dry weather, and the return to jeans, sweaters, and boots? Living in New England, I’m lucky to enjoy the colorful canopies overhead and the joy of kids and dogs jumping gleefully into raked piles of dried leaves. My husband and I like to take long walks or hikes with our dog, Mo, which are always better (less muggy and buggy) in autumn, too. Finally, fall marks the return of hot pots of soup on the stove.

If we were to visit you right now, what would you take us to see?
If you came to Connecticut, I would first ask about your interests before planning an itinerary. That said, options would include: a quick train ride to Manhattan to sight-see (museums, parks, landmarks, Broadway), a trip up the Connecticut Coast to visit several quaint towns, including Mystic and its renowned aquarium, and, if you are very adventuresome, a drive up to Vermont to antique shop, enjoy great cheese and maple syrup, and hike segments of the Appalachian Trail. 

Thanks to Jamie for visiting with us and to BookSparks 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 28th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Book Review: Just Date and See

By Sara Steven

Billie is looking forward to a quiet, man-free Christmas. It’s just a shame her family doesn't feel the same way…

With a house full of unexpected (and unwanted) guests, Billie needs to find the perfect escape to get away from the chaos.

So when her dating app recommends a week of singles nights in her area, Billie decides that braving these events has to be better than making conversation with her dad’s new wife, dealing with her mum's mid-life crisis or witnessing her sister flirting with her insufferably arrogant next-door neighbour.

While this is definitely not the festive season she had planned, between disco bowling and boozy bingo, little does Billie know that she may find love this year after all - she'll just have to date and see… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

It’s nearly the holiday season for a funny romance caper! And Just Date and See is the perfect romance caper. In the beginning, Billie wants nothing more than to have a stress-free, drama-free Christmas. But plans quickly change, all against her original wishes. I could totally relate to the way she feels, having had my own last-minute changes to my own holiday plans, where a quiet night at home turns into so much more than I bargained for. Yet, there is often so much more to learn from that kind of experience, and the same can be said for Billie and what is thrown her way. I’d say that you can’t make this stuff up, but obviously you can, and it was brilliant!

Billie’s unexpectedly full house prompts her to find a way to escape it–leading her to dating events that really push her outside of her comfort zone. MacIntosh has a knack for creating characters who are often pushed beyond their limits, and Billie’s experiences didn’t disappoint. The majority of them lead her to some wacky and insane scenarios, one of my favorites being the restaurant scene where she moves back and forth from one table of guests to another, with neither table knowing about the other table. It felt very Mrs. Doubtfire without the costume changes, but it was just as funny.

By the time the holidays arrive, the reader hits the pinnacle of chaos and drama. Billie gets a lot more than she bargained for with surprise guests and connective relationships that she never even knew could be possible. I was just as flabbergasted as she was. But maybe she can turn things around? You never know for sure which way it might go or what the ending might be, which made the experience even more fun. 

With unique characters and even more unique situations, Just Date and See couldn’t have been a more enjoyable, fun experience. A definite five-star read!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US

Portia MacIntosh is the bestselling author of over 20 romantic comedy novels. From disastrous dates to destination weddings, Portia’s romcoms are the perfect way to escape from day to day life, visiting sunny beaches in the summer and snowy villages at Christmas time. Whether it’s southern Italy or the Yorkshire coast, Portia’s stories are the holiday you’re craving, conveniently packed in between the pages.

Formerly a journalist, Portia has left the city, swapping the music biz for the moors, to live the (not so) quiet life with her husband and her dog in Yorkshire.

Visit Portia online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Lynda Cohen Loigman's latest gift...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Randi Childs
We're so pleased to have Lynda Cohen Loigman back at CLC today to celebrate the publication of her latest novel, The Matchmaker's Gift. Taking place between two different time periods, this novel is an unforgettable treat. Melissa said it is one of her 2022 favorites. Check out her review. Lynda is here to talk about this novel and has one copy to share with a lucky reader!


Lynda recently published a short story for Heartbeat, so definitely check that out as well!

Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, MA. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. Her debut novel, Two-Family House, was a USA Today bestseller and a nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction.

Her second novel, The Wartime Sisters, was selected as a Woman’s World Book Club pick and a Best Book of 2019 by Real Simple Magazine. The Matchmakers Gift is her third novel. (Bio courtesy of Lynda's website.)

Visit Lynda online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Synopsis:
Even as a child in 1910, Sara Glikman knows her gift: she is a maker of matches and a seeker of soulmates. But among the pushcart-crowded streets of New York’s Lower East Side, Sara’s vocation is dominated by devout older men―men who see a talented female matchmaker as a dangerous threat to their traditions and livelihood. After making matches in secret for more than a decade, Sara must fight to take her rightful place among her peers, and to demand the recognition she deserves.

Two generations later, Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, is a successful Manhattan divorce attorney, representing the city’s wealthiest clients. When her beloved Grandma Sara dies, Abby inherits her collection of handwritten journals recording the details of Sara’s matches. But among the faded volumes, Abby finds more questions than answers. Why did Abby’s grandmother leave this library to her and what did she hope Abby would discover within its pages? Why does the work Abby once found so compelling suddenly feel inconsequential and flawed? Is Abby willing to sacrifice the career she’s worked so hard for in order to keep her grandmother’s mysterious promise to a stranger? And is there really such a thing as love at first sight?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

"Loigman brilliantly illuminates the struggle of two women, generations apart, torn between society’s traditions and expectations and their own personal fulfillment. The novel bubbles with romance and love matches, yet the joys of early infatuation are deftly layered over an exquisite exploration of grief. Glorious and powerful."
––Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

"Combining authentic historical fiction with mystery and a touch of romance, Loigman artfully reminds us that the past is never far, the present is a gift and the future is ours for the making. The Matchmaker’s Gift is timely and timeless, and readers should make time for this original and touching story about the things that matter most."
––Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman With The Blue Star

"Loigman once again taps into her exquisite ability to create rich characters that take us into the past while at the same time telling a universal story about destiny, family, and being authentic. I got lost equally in the stories of both Sara and Abby and was charmed by their connection to each other as well as to their craft. With her trademark ability to spin a tale and the heart with which she does it, Loigman has provided her readers with a story they won’t soon forget."
––Susie Orman Schnall, author of We Came Here to Shine


What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing The Matchmaker's Gift?
Writing this novel was an escape for me during the first year of Covid. I am incredibly proud of the fact that I wrote the most joyful book of my career during such a dark time in our collective history. The writing was its own reward—it was a balm for my soul in the middle of so much loss. In terms of challenges, this was my first dual timeline story, and I didn’t realize how much work that would be. It was essentially writing two separate stories, and I had to pay a lot of attention to the arc of each main character. I wrote the book in the order that you read it, so I was constantly weaving together the timelines and that was sometimes headache-inducing!
 
Who do you relate to more, Sara or Abby?

This is a tough one. I should relate to Abby more. Like Abby, I was working as a young lawyer in 1994. I never worked on divorce cases, but I did work on a few prenuptial agreements. In fact, I worked on one for a well-known artist who was marrying a model, and I based a little bit of my story on some of those encounters. In truth, however, I probably relate more to Sara. I’m not as self-assured as she is, but now that I have reached my fifties, I am starting to develop some of the confidence that eluded me when I was younger. I admire the way Sara cares for her family and the way she shows interest in the lives of everyone around her. She uses he gift to make connections, and that’s something I love about her.
 
If The Matchmaker's Gift were made into a movie, what are some songs you would include on the soundtrack? 
Ace of Base’s "The Sign" for sure. It’s perfect for Abby’s timeline, and it was a big hit in 1994. And then for Sara’s timeline, probably the Cole Porter song "True Love." It’s the sweetest song. Bing Crosby sings it in the movie High Society, and it makes me cry every time I hear it.
 
Which TV series are you currently binge watching?

I am watching Bad Sisters, which is full of intense character studies. And, of course, season two of Indian Matchmaking! I can’t wait for the new season of the Great British Bake Off.
 
What is your favorite thing about the upcoming Jewish holiday season?
The timing of the holidays is tricky this year because my book comes out a week before Rosh Hashanah. Honestly, I love everything about the Jewish holidays—the sense of renewal and hope, the fact that a new year is beginning, and the idea that we can ask for forgiveness and start fresh. I also love making apple cake from my mother’s old recipe.
 
Have you ever been a matchmaker for anyone? 
I’ve definitely set people up before, but none of my set-ups have ever turned into lasting relationships. My husband and I were set up on a blind date though, so I have definitely benefited from the process!

Thanks to Lynda 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 September 27th at midnight EST.

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Book Review: The Rise


By Sara Steven

When we bury our secrets, they always come back to haunt us...

Their rise was meteoric.

Only a few years before, they had been three friends from Glasgow, trying to survive in a world of danger and dysfunction.

Suddenly they were thrust on to the world’s biggest stage, accepting an Oscar in front of the watching world.

That night was the beginning of their careers. But it was the end of their friendships.

Over the next twenty years, Mirren McLean would become one of the most powerful writers in the industry.

Zander Leith would break box-office records as cinema’s most in-demand action hero.

And Davie Johnson would break the bank, raking in millions as producer of some of the biggest shows on TV.

For two decades they didn’t speak, driven apart by a horrific secret.

Until now…

Their past is coming back to bite them, and they have to decide whether to run, hide, or fight.

Because when you rise to the top, there’s always someone who wants to see you fall… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Reading The Rise felt like watching an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary detailing the dark side of Hollywood, and I was 100% invested! I appreciated that each main character had their own tale to tell, giving us a viewpoint into the lives that Davie, Mirren and Zander lead two decades after their friendship disbanded. It was also helpful to have past flashbacks, providing a lot more background into the circumstances surrounding the reasons behind the three of them going their own separate ways. I would read a chapter and tell myself I needed to take a break to tend to other things, but then I’d plow through one more chapter…and then another…it really was that riveting!

I’m not always a big fan of celebrity name-dropping unless it’s done right, and it worked so well here. It felt like Zander fit right in with other A-listers, and that Davie is a household name, and Mirren is a bestselling author. The pages dripped with Tinseltown and the type of drama one can only expect from Hollywood, all of it believable. Yet everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s within the humble roots in Glasgow that the foundation is set for what that will eventually mean for the three of them. As painful as it could be at times to read about the experiences suffered, I was drawn into that 80s world, rooting for the successes I knew were on the horizon. Mourning the loss of innocence.

The writing style flowed so easily, with an acerbic quality that really matched the eras and the characters. It was also a unique touch to add song titles to the start of every chapter, setting the tone for what was to come. No one broke character–Davie is the loveable everyman whose survival tactics involve being exactly who each and every person expects him to be, molding and bending to fit society’s needs, while Zander knows just how to stand and cock his head on the red carpet, hand in pocket, the perfect grin meant to capture hearts. Mirren has proven herself as one of the top writers in her field, fully aware of what it means to live in Tinseltown, but she thinks she’s so far above it, even though she’s not. When they are thrust into having to relive their past and the buried secrets that none of them want brought to light, the newfound layers of their youth is then added on to their current personas, changing them but never changing the core of who they are.    

I had no choice but to be sucked into The Rise, and I’m glad for it. What a crazy, wild five-star ride!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US



Shari Low and Ross King MBE is a writing partnership forged in a friendship of over thirty years. Scottish author Shari is the bestselling writer of over thirty novels including bestsellers My One Month Marriage, One Summer Sunrise, and The Story of our Secrets. Los-Angeles-based Ross King is a four times news Emmy award-winning TV and radio host, actor, producer, writer and performer, and is currently the Los Angeles correspondent for ITV’s Lorraine and Good Morning Britain. They are publishing their Hollywood thriller trilogy with Boldwood, starting with The Rise.

Visit Shari online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Visit Ross online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Friday, September 16, 2022

What's in the (e)mail

Melissa:

Not That Kind of Ever After by Luci Adams from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)
Chick Magnet by Emma Barry from Kaye Publicity (print)
The New Person by Loretta Nyhan from Lake Union (NetGalley)
Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)
The Rom-Com Agenda by Jayne Denker from St. Martin's Press (print)
Never Meant to Meet You by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans from Over the River PR (NetGalley)
Pets of Park Avenue by Stefanie London from Harlequin (NetGalley)
Typecast by Andrea J. Stein from Girl Friday Productions (print)
The Second You're Single by Cara Tanamachi from St. Martin's Press (print)
Suffer! by A.C. Sloan from BooksGoSocial (NetGalley)
Miranda Writes by Gail Ward Olmsted from Black Rose Writing (NetGalley)
Speechless by Lindsey Lanza from Victory Editing (NetGalley)
Autumn Sky by/from Jenna Starly (ebook)
Always the Almost by Edward Underhill from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)
The Sweet Spot by Amy Poeppel from Atria (NetGalley)
No More Secrets by Kerry Lonsdale from Lake Union (NetGalley)
The Circus Train by Amita Parikh from Putnam (NetGalley)
A Wish for Winter by Viola Shipman from Harlequin (NetGalley)



Sara:
The Girl I Used To Be by Debbie Howells by/from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
It Could Happen by Melissa Baldwin from Rachel's Random Resources (ebook)
How I'll Kill You by Ren DeStefano from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Sporty One by Melanie Chisholm from Grand Central Publishing (print)


Marisa:
Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz from Emi Battaglia PR (ebook)



Jami:
The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen from Berkley (NetGalley)
City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Last Russian Doll by Kristen Loesch from Berkley (NetGalley)





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Book Review: This is Us

 

By Sara Steven

Stella fell in love with Simon hard and fast. He was everything she wanted in a husband, and he seemed to feel the same way about her. More than a decade of marriage later, life is sweet. They have three much-wanted children, a successful business, and a comfortable London home. What more could Stella possibly want?

But then, out of the blue, Simon is gone. Vanished. No one knows where he’s gone or why.

Now Stella, with the help of her friends and family, has to pick up the pieces of her and her children’s life, all the while wondering what she missed. Was her husband who he said he was, and can she trust her own memories of their life together? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

What do you do when someone you love walks away and never returns? I couldn’t even fathom that scenario. The heart wrenching emotion and deep struggle while Stella tries to put the pieces together not only for herself but for her children, too, had been perfectly portrayed. And the even bigger question– Why– loomed over my head just as much as it hung over Stella’s. There are so many unanswered questions, and the only person who has the answers is Simon.

The string unravels bit by bit. Abandoning your family can be an unforgivable thing, but the author raises the stakes a little at a time, adding even more layers to Simon’s indiscretions. It allowed for Stella’s optimism to shine through, ever sure that holding onto hope would mean something. I think what I loved the most about Stella’s character and This Is Us in general was the fact that yes, hope is an amazing thing. But it can also be a fluid thing. Where hope comes from and the capacity in which it’s used can change depending on how it’s needed, and Stella opens her eyes to that. For her, hope is found within survival and resilience. 

There is a major scene towards the end of the book that felt like Stella’s last stand. I loved it! It was a moment I had been yearning for, and it did not disappoint. The moments leading up to that and the arsenal Stella ends up with could only be described as genius. As much as Simon tried not to leave any sort of footprint in his own life, it was inevitable and it was a scenario that paid off for both Stella and those involved. Central to everything had been the incredible friendships Stella had forged over the years, relationships that end up becoming serious lifelines for her during the most chaotic time in her life. It was its own special foundation.

This Is Us highlighted one woman’s journey into finding a way towards familial peace, in whatever capacity that might be– a worthy five-star experience for me. 

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

Purchase Links: 
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Helen McGinn is a much-loved wine expert on TV and in print and an international wine judge. She spent ten years as a supermarket buyer sourcing wines around the world before setting up her award-winning blog (and now best-selling wine book) The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club. She is the drinks writer for the Daily Mail and regularly appears on TV’s Saturday Kitchen and This Morning. Helen lives in the New Forest.

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Thursday, September 15, 2022

Book Review: A Chance in a Million



By Sara Steven

Having left the army to recover from a traumatic experience, Captain Jane Reed is on her way to Venice to assist Lady Veronica Cooper, a world-famous writer who has lost her mojo. Plagued by grief and sleepless nights, Jane soon finds a kindred spirit in Veronica, coping with her own loss after the death of her husband.

When the two relocate to Veronica’s villa in the countryside to escape the summer tourists, Jane meets the rest of the Cooper family – including Veronica’s brooding son, David. With his own tragic past, David has resigned himself to a life of solitude. Jane finds herself determined to bring joy back into his life, even if it means finally spilling her secrets.

Can Jane and David help each other heal, and find love in the process, or are some scars too deep to treat? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I think A Chance in a Million is one of T.A. Williams’s most engaging reads! A large part of that for me involved the characters. It’s true that every single one of Williams’s books always includes fantastic nature scenes and backdrops that feel like a secondary character, which I always appreciate, but this time I felt closer to Jane and David. It was interesting how they mirror one another with similar pasts and tragedies, creating a protective barrier that strives to keep potential relationships at bay. Given the traumas, it was hard to blame either one of them for that. They were perfectly flawed in a way that was endearing.

I also enjoyed the fact that Jane becomes an assistant to Lady Veronica Cooper, yet another character who has suffered great loss and is working through that. I wonder if other readers found themselves living vicariously through Jane–she gets to live in an exotic location, assisting someone she looks up to, while also potentially branching out and finding new avenues of creativity for herself in the process. I kept thinking, “I’d love to live a life like that!” I appreciated the friendship that begins to grow between the two characters, too. Lady Veronica starts out a bit like a surly character, and it was nice to see the changes that are brought out through Jane’s affection. 

Even though Jane begins to heal, the one thing she has a tough time with is opening her heart to love. There is the fear of letting anyone get close to her again, along with layers of guilt that don’t really belong there, but that emotion is there all the same. It very much humanized who she is. And while Jane wasn’t really feeling David’s bushy beard that he wears as armor, and I know the beard symbolized a means of distancing himself even more from the man he feels he used to be, I like beards, so I totally dug it. And I totally got it. 

A Chance in a Million is a classic T.A. Williams experience, but it felt elevated for me. There were the classic telltale signs–gorgeous backdrops, an adorable Labrador that at times stole the show, with two characters who try hard to find their way to one another, but it was so much more. It was inspiring, and an obvious five-star experience!

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

Purchase Link:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Author Bio (in his own words):

I’m a man. And a pretty old man as well. I did languages at university a long time ago and then lived and worked in France and Switzerland before going to Italy for seven years as a teacher of English. My Italian wife and I then came back to the UK with our little daughter (now long-since grown up) where I ran a big English language school for many years. We now live in a sleepy little village in Devonshire. I’ve been writing almost all my life but it was only seven years ago that I finally managed to find a publisher who liked my work enough to offer me my first contract.

The fact that I am now writing escapist romance is something I still find hard to explain. My early books were thrillers and historical novels. Maybe it’s because there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that I feel I need to do my best to provide something to cheer my readers up. My books provide escapism to some gorgeous locations, even if travel to them is currently difficult.

Visit T.A. Williams online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter

More by T.A. Williams:

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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Facing Our Fears

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 facing our fears. Lots of characters have to rise to this challenge and we have to do this in real life too. 

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

Sara Steven:

Thirteen months ago, my husband purchased a food sensitivity kit for me, for my birthday. It was a really nice gesture, considering I’d expressed interest in the kit for quite some time. I can still recall the excitement I’d felt while slipping the lid from the rectangular-shaped box, eager to start my journey into figuring out why certain foods lead to what I call “flare ups,” potentially contributing to my recently-diagnosed EoE (Eosinophilic Esophagitis). But after reading through the instructions and eyeing the tiny white and blue lancets, I immediately placed the lid back on the box and walked away. 

Courtesy of InnerBody

I walked away for over a year. 

The box sat on my kitchen island for a couple of months at first, sometimes covered by other things that my kids or husband would set aside–which I was fine with. No one noticed. But then my husband did notice, and asked me when I planned on taking the test. Which prompted me to remove the box from the island, finding a better home for it on my desk in my bedroom. 

I repurposed it as a coaster for my tea mugs. Or a placeholder for documents or various writing projects. I saw it every day, the food sensitivity kit, but I left it there, knowing full well I’d get to it later. Or the next day. Maybe next week. Sometime soon.

It wasn’t until last month when my stepmom had come to visit and had heard the story of the infamous sensitivity test and that I had yet to use it, that I had to revisit actually going through with it, and using the damn test. But it was just so hard. Imagining the lancet poking through my finger, drawing blood, made me sick to my stomach. It took me back to those painful memories of my youth when I was forced to have a finger poked in order to test my blood for this, that or the other–memories that did nothing but only increase the unease I felt. I knew I needed to “suck it up” and go through with it, or I’d never get results, but knowing that didn’t make the fear go away. It only increased the anxiety I felt. 

My stepmom encouraged me to take the test–she might have badgered me just a bit, but I knew the time had come to just do it. I stuck my hands under warm running water, one of the tips offered within the instructions, shaking them at my sides to get the blood flowing downward. After a few minutes, I sat in a chair while she held my hand, my husband drawing my attention to him and not to the lancets. I won’t lie and say I didn’t feel the poke on the right side of my ring finger. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t freaking out. You have to let the blood from your finger drip down onto the paper they provide that collects the sample, and knowing it was MY blood made me queasy. I tried hard to focus on what the end result would be, which would be potentially discovering food sensitivities that bug me. And I kept my eyes closed the entire time.

Afterward, my finger throbbed a bit. The kit provides a bandage, so I wore my badge of courage for the rest of the day. You know it’s a big deal when your eleven year-old pats you on the back and commends you for your bravery–he’d been one of the most vocal about trying to get me to take the test over the last several months. I’m glad I eventually took the test. I’m glad I received my results. I’m glad I did it. 

I don’t know if I want to use a lancet again, though. They still kind of creep me out. 

Melissa Amster:

A couple months ago, I wrote about my older son learning how to drive. Last month, we went on a road trip from DC to Chicago and he did most of the driving. I was really impressed with how well he took to the highways and expressways, as I could have never done that at his age...

When I took Driver's Ed in high school, there was this really mean instructor who used to intimidate me every time it was my turn in the seat. I somehow got stuck being the only one in the car with him for learning how to drive on expressways. It was the most frustrating and upsetting experience and I came back to school in tears from it. After that time, I was terrified to get on any highway or expressway and took back roads whenever possible. (When I got my license, I was thrilled to flaunt it in front of him...)

When I was turning twenty-one, I wanted to go to The Neo-Futurarium in Chicago for my birthday, to see my favorite show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. A friend had driven me there a few weeks prior and I paid extra attention to the roads he was taking (we didn't have Google Maps at the time). He was supposed to take me again for my birthday, but something came up on his end and it didn't work out for him to go at the last minute. So I decided that if I really wanted to get there, I would drive myself. I went out of my way to go to the highway entrance that he showed me and managed to find my way to the theater and then back again. It was exhilarating driving on the expressway and it somehow felt totally natural. After that time, I was no longer scared to drive on expressways or highways and that served me well for driving to and from college that fall. If only I had been that motivated a few years earlier, my life would have been a lot easier. 

Back to the present, it was definitely scary giving up control of the car to my son for his first time driving on the highways and there was one or two times where I was gripping the side of the car. However, he did an amazing job and I'm glad he feels comfortable driving on highways and expressways now, instead of feeling like he has to wait a few years.

Tell us about a time that you faced your fears.

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Spotlight and Giveaway: The Ways We Hide

Kristina McMorris's latest novel, The Ways We Hide, published last week and has already been listed as a historical fiction bestseller at The Globe and Mail! Melissa says this fascinating and engaging story is perfect for fans of Kate Quinn and Pam Jenoff. Check out her review. Thanks to Kristina, we have one copy to give away, so don't miss out on a chance to win!

As a little girl raised amid the hardships of Michigan's Copper Country, Fenna Vos learned to focus on her own survival. That ability sustains her even now as the Second World War rages in faraway countries. Though she performs onstage as the assistant to an unruly escape artist, behind the curtain she's the mastermind of their act. Ultimately, controlling her surroundings and eluding traps of every kind helps her keep a lingering trauma at bay.


Yet for all her planning, Fenna doesn't foresee being called upon by British military intelligence. Tasked with designing escape aids to thwart the Germans, MI9 seeks those with specialized skills for a war nearing its breaking point. Fenna reluctantly joins the unconventional team as an inventor. But when a test of her loyalty draws her deep into the fray, she discovers no mission is more treacherous than escaping one's past. 

Inspired by stunning true accounts, The Ways We Hide is a gripping story of love and loss, the wars we fight—on the battlefields and within ourselves—and the courage found in unexpected places. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

"Just like her heroine, Kristina McMorris works magic in this twisting tale of James Bond's Q meets World War II. I love this book!" 
― Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code and The Diamond Eye

"The Queen's Gambit meets The Alice Network in this epic, action-packed novel of family, loss, and one woman's journey to save all she holds dear―including freedom itself." 
― Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars

"A riveting tale of intrigue and illusion, danger and historical mystery, but at its heart the story of one woman's struggle to escape her own past. While using her remarkable skills to help captured soldiers, Fenna finds herself face-to-face with what she loves most and what she fears most, trapped in a place where each decision she makes could unlock the paths to freedom and a future... or death." 
― Lisa Wingate #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours 

From Kristina's website
Kristina McMorris
is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of two novellas and seven historical novels, including the million-copy bestseller Sold on a Monday and her fall 2022 releases, The Ways We Hide and the collaborative When We Had Wings. The recipient of more than twenty national literary awards, she previously hosted weekly TV shows for Warner Bros. and an ABC affiliate, beginning at age nine with an Emmy Award-winning program, and owned a wedding-and-event-planning company until she had far surpassed her limit of "Y.M.C.A." and chicken dances. She lives near Portland, Oregon, where she's the proud mom of two teenage (going-on-forty) boys who keep her on the run and make her laugh daily. (Bio courtesy of Kristina's website.)

Visit Kristina online:

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 20th at midnight EST.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Andrea J. Stein is just our type...plus a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome Andrea J. Stein to CLC today. Her debut novel, Typecast, sounds like so much fun. Melissa is excited to read it soon. Andrea has TWO copies to share with some lucky readers!

Born in Brooklyn, Andrea was raised in New Jersey before attending a small, quirky liberal arts college and a large, preppy university, both in New York State. A book publicist by profession, she lives with her husband and sons in suburban New Jersey. 

Andrea spends an inordinate amount of time taking pretty photos of books. Things that make her happy include strong tea, turtles, sunshine, sheep, and the ocean. (Bio adapted from Andrea's website.)

Visit Andrea online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis:
Callie Dressler thought she’d put her past where it belonged—behind her. But when her ex-boyfriend brings their breakup to the big screen, she can no longer deny that their history has been looming over her all along. 

At thirty-one, Callie Dressler is finally comfortable in her own skin. She loves her job as a preschool teacher, and although living in her vacant childhood home isn’t necessarily what dreams are made of, the space is something she never could have afforded if she’d stayed in New York City. She knows her well-ordered life will be upended when her type A, pregnant sister, Nina; adorable four-year-old niece; and workaholic brother-in-law move in, but how could she say no when they needed a place to crash during their remodel? As Nina pointed out, it’s still their parents’ house, even if their mom and dad have relocated. 

As if adjusting to this new living situation isn’t enough, the universe sends Callie another wrinkle: her college boyfriend—who Callie dumped ten years earlier for reasons known only to her—has a film coming out, and the screenplay is based on their real-life breakup. While the movie consumes her thoughts, Callie can’t help wondering if Nina and her friends are right that she hasn’t moved on. When a complication with Nina’s pregnancy brings Callie in close contact with Nina’s smart and funny architect, Callie realizes she’d better figure out whether she wants to open the door to the past—or risk missing out on her future. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“A smart, endearing heroine; an enjoyable, entertaining story; and a hopeful, satisfying ending. Callie revisits the past with her ex to make sense of her present love life, making Typecast a fun mix of rom-com and women’s fiction. Full of heartfelt charm, humor, and truth, Stein’s debut is exactly the book I’d been craving. Perfect for fans of Marian Keyes and Josie Silver. A very delightful read!”
— Angela Terry, award-winning author of The Trials of Adeline Turner

“With patience and realism, Andrea J. Stein explores the complexities of first love, family dynamics, and adulting. A relatable journey fraught with growing pains, Typecast reminds us that in order to truly evolve—and find new, lasting love—we must first accept the past and ourselves.”
— Nora Zelevansky, author of Competitive Grieving

“Insightful and bighearted and oh-so-deliciously page-turning, Typecast is like a road trip with friends, complete with detours and surprises and wildly satisfying moments. A perfect next read for fans of Camille Pagán and Kristy Woodson Harvey, Stein’s Typecast is a don’t-miss debut!”
— Amy Impellizzeri, award-winning author of In Her Defense

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Typecast?
I’m happiest when I’m writing.  The feeling of being immersed in my story, writing scenes in my head in bed before I go to sleep at night, is incredibly rewarding.  It’s also been so rewarding to have people enjoy reading the book and tell me how relatable the characters are.  I’m a perfectionist, so one of the biggest challenges was to make every sentence work in a way that felt “right” to me.  

How are you similar to or different from Callie?
We definitely have some similarities – same sense of humor, same love of reading, same taste in music, same experience of not feeling that we “fit” in the suburbs in which we grew up and of finding “our people” in college.  But Callie’s quirky sense of style is very different from mine!  She also knew from a very young age what she wanted to do – to be a teacher.  I don’t think of myself as having had that kind of vision for my career – though I did always want to be an author, so I guess perhaps I did, after all!

If Typecast were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
Daisy Ridley would make a great Callie if she can do an American accent!  Richard Madden would be a perfect Ben, with the same caveat.  I’d like Scarlett Johansson as Nina, Zendaya as Tess, Lucas Till as Ethan, and Sebastian Stan as Michael.  Bette Midler would be a fun Lorraine!  And just a small role, but how about Jason Statham as Brett?  (I clearly have a leaning toward Brits!)

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?

We just re-watched the Lord of The Rings trilogy, and I would totally recommend them.  Not exactly a recent release, though!

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?

We’d absolutely have to take a ride to the Jersey shore.  We could walk the boardwalk in Spring Lake and stop at Thunder Road Books, and then get a bite to eat and browse the shops in Ocean Grove.  It’s also the perfect season to go to Loantaka Brook Reservation for a walk or bike ride – the kind of place Callie would go to sketch or take a stroll.  

What is your favorite thing to do in the fall?
Fall is my favorite season – the crispness in the air and the changing leaves.  Oddly, even though I guess technically things are dying, it always feels like renewal to me.  Maybe tied to the new school year.  My absolute favorite fall activity is pumpkin picking – which of course requires the purchase of cider doughnuts!

Thanks to Andrea for visiting with us and sharing her book with our readers. Thanks also to Girl Friday Productions for introducing us to Andrea.

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 19th at midnight EST.

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