Friday, April 28, 2023

Book Review: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

By Sara Steven

Dax Hartley has made flowers his entire life, just like his late father did.

When his dad's old florist’s shop is up for sale, he has to have it. Only problem is, he'd need to sell a kidney to afford it. The reality show Battle of the Blossoms is the perfect opportunity to win the money he needs, but when his childhood crush blows back into his life, distractions risk taking his eyes off the prize. He needs his head and heart to start working together to ensure he doesn't miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

Hollyn Matthews has made some colossal mistakes in life.

When she's dumped just as she's expecting an engagement ring, she knows she's put her heart into the wrong man. Hoping for a second chance at being a grown-up, she moves home to stay with her brother and his best friend Dax, a boy whose memory faded as she ran away from her past. Facing the hurt she left behind means facing some home truths about herself, but there’s one boy who has always loved her, if only she’d take the time to notice him. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

What a unique story! I’m more than familiar with reality TV shows and formats, but a reality show that consists of florists battling it out is a premise I’d never even thought of, and have never heard of.

I loved Dax. His background, the reasons behind his need to win the Battle of the Blossoms, and the unfilled crush he has towards Hollyn–it all added up to such a great character. It’s true that there are plenty of people who see him as a bit of a player where women are concerned, but as a reader, I could tell just how much he has invested in how he feels for Hollyn. That it is genuine and real, even if those closest to Hollyn aren’t sure how to take that, and if it’s even legitimate.

Hollyn was also a likable character. At the start of the book, we discover just how rough it’s been for her in her current relationship, and after she’s dumped, she ends up crashing with her brother River and Dax. I had a tough time dealing with River at first. I know that his characterization had most likely been written to be a more surly type of person, and he has a lot of ideas and opinions on who should or shouldn’t date Hollyn–Dax included. I think at one point, I said out loud, “It’s not your business River,” even though I’m fully aware that he’s a character in a book. But he elicited that much of a reaction out of me. 

Hollyn has a lot of unfinished business to tend to with her family, with Dax lumped into that. She feels a lot of guilt in leaving her life behind, and given the issues with her prior relationship, she doesn’t trust herself to make the right decisions. The moments where she leans on Dax for advice were sweet and tender, often brought up by remembrances of a time when things had been so much simpler for them, when they were kids. There is a lot of love there, but can the love transcend from the past into the present? And can Hollyn ever trust again? He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not was truly enjoyable, and filled me with the hope for second chances.

Thanks to Aimee Brown for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Aimee Brown:

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Spotlight: Bear with Me Now

Things aren’t going so great for Teagan van Zijl. They haven’t been going great since his mother died two years ago and he was left as the CEO of their family’s charity foundation. The same foundation that is now bleeding money. To make matters worse, after a brief stint in the hospital for depression, Teagan’s sister signs him up for a therapy retreat in the wilderness Montana.

As a born and bred city boy, Teagan doesn’t know the first thing of surviving in the wilderness. So, it comes to no surprise that he finds himself face to face with a bear and almost eaten. Thankfully an angel in muddy hiking boots comes to the rescue. An angel who seems to know everything Teagan doesn’t.

But what Teagan doesn’t know is that things aren’t going so great for Darcy Albano either. She wasn’t supposed to be working as the retreat’s handywoman, nor was she supposed to be recently single after her ex stole her car. Oh, and the fact that her parents ruined her credit score? Don’t even get her started.

Yet when their paths cross, the last thing either of them expects is to form a bond with one another. One that will extend much farther than the woods of Montana.

Purchase Bear with Me Now

"A funny, poignant, romantic exploration of mental health and of the way love can help us heal. Katie Shepard has a unique talent for mixing gentle humor, weighty topics, and swoony moments. You will fall in love with Darcy and Teagan on page one and you will laugh, and cry, and cheer as they discover themselves and each other. A perfect, dazzling debut, and the start of my new favorite series! (And let’s not forget the bear, the wolves, and all the otters…)"
—Ali Hazelwood, New York Times bestselling author of Loathe to Love You

"Angsty, swoony, sharply written, and full of heart, Bear with Me Now is a deeply compassionate romance about finding love in the midst of profound struggles and vulnerabilities, discovering the gift of entrusting all of yourself to a worthy someone to love and be loved by in return."
—Chloe Liese, author of Two Wrongs Make a Right

Courtesy of Katie's website
Katie Shepard studied Soviet history and worked in human rights law before burning way, way out, and achieved professional tranquility as a simple country bankruptcy lawyer. She lives in Texas with her husband, kids, and elderly rescue cat, but is often found hiking in the Rocky Mountains or the virtual woods of Thedas. (Bio courtesy of Amazon.)

Visit Katie at her website and on Instagram.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Guest Book Review: Before We Were Innocent

By Allyson Bales

Wow.  What. A. Ride.  I was gripped from the very start of this mysterious literary tale and NEEDED to know what happened to Joni, Bess, Evangeline, and Willow.  Before We Were Innocent begins with Bess in 2018.  One of her best friends, Joni, has come to visit her after almost ten years of radio silence.  The two of them had traveled with their other best friend, Evangeline, to Greece ten years earlier to celebrate their graduation from high school and Evangeline died.  Now Joni is back with a similar situation on her hands and needs Bess’s help.

I loved the dual timelines and mysteries. I also really enjoyed how the secrets from 2008 and 2018 slowly come out as the book progresses while you also learn more about the girls.  This is as much a mystery as it is a character driven story and that made me feel so connected to the characters and what was going to happen.

Joni is scrappy and self assured while Bess is softer and more retrospective and both were relatable and representative of so many young women trying to find themselves.  I loved their complex and dramatic yet nurturing relationship.  Additionally, the first hand look at the impact tragedy has on the next steps in life made me think a lot. Joni and Bess take different paths after the loss of Evangeline and how they cope with the aftermath made them even more likable to me.

Lastly, Berman does a great job of encapsulating the role of the media and the way they were so fascinated with Joni and Bess reminded me a lot of the Amanda Knox story.  Media has had such and impact on how we think, feel, and view the world and Berman beautifully and realistically portrayed that reality. 

I am now a fan of Ella Berman and will have to read her first book The Comeback.  If you enjoy mystery and character driven stories with cliffhanger chapters that make you want to peel your eyes open to read one more chapter, this book is for you.

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

Allyson Bales lives in New Jersey.  She is an art therapist working with at-risk youth and loves making a difference.  Books have been her saving grace and really helped her manage being a front line worker during the Pandemic.  When she’s not helping others, she loves to travel and camp with her wife.  One of her favorite places to read is by a campfire with some good tunes in the background.  You can find her on Bookstagram at @readswithally.

Also by Ella Berman:

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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Spotlight and Giveaway: Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl

We are thrilled to celebrate the publication of Renée Rosen's latest historical fiction gem, Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl. It is definitely worth the two-year wait and Melissa has a five-star review to share. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away!

It’s 1938, and a young woman selling face cream out of a New York City beauty parlor is determined to prove she can have it all. Her name is Estée Lauder, and she’s about to take the world by storm in this dazzling new novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Social Graces and Park Avenue Summer.

In New York City, you can disappear into the crowd. At least that’s what Gloria Downing desperately hopes as she tries to reinvent herself after a devastating family scandal. She’s ready for a total life makeover and a friend she can lean on—and into her path walks a young, idealistic woman named Estée. Their chance encounter will change Gloria’s life forever.

Estée dreams of success and becoming a household name like Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, and Revlon. Before Gloria knows it, she is swept up in her new friend’s mission, and while Estée rolls up her sleeves, Gloria begins to discover her own talents. After landing a job at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York’s finest luxury department store, Gloria finds her voice, which proves instrumental in opening doors for Estée’s insatiable ambitions.

But in a world unaccustomed to women with power, they’ll each have to reckon with the price that comes from daring to live life on their own terms and refusing to back down.

 "With her golden pen, Rosen delves into the power of friendship, emphasizing that while cosmetics can be bought, true friendship must be earned. Rosen’s world is lush, well researched, and her characters are vividly portrayed. Like her iconic subject matter, Rosen’s FIFTH AVENUE GLAMOUR GIRL is truly an inspiration.
—Lisa Barr, New York Times bestselling author of Woman on Fire

"A scintillating, beautifully written peek into the life of one of America’s most fascinating women, Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl is an ode to the singular magic of chasing and catching one’s wildest dreams. Through Renee Rosen’s well-trained pen, Estée Lauder returns, living and breathing on every page. Rosen is at the height of her storytelling prowess with this glittering novel that shines as brightly as the heroine at its center. I absolutely could not put it down. "
—Kristy Woodson Harvey, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Wedding Veil

Some questions from a Q&A with Berkley:

Q: What inspired you to write FIFTH AVENUE GLAMOUR GIRL? 

Renée: After completing The Social Graces, I mentioned to a friend that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write about next. She had just finished working on a documentary involving one of  Estée Lauder’s sons and suggested I take a look at Estée’s life.

Well, after one google search, I was hooked. Estée Lauder was such an underdog and I’m always inspired by strong women who beat the odds. But beyond her sheer drive and determination, I discovered  a fascinating story filled with unexpected twists and turns, both in her professional and personal life. I couldn’t believe no one else had already written a novel based on her life. 

Q: Without giving anything away, what was one of your favorite scenes to write?

Renée: I had so much fun working on this novel so picking out just one favorite scene is tough. But I do really love the scene when Estee corners Helena Rubinstein up the Saks Fifth Avenue buying offices. It’s one of those chance meetings. It’s Estee’s first glimpse of the great Madam Rubinstein and she’s determined to make the most of that moment. She doesn’t care about protocol or etiquette, doesn’t care if she steps on anyone’s toes—she’s going to make sure Helena Rubinstein knows who Estée Lauder is. I think that scene, perhaps more than any other, encapsulates Estee’s chutzpah. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from FIFTH AVENUE GLAMOUR GIRL? 

Renée: Aside from a good, entertaining read, I hope readers will be inspired by Estée’s story.  I hope it will encourage people to dust off their own dreams and go for it. If they can turn that last page and think, wow, if Estee overcame all those challenges and obstacles and claimed her dream, maybe I can too. 

Photo by Charles Osgood
Renée Rosen is the USA Today bestselling author of The Social Graces, Park Avenue Summer, Windy City Blues, White Collar Girl, What the Lady Wants, and Dollface. She is also the author of Every Crooked Pot, a YA novel published in 2007. Renée lives in Chicago.

Visit Renée online:

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Giveaway ends April 30th at midnight EST.

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Monday, April 24, 2023

Book Review: When We Were Friends


By Sara Steven

They were best friends. Sisters of the heart. Partners in crime. Until they got caught…

Five years ago, Frannie Willets committed grand larceny to help her best friend, Lexi Maddox, escape an awful situation. Now paroled and prospectless, Frannie needs to disappear from her dead-end life. To do so, she’ll need her share of the stolen money that Lexi has been hiding all these years. But Lexi has other plans.

By all appearances, Lexi is thriving, but in truth, nothing in her life is going according to plan. She can’t carry a pregnancy to term, her sweet stepdaughter hates her, and even the family’s new rescue dog knows she’s a failure. Lexi’s only path to happiness is making amends with the friend she dearly misses. But the only thing Frannie wants from Lexi is cash.

Out of desperation, Lexi offers Frannie all the money, with one catch: Frannie must stick around for one month. Stranded in their suffocating small town, Frannie gets tangled up in Lexi’s issues, her mother’s questionable dating life, a lonely kid’s desperate attempts to find friends, and a high-school crush’s fantasies about what could have been. Suddenly, leaving doesn’t look as easy as it once did. But when an old enemy surfaces, Frannie realizes her staying endangers everyone she loves. And even though she might have found her heart’s true home, there’s no guarantee she can keep it. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

One of the aspects I appreciated most about When We Were Friends had been how well the characters are fleshed out. Frannie’s behaviorisms and mannerisms very much reflect that of someone who had gone to prison for a while, trying to acclimate back into a world where she has a say in her own life. Lexi very much represents a woman who is hiding from her secrets, pasting on a happy smile while she creates an orderly environment in order to control the narrative. But as with most things, Frannie and Lexi discover that neither of them can escape the past, and both for very different reasons.

The story takes place in the here and now, with flashbacks to the past that helps the reader to better understand what happened, and why Frannie did what she did for her best friend. Initially, I questioned what that could even be. No one chooses to take the fall, particularly when it means going to prison. But what transpires more than makes up for that, and we begin to really see the relationship dynamic between the two friends and the significance of that. 

I always kind of knew Frannie’s history with crime would come back to haunt her. Despite her paying her dues, there is unfinished business that needs to be settled, and when her own family gets roped into the mess, she has no other choice but to do the most she can to protect those she loves. It’s funny because Frannie puts a lot of walls up, in order to protect her heart, yet despite herself, she is fiercely loyal and would do anything (obviously) to protect the people important to her. What she needs to learn is that she is deserving of that same sentiment. She carries a lot of baggage from her former life behind bars and doesn’t think she’s worth the fight. 

I loved the progression of the story for Frannie, along with the unexpected friendships and relationships she forms with others. While the ending could have been a bit more pumped up, given the circumstances, I liked the conclusion, given the fact that the main theme behind Frannie’s story is friendship and family, and love. In her hour of need, she discovers just how far people are willing to go to protect her, enabling her to change her mind and see things in a different way. There are eye-opening changes for Lexi, too. It was a well-earned five-star experience!

Thanks to Red Adept Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, April 21, 2023

What's in the (e)mail

The House on Prytania Street by Karen White from Berkley (print)
The Hollywood Jinx by/from Sariah Wilson (print)
Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson from Grand Central Publishing (print)
Famous in a Small Town by Viola Shipman from Graydon House (NetGalley)
What Wild Women Do by Karma Brown from Dutton (NetGalley)
A Bakery in Paris by Aimie K. Runyan from William Morrow (NetGalley)
Anonymous Mom Posts by/from Jenifer Goldin (ebook)
Under the Influence by Noelle Crooks from Gallery (NetGalley)
Just Like That by Nina Kaye from Canelo (NetGalley)
One Christmas Morning by Rachel Greenlaw from Avon (NetGalley)


My Roommate Is a Vampire by Jenna Levine from Berkley (NetGalley)
Texas Rose Happily Ever After by Katie Graykowski from PR By the Book (NetGalley)
The Wagging Tails Dogs' Home by Sarah Hope from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Unleashed Holiday by Victoria Schade from Berkley (NetGalley)

The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer from HarperCollins (NetGalley)

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Book Review: The Golden Doves

By Jami Denison

Historical fiction author Martha Hall Kelly has set aside her Woolsey-Ferriday series to return to the horrors of World War II in her latest novel, The Golden Doves. With two protagonists and alternating time periods during and after the war, the book veers into some unexpected directions and brings up questions on entangling fact and fiction about such an important time period. 

The book begins in 1952. Former spies for the French Resistance, American Josie Anderson now works for the American government, helping to capture Nazis who’ve fled from justice. But after she learns of Operation Paperclip—the real-life program to bring Nazi scientists to the U.S. to work for the government—Josie balks at her assignment to bring over a notorious doctor who tortured women at the horrific female concentration camp Ravensbruck. In fact, Dr. Snow tortured and killed Josie’s own mother! Will she retrieve the man…. Or kill him herself? Meanwhile, her Parisian colleague Arlette LaRue is stunned by the news that her missing son Willie—torn from her arms when they were imprisoned in Ravensbruck—may be alive in an orphanage in French Guiana. Even though Josie warns her that French Guiana is a nest of former Nazis, Arlette has to find out the truth. 

I found The Golden Doves to be an uneven read. Although Kelly goes back in time to show the reader her heroines’ lives before the war—Josie the daughter of an American diplomat and a Jewish French singer; Arlette a teenage orphan living with a cruel aunt who gets pregnant by a Hitler Youth soldier—knowing that the women survive the war robs these sections of tension. Even worse, Arlette comes across as an apologist for the Nazis, making excuses for her German boyfriend and bragging about her baby’s three-quarters’ German blood. The events that put these two women together seem too coincidental and at times, contrived. As the book progresses, both women make errors in judgment over and over that seem unbelievable considering everything they have gone through, and Josie’s Army training in particular. 

As the book nears its conclusion, the genre seems to turn away from historical fiction into speculative and science fiction. I was reminded of the movie The Boys From Brazil, and read the author’s end note and scoured the internet to find out what was historical fact, and what Kelly had invented. For something as horrific as the Holocaust, I wonder about the appropriateness of adding more horror under the guise of fiction. Kelly also used composite characters to stand in for real Nazis, while including the names of others—specifically, Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor known as the Angel of Death who fled to South America after the war and was never punished for his crimes against humanity. Having a Mengele stand-in and mentioning the real Mengele was a head-scratcher for me, as was Kelly’s decision to end the book on a cliffhanger more appropriate for James Bond than historical fiction. (There was a great twist at the climax that I did not see coming, though.)

In her author’s note, Kelly says she was inspired by two real-life French Resistance spies, America Virginia d’Albert Lake and Briton Violetta Szabo. Readers interested in these stories might find Erika Robuck’s Sisters of Night and Fog a moving and consistent—albeit fictional—portrayal of these women. (Reviewed here.) She also mentioned other Nazi programs--such as the maternity homes for unmarried German girls and the bunk in Ravensbruck that allowed women to stay with their children--that she wanted to write about. With so much material, it’s not surprising that some of the war-time plot twists felt contrived. Kelly might have better served her readers by saving some material for future books. 

While I had issues with some of Kelly’s storytelling choices, I applaud her use of theme: that monsters die, but their monstrous ideas live on. Book banning, “fake news,” rolling back reproductive rights to encourage the “right type” of woman to have children, passing laws to hurt LGBTQ+ people… these were all Nazi tactics that are being used in the United States and other western countries today. Along with “Don’t Say Gay” and “Don’t Say Black,” how long until some red states begin to pass “Don’t Say Jewish” laws as well? Authors like Kelly make sure that the world will not forget its past, even as we are doomed to repeat it.   

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

More by Martha Hall Kelly:

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Thursday, April 20, 2023

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Shopping

We've been running a column series (for three years now!) to get more personal with our readers. This month, we're talking about shopping. Confessions of a Shopaholic is definitely a classic chick lit read. Are we shopaholics though? You'll just have to keep reading this post...

We both love Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. In honor of that and this topic, we have one little clip to share with you.

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:

There was a time in my life where I was a shopaholic. In my pre-teen and teenage years, I went to the mall almost every weekend, looking for clothes and accessories on which to spend my babysitting money. Of course, I went to the bookstore too! 

As an adult, I was more interested in stores where you could get the most for your money. I went to Walmart all the time and later switched to Target when there were not any Walmarts nearby. (I still love going to Walmart if I ever find myself in proximity to one.) When I lived in New Jersey, I loved going to Amazing Savings, which had all sorts of random stuff at low prices. I could get party goods, school supplies, toiletries, home decor, etc. in one place. 

Courtesy of Hot Yogi Moms

After we moved to Maryland, a friend introduced me to Unique/Value Village. It's the mother of all thrift stores, filled with clothes, shoes, games, books, household items, etc. I could spend all day there, and sometimes I practically did! I had a hard time paying retail prices for clothes after that. I also spent almost every Sunday at Target, just getting random things.  As for groceries, after some Aldi locations opened up nearby, I became addicted to that store. Lidl comes in close second and it's only a few minutes from where I live. (Aldi is a bit more of a drive.) And Five Below gives me Amazing Savings vibes, so I enjoy going there every so often. (It's usually next to Aldi.)

The time I dressed as a shopaholic for Purim

Nowadays, I am not so into shopping. I don't know when or why I lost interest, but I feel like I have to drag my feet to go to any store. I haven't gone thrift shopping in months, or at least it feels that way. Even when I'm shopping online, I have no idea what I need sometimes. It all feels like such a chore. 

I think some of my shopping apathy has to do with the way malls are these days. When I was growing up, malls had this magical appeal. These days, most of the shops seem like they are full of random junk. There are literally two different dollar stores right next to each other and neither of them are as appealing as Dollar (25) Tree. I do still enjoy going to Bath and Body Works though, and all the coupons I get in the mail lead me right to their door. 

I'm hoping the shopping bug will bite me again so shopping at least won't feel so annoying. I have been more practical in terms of what I purchase though. 

Sara Steven:

Two weeks ago, my eldest son let me know that he is going to his senior prom. It was the first I’d heard of it. I knew it was prom season, given the friends who’d posted pictures and video of their own children, dressed to the nines on social media. But my kid never mentioned it. 

His prom is this coming Saturday, so we needed to act fast. Flashbacks from my own prom experience floated up from the back of my subconscious; buying the dress. The ticket(s). Making dinner reservations. 

I’m a major planner, and was like that even in my teen years. I’m sure I bought the dress weeks in advance, and as you can see, I wore it after the event, too. The picture below is from the actual day of the prom, while the one with me leaning on the truck is a full year after the fact. I felt like wearing my dress, just because I could. 

My son needed a suit. ASAP. Which is why we spent yesterday afternoon at a Macy’s nearby, searching through the racks of various colored suits in the hope of finding one that would work well for him.

I’ve always known about the rites of passage that would come for him. Like, getting a driver’s license. High school graduation. College. But prom had slipped my mind. It was a surreal experience helping him choose the perfect black suit jacket and pants, and he selected a deep red button down dress shirt to go with it, complete with vest. The first go around, though, everything was a bit too large on him. He gripped at the waistband of his pants with one hand, while the jacket hung loose and limp around his lanky, long frame. 

I went in search of something that would fit better, grabbing various things from the racks, different sizes. I’ve never had to look for a suit for a man–using the word “man” feels a bit reaching, since I’m referencing my boy. But when he finally stepped out of the dressing room so I could see the latest ensemble in action, I was in awe of the man he is becoming. He looked so grown up. 

It is his first suit. His first pair of dress shoes. His first tie. He’s never had to wear a tie before. How can I in one split second see a young man and my “Buggy Boo” all at the same time? 

I’m excited for him. I’m sure he’s going to have a great time. It’s another milestone that he’ll most likely have memories of for the rest of his life, much like I have with my own prom experiences. I felt honored to be the one to help him choose his suit–and I’ve informed him that, as his mother, I get to take as many pictures as I want of him in said suit, regardless of how much he would rather I not. That’s my own rite of passage I won’t be missing out on. 

Do you like shopping? If so, where is your favorite place to spend money?

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Spotlight and Giveaway: Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat

Sonya Lalli's latest rom-com, Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat, is now available. It sounds like a fun concept and we're excited to share it with you today. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Jasmine Randhawa likes everyone to think she has it all—great job, perfect Seattle apartment, and a handsome boyfriend. But she’s not as confident or successful as she seems, and her relationship is at a breaking point.  

When Jasmine finds herself single and tagging along on her parents’ vacation, she’s not sure her life can get any farther off course. It's a nightmare for someone who's been so fiercely independent to find herself on a cruise full of family friends who’ve judged her since childhood. Things only get worse once the ship leaves the harbor and she realizes that this is a seniors’ cruise, and the only other person under fifty on the entire boat is her childhood acquaintance, cocky and successful Jake Dhillon.

Jasmine and Jake clash right away, with Jasmine smarting over how their South Asian community puts him on a pedestal as the perfect Indian son, whereas her reputation as a troublemaker precedes her. Except they can’t avoid each other forever during the ten-day cruise, and they soon recognize a surprising number of similarities, especially in how many secrets they’re keeping hidden from their families. Their restlessness seems to disappear whenever they’re together, but is this relationship strong enough to last on land? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

"An utterly divine enemies-to-lovers romp filled with breezy banter and her signature charm. Lalli created a vivid cast of characters that had me laughing out loud from the beginning. This book is sure to delight!"
—Amy Lea, author of Set on You

Credit: Ian Redd,
Vancouver Headshots, Inc.
Sonya Lalli is a romance and women’s fiction author of Punjabi and Bengali heritage. Her debut novel The Matchmaker’s List was a Target Diverse Book Club Pick, and Sonya's books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, NPR, The Washington Post, Glamour and more. She also writes psychological thrillers as S.C. Lalli. Sonya lives in Vancouver with her husband and their mini goldendoodle, Joey.

Visit Sonya 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 April 25th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Book Review: On the Sly

By Sara Steven

Sylvia Wilson, a bar owner in St. Louis, Missouri, arrives at work to discover the body of an ex-police officer in her locked bar.

The police focus on her as their primary suspect, so she decides to launch her own investigation into the dead man and his accomplices.

But when the killer sends her clear messages that she and her loved ones are on his radar, she knows it’s just a matter of time before someone ends up dead. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

On The Sly is a gritty experience. From the get go with the very first chapter, Sylvia attempts to enter her bar but finds the door is blocked by a dead body. The way it’s described was so matter-of-fact–it is what it is, and Sylvia is going to roll with the punches from it. That seems to be her mode of operation throughout most of the story. She is the quintessential badass who has been through enough in her young life, that the only way for her to deal with such a traumatic event is to deal with it. No hysterics needed. 

Given the circumstances surrounding the death, the only reasonable person who could have committed such a crime would be Sylvia herself, but the reader knows that’s not the case. We go right along with her while she attempts to figure out the truth, despite the pushback given to her by authorities. The more she delves into possible suspects, the more she makes herself look like she’s the number one suspect, but she chooses to continue on in order to get to the truth. It’s actually comical how frequently she has to reach out to the detectives on the case in order to feed them clues, and even though they’ve asked her several times not to involve herself, it’s obvious they’d be lost without her help. 

The culprit doesn’t want Sylvia involved. She’s unearthing too much, which instantly puts a target on her loved ones’ backs. One of the most unsettling moments for me involved a scene when Sylvia arrives home and finds that her beloved dogs have been tampered with. That part really affected me, because it involved not only the fact that her secure, safe space has been invaded, but her pets who have nothing to do with the situation had been messed with, and it really bothered me. While I’d felt like I was on a mission with Sylvia the whole time I read On The Sly, it was in that moment where I really committed to wanting to solve the murder just as much as she did!

There were a lot of moments where I was unsure of what would happen next, and it kept the story suspenseful and engaging. It was a great thriller experience!

Thanks to Wendy L. Koenig and Author Marketing Experts for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Susan Meissner has a beautiful soul

Credit: Berkley, 2022
We're pleased to have Susan Meissner back at CLC today to celebrate the publication of her latest historical fiction masterpiece, Only the Beautiful. Melissa gave it five stars and highly recommends it. Check out her review. We enjoyed hearing what Susan had to say about this novel and we know you will too. She is so lovely to chat with, and Melissa can attest to that after attending book club discussions with her via Zoom.

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than three-quarters of a million books in readers' hands and translations in eighteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Nature of Fragile Things, which earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly; The Last Year of the War, named to Real Simple magazine’s list of best books for 2019; As Bright as Heaven, which earned a starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014.

She attended Point Loma Nazarene University in California and makes her home with her husband and yellow Lab in the Pacific Northwest. (Bio courtesy of Susan's website.)

Visit Susan online:
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California, 1938—When she loses her parents in an accident, sixteen-year-old Rosanne is taken in by the owners of the vineyard where she has lived her whole life as the vinedresser’s daughter. She moves into Celine and Truman Calvert’s spacious house with a secret, however—Rosie sees colors when she hears sound. She promised her mother she’d never reveal her little-understood ability to anyone, but the weight of her isolation and grief prove too much for her. Driven by her loneliness she not only breaks the vow to her mother, but in a desperate moment lets down her guard and ends up pregnant. Banished by the Calverts, Rosanne believes she is bound for a home for unwed mothers, and having lost her family she treasures her pregnancy as the chance for a future one. But she soon finds out she is not going to a home of any kind, but to a place far worse than anything she could have imagined. 

Austria, 1947—After witnessing firsthand Adolf Hitler’s brutal pursuit of hereditary purity—especially with regard to “different children”—Helen Calvert, Truman's sister, is ready to return to America for good. But when she arrives at her brother’s peaceful vineyard after decades working abroad, she is shocked to learn what really happened nine years earlier to the vinedresser’s daughter, a girl whom Helen had long ago befriended. In her determination to find Rosanne, Helen discovers that while the war had been won in Europe, there are still terrifying battles to be fought at home. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

What was the inspiration behind writing Only the Beautiful?
When I was researching to write THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS, I came across a photo from the 1915 World’s Fair, which San Francisco hosted just nine years after the catastrophic earthquake that was the setting for that novel. The photo was of an exhibit at the Fair illuminating the benefits of eugenics. I remember thinking at the time that I needed to look into that, at what eugenics actually was. I’d heard about the eugenics movement before but only in passing; I really didn’t know what the crusade entailed nor how it impacted society. When the book that I was writing was finished, I dove in and found out. Everything I read about it chilled me to the core. It seemed like here was a time in our history that we ought not to forget; this time when we thought we could—and should—engineer the collective gene pool to create only wonderful, beautiful, perfect people.

Is there anything you had to take out of the story that you would have liked to keep?
I had a section devoted to a young child impacted by what happened to her birth mother at a state-run institution known for sterilizing its patients. In the end, it wasn’t actually needed to tell the story and I had to excise it. But I saved the chapters and might share them with readers of ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL at a later date. I think readers would like an inside look at this non-main character who nevertheless plays a significant role in the story. 

Who was your favorite character to write, Rosanne or Helen?
That’s a tough question! I was emotionally bonded to both, for different reasons. Rosanne’s personality is less like mine and I don’t have her unique ability, so in that respect Helen, who is more like me in lots of ways, was easier to write. But was she my favorite just because she was easier? I am not sure. I could probably ponder this question for days…

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
If I could bend the question a little I will answer by saying the last screen adaptation that I simply devoured was the miniseries Daisy Jones and The Six. I loved the book by Taylor Jenkins Reid and was cautiously optimistic about Amazon Prime taking it on as a project for the screen. But it was so well done, true to the book for the most part, and hauntingly evocative. I would recommend it even if a person hasn’t read the book. But read the book. Or better yet, listen to it on audio. The recorded version is simply stellar.

What is your go-to breakfast item?
I am pretty much a fan of all breakfast food options (pancakes, eggs benedict, omelets, grits, bacon, lox and bagels, chilaquiles) but my go-to probably needs to be what I actually go to (as in what I truly make and eat) and that would be sourdough toast with jam. The other delectables I mentioned I don’t actually prepare for myself very often but I sure do like them.

Tell us about your longest friendship.
My best friend from fifth grade is still my best friend. Kathy and I have been through it all together, puberty, junior high, and high school. We were each other’s maids of honor, raised kids at the same time though not in the same state and figured out our careers, mourned the passings of each other’s grandparents, cried and laughed and pondered life together. We’ve not lived in the same state for decades but geography hasn’t kept us from staying close. I can’t explain how we connected at the age of 10 and then just stayed connected the last fifty years. It was probably one part affinity, one part luck, and one part magic.

Thanks to Susan for visiting with us and to Berkley for facilitating this interview.

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Monday, April 17, 2023

Book Review: The Cuban Heiress

By Jami Denison

Reading the title of Chanel Cleeton’s latest novel, The Cuban Heiress, one might expect the book to take place during Cuba’s 1950s-era revolution, like many of her other books. But the title is a feint—which is fitting, because several of the novel’s characters aren’t who they pretend to be, either. The book takes place in 1934, and the historical event that occurs in the climax of the book has nothing to do with Cuba or the revolution. 

An early reference to Nick and Nora Charles gives readers a clue about plot and tone. (For younger readers, Nick and Nora were a married detective team featured in The Thin Man and several sequels; the plots featured murder, the dialogue was witty and the alcohol flowing.)  New York heiress Catherine Dohan is taking a cruise to Havana with her fiancé Raymond and his young daughter Ava. But when she catches the eye of jewel thief Harry, the charming ladies man quickly realizes Catherine isn’t who she pretends to be. Will he tell Raymond that his fiancée is a con woman? Or will he fall in love with her himself?

Meanwhile, hiding out in an empty tourist cabin is Elena Palacio. Legally, Elena is dead --  and the person who tried to kill her is on the ship. Will Elena get her revenge? Or will she get caught?

Most of the book is as quick and nimble as Nick and Nora. Catherine is tough and glamorous, and the chemistry between her and Harry is a lot of fun. Elena is mysterious, brave, and determined. There’s a surprising connection between the two women that the author reveals in the last third of the book as an unexpected twist. The narrative voice is smooth and sharp; the pacing is lively. Unfortunately, the ending didn’t work for me. I found it to be a deux en machina – unearned, lacking any setup, and unbelievable. 

Ironically, after I finished the book, I learned that the ending was based on a real event! I’d never heard of the Morro Castle, and for readers who haven’t heard of this ship, I won’t spoil the ending. Truth really is stranger than fiction!

Wait until you’ve finished The Cuban Heiress before you read about what happened. But make sure you read about it. Elena, Catherine, and Harry are fictional, but the stories of the real people on the Morro Castle deserve to be heard, too. 

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

More by Chanel Cleeton:

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Friday, April 14, 2023

Book Review: Better Off Wed


By Sara Steven

Olivia can’t believe it when her boyfriend, Teddy, proposes out of the blue. She loves him (of course she does!) BUT it does seem sudden, especially when they don’t even live together yet…

There is only one place that Olivia has ever wanted to get married - a gorgeous venue on the Cornish coast, built by her grandfather. The problem is they only have one date available - and it's only a few weeks away! Olivia isn't so sure about rushing but Teddy jumps at the chance to be married within the month.

Thrown into a whirlwind of wedding planning, alarm bells start to ring for Olivia. Are they doing this for the right reasons? Why is Teddy in such a rush? And when he fails to help with any part of the preparations, Olivia must find help elsewhere, with unexpected results...

As the countdown begins, will the wedding go ahead? Or will Olivia find that her future happiness lies elsewhere...? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Olivia (Liv) reminded me a bit of myself from years ago, when I had a tougher time in expressing my wants and needs, particularly when it meant going against the grain. She is a definite people pleaser, and it was obvious that even though she doesn’t always agree with what others want to do, she has a hard time asking for a compromise. It starts with her boyfriend, Teddy. When he proposes to her, she questions whether it’s the best decision to speed up a marriage, but doesn’t want to say anything in case it might hurt his feelings. 

This vein of people pleasing carries on throughout Better Off Wed. Soon enough, she’s bombarded with everyone else’s decisions, with no one really wanting to listen to her. And when she tries to speak up, she’s quickly shot down. I could feel the anxiety and frustration as she is continually steamrolled, to the point where she finds herself in a potential double wedding situation, with color choices, cake, flowers, and even her own wedding dress up for debate, with none of her own input. Meanwhile, Teddy is nowhere to be found, opting to focus more on business than on helping to plan their wedding. 

As the synopsis indicates, Liv finds help from an unexpected source, which eventually leads to questioning everything in her life. I liked how her own experiences are parallelled with the experiences her grandparents had so many years ago, a nice tie in to the one and only choice of hers that was upheld: to get married in the venue her grandfather had helped to create and build.  And even that is questionable. But gradually, she begins to find her voice, particularly with clarity on what she really wants. 

Despite how timid Liv can be when it comes to expressing herself, she does a great job of inserting one liners and snarky quips that were a lot of fun to read! Better Off Wed was the perfect reminder on how important it can be to spend time with those who appreciate who you are for who you are, without intentions to change you, and it was funny to see how certain people in Liv’s life encourage her humor, while others–the ones who most likely aren’t the right support system for her–try to squash that. I think we can find the answers to life in the most unexpected of places, and Liv experiences that. It was a fun, quirky read, but with a deeper message of finding your way, working on seeking less of the approval from people who aren’t really in your circle, and appreciating those who love you the way you are, and appreciate being in your circle. A definite five-star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

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:
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Thursday, April 13, 2023

Things are Going Swimmingly for Christy a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to welcome Christy Hayes to CLC to feature her latest novel, The Last Lap. We enjoyed chatting with Christy, as she is so kind and friendly. We hope you will enjoy getting to know her. Thanks to Christy, we have one copy of The Last Lap for a lucky reader!

Christy Hayes is a USA Today Bestselling author. She grew up along the eastern seaboard and received two degrees from the University of Georgia. An avid reader, she writes romance and women’s fiction. Christy and her husband have two grown children and live with a houseful of dogs in the foothills of north Georgia.

Visit Christy online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Megan Holloway has learned a few hard truths in her twenty-eight-years. Life isn’t fair. People she loves always leave. And she’ll be stuck on Key West running her parents’ gift store and raising her twelve-year-old niece for the rest of her life.

Thirty-year-old Bryan Westfall has come to Key West to clean out his dead brother’s apartment and search for answers about the woman who died with his estranged older brother. Bryan didn’t know the woman had a daughter and he sure didn’t expect her sister to floor him with her beauty and biting brashness.

Bryan’s persistent need to help and Meg’s bumbling business skills create an unlikely union. The more time they spend together, the more their feelings become too powerful to deny. Meg knows Bryan is leaving at the end of the summer and Bryan knows Meg is holding back to spare herself needless heartache. When a hurricane forces them to evacuate, Meg mentally prepares to let Bryan go while Bryan wonders if home is where he came from or is with the woman who stole his heart.
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing? 
Whenever someone says the characters or situations are realistic, that to me is the best compliment.
How are you similar to or different from your lead character? 
Meg and I are both younger sisters, but the comparison ends there. I’m lucky enough to have met the love of my life in college and I’ve been married for thirty years this November. 

If The Last Lap were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles? 
Maybe Emma Stone as Meg and Milo Ventimiglia as Bryan. Cliché choices, but they fit. She’s beautiful in an unconventional way and he’s adorable.

What is the strangest way you've become friends with someone? 
I was the ghostwriter for a faith-based father-son memoir after doing research for a book on athletes injured playing football, and stumbled across a CaringBridge page from a family in Iowa. I reached out to the dad after being incredibly moved by the entries and ended up writing their story. We are friends to this day. 

What is something that made you laugh recently? 
My dogs make me laugh daily. I love watching funny Instagram videos. Our family is always sending funny videos to each other.

Favorite travel spot? 
When it’s cold in the South, I like to go where it’s warm. I like the US Virgin Islands because it’s an easy flight from Atlanta and the weather is beautiful. When it’s summer and too hot to be outside, I like to go out West, specifically Colorado.

Thanks to Christy 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 April 18th at midnight EST.

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