Friday, September 29, 2023

Book Review: The Wake-Up Call

By Allyson Bales

It’s the busiest season of the year, and Forest Manor Hotel is quite literally falling apart. So when Izzy and Lucas are given the same shift on the hotel’s front desk, they have no choice but to put their differences aside and see it through.

The hotel won't stay afloat beyond Christmas without some sort of miracle. But when Izzy returns a guest’s lost wedding ring, the reward convinces management that this might be the way to fix everything. With four rings still sitting in the lost & found, the race is on for Izzy and Lucas to save their beloved hotel—and their jobs.

As their bitter rivalry turns into something much more complicated, Izzy and Lucas begin to wonder if there's more at stake here than the hotel's future. Can the two of them make it through the season with their hearts intact? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

O’Leary is one of my top auto-buy authors and The Wake-Up Call is her newest and might I say, best read yet! 

Forest Manor Hotel and Spa is in trouble.  Between Covid lockdown and less guests staying in hotels these days, this forty-year hotel might be on its last leg.  Izzy and Lucas need to work together to see if they can save it!  Problem is, they HATE each other!  Will they be able to do it?

The Wake-Up Call is definitely up there as one of my favorite reads of O’Leary’s.  This enemies to lovers rom-com is a bit less serious than some of O’Leary’s other books and I was enamored with the charming hotel and cast of characters from the very beginning.  I also love that it's a holiday romance!

The Forest Manor Hotel and Spa reminded me of a cozy, sweet hotel straight out of a Hallmark movie.  I pictured soft lighting, wood panels and cheer decor.  A huge christmas tree and a long staircase with wood banisters you can slide down.  Antique rooms and candlelight dinners and beautiful artwork hanging on the walls.   I loved that the story centers around saving this hotel!  Well, and also romance and love!

Izzy is sunshine and optimism.  She is original and was a nerdy kid growing up and believes that “putting good stuff out in the universe gets you good stuff back.”  Her enemy Lucas is all brooding and serious and grumpy.  They had a miscommunication last Christmas and have struggled to get along since.  I love that they have to work together to help the hotel and one of their most important jobs is to clean out the lost-and-found bin in hopes of making a little extra money to keep the hotel afloat. Izzy finds some wedding rings and decides she can’t sell them and would rather get them back to their rightful owners.  At first, Lucas thinks this is a waste of time but eventually sees the importance of it and they compete to get as many rings back to their rightful owners.  There is so much funny banter and their chemistry is off the charts!  I love their hard exteriors but over time you get to see softer versions of these two stubborn characters.  They both have suffered losses and they way they learn to take care of one another is my favorite. I also love how other members of the hotel staff and guests get involved!

Forest Manor has had to make major cutbacks and so many of the hotel staff really add to the story.  The owner Mrs SB is so thoughtful and I loved Poor Mandy and the cook Arjun too.  Mr. Townsend is so sweet and so is Barty, Ollie, and the Hedgers family, as well.  It is the perfect found family and I love characters that you root for and fall in love with!

The Wake-Up Call is the perfect blend of humor and more tender heartfelt deep moments.  It's the perfect book to get you into the holiday spirit and even makes some references to the movie Love, Actually, which is a Christmas favorite of mine!

If you haven't read O’Leary’s books, you must and after you read this one I would highly recommend The Flatshare and The No-Show. 

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

More by Beth O'Leary:

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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Emily Stone's latest holiday a book giveaway

We're pleased to welcome Emily Stone to CLC today. Her latest winter holiday rom-com, Love, Holly, is now available and it sounds like a really good story. Thanks to Dell, we have a copy to give away!

Emily Stone is the author of Always, in December and One Last Gift. She lives and works in the UK and wrote her first novel in an old Victorian manor house with an impressive literary heritage. Visit Emily on Twitter and Instagram.

Ever since an accident three years ago, Holly has been part of a lonely-hearts letter writing club for the holidays. The tradition is something she has come to treasure: Each December, she writes to a stranger who is also spending Christmas alone and receives a letter from another lonely person.

Usually, the letters go unanswered. That's the point—the letters are anonymous, and the sender writes whatever is in their heart. But this year, the letter Holly receives is different; not only is the letter full of a grief she knows all too well, but its writer, Emma, mentions a place that Holly has visited. When she realizes she might actually be able to find the letter’s author, Holly becomes determined to reunite Emma with the estranged grandson, Jack, that she’s desperate to reconnect with.

And when Holly finally tracks him down, she realizes she’s met Jack once before…and the connection was electric. The spark between the two of them is still there--until a misunderstanding risks their burgeoning romance and his strained relationship with Emma, too. But Holly is determined; if she can fix Emma’s family, she might also be able to fix her own. Though as it turns out, Holly might have less time to put things right than she thought…

“Written with her signature charm, Emily Stone’s Love, Holly is a heartfelt novel that will endear readers.”

“Stone dazzles in this emotional and immersive holiday romance. . . . As [the characters] navigate their relationships with each other, all learn stirring lessons about the meaning of family, the preciousness of time, and the strength in forgiveness. Readers should have tissues at the ready.” 
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
I read pretty much all of my Netgalley reviews (even though I know you shouldn't), and I absolutely love it when readers or bloggers tag me in a review on Instagram to say they enjoyed one of my books. The bad reviews aren't so fun, but even then, I try to take on board why someone thinks that for future. (I don't know if this is helpful or not - only time will tell!). Hearing that someone enjoyed something you've written makes it all worth it and feels like the biggest privilege. However, because I quite often write about grief, intersected with other things, I have had some incredibly lovely messages where readers engage with the book on a personal level, and message to tell me that they feel seen, or that it helped them come to terms with their own grief. That is so incredibly special, and something that always makes me quite emotional! 
How is Holly similar to or different from you?
I think Holly is probably a little cooler and more artistic than me! I would love to be more artistic and be good at drawing or painting or sculpting - but I never have been! So it was fun to write Holly, who is very artistic, and sort of live that dream vicariously. I can be a bit disorganised sometimes, like Holly is, and I think I can be impulsive at times, so I very much understand Holly getting herself into trouble because she acts without fully thinking things through... 
If Love, Holly were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
 I find this question SO difficult, because I don't actually think that visually! I don't picture my characters when I write them, and sometimes my editors have to push me a little to make sure there's enough physical description of the characters in the book. So even if there is physical description there, I couldn't tell you what any of the characters look like! So not taking into account looks, I think Maggie Smith would make a great Emma, maybe Emma Stone for Holly because I think she does the quirky lovable protagonist so well (but also because she basically has the same name as me), and Theo James for Jack - though I'm not really sure why?
What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I just read Happy Place by Emily Henry which I'm sure everyone will have read already but which I loved! I also totally jumped on the Fourth Wing bandwagon and am now counting down the days until Iron Flame is released. I was also lucky enough to read an early proof of Sophie Cousens' new book The Good Part, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

If your life were a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it? 
I have never thought of this before! I really don't know... Maybe Joanna Lumley because she's legendary and so funny! 

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
Oooh - how far can we travel?? Everyone will be hopping on a plane to England, and I'm living on the border of Wales right now. There are some beautiful country walks to go on, and we could go and visit the Victorian manor house where I wrote my debut novel, Always, in December. Bristol is nearby and has some great independent restaurants - so dinner out there for sure. There is actually a castle nearby - Chepstow castle - which I think is fun if you're visiting! 

Thanks to Emily for chatting with us and to Dell 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 October 3rd at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Book Review: Only Love Can Hurt Like This

By Becky Gulc

It has been way too long since I read a Paige Toon novel! I shared my love for Paige’s writing way back in 2012 (when I first started reviewing for the blog) as part of an author tribute for International Chick Lit Month (Chick Lit Central: Toon in TODAY!). Although I hadn’t read Paige’s more recent novels, I was determined to rectify this when I was inundated on social media with positivity and praise for her latest novel, Only Love Can Hurt Like This. Part of me wondered if, as time has gone by, whether I would enjoy the book as much as I had previous novels, but I’m pleased to say I loved this book. So what is the novel about?

‘Neither of them expected to fall in love. But sometimes life has other plans.

When Wren realises her fiancé is in love with someone else, she thinks her heart will never recover.

On the other side of the world, Anders lost his wife four years ago and is still struggling to move on.

Wren hopes that spending the summer with her dad and step-family on their farm in Indiana will help her to heal. There, amid the cornfields and fireflies, she and Anders cross paths and their worlds are turned upside-down again.

But Wren does not know that Anders is harbouring a secret, and if he acts on any feelings he has for Wren it will have serious fall-out for everyone.

Walking away would hurt Wren more than she can imagine. But, knowing the truth, how can she possibly stay?’ (Synopsis courtesy of Penguin UK.)

I developed a soft-spot for all of the main characters, I felt I grew to understand them all slowly and surely, as Wren does herself. I particularly found Wren’s relationship with her dad, stepmother, and half-sister interesting and very moving at times. The book captures the complexities of parental relationship breakdown for children and the challenges of blended families were covered well. I could resonate with some of Wren’s feelings, so this element of the story drew me in in particular and I loved the scenes with Wren and her half-sister Bailey and how their relationship developed.  

Then of course there’s Anders, and again let’s just say Paige is extremely reliable at creating delectable love interests! I instantly loved Anders, and his vulnerability, strength and good-heart came across right from the beginning. On the other hand, Anders is a hard to read character and I loved to see how Wren interacted with him and challenged him and his path, and how he interacted with his family, in particular, his brother Jonas who he cares deeply about and is very protective towards. 

We know from the synopsis that Anders is struggling himself with loss. I don’t want to spoil anything, but needless to say I didn’t pre-empt how his story would evolve and what would be revealed, but it made complete sense when it did. Again, Paige deals with a sensitive situation carefully and with respect and I just ended up loving the characters even more. This reveal came at just the right point in the novel for me; it was quite far in and I think that just shows how clever the writing is to not guess what’s coming, or necessarily to expect that something is coming that is so profound. Very clever.

The setting, as ever with Paige, is so clear to picture I felt like I was right there in Indiana with Wren on the farm and playing pool with Wren and Bailey and the boys in the bar. 

This is a book which definitely made me feel warm and cosy inside and I need to see these characters in future novels, please, to check-in on them! Now my review is done I shall go back to singing the song (Paloma Faith) which has been on my brain a lot recently which isn’t a bad thing! 

More by Paige Toon:

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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Spotlight and Giveaway: Faking Christmas

We are always glad to feature Kerry Winfrey's delightful rom-coms at CLC! Her latest, Faking Christmas, is now available and we are celebrating with a giveaway. Check out Melissa's five-star reviewThanks to Berkley, we have one copy to share with a lucky reader!

Laurel Grant works as the social media manager for Buckeye State of Mind, an Ohio tourism magazine and website. She most definitely does not run a farm . . . but one tiny misunderstanding leads her boss, Gilbert, to think she owns her twin sister Holly’s farm just outside of Columbus. Laurel only handles the social media for the farm, but she’s happy to keep her little white lie going if it means not getting fired—she cannot be jobless again.

And keep it going she must when Gilbert, recently dumped by his wife, invites himself over for the farm’s big Christmas Eve Eve dinner (as advertised on Meadow Rise Farm’s Instagram, thanks to Laurel herself). Laurel immediately goes into panic mode to figure out how she can trick Gilbert into thinking she’s basically the Martha Stewart of rural Ohio and keep her job in the process.

Laurel and Holly come up with the perfect plan—all Laurel has to do is pretend to own the farm for one dinner. But Laurel shows up at the farm to find an unwelcome guest is waiting: Max Beckett, her nemesis since Holly’s wedding. The annoyingly attractive man she hates will be posing as Laurel’s husband just for the evening, but when a snowstorm traps them all for the entire weekend, Laurel is going to have to figure out how to survive with her job and dignity intact. Whatever the case, this promises to be the most eventful Christmas in ages. . . .

"Kerry Winfrey was made to write a Christmas romance, and Faking Christmas fills the bill perfectly! A cozy Hallmark Christmas movie in book form, it's warm and sweet, quirky and just a little silly. The kind of Christmas story I'd want to re-read every December."
—Jen DeLuca, author of Well Traveled

"Kerry Winfrey never misses! This take on a Christmas classic is so full of charm, swoon and smiles that I'm ready for a re-read and I just finished it! If ever there was a perfect holiday rom-com, Faking Christmas is it!"
—Lynn Painter, New York Times bestselling author of The Love Wager

“Like Mariah Carey performing 'All I Want for Christmas Is You,' Kerry Winfrey hits all the right notes in this super cozy and charmingly chaotic enemies-to-lovers romcom. Faking Christmas is a story you'll want to snuggle up with again and again—the perfect comfort read for the holiday season. I enjoyed every hilarious, heartfelt moment of this delightful book!”
—Sarah Adler, author of Mrs. Nash's Ashes

Photo by Alex Winfrey
Kerry Winfrey is the author of the romantic comedies WAITING FOR TOM HANKS , NOT LIKE THE MOVIES,  VERY SINCERELY YOURS, and JUST ANOTHER LOVE SONG, all published by Berkley. She’s also the author of two YA novels. She lives with her family in the middle of Ohio. (Bio courtesy of Kerry's website.)

Visit Kerry 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 October 1st at midnight EST.

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Friday, September 22, 2023

Book Review: The Christmas Orphans Club

By Allyson Bales

Hannah and Finn have spent every Christmas together since college. Neither has anywhere else to go—Hannah’s parents died, and Finn’s disowned him when he came out. Their tradition of offbeat holiday adventures only grows more outrageous with time. When the pair starts their adult lives in New York City, they add stylish Priya and mysterious Theo to the group, solidifying a found family and sense of belonging they’ve always craved.

But now, when Finn announces a move to L.A., this Christmas may be their last. Hannah is terrified of losing the family she’s built for herself, even as her boyfriend nudges her toward commitment. Meanwhile, Finn struggles with the things he’s about to leave behind—namely, his unexpressed feelings for Theo. Does growing up mean growing apart? This Christmas the changes these friends fear may be exactly what they need. . . . (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

The lead up to Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year!  The weather is cozy, you're coming off that turkey or tofu turkey glow and feeling thankful after Thanksgiving.  One of my favorite thing to do starting December first was to watch Christmas movies with my cousin.  She absolutely loved the Hallmark channel but I loved movies with a little more...substance and drama!   This book reminded me of the perfect blend of Elf and Love, Actually.  It really gets you into the holiday spirit but also centers around friendship, love, and has that substance.    

There is a friend group that reminded me so much of my friends from college.  Hannah and Finn meet in their freshman year.  I related to and had some much in common with Hannah.  She is a Jersey girly and loves music, the movie Garden State, and read Goosebumps as a kid.  She is also fiercely loyal and quite the worrier.  Finn loves fantasy novels and the TV show Parks and Recreation, and is a bleeding heart.  They both are alone on Christmas and come together to celebrate every year.  Later on they meet Priya and Theo and their holiday adventures become more outrageous!

While this book revolves around this quirky and endearing friend group celebrating Christmas each year, there are more deeply layered themes surrounding found family and how friendship can change over time.  I really can relate to this and to be honest, struggled a lot like Hannah. 

“Lately it feels like we have so much less time for each other.  It used to be a given that the four of us would spend our weekends together.  We didn’t need restaurant reservations or concert tickets to bind us to a date and time.  If we didn't have something to do, we’d find something to do.  But now it takes thirty emails and a Google Calendar invite each month in advance to lock in a date, and even then there’s a fifty percent chance at least one person bails.”

Like Hannah, Finn, Theo, and Priya, I spent nearly every day with my friends from college and my early twenties.  They were more than just my friends, a lot of them have become my family.  As we have gotten older and life has become more complicated, the shift of time spent and getting together every day has changed.  I think so many people go through these changes and I love the way Freeman explores this.  I also really enjoyed her writing style.

There is so much funny banter, alternative points of view, and a non-linear timeline that really keeps you laughing and invested in the story.  I also loved all of the pop-culture and music references.  Freeman also explores sexual identity and grief in a relatable way.  There were so many sweet and funny and also more serious and heartfelt moments in this amazing book!

If you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit with a little more depth than a Hallmark movie, this one is perfect and one I highly recommend!

Also I did not know Becca Freeman has a podcast, Bad on Paper, but I do now and WOW!  I started listening on my way into work today and I now can't wait for Becca and her co-host Olivia Muenter to become part of my daily routine! 

Thanks to Viking for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase The Christmas Orphans Club here.

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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Book Review: Things We Do For Love

By Sara Steven

Daisy Bach, a therapist, has always been certain that she did not want to have children. Her childhood experiences with an overbearing and controlling mother, Verity, who tore the family apart, further cemented this decision. However, at the age of forty-five, Daisy finds herself reconsidering this choice. Unfortunately, her decision to try and conceive is complicated by her mother's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. With strained family relationships, Daisy faces the daunting task of caring for her elderly parents while also attempting to conceive. As she navigates this challenging time, Daisy is forced to confront her deep-seated resentment towards Verity. This journey leads her to re-evaluate her beliefs about motherhood, forgiveness, and the true meaning of a "happy" family. Will Daisy find a way to reconcile with her past and make peace with her present? Only time will tell. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

I appreciated the different viewpoints provided by key characters in Things We Do For Love. We delve into the inner workings of Daisy, along with her sisters Iris and Heather, and moments with both Verity and her husband Sol provide even more background into this family and the struggles that can come when managing a loved one with a brain disorder. 

There is undeniable realism here. At one point, Daisy becomes insistent on finding a caregiver for her mother, because she doesn’t want to be the one who is “stuck” taking care of her. Her feelings stem from the resentment she has towards Verity, the way Daisy had been raised and never felt like she measured up to Verity’s impossible standards. I feel like a lot of media we see that shines a light on Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders will portray a strong family unit that despite everything, will pull together for the greater good. In reality, it isn’t always like that. Sometimes, there are stumbling blocks and a lot of deep-seated issues that need to be worked out first. It’s apparent there is a lot of that for Daisy.

It was also incredibly insightful to see Verity’s perspective. She highlights on just how much she focused solely on the family for decades, doing everything she could for her children and husband, with feeling loss at seeing those reins slip slowly from her fingers. Maybe she has been too hard on everyone, including herself, but it is tough not to feel for her and at some points, even identity with her point-of-view.

Things We Do For Love is a complex, relatable experience. Having a family member of my own who had dementia and seeing how that affected not just him but everyone around him, I could really relate to not only Daisy’s story, but Verity’s as well.  

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Vered Neta has lived in three different countries for the last six decades, so trying to trace her origins is a thrilling quest. Nowadays she lives in Tenerife on an off-the-grid finca creating a self-sustained life for her and her partner while writing her novels and scripts.

Her stories are character-driven dramas, giving voice to the untold stories of women and their triumphs in today's society. Her mission? To illuminate the world with kindness and positivity, one story at a time.

Vered's words have touched countless lives through her multiple books on motivation and relationships. Her book "Financial Independence for Women" sold over 50,000 copies.

In 2010 Vered was awarded the TIAW World of Difference Award, an award given to women whose efforts have advanced women's economic empowerment locally, regionally or worldwide.

Visit Vered online:
Website * Facebook

Visit all the stops on Vered's blog tour:

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Beginning the day with Jackie a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to welcome Jackie Fraser to CLC to talk about her latest novel, The Beginning of Everything. We enjoyed getting to know her and we hope you will too. Thanks to Dell Books, we have THREE copies for some lucky readers!

Jackie Fraser is a freelance editor and writer. She's worked for AA Publishing, Watkins, the Good Food Guide, and various self-published writers of fiction, travel and food guides, and self-help books. She reads a lot (no, really), in multiple genres, and is fascinated by the Bronze Age. She likes vintage clothes, antique fairs, and photography. She also likes cats. Visit Jackie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

After escaping a bad relationship, Jess Cavendish is running and leaving it all behind, carrying just a few treasured belongings in her knapsack. She needs to start over, but that means sleeping where she can and making the most of her slim savings. Luckily, she comes across a recently sold, unoccupied house. It couldn’t hurt to stay there while she saves up enough to get her own place, right?

Gethin Thomas is also looking to move on after the end of a long-term relationship. He’s returned to his hometown, anxious to renovate the fixer-upper he bought and move out of his sister’s cramped guest room. When he walks through the door one morning, he finds Jess, who’s ready to run again, and surprises them both by offering to let her stay. It feels like the right thing to do, but Jess doesn’t want a handout. They strike a bargain: Jess will help with the restoration, furnishing, and decorating in exchange for room and board.

While they peel wallpaper and shop for new furniture, an unexpected friendship develops as they bond over music and food, and slowly open up to each other about their pasts. When it’s time for Gethin to move in, he convinces Jess to be his official housemate and she agrees—so long as he lets her pay rent. The connection between them soon shifts to an attraction that seems both inevitable and overwhelming, and Jess must decide what she wants. With so much hurt in her past, can she risk loving again? She was brave enough to reach for a new life—and now a future she hadn’t even dreamed possible could be just within her grasp.

“A charming book about hope for a new life full of love!”
—Nancy Thayer, New York Times bestselling author of All the Days of Summer

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
I had a nice one last week actually, when someone said my first novel was ‘quite possibly the loveliest book I’ve ever read’. I mean, wow! Twice I’ve had comments that the book was comforting to people who’d lost their partners, which was very unexpected and surely one of the most amazing things anyone could say about something you’d written. Like all writers I am inclined to remember negative comments more than positive ones, so I only read my four- and five-star reviews. There is nothing more satisfying than when someone ‘gets’ what you’re trying to do with your writing, so any review where the reader is on board with my efforts makes me very happy.

How is Jess similar to or different from you?
Her life has been a lot less settled than mine, so she’s maybe more uncertain or less self-assured than I am (most of the time), but we were definitely similar sorts of teenagers, and we share an interest in gardening. Our families are very different though. We’d get on, I think – I know or have known lots of people a bit like Jess.

If The Beginning of Everything were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
This is one of those questions I’m really bad at! I can never think of anyone when people ask this. It would be nice to cast a Welsh actor for Gethin, so maybe Ioan Gruffudd. He’s about the right age and has good hair. Olivia Colman looks good with a crop, and she’s such a brilliant performer she could play anyone, I think she could do Jess justice.

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?
I don’t watch much TV, but I did binge Good Omens 2 recently and I am always up for multiple episodes of What We Do in the Shadows.

What is your favorite autumn activity?
As a recovering goth I love spooky season and am always keen to purchase more unnecessary Halloween nonsense. I also like going out to look at the leaves changing colour, and enjoy the change from sandals to boots. We usually go on holiday in the autumn and the light is always amazing, I love that heavy sunshine you get on clear autumn days.

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
Jane Austen used to come to dances in my town and she shopped here as well. That party where she met the man she was engaged to for five minutes is just round the corner. There’s a nice selection of things to look at for Janites, her various homes are not far away and the Hampshire countryside is delightful. Perhaps we could look at her house and then have afternoon tea. If you’re not bothered about Jane Austen, we’re only forty minutes from Stonehenge in one direction, or the delights of London in the other.

Thanks to Jackie for visiting with us and to Dell 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 26th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Sara and Melissa Talk About...School (Again)

We've been running a column series (for over three years now!) to get more personal with our readers. This month, we are talking about school, since it's back-to-school season and all. You are not having déjà vu if you've been following our columns for a while. We talked about school a couple of years ago, but this time we're doing something different with our thoughts on the topic. 

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

Sara Steven:

I’m currently in my hometown of Salem, Oregon, visiting a close childhood friend of mine. She had a housewarming party over the weekend that I was unable to attend, but I saw enough of the photos and videos to know it was like a mini-reunion with several of our former classmates from high school, middle school, and some even from elementary school! 

I’d originally planned on writing about my two sons and how much transition we’ve all had this year, with the oldest starting his freshman year at Arizona State University, and his little brother is now a middle schooler, but thinking about the mini-reunion and my own school years reminded me of how much transition I’d dealt with myself when I was just a kid. 

My college freshman has only been enrolled in two elementary schools during his youth. Moving from Nebraska to Arizona after his fourth grade year was more difficult on me than it was on him, I think, largely due to feeling conflicted on making him start over at a brand new school, where he knew no one. The middle schooler has only ever known one school his entire life–well, now two, if you count his middle school. But he's with the same children he’s grown with since kindergarten; the same familiar faces are all he’s ever known.   

By the time I hit sixth grade, I’d gone to five schools. FIVE. And the funny thing is, they were all schools in the same city! It’s not like I left town or moved to another state. 

The roster looks something like this:

Liberty Elementary School: First and Second grade years. It was close enough that I would walk there, alone. Which is something I would have never been comfortable with for my own kids at that age, but it was also the eighties and parents were a lot more free-range in those days. I still remember some of my teachers, particularly my first grade teacher, Mrs. Jarvis. The school counselor there was also pretty amazing. So amazing, that she had a school named after her years later! But due to a district change and where I lived, I moved on to...

Salem Heights Elementary School: For my third and half of my fourth grade year. I was bussed there due to how far away it was from where I lived, which never made sense to me and still doesn’t. Maybe Liberty was overpopulated and they needed to move some kids around to other schools. I mostly remember the bond I formed with one friend with hearing loss, who had taught me sign language and I’d become fluent. I loved communicating with her. But then I moved from my mother’s home and ended up living permanently with my father, which meant...

Four Corners Elementary School: I only went to this school for the remainder of the fourth grade year. I recall Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car” was a huge hit around that time and we’d all sing it during recess while swinging around on the monkey bars. The move from Liberty to Salem Heights had been tough for me, with having to make adjustments with new teachers and students, but with Four Corners, I felt like I could tackle the newness. I built some resiliency.

Swegle Elementary School: We moved to another part of Salem and my fifth grade year was spent at Swegle. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Weatherbee, a name I will never forget, and amazingly enough, one of my classmates at Swegle ended up becoming a classmate later on during high school, later leading me to her sister, who I’m still best friends with to this day. I decided to participate in the school spelling bee that year, but was knocked out of the running when I had to spell “occasion.” 

Brush College Elementary School: We moved again to the West Salem district–another area of town I was unfamiliar with. A new school I was unaccustomed to. The resiliency I felt before had worn off some. I think age and awareness, the need to be accepted made me more nervous and edgy. When I walked into the doors of Brush College, I saw a girl there in the lobby area, and after seeing me standing around looking lost, she asked me if I were new or needed help. She was this little lanky blond thing, sweet. I tried to find my voice, letting her know that yes–I’m new. She asked me if I knew who my teacher would be and what grade I was in, and when I said I was a sixth grader and was in Mrs. Shacher’s class, her whole face lit up.

“I’m also in Mrs. Shacher’s class!” she said.

I never knew how brash and strong and amazing she’d become, some thirty plus years later….she’s my longest childhood friendship, and the one I’m currently visiting. 

There are times I reflect on my childhood and I wish I’d been able to stick with one school long enough to form long-lasting bonds. Some friendships I remember feeling fiercely loyal to, but then I’d move and as hard as we would try, we never stayed in touch. I love that my two sons have friendships that span years, or that my oldest has his “core four”--four friends he’s had since we moved to Arizona who are his closest friendships. I love that my youngest has best friends he’s had since kindergarten. I’m glad I’ve been able to foster that. But I think I learned a lot from how much I moved around, how often I had to change schools and meet new people. I think it’s helped to shape who I am today, and of course–some friendships have stood the test of time, no matter what. My childhood bestie and I are proof of that. 

Melissa Amster:

Since I last posted about this topic, I found out that my favorite teacher is retiring next year. That makes me feel old, considering he started teaching my freshman year. Anyway, he has worked hard and made a huge difference for many students and I hope his retirement will be relaxing and enjoyable.

On to something else now...

This is the last year all three of my kids will be in grades K-12. That is because my oldest will be graduating next summer and then going to college. I am not ready for this and I do not want to talk about this topic much. It just needed to be said. 

Instead, I really came here to talk about what an uninvolved parent I am. I care about what my kids do at school and how they are doing with their grades, but when Back-to-School Night comes around, I do not attend for any of my kids. I attended one time at my oldest's middle school and it was torturous. Trying to find all the classrooms and then sitting through syllabuses and rules and not understanding what half of the class was even going to be about. So yeah, it was a long and dragged out night and I am not into that. 

Another thing was signing up for middle school and then high school. My husband gets to do all that fun stuff because it just overwhelms me and it will never get done if I am in charge. And don't even get me started on the college process. I actually sat through a virtual meeting because no one else was available to do it at the time. I mostly copied and pasted screenshots from the presentation though. I just can't bring myself to get involved in college application stuff. I trust my son knows what he is doing and my husband can help with that too. 

Don't even get me started on PTA or PTSA or whatever other parent thing you want me to join. I don't sign up for those. The most I do is volunteer to send treats to school with my kids on teacher appreciation days. I just don't have the bandwidth to volunteer. However, last year I offered to help one of the nights at my son's school play and then just stood around doing nothing because they didn't end up actually needing my help. I don't think I'll be doing that again!

I usually do not read the weekly newsletters or listen to the weekly update calls. Those just tend to annoy and overwhelm me. If I need information, I will seek it out. I also don't help with homework because most of it is stuff I forgot from my years of going to school or it is just too complex to even ponder. 

One thing I do, however, is attend IEP meetings for two of my kids. Thankfully, the meetings are pretty straightforward and easy to get through and hearing good things about my kids will never get old! That's about as involved as I get.

I've been through school once and that was more than enough for me. As long as my kids continue to do well at their schools, I'm happy. I don't need to be heavily involved.

I saw this posted on Facebook recently and was amused.
Just change Beyonce to Broadway shows... 😂
(For the record, if it was necessary for me to see the teacher, I would!)

What are your thoughts on school?

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Book Review: Perfectly Nice Neighbors

By Jami Denison

Good fences make good neighbors, so the saying goes. Kia Abdullah knows her allusions, and when she begins her new novel, Perfectly Nice Neighbors, with a broken fence, it’s clear that the two families sharing this fence are going to be broken as well. 

When Salma Khatun and her family move into the English estate of Blenheim, she’s eager for a fresh start. The pandemic led her husband Bil to lose his Pakistani restaurant, and their son Zain’s problems at school forced them to leave their old neighborhood. But the new start falters almost immediately. Zain’s “Black Lives Matter” banner is ripped out of the ground, and when Salma puts it inside the window, the window is painted over. Could the culprit be her next-door-neighbor, Tom? 

Tom, a white advertising executive, has a blond wife, Willa, and a partially deaf son, Jamie. He claims he’s not racist; he would disapprove of any neighbor who planted a banner (they’re prohibited in the neighborhood), parked too close to his driveway, or let the dog squeeze under his fence. Salma is haughty and needs to know her place. 

As the adults go at each other with an escalating series of tit-for-tat, Jamie and Zain form a tentative friendship. But as the stakes get higher, it’s clear that someone is going to get hurt.

Neighbors is an almost perfectly structured book, with a lean cast and a fast pace. Tom, Willa, Salma, and Zain are all (third person) point-of-view characters; Bil and Jamie seem to share a vulnerability that leaves them prey to bullies. 

Of all the characters, Salma is the most well-rounded. A teacher, she tries to understand the people around her, how the events in their lives have shaped them. Still, she admits that tall, blond Willa brings out a visceral reaction in her—she just doesn’t trust white women. Readers won’t trust her, either—newly pregnant after years of trying, Willa still smokes and drinks behind her husband’s back. More broadly, she’s a snob who thinks she married beneath herself, and her friends are snobs, too. 

Tom doesn’t come off too well, either. He admits to anger issues, and he thinks that should absolve him of racism because he’s an equal opportunity rage-a-holic. He rarely takes responsibility for his actions, always blaming others. Readers will not empathize with Tom or Willa, and their points-of-view seem to be included in order to ramp up the tension rather than to try to balance a story of two families. 

Abdullah’s previous book, Next of Kin, is daring in both plot and plot twists. Her trademark is to leave scenes early and let readers erroneously fill in the gaps. Neighbors is such a straightforward read that it seems impossible she’ll be able to do this. Don’t let your guard down! 

The book climaxes with a nice twist, but the ending is downright chilling. Abdullah begins the book referring to one cliché--Good fences make good neighbors—and ends with another one: What goes around comes around. 

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

More by Kia Abdullah:

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Spotlight and Giveaway: Cleat Cute

Today we are celebrating the publication of Meryl Wilsner's latest sapphic rom-com, Cleat Cute. It is perfect for fans of Ted Lasso, Bend it Like Beckham, and A League of Their Own. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy for a lucky reader!

Grace Henderson has been a star of the US Women’s National Team for ten years, even though she’s only 26. But when she’s sidelined with an injury, a bold new upstart, Phoebe Matthews, takes her spot. 22-year-old Phoebe is everything Grace isn’t—a gregarious jokester who plays with a joy that Grace lost somewhere along the way. The last thing Grace expects is to become teammates with benefits with this class clown she sees as her rival.

Phoebe Matthews is too focused on her first season as a professional soccer player to think about seducing her longtime idol. But when Grace ends up making the first move, they can’t keep their hands off of each other.

As the World Cup approaches and Grace works her way back from injury, a miscommunication leaves the women with hilariously different perspectives on their relationship. But they’re on the same page on the field, realizing they can play together instead of vying for the same position. With every tackle the tension between them grows, and both players soon have to decide what's more important—being together or making the roster.

"Wilsner breaks new ground with a sporty twist on the meet-cute trope...Fans of the popular Apple TV show Ted Lasso and the classic sporty romance film Bend It Like Beckham will cheer for this sexy sapphic romcom that fills a gap in the heretofore male-dominated sports-romance genre." - Booklist

"Wilsner makes this sports romance a winner." - Publishers Weekly

Credit: Brooke Wilsner
Meryl Wilsner writes happily ever afters for queer folks who love women. They are the author of Something to Talk About and Mistakes Were Made. Born in Michigan, Meryl lived in Portland, Oregon and Jackson, Mississippi before returning to the Mitten State. Some of Meryl's favorite things include: all four seasons, button down shirts, the way giraffes run, and their wife.

Visit Meryl 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 September 25th at midnight EST.

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Monday, September 18, 2023

Book Review: Sycamore Circle

By Melissa Smoot

There's a lot going on in Joy Howard's life. She's got an ex-husband who starts acting like he doesn't want to be an ex anymore, a sixteen-year-old daughter in need of a guiding hand and a lot of rides to dance practice, more orders for paintings than she has time to paint, and a roster of tutoring clients who sometimes need far more than she can give.

What she doesn't have is time for a new relationship.

Samuel "Bo" Beauman is a lot of things. He's a counselor for transitioning ex-cons, a good friend to many, a construction worker, a brother and son, and even a part-time model for a high-end sportswear catalog. He's also a man searching for redemption.

One thing he isn't is a man in need of a girlfriend.

But none of that seems to matter when Bo hears Joy's kind voice in a crowded coffee shop. He instantly knows she's someone he wants to know better. The two of them hit it off--much to the dismay of practically everyone they know--but Bo doesn't care what other people think. He feels at peace whenever he's with Joy, and he won't let her go without a fight.

When Joy starts getting mysterious texts and phone calls from unknown numbers, she tries to ignore it. But instead of going away, the messages escalate and Joy realizes she can't handle it alone. But she is juggling a jealous ex-husband, a handful of students with little to lose, and a brand-new boyfriend who spent several years behind bars. Who can she trust? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Sycamore Circle is the second book in the series The Rumors in Ross County, by Shelley Sheppard Gray. You do not have to read the first book in the series, Edgewater Road, to understand Sycamore Circle, but I am glad that I did. I felt it gave me more of a background into the characters that reappeared in the second book. 

Sycamore Circle takes place in a rural Ohio town near Amish country. Many of the main characters are men that have served time in prison for various crimes. Although they are ex-cons, they are all trying to put good back into the world and move forward in their lives with the help of Lincoln Bennett. Lincoln started a program to rehabilitate and help former prisoners assimilate back into life on the “outside”. He and his men help them find places to live, jobs, and even provide a lot of advice and counseling. 

One of Lincoln’s men, Bo, happens to meet the kindest woman he has ever met and is falling hard for her. Joy has a teenage daughter, is a literacy tutor, and everyone adores her. What could an ex-con and a wholesome mom possibly have in common? The story takes many twists and turns and had me reading into the wee hour of the night just to find out what would happen. 

If you are looking for a feel-good book with just the right amount of suspense, this is perfect. The author does a great job of making you wish all the characters were real people and that you really want to know them.

I really liked this book and am enjoying the series overall. The stories are packed with friendship, loyalty, romance, mystery, and suspense. It is the perfect mix. I am really excited to read the next installment and hope I won’t have to wait too long!

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

More by Shelley Shepard Gray:

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Friday, September 15, 2023

What's in the (e)mail

Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)
Mrs. Porter Calling by AJ Pearce from Scribner Publicity (print) 
Don't miss out on our giveaway!
Right on Cue by Falon Ballard from Putnam (NetGalley)
Break the Glass by Olivia Swindler from Lake Union (NetGalley)
Very Very Lucky by Amanda Prowse from Lake Union (NetGalley)
The Heirloom by Jessie Rosen from Putnam (NetGalley)
She's Not Sorry by Mary Kubica from Harlequin (NetGalley)
The (Fake) Dating Game by Timothy Janovsky from Harlequin (NetGalley)
The Little Liar by Mitch Albom from HarperCollins (print)
Mighty Gorgeous by Amy Ferris from BookSparks (print)

Technically Yours by Denise Williams from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Puppet Maker by Jenny O'Brien from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams from Grand Central (NetGalley)
Chasing Dreams at Wagging Tails Dogs' Home by Sarah Hope from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Stuck With You by/from Aimee Brown (ebook)

Radiant Heat by Sarah-Jane Collins from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Excitements by CJ Wray from William Morrow (NetGalley)
Sex, Lies and Sensibility by Nikki Payne from Berkley (NetGalley)

The Hike by Lucy Clarke from Putnam (print)

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