Wednesday, April 17, 2024

It's a Small World for Sara and Melissa

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. We are currently in our fifth year!

This month, we are talking about small world coincidences we've experienced. 

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:

I'm phoning it in again, as I have a busy week with Passover prep ahead. I wrote about this at my personal blog 11 years ago this month! 

In the past, I had been told about some really cool small world instances and was almost jealous of how wild the experience must have been. The first time I met my mother-in-law (when I had been dating my husband for a couple of months), she had gone to a Judaica store in West Rogers Park (an area of Chicago) and had a conversation with the cashier that led to her finding out that he was my brother-in-law's college roommate. And better yet, the same guy showed up at our family friends' house a few weeks later. I wanted a story like that for myself!

Shortly after I started my first job after moving to the DC area fifteen years ago, we had a holiday party that involved a tour of the White House. I had only been at this job for a few weeks and was still getting to know everyone. At the end of the tour, we were standing by the doors and complaining how cold it was outside. One of the women mentioned how the cold didn't bother her because she was from Cleveland. I asked her what part of Cleveland, since my husband also grew up there. She named the town and it turned out to be the same town where he grew up and went to high school. I imparted this bit of information to her and she asked his name. I told her she probably wouldn't know him since she was a few years younger. She said "try me." So, I told her his name. Then came the real kicker....she responded "I went to prom with him."

What are the odds that I'd get a job in Maryland working with my husband's prom date from high school in Cleveland?!? They obviously hadn't been in touch in a long time and I don't think she knew my last name prior to the conversation, so the topic probably wouldn't have come up if we didn't have this excuse to talk about it.

When I first told my husband about how this woman and I work together and how I found out that she knew him as more than someone in her yearbook, he told me that it was the small world story to top all small world stories. I dare you to come up with something better than this!

Sara Steven:

When I think of the phrase, “small world coincidences,” I immediately think of two things: the earworm song, “It’s a Small World (After All),” and the uniquely uncanny way that the universe can remind you of just how minute our world can really be.

I’ve had moments in time that I would consider small world coincidences. Technically, meeting Melissa could be considered a small world moment–years ago, she met and befriended my husband after communicating through an online chat board and commiserating over their shared love of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and then many years later, Melissa and I started chatting ourselves and we haven’t stopped talking in roughly fifteen years! 

Some other interesting coincidental moments:

* In 2016, I went hiking with a friend of mine to the top of Camelback Mountain, and on our way back down, we followed behind a man who looked familiar to me–he later turned out to be a former resident at an apartment community I used to work for in Nebraska! I hadn’t worked for the property since 2005, so imagine my surprise at seeing him in Phoenix, Arizona. He said he was in town visiting family. He also said he remembered me, but maybe he was being polite.

* I joined an October 2010 baby board chat group on Babycenter.com after my youngest son was born. About a year into meeting and chatting with the other women in the group, someone suggested we all tell a little more about ourselves and where we lived. I noticed that one person had written, “Bellevue, Nebraska,” which is where I lived at that time. I messaged her privately to find out more, and it turned out she lived five minutes away from me! We decided to meet up for a playdate for our two babies, which quickly turned into a friendship.

* The friend I had hiked Camelback with–we’re nine days apart in age. I found out that her first car had been a 1996 Hyundai Accent. Purple. Just like mine had been! We also had the same purse when we first met, but hers was brown and mine was green.

* An ex-boyfriend (later turned husband) had walked into the roller rink my dad worked for when I was eighteen years old. My sister sat next to me on a wall bench, putting on her roller skates when I saw him stroll in with rollerblades dangling from around his neck. I jabbed my sister’s side a bit with my elbow and quietly said, “I’m going to marry that guy someday,” and her response was to laugh at me and tell me how idiotic I was. Later after the session had started, the mystery man and I had started a conversation. We both felt as though we’d seen each other before, so we began narrowing down the places we might have met, quickly throwing in random schools. We discovered we’d gone to the same elementary school our sixth grade year, we were in the same class, and when he asked for my name and I gave it to him, his eyes lit up and he said, “You’re Lizard Lady!”

(We’d had a “bring your pet to school” day during the spring of sixth grade, and I decided to bring a couple of pet blue belly lizards from home. Someone had taken a photo of me with both lizards crawling up my shirt for the school yearbook, and the rest is history.)

Do you have any small world stories to share? We'd love to hear them!

Book Review: Better by Far

By Allyson Bales

This genre-defying, meta-modern novel is unlike anything you have ever read, and yet at its core it is a story we all deeply understand. A story of love and liminality, and the ways in which grief grips us all. Prepare to laugh and cry; Hazel Hayes will break your heart, but then she’ll mend it for you.

Following a breakup, Kate and Finn decide to keep sharing their house until the lease runs out in twelve weeks’ time, alternating week by week so that they are occupying the same space but never at the same time.

Practically, the plan makes sense, but coming back each Sunday to a home where Finn has been and gone feels far too much like living with a ghost. Kate lost her mother at a young age and now this fresh grief dredges unhealed sorrows up to the surface, and soon, Kate finds herself adrift in her own subconscious, trapped in the liminal space between loving someone and letting go. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Better by Far is a very layered story with heavy themes of grief and the choices we make in life.  It has made me feel sad but also very introspective.  I finished it on Saturday night, sitting by a campsite with my wife on our first camping trip of the season and I’ve been unable to not have this story sitting in the recesses of my brain since.

Reading by a fire is one of my favorite things to do.  It is freeing and I often pick books that teach me something, make me reflect on my own life, and make me feel deeply. This book checked all three of those boxes.

I’ve come to realize recently that I don’t love reading too detailed synopses or reviews of books.  More and more I’m really loving going into books blind or with a minimal gist of what the book is about with the more surprises the better.  If you have been following along with other reviews I have written for Chick Lit Central, I struggle to tell you too much because I don’t want to ruin the book for you.  I don’t want to tell you too much because I want you to be able to peel the layers back like I did, to feel and think and also be deeply immersed in the story.  I think more and more my reviews are going to lean in that direction. So know this.

This novel will cover topics that are a bit heavier. It is done with grace and reliability on such a thoughtful level. I highlighted so much of this story because I felt seen and finally felt like my feelings were being reflected back to me and described perfectly.  So many times I thought and said, yes, that is exactly what I have felt.  If you have been through a breakup, this is also going to be a story you’ll want to read.

This story will make you sad.  But it will also give you hope.  It will make you think and explore and reflect on choices or thoughts you have and how you can maybe view things differently.  There is also some of the best mental health representation I have ever seen in a story.

Kate will be a character you want to shake but also want to hug. She is weak and brave all at the same time. That is so incredibly beautiful and I really can’t wait for you to meet her.  I really am so happy this story came into my life and I am really looking forward to hearing what you think once it enters yours.  I highly recommend this one!  I am better by far because of it. 

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

Also by Hazel Hayes: Out of Love

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: Welcome Home, Caroline Kline

Today we are celebrating the publication of Courtney Preiss's debut novel, Welcome Home, Caroline Kline. If you enjoy sports, you will not want to miss this one. But you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy the story. It has different aspects that appeal to a variety of readers. Thanks to Putnam, we have one copy to give away!

Caroline Kline isn't ready to strike out.

In New York City, newly single Caroline is stumbling her way through the recent implosion of her life. After a surprise breakup leaves her with no job, no apartment, and no backup plan, she’s unsure of what to do next. That is, until Caroline’s father, Leo, injures himself in a bad fall and asks her to move home to the Jersey Shore suburb she’d always been desperate to escape. But Leo doesn’t want his daughter to be his caretaker; he needs her to replace him as third baseman in his local men’s softball league. This isn’t just any season, Leo claims. This is the year they have a real shot at the World Series, the pride and joy of Glen Brook, New Jersey.

Caroline agrees to move home, concerned that Leo is hiding a more serious health condition than he’s willing to admit. As the first female player in a league full of old-school men, she’s up against more than a few challenges. And when a night gone wrong lands her in the path of her hometown crush—and first love—Caroline struggles to reconcile the life she thought she’d have with the life she might actually want.

Sharply observed and full of humor and heart, Welcome Home, Caroline Kline is a touching tribute to the many unconventional paths that victory, and recovery, can take. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“Brimming with warmth, humor, and bit, Welcome Home, Caroline Kline is an absolute home run of a novel. Courtney Preiss has written an unputdownable love letter to baseball, New Jersey, and the power of starting over, featuring an unforgettable heroine for whom you can’t help but root.” 
—Laura Hankin, author of The Daydreams

“Preiss knocks it out of the park in her heartwarming, witty debut. When her life falls apart, feisty, jaded Caroline Kline returns to her New Jersey town and gets a second chance to discover the excitement of a good challenge, the joy of romance, and the wonder of home.” 
—Amy Poeppel, author of The Sweet Spot

“An uplifting and sassy debut—with just enough Jersey attitude and plenty of heart—about family, love, finding yourself, and finding home base.” 
—Margarita Montimore, author of Oona Out of Order and Acts of Violet

Credit: Cassie Castellaw
Courtney Preiss was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey off the same Highway 9 Bruce Springsteen sings about on "Born to Run." She graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She lives in Asbury Park, NJ with her husband and their rescue dog, Barry. 

Visit Courtney online:


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

Giveaway ends April 21st at midnight EST.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Book Review: When Happily Ever After Fails

By Melissa Smoot

Twentysomething Abigail Gardner’s life is circling the drain. Her parents are dead, her “like a brother” is in love with her, and her nascent career as an art teacher was fully squashed by an unfortunate viral incident involving sophomores and Spanx.

But just as that whirlpool feels poised to suck her down completely, she’s granted a second chance: she lands a teaching job at Excelsior Primm, one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most prestigious preparatory academies. Only problem is, instead of teaching art she’ll be stuck teaching her least favorite subject—literature—and her least favorite theme: tragedy.

Tired of being stuck in her own tragic tale, Abigail starts rewriting every sad ending she can get her hands on, in and out of the classroom. To her surprise, her life soon starts to resemble the fairy tales she adores—great job, hot guy, a career gaining recognition. But when an unexpected plot twist threatens to derail her happy ending, Abigail begins to realize why these conclusions are so hard to come by. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I always love a good prep-school setting. The wealth, the scandal, the competition; It all makes for a great read. While this book was more Gilmore Girls and less Gossip Girl, I really enjoyed it. Deane did a great job of making you love the main character, Abigail, from the first chapter. 

Abigail’s unplanned leap from her career as a high school art teacher to teaching sixth grade literature took an even more unexpected turn when she gets thrown into coaching an extracurricular she knows very little about. What happens next turns Abigail’s happy life of solitude into a whirlwind of rehearsals, crafting, and wine tastings. 

The children that Abigail teaches are some of the most lovable characters and I found myself smiling at the sweet innocence and their bravery and determination. I loved how Deane added in the villainous headmistress and the grouchy school custodian. It rounded out the fabulous cast of characters. While Abigail has suffered her own tragedies in life, one twist of the plot takes us on a much more emotional journey than expected and it starts to change Abigail’s perspective.

This story was wonderful.  I can’t wait to see what Deane writes next. 

Thanks to Books Forward for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase When Happily Ever After Fails here.

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Friday, April 12, 2024

What's in the (e)mail...plus a book giveaway

Melissa:
Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine by Nicole Melleby from Algonquin (NetGalley)
The Nightmare Before Kissmas by Sara Raasch from Tor (NetGalley)
The Backtrack by Erin La Rosa from Harlequin (NetGalley)
And Now There's Zelda by Carolyn Clarke from Black Rose Writing (NetGalley)
The Villain Edit by Laurie Devore from Avon (NetGalley)
By Any Other Name by Jodi Picoult from Random House (print)
Hate Follow by Erin Quinn-Kong from William Morrow (NetGalley)
Dear Eliza by Andrea J. Stein from Girl Friday Productions (NetGalley)
Every Beautiful Mile by Ashley Manley from Victory Editing (NetGalley)
The Greatest Lie of All by Jillian Cantor from Harlequin (NetGalley)
Love, Julie by Jamie Anderson from BooksGoSocial (NetGalley)

Sara:
Scandalous Women by Gill Paul from William Morrow (NetGalley)

Jami:
The Stranger at the Wedding by A. E. Gauntlett from Henry Holt (NetGalley)

Allyson:
Out on a Limb by Hannah Bonam-Young from Random House

Melissa S:
Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner from St. Martin's Press (print)
Can't Help Falling in Love by Sophie Sullivan from St. Martin's Press (print)




What could be in YOUR mail:

Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy (along with a signed bookplate) to give away! Melissa gave this thriller five stars, as evidenced by her review.

Synopsis:
For as long as they can remember, Jessica, Norah, and Alicia have been told how lucky they are. As young girls they were rescued from family tragedies and raised by a loving foster mother, Miss Fairchild, on an idyllic farming estate and given an elusive second chance at a happy family life.

But their childhood wasn’t the fairy tale everyone thinks it was. Miss Fairchild had rules. Miss Fairchild could be unpredictable. And Miss Fairchild was never, ever to be crossed. In a moment of desperation, the three broke away from Miss Fairchild and thought they were free. Even though they never saw her again, she was always somewhere in the shadows of their minds. When a body is discovered under the home they grew up in, the foster sisters find themselves thrust into the spotlight as key witnesses. Or are they prime suspects?

A thrilling page-turner of sisterhood, secrets, love, and murder by New York Times bestselling author Sally Hepworth. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"Sally Hepworth's Darling Girls is the kind of story that grabs you hard and doesn't let go. Easily one of the best books I've read all year. An absolute page-turner from first word to last... A superb and haunting mystery."
— New York Times bestselling author Jane Harper

"Sally Hepworth writes characters you love."
— Liane Moriarty, bestselling author of Apples Never Fall

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 17th at midnight EST.

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Book Review: Begin Again

By Jami Denison

“Bad idea, Eve. Put the apple down and let’s pretend this never happened.” As the first human, Adam was probably also the first person to wonder how his life would have turned out if he’d zigged instead of zagged—in his case, yanking the apple from Eve’s hand and continuing to live out life in the Garden of Eden. Would his son Cain have turned out murderous if they had stayed away from that tree? 


“What if” plots have been popular in all sorts of media, from the movie Sliding Doors to the bestselling The Midnight Library. Now British romcom author Helly Acton has put her own stamp on this story with Begin Again.

Celebrity gossip columnist Frankie McKenzie is brilliant at writing click-bait headlines, but in managing her own life, not so much. Stuck at the same job for twelve years, watching her friends couple up and have children and buy real estate, Frankie feels that life is passing her by in a series of bad dates and Netflix marathons. After she runs out on a blind date (even though it was going pretty well), Frankie manages to kill herself by slipping on a greasy kebab and landing on her head. She finds herself in a way station where she has the choice of visiting every turning point in her life for 24 hours and seeing if things would have turned out better if she’d chosen differently. If she likes her new life better, she can keep it. But for a person who shies away from decisions, can Frankie make the most important decision of all?

Begin Again is basically a funny version of The Midnight Library, with a predictable and formulaic plot. While Frankie is not the same sad sack that Midnight Library’s Nora was, her challenge is the same: to figure out which version of her life leads to love, happiness, and success. Books like these always remind me a bit of The Wizard of Oz, specifically Glinda telling Dorothy that she had the power all along. And Frankie, who has friends who love her and an interesting job, has power that she doesn’t recognize. While she lacks self-confidence, she’s funny and loyal. Her problem isn’t that she didn’t marry her college boyfriend, it’s that she doesn’t believe in herself. 

The message in these types of books is clear: Wherever you go, there you are. It may take death and some kind of divine intercession for book characters to realize this, but we readers don’t have those options. Reading books like Begin Again serve as this reminder: You can’t change your past, but you can change your future. Just find the yellow brick road and start walking. 

Thanks to William Morrow for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Helly Acton:

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: Christa Comes Out of Her Shell

Abbi Waxman's latest novel, Christa Comes Out of Her Shell, is now available. We're excited to feature it here today! It stars a showstopping STEM heroine and explores modern themes like the effects of social media, the meaning of personal identity, and the complex family ties that affect us no matter how far away we try to get from them. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away! 

After the chaos of her adolescence, Christa Liddle is content to stay isolated, both figuratively and literally. She has the job of her dreams studying sea snails in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a profession that keeps her far away from people and her past. But with one fateful phone call, her tranquil existence is thrown into chaos. Her once-famous father—long thought dead after a plane crash—is alive, and he wants to make amends. Christa is forced to abandon her snails (for now), and head home.

The unexpected reunion not only puts Christa’s life into a frenzy, but it catches the attention of the world, putting her and her entire family under the spotlight. As if that weren’t enough, Christa meets up with an old childhood friend and sparks fly. Maybe they can be together… after all the buzz surrounding her father dies down. But when her father’s story starts to form cracks, things start to feel much too complicated for a woman who’s been trying for years to avoid losing control.

With everything falling apart around her, Christa fears she will lose herself, her potential relationship, and—most importantly—her beloved sea snails.

“Abbi Waxman has done it again! I laughed out loud, I swooned, I … unexpectedly learned a lot about snails? (And they’re awesome, by the way). I live for Abbi’s awkward, lovable-yet-socially-anxious heroines, and Christa Liddle is hands-down my new favorite.”
—Colleen Oakley, USA Today bestselling author of The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise

"If I could go on vacation inside Abbi Waxman's books, the utterly charming Christa Comes Out of Her Shell would be the centerpiece of my itinerary. Waxman's witty voice, complex and oh-so-loveable characters, and knack for writing romance that's both swoony and sexy absolutely shine in this hilarious, tender story about family, fame, and marine mollusks. I'll definitely be screaming about this one to anyone who will listen!"
—Sarah Adler, author of Mrs. Nash's Ashes

Photo by Leanna Creel
Abbi Waxman, the USA Today bestselling author, is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.

Visit Abbi 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 16th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Book Review: An Enchanting Case of Spirits

 
By Allyson Bales

Alyssa Mann isn’t adventurous, not since her husband died and she found herself the single mom of a teenage daughter. But there’s no way to avoid celebrating the big 4-0, so when her best friends drag her out for drinks and a tarot reading, she throws caution to the wind and decides to see what the spirits have to say. It’s all fun and games, until she wakes up the next morning with a wicked hangover—and a ghost perched on the edge of her bed.

Sheer panic sends her running to get help from Nick West, the (very attractive) detective who lives next door. When he finds no one inside, Alyssa has to accept that she really did see a ghost. As the dearly departed keep appearing, Alyssa and her friends do their best to learn how to control her newfound power. Trading insults with ghosts, tracking down family heirlooms, and getting closer to the skeptical but helpful Nick is more fun than Alyssa imagined. But when looking into one ghost’s past reveals unexpected—and unwelcome—facts about Alyssa’s late husband’s death, she discovers she just may be in over her head. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Do you love strong women with supportive friends? 

Do you love tarot cards and ghost stories? 

Do you love romantic interests that are quiet, kind, and reliable? 

If your answer is yes to any of these questions I think this needs to be your next read! 

When I read this synopsis I knew I really wanted to read this story immediately. I turned forty recently and could definitely relate to Alyssa. I too am not adventurous but more thoughtful and often in my head. I loved meeting Alyssa. She’s struggling with the loss of her husband. I have been reading so much about grief lately and her character relatable demonstrates how one has to keep going with that heart break. I have always really been into mediums and tarot cards and love that she wakes up to a ghost in her room! 

I’m not sure if you can relate but sometimes I’ll wake in the middle of the night thinking that a shadow in my room is a ghost. I’ll get a little freaked out but soothe myself back to sleep only to find it was my jacket or pile of books shaped like a ghost in the morning. I don’t even know what I would do if I could speak to ghosts. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be freaked out (eventually) and help them just like Alyssa. 

I love Alyssa’s ability to be brave and all the ways she works to help the ghosts she meets. She becomes an amateur sleuth and I really enjoyed that premise of the book. It reminds me a bit of Jesse Q. Sutanto's style in the book Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers.  Alyssa and her friends are quirky and sometimes funny and definitely not always aware of what they are doing and those are my favorite kind of mystery solvers.  The group of women supporting Alyssa remind me a lot of my own best friends and her neighbor Nick really captured my heart. 

Finding peace and moving on after loss is never easy.  I love the dynamic of Alyssa and Nick and how things blossom between them. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll just say that I can’t wait for you to meet him.

This was a very impressive debut. I am so hopeful it will be a series! I loved the writing, the characters, and the whole vibe of the story! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this one! 

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase An Enchanting Case of Spirits here.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Carter Wilson takes us on a suspenseful search...

Today we are pleased to welcome Carter Wilson to CLC. His latest thriller, The Father She Went to Find, released last week and it sounds really suspenseful! 

Carter Wilson is the USA Today bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed, standalone psychological thrillers. He is an ITW Thriller Award finalist, a five-time winner of the Colorado Book Award, and his works have been optioned for television and film. Carter lives outside of Boulder, Colorado. Dynamic and compelling, he now hosts his own podcast, Making It Up, interviewing authors like S.A. Cosby, Daniel Handler, Stuart Turton, Xio Axelrod, and Julie Clark to talk shop and riff an original story live. The result is a charming, authentic peek into the writing process.

Visit Carter online:
Website * Facebook * Instagram * TikTok

Synopsis:
Penny has never met anyone smarter than her. That’s par for the course when you’re a savant—one of less than one hundred in the world. But despite her photographic memory and super-powered intellect, there’s one mystery Penny’s never been able to solve: why did her father leave when she was in a coma at age seven, and where is he now?

On Penny’s twenty-first birthday, she receives a card in the mail from him, just as she has every year since he left. But this birthday card is different. For the first time ever, there’s a return address. And a goodbye.

Penny doesn’t know the world beyond her mother’s house and the special school she’s attended since her unusual abilities revealed themselves, but the mystery of her father’s disappearance becomes her new obsession. For the first time ever she decides to leave home, to break free of everything that has kept her safe, and use her gifts to answer the questions that have always eluded her. What Penny doesn’t realize is she might not be able to outsmart a world far more complicated and dangerous than she’d ever imagined… (Courtesy of Carter's website.)

"Buckle up. Watch out. And don't try to predict anything! The supremely talented Carter Wilson has crafted a uniquely unpredictable and absolutely immersive story starring one of the most fascinating characters you'll ever meet. A Beautiful Mind takes a life-and-death road trip in this battle of wits, maze of psychological suspense, and heartbreaking family drama. I was riveted to every page."
—Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of One Wrong Word

"In his latest page-turning and deeply psychological novel, Carter Wilson has deftly crafted one of the most compelling and unique characters you'll read this year! I was glued to every word. 
—Wendy Walker, Bestselling author of What Remains

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing? 
You kept me up all night.

What have you learned from writing your previous novels that you applied to The Father She Went to Find
Trust my instinct and find the voice that comes naturally.

What is one thing you would tell the debut novelist version of yourself? 
Be really, really patient. This is a tough industry and success comes slowly (if at all).

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend? 
American Fiction. I loved it.

If we were to visit you, what are some places you would take us to see? 
Well, my life is pretty boring so you’d definitely see the dog park I take my Golden twice per day. But Boulder is beautiful, so if you’re up for a hike we’d go check out the Flatirons.

What is the last thing you had a really good laugh about? 
Me driving my car nearly off a ravine right before I had to moderate a writing panel.

Thanks to Carter for visiting with us and to Kaye Publicity for facilitating the interview.

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Monday, April 8, 2024

Book Review: Nowhere to Hide

By Sara Steven

Duncan Stone is one of the country's most eligible and handsome bachelors, and he wants to take me, Callie Parker, on a date. At first I am surprised and flattered, the envy of my friends. Then when our whirlwind romance escalates and he asks me to move in with him, it's like a dream come true. But as I get to really know my new boyfriend, my fairytale turns into a nightmare. Duncan is no Prince Charming. He is the Devil. Isolated from my friends and family, watched day and night, a prisoner in my own life, I know if I am going to survive, I need to escape. 

When a chance encounter with an old friend throws me a lifeline, I realise this is my live or die moment, and I find a hiding place deep in the Norfolk countryside. I'm supposed to feel safe here, so why do I hear footsteps outside my hideaway late at night, and sense that someone is watching me? Is it paranoia, or has Duncan managed to find me?

Or perhaps the danger is closer to home than I realise. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Nowhere to Hide kept me on the edge the entire time I read it! It took two days for me to finish it, and that’s only because I had to take a break to, you know, take care of the regular responsibilities I have–and to attempt to get some sleep, even though my brain was in continual motion after delving into Callie’s situation. I didn’t want to let her go. 

Callie’s friends would describe her as someone who is full of confidence and is self-assured. But the woman who finds herself alone and penniless, with nothing to her name other than the continual fear she feels when it comes to Duncan, is a far cry from the woman she used to be. The author did an excellent job of showing the gradual decline that Callie goes through while she is essentially held captive by Duncan. The slow progression of isolation, not allowing Callie to have any outside relationships with anyone other than him, along with the constant monitoring by way of cameras and Duncan’s personal henchman, all contribute to the degradation and emptiness she feels.

Callie knows she has to escape in order to survive. But escaping could cost her the freedom she craves and maybe even more–it could cost her the very life she’s trying to save. There were so many twists and turns within this book, the kind that creep up unexpectedly yet ultimately end up making the most sense. Will Callie be safe? Can she trust the people who want to be within her inner circle, or are they not to be trusted, either? It’s hard to know who to lean on or who to believe. The paranoia Callie feels rubbed off on me. I wasn’t sure what Duncan was capable of.

I cannot stand Duncan. I ordinarily wouldn’t have such a strong reaction to fictional characters, but he really brought out the worst in me. Whenever the story is told from his perspective, I wanted to tell him where to go–and to never come back. It was helpful to have flashbacks for Callie, from the then to the now, so I could gain a better understanding on how she found herself in this predicament, and why where she is at any given moment within the story is so important. It was also super clever to show the readers how she was able to escape Duncan. Given everything she goes through and how difficult he makes it for her to escape, the behind-the-scenes explanation helped to better show how that all makes sense and how it ties into the events that happen later in the future. 

Nowhere to Hide is a pure thriller ride. It was truly terrifying and worth every second of the experience. A definite five-star read!

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

Keri Beevis is the internationally bestselling author of several psychological thrillers and romantic suspense mysteries, including the very successful Dying to Tell, published by Bloodhound. She sets many of her books in the county of Norfolk, where she was born and still lives and which provides much of her inspiration.

Visit Keri online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Friday, April 5, 2024

Book Review: Molten Death

By Melissa Smoot

Retired caterer Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen have come to the Big Island of Hawai'i to treat themselves to a well-earned tropical vacation. After the recent loss of her brother, Valerie is in sore need of a distraction from her troubles and is looking forward to enjoying the delicious food and vibrant culture the state has to offer.

Early one morning, the couple and their friend - tattooed local boy, Isaac - set out to see an active lava flow, and Valerie is mesmerized by the shape-shifting mass of orange and red creeping over the field of black rock. Spying a boot in the distance, she strides off alone, pondering how it could have gotten there, only to realize to her horror that the boot is still attached to a leg - a leg which is slowly being engulfed by the hot lava.

Valerie's convinced a murder has been committed - but as she's the only witness to the now-vanished corpse, who's going to believe her?

Determined to prove what she saw, and get justice for the unknown victim, Valerie launches her own investigation. But, thrown into a Hawaiian culture far from the luaus and tiki bars of glossy tourist magazines, she soon begins to fear she may be the next one to end up entombed in shiny black rock . . . (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Molten Death was a great read. I really enjoyed the setting on the Big Island of Hawaii and how descriptive Karst is. It felt like I was completely transported to the Island and on vacation with the two main characters, Valerie and Kristen. Hawaii has always been a very special place for my family and we have spent a lot of time there over the years. I still remember my first trip there at four years old. 

The mystery of the body in the lava had me hooked from the beginning. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened and if Valerie and Kristen would ever get to the bottom of it. The story took me on so many turns that I was often finding myself playing detective to try and figure it out. 

As an indigenous person myself, I truly appreciated the way Karst wove the cultural and historical relevance of the islands, as well as the local languages and customs into the book. It felt much more genuine and authentic, and I even learned a few things. 

Considering the tropical location, Molten Death would be a perfect beach or pool read. The mystery leaves you guessing until the very last chapter, and I really enjoyed this book.

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

More by Leslie Karst:
Dying for a Taste (part of the Sally Solari Mysteries)
Justice is Served

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Thursday, April 4, 2024

Book Review: The Backup Princess


By Sara Steven

When a Texas gal punches a prince instead of curtsying, you know this isn't your grandmother's fairy tale.

Taking the bull by the horns is child's play compared to ruling Malveaux. Yet here I am, a Texas girl turned princess, swapping tacos for a tiara.

Then I meet Europe’s most eligible bachelor, the irritatingly handsome Prince Alexander, and accidentally deck him instead of curtsying.

Oops.

I’d feel bad if he wasn’t such a self-satisfied jerk.

Now, I'm racing against a royal clock that ticks with the urgency of a preening peacock, trying not to let down my newfound country or my own wild heart. Alexander? He's a walking contradiction, with a smirk that heats my blood and eyes that tell tales of a depth I didn't expect.

Decisions aren't exactly my rodeo, but this time, my choice could cost me my new crown—or lead to a love story that rewrites my happily ever after.

Will this Texas girl rise to the royal challenge, or is this one fairytale destined to end with the slipper never found? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The Backup Princess is a super cute experience! Told in two perspectives, we get Maddie’s and Alexander’s viewpoints on not only what it’s like to continually get thrust into the world’s spotlight, but how they feel about each other. For Alexander, having your face splashed on the front page of various media outlets is nothing new. He’s had to deal with that his whole life. He’s also been categorized as a playboy who leaves a stream of women in his wake, but he knows there is a lot more to him than that. So much more. 

For Maddie, she’s new to the spotlight. She’s known from a young age that she comes from a pretty spectacular background, but a decision had been made to allow her to live a relatively “normal” existence, sans royalty. Now she’s given the opportunity to step into those shoes and do what must be done for her family, but she’s not sure if it’s the right place for her to be. It doesn’t make it any easier having to deal with Alexander. Neither of them got off on the right foot with one another, and she tries hard to fight against the budding rise of attraction she feels, despite the irritation he brings out in her, too. 

It seems at every turn, he’s there, waiting in the wings. Her family and Alexander’s family encourage good relations, but at what cost? Maddie doesn’t know if she can trust him, given all she’s heard and read about him in the papers and online. And Alexander doesn’t know if Maddie legitimately is there for good reasons, or if she’s only trying to make a name for herself. It’s obvious neither character really knows the other one, bogged down with a lot of misconceptions. They have to take the time to get to know one another and learn what’s beyond the rumors and assumptions. 

I like the opposites attract approach for Maddie and Alexander. It made the dialogue fun! They offer up some seriously witty banter, while they fight against the obvious attraction they have for one another. Reminiscent of the movie The Princess Diaries, Maddie has to determine if she can become more than the Texan girl who hasn’t really found herself or her place in the world yet. She doesn’t know if she has it in her to rule Malveaux, let alone her own life! On top of that, she’s not sure if she’s ready to fall in love with the world’s most eligible bachelor, but it’s exciting to find out along the way.  The Backup Princess had a lot of sweet chemistry, and it was a very engaging read!

Thanks to Kate O'Keeffe for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kate O'Keeffe:
No More Bad Dates (Friends & Forevers series)
Dating Mr Darcy (Love Manor Romantic Comedy series)
Never Fall for Your Back-Up Guy (It's Complicated series)

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Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Book Review: The Rule Book

By Melissa Smoot

Nora Mackenzie’s entire career lies in the hands of famous NFL tight end Derek Pender, who also happens to be her extremely hot college ex-boyfriend. Nora didn’t end things as gracefully as she could have back then, and now it has come back to haunt her. Derek is her first client as an official full-time sports agent and he’s holding a grudge.

Derek has set his sights on a little friendly revenge. If Nora Mackenzie, the first girl to ever break his heart, wants to be his agent, oh, he’ll let her be his agent. The plan is simple: make Nora’s life absolutely miserable. But if Derek knows anything about the woman he once loved—she won’t quit easily.

Instead of giving in, Nora starts a scheme of her own. But then a wild night in Vegas leads to Nora and Derek in bed the next morning married. With their rule book out the window, could this new relationship save their careers or spark the romance of a lifetime? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This was a great story! I really felt like I related to the main character, Nora, in what it is like to work in a typically male dominated industry. Like Nora, I have also been fortunate to have some amazing and supportive female bosses, that helped me to navigate my industry and made it bearable. I loved how the author made Nora so kind and loving but also gave her a fun and cute personality. Her quirky antics and sarcastic comments made me laugh a lot. I found myself rooting for her throughout the entire book. 

The plot of two college sweethearts that find each other again, years later, really kept me interested. I never felt a lull in the story and found myself cheering out loud at points. I also thought it was interesting how Adams worked in late diagnosis dyslexia. I know several people who were not diagnosed until adulthood, and I can’t imagine how hard they must have struggled in school, and my heart goes out to anyone that has been through that. I was happy to see it brought to light and hopefully it will help more people to realize that they aren’t alone.

Overall, I really loved The Rule Book. I could see this being a great summer or beach read (some of it takes place in Mexico). I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun but heartfelt story with great characters that make you wish you knew them in real life. Can’t wait to see what Sarah Adams come out with next.

Thanks to Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Playgroup

Leah Mercer's latest domestic suspense novel, The Playgroup, is now available and we're excited to feature it today! Melissa enjoyed this novel and recently shared her thoughts on her Bookstagram. (Full review coming at a later date.) Leah has TWO copies to share with some lucky readers!

Breath catches in my throat and terror grips me as my daughter’s favourite jumper slides into focus. Time slows. Helpless, I watch my precious little girl run into the road. Screeching tyres slice through the quiet afternoon. Days from now, my friends will say the worst day of my life was all my fault…

A bright and welcoming haven, the playgroup sits at the heart of the town, tucked away inside a red-brick building. The Nest should have been the safest place for my rosy-cheeked, pink-obsessed daughter, Florence. Run by mothers like me, I trusted my newfound friends – Alice, Beth and Georgie – to take care of my child. But now my choice has left Florence fighting for her life.

My heart pounds thinking about what I will tell my husband, James. He stayed with me through the darkest times, and I thought some space would bring us closer. But as I watch our little girl sleeping in a hospital bed, I know our relationship may never recover from this.

How can I tell James what really happened if I don’t know myself? I can’t shake the feeling the other mothers are lying to me; they know I’d never let Florence leave the nursery by herself. We’ve all got dangerous secrets we want to protect, but if they expose mine, will anyone, including my husband, believe me when I say I didn’t harm my daughter?

A completely gripping psychological suspense about the dark price of protecting your family, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty, Adele Parks and Sally Hepworth. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Leah Mercer
 was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. Her first ambition was to be a journalist, but after completing a master’s in journalism, she soon realized she preferred anything other than reporting the news. After trying her hand at public relations, teaching and recruitment in various countries around the world, she finally settled in London and returned to writing… fiction, this time. Her first two novels, Who We Were Before and The Man I Thought You Were, were shortlisted at the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards. Leah loves books, running, and visiting historic houses with her husband and their son.

Visit Leah online:

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

Giveaway ends April 7th at midnight EST.

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Monday, April 1, 2024

Book Review: The Marriage Sabbatical

By Jami Denison

Polyamory is the latest trend in relationships…it seems everyone is doing it. With everyone. My inner Carrie Bradshaw can’t help but wonder how people juggle more than one partner when it’s hard enough finding time for him with work responsibilities, family needs, exercise, etc. When I picked up Lian Dolan’s latest women’s fiction novel, The Marriage Sabbatical, I expected it to explore the complications of multiple relationships outside of the main one. Instead, The Marriage Sabbatical is a gentle look at a decades-long marriage, and what happens when two people decide to take a geographic break to explore their own individual interests. With a relatively slow pace, low stakes, and lots of description, The Marriage Sabbatical wasn’t written to blow up marriages, but to defend them.

With two kids in college and a year-long sabbatical from his publishing job, Jason Elswick is excited for his nine-month motorcycling trip to South America with his wife, Nicole. But after a surprising dinner with neighbors who confess a “500 mile rule” for fidelity, Nicole confesses she doesn’t want to go on the trip after all. She wants her own sabbatical from cooking and taking care of the house—in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she wants to study jewelry making. At first hurt, eventually Jason agrees… and the couple decides to adopt their own 500-mile rule. Can their marriage survive the separation and temptation? 

The Marriage Sabbatical is told from both spouse’s points-of-view, and at times Dolan meanders into head-hopping and even the point-of-view of other characters. Nevertheless, both Jason and Nicole come across as kind, thoughtful people you’d want as friends. The book takes place in the past and the present, alternating chapters as Dolan takes us through their first and second meetings, the early and later days of their marriage, and other milestones. 

What makes a marriage work? Is it possible to be happily married and still retain a sense of self? Whose needs should come first in a marriage? And how important is sex? Dolan does a bang-up job exploring these questions, but for me, her descriptions were the element that kept me turning pages. Nicole is a retail merchandiser with a strong sense of style, and I enjoyed every scene that featured her working with clothes or decorating a house or a shop. Santa Fe is depicted in such detail that I wanted to run out and buy turquoise jewelry and a plane ticket. Jason’s rugged motorcycle adventures make it clear that Nicole was right to opt out of the trip. The book is as much a travelogue as it is a novel.

Thanks to this book, Santa Fe is on my bucket list. But I won’t be taking a jewelry course, and I’ll definitely be traveling with my husband. The Marriage Sabbatical works great as a book, but as a life choice, it’s not for me.  

Thanks to William Morrow for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, March 29, 2024

What's in the (e)mail...plus a book giveaway

Melissa:

The Dating Contract by/from Stacey Agdern (ebook)
Brooklyn Thomas Isn't Here by Alli Vail from Post Hill Press (NetGalley)
Another First Chance by Robbie Couch from Simon & Schuster (ebook)
The Summer Pact by Emily Giffin from Ballantine (print)
Days of Wonder by Caroline Leavitt from Algonquin Books (NetGalley)
The Paris Network by Siobhan Curham from Hachette (print)
All They Ask Is Everything by Hadley Leggett from Lake Union (NetGalley)
Yes No Maybe by/from Jessica Sherry (NetGalley)
The Near Miss by Lily Joseph from Bookouture (NetGalley)
The Whisper Sister by Jennifer S. Brown from Lake Union (NetGalley)
The Booklover's Library by Madeline Martin from Harlequin (NetGalley)
A Perfect Story by ElĂ­sabet Benavent from Sourcebooks (NetGalley)
The Briar Club by Kate Quinn from William Morrow

Sara:

The Love Algorithm by Camilla Isley from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Her Husband's Lie by Amanda Reynolds from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
Cash Delgado is Living the Dream by Tehlor Kay Mejia from Random House (NetGalley)

Jami:
One Perfect Couple by Ruth Ware from Gallery (NetGalley)
The Faculty Lounge by Jennifer Mathieu from Dutton (NetGalley)

Melissa S:
Effie Olsen's Summer Special by Rochelle Bilow from Berkley (print) 

Allyson:
The Lovers by Rebecca Faubion from Berkley (NetGalley)

What could be in YOUR mail:

Here We Go Again by Alison Cochrun

Thanks to Atria, we have one copy to give away! Melissa loved this novel, as evidenced by her Bookstagram post. It's next in her review queue, so you'll be hearing more about it soon.

Synopsis:
A long time ago, Logan Maletis and Rosemary Hale used to be friends. They spent their childhood summers running through the woods, rebelling against their conservative small town, and dreaming of escaping. But then an incident the summer before high school turned them into bitter rivals. After graduation, they went ten years without speaking.

Now in their thirties, Logan and Rosemary find they aren’t quite living the lives of adventure they imagined for themselves. Still in their small town and working as teachers at their alma mater, they’re both stuck in old patterns. Uptight Rosemary chooses security and stability over all else, working constantly, and her most stable relationship is with her label maker. Chaotic and impulsive Logan has a long list of misguided ex-lovers and an apathetic shrug she uses to protect herself from anything real. And as hard as they try to avoid each other—and their complicated past—they keep crashing into each other. Including with their cars.

But when their beloved former English teacher and lifelong mentor tells them he has only a few months to live, they’re forced together once and for all to fulfill his last wish: a cross-country road trip. Stuffed into the gayest van west of the Mississippi, the three embark on a life-changing summer trip—from Washington state to the Grand Canyon, from the Gulf Coast to coastal Maine—that will chart a new future and perhaps lead them back to one another. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry, but above all else, it’ll make you miss that teacher who impacted your life when you were a kid. This book shows the things we’ll do for those we love, and that you can find humor in the sad times.”
—Hannah Grace, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Icebreaker

"Funny, tender, heart-wrenching, and hopeful. Here We Go Again is a love letter to educators and queer mentors, and opening up your heart even when it hurts. Alison Cochrun knocks it out of the park again."
—Rosie Danan, USA Today bestselling author of Do Your Worst

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 3rd at midnight EST.

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