Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Book Review: Morning in this Broken World

By Melissa Amster

Grieving but feisty widow Vivian Laurent is at a late-in-life crossroads. The man she loved is gone. Their only daughter is estranged and missing. And the assisted-living facility where her husband died is going into quarantine. Living in lockdown with only heartache and memories is something Vivian can’t bear. Then comes a saving grace.

Luna, a compassionate nursing assistant and newly separated mother, is facing eviction. Vivian has a plan that could turn their lives around: return to her old home and invite Luna and her two children to move in with her. With the exuberant eleven-year-old Wren in her hot-pink motorized wheelchair and Wren’s troubled older brother, Cooper, the new housemates make for an unlikely pandemic pack, weathering the coming storm together.

Now it’s time to heal old wounds, make peace with the past, find hope and joy, and discover that the strongest bonds can get anyone through the worst of times. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I think what I said on my Bookstagram sums it up best: OMG. This. Book!!! Seriously, do yourself a favor and read Morning in This Broken World. It's everything I love in a book and more. So. So. SO incredible!!!  I loved all the characters and the narrative was just...*chef's kiss*.

The story touches on a lot of different topics: grief, LGBTQ+, disability, poverty, Alzheimer's, and, of course, Covid. It takes place at the beginning of the pandemic, when it was still such a scary time for everyone and toilet paper was scarce. Most of it takes place in the spring and summer and I could actually feel the heat on the hottest days. The descriptions brought everything to life so well without taking away from the narrative. Everything and everyone just felt so real.

I just loved the relationships between the characters and how it took a while to build trust, but how rewarding it felt when that trust was achieved. There's just so much heart to the story and I loved seeing the perspectives of Vivian, Luna, Wren, and Cooper. They each had distinct voices and I cared so much about all four of them. Cooper even reminded me a bit of Kenny from Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead

All I can say to sum this up is...just go read it!!! I still can't stop thinking about it and I have a feeling it will stick with me for a long time.

Movie casting suggestions:

Thanks to Katrina Kittle for the book in exchange for a honest review.

(Trigger warnings at the bottom of the post.)

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TW: suicidal ideation, cancer, addiction

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Takeover

We're excited to celebrate the publication of Cara Tanamachi's latest rom-com, The Takeover. This story sounds like a lot of fun and we hope you all will check it out soon. Thanks to St. Martin's Press, we have one copy to give away!

Sometimes, when you ask the universe for your soulmate, you wind up with your hate mate instead.

On Nami's 30th birthday, she’s reminded at every turn that her life isn’t what she planned. She’s always excelled at everything – until now. Her fiancé blew up their engagement. Her pride and joy, the tech company she helped to found, is about to lose funding. And her sister, Sora, is getting married to the man of her dreams, Jack, and instead of being happy for her, as she knows she ought to be, she’s fighting off jealousy.

Frustrated with her life, she makes a wish on a birthday candle to find her soulmate. Instead, the universe delivers her hate mate, Nami’s old high school nemesis, Jae Lee, the most popular kid from high school, who also narrowly beat her out for valedictorian. More than a decade later, Jae is still as effortlessly cool, charming, and stylish as ever, and, to make matters worse, is planning a hostile take-over of her start-up. Cue: sharp elbows and even sharper banter as the two go head-to-head to see who’ll win this time. But when their rivalry ignites a different kind of passion, Nami starts to realize that it's not just her company that's in danger of being taken over, but her heart as well. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

"With witty insults, drunk dancing, and pranks, Tanamachi's extra-fun follow-up to The Second You're Single is positively enjoyable and should be suggested reading for those who love books by Sally Thorne and Suzanne Park." 
- Library Journal

"Tanamachi (The Second You’re Single) shines in this enemies-to-lovers rom-com. Readers will cheer on this pair of sparring hearts.”

Credit: Meagan Shuptar
Cara Tanamachi lives near Chicago with her husband and five children (two by biology and three by marriage), and their 85-pound Goldendoodle, Theodore. Raised near Dallas, Texas by her Japanese-American dad and her English-Scottish American mom, she was the oldest of two children (the debate still rages whether she or her brother are currently the family favorite). The University of Pennsylvania (Go Quakers!) grad worked as a newspaper reporter, and then published many novels such as Dater's Handbook and The Love Cure under the name Cara Lockwood. A former single mom, she spent eight years dating (hilariously and awkwardly) before finding the love of her life on Bumble (yes, Bumble!). She believes we all could use a little more happily ever after.

Visit Cara 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 February 4th at midnight EST.

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Monday, January 29, 2024

Book Review: Other Stages

By Melissa Smoot

Katrina Devries, having navigated the cutthroat world of professional ballet to arrive at the top, has found the perfect life as a principal dancer and mother of a three-year-old. But when her partner announces he’s found true love elsewhere and moves out, Katrina’s perfect world begins to crack. Devastated, she turns to April, her best friend among the company’s artistic staff.

April, a seasoned ballet master and parent, is confident she can solve any problem thrown her way and plants a distraction at the studios: a handsome young pianist, eager for work as an accompanist. Only it’s April’s teen daughter, not Katrina, who falls for him, hard. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I knew that I would enjoy this book because it is mainly about the professional ballet world, but I had no idea that it would have so many different layers. 

The story takes place in San Francisco and centers around the West Coast Ballet Theater. The main character and a Principal dancer at the company, Katrina Devries, has just had her world turned upside down, when she suddenly finds herself to be a single mother. She runs to her best friend April, who is a ballet master at the company, and she tries to help Katrina navigate this new reality. In the meantime, April’s discovers her youngest daughter is hiding something that could change her family forever. 

The twists and turns in this story were plentiful and I was riveted wondering where the characters would all end up. The author did a great job of capturing the nuances of the different personalities and egos in professional ballet, as well as tied in the ups and downs of relationships of any kind. I found myself reading late into the night to find out what would happen next. Whether you are a ballet aficionado or not, this book is so much more than that. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a relationship-centric story that also keeps you in suspense.

Thanks to Terez Mertes Rose for the book in exchange for an honest review. You can purchase Other Stages here. (Book four in the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, but can be read as a standalone.)

More by Terez Mertes Rose:

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Friday, January 26, 2024

What's in the (e)mail

For the Love of Summer by Susan Mallery from Harlequin (NetGalley)
Family Family by Laurie Frankel from Henry Holt (NetGalley)
The Haters by Robyn Harding from Grand Central Publishing (NetGalley)
Klara's Truth by Susan Weissbach Friedman from She Writes Press (NetGalley)
A House Like an Accordion by Audrey Burges from Berkley (NetGalley)
Daughter of a Promise by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg from She Writes Press (NetGalley)
The Wartime Book Club by Kate Thompson from Forever (NetGalley)
Anna Bright is Hiding Something by Susie Orman Schnall from BookSparks (ebook)
Time to Rise by Heléne Holmström from Amazon Crossing (NetGalley)
The Art of Catching Feelings by Alicia Thompson from Berkley (NetGalley)
House of Glass by Sarah Pekkanen from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)
Magical Meet Cute by Jean Meltzer from Harlequin (NetGalley)
Picasso's Lovers by Jeanne Mackin from Berkley (NetGalley)
Better Left Unsent by Lia Louis from Atria (NetGalley)
This Impossible Brightness by Jessica Bryant Klagmann from Kathleen Carter Communications (print)
Name Your Price by Holly James from Dutton (NetGalley)


The Good Wife by Gemma Rogers from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)
The Last Resort by T. J. Emerson from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)

Melissa S:
Molten Death by Leslie Karst from BookSparks (print)
The Still Point by Tammy Greenwood from Kensington (print)
When Happily Ever After Fails by Courtney Deane from Books Forward (print)
Eat Dessert First by/from Michelle Paris (print)
The Catch by Amy Lea from Berkley (print)

The Incorrigibles by Meredith Jaeger from Dutton (NetGalley)

This Summer Will Be Different by Carley Fortune from Berkley

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Book Review: All Grown Up

By Sara Steven

Neveah is fifteen. A schoolkid. With a secret life. She's a digital freelancer, and is having an affair with her biggest client. Giles is married. He thinks Neveah is twenty-two. She'll do just about anything to stop him from finding out her true age. But secrets have a way of spilling out. With devastating consequences. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

First off, I absolutely loved the writing style within All Grown Up. There are no long, drawn out, introspective moments for the characters highlighted within the book. It was gritty and to the point, going back to the fundamental “show, don’t tell” rule that so many writers have learned along the way. Catherine Evans showed us what each character is going through and dealing with, and how they are all interwoven and intertwined through the smallest of actions, creating a devastating rippling effect that kept me engaged from start to finish.

It all begins with Neveah. She’s grown up within a really rough environment, having to fend for herself for most of her young life. She’s figured out a way to make it in the world as best she can, providing freelance work for business professionals. A friend of her father’s had introduced her to Giles, which later leads to a full-blown affair. He’s under the impression that she’s a young adult who runs her own business, but she’s just a teenager. There are a lot of morality questions that arise, aside from the issues of infidelity–if Neveah lied about her age and Giles had no idea of her real age, can Giles walk away from this event unscathed? Is he still in the wrong, regardless? Suddenly, there are multiple people who weigh in on this, too, despite Neveah’s best efforts to keep everything a secret.

Giles has been in a tumultuous relationship with his wife Christine for years. She’s the victim of sexual assault and has been unable to leave her home in the last seven years. Watching that dynamic unfold had been at times painful, and revealing. It explained a lot as to the decisions Giles has made, for better or worse, and how clueless Christine has been in regards to her husband’s whereabouts. Along for the ride is their daughter, Serena, who has her own cross to bear in her dysfunctional romantic relationship. It seemed a lot of what Serena is going through can at times parallel what Christine has gone through, and as a parent, I could understand the pain Christine feels in wanting to protect Serena at all costs, but knowing at some point, there’s only so much she’s able to do.

Various spider webs of drama and chaos extend out from the major players within this book, picking up more and more of the secondary characters that support the major ones, creating a mess of lies, deceit, and at times, debauchery. Through it all, Neveah attempts to survive the mess. I really liked how various characters give their own viewpoints within chapters, picking up speed as the end of the book draws near. I really enjoyed all of the emotional feelings I’d experienced while reading All Grown Up. It was gritty and raw, and worthy of the five stars I’ve given it!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK

Catherine Evans is an author and publisher. She’s the Editor of fictionjunkies, which publishes book and short stories online by authors around the world and the co-founder of Inkspot Publishing –, which has now released four titles. She’s a trustee of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, and lives in Oxfordshire. She’s married with a daughter and three stepdaughters. 

Visit Catherine online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Giveaway to Win FIVE paperback copies of the book for a Book Club group 
(Open to UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter (link) below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within seven days, then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organizer and used only for fulfillment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  We are not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.

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Thursday, January 25, 2024

Book Review: The Breakup Tour

By Sara Steven

A rising-star musician has a second chance at love with an old flame she remembers all too well in this swoony romance from the acclaimed authors of The Roughest Draft .

Riley Wynn went from a promising singer-songwriter to a superstar overnight, thanks to her breakup song concept album and its unforgettable lead single. When Riley’s ex-husband claims the hit song is about him, she does something she hasn’t in ten years and calls Max Harcourt, her college boyfriend and the real inspiration for the song of the summer.

Max hasn’t spoken to Riley since their relationship ended. He’s content with managing the retirement home his family owns, but it’s not the life he dreamed of filled with music. When Riley asks him to go public as her songwriting muse, he agrees on one he’ll join her in her band on tour.

As they perform across the country, Max and Riley start to realize that while they hit some wrong notes in the past, their future could hold incredible things. And their rekindled relationship will either last forever or go down in flames. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I wouldn’t say I’m a self-professed Taylor Swift fan, although I do like some of her songs. One of my favorites is “Illicit Affairs.” I had a feeling from about a few chapters into The Breakup Tour that the story of Riley Wynn very much mirrored the same depiction of Taylor Swift and her penchant for taking doomed relationships and writing songs about them. It was an interesting perspective, given that what we see on the surface of the media frenzy is often just that–the surface. We don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes, or what life is really like for a woman who is revered so much that she has her own Swiftie following. What would it be like for a megastar when she’s given the chance to reconnect with the first real love of her life? Would it be a worthy enough experience to write a song about it?

Riley is unapologetically Riley. Love her or loathe her–much like her true-to-life counterpart–she knows who she is and isn’t afraid to use it. So much so, that she finds herself writing a hit song about her former flame, Max. There had been a time when the two of them felt destined for fame, together. But right at the last moment, Max bowed out, intent on fulfilling family duties, a potential ploy to steer clear of the limelight, considering he doesn’t seem the type to thrive in that kind of environment. Not like Riley. The two characters are such contrasting opposites, but it works for them. Max helps to center Riley, while Riley helps Max to step outside of the confines of his comfort zone, showing him that there is a deeper greatness and depth to him just waiting to claw its way out. 

What ensues is a potential love disaster waiting to happen. There is too much history there. And, it doesn’t help that Riley in a sense is using Max as a way to get back at her ex-husband. If diverting the public’s opinion that Riley’s lead single isn’t at all about her ex, but about Max instead, it could really be a win for Riley. But it will only add insult to the damaged past that is Riley and Max’s relationship. I can’t recall right now which character said it–it was Max or Riley’s mother–but at one point, it was suggested that instead of Riley thinking she has to create damaged relationships to write heartbroken songs, that she is the one who is in charge of her life. That she’s the one who can choose what she wants to create. I do know her mother said, “I’d like to see you write a love song,” and I wholeheartedly agree. 

The Breakup Tour was a literal lyrical read. So much of it focused on the musicality of life and relationships, and I really loved that style of writing. There were moments that had long pauses of reflection, which meant more introspective thoughts vs. dialogue, and I feel as though I would have liked to see more dialogue between characters. But other than that, it flowed well and I appreciated the point the story tried to make–that sometimes, there’s more depth to a story than the song that has been written about it. Has Riley’s story helped to convert me into a Swiftie? Probably not. But I still had a lot of fun reading it. It was a great read!

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

More by Emily and Austin:

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Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Book Review: Baby, One More Time

By Sara Steven

Driven and smart, Marissa Mayer has worked her way to COO at a major Fintech startup as well as launching her own successful app on the side. Now what she wants more than anything is a baby. And having given up on love after her heart was broken by the boy next door, she’s prepared to do it alone.

Recently returning to New York from LA, Dr John Raikes is an expert in his field of neonatal medicine. But when John introduces himself as Marissa’s doctor, sparks fly, and not in a good way. Because Dr John Raikes is no he’s her teenage sweetheart all grown up.

Marissa knows she should keep John at arm’s length, lest she have her heart broken again... But there’s something about a man in a white coat. And with John determined to show Marissa he’s changed, can she keep saying no when her heart is saying yes? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

I read the first book in the True Love series, so I was super excited to delve into Baby, One More Time! The way that Marissa runs into John could be described as cutesy cringeworthy! An unexpected switch up of doctors means that she is forced into facing the guy who broke her heart when they were teens, an experience that she has been avoiding and doing everything she can to steer clear of, going so far as to make sure family members who are still in touch with John, won’t tell her anything about his life and what he’s been doing. It’s obvious that she is very affected by their past, which is why their fateful meeting is even more emotionally charged–among other things. Their meet-up in some ways was very reminiscent of some scenes and scenarios of what Jane from the tv show, Jane the Virgin goes through, where her pregnancy is concerned. Hence the cringe!

John sets out to show Marissa just how much he has changed. He’s no longer the teenage boy she remembers. But that’s part of the problem. Marissa had fallen in love with teen John, which is why it’s so hard for her to move on. She admits that she has denied herself the opportunity for a serious relationship because she has such a hard time trusting, while John had moved on, going through a shaky divorce and trying desperately to keep his little family from dealing with the heartbreak that can come from that. It was interesting to see how that dynamic plays out. I felt like there were a lot of moments where Marissa turns inward and could even be seen as a bit self-absorbed, due to the past, but given what John is dealing with, it forces her to come out of that shell and start seeing him as more than just the guy who broke her heart.

Readers get to re-familiarize themselves with characters from the first book in the series, Not in a Billion Years (reviewed here). Blake is Marissa’s best friend, and Gabriel is Blake’s love interest. I enjoyed getting to see what that couple went through played out through Marissa’s point of view, and it helped to move the plot along for Marissa and John, too. Blake and Marissa reminded me of the relationship I share with my childhood best friend. She has given me a lot of guidance in my own relationships over the years, including my marriage, so I can attest to what it’s like to have a close friend who is in your corner and looks out for you, wanting the best outcome. That was apparent for Marissa. 

This was truly a great addition to the series! I enjoyed the romance element, along with the strong friendships portrayed here, and I thought it was great to highlight a strong female character who does whatever she chooses to do, despite outside opinions, in order to have all she wants in life that will make her happy and fulfilled. Does that include John? Only time will tell… it was a definite five-star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK * Apple

Camilla Isley is an engineer who left science behind to write bestselling contemporary rom-coms set all around the world. She lives in Italy and her first title for Boldwood, The Love Theorem, a Hollywood-meets-STEM romance, was published in June 2023.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Sarahlyn Bruck is a book giveaway

Credit: Jennifer Buhl
Today we are thrilled to have Sarahlyn Bruck back at CLC to celebrate the publication of her latest novel, Light of the Fire! The story sounds fascinating and we know it's going to be a hit with readers. Sarahlyn has one copy to share with a lucky reader! (Either an ebook-worldwide or print copy-US only.)

Sarahlyn Bruck writes contemporary, book club fiction and is the award-winning author of two other novels: Daytime Drama (2021), and Designer You (2018). When she’s not writing, Sarahlyn moonlights as a full-time writing and literature professor at a local community college. She’s also a co-host of the pop culture podcast, Pretty Much Pop. From Northern California, she now lives in Philadelphia with her family. (Bio adapted from Sarahlyn's website.)

Visit Sarahlyn online:

Twenty years ago, an out-of-control prank ended in an accident that destroyed the high school gym and threatened the futures of star athletes Beth and Ally. They move on with their lives carrying their secret while someone else is blamed, but the years reveal that no one truly comes out unscathed.

Now, both women are at a crossroads: Beth returns to her hometown after a concussion ends her professional soccer career, and a surprise pregnancy disrupts Ally’s idyllic family. The only thing either of them are sure of is their desire to mend their estranged relationship.

But the old friends aren’t just battling new problems when their former classmate Jordan begins to investigate the crime for which his father was convicted. As their secret comes back around to threaten their futures once more, Beth and Ally will have to decide whether to run away from the truth again or face it once and for all. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“When fear and guilt drive best friends and budding soccer stars Ally and Beth to keep a terrible secret, that secret shapes the rest of their lives. Light of the Fire is a rich and beautifully written story about loss, family, friendship, and forgiveness, and what compels us to own up to our mistakes. I thoroughly enjoyed!” 
—Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Amazon Charts bestselling author

“Can we ever truly right our past wrongs—and when we try, does it even matter? That’s the question at the heart of Sarahlyn Bruck’s latest novel about two women whose pasts are still very much present. Light of the Fire is a riveting story of friendship, secrets, and the curveballs life can throw our way.” 
—Camille Pagán, bestselling author of Good for You

“Sarahlyn Bruck’s Light of the Fire delivers a thoughtful exploration of how the fear of consequences often defines and derails our lives more than the underlying mistake would. Tension mounts as Ally and Beth begin to comprehend how many lives were affected by their secret, keeping readers riveted until the two friends accept that their only path to redemption and peace of mind is to come clean. A timely and important story that resonates in an era in which honesty too often takes a backseat to ambition.” 
—Jamie Beck, bestselling author of The Beauty of Rain

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Light of the Fire?
First off, thanks so much for having me back on Chick Lit Central! For the most part, I really enjoyed writing Light of the Fire. The research was fun—it’s set in a fictional small town in New Jersey, which meant I made a few day trips outside of where I live in Philadelphia to scout various locations that informed the small-town setting.

Also, one of the main characters, Beth, plays professional soccer. And although the story isn’t centered around soccer, the sport is part of who she is, and it’s what brought Beth and Ally together. One of my challenges writing this book was incorporating that piece of the puzzle in a realistic way, which meant…more research. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of speaking with a woman who played professionally and for the Women’s National Team, and she generously shared the inside scoop on what the day-to-day lifestyle looks like for these players. Her insight and experience were invaluable to me. The Beth we meet on the page wouldn’t be the same without her expertise.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to the debut novelist version of yourself?
I think I’d remind myself that for every published author, there is a unique path. In other words, there isn’t just one “correct” path to publication. In fact, there are so many ways to do it right—especially  now—so being flexible and resilient is key as the publishing industry changes. I think it’s our way of staying in the game.

If Light of the Fire were made into a movie, what songs would you include on the soundtrack?
Oh goodness—this is a toughie for me. Let’s see, we could go with songs about friendship, maybe “Lean on Me,” “I’ll Be There for You,” or something from the Spice Girls, haha. Or maybe, songs about secrets? I can’t think of any songs that fit off the top of my head—I’ll be taking suggestions!

Did you make any New Year's resolutions?
I hadn’t planned on making any resolutions this year, but a buddy of mine told me that hers was following through with making plans with friends. I loved that idea so much, I decided to borrow it. I’ve been filling my calendar with lunch dates and dinner plans, which is really fun.

If your life were a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it?
Oh, I absolutely fell in love with Lizzy Caplan’s narration in Fleishman Is in Trouble. I adored the book and the limited series so much. She did a great job of bringing Libby to life! I would have her narrate my TV life in a second.

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you'd take us to see?
I live in Philadelphia—a short walk to Center City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rocky steps, Penn and Drexel campuses, the Philadelphia Zoo, as well as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I love all those sights, but I’d probably take visitors to places that might have been a little less well-known, like the Barnes Museum, which boasts a remarkable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art that I’ve ever seen outside of Paris. The story behind the Barnes is equally interesting, too. Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens of mosaic art on South Street is also truly magical as the name might imply. And of course, I always love a run or long walk along the Schyulkill River Trail when the weather cooperates.

Thanks to Sarahlyn for visiting with us and 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 January 28th at midnight EST.

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Monday, January 22, 2024

Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Book Club

By Melissa Amster

Sloane Parker lives a small, contained life as a librarian in her small, contained town. She never thinks of herself as lonely…but still she looks forward to that time every day when old curmudgeon Arthur McLachlan comes to browse the shelves and cheerfully insult her. Their sparring is such a highlight of Sloane's day that when Arthur doesn't show up one morning, she's instantly concerned. And then another day passes, and another.

Anxious, Sloane tracks the old man down only to discover him all but bedridden...and desperately struggling to hide how happy he is to see her. Wanting to bring more cheer into Arthur's gloomy life, Sloane creates an impromptu book club. Slowly, the lonely misfits of their sleepy town begin to find each other, and in their book club, find the joy of unlikely friendship. Because as it turns out, everyone has a special book in their heart—and a reason to get lost (and eventually found) within the pages.

Books have a way of bringing even the loneliest of souls together... (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

A close friend of mine recommended The Lonely Hearts Book Club a lot last year, so I added it to my wishlist. Then I won a wishlist giveaway and the person running the giveaway sent me this book. I'm so glad because I really enjoyed reading it. It's uplifting, heartwarming, and delightful from start to finish.  I loved how books brought these characters together and how it was easy to follow the discussions, even if I hadn't read those books. (The closest I came was seeing the movie of one of them and that was a long time ago.)

I really liked all five narrators and seeing everyone else through their perspectives. Maisey felt especially relatable to me. Even though her relationship with her daughter is different than mine is with my kids, I could relate to the feeling of having a child leave the nest, which is something I'm going to have to face later this year. 

There was a nice balance of humor and sentiment, with genuine dialogue throughout. It kept me engaged and turning the pages quickly. My only concern is that some stuff felt vague to me. I had to read paragraphs more than once to understand what was going on at times. 

I didn't know what to expect from this novel, but I was totally pleased. I already want to read Lucy's next novel, which is also about books!

Movie casting suggestions:
Sloane: Mary Mouser

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Friday, January 19, 2024

Book Review: Stuck With You

By Sara Steven

Jade Monroe has finally found the man of her dreams.   Or has she? Despite them being newly engaged, her fiancé Conner has suddenly gone radio silent. And even though her family are all giving her the same advice, (he's just not that into you) she’s not convinced. Cue her friends who can see something she can’t. 

River Matthews has always been his authentic self, without apologies. Honest to a fault, light-hearted & a little lonely. Currently he's the last single standing in his group of friends & he's starting to feel his 'biological' clock ticking. He’s got close to happily-ever-after before, but now it’s once-bitten-twice-shy, and the only way he’s going to find ‘the one’ is if he takes a chance. 

The wisdom goes that if you just stop looking, your perfect partner will appear, but who will be there when Jade and River stop searching for ‘the one’? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ve read several other books by Aimee Brown, learning a little about River when he was a secondary character, before I dived into Stuck With You. River's personality really stuck out to me, given how rough around the edges he is. It was really nice to get a deeper perspective into how he thinks, especially when it comes to romance. Jade is a woman who has been on his mind for a very long time, but given the fact that she’s taken, he knows that nothing could ever come from his secret crush. 

Jade hasn’t had an easy life. She’s lost so much, so even though it seems crazy that she’d accept a proposal so soon after knowing Conner, it made sense. Even when her friends and family try to convince her to really see Conner for who he is, it’s hard to let go of the fact that someone loves her–even though that love seems misguided and veiled in secrecy. Conner was a really unlikable character. From the get go, I sided with Jade’s support system! I think it can be really hard to see the truth when you’re on the inside, looking out, versus standing on the outside, looking in on a situation.

Despite the fact that Jade knows she’s technically engaged, finding companionship and friendship through being with River is just so easy and organic. As much as he’s felt a crush on Jade, there have been moments in the past where Jade has felt the same about him, but neither of them have ever spoken up about it. I thought given River’s personality, it might be tough for him to find someone who really compliments him, but I think Jade does. They seem to be a good fit–even if it means that friendship is all they’ll ever achieve together. 

I liked the angle of “will they or won’t they,” particularly when it comes to Jade and deciding on the fate of her engagement, and River and his future romantic relationship with Jade, but what I liked most was getting to see River in a completely different light. In the other books he’s highlighted in, he comes off as an obnoxious goofball who doesn’t let up, but here, in Stuck With You, we get to see a more sensitive side to him. There is more vulnerability to him, which makes him more endearing. We get to see him through Jade’s viewpoint, softening those hard-to-reach edges. It made for a really entertaining, enjoyable, yet sweet read, too. A definite five-star experience for me!

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

More by Aimee Brown:

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Thursday, January 18, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: Valley Verified

Legally Blonde meets Silicon Valley in this new addictive novel . . .

We are excited to feature Kyla Zhao's latest novel, Valley Verified, today. It sounds intriguing and is perfect for anyone who loves stories about careers and office culture. Fans of Laura Hankin will enjoy it, as well. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away!

On paper, Zoe Zeng has made it in New York’s fashion world. After a string of unpaid internships, she’s now a fashion columnist at Chic, lives in a quaint apartment in Manhattan, and gets invited to exclusive industry events.

But life in New York City isn’t as chic as Zoe imagined. Her editor wants her to censor her opinions to please the big brands; she shares her “quaint” (read: small) apartment with three roommates who never let her store kimchi in the fridge; and how is she supposed to afford the designer clothes expected for those parties on her meager salary?

Then one day, Zoe receives a job offer at FitPick, an app startup based in Silicon Valley. The tech salary and office perks are sweet, but moving across the country and switching to a totally new industry? Not so much. However, with her current career at a dead end, Zoe accepts the offer and swaps high fashion for high tech, haute couture for HTML. But she soon realizes that in an industry claiming to change the world for the better, not everyone’s intentions are pure. With an eight-figure investment on the line, Zoe must find a way to revamp FitPick's image despite Silicon Valley’s elitism and her icy colleagues. Or the company’s future will go up in smoke—and hers with it.

"Sharp and incisive yet brimming with heart, Valley Verified establishes Kyla Zhao as one of our brightest chroniclers of Gen Z ambition, idealism, and passion. A riveting, satisfying read.”
—Kirstin Chen, New York Times bestselling author of Counterfeit

"Kyla Zhao's Valley Verified captures the experiences of a young woman navigating the hierarchies and prejudices of her Silicon Valley company while staying true to herself and carving out the place she deserves in the world. A page-turner that brims with humour, snappy dialogue, and sharp observations of an industry."
—Balli Kaur Jaswal, author of international bestseller and Reese's Book Club pick Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Credit: Kyla Zhao
Kyla Zhao had her first women's magazine byline at the age of sixteen, writing about weddings for Harper's Bazaar Singapore before she'd even had her first kiss. Since then, she has also written for the Singapore editions of Vogue and Tatler—experiences which helped shape the settings in this book. A native Singaporean, Kyla now works in Silicon Valley after graduating from Stanford University in 2021 with an MA in communications and BA in psychology. She's still trying to understand why Californians adore hiking and Patagonia fleeces so much. 

Visit Kyla online:
Website * 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 January 23rd at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Winter Break

We've been running a column series to get more personal with our readers. This is the start of our fifth year!

This month, we are talking about what we did over winter break. 

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:

Both my sons were out of school for the holidays. The eighteen year old, who attends Arizona State University, was on break from classes and not due to return until January. The thirteen-year-old was on his two week winter break from middle school. Usually during the break, we try to make a concrete plan which might include a short trip to Sedona or Flagstaff, but given the older boy’s work schedule and the time he spends with his girlfriend, and the younger boy’s playdates and sleepovers, on top of the fact that I had work and my husband did, too, we had to make some alternate plans. 

We always have family and friends gather at our house for Christmas. Preparing for that took up a chunk of the winter break, but it felt a lot less stressful, considering many of the side dishes or meals I usually prepare on top of the turkey and other fixings had been delegated to other people. That has never happened before! It was a very relaxing day for me. I actually had time to sit outside in the Arizona sunshine with my friends and have meaningful conversations, instead of getting stuck cooking (and cleaning) in the kitchen.

A few days later, the eighteen year old suggested we see Godzilla Minus One in theaters. He’d already seen it, and when he really enjoys a movie, he’s prone to see it multiple times. (I think I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s seen Oppenheimer.) I wasn’t really feeling it, but given how rare it is for all of us to have availability at the same time, I jumped at the chance to spend a family day with him and our younger son, and my husband. Before the movie, we had dinner at IHOP. It was the one place we could all agree on. The thirteen year old thought it would be funny to take photos of us, then use one of his apps on his phone that converts the photos into hilarious images and videos. The eighteen year old cracked jokes and made sure to pick on me a little bit, which is a major way he shows affection. The food wasn’t super great, but the company was pretty amazing. And you know what? I enjoyed the movie. 

My favorite time over the winter break, though, was New Year’s Eve. I was shocked to discover that my sons had decided to make plans that involved staying in and spending time as a family! I feel like quality time together, just the four of us, has become so rare. I made a charcuterie board, per the older son’s request. (He’s so fancy like that.) 

We played Jackbox games together, up until about ten minutes before the ball was set to drop at midnight on tv. When that happened, I kissed my husband, then gave my sons humongous hugs to ring in 2024. We ran outside to catch glimpses of various fireworks that were going off in the night sky, but we were all pretty loopy by then, considering how late it was. Even so, once we headed back into the house, the kids decided to pull up Youtube and watch something called Skibidi Toilet, a super annoying animated web series that continuously played on repeat until I couldn’t stand it anymore and dragged myself off to bed at around one in the morning. The boys promised to go to bed shortly after, but I doubt that happened. 

Our usual plans of travel didn’t pan out, but I appreciate how relaxing and calm our winter break had been. Plus, what I have grown accustomed to in the past, with always traveling as a foursome, has parlayed into snippets of time where we can gather together and get what time we can, before life and its responsibilities and commitments get in the way. It’s made me even more appreciative of that precious time together. It was a nice way for us to spend the break.

Melissa Amster:

Winter break started the weekend leading up to Christmas. So we decided to take the kids on a road trip to the Chicago suburbs to visit my family and a couple of friends. We were only there for a couple of days, so we didn't tell a lot of people about our visit and made plans with people we hadn't spent time with in a while. The main focus was my family though, especially my sixteen-month-old nephew. 

We left right after Shabbat and stayed overnight in Cleveland. We arrived to the hotel pretty late, so we mainly just crashed there for the night before the next part of our trip, which was going the rest of the way to the Chicago suburbs. When we finally made it there, we spent the evening at my sister's house and had dinner there. It was a relaxing evening overall and we enjoyed catching up with everyone. My nephew is walking all over the place and says very few words right now, but his favorite one is "cracker." And it's so cute to hear him say it! He also makes duck faces and has the best laugh.

Super cute!!!

Monday, we met up with Tracey (my best friend, who also used to blog for CLC) and her husband and their adorable baby boy (whom I also consider a nephew, as she and I are that close). We had brunch with them and then hung out at my sister's house so the babies could play together. (It's mostly parallel play since they're about seven months apart.) Later, we met up with my family for dinner. Although it was Christmas, there were a few places open. We went to my parents' house afterward and got to see some of my cousins, one who just turned 23 the day before. (I feel so old!)

Tuesday, we met up with my husband's cousins for brunch, as he hadn't had a chance to see them in a while. It was nice catching up with them. My parents were there too, as they're friends with his cousins. Then we went to my parents' house again to spend more time with them, and my sister and nephew, before heading to dinner to meet a friend we hadn't seen since 2017. This is someone I'm also really close with and we have a lot of common interests. She also supports my kids' theater interests and she's genuinely kind and down-to-earth. We spent over two hours talking at the restaurant. 

Wednesday, we headed back to Cleveland and stayed at the same hotel we stayed at on Saturday night. Honestly, if I had known what the hotel was going to be like, I would have picked a different one, but it was too late to cancel without incurring a fee. Having said that, the toilet paper was in this weird spot at the bottom of the bathroom cabinet. We went to our favorite Kosher dairy restaurant in Cleveland for dinner, which was nice, and had way too many cheese fries. Unfortunately, our favorite frozen custard place was closed for the winter. 

We had to do some sort of gymnastics to reach this.

On Thursday, we drove to Pittsburgh and met up with another close friend of mine (we go back over 30 years) who moved there in 2022. We try to see him whenever we're out that way or passing through. Then we headed back home. The rest of the week was uneventful and then on Saturday I discovered that I had Covid. This was my first time with it and it really just felt like a cold. I only realized it may be something more when I couldn't smell or taste my normally strong cinnamon tea. So I spent New Year's Eve and the next few days in my room binge watching High School Musical: the Musical: the Series. If you're a musical theater geek like me, you'll love this show. That was coupled with the novel Cut Loose by Ali Stroker, which I really enjoyed. And in more bookish news, I finally saw One True Loves, which is based on the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. You can see my review at the link.

And that was my winter break.

What did you do over the winter holidays?

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Book Review: The Screenwriter

By Sara Steven

The perfect ghost writer is silent, unassuming…

… and knows which secrets are worth keeping

I’d hoped my screen-writing career would have taken off by now, anything to stop me from dealing with yet another jumped-up celebrity who thinks their story is worth telling.

But when my agent tells me which celeb wants me to write their memoir. Well, I can’t deny my interest is piqued.

Blythe Hopper, former Hollywood star. An Oscar winner, no less.

But more famous recently for shooting her husband. One shot between the eyes.

It’s the best story! But I must admit, I have a different reason to want to visit her beautiful Hampstead mansion.

You see, her husband emailed me. Says he has answers to questions I’ve asked my entire life. The only trouble is, the email was sent two days after he was already dead.

A ghost. Just like me.

So if Blythe wants to tell all, I’m going to make sure I’m the one she talks to. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Marnie, a down on her luck ghostwriter-turned-failed screenwriter, is given the opportunity to ghostwrite for a scandalous actress (Blythe) who is best known in recent years for killing her husband. At first, it appears that Marnie’s motivation in even taking the job is due to her need for survival. Her boyfriend has left her, and when the pilot she’d written goes belly up, she needs some form of income to pay her already delinquent rent. I loved how the stakes were continually raised for Marnie in that regard. But what we quickly discover is that she’s received an email from Blythe’s deceased husband, letting her know that he has information pertaining to family secrets that she’s wanted answers to for most of her life. 

From the moment she steps inside of the gates and grounds of what is known as “The Towers,” there are immediate ominous undertones. Ludo, Blythe’s assistant, refuses to allow Marnie to explore the grounds, or to do much of anything, other than to stay as a prisoner within the high-guarded walls. Blythe deflects during their much-needed conversations about the memoir Marnie is to ghostwrite for Blythe, and while Marnie does her best to investigate under such stringent guidelines, clues and hints towards Blythe’s past and possible leads to Marnie’s past begin to coincide. Most of the reading experience for me was shrouded in mystery and intrigue. I never knew what would be lurking around each dark, dank corner. Suddenly, the body count of deaths (Blythe’s husband included) has gone up to six potential victims by Blythe’s hand. Or, was it someone else entirely? I was just as curious and fearful of the outcome as Marnie was!

I had my suspicions as to the ultimate truths–not only where Blythe and her sordid past are concerned, but the answers to Marnie’s number one question. But as I read along, I’d get sidetracked down another dark corridor, much like Marnie when she navigates her way inside of The Towers. In the end, I wasn’t terribly surprised when Marnie is given what she came there for, but I was thrown off guard by a lot of it. She gets a lot more than she bargained for. 

The premise behind The Screenwriter kept me hooked from start to finish! It was such a clever storyline, something I could see turned into a mystery made-for-TV movie. It was a great psychological thriller, a definite five-star experience!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK * Amazon US * Apple

Amanda Reynolds is the bestselling psychological suspense author whose debut novel, Close To Me, was adapted as a major six-part TV series for Channel 4 in 2021. Previously published by Headline, her books have been translated into multiple languages. Amanda lives near Cheltenham.

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