Friday, March 29, 2024

What's in the (e) a book giveaway


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 Elísabet Benavent from Sourcebooks (NetGalley)
The Briar Club by Kate Quinn from William Morrow


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)

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) 

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.

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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Book Review: Nosy Neighbors

By Allyson Bales

Seventy-seven-year-old Dorothy Darling has lived in Shelley House longer than any of the other residents, and if you take their word for it, she’s as cantankerous as they come. But Dorothy has her reasons for spying. And none of them require justifying herself to Kat Bennett. 

Twenty-five-year-old Kat has never known a place where she felt truly at home, and crumbling Shelley House is no different. Her neighbors find her prickly and unapproachable, but beneath her tough exterior, Kat’s plagued by a guilty secret from her past.

When their apartments face demolition, sworn enemies Kat and Dorothy agree on just one thing: they must save their historic building. But when someone plays dirty—and one of the residents is viciously taken down—Dorothy and Kat seek justice. The police close the investigation too soon, leaving it up to the unlikely amateur sleuths—with a playful Jack Russell terrier at their side—to restore peace in their community. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Nosy Neighbors was so enjoyable to read and my first Freya Sampson story.  It was a mix between cozy mystery and contemporary fiction.  I loved the characters, the Shelley House “a dilapidated castle”, Reginald the dog, and the themes of community and found family.  This book made me think a lot about my own community.

I have been living in the same neighborhood for about seven-ish years and have a relationship with a neighbor that is pretty tight knit.  It didn't start that way but we went through a flood and it brought us closer.  I also have a neighbor just like Dorothy. I can’t wait for you to meet Dorothy as well as the rest of the Shelly House tenants. I guarantee they will all remind you of someone you have lived nearby at some point in your life and hopefully provide you with the same nostalgia, giggles, and suspense that they provided me.

Now back to my neighbor and Dorothy. Dorothy is a 77 year-old sassy, direct, sometimes curmudgeonly tenant that feels it is her responsibility to monitor all the comings and goings of her neighbors. She jots it down in a notebook with her daily tea and soap opera. Just like my neighbor she is protecting her home.  Just like my neighbor she is looking for connection and just like my neighbor she sure is nosy!  You get to hear a lot of the story from her point of view and also from another tenant, Kat.  

They initially really do not like one another and I found the way they get to know one another very endearing.  It reminded me a bit of the character Ove from A Man Called Ove and the way he grows on people.  I also really loved the other tenants and how their backstories are explored.  I also loved how Sampson explores so many relatable themes!

Sampson really showcases that we never really know what our neighbors might be going through and often we are all looking for connection and someone to care.  I loved that there are so many relatable topics explored through the characters, especially regret.  I think so many of us have felt regret at some point and this story is reassuring and provides hope.  It is a story that will make you laugh, make you try to guess whodunnit, and also feels like a warm hug, which is my favorite kind of story! 

I am now going to go see how my neighbors are doing, especially the one like Dorothy, and also check out Sampson’s backlist!  I can’t wait to hear what you think of this lovely story! 

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

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Thursday, March 28, 2024

Delaney Diamond is a woman's best friend!

Today we are pleased to welcome Delaney Diamond to CLC. Her latest novel, Handsome Devil, released last month and she's here to talk more about it, as well as her writing process and some other fun topics. We enjoyed hearing what she has to say and we hope you will too!

Delaney Diamond is the USA Today Bestselling Author of more than 50 contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels, and dozens of romance short stories. Her latest release is Handsome Devil, a marriage of convenience romance between a Venezuelan billionaire and his ex-wife, a wealthy Texas socialite. 

Delaney reads romance novels, mysteries, thrillers, and a fair amount of nonfiction. When she’s not busy reading or writing, she’s in the kitchen trying out new recipes, dining at one of her favorite restaurants, or traveling to an interesting locale. Enjoy free stories.

Visit Delaney online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Annabelle Buchanan waltzes into Dante Escarra’s office with a singular goal—to persuade him to accept her audacious one-year marriage proposal. Her objective? Taking control of her father’s real estate empire. But Dante is her ex-husband, and their past is littered with hurt and anger.

Dante never once contemplated reuniting with Annabelle, because she broke his heart and left him devastated years ago. But her offer is a tantalizing chance to add an iconic Houston building to his real estate portfolio—a prize he covets more than he’s willing to admit.

As they pursue their respective goals, the lines between business and heart blur. Can they make their marriage work the second time around, or will they both end up with broken hearts—again?
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
One of my favorite compliments is when readers tell me or mention in reviews that they stayed up late into the night, unable to put down my book. Knowing that my writing has the power to captivate readers in that way is very encouraging and great for my ego. It motivates me to keep writing and digging deep to provide the same experience with each release.

What did you learn from writing your previous novels that you applied to your latest novel?
Something I learned fairly early on is that readers—my readers, anyway—like the details. I noticed how some reviews would state they could picture the scenes in their heads or the story played out like a movie. As someone who enjoys the details in stories, those comments alleviated my concerns that I might be too detailed. 

Conventional writing wisdom suggests less is more as you allow the reader to use their imagination. Personally, I want to “see” what the characters see, taste and smell the food they eat, and experience the texture of their clothes. 

In Handsome Devil, my latest release, there’s a scene where the hero and heroine attend a casino party at an estate. I described the property as they entered the mansion, describing the red carpet, the people in attendance, and the various games for the attendees to play. My editor thought it was too much and suggested I cut it, but in the end I left in the descriptions. 

Planting the reader in the scene is part of my writing voice. Though there are some people who don’t like it, readers have come to expect that from my work, and since I enjoy adding those details, I will continue to write them. 

If you could tell the debut novelist version of yourself one thing, what would it be?
I would tell myself to put processes and procedures in place so I could be organized. When I started self-publishing in 2011, there wasn’t nearly as much to do. I basically wrote my books, published them, and moved on to the next book.

Now, I have to juggle so many hats. There’s marketing, advertising, continuing education, admin work, social media, research, etc. There’s so much to do! 

Luckily, I come from an administrative background. I like finding ways to organize and save time, but it took me a while to fully understand the reason I was feeling overwhelmed. I even had an assistant for a while, but the truth is, I just needed to get better organized. 

Eventually, I put processes in place and created checklists, etc., but I wish I’d done those things sooner.

Which TV series are you currently binge watching?

I’m not currently binge watching a series, but I did recently finish binge watching Will Trent. Watching the series has made me curious to read the books by Karin Slaughter. I’m invested in the characters—getting to know them, their flaws, and watching them work through their issues in each episode. I also like that the crime is solved in each episode, instead of dragging it out for the entire season. 

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
Currently, I’m in Huntsville, Alabama, and I’d take you to see the Space and Rocket Center. Then I’d take you downtown to Big Spring International Park, where we could spend the rest of the day doing the following: feeding the ducks, listening to live music while chilling on the grass, visiting the Huntsville Museum of Art, and end the day at the pizza place where they have the absolute best cheesy breadsticks—while another band serenades us on the patio. 

What is something you had a good laugh about recently?
This is terrible, but an Instagram video made me laugh hard. A man was walking down the stairs to the basement with his son, when he stepped on a Lego and fell down the stairs. He howled at the end. That was funny, but even funnier was the comments section. 

“Not the kid making it about himself 😂”
“These birth control commercials are getting wild”
“My man’s turned into Kermit the frog”

I assume the man is fine, or we would have never seen his video. If you have a sick sense of humor and want a laugh, here’s the link:

Thanks to Delaney for visiting with us!

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Book Review: Friends in Napa

By Melissa Smoot

Just get yourselves here, everything else is on us.

Raj and Rachel Ranjani have invited a small group of their ride-or-dies from college for a celebratory weekend in Napa Valley. On the agenda: three nights in the couple’s vineyard mansion, a lavish dinner at Napa’s hottest new restaurant, exclusive tastings, and the grand opening of the Ranjanis’ ultra-high-end winery. It’s a reunion of six friends who haven’t seen each other in years. What could go wrong?

To start, there’s the less-than-warm welcome: a brick flung through a window and palpable tension between the hosts. But no worries—all Raj has to do is pop a few bottles of vintage Dom, and the college vibes come rushing back. So do old resentments, animosities, and unrequited crushes. Soon enough, the illusion of friendship shatters like a gossamer wineglass, and one of the friends ends up dead. Everyone has their motivations. Everyone has something to hide.

Here’s to a weekend in the valley. Drink up and watch your back. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I have mixed feelings about this story. I loved the Napa setting and how a group of friends from college, now in their forties, were meeting up at a vineyard after years of being apart. I also really liked getting the backstory on every one of the friends. There were so many decades old feuds and plenty of unrequited feelings that it made for good drama. Each character brought a different element to the weekend and it was easy to see that everyone had their own motive for showing up to the winery. 

I will say that I felt that I was waiting and waiting for the big crescendo. I wanted more and I didn’t want it to take the entirety of the story to get to the meat of the plot. Once we got there, I couldn’t put it down and was glad I stayed the course. While I enjoyed the book overall, I did feel that it was slow in getting to the point. I just wanted more of the story and I felt the plot wrapped up a little too quickly.

Thanks to MB Communications for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase Friends in Napa here.

Also by Sheila Yasmin Marikar: The Goddess Effect

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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Tracey Garvis Graves has a story with a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I came to Tracey Garvis-Graves's books a bit late. However, I have loved the ones I've read so far, which include her latest and greatest novel, The Trail of Lost Hearts. (See my five-star review.)  I currently have her debut, On the Island, in my five-book pile and I look forward to reading it soon. I hope to read her other books that I missed, as well. In the meantime, I'm excited to share a signed copy of Trail, courtesy of Tracey!

Tracey Garvis Graves is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and international bestselling author of contemporary fiction. Her debut novel, On the Island, spent nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into thirty-six languages, and is in development with MGM and Temple Hill Productions for a feature film. She is also the author of Uncharted, Covet, Every Time I Think of You, Cherish, Heart-Shaped Hack, White-Hot Hack, The Girl He Used to Know, Heard It in a Love Song, and The Trail of Lost Hearts. She is hard at work on her next book. (Bio courtesy of Tracey's website.)

Visit Tracey online:

Thirty-four-year-old Wren Waters believes that if you pay attention, the universe will send you exactly what you need. But her worldview shatters when the universe delivers two life-altering blows she didn’t see coming, and all she wants to do is put the whole heartbreaking mess behind her. No one is more surprised than Wren when she discovers that geocaching—the outdoor activity of using GPS to look for hidden objects—is the only thing getting her out of bed and out of her head. She decides that a weeklong solo quest geocaching in Oregon is exactly what she needs to take back control of her life.

Enter Marshall Hendricks, a psychologist searching for distraction as he struggles with a life-altering blow of his own. Though Wren initially rebuffs Marshall’s attempt at hiker small talk, she’s beyond grateful when he rescues her from a horrifying encounter farther down the trail. In the interest of safety, Marshall suggests partnering up to look for additional caches. Wren’s no longer quite so trusting of the universe—or men in general—but her inner circle might argue that a smart, charismatic psychologist isn’t the worst thing the universe could place in her path.

What begins as a platonic road trip gradually blossoms into something deeper, and the more Wren learns about Marshall, the more she wants to know. Now all she can do is hope that the universe gets it right this time. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"I cannot get enough of Tracey Garvis Graves. She just keeps getting better and better." 
―Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six

"Tracey Garvis Graves has crafted a powerful story of resiliency and the strength of the human spirit. A poignant, heartfelt read." 
―Rochelle B. Weinstein, bestselling author of When We Let Go

"I've yet to read a Tracey Garvis graves book I didn't devour and cherish with my whole heart." ―Christina Lauren, New York Times bestselling author of The Soulmate Equation

"Tracey Garvis Graves is a master!" 
―Colleen Oakley, USA Today bestselling author of The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing The Trail of Lost Hearts?
The biggest reward was how the story turned out. I had a vision that I was working toward, and seeing it finally come alive on the page felt amazing. The biggest challenge was NOT seeing it come alive in the first several drafts and becoming frustrated. I rewrote the entire book at least twice because I just couldn't get it to work at first.  

Did you know much about geocaching before writing The Trail of Lost Hearts? If not, what inspired you to write about it?
Much like Wren's comments in the book, I'd heard the term and knew what it meant, but that's where my knowledge ended. But I initially pictured this story as more of a heist tale with the characters involved in a competition, of sorts. This led me down the path of needing something for the hero or heroine to abscond with before the other character could get to it. The seed of the initial idea eventually led me to geocaching. I became a huge fan of the activity while writing the book and bought the paid version of the geocaching app. Looking for urban caches in my downtown neighborhood delighted me, and I look forward to finding more when I'm out walking or hiking this spring. Also, side note, heist novels are really difficult to write! 

If you could tell the debut novelist version of yourself one thing, what would it be?
You will need to break in all over again with every new book you write. Publishing does not hold spots, so be prepared to earn yours with every new manuscript if you want to stay in the industry. 

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I recently finished reading the biographies of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk written by Walter Isaacson. I also read Bad Blood by John Carreyrou about Elizabeth Holmes and her Theranos startup. They were fascinating, hubris-filled, often cautionary storylines with a ton of overlap in the traits of all three people. 

If your life was a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it? 
Sarah Jessica Parker. As a massive Sex and the City fan, her voiceover would feel like listening to an old friend.  

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
I would take you on a walking tour of my urban neighborhood and point out the first geocache I ever found. I'd make sure to point out our state capitol building that looks over downtown Des Moines and is known for its dome covered in thin sheets of twenty-three-carat gold. I'd also take you to my neighborhood bookstore and my favorite place to buy cupcakes.  

Thanks to Tracey for chatting with us and for sharing her book with our readers.

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

Giveaway ends April 1st at midnight EST.

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Monday, March 25, 2024

Book Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Aunties

By Jami Denison

**Review may contain spoilers for the first two books in the series**

The third time’s the charm for author Jesse Q. Sutanto and her Aunties series. (read the reviews for Dial A for Aunties and Four Aunties and a Wedding.) In wrapping up her series, Sutanto takes her madcap cast to Jakarta, where Meddy, her husband Nathan, her mother, and her three aunts have returned to celebrate Chinese New Year. But in The Good, the Bad, and the Aunties, like the first two books of the series, nothing goes as planned.  

If Meddy’s family seemed too much in the U.S., back in Indonesia, where Meddy’s mother and sisters are reunited with their cousins from multiple branches of the family, they’re too sprawling to keep track of. And that’s the wrinkle that sets off this book’s adventure: Nathan accidentally gives a red envelope (the traditional Chinese New Year gift for children) to the wrong person, which results in hostage-taking, kidnapping, drugging, and party crashing in order to save family members from warring Indonesian mafia members. In other words, business as usual for the aunties. 

With Meddy and Nathan firmly a team, the third book in the series sidesteps Meddy’s biggest issue in the first two books: She no longer needs to hide anything from the man she loves. Her mother and aunts have claimed Nathan as their own, and he willingly participates in machinations necessary to save their family members. Now that Meddy no longer has to lie to Nathan, her other shortcomings become clear: She simply doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to her mother and aunts, even when her judgment is proven correct time and again. To do this, Meddy will have to overcome Chinese culture that insists that elders must be obeyed no matter what, and that there’s nothing worse than losing face.  

Tone-wise, the third book in the series matches the first book, with bickering relatives exchanging insults and undying loyalty, and the villains about as scary as Count Von Count from Sesame Street. Sutanto’s plotting, structure, pacing, and twists continue to put on a master class for other thriller writers. After three books, though, the style gets a little tiresome, and I think Sutanto was right to pull the plug on the series—or at least take a break from it. She leaves Meddy and Nathan in a good place, and in a few years, she might wish to revisit them. 

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

More by Jesse Q. Sutanto:

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Friday, March 22, 2024

Book Review: The Last Resort

By Sara Steven

As soon as you first see the House in the Hills, an old hotel in a picturesque enclave of the Cypriot hills, you know it's the perfect home for you – with breath-taking views, a refreshing pool, and peace and quiet, away from the rest of the world. A place to recover and grow.

But paradise isn’t cheap, and as the debts mount, you could lose everything you've worked so hard for.

Until someone makes you an offer: to keep your home, you have to take a life.

But you could never do that… could you?

You’d die for a stay here. But would you kill for it? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The Last Resort is equal parts creepy and psychological thriller. Told in various perspectives, and in varying timeframes, depending on the character, the reader gets a feel for the slow ooze of fear and trepidation that stems from Pure Heart, a spiritual community (commune) that is run by one of the primary characters, Quinn. We learn that an unfortunate suicide had happened at Pure Heart a decade ago, leaving behind Sofia, who was merely a child at the time. Fast forward to the present–Sofia comes back to Pure Heart to reconnect with those who had practically raised her and had at one time promised to protect her and keep her from harm when she was young, even though Sofia’s feelings on the matter aren’t in line with those sentiments.

At first, Sofia’s return is a fateful event for Quinn. But soon after, Quinn and the other inhabitants begin to see the truth behind Sofia’s return, beginning with an offer that sends every single person into moral ambiguity. The way the story is written reminded me of watching a thriller on tv or at the movie theater, where things appear to be simplistic, when it is anything but. The fear is tampered down by the sunny atmosphere and warmth of the Grecian backdrop. The dark secrets that linger beneath the surface are drowned out by the vast rolling hills and gardens, its fruits and vegetables laden with ripened fruit. Pure Heart is self-sufficient. A safe haven for individuals who needed a change of scenery. A secluded hideout for possible death and destruction.

I liked how quickly the pace picked up after life-altering decisions have been made. The turning point where there is no going back for Quinn and the rest of the crew. How they all fall in line, one after the other. From the get go, it had been decided that there was no way that anyone could take a life. But eventually, those lines become blurred into gray matter, with a pretty explosive ending that is chaotic and messy, just as I’d imagine a situation like that to be in real life. It was also interesting how the author chose to use certain distinguishing characteristics of communication from one character to the next. Quinn’s was the most unique and differing. And for good reason.

In the end, no one is without fault, and every single person is a blend of good and evil. The Last Resort really delved into human character and pushed the boundaries and limits of what is acceptable. Like the synopsis asked: Would you kill for it? That is the ultimate scary question, and kept me on my toes the entire time I read this book. A definite five-star experience!

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

T.J. Emerson lives in Scotland and writes psychological thrillers. Her short stories have been widely published in anthologies and literary magazines, and her feature writing has appeared in Stella magazine, Woman’s Own, and The Sydney Morning Herald. Her first psychological thriller for Boldwood, The Perfect Holiday, was published in April 2022 and was an Amazon bestseller.

Visit T.J. online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

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Thursday, March 21, 2024

Sara and Melissa Talk About...First Dates

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 the first dates we've ever been on. 

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

Sara Steven:

I went on my first date ever when I was fifteen years old. My best friend at the time had decided it was in my best interest to go on a blind date she’d set up with her boyfriend’s coworker, and let me know about it the morning of the date. 

It was before the days of easy cell phone texts and conversations. I had to come up with a story for my dad as to why I wouldn’t be home after school–I’d simply tell him I planned on going home with my best friend and spend the rest of the afternoon with her. I waited until our lunch break, then used a pay phone located blocks away on a street corner, the lie believable–to my dad at least. 

Not once did my dad question the validity of my story. I never questioned the safety behind making any sort of plan with a guy I had only seen a few times from a car window, watching him pump gas for customers at the gas station he worked for. I’d heard good things about him. That he was a year older. That he went to our rival high school. My best friend said he was “preppy,” and I’m still not sure if that was meant to be an attractive quality or not.

What I focused on was that I’d actually get to go on a date…with a cute guy! A cute guy who pulled up to the front of the school and parked like he belonged there, his black Nissan Sentra gleaming in the spring sunshine. It looked like he’d just had it washed. He slid out and opened the passenger door for me, the smell of Cool Water strong, his dark brown hair stiff with hairgel. After we’d buckled in, he pulled slowly away from the curb, the yellow vanilla tree air freshener bouncing in time with the Spice Girls. 

We didn’t say a word to each other the entire way to the movie theater. I watched his hand maneuver the stick shift, and at stop lights, it would rest comfortably on his Levi jeaned knee. I found the skill fascinating. When I thought he wasn’t looking, I’d sneak glances at his profile, serious yet fragile, maybe feeling as nervous as I felt. 

He paid for my movie ticket. I thought that was chivalrous. But when it came time to order snacks at the concession stand, I wouldn’t let him pay for my popcorn or fountain drink. It felt like too much of a commitment for two people who had just officially met one another. 

I’m not sure why we chose Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. It might have been the only movie two underage teenagers could watch at the time slot available to us. And I barely remember the movie. I was so high on nervous energy. Wondering if he’d reach over and hold my hand, which was purely based on the romantic movies and television shows I had seen at the time. I’d look over from time to time, watching him watch the movie. Listening to his laugh. Feeling stiff and awkward sitting next to him, this practical stranger. 

Afterwards, he drove us to a park located close to where my best friend lived. We climbed up a rusty old monkey bar tower, finding a way to sit on the top, legs dangling. We talked about our lives–I learned that his parents divorced when he was a baby, and that he had two older sisters who were years ahead of him, often treating him like he was a baby, even though he was sixteen. I felt a kinship, considering my parents had also divorced when I was young, my own siblings like children to me due to my constant need to protect them and take care of them. 

He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, regardless: his future college plans included becoming a civil engineer. I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I felt like he had it all together. Like he was so much more mature than I could ever be. 

By the end of the conversation, after we climbed back down to earth, we both agreed that we wanted to officially become girlfriend and boyfriend. At some point, before the park, we scored some mint chewing gum–I vaguely remember he kept a pack in his middle console in the Sentra. He turned his head to the right, the gum flying out of his mouth and landing on the warm ground by his feet. I looked to my left, repeating the process, playing follow the leader.

I received my first kiss that late afternoon. It was the worst kiss I’ve ever received. It was wet and sloshy, our lips mismatched and novice, the new budding relationship sealed with something so slithery, but I felt exhilarated. I didn’t even care about the saliva dribble. 

The kissing got a lot better. But we dated for roughly a year before we broke up. And even after we broke up, there were a few times we’d entertained the idea of getting back together, maybe because of the familiarity of it. The “preppy” boy spent a lot of time with me and my dad during that time, and the civil engineer dream had turned into a need to get into wildlife and fisheries, an inspiration he’d picked up after fishing the West and learning the ropes from my dad. 

He lives off the grid now in Washington state, happily married to a beautiful woman. They have four kids. The preppy boy image is long gone, replaced by flannel and beard. He received his masters in wildlife and fisheries and has made a life from that passion, and I bet he hasn’t used a yellow vanilla tree air freshener since 1994. But maybe he still wears Cool Water. I can’t say for sure.  

Melissa Amster:        

I'm phoning it in this month since I talked about this at my personal blog a long time ago. And thankfully I've met someone truly special since then and am now married 20 years. (So yeah, I've had much better dates since the one I'm sharing here.)

When I was a freshman in high school, one of my friends decided to introduce me to a guy she was friends with, as we’re both Jewish. I was looking to go to the BBYO (B'nai Brith Youth Organization) Invite dance, so I took her up on the…um…opportunity. The guy called me and we seemed to get along pretty well by phone. He asked if I wanted to go to the Invite dance with him, even though he wasn’t in BBYO (apparently, he knew about it anyway). We made plans to meet up ahead of time for a date. We were going to see Sleeping with the Enemy. (How fitting, even though I never would have considered sleeping with him. Yuck!)

So the first time we met in person was to see this movie. It was so incredibly awkward from the get-go. I didn’t find him all that attractive. He looked like an ugly version of Edward Furlong in his Terminator 2 days, even though that movie hadn’t come out yet and I wouldn’t make the analogy till I saw it later that summer. Then I had to suffer through watching this movie with him, considering that he kept trying to put his hands on my legs and it was super uncomfortable. 

After the movie, we were waiting for our parents to pick us up, so we walked around the record store next to the theater. I swear some girls who knew him from school were giving me pitying looks. I should have called off the dance plans right there! Of course, I didn’t do that yet and ended up kicking myself for waiting on it. 

A few days later, after already buying a dress for the dance, I found out that he was also talking to another friend of mine, trying to hook up with her, and telling her I was a prude for not letting him touch my leg at the movie theater. (Okay, so I was a prude, but if the date had been with my crush at the time, I would have not had a problem with roving hands, so-to-speak.) I was pissed off about this and called him later, telling him I no longer would be attending the dance with him. (I found out that he had only asked me to go with him so he could hook up with someone else there. I feel sorry for whomever that someone else was.)

Instead of going to the dance, I hung out with some other girls from my BBG group at one of their houses. I found out from several other girls that he asked them to the dance too, but they rejected his offer right away. That made me feel soooo much better about myself...NOT!

Around this same time, I had become close with a friend I had met at a NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) retreat and making fun of him became an inside joke between us. Given that his last name had the word “ass” in it, you can imagine we had a field day. We made fun of other things about him, which went as far as making up embarrassing diseases for him and then making up songs about such diseases. We also added words to his last name to make it funnier. I think humor helped a lot in this situation and allowed me to feel better about things right away. In the meantime, he ruined my enjoyment of Sleeping with the Enemy (it would have been a good movie if I had seen it with some female friends or even my family). I also was less trusting of guys throughout high school, even going as far as being mean to guys after they gave the impression that they were interested in me.

Looking back on it now, if social media had been around during my freshman year of high school, I would have had a field day ripping this guy to shreds and also lamenting about the situation in a dramatic way. 

I've been on some other lame dates during my single days, but this one will always take the cake!

Tell us about your first date ever.

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Spending the day with Michele a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I met Michele Davenport-Dutton through CLC a while back. She has always been such a kind, friendly, and enthusiastic woman and I'm thankful to know her. I even did a reader spotlight on her almost 10 years ago. So when I heard she had published her first novel, I wanted to feature it and also learn more about her. One Alpen Day sounds really interesting and is receiving great reviews on Amazon. Michele has TWO signed copies for some lucky readers!

Michele Davenport-Dutton has always enjoyed reading and was the Top reader at her Montessori school in Garmisch, Germany, which she took pride in as a young child. She is a fan of love stories fueled with heart and happy endings. This is Michele’s debut novel. She received her Bachelor’s Degree at CSUB in Business Mgt. and shortly after, became pregnant with her first baby. She put her career on hold as she had three more children and became a stay-at-home mom for nearly 30 years. She had always wanted to write a book and is happy to see it finally come into fruition. Michele is married to her husband, Chris, and together they have eight adult children and seven grandchildren. (Hopefully, many more grandchildren to come) Michele and Chris reside in Shafter, CA, on the outskirts of Bakersfield. Visit Michele on Instagram.


All she wants in life… is to be a mom.

All he wants in life… is for his two young children to have a loving mom…

Newly divorced and still struggling with her pregnancy losses and failed marriage, Angela Sutton leaves L.A. to return to her hometown Grainau, Germany where she assists her Aunt Terese in running the family bakery. One day, the famous Hollywood actor, Mason Glade, whom Angela has had a major crush on, enters the bakery. Angela can’t believe her eyes. What is he doing in her sleepy Alpine village? Is he shooting a movie? What Angela does know is that Mason has two young children with his estranged, alcoholic wife, Camila. Has fate brought Angela and Mason together in the same village? Would Mason be interested in someone like her? Could they possibly have a future together?

Mason Glade is a simple man who wants a simple life with a warm, loving wife and a mother for his two children. Sure, he’s a famous Hollywood actor and well-loved, but he’s tired of his estranged, alcoholic wife, Camila, being plastered on every tabloid magazine. It’s embarrassing for him, but mostly for his two young kids whom they share together. When Camila enters rehab, Mason decides he needs a break and has to get away, somewhere far. So, he packs up his kids and their nanny and heads to Grainau, Germany, a small village in the Bavarian alps. There he meets a beautiful German girl, Angela, who works at her aunt’s bakery. He’s smitten with her and so are his kids. He sees how great Angela is with them. Slowly, he’s falling for her. Will he divorce Camila and pursue  Angela or is going to give Camila one last try? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you?
The road to publishing was fairly pleasant because the wonderful Lee Hyat, who designed my beautiful book cover, assisted me in uploading my manuscript to Amazon’s KDP publishing. 

How is Angela similar to or different from you?
I see a lot of similarities in my mother and myself in Angela. We are all about family. We are the caretakers, the nurturers and it’s because I had a wonderful Oma (Grandma) as a role model. Angela differs from me as she’s had a couple of miscarriages. I’ve never experienced a miscarriage. I had to do a lot of research on miscarriages- causes of, etc.

If One Alpen Day were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
I’m not good at casting. It’s weird. I see the hair and eye color, the personality, but I don’t see my characters’ faces. Is that strange? If I had to choose, I’d pick a young Matthew McConaughey and a young Kate Beckinsale as the leads. I’ll let you guys pick. Let me know what you think. :)

What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
I read Jane Porter’s novel, Christmas at Copper Mountain, four times now. I rarely read a book more than once, rarely twice. I don’t know. There’s something magical about Jane Porter’s writing. She just seems to draw you into her stories. They say, “Come inside. Stay a while. Have a cup of hot cocoa.” She brings a lot of emotion into her characters, lots of internal conflict and I think that’s what makes her books so successful. 

If your life was a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it? 
Without a doubt, Kathie Lee Gifford. That woman is so beautiful, inside and out, and so articulate. She’s a Godly woman. I just love her and truly miss her and Regis’ morning show. Did anyone else watch Regis and Kathie Lee? Great memories, Great laughs.

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
Aside from Agriculture, Oil, and Basque food, Bakersfield is best known as The Country Music Capital of the West Coast and Nashville West. Country music legends, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard came from Bakersfield. If you came to visit, I would show you Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace museum and also enjoy a great dinner at the restaurant there. 

Thanks to Michele for chatting with us and for sharing her book with our readers.

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

Giveaway ends March 26th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Book Review: A Fresh Start at the Wagging Tails Dogs' Home

By Sara Steven

There’s no place like home… Although dog trainer Sally is relatively new to Wagging Tails, the team she works with have quickly become her family and the dogs her friends.

But when Andy, the one that got away, turns up for a brief respite from the city, she is at a crossroads. As tempting as a life with him is, she loves her home of West Par, and anyway, she has responsibilities here.

Number one on that list is ensuring the dogs' home stays in business. A developer has been sniffing around wanting to buy the land, and the team is worried.

Sally will do anything to save her home and her friends’ livelihoods but the lure of reuniting with her lost love is strong. Is there a way for her to have both?
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

The Wagging Tails book series can be summed up in one word: cozy. It’s why I’ve read every single book. And this go around, we get to see the world from Sally’s perspective. Sally used to live a more mainstream lifestyle, with a background in legalities, but there was something magical about West Par and Wagging Tails. The opportunity to work with dogs and to open up her own business as a dog trainer feels like a dream come true–so much so, that the life she used to live can get to feeling like it is a distant memory lived by someone else. Until she runs into her ex-boyfriend, Andy.

Her former world and her current one collides in an instant, bringing back a lot of past pain and heaps of regret. There is a reason she considers him as the one who got away. It was sweet to see how the two characters cautiously work towards trying to bridge the gap in their relationship, but at the same time, Andy’s behaviors are odd and at times, off putting. When they are spending time together, he receives phone calls that cut their time short. It always feels like there’s something more he wants to tell Sally, but he never seems to get it out–only to assure her that things are fine, even though she knows it can’t be true. 

Has he truly forgiven her for the past? It weighs heavily on Sally. Not to mention the recent drama with a developer who stops at nothing to try to convince the owner of Wagging Tails to sell. As the chapters unfold, the future of Wagging Tails becomes a real concern. Sally and the crew will do everything they can to ensure the safety and security of their beloved dogs’ home–I really loved the surprise birthday party they threw for one of their own, and the callback to some of the familiar dogs I remember from other books in this series. It was a really nice touch, and helped to show just how important it is to save this home! 

There were many different factors and themes at play within A Fresh Start at Wagging Tails Dogs’ Home. The need for security and trust–no matter the type of relationship you’re in. Solidifying what truly makes YOU happy, even if it might not make sense or meet the approval of others. And doing all you can for those you love and cherish, whether those you loved come in human or canine form. This was a great addition to the Wagging Tails book series–a definite five-star read!

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

See Sara's reviews for the other books in this series:
The Wagging Tails Dogs' Home
Chasing Dreams at Wagging Tails Dogs' Home

Sarah Hope has been dreaming up stories ever since she was a child. She remembers many a family stroll when she’d daydream up her next story adventure.

As an adult, she prefers to write romance novels and novellas with a Happy Ever After ending. She has two main romance series, the Escape To... series that focuses on single mums taking a chance and fulfilling their career dreams as well as finding love, and The Cornish Bakery series, that follows a busy bakery in a beautiful fictional bay in Cornwall.

Sarah lives in Central England with her two children and an array of pets and enjoys escaping to the seaside at any opportunity.

She has also written some women’s fiction books.

Visit Sarah online:
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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Neely Tubati Alexander's perfect a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to introduce Neely Tubati Alexander and celebrate the publication of her sophomore rom-com, In a Not So Perfect World. We enjoyed chatting with her and we hope you will love her answers to our questions as much as we did. Thanks to BookSparks, we have one copy of her latest novel for a lucky reader!

Neely Tubati Alexander is originally from the Seattle area and currently resides in Arizona with her husband and two elementary-aged children. If she's not tucked away writing, you can find her at some kiddo activity, drinking wine, or watching reality television, usually the last two together. She is also the author of Love Buzz.

Visit Neely online:

Sloane Cooper is up for her dream job as a designer for a top video game company. During the interview, though, she somehow promises the all-male panel that she’ll remain single and fully dedicated to the work. It’s actually fine—after her last boyfriend cheated on her, she vowed to focus on her career anyway.

Enter Charlie, aka Hot Neighbor Guy, a near-stranger who shocks her with the offer of an all-inclusive trip to a Turks and Caicos resort. The catch? Charlie originally planned the trip with his ex, and asks Sloane to pose as his new girlfriend to make his old flame come running back. Against her better judgment, Sloane says yes; she can use the time away to develop a game design that will dazzle the Catapult team and get her a job offer.

Despite sparks flying in paradise, the trip can’t lead to more. As their connection deepens, Sloane is reminded that she can’t fall for Charlie and get knocked off her professional path. Besides, he’s trying to win back his true love.

Can Sloane figure out a way to move past heartbreak, land the job of her dreams, and avoid catching feelings? The zombie apocalypse would be easier to solve—at least she’s prepared for that. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"In a Not So Perfect World is a stunningly addictive love story of self-discovery. Brimming with wit and heart, Alexander’s talent sings on every page!" 
— Amy Lea, international bestselling author of Exes And O's

"Neely Tubati Alexander does it again, and this time even dreamier than ever. I felt like I was right there with Sloane in beautiful Turks and Caicos, and for a lighthearted vacation read, this tackles some real issues of sexism in the game industry. I loved every second and cheered for Sloane every (mis)step of the way!"  
— Jesse Q. Sutanto, author of Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers

“Looking for the perfect escape from our not so perfect world? Neely Tubati Alexander’s latest is just what we all need right now—warm weather and romance with the author’s signature humor and intelligence. I loved this book!” 
— Sarah Jio, New York Times bestselling author of With Love from London and Blackberry Winter  

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
When my now-agent, Elisabeth Weed at The Book Group, did her first read-through of my debut novel, LOVE BUZZ, one of her notes back to me was that I had managed to make her laugh and cry in a matter of a few pages. This note has always stuck with me, and I often try to remind myself how special it is to be able to evoke emotion through storytelling. This will always be a treasured piece of feedback.
How is Sloane similar to or different from you?
Like Sloane, I am a pessimist and tend to view the world as doom and gloom. So, naturally, I became a romance writer!  Seriously, though, I think Sloane and Charlie's relationship dynamic is a lot like that of me and my husband, where his optimism balances me out. Sloane and I also share Indian heritage, which was important for me to give representation to in the book. Besides those, Sloane and I don't have much in common. I have never been into video games or prepping, though, watching the news, I seem to get closer to the prepper mentality by the day! 
If In a Not So Perfect World was made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?

What a fun question. I was speaking on a romance panel recently and someone asked about ideal casting and my answer is always the same for the male love interest. No matter how I describe the characters' physical features, in my head, they always look like Pearl Harbor-era Josh Harnett. Always. For Sloane, I think Naomi Scott would be great! And we haven't seen her in a romcom before, so I'd be extra excited to see that. Or, Avantika who was just Karen in the new Mean Girls remake and absolutely killed it.
What is your favorite video game?
I do a lot of mobile games with my kids because that's about all I have time for, but we are addicted to classics like Tetris and any word puzzles.
If your life was a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it? 
I could really go down a rabbit hole on this one. There are so many incredible options! In reality, though, I think having my son or daughter do it would be the most special. But if it had to be a celebrity, maybe a Real Housewife because I'm such a big fan of the franchise! 
If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
Arizona in March/April means spring training! I'd take you to a game and then to one of the best local food spots like Barrio Cafe or Pizzeria Bianco. Then, because the weather is so nice this time of year, maybe lounge by a resort pool? And of course a visit to one of our awesome bookstores. My favorites are Changing Hands and Wijaya House.

Thanks to Neely for visiting with us and to BookSparks for sharing her book with our readers.

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

Giveaway ends March 24th at midnight EST.

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