Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Janet Skeslien Charles played her CARDS right...plus a book giveaway

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I am thrilled to have Janet Skeslien Charles back at CLC today. We first connected in 2010, when she published Moonlight in Odessa. I really enjoyed that novel and was waiting a long time (11 years!) for her to publish another one. She finally delivered a few years ago with The Paris Library, which was also a winner for me. Thankfully, I only had to wait about three years this time, to get a chance to read her latest historical fiction novel, Miss Morgan's Book Brigade. I gave that five stars, as well! Check out my review. Janet is always kind and lovely to chat with, and I hope you will enjoy our interview. Thanks to Janet, we have one copy of Miss Morgan's Book Brigade for a lucky reader!

Janet Skeslien Charles is a New York Times and international bestselling author whose work has been translated into 37 languages. Her shorter work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Montana Noir. Originally from Montana, she lives in Paris, where she is working on the final installment of her library trilogy.

Visit Janet online:

1918: As the Great War rages, Jessie Carson takes a leave of absence from the New York Public Library to work for the American Committee for Devastated France. Founded by millionaire Anne Morgan, this group of international women help rebuild destroyed French communities just miles from the front. Upon arrival, Jessie strives to establish something that the French have never seen—children’s libraries. She turns ambulances into bookmobiles and trains the first French female librarians. Then she disappears.

1987: When NYPL librarian and aspiring writer Wendy Peterson stumbles across a passing reference to Jessie Carson in the archives, she becomes consumed with learning her fate. In her obsessive research, she discovers that she and the elusive librarian have more in common than their work at New York’s famed library, but she has no idea their paths will converge in surprising ways across time.

Based on the extraordinary little-known history of the women who received the Croix de Guerre medal for courage under fire, Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of literature, and ultimately the courage it takes to make a change. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

Praise for Janet's previous novel:
“As a Parisian, an ardent bookworm, and a longtime fan of the American Library in Paris, I devoured The Paris Library in one hungry gulp. It is charming and moving, with a perfect balance between history and fiction.” 
—Tatiana de Rosnay, New York Times bestselling author of Sarah's Key

“A fresh take on WWII France that will appeal to bibliophiles everywhere…an irresistible, compelling read.” 
—Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

“Well-researched, stirring, and rich with detail, The Paris Library is an ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both.” 
—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names

What is one thing you would tell the debut novelist version of yourself?
I’m lucky that I had the best possible experience for my debut. I was able to celebrate with friends and family as well as do lots of readings, book club visits, and other events. I received many letters and emails from fans and loved meeting people through our shared love of books.

Back then, in early social media times, I didn’t know much about the business of publishing, so I didn’t feel the pressures that debut authors feel today. I would tell any debut author to enjoy the moment and to celebrate the accomplishment of having their work out in the world.

Who are you more similar to from your novel, Jessie or Wendy?

Here in France, one of the hardships that Jessie faced was that she did not have the same social network as her colleagues, who came from wealthy families. These women often received visits from friends and family and were able to travel back home. Jessie came from more humble beginnings, and I really feel for her. She was very alone, and when she travelled to France, she did not see family for a long time. I can understand how she felt, because during Covid, I was unable to travel to see loved ones, and it was very painful.

If Miss Morgan's Book Brigade were made into a movie, what are some songs that would be on the soundtrack?
Such a good question. I would love to hear some Zaz. Here she is singing an Edith Piaf classic with a little more optimism than the original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydtryV65UGk

What is your favorite children's book?
I discovered Anne of Green Gables as an adult, and I absolutely love it. In researching Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade, I read or re-read children’s books from that era. It was surprising to see how tragic they were. So many characters had lost parents.

If we were to visit you right now, what places would you take us to see?

We would definitely visit the Franco-American museum in Blérancourt. During World War I, the grounds of the crumbling chateau were the headquarters of the American Committee for Devastated France, known as CARD. After the war, Anne Morgan bought it and created the museum. Over the years, it has been renovated and celebrates Franco-American friendship as well as the work of the volunteers of CARD.

Then we would have a fabulous lunch at the Hostellerie le Griffon.

If your life was a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it?
The first person who popped into my mind was Candice Bergen! But I think I would want to narrate it myself. I had a great time recording the Author’s Note for The Paris Library, and I definitely want to do more audio work. 

Thank you so much for interviewing me!

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

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

Giveaway ends May 5th at midnight EST.

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Monday, April 29, 2024

Book Review: Love You, Mean It

By Melissa Smoot

Ellie Greco wishes she weren’t stuck in Milborough. For a few brief, shining years, she escaped her hometown to pursue her dream career—designing beautiful, elaborate costumes for theater—until her father's death five years ago called her home to run the family's decades-old deli. Yes, she loves the place, but she’d always thought she was meant for more exciting things than stocking the right tinned fish. But when Ellie hears that a local landlord is planning to rent to Mangia, the glitzy gourmet food department store, the very existence of Greco’s Deli is suddenly in jeopardy.

She tries to plead her case to Theo Taylor, scion of the property management firm that is about to put her out of business, but their meeting goes from bad (it’s not her fault he’s infuriating) to worse (no one expects the ceiling to literally fall in).

With Theo out cold, Ellie panics and claims to be his fiancée . . . and almost passes out herself when amnesia means Theo seems to actually believe her. Soon, the effects of the head injury wear off, but Theo proposes that their “engagement” stick around. If they manage to convince enough people, they might both get what they want: an end to the Mangia deal. Ellie doesn’t trust him (after all, if Theo Taylor wants it, how can it be good for her?) but seeing no other option, she reluctantly agrees.

And miraculously, the fake engagement seems to be working—even Ted, Theo’s shrewd, cold father seems convinced—that is, until Sam, Theo’s ex-fiancée, reappears on the scene. Not only does she see through their ruse, but she proposes an arrangement of her own, forcing Ellie to decide between a blossoming friendship, her family legacy, and the burgeoning romance she frankly never asked for. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This story was so good, from start to finish. I originally chose to review this book because the title stuck out to me immediately. Something I have often said to my friends and family over the last decade is “Love you, mean it!”, so it seemed like a book I was being called to read. I loved the backstory of the Italian deli that had been Ellie’s family for generations, and how it helped to shape the entire narrative. The author did such a great job of really getting into the thick of the main characters personalities and emotions. I could feel the tension, the conflict, and the electricity between Ellie and Theo. 

The theme of enemies-to-lovers is not a new one, but I enjoyed how Gagnon was able to weave such a rich and comprehensive story, so that I never felt that I was missing something. Every detail was perfect, and I was completely immersed in Ellie and Theo’s story. It was almost a modern version of Romeo and Juliet (without the tragic endings) with the two being from completely different worlds. The characters were relatable but also had that extra gumption that everyone roots for in an unlikely love match. This was just such a heartfelt and sweet story, with a lot of humor, that you would be missing out on if you didn’t get the chance to read it.

Thanks to Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase Love You, Mean It here.

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Friday, April 26, 2024

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

You Shouldn't Be Here by Lauren Thoman from MB Communications (print)
Mademoiselle Eiffel by Aimie K. Runyan from William Morrow (NetGalley)
Not Safe for Work by/from Lindsey Lanza (ebook)
Never Ever You by Sarah Echavarre from Lake Union (NetGalley)
Love You a Latke by Amanda Elliot from Berkley (NetGalley)
The Widow on Dwyer Court by Lisa Kusel from Thriller Book Lovers the Pulse (NetGalley)
My Favorite Mistake by Marian Keyes from Penguin Canada (print)
I Made It Out of Clay by Beth Kander from Harlequin (NetGalley)


Swiped by L.M. Chilton from Gallery (NetGalley)
You're Safe Here by Leslie Stephens from Gallery (NetGalley)
Talking to Strangers by Fiona Barton from Berkley (NetGalley)

Melissa S:
Enemies to Lovers by Laura Jane Williams from Putnam (print)
A Very Bad Thing by J.T. Ellison from Over the River PR (print)

The Summer Pact by Emily Giffin from Ballantine (NetGalley)
Pony Confidential by Christina Lynch from Berkley (NetGalley)

What could be in YOUR mail:

Next to You by Hannah Bonam-Young

Recently named One of the Best Romances of All Time by Parade.

Thanks to Dell, we have TWO books to give away!

Two friends battle feelings for each other as they work together to renovate a school bus into a home in this charming romance novel from the viral TikTok author of Next of Kin and Out on a Limb.

Lane is in the middle of an identity crisis. Her friends are all partnered up, her career is heading nowhere, and simply put, she’s not happy. So, after a night out celebrating her birthday, she makes one hell of an impulsive purchase: a giant yellow forty-eight-passenger school bus that she intends to make her home.

With little-to-no renovation experience but a large sum of inheritance money, Lane enlists the help of her friend Matt—a mechanic by trade, handyman by practice, and hottie by nature.

While their mutual attraction is undeniable, Matt and Lane have silently agreed that a friendship is the only thing that can ever exist between them. Matt’s a total family guy with “settle down with me” tattooed across his forehead, whereas Lane is entirely commitment averse. It could never work . . . right?

“Heartfelt and hopeful—everything a friends-to-lovers romance should be.”
—Lyla Sage, author of Done and Dusted

“Warm, sexy, and vulnerable. Hannah Bonam-Young needs to be on your romance radar.”
—Hannah Grace, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Icebreaker

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 May 1st at midnight EST.

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Book Review: Happy Medium

By Allyson Bales

Fake spirit medium Gretchen Acorn is happy to help when her best (read: wealthiest) client hires her to investigate the unexplained phenomena preventing the sale of her bridge partner’s struggling goat farm. Gretchen may be a fraud, but she'd like to think she’s a beneficentone. So if "cleansing" the property will help a nice old man finally retire and put some much-needed cash in her pockets at the same time, who's she to say no?

Of course, it turns out said bridge partner isn't the kindly AARP member Gretchen imagined—Charlie Waybill is young, hot as hell, and extremely unconvinced that Gretchen can communicate with the dead. (Which, fair.) Except, to her surprise, Gretchen finds herself face-to-face with Everett: the very real, very chatty ghost that’s been wreaking havoc during every open house. And he wants her to help ensure Charlie avoids the same family curse that's had Everett haunting Gilded Creek since the 1920s.

Now, Gretchen has one month to convince Charlie he can’t sell the property. Unfortunately, hard work and honesty seem to be the way to win over the stubborn farmer—not exactly Gretchen's strengths. But trust isn’t the only thing growing between them, and the risk of losing Charlie to the spirit realm looms over Gretchen almost as annoyingly as Everett himself. To save the goat farm, its friendly phantom, and the man she's beginning to love, Gretchen will need to pull off the greatest con of her life: being fully, genuinely herself. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This read was such a DELIGHT!

I really, really, REALLY loved Mrs. Nash’s Ashes and it was one of my favorite reads of 2023, so when I saw Happy Medium was being released this year it quickly became one of my most anticipated reads! 

Have you ever wanted to or had a tarot card reading?  Do you believe in mediums or ghosts?  I haven't had a reading but I have always wanted to and I sure do believe in mediums AND ghosts, so I knew I was going to be interested in this read, and it did not disappoint!

Similarly to Mrs. Nash’s Ashes, I was cackling out loud to most of this story while also having heart eyes and a strong desire to work on a farm where I can hang out with some baby goats!  This is a contemporary and paranormal romance (who doesn't love that combo) with characters that are fun, a refreshing setting, and a plot that is oh-so-binegable!

I really can’t wait for you to meet Gretchen and Charlie, but even more than that, I can't wait for you to meet Everett.  He is one sassy ghost and I loved so many of his one liners.  He really made the story for me.  I also loved getting to know Gretchen and Charlie and following along while they have to work together. I especially love when they have to birth some goats!  

I used to work in a barn and this farm setting really spoke to my soul!  It really made me miss the animals I used to work with.  I think more and more farms are getting harder to maintain so learning about the process to keep one afloat was interesting.  

I read this one in a few days and it feels like the perfect beach read.  I really can't wait to see what else Adler writes because she has quickly become an auto-buy author for me!

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

Also by Sarah Adler: Mrs. Nash's Ashes

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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Spotlight: Upper Crush

He wasn’t banking on someone else taking the reins…

Lady Estelle Foxbrooke is done cleaning up the mess left by her wild parents. She’s got a plan: take the reins and save the family estate her way. But then she’s saddled with a business partner she’s hated all her life. He’s her twin brother’s worst enemy and looms in her path like a six-foot-four hurdle.

After a catastrophic business failure, rich and successful James Hunter-Savage has watched his dream life in London crash and burn. Forced to ditch the city for the Somerset countryside, he’s now living with his parents and expected to work with the infuriatingly attractive Estelle. She’s sharper than a whip, pushes all his buttons, and seems determined to break him.

As Estelle and James jockey for position, their explosive personalities combust into passion, sending Estelle’s plans to the edge of ruin. With James’s flimsy reputation in tatters, and the biggest event on the Foxbrooke calendar on the brink of collapse, will they realise their love is worth fighting for? Or are their hearts and hard work heading for the ultimate fall?

The Upper Crush is a laugh-out-loud, enemies-to-lovers, steamy, standalone, smalltown romantic comedy with a fiery country girl giving a cocky city boy a run for his money. No cheating or cliffhanger, but snort-laughs, swoons and a deliciously happy ending guaranteed in this sparkling and sizzling romcom!

Purchase Links:
Evie's website * Books 2 Read

Evie Alexander is an award-winning author of sexy romantic comedies with a very British sense of humour.

Imaginative, passionate and frequently called ‘bonkers’ by her friends, Evie’s interests include reading, eating, swearing, saving the world, and dreaming about people who only exist between the pages of her books.

Evie lives in the West country of the UK with her family, where she pens her steamy stories from the Smut Hut.

Visit Evie online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram 

Visit all the stops on Evie's blog tour:

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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Book Review: The Sleepwalkers

By Jami Denison

Weddings and honeymoons are supposed to be some of the happiest, most romantic times in a person's life. But suspense authors know they are rife with opportunities for betrayal, heartbreak, and death. British author Scarlett Thomas’s latest book, The Sleepwalkers, turns an idyllic honeymoon into a deadly nightmare. If you dream of a vacation in the Greek Isles, don’t read this book!

The Sleepwalkers harkens back to the very beginning of fiction, formatting the story in the form of letters. Bride Evelyn kicks off the story, writing a goodbye letter to her husband Richard while he sleeps. What could go so wrong on a honeymoon that the bride wants to leave? According to Evelyn, the problems all started when the couple set foot in their hotel, Villa Rosa, especially chosen by Richard’s mother for this week only, forcing Evelyn to turn down an acting job. The hotel’s proprietress, Isabella, only has eyes for Richard and treats Evelyn scornfully. Rather than defending his wife, Richard takes Isabella’s side. Since Richard and Evelyn originally met when she worked as his family’s housekeeper, the slight is especially galling. Isabella enthralls Richard with the story of the Sleepwalkers, a married couple who drowned while sleepwalking. As a storm brews, Evelyn tries to make her escape. But as her letter grows longer, it becomes obvious that the couple’s problems began long before their honeymoon started. Eventually, we get a letter from Richard and his side of the story, which doesn’t do him any favors. Then the letters themselves become part of the plot, and there’s a surprising twist and a time jump.

The Sleepwalkers is being compared to the HBO series The White Lotus as written by Patricia Highsmith. Unlike The White Lotus, I doubt readers would want to visit the Villa Rosa, and Thomas’s descriptions of the Greek Isle don’t do the locale any favors, either. Several times, Thomas references the Edward Albee play The Zoo Story (Evelyn is an actress and playwright), but I think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is the more apt comparison, with its hateful married couple and the games they play at the center of the action. Neither Richard nor Evelyn is particularly likeable, but the mysteries that Thomas weaves in, and her haunting way of telling the story, keep readers engaged even though her characters aren’t easy to root for.

While its plot might feel familiar for readers who enjoy domestic suspense, Thomas’s stream-of-consciousness writing style and the languid atmosphere of her setting make the story unique. While The White Lotus comparison didn’t work for me—Villa Rosa hardly provided the luxury of those resorts—The Sleepwalkers is highly visual and might also find itself streaming on the small screen someday.  

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Scarlett Thomas:

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Monday, April 22, 2024

Book Review: Funny Story

By Allyson Bales

Daphne always loved the way her fiancé Peter told their story. How they met (on a blustery day), fell in love (over an errant hat), and moved back to his lakeside hometown to begin their life together. He really was good at telling it…right up until the moment he realized he was actually in love with his childhood best friend Petra.

Which is how Daphne begins her new story: Stranded in beautiful Waning Bay, Michigan, without friends or family but with a dream job as a children’s librarian (that barely pays the bills), and proposing to be roommates with the only person who could possibly understand her predicament: Petra’s ex, Miles Nowak.

Scruffy and chaotic—with a penchant for taking solace in the sounds of heart break love ballads —Miles is exactly the opposite of practical, buttoned up Daphne, whose coworkers know so little about her they have a running bet that she’s either FBI or in witness protection. The roommates mainly avoid one another, until one day, while drowning their sorrows, they form a tenuous friendship and a plan. If said plan also involves posting deliberately misleading photos of their summer adventures together, well, who could blame them?

But it’s all just for show, of course, because there’s no way Daphne would actually start her new chapter by falling in love with her ex-fiancé’s new fiancée’s ex…right? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This book is not just a love letter to book lovers but also to those that have ever felt like they aren’t enough.

I cannot state enough what an Emily Henry stan I am. I stalk her instagram for easter eggs. I love when she posts unfiltered real photos of herself. My summers are better because of her books. Up until now, Beach Read was my favorite of her stories but Funny Story now holds top spot.

This story is entertaining, heartfelt, swoony, angsty, funny, charming, and one I tried to stretch out for as long as I could but was only able to make last for two days. I don't re-read books all that much, but I am highly considering re-reading this one because I miss it already.  I really love when a story makes me feel like, “well now what do I do with my life?” and I felt that the minute I finished.

I loved the main character, Daphne.  She is like most of us book readers with so much heart and a quiet bravery waiting to be seen. I love that she works in a library and the whole story is building to a readathon date. I swear I wish I could be a librarian.  I also love her friend Ashley and I can’t wait for you to get to know Miles too.

Miles is… perfection. Just wait until you meet him. I am not ruining that one for you. I will say what he brings to Daphne’s life will make you smile, cheer and swoon. I also love who Daphne is when she is with him.  He may be Emily Henry’s best book love interest yet.  

This story has themes of self exploration, finding your voice, friendship, and what it means to be loved for exactly who you are. I devoured every second of it!

I also highly, highly recommend the audio. Juila Whelan narrates and completely immerses you in Daphne's world. I had many, many moments where I drove a little further for no reason, worked out a little longer on purpose, so that I could keep listening.  It is zero days until I may have found my favorite audio book of the year!

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

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Friday, April 19, 2024

Book Review: The Suite Life


By Sara Steven

Gigi isn't looking for the one. Just someone...! As she gears up for her sister’s destination wedding in Hawaii, the countdown is on for Gigi to find a date. Just someone to prove to her friends and family that she's ok, and to stop the pitying looks would be great!

Of course she can’t wait to be bridesmaid for her sister, but it’s just not ideal that the best man is also her ex… especially when he is bringing his hot new reality star girlfriend!

But when Gigi arrives at the hotel in Hawaii to find there has been a mix-up with her room, and she’s been upgraded to a suite, things start to look up. Not only is the room bigger than her entire flat, but the staff are waiting on her hand and foot, and she’s being treated like royalty!

Something isn’t quite right, but the suite life suits Gigi, and why shouldn’t she pamper herself while she mends her broken heart? It may even lead to her finding the perfect date after all… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Gigi is one tough lady. I don’t know if I would ever be able to spend time with my ex and his reality star girlfriend, even if it is at my sister’s destination wedding! Given it’s been barely a minute since the ex had made the decision to let Gigi go, quickly picking up with the reality star, it only adds insult to injury. But Gigi would do anything for her sister and family, and I thought it was sweet that Gigi always tried to see the silver lining to a situation. She tries hard to focus on the fact that she can be supportive, while spending time in Hawaiian paradise. 

What later ensues is a mix-up of identity, but all in Gigi’s favor. Call it karmic payback for how wonderful she is–particularly when the ex’s girlfriend seems to poke and prod at Gigi whenever an opportunity arises, all in an effort to knock Gigi down a peg or two. It was so funny to read the reactions the girlfriend has when the staff of the hotel they are all staying in goes above and beyond and then some for Gigi, with continual upgrades, access to areas of the hotel that are only privy to the elite, even a leisurely ride on the hotel’s yacht! Gigi later discovers the source of the mix-up, but I couldn’t blame her for wanting to continue on with the charade. 

Alongside the mix-ups is the need for Gigi to find a suitable man to go as her plus one to her sister’s wedding. She’d alluded to having someone special all along, but that isn’t true. And, she doesn’t want to feel like she’s the odd man out, especially since the ex has seemed to level up, even though I quickly discovered that wasn’t the case at all, and Gigi slowly discovers that as well. Sometimes, it’s all about the connections you make despite the title, and what looks shiny and bright isn’t always so–much like the reality star, it’s all about the way something appears to be versus how it really is. 

The Suite Life was such a fun, sweet read! For most of it, I wished more than anything to be in Hawaii–Portia MacIntosh did a great job of describing the atmosphere, and all I wanted to do was be part of it. It was the perfect lead into summer. A definite five-star experience!

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

Portia MacIntosh is the bestselling author of over 20 romantic comedy novels. From disastrous dates to destination weddings, Portia’s romcoms are the perfect way to escape from day to day life, visiting sunny beaches in the summer and snowy villages at Christmas time. Whether it’s southern Italy or the Yorkshire coast, Portia’s stories are the holiday you’re craving, conveniently packed in between the pages.

Formerly a journalist, Portia has left the city, swapping the music biz for the moors, to live the (not so) quiet life with her husband and her dog in Yorkshire.

Visit Portia online:
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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: When I Think of You

Today we are pleased to feature Myah Ariel's debut rom-com, When I Think of You. This second chance romance just released this week and it sounds exciting! We are loving the cover art too. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away!

Does anyone else have a Janet Jackson song in their head right now, or is that just a Gen X thing?

Kaliya Wilson has paid her dues. But all the years behind the reception desk at a flashy film studio have only pushed her movie-making dreams further out of reach. That is, until a surprise reunion presents an opportunity that could make her career, or break her heart…a second time. 

It’s been seven years since Kaliya’s whirlwind college romance with Danny Prescott went up in flames. While her passions have stalled, his career is taking off. So when the hot shot director reappears to offer her a job on his next production, it’s a shock to the system. Working with Danny may recapture the intensity of their film school days, but trusting him again won’t come as easily. 

As the pair allows themselves the openness and vulnerability to entrust their deepest truths to each other, the possibility of a true connection draws ever closer. But when Hollywood politics and scandal threaten to sink the production and her career, Kaliya may have to risk everything to do what’s right—even if it means letting go of the second chance love of a lifetime.

“Myah Ariel breathes hope and longing into second chance romance, handles grief and loss with a deft, careful hand, and ignites the pages of this stunning debut with explosive chemistry. We are lucky to have this booming new voice in romance.” 
—Kennedy Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of Before I Let Go

"Myah Ariel's When I Think of You is a sparkling debut that had me turning pages into the night. Ariel crafts a thoughtful look at personal and professional vulnerability in an often unforgiving world, with characters who burn bright for their individual passions—and their passion for each other. I loved Kaliya and Danny and their shared determination to build something new from the past that shaped them." 
—Kate Clayborn, author of Georgie, All Along
"I loved this book from page one! A funny, engaging, poignant love story about personal growth, forgiveness, and second chances. When I Think of You is a winner!" 
—Farrah Rochon, New York Times bestselling author of The Hookup Plan

Credit: Berkley Romance
Myah Ariel’s early love of movies led her from Arkansas to New York City where she studied film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She went on to earn an MA degree in specialized journalism for the arts from the University of Southern California where she now works as chief program officer of a research center for Black media and social justice.

Visit Myah 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 April 24th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

It's a Small World for Sara and Melissa

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

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

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

Melissa Amster:

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

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

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

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

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

Sara Steven:

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

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

Some other interesting coincidental moments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Better by Far

By Allyson Bales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also by Hazel Hayes: Out of Love

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: Welcome Home, Caroline Kline

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

Caroline Kline isn't ready to strike out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Courtney online:

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

Giveaway ends April 21st at midnight EST.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Book Review: When Happily Ever After Fails

By Melissa Smoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 12, 2024

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

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

Scandalous Women by Gill Paul from William Morrow (NetGalley)

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

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

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

What could be in YOUR mail:

Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaway ends April 17th at midnight EST.

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