Monday, June 24, 2024

Book Review: A Novel Love Story

By Allyson Bales

Eileen Merriweather loves to get lost in a good happily-ever-after. The fictional kind, anyway. Because at least imaginary men don’t leave you at the altar. She feels safe in a book. At home. Which might be why she’s so set on going her annual book club retreat this year—she needs good friends, cheap wine, and grand romantic gestures—no matter what.

But when her car unexpectedly breaks down on the way, she finds herself stranded in a quaint town that feels like it’s right out of a novel…

Because it is.

This place can’t be real, and yet… she’s here, in Eloraton, the town of her favorite romance series, where the candy store’s honey taffy is always sweet, the local bar’s burgers are always a little burnt, and rain always comes in the afternoon. It feels like home. It’s perfect—and perfectly frozen, trapped in the late author’s last unfinished story.

Elsy is sure that’s why she must be here: to help bring the town to its storybook ending.

Except there is a character in Eloraton that she can’t place—a grumpy bookstore owner with mint-green eyes, an irritatingly sexy mouth and impeccable taste in novels. And he does not want her finishing this book.

Which is a problem because Elsy is beginning to think the town’s happily-ever-after might just be intertwined with her own.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

A Novel Love Story is an ode to book lovers everywhere and I absolutely loved this premise. 

Imagine being able to visit the setting of your favorite book. To meet the characters and sit next to them. To bring to life what you imagined in your head. I just could not get enough! 

Poston effortlessly blends magical realism and romance and has become an auto-buy author for me. I wish I could live in her brain for a day! I loved the characters of this story, especially Elsy. I loved the small town vibes and the little mysteries of what has happened there and the descriptive writing that brought it all to life.

I loved how much Poston made me think and reflect while reading this story. I loved the themes of self discovery and personal growth. I love that I am a romance reader and that was celebrated with this story. I also really enjoyed thinking about what an author goes through once they publish a book. 

“I argued, often, that once a book was done, once it was written and published and sent out into the world, it was no longer yours. It turned into ours-together. You, telling the story, and us, interpreting it.”

I think as readers we can really forget that a book is often so personal and important to the author and the story and its characters should be handled with care. 

If you love romance and have favorite characters you wish could be your best friends. . .read this. It will definitely be a favorite of the year for me and one I recommend to everyone I know!

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

More by Ashley Poston:

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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Book Review: One-Star Romance

Natalie and Rob couldn’t have less in common. Nat’s a messy artist, and Rob’s a rigid academic. The only thing they share is their devotion to their respective best friends—who just got engaged. Still, unexpected chemistry has Natalie cautiously optimistic about being maid of honor to Rob’s best man.

Until, minutes before the ceremony, Nat learns that Rob wrote a one-star review of her new novel, which has them both reeling: Nat from imposter syndrome, and Rob over the reason he needed to write it.

When the reception ends, these two opposites hope they’ll never meet again. But, as they slip from their twenties into their thirties, they’re forced together whenever their fast-track best friends celebrate another milestone. Through housewarmings and christenings, life-changing triumphs and failures, Natalie and Rob grapple with their own choices—and how your harshest critic can become your perfectly imperfect match.

After all, even the truest love stories sometimes need a bit of rewriting. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Allyson Bales:

"I mean...there have been moments when I've read something in a book that feels like it was written just for me. Like the author reached inside my brain, took all the thoughts I didn't know how to express, and put them into a perfect paragraph. And in those moments, I've felt so utterly connected to a person I didn't know that it made me think, 'Yes, the world can be hard, and people can be awful to each other.
But there is also such beauty in the fact that we can recognize each other like that.”


This one really snuck up on me. My wife and I are traveling for a couple of weeks in Europe and our first stop is the Azores. I think most European flights are evening flights and ours left at 9:00 p.m.. I  started this one while the flight was taxiing and while my seat mates and other passengers around me were dropping like flies, I was legit holding my eyes open with my fingers to keep reading this one. It's definitely going to be a favorite romance of the year.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was not expecting a book with such depth, one that made me miss my best friend, and one that continues to live rent free in my head. While this story does have a lot of lighthearted moments that made me chuckle, it also had a lot of tender, more thought-provoking moments too. I loved the themes of "timing really can be everything" and "friends are the family we choose."

I am in this beautiful place with the most beautiful scenery and I couldn’t wait to get back to this story. I really enjoyed Natalie’s character a lot. She transforms as the story goes on, in a very relatable way. She talks about feeling behind the rest of her friends, and that is so common to feel. I also loved her banter with Rob.  This story takes place over many years and those are my favorite kinds of stories. 

If you’re looking for a book about love, friendship, and finding your place in this wild world, grab this one! 

Melissa Smoot:

This was a fun read, but also extremely well written. The way that Hankin told the story over almost a decade gave it so much depth. The different ways peoples’ lives can change, as well as how they grow as a person was highlighted in how they interacted throughout. All the characters were very different and it made the conflicts more realistic. 

The main character, Natalie, was believable and easy to relate to. For me personally, I remember feeling how she did when I was in my late twenties and still figuring out what career path I wanted to take. It feels like being left behind by the friends that knew what they wanted to be from a young age. I appreciated that Natalie had self-awareness and actively worked to make changes in her life, even when she felt that it was hopeless. 

There were times that I was frustrated with her best friend, Gabby, because she seemed to always need Natalie’s support, but never gave it back. It was so one-sided at times, but as they grew over the years that started to change. At first, I was annoyed that Natalie was so forgiving of both Gabby and Rob (another main character) but as the years went on and they all evolved, it made more sense to me. Natalie’s life would not have turned out the way it did if things had not happened that way in the past.

Overall, this is a fabulous book, and I would recommend adding it to your list. It is funny, witty, emotional, and insightful. Definitely five stars!

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase One-Star Romance here.

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Friday, June 21, 2024

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

Melissa:

Party Favors by/from Sariah Wilson (print)

Humor Me by Cat Shook from Celadon (NetGalley)

Ugliest by/from Kelly Vincent (NetGalley)

Libby Lost and Found by Stephanie Booth from Sourcebooks (NetGalley)

Flopping in a Winter Wonderland by Jason June from HarperCollins (NetGalley)

Who Loves You Best by Marilyn Simon Rothstein from Lake Union (NetGalley)

Liv is Not a Loser by Lauren Ford from Canelo (NetGalley)

Until Next Summer by Ali Brady from Berkley (print)

The Second Mrs Strom by Kaira Rouda from Bookouture (NetGalley)

Counting Miracles by Nicholas Sparks from Random House (print)

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Naomi Wood from Mariner (NetGalley)

Let's Call Her Barbie by Renee Rosen from Berkley (NetGalley)

The Sunflower House by Adriana Allegri from St. Martin's Press (NetGalley)

Eddie Winston Is Looking for Love by Marianne Cronin from Harper (NetGalley)

Hot Mother by Nancy Peach from Hera (NetGalley)

Nobody's Perfect by Sally Kilpatrick from Montlake (NetGalley)


Sara:
It's All Sun and Games by Portia MacIntosh from Rachel's Random Resources (NetGalley)

Jami:

Till Death Do Us Part by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn from Simon & Schuster (NetGalley)

The Bachelorette Party by Sandra Block from BookSparks (NetGalley)


Melissa S:
A Home for the Holidays by Taylor Hahn from Knopf (print)
One-Star Romance by Laura Hankin from Berkley (print)

Allyson:
Pickleballers by Ilana Long from Berkley (NetGalley)

What could be in YOUR mail:

Until Next Summer by Ali Brady

Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to give away!

There's another chance to win from Goodreads through June 22nd (US only)!


Synopsis:
Two former best friends each find love at an adults-only summer camp in this romantic and nostalgic novel that proves “once a camp person, always a camp person.”

Growing up, Jessie and Hillary lived for summer, when they’d be reunited at Camp Chickawah. The best friends vowed to become counselors together someday, but they drifted apart after Hillary broke her promise and only Jessie stuck to their plan, working her way up to become the camp director. 

When Jessie learns that the camp will be sold, she decides to plan one last hurrah, inviting past campers—including Hillary—to a nostalgic “adult summer camp” before closing for good. Jessie and Hillary rebuild their friendship as they relive the best time of their lives—only now there are adult beverages, skinny dipping, and romantic entanglements. Straitlaced Hillary agrees to a “no strings attached” summer fling with the camp chef, while outgoing Jessie is drawn to a moody, reclusive writer who’s rented a cabin to work on his novel.

The friends soon realize this doesn’t have to be the last summer. They’ll team up and work together, just like the old days. But if they can’t save their beloved camp, will they be able to take the happiness of this summer away with them? (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"Until Next Summer charms with crackling summer romance, the magic of true friendship, and an against-the-odds story of discovering the things that matter—and finding the courage to fight for them.”
New York Times bestselling author Kristin Harmel

"Until Next Summer is an irresistible frolic through the joys of summer, friendship and young romance but also a reminder of the heartache that comes along with that unforgettable time in life. This book is for anyone who still thinks about their first crush, their first friend or their first sip of bug juice.”
—Elyssa Friedland, author of Jackpot Summer

"Until Next Summer, like camp itself, brims with summer romance, forever friendship, and, maybe most of all, finding who you’re meant to be. As a camp fanatic, I give this one five huge stars—and now I want to go to Camp Chickawah too!"
—Kristy Woodson Harvey, New York Times Bestselling author of The Summer of Songbirds

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 June 26th at midnight EST.

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Book Review: Rules for Second Chances

By Becky Gulc

Brimming with heart and heat, Rules for Second Chances explores the hardest relationship question of all: can true love happen twice...with the same person?

Liz Lewis has tried everything to be what people want. But she’s always been labeled different from everyone else in the boisterous world of wilderness expeditions—that is, if anyone notices her at all. Her marriage to popular adventure guide Tobin Renner-Lewis is a sinkhole of toxic positivity where she’s the only one saying no. In a mountain resort town built around excitement, introverted Liz gets…spreadsheets.

When she gets mistaken for a server at her own thirtieth birthday party and her last line of communication with Tobin finally snaps, Liz vows to stop playing a minor character in her own life. The (incredibly well-researched and scientific) plan? A crash course in confidence…via improv comedy class.

The catch? She’s terrible at it, and the only person willing to practice with her is a certain extroverted wilderness guide who seems dead set on saving their marriage one bonkers improv scenario at a time. But as Liz and Tobin get closer (...again), she’s forced to confront all the reasons they didn’t work the first time, along with her growing suspicion that there might be more to her social awkwardness than anyone realized. Liz has just eight weeks to learn improv’s most important lesson—"yes, and"—or she’ll have to choose between the love she always wanted and the dreams that got away. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Rules for Second Chances centres on Liz, a 30 year-old married woman who is a self-confessed introvert; she’s socially awkward and is tired of hiding behind her husband both at work and outside of work. Tobin is the opposite of Liz in her eyes; engaging, confident, successful. Liz has had enough: of being overlooked, of being awkward, and she’s no longer going to accept the lack of real communication between her and her husband and pretty much living as ships that pass in the night. Cue an early decision in the novel to separate from her husband; sign up for an improv class and enter into a work pitch competition with the aim of becoming the kind of person that will be noticed at work, finally. Liz is here to change her life. What could possibly go wrong with one introvert and one improv class?

Hands up here…I was reading this as someone called ‘painfully shy’ at school, nothing much has changed. I am an introvert and am socially awkward. This book/Liz immediately resonated with me as it did throughout and I thank Maggie for presenting a character so real to me that was also so unique. I can’t remember the last time a character drew me in so quickly. The prose is beautiful and poignant. I folded down so many pages where I was just like wow...that is fantastic writing just there, the inner dialogue, the battles. 

I did feel somewhat frustrated that I couldn’t always see what Liz saw/felt in terms of her marriage. Tobin seems like a good guy from the very beginning, his heart is certainly in the right place and the pair have oodles of chemistry that it was great to see unpicked as the pair inadvertently become improv partners and work through a marriage counselling book essentially.  The improv element was occasionally a bit clunky but it brought out so much in terms of the struggle being real, comical moments (karaoke as an animal anyone?!) and allowed for some great characters to be introduced to the story. 

I would wholeheartedly recommend this novel. It’s original, heartfelt, and eye-opening as to what it’s like to live as a (potentially) autistic person. The premise of how to rebuild a marriage was an interesting one in terms of the unique ways Liz and Tobin explore this. They certainly have a journey together, as does Liz in her own self-discovery. There’s so much more that I haven’t even covered too; difficult wider family relationships and scars. Everything was put together so well and I just adored this book. 

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. (And for sending it to the UK!)

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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Susan Weissbach Friedman is true to herself...plus a book giveaway

Today we are pleased to welcome Susan Weissbach Friedman to CLC to talk about her debut historical fiction novel, Klara's Truth. We enjoyed chatting with her and learning about her writing process. Thanks to BookSparks, we have one copy to give away!

Susan Weissbach Friedman is a psychotherapist with a specialty in women’s issues, family therapy, and trauma-focused therapy. A graduate of Hamilton College, Boston University’s MSW/MPH program, and the Ackerman Institute for Couples and Families, she has also completed EMDR and Somatic Experiencing (SE) training in trauma therapy techniques and has been a practicing clinician for more than twenty-five years. Klara’s Truth is her first novel. 

Susan has been married to her husband for thirty years and has two daughters in their twenties. Originally from Long Island, she now lives in Westchester County, New York, where she enjoys practicing yoga and mindfulness, going for walks in nature, listening to music, and spending time near the ocean.  Visit Susan at her website and on Instagram.

 
Synopsis:
When Klara Lieberman goes to Warsaw in search of answers about her long-ago-disappeared father, she ultimately discovers forgotten parts of herself as well and heals some deeply buried wounds.  

Klara is forty-nine, single, and a professor of archaeology at a small liberal arts college in Maine; a contained person living a contained life. Then she receives a letter from her estranged mother, Bessie, informing her that her father, who has been absent from her life for the last forty-three years, is dead. Has been for many years, in fact, which Bessie clearly knew. But now the Polish government is giving financial reparations for land it stole from its Jewish citizens during WWII, and Bessie wants the money. Klara has little interest in the money, but she does want answers about her father. 

In Poland, Klara connects with extended family, begins a romantic relationship, and discovers her calling: repairing the hundreds of forgotten, and mostly destroyed, pre-war Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Along the way, she becomes a more integrated, embodied, and interpersonally connected individual with the tools to make peace with her past and, for the first time in her life, build purposefully toward a bigger future. 

Klara’s Truth is an ambitious and heartfelt novel about the ways in which our adult lives are shaped by the secrets of our past. From Maine to New York to modern-day Warsaw, Susan Weissbach brings readers on a journey of self-discovery, newfound family, and acceptance.”
—Lynda Cohen Loigman, author of The Matchmaker’s Gift

“Susan Weissbach Friedman has written a compelling story of family and heritage and self-discovery, of family ties and friendship and second chances, and has added a side of possible romance. She also gives us another perspective on how the sharp fingernails of war reach through generations and prick the skin decades after the guns stop firing. A great read!”
—Ellen Barker, author of East of Troost and Still Needs Work

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like for you?
It was a long and winding road with lots of starts and stops along the way.
 
What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing Klara's Truth?
The biggest rewards would have to be completing my debut novel, and using my background as a psychotherapist to do a deep dive into the protagonist, Klara, particularly in understanding her trauma and following her as she begins to connect with others. 

My biggest challenges were figuring out how to get Klara's Truth published, and the process of editing it which are actually connected. I kept being told that my book, which was originally called Artifacts- A Novel, was two different books, and that I needed to choose which geographical location I wanted to focus on— Poland or Mexico. In the end, in order to find a publisher interested in publishing my book, I had to let go of the first hundred pages. That was really difficult, but the upside is that now I have the first part of a prequel to Klara's Truth.
 
If Klara's Truth were made into a movie, who would you cast in the leading roles?
That's a really hard question, but if it were to somehow happen tomorrow, I would say "Jamie," (Sam Heughan), and "Claire," (Caitriona Balfe) from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander because I love their chemistry together— initially, there's a lot of tension and later there's a lot of passion, I think "Jamie" would make a great Filip, and I could see "Claire" making a really good Klara.
 
What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
The last book I read that I would recommend is The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. Jenna is a very gifted writer, and I'm very curious about the post-WWII period with which the book starts. I love how it spans several years so we get to follow the evolution of the main characters, and I really like that it deals with the intricacies of family dynamics. Part of my psychotherapy training was in family therapy, so how family systems work and don't work is of great interest to me.
 
What is your favorite thing to eat for dessert?
I love chocolate— chocolates, chocolate icing, brownies, chocolate cake. As I've gotten older my palate has become a little more expansive and less partial to only chocolate.
 
If we were to visit you, what are some places you would take us to see?
I'd take you to Teatown which is a wonderful nature preserve and environmental education center located near where I live. It has a beautiful lake you can walk around and stunning views.
I take my dog, Chet, there sometimes. I would also take you to the Chappaqua Library which is in my town, to Scattered Books and The Village Bookstore which are both great bookstores nearby, and to the Jacob Burns Film Center, also nearby, which shows a multitude of independent films and has its own teaching facility. In addition, I would take you to Rockefeller State Park which has great paths on which to hike. I also love taking Chet there, and he enjoys meeting up with all the other dogs.

Thanks to Susan 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 June 25th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Dreams

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 dreams. We tend to email each other when we have strange dreams and Sara even sent Melissa a dream analysis book one year as a birthday gift because of this. 

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 keep getting the song "Dreams" by The Cranberries in my head whenever I think about this topic. It's a good song though! In any case, I have had so many crazy dreams over the years. Some end up being pretty vivid and some disappear as soon as I wake up. For this post, I'm just going to share what I dream about most frequently. Keep in mind, I have zero control over my dreams.

1. Ex-boyfriends. I clearly do not manifest this into my dreams as they are not in my life anymore, but somehow they show up in my dreams a lot. Especially the one I don't even want to dream about at all. And that just gets so annoying each time he shows up. 

2. The friend from college who ghosted me over 20 years ago. I'm sure this could be attributed to unfinished business and not getting any closure, but she will just show up in random places during my dreams and we'll end up having conversations. Most of the time, we somehow reconnect as friends.

3. Work. It consumes enough of my life that it's natural I would dream about doing work. I can even see the work I'm doing on my computer in my dream! I used to dream about my previous job sometimes, as well as being back in the office where I used to work. 

4. Entertainment venues. Weirdly, a lot of the time I end up at sports arenas or ball parks. I don't like sports, so this is odd. I occasionally have a theater dream but those are pretty crazy too. I remember having one before I saw Company, where I was at the theater but was completely blocked from seeing the stage at all. I've probably been to a few movie theaters in my dreams too. 

5. My nephew. I have had a bunch of dreams where I am spending time with my (almost) two year-old nephew. Sometimes he's talking and other times he's just being sweet and affectionate. 

6. Having babies. I am way past done having babies and am happy being the mom of teenagers, but I still have dreams where I'll be giving birth or ending up with a baby of my own somehow.

7. Friends I am close with, even if I haven't met them in person or last saw them in person a long time ago. I think Sara was even in one of the dreams a while back! 

I think I've given up trying to analyze the dreams by this point in time, even though I still have the book on my dresser. 

Sara Steven:

I can’t remember any of my more recent dreams. I’m not sure what that means. I used to have some pretty vivid dreams and what I’d felt at times were important premonitions that sprouted from the dreams, but that happened a lot more often in my youth and not as often in recent years. 

There was the time I dreamt of an ex-boyfriend, who I later ran into in person that same day! I can’t remember the details of the dream–only that I didn’t feel at all surprised when I saw him at the local roller rink. It had been two years since we’d broken up. I still feel like the universe was trying to give me a head’s up about that encounter.

Then there was a dream I’d had regarding a guy I’d been dating, who appeared as some sort of mystical vampire literally sucking the life force from me. Fangs in neck. Copious amounts of blood. Apparently his true-to-life leeching showcased itself within my dream, indicating it was time to let the bloodsucker go.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I had a dream that I was hanging out at an indoor pool where newborn babies swaddled in either pink or blue blankets floated around, waiting their turn to be placed within the arms of expectant mothers. Attending women moved around within the shallow water, handing over baby after baby, and when it was my turn, I’d been given a newborn wrapped in blue. I protested, sure there had been some sort of mistake. “But I’m having a girl,” I said. I was sure of it. The attendant shrugged and carried on with her duties, while I gazed deeply into the hazel green eyes of a sweet little bald baby who later turned out to be my little guy in real life–he lost most of his hair after he was born, and he still has the prettiest hazel eyes.

Then there was the dream I’d had with a good friend of mine who fought valiantly after receiving a stage four cancer diagnosis. At the time, I was in another state, visiting family for the holidays when I dreamed of my friend, sitting in a pick-up truck, slurping on a chocolate milkshake. She was never one for milkshakes, but this time, she shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter now,” giving me one of her famous loud laughs that I’ve missed every single day since I last heard it. I told her I wasn’t ready for her to go, but she told me if I ever needed her, I knew where to find her, and she looked up into a bright blue sky, smiling. I woke up to my cell phone ringing, with a call from her sister that our beloved friend, sister, and mother had passed on. 

I do think dreams can tell you what your subconscious is trying to get you to factor in, or better understand, especially if you have something going on in your life that ends up manifesting into dreamland. But I also think dreams can be a calling card or a way to revisit our loved ones, especially the ones that we miss and haven’t spoken to or seen in a very long time. 

What do you dream about?

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Book Review: One Perfect Couple

By Jami Denison

British author Ruth Ware is often compared to Agatha Christie, and her books are brilliant takes on Christie’s classic locked-door mysteries. Her latest book, One Perfect Couple, is a modern telling of Christie’s famous And Then There Were None, along with a dose of The Lord of the Flies. When five couples sail to a desert island to compete on a reality TV show, the stakes are more than roses and fame—they’re life and death.

Virus researcher Lyla has hit a dead end with her latest project—the numbers just don’t add up. When her boyfriend, struggling actor Nico, is offered an opportunity to compete on the new reality TV series One Perfect Couple, it seems like a great chance to take a break. The couples will fly to Jakarta, then take a seven-hour boat ride to a new island resort in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Along with Lyla and Nico, the other couples include Conor and Zana, Bayer and Angel, Dan and Santana, and Joel and Romi. The players hunker down for the duration: No phones or laptops, a game that lasts six to eight weeks.

But after the first challenge, a violent storm batters the island, leaving two people dead, others injured, the electricity off, and no way to contact the boat. As the survivors band together to salvage what’s left of the food and water, it gradually becomes clear that one of them is a danger to the rest. And then the dying starts.

One Perfect Couple unfolds at a dizzying pace, even in the early scenes setting up Lyla and Nico’s relationship and the later parts of the book when days turn into weeks. Ware’s narrative voice is perfect for suspense, and unlike many authors in the genre, she writes in the past tense, making it easier for the reader to lose herself in the prose. Lyla is the first-person narrator, and as a scientist who doesn’t watch reality TV, she’s an ideal stand-in for the reader.  

Interspersed with Lyla’s narration is the diary that Zana updates as events unfold. And Zana’s take is a lot different than Lyla’s descriptions. But her entries are so short and seem so divorced from the experience of trying to survive on a desert island that I never doubted Lyla’s account, and I wondered Ware’s purpose for including the diary. That reasoning doesn’t come clear until the end, when it plays a part in tying everything together. 

There were a few twists that I’d anticipated that did not play out. The book is a lot more straightforward than other offerings in the genre, and readers expecting to be tricked may be disappointed. By the end, though, I was happy that my predictions didn’t come to fruition. Rather than playing games with her readers, Ware is able to tell two stories: One about a group of people stranded on a desert island, and the other about toxic masculinity, the importance of trusting a fear response, and how our culture is set up to both glorify and excuse its perpetrators. This “second story” is another way in which Ware resembles Christie. Many of Dame Agatha’s murder mysteries, especially Miss Marple’s, have subtle messaging about sexism and abuse of women. 

One Perfect Couple is another home run for one of Britain’s leading crime fiction writers. Every fan of the genre should have her books in their libraries.

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

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Say "bonjour" to Kimberly Belle...plus a book giveaway


Introduction by Melissa Amster

Ever since I read The Marriage Lie, Kimberly Belle has become one of my go-to thriller writers. She always manages to keep me in suspense and guessing from beginning to end. And my heart races each time. I'm excited to celebrate the recent publication of her latest thriller, The Paris Widow, which earned five stars from me. (Reviewed here.) Be sure to buckle up for this armchair adventure, and check out our interview in the meantime. Thanks to Emi Battaglia PR, we have one copy to give away!

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author with over one million copies sold worldwide, with titles including The Paris Widow, The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller, and the co-authored #1 Audible Original, Young Rich Widows. Kimberly’s novels have been optioned for film and television and selected by LibraryReads and Amazon & Apple Books Editors as Best Books of the Month, and the International Thriller Writers as nominee for best book of the year. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam. 

Visit Kimberly online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * TikTok 

Synopsis:
When Stella met Adam, she thought she had finally found a nice, normal guy—a welcome change from her previous boyfriend and her precarious jetsetter lifestyle with him. But her secure world comes crashing down when Adam goes missing after an explosion in the city square. Unable to reach him, she panics.

As the French police investigate, it’s revealed that Adam was on their radar as a dealer of rare and stolen antiquities with a long roster of criminal clients. Reeling from this news, Stella is determined not to leave Paris until she has the full story. Was Adam a random victim or the target of the explosion? And why is someone following her through the streets of Paris?

An irresistible, fast-paced read set in some of Europe’s most inviting locales, The Paris Widow explores how sinister secrets of the past stay with us—no matter how far we travel. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"I was glued to the pages of The Paris Widow! I couldn't stop reading and was blown away by the twists and turns. One of my favorite reads this year!" 
—Freida McFadden, New York Times bestselling author of The Housemaid

The Paris Widow is irresistible from the very first page. Simultaneously glamorous and harrowing, full of danger and excitement, with a passionate love story at its heart, this is the definition of a page-turner. I devoured it and so will you.” 
—Michele Campbell, internationally bestselling author of The Intern

"The Paris Widow is a gripping tale that takes you on a thrilling journey through some of the most enchanting locales of Europe. This book is a must-read for those seeking an enthralling escape into a world where danger and intrigue intersect with the enduring echoes of past secrets. Belle has crafted an irresistible page-turner that keeps you hooked from the first page until the very end." 
—Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of The Leftover Woman

What is one thing you would tell the debut novelist version of yourself?
Just one? Hmm, hard to choose, but I think I would tell myself to stay true to the stories I really want to write. It’s so easy to let yourself get swayed by what editors think is best for your “brand” or what the market is clamoring for, and though you definitely shouldn’t ignore market trends, the best stories are the ones that demand to be told. Write the story that speaks to you, I’d tell myself, and the right readers will find it.

How is Stella similar to or different from you?
Stella and I share a keen wanderlust. Like her, I’m always thinking about my next trip, my next foreign adventure. As a former flight attendant, though, Stella has seen a lot more of the world than I have. She’d be a great travel partner, and the kind of loyal and fun person I’d choose as a friend. 

How much research did you have to do in order to bring Paris to life on the page?
The kind of research that meant multiple visits to Paris, thankfully. I stood at the base of the Eiffel Tower when it lit up at night. I walked the same piece of the Seine I chase Stella down. I drank café au lait and ate galettes at so many sidewalk cafés that I lost count. What is it they say? Paris is always a good idea, and all my visits really made the city come alive for me as I was writing.

If your life was a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it? 
Kristin Wiig. She was so fabulous in Palm Royale, and her accent was spot on. I’m nowhere near as funny as she is, but I’m always happy to laugh at my own expense. 

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see?
While I’m spending a few weeks in the US for the book’s release, the rest of the summer I’ll be in Amsterdam –a season the city really comes alive. We’d start with a boat trip through the canals, the very best way to see the city, and make stops at some of the best highlights. The Anne Frank House, of course, along with the Rijks and Van Gogh museums, and no trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the Red Light District. Smack in the middle of the chaos there is one of my favorite sights in the city, Our Lord in the Attic Museum, a 17th century canal home with a Catholic church in the attic. It’s an important bit of Dutch history—hidden churches like this one were tolerated by the Protestant city government., and vice versa when the Catholics were in charge. Even today, Dutch people are known for their live-and-let-live attitude.

What is the last movie you saw that you would recommend?
I watch more TV than movies these days, but I really loved American Fiction. It was such a scathing satire of the publishing industry, and a lot of it felt uncomfortably familiar. It’s a film that’s hilarious and entertaining but also very relevant, and not subtle about its themes. 

Thanks to Kimberly for chatting with us and to Emi Battaglia PR for sharing her book with our readers.

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Giveaway ends June 23rd at midnight EST.

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Monday, June 17, 2024

Book Review: The Summer Escape

By Melissa Smoot

Anna Moore didn’t just wake up one day and decide to go on a wild quest—especially since her life no longer lends itself to wild anything—so how in the world does she end up racing against the clock with Owen Harris, a sexy, enigmatic adventurist, to prove her beloved dad innocent of stealing a million-dollar necklace? 

It’s all Wendy’s fault. Her older, bossy sister, who’s seven months pregnant and on bed rest in their small Lake Tahoe hometown, is desperate to clear their departed dad’s name. Owen, though, is convinced he’s guilty as hell and wants to return the jewelry back to its rightful owner—his elderly great aunt. Together Anna and Owen go on a scavenger hunt for clues to the past (with Wendy remotely along for the ride via an earbud, supplying a running wry commentary to boot).  

On opposing sides and suspicious of each other as they are, Anna and Owen still can’t deny the inexplicable and explosive chemistry between them on this heart-stopping adventure, the outcome of which will prove the necklace isn’t the only thing stolen—their hearts have been as well. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

This is the second book I have read by Shalvis, and I enjoyed it as much as the previous one (The Bright Spot--reviewed here). The author has a way of making her characters so relatable and realistic. Just as in the last book I read of hers, there is a fun and quirky cast of characters to round out the story. I really like how the books in this series (Sunrise Cove Series) are all set in beautiful Lake Tahoe. Shalvis describes the scenery so wonderfully and it adds more depth to the plot.

The Summer Escape had a lot of humor as well as heartfelt and thoughtful moments. I felt that it was extremely well-rounded, and the last few chapters kept me on the edge of my seat. I liked how we got the backstories for all the main characters and why the mystery of some missing items mattered to each of them. When Anna Moore finds something mysterious in her deceased fathers belongings, it leads her on an adventure that she never could have imagined. When Owen Harris shows up claiming what Anna found was stolen from his great aunt, things take an interesting turn. 

It isn’t until the end that we learn what really happened, but the road to get there was a fun one. I fell in love with Anna and Owen, and even Anna’s sometimes annoying older sister, Wendy. This book is the perfect “summer escape” if you are looking for a dreamy mental getaway.

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

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Friday, June 14, 2024

Book Review: Every Time We Say Goodbye

By Melissa Smoot

In 1955, Vivien Lowry is facing the greatest challenge of her life. Her latest play, the only female-authored play on the London stage that season, has opened in the West End to rapturous applause from the audience. The reviewers, however, are not as impressed as the playgoers and their savage notices not only shut down the play but ruin Lowry's last chance for a dramatic career. With her future in London not looking bright, at the suggestion of her friend, Peggy Guggenheim, Vivien takes a job in as a script doctor on a major film shooting in Rome’s Cinecitta Studios. There she finds a vibrant movie making scene filled with rising stars, acclaimed directors, and famous actors in a country that is torn between its past and its potentially bright future, between the liberation of the post-war cinema and the restrictions of the Catholic Church that permeates the very soul of Italy.

As Vivien tries to forge a new future for herself, she also must face the long-buried truth of the recent World War and the mystery of what really happened to her deceased fiancé. Every Time We Say Goodbye is a brilliant exploration of trauma and tragedy, hope and renewal, filled with dazzling characters both real and imaginary. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Even though I opted to review this book, I am not typically a big reader of historical fiction, so I did not know how I would feel about this story. I loved it! The setting in beautiful Italy, and the glitz and glamour of the movie industry pulled me in right away. I liked how the author jumped back and forth between 1943 Italy, when the war was still going on, and Post-war Italy in 1955. By adding in the backstory of 1943 Italy, it gave me such a rich and deep understanding of how the characters became their present 1955 selves, and the trauma and terror they experienced prior. 

Most of the books I have read about the war are centered around Austria and Germany, so the setting in Italy gave me another perspective as to what the world was going through at that time. It was interesting how large of a role the Catholic church played in whether citizens could watch certain movies, or if they could even be written and filmed. The political clout they held was staggering. 

Each character in the story had suffered their own heartbreaks throughout the war. This created a sense of community and a shared understanding for the individual tragedies. The children separated from parents, husbands, sons, and fathers being ripped from families, and the prisoners of war and refugees during the Nazi occupation were all part of the story. I felt that Jenner beautifully portrayed the sense of stoicism that most people probably felt after coming out on the other side of such a war. 

Every Time We Say Goodbye is an incredible book to add to your list if you are looking for a brilliant, yet touching story that will draw you in  and leave you breathless.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.


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