Sunday, July 14, 2024

Book Review: It's All Sun and Games


By Sara Steven

When Robin finds out she's going on a work trip to Italy she can't wait for a week away in the sunshine, away from the daily grind. So what if there's a client pitch to do while they're there? The thing Robin is most excited about is the chance to show her work crush, James, what she's really like outside of work, and divert his attention from Liz, her work rival.

To make things even better, Robin realises that the town they're going to in Italy is the same place that her childhood penpal, Andrea is from. So it's the perfect time to re-connect and finally meet her old friend over some delicious Italian food and wine (between work obviously...) But when Andrea doesn't turn out to be the person Robin thought, things get a little complicated… (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

It’s All Sun and Games is the perfect summer read! It’s mostly lighthearted due in large part to Robin, the plucky can-do protagonist who appears to face the daily grind with as much joy as she can–given she feels like she’s continually up against her work nemesis, Liz. I don’t know how Robin can stay as composed as she does, but she does it. The reader gets the impression that it’s par for the course for Robin. She doesn’t feel as though she’s appreciated at work, and it’s hard for her to get her boss’s attention with James and Liz at the wheel. I loved Robin’s approach to life, though, despite those circumstances. 

Along with the bad, Robin will take the good where her work life is concerned. A work trip to Italy is just what she needs to break up the monotony of her world. I thought the introduction of Andrea and the background and story behind that friendship was very cute and a nice twist. It really added another layer of fun and potential, while also throwing a nice wrench into things for Liz. I found Liz to be annoying, but that made for the perfect antagonist. 

Robin has vied for James’s attention for a very long time, yet he’s never reciprocated it. But when she has the chance to really see where that relationship might go, the line between what she really wants and more importantly, who she really wants, becomes incredibly blurry. It irritated me that James seemed to only step up when Robin appeared unavailable, making James look like he wouldn’t be a great choice where a romantic relationship is concerned. Yet Robin has a tough time seeing that. All she seems to focus on is that fact that he’s giving her what she’s wanted for so long, she might be willing to push aside the red flags she sees on the horizon.

Overall, Robin has to learn that she’s good enough–she’s an asset to her job. She is worthy of love. It felt like Italy really helped to open her up a lot more, changing her viewpoint on so many things! I thought this latest book by Portia MacIntosh was a really great addition to her ever-expanding list of romantic comedies, and worth the read! 

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

Portia MacIntosh is the bestselling author of over 30 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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Friday, July 12, 2024

Book Review: The Summer Pact

Four freshmen arrive at college from completely different worlds: Lainey, a California party girl with a flair for drama; Tyson, a brilliant scholar and aspiring lawyer from Washington, D.C.; Summer, an ambitious, recruited athlete from the Midwest; and Hannah, a mild-mannered southerner who is content to quietly round out the circle of big personalities. Soon after arriving on campus, they strike up a conversation in their shared dorm, and the seeds of friendship are planted.

As their college years fly by, their bond intensifies and the four become inseparable. But as graduation nears, their lives are forever changed after a desperate act leads to tragic consequences. Stunned and heartbroken, they make a pact, promising to always be there for one another, no matter how separated they may become by circumstances or distance. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Allyson Bales:

“Remember there’s a difference between your history and your legacy.  Your history is what happened.  Your legacy is what you set in motion.”

Emily Giffin will always be a favorite author of mine because her stories always hit that sweet spot of deep and thought-provoking and also fun and uplifting. 

When I saw The Summer Pact was being released, I knew I needed to get my hands on it as soon as possible and am so glad I did.  This story is told from the different perspectives of friends from college, struggling with their hardships.  They come together to support each other and go on a pretty amazing journey.  I loved it.  While some of the story deals with deeper topics like grief and addiction, there is also grace, humility, and humor, and I found myself so invested in these characters.  I binged this one in two days!

While all of the characters really resonated with me, my favorite was Hannah.  She has no clue how strong she is, how much what she carries resonates with so many, how brave she is.  I really was rooting for all of them and really enjoyed the growth in all of the characters but Hannah the most.  

Thank you Emily Giffin for writing another amazing beach read!  Please go read this one and then let me know which character was your favorite!  

Melissa Amster:

I've read all of Emily Giffin's novels and her writing voice has really evolved over time. The Summer Pact is definitely on my list of her top three though!

The story was really engaging the entire time and I loved all of the main characters and cared so much about them. Getting to see each of their perspectives was helpful. There are some heavy topics, but Emily handles them in a sensitive and honest way.  I also loved the armchair adventure aspect and felt like I was in Italy with the friends. It was really easy to visualize people and places.

I was constantly surprised by everything that was happening and had no idea what would come up next. I maybe only guessed at a few things but they were hinted at early on. And Hannah's mother made me so angry on Hannah's behalf. Such toxic behavior! She reminded me a bit of Skeeter's mom in The Help (but also with a lot of Hilly's personality).

This is such a great summer (or even year-round) read and it will definitely make you laugh, smile, and even cry! Perfect for fans of Jane Green and Jill Santopolo, as well. 

(Trigger warnings below.)

Movie casting suggestions:
Tyson: Lucien Laviscount
Lainey: Meghann Fahy 
Summer: Bella Thorne

Thanks to Random House for the book in exchange for an honest review. Enter to win one of 20 copies on Goodreads! (US only. Ends July 31st.)


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TW: suicide, death of parent, alcoholism

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: You Shouldn't Be Here

Today we are pleased to feature Lauren Thoman's latest novel, You Shouldn't Be Here. This mystery thriller is sure to keep you guessing from beginning to end. It will be available in early August, but thanks to Megan Beatie Communications, we have one copy to give away!

You Shouldn't Be Here is also available as an Amazon First Reads pick for $1.99 (or free for Prime members), in case you don't win the print copy.

When sixteen-year-old Angie Stewart starts hearing a mysterious voice in her house, she’s thrilled at the possibility of a ghost. Finally, something interesting is happening in her boring hometown of East Henderson, Pennsylvania. But why is she the only one who can hear it? And what does it want from her?

Meanwhile, first-year teacher Madelyn Zhao just got the keys to her new home, which is located close to her job, within walking distance of a dog park—and, most importantly, in the town where her cousin went missing several years ago. No one in East Henderson wants to talk about what happened, but Madelyn is determined to find answers.

As the two strangers search for clues, their investigations begin to point toward the same dark place. But by the time they realize that the truth could be deadly, it’s too late to turn back. And someone out there will stop at nothing to make sure their secrets stay buried. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“A hip, fresh, mind-bending mystery with characters you’ll love to pieces. Madelyn is incredibly real, and her clever sleuthing skills bring to mind a modern-day paranormal Nancy Drew—righting serious wrongs and bringing justice to the land. Not to mention she’s the perfect foil to the jaw-droppingly yummy Alex. Loved it!” 
—J. T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author

You Shouldn’t Be Here is the best kind of dual timeline story—where everything is connected, nothing is as it seems, and I never saw the final twist coming. Lauren Thoman’s latest is the perfect blend of authentic characters and page-turning mystery: unsettling, surprising, and deliciously satisfying.” 
—Jessica Strawser, USA Today bestselling author of The Last Caretaker

You Shouldn’t Be Here will touch your heart in ways you could never expect. Thoman has created a charming but tense story that drew me in and wouldn’t let go. I was riveted from the first page.” 
—R. J. Jacobs, author of This Is How We End Things

Credit: Amanda McNeal
Lauren Thoman writes speculative fiction for teens and adults. Her debut novel, the timeslip mystery I'll Stop the World, was selected for publication in 2023 by six-time Emmy nominee Mindy Kaling through her eponymous imprint, Mindy’s Book Studio. Kaling said she was “dazzled” by the genre-bending novel, which she called “unputdownable.” 

Born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Lauren now lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and two children in a chaotic household that includes a fluctuating number of rescue and foster dogs, and a somewhat alarming quantity of fish. 

Lauren also works as a freelance pop culture writer with bylines in numerous online outlets including Parade, Vulture, and The Wrap. When she's not writing, she's probably on the hunt for tacos or coffee, poking around her flowerbeds, or buried underneath a pile of dogs. 

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

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 July 15th at midnight EST.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Book Review: The Hollywood Assistant

By Jami Denison

May Cobb’s The Hunting Wives is one of my favorite domestic suspense novels (reviewed here), and I was thrilled to hear that Starz has commissioned a series from the book. Perhaps that was the impetus for her latest thriller, The Hollywood Assistant—although Cobb mentions in her author’s note that she also worked as an assistant. 

Cassidy Foster is reeling from a break-up when her best friend Lexie—a Hollywood producer—helps her find a dream job. Soon Cassidy has left Texas for LA and the chance to work for famous director Nate and his up-and-coming Spanish actress wife, Marisol. At first, it’s a dream-come-true—Marisol lets Cassidy raid her closet, and Nate asks her opinion on scripts. But their marriage is tumultuous, and Cassidy develops a crush on Nate. When Nate asks Cassidy to spy on Marisol, she can’t say no. As the tension builds among the three of them, it’s pretty obvious that someone’s going to end up dead. 

For me, The Hollywood Assistant started pretty slowly, and I had trouble getting into the book. It’s written in first person, present tense, and Cassidy spends a lot of time describing things, like her jazz albums, her plants, her garage apartment. But this slow start is a bit of a head fake on Cobb’s part. It lets the reader identify with Cassidy, perhaps pity her a little, before revealing that Cassidy … has some issues. 

The unlikeable protagonist is such a well-known criticism in novels with female leads that Cobb actually titled her last book  A Likeable Woman. This critique seems to be given to any female character who has the audacity to have a fault or perhaps an unkind thought. Cassidy has a few unpublished novels herself, and when she includes the rejection letters she’s gotten, the language hit home for me. “Couldn’t connect with the characters.” “Didn’t love it enough.”

It wasn’t until Cobb revealed Cassidy’s issues that I really got sucked into the book. Her crush on Nate makes Cassidy a little unhinged. She can’t understand why he’d stay with a woman he suspects of cheating. She obsesses on every word, every glance, every gesture that Nate makes. And Nate eats up her attention… when he’s not defending Marisol. 

Cassidy isn’t unlikeable. She’s every woman who’s ever been ghosted after three perfect months. She’s every woman who’s had a man lie to her when confronted with salacious texts. She’s every girl who ever got her friend in the office to give her her crush’s schedule so she could “accidentally” run into him after class. (That wasn’t just me, right? Right? Sorry, David. Your grades were really impressive, though!) 

Where does one draw the line between normal-but-weird behavior and behavior that’s disturbing? It’s a question that we sometimes ask about ourselves as well as the characters we read about. 

Other than the slow start, my only other quibble with the book was the ending. Domestic suspense has become a bit formulaic, and the villain was predictable for anyone who reads the genre. But perhaps if we readers didn’t demand that things wrap up so tightly, writers would have more freedom to leave loose ends and create unforeseeable plot twists. 

The most interesting women aren’t likeable. Like Cassidy, they’re a little unhinged. I’m glad authors like Cobb keep writing about them. 

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

More by May Cobb:

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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Spotlight and Giveaway: Just One Taste

If anyone wanted to know what happened to Olive after Manifest ended, now's your chance! Just kidding. The main character of Lizzy Dent's latest rom-com, Just One Taste, shares her first and last name with that iconic Manifest character though. It will be on shelves next week to add to your mid-summer TBR. This sounds like a sexy, foodie love story that you will be devouring in no time. Thanks to Putnam, we have TWO copies to give away!

When Olive Stone and her Italian pseudo-celebrity chef father fell out fourteen years ago, annoyingly handsome Leo Ricci slipped right in as his surrogate son and sous-chef. No one is more surprised than Olive when her father wills her his beloved (and now failing) restaurant. Or that his dying wish was for Olive and Leo to complete his cookbook…together.

She’s determined to sell the restaurant. Leo is determined to convince her not to. As they embark on four weeks in Italy, traveling from Sicily to Tuscany to Liguria, they’ll test each other as often as they test recipes. But the more time Olive and Leo spend together, the more undeniable their attraction grows. Olive finds herself wondering whether selling the restaurant might be running away, and what it might be like to try Just One Taste of Leo Ricci. Because he isn’t who she expected, and this trip might reveal more about who Olive is than she’s ready for. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“Follow Lizzy Dent to Italy and you will smell the oranges, feel the sunshine and taste the first perfect kiss. Just One Taste is a deliciously romantic and emotional exploration of love and loss, with Dent’s signature humor and sense of fun. Five big stars from me.”
—Annabel Monaghan, national bestselling author of Same Time Next Summer
 
"Dent's cozy, slow-burn romance is a heartfelt journey through Italian cuisine and culture. Readers will delight in the rich descriptions of food and dream of a summer holiday in Italy.” 
Booklist
 
“In vivid prose, Dent brings the Italian countryside to life while building a simmering attraction between her leads. Hopeless romantics looking for an armchair vacation will want to check this out.” 
—Publishers Weekly

Credit: Kerstin Weidinger 2021
Lizzy Dent is the author of The Summer Job, The Setup, and The Sweetest Revenge. She (mis)spent her early twenties working in Scotland in hospitality and after years travelling the world making Music TV for MTV and Channel 4, and creating digital content for Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV, she turned to writing. She now lives in Austria with her family. (Bio courtesy of Penguin Random House.)

Visit Lizzy 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 July 14th at midnight EST.

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Monday, July 8, 2024

Book Review: This Used to Be Us

By Allyson Bales

After twenty-two years together, Danielle and Alex are getting a divorce. Once fiercely in love, they can barely stand the sound of each other’s voice. Instead of shuttling the kids between two broken homes, Alex and Dani decide to share a nesting apartment while swapping days with their two teenage boys at the family home.

In the apartment, Dani and Alex, on their own, begin to reflect on the last two decades—why they fell in love and why the marriage fell, spectacularly, apart. With the newfound space and time, they are given a chance to rediscover their autonomous selves again. They both get back in the dating pool. Dani finds major success at work as a showrunner on her own TV project, while Alex faces the challenges of a new relationship.

Still, they find that they just can’t stay away from each other, and somehow, the distance allows them to remember (for the first time in years) what each used to love about the other. When a family crisis draws them back into each other’s orbit, Dani and Alex are once again put to the test, which leads to a dramatic conclusion that will have readers weeping. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Renee Carlino has been an auto-buy author for me since 2016.  I read Before We Were Strangers and was immediately enamored with Carlino’s writing style.  Her way with words is truly captivating and I always love the depth of her characters.  Swear on This Life has been a favorite until This Used to Be Us.  

I loved this story so much. It was a raw and real depiction of a marriage running its course and all the baggage, vulnerability, good, and bad that comes with that chapter closing.

Danielle and Alex are characters who encapsulate so many important and thought-provoking themes. I loved how together they navigate the heaviness that we take on as we get older and live life.  How relationships can morph to a place we never imagined and what that opens up in us and also closes in us.  Also how children can be a mirror and teach us things even though we think we are older and wiser. I just loved this little family and all they navigate. 

If you’re married or in a serious relationship this book will speak to you and make you reflect, which are always the best kind of stories.  It is messy and heartfelt and one that I really recommend. 

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

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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Book Review: It Started with a Book

By Sara Steven

When she’s ghosted by yet another Tinder match, Leighton swears off dating for life. Who needs apps and blind dates when she has the perfect-in-every-way (apart from being fictional) heroes of her beloved romance novels?

That night Leigh finds a second-hand book on her TBR pile, which transports her to the small-town of Lakeville Hills, where the heroines wear shorty-shorts and the men drink bourbon. And as Leigh drifts off to sleep, she dreams of billionaire cowboy Killian St Clair, who could win a gold medal for smouldering and bicep flexing.

For a while, Leigh finds it easier to stomach misogynistic supervisors, newly coupled friends, and extravagant bridesmaid duties knowing she can return to Lakeville Hills each evening. Until one day, she wakes up to find she’s brought a bit of Lakeville Hills back with the impossible sexy and entirely implausible Killian St Clair is in her apartment.

Now Leigh must help Killian navigate the real world. But as she gets to know the man behind the trope, can she keep her heart safe, or does she risk falling in love with her book boyfriend in real life? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

I loved the unique concept and vibe that surrounds It Started with a Book! There was a time in my life when I’d considered writing a short story that focused on my protagonist having two lives; the waking world, or what could be considered the “real” world, and another life that she lives while sleeping. This book brought that to life, and then some! A mysterious romance novel is the catalyst, and when Leigh falls asleep, she finds herself within its pages in Lakeville Hills, a fictional town where she manages her own bakery, wears short-shorts and clogs, and knows how to drive a stick shift pick-up truck.

The only problem? That’s not who Leigh really is. In her own “real” world in Chicago, she never uses her oven–or stove for that matter, she’d never be caught dead in short-shorts or clogs, and there is no way in hell she could ever shift manual gears with a stick shift. I thought the dream sequences were very well thought out and showcased just how out of her depth Leigh felt during the various transitions between her waking life and the dream one. When she falls back to sleep, it’s never where she left off, even when she wants it to be. And through it all, the book seems to hold all of the answers–a clever way to bring together both worlds.

And of course, there’s Killian. He’s perfection personified, the type of manly cowboy hero one can only dream of from a romance novel. There is no one who measures up to him, and gradually, Leigh begins to develop real feelings for him. She knows there is no hope for them, considering he’s not real and appears to be a figment of her imagination, but he seems so real. Not to mention his own feelings towards Leigh that factor into everything. 

Bringing Killian into the real world was a great move and added a fun element to this story. My only tiny gripe deals with the way he processes that change. I didn’t feel as though he felt as much trepidation as he should have. I would imagine a book character who leaves their hometown and magically appears within an environment that is so vastly different from their own might be dealing with some feelings of fear, or even disbelief. I didn’t feel that Leigh showed that as much as she should have, either. It felt too glossed over, but everything that happens before and after those moments really was perfection. I thought it was cute how they both had to sort of scramble along with finding a way to explain Killian’s existence and also, to find a way for Leigh to trust in a man who was a lot more trustworthy when he primarily existed within the pages of a book. It was a lot more safe. Like Leigh, I kept wondering if Killian would disappear one day, and I felt like that paralleled well with how I imagine a lot of us might feel in newfound relationships. Will this last? Is it forever? It Started with a Book was a fun, sweet experience, and well worth the read!

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

Purchase Links:
Amazon US * Amazon UK * Apple * Barnes & Noble * Kobo

Camilla Isley is an engineer who left science behind to enter the whimsical realm of romantic fiction.

She writes contemporary rom-coms. Her characters have big hearts, might be a little stubborn at times, and love to banter with each other. Every story she pens has a guaranteed HEA that will make your heart beat faster. Unless you're a vampire, of course.

Camilla is a cat lover, coffee addict, and shoe hoarder. Besides writing, she loves reading—duh!—cooking, watching bad TV, and going to the movies—popcorn, please. She's a bit of a foodie, nothing too serious. A keen traveler, Camilla knows mosquitoes play a role in the ecosystem, and she doesn't want to starve all those frog princes out there, but she could really live without them.

Visit Camilla online:
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Friday, July 5, 2024

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

Melissa:

Recommended Reading by Paul Coccia from Zando (NetGalley)
Anyone But Her by Cynthia Swanson by Columbine York (NetGalley)
The Time Keepers by Alyson Richman from Union Square & Co (NetGalley)
Summer on Butterfly Bay by/from Judith Natelli McLaughlin (print)
Group Living and Other Recipes by Lola Milholland from Spiegel & Grau (print)
Then, Again by Jaclyn Youhana Garver from Lake Union (NetGalley)

Melissa S:
What We Sacrifice for Magic by/from Andrea Jo DeWerd (print)

Allyson:
Swift and Saddled by Lyla Sage from Random House (print)
Going to Maine by Sally Chaffin Brooks from Kaye Publicity (print)


What could be in YOUR mail:

A Happier Life by Kristy Woodson Harvey

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


Synopsis:
The historic houses in the seaside town of Beaufort, North Carolina, have held the secrets of their inhabitants for centuries. One of the most enduring refuses to be washed away by the tide: What happened to Rebecca and Townsend Saint James on that fateful night of their disappearance in 1976?

Now, the granddaughter they never knew, Keaton Smith, is desperate for a fresh start. So when her mother needs someone to put her childhood home in Beaufort on the market, she jumps at the chance to head south. But the moment she steps foot inside the abandoned house, which has been closed for nearly fifty years, she wonders if she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Wading through the detritus of her grandparents’ lives, Keaton finds herself enchanted by their southern traditions—and their great, big love. As she gets to know her charming next-door neighbor, his precocious ten-year-old son, and a flock of endearingly feisty town busybodies, Keaton begins to wonder if the stories she has been told about her grandparents are true.

Keaton’s grandmother, Rebecca “Becks” Saint James’s annual summer suppers are the stuff of legend, and locals and out-of-towners alike clamor for an invitation to her stunning historic home. But, in the summer of 1976, she’s struggling behind the facade of the woman who can do it all—and facing a problem that even she can’t solve.

As Keaton and Becks face new challenges and chapters, they are connected through time by the house on Sunset Lane, which has protected the secrets, hopes, and dreams of their family for generations. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

"If you love small towns, Southern charm, romance, family sagas, or murder mysteries, this novel needs to be in your beach bag. I loved it." 
—Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author

"A Happier Life is that wistful, sparkling summer song whose notes will long linger in reader's memories."
—Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of Summers at the Saint 

"Kristy Woodson Harvey has the voice of a best friend; a storyteller of the finest sort."
—Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author

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 July 10th at midnight EST.

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Book Review: Sly as a Fox

By Sara Steven

Sylvia Wilson’s brother, Aaron, is working with a joint bank robbery task force. When he goes missing, she joins forces with the FBI to search for him.

But nothing is what it seems.

With very little time left, Sylvia will burn Heaven to the ground to find her missing brother and bring him back alive. FBI, be damned. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)



After reading On the Sly, the first book in the Sylvia Wilson Mystery series (reviewed here), I was excited to read this latest installment and see what was in store for Sylvia. I knew going in just how rough of a ride it could potentially be for her, and true to expectations, the storyline did not disappoint. 

From the get go, Sylvia showcases her tough-as-nails attitude, particularly when dealing with the circumstances surrounding her missing brother, Aaron. If I’ve learned anything about this gritty protagonist, family is number one in her life, and given that Aaron is working undercover for the FBI, the stakes are even higher. She doesn’t know who to trust. There might be a mole out for revenge, or it could be someone on the task force who has been playing both sides the whole time. No one wants her involved, preferring to keep her safe, but Sylvia doesn’t play by the rules and nothing is off limits. 

I really like the writing style in both books in the series. The author isn’t overly flowery, preferring to get right to the point, but in a way that still highlights the scenery and everything that is going on around Sylvia really well. A great example are the moments where Sylvia is staking out a neighborhood and following a possible perpetrator, but at the same time she’s tailed by a stray cat in the area, and considering how much of an animal lover she is, she is trying her best to stay on course but wants to assist the cat, providing commentary yet in a way that is very direct. I think the writing style matches her personality and who Sylvia is as a person. In your face. Quick. Thorough. But with moments of kindness and empathy, even in the face of danger.

She is relentless. And she never backs down, even when you might think she should. There are characters from the first book who make a much-needed appearance in this book, with possible relationships budding in the future–we can never get too comfortable, though, because someone who could be a confidante in the present time can land on Sylvia’s number one hit list in a matter of seconds, while other characters who she thought she’d never be able to rely on, become her number one supports. It's intrigue and danger and overall, a really wild ride when the reader has Sylvia behind the wheel. Sly as a Fox is a great addition to this book series!

Thanks to Author Marketing Experts for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Book Review: Bodies to Die For

By Jami Denison

I believe I speak for almost all women when I say that since puberty, there has not been a single day in my life when I liked my body. Even the days when the number on the scale was relatively low, I still had body parts that were too big or floppy. These days, supposedly we’re in a body positivity moment, but with Ozempic advertisements all over my news feeds, along with ads for gastric bypass, plastic surgery, and fat freezing, it still seems like the only bodies that should feel positive are the ones that wear a size four or lower. And while Ozempic appears to be a miracle drug that cures all kinds of cravings, the side effects can be painful, or even deadly. But wouldn’t you risk death to have a body you loved?

In Lori Brand’s debut novel, Bodies to Die For, two women embody body type extremes. Gemma is a fitness influencer and body builder who’s haunted by the woman she used to be—Fat Gemma, who weighed 100 pounds more. Ashley is a morbidly obese software engineer who is sick and tired of being judged for her weight. When Ashley attends a session to learn about gastric bypass surgery, she’s thwarted by Lydia, who wants Ashley to embrace her body and fight for fat acceptance. But when Lydia’s plans start to become dangerous, and women in the body building influencer community start to turn up dead, Gemma could be the next victim.

Bodies to Die For starts with a huge bang. We’re in Gemma’s head, and while she seems to have it all—hot body, hot husband, millions of followers—Fat Gemma still torments her, and all she thinks about is the food she can’t have. Then we meet Ashley and see the abuse she gets just from living in her body, and the abuse she gives herself. These first few chapters are real and hard to read and should have a trigger warning for anyone who’s ever berated themselves for eating a piece of cake—in other words, all of us. 

As the book develops, another woman on the circuit—Bianca—is murdered, strangled by one of the waist cinchers she’s been promoting. Genna worries that she could be next, as she seems to be surrounded by suspects—her shifty husband, another rival, an incel fan, an obsessive client, her coach, etc. She doesn’t even know about Lydia, whose schemes get more outlandish, and who has a tendency to show up at Ashley’s covered in smoke and soot. Another woman in the industry dies. Then another.

I wanted to love Bodies to Die For, and the first few chapters broke my heart.  There’s so much good here, but I think first-time author Brand could have used a stronger editor. With Bianca’s death by waist cincher, the tone became uneven, and there were scenes with the fat activists that also bordered on funny. Since the book is being promoted as a psychological thriller, I found the humor distracting and sometimes borderline cruel to the characters. Further, there are so many different characters and different points-of-view, I had trouble keeping track of all of them. The inclusion of the incel character (who sometimes served as comic relief as well) felt like Brand was attempting to include issues broader than diet culture, and that was distracting.  

Still, I really liked Gemma and Ashley. I rooted for both of them to stop obsessing over their bodies, develop healthy habits, and get on with their lives. A twist near the end of the book is nicely foreshadowed and adds to the satisfying ending. 

Author Brand comes from the fitness industry, where she’s been a Playboy model, body builder, and group fitness instructor, among other careers. Her insider knowledge is obvious on every page, and her talent as a writer is undeniable. Still, I feel her natural voice is better suited to humor than thrillers. 

When confronting an athletic wear manufacturer who doesn’t make clothes in larger sizes, Ashley notes that 68% of women are considered plus size. The majority of women aren’t size four, but they also aren’t morbidly obese. I wished there had been another character in addition to Gemma and Ashley, who wasn’t a suspect, who could stand in for those of us who want to lose 10-15 pounds, and who are haunted by all the Ozempic ads on their news feeds.   

Thanks to Kaye Publicity for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Kirsty Greenwood's heavenly new novel...plus a book giveaway


Credit: Antalya von Preussen
We are excited to have Kirsty Greenwood at CLC today, to celebrate the publication of her latest rom-com, The Love of My Afterlife. Melissa adored this novel and has a review right here. We enjoyed chatting with Kirsty about her writing and other fun stuff. Thanks to Berkley, we have one copy to share with a lucky reader!

Kirsty Greenwood was born and raised in a small-town in Greater Manchester. Previously a book editor, and named as a 2016 Rising Star in The Bookseller, she is a full-time writer of love stories that make readers belly laugh and ugly cry. She is obsessed with musical theatre and currently working on a new romantic comedy musical, as well as more novels. (Bio courtesy of Kirsty's website.)

Visit Kirsty online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram


Synopsis:
If she wasn’t dead already, Delphie would be dying of embarrassment. Not only did she just die by choking on a microwaveable burger, but now she’s standing in her ‘shine like a star’ nightie in front of the hottest man she’s ever seen. And he’s smiling at her.

As they start to chat, everything else becomes background noise. That is until someone comes running out of a door, yelling something about a huge mistake, and sends the dreamy stranger back down to earth. And here Delphie was thinking her luck might be different in the afterlife.  

When Delphie is offered a deal in which she can return to earth and reconnect with the mysterious man, she jumps at the opportunity to find her possible soulmate and a fresh start. But in a city of millions, Delphie is going to have to listen to her heart, learn to ask for help, and perhaps even see the magic in the life she’s leaving behind…
(Courtesy of Amazon.)

“I think the challenge in writing rom coms can be to have the laughs interspersed in a story that has real heart – Kirsty does this with aplomb.”
—Sophie Cousens, New York Times bestselling author

“A brilliant tongue-in-cheek romp that turns Meant-To-Be on its head. Complicated, dreamy, and hilarious, Kirsty Greenwood can make a romantic out of death itself. The Love of My Afterlife is Where’s Waldo for soulmates, and it’s perfect.”
—Ashley Poston, New York Times bestselling author of The Dead Romantics

"Confident and hilarious, I lost a whole day to it and I don’t regret a second. Gave me The Good Place crossed with The Dead Romantics and The Ex Hex vibes, quirky and romantic and oh so gorgeously memorable - I only wish I’d written it first!"
—Josie Silver, New York Times bestselling author

What is a favorite compliment you received on your writing?  
Definitely when readers tell me that they laughed until they cried when reading my books! To solicit such a physical reaction from someone always gives me a kick! Making people laugh makes me feel quite proud!

If you could tell the debut novelist version of yourself one thing, what would it be? 
Ooh. I would tell "past me" to be more confident in my voice and to stop trying to emulate other writers so much. 

What is the last book you read that you would recommend? 
I recently read How to End a Love Story by Yulin Kuang and I thought it was excellent. Gorgeous, vivid writing, lots of drama and juicy emotions. Plus it was super horny, which is always a plus in my opinion.

If your life was a TV series, which celebrity would you want to narrate it? 
I love this question! I think maybe Titus Burgess? I love his take on basically everything and I think he would make everything sound a gazillion percent funnier.  Also he could beautifully sing parts of his narration! If it were a British person I'd choose Sofia Oxenham who narrates the audiobook of The Love of My Afterlife. I love her voice! She's so warm and friendly sounding!

If we were to visit you right now, what are some places you would take us to see? 
I would take you to a bunch of places that feature in The Love of My Afterlife - the beautiful Italian Gardens, the bar that inspired The Orchestra Pit, the top of the Shard. If it was sunny I'd get us some bottles of cold beer and we'd go on one of those open top bus tours, taking in all the sights and getting pleasurably tipsy. Ooh and then I'd take you to one of the cafes that serves a full English breakfast at any hour of the day. I'd buy you extra hash browns with brown sauce.

Thanks to Kirsty for visiting with us and to Berkley 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 July 7th at midnight EST.

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Monday, July 1, 2024

Reviews at Amazon--May/June 2024

We're posting some reviews at our Amazon (or Goodreads) accounts, as either they've been sitting in our queue for a while and deserve their time in the sun, fall under our featuring policy, or they're new reads that we couldn't wait to post at the blog. You can check them out at the links below. Hope we can help you find your next favorite book!

Sara Steven:
Dishonestly Yours by Krista & Becca Ritchie
Some Kind of Perfect by Krista & Becca Ritchie
Heart Restoration Project by Beth Merlin and Danielle Modafferi

Jami Denison:
The Incorrigibles by Meredith Jaeger
You're Safe Here by Leslie Stephens

Allyson Bales:
How to Age Disgracefully by Clare Pooley

Melissa Amster:

Magical Meet Cute by Jean Meltzer
It Could Be Worse by Dara Levan
House of Glass by Sarah Pekkanen
The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center
One Alpen Day by Michele Davenport-Dutton
The Playgroup by Leah Mercer
Hypnotized by Love by Sariah Wilson
Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck
Shark Heart by Emily Habeck
Anna Bright is Hiding Something by Susie Orman Schnall
On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
The Second Mrs. Strom by Kaira Rouda
The Love of My After Life by Kirsty Greenwood



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Book Review: The Lion Women of Tehran

By Allyson Bales

In 1950s Tehran, seven-year-old Ellie lives in grand comfort until the untimely death of her father, forcing Ellie and her mother to move to a tiny home downtown. Lonely and bearing the brunt of her mother’s endless grievances, Ellie dreams of a friend to alleviate her isolation.

Luckily, on the first day of school, she meets Homa, a kind, passionate girl with a brave and irrepressible spirit. Together, the two girls play games, learn to cook in the stone kitchen of Homa’s warm home, wander through the colorful stalls of the Grand Bazaar, and share their ambitions for becoming “lion women.”

But their happiness is disrupted when Ellie and her mother are afforded the opportunity to return to their previous bourgeois life. Now a popular student at the best girls’ high school in Iran, Ellie’s memories of Homa begin to fade. Years later, however, her sudden reappearance in Ellie’s privileged world alters the course of both of their lives.

Together, the two young women come of age and pursue their own goals for meaningful futures. But as the political turmoil in Iran builds to a breaking point, one earth-shattering betrayal will have enormous consequences. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

“Freedom has no musts.”

This story was deeply moving. 

I teared up reading about the lives and friendship of Ellie and Homa, about the turmoil in Tehran, and about women’s rights. 

This novel is about the bravery, resiliency, courage, and deep love of women and I will think about the story for some time to come. 

Here I am again thinking that I don’t want to give away too much to you, dear reader. I often think about what I would want to know prior to reading a book, and there is so much that I could potentially ruin and take from your experience if I share too much. I really don’t love knowing too much going into a story because I love the entire experience of a favorite read. I love meeting the characters, learning about them and feeling what they are feeling, and just getting to read a beautiful and impactful story and remembering where I was and what I felt when that happens. This story was that for me and I think it will be for you too, so these few things I will share: 

Know that this book made me think of my childhood friends and what would have happened if one choice or situation were different? Would we be different people leading different lives? Would we still be in touch? I am so thankful for my friendships, especially the women that have taught me things about myself, have been a mirror to my light and darkness, and have picked me up. Women are fierce and I could not stop thinking about so many of the most meaningful women in my life including my mom, my wife, and my best friends. 

Also, this story made me realize I kind of stick my head in the sand when it comes to political upheaval and struggles in other countries. I turn on the news and lately it always seems so sad and defeating and it makes me want to immediately turn away. What this story exposed me to made me want to learn more about the women of Iran, about women and their struggles and their courage everywhere.  It made me want to be more educated and aware and more present in what is going on in the world and to be a part of doing something, of being a part of the solution. 

Lastly, this story made me proud to be a woman. To be amongst the brave, the courageous, the vulnerable, the intelligent, the lions. 

This book will move you, inspire you, educate you, and is one I highly, highly recommend.  It will definitely be a favorite of the year. 

Thanks to Gallery for the book in exchange for an honest review. Purchase The Lion Women of Tehran here.

Also by Marjan Kamali:
The Stationery Shop
Together Tea

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