Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: From Scratch, by Rachel Goodman {ends 8/3}

Sighing, I lean my head back and soak up the sun filtering through the overhang of branches, thinking of all the times Nick patched me up when I was hurt. Even now, the faded scars and slight imperfections covering my body tell secret stories of all the knife cuts he bandaged, the oven burns he soothed, the sore backs and throbbing feet he massaged after grueling diner shifts. 

But then, he's also the one who shattered my heart into so many pieces it shocked my soul into silence.

This book definitely reminded me of the movie Waitress, minus the crazy husband, in that it follows a cook-turned-lawyer as she returns back to Dallas to care for her aging father, who has an operation scheduled soon. Lillie escaped to Chicago a few years back, and now has a new job (lawyer), new life, and new fiancee ... but that might change once she runs into her old love and former fiancee, Nick.

Official synopsis:
A down-home, feel-good debut Southern romance, From Scratch explores one woman’s journey back home to Dallas, Texas, where her family is cooking up a plan that doesn’t quite suit her tastes…

Thirty-year-old Lillie Turner grew up with maple syrup stuck to her skin and bacon grease splattered on her clothes, courtesy of working in the family diner. Thank goodness she escaped all that when she moved to Chicago five years ago. Now a successful strategy consultant and newly engaged to a man who complements her like biscuits and gravy, she has everything she wants.

When an urgent phone call about her father’s health pulls Lillie back to Dallas, she soon learns it was a ruse to bring her home so she can run the diner she’d rather avoid and compete in the Upper Crust, an annual baking competition, with no option to withdraw. Lillie is furious and ready to run back to Chicago, but her father’s haggard appearance makes her wonder if he’s hiding something. Things go from bad to worse when Nick, her handsome ex and the only man she ever truly loved, reappears, looking as scrumptious as ever.

Lillie’s trip home forces her to question the path she’s chosen, find her place in the family she abandoned, and wonder if the life she left behind is what she wants after all.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Those Secrets We Keep, by Emily Liebert {ends 8/1}

Sometimes it was hard to separate Hillary the friend from Hillary the family counselor. Was she analyzing Sloane's every word? Her every expression? Was she judging her for being sent into a tailspin over running into an ex-boyfriend? Hillary had a front-row seat to witness the train wreck of her long overdue reunion with Luke, when, apparently, not only had the cat gotten her tongue, but he'd run off with it. What if she'd observed a significant look or emotion? What if she'd seen Luke's eyes meet Sloane's and noticed the unspoken dialogue they had exchanged? Would she say something to Greg? Would Greg say something to Eddie? Did Sloane even care? It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong by running into Luke.

There was also the considerably more likely scenario that Sloane was reading the situation as if it were an epic love story when in reality it was nothing more than a cheap paperback relegated to the sales bin at the supermarket. 

I reviewed another of Emily Liebert's books almost two years ago (You Knew Me When) and enjoyed that one, so I had high hopes for this one. Those Secrets We Keep is a fun beach read - I actually started reading it at the Grand Haven, MI beach when I was there a few weeks ago - although a little slow in parts.

Official synopsis:
Three women. Three lives. Three secrets.

On the surface, Sloane has the perfect life—an adoring husband, a precocious daughter, and enough financial security to be a stay-at-home mom. Still, she can’t help but feel as though something—or someone—is missing....

Hillary has a successful career and a solid marriage. The only problem is her inability to conceive. And there’s a very specific reason why....

As the wild-child daughter of old family money, Georgina has never had to accept responsibility for anything. So when she realizes an unexpected life change could tie her down forever, she does exactly what she’s always done: escape.

When these three women unite for a three-week-long summer vacation in beautiful Lake George, New York, even with the idyllic location as their backdrop, the tensions begin to mount. And they quickly discover that no secret can be kept forever....

Sloane and her friends Hillary and Georgina are staying at Sloane's aunt's cottage in Lake George, NY, when Sloane runs into Luke, a former boyfriend. Sloane has a perfectly nice husband at home, Eddie, who will be joining the girls with Greg (Hillary's husband) at the house in a few weeks, but seeing Luke makes feelings come back from the one summer they spent together.

Meanwhile, Georgina decides to crash the trip last-minute, and she's running away from something, though Hillary and Sloane aren't privy to this info until later on in the novel. Hillary may seem perfect, but she's also harboring a secret, especially from her husband, and it's a secret that could be life-changing.

This book was definitely a quick read, although I haven't had a lot of time for reading lately so it took me a week or so to finish it. I liked You Knew Me When (see above) a little more than this one, but that novel focused on two women and this one focuses on a group of friends (three women); in the Q&A with the author at the end of the book, she mentions that she wanted to try writing about three women instead of two this time. 

The ending was also very open-ended, which I always dislike in books, but the author said not to count out a sequel, which would satisfy me - I'd like to see more of these characters.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes a "beach" read (aka: a quick read) or who likes "chick lit." Liebert has written one other novel, too, When We Fall, and I'd like to check that out at some point too.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

More about the book, from the author:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: The Lost Concerto, by Helaine Mario

Once more he thought about the Bright Angel file locked in his briefcase and the woman code named Concerto. Magdalena O'Shea. Add in Zachary Law. Victor Orsini. What connected all of the players? What was the one thing they all had in common? Sofia Orsini? No. Education? No. Work? Friends? Passions?

"Music," He said suddenly.


What if the O'Shea woman had something Orsini needed? She was a musician, after all. If music was the common thread, then Magdalena O'Shea was at the center of the storm.

I was invited to review this book through Tomoson (a review website) and was intrigued by it - I'm a (former-ish) violinist and I love books that weave music themes throughout. The novel ended up being very Mary Higgins Clark meets Harlan Coben, and I ended up enjoying it even though it was a little lengthy (about 425 pages).

Official synopsis:
A woman and her young son flee to a convent on a remote island off the Breton coast of France. Generations of seafarers have named the place Ile de la Brume, or Fog Island. In a chapel high on a cliff, a tragic death occurs and a terrified child vanishes into the mist.

The child’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea, haunted by the violent deaths of her husband and best friend, has withdrawn from her life as a classical pianist. But then a recording of unforgettable music and a grainy photograph surface, connecting her missing godson to a long-lost first love.

The photograph will draw Maggie inexorably into a collision course with criminal forces, decades-long secrets, stolen art and musical artifacts, and deadly terrorists. Her search will take her to the Festival de Musique, Aix-en-Provence, France, where she discovers answers to the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, an unexpected love—and a musical masterpiece lost for centuries.

A compelling blend of suspense, mystery, political intrigue, and romance,
The Lost Concerto explores universal themes of loss, vengeance, courage, and love.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Quick Pick & GIVEAWAY: Hope Out Loud, by Kristina Riggle {ends 7/25}

  • Opening lines: The handwriting on the postcard is spiky and jerky, as if someone were trying to yank it away from my father before he finished what he had to say. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I love all of Riggle's other books - I actually had the chance to go to a reading of hers in Warren, MI a few years ago too. I read the novel that this is a follow-up novella to, also (The Life You've Imagined), although I don't believe I reviewed it here. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Five years after the summer of The Life You’ve Imagined, Anna Geneva’s mother is getting married. This means Anna must return to her hometown and the scene of her infamous affair with her teenage love Will Becker, who was married at the time, with a young daughter. Anna plans to avoid him, watch her mom get married, and hightail it back to her private law practice and her cozy apartment in Chicago.

    But in a town as small as Haven, avoiding the elder son of a prominent family is harder than it seems, especially with so much shared history. And Maeve Geneva’s wedding? Well, the bride is starting to worry that maybe she’s not ready to marry again after all, though she swears her ex-husband’s affectionate postcards have nothing to do with that.

    Anna thought she’d left her hometown behind for good five years ago, but she’s learning it takes more than two hundred miles along the Lake Michigan shore to put Haven truly behind her …
  • Favorite paragraph:
  • We did it all backwards. Our teenage love was uncomplicated and easy. We had a friendship of like minds plus passionate ardor: hesitant virgins making clumsy love in a moonlit park. Our drama and crises came later, when we should have been old enough to know better. As it turned out, we were merely old enough to take something lovely and ruin it. 
  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes a quick story - this is a novella, and it's about 125 pages in print or 85 pages on Kindle, according to Amazon. Also anyone who has read The Life You've Imagined, even though this can be read as a standalone novel too.
  • Something to know: Kristina Riggle is from the west side of the state, and one of my favorite (real) cities there is Grand Haven - I'd like to think "Haven" is based on that city, and so I could kind of see it in my mind as I read this novella.
  • What I would have changed: I would have maybe made the novella a little longer, or perhaps a full-length book - I wanted to know more about what happens to these characters after the novella ended.
  • Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here.

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book from the author for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Will we or won't we? and If I let him take me home, will it mean more to me than it means to him?

I look at Ethan and then I look at Gabby.

Life is long and full of an infinite number of decisions. I have to think that the small ones don't matter, that I'll end up where I need to end up no matter what I do.

My fate will find me.

So I decide to ... 

This novel was fantastic. I shouldn't be surprised, because I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid's other two novels too, and I also love books that follow two parallel storylines (sort of like a "choose your own adventure") ... but I'm still thinking about this novel, a few days later now.

Official synopsis:
From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Liferaises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Mama's Boy, by ReShonda Tate Billingsley {ends 7/22}

Mama's Boy was just released on July 7th (check back later for my review) and I have a chance for you to win a copy!

When her son is in trouble, a heartbroken mother finds the courage and faith to save him, in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s powerful family drama MAMA’S BOY—a novel as timely as today’s headlines.

The breaking TV news rocks Jasper, Texas, to the core: a white police officer is fatally shot in a scuffle with three black youths—and a cellphone video captures Jamal Jones, the sixteen-year-old son of esteemed Reverend Elton Jones, escalating the tragic encounter. Now, as the national spotlight shines on a town already rife with racial tension, Jamal is a murder suspect on the run. And all of Jasper—even the reverend’s congregation—rushes to judge the teen they thought they knew.

But Gloria Jones knows her son best, and she races to find Jamal before the law does—to the outrage of her workaholic husband. Once she finds him, she has to decide whether to turn him in or help him run. With ruthless prosecutor and Houston mayoral candidate Kay Christensen hungering to put another young thug behind bars, Gloria will face her biggest battle yet. And when long-hidden secrets and shocking lies come to light, throwing Jamal’s case and his destiny into a tailspin, all Gloria can do is pray that the truth—and a mother’s unconditional love—will be enough to redeem the mistakes of the past and, ultimately, save her son.

MAMA’S BOY will have readers engrossed in thoughts of what they would do if facing the same situation, and inevitably having the conversation with others—a page-turner and conversation-starter all in one.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is the national bestselling author of more than 35 books. Four of her books will be made into BET movies: Let the Church Say Amen, Everybody Say Amen, and Say Amen, Again, (winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work), and I Know I’ve Been Changed. Regina King will direct Let the Church Say Amen. Queen Latifah’s Flava Unit will be producing. Scheduled air date for Let the Church Say Amen is August 30, 2015. TV One will premiere both The Secret She Kept and The Devil is a Lie in 2016.

{Click here to purchase}

This book is very timely, based on recent events, and it sounds like a good read. You can find the author at these events, as well:

Wednesday, July 15th, 6:00 – 8:00 pm (today!)
The Twig, 306 Pearl Parkway Suite 106, San Antonio, TX

Saturday, July 18th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Houston Public Library, 5411 Pardee St., Houston TX 77026
*An event with ReShonda’s daughter Morgan Billingsley

Tuesday, July 21st, 7:00 pm
Barnes & Noble, Westheimer Crossing, 7626 Westheimer, Houston, TX
*An event with Victoria Christopher Murray

Thursday, July 23, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Epps Memorial Library, 1324 North Simmons St., Lake Charles, LA

Saturday, July 25, 1:00 pm
Barnes & Noble, 4155 Dowlen Rd., Beaumont, TX

Sunday, August 9th, 3:00 pm
Durham County Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., Durham, NC

BOOK FESTIVAL: September 4th – 6th, 2015
Decatur Book Festival, Decatur, GA (10 minutes outside Atlanta)

BOOK FESTIVAL: Saturday, September 12th, 2015
2nd Annual Literacy Mid-South Book Festival, Memphis, TN

Saturday, September 19th, 9:30 – 6:00 pm
Durham County Library, Southwest Regional Library, 3605 Shannon Rd., Durham, NC

Monday, July 13, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Calm Like Home, by Kaisa Clark {1 e-book, ends 7/19}

Calm Like Home releases on July 15th, and you can win yourself an ebook copy here!

Official synopsis:
Alexa Clausen has never fallen. She’s never soared. She’s lived her entire life floating midway between passion and despondency, never experiencing those extremes. But all it takes is one evening with Adam Westbrook to draw her out of her shell, to leave her feeling bold for the first time ever. He is fiery and magnetic. He is gravitational, that inescapable pull no one can avoid. After a few chance encounters, Alexa accepts that she can’t stay away, can’t deny the electricity she feels every time he comes around.

But as the intensity between them deepens, she also can’t avoid the subtle hints that Adam is hiding something. His wide smile and radiant eyes obscure some burning secret, some detail of his past that resurfaces to steal his joy. The farther Alexa falls, the more she realizes just how little she really knows about Adam and how far he is willing to go to cover up the truth.

Calm Like Home is a story about love and longing, growth and stagnation, discovering one’s counterpart but losing oneself, and ultimately finding that one person truly has the power to change everything.

About the Author:
Kaisa Clark is the author of the new adult novel Calm Like Home. She is passionate about reading and writing and also has an intense love for music, coffee, and dark chocolate. She lives with her amazing husband, sweet dog, and kooky cat.

I haven't read this book, but from the synopsis, I want to - it sounds like a fun read.
{Click here to purchase on Amazon}