Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman

18698835This is another one of those stories about an overworked woman stuck in the rut of big city corporate life who unexpectedly finds clarity in small town Americana.  Her anal-retentive fiancé is so clichéd, you can cut him right out of any “city girl gone country” Hallmark Channel movie. All the usual tropes are there: the loveless relationship that should’ve ended years ago—check. The bossy, controlling big sister—check. The city girl who’s permanently glued to her incessantly chirping cell phone—check, check!

Needless to say, it was pretty slow going at first, but once Olivia started unraveling the mystery of her dead mother’s secret life, the pages started flying. Who knew that I could enjoy a mystery that didn’t involve a body with a knife lodged in its back?

It was a lot of fun joining Olivia and her new crush, Elliot (the town’s newspaper man), as they combed through library archives and courthouse documents on their quest to uncover the town’s many hidden secrets. All of which were buried underneath a lake that washed over the town many moons ago. The closer they get to unearthing Mama Jane’s hidden secrets, more questions pop up. Why did Jane want to be buried in two rather peculiar places? Why did she never speak of her one true love? Who’s cutting out critical pages in public documents that could lead Olivia to all the answers?  You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I really enjoyed watching Olivia’s relationships with Elliot and her teenage niece blossom. They all made  a great Scooby Doo detective team. As always in these types of books, Elliot was the perfect gentleman. Always saying and doing the right thing. He was nothing but honest with Olivia, so why couldn’t she pay him the same courtesy? It pissed me off that she just couldn’t come clean to Elliot—even when he gave her plenty of opportunities—about her fiancé. And even though I despised the douchebag fiancé, she was wrong to string him along for so long. I kept shaking my head wondering why the hell she stayed with him. I mean come on, if you’re not even married and already seeing a relationship counselor, it’s time to cut and run. Just sayin!

She was lying by omission to both of them, and that didn’t sit well with me.  Considering that her mother never came clean to her daughters about who she really was, it seems as though lying must be encoded in their DNA.

As you can see, I’m rather conflicted about this book. I loved the tranquil small town setting, the peaceful quiet nights out on the deck overlooking the lake, the mystery of the drowned town, the sweet summer romance. But all the cowardly dishonesty left a sour taste in my mouth.

A Q&A with Katie Jansson Shahin, Author of ‘One Day this Will All Make Sense’

One Day This Will All Make Sense - Book CoverIn One Day this Will All Make Sense, Emma moves to LA from Sweden to embark on a new, exciting career. She soon finds the city of her dreams may actually be more of a nightmare. The sink-or-swim work environment is filled with an array of malevolent forces—from dirty office politics, to sneaky HR loopholes, to one heck of a Machiavellian boss who would make Miranda Priestly look like a timid kitten.

Take it from someone who knows, conquering these obstacles makes Frodo’s epic journey to the flaming eye of Mordor look like a stroll through the Shire.

Read on to learn more about Emma’s voyage into the maelstrom of corporate America. Seeing as how we’re both career girls who have been through the gauntlet and back, we should totally get together for drinks!

What made you decide to write a story about a Swedish woman trying to make it in the city of LA?

LA is such a fascinating place, with its huge population of “chasing dreamers.” It’s a character in itself and paired with a meaningful message, it can make for a captivating combination. But mainly I chose LA because that’s where the actual story took place. I myself had a very interesting experience trying to make a life for myself in LA. And I felt it was a story worth telling. For various reasons I actually tried many times to move the location to NYC, but it just didn’t work. The story, my story, I wanted to tell just disappeared outside of the world’s largest suburb.

How did you go about researching corporate culture in America and Sweden?

I’ve experienced them both first-hand myself. I moved to CA summer of 2010. I’ve worked for two different companies here in the US. But it wasn’t until early spring of 2013 when I switched departments, that I actually started to see how incredibly different they can be. I was suddenly in the extremes of the extremes of American corporate culture, and it’s not for everyone. It can be ruthless and with a lot of mind games and intimidation going on and at times feel like a cult. What’s even worse is that there’s nowhere for the intimidated employee to safely turn, and no one who can help them because of the politics and unwritten rules of the American workplace. When I saw that extreme difference from Swedish culture, I thought, “wow, this book practically writes itself.”

What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

The importance to somehow see the humor even in the darkest period of your life. To consistently remind yourself that it will get better so that you don’t give in to the temptation to give up. But more importantly, that even if you don’t believe things happen for a reason, you can still give it a reason by taking advantage of it afterwards and making the best of it. My debut novel would not have been written this early in life had it not been because of what I went through at my old job, which in itself is a positive outcome.

If you could take one of your characters out to lunch, who would it be and why?

It would be Nicky. She’s actually one of the few characters who is completely made up and not inspired by anyone I know. I love her no-nonsense attitude, and I think her support would be great to have in any tough period you’re going through. We all need a friend like that. Someone who just says it like it is but still always stays loyal and has your back.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Music was such a big part of writing this book. Each chapter has the same title as the song I was inspired by while writing that particular chapter and showcases Emma’s feelings. I’ve posted a playlist on my blog (you can find it here), if anyone wants to take a look.

AKatie Jansson Shahin - Picturebout the author: Katie’s love for writing is versatile. Before taking the big leap into novel writing she focused mostly on screenwriting. In addition to that, she has a blog where she writes book reviews and articles on writing: An Authorista’s Blog. Katie is originally from Sweden but moved to California summer 2010 and currently resides in the North Bay area just outside of San Francisco. When she’s not working on her writing, she is an HR and recruiting professional. Although her debut novel is not a biography, as you may have guessed, One Day This Will All Make Sense is heavily inspired by her own experience moving from Sweden to Los Angeles and her life there.

Pie Girls by Lauren Clark

piegirlsThanksgiving may be over, but I’m still craving pies, pies, pies—and more pies! I blame this insatiable sugar lust on none other than Lauren Clark, author of Pie Girls. Her fourth chick lit novel revolves around a pie shop located in the small town of Fairfield, Alabama.

Wouldn’t it be fun running a bakery in an idyllic Southern hamlet? How cool would it be serving pies and coffee to your friends and neighbors?  Sure beats hovering over a computer all day and battling gridlock traffic. Who wouldn’t want that kind of life? Searcy Roberts, that’s who.

You see, Pie Girls is a family restaurant meant to be passed down to Searcy. But, alas, Searcy had bigger, more extravagant plans. Desperate to leave Fairfield, she climbs her way up to the top of the social ladder and marries Alton Roberts, the local rich boy—and  her meal ticket to the big city. They head off to Atlanta, where she spends her days shopping at Barneys and gossiping with her fellow socialites over caviar and champagne. Ah the sweet life of the rich and glamorous.

Little does she know, her days of decadence are numbered. Her husband has been harboring a deep, dark secret—and it all comes to a head on their wedding anniversary. Given Searcy’s self-absorbed lifestyle, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy watching her suffer.

images
Lemon meringue is my ultimate favorite. What’s yours?

This is where it gets tricky. When I start to loathe the main character, there’s a 50/50 chance the book is going in the goodwill bin. Searcy needed to amend her ways—and fast. Surprisingly she pulled it off!  Once she moved back to her hometown and started helping out around the pie shop, I quickly warmed up to her—and so did the townies. Most importantly, she charmed the super cute bike shop owner next door. It’s a good thing she did because that guy is always ready to swoop in and save Pie Girls from burning down or flooding out.

Just when the harsh reality of Searcy’s failed marriage sets in, she gets hit with another whopping bombshell. Her mother is no longer capable of running the pie shop—and it’s up to Searcy to keep it from going under.  Will she stick around long enough to see it through? Will she relish the simplicities of small town life and continue running Pie Girls indefinitely? Since her mother refuses to bequeath the prize-winning family recipes to anyone other than the prodigal daughter, we better hope the answer is yes!

Nothing beats apple crumble pie on a cold winters day.
Nothing beats apple crumble pie on a cold winters day.

From chapter to chapter, it was a lot of fun watching the transformation of both the pie store and Searcy’s personality. The descriptive prose transported me straight to Fairfield, where I could hear the locusts buzzing in the fields, smell the heady scent of brown sugar in the shop, and see the vibrant flowers hanging above the rows of shops on Main Street. Throughout the book, my taste buds were throbbing for all sorts of gooey goodies. Very dangerous for a girl who lives within walking distance of a bakery!

I also adore key lime pie!
I also adore key lime pie!

Despite our rough patch at the beginning, Searcy won her way back into my heart when she dropped the Carrie Bradshaw act and got down to brass tacks on the pie shop. I hope you’ll check this book out and give Searcy a chance too. If you’re in the mood for a light and fluffy story with a little bit of bite (not unlike lemon meringue pie), grab your fork and dig into Pie Girls. Hmm…I wonder if there’s any leftover pumpkin pie in the fridge. I better go take a looksy!

Short & Sweet Sundays: Death of a Neighborhood Witch by Laura Levine

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you this new feature that I like to call “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too overambitious.

13498001The gist (from the publisher): When Jaine Austen’s beloved cat Prozac unwittingly scares to death a parakeet belonging to the neighborhood’s resident curmudgeon, Jaine finds herself knee-deep in toil and trouble. The cantankerous Hollywood has-been once played Cryptessa Muldoon, television’s fourth most famous monster mom. Now she spends her days making enemies with everyone on the block. So when the ornery D-lister is murdered with her own Do Not Trespass sign on Halloween night, the neighborhood fills with relief–and possible culprits.

With a killer on the loose, Jaine hardly has time to fall under the spell of her yummy new neighbor, Peter. As the prime suspect, she summons her sleuthing skills to clear her name and soon discovers that everyone has a few skeletons in their closets. . .

The pros: If you’re having a bad day, week – or in my case – month, this book will turn that frown upside down! It’s a fun, fluffy, fast read filled with zany hijinks, quirky characters and slapstick humor. There’s a smidge of a mystery somewhere in between Jaine’s clumsy shenanigans, but really it’s all about the comedy. Toward the end, I was preparing myself for disappointment, but the author managed to surprise me with an unexpected plot twist. All in all, not too shabby!

The cons: I was hoping this would be an atmospheric Halloween mystery, but not so much. Don’t let the cute witchy kitty and jack-o-lantern on the cover fool you. Aside from an ill-fated costume party and couple trips to the store for fun-sized Halloween candy, this book is not Halloweenie at all.

I should also add that I was really annoyed by the wonky subplot involving sporadic email messages from Jaine’s kooky parents. Their kooky antics were a little too over the top, and I just flat-out didn’t care about their silly neighborhood drama. I’m sure loyal fans of this book series find this kind of thing to be cute and endearing, but I thought it was lame and distracting.

Thoughts on character development:  Jaine Austen really is the star of the show. She’s cute, spunky and riddled with all sorts of bad habits. Unlike a lot of main characters in chick lit books, she’s fashionably challenged and a little on the pudgy side. She wears her elastic-waist jeans with pride and has a weakness for all things sugary and deep fried. How can you not love a girl like that? We could totally hang out! Although, she can leave her freinemie at home. Her next-door neighbor, Lance, is a real tool. I was really hoping he was the killer just so he’d get pushed off a cliff or locked up in prison for life.

Why I chose this book: The cover was too hard to resist! I’m a sucker for jack-o-lanterns and cute kitties.

This book is best paired with: A furry, four-legged lap-monger and a handful of “homemade” brownies.

Would I read another book by this author? Oh sure. Next time I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll grab another book in this series.

Short & Sweet Sundays: Cocktail Hour by Tara McTiernan

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you this new feature that I like to call “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too overambitious.

17655664Synapsis (from the publisher) What if your friend – someone admired, envied, and fervently sought after by everyone who knew her – was really a dangerous sociopath?

Spring in glamorous uber-rich Fairfield County, Connecticut is a time of beginnings: a new diet for the approaching summer spent out on the yacht, fresh-faced interns being offered up at the office as the seasonal sacrifice to the gods of money, and corporate takeovers galore. Five women in their thirties have a brand-new friendship, too, one that fed and watered regularly at local hotspots over cocktails. With all of their personal struggles – Lucie’s new catering business is foundering due to vicious gossip, Kate’s marriage is troubled due to an inability to conceive, Chelsea’s series of misses in the romance department have led to frantic desperation, and Sharon’s career problems are spinning out of control – the women look forward to a break and a drink and a chance to let their guards down with their friends. And letting their guards down is the last thing they should do in the kind of company they unknowingly keep with the fifth member of their cocktail-clique: Bianca Rossi, a woman who will stop at nothing to have it all.

What I liked: After reading the author’s previous novel Barefoot Girls –which also includes one helluva villain – I knew I was in for a treat. She has a real knack for getting inside the mind of a certifiable sociopath, and Bianca really takes the cake! That is one crazy-ass bitch, and I hate to think that there could be real-life Biancas preying upon unsuspecting men and exploiting their “friends” weaknesses. She grew more despicable with each chapter – and I couldn’t wait to get to the very end to watch it all come crashing down. I can safely say this is one of the most evil female antagonists I’ve encountered in a very long time. She’s so bad, she makes those Lifetime movie psychos look like playful kittens!

Favorite character: The posse of gal pals all had interesting backstories, but out of all of the women, Kate is my fave. Yes, she’s totally naïve and sometimes just plain dumb, but she’s also loyal and incredibly sweet.  Fresh off the farm and new the big city, she’s refreshingly un-jaded and ready to befriend anyone with a seemingly friendly face. Although I constantly wanted to shake her and tell her to smarten up, she really hit a soft spot in my hardened, misanthropic heart.

If you think about it, haven’t we all been there? At some point, don’t we all find out the hard way that we can’t accept everyone at face-value? To quote Dan Rather, “A tough lesson in life that one has to learn is that not everybody wishes you well.”

The cover: The long-legged women sitting on barstools are pretty and all, but to be honest, I really don’t think the cover does the book justice.  If I saw this in a bookstore, I probably would’ve just assumed it was another light-hearted story about women looking for love in the big city. Since the story revolves around a demented seductress, I think it would be more fitting to invoke a sense of danger on the cover.

This book is best paired with: A tall mojito and some Miles Davis.

Overall assessment:  Cocktail Hour isn’t all margaritas and tapas – McTiernan tackles some troubling issues – from adultery to mental illness to family dysfunction. Emotional, fascinating – and sometimes unsettling – this is one quality read for anyone who enjoys stories about love, loss, friendship and deceit.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Short & Sweet Sunday: Stardust Summer

sundays

StardustsummercoverFrom the publisher: Single mom Grace Mason doesn’t believe in miracles, magic, or love at first sight. She likes the quiet life, complete with her eight-year-old son, their tiny house, and her teaching job. For Grace, happiness means that nothing much ever changes in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Then, one thousand miles away, tragedy strikes. A massive heart attack leaves Grace’s estranged father comatose in an Upstate New York hospital. While a team of doctors fight to keep Henry Mason alive, Grace and Evan rush to his bedside to say their final goodbyes. Henry’s passing brings little closure for Grace, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to her new surroundings. What begins as a short trip results in an entire summer spent with Henry’s second wife, Kathleen, and her next-door neighbor, Ryan Gordon, the town doctor. When a series of unlikely events lead to Evan’s disappearance, Grace must face her worst fears to find her son and bring him back home. Stardust Summer explores the complexities of forgiveness, what it means to be a family, and the fabulous possibility of falling in love—again

Why I picked it up: I can totally relate to stories about family dysfunction and second chances, so this book looked right up my street. Plus I’m in full spring-fever mode, so I was really looking forward to immersing myself in the gorgeous upstate New York lakefront setting.

What I liked most: The setting is – hands down – my most favorite element of this book. The descriptions of watercolor sunsets amid the Catskill Mountains, the sweet-smelling woods, the outdoor picnics – it all just makes me want to pack up my Hello Kitty suitcase and head out to the Adirondacks.  Oh how I wish I could be sipping on a sugary iced tea on Ryan’s porch watching the sun dip under the lake.

Favorite character: I can be a little fickle about main characters, especially in romance novels. Typically the quirky best friend seems far more interesting and likeable. But surprisingly, I found Grace to be the most endearing character in this book. Maybe because I can empathize with her family struggles and trust issues. Sure, she makes some really dumb decisions – especially in the love department – but she eventually comes into her own. I should also mention that I got a big kick out of Kathleen, the estranged stepmother. After her husband’s death, I expected her to fall apart, but she went on living life to the fullest – taking quite a few twists and turns in the process. I’ll stop right here before I give anything away…but I will say that a pink house is involved.

What I want more of: Please, Lauren, tell me that we’re going to see more of Ryan and Grace! I got a nice little taste of their budding romance – and now I want more fireworks, more tension, more hot-and-heavy smooching sessions. I’m not talking 50 Shades of Grey, just maybe a PG-13 bedroom scene would be a fun little bonus for us hopeless romantics.

Final verdict: Overall this is another win for Lauren Clark. What I love about this author is that I know she’s going to strum my heartstrings and make me swoon over a sweet budding romance. If you’re looking for a beach read that will make you wax nostalgic about your childhood summers by the lake, download this book immediately!

 Summed up in three words: Sweet, romantic, atmospheric.

Shameless self-promotion: Guess whose name was mentioned in the acknowledgments! That’s right, Jessica Sinn, book blogger extraordinaire! In my humble opinion,  Lauren is right up there with top women’s fiction authors like Fern Michaels, Kathy Lamb, and Susan Mallery, so this is a true honor.

For more about this fabulous author, check out my reviews for Dancing Naked in Dixie here, and Stay Tuned here. Check out her Q&A here.

The Friday Five: Naturally Charlie by S.L. Scott

In honor of the coolest day of the week, I bring you The Friday Five. Every Friday I will ask the same five questions to myself, or any other willing participant! All my fellow book lovers are welcome to join in on the fun.

15821735Synapsis: Twenty-five year old Charlotte “Charlie” Barrow is caught between her old life, and the one she is beginning to build, when she crosses paths with a handsome stranger on the subway. Not looking for romance, she closes her heart off to the possibilities of love. With a knack for mishaps, Charlie maintains her sense of humor while befriending the kind stranger who seems to be there at all the right times. New York freelance writer, Charlie Adams, is forging his own path beyond the expectations of the society circles of his childhood. Rejecting family money, and fast-lane friends, he is snubbed by his family as he follows his own compass to a life more extraordinary. Through a coincidence of events, they come to rely on each other for comfort. This is the tale of two Charlies learning to trust again while fighting their fates to create their own destiny.

Why did you choose this book? I came across this book at the Texas Book Festival last fall and couldn’t resist picking up a new title by an up-and-coming Texas author.  Although I have to admit that I dragged my heels for a while because I’m rarely in the mood for a light-hearted romance novel without sleuths, vampires or ghosties.

Where did the author go right? Or if it’s a turkey, what went wrong? Let me start off by explaining why I’m not a big fan of straight-up romance novels. The leading ladies are typically one-dimensional and painfully neurotic. They jump at the chance to be haughty and angry toward their love interest and it just grates on my nerves. There’s always a miscommunication and stupid squabbles ensue. I guess authors feel they need to do this to keep the romantic tension boiling, but it just annoys the crap out of me. But you know what surprised me about this book? I actually liked Charlie! She’s just your typical girl-next-door who loves to bake cupcakes and watch movies on a Friday night. We could totally hang out! Sure she has some serious emotional baggage, but it didn’t turn her into a complete ninny. The dynamic between her and Charlie (the dude) is very reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally….only the male Charlie is WAY hotter than Billy Crystal!

I also have to give the author props for thinking up the most bizarre first date of all time. I loved how the Charlies forged a bond under such stressful and emotionally-straining circumstances. From that moment on it was clear they were meant to be together.

Did anything bug you about the book? There were quite a few moments when I just wanted to shake Charlie and yell, “Get the hell out of the friend-zone, you idiot! He’s freakin’ perfect!”

Would you read another book by this author? Yes! When it comes to writing romance, S.L. Scott really knows how to hit the sweet spot. Her characters are believable, the dialogue is entertaining, and the grand finale is ultimately satisfying. Although I have to say that I’m a little tired of the Manhattan scene. Hopefully her next story will be set in Austin, or perhaps a small Texas town.

How would you sum up the book in three words? Sweet, romantic, cute.