Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

11228115_702423596553110_601395082403558625_nWhenever I’m in the mood for something light and fun, I’ll pick up one of Laura McNeill’s books. Sometimes I wonder if she and my other favorite light romance author Lisa Wingate are secret cousins. I can always feel my blood pressure dip down a few notches when I read their tender tales filled with love, hope and small Southern town charm.  This book, however, had the opposite effect.

I figured this would be another easy breezy beach read, so I took it along on my trip to the Texas coast. Two hours after cracking it open at the pool, I found myself shouting “Just two more chapters!” when my husband came to retrieve me for dinner.  Needless to say, it’s a pretty fast read.

The genius of the story is that it’s narrated by several characters who are in the throes of the world’s worst custody battle: Ava, the wronged, tormented wife; Mitchell, the Machiavellian child-stealing husband; and Jack, the little boy caught in the middle.  There’s also a few other narratives thrown in the chaos including Ava’s lawyer, Mitchell’s concerned housekeeper and a very perceptive child psychiatrist.

The ebb and flow of the multiple narratives really moved the story along at lightning speed. I was constantly chasing that dangling carrot as the story flitted from one character’s perspective to the next. I grew to hate Mitchell more and more with every chapter as he continued to torment and sabotage his wife. The angrier I got, the faster I zipped through the pages until poor Ava could finally get some justice.

Laura clearly did her research on all that bureaucratic nonsense that goes down in custody battles. It’s amazing how people can be so easily stripped of their fundamental rights when they’re dealing with evil manipulators who know just how to play the game.

Lucky for Ava, she found herself a hot motorcycle-riding lawyer. Together, they hunted down the missing pieces of Mitchell’s mysterious life—and boy did they come across some doozies! It was fun watching them unravel the mystery and build up some serious ammunition for taking that repugnant man down piece by piece.

At first, I was a little angry with Ava for marrying such a bastard and letting him stomp all over her. But when I learned about her backstory, it all kind of made sense. Anyone who had to grow up with such an overbearing witch of a mother gets my sympathies.

As you can see this is a very character-driven book—and the author does a remarkable job bringing their personalities to life. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a good suspense novel that moves along at a supersonic clip. Now as books like Girl on a Train and Gone Girl are making big waves with the masses, Lauren timed this book just right.

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.

Audiobook Pick of the Month: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

32234Summary (from the publisher) When Astrid’s mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet, murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life, Astrid becomes one of the thousands of foster children in Los Angeles. As she navigates this new reality, Astrid finds strength in her unshakable certainty of her own worth and her unfettered sense of the absurd. 

Why I liked it: You know you’ve read a truly great book when you’re struggling with questions long after polishing off the last chapter. My lingering nature vs. nurture questions have to do with Ingrid. Are some people inherently evil? 

Next to Hannibal Lector, Ingrid one of the most frightening villains I’ve come across in a long time. She’s cold, manipulative, egotistical and completely devoid of empathy for others. She has no qualms about making Astrid aware of the burdens of motherhood. Boy does that bring back memories. 

“What was a weed, anyway. A plant nobody planted? A seed escaped from a traveler’s coat, something that didn’t belong? Was it something that grew better than what should have been there? Wasn’t it just a word, weed, trailing its judgments. Useless, without value. Unwanted.”

And just when I thought this morally-blind character couldn’t get any more despicable – she’d take her narcissism to a whole new level! Just for shits and giggles, she would get her poetic juices flowing by writing a laundry list of horrible ways to torment people, like “give a homeless man fake money and make sure he thanks you profusely.” Or “convince a depressed person to commit suicide.”  Seriously?!?  Does this sound like a woman who is capable of redemption? I sincerely doubt it.

 I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that the book leaves a lot of things open for interpretation. Honestly, I wasn’t completely thrilled by the way it left off, but I have a feeling the author was compelled to give her readers what they wanted.

The narrator: I wasn’t so sure about listening to a book narrated by Oprah. No offense to Oprah, I just don’t like celebrity narrators. They tend to speak a mile a minute or overdramatize the voices like a parent reading a bedtime story. But you know what – she did a pretty good job capturing Astrid’s voice. I know she’s a busy lady, but it would have been nice if she took the time to read the unabridged book. I hate that she skipped over some chunks of this fascinating story.

Favorite character: Astrid is – by far – one of the most complex, sympathetic characters I’ve encountered.  Unlike her pathological mother, she looks for the good in people and lacks that instantaneous disdain for others that so twisted her mother’s life. I was especially moved by her relationship with her emotionally fragile foster mom, Clare. Despite her own inner turmoil, Astrid wanted nothing more than to coddle Clare in a cocoon of happiness.  In a way, she was displaying the kind of unconditional love and support that she should have received from her own mother.

“I wanted the world to be beautiful for her. I wanted things to work out. I always had a great day, no matter what.”

Like listening to the perfect sad song on a bad day, this book has somewhat of a cathartic effect. Anyone who has grown up in a loveless household will identify with Astrid’s struggle. But ultimately this is a story about survival. Let’s face it; a lot of us get the short hand of the stick when it comes to parents. But once we get out from under their thumb, we have the freedom to chart our own destiny.  Astrid’s journey – from a naïve young girl, to a hardened foster kid, to a hopeful young artist –  is a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Summed up in three words: Dark, poignant, beautiful.

Memorable Monday #1

Let’s face it, Mondays are the pits. So what better way to beat the back-to-work doldrums than by revisiting our favorite books? Thanks to the ladies over at Escape in a Book, I can look forward to highlighting a favorite passage every Monday.

Cathy Lamb is an extremely gifted women’s fiction writer who has a knack for crafting lyrical prose and poignant messages. I especially love her book, Such a Pretty Face, a riveting story about a 30-something office grunt who confronts her personal demons after shedding a ton of weight. Fun and frothy it is not, but if you’re in the mood for a powerful read, I highly recommend this book.
Without further adieu, here is my inaugural Memorable Monday quote:

 “A child’s bond to her mother cannot be understated, and my bond with Helen was a ragged, baffling, disheartening, chaotic mess. I felt crazy, often, around my own mother. I grew up questioning what was normal, asking what reality was and wasn’t, and not trusting the outcome of different situations. She scared me and I couldn’t predict her behavior, so I was often off-kilter and worried.” ― Cathy Lamb, Such a Pretty Face

Do you have a favorite quote? Do share!

Short & Sweet Sunday Review: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

 In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The gist: Meet Tess Collins, a young housemaid who dreams of becoming a dressmaker. When she finds out about the Titanic‘s upcoming voyage to America, she scurries to the docks and pleads with first-class passengers to hire her on the spot. As luck would have it, she accidently meets England’s most famous fashion designer, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who just happens to be looking for a good personal maid. Bemused by the poor girls’ desperation, she takes her under her wing. Four days after setting sail, the  ship takes a nosedive and Tessa mercifully scores a seat – right next to the venerable Unsinkable Molly Brown – in one of the few lifeboats.

Shortly after the ship plummets to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, rumors about the survivors and the half-empty lifeboats run rampant in the news. And when the New York Times catches on to Lady Duff Gordon’s cowardly actions, she soon becomes the target of public scorn. When Lady Duff’s stories don’t add up, Tess must make some tough decisions. Should she ignore the accusations against her boss and continue moving up the ladder to stardom? Or should she take the moral high ground and walk out on the woman who turned her back on a sea of drowning souls? 

Why I picked it up: Confession – I’m a closet hopeless romantic. Though I scoff at my friends who cry over their popcorn during cinematic love scenes, I’m not as cynical as I appear to be. When I slip out to “go to the bathroom,” I’m actually sobbing into my hanky and shaking off the warm fuzzies. Since these poor saps aren’t big readers (except my BFF who laughs along with me during the most heart-wrenching love scenes) my secret is safe! That said, you can imagine how much I LOVE The Titanic, especially the car scene…oh Leo how I love thee. Oops, where was I? Oh yes…so when I read the dustcover, I hoped this could be a love affair to rival that of Jack and Rose. Plus I love late-Edwardian era fashions, so how could I go wrong?

What I liked:  Surprisingly, I found myself somewhat interested in the post-sinking events– from the Senate hearings to the investigative journalism to the shakedown of blackmailing bullies.  I especially enjoyed watching the high and mighty Lady Duff get roasted by the press. One of the many rich first-class passengers who commandeered the lifeboats, this wretched woman and her equally repugnant husband refused to make room for drowning victims on their half-empty lifeboat. Although the author tried to paint a softer side to this character, I couldn’t let my heart bleed over her dwindling business and sad backstory.

What irked me: The main character.  Sorry Kate Alcott fans, but the leading lady is BORING! No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t connect with her. I admire her drive to become the next Coco Chanel, but other than that, she lacked personality. I need my main characters to not only be strong and brave, but also quirky and fun. Yes, toward the end Tessa grew a pair, but until the last few chapters, she just couldn’t make up her mind about anything and just seemed to go with the flow. More than anything I wanted to see her jump on a white horse and join the women’s suffrage movement, which she casually observed throughout the book, but she seemed to be too wrapped up in herself to do anything interesting.

The romance:  While aboard the doomed vessel, Tessa crosses paths with two love interests: A sweet-natured sailor with a crooked smile and a talent for wood witling, and a gallant Chicago tycoon. If she chooses the rich guy, she’ll be set for life. But if she falls for the penniless “village boy,” she might as well kiss her future as the next hotshot dressmaker goodbye. If you’re familiar with this setup, I’m sure it’ll come to no surprise which one she’ll choose. To be honest, if you want a good Titanic romance, go watch James Cameron’s masterpiece. Yes, there is some romance in this book, but Tessa doesn’t really get on the ball until the very end.

This book is best pared with: A piping-hot mug of cinnamon spice tea and a dainty high tea stand filled with colorful petit fours.

Overall assessment: History buffs are sure to be enthralled by the author’s well-researched depictions of the post-Titanic sinking aftermath. Romance fans, however, are likely to be rather disappointed by the conventional love story. I do have to hand it to the author for planting some deep thoughts in my head.  This book will really make you think about human instincts, and how our actions during a fight-or-flight situation can define who we are and what we stand for. If we make the wrong life-altering decision under duress, can we learn to live with ourselves?

A Q&A with Meryl Davids Landau, Author of Downward Dog, Upward Fog

It’s no wonder why yoga is so popular, especially among the ladies. It relaxes the mind, replenishes the soul – and HELLO! – have you seen what it’s done to Jennifer Aniston’s perfectly toned thighs? That all in itself has got me sold on “the power of om.”  

In all seriousness, I really didn’t have any interest in yoga until I read Meryl Davids Landau’s debut novel Downward Dog, Upward Fog. In this mesmerizing tale of self-discovery, Lorna Crawford sets forth on a quest for life’s deeper meaning.  On the road to enlightenment, she meets new friends, confronts her demons, and learns how to see her adversaries (even her diabolical mother!) in a whole new light. 

Even if you’re not interested in yoga, I recommend checking this book out. The wisdom Lorna gains along her journey will strike a chord with most women, such as myself, who need to find some inner peace in this crazy, fast-paced, technology-obsessed world.

This talented new author was kind enough to chat with Chick Lit Café about her own spiritual connection with yoga, inspiring writers and the transformative power of self-reflection.

What made you decide to write a novel about a woman finding herself through yoga?

I’ve been doing yoga and studying various spiritual teachings for more than 20 years, but the idea for Downward Dog, Upward Fog came to me suddenly one morning when I was half-listening to an author being interviewed on a morning TV show. She said she’d asked herself, “Where are the novels for women like me?” That question really spoke to me, since I felt there were so many great yoga and spiritual nonfiction books out there, but very little fiction that combines spiritual teachings with a lighthearted, fun plotline. So from the start my twin goals were to entertain and to uplift. One reviewer said my novel is perfect for “introspective, evolving women.” I love that description!

How has yoga helped you get through difficult times?

Yoga is much more than just movements; it’s about staying focused during the poses, and getting in touch with that still, centered place inside of us during the deep relaxation and meditation that are also parts of the practice. Having a steady yoga practice has definitely helped me access that stillness when things are hectic or difficult around me. It’s not so much that I run to do yoga during those times, but rather that I know that inner peace is always there–even though I confess it sometimes takes me a while to remember.

Which authors inspire you?

My novel is filled with quotes from nonfiction spiritual authors that I love and who my main character, Lorna, discovers throughout her spiritual quest. I think Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, who did that webinar with Oprah a few years ago, is especially brilliant, as are Neale Donald Walsch and Marianne Williamson. Since my book is women’s fiction, of course I also like many of those authors, especially Alison Winn Scotch and Sarah Pekkanen. And then I just love authors who are great writers; my newest affection is for YA author John Green, who tells such deep stories in an entertaining way.

Downward Dog, Upward Fog is full of secondary characters.  Which of your characters would you like to spend an afternoon with and why?

Of course I love all of my characters. But probably Lorna’s 10-year-old niece Radha would be my go-to gal for a day. Lorna loves being with her because she’s pretty spiritually aware, since her mother is an interfaith minister. But I also love her 10-year-old sweetness. She’s not worried about censoring herself or what others think of her the way so many of us adults are.

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

I love what you wrote in your review that you took away from it–that changing how you think about things can change your life! That happens to Lorna in a number of ways. First, as you observed, she comes to visualize good outcomes and not dwell on the what-might-go-wrong negatives. And second, and this is something I’m constantly reminding myself in my own life, she changes how she sees problematic people and situations. She realizes she can view her crazy coworkers and really mean mother in a different way, which alters her entire experience of them, rather than waiting (forever) for them to change. I believe that we have so much power to transform our lives just by changing our thinking, if only we remember to use it.

Can you describe your writing process?

I assume you mean in terms of writing a novel, because I also write magazine articles (for More, Whole Living, Prevention and many others) and blogs (for Huffington Post and others). Before I started Downward Dog, Upward Fog, I knew the overall narrative arc of the story: that Lorna was going to start out frazzled and out of sorts and discover yoga and other spiritual teachings, and then face the challenge of not just knowing these teachings but–the harder part–figuring out how to put them into play in her life. After that it was just a question of letting the details fill themselves in, which, when you get into the flow of writing a book, it feels like that’s what’s happening. Of course, since this was my first novel, I had to rewrite and edit quite a number of times, shifting things around and adding new characters and boosting the dialogue and whatnot. Long ago I heard someone say “writing is rewriting,” and I wholeheartedly agree. There’s nothing that isn’t improved substantially by constant revision.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring novelist?

Not to get discouraged during the writing process. A novel is long, and it’s hard to get all the characters and the plotline to where you ultimately want it to be. I also think it’s important to get objective feedback from professional writers and an expert editor about whether they’re seeing what you want them to see. We get too close to the process to be able to tell that ourselves.

Do you have another book in the works? 

I have started working on the sequel to Downward Dog, Upward Fog, because when I finished writing this I wanted to see for myself what Lorna does next, now that she’s more deeply into these spiritual teachings. It’s been exciting for me to work on it, and to hear from readers that they’re eager to know what happens to Lorna, too. I’m having great fun with it, but it will be a while before it’s finished.

About the author: Meryl Davids Landau is a freelance writer, editor and fiction author. For more than 20 years, she has written engaging, informative and entertaining articles for numerous national consumer publications, especially on the topics of health and holistic health, the environment, family issues, and business. She is also a former editor. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, U.S. News & World Report, Whole Living, Glamour, More, O–the Oprah magazine, Huffington Post, Self, Parents, and many others. For more about her work, check out her website.

Review: Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau

I have to confess, I have very little interest in yoga.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a downward dog and an upward cat, but all my friends love this alternate form of exercise, so it must be somewhat effective. They all try to get me to join in on the fun, but I’d so much rather hit the trails at Town Lake than pretzel myself into uncomfortable poses in a sweaty room full of strangers.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out what all the hype is about. Why would you rather do the splits on a little rubber mat than go for a nice little jog in the great outdoors? Can you really get a real workout by staying in one place? And what’s the deal with all the mind, body and soul mumbo jumbo? 

When the author contacted me about this book, I figured this would be a good opportunity to broaden my spiritual – and cardiovascular – horizons.  I’m so glad she did because I now have a whole new perspective on yoga and the people who love it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not signing up for a yoga class just yet, but I do have some newfound appreciation for the people who love the art of deep breathing and downward dogging.  

The story begins when 33-year-old Lorna Crawford is struck by a spiritual crisis while sipping cosmos at the local bar with her gossipy gal pals.  Suddenly she loses her desire to toss back drinks and play the “let’s make fun of the people around us” game.  You know the type, right? The group of girls who snicker at unfortunate “fashion victims” at trendy bars. The ones who whisper rude remarks just loud enough for their targeted victims to hear.  Who could blame Lorna for wanting to bail?

Fortunately Lorna’s sister, Anna (aka Angelica), is a minister who can help her find a new spiritual path. With Anna’s guidance, she stocks up on new age books and dabbles into the mysterious realm of yoga. Just before she can master the sitting lotus, she signs up for a silent yoga retreat with her new best friend and yoga aficionado, Janelle.  Sure, a yoga retreat sounds like a nice break from the trappings of modern-day life, but this one requires no caffeine, no meat, no boozy drinks and no electronics…did I mention NO CAFFEINE?!?! Ouch, my head hurts just thinking about it.

Along the way, she gains a posse of yoga friends who just love, love, love organic salads, green tea, and meditating.  Pretty hardcore, right? Well hey, to each their own. When all of life’s stressors come to a head, Lorna gains strength from her friends and the healing powers of yoga. From a high stress corporate job, to calculating coworkers, to a workaholic boyfriend to a nightmare of a mom, this girl has a lot on her plate. But through yoga and “sujaling” she gradually learns how to look at her adversaries in a whole new light.

Now here’s where the book gets really interesting. I’m not sure if I’m a believer in yoga or rhythmic chanting, but I am a HUGE believer in positive psychology. Right after college I read the Divine Wisdom of Florence Doval Shin to gain confidence before entering the “real world” and it all made perfect sense. Just like Lorna, I was able to get through some tough situations by visualizing good outcomes and blocking negative thinking.  If your motto is “expect the worst, hope for the best,” you may think differently after reading up on positive psychology.  Trust me, I’m no Pollyanna, but I do know negative thinking leads to self-sabotage. 

Overall this book is worth checking out – even if you’re not interested in yoga or religion.  Part women’s fiction, part self-help, this book is both entertaining and enlightening.  I can’t say that Lorna’s spiritual journey inspired me to sign up for yoga, but I did learn a few things about myself that I’d like to change. I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s underlying messages: Be compassionate toward others, abandon judgments and kill your enemies with kindness.  At the risk of sounding corny, I have to say that if everyone read this book with an open mind, the world would be a better place.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Get it, read it, share it!

Review: Recession Proof by Kimberly S. Lin

To say Helen is unhappy would be an understatement. She works 15-hour days at a high-stress financial job, where she struggles to stay afloat under a ridiculous workload.  As the only female financial analyst at her firm, she knows her boss is doing everything in his power to replace her with another smooth-talking good ol’ boy. When his patronizing lectures about her substandard productivity get worse with each passing day, she knows it’s only a matter of time until she’s standing in the dreaded unemployment line.

After a bad day of work (which is pretty much every day) she seeks comfort from her longtime boyfriend, Mark. But sadly, he’d rather play video games and go bowling with his douchebag friends than spend quality time with his girlfriend. For six long years, Helen has been trapped in a dead-end relationship with a man she doesn’t even love. Unwilling to own up to her true feelings, she convinces herself they’re meant to be together. They’ve stuck it out this long, so why rock the boat?

On the cusp of turning 30, Helen still has no idea who she is and how to live her life on her own terms. Since she was a kid she always wanted to be a writer, but her dream fell flat when her father warned her of the uncertainty of writing jobs. Desperate for her father’s praise, she decided to pursue a stable, lucrative career in finance. Although she appears to be right on track, her life is spiraling out of control.

Thankfully she has her best friend, Sophie, to turn to when times get tough. I absolutely adore this character, probably because she reminds me of my own BFF! Smart, sassy and honest (sometimes to a fault), Sophie offers comfort and comic relief when Helen needs it the most. Even though she’s rich, gorgeous and engaged to the perfect man, it’s impossible to hate her. OK, maybe I hate her just a tad for having the ability to eat whatever she wants without gaining weight! Unlike Helen’s own sister, who only cares about keeping up with the Jones’ in her posh Orange County neighborhood, Sophie is there to pick up the pieces when everything falls apart. They say blood is thicker than water, but I think that’s a bunch of crap. True best friends will have your back – no matter what.

When her problems inevitably come to a head, Helen realizes her only chance at happiness is to finally call her own shots.  And if that means going against her father’s wishes and  putting her relationship with Mark out of its misery, so be it! Determined to pursue a writing career, she takes on a pro bono job at a local travel magazine and steadily builds upon her portfolio. Even though she’s not making any money, she loves writing. And for the first time in years, she’s on the verge of finding happiness.  But yet there are still a few kinks she needs to work out, especially in the love department.  When Mr. Perfect comes along, she makes a slew of self-sabotaging mistakes.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll stop right here. You’ll just have to read the book to get to the good stuff. Trust me, it’s well worth your time.

Overall, this is a fun and engaging character-driven read. This talented new author proves her understanding of women’s relationships with a style that’s both snappy and heartfelt. Women will absolutely recognize themselves and their friendships on the pages. Fans of Emily Griffin, Jennifer Weiner and Jane Green will enjoy this introspective, sharply realistic and tenderly humorous novel. Don’t get comfortable because you won’t be able to put it down!

Book Release Party! Blue Straggler by Kathy Lynn Harris

Ok y’all, it might be a stretch to even consider getting into a celebratory mood on a weekday, but have no fear – the party is here! That’s right, I’m throwing a virtual book release par-tay for this fabulous Texas author’s new novel Blue Straggler!  This grand celebration is hosted by Amanda over at Chick Lit = The New Black.

Being that I’m a true-blue Texas gal – I can’t resist stories about strong Texas women coming into their own. The book’s synopsis really struck a chord with me – especially the soul-searching journey away from home. Plus I can totally relate to her weakness for boozy drinks and Cool Whip!

I’m interested to see what happens when the protagonist pieces together the secrets of her past to find out who she is and what she really wants out of life.

About the book: A blue straggler is a star that has an anomalous blue color and appears to be disconnected from those stars that surround it.

But this is not a story about astronomy.

Bailey Miller is “disconnected” from the cluster of her rural south Texas family. She has never quite fit in and now in her early 30s, she finds herself struggling with inner turmoil and a series of bad choices in her life.

Bailey’s drinking too much (even for a member of her family), has a penchant to eat spoonfuls of Cool Whip, works in a job that bores her beyond description and can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes for milk to expire in her fridge.

Even with the help of her two outspoken friends, Texas gal Idamarie and her quirky college pal Rudy, she’s having a hard time.

So she packs up her Honda and heads out of Texas in search of herself and answers to secrets from her great-grandmother’s past. The novel takes readers on a journey from San Antonio, Texas, to a small mountain town in Colorado and back again, as Bailey uncovers not only the secrets of her great-grandmother’s life, but also some painful secrets of her own. All while finding love along the way.

If you have ever wondered why you got stuck with the family you did, what you are doing with your job and your life, or had a sudden desire to run off to the mountains, sit back and join Bailey for this laugh-out-loud, yet poignant ride.

About the author: Kathy grew up in rural South Texas — and comes from people who work hard, love the land and know how to have a good time on a Saturday night. As a writer, Kathy was lucky to have been surrounded by exceptional characters throughout her life, many of whom have lived their lives exactly the way they wanted. The rest of the world could take `em or leave `em! Inspiring, to say the least.

In 2001, Kathy made the move from Texas to the Colorado Rockies to focus on her writing and soak up All Things Mountain. She lives in an authentic log cabin near the southernmost glacier in North America, at 10,500 feet above sea level, with her husband and son, plus two fairly untrainable golden retriever mixes. It is there that she writes.

Read more from Kathy on her blog, You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas but… 

Add Blue Straggler to your Goodreads Shelf.

Follow Blue Straggler news on Facebook and  Twitter.

Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark

In my line of work, I spend a good chunk of my time at the local news station watching the morning anchors effortlessly chat with professors about their research on live TV. It looks like a lot of fun, but sometimes I wonder how they can stay on point when they’re feeling down in the dumps.  Isn’t it amazing that these people can slap on a smile and look like a million bucks every day of the week?

So when Lauren Clark, a former news anchor and producer, contacted me about her debut novel Stay Tuned, I couldn’t wait to get a peek inside the fascinating world of broadcast journalism. 

The story centers around Mellissa Moore, a frenzied newsroom producer with a plethora of problems at work and at home. Not only does she have to continuously keep two anchors from slashing each other’s throats on the air, she also has to figure out what’s going on with her absentee husband who suspiciously spends his nights and weekends “working.”

Just when life couldn’t get more hectic, two longtime anchors get fired after a fistfight breaks out on the ten o’ clock news.  Unwilling to let WSGA go down on her watch, Melissa slaps on a coat of lipstick and wraps up the last remaining minutes of the evening news. Little did she know, her demanding boss liked her performance and decided to make her fill in as the evening news anchor until the next hotshot diva comes along.

With a shabby wardrobe and no on-camera experience, Melissa is overwhelmed to say the least. And when she tries to seek encouragement from her husband, his only concern is whether she can still pick up his dress shirts at the dry cleaners. What the hell?!?! I have to say, I got really pissed off at this up-tight workaholic throughout most of the book. How could he ignore his wife when she’s clearly drowning in her work? How could he leave her those crappy Post-it notes instead of picking up the phone or actually talking to her in person?

I really enjoyed the part when Melissa took her husband’s credit card and bought herself some much-needed ensembles. With her mousy hair and ill-fitting mom jeans, I figured she’d encounter a “Pretty Woman” dilemma at the high-end boutique. But lucky for her, the shop girl instantly took her under her wing and hooked her up with a whole new wardrobe.  I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m just going to say that this chance encounter led to a something truly great at the end of the book.

There’s a lot of sisterhood bonding in this book, which I really love. No matter what, Melissa’s best friend was there to offer support and encouragement.  And with a mother suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, a daughter off to college and a husband who just doesn’t seem to give a flip, she needs her best friend more than ever.

This first-time author has a real knack for character development, which in my opinion is the mark of a gifted writer. I was instantly enamored by Melissa’s good-hearted personality. Even when her husband acts like a total rat, she fights the urge to jump into an affair with her mega-hot co-anchor.  And rather than focusing on sensationalized headlines, she takes advantage of the limelight by promoting social good. Wouldn’t it be great if all newscasters had pure intentions? There certainly wouldn’t be anymore headlines about Kim Kardashian creeping into our morning news shows. That, my friends, would be a beautiful thing.

I do have one bone to pick with the author. My shins are killing me and it’s all her fault! I like to read during my morning workouts, and when I reached the last couple of chapters, I couldn’t put the book down. Before I knew it, I burned more than 800 calories on the bike!

Overall, this is an emotionally powerful story chock-full of real characters, real issues, and real thrills. Fans of Kristin Hannah, Jennifer Weiner and Ann Brashares are sure to enjoy this one. I look forward to reading her next novel, Dancing Naked in Dixie!