Center Ring Review

If you are a mother, have a mother, or want to be a mother.  If you have a job, had a job, or want a job.  If you are married, used to be married, or want to be married.  If you relate to any of those categories, you will find a relatable character in this debut read.  Grab your girlfriends and your wine because this is a book you’ll want to read with company.

Center Ring is the first in The Circus of Women trilogy by Nicole Waggoner.  It features five best friends:

Norah, an ob-gyn struggling with her own infertility and marriage

Camille, a photojournalist at a crossroads in her career

Leila, mother of two and former professor

Ellison, a publicist for Hollywood’s elite and unlucky in love

Kate, brand-new mother struggling with trying to be perfect

As the girls get together for a night out, Norah lets out a secret and the book follows each woman share her story as they rally around her.  The book continuously changes point of view from woman to woman, but the chapters are short so it’s easy to read large portions at a time.

As a working married mother, I completely related to multiple stories in this book, especially those when the characters were trying to balance it all, just like the “circus” theme suggests.  Nicole does a fabulous job of bringing readers back to that concept throughout.  You’ll be rooting for each woman as she experiences her highs, and sympathizing with them as they experience their lows.

This book would make a great addition to your beach bag, but I guarantee you’ll want to share the story with your friends.  It will be hard having time pass by as you immerse yourself in the lives of these women.  What will be harder is waiting for Book 2 in the trilogy to find out what happens next.

Thanks so much to Nicole Waggoner for the copy in exchange for an honest review.  Be sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

Release Day for SUMMERLOST by Ally Condie

Dear Readers,

I think most of us have had our hearts broken. Sometimes we can see it coming, and sometimes it comes down with the unexpected force of a sudden gale of wind or a rising of waters that we thought were still and safe. Loss is universal to human experience, but the way we each feel and recover is one of the most personal things we do.

In Summerlost, Cedar is dealing with the loss of her father and younger brother. And my intent was to show how hard their deaths are for her. But this is also a book about the healing power of friendship. Most of us have been broken-hearted; I hope that most of us have also discovered the miracle of friendships that were just what we needed. Cedar and Leo’s friendship is based on someone I met when I was twelve. Like Leo, my friend was fun and liked to enlist me in crazy adventures (although we never gave a secret guided tour of our town the way they do in Summerlost). And, like Leo, he thought I was wonderful and of worth at a time when I needed it most.

SUMMERLOST is my attempt to pay tribute both to the pain we feel and the friendships that save us. Thank you so much for supporting this book, and for your willingness to give Cedar’s story a try. I hope it makes you think of a wonderful friend of your own, whether that is someone you met in the pages of a favorite book or outside, in the world where it is often hard and beautiful to live.

Best wishes and happy reading always,
Ally Condie

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Praise:

A Spring 2016 Kids’ Indie Next List Top 10 Pick!

Named one of Publishers Weekly’s Most Anticipated Children’s and YA Books of Spring 2016

● “Condie (Matched) strikes a deep emotional chord with this coming-of-age story.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

● “Multiple, seemingly random details, including a family of turkey vultures that now roost outside Cedar’s window, an absurd soap opera narrative of a woman buried alive, and Leo’s quest for a trip with his father, coalesce into metaphors that help Cedar make sense of her grief and the life she now has to look forward to. Thoughtful, poetic chapter endings guide readers new to psychological depth toward meaningful connections between plot events and thematic reflections.” – BCCB

“A moving tale of friendship and loss. I loved these characters—I wish we could have been friends when I was a kid.” –Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Five Kingdoms series

“Ally Condie’s first middle grade book might also be my favorite out of ALL her books to date. Summerlost is a story packed with nostalgia, heart, and gorgeous prose.” – The Novel Novice

“A nuanced portrait of grief deeply grounded in the middle-school mind-set.” – Booklist

“Honest, lovely, and sad.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A sweet, heartfelt story.” – School Library Journal

“Achingly good.” – Summer Laurie, Books Inc

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Read an excerpt and BUY your copy from any of these retailers:

Penguin Random House
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

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19 Can’t Miss Debut Reads

Oftentimes with the first book of an author, you might not be very impressed and hope that in time their writing and stories improve.  In the cases of these talented novelists, I couldn’t wait for their next release because the debut was incredible.  Here are my 19 Can’t Miss Debut Reads in no particular order.

imageCalling Me Home by Julie Kibler

As soon as I finished this one, I wanted to give it a hug and never let go.  This was the best women’s fiction novel I had read in years.  It broke my heart and comforted me at the same time.  Aside from the main story focusing on race relations, it tells a story of an unlikely friendship between a young and old woman as they take a road trip.

imageThe Magician’s Lie by Greer McAllister

I’ve always been fascinated by illusionists and magicians, so I knew this story of a female illusionist would be a perfect match.  I read this in 24 hours because of how compulsively readable it was.  If you liked The Night Circus, don’t miss this one.  So excited to see a movie in the works too!

imageBeautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Imagine being a teenager and having to move to a new city.  You’re the kind who doesn’t intentionally draw attention to yourself but now you are befriended by the most popular girl at school.  Would you trust her to keep your secrets? This is a true “not everyone is who they seem” story.

imageJulia’s Chocolates by Cathy Lamb

Once I finished this book, I became a lifelong fan of Cathy Lamb.  She puts so much love and personality into her characters.  After leaving her abusive fiancé at the altar, Julia is on the run.  This novel has a hopeful message but is filled with funny and unusual characters and scenarios along the way.

imageOnce We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

A legal thriller and a story of a family torn apart during the Holocaust, this book had me flipping the pages to discover what happens next.  It was originally self-published but came so highly recommended and popular that St. Martin’s Press had to publish it under their imprint.  If the WWII era is a must read for you, don’t miss out on this one.

imageWhat Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

This novel asks the question, What defines “motherhood”?  Is it the act of giving birth or raising a child?  Can it be one or the other?  Book clubs will have lively discussions surrounding those questions as they learn a 4-month-old baby is kidnapped from a shopping cart and raised by a woman eager to have a baby.

imageBefore I Go by Colleen Oakley

Have tissues handy.  The protagonist in this novel, Daisy, beats cancer once only to find out it has returned and she only has months to live.  In her short time left, she wants to make sure her husband is taken care of, so she sets out to find him a wife.  Oakley sprinkles some humor throughout so the book isn’t a complete downer and had me thinking of what I would do in a similar situation.

imageThe Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

Another great read for book clubs, this thought-provoking novel is a ripped from the headlines story and has you questioning your beliefs.  Sibley is a former nurse and writes from experience.  As a family is torn apart dealing with an ethical dilemma, the reader is left wondering how it will play out.

imageStill Missing by Chevy Stevens

This disturbing thriller put Stevens on the map for page-turning mysteries and now I won’t miss one.  If you want an easy to read book, the short chapters make for one that won’t take you forever.  If you like shows like CSI and Criminal Minds, be sure to give this author a try.

imageA Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

Art, antiques, love, Paris.  That was enough to win me over.  But I loved how Gable combined two storylines, one historical and one in the present to unearth the truth.  So much of that reminded me of a favorite author, Sarah Jio.

imageShelter Me by Juliette Fay

I was worried a book about a widower and her young children wouldn’t be able to hold me captive but I was glad I was wrong.  You will find yourself cheering for this flawed mother as she takes the year to reflect on heartbreak and forgiveness and realizes you don’t have to do it all alone.

imageLetters from Home by Kristina McMorris

In this day and age, when we so commonly communicate with emails and texts, reading this historical fiction told through handwritten letters was refreshing.  The story is based in part on the love story of her grandparents. So if you need a book to pull you out of your fast-paced and hectic life into a romance of an earlier generation, this is it.

imageThe Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

As soon as I finished reading this one, I started recommending it to friends.  It is absolutely going on my best reads of 2016 list, as it had the most unique storyline I’ve ever read.  I was completely caught up in this spellbinding premise and loved how Guskin was even able to incorporate a mystery.

imageRoses by Leila Meacham

Roses is a saga in every sense of the word, one that spans three generations of three families over the 20th century.  Even though it’s hefty at over 600 pages, it reads quickly because you’ll be eager to learn the fates of these families.  Gone with the Wind fans will especially enjoy this one.

imageThe Good Girl by Mary Kubica

When you see a psychological thriller debut being compared to Gone Girl, you are likely to be skeptical.  But Kubica really hit it out of the ballpark with this novel and did it with such ease.  New writers will be having their books compared to hers in the future.  Read more about this book and Kubica’s writing process in my interview with her here.

imageA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I did not know what to expect when I received this book. Hailed as an international bestseller, this novel from Sweden didn’t seem like it was up my alley. It follows Ove, a grumpy widower not sure how to spend his days other than doing daily neighborhood inspections. As the book quickly grew on me, so did Ove. I dare you to read this and not feel good when you’re done.

imageA Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

This is a beautifully written story about an extremely ugly topic, human trafficking.  Addison seamlessly weaves an important message throughout this story.  With a background in law and activism, his books always teach me something new.

imageFive Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

When a new book is blurbed by Jodi Picoult, I know I’m in for a treat.  And sure enough, this didn’t disappoint.  Told in two separate storylines of two characters with five days left before the world they know is changed forever.  This novel constantly had me asking myself, what would I do in their situation?

imageHush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn

This emotionally charged story of domestic violence had me so captivated that I neglected my responsibilities while reading it.  It was one of those books where you know what’s going to happen, but you don’t know when or how, like a car crash you can’t turn away from.  All the characters felt so real to me.  It’s impressive when fiction reads like it could be nonfiction.

What debut novels did you love that didn’t make the list?  I would love to hear your recommendations and your reviews on the ones I loved.

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4 Women Authors You Should Know

Do you have a favorite author?  One who whenever they release their newest work gets preordered online as soon as you hear the news?  You’ve read everything they’ve written and have trouble waiting for more?  That’s how I feel about the following four ladies.  For each of them, I’d read their grocery lists if they published them.  They can do no wrong in the writing world.

imageAmy Hatvany

With her sociology background, she really knows how to write women’s fiction and books that are relevant.  Issues that you can imagine the everywoman going through.  Start with Best Kept Secret about Cadence, a mother who tackles a drinking problem, and Safe With Me, about two women who meet under less-than-fortunate circumstances and form a bond that ends up saving them both.

imageDiane Chamberlain

Years ago I stumbled upon Diane’s books and haven’t been able to stop since.  Her power lies in the ability to make all her characters come alive on the page.  She is also known for throwing in a good twist just when you think the story is going in a different direction.  Start with The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes about an infant that goes missing and if the truth will really set you free and an amazing historical fiction novel, Necessary Lies, about a new social worker who befriends a family of tobacco farmers and what role the government should play in their lives.

imageSarah Jio

I think Sarah is the one author that I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite.  She is known to alternate between stories set in the present and the past and sometimes has a mystery thrown in.  Her books have me turning the pages and I can usually finish them in a day or two because you’re swept up in their stories.  She is newer to the women’s fiction scene and trust me, she’s not going anywhere.  Start with her first book, The Violets of March, about Emily, a divorced woman who finds a diary that helps her determine if her love life is over for good and The Bungalow, her second novel about an Army nurse who falls for a soldier and what they discover overseas.

imageEllen Hopkins 

Genius doesn’t begin to describe Ellen, who writes most of her novels in verse.  While it may take some getting used to, I am in awe every time I pick up a new one.  Her books are longer but they fly by because of her writing style.  Just be warned: there is a lot of profanity, drug use, and sex in her books.  She mostly writes YA but has just started venturing out into adult novels as well.  And all her books tackle extremely prevalent issues going on today.  Start with Crank, loosely based on her real-life daughter’s struggle with crystal meth (this is the first one in a trilogy) and  Identical, about identical twins who are trying to find themselves and what really happened in car accident when they were younger.

Any must-read women I should add to my list?  Would love to hear your favorites.

All the Winters After Review

All the Winters After (Hardcover)


New From: $18.56 USD In Stock
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This beautiful and haunting novel has already secured a spot on my best books of the year list. It’s not just words written on paper, but a multilayered story of a family and their grief over time.

Kachemak Winkel lost his family 20 years earlier in a plane crash. His aunt Snag and grandmother Lettie are still living in Alaska while he fled the cruel winters to lose himself in Austin, Texas. When he returns home to check on the family’s homestead, he discovers a frightened woman who has been seeking shelter there for 10 years.

As Kache begins to untangle his family history, we learn that this woman’s background isn’t so simple, either.

The setting is chilling and the story is full of hope and promise. Thank you to Sourcebooks for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 4.5 stars.

White Collar Girl Review

White Collar Girl: A Novel (Paperback)


New From: $13.50 USD In Stock
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There’s so much I liked about this novel and related to. It tells the fictional story of Jordan Walsh, a female reporter starting at the Chicago Tribune in the 1950s. All she wants is to be taken seriously as a reporter amidst all the men. She does whatever she can to report on the real news stories, not the society ones they assign to her. It was fascinating to see this perspective considering how different times are now with reporting. As a journalism major, I was intrigued to learn how it used to be in newsrooms where women had to fight just to be treated with respect. And growing up in Chicago, I also enjoyed the bits of history during that time period.

This is a must read novel for historical fiction fans and a great intro to the genre for those who enjoy women’s and contemporary fiction.  If you need a suggestion for your book club, this will also prompt lots of discussion.

I look forward to reading Renee Rosen’s earlier novels. Thanks to Goodreads and Penguin Random House for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Shelter Review

Shelter: A Novel (Hardcover)


New From: $8.67 USD In Stock
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If there was ever a book with the lesson of “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” this is it. And no, I am not referring to this book’s cover, although I love it and think it’s a perfect representation of the story.

We have Kyung, a Korean-American professor, his Irish wife, Gillian, and their young son, Ethan. After spending beyond their means, they come to realize they can no longer afford their house. Meanwhile, in the wealthier section of their town lives Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae. After a violent incident at Jin and Mae’s home, they have nowhere to go but Kyung’s home.

But as bits begin to unravel and secrets beg to be told, the reader realizes that one perfect young family and one wealthy family are not truly who they seem.

Is “shelter” truly a place to call home or just a structure with which to seek refuge? You’ll have to decide for yourself after finishing this compulsively readable book.

Thanks to Picador USA and Jung Yun for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Available for preorder now.  Publishes March 15, 2016

Best Read-Aloud Picture Books

I think I’m still a kid at heart.  There is some magical quality to picture books that entertains me along with my kids.  Oftentimes I’m presented with the opportunity to read aloud to my children’s classes.  If that’s the case for you, here’s a great list of picture books sure to be a hit.  These are also perfect for bedtime reads or anytime you’re looking for a smile or laugh.

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The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak: After reading this to my daughter’s kindergarten class, I was begged for an encore and her teacher told me she’s never had her class laugh so hard.  If you haven’t discovered this laugh-out-loud read yet, you are missing out.  It’s so clever having the reader say nonsense phrases which kids find hilarious.

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Press Here by Herve Tullet: Even better for a younger crowd, this allows a group of children to each take a turn pressing on the page to see what magic they can create with their fingers.  Imagine something interactive without electronics and you have this book.  For those looking to take it a step further, they even have a coordinating board game.

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Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds: Imagine a child’s version of a psychological thriller and you have this picture book, complete with a twist.  The pictures were worthy enough to be nominated for a Caldecott Medal but the story is the ultimate surprise.  We are big fans.

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The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt: I’m not sure if we like the original or its sequel more.  These creative books had me laughing and my kids mesmerized.  I sure hope there will be another in this series, written by a box of crayons to their user, Duncan, complete with grievances and complaints.  You’ll completely change how you look at crayons.

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Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker: If you ever hear the words “I’m bored,” try reading this story of a boring family.  I can guarantee their boredom is nothing like the kids in this book have to deal with.  Adults also will get a kick out of the dull situations Pennypacker presents.

These are our favorites.  I’d love to hear yours!  And please let me know your thoughts if you get a chance to read these.