Mixed Signals, by Diane Barnes

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Getting dumped is never easy, but there’s a special bonus sting if your ex-fiancé is a producer for a popular morning radio show. Jillian Atwood’s breakup with Nico has become the hosts’ number-one topic. They’re even running a competition to find him a new girlfriend. The entire population of Boston, it seems, is tuning in with an opinion about who Nico should date next—and what Jillian should do to get over him.

Jillian’s co-worker, Ben, has his own ideas on that score. He hates seeing Jill depressed over a guy as unworthy as her ex. While he’s providing a friendly ear, he’s also realizing how much more he’d like to offer. And if Jill could just get over the man who broke her heart, she might find the one who’s perfectly equipped to heal it… (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

Mixed Signals is a realistic take on one woman’s journey through a transitional period in her life. I could feel the tiny shifts and nuances that happen for Jillian, while she works hard at dealing with an ex who took years in asking her to marry him, only to break up with her when he decides he really isn’t ready for any long-term commitments.

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There were times where I wanted to reach into the pages and shake some sense into Jillian, to get her to see the light, to not lament over an obviously bad relationship. Yet her thought process, the way she yearns for the familiar and the life she’s known for so long, is how so many of us would deal if we were thrown into a similar situation. When thrust into something that is completely out of our control, it’s all we can focus on. What went wrong. What could have been done differently to salvage the relationship. Maybe given some time, some distance, he’ll come to his senses.

While reeling from the pain of the break-up, Jillian is also dealing with her life being played out for all to hear on the radio show. Strangers, and those who know her well, chime in on what they think she should or shouldn’t do, and when she retaliates against the ones in charge of the show, she finds herself in an even bigger mess. And then there’s Ben. He’s always been a good friend to her over the years, yet he’s known as a notorious player. When he’s nice to her, is it genuine, or is he looking for something more? And how can she ever get over Nico?

I enjoyed Mixed Signals, and the honesty it represents. A great example of this is a jacket Nico leaves behind at Jillian’s home, a place they both shared before he left her. She has a hard time getting rid of it. It sits where Nico left it, hanging on the back of a chair in the kitchen, convinced he’ll come back for it. He’ll come back for her. This is so symbolic of where Jillian is at in her relationship, not only with Nico but the relationship she has with herself, and we get to see her transition by way of the jacket. It’s moments like that one, and many others, that make this novel so clever, honest, and endearing.

Thanks to Lyrical Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. See Sara’s review for Diane’s previous novel, Waiting for Ethan.

Out of Play, by Joy Norstrom

Gillian Campbell is out of patience.

Her husband is choosing his hobby over her. And the hobby in question? Live Action Role-Play, or ‘larp’. Larp involves dressing up as a character (be it medieval knight, banshee or centaur) and participating in imaginary battles for entire weekends.

Gillian is not impressed. She seeks professional advice and is surprised when her therapist encourages her to try larp. “Who knows? It may make you smile. It may make you laugh. It may even improve your sex life. How terrible could it be?”

The advice seems super sketch to Gillian, but she decides to don a costume and give it a go. If larp doesn’t work a marital miracle, Gillian will be able to walk away knowing she tried absolutely everything before giving up.

Will going on her own role-play adventure heal Gillian’s marriage, or will the game shed light on everything that is wrong? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

Out of Play is nothing like it seems.

I went into this novel expecting it to focus primarily on a marriage suffering due to a husband’s obsession with Larping. The fact that the story centers around Larping drew me to it, because I’ve brushed shoulders with those who have thrown a lightning bolt or two. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding, to try and get into the mind of someone who delves into any hobby or interest that doesn’t quite fit into the confines of what would be deemed “acceptable” or “normal”. Interests that think outside the box.

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While there’s plenty of Larping to go around, and all the humor you could want accompanying it, I discovered something much more. Something deeply emotional and profound. Gillian’s husband Ralph isn’t Role Playing just to role play. He’s trying to run away and hide from the realities of his life. It’s his way of coping. And while Gillian can only see his hobby as an obsession, it’s obvious these two have a very hard time seeing one another for who they really are, and for the pain they are both trying to heal from.

It snuck up on me, the deeper waters to this story. While I had some suspicions, I found myself steered away by the other issues going on, much like how Gillian and Ralph have lived for so many years. I was another character in their experiences, swept away in the confusion and comedic fumblings they both go through. And just when you think you’ve squared it all away, you’re hit with real truth and reality.

There was so much to relate to, for me. Someone you love who is more into their hobbies than you. Or, rites of passage that are stripped away unfathomably. Discovering new-found interests that you’d never have thought you’d be interested in, not in a million years. Or maybe the most important: it’s never as it seems.

Out of Play is nothing like it seems, which makes it pretty perfect.

Thanks to Hello…Chick Lit for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out all the other blogs participating in the book tour.

Jan 2nd
Hello Chick Lit – Book Excerpt
Jan 3rd
Steamy Book Momma – Book Promo Post
Jan 4th
Kristin’s Novel Café – Book Excerpt/Promo Post
Jan 5th
Jena Books – Book Review/Excerpt
Jan 7th
Book Lover in Florida – Book Review/Excerpt
Jan 8th
Appletree Books – Book Review
Jan 9th
Grass Monster – Book Review
Jan 10th
ItaPixie’s Book Blogger – Book Review/Excerpt Post
Jan 11th
Pretty Little Book Reviews – Book Excerpt
Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Amour Anarchy, a Memoir, by Maura Stone

From the highly prolific, award-winning author comes her version of a coming-of-age tell-all novel: Amour Anarchy, a Memoir. Paris and Europe in the 1970’s was a simpler time – when today’s political and societal turbulence was then an undercurrent. During her junior year abroad, far from her family and feral household pets, Maura’s experiences and adventures shape her outlook in life. Including a romance with a man who helped foment a revolution that changed the world. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Having read Maura’s guide to eDating the Old School Way (reviewed here), I was interested in learning more about the stories behind the author. I also wanted to get a sense of what Paris and Europe were like in the ‘70’s. While I’m not much for traveling abroad, Paris has always been on my bucket list. And while I’m sure there’s a vast difference between the City of Lights back then versus now, it’s always fun to live vicariously through someone else’s adventures.

Maura discovers so much more than culture shock when she’s on her own. This truly is a coming-of-age tell-all. I appreciate how honest and open she is about her personal experiences, particularly where her relationships are concerned. While so many of us often lock up the memories of our wild teenage years and hastily throw away the key, Maura shares her stories with wild abandon, immediately endearing you to the girl she was and to the woman she’s become. Nothing is taboo.

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Her perspective from back in the day showcases the immature maturity Maura had while traveling abroad. I know that sounds a little strange, but I could sense the girl behind the stories, melding with the maturity she’s gained from her experiences. Growing up among plenty of situations that many of us would handle awkwardly and with kid gloves, all while away from her parents. I think that takes real guts. Maura has that in spades.

While I found myself annoyed with her main love interest at times, due to his personality, I do realize just how influential he must have been on her life. That’s even more in focus as the story progresses, blending beautifully with the ending. While many of us may never have Paris, we’ll certainly have those interesting childhood relationships that often shape who we later become in life, and they are often the ones we learn the most from.

Thanks to Maura Stone for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has one copy to give to a lucky reader! Check out Chick Lit Central to enter the contest!

Seed of the Sunflower, by Lisa N. Edwards

**May contain spoilers for Can’t Fight Fate and Chasing Butterflies, but you can win all three books right here!**

Can the words of a Psychic influence your thoughts? Your Choices? Your Destiny?

What if a Psychic could see your future?

Nikki is a Hollywood entertainment lawyer who thinks she’s found the green-eyed man. Her soul mate; foreseen by the Psychic when she was 21.

But has she?

Sometimes all it takes is time… (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

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It seems as though Nikki’s story has come full circle in Seed of the Sunflower, the third installment from the “Can’t Fight Fate” book series. While she’s still grappling with the fact that she was promised a certain destiny several years ago, I felt as though Nikki was grabbing the reigns in her life and making a more conscious effort to live more by her own rules than someone else’s.

You can’t wait for life to happen to you. Often, you have to make life happen. Nikki is starting to adapt to this concept where her relationships are concerned, not only romantically but platonically as well. While I appreciated the growth we see in our main character, it’s in the supporting cast where we start to really see change and acceptance. Like with Siobhan, Nikki’s best friend. Her life has been all over the place, yet she’s starting to grow some roots, helping Nikki find her own roots, too.

Even when the roots are haphazard. Nikki always finds herself in certain situations none of us could fathom, good or bad! At times, I found myself a little envious of how easily she lands certain jobs, gigs, men… other times, I found myself happy that I live the lifestyle I do, because I know where I am and what I’m about. She’s still trying to figure it all out, little by little. Slowly coming to terms with the fact that maybe the psychic had been wrong all along. Or, maybe not. And, what’s a soul mate, anyway?

Ultimately, we discover whether Nikki ever finds her green-eyed man, and whether it’s all worth it in the end. I highly recommend reading the first two books in the series, Can’t Fight Fate (reviewed here) and Chasing Butterflies (book number 2, reviewed here), in order to follow this journey from start to finish, gaining a better understanding of whether you really can fight fate.

Thanks to Lisa Edwards for the book in exchange for an honest review. She has three sets of e-books and one set of print books to give away! Enter to win by visiting Chick Lit Central.

A Whyte Christmas, by Michele Brouder

Christmas has always been Kate O’Connor’s favorite time of the year, but this season—despite her battery-operated twinkle-light earrings—she’s feeling far from festive. In fact, she’s wallowing in a generous dose of self-pity over the loss of her father, the train wreck that was her engagement, and an unsavory setback in her career. To make matters worse, her boss at the Cline & Co. ad agency has volunteered her to be the one-woman welcoming committee for Gavin Whyte, the VIP client from across the pond who could be the key to saving their struggling business. Eager to prove she’s a team player, Kate resolves to show Gavin a good time, hoping his dazzling blue eyes, his delicious Irish accent, and her own propensity for disaster don’t cause her to torpedo the company’s chances of recovery. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

Kate has the type of personality you love to get to know. Even though she’s dealing with a lot of personal and professional issues in her life, she handles it as well as can be expected, all while doing her very best to stand her ground. I’m not sure I could handle an ex-fiance’s constant advances while working under the same roof. Or, a boss who insists on having me become part of some far-fetched ad campaign that would really put me out there for all the world to see, and not in a flattering light. There’s a lot of chaos in Kate’s world, that’s for sure, and it gets even more complicated when Gavin Whyte enters the picture.

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It doesn’t help that he’s incredibly handsome. And funny. And nice. Kate doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure, certainly not with the man who could make or break her career. Yet she can’t help but feel drawn to him. When her boss volunteers Kate to show Gavin around the city, to see the sights, it’s with reluctant hesitation that she agrees.

Every time they’re alone together, some sort of disaster occurs. And just when she thinks he might have some interest in her, she finds out he’s already in a relationship. But who he’s pining for back in Ireland may surprise her.

I really enjoyed the story behind A Whyte Christmas. While reading it, I felt as though the scenarios of Kate’s life could really happen to any one of us, which made me enjoy it all the more. There is a budding romance brimming just under the surface, while we learn more about a woman who begins to learn just how wonderful she really is, even though it’s been a long time coming. While Gavin is the catalyst for this, really, Kate has to discover for herself the power she’s always had inside of her. It’s really the perfect read for the holiday season.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

This Must Be the Place, by Maggie O’Farrell

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse.

But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

There are so many layers to Daniel, and to this story. Initially, I found myself going back and forth between several chapters, ensuring I had the correct characters linked together, that I was on the same page. To say that Daniel lives a complicated life would be an understatement, yet it’s so true to the nature of most of us. There are so many layers to our own lives, so many connections that we often miss or don’t recognize. I appreciated the great lengths Maggie O’Farrell went to, in order to perfect this.

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Even though Daniel reflects back on the woman he’d lost touch with twenty years ago, the true epicenter begins with Daniel and Claudette. While she’s hiding away from the world and trying hard to close the door on the life she once lived, Daniel discovers who she really is while he’s also hiding from his own failures. Unfortunately, the truth almost always reveals itself, no matter how many years go by, and soon they find themselves facing the past and having a hard time overcoming it. They both bring so much baggage to this relationship, it’s hard for either of them to let go.

The complexity of the story and its characters can at times feel overwhelming, but in a good way. There’s such a stark reality to it all; even when I felt as though I couldn’t read another page, I couldn’t put it down. At times, I found myself angry with Daniel, or with Claudette. I wanted to jump into the pages and shake shoulders, offering up my own advice in order to save them from the inevitable train wreck that looms ahead. In other moments, I could identify and see the wisdom from their own experiences. It was an interesting way to feel about two fictional characters.

This Must Be the Place would never be classified as a simple, easy read. It’is a work of art, engaging, enabling you to slow down and take your time with its characters. Well worth the time you’ll put into it.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Book Review: Driving on the Left, by Gail Ward Olmsted

**May contain spoilers for Jeep Tour. Can be read as a stand-alone though.**

Like Mother, Like Daughter? 

A summer fling changed the entire course of Jackie Sullivan’s life. Back then, she trusted her instincts and took a chance on love. Now she’s at a crossroads and has a big decision to make. How much is she willing to sacrifice for the man she loves? 

Her daughter Becca’s got her own problem- a secret that could threaten her carefully planned-out future. Romance is the last thing on her mind this summer. Jackie and Becca planned to explore the beautiful Irish countryside during a relaxing vacation, but when Becca falls for tour guide Sean, she wants to explore much more. Will Becca resist temptation or follow in her mother’s footsteps? Sean may be just too good to pass up. 

This book is for anyone who believes in the power of love and its ability to make you all sorts of crazy. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I really appreciated the mother/daughter dynamic between Jackie and Becca. Even though there are undercurrents of friendship, I got the impression that Jackie in no uncertain terms has laid down the groundwork for what she feels is an appropriate relationship to have with her young adult daughter. She knows she needs to let go of the reigns, allowing Becca to live her own life, but she also wants to ensure Becca won’t make the same mistakes she made at her age.

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While trying desperately to protect Becca, Jackie is also struggling with her own indecision. There’s a crossroads looming ahead. Soon, she’ll be living primarily without children, entering a new transitional period of her life. She’s so afraid of doing the wrong thing, of changing the routine she’s grown so accustomed to over the last several years. Should she really pursue such big changes without much of a safety net?

In witnessing the relationship between Becca and Sean, I felt as though Jackie was reliving so much of her own youth, only adding to the chaos and turmoil inside of her. Making it even harder for her to make a decision. And, for Becca, she wants to move forward in life uninhibited. If only there weren’t so many stumbling blocks involved, whether it’s from her mother, or Sean and his family, or the fact that all too soon, she’ll be heading back to the States, while her beau will remain in Ireland.

As the synopsis pointed out, Driving on the Left is for anyone who believes in the power of love, but I also felt it’s for anyone who has been in a situation where they’re teetering right on the edge of self-discovery. Young and young at heart, alike. We’ve all felt the strong pangs of love, of heartbreak. And, most of us cling to strong family ties as much as we can, never wanting to let go, but knowing at some point you have to. It was a sweet read, with the ability to take us back to that point in our lives where we truly felt the craziness of love, in all its forms, and what it can do, or make us do for it.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

A Mom On The Run

GCC Creative Writing

Creative Writing at Glendale AZ Community College

Africanist, artist & woman

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