Category Archives: Reviews

Playing House, by Laura Chapman

She’s a work in progress . . .

Bailey Meredith has had it. As an assistant at a prestigious interior design firm, she’s tired of making coffee and filing invoices. She’ll do just about anything to get out from under the paperwork and into the field for real experience. Then she sees an ad for a job that seems too good to be true.

He’s a fixer upper . . .


Wilder Aldrich knew she would be perfect for the crew the moment he saw her. His hit home improvement show only hired the best, and Bailey had potential written all over her. It isn’t just her imaginative creativity and unmatched work ethic that grabs his attention. There’s just something about her.

With chemistry on screen, it’s only a matter of time before sparks fly behind the scenes as well. But with Bailey’s jaded views on romance and a big secret that could destroy Wilder and everyone he cares about, are either of them willing to risk it all for love? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’m not nearly as skilled as I’d like to be with a hammer, and have no clue how to decorate, but I love home improvement shows. Which is why the premise of Playing House appealed to me as much as it did. Yet, as often is the case with anything you read by Laura Chapman, there’s more to it than that. So much more.

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When it comes to the small screen, we’re only privy to the scenes that are given the green light. How much of it is real can be a toss up. Bailey can only imagine what might be in store for her, in choosing to work for a show that only showcases successful outcomes, never the work that goes on behind the scenes. Given her situation, however, there’s not much choice in the matter. It’s either that, or continue to feel undervalued with her current employer.

And for Wilder, Bailey is like a breath of fresh air. He’s been locked inside deadlines and contractual obligations for so long, he has a hard time imagining what life was like before the show. Before he’d been thrust into a spotlight. Those things don’t apply to Bailey and don’t mean much to her, which only makes her all the more attractive. And, she’s feeling him, too, yet she knows picturing any sort of future with Wilder is totally off-limits. No ifs, and’s or but’s about it.

I really appreciated the honest look at what might potentially go on behind the scenes of a home improvement show. Given some of what I’ve seen in the headlines as of late, I’m guessing it’s not far off. There are plenty of smiles and cordial attitudes to go around, and we can often forget that the people we see on the television are still real people with lives that go on behind the scenes. And sometimes, a scenario is created in order to not only project a certain look or feel to the outside world, but to protect the people we love. I really felt that when Bailey and Wilder are at a loss on how to proceed in their own lives. On finding a way to skirt the line of what’s morally right or wrong.

I’ve read nearly all of Laura’s novels, and while I love them all, there was something particularly special about this one. I really felt a deep emotional connection to the characters and the rough situations they find themselves in. Maybe because I’ve gone through my own tough times, too, and I could relate and identify with Bailey, with Wilder, and even with a few of the others who make life hell for everyone around them. Playing House deserves every single one of the five stars I’ve given it.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

The Big Overnight, by Libby Kirsch

**May contain spoilers for The Big Lead (review) and The Big Interview (review)**

Sometimes The End is just The Beginning.

When the suspect in a Knoxville shooting confesses on camera, police say the case is closed. But then TV reporter Stella Reynolds gets an anonymous email that changes everything.

As she picks her way through a field of untruths and half-lies, she discovers everyone around has secrets they’re desperate to keep—including the people closest to her. With the body count rising, Stella won’t stop digging until she lays all the secrets bare. It will cost her friendships and might even put her life in danger.

Her work and personal lives collide in this exciting third installment of the Stella Reynolds Mystery Series. Start reading now to find out if she can track down the real killer before she reaches the ultimate deadline. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

She’s at it again!

I’ve read all three books in the Stella Reynolds Mystery series. Stella never backs down. Even when she’s placed into a situation where she knows she should. Finding the truth and doing what’s right will always be her guiding force, even more so in this latest installment, when a suspect confesses to a murder she’s convinced he hasn’t committed.

Why is he lying? Who’s covering for him? Soon, she discovers there is so much more beneath the surface, more than she could have ever imagined. Putting her own life on the line, again and again.

A few things I’ve noticed about Stella in The Big Overnight:

She’s changed. Big-time. I can still remember a young, inexperienced woman venturing out in front of the camera, trying to find her place within the media world. Stella has gained an immense amount of experience over the span of three novels, coming into her own with confidence and grace. Not as keen on taking crap from anyone. I really enjoy character development. She has plenty of it.

It’s not always about finding that special someone and creating a happily ever after scenario. It’s about finding your own happily ever after, no matter what that entails. It’s not that Stella doesn’t have suitors. Far from. You see plenty of sensual conflict between herself and other characters. Yet, she’s all about living her own life- whether that’s with a man, or without one.

Her circle of trouble keeps getting bigger. Bigger than she could have ever imagined, involving those she trusted the most. I think that’s often the case in real life, too. Usually it’s the ones you least expect it from, who end up pulling the wool over your eyes, causing the most damage.

The Stella Reynolds Mystery series can be read individually, or as a whole- they stand alone or collectively quite well. But I recommend you read all three. It’s been fun being part of Stella’s journey, from start to finish, watching her grow and change, yet never letting go of that relentless drive that keeps her going, that makes her undoubtedly Stella.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Wake-Up Call, by Amy Avanzino

Sarah Winslow wakes up with a terrible hangover…and a kid in her boyfriend’s bed. She makes the horrifying discovery that, due to a head injury, it’s not a hangover. She’s got memory loss. Overnight, five years have disappeared, and she’s no longer the hard-living, fast-track, ad executive party girl she thinks she is. Now, she’s the unemployed, pudgy, married, stay-at-home-mom of three kids under five, including twins.

As she slowly pieces together the mystery of how her dreams and aspirations could have disintegrated so completely in five short years, she finds herself utterly failing to manage this life she can’t imagine choosing. When Sarah meets the man of her dreams, she realizes she’s got to make a choice: Does she follow her bliss and “do-over” her life? Or does the Sarah she’s forgotten hold the answers to how she got here…and how she can stay? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Sara Steven:

Wake Up Call really spoke to me. There were so many scenarios and situations I could relate to and identify with, having been a freewheeling, single career woman myself at one point at time, as well as a married stay-at-home mom of two boys. I loved the honesty of the characters. There were times Sarah would say something that would make me cringe, because it was oh so painful, but oh so real. Often her thoughts reflected what so many of us have locked up tight inside our own minds, afraid to unleash those proverbial demons.

What I appreciated most was the sharp shift of realities for Sarah. In such a short amount of time, so much can happen that will change who you are as a person forever. I experienced that myself after my firstborn had been placed in my arms after he was born. I had so many ideas on how I would live the rest of my life and I truly felt his arrival wouldn’t really change the direction on how my life was headed. Yet once his beautiful brown eyes found mine, I found a new normal. I couldn’t even imagine going back to the woman I’d been before him.

This is a story that is a voice for every woman, not just for those who know what it’s like to walk in Sarah’s Croc encapsulated footsteps. Ultimately, whatever road we choose to travel on is a worthy road, and sometimes we need to reconnect with who we were before life’s biggest changes, to really find what’s most important.

Melissa Amster:

As soon as I started getting into Wake-Up Call (which was very easy to do), I knew Sara had to read it too. I described it to her as What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty) meets Say Never (Janis Thomas).

I’m always up for a good amnesia story and I like how this one was told. There wasn’t too much time gone, but enough to be a huge shock. Sarah has gone from career girl to stay-at-home mom and she doesn’t recognize her life at all. I can’t even imagine what that would feel like. Thankfully, she was still with Kofi. She had started dating him in her late twenties, so her mind was back to what he was like before parenthood took over. It was still a strange shift for her to see him all worn out, trying to provide for his family. I enjoyed watching Sarah try to navigate her “new” life and see her children in a new light. She also had a great support system of friends that she was in denial of needing in her life, instead trying to reconnect with her friends from her twenties, who had changed a lot.

My only two issues where that time sometimes went by really fast throughout the story and I wasn’t sure what the deal was with Troy (another man in Sarah’s life) which made things confusing later on.

Overall, Wake-Up Call was engaging, funny, thought-provoking, and even somewhat sad at times. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Movie casting ideas:
Sarah: Rachael Taylor or Taylor Schilling
Kofi: Malcolm Barrett
Elaine: Rachel Boston
Troy: Christopher Russell
Celia: Jaimie Alexader

Thanks to Amy Avanzino for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out her second novel, From the Sideline.

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

Book Review: Say Goodbye For Now, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

First, a confession. I read the majority of Say Goodbye For Now in one night. That was never my intent, initially, yet I had a really hard time finding just the right place to put it down. Catherine Ryan Hyde has a wonderful way of creating unique characters that you can identify with, the kind who tell a story in such a simplistic way, it’s like becoming part of the scenery. That’s why I couldn’t stop reading. I didn’t want to.

Dr. Lucy is content in living alone, far from humans and all the chaos they bring with them. She surrounds herself with animals, the kind who are injured or have nowhere else to go. The kind who would never survive on their own. Pete Solomon, a young boy, discovers a wounded wolf-dog on the side of the road, and that’s where his story begins, and where Lucy’s begins, too.

Set in rural Texas in 1959, there are a lot of biases and opinions on whether a woman doctor, one who treats humans or animals alike, can do as well of a job as her male counterparts. There’s also a lot of contention when Pete meets Justin, new to the neighborhood, a boy around his age who has similar interests yet those interests differ where the color of their skin contrast.

Pete doesn’t understand when his own father threatens his newfound friendship with the new kid in town. He certainly doesn’t understand it when Justin ends up injured and on the brink of death due to his differences. And it’s not safe to take Justin anywhere, injured or otherwise. The only safe place he can go is to Dr. Lucy’s, and when Lucy meets Justin, she also encounters his father, Calvin, a unique man who is different and altogether wonderful.

Although this novel is set several decades back from our own time, there is so much that still holds true and relevant to what we encounter today. There are plenty of biases and opinions, many of them stemming from where you come from, your religion, the color of your skin, who you are. Say Goodbye For Now lays a foundation laced in all of it, giving the reader an in-depth look into what it’s really like to be in the middle of such contention.

I love the message this novel relays to its readers. That there is hope. That given time, there can be change. That ultimately, love reigns. And that often, doing what’s right can be the hardest thing you ever have to do, but it’s the only thing worth fighting for.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the book in exchange for a honest review. They have one copy for a lucky reader!

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central.  Check out the website and enter to win a free copy of Say Goodbye For Now!

A Drakenfall Christmas, by Geralyn Corcillo

In the spring, Mark and Maisy fell in love in the story “Upstairs, Downstairs … and the Lift in Between.” Months later, the magic of Drakenfall is still in the air, and spiced with cinnamon and mistletoe as Mark and Maisy welcome guests and get involved in kerfuffles with staff as they celebrate their first Drakenfall Christmas together.

In an uncharacteristic turn, unflappable house manager Glynis Ferry seems to be getting her duster ruffled every time she catches sight of Shaun Fletcher, the new head groomsman. And Pippa Taylor, a whirling dervish of a domestic, works below stairs to make the magic happen for everyone else, but will there ever be enough magic left over for her? There will if most worthy valet Kafi Cholo has anything to say about it, as he tries to spin holiday magic every which way. But his best laid plans always seem to go awry, even with Maisy helping out as his faithful sidekick.

But what about his grandest of schemes, set to take flight at the Drakenfall Christmas Ball? He’s depending on guest Jamie Tovell, who’s depending on guest Lea Sinclair. And even if everything goes off without a hitch, will the secret Maisy’s been hiding from Mark all season pop up at the most inopportune moment to set everything asunder? It’s a Drakenfall Christmas … topsy turvy, but generously sprinkled with laughter and lavishly frosted with romance. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

The holiday season will always represent a time of simplistic comfort, for me. A time to set aside our differences, to share in the love and laughter with those who mean the most, like friends and loved ones. While reading A Drakenfall Christmas, I felt as though I was catapulted back into a simpler time, magical and beautiful, which couldn’t come at a better time, considering everything going on right now in the world around us. I let my worries go while I fell in step with Mark and Maisy, proprietors who go above and beyond to ensure a wonderful time at Drakenfall, making me yearn for the opportunity to visit a place like it.

I enjoyed the budding romances between all of the characters. Geralyn has this unique way of creating tension between love interests, so you’re not quite certain at times whether they’ll end up together, or not. Even when you want them to, or not. It makes for an exciting read. A great example of this would be the sparks that fly between Jamie and Lea. Or the totally potentially inappropriate feelings (or so she thinks) Glynnis has for Shaun. And who does Pippa really have a crush on?

The snark factor doesn’t go unnoticed, either. There are a few nosy, irritating characters who are put in their place a few times, a real treat. Most of us can identify with the need to quiet someone when they’re being annoying, but we never really feel we have the chance or privilege to do it. While immersed within those particular scenes, I laughed out loud, living vicariously through those moments. If only I can replicate that in the real world! Maybe someday, I’ll be able to find a place like Drakenfall, a much-needed respite from chaos. Until then, I’m content to read about it through the eyes of the wonderful characters Geralyn has created, characters who stick with you, forever.

FYI: I read the story, “Upstairs, Downstairs… and the Lift in Between”, giving backstory into the relationship between Mark and Maisy. While Drakenfall stands well alone, “Upstairs, Downstairs” is well worth the read, and can be found in Love in an Elevator: A Romantic Comedy Anthology.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Flight Risk, by Barbara Valentin

When Aubrey Thomas, a phobic travel writer, must choose between jumping to what she considers certain death from a skydiving static line or sinking even deeper into debt in the unemployment line, she scrambles to find someone—anyone!—who can help her overcome her debilitating fear of heights. Enter John Trelawney, a charming window washer who thinks nothing of dangling by a cable fifty stories up claims he can cure her. Everything about John makes Aubrey nervous… including the way her heart kicks into overdrive whenever he’s around. But, at the end of her rope, she takes him up on his offer. Can he really help her get over her fear of heights? Or will Aubrey find herself free falling…possibly even in love with him? (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

Aubrey is terribly afraid of heights. I can relate, considering my own horrific fear of anything over two stories. Yet for Aubrey, dealing with her fears, or, not dealing with them, is placing a huge burden on her work life. It’s hard for a travel writer to talk about adventures unless they’ve actually lived them, and when one of her assignments is to skydive, she’s nearly ready to throw in the towel and give up. That is, until she meets John Trelawney.

John has guaranteed her that he can cure her of her fears, but he has no clue as to what he’s really getting himself into. Aubrey’s fears stem from deep-rooted issues, ones that a simple shove out of a plane won’t fix. John has to really get inside Aubrey’s head, a difficult task, considering how much she keeps hidden away from him, from others, and how closely guarded she is to the truth. John has his own secrets to contend with. It’s harder and harder to try and maintain a certain persona, especially when he discovers there might be more to Aubrey than what meets the eye.

The “Assignment: Romance” series has always been one of my favorites, which is why I couldn’t wait to read Flight Risk. As always, Valentin puts her own unique spin on relationships, whether it’s between romantic interests, or friendships. While reading about Aubrey and John’s struggles, you also discover what’s going on beneath the surface, especially with the other characters from this series, like Mattie Ross, from False Start, and Claire Nelson, from Help Wanted. They’re all intertwined beautifully, making this such a wonderful, smooth read, from start to finish.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central