Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy, by Diana Kirk

This collection of stories, culled from Kirk’s adolescence as well as the early years of her marriage through the present day, is a must­ read for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in between the stereotypes of the virgin, the whore and the soccer mom. These laugh­-out-loud stories are equally funny, sarcastic, witty and sentimental and readers will feel like they are reading their best friend’s journal…or their own. Kirk is ballsy, brainy, brave and brilliant and readers will love her. (synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

So many of us strive to fit within the confines of what others deem as normalcy, and it can be downright unforgiving. It’s hard to be perfect all the time, to do the right thing, to gain acceptance. And yet we still try, often failing and feeling as though we don’t belong or don’t measure up.

Diana Kirk asks a very important, albeit subtle question in Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. Why does it matter? Why try to fit into some box when it’s a lot more fun and freeing to to just be yourself and live the life you want to really live?

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Licking Flames is unfiltered and real. Divided into short stories that delve into the mind of Kirk, we get an idea of what it’s really like. What it’s really like to be married, have children. Have friends who aren’t perfect and do some really stupid things. There were moments where I felt a little judgmental of her choices, because they were choices I’d never make in my own life, but that’s the point. Whether you agree with her or not, Kirk is true to her experiences and who she is, regardless of what any of us think.

Where I identified with her the most was when she recounts her experiences as a teenager. I certainly never colored inside the lines during my teen angst years, behaving boldly and brashly. There are times I’ve wondered if I’d change things if given the opportunity to go back in time, yet ultimately, I wouldn’t. I was very brave back then, a strength I wish I could get back now, in my late thirties. You can tell how much confidence she has in her own skin. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to strive for. Normalcy is overrated.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

It’s Not You, It’s Them by Portia MacIntosh

Roxie Pratt is the type of woman who knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to say so. Sporting anything with a heel, feminine to a T, she’s rocking a lifestyle where it pays to be independent, and she knows how to take care of herself, thank you very much. No need for any man to come and sweep her off her feet.

Not until Mark Wright enters the picture.

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He’s everything she ever imagined her perfect soul mate to be. Sweet, respectful. Intelligent. Thoughtful. And all wrapped up within a rockin’ bod that any woman would drool over. When he proposes, she feels as though she’s won the lottery of life, enough to give in a little with her independent ways, allowing herself to feel a oneness with Mark, completeness. Everything is perfect. But there’s just one stumbling block on the road to wedded bliss. His family.

Portia MacIntosh knows just how to create the sort of tension and friction in a room that makes you cringe inwardly, while outwardly you want to witness more of the drama! Roxie enters the Wright home on the wrong foot, and feels as though she can’t do anything right. It doesn’t help that Mark’s mother has no qualms in being honest on her true feelings on the upcoming nuptials, and how wrong she feels Roxie is for her darling boy. Even going so far as to invite Mark’s first love to dinner! How incredibly uncomfortable and awkward is that!

I’m reminded of something I was told once, by a pastor who had seen his fair share of weddings and family drama. He said, “Once you marry, this person becomes your family, the person you lean on and depend on, the one you cleave to. The family you grew up with, will become your extended family.” I could see a lot of those boundaries being drawn in the sinking quicksand while reading It’s Not You, It’s Them. Having been in a situation of my own where I’ve had to deal with a woman who obviously hadn’t cut the cord with her adult son, I could totally relate to how Roxie felt. I got to reminisce on my own fumbles, too, while Roxie tries desperately to hold onto Mark and not lose the love that they have for one another, and maintain who she is as a person. For so many of us who have been in those shoes, it’s a fun heartfelt story we can all identify with.

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

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!

A Mom On The Run

GCC Creative Writing

Creative Writing at Glendale AZ Community College

Africanist, artist & woman

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