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

Super 40, by Lucy Woodhull

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Super 40. Sure, I was aware that it was a super-heroine novel, an ordinary woman who ends up with a radioactive tampon and the ability to shoot cramp-inducing lasers from her fingers. That premise in and of itself is entirely unique and unusual. But little did I know that in essence, the story of Shannon Johnson and her ability to change and save the world would have so many layers to it, a message for every woman who feels as though she’s getting lost behind the shuffle of society.

Shannon is nearing forty, an age she’s trying desperately to avoid. She thought she’d be farther ahead in life. Not living with her parents, divorced, childless. There’s so much she wanted to accomplish, an entirely different person she wanted to be when she grew up. So, when she finds herself with new superpowers, this creates a new outlook on life, or so she thinks. She could never have anticipated the amount of responsibility that comes from being a super-heroine, the choices she’ll have to make to save others, or save her own pajama-clad skin. It’s enough to drive any normal person insane.

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While figuring it out, Shannon discovers an inner strength she never knew had been there. And while having the ability to bring a full-grown man down to his knees writhing in pain may have a little something to do with it, ultimately, she finds out that she’s had a lot of power inside her the whole time. It’s an affirmation for most of us who think we’ve passed our prime in life.

There are a whole slew of interesting superhero characters. Like Dolly Poppin’, Shannon’s telekinetic teleporting partner in fighting crime.Or Karma Kameleon, the hottest crime fighter in town. Even an anti hero, aptly named Antihero, gets in on the game, making this novel an incredibly interesting read. There was never a dull moment, full of action and suspense from start to finish, giving me an enlightened look at what it’s like to feel down and out, and doing what it takes to change that perspective on life.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Don’t Mean A Thing, by Renee Conoulty

What if you finally took the lead, but life refused to follow?

Thirty-year-old introvert, Macie Harman, has finally found a career she is passionate about, and after months of training, she’s begun her new job in the Royal Australian Air Force. Leaving behind her family, friends, and the life she knew, Macie has travelled to the other side of the country where the only person she knows is Rachael, the extroverted girl she went through basic training with. Everywhere Macie goes, Rachael is there too.

While looking for a way to widen her circle of friends in her new town, Macie discovers a local swing dancing class. The jazz music captures her heart, and Matt, the sexy swing dancer, sweeps her off her feet. Matt has claimed the tropical Northern Territory as home and has no plans to leave. He loves his teaching career with its predictable routine and has a great bunch of friends. All he wants now is the right girl to make his house a home.

Military life is tougher than Macie expected, and not everyone can deal with the inevitable separations and last minute changes. Is this exciting but unpredictable life something Macie wants to fight for, or could she give it up and put down roots with Matt? (synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

At first glance this novel appears to be all about romance, and trust me, there’s plenty of that to go around. Macie falls hard for Matt, even though she’s had her heart broken before by a man who wasn’t willing to be with a strong, independent woman. So, she’s very concerned about Matt’s intentions, and whether she sees a future with him. Rachael has plenty of love life to go around. So do a lot of other secondary characters, lending into the romance.

However, I felt as though the strongest vein was the one pertaining to Macie’s passions in life. She loves to travel, she loves her job. She’s worked hard to get to where she’s at, having a hard time coming to grips with the possibility of having to give it all up for someone. That’s what ruined her prior relationship. Will it be the final straw for Matt?

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I could totally relate to Macie. I suppose most of us could. I can think of several times in my life when I’ve given up something I’ve wanted or felt I needed in order to maintain the status quo, to keep others happy. I think the real work happens when you find a way to compromise, so both people in the relationship are able to fulfill their passions in life. It’s not always easy, it doesn’t always happen, but you can always hope. And, Macie has to try and find balance, or it will never work.

Life has a way of changing up the things that matter most to us, our life goals and passions often pliable. I appreciated Renee Conoulty’s take on what it means to find who you really are in not only a relationship with other people, but in the relationship that really matters most; the one you have with yourself. I don’t think there are enough motivating novels out there that support a character who tries hard at achieving her goals, never giving up. It’s incredibly motivating!

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Beyond the Lens, by Hannah Ellis

When twenty-six-year-old Lucy Mitchell loses her job, she momentarily loses her mind too and agrees to take part in a reality TV show. Before she knows it she’s jetting off to a piece of paradise on a beautiful Spanish island.

Much to her surprise, Lucy makes new friends and has the time of her life, even indulging in a behind-the-scenes romance with a hunky cameraman.

Convinced the production will never make it to the screen, Lucy returns home on cloud nine, but soon finds that things are not always as they seem. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

I’m a huge fan of reality TV, especially when it pertains to putting random strangers together. Think Survivor. While Beyond the Lens isn’t set on some remote island with participants battling it out for first place, there are certainly some similarities. As with most reality tv, what’s filmed isn’t always what we see on the small screen, and that’s exactly what Lucy encounters after being part of her own reality TV show.

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It seems too good to be true. She’s getting along well with the other cast members. The locale is breathtaking. It seems that every need is provided for. There is no real guarantee that the show will even air, so she might as well enjoy the week as an all expenses paid trip. Only, she finds out the truth behind the show, the lies and the deceit, that turn her into a carbon copy of Courtney Robertson (think The Bachelor).

I’ve often wondered what’s real, what’s not when I’m watching reality TV. Hannah Ellis takes us into that world wonderfully, showcasing what it’s like behind the lens, and what goes into creating the people we often consider to be celebrities, even though they’d been like the rest of us before their fifteen minutes of fame. And what happens after their time is over? Can they ever return to any sense of normalcy? That dynamic is showcased well for Lucy, and for the relationship she tries to hold onto through the whole process of returning to the life she’d known before the cameras. A sweet, relatable read!

Originally reviewed on Chick Lit Central

Book Review: Who We Were, by Lindsay Detwiler

In the ten years since high school graduation, Maylee’s career, living arrangements, family, and especially her love life are at a standstill. When her twin brother, Mitch, falls for her high school enemy at their ten-year reunion, Maylee’s life is catapulted into chaos.

Maylee’s hatred for the blonde-haired Josephine isn’t the only thing she discovers at her reunion. Benson Drake, the introvert from high school, has matured into a sexy intellect. Now a writer and bartender, Benson’s grown into a man with a perfect balance of quirky wit and sex appeal. After a wardrobe malfunction, a spy mission gone wrong, and a dangerous cup of coffee, Maylee and Benson explore something they never even thought about during senior year. Along the way, they find out that reconnecting with the past can change you… or maybe just help you find your true self. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ve had the good fortune, or in some ways the misfortune, of attending two of my own high school reunions. There are definite highs and lows that can come from getting in touch with that teenage part of your psyche, the part you swore you’d never visit again because it’s the past. Yet, being there again, among old friends and potential foes, can make you feel as though you’re right there, that no time has passed from high school vs. now.

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That’s what Maylee experiences when she goes back to her own ten year high school reunion in Lindsay Detwiler’s latest novel, Who We Were. While she’s not entirely where she wants to be career-wise or on a personal level, she still wants to confront the past, particularly the one girl who made her four years a living hell. Her whole focus is showcasing how even though she’d been bullied, that it didn’t define her. Only, in doing so, she discovers that maybe it has, more than she could ever know.

Only in my worst nightmares could I conceive of my childhood enemy forging a relationship with my brother. That’s exactly what happens, and it seems as though time hasn’t changed everyone, especially not Josephine, who is still up to her old tricks and manipulative behavior. Maylee can’t help but wonder if her primary objective in dating Maylee’s brother is merely one of torture. And, she can’t fathom what anyone would see in Josephine, obvious beauty aside. The only saving grace from the reunion comes in the form of Benson, the boy from high school who seemed to see her even when she thought no one else noticed. And, he definitely notices her now, and she’s very aware of it.

Lindsay Detwiler has created characters you fall in love with, even the ones you love to hate, like Josephine. Written to true life, they all have layers, so even when you feel as though you’re rooting for the underdog, ultimately you discover that even those that appear to be the worst offenders are often the ones who need the most encouragement. In some ways this story reminded me of some of my own drama that surrounded my reunions, and while the last one I attended made me question whether I’ll attend the 30 year (it hurts to even say that number), chances are I will, because it’s nice to still have some sort of connection to that girl who at times felt like no one had really noticed her or cared, but in the end, someone did.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Royally Wed, by Pamela DuMond

**May contain spoilers for Part-time Princess (Book One, reviewed here)**

Lucy Trabbicio, former cocktail waitress and down-to-earth American commoner, is about to marry the man of her dreams, Prince Nicholas of Fredonia in the posh royal wedding of the year.

But something goes very wrong on the way to the altar. Now it’s up to Lucy, her party-hard, take-no-prisoners Ladies-in-Waiting, and Nick’s opinionated Royal Nana to solve the debacle, and get her back into sexy Prince Nick’s arms in time to be Royally Wed, as well as royally bed. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

A return to Fredonia is a return to comedic chaos, once again, for our fair lady! Just when you think she’s finally going to get her just deserves, her prince goes missing, and no one, not even those closest to her, can figure out who would have the audacity to kidnap him, and at their nuptials no less! What ensues is a mad caper through town, relying on those Lucy never felt she’d have to lean on, not in a million years. And while it’s almost always the last person you’d ever expect, sometimes, it’s the first person!

While I love Lucy, and always will, the scene stealers and stars of Royally Wed are the Ladies-In-Waiting, the close-knit group of girlfriends who are there as her support system. I loved it when they’re all commiserating, having more than enough to say when it comes to Lucy’s continual flubs. Esmeralda is my personal favorite. She is unapologetically wild, with mostly everything that comes out of her mouth a shock, but well worth it! An honorable mention goes to Royal Nana, who reminds me of my own grandmother. Nothing is filtered, every thought going right from the brain and out the mouth! Seriously, she’s a hilarious hoot.

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Will Lucy ever get her man? That remains the number one question on everyone’s mind. It seems just when she gets close enough to reel him in, there’s always something standing in the way! But, I don’t think I’d want it any other way. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey with Lucy and her cohorts in the third installment of this series, Royally Wed: The Poser. Given the cliffhanger in Royally Wed, I’m in for a wild ride!

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

Dog Training the American Male, by L.A. Knight

Meet Dr. Nancy Beach, a relationship counselor who hosts a local radio show called Love’s a Beach. One problem: The relationship guru can’t seem to make her own relationships work, sending her credibility and ratings into the toilet. Meet Jacob Cope, a walking thesaurus of phobias — a Lehman Brothers casualty who’s lost his job and swagger and now yearns to be a ventriloquist. When Nancy and Jacob are set up on a blind date and hit it off, their siblings, desperate to be rid of them, encourage the young couple to move in together. When the honeymoon stage abruptly ends, Jacob attempts to mend the fence by adopting a dog; a big dog and Nancy flips out . . . until she realizes the dog trainer’s techniques can be used to housebreak Jacob and save her radio career. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon)

Relationships are rarely easy, especially between two people who are riddled with their own hangups and baggage. Nancy has never had success where love is concerned, despite her degrees and career status. Jacob’s past has completely crippled him from living any sort of normal existence, filled with bizarre phobias and rules on how he feels life should be lived. They couldn’t be more opposite, which is exactly why they’re drawn to one another, providing the perfect environment for comedic debauchery!

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Dog Training the American Male made me laugh. Hard. Conversations between various characters, like Nancy’s sister’s bodybuilding girlfriend, or Jacob’s gynecologist brother, the quips and one-liners were hilarious, and very real. I could imagine having similar conversations with my husband, or with close friends. Subjects which would normally be considered slightly taboo and off-limits unless in the company of those you trust the most are on full display here, enabling the reader to live vicariously through the story.

And the story is a unique one. Using canine training tactics to keep her man in line, Nancy is sure she’s found a way to live harmoniously with Jacob, and like with most things when dealing with the male persuasion, it works. For a time. Even an old dog can learn new tricks. But for how long, and will re-programming someone lend to a happily ever after?

Underneath the comedy and fun, there are deeper issues, ones I could appreciate. Can any of us learn to live with someone, as is? Ultimately, should we work on changing someone, versus finding someone who already has the qualities and characteristics we think we’re looking for, and even then, is there ever a real sure fire guarantee of a successful relationship? Dog Training takes an honest look into these questions and more, showcasing the psyche of what women want, and what makes a man tick, offering up a deliciously hilarious doggie treat along the way.

Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central

GCC Creative Writing

Creative Writing at Glendale AZ Community College

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