A WFW Book Review: My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb

cathy lamb mvbfToday is the book birthday for Cathy Lamb’s latest novel MY VERY BEST FRIEND. It’s Cathy’s ninth book, and had me turning the pages late into the night. And if you know me, that’s no small feat. I’m an early-to-bed kinda gal.

Sometimes I have an idea what a book is about before I start reading, sometimes not. Even when I do, my expectations of story seem to vanish on page one as I allow the author to do his or her (oh, who are we kidding, usually HER) job.

That’s definitely the case with MY VERY BEST FRIEND.

I was whisked away to the Oregon and the life of Charlotte Mackintosh, a romance writer who has no romance in her life. She’s an odd duck, to say the least, which made her completely endearing. Charlotte is also generous and kind and while she hadn’t traveled in years, she sets off to Scotland to sell her parents’ old cottage, where she lived until she was about twelve. The story takes us then to Scotland–and that’s where the whirlwind begins!

Cathy is a master at pacing. I sometimes felt like I couldn’t keep up with how fast I wanted to read. I’m not sure that makes sense but so much is happening I wanted to take it all in. There’s friendship, heartache, mystery, romance, and some real growth by Charlotte, and all the other characters, by the end of the book.

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A WFW Book Review: Sweet Forgiveness by Lori Nelson Spielman

If you’ve read Sweet Forgiveness by Lori Nelson Spielman, it won’t come as a surprise to you that I loved the book. Now, let’s not get all caught up in the fact that Lori and I are friends, because if I didn’t love it I would not, under any circumstance, say that I did. I also wouldn’t have blurbed the book or be writing about it here. I would say nothing at all because that’s how I roll.

Here’s my blurb:

“Filled with warmth and humor, Lori Nelson Spielman’s SWEET FORGIVENESS is a novel about family that will make you rethink everything you know about forgiveness and love. Lori Nelson Spielman is an insightful storyteller who captures your heart and keeps you turning the pages.”

I’m not partial to book reviews that summarize — so I’ll tell you why I loved Sweet Forgiveness and let you read the story yourself.

Sweet Forgiveness introduces us to its main character, Hannah Farr, who’s a talk show host dating the city’s mayor, we think she’s got a pretty good life, until Lori skillfully reveals how perfect isn’t always perfect underneath. And, while I grew sympathetic for Hannah and wanted all things to go right for her, I learned she has secrets, and not very nice ones. So while she sets off on a journey to figure out her past and find forgiveness, as a reader I struggled with the fact that I was rooting for someone who might not be all that likable all the time.

Which means Lori did a great job with Hannah Farr!

Just recently I’ve read a few Facebook posts and threads about unlikable characters, and commented that readers are sometimes surprised that the unlikable factor is INTENTIONAL. That authors want to make their readers bristle sometimes, that we want readers to question the choices and decisions of the characters. That writers don’t just throw down a story, that many of us want to make readers think. Even if just a little bit.

That’s the core of Sweet Forgiveness — yes, there is a great hook with “Forgiveness Stones” that become all the rage. But beyond that is the question of what’s forgivable? Who’s forgivable? And is it more important that someone else forgives you or that you forgive yourself?

And, woven into the seriousness of this tale is a lot of lighthearted and romantic themes as well. I love a story that allows me to breathe. Sometimes at least. Part of Sweet Forgiveness that I enjoyed the most was that I wasn’t always worried about Hannah (I get quite involved with characters and stories), that sometimes I was given the chance to just enjoy her.

On another note, this book is personal for me because years ago, on a girlfriend getaway in Michigan, Lori and I sat in our B&B and late at night, Lori said, “I have this idea for a story about these Forgiveness Stones…”

And now it’s a book. And my friend is a bestselling author. Cool, right? Even cooler because I loved the end result. And get to share it with all of you.

Amy xo

Lori Nelson Spielman is the author of The Life List. A former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, she currently works as a home-bound teacher for inner-city students. Lori enjoys running, traveling, and reading, though writing is her passion. She and her husband live in East Lansing, Michigan.

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A WFW Book Review: THE STORIES WE TELL By Patti Callahan Henry

There are several reasons I wanted to read THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry.

I’ve loved every book of Patti’s.

She lived in Philly until she was about 12 (so we’re technically related).

We share an editor (THE Brenda Copeland) at St. Martin’s Press (also making us technically related).

Another reason is that while steeped in editing my second novel—GASP—I didn’t read much. What better way to get back into reading than with a sure thing? That’s what you get with Patti. A sure thing. THE STORIES WE TELL did not disappoint me in any way. It’s a layered family story, it’s complex, the language is lovely, and it’s easy to read. Combining those elements is not easy though. I used to think that “easy to read” was a criticism, but have come to realize it is a compliment. When an author can sweep you away with her characters, details, dialogue, and story, that takes some SKILLZ, folks. There is depth in the delightfulness of this book. There’s hope and there’s heartache.

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A WFW Book Review: Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

Taking Inspiration from Author Holly Robinson

beach-plum-islandAs I’m awaiting edits on my second novel from my editor, guess what I’m doing? Writing another story. Now, that may seem presumptuous. It may seem crazy. Why not take a break? Well, the more I write, the more I write. Does that make sense? It would certainly make sense to author Holly Robinson, my friend, and one of the busiest writers I know. Holly is a novelist, ghost writer, freelancer, and award-winning journalist. In addition to those things, she’s a wife, mom of FIVE, and dedicated daughter. So when I think I’M SO BUSY and my thoughts jumble, I conjure up a vision of Holly doing everything she does. And then I get back to work.

Today, Holly’s second novel with NAL is out for the world to enjoy. BEACH PLUM ISLAND is her second novel with this publisher, but her third novel, and fourth book. Holly’s memoir, THE GERBIL FARMER’S DAUGHTER was published in 2010 by Broadway Books, and Holly self-published her novel, SLEEPING TIGERS, just as she got a contract THE WISHING HILL from NAL. And, now Holly is working on her third novel for NAL, LAKE UTOPIA, due out in 2015.


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A WFW Book Review: Therese Walsh’s THE MOON SISTERS

THE MOON SISTERS by Therese Walsh Took Me On Journey As Reader And As A Writer

by Amy Sue Nathan

tmsI just returned from a weekend “back home” in Philadelphia celebrating different things with different family members, so it’s apropos that today I’m posting my sort-of review of THE MOON SISTERS by Therese Walsh, her newly released novel about family, leaving home, and going home again.

My weekend has left me tired, in a good way, and also feeling a little woozy—a little like I’m processing things in a different way today, maybe like Olivia Moon does in THE MOON SISTERS.

Here’s the Goodreads review I wrote when I was lucky-beyond-lucky to read an ARC of THE MOON SISTERS:

In The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh paints a vivid picture of an emotional and physical journey for two sisters, Olivia and Jazz, who couldn’t be more different but realize in the end that the things that bind them together—their father, the death of their mother, their home, and eventually the desire to move forward—are more important than anything else. The rich details in this book bring to life a part of the country, West Virginia, that I’ve never visited, but believe I would now recognize. The Moon Sisters has evocative yet playful prose, as well as depth, yet it is not bogged down at any point. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Olivia and Jazz Moon have remained in my thoughts weeks after I finished the book. Actually, I think I may read it again.

All of that is true, and exactly how I feel about the book. One of my favorite things about the book is that playful prose I mention. Therese Walsh is a prose crafter, for sure. The book is accessible, but it’s not simple. I don’t mean it’s hard to read, I mean the writing is truly lovely. And I adore many books where the writing is great, but not necessarily lovely. Does that make any sense? I don’t read books that are difficult to read, and although I struggle when someone says my book is an “easy read” I do know that writing an “easy read” is not easy.  When relaying THE MOON SISTERS to others, it means that there is a flow, it kind of takes me along for the journey of Jazz and Olivia and there is no struggle in reading, not at all.

I was still writing my second novel while I was reading and what the author (okay, okay, yes, she’s my friend, I can say that—but I don’t gush unless it’s all true for me about a book) is that by reading THE MOON SISTERS I was encouraged to do two things with my own book: 1) really explore the setting in more detail to make it real for the reader, and 2) experiment with a non-linear addition to my novel (and I do mean experiment, as I am quite the linear gal). I really internalized the way Teri wrote the book and realized that it swept me away to somewhere new and different, in a way I really enjoyed.

Another element of the book that I loved — and that surprised and THRILLED me — was that Olivia Moon has synesthesia. To make a long story short, synesthesia, as noted on a “Neuroscience for Kids” website is this:

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.”

You’ll have to read THE MOON SISTERS to really get it, but I will tell you that much to my surprise and subsequent relief, I knew that the fact that I see “a calendar in my head” is actually A THING. It’s a form of synesthesia! So that fact that a calendar exists outside myself (OMG, yes, I am blogging this so everyone who only *thinks* I’m strange will now be utterly sure of it) is not only something that happens to me. It happens with days of the week, months, and years, as if projecting them in front of me. It has been this way as long as I can remember. It has a certain look to it — always the same. Weird, yes. Unique? Not so much. Seems the more people Teri asked about synesthesia, the more people who seemed to have some parts of it. It’s involuntary, so it’s not like making up an acronym to remember your to-do list.

If you don’t experience synesthesia at all, Therese Walsh brings it to life—in living color, so to speak—in THE MOON SISTERS. If you do have it, it’s really fabulous to read it.  What else is brought to life in the novel? A sense of adventure, a sisterly bond, grief, and hope for the future. I loved the ending — and when you read the book I’d love to know what you think of the ending. Or if you’ve already read it (no spoilers though) let me know in the comments. THE MOON SISTERS is getting great reviews (even more than just this one of course) and you can find them here: ThereseWalsh.com.

Needless to say (but I’ll do it anyway) I loved THE MOON SISTERS as a reader and a writer. As a friend, I’m so pleased for and proud of my friend.

Here’s a tidbit about Therese, and a photo that captures the essence of the author and her novel:

teriTHERESE WALSH is the author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and the cofounder of Writer Unboxed. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children. Follow Therese on Twitter and Facebook.

WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND by Ellen Marie Wiseman: A Book Review and Giveaway To Kick-Off 2014

Happy 2014 Women’s Fiction Writers!

wslbLet’s start the new year in style with a giveaway of TWO copies of Ellen Marie Wiseman’s new novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND.

I don’t normally do traditional book reviews on WFW but I wanted to share my thoughts on this book and its author. I don’t do a lot of giveaways either, but it’s the new year and all, and what better way to usher in the new year than with a new book?

Just leave a comment below to be entered, and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, January 8th. I think I’m supposed to say that I received a copy of this novel from the author but promised nothing in return, or something like that. Actually the review was my idea and Ellen has thanked me for doing it. So, Ellen, you’re welcome. (Now get back to work on your next novel!)

WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND is Ellen Marie Wiseman’s second novel. If I gave out stars I’d give it five. The novel is set in the present and in the past, which I always find fascinating, because the thought of doing that myself makes my head hurt. So this is both contemporary and historical fiction in which the author seamlessly weaves together two plots and a compelling cast of characters amidst a detailed and haunting setting.

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What More Could You Wish For Than An Author-Friend Who Wrote Fabulous Women’s Fiction? Irony And A Book Review!

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One of the best parts of being an author is knowing, and in some cases being friends with, the people who are actually writing books that are being published.  I would also say that one of the strangest things about being an author is knowing, and sometimes being friends with, the people who are actually writing books that are being published.

I can go crazy trying to decide which books to read.  While I make it a point to read my closest author-friend’s books, I can’t read every book of every author I’ve connected with or even know in real life.  I do buy most of the books, and share the information I know, and add each one to my growing TBR list and pile.

But when your friend sends you an ARC (Advance Reading Copy, sometimes known as a Galley), and you know you’re going to feature her on Women’s Fiction Writers on her launch day (August 7th) — you cross your fingers while you crack the spine and simply pray you like it.

And my prayers were answered when I read WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR by Samantha Hoffman — fellow Chicagoan, St. Martin’s author, and Brenda Copeland-ite.

I met Samantha Hoffman because we share a publisher and an editor and then learned also share a love of Chicago, good wine, and good food (do not take these similarities for granted).  And lucky for me – and everyone else – these are some of the things showcased in her soon-to-be-released novel. And while I’m not in the habit of reviewing books per se, I just couldn’t wait to type the praises of Samantha’s book.

I didn’t know what to expect.  When I get a book – and I apologize to everyone who has ever written jacket or backcover copy (eh hem, me, and my editor, last week, eh hem) I rarely read it.  I pick up a book or I download the sample and I dive in. I usually have no clue what it’s about and have taken the word of a friend or been lured by delicate, whimsical or striking cover art.  Crafy titles can grab me as well.  And WMCYWF has it all.

I’d say that Sam’s book falls neatly into a category I made up myself. (Ah, the wonders of having your own blog, y’know?)  It’s women’s fiction with heart, soul, and a romantic tint.  Romantic? Absolutely. More than a romance? Absolutely!  Get ready for eloquent turns of phrase.  Well-crafted insights.  Laugher. Tears. Resolution.  Wonder. I related to and adored Libby Carson, the main character, even though she spends a modicum of time and energy choosing between two men.  Sometimes that would make me roll my eyes.  Ok, most of the time. But Samantha tells this intricate love story with such deference to the realities of Libby’s life — which isn’t all fabulous — that I was empathetic toward Libby immediately, and felt she was very relatable.

Before I read the book I told Sam I thought the cover represented an important birthday – I had read Sam’s back cover and knew that her protagonist, Libby, turned 50 at the beginning of the story. Halle-freaking-luyah!  Nothing against the 30-something or even the 40-something crowds but being closer to 50 than I am to any age other than 49, I do enjoy a book about someone who is already checking off a new box on surveys and getting obviously misdirected AARP mail – as am I.

I don’t read a book based on any age-bias – but this just made the book different from many I’ve read.  And just as I relate wholely to many books with protags of all ages, you needn’t be anywhere near 50 — above or below — to enjoy this book.

And when I finished the book (in less than two days) I knew exactly what the cover meant. It meant that Libby’s life was overloaded.  That she was overwhelmed.  Thinking too much.  Doing too much.  And just like a cupcake loaded with burning candles – if something isn’t done about that soon, whether it’s blowing them out and eating the cupcake or dousing the whole thing and throwing it into the garbage (what a waste) – there needs to be action or there is going to be a big metaphorical fire.

Hmmm.  Feel the tension?  Me too!!

And, how many of us haven’t felt overwhelmed or overcooked or under appreciated?

WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR is the perfect book to take on a trip (take Kleenex too) because 1) time will fly and 2) you’ll accomplish reading the whole thing, and 3) it’s a feel-good book.  It’s also a smart book with a protagonist making difficult choices in both common and uncommon situations – and I’m partial to books like that because they make me think.  What would I do?

When I finished the book I pre-ordered three copies to give as gifts – and because I’ll see Samantha, I’ll have them signed.  Another perk of having author friends, indeed.

I’m only sorry you have to wait until August 7th to read WMCYWF but Samantha will be back to talk about her experience writing her novel and having it published (wait until you hear that story!) and talk about (or maybe even show us) the sights around Chicago featured in her book.  For me, that may include walking shoes and a cab ride or two – for you, that is sure to include amazing insights and fun and more about Samantha Hoffman’s book.

Truly, what more could you wish for?

Amy xo

To learn more about Sam and her book, check out her website by clicking here.

To pre-order a copy, which is a fabulous way to know you’ll have the book asap: check out your favorite independent bookseller, BN, or Amazon.