REVIEW: Merry & Bright Christmas Anthology

Merry & Bright Book Cover Merry & Bright
Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, Cindy Arora, Nancy Scrofano, Laura Chapman, Isabella Louise Anderson
Chick Lit
179

Sip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humour, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

I received a copy of this e-book in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

Merry Christmas Blogosphere! I hope you’re all enjoying some freedom. family, and friends over the Christmas/New Years break! If you’re suffering from some holiday blues, however, then I suggest picking up a copy of Merry & Bright for a cheer-up. These six stories are full of Christmas cheer, romance, family drama, mistletoe and fresh-baked goodies.

Each story was based on a different female character’s experiences in the holidays. Personally, my favourite was the first story in the anthology; “A Very Dixie Christmas” by Lauren Clark. Perhaps this had something to do with it being the longest story in the anthology, or perhaps it was the skill with which Clark immediately pulled us into the warm world of the Ella Rae Bakery. Had this story been turned into a full length novel, I think I could have easily devoured it. I’ll be keeping an eye out for her future works!

In “Christmas at Mulberry Inn” Cindy Arora quickly set the scene of her Christmas tale with some interesting characters and a festive holiday setting. These characters were surprisingly well developed for such a short story, and I was again left wanting more. I did feel that the story was wrapped up a little quickly, considering the details in the first half of it, but it was fun and engaging. I’d be happy to return to the Mulberry Inn anytime!

I found “Ice Dating” by Nancy Scrofano and “Secret Santa” by Libby Mercy a little cliché… In part, I blame the length. It’s hard to describe four failed engagements in 30 pages, as Scrofano tried to do in “Ice Dating”, which meant that the story seemed a little far-fetched, and hard to relate to. Similarly, in “Secret Santa”, I picked the ‘twist’ early on and found the story quite un-engaging; perhaps there just wasn’t the time to hook me.

“Twelve Drummers Drumming” by Laura Chapman was a feel good love story, about finding a good man and trusting your instincts – jumping to conclusions can be a bad idea! The idyllic snowy setting and little Christmas miracle brought a smile to my face.

For those looking for a more racy read, “Meet Me Under the Mistletoe” (Isabella Louise Anderson) held tinges of what I imagine “50 Shades of Grey” to hold – though I refuse to read the latter for the sake of my literary integrity. While things can’t get too spicy under the mistletoe in less than 35 pages, Anderson manages to write a love-at-first-sight romance.

All in all, I think this anthology had a little something for everyone. The stories were short, and perfect to read in one sitting in between the crazy running around of Christmas, or when you’re feeling a little of the Christmas blues. I did catch a few spelling mistakes, enough to drive a grammar nut a little crazy, but not enough to turn me off the book.

Christmas may be over for 2013, but you can grab a copy on Amazon here for a few dollars and keep it on your bookshelf ready for next year! Merry Christmas!

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Secret Shopper’s Revenge – Kate Harrison

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Secret Shopper’s Revenge (and the two sequels, Secret Shopper Unwrapped and Secret Shopper Affair) is another perfect example of chick lit. Kate Harrison, once a former secret shopper herself, writes about her three ‘angels’ as they each find themselves at a new stage in their lives. Emily is recently divorced with a toddler, Sandie has been falsely accused of theft and forced to leave her dream job, and Grazia is mourning the death of her famous husband. Each is looking for a new direction, a new dream, and they find them together in stores across London.

Kate Harrison - Secret Shopper's RevengeAs they get into the swing of secret shopping, the very different women become friends and slowly begin to overcome their problems.

While this book isn’t vastly different to the basic structure of any chick lit book, the characters are so well written that you can easily identify with them, and cheer them on. Also, each character is very different, allowing different readers to identify with their different personalities. There’s enough detail for the books to be page-turners, but not so much that you’re constantly flipping back through the book to remind yourself what has happened. As the series progresses, so do the characters and their friendship matures along with them.

I am not one of those people who looks down on chick lit as low-brow, second rate literature. I recognise that an easy read about women who face the same dramas as many of us do in everyday life can be relaxing after a hard day at the office, when picking up a 400-page book about a Russian espionage scandal seems a little too hard. I would definitely recommend this book to women out there who are looking for a fun, easy read – and to those who love to shop. If you love Annie Valentine, you’ll love Secret Shopper even more! The trilogy can be purchased on a budget here, here and here.
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REVIEW: “Bitches of Brooklyn” Rosemary Harris

Bitches of Brooklyn Book Cover Bitches of Brooklyn
Rosemary Harris
Chick Lit
340

Are they really bitches? That depends who you ask...

Rachel, Clare, Tina and Jane are four friends awaiting the arrival of a fifth at a secluded Cape Cod bungalow where they spend an all-girls weekend every year since reconnecting at a reunion. But the fifth woman doesn't show. Instead she sends a note that reads - "I've run off with one of your men."

Has she? Is it a prank? Do they run for the phone or try to enjoy the weekend without her? Fast, funny and filled with Harris' trademark snappy dialogue you'll recognize friends and maybe a little of yourself as the women are forced to reevaluate their friendships, their marriages and their memories.

Inspired by a classic Hollywood film, The Bitches of Brooklyn is for every woman who's ever had a best friend and wondered...is she really??

I received a copy of this e-book in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

“Bitches of Brooklyn” definitely deserves it’s place in the Chick Lit genre. It revolves around a group of five women, who are supposed to spend a weekend together. When one doesn’t show up, giving only the explanation that she has ‘run off with one of their men’, the remaining four women quickly switch gears to engage in behaviour that women all over the world would recognise immediately; quiet doubt that perhaps someone you trust isn’t quite all they seem to be.

The book explores the lives of the four women. Each have their own issue, from which their insecurities over the whereabouts of their missing friend stemmed. Harris explored these issues well; they were believable and recognisable, even though I’m twenty years younger than the protagonists. I liked how the story progressed, and the small details that Harris included, like the loving grandmother, and the nighttime break-in to a public place – these added some much needed depth to a story that may have otherwise been all caught up in the heads of the four women.

There was one facet of the book, however, which annoyed me immensely. This group of women were dubbed ‘Bitches of Brooklyn’ in their teens, hence the title of the book. BUT, there is nothing to indicate that these girls were, in fact, bitches. Rather, they are portrayed as fairly nice, friendly teens. The book then has these girls regularly calling themselves bitches, immediately followed by one of them disclaiming that they’re just joking, or referencing that they earned the name as teenagers. The discrepancy between their behaviour and their nickname frustrated me throughout the book; though perhaps a seemingly minor detail, it felt incongruent with what was otherwise a well-written book, with a flowing plot. It almost seemed as if Harris had settled upon the title and subsequently wrote the reason for it into the book…

That inconsistency aside, I liked the book, and liked that it focused on the relationship between the women, rather than a relationship between a man and a woman. I also liked the ending, which is crucial!! It’s worth a read. 

Want to see what these bitches get up to firsthand? Pick up the e-book here, or the paperback here.

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REVEIW: “Zoey and the Moment of Zen” Cat Lavoie

Zoey and the Moment of Zen Book Cover Zoey and the Moment of Zen
Cat Lavoie
Chick Lit
Marching Inc
304

When coffee shop owner Zoey Everwood takes her obsession with ex-boyfriend Braden too far, everyone — except Zoey — is convinced a bit of fun in the sun at the Moment of Zen Wellness Resort will help her get over him once and for all.

But Zoey's relaxing vacation turns out to be anything but peaceful when she meets Shane Lawson, a resort guest who bears a striking resemblance to Braden. And things get even more complicated when the resort's owner starts spilling secrets about Zoey’s aunt Nessa, the woman who raised her. Add a snarky Wellness Coordinator and Nate Holmes—Shane's grumpy friend—to the mix, and you've got the recipe for a perfect tropical storm.
When Zoey comes back home with a new husband instead of tacky souvenirs, she must convince everyone she hasn't completely lost her mind. As Zoey and Shane struggle to keep the magic alive outside the resort, Zoey discovers that she isn't the only one having trouble letting go of the past. And when Nate drops a bombshell that changes everything, Zoey must decide if the old saying is true—what happens at the Moment of Zen stays at the Moment of Zen.

I received a copy of this e-book in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

I find myself somewhat wavering in my opinion of this book. On the one hand, I found quirky Zoe to be fairly relatable, with her inner monologue reminding me of my own. Her inability to get over her past relationship was frustrating, but also completely recognisable. On the other hand, I found the shotgun wedding around which much of the story is based to be completely unbelievable.

When Zoe’s friends and family force her to go on a holiday to get over her crummy ex, she meets a new man. In the course of four days, she meets, kisses and marries a stranger. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of a lightening fast marriage, but Lavoie married off these two characters before they’d even had a deep-and-meaningful conversation, and it felt forced. And, I suspected, doomed to fail.

The marriage was crucial to the progression of the book, and even though it annoyed me a little, I can see it’s usefulness as a plot tool. So, putting that aside, and focusing on what happened before and after the speedy nuptials, I can honestly say that I liked everything else much better!

I found Zoe’s friends to be believable, and I liked the incorporation of Zoe’s coffee shop business and her poet employee. The side stories involving her family and friends were interesting, but didn’t detract too much from the main storyline. Sure, Zoey’s final decision about who she wanted to be with seemed quick and slightly unsubstantiated, but it was what I was rooting for, so I was happy with it!

All in all, as far as chick lit goes, I think this is a great book, with an awesome cover (which, I’m sure you understand, always makes a book even better). Sure, there were a few things in the plot that bugged me a little, but overall the likeability of Zoey and her friends, and the fun twists and turns that they faced kept me intrigued. In fact, I’d like to read more about her antics and how she settles into her new relationship. How about a sequel, Cat? It would make an excellent beach read. And really, what more could you want on a sunny December day?!

Keen to read about Zoey’s relationship disasters? You can buy Lavoie’s book on Amazon here.

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REVIEW: “Won’t Last Long” by Heidi Joy Tretheway

Won't Last Long Book Cover Won't Last Long
Heidi Joy Tretheway
Chick Lit
300

Can two people who are totally wrong for each other ever be right? She's a feisty, sly marketing exec intent on hiding her small-town roots. He’s a laid-back engineer with a shaggy mutt and a pushy ex.
 
When Joshua asks Melina out, she asks what kind of car he drives. She’ll do drinks, not dinner. She’s always in control. But with Joshua’s easy confidence and sharp wit, Melina is soon breaking the dating rules she made for herself.
 
Opposites attract—but friends think Melina and Joshua can’t possibly last. When crisis throws their world off its axis, Melina must confront her childhood family, the people she’s come to care about, and the destruction of her pristine image.

I received a copy of this book from Chick Lit Plus in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I loved this book! I read quite a lot of chick lit, and can get sick of the oft repeated plot lines that make many of them very similar. Refreshingly, I found that “Won’t Last Long” stepped outside of the mould. Written from the perspectives of both the male and female main characters, the book did centre around their budding relationship and the baggage that they brought with them. However, the progression of their relationship was believable from the outset; there was no love-at-first-sight, or cliched one liners.

I found myself relating to the characters quite strongly; the idea of having an ‘ideal’ relationship in mind and trying to reconcile that with real life was one I’ve also struggled with, as well as the idea of maintaining a certain image for the sake of my career. So, personally, I could really empathise with the characters. That said, I suspect that many people would be able to identify with one character or another!

I did find that the second half of the book galloped along at a very rapid pace, compared to the first half, and some plot lines were wrapped up a little simply, but I didn’t especially mind, as I liked the ending! I thought it was a little strange that the ‘big secret’ that Melina was hiding didn’t create much drama, given the foreshadowing in the book, but overall that didn’t detract from the novel too much.

Always the benchmark of a good read, I read most of the book in one setting, because I was so intrigued by the plot. It had all the marks of great chick lit (romance, a DIY project, an adorable dog, and plenty of drama), without the same-old feeling. On the whole, I’d definitely recommend putting it on your summer ‘Must Read’ list!

If this book catches your fancy, you can purchase the book from Amazon here.

A Winter’s Tale – Trisha Ashley

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This wintery novel (available online here) is an excellent example of the best kind of chick lit. All the required elements are there; a heroine undergoing a transformation (be it in life, appearance, location…), an ounce of mystery, an unlikely love interest, some crazy family members, and a plot that offers something unique and different to the thousands of other chick lit novels out there. Trisha Ashley’s tale of Sophy Winter and her sudden inheritance of a stately home in the English countryside is a fantastic read, especially if you’re looking to ease your way into the world of chick lit!

Trisha Ashley - A Winter's TaleI really loved this book. Set in the English countryside, Sophy unexpectedly inherits the family home she left so long ago. Amongst mystery, the debts and the dusty rooms of Winter’s End, Sophy rediscovers her passions and embarks on a large-scale restoration of the manor house so it can re-open to the public. Along the way, she faces her demons, reacquaints herself with the family ghost, and finds love.

This may sound like a fairly typical chick-lit novel. Perhaps it’s my love of novels where they make over something dreary that had swayed me, or maybe my preference for English chick lit authors over American ones (trust me, there IS a difference!), that influenced my opinion of the book. Either way, it was a very enjoyable read. The characters were unique, and quirky, and the plot wasn’t trite. In fact, the comparably longer length of this chick-lit novel managed to fit in more than many others do, without making it a heavy or over-long read.

“A Winter’s Tale” is a must-read for people looking for something a little different within the chick-lit genre, and a love of swoon-worthy gardeners. Check it out!

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New York Valentine – Carmen Reid (Annie Valentine #5)

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Annie Valentine, over the course of four books, carved out a place for herself in the fashion world. She moves from personal shopper, to television fashion personality, all the while balancing her two teenage children, a new hubby, and the unexpected arrival of twins. In her fifth adventure, Annie’s TV Show is unexpectedly cancelled, and she takes the opportunity to visit New York and help a friend with her fashion line, as it faces bankruptcy. Against the backdrop of New York, Annie struggles to pull the business out of the dumps, enjoying the challenge and location, but missing her family. Pleasingly, her daughter, Lana, plays a greater role in this novel, and even is caught wearing colour for once!

Carmen Reid - New York ValentineSurprisingly, the fifth Annie Valentine book regains some of the vigor of the first book in the series. The middle few books tended to over-focus on Annie’s obsession with material possessions, at the expense of her family. At times, this was so frustrating that it overshadowed the book’s good qualities, and became unpleasantly repetitive. This latest installment in the series returned to the roots of Annie V. It was about fashion, and dramas related to fashion, first and foremost. Now, I’m not saying that a shallow, fashion-only novel is all I can read. But the fashion is the crux of these books. Annie’s family and personal relationships were still a big part of the story, but in a supporting role that added to the overall plot line, rather than detract from it. Thankfully, sticking to the basics means that this book was a cheerful, easy read that kept the reader’s attention. Not to mention that half of the story is set in New York, and everybody loves New York! The fashion capital of the world was the right choice.

I’d definitely recommend this book to any chick-lit lovers out there. Even if you haven’t read the first four books in the series, you’ll easily be able to pick up this book and enjoy stepping into the world of fashion for a few hours. You can get a copy of this book here.

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Sophie Kinsella

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Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopoholic novel shot to fame after Isla Fisher played the role of Rebecca Bloomwood in the motion picture released in 2009. There is no doubt in my mind that the movie was fantastic. Hilarious. Isla Fisher was the perfect choice for the role, as were the supporting characters. I was excited to race out, buy the book that the movie was based on, and rip into it.

Sophia Kinsella - Confessions of a ShopaholicUnluckily for me, it was a waste of my time. In print, the characters were flat, and the scenes were dull. There was no life force in the novel that was bringing it to life in my imagination. I finished the book, as a book really has to be appalling to make me stop half way through. But I didn’t walk away with the buzz that finishing a good book usually gives you (or the sadness that comes with leaving an alternate reality behind). While there was nothing hugely wrong with the book – there were no grammatical errors or serious plot deficiencies – there was nothing outstanding.

For a long while, I attributed this to the novels’ being overshadowed by the movie. Surely, a book that was so well known that it spawned five sequels and was considered hugely popular must be good… Sophie Kinsella is a world-famous author!!

So, I read another of her books, The Undomestic Goddess. From the blurb, I was interested. Sure, it was a typical boy-meets-girl type novel (different setting, different names, different issues… you know how it is), but that is a tried and true formula for a good reason!

Sophia Kinsella - Undomestic GoddessMain character Samantha Sweeting is much more grounded and punchy than the wishy-washy Rebecca Bloomwood. Bonus points there. And I have always had a soft spot for transformation stories – and Sam’s metamorphosis from high-strung lawyer to domestic goddess definitely qualifies. More bonus points. However, the story still didn’t have the pizazz that I look for in a good chick novel. You see, what chick lit lacks in originality it is supposed to make up for with punch. This novel failed to do so.

After reading these two books, I’d have to say that Sophie Kinsella is relegated to ‘mediocre’ novelist in my mind. I won’t be re-reading these books anytime soon (although I’m sure I will be watching the movie again!), which isn’t a great sign.

Please, anyone who has jumped on the Kinsella bandwagon and found it to be the ride of their life, feel free to argue your point! And if you want to find out for yourself, you can find these books here and here.

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How to be Single – Liz Tuccillo

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Liz Tullico, author of He’s Just Not That Into You, and How to be Single is renowned for her female-empowering novels, and was an executive story editor for Sex and the City. HJNTIY (come on, give me the acronym, it’s a really long title) is now a major motion picture, with a star studded cast, including the lovely Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long. We all know how fantastic SATC is, I don’t have to sing any praises there. It was on the wave of this success that Tullico’s How to be Single hit the market.
Liz Tuccillo - How to be Single

I’ll admit that I haven’t read HJMTIY, although I have seen the movie and know the general plotline. When I read How to be Single, I thought that it would be a similar self-help type book, written from the point of view of a fictional character. It sounded quite bizzare, but as soon as I sunk my teeth into it, I knew it was more than a platitudinous ‘be happy with who you are’ airport novel.

Protagonist Julie Jenson has had enough with bad dates, failed relationships and girls nights out on the town that end in the emergency room. Julie is the pioneer for her group of friends, all of whom are having an awful single time. So, she sets out to find answers. Taking one for the team, she takes leave from her job and travels to Iceland, Brazil, India, Beijing, Bali, Paris, Australia, Rome and Rio de Janeiro. She seeks out single men and women to figure out how they handle the single lifestyle. Interspersing stories from Julie’s single friends back in the USA, How to be Single combines chick literature with travel writing. Excellent combination, if you ask me.

This book was incredibly engaging. Not only did Tucillo provide insight into many different cultures in the world, and how their people interact with each other, but the uplifting stories that are shared by the characters that Julie meets leave the single girl less despairing about the single life. Apparently, people in other countries handle being single with way less drama than Australians, Americans and the English. Who knew?

The characters in the novel would be easily be described as four dimensional if that was a real thing. Slightly crazed post-divorce Georgia, dating-for-a-living (literally) Alice, Serena who is taking the swami pledge to find enlightenment and Ruby who has been mourning her cat for months… any reader can find something of themselves in one of these girls.

Tucillo writes with humour, and straight-forwardly takes us around the world on a journey to find single satisfaction. Just the right amount of tough love and sensitivity. This book isn’t going to make you want to kill yourself for being single, nor is it going to make you take a lifelong vow of celibacy. It will, however, make you laugh and teach you a little something about not taking yourself too seriously.

This book was fantastic. Well done, Liz. This book is on my must-read list. If I’ve convinced you, you can get yourself a copy here.

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