Review: Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany

Best Kept Secret
Best Kept Secret
A timely and captivating novel about a mother whose life spirals out of control when she descends into alcoholism, and her battle to get sober and regain custody of her beloved son.

Cadence didn’t sit down one night and decide that downing two bottles of wine was a brilliant idea.

Her drinking snuck up on her—as a way to sleep, to help her relax after a long day, to relieve some of the stress of the painful divorce that’s left her struggling to make ends meet with her five-year old son, Charlie.

It wasn’t always like this. Just a few years ago, Cadence seemed to have it all—a successful husband, an adorable son, and a promising career as a freelance journalist. But with the demise of her marriage, her carefully constructed life begins to spiral out of control. Suddenly she is all alone trying to juggle the demands of work and motherhood.

Logically, Cadence knows that she is drinking too much, and every day begins with renewed promises to herself that she will stop. But within a few hours, driven by something she doesn’t understand, she is reaching for the bottle—even when it means not playing with her son because she is too tired, or dropping him off at preschool late, again. And even when one calamitous night it means leaving him alone to pick up more wine at the grocery store. It’s only when her ex-husband shows up at her door to take Charlie away that Cadence realizes her best kept secret has been discovered….

Heartbreaking, haunting, and ultimately life-affirming, Best Kept Secret is more than just the story of Cadence—it’s a story of how the secrets we hold closest are the ones that can most tear us apart.

My Thoughts:
This book was incredibly compelling. Not because it was packed full of suspense & intrigue, but because it was thoroughly and completely absorbing. I quickly became intensely invested in main character Cadence’s story thanks to Hatvany’s remarkable storytelling and her ability to evoke empathy. I’ve read other books about mothers battling addiction, including Jennifer Weiner’s recent ALL FALL DOWN, but somehow this novel allowed me to truly understand the physical and emotional struggle Cadence was experiencing. My own mother suffered alcoholism for years, and I know firsthand how hard recovery can be, but only from the outside looking in, which often resulted in frustration. BEST KEPT SECRET provided insight into the inner turmoil associated with alcoholism and the inability to just stop drinking no matter how desperately you want to quit. It also dealt with the judgement and scrutiny that mothers, in particular, are met with when they can’t live up to the impossible standards and expectations society places upon women. And while I was sympathetic to Cadence’s situation, there were still moments where I thought, “here we go, again,” when Cadence exhibited behavior similar to my mother’s. In this way, Hatvany is faithful to the reality of being an addict, offering further testimony to the dangerous nature of the disease. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has been affected by alcoholism or addiction, whether it’s a friend, family member, or yourself battling the affliction. And if you are lucky enough to know nothing of this struggle, BEST KEPT SECRET delivers a powerful, heartbreaking story of failure and recovery sure to touch even the hardest of hearts.

About the Author:
Amy Hatvany was born in Seattle, WA in 1972, the youngest of three children. She graduated from Western Washington University in 1994 with a degree in Sociology only to discover most sociologists are unemployed. Soon followed a variety of jobs – some of which she loved, like decorating wedding cakes; others which she merely tolerated, like receptionist. In 1998, Amy finally decided to sell her car, quit her job, and take a chance on writing books.

The literary gods took kindly to her aspirations and THE KIND OF LOVE THAT SAVES YOU was published in 2000 by Bantam Doubleday. THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS was picked up by NAL in 2002. (Both titles published under “Yurk.”)

Amy spends most of her time today with her second and final husband, Stephan. (Seriously, if this one doesn’t work out, she’s done.) She stays busy with her two children, Scarlett and Miles, and her “bonus child,” Anna. Their blended family also includes two four-legged hairy children, commonly known as Black Lab mutts, Kenda and Dolcé. When Amy’s not with friends or family, she is most likely reading, cooking or zoning out on certain reality television shows. Top Chef is a current favorite. She eagerly awaits auditions for the cast of “Top Author.” (“Quick Edit” instead of “Quick Fire” Challenge? C’mon, producers! That’s gripping television!)

Review: Center of Gravity

Center of Gravity

Center of Gravity
The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.

My Thoughts

Having read Laura McNeill’s work under her pen name, Lauren Clark, and even having worked with her on the anthology, Merry & Bright, I fully expected Center of Gravity to be a good book and was excited to read it. However, the Southern charm of Lauren Clark morphs into a much darker version in McNeill’s Domestic Suspense debut. A version that is incredibly compelling while also totally getting under my skin. It did take me a few chapters to settle into the story after reading the pulse-pounding prologue and then being dropped into what felt like a fairly staid domestic life. This is generally why I dislike prologues. However, McNeill provides a few clues during the beginning scenes that hint at the drama yet to unfold. The story quickly develops into a page-turner with one very despicable bad guy manipulating the courts, spreading lies, and even threatening lives. The story is told from several different viewpoints, including that of eight-year-old Jack, whom you just want to rescue so badly from his sociopath father. And once the crazy train left the station, I had trouble putting the book down.  This is one of those books where the villain is so awful, yet so realistic that it ties your stomach up in knots. Seriously, I was biting my nails for 75% of the book, both wanting to get the bad guy and rescue the innocents. Pick up this book for an intense and fast-paced, suspenseful narrative that will most surely have you questioning how well you think you know your spouse. Luckily, I’m single, so no harm done. ;-)

About the Author
laura mcneillLaura adores hot coffee, good manners, the color pink, and novels that keep her reading past midnight. She believes in the beauty of words, paying it forward, and that nerds rule the world. Laura is a fan of balmy summer nights, fireflies, and pristine mountain lakes. She lives in Mobile, Alabama with her two sons. You can find Laura Tweeting @Lauramcneillbks and blogging at lauramcneill.com. After July 14th, Laura’s suspense novel, Center of Gravity, can be found wherever fine books are sold.

Find the book at:
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Chick Lit and Cocktails!

Nothing goes together quite as perfectly as Chick Lit and cocktails! So, to celebrate the launch of Isabelle Andover’s fabulous debut, Cocktails at Le Carmen, we are throwing a virtual cocktail party! Thanks for coming!

I’ve always loved hosting cocktails parties, whether in my home or at a restaurant, bar, or hotel. And I’ve learned a few key things to pulling them off without a hitch:

  1. Send paper invitations one month before the event – yes, paper! It’s easy for folks to forget about an email invitation, but a pretty paper invitation will get tacked up to the fridge, constantly reminding them of the future festivities.
  2. Send email invitations three weeks before the event – use an email invitation service like Evite to make a pretty invitation that reminds your guests of the event and also gives them the opportunity to RSVP.
  3. Once you know how many guests to expect, it’s time to plan the menu for your cocktail party. This is one of my favorite parts. And if you’re holding it at a restaurant, bar, or hotel, it’s also one of the easiest – just pick from the venue’s offerings! But if you’re like me and like to host at home, this is where you get to show off your culinary talents (or your vast knowledge of the best bakeries and caterers in the city). My advice is to choose a minimum of three savory appetizers such as stuffed mushroom caps, baby quiches, and assorted cheeses. Then, add in at least two bite-sized desserts like mini cheesecakes or get fancy and make (or buy from a local bakery!) mini fruit tarts that are not only delicious but beautiful.
  4. About a week before the event, it’s time to pick out your party dress. I believe every girl should have at least three cocktail dresses in her closet at all times, but a party is always a good excuse to buy a new one. But if you’re on a budget, head over to a thrift store in the ritziest neighborhood and do some treasure hunting. You never know what you might find. Rich people donate their clothes all the time to make room for new ones. You could score a vintage Valentino or hip Halston for a steal!
  5. What girl doesn’t love a reason to buy new shoes? But before you slap down your credit card for a brand new pair of four-inch stilettos, know your venue. Will you be dancing? Standing around mingling? Sitting on big plush couches? Consider this before buying and your feet will thank you at the end of the night!
  6. Cocktails! This is the whole point, right? Again, if you’re hosting at a bar or restaurant, this is easy-peasy. But if you’re doing it yourself, it can still be easy. My favorite cocktail is champagne. I know it isn’t technically a cocktail, but no one will complain about being offered a glass of champagne. Or if you have some ambition, pick up a cocktail recipe book and try your hand at creating some fun libations. Maybe invest in a martini mix set or haul out the blender and whip up some daiquiris. Whatever you do, make sure you have fun doing it.
  7. The morning of: take a yoga class, go for a hike, ride your bike, or sit down with a good book (Cocktails at Le Carmen, perhaps!) and relax. You’ll want to feel rested and refreshed before the harried countdown in the kitchen while you’re plating up appetizers and crushing ice for the frozen drinks.
  8. Recruit a co-host. We all have that one super close girlfriend who always offers to come early and help you set up. Take her up on that offer and put her to work! You’ll return the favor when she hosts.
  9. Don’t panic. So, it’s 7:30 and your party started at 7:00. No worries. People (at least in Los Angeles) are always fashionably late. Like two hours late. I don’t even turn on the oven to warm my appetizers until an hour after the official party time. People will start arriving while you’re setting out the hors d’oeuvres. It will be fine.
  10. Play the host! A good host will introduce her guests to one another, facilitate conversation, and get the party rolling, putting her guests at ease. I’ve hosted cocktails parties where I only knew one guest (it was a party I hosted for a friend) and I still managed to spark small talk into fun dialogue just by asking simple questions like, “How do you know Julie?” “Did you grow up in LA?” “What’s the weirdest piece of advice you’ve ever been given?” That last one can really get the conversation flowing. So, you get the idea. Don’t let anyone be a wallflower at your party. Get everyone talking, dancing, and having fun.

What’s your top tip for hosting a cocktail party? Any horror stories? Parties gone bad? Have the cops ever shut your fiesta down? Tell me about it in the comments!

Cocktails at Le Carmen

Cocktails_at_Le_Carmen_V3When job cuts at Chloe Saddler’s London communications firm result in an unexpected transfer to Paris, she finds herself leaving behind her friends, family, and boyfriend Scott to start a new life in the City of Light. Getting to grips with La Vie Parisienne and keeping a long-distance relationship afloat is not made any easier by the culture shock. Committing the odd French faux pas and inadvertently indulging in a few too many flirtations with her very sexy (and very taken) boss, Jean-Luc, is just the start of it. Factor in her bridezilla of a sister’s wedding (the hottest event of the year in the Saddler family’s social calendar), an unexpected session of hot, naked yoga, a slightly psychotic stalker, and one incredible kiss at an infamous Montmartre nightspot, and Chloe can say au revoir to her old, safe London life and bonjour to the romance, splendour, and glamour of Paris.

A delightful debut that harks back to the early days of Chick Lit when heroines were flawed, funny, and forever battling for love and happiness. With quirky characters and classic comedic charm, Cocktails at Le Carmen is pure fun from page one.

author pic 2Isabelle Andover

Originally from England, Isabelle Andover moved to France after graduating from Durham University with a degree in Modern Languages. She lives in Paris with her tabby cat Oscar, who occasionally blogs about apartment-style living in the City of Light, and who also inspired a prize-winning short story when he was a kitten.

Following several years as a media analyst, Isabelle now works at a Paris-based media company specialized in the international beauty market. In addition to fully embracing the culture of her adopted country by way of consuming plenty of French wine and cheese, Isabelle can also be found indulging in the typically British pursuits of shopping at Marks and Spencer on the Champs Elysées and drinking copious cups of Earl Grey. You can learn more about Isabelle by visiting her website.

Corie Skolnick’s Hollywood Break

When fellow author, Corie Skolnick, told me she had optioned her debut novel, Orfan, to a major Hollywood producer, I had to know more about how it happened. And I knew my friends would want to hear Corie’s story, too. Below, she relays her inspiring journey from novel to the silver screen:

When I retired from teaching, I wrote a novel, ORFAN, inspired in part by the panel of speakers that I invited to my Psychology course, “The Psychological Aspects of Parenthood.” I am NOT a writer; I was a licensed family therapist in private practice and a psych professor at California State University Northridge in Los Angeles. Birth moms and adoptees told their stories to my students and broke some hearts. When I retired from teaching and private practice, I took up writing fiction (I was a copywriter in my 20s before grad school so I always had a hankering to return to writing.) I met a “book to film agent” through a grad school friend who “shopped the book around” with no success.  I queried about 40 agents for representation and traditional publication. I got requests from a few for a “full ms” and everyone responded similarly: “A great story, I love your writing, I can’t sell this in this market.”

I was in New York (I had just been rejected by Valerie Plame’s agent with a similar refrain), and I met two grad students from NYU’s Music Industry Business program at a coffee shop in the village. They listened to my sad tale and said, “What do you need an agent for? What do you need a publisher for? Look what’s happened to the music industry. The same thing is going to happen to book publishing. It’s all coming down.” Everything they predicted came true. Borders closed. B&N had to re-invent itself as “Crapola R Us + a few books” and the DIY indies would EXPLODE. The deal was, they got to produce and distribute the audio book and they would create an indie imprint to publish ORFAN under the umbrella of their Indie Rock Record Label.

I had to do all my own promotion.  I hit the book clubs. The very first book club I went to was within 30 minutes of my house. The woman who invited me to that first book club gave a copy of my book to her step-sister who let it sit on her nightstand for more than a year. When she finally read it, she fell in love. Last December, she called her sister to get my number and she called me up. “Hi, I’m going to give you some names,” she said.  “I want you to google them and reassure yourself that I’m legitimate, and I will call you back tomorrow.” They were all names of film producers with major credits.  When she called me back, I made an appointment to have lunch. (They do this a lot in Hollywood. They have lots of meetings and they love to have lunch.) She told me that she wanted to develop my book into a film, and with her contacts, she thought it would be possible. I didn’t hesitate more than 10 seconds.

She gave the book to Kellie Davis at Ron Shelton Pictures. Kellie was a personal friend. Kellie read and fell in love with the book, but it took her a few months to get Ron Shelton to read it. When he finally did, he “fell in love” – his words – with my characters. He invited us all to lunch in August and by October, I had a signed option agreement. It arrived in my mail on my 64th birthday. Proving…it’s never to late to realize your artistic dreams.

As of this date, the “project” is fast tracked. Mr. Shelton, who was nominated for an Oscar for his script, Bull Durham, is adapting the book himself. I’m told this is a very good sign. Many options do not become realized as films. Only about 33% of options are executed. Your chances increase exponentially if your producer is a “big.” Mr. Shelton is a “big.” Some big producers farm projects out to low level screen writers. If they undertake the project personally…that’s meaningful.

I got hit by lightning.

~Corie Skolnick

Thank you, Corie, for sharing your story! Wishing you all the best of luck, and I hope to see it on the big screen soon! And aside from this fabulous news, Corie has a new book out this May that sounds really fantastic. I can’t wait to read it!

AME Cover proof 10
America’s Most Eligible
Athena Cervantes wants to be a writer – a real writer – and that means only one thing to her – she wants to be a great American novelist! Of course this ambition requires an MFA from a prestigious writing program. Check! And she has to read all the right books. Check, again! And, most importantly, Athena must write the truth about what she knows. The only problem is, not a single thing she thinks she knows is true.

America’s Most Eligible is a hilarious romp about an ambitious young woman who has come of age in the pretentious world of Southern California. With great humor, Corie Skolnick satirizes “the bad tweed set” of literary academia along with the self-important characters of Hollywood, Big J-journalism, self-help Psychology, politics, and especially traditional commercial publishing even as the latter languishes in the throes of death at its own hands.

Praise for America’s Most Eligible
“Corie Skolnick is magic – pure, absolute, gorgeous magic. Her book, America’s Most Eligible, is brilliant, funny – truly, laugh-out-loud funny – and superbly written, a stunning satire. She can string a few words together, and turn them into perfect gems so effortlessly. Her characters – each and every one – are filled with so much life, so much wit, so much truth. I can promise you, you will both cringe, and nod in agreement with what falls so effortlessly on to the page. Corie is a grand, stupendous writer.”  ~ Amy Ferris, author of  Marrying George Clooney, Seal Press

“Corie Skolnick’s writing is so wonderfully unique, I honesty can’t imagine not liking this book, no matter your genre preference. Written through the eyes of Athena Cervantes, the snarky, intelligent journalist and would-be novelist, Skolnick breaks many of the so-called rules writers are warned to heed and proves that if you have a way with words, which this author inarguably does, the “rules” don’t apply. Each time I put this book down, I couldn’t wait to pick it up again and that’s not something I say often, even about books I enjoy. With a plot that gets a little twisty toward the end, America’s Most Eligible will definitely make you laugh. Entertaining, funny, and smart!” ~ Shelly Hickman, author of Vegas to Varanasi

About the Author
CorieBorn in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised on Chicago’s south side, Corie Skolnick moved to Southern California  when Ronald Reagan was the governor. She was a California licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice, a consultant to several Los Angeles agencies serving high risk youth and families, and a “sometimes” psychology instructor at both California State University, Northridge and Moorpark College. She currently writes fiction full time, travels extensively, and contributes to the travel site, DESTO3.COM.  She is married to the social psychologist and photographer, Paul (Pablo) Skolnick. To learn more about Corie, please visit her website.

Review: All Fall Down

allfalldown
All Fall Down
Allison Weiss got her happy ending: a handsome husband, an adorable daughter, a job she loves, and the big house in the suburbs. But while waiting in the pediatrician’s office, she opens a magazine to a quiz about addiction and starts to wonder: Is a Percocet at the end of the day really different from a glass of wine? Is it such a bad thing to pop a Vicodin after a brutal Jump & Pump class, or if your husband ignores you? She tells herself that the pills help her make it through her days; but what if her increasing drug use, a habit that’s becoming expensive and hard to hide, is turning into her biggest problem of all?

My Thoughts:
This was a compelling read, which at times was uncomfortable. A pill-addicted heroine with a “sensitive” child, a distant husband, and an over-extended lifestyle, it was sometimes hard for me to relate to the struggles of the main character. Or rather, it was all too easy to become angry and impatient with her. That’s what addiction is, and Weiner captured it so well. Unlike other novels where a young, hipster heroine struggles with an addiction following a few too many drug-filled and alcohol-fueled crazy nights (or months) like in SPIN by Catherine McKenzie or in RACHEL’S HOLIDAY by Marian Keyes, ALL FALL DOWN deals with a mother, wife, and successful blogger who puts everything at risk to feed her pill habit. But I think this is an important viewpoint for Weiner to have explored. These are struggles many women face with the pressure we all feel to be better, do more, and exemplify the perfect life. Oddly, it was Chick Lit that first celebrated fallible heroines and where Weiner first found her voice. ALL FALL DOWN is a great example of how growing up and getting your life together isn’t necessarily a good thing – not when it takes a “mother’s little helper” to get through the day. Definitely a well written, if somewhat infuriating, look into suburban life and addiction.