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Lucie Simone — Smart, Sexy, Funny Fiction

Review: Clutch by Lisa Becker

clutch cover final

Clutch: A Novel

Clutch is the laugh-out-loud, chick lit story that chronicles the dating misadventures of Caroline Johnson, a single purse designer, who goes through a series of unsuccessful romantic relationships she compares to various styles of handbags – the “Hobo” starving artist, the “Diaper Bag” single dad, the “Briefcase” intense businessman, etc. With her best friend, bar owner Mike by her side, the overly-accommodating Caroline drinks Chardonnay, puts her heart on the line, endures her share of unworthy suitors and finds the courage to stand up for the handbag style that embodies what she ultimately wants – the “Clutch” or someone to hold onto.

My Thoughts:
First, let me say that I love purses. So much so, that I actually had a problem. At one point, I had over 75 purses. From tiny, sparkly evening bags to giant canvas totes. And of course, more than a few clutches! Thanks to a couple of purges, I’ve gotten it down to about 25. But my love of all things purse is still going on strong. So, when Lisa Becker told me about her new novel, I was immediately interested. I really enjoyed her debut, Click: An Online Love Story, so I had no doubt I would dig her new book. It’s such a clever idea, too. And, somewhat sadly, I could far too easily relate to the heroine’s romantic trials. Maybe because we both live in Los Angeles?  And, like Caroline, I have a really good male friend who gets to hear all about my dating disasters while offering a little insight into the mind of the modern man. Clutch is a light, quick read that will likely make you cringe at Caroline’s dating woes and hopefully laugh along the way. My only gripe is that I wanted more. I would have liked to see more of Caroline and her best friend Mike’s lives outside of their relationship dramas. Their careers, of course, play a role in the story, but I wanted to get more of a sense of the worlds that Caroline and Mike inhabited. Set mainly in Los Angeles, I was expecting a little more exposure to the sights and sounds of the City of Angels, which is a pretty interesting locale if you ask me. I also wanted a chance to see Caroline and Mike interacting more with other characters. It seemed like aside from their dates, they didn’t really have any other significant people in their lives. But, upon reflection, I think that may have been intentional, and you’ll just have to read the book to find out why! All in all, an entertaining, fast-paced journey of romance, friendship, and of course, the love purses.

Lisa Becker:
In addition to her new book, clutch: a novel, Lisa Becker is the author of the Click Trilogy, a contemporary romance series comprised of Click: An Online Love Story, Double Click and Right Click. She’s written bylined articles about dating and relationships for “Cupid’s Pulse,” “The Perfect Soulmate,” “GalTime,” “Single Edition,” “Healthy B Daily” and “Chick Lit Central” among others. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California with her husband and two daughters. To learn more, visit www.lisawbecker.com.

Fierce and Likable?

That is the question. Can women be both fierce and likable? Or, in order to be taken seriously in business, do you have to be a bitch? Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg claims there is a “likability penalty” that women face in business. The higher you want to rise in the company, the less likable you have to be. I happen to think this is crap. You don’t have to be a bitch to climb the corporate ladder. You just have to be savvy. In Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny, Jennifer Lawrence states in her piece, “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” that she’s tired of “trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!”

Therein lies the problem. You shouldn’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re naturally adorable, just be adorable. But when it comes time to negotiate your salary, adorable or not, you should be arguing your worth. That means you need to know your worth and communicate it effectively. It means sticking to your guns and even walking away from opportunities. But you don’t have to be a bitch. And you certainly don’t have to be a “boss bitch.”

As the owner and editor of a small press specializing in Chick Lit, I work with a lot of women. And I can tell you that if the relationship with any one of them became unpleasant, it would soon be over. I highly value them and their work, but if I didn’t enjoy our working relationship, I would end it. Since I own the business, I’m in a special place to make these decisions. But the author has the same choice. There are lots of small presses out there. She doesn’t have to work with me. She can even self-publish and be her own boss. But its working with these wonderful writers that makes my job as an editor and publisher that much more enjoyable.

When I was about ten years old, my granny, a strong matriarch, told me to never settle. I’ve always admired my granny for her strength. I’ve always looked up to her as the type of woman who didn’t take shit from anyone, male or female. She was no pushover, I assure you, despite having grown up in an age where women were clearly second-class citizens. However, my granny was also one of the most likable women you could ever meet. Her house was always filled with company, a pot of coffee constantly brewing for the many guests who would stop by during the day. And at Christmas last year, I went to visit her. She was recovering from an illness and very weak, but each day that I spent with her, she had at least one or more guests drop by to wish her well. From caregivers who used to help her to old neighbors to family members I hadn’t seen in 20 years or more. This doesn’t happen to women (or men) who are unlikable. And Granny greeted each one with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. My dad and aunts and uncles call her “mom-bear” because she was always looking after them like a protective momma bear watching after her cubs. And if that meant she had to get grizzly now and then, she would. But her overall demeanor was always sweet as apple pie.

I feel I’m lucky to have had her as a role model for she taught me to be strong and to be assertive and to be bold. But she also taught me to be hospitable, warm, and loving. I believe I put these traits to use in both running my small press and in climbing the career ladder at my day job, where, coincidentally, I earn more than any man on the payroll. Now, I call that fierce!  :-)


This is Forty

Back in February, I launched a new get fit program after having gained a whopping 30 pounds in two years. It crept up on me rather slowly, but steadily, and finally I decided I had to stop it in its tracks. So, my doctor sent me to a nutritionist who helped me better understand the types of foods I should be eating and which ones to avoid. But most importantly, she advised me not to hurry, that lasting change takes time. It’s been seven months, and I’ve lost 20 pounds so far with 10 more to go just to get back to my original weight, which was still a little too high. When I consider this, I want to kick myself for not seeing a nutritionist sooner. For allowing my weight to climb higher and higher and doing nothing but complaining about it. And if I hadn’t spoken up at my doctor’s office last January, who knows where I’d be now. Losing 20 pounds is pretty significant, but I still feel like I have a long way to go to get to where I really want to be. And I struggle with eating right and working out on a daily basis. It would be so great to just eat whatever the hell I want. Sometimes I fantasize about stuffing my face with fistfuls of Cheetos, or baking a dozen cupcakes and devouring half of them before they’re even frosted.

Food has always been my drug of choice. Eating when I was sad, when I was happy, when I was bored, and when I was angry. Food always provided joy and comfort, if only for as long as it took for me to consume it. On this journey, I’ve really had to evaluate why I want to eat. Usually, my cravings have nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with my mood. So, I’ve tried to find other ways to fulfill my emotional needs, and not surprisingly, one of them was through exercise. Now, I am not new to exercise. I’ve been active my entire life and have even gone through several yoga teacher training certification programs. But a few things happened upon entering my forties that created a “perfect storm” of weight gain. I suffered a four significant losses, one right after the other, each of them devastatingly sad. And to busy my mind while trying to satisfy my emotional needs, I took up baking. And much like one of my favorite authors, Marian Keyes, I found baking to be utterly therapeutic. The problem was, I didn’t just bake. I also ate. And the more I baked, the more I ate. Add to this a new, demanding day job with a long commute, and I had a recipe for bigger pants pretty soon. But what really did me in was a particular mindset I had adopted: this is forty.

Even though I had always been physically fit (whatever my pant size), I started to believe that once I hit forty, I was supposed to slow down. I wasn’t supposed to work out hard or care what I ate. My weight gain was just a fact of life, right? Well, sure. If you stop exercising and start eating more cupcakes a day than vegetables, then, yes. Those fat cells will just start growing and growing. So, now, whenever I don’t feel like going to spin class, or I want to skip a session on my yoga mat, I ask myself, “Is this forty?” And most of the time, my answer is a resounding, “No!” Of course, sometimes I give in and park my butt in front of the TV for six hours straight while slowly consuming a giant bowl of popcorn. But generally I find it within myself to stop bellyaching and JUST DO IT!

These days, it isn’t really the pounds I’ve lost that I am celebrating, but the attitude that I’ve gained. The understanding that being forty doesn’t mean giving up or settling down. It means taking it on the chin and then kicking forty in the ass! I don’t let my age define me anymore. Rather, I am defining who I am every day with every choice I make. Today, I’m going to yoga. I’m going to eat mangos and drink hibiscus tea. And I’m forty! Well, forty-plus. :)

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:
Barnes & Noble

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