Girls In Charge - Sizzling Summer Reads #2 (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #465)

Cure for the Common Breakup * by Beth Kendrick.
Suddenly-single flight attendant Summer Benson sees a new beginning in Black Dog Bay, a tiny seaside town in Delaware, known as the best place in America to bounce back from heartbreak. The locals are friendly. Even the oldest, richest, and meanest resident, likes her enough to give her a job. Well, all except for Dutch Jansen, the rugged, stoic mayor,

"Kendrick's impeccable sense of comic timing and flair for creating unforgettable characters make this effervescent novel a smart bet for romance readers everywhere while the novel's deft integration of the topics of family, friendship, and community ensure it can easily attract a broader readership, as well."

The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser, (a Fabulous Fiction Firsts) is "an irreverent story of family, love, friendship, and lobsters, in the tradition of J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine ".

Two 24 year-old transplants ("from-aways") become unlikely allies on a small-town newspaper. NYC reporter Leah leaps at the chance to marry down-to-earth Henry Lynch and moves into his family home in Menamon, a small fishing community in Maine, only to find she does not know a thing about Henry. Quinn Winters, wisecracking and tough, comes to town in search of a father who abandons her as a infant. When the two stumble onto a earth-shattering scandal that would affect the future of the community, these drinking buddies find themselves collaborators and trusted friends.

"Hauser's style is expressive, clever and compelling, and she offers readers a thoughtful and engaging debut. "

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee
Broke and divorced, Portia Cuthcart leaves Texas for New York City and takes up residence at the dilapidated brownstone she and her two sisters inherited. Devastated by the loss of The Glass Kitchen, her grandmother's restaurant, she resolves never to cook again, that is, until she meets 12 year-old Ariel and her widowed father Gabriel Kane.

"(A) delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman... who discovers that a kitchen, like an island, can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family."

"Sweet and intense, with delightful magical accents, a delectable romance—and yummy recipes."

The Vacationers * * by Emma Straub is an irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family's two-week stay in Mallorca.

Franny and Jim Post are about to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia is leaving for college. Their son Bobby, a Miami real estate broker will be joining them, girlfriend in tow. As will Franny's best friend Charles, and his husband, Lawrence. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

"With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #426 - For the lists-makers among us...

If it wasn't for my good friend, I might have missed The Life List, a debut novel by Michigan author Lori Nelson Speilman. It has been sitting there in my to-read pile. Too many books, you know how that is.

Set between Chicago's swanky Gold Coast and the immigrant neighborhood of Pilsen, we are swept along with a young woman in a perplexing journey in search of her adolescent dreams.

Anticipating being made CEO of her mother's multimillion-dollar cosmetics company at the reading of the will, Brett Bohlinger is instead fired and rendered almost homeless. To receive her portion of the inheritance, she is to fulfill a list of life goals her teenage self compiled, which makes the grief-stricken 34 year-old questions her mother's intention. Some of the goals are downright impossible - like establishing a relationship with a father who died 7 years ago. Others are outrageously impractical, like buying a horse and having a baby or two.

With the help and support of the handsome attorney her mother selected as executor, Brett grudgingly accepts the challenges which eventually bring her back to love, the best inheritance of all. "Spielman's debut charms as Brett briskly careens from catastrophe to disaster to enlightenment." Rights to 20 countries. Film optioned to Fox 2000.

Lists-lovers would also enjoy The Sunday List of Dreams by Kris Radish, and The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski.

If you despair of storybook endings wrapped up in a shiny package, then I would suggest The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum, a realistic and well-written portrait of a young woman on the cusp of having it all.

How about some unusual lists? Here are the New Yorker's "The Hundred Best Lists of All Time."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #411

Estranged from her bohemian Brooklyn family and fired for an impropriety at work, Claudia Silver is officially in over her head. When her younger half-sister lands on her doorstep urgently in need of help, twenty-something Claudia desperately wants to offer the rescue that she herself has longed for.

Set in 1990s' New York City, Claudia Silver to the Rescue * " is the fierce yet tender chronicle of the many humiliations and occasional triumphs of a young woman determined to wrest her identity from the spectacular wreckage of her mistake. Uncomfortably hilarious, quintessentially human, Claudia is an unforgettable heroine who shoots for the stars and hits the ceiling."

This debut by television screenwriter Kathy Ebel (Cold Case; Law & Order), is a "smart and savvy chick lit with plenty of snark".

"Ebel exploits her experience as a screenwriter and poet in this lively debut novel. Claudia's dry wit and discerning eye turn what could be a rather mopey coming-of-age tale into a hilarious roller coaster of a ride. Quirks and vexations for each supporting character enrich every scene. Claudia sees quite clearly the price of her own actions, and her goal is survival. Well, with a little fun along the way. Family may be unstable and downright unbalanced, but in this witty, assured, surprising novel, family still has to accept you--mistakes and all."

Readalikes:
How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler; Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster; and The Smart One by Jennifer Close

* = starred review

(Celebrity) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #409

Lauren Graham (BA, Barnard and MFA, SMU) is better known for her roles on the hit TV series The Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. Her debut novel Someday, Someday, Maybe is a witty, charming, and hilariously relatable chronicle about a struggling young actress trying to get ahead and keep it together in New York City.

Franny Banks is coming up against the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway. Other than some bit parts and commercials, waiting tables at a comedy club is all she has to show for. With a dwindling bank account and pressure from her father to move home, everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she'll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her. That is if she won't be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is "a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It's about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job".

In Montaro Caine, Sidney Poitier's debut, a baby is born with a coin in her hand. An orphan crafts a mysterious wooden object. Montaro Caine, the CEO of Fitzer Corporation finds himself under extraordinary pressure at work and at home. And on a remote hilltop on a Caribbean island, a medicine man seems to understand the meaning of all these events and to hold the key to the future.

When a man and woman appear at his office with a coin of unknown provenance, composed of a metal unknown on Earth. Montaro immediately recognizes it as the companion of a coin he analyzed as a graduate student working in a lab at MIT. Drawing attention from scientists, collectors, financiers, and thieves while Montaro himself hopes that the discovery of the coin will save his company.

"Sidney Poitier (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) takes us on a wild and unexpected adventure from New York to Europe to the Caribbean and beyond, and offers a heartfelt message about the potential each of us has within ourselves, and about being open to the possibility that there are mysteries in the universe. An enthralling journey into the magic of existence, Montaro Caine is a radiant debut from an American legend".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #380

In Dana Bate's The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs *, 26 yr.-old Hannah Sugarman (Cornell, Economics) could hardly keep up as a research assistant in a DC think tank while secretly dreaming of opening up an underground supper club, a recent phenomenon in the foodie world.

When yet another ill-fated dinner with the patrician Prescotts (her live-in boyfriend Adam's parents) goes hopelessly sour, she is unceremoniously dumped and evicted. With mounting pressure from her academically distinguished parents to jump start her lackluster career, and eager to move on, she seizes the chance to do what she loves, and lands at the doorstep of Blake Fischer, a bachelor landlord with a basement apartment for rent.

"Journalist and debut novelist Bate deftly conjures up a witty, resilient heroine, surrounds her with delightful friends and frenemies, and sends them all on a rollicking quest for love and delicious food".

Cheeky, smart, and up-beat (with an implausibly happy ending), it is like sunshine and birdsong on a frigid February day - sure to bring a spring in your step and smile to your face.

Readalikes: Cupid and Diana (finding Mr. Right in DC); The Lost Art of Mixing - a sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (where 8 lives mingle and intertwine at a cooking school); and Brian O'Reilly's Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food (young Philadelphia widow feeds the neighborhood loners and builds a village); Girl Cook by Hannah McCouch (delicious modern Cinderella story of love, sex, chefs, and the city).

* = Starred review

"Bitten & Smitten"

One of the many perks of working in a library includes shelving books. It's often during shelving that I find some of my favorite reads that I'd likely not come across otherwise. One of those books (and the rest in the series) is Bitten & Smitten by Michelle Rowen. The bright cover caught my eye and the witty summary sucked me in (pun fully intended).

Sarah Dearly, the saucy yet reluctant heroine, finds herself just trying to live through what she has dubbed the "world's worst blind date" when she suddenly wakes up to find herself being buried, almost undead, in a shallow grave. She escapes only to witness her blind date being "taken care of" by what she soon learns are vampire hunters. Unfortunately, thanks to the "love bites" left by her undead date, she now has to escape the hunters or wind up sharing more than just a bad night with her toothy date.

Her escape leads her to Thierry de Bennicoeur, a moody vampire master who helps her evade the stakes of her stalkers. After stumbling through her first "undead days," Sarah realizes she's going to need a little more help than she thought when it comes to navigating the night. Michelle Rowen draws the reader into this light read with suspense and quick one liners.

Comfort & Joy

British journalist India Knight's semi-biographical novel Comfort and Joy (2011) is "clearly warm-hearted holiday fun".

Christmas is the most important holiday for Clara Dunphy (a follow-up to My Life on a Plate, 2000). She demands nothing short of "perfect" for her family and friends, never mind family these days means 2 ex-husbands, 3 children, sisters, parents, in-laws, out-laws and sundry hangers-on. So on a frantic and rainy Dec. 23, after fighting the crowds on Oxford Street, a giant cocktail in the swanky hotel bar sounds like just the reward she deserves before heading home to a houseful of guests. But then a handsome stranger asks her to stay for another drink. Oh well, all good intentions...

As we follows Clara, "a witty, blackly funny everywoman" through three successive Christmases, we witness changing roles and shifting family dynamics. Well-paced dialogue and amusing and insightful anecdotes captures the spirit of the season while giving us a glimpse into one modern family's struggle with children, marital turmoil, and materialism.

In Kristin Hannah's Comfort & Joy (2005), recently divorced and having no family of her own, Joy Candellaro is beginning to dream of a new life with widower Daniel O'Shea and his son, Bobby, until a fateful Christmas Eve forces her to make a painful choice. A modern-day fairy tale of a woman who gets a miraculous chance at happiness.

I first read Jim Grimsley's memorable and moving Comfort & Joy in 1999. It is still one my favorite to revisit at Christmas time.

Ford McKinney is a devastatingly handsome, successful doctor, raised in an old Savannah family among good breeding and money. His longtime boyfriend, Dan Crell, is a shy hospital administrator with a painful childhood past. When the holidays arrive, they decide it's time to go home together. But the depth of their commitment is tested when Ford's parents cannot reconcile themselves to their son's choices. "Grimsley triumphs in (this) novel in which two unlikely lovers must reconcile what is expected of them with what they know in their hearts is right."

Wishing you comfort and joy this holiday season...

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #302

Just about now - as the days get shorter and the temperature dips below freezing, my reading drifts toward the upbeat and heartwarming, and I am glad to have found Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food *.

Angelina D'Angelo's Frangelico Chocolate Dream Cake (recipe included) is to die for and unfortunately her husband Frank did just that. Grieving and listless, she turns to her one passion - cooking. To make ends meet, she gathers the hungry bachelors in the neighborhood and offers to feed them. Apart from the out-of-this-world meals she painstakingly prepared daily, each of them comes to find community and riches far beyond his/her expectations.

Angelina marks the fiction debut for cookbook author and TV cooking-show producer Brian O'Reilly whose "keen ear for the neighborhood (South Philly) swells lends a charming, timeless quality to the tale."

And the recipes by Virginia O'Reilly... they are fabulous. The O'Reillys are no strangers when it comes to food and cooking. Between them, they have published two cookbooks (Mission: Cook!: My Life, My Recipes, and Making the Impossible Easy, and Impossible to Easy: 111 Delicious Recipes to Help You Put Great Meals on the Table Every Day), with Robert Irvine, the star of the Foodnetwork television program they produced, called Dinner Impossible.

Unlike recipes in other novels, these are neither cute nor cheeky. They are gourmand-serious and kitchen-tested. I have ordered my own copy of the book so I could try out the Stracotto (Italian Pot Roast) this holiday season.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #281

Jennifer Close's debut novel Girls in White Dresses * is a perfect way to wrap up a lovely summer, like putting on your favorite frock just one more time.

"Wickedly hilarious and utterly recognizable, Girls in White Dresses tells the story of three women grappling with heartbreak and career change, family pressure and new love—all while suffering through an endless round of weddings and bridal showers." You get the picture.

Sunday after Sunday, Isabella, Mary, and Lauren in their pastel dresses, attend bridal shower after bridal shower, drink champagne, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes, all the while thinking when-it-would-be-their-turn.

"Close's novel in a series of linked stories, expresses the perfect blend of mid twenties angst, collegiate nostalgia, and plentiful laughter."

For fans of Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing and J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement (in audio)

* = Starred review

(My) Fabulous Fiction Firsts #247

For someone who is eternally looking for the next Chick Lit. read, I have no idea how Jill Mansell gets by me. Mind you, not once, but 3 times. But I will be making up for lost time.

Charming and cheery, Staying at Daisy's (originally published in the UK, 2002) was just the thing to ward off the lingering winter chill and the incessant sleet and snow.

In this "screwball romantic comedy" set at a posh hotel in picturesque Bristol, Daisy MacLean handily juggles the hospitality business, misbehaving guests, an odd assortment of staff and the embarrassing excuse for an owner who happens to her father; but is leery and tentative with rich, successful (and very hot) former rugby player Dev Tyzack who might just be pursuing her romantically.

Daisy's personal history, small town secrets, serendipity and surprises enrich the plot, add to the humor, and heighten the suspense, making it a "clever, absorbing, and very enjoyable read".

For fans of British Katie Fforde; Madeleine Wickham; and Isabel Wolff who enjoy lighthearted, contemporary women's fiction.

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