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Ho Ho Ho...Some Great Book Suggestions for the Holidays

Author Ellen Meister, a member of the Girlfriends Book Club Blog to which I belong, assembled this collection of book recommendations for the holidays. Hope you’ll find something here of interest!

LOVE FINDS YOU IN NEW ORLEANS by Christa Allan

Set to release in February of 2012 and available now for pre-order, this 1840s historical relates the story of a woman whose grandparents must consider whether to stop keeping secrets and reveal the truth they’ve known—a truth that will make the difference between a life of obligation and a life of choice.Unlocking the past could open the door to a new future, but is the present worth the cost? Introduced in the novel is the custom of plaçage, known as “left-handed marriages” among those forbidden legally to be together.

Who would like this book? Readers of historical fiction and Southern fiction.

For more information visit http://christaallan.com/

SAFE HARBOR by Judith Arnold

Childhood pals Kip and Shelley spent their summers on Block Island, swimming, biking, discovering the world together. Then real life intruded, bringing tragedy and heartache. Years later, they both wind up back on Block Island. Can the island’s rugged beauty and their loving friendship heal their wounds? An award-winning novel when it was first released, SAFE HARBOR is available to as a reissued e-book to a new generation of readers.

Who would like this book? SAFE HARBOR is the perfect book for lovers of romance fiction.

For more information visit www.juditharnold.com

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

A contemporary teen finds herself literally sucked into the Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women and discovers she must change a major plot point in order to get back out again. “…a consistently entertaining read that delivers a genuinely original heroine and frequently hilarious satire.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

Who would like this book? LITTLE WOMEN AND ME will appeal to adult fans of Little Women and girls ages 12 and up.

For more information visit http://laurenbaratzlogsted.com/

THE BLUE HOUSE DOG by Deborah Blumenthal

Love heals the heart is the message of this heartwarming picture book about a boy who saves a homeless dog and vice versa. Cody had his own dog once, but his painful loss is buried deeper than the feeding dish he hides away in his closet. All that changes when he comes upon a four-footed friend needier than he is — a sad, lost dog from a mysterious blue house and both learn to trust and love again.

Based on a true story.

Who would like this book? Dog lovers of all ages.

For more information visit http://deborahblumenthal.com

MOTHERS AND OTHER LIARS by Amy Bourret

How far will a mother go to save her child? Ten years ago, Ruby Leander was a drifting nineteen-year-old who made a split-second decision at an Oklahoma rest stop. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and her daughter Lark live in New Mexico. Lark is a precocious, animal loving imp, and Ruby has built a family for them with a wonderful community of friends and her boyfriend of three years. Life is good. Until the day Ruby reads a magazine article about parents searching for an infant kidnapped by car-jackers. Then Ruby faces a choice no mother should have to make. A choice that will change both her and Lark’s lives forever.

Who would like this book? Anyone, especially book clubs who like a good moral debate, will like this smart, haunting, and gorgeously written debut novel that propels a whip-smart plot that will keep you thinking.

For more information visit www.amybourret.com

A SUMMER IN EUROPE by Marilyn Brant

It’s not where you go, it’s what you take back with you… On her 30th birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives an unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand European tour in the company of Bea’s Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. Gwen initially approaches her first trip abroad as if it’s the homework she assigns her students, diligently checking monuments off her must-see list. But amid the gorgeous bougainvillea of southern Italy, something changes. She begins to live in the moment—skipping down stone staircases in Capri, racing through the Louvre and taste-testing pastries, wine and gelato. Reveling in every new experience—especially her attraction to a charismatic British physics professor—Gwen discovers the ancient wonders around her are nothing compared to the renaissance unfolding within…

Who would like this book? Romantics and lovers of travel fiction who might enjoy a grand journey of self awakening amidst the classic architecture and stunning vistas of Europe.

For more information visit http://www.marilynbrant.com

CHILDREN OF THE WATERS by Carleen Brice

Still reeling from divorce, Trish Taylor is in the midst of salvaging the remnants of her life when she uncovers a shocking secret: her sister is alive. After years of drawing on the strength of her ancestors, Billie Cousins is shocked to discover that she was adopted. Though Trish longs to connect with her long-lost sister, Billie’s feelings of betrayal are waters too deep to cross. But when both women are forced to confront their demons, they begin to realize that each may have what the other needs.

Who would like this book? This is a contemporary story between two women who discover they are sisters. Great for fans of smart, moving women’s fiction. Women in interracial relationships or with mixed-race children will especially like it.

For more information visit www.carleenbrice.com

AN APPETITE FOR MURDER by Lucy Burdette

Aspiring food critic Hayley Snow follows the man of her dreams to Key
West, FL. Instead of landing the job of her dreams as a food critic,
she lands in the police blotter, the main suspect in her now-ex’s new
girlfriend’s murder.

Who would like this book? Fans of Diane Mott Davidson’s cozy culinary
mysteries will enjoy this book.

For more information visit http://lucyburdette.com/buy-the-books/

SLIM TO NONE by Jenny Gardiner

Abbie Jennings is Manhattan’s top food critic until her expanding waistline makes staying incognito at restaurants impossible. Her cover blown on Page Six of the New York Post, her editor has no choice but to bench her—and suggest she use the time off to bench-press her way back to anonymity. Abbie’s life has been built around her career, and therefore around celebrating food. Forced to drop the pounds if she wants her primo gig back, Abbie must peel back the layers of her past and confront the fears that have led to her current life.

Who would like this book? SLIM TO NONE is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever gone on a diet (or believes they should).

For more information visit www.jennygardiner.net

MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER by Cindy Jones

A young woman who has squeezed herself into undersized relationships all her life hopes to realize her dream of living in a novel when she is invited to participate in a Jane Austen literary festival in England. She jumps at the chance to reinvent herself, imagining escape into Austen’s fictional world where bookish women are heroines. There, in the rich, promising world of Mansfield Park, Lily finds people whose longing to live in a novel equals her own. But real-life problems have a way of following you wherever you go and unless Lily can change her ways, she will share the fate of so many of Jane Austen’s characters who repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Who would like this book? MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER is a fast-paced, romantic, and humorous book that will appeal to book lovers, especially those who can’t get enough Jane Austen.

For more information visit www.cindysjones.com

ALL THE NUMBERS by Judy Merrill Larsen

An arresting, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful first novel. A recently divorced mother of two boys, Ellen Banks is just learning to make her way through the uncharted territory of single parenthood when the unthinkable happens. Determined to seek justice, and to mend the deep wounds in her family, Ellen must first heal herself, finding a way out of a grief that soon turns to defiance. This is an unforgettable journey of power and emotion, poignantly depicting a woman as she reckons with her own vulnerability and finds in the wisdom of motherhood, the redemptive grace to begin again.

Who would like this book? ALL THE NUMBERS is great for discussion so it’s perfect for anyone in a book club or who just wants characters you’ll argue with, worry about, and hope they make the right choices (and yes, I love connecting with book clubs!).

For more information visit http://www.judymerrilllarsen.com/

LITTLE BLACK DRESS by Susan McBride

Two sisters whose lives seemed forever intertwined are torn apart when a magical little black dress gives each one a glimpse of an unavoidable future.

Antonia Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but she realizes her life has gone off track. Forced to return home to Blue Hills when her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke, Toni finds the old Victorian where she grew up as crammed full of secrets as it is with clutter. Now she must put her mother’s house in order—and uncover long-buried truths about Evie and her aunt, Anna, who vanished fifty years earlier on the eve of her wedding. By shedding light on the past, Toni illuminates her own mistakes and learns the most unexpected things about love, magic, and a little black dress with the power to break hearts . . . and mend them.

Who would like this book? The story of the Little Black Dress weaves together bits of history, mystery, magic, and family, so I hope it appeals to readers who love women’s fiction in the vein of Kate Morton and Sarah Addison Allen.

For more information visit http://SusanMcBride.com

THE OTHER LIFE by Ellen Meister

A resonant story about the importance of mothers, both having one and being one … making for a riveting tale of love and choices.” – BookPage

Quinn Braverman has a perfect life, with a loving husband, an adorable son, and another baby on the way.

Quinn also has an ominous secret: she knows there’s a portal to another life, one in which she made totally different life choices. But she’s never been tempted to switch lives … until a shocking turn of events pushes her to cross over, and she discovers the one person she thought she’d lost forever. Her mother.

But Quinn can’t have both lives. Soon, she must decide which she really wants—the one she has … or the other life.

Who would like this book? Anyone interested in the beautiful, heartbreaking and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

For more information visit ellenmeister.com

MOMFRIENDS by Ariella Papa

Momfriends is a story of three vastly different people who meet through motherhood and become friends through womanhood.

Ruth is almost at the end of her rope with her new baby when a knock on her door changes everything. Claudia’s life is all about rules. Everything is going perfectly until a flirtation with colleague makes her throw out her rule book.

And Kirsten is an artist and a dreamer. What she discovers late one night confirms that her life is not everything she dreamed. Momfriends is about how people roll with lives they can’t control. And whether they choose to swim with the current or against it, it’s about the realization that everyone needs someone to throw out a life preserver once in a while.

Who would like this book? Momfriends makes the perfect gift for your best friend, the new mom in the neighborhood or the mom you’d like to invite over. It’s an ebook so it’s even easier to read and multi-task.


For more information visit ariellapapa.com

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD by Saralee Rosenberg

In Mindy’s yoga-obsessed, thirty-is-the-new-wife neighborhood, every day is a battle between Dunkin’ Donuts, her jaws-of-life jeans, and Beth Diamond, the self-absorbed sancti-mommy next door who looks sixteen from the back. So much for sharing the chores, the stores, and the occasional mischief to rival Wisteria Lane.

It’s another day, another dilemma until Beth’s marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly the Ivy League blonde needs to be “friended,” and Mindy is the last mom standing. Together they take on hormones and hunger, family feuds and fidelity, and a harrowing journey that spills the truth about an unplanned pregnancy and a seventy-year-old miracle that altered their fates forever.

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead is a hilarious, stirring romp over fences and defenses that begs the question, what did you do to deserve living next door to a crazy woman? Sometimes it’s worth finding out.

Who would like this book? DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is perfect for anyone who loves to discover friendship in surprising places … while laughing out loud on every page.

For more information visit saraleerosenberg.com

MIMOSAS, MISCHIEF, AND MURDER by Sara Rosett

Charm, Southern sass, and suspense abound in the sixth delightful cozy mystery.” –FreshFiction.com

Super-organized Ellie thinks she’s prepared for everything when she and her family set off for an extended visit with her southern in- laws in Alabama, but the one thing she hasn’t planned for is cold-blooded murder. When the patriarch of the family passes away under suspicious circumstances, the quirky Avery family closes ranks and Ellie can’t help looking for motives among the mourners.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “winning” and described it this way: “A rumor of hidden money, secret letters from a famous recluse, a fire, a threatening message, and a crazed gunman add to the cozy mischief.”

Who would like this book? Fans of mysteries and southern fiction will enjoy Mimosas, Mischief, and Murder.

For more information visit http://sararosett.com

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER by Laura Spinella

As a college student in Athens, Georgia, Mia Wells meets Flynn, an enigmatic stranger who pushes every boundary she knows. Their relationship is intense, passionate and, for Mia, life-changing, making it all the more painful when he vanishes. After finding the wherewithal to move on with her life and pursue her goals, Mia eventually marries. Twelve years later, Flynn mysteriously resurfaces, gravely injured. Mia is terrified that he will die, awestruck at the prospect of his survival. Flynn’s return ignites a powerful tale, a story that is greater than honor or friendship or the passing of time. More than a romance, this 2011 Penguin release was recently named Best First Book in the NJRWA Golden Leaf contest.

Who would like this book? BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is women’s fiction with a heavy thread of romance, making it the perfect book for readers who like relationship fiction that includes a thought provoking love story.

For more information visit lauraspinella.net

LOVE IN TRANSLATION by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysteries, Celeste Duncan, 33, is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. There she stumbles head first down the rabbit hole into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Not knowing Japanese, Celeste finds a friend in her English-speaking homestay brother, Takuya, and comes to depend on him for help. As they cross the country following a trail after Celeste’s family, she discovers she’s developing “more-than-sisterly” feelings for him. But with a nosy homestay mother scheming to reunite Takuya with his old girlfriend, and her search growing dimmer, will Celeste find what she’s looking for in Japan?

Who would like this book? Love in Translation will appeal to armchair travelers who love a good love story!

For more information visit: http://www.WendyTokunaga.com

Most of the these books are available at your favorite bookstore. To buy online, visit the author’s page for ordering links.

Categories: Accidentally on Purpose, House of Cards, Jenny Gardiner, Over the Falls, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me, women, women's fiction

I'm On a Roll, Baby


I have a friend with a real eye for design—in another life she definitely would have been a fabulous interior decorator if not an engineer creating useful products for better functionality. Often she’ll stare hard at something, point a menacing finger toward the thing and say, “That was designed by a man.” She never means this as a compliment. Rather, she she thinks men tend to design for looks, not function. Including functional flow in houses, on boats, in products we use in our everyday lives. They may think they’re helping, but generally, it seems not (or so my friend contends; do direct your complaints her way, thank you!).

(I Googled “man made” images and this is what came up first!)

I remember years back when public bathrooms started being retrofitted for wheelchair accessibility. It was at about the same time that the salesman for the Giant Toilet Paper Roll Company clearly hit the sales jackpot, because it seemed you couldn’t stumble upon a public loo in the U.S. without a gargantuan roll of the stuff. Which from a male-designed standpoint made some sense: buy big, buy cheap, sure. Buy big, replace less often. Okay, I’m with you. But then the plans things went awry: someone (a male? One wonders…) established standards that seem to have been implemented nation-wide about where to position these mambo-rolls within the narrow confines of a bathroom stall. It had some vague connection to wheelchair accessibility, but I can promise you it had nothing to do with how those in a wheelchair would then be able to access the stuff.

I think it was all about avoiding the handle bar that is installed midway up the stall. So this rocket scientist had a choice: position the paper high, above the bar, or install the paper low. For some reason low made imminent sense (is this because they don’t use the stuff, thus don’t “get” the failed functionality test?). Thus, these mega-rolls are forever installed wayyyy downnnnn lowwwww, requiring the user to lean far to the left and back slightly or forward too much to then get her arm bent enough to be able to reach up into the roll canister to access the stubborn paper that is stuck therein. Once there, you must hard, but argh, you can’t, because some brainiac (perhaps an infrequent user of the product, like, say, a man!) decided it was going to be even cheaper (yay!) to make the paper one-ply (sometimes I think they’ve gotten it down to near zero-ply), so that if you try to pull it–and bear with me because there is physics involved in this and I fail miserably at science concepts–the weight of the 20-lb. roll of toilet paper (TP for short) precludes the ability for the ply-less paper from holding strong against the vigorous force of the pull.

(it seems Bessie the elephant has it easier in the loo than your average woman)

So the innocent bystander (or should I say sitter) in said stall is left, shall we say, holding the square. Because the paper is not going to come off but for sheet-by-miserable-sheet, while you bend over at an awkward angle (and dare I suggest that your average wheelchair-bound woman in a public restroom is likely ill-equipped to be lurching gymnastically leeward to do the TP-twist?).

To compound this dilemma, you have the auto-flush toilet (man designed? you decide…). I once was helping potty train a kid who was terrified of the auto-flush. Poor child burst into tears upon hearing the ominous rumbling of the oncoming flush, a locomotive coming down the tracks. Once, when attempted to help wipe said child, the power flush erupted after having to tilt the kid to one side, and the poor thing literally flipped into a forward roll off the toilet from fright. Leaving me—the one who always cracks up over the wrong things—to laugh till tears streamed down my face.

Okay, so how this fits in with this theme: when you are in the midst of the left-leaning swoop to try to clutch at the elusive weak-willed TP, you then move away from the omniscient laser-beam light that tells the pot it’s time to flush. So while you’re desperately grabbing for paper, that cursed thing is flushing. Again, and again, and again. Because after the first flush you instinctually sit upright to stop the thing from happening, but then darned if you don’t have to reaacchchhhh wayyyyy down to try to get that elusive paper.

Maybe the end-result of this design flaw issue is that women are less likely to use public bathrooms, an added bonus for the provider, who then saves in water usage (except when the auto-flush goes awry), paper consumption (because you can’t get to it and thus you give up even trying), and cleaning supplies (because no one is using it with the regularity of days gone by). Plus you save on all that toilet paper theft.

About that TP theft…I’m sorry! I did it! I was a stupid college student! What can I say?

Yes, I have a dirty little secret: I have to assume some of the blame in this TP quandary. I admit there were times when my college roommates and I would help ourselves to a spare roll or two from the dorm bathrooms and take them back to our apartment. On a college budget sometimes you had to choose between spending spare cash on beer or TP. I think you can guess which usually won the internal debate. I do remember being at a bar one night with three rolls tucked lumpily in my backpack. I have to concede that it would be downright impossible (not to mention awkward) to lug a 10-lb roll of that cheap paper in your backpack. Plus once you got it home, what would you do with it? You’d have to hammer a railroad stake into the wall and dangle the thing from it. (note to students: if you do so, please hang it high enough!).

I have absolutely no idea what this has to do with this blog post but it seemed like such a bizarre image I just had to include it!

Okay, so back to the design thing. I am a female. I know how to do this better. It’s actually quite logical. Put the mega-giant-gargantuan roll of toilet paper up HIGHER, people (i.e. men who have decided it should be as close to the floor tiles as humanly possible). We women will appreciate it, and I have to assume particularly those in wheelchairs will thank you as well. End of rant.

Categories: humor, Jenny Gardiner, memoir, Over the Falls, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Slim to None, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me, women, women's fiction

My Brush with Royalty

Watching the royal wedding brought back memories from long ago, my one and only brush with royalty…
It was 1990, I was pregnant with my first child. I was working as a photographer in Washington, DC and my husband and I had gone to Florida for a business trip he had to take. A few months earlier, I’d contacted the British Embassy after having read about an upcoming garden party; I figured any self-respecting garden party would need a photographer so I pitched my services.
The charming press person at the time politely told me they had a photographer but would take my name for future events, should they arise. I figured that was the last I would hear from him.
Fast forward a few months later, to a dingy hotel room in Bradenton, Florida. My husband had to attend a carnival trade show because a product his company produced was being knocked off and pawned off as carny prizes. He’d hoped to persuade those power mongers (read with a wink) who operate carnivals to buy the legitimate product, rather than ripping his company off.
Now, if you’ve ever gone to a carnival, you can probably conjure up images of your average carny type: Seedy-looking men, missing and rotting teeth, grizzled faces. There’s usually an all-around feel of felons-freshly-sprung-from-prison about the place, coupled with the aroma of years-old trans-fat sizzling away in deep-frying vats awaiting a plunge from a 2000-calorie corn dog or maybe a fried twinkle, perhaps a grease-sopped funnel cake if you’re lucky.
Well, the difference between a carnival and a carnival trade show (at least 20-some years ago) is simply that the grease isn’t as old. Same creepy people, same vile food, same crappy products. So we were coming off a most relaxing day amidst the seedier element of society at Carny-ville, and were relaxing at the hotel when I decided to check our voice mail.
Back then we’d only recently acquired an answering machine. I know this sounds crazy, but they were newfangled devices then. Technologically-stunted as I’ve always been, I’d barely figured out how to check our messages on the thing before we left for our trip. And while gone, one morning before embarking on our carnival trade show expedition, I called home to see if we had any messages. Which was when I heard the voice mail from a Gareth So-and-So from the British Embassy, asking if I was interested in an upcoming event. He needed an answer immediately.
Of course I called back pronto. Remember, there were no cell phones back then. Wait, there were. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the 80’s I’d gone to a hair salon near the White House and remember seeing an Important Looking Man lugging a small suitcase in one hand, holding a phone receiver attached to the suitcase by a long coiled cord, with the other. This was back when offices had rooms devoted to housing gargantuan “mainframes” to operate computers. How far we’ve come in so short a time…) But making long-distance calls from anywhere other than home was a cumbersome process back then: using a calling card, you had to dial about 70 numbers without screwing up the number sequence and then get connected to some remote operator or bell tones, enter in another 20 digits and maybe then you’d be connected to your number. Amazingly I dialed through successfully, and got hold of Gareth before he’d found another photographer.
“Hallo,” he said to me in a gorgeous clipped British accent. I don’t care what one looks like, when you speak with that accent it erases all flaws instantly. I swooned over the phone. In a professional manner, of course.
“I have a job you might be interested in,” Gareth told me. I figured maybe another garden party, one of those things where women wear silly hats (Princes Beatrice, anyone?)
weirdly, don't they look like the wicked stepsisters from Cinderella?
“His Royal Highness will be coming to Washington and there are several events for which we need a photographer.”
I tried hard to maintain my composure and not choke. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Needed me. Prince Charles, then the celebrated man of the hour, considered studly despite his jug ears (and yes, they are quite juggy). The embassy needed moi, go figure, to shoot the man (with a camera of course).
I tried to remain cool, as if often I was invited to be the official photographer of the world’s most famous royal (next to his then-wife Princess Diana).
I told Gareth I needed to check my schedule, and pretended to leaf through my sad-sack calendar, the dinky 4″ x 4″ one like you used to get for free at the Hallmark store (yep, electronic calendars were years away). And of course I instantly leapt at the chance, no doubt appearing pathetically excited and simpering about the prospect of this brush with British royalty.
I was, as I said, pregnant. At that time speculation abounded that Diana and Charles were going for a girl, and rumors were running amok that she was indeed pregnant. I pondered drumming up some small talk with Chuck about his pregnant wife (a presumptuous leap on my part), what with us having so much in common, I knew we were bound to be BFFs and all. Fortunately I opted out of that tack. Because it wasn’t long after that that we all learned that Charles had been clandestinely telling his extramarital fling Camilla he yearned to be her tampon or maxi pad or something equally abhorrent. Clearly he wouldn’t have been keen dishing on Di with me when he was fantasizing about being inside Camilla’s knickers (literally).
My husband never once wanted to come along on my photo shoots (particularly the dull ones, like the American Institute of CPAs; can’t blame him, though those CPAs were a lovely bunch). Even my Liz Taylor shoot he shunned. But he jumped at the chance to be my assistant for the royal visit.
Prior  to undertaking the job, we got a mini-lesson on dealing with the Prince–i.e. avoid dealing with the Prince. No handshaking, speak to him only when spoken to, that sort of thing.
I was told the Prince always had a group photo taken with his equerry staff (the cadre of helpers who travel with him everywhere to be sure someone puts the toothpaste on his toothbrush, that sort of thing). So we assembled the group amidst the splendor of the British Embassy, an elegant building filled with a vast collection of priceless artwork. I directed the men to line up in two rows, some seated, some standing.
“I need all of the men seated to place hands in laps,” I instructed them.
“Your own laps,” my able-bodied spouse interjected, to the horror of the embassy staff.
Silence hung in the air as I awaited the big man himself firing me from the job. But then instead, Charles placed his hand over his mouth and…snickered. It was a very royal sounding laugh, a ha-ha-ha rather than an all-out guffaw. But enough so that I knew the job hadn’t slipped through my fingers, and for my husband to this day to be able to stake his claim on having gotten Charles to chuckle.
Shame Charles and Di never did end up being our BFFs, no double-dating was in the cards, no naming each other our kids’ godparents. But we’ll always have Charles’ chuckle.

Categories: News