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Family Secrets and Country Stars

posted by: October 15, 2012 - 8:15am

Miss Me When I'm GoneGretchen Waters had an exciting life, one tragically cut short by a fall down an icy set of library stairs. In Miss Me When I’m Gone by Emily Arsenault, her accidental death turns out to be much more when her best friend, Jamie Madden, begins researching Gretchen’s papers and her past.


This story is a unique blend of southern honky-tonk country and New England mystery. Gretchen’s success had come via a book, Tammyland, which she wrote following her own divorce. A travel memoir of sorts, Gretchen toured the southern states, visiting sites of famous female country music stars and writing about their lives while reflecting on her own. A second book was in the works, and Jamie soon discovers that it is an even more personal investigation into Gretchen’s own life and childhood. As she talks with more people, Jamie senses that Gretchen’s death may not have been simply an accident. 


Although a mystery, this book has elements of fun and quirkiness, especially the interspersed biographies on country music singers which are excerpted from the fictitious Tammyland. It’s hard to imagine how one chapter about Tammy Wynette could lead seamlessly into another chapter about a quest to find one’s biological father, but Arsenault makes it work and keeps the story fresh and engaging. This book is an enjoyable read; it may even provide inspiration to visit some country music sites, or at least sing along to a few Dolly Parton tunes!


Going to the Chapel

posted by: October 12, 2012 - 8:15am

Happily Ever AfterThere Goes the BrideThe best laid plans often go awry and two new takes on the quest for wedded bliss illustrate that with romance and humor. Readers meet the delightful yet jaded Eleanor Bee at various junctures in her life in Harriet Evans’ Happily Ever After. Eleanor is certain that she wants to move to London, become a literary superstar, and be financially secure. She is equally convinced that happy endings don’t exist in real life. Eleanor saw what divorce did to her parents, especially her mum. At twenty-two, she starts ticking items off her checklist when she moves to London and gets a job at a small publishing house. But she also unexpectedly falls in love. Fast forward ten years and Elle’s life has changed completely. She lives in New York where she works as a highly successful editor, but is her belief about no happy endings really going to be her destiny?


Holly McQueen offers the stories of Polly, Bella, and Grace in There Goes the Bride. Polly calls off her wedding with only a week to spare and no explanation to her older sister, Bella or her best friend, Grace. Bella is bossy, but means well as she tries to fix Polly’s problems while dealing with her own frazzled life. Bella is unable to conceive and is starting the adoption process, but her boyfriend is decidedly less invested in the idea. Grace is beautiful and seems to have it all with a husband and two adorable children, but in reality her husband is absent and demeaning. When Grace meets her husband’s handsome boss, their instant attraction soon turns into a full-blown affair. As these three women deal with their respective issues, readers will relish the exploits, friendship, and growth of this dynamic trio.  



Antarctica or Bust

posted by: September 21, 2012 - 8:01am

Where'd You Go BenadetteBernadette Fox—mother, wife, one-time architectural prodigy—has disappeared, and it’s up to her thirteen year-old daughter Bee Branch to put together the clues as to her whereabouts. Where’d You Go Bernadette is a brash satirical novel, told in a series of emails and other correspondence from various characters that relay the circumstances leading up to Bernadette’s flight.


Bee’s reward for a perfect report card throughout middle school was her own idea: a family trip to Antarctica. (She’d much rather have an expedition than a pony.) But her parents don’t quite share her enthusiasm. Bernadette, the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant at the beginning of her career, suffered a crippling setback when her Twenty Mile House (built from materials sourced within 20 miles of its location) met a vengeful demise. She retreated from the world of architecture, setting up house with her husband Elgin Branch, a techie wunderkind project manager for Microsoft whose TEDTalk is the fourth most viewed video on YouTube. Increasingly antisocial and generally testy, she abhors dealing with her fellow Galer Street School moms, a petty group she refers to as “gnats.” No one in Seattle knows that Bernadette is a genius in self-imposed exile who has hired a virtual assistant in India to deal with the overwhelming details of her life. How can she handle Antarctica? How can Elgin take a vacation when his team is working overtime on Samantha 2, a brain-computer interface?


Author Maria Semple, a former sitcom writer for shows including Arrested Development and Mad About You, has written a wickedly entertaining sendup of over-doting parents, the politics of private schools, the importance of keeping up appearances, the zeitgeist of Microsoft, and all things held sacred by the upper middle class Seattle intelligentsia. But at the heart of this novel are the relationships between a mother and daughter, and a husband and wife who appreciate each other in spite of it all.


Hollywood Dreams

posted by: September 11, 2012 - 8:30am

The Next Best ThingLike the heroine of her new novel The Next Best Thing, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner thought that it was a dream come true when she was approached to co-create a sitcom featuring a plus-sized heroine trying to break into show business. Although State of Georgia was short-lived, Weiner used her experiences in the television industry to create her new novel.


Readers first met Ruth Saunders in the short story “Swim” in Weiner’s The Guy Not Taken: Stories. After losing her parents in an accident that permanently scarred her, Ruth was raised by her grandmother. During her recovery from her injuries, Ruth and her grandmother found comfort in their favorite TV shows, like The Golden Girls. After she finished college, Ruth and her grandmother moved to Hollywood to chase Ruth’s dream of writing television shows. Now, Ruth has worked her way from glorified gofer to the creator of her first TV show, The Next Best Thing, a sitcom based loosely on her own life.


Ruth struggles with the process of shooting the pilot and first season of her show. As the show evolves, she watches her heartwarming comedy about an average girl breaking in to the restaurant business with the love and support of her grandmother change into another show entirely. Cady, the famous actress that the network forced Ruth to hire to play the plus-sized heroine, suddenly diets her way to a size 0. Network politics force her to fire actors that she thinks are right for the show, and the character based on her grandmother is rewritten as an oversexed cougar. Is this really the career she has always dreamed of? Weiner’s Hollywood-insider perspective and warm humor make readers cheer for Ruth’s chance to have it all.


Weiner is known for connecting with her readers via social media.  Fans can follow her on Twitter (@JenniferWeiner), where she live-tweets reality TV shows like The Bachelor and shares her favorite new books with her readers.



A Platypus and a Wombat Walk Into a Bar...

posted by: September 7, 2012 - 8:45am

Albert of Adelaide“Albert had come to the conclusion that the key to survival in Old Australia was in picking a criminal element you liked and sticking with it.”


Albert of Adelaide is tired of his life. He is bored by his daily routine, the same meals over and over, the same neighbors arguing and complaining, the same people gawking at him day in and day out. He longs for freedom and adventure, to experience life as it was meant to be lived. He gets his chance when an inattentive staffer fails to lock his cage and Albert the platypus breaks out of the Adelaide Zoo, beginning his journey toward self-discovery.


Following tales and legends, Albert begins his search for “Old Australia,” a place where animals rule themselves and humans do not interfere. Along the way, he makes friends as well as enemies. Even among the animals Albert is a curiosity, which proves to be both an advantage and disadvantage for him. Curiosity soon turns to fear, and Albert must learn the difficult lesson that not everyone nice is inherently good and not every criminal is inherently bad.


Debut novelist Howard Anderson has created a thought-provoking and entertaining story. Comparisons to Watership Down or even Animal Farm are inevitable, but Albert is much more reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild West language and shoot ‘em up simplicity of Old Australia draws the reader in, with many laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy. The supporting characters are a literal hoot, namely the pyromaniac wombat and a pair of drunken bandicoots. Albert of Adelaide is recommended for fans of westerns, animal stories, or anyone who likes a good laugh.




The Price of Beauty

posted by: August 27, 2012 - 8:30am

Great-Aunt Sophia's Lessons for BombshellsLisa Cach introduces Grace Cavanaugh who is a bit of a frump, a strong feminist, and an impoverished grad student in Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells. Grace needs to finish her dissertation in Women’s Studies, which is based on the thesis that beauty in women leads to misery. As she struggles with her work, she receives an offer to act as a companion to her great-aunt who she has only met once as a child. Grace jumps at the chance to head to Pebble Beach, for what is sure to be a summer of comfortable quiet during which she will be able to focus on her studies. But Great Aunt Sophia has other ideas, and for Grace it becomes a summer to remember.


Sophia is a former B-movie star who at eighty-five still attracts attention wherever she goes. She decides that Grace is a project and upon hearing her thesis, Sophia sets out to prove Grace wrong. Sophia’s object is to change Grace outwardly which will then improve her self-esteem and create an empowered and desirable woman. Before Grace can blink, she has a trainer, a personal shopper, and some truly awesome lingerie. As Grace’s appearance slowly changes, so too does her view of herself and her perception of beauty. Grace quickly attracts the attention of Declan, a bad boy with a commitment phobia, and Andrew, Sophia's handsome but deadly dull doctor. Grace’s head is telling her to go for Andrew, but her pesky heart and that sexy spark keeps leading her to Declan.


In the end, Grace's thesis is turned on its head and she finds personal satisfaction in her appearance and appeal. This fun story goes past a simple ugly duckling transformation tale with plenty of wonderful and unique characters, a whole lot of humor, and a sprinkle of spice! 



Jane Austen Does The Bachelorette?

posted by: August 14, 2012 - 8:30am

Imperfect BlissEssence Contributing Editor Susan Fales-Hill takes on Pride and Prejudice and the result is a delightful summer read called Imperfect Bliss. The Harcourt family of Chevy Chase, Maryland is at the heart of this story. They are a respectable middle-class family featuring a social-climbing Jamaican mother named Forsythia, an inattentive English father, and their four unmarried daughters. Forsythia has big dreams for her girls and even named each after a Windsor royal family member hoping for titled sons-in-law. But love and marriage are the last things on the mind of their second eldest, Elizabeth (Bliss), who finds herself living back home with her special-needs daughter following a messy divorce.


When younger sister Diana is picked as the star of “The Virgin,” a reality television dating show, all the Harcourts' lives change significantly. Their home turns into a set and the crew becomes part of their family. While Bliss tries to keep her daughter and herself out of camera range, the show’s attractive host, Wyatt and handsome producer, Dario, are persistent in their pursuit of her. Meanwhile, her other sisters, Victoria and Charlotte are dealing with issues of their own and the whole family must come to grips with their own reality. The humorous hijinks of the television show and the quirky characters comprising this family combine to create an engaging comedy of manners tinged with satire. 


Imperfect Bliss is a wickedly funny spin on the pitfalls of modern love and courtship.  This funny romantic comedy is a perfect beach bag book with its homage to Jane Austen and soft pokes at reality television.


Fifteen Minutes of Fame

posted by: August 6, 2012 - 8:30am

Just Say YesWallflower in BloomLove and reality television collide in two new breezy summer offerings from proven favorites in the world of chick lit. Be sure to pack these fun novels with the sunscreen and hat when heading to the beach or poolside!


Phillipa Ashley introduces us to Lucy Gibson in Just Say Yes. Lucy’s dates with Nick Laurentis have been mostly limited to the bedroom because the majority of his free time is spent as a competitor on a British reality television show. After his victory on the show, he proposes to Lucy in front of the 10 million people watching the drama unfold. Lucy is overwhelmed and rejects the proposal.  Instantly, she is public enemy number one and paparazzi prey. Lucy heads to the seaside and a friend’s cabin in an effort to escape the media firestorm. Here she meets handsome Josh, owner of nearby cabins. Josh is unaware of Lucy’s true identify and the two are instantly attracted to each other. But what about Josh’s girlfriend? And what will Josh do when he finds out who she really is?  


Claire Cook’s heroine Deirdre Griffin also travels to the world of reality television in Wallflower in Bloom. Deirdre has always been the unnoticed member of her family and until now she has settled for that role.  But when her brother/boss demands more of her time, she finally quits as his personal assistant.  Unfortunately, Deirdre also finds out that her boyfriend has a pregnant girlfriend on the side, and he plans to put a ring on that woman’s finger instead of Deirdre’s. What’s a wallflower to do?  Why compete on Dancing with the Stars of course!  Following Deirdre’s days in the spotlight and her humorous journey toward self-discovery is a perfect way to spend a summer day.




Love is in the Air

posted by: July 30, 2012 - 8:05am

In the BagTake two single parents, two teenagers, add a European vacation, and some misplaced luggage and you have a delightfully dreamy story: In the Bag by Kate Klise.


Daisy is a successful chef who just quit another restaurant. She travels to Paris to clear her head and brings along her daughter, Coco, who is getting ready to graduate from high school. Andrew is on the same flight in order to get to Madrid to oversee the installation of an art exhibit. His teenage son Webb joins him on the trip. Andrew spots Daisy on the flight and is instantly attracted to her. He slips a flirty note in her purse, gives her his email, and asks for a date. Daisy is distinctly unimpressed and fires off a scathing email rejecting Andrew’s offer.


Meanwhile, Webb and Coco pick up each other’s bag at the end of the flight. They find each other’s contact information and start an email dalliance. This digital friendship progresses so much that the two arrange for Webb to travel to Paris to pick up his bag and meet Coco in person. Andrew and Daisy are also set to meet the same evening when Daisy is called in as a last-minute caterer for the grand opening of Andrew’s exhibit.   


The story unfolds from the unique viewpoints of the four main characters and readers see just how differently men, women, parents, and children think. While working for People magazine, Klise herself was the recipient of a secret admirer note in her carry-on which gave her the spark for this fun trading places story. As a bestselling children and teen author, Klise’s adult debut is a fast-paced, humorous, and romantic gem which will leave readers waiting for a follow-up. 



Arrangements Made

posted by: July 27, 2012 - 8:00am

ArrangedBestselling Canadian author Catherine McKenzie’s second novel, Arranged, is now available in the US, and it’s one that chick lit readers will not want to miss.

Anne Shirley Blythe is named after the character from Anne of Green Gables because her mother is obsessed with the series. Anne reasons that because she is named after a romantic heroine, it’s only natural that she would want her own happily ever after. She has a lot of great things going for her. She has good friends and a loving family. She’s a successful writer who is about to have her first book published. Unfortunately, Anne has a history of disastrous relationships. She keeps getting involved with the wrong men, and she begins to see that they are a lot alike. 


After another failed relationship, Anne finds a business card for Blythe & Company, which she thinks is a dating service. The card simply says “arrangements made.” When her best friend gets engaged, Anne makes a momentous decision and calls the number on the card. That’s when she learns that Blythe & Company is not a dating service as she had imagined. It’s an arranged marriage service. Anne finds herself going through the process and is soon on her way to a resort in Mexico to marry a man named Jack who she will meet the day before their wedding. That’s just the beginning of the story, though. 


What follows is a story about learning the difference between what you think you want and what you truly need. McKenzie has a real talent for creating characters with depth. Arranged is by turns funny, honest, and heartbreaking. Just when you think you know where the story is going, a plot twist changes everything!




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