Inspirational

All posts in the Inspirational category

Audiobook Pick of the Month: Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

Published September 22, 2013 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Looking for Me by Beth HoffmanFrom the publisher: Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last.  But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.

Why I liked it: This book is the reason why I LOVE Southern fiction.  With a storyteller’s easy grace, Beth Hoffman whisked me away on Teddi’s emotional journey from a small town farmer’s daughter to a successful antique shop owner. Filled with messages of hope, kindness and tolerance, the story cuts to the very core of what is meant by “paying it forward.”

I especially love how Teddi’s journey of self-discovery revolves around antiques. There’s something very beautiful about breathing new life into an old, unwanted item.  One of the reasons why I adore Teddi is that she sees the beauty in everything and refuses to give up hope. With each chapter, I rooted for her as she struggled to connect with her emotionally-detached mother, and when she relentlessly searched for her missing brother. But what I love most about Teddi is that she’s kind to others without expecting anything in return.

One of my most favorite moments happened toward the end of the book when Teddi took pity on an old, destitute man who appeared at her store with a truck load of old antiques to sell. She didn’t particularly want to purchase unsolicited goods, but she didn’t have the heart to  turn him away.  I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that her good deeds paid off big time in the end!

Favorite secondary character: Of all the wonderful characters in this book, it’s hard to choose a favorite. As Teddi begins to find her place in the world, she befriends an unforgettable cast of characters, including Tula Jane Poteet, an old, eccentric kleptomaniac ; Olivia, Teddi’s romantically-challenged best friend; and Albert, a gifted antiques restorer with a sour disposition and a heart of gold.

I guess if I had to choose, my favorite would be Mr. Palmer, the owner of a Charleston antiques store who gave Teddi her first big break into the business. He was the first to recognize her artistic talent and gave her the encouragement to pursue her passion. We should all be so lucky to have a Mr. Palmer in our lives.

The narrator: If there was an academy award for audiobooks, this narrator should win best actress! Jenna Lamia does a stellar job capturing each of the characters’ unique voices. With her authentic Southern accent and effortless storytelling skills, she delivers a top-notch performance for a truly great book. She also narrates Hoffman’s debut novel, Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, which by the way is one of my all-time most favorite books. You can read all about it here!

Summed up in three words: Heartwarming, poignant, memorable.

Barefoot Girls by Tara McTiernan

Published October 7, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Usually during this time of year I get a little melancholy about the end of summer. I already miss those lazy afternoons tubing down the river, and those weekend escapes to the Texas coast. So when I want to evoke those sweet sun-kissed memories, I envelop myself in a good beach read filled with sun, fun and a dash of mystery. I couldn’t have picked a better end-of-summer beach read than Tara McTiernan’s Barefoot Girls!

The story centers on Captains Island, a charming little East Coast hamlet where a quartet of best friends reunite each summer at their sacred clubhouse known as the “Barefooters Shack.” Throughout the decades, the girls remained thick as thieves. When the ringleader of the group has an unexpected pregnancy, the women swoop in and raise their “barefoot baby” together as if it was their own.

Surrounded by a circle of fun-loving mothers, little Hannah spent many fun-filled summers on the island. On the surface, she had the perfect childhood. But her debut “novel” says otherwise.

Written with such passion and depth, Hannah’s book touches on some heavy duty childhood abandonment issues. It certainly doesn’t seem like something a 21-year-old could write… unless if she’s drawing from her own personal experiences. When a snarky book reviewer insinuates that the novel is a disguised memoir, Hannah’s melodramatic mother, Keeley, completely shuts down. How could she fabricate such hurtful lies?

Even Hannah questions the motivation behind the poison-penned novel. Her mother gave her everything she needed, so where is all the anger and resentment coming from?

To get some answers, she quits her waitressing job and heads out to the place where it all began, the sacred Barefooters clubhouse. Filled with so many happy

Here’s my Indian summer getaway: Rockport, TX.

memories and dusty photo albums, the shack is her only sanctuary from the storm. But when she arrives to Captains Island during the gloomy off season, the atmosphere feels more like a baron ghost town than a seaside getaway. And for the first time, Hannah doesn’t feel comfort in solitude.

The only way to understand the root of her complex emotions is to dig into her mother’s past. Why did her mother always seem so emotionally detached? And why did she always feel so alone – even in the presence of her doting Barefooters?

She better find answers quick – before she sabotages all chances for happiness, including her engagement with Daniel, the one man who managed to find his way into her heart.

Told through multiple narratives, the author expertly intertwines several plot threads: Past memories of the Barefooters’ childhood adventures, Keeley’s current struggle with alcoholism and life on the Upper East Side, and Daniel’s frustrations with Hannah’s walled-up emotions. And if that’s not enough drama, she also throws in the Barefooters’ childhood bully,  a deranged beauty queen with fading looks and a serious vendetta.

As Hannah delves deeper into her mother’s unbreakable bond with the Barefooters, she begins to realize why she has always gone through life feeling like an outsider. When shocking family secrets are revealed and pent-up emotions come to a head, Hannah must learn how to move forward by letting go of her past.

Overall Barefoot Girls is a captivating story about forgiveness, new beginnings and the everlasting bond between women. At 400+ pages it’s a little on the long side, but once you get into it you won’t want to leave the idyllic little summer getaway. Through the author’s prose, you can practically smell the salty air and feel the sand beneath your toes. If you’re looking for a sweet escape, this book will do the trick!

Sundays in Bed With…(#2)

Published June 24, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe


Hooray for Sundays! Whenever this lovely day of the week rolls around, I look forward to long hours of reading, big pancake breakfasts and drinking coffee out of a ceramic mug rather than a to-go sippy cup! These simple pleasures really make life worth living! On this glorious day, I’m still in bed (don’t judge!) with  Ann Brashares’ Sisterhood Everlasting.

This is going to sound really melodramatic, but I’m just goint to say it: Ann Brashares is like the Picasso of writing. She has a true gift for painting the many colors of complicated emotions that most of us can’t even put into words. Once again, she has blown me away with her poignant prose, poetic analogies and multi-layered characters.  I have to hand it to myself, I did a fantabulous job picking out incredibly moving books this month!  After reading Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, I was in the mood for another tear-jerker about broken spirits, female bonding and the power of friendship. And boy did this book deliver!

This is going to sound really weird, but I have to admit, I’ve been avoiding this book because I didn’t want the Traveling Pants series to end. I couldn’t handle saying goodbye to the sardonic Tibby, the introverted Lena and the theatrical Carmen. But most of all, I didn’t want to say goodbye to the impulsive, spirited, fast-moving Bridget. I absolutely love this character, probably because she and I have a lot in common.

A word to the wise, do not listen to this book on tape in a public space! Find yourself a nice, quiet place where you can cry your eyes out and tear through the pages at warp speed. It was really aggravating pressing the stop button when bombshells were dropped and secrets were revealed. I promise to give you more details in the full review, so stay tuned!

What are you reading this Sunday? Post a comment and tell me all about it! This fun little weekly meme was created by my fellow book blogger, The Midnight Book Girl.

Sundays in Bed with…(#1)

Published June 17, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

There’s nothing I’d rather do on a Sunday than laze around in bed with a good book and a pudgy cat. While everyone’s off running errands, working out and being productive, I’m unashamedly still in my PJs sipping coffee and immersing myself in a new story. When I came across the Midnight Book Girl’s cool meme, I couldn’t resist joining my fellow book bloggers – my soul sisters – in their blissful Sunday morning reading adventures!

This morning I’m completely wrapped up in Beth Hoffman’s debut novel, Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt.  One hundred pages zipped by in a flurry and now I’m in need of another box of Kleenex!  I haven’t been this moved by a book since I read The Help.

The story revolves around Cee Cee Honeycutt, a lonely little girl who really got the shaft in the parent department. The first riveting chapters take you through Cee Cee’s plight as the daughter of a bat-shit crazy mother and absentee, alcoholic father.  Shunned by the neighborhood kids, she longs for a best girlfriend more than anything in the world. To shut out her grim reality, she devours books – especially Nancy Drew mysteries.

When tragedy strikes,  Cee Cee’s great aunt Tootie swoops in and whisks her off to Savannah, Georgia. Like little orphan Annie, Cee Cee instantly goes from an abusive, loveless existance to a wondrous world of prosperity, hope and friendship.

A huge lump formed in my throat when I read this exchange between Aunt Tootie and Cee Cee.  

“Your mind must be swimming right now, but I want you to know that I’ve got a big ole house with plenty of room, and I’d love to have you.”

Those six simple words echoed around me and filled the room with light: I’d sure love to have you…I’d sure love to have you…

My shoulders began to shake, and to my disbelief, hot tears spilled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks. Aunt Tootie wrapped me in her arms and pulled me close.

Wow! I can tell you right now that this book is going to be one of my faves!

So what are you reading this morning?

Let’s Hear it for Strong Women!

Published June 9, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

My grandma back in her heyday. She’s the mischievous one on the right hiking up her skirt.

If you’re not already a regular follower of Sylvia Dickey Smith’s blog, Writing Strong Women, you’re in for a treat! Visiting her website is like sipping a cup of coffee with a good friend, the kind of friend you turn to for sage advice and encouragement. Sylvia’s blog gives me the kick in the pants I need harness my inner girl-power and face adversity head on! Can I get a Ya Ya!

I couldn’t think of a better place to post a tribute to the strongest woman I’ve ever known, my grandma. As you can see in this picture, she was a real firecracker! I’d like to think we share the same qualities, especially her smile and ability to love unconditionally. For more about this incredibly important woman in my life, stop on over at Writing Strong Women to read my guest post!

Who’s your favorite strong female character (in fiction or real life)?

Getting through the grief process, one piece at a time

Published May 17, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

I’m new to the grieving process, and apparently it’s a mixed back of laughter, tears and numbness. My 95-year-old grandma (who I thought would live well into her hundreds!) passed away this afternoon. I knew it was coming and that I’d totally be prepared to deal, but yeah…not so much. Losing a loved one is hard – even if they’ve been on this earth for almost a century! A boatload of memories, regrets, joy and pain have all come together in a perfect storm of crazy inside my head. Luckily (or perhaps it was fate?) I met Beth Howard, bestselling author of Making Piece: a Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie, at a BookPeople event last week. This incredibly brave woman spoke candidly in front of a roomful of strangers about the death of her husband – and how she got through it with pie, good friends and a good old-fashioned American road trip.  

My grandma, Marynelle Crawford.

Even though I’m not going to see grandma’s photo on the Today Show’s Smucker’s birthday announcements, it’s comforting to know she lived a long, full life. Despite my lack of culinary skills, I’m going to bake an apple crumble pie in her honor. I always felt happy, safe and warm in her presence, which is kind of how I feel when I indulge in a gooey slice of apple crumble pie. I hope she’s sharing a slice with grandpa in heaven right at this very moment. If you want to know more about this wonderful woman, check out the obit that I wrote.

Here’s some more info about the book. Doesn’t it sound fascinating?

From Goodreads:“You will find my story is a lot like pie, a strawberry-rhubarb pie. It’s bitter. It’s messy. It’s got some sweetness, too. Sometimes the ingredients get added in the wrong order, but it has substance, it will warm your insides, and even though it isn’t perfect, it still turns out okay in the end.”

My grandma and the world’s cutest little child.

When journalist Beth M. Howard’s young husband dies suddenly, she packs up the RV he left behind and hits the American highways. At every stop along the way—whether filming a documentary or handing out free slices on the streets of Los Angeles—Beth uses pie as a way to find purpose. Howard eventually returns to her Iowa roots and creates the perfect synergy between two of America’s greatest icons—pie and the American Gothic House, the little farmhouse immortalized in Grant Wood’s famous painting, where she now lives and runs the Pitchfork Pie Stand.

Making Piece powerfully shows how one courageous woman triumphs over tragedy. This beautifully written memoir is, ultimately, about hope. It’s about the journey of healing and recovery, of facing fears, finding meaning in life again, and moving forward with purpose and, eventually, joy. It’s about the nourishment of the heart and soul that comes from the simple act of giving to others, like baking a homemade pie and sharing it with someone whose pain is even greater than your own. And it tells of the role of fate, second chances and the strength found in community

Review: Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau

Published April 23, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

I have to confess, I have very little interest in yoga.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a downward dog and an upward cat, but all my friends love this alternate form of exercise, so it must be somewhat effective. They all try to get me to join in on the fun, but I’d so much rather hit the trails at Town Lake than pretzel myself into uncomfortable poses in a sweaty room full of strangers.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out what all the hype is about. Why would you rather do the splits on a little rubber mat than go for a nice little jog in the great outdoors? Can you really get a real workout by staying in one place? And what’s the deal with all the mind, body and soul mumbo jumbo? 

When the author contacted me about this book, I figured this would be a good opportunity to broaden my spiritual – and cardiovascular – horizons.  I’m so glad she did because I now have a whole new perspective on yoga and the people who love it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not signing up for a yoga class just yet, but I do have some newfound appreciation for the people who love the art of deep breathing and downward dogging.  

The story begins when 33-year-old Lorna Crawford is struck by a spiritual crisis while sipping cosmos at the local bar with her gossipy gal pals.  Suddenly she loses her desire to toss back drinks and play the “let’s make fun of the people around us” game.  You know the type, right? The group of girls who snicker at unfortunate “fashion victims” at trendy bars. The ones who whisper rude remarks just loud enough for their targeted victims to hear.  Who could blame Lorna for wanting to bail?

Fortunately Lorna’s sister, Anna (aka Angelica), is a minister who can help her find a new spiritual path. With Anna’s guidance, she stocks up on new age books and dabbles into the mysterious realm of yoga. Just before she can master the sitting lotus, she signs up for a silent yoga retreat with her new best friend and yoga aficionado, Janelle.  Sure, a yoga retreat sounds like a nice break from the trappings of modern-day life, but this one requires no caffeine, no meat, no boozy drinks and no electronics…did I mention NO CAFFEINE?!?! Ouch, my head hurts just thinking about it.

Along the way, she gains a posse of yoga friends who just love, love, love organic salads, green tea, and meditating.  Pretty hardcore, right? Well hey, to each their own. When all of life’s stressors come to a head, Lorna gains strength from her friends and the healing powers of yoga. From a high stress corporate job, to calculating coworkers, to a workaholic boyfriend to a nightmare of a mom, this girl has a lot on her plate. But through yoga and “sujaling” she gradually learns how to look at her adversaries in a whole new light.

Now here’s where the book gets really interesting. I’m not sure if I’m a believer in yoga or rhythmic chanting, but I am a HUGE believer in positive psychology. Right after college I read the Divine Wisdom of Florence Doval Shin to gain confidence before entering the “real world” and it all made perfect sense. Just like Lorna, I was able to get through some tough situations by visualizing good outcomes and blocking negative thinking.  If your motto is “expect the worst, hope for the best,” you may think differently after reading up on positive psychology.  Trust me, I’m no Pollyanna, but I do know negative thinking leads to self-sabotage. 

Overall this book is worth checking out – even if you’re not interested in yoga or religion.  Part women’s fiction, part self-help, this book is both entertaining and enlightening.  I can’t say that Lorna’s spiritual journey inspired me to sign up for yoga, but I did learn a few things about myself that I’d like to change. I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s underlying messages: Be compassionate toward others, abandon judgments and kill your enemies with kindness.  At the risk of sounding corny, I have to say that if everyone read this book with an open mind, the world would be a better place.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Get it, read it, share it!

Review: Recession Proof by Kimberly S. Lin

Published April 2, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

To say Helen is unhappy would be an understatement. She works 15-hour days at a high-stress financial job, where she struggles to stay afloat under a ridiculous workload.  As the only female financial analyst at her firm, she knows her boss is doing everything in his power to replace her with another smooth-talking good ol’ boy. When his patronizing lectures about her substandard productivity get worse with each passing day, she knows it’s only a matter of time until she’s standing in the dreaded unemployment line.

After a bad day of work (which is pretty much every day) she seeks comfort from her longtime boyfriend, Mark. But sadly, he’d rather play video games and go bowling with his douchebag friends than spend quality time with his girlfriend. For six long years, Helen has been trapped in a dead-end relationship with a man she doesn’t even love. Unwilling to own up to her true feelings, she convinces herself they’re meant to be together. They’ve stuck it out this long, so why rock the boat?

On the cusp of turning 30, Helen still has no idea who she is and how to live her life on her own terms. Since she was a kid she always wanted to be a writer, but her dream fell flat when her father warned her of the uncertainty of writing jobs. Desperate for her father’s praise, she decided to pursue a stable, lucrative career in finance. Although she appears to be right on track, her life is spiraling out of control.

Thankfully she has her best friend, Sophie, to turn to when times get tough. I absolutely adore this character, probably because she reminds me of my own BFF! Smart, sassy and honest (sometimes to a fault), Sophie offers comfort and comic relief when Helen needs it the most. Even though she’s rich, gorgeous and engaged to the perfect man, it’s impossible to hate her. OK, maybe I hate her just a tad for having the ability to eat whatever she wants without gaining weight! Unlike Helen’s own sister, who only cares about keeping up with the Jones’ in her posh Orange County neighborhood, Sophie is there to pick up the pieces when everything falls apart. They say blood is thicker than water, but I think that’s a bunch of crap. True best friends will have your back – no matter what.

When her problems inevitably come to a head, Helen realizes her only chance at happiness is to finally call her own shots.  And if that means going against her father’s wishes and  putting her relationship with Mark out of its misery, so be it! Determined to pursue a writing career, she takes on a pro bono job at a local travel magazine and steadily builds upon her portfolio. Even though she’s not making any money, she loves writing. And for the first time in years, she’s on the verge of finding happiness.  But yet there are still a few kinks she needs to work out, especially in the love department.  When Mr. Perfect comes along, she makes a slew of self-sabotaging mistakes.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll stop right here. You’ll just have to read the book to get to the good stuff. Trust me, it’s well worth your time.

Overall, this is a fun and engaging character-driven read. This talented new author proves her understanding of women’s relationships with a style that’s both snappy and heartfelt. Women will absolutely recognize themselves and their friendships on the pages. Fans of Emily Griffin, Jennifer Weiner and Jane Green will enjoy this introspective, sharply realistic and tenderly humorous novel. Don’t get comfortable because you won’t be able to put it down!

Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark

Published February 4, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

In my line of work, I spend a good chunk of my time at the local news station watching the morning anchors effortlessly chat with professors about their research on live TV. It looks like a lot of fun, but sometimes I wonder how they can stay on point when they’re feeling down in the dumps.  Isn’t it amazing that these people can slap on a smile and look like a million bucks every day of the week?

So when Lauren Clark, a former news anchor and producer, contacted me about her debut novel Stay Tuned, I couldn’t wait to get a peek inside the fascinating world of broadcast journalism. 

The story centers around Mellissa Moore, a frenzied newsroom producer with a plethora of problems at work and at home. Not only does she have to continuously keep two anchors from slashing each other’s throats on the air, she also has to figure out what’s going on with her absentee husband who suspiciously spends his nights and weekends “working.”

Just when life couldn’t get more hectic, two longtime anchors get fired after a fistfight breaks out on the ten o’ clock news.  Unwilling to let WSGA go down on her watch, Melissa slaps on a coat of lipstick and wraps up the last remaining minutes of the evening news. Little did she know, her demanding boss liked her performance and decided to make her fill in as the evening news anchor until the next hotshot diva comes along.

With a shabby wardrobe and no on-camera experience, Melissa is overwhelmed to say the least. And when she tries to seek encouragement from her husband, his only concern is whether she can still pick up his dress shirts at the dry cleaners. What the hell?!?! I have to say, I got really pissed off at this up-tight workaholic throughout most of the book. How could he ignore his wife when she’s clearly drowning in her work? How could he leave her those crappy Post-it notes instead of picking up the phone or actually talking to her in person?

I really enjoyed the part when Melissa took her husband’s credit card and bought herself some much-needed ensembles. With her mousy hair and ill-fitting mom jeans, I figured she’d encounter a “Pretty Woman” dilemma at the high-end boutique. But lucky for her, the shop girl instantly took her under her wing and hooked her up with a whole new wardrobe.  I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m just going to say that this chance encounter led to a something truly great at the end of the book.

There’s a lot of sisterhood bonding in this book, which I really love. No matter what, Melissa’s best friend was there to offer support and encouragement.  And with a mother suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, a daughter off to college and a husband who just doesn’t seem to give a flip, she needs her best friend more than ever.

This first-time author has a real knack for character development, which in my opinion is the mark of a gifted writer. I was instantly enamored by Melissa’s good-hearted personality. Even when her husband acts like a total rat, she fights the urge to jump into an affair with her mega-hot co-anchor.  And rather than focusing on sensationalized headlines, she takes advantage of the limelight by promoting social good. Wouldn’t it be great if all newscasters had pure intentions? There certainly wouldn’t be anymore headlines about Kim Kardashian creeping into our morning news shows. That, my friends, would be a beautiful thing.

I do have one bone to pick with the author. My shins are killing me and it’s all her fault! I like to read during my morning workouts, and when I reached the last couple of chapters, I couldn’t put the book down. Before I knew it, I burned more than 800 calories on the bike!

Overall, this is an emotionally powerful story chock-full of real characters, real issues, and real thrills. Fans of Kristin Hannah, Jennifer Weiner and Ann Brashares are sure to enjoy this one. I look forward to reading her next novel, Dancing Naked in Dixie!

Lindsay Frucci on Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio!

Published January 10, 2012 by Chick-Lit Cafe

As I attempt to make good on my new year’s resolutions, I find myself thinking “what would Lindsay Frucci do?” After reading her memoir The Pig and Me, I finally decided to finally get crackin’ on that novel that’s been brewing inside my head for so long. Now that I’m about 20 pages into it, I feel more confident and hopeful about venturing into the world of publishing. If you, like me, need some motivation to pursue your dream, listen to her interview on Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Writing Strong Women radio show!

From Sylvia’s Blog Talk Radio: If you think The Pig and Me is an interesting title of a nonfiction book, wait until you meet the author, Lindsay, Frucci, and hear how she turned an idea into a profitable business against all odds. And if that doesn’t take a strong woman, I don’t know what does. Read her words about being a strong woman:

“I didn’t start out as a strong woman. Quite the opposite. But over time I began to feel a need to stand up for myself, to be heard. I began to believe I had worth beyond what I’d been told – and believed – I had. I began to understand that I was a Strong Woman. The transition began in my late 20’s, but lapsed frequently. When I found my voice in my mid-40’s, I held on to it with every ounce of my being and never let it go.”

For more about the book, read my review here.  Oh and did I mention that Sylvia is also a talented author? Go here for a review of her Third Eye mystery series, and go here for a review of her stand-alone novel A War of Her Own.

Thank you Sylvia for spotlighting this fabulous first-time author. Your radio show rocks!

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