Tag Archives: chick lit

Blog Tour + Review: The Edge of Grace by Christa Allan

12 Sep

The Edge of GraceJoin Christa Allan, author of the contemporary fiction novel, The Edge of Grace (Abingdon Press), as she virtually tours the blogosphere September 5 – 30 2011 on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!

About the book…

The Edge of GraceWhen Caryn Becker answers the telephone on most Saturday morning, it’s generally not a prelude to disaster. Except this time, her brother David’s call shifts her universe. Her emotional reserves are already depleted being a single parent to six-year-old Ben after the unexpected death of her husband Harrison. But when David is the target of a brutal hate crime, Caryn has to decide what she’s willing to risk, including revealing her own secrets, to help her brother.  A family ultimately explores the struggle of acceptance, the grace of forgiveness, and moving from prejudice to love others as they are, not as we’d like them to be.

About the author…

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, The Edge of Grace is Christa’s second novel. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, released in February from Abingdon Press. She is under contract for three more novels that will release in 2012 and 2013. She has been teaching high school English for over twenty years, earning her National Board Certification in 2007. The mother of five adult children and the totally smitten Grammy of two granddaughters, Christa and her veterinarian husband, Ken, live in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Visit her website at www.christaallan.com.

You can connect with Christa at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ChristaAllan.Author.

Amy’s Review…

The Edge of Grace sounded like a book I would really enjoy—an edgy fiction tackling the hot button issue of homosexuality.  Unfortunately, I found this book  difficult to read, not because of the plot line, but because of the first-person narrative, in which the protagonist often interrupts her own storyline with meandering thoughts.   While this works well in the world of blogging or even in memoirs, it was frustrating in the context of this story.  Told from the first-person perspective of Caryn, a skeptical widow, who is devastated when her only brother announces his homosexuality.  I found Caryn irritationg and failed to sympathize with her feelings about her brother and the death of her husband.

The only person worse than Caryn is her best friend and neighbor, Julie.  When Caryn shares with Julie that her brother is gay, Julie reacts by telling Caryn that it’s not a big deal.  I mean, the law of female friendship states that if your friend is terribly upset—no matter what it is and if even she is wrong—then you have a reaction of equal or greater turmoil. 

Besides disliking the shallow characters, I was also put-off by the over-familiarized writing.  I felt like a serious piece of fiction was shoved into a fluffy chick lit.  It was difficult for me to read because there seemed to be unnecessary words, which I felt interfered with not only the flow of thought, but also with the overall flow of the story.

Conceptually, The Edge of Grace sounds great and has a beautiful cover.  In fact, the cover was my favorite part of the book.

Even though it wasn’t for me, maybe this book is just what you’re looking for! Visit Pump Up Your Book! to read an excerpt from The Edge of Grace.

*With thanks to Pump Up Your Book!, Christa Allan, and Abingdon Press  for the review copy of this book.*

Book Review:: Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones

1 Mar

Jenny B. Jones’ novel, Just Between You and Me, has all the elements of a good book—quirky, realistic characters, an interesting plot with many twists and turns, colorful dialogue, and deep, dark family secrets that keep the reader moving forward for answers.  At any point, Just Between You and Me could turn into just another chick lit book.  Instead, Jones’ infusion of humor and wit place her among a growing number of writers who can weave together a good tale without turning their novels into a thinly veiled evangelistic tract.

Jones’ main character, Maggie Montgomery, is a former “mean girl” all grown up.  The successful cinematographer left her small hometown of Ivy, Texas behind as she made a new life for herself in Chicago.  A sudden family emergency causes Maggie to come face to face with an entire town she’s wronged (but doesn’t remember wronging) with the antics of her youth.  And, boy, do these people hold a grudge!  And it seems like her 10 year-old niece, Riley, is following right in her aunt’s footsteps.

Refusing to shy away from issues like mental illness (schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder), drug addiction, and dysfunctional families, Just Between You and Me has depth and dimension.  The characters are quirky and full of life.  The dialogue is sharp and amusing, especially between Maggie and her love interest, Ivy veterinarian Dr. Connor Blake.  In fact, it is Maggie’s internal thoughts that move the narrative forward as she offers thoughts on junk food (SweeTarts are a fave), her interactions with Dr. Hottie, and her prayers to God.  Plus, unlike other chick lit heroines, Maggie isn’t a shopaholic, drunk, or skank.

Jones expertly infuses Maggie’s Christianity into Just Between You and Me.  Instead of offering overtones to make this passable Christian fiction or a full-on battle for the reader’s soul, Maggie lives a very normal Christian life—doing daily devotions, going to church, and praying to God.  Jones doesn’t sugarcoat the Christian life, nor does she water it down.  In fact, it’s a near-perfect example of a woman wrestling with God’s Will while trying to figure out how to help her family, especially her emotionally distant father and drug addicted sister.

Just Between You and Me is refreshing contemporary fiction with a strong moral backbone—one that doesn’t dissolve into “Little House on the Prairie” type romanticism. Excellent writing, hilarious dialogue, and a good plot, Jenny B. Jones’ books are just as good as her blog (read it!).  And that’s saying a lot.

*A review copy of this book was provided to me by Jenny B. Jones because she’s cool like that.*

Christmas Un-Wrapped with Christa Banister

21 Dec

When it comes to writers, Christa Banister is top-notch.  Author of the popular Sydney Alexander chick lit series (Around the World in 80 Dates, Blessed are the Meddlers, and the yet-to-be released third novel), Christa is also a freelance journalist and an avid blogger.  Always amusing and encouraging, I was excited that Christa took time out of her busy schedule to unwrap Christmas with Backseat Writer.

Did you score any good deals on Black Friday? Is it a day of great deals or terrifying chaos?

I absolutely, positively love to shop, but not on Black Friday. I think it was doing so in Manhattan a few years back that officially turned me off. I remember being in H&M and not being able to breathe because of the sheer volume of people, not a pleasant feeling to say the least.

What is one of your favorite Christmas memories?

Will and I started dating a month and a half before Christmas in 2004, so it was too early to officially met each other’s families. But I remember him dropping me off at the airport and thinking how that was probably the last Christmas I’d be spending alone with my family, and I was right. I couldn’t tell you how excited I was when he called and wished me a Merry Christmas…it was definitely love, baby!

Let’s talk Santa. Did you believe in him as a child? How did you find out he’s not real?

I definitely believed in Santa as a kid and remembered being really worried that He wouldn’t be able to find me when I went to my grandparent’s home in Illinois, rather than staying at my place in Wisconsin. But when he didn’t bring me a computer after asking for one several years in a row (and I was even nice not naughty to boot), I suspected that my parents probably were involved somehow. And of course, I was right…

What’s your fave Christmas song/Christmas movie or cartoon/Christmas cookie?

Hands down, my favorite Christmas song is when anyone with a really good voice sings “O Holy Night.” My favorite Christmas movie is probably everyone’s old standby, “It’s a Wonderful Night,” which incidentally, I didn’t see until Will and I started dating (and he hadn’t either…we quite possibly were the two last people left on earth who hadn’t). I remember the night we went to the Belcourt in Nashville and saw it…it was such a fantastic and heart-warming story, despite the underlying sadness. As for my favorite Christmas cookie, I can’t pass up a really good M&M cookie or the peanut butter cookies with the Hershey kisses in the middle.

Take 5 with Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of I’ll Have Who She’s Having

19 Oct

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke’s 20-year friendship is the stuff chick lit novels are made of—literally!  Not only are Liz and Lisa a dynamic duo in their own right, but they pooled their talents to co-wrote their first book, I’ll Have Who She’s Having.  Both ladies say they have Type A personalities, so they worked out their control issues by writing a dual narrative book, each focusing on one main character.

The two main protagonists—Kate and Kelly—are sisters (and best friends) who are at two very different stages in their lives.  While Kelly is still trying to land a man, Kate is struggling as a stay-at-home mom with an infant.  Each sister searches for self-significance in an idealized relationship with one man—their volleyball coach!  The result is…well, you’ll just have to read the book now, won’t you?

Because they are amazingly beautiful and intelligent, Liz and Lisa agreed to Take 5 with Backseat Writer.  I hope you find them as amusing and brilliant as I do!

How does the friendship between the Walker sisters, Kate and Kelly, mimic your friendship with one another?

Lisa: Liz and I are a lot like Kate and Kelly. For example, there was the time I dressed up like Britney Spears and tried to steal one of her boyfriends. Just kidding!

In all seriousness, we are like sisters in every way (except I don’t have frizzy hair and she doesn’t have a pointy nose!). From the love and support to the break ups and make ups, through our 20+ years of being friends, we’ve always known each other as well as we know ourselves. And that’s what makes our friendship just as strong as Kate and Kelly’s sisterhood bond.

Liz: When we wrote the book, Lisa and I couldn’t have been more different than our characters (er, if you don’t count the fact that Lisa was single with a string of recent break ups under her belt and I was married with two kids)…but our friendship really is very similar in that we value the other’s opinion as much as our own. And we know we can always count on each other.

No matter what life stage a woman is in, it seems like she battles with feeling attractive, sexy, and desirable—something that single, sexy Kate and new mom Kelly both deal with in different ways.  Why do you think women battle so much with these feelings and how do you think reading about Kelly and Kate’s struggles might empower women?

Lisa: If only we had the answers to why women battle so much with negative body image or more importantly, the answer to make it stop!

Through Kate’s character, we wanted to show that you can be thin and attractive like Kate and still have insecurities about the way you look. We think women will relate to this character because how a woman feels about herself has more to do with inner confidence than anything else. And part of Kate’s journey is battling the issues she has that have nothing to do with her physical appearance.

Liz: As a mother of two, I hoped other moms would be able to relate to the struggles Kelly goes through with her own body image. Until the end of time, women will always compare themselves to each other (it’s just what we do!) and for Kelly, she struggles with not having the same body type as her sister, Kate, and her mother, Kitty. But, like Kate, she realizes her struggles with feeling inferior about her looks have more to do with her insecurities as a new mother and in her marriage.

Can you spill about the next Liz and Lisa masterpiece?

Lisa & Lisa: First, thank you for calling it a masterpiece! What we can tell you, is that our next book is again about women. (What better subject is there?) And this time, we’re tackling the important topic of divorce. And how women can tend to misunderstand and judge each other in tense and difficult situations like the break up of a marriage.

Another great way to get a weekly dose of Liz and Liz is by reading your joint blog, Chick Lit Is Not Dead.  So, come on, ladies, why should people read it?

Lisa: Because it’s (brutally) honest.

Liz: We write about things that happen to a lot of women- single, married and moms alike- in a way that we hope elicits a COL (chortle out loud) or two.

Since you reference singing and karaoke so much in your book, I must know—what’s your biggest karaoke disaster? (Mine was after having a terrible night singing Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” at a TGI Friday’s.  It was wretched and yet so empowering.)

Lisa: I have a steadfast rule. No. Karaoke. Evuh.  This is because my voice is worse than Cameron Diaz’s in MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING. Trust me; the world will be happy I spared them the pain.

Liz: I was karaoke-ing (is that a word?) in college with a friend and in a bold and inexplicable move, I decided to go solo! Um, I’m not sure what the problem was—the song choice (Whitney Houston) the drinks before (they all ended with ‘drop’) or my voice (I’d like to think it wasn’t my voice!) but let’s just say, my only solo since has been in the shower!

For more Liz and Lisa fun, be sure to check out their blog Chick Lit Is Not Dead and follow the ladies on Twitter (@lizandlisa) for an array of colorful and humorous comments!

Book Review:: Veil of Roses-Laura Fitzgerald (2007)

8 Feb

Even though it was published in Jan. 2007, which is waaaaaaaaaaay past the “appropriate” time in which one should do a book review (within 6 months of release at least), I would be doing you all an injustice if I didn’t tell you about Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald.  A debut author, Fitzgerald took a new twist on the chick lit genre (if you can even classify this book as chick lit) by introducing us to Tamila “Tami” Soroush, a young woman from Iran visiting the United States on a 90-day visa with the purpose of finding a Persian husband so she won’t be forced to live a life of oppression in Iran.

Tami’s life is very small in Iran where she is forced to hide her beauty behind a hejab (head cover)  and perhaps marry an older Iranian man that she does not love while living in a country where she is not valued, simply because she is a woman.  Having resided in the United States themselves, Tami’s parents send their daughter to live with her married sister, Maryam, in Tusc0n.  Maryam sets to work immediately trying to “hook” Tami up potential suitors (think My Big, Fat Greek Wedding), but alas, Tami falls in love with the iconic American man–Ike who works at Starbucks.  Ike is equally smitten with Tami; however, Tami’s culture forbids this romance.

Perhaps the most intriguing parts of the book come when Tami is exploring her new environment, how she marvels at the freedom of American women to wear shorts and couples to mingle in open-air cafes sipping lattes.  She carries a camera with her to take pictures of everyday freedoms to which she is denied in Iran.  Looking at my world through a Tami’s eyes offers such a fresh perspective on liberty.  She experiences, savors, and views her new world with wide-eyed wonder.  Even the air in America is cleaner as pollution runs rampant in her home country.

What I loved about this book was that it wasn’t typical at all and Tami isn’t guaranteed a happy ending.  Until the last few pages, I was left wondering–Will she go back to Iran?  Will she marry the creepy guy?  What about Ike, who she loves?  I was so enraptured during the last few chapters, I stayed up until 3:30 AM to find out what would become of Tami.  The heroine of the tale is a well-created character who reminds readers about first love and true love, and while romance is part of the story, it is not at all sexual.  Yet there are steamy scenes of passion, which are not at all raunchy (think a 27 year-old Persian girl getting her first kiss–whoa!  It really is intense).  Not only that, the character dialogue and interaction is witty and very human, which adds to the interest of a tale.

I immensely enjoyed Veil of Roses and am glad my mother thrust it into my hands saying, “You have to read this!”  If I could read out to all of you through my computer screen, I would say the same thing, “You have to read this!” That is, if you like interesting cross-cultural fiction that offers depth and insight into other cultures, dynamic and amusing characters and good story-telling.  If you don’t like that, then you should probably avoid this book altogether.

Christa Banister :: Blessedly Meddling in Chick Lit

12 Sep

By Amy Sondova There’s one thing they never teach you in those college journalism classes—how to deal with the angst of interviewing and writing about another writer, especially when that individual is music journalist and author, Christa Banister.  Not only has she just released her second novel, Blessed Are the Meddlers, she also has an illustrious career in journalism which includes contributions to CCM Magazine, Crosswalk.com, Christian Single, ChristianityToday.com, and even a Christian music blog for MTV’s Urge.com.

Yet Christa could put anyone at ease with her dynamic people skills and cutting edge wit, which is also prevalent in her writing.  Falling in the genre of chick lit, Christa’s novels follow the adventures of Sydney Alexander, a travel writer who’s looking for love in Around the World in 80 Dates.  In the second book, Blessed Are the Meddlers, Sydney has found wedded bliss and is helping her friends and family do the same.

Finding inspiration for the books was easy—Christa wrote from her own experiences and those of her friends with a few tweaks here and there.  Christa’s main character, Sydney Alexander, is similar to her creator, “I can’t help but have things in common with Sydney.  Because I write for a living, it was a logical profession for her.  But then I wanted her to do something a little different.  She’s not an entertainment writer; she does that a little bit on the side.  She’s a travel writer, which I thought would be a really fun job.”  With a chuckle she adds, “We both enjoy the same beverages and we both travel quite a bit.”  Plus, like Christa, Sydney and many of her friends also share a faith in God.

Samantha Alexander, Sydney’s younger sister, is a caricature of Christa’s own sister.  However, fans find it hard to believe that some of the books more unusual characters are based on real life individuals, “People say there’s no way that Rain [Sydney’s hippie friend] could have been inspired by someone real, but she definitely was,” shares Christa, saying that  Sydney’s good friend, Rain, was crafted after her college roommate.

However, when it comes to Sydney’s wardrobe, Christa has to laugh, “She dresses way better than I do.”  Because a lot of chick lit books take place in fashion-savvy cities like New York or L.A., top-of-the line brands and extravagant spending is a marked feature of the literature.  Seeking to be stylish and fashionable, Sydney spends a lot of money on looking good. “All characters have flaws,” explains Christa.  “Rather than give her a drinking problem, I gave her a shopping problem.”

Being surrounded by products like MAC cosmetics and Prada bags is a life most women only dream about, which is exactly why they flock to chick lit.  The genre began to take off in the late 90’s with the success of books like Bridget Jones’ Diary.  “Generally, they are those books with a pink cover that feature a girl with an umbrella and a purse,” says Christa, who not only enjoys reading chick lit, but is a Jane Austen enthusiast as well.

Christa finds heavy influence from Austen’s strong heroines, particularly Emma, the heroine of the book by the same name.  “From a literary perspective, those books are considered some of the original ‘chick lit’ books; at least that’s what they say about them now.  I know I’ve merged that with my love of romantic comedies,” says Christa.  “I didn’t want the typical boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl scenario.  I wanted to mix it up like Jane Austen does.”

And mix it up, she does.  Heartbreak after heartbreak, weird date after weird date, and surprising hook-up after surprising hook-up, readers are constantly wondering what’s next for Sydney and friends.  As a heroine, Sydney is slightly neurotic, fully endearing, and distinctly charming.  “I feel like a lot times the heroines we’re given are these dippy girls who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances that aren’t that plausible.  I wanted a strong heroine who definitely had a point of view and opinion about things.  She has her typical girl struggles, but I wanted her to learn something in the process,” explains Christa.

Sydney’s sister, Samantha, is often compared to another feisty female close to Christa’s heart is “Allie” from Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook.  “Nicholas Sparks—it’s a completely guilty pleasure!  I love all of his books!” exclaims Christa enthusiastically.  “They all end very, very tragically, but I love it!  That’s melodrama at its best.  If you’re going to do it, you have to go all the way with it.”

Winks to Austen and Sparks aside, before marrying the love of her life, Christa also wondered if there were any good Christian guys left.  “That’s part of the reason I wrote the books; I had the same questions.  It’s funny because in dating there are enough complexities as it is, but then when you add the whole Christian element to it; it gets more confusing,” commiserates Christa.  “We often talk about girls making a list of qualities they want in their future spouses, but I think guys do the same thing.  They want this supermodel that can cook like Rachel Ray and is this spiritual Mother Theresa and all these unattainable things.”

Just because God gave Christa an amazing love story doesn’t mean that she doesn’t remember how difficult the singles scene can be.  “Everyone would tell me, ‘When you stop looking for it, when you least expect it, it will happen.’ I hated hearing that more than anything.  How can you not expect it when you really want that in your life?”

Finding herself somewhat contented in her singleness, Christa didn’t expect to meet her future husband in Nashville while covering a Derek Webb concert.  Since the show was kind of boring, Christa struck up a conversation with a handsome writer in the crowd and sparks flew, even if Derek Webb’s performance didn’t.  “I tease him to this day, ‘Because you were so boring, I met the love of my life,’” laughs Christa.  “Six months after we were dating, he proposed before the U2 show in Chicago.  He had to upstage Bono and he did a very good job of that.”

Just like her character Sydney, Christa isn’t afraid to dole out some dating advice for single ladies, “First of all, I would encourage all single women who want to meet a quality single guy to pray first.  It seems elementary but I think it’s the best thing you can do.  God wants to know  the desires of our hearts.  Of course, he already does, but he wants us to verbalize them.  Secondly, you need to be proactive.  Girls want to be pursued and want to be asked out, but spend a lot of time at home waiting for him to show up at the door.  That’s not going to happen.  It could, but it’s not very likely.”

She continues, “It’s mostly getting out there and being available.  When you see someone you do want to get to know, strike up a conversation.  You’ll find the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  It may not lead to Mr. Right, but you might make a good friend in the process.  Who can have too many good friends?”

Besides, if you’re like Sydney (or Emma), the more good friends, the more matchmaking combinations available!  So, what’s next for Sydney?  Christa is in the infant stages of writing her third book to round out the series, “She’s going to get quasi-famous and she’s going to deal with all the things that you start to deal with when you start to believe your own hype.”  Unfortunately, fans will just have to wait with baited breath to see how Sydney’s move to the Music City changes her life.

Sharing a mutual love of Diet Coke, Death Cab For Cutie, and self-depreciating humor, I’m proud to be known as a colleague of Christa Banister’s in the wild word of journalism.  I also hope to meet my future husband at a Derek Webb concert, which would be my fairytale ending.  Until then, I’ll curl up with my Christa Banister books and get lost in the hilarious adventures of Sydney Alexander and her friends.

Print copy of article.

When she’s not writing, Christa enjoys a multitude of activities, which include watching the Food Network and trying out fun new recipes.  Because of her love for cooking, we decided it would be fun to include one of Christa’s favorite recipes for you to try.  Let us know how it turned out!

Christa’s Marvelous Chicken Marsala For Four (or two if you’re really hungry!)

This can be served over a variety of tasty sides—your favorite pasta w/butter and parmesan cheese, couscous or brown rice flavored with chicken stock (instead of water) and fresh basil. Crisp green beans or asparagus work as another great accompaniment.

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

3/4 cup of Marsala wine (Florio or Holland House are my favorites)

3 T butter

3 T olive oil

a splash of chicken stock

1 cup sliced mushrooms (I prefer mini portobellos but any mushrooms will do)

salt and pepper

red pepper flakes

3/4 cup flour

fresh basil

shredded parmesan cheese

In a heavy non-stick skillet, heat olive oil in a pan over low-to-medium heat.

Then using two sheets of plastic wrap, pound the chicken until it’s about a quarter of an inch thick. (This allows the sauce to really take center stage.) Season the chicken (both sides) with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a few red pepper flakes for extra flavor. Then dredge the chicken in the flour, and be sure to shake off the excess.

Now that your pan has been heating up, carefully place the chicken in the pan. Cook it on the first side until lightly browned (about two to three minutes). Then turn the chicken and add the mushrooms into the pan. Cook about two minutes longer, until lightly browned and continue to stir and incorporate the mushrooms.

Add the Marsala wine and the splash of chicken stock to the pan, along with the butter and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. To finish it off, tear up some fresh basil and sprinkle on top of the chicken, along with a liberal amount of parmesan cheese.

Bon Appetit!

Print copy of Christa’s marvelous recipe!

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