Stephanie Elliot

Liz's Best Books of 2014 plus giveaway!

The Vacationers by Emma StraubMiss Brenda and The Loveladiesa Paris Apertment by Michelle GableindexBig Little Lies by Liane MoriartyTwisted Sisters by Jen Lancaster  



The Good Girl by Mary KubicaThe Art of Adapting by Cassandra DunnA little bit of everything lost






OMGEEEEE. Where the hell did 2014 go? It feels like just yesterday we were getting ready to launch Your Perfect Life. And speaking of launches--we can't wait for The Status of All Things--officially launching June 2, 2015! Read what it's about here!

But one thing is for sure--we read a great TON of books this year. SO many that it was really hard to narrow it down. And we want to know what YOUR favorite books of 2014 were. Tell us here and you'll be entered a stack of TEN mystery books. Yep, ten! Leave a comment--contest closes December 14th at 8am PST.

Oh, and be one the lookout tomorrow for Lisa's top books of the year plus another major TEN book giveaway!

1. The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers by Emma StraubConfession: I didn't want to like this book. It was so over-hyped last summer that I was sure I'd be disappointed. But to my surprise and delight, this story about a family vacation was both witty and slyly insightful. And it even inspired us write our next book in a third person narrative. So if that ends up sucking, you know who to blame! (Emma Straub, of course!)

The Scoop: For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

2. Miss Brenda and The Loveladies by Brenda Spahn and Irene Zutell

Miss Brenda and The LoveladiesI sat down one Saturday afternoon and thought I'd read a few chapters of this non-fiction book and then get a few things done around the house. Five hours later, my house was still a total mess and i was wiping tears off my face as I read the last page. If you only read one non-fiction book this year, READ THIS. It will restore your faith in humanity, I promise.

The Scoop: For Brenda Spahn, entrepreneur and businesswoman, wealth was a lifestyle—until a brush with the law threatened to send her to prison. In those dark moments, Brenda made a promise to God.  Spared incarceration, a renewed Brenda glimpsed into the lives of women serving time in one of the worst places in America—the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama.

What she saw prompted a God-inspired vision.

With a heart to help and a will that couldn’t be crushed, Brenda fought the system and overcame tremendous obstacles to take ex-cons into her own home and help them navigate the alien world of life on the outside.

This is the story of Brenda’s journey from rags to riches to redemption. It’s the story of the first unlikely year of her “Whole Way House” and of the extraordinary lives of the first seven women who came to call her “Miss Brenda.” It’s a story that testifies to the power of faith and how God changes hearts every day.

3. A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

a Paris Apertment by Michelle GableI felt as if I was walking through Paris as I turned the pages of this beautifully written novel. Fast paced and smartly written, there's a reason why this charming debut novel is a national bestseller!

The Scoop: When April Vogt's boss tells her about an apartment in the ninth arrondissement that has been discovered after being shuttered for the past seventy years, the Sotheby's continental furniture specialist does not hear the words "dust" or "rats" or "decrepit." She hears Paris. She hears escape.

Once in France, April quickly learns the apartment is not merely some rich hoarder's repository. Beneath the cobwebs and stale perfumed air is a goldmine, and not because of the actual gold (or painted ostrich eggs or mounted rhinoceros horns or bronze bathtub). First, there's a portrait by one of the masters of the Belle Epoque, Giovanni Boldini. And then there are letters and journals written by the very woman in the painting, Marthe de Florian. These documents reveal that she was more than a renowned courtesan with enviable decolletage. Suddenly April's quest is no longer about the bureaux plats and Louis-style armchairs that will fetch millions at auction. It's about discovering the story behind this charismatic woman.

It's about discovering two women, actually.

With the help of a salty (and annoyingly sexy) Parisian solicitor and the courtesan's private diaries, April tries to uncover the many secrets buried in the apartment. As she digs into Marthe's life, April can't help but take a deeper look into her own. Having left behind in the States a cheating husband, a family crisis about to erupt, and a career she's been using as the crutch to simply get by, she feels compelled to sort out her own life too. When the things she left bubbling back home begin to boil over, and Parisian delicacies beyond flaky pâtisseries tempt her better judgment, April knows that both she and Marthe deserve happy finales.


4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

indexFor the record, another novel that absolutely lives up the its hype. Suspenseful and entertaining, you won't be able to a thing done until you read the last page and find out what the hell happened. (And FYI, one of our all-time fave books is Liane's The Hypnotist's Love Story--check it out!)

The Scoop: What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all. Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.


5. Safe With Me by Amy Hatvany

Safe With Me by Amy HatvanyAmy does it again in this gripping and brilliant story about a grieving mother who intersects with the family who received her daughter's donated organ. So, so SO well done--and my new personal favorite of hers!

The Scoop: The screech of tires brought Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it to a devastating end. A year after she signed the papers to donate her daughter’s organs, Hannah is still reeling with grief when she unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the Bell family, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Maddie, survived only because Hannah’s daughter had died. Mesmerized by this fragile connection to her own daughter and afraid to reveal who she actually is, Hannah develops a surprising friendship with Maddie’s mother, Olivia.

The Bells, however, have problems of their own. Once on the verge of leaving her wealthy but abusive husband, Olivia now finds herself bound to him in the wake of the transplant that saved their daughter’s life. Meanwhile, Maddie, tired of the limits her poor health puts upon her and fearful of her father’s increasing rage, regularly escapes into the one place where she can be anyone she wants: the Internet. But when she is finally healthy enough to return to school, the real world proves to be just as complicated as the isolated bubble she had been so eager to escape.

A masterful narrative shaped by nuanced characters whose delicate bonds are on a collision course with the truth, Safe with Me is a riveting triumph

6. Twisted Sisters by Jen Lancaster

Twisted Sisters by Jen LancasterCome on, now. How could I resist a good body switching story? There's magic, humor and a fast paced plot. Who could ask for anything more?

The Scoop: Reagan Bishop is a pusher. A licensed psychologist who stars on the Wendy Winsberg cable breakout show I Need a Push, Reagan helps participants become their best selves by urging them to overcome obstacles and change behaviors. An overachiever, Reagan is used to delivering results.

Despite her overwhelming professional success, Reagan never seems to earn her family’s respect. Her younger sister, Geri, is and always will be the Bishop family favorite. When a national network buys Reagan’s show, the pressures for unreasonably quick results and higher ratings mount. But Reagan’s a clinician, not a magician, and fears witnessing her own personal failings in prime time. (And seriously? Her family will never let her hear the end of it.) Desperate to make the show work and keep her family at bay, Reagan actually listens when the show’s New Age healer offers an unconventional solution…

Record Nielsen ratings follow. But when Reagan decides to use her newfound power to teach everyone a lesson about sibling rivalry, she’s the one who will be schooled…

7. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl by Mary KubicaAre you a Gone Girl  fan? Then you must pick up this thriller--I devoured it and was gaping at the ending. Another marvelous debut by a talented author.

The Scoop: "I've been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don't know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she's scared. But I will."

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life.

Colin's job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter.


8. The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn

The Art of Adapting by Cassandra DunnLoved The Rosie Project? Then you'll flip for this irresistible debut novel about a recently divorced woman woman who finds herself while picking up the pieces of her life.

The Scoop: In this warm and winning first novel, a recently divorced woman rises to the challenge and experiences the exhilaration of independence with the unlikely help of her brother with Asperger's, who she takes in to help pay the rent.

Seven months after her husband leaves her, Lana is still reeling. Being single means she is in charge of every part of her life, and for the first time in nineteen years, she can do things the way she always wanted to do them. But that also leaves her with all the responsibility. With two teenage children—Byron and Abby, who are each dealing with their own struggles—in a house she can barely afford on her solo salary, her new life is a balancing act made even more complicated when her brother Matt moves in.

Matt has Asperger’s syndrome, which makes social situations difficult for him and flexibility and change nearly impossible. He only eats certain foods in a certain order and fixates on minor details. When Lana took him in, he was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to numb his active mind enough to sleep at night. Adding Matt’s regimented routine to her already disrupted household seems like the last thing Lana needs, but her brother’s unique attention to detail makes him an invaluable addition to the family: he sees things differently.



A Little Bit of Everything Lost by Stephanie Elliot

A little bit of everything lostWhoa! I really enjoyed this--it's sultry and soulful--not to mention hot, hot HOT!

The scoop: Falling in love for the first time made Marnie feel a little bit lost... At 19, Marnie plunged into first love with Joe, a guy who was completely wrong for her. Their romance was fast and exhilarating and like nothing Marnie had ever experienced or understood. Just as quickly as it began, it was over, with no explanation. He left her with unanswered questions and unexpected feelings of loss and regret, and a quiet grief she would carry with her for the next fifteen years.

When Joe returns, Marnie is a 34-year-old wife and mother to two rambunctious little boys, who is slowly healing from a devastating loss. All the emotions she suppressed from the past fifteen years surge to the surface, threatening to ruin her marriage and destroy her family. She'll need to confront the one person who hurt her the most to realize that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand… and that you have to live with some of your toughest choices for the rest of your life.

A Little Bit of Everything Lost is part coming-of-age/part love story. It's a story about a woman desperate to make peace with the past. It's for all women who have ever experienced the magnitude of first love, whether it was a lasting bond or a fleeting moment. Because first love - while it might not have been the best love - is a love none of us ever forgets.


What She Left Us by Stephanie Elliot

Today's authorWSLU amazon FINAL COVER FROM SARAH: Stephanie Elliot Her latest: What She Left Us

The scoop on it: Jenna and Courtney are dealing with the unexpected death of their mother in different ways. Jenna broke off her engagement to the man she thought she'd love forever, while Courtney headed back to college to take charge of a dorm-floor full of college students as a resident assistant.

Six months later, Jenna is fueled by panic over the news that the sisters may have the same disease that caused their mother's death and she makes an irrational decision - she packs it up and heads to college to be with Courtney. The timing couldn't be worse for Courtney, who's discovering love for the first time with Mitch, a sexy guitar player who may just be off limits.

Emotionally unstable, Jenna wonders if she made the worst mistake of her life by breaking off her engagement with Darren, and when he shows up to make amends, she can't help but second-guess her decision. But then there's Clay, the compassionate bartender at Klippy's who seems to understand everything Jenna's going through. And those hazel eyes just seem to see right through to Jenna's soul…

As the girls maneuver through their unpredictable futures, trying to manage their new health risks as well as tumultuous love lives, Courtney finds a disturbing photograph that indicates there may be more to their family than she ever imagined.

This stunning revelation could shatter the sisters to the very core, making them question everything they thought they knew about their family, their faith, their past and, most of all, each other.

Our thoughts: A fast-paced, engaging read. We absolutely love Stephanie and her books--definitely download this one!

Fun fact: You can read an excerpt of What She Left Us here and in the novel section, there's info about her upcoming book, Before the Beginning, out this summer!

Where you can read more about Stephanie: Her website, Facebook and Twitter.



Blog of the Month: Booking with Manic


Booking with Manic specifically features chick lit, women's fiction, new adult, humor, some self-help and memoir and the occasional dude-lit books. I vary how often I blog. I've been known to do blog-blitzing, where I'll post a book every day for a month (last year I did March Madness and it was CRAZY to keep up with 31 days of blogging and giving away 31 books in a month). I try to feature at least a book a week.

Why do people love Booking with Manic?

Every book featured includes a giveaway and I try to make each post personal and creative - bringing something from the book to connect to real life.

What is unique about Booking with Manic?

To enter to win, the reader has to answer a question that relates to something that has to do with the book -- whether it is something with the themes in the book, the title of the book, etc. For instance, for Meg Donohue's debut, How to Eat a Cupcake, the logical question I asked was "What is your favorite cupcake flavor?" (By the way, Meg's next book, All The Summer Girls is AMAZING!) But what I love the best about my blog and what I think is so unique about it is that since I do ask these personal questions, I feel like I really get to know the Booking with Manic readers, and I also share with them how I would answer the answer I'm asking. I learn stuff about them, and really do get to know them, which I love. It becomes more personal to me.

Where to read more about Booking with Manic:

Facebook and Twitter.

What inspires you?

Right now, honestly, my 11 year old son Luke is inspiring me. He was diagnosed with epilepsy last spring and to watch him just be a kid and know that he's getting through what he's been through -- that is inspiring. I'm so lucky to get to be his mom.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what celebrity would you want to be with you?

Ugh. I really wouldn't want a celebrity. I would want books. But I guess if I had to choose, it would be a toss-up between, and you may laugh, but I'm going to choose Vince Vaughn or Johnny Knoxville. I will probably take Vince though, because Johnny might be too scrawny.

What's one inanimate object you can't live without?

What's an 'inanimate' object? I'm seriously going to look that up... Oh, so you mean like not my family members, like an iPhone or something like that... I can live without makeup. I probably could live without my phone. I guess I would have to say my contacts. And pretty soon it's going to be those 'cheater' glasses. I just turned 44. It pains me to say that. Truth hurts.

What books are you adding to your bookshelf this year?

Love this question! Anything and everything written by: Jen Lancaster (Can't wait for her Martha Stewart Tao book!), Emily Giffin, Sarah Pekkanen, Sarah Jio (am waiting for a quiet stretch of time to read The Last Camellia), I'm excited to see this new one Allison Winn Scotch wrote, Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves, Laura Dave needs to come out with a new one, Dina Silver's Finding Bliss, I'd love to know if Sere Prince Halverson has another on its way - I loved The Underside of Joy, Julie Buxbaum - I'm waiting for YOU to publish another, Zoe Fishman needs to write faster... do I sound a bit demanding on the authors I want to have books published?

Thanks, Stephanie!

The Cell Phone Lot by Stephanie Elliot

Blow up the balloons! Cue the streamers! Break out that bubbly- stat!  MaNiC MoMMy (a.k.a. Stephanie Elliot) is in 'da house sharing the news about her short story, The Cell Phone Lot (available today!). It's a fabulous, fast-paced and funny story about chance encounters. (We love the premise!) And not only is she here, but she's taking over. We've given her the reins (which y'all know we don't do that often) and told her to run this show. So without further adieu, heeeere's Stephanie!

Just one more thing--because you know we're control freaks--she's giving away 5 copies  of The Cell Phone Lot! Details below... Okay, we're really leaving now. Promise!

Okay, really, we mean it this time, heeeere's Stephanie!

The Cell Phone Lot is a short story I wrote between Christmas and New Year’s when my husband and I were flying from Arizona to Ohio to go to my grandmother’s funeral. Being at the airport just sparks imagination, and while there, I recalled a time I was waiting in a cell phone lot, and the idea snuck into my mind. The story came pouring out then, and I wrote these 65 pages really fast.

This little story is all about chance encounters, fate and taking risks in your life. And I truly do believe that every person we come in contact with has been placed in our “life timeline” for a reason, that nothing is random, and everything has a specific purpose. Whether it is to cheer someone up in line while waiting at the post office, to offer a suggestion to a new mother at the park, or to meet your soul mate, I think every contact we make with another human being is purposeful and with reason. This is what I believe fate to be. When I met my husband, I was 20 and he was 21. We were both attending Northern Illinois University. I was heading out with my roommates to go to the bar we frequented. It was a Friday night, early, like 6 p.m. and we usually didn’t go out that early. We wanted to get there to grab a table, but the bar was packed because of some fraternity event.

So we were waiting around until a table opened up, drinking our dollar drafts (yes, back then they only cost one dollar!). A table opened up and two football players went for the same one we were eyeing. I didn’t care for football at all, wasn’t impressed that the guys were big football jocks, but I wanted to get a table, and one of the guys was kind of cute. We argued with them a bit that we got to the table first, and then the five of us agreed to share it.

The guy at the table bought me a beer, shared his pizza, kissed me at another bar later that night, and became my husband and the father of my three kids. We’ll have been married 19 freaking years in May. That’s still crazy to think about because he and I both still feel like we are those college kids back in 1990.

The fateful thing about our chance encounter on February 2, 1990 (Wow, I just realized I met him on the day The Cell Phone Lot is coming out! How’s THAT for fate – 22 years to the day!)… the neatest thing about our story is that there are so many chances for us to have NOT met that night, and also so many chances for us to have met previously. But it was THAT night that was supposed to be THE night for us.

We discovered that when I was a freshman, we had a math class together. We probably had been to the same parties. I knew some of his closest friends – even typed papers for one of his best friends. Had I met him any other time, there would have been no way we’d ever been together forever. Yeah, we might have hooked up earlier during college – to have our relationship outlast the four years of college? No way. We needed that time to grow and become the people we were when we met that night.

And I could have totally missed him the night we met. Let’s say my roommates weren’t ready to leave when we left for the bar, or we didn’t see the table become available, or one of our fake IDs didn’t work that night? There were so many components that led to us meeting that night, that it was completely meant to be.

This is why I love stories about fate, and love, and risk-taking and chance encounters.

With The Cell Phone Lot, I wanted to create two people who might not otherwise ever meet and have them want to be together so badly but to have some major obstacles get in the way.

Grant is at the cell phone lot to pick up a woman he’s going to meet for the first time that he ‘met’ through an online dating service when he meets Bridge in the cell phone lot. She’s also waiting to pick up someone at the airport. They are attracted to each other instantly, and their attraction is palpable.

Their relationship unfolds in the airport as the flights they’re waiting for are delayed by bad weather. It’s anybody’s guess as to what happens – if this chance encounter has fate arriving for them, or if they’ll have separate departures … never to see one another again.

I’d love to give away five copies here, and for those who don’t win it, it’s only 99 cents on Amazon.

Think about where you are now and who you’re with – what led you to this place in your life? Was it a chance encounter? Fate? Was the timing absolutely perfect that any little glitch in the planning and you would have never met? I’d love to hear your story in the comment section for a chance to win one of the five ebooks we’re giving away here!

And thanks Liz and Lisa for hosting me on Chick Lit is Not Dead!

To find out more about Stephanie Elliot, visit her website.

Thanks, Stephanie! xoxo,


(Fine print: We'll randomly select the winners of The Cell Phone Lot on Monday, February 6 after 6pm PST.)