Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Elly in Bloom by Colleen Oakes (Author Guest Post / Book Review / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Colleen Oakes, author of Elly in Bloom!

Author Guest Post

It's been just about seven months since Elly in Bloom, my debut novel, was released. In that time I've obsessed, cried, and laughed like a mental patient on crazy pills. It has been triumphant and depressing and melancholy and elating. As a new author, I would love to share with you some of the strange things I’ve learned along the way.

*Good reviews are akin to a moonbeam from heaven. They lift you up and give you a happy buzz that lasts a few days. To know that my words brought someone a smile, a laugh, or even some mild entertainment on a rainy day is such a deep satisfaction that it's unlike anything I've known before. I've gotten dozens of emails from people who have read my book and who just wanted to reach out and connect. That's amazing. Those few words, that connection made, it's so far above any professional happiness that any other job has brought me. I've also learned that it was super silly to assume it would be easy to get reviews. I figured, "Hey, people read it and review it, right?" WRONG! I do that because I blog. In fact, I've learned that for every 1,000 people who read your book about six will review it. That makes each and every review a little more hard won and something to be proud of.

*Bad reviews, on the other hand, are like getting punched in the face with brass knuckles. The first hit is the worst. It takes your breath away, makes you cry, makes you shaky, and knocks out any delusions of writing grandeur. It immediately triggers a protective feeling in you, one that makes you want to snatch your book back and hide it from the world where it is safe and loved. The second punch hurts too. But by the third, as a writer, you become numb. You begin to see the constructive criticism through the words. You take it in without feeling like you swallowed broken glass. It's still painful, but now it's also helpful. It feels good to get over that bad review mountain. I think my next books will be much easier in this realm now that' I've been through it.

* Amazon is confusing. Also, Amazon can give you a complex. In addition to the constant lists and rankings that put your book into a thousand different categories (all ranked), they now have Author Rank. See, if you are an author, you can go onto your Amazon author central page and see where you rank with all the authors in all the world. It's the popularity contest of your worst nightmares. Top Ten? (*Cue hysterical laughter*) Dream on. Those spots are reserved for the Kings, the Martins, Tolkiens and Rowlings. Top 100? No way. Your repeat bestsellers reside there. Patterson. Weiner. Roberts. You, my friend, are more of the 1,300 - 50,000ish ranking, depending on the day. And it changes, every single day. At first I checked it all the time, but it only served to confuse and humble me. Now, I might check it once a month. The internet is a wide world for authors, but not everything is productive.

*I've discovered that I need a community of writers. I need more people who speak this weird language of authors. "Word count. Query. Tracker. POD. India royalty rate." I'm a newbie whose feet are barely wet, and I need some seasoned mentors who have done this already to give me advice. I need women with long braids to pass on their wisdom as we sit around a fire and play tambourines and eat pot-spiked brownies that are now TOTALLY legal in Colorado. We will dance in the flame with our ink quills. Okay, I would never do this, not really, but I do need to go to a writer's conferences and meet some people who have similar experiences and tips.

*I got my first royalty payment. And it was awesome.

*Finally, I have learned that hammering out a writing schedule for myself was of the utmost importance. Not only that, but I learned that I needed to separate out my writing days, so everything gets a fair shake. If writing is your job, you must TREAT it as your job. You must write when you don’t want to. You must write when you don’t feel good, or when you are overwhelmed with other things. The fantasy of padding downstairs in your pj to your beautiful writing nook and churning out a novel in no time is exactly that: a fantasy. Save the imagination for your writing and put your pen to the paper.

About The Author

Colleen Oakes is a passionate Colorado native who really enjoys living in other places. She attended college in Bronxville, NY where she received her degree in Creative Writing. After college, she opened up a successful wedding florist before the writing urge came knocking. Now she is a night owl who does most of her writing in pajamas. When not drowsily hitting the keys, Colleen enjoys swimming, reading, and immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. Elly in Bloom debuted in September, 2012 via Amazon Publishing. She now lives with her husband in North Denver, where they are awaiting their first child through adoption. Colleen blogs about life (good, bad, and awkward) pretty frequently over at The Ranunculus Adventures: She is currently at work on the sequel to Elly in Bloom.

Elly in Bloom by Colleen Oakes ~ Virtual Book Tour Page: Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours

Virtual Book Tour Contest Giveaway

Win A $20 Amazon Gift Card

Contest Dates: March 25 - April 15

Everyone who leaves a comment on Elly in Bloom by Colleen Oakes ~ Virtual Book Tour Page: Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours will be entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card! Anyone who purchases their copy of Elly in Bloom before April 15 and sends their receipt to, will get five bonus entries.

Book Review

Elly in Bloom by Colleen Oakes
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Self-Publishing
Publication Date: September 5, 2012
Format: Paperback - 324 pages / Kindle - 573 KB 
ISBN: 1477514120
Genre: Chick Lit / Contemporary Romance / Women's Fiction

BUY THE BOOK: Elly in Bloom

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.

Book Description:

The #1 Kindle Bestseller in Contemporary Fiction!

Surrounded by lush flowers and neurotic brides, chubby 32-year old Elly Jordan has carved out a sweet little life for herself as the owner of Posies, a boutique wedding florist in St. Louis. It's not bad for a woman who drove away from her entire life just two years ago when she found her husband entwined with a red-headed artist.

Sure, Elly has an embarrassingly beautiful best friend, a terribly behaved sheepdog and a sarcastic assistant who she simply calls "Snarky Teenager", but overall her days are pleasantly uneventful. As a bonus, her new next door neighbor just happens to be an unnervingly handsome musician who has an eye for curvy Elly. Just when she feels that she is finally moving on from her past, she discovers that an extravagant wedding contract, one that could change her financial future, is more than she bargained for.

With the help of her friends, staff and the occasional well-made sandwich, Elly bravely agrees to take on the event that threatens to merge her painful history with her bright new life, and finds herself blooming in a direction she never imagined.

Elly's voice, both charming and hilarious, will appeal to those readers who have been looking for a new voice in chick-lit, and will give women of all sizes the realistic heroine they've been waiting for.

Book Excerpt:


Georgia, two years ago, daybreak.

Early morning nauseated Elly.

That was normal, at least.

Her steering wheel smelled like spoiled milk and rotten freesia.

Gross. That was not normal.

Through the dirty windshield, she watched the creeping fingers of dawn overtaking the horizon. Bright rays approached her car slowly, blasted through the muddy glass, and turned her dark leather seats into blinding mirrors of light that hurt her swollen eyes.

Elly hated the dawn; the insects chirping, the hazy mist. It turned her stomach. And for once, the thought of food was unappealing to her. She pressed her forehead against the pungent wheel and whimpered. It had only been one day, one crappy stinking day, since her whole life had melted down, and now she was in her car having a nervous breakdown. It was getting unbearably hot. The blazing Georgia sun peeked over the hackberry trees that held steady as a slight breeze tossed their leaves. Her eyes, stinging from the sun and from the hysterical tears she’d indulged in the night before, welcomed the moisture. She had cried for twelve hours straight, drunk an entire bottle of wine, trashed a painting, and now she was here.

Sweating in her car.

She was filled with something stronger than anger, something more pathetic than sadness. Elly exhaled, feeling the breath stutter out of her lungs, stretched thin after hours of grieving. She hated her sad little life, hated what she had become in this last day, hated the man who was her husband. Who WAS her husband. She gave a whimper. Hated she’d been forced to see everything she’d believed about her life was a lie.

More than that, at the moment, she hated being hot. She was hot so often.

With a sigh, she turned the key and the toy-sized engine of her Toyota Tercel roared to life. After a blast of scorching heat, crisp air puffed her face and dried the mixture of tears and sweat on her cheeks. With the heat retreating, she could think a little more clearly. She glanced at the bags in the backseat: one giant suitcase with orange and blue ribbons dangling from the handle, a couple of plastic bags stuffed with hair and make-up supplies, a cooler filled with apples and sandwiches – a stupid decision, now that she thought about it and her lace wedding dress that lay crumpled in the corner. Elly pursed her lips and whipped around. She couldn’t think about that. Not now. She would find a therapist later to tell about the dress. Elly glanced nervously at the clock. She knew what she should do. She should drive to her job. She should talk to her boss Jeff, who constantly picked at his shirt near his stomach. She should call her best friend, Cassie, and talk her into skipping work. They would cry – no, she would cry – and talk about that moment, that horrible moment again and again. The creak of stairs. A hand clutching white sheets. The moment when she’d found her husband staring enamored at another woman. They would eat ice cream until she was too exhausted from emotion and dairy to move.

Cassie would pretend to be amazed that he would cheat. She would insist that Elly storm back into the house – she muffled a sob –and demand that he be the one who leave. Demand the house. Demand faithfulness. Demand love and bury what happened in a cemetery at the back of her mind, never speaking of it again. 

Yes, that sounded great…but that confrontation would require removing her head from the steering wheel, and her neck seemed unable to do so at the moment. She couldn’t move from this moment. Not now, not ever. She heard a slam and jerked her head up. Her next-door neighbor Jen was taking her son to school. Jen, looking confused as to why Elly was sitting in her car, unmoving, waved enthusiastically. Elly rolled her eyes back in her head and lifted her hand weakly. Filled with self-pity, she loathed Jen, who was actually a nice person. Yes, act like nothing is wrong. Act like you didn’t hear me screaming and wailing like a banshee until the sun came up. Act like this is totally normal, sitting in my car at six in the morning, with a cooler full of roast beef and suicidal thoughts. Jen’s tow-headed little boy climbed into the backseat, and she lovingly buckled him in.

The tears Elly didn’t think she had left inside her snuck up so suddenly that she didn’t even have time to prepare. A wail, an unwomanly, unattractive wail escaped from her lips and she wept with liberal abandon. Grief spread before her. Her perfect future, her imaginary child, a little boy who climbed happily into his car seat was not here. That future was not in this house, the one she had built for that purpose. It was not with the man she had trusted to see her dreams through. It was not in the office where she’d worked for years, where she’d happily gossiped with friends about the love of her life. It wasn’t in the park where she’d envisioned pushing a baby stroller, her artistic husband at her side. Her life as she’d dreamed it would be had imploded yesterday. The shards had gone flying inward, into her body, the moment she had seen them together. That life had fallen out of her fingers before she understood what was happening to her.

How was it that a love story so beautifully constructed, so perfectly executed, could be so flawed, so breakable? How, with a single act, could two years of marriage burn to the ground, leaving only flecks of ash behind? Her future as she’d imagined it was gone forever. It could not be fixed.

He had not chosen her.

She would later exaggerate, telling people it was inner strength, or her great faith that propelled her forward into the unknown. She had no such strength, no such faith. What she had was the desperation of having nothing ahead of her and the total decimation of a dream behind her.Elly closed her eyes and banged her skull against the headrest. She saw them again, his face elated with joy, his green eyes flashing up at the woman on top of him, a bead of sweat running down her naked spine. The mane of red hair.

Tears threatened to fall again.

Push it down.

With that thought, she made the decision, turned the key, her heart still shattering into sharp, jagged pieces. Elly shifted the now-trembling car into first gear and turned around on her cul-de-sac. She propelled the car onto the road that led out of her perfect neighborhood, turned northwest, and headed for the freeway. She cranked up the radio, found her favorite station. And then she drove, and drove, and drove. With the sounds of NPR mingling with her wrenching sobs, Elly drove until the sun set in front of her.

She refused to look back.

My Book Review:

When Elly Jordan catches her husband cheating, she packs her life up and leaves their home in Georgia to start over in St. Louis. Flowers are her passion, and when she has settled into her new life, she opens up Posies, a boutique florist shop catering to weddings. Life is going well for Elly, and just when she thinks she has moved on from her past, an extravagant wedding contract for a "wedding of the year event" for a person from her past puts everything into perspective, making Elly's journey of self-discovery come full circle.

Elly in Bloom is a heartwarming and enjoyable story about a woman whose journey of self-discovery comes full circle as she learns forgiveness, healing, and the ability to move on with her life. Author Colleen Oakes weaves an entertaining tale written in the third person narrative that follows the journey of thirty-two year old Elly Jordan as she moves on from a painful past into a second chance at a good life.

You can't help but love Elly, she is a realistic woman with flaws and normal life issues that the reader can relate to. Elly restarts her life with a new found independence that has some hilarious laugh-out-loud episodes of clumsiness, mishaps and bantering with her quirky friends, employees and customers. The author provides the reader with some really wonderful descriptions about St. Louis, weddings and the florist shop industry.

This story is a breath of fresh air, everyone can relate to Elly in some way, I think there is a little bit of her in each of us. Elly in Bloom is a delightful story that is thoroughly entertaining, and will give the reader a warm and fuzzy feeling and put a smile on their face.