Charm City Rocks by Matthew Norman

Are you looking for a contemporary fiction book with a dash of romance? One that doesn’t have romance as the major theme? If so, I recommend Charm City Rocks by Matthew Norman. While there is romance, there are other themes and relationships focused throughout which, in my opinion, lean this title more about friendships and family and less about romance.

Billy Perkins is an independent music teacher working out of his apartment above Charm City Rocks, a record shop in Baltimore. He’s happy. He loves his job and loves being a single dad to his nerdy teenage son, Caleb.

Margot Hammer is the former drummer of the band Burnt Flowers. They used to be famous until Margot had an infamous meltdown on television. Now she is a recluse living alone in New York City. After a new music documentary is released highlighting Burnt Flowers, Margot finds herself somewhat unwillingly thrust back into the spotlight. When a new publicist assigned to her by her label shows up on her doorstep, Margot knows she’s in for quite the life change.

Billy and Caleb have been watching this new music documentary together. When Billy mentions to Caleb that he has always had a crush on Margot, Caleb gets an idea. You see, Caleb is having difficulty choosing what college to go to because he thinks that Billy is lonely. Late one night, Caleb works out a plan to get Margot to visit Charm City Rocks.

In the cold light of day, Caleb thinks his plan is a dream, but imagine his surprise when Margot and her publicist show up in Baltimore. Her label has decided that she needs the publicity, so when the opportunity to play with a young band in Baltimore pops up, they jump at the chance. When they arrive however, they are greeted by Caleb, Billy, and the very confused owner of Charm City Rocks. This messy introduction puts Billy and Margot on a collision course to figuring out what really makes them happy.

What set this book apart for me was its unique storytelling. Norman writes from the perspectives of multiple different characters: Billy, Caleb, Margot, and more. Supporting characters are so much more in this book – readers get a glimpse into their lives and how fully they impact and interact with each other. This was a quick, charming, quirky read, one that is humorous, relatable, and goofy. This book doesn’t focus only on romantic love, which was a relief. Norman writes about family, both found and ones you’re related to, as well as finding yourself and discovering what you really need. Pick up this feel-good contemporary romance for a palette cleanser.

TV6 Book Club February Read Wrap-Up and Introduction to March Reads!

red cover silhouette of a woman and a man

In February, Morgan and I read The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory to celebrate Wedding Month. Below is a short synopsis and what I thought of the book! 

Alexa is trapped in an elevator with a sexy stranger who charms his way into her purse (by eating her snacks) and into attending a wedding with him that weekend as his fake girlfriend. When the two attend the wedding, they find that there is nothing fake about the way they feel about one another.

Both Alexa and Drew are afraid to admit their true feelings but still try long distance dating and find it hard to juggle work and their complicated pasts.

I really liked this book; it tackled real issues in a respectful way, and I look forward to reading more in the series! 

After loving our February read, I am so excited to get started with our March TV6 Book Club Pick! Below are our 4 options for March including our winning title! Feel free to check them out from Davenport Public Library! 

woman with pearls with a salmon background***TV6 Book Club Winner!
The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict (In Honor of Women’s History Month)
Hedy Kiesler is lucky. Her beauty leads to a starring role in a controversial film and marriage to a powerful Austrian arms dealer, allowing her to evade Nazi persecution despite her Jewish heritage. But Hedy is also intelligent. At lavish Vienna dinner parties, she overhears the Third Reich’s plans. One night in 1937, desperate to escape her controlling husband and the rise of the Nazis, she disguises herself and flees her husband’s castle.

She lands in Hollywood, where she becomes Hedy Lamarr, screen star. But Hedy is keeping a secret even more shocking than her Jewish heritage: she is a scientist. She has an idea that might help the country and that might ease her guilt for escaping alone—if anyone will listen to her. (Synopsis by Goodreads)

Easy chair with ottoman with a book on it.Sew Deadly by Elizabeth Lynn Casey (In Honor of National Quilting Day on March 16th)
Ever since she moved to Sweet Briar, South Carolina, Yankee librarian Tori Sinclair has been the talk of the tiny town. But she’s been so busy at work, winning over the sewing circle, and trying to forget her cheating ex that she hasn’t even had time to baste together a pillow, let alone mind local gossip. Then she finds the hometown sweetheart dead at her back door…

Everyone believes the police investigator, who’s just fixin’ to link Tori to the murder in a love triangle gone bad. To clear her name, Tori will have to rely on her new sewing sisters and stitch together the truth- or be darned. (Synopsis by Goodreads)

Color block text Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld (In Honor of Let’s Laugh Day on March 19th)
A comedy writer thinks she’s sworn off love, until a dreamily handsome pop star flips the script on all her assumptions. Romantic Comedy is a hilarious, observant and deeply tender novel from New York Times–bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld. (Synopsis by Goodreads)

Two people leaning in with a town in the background.A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Caña (In Honor of National Proposal Day on March 20th)
Natalie Caña turns up the heat, humor and heart in this debut rom-com about a Puerto Rican chef and an Irish American whiskey distiller forced into a fake engagement by their scheming octogenarian grandfathers.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Also known as the Program in Creative Writing, the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop began in 1936 and immediately counted Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren and Dylan Thomas among its students.

Now, 87 years later, the IWW is still cultivating writers of literary and popular works.  Some of their novels reference life in a town very like Iowa City.  Some are set in places that couldn’t be more different.  Here is a selection of books published in 2023:

The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor

The Late Americans reads more like his interconnected story collection Filthy Animals (2021) than his debut, Real Life (2020), though both are campus tales centered on graduate students. In Iowa City, there are dancers who frequent the poet bar, poets dismissed early from seminar, art students whose day jobs label them outsiders, and those who will trade art for the security of med school or banking. Among the large cast, students and townies who come and go, sometimes in deep focus and other times in side roles, is Ivan, who dabbles in making porn, and his boyfriend, Goran, who doesn’t know how to feel about it. There’s poet Seamus, dancer Noah, and landlord Bert, whose lit-fuse presence bookends the novel as he becomes a menacing, sort-of lover to them both. Taylor writes feelings and physical interactions with a kind of sixth sense, creating scenes readers will visualize with ease. At the beginning and ending of things and in confronting gradations of sex, power, and class, ambivalence pervades. Lovers of character studies and fine writing will enjoy getting lost in this.  From Booklist Online

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

When yet another shmopey guy—this time, her office mate at the Saturday Night Live–style show where she works—starts dating an uber-hot and talented female celebrity, comedy writer Sally channels her rage/certainty “that a gorgeous male celebrity would never fall in love with an ordinary, dorky, unkempt woman” into a sketch. The host and musical guest for this week’s episode of The Night Owls is the “outrageously handsome” superstar Noah Brewster, who seeks Sally’s help punching up his own sketch—she’s known around the studio as the queen of comedic structure. Sure that there could be nothing between them, due to the aforementioned law-turned-sketch, intimacy-phobic (and perhaps ordinary, dorky, and unkempt) Sally is her best, brilliant, warm self with Noah during the weeklong lead-up to the show, a fun and frenetic frame for the book’s first half that’s full of insider-feeling, behind-the-scenes excitement. You can see where this might be going, and yet how much you’ll enjoy getting there. Dialogue zips and zings as hearts plummet and soar through Sally and Noah’s meeting, misunderstanding, and years-later rapprochement as COVID-19 dawns. Sittenfeld’s (Rodham, 2020) meta-romance is an utterly perfect version of itself, a self-aware and pandemic-informed love story that’s no less romantic for being either.  From Booklist Online

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton The epigraph of Booker Prize–winner Catton’s fine new novel is a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is appropriate given that the spirit of the Bard is mightily present. Mira Bunting is a young Kiwi horticulturalist and founder of a New Zealander activist collective called Birnam Wood. Bunting has a habit of assuming false identities to look at listings of land she cannot afford to buy and plants crops without permission on overlooked patches of land. In essence, Birnam Wood is a guerrilla gardening group, a combination of environmental anarchists and direct-action protesters. “Birnam Wood was . . . a pop-up, the brainchild of ‘creatives’; it was organic, it was local; it was a bit like Uber; it was a bit like Airbnb,” writes Catton. Bunting herself turns trespassing into a type of performance art. But when she inadvertently meets an American billionaire, Robert Lemoine, her world and the future of the collective change in ways she could not imagine. Catton’s filmic novel features vivid characters, not all of them likable, and sharp, sizzling dialogue. Themes in the intricate plot include identity politics, national identity, and exploitation by the -super-rich. Birnam Wood is tightly wound and psychologically thrilling, and Catton’s fans and readers new to her powers will savor it to the end.   From Booklist Online

The Thing in the Snow by Sean Adams

When confronted with a blank space, the mind tends to wander. Adams’ second novel, following The Heap (2020), takes place in such an environment. Hart is transported via helicopter to a research facility known as the Northern Institute, where it’s bitterly cold and snow-covered. He’s tasked with supervising two other employees, Gibbs and Cline, as they keep the recently vacated facility primed for an eventual but vaguely pending return. His instructions are helicoptered in each week, and feedback is curt to the point of mechanical. What, then, to do if a thing is spotted on the barren landscape outside the facility, where it is forbidden and dangerous to venture? The banter among the three about their monotonous tasks and their stress about the thing in the snow veers into the absurd. Adams’ quirky look at a confined and isolated workspace also offers an almost Stoppard-like look into character development while making a rather bleak but humorous statement about contemporary working life. Though the world Adams created is spare, the reading mind fills every corner with all that is dreamed and feared. From Booklist Online

Playhouse by Richard Bausch

Novels about contemporary stagings of classic plays, such as Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (2016), Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling (2011), and Adam Langer’s Cyclorama (2022), contrast epic social changes with timeless aspects of the human condition. Fiction virtuoso Bausch’s psychologically lush and situationally entangled tale is catalyzed by the building of a glitzy Globe Theater in Memphis and its ambitious, inevitably stormy opening production of King Lear. This endeavor forges highly problematic relationships, bringing back together the former husband of one of the two philanthropists funding the venture—his ex-wife and her wife—and a former TV anchor struggling with alcoholism and disgrace over an allegedly inappropriate involvement with his underage niece-by-marriage, who is also appearing onstage. Add a visiting artistic director with attitude, bad ideas, and his own woes; the imperiled marriage of the set designer and the general manager; and a leading actor who has just taken her dementia-afflicted father out of an assisted living facility against her family’s wishes. Profound turmoil ensues, driven by conscience, longing, gossip, guilt, anguish, rage, and sexual assaults, all taking place in a vibrantly depicted city assailed by nature’s fury. With Shakespearean moments of confusion, regret, and dissemblance, sharp-witted banter and all-out showdowns, Bausch’s enthralling, tempestuous, empathic drama illuminates with lightning strikes paradoxes of family, loyalty, and love.  From Booklist Online

April’s Celebrity Book Club Picks

It’s a new month which means that Jenna Bush Hager and Reese Witherspoon have picked new books for their book clubs! Reminder that if you join Simply Held, these titles will automatically be put on hold for you.

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Jenna Bush Hager has selected Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling for her April pick.

Curious what Camp Zero is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

In a near-future northern settlement, the fates of a young woman, a professor, and a mysterious collective of researchers collide in this mesmerizing and transportive debut that “delivers its big ideas with suspense, endlessly surprising twists, and abundant heart” (Jessamine Chan, New York Times bestselling author).

In remote northern Canada, a team led by a visionary American architect is break­ing ground on a building project called Camp Zero, intended to be the beginning of a new way of life. A clever and determined young woman code-named Rose is offered a chance to join the Blooms, a group hired to entertain the men in camp—but her real mission is to secretly monitor the mercurial architect in charge. In return, she’ll receive a home for her climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother and herself.

Rose quickly secures the trust of her target, only to discover that everyone has a hidden agenda, and nothing is as it seems. Through skill­fully braided perspectives, including those of a young professor longing to escape his wealthy family and an all-woman military research unit struggling for survival at a climate station, the fate of Camp Zero’s inhabitants reaches a stunning crescendo.

Atmospheric, fiercely original, and utterly gripping, Camp Zero is an electrifying page-turner and a masterful exploration of who and what will survive in a warming world, and how falling in love and building community can be the most daring acts of all.

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Reese Witherspoon has selected Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld for her April pick.

Curious what Romantic Comedy is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life.

But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show—and in society at large—who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called the Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman.

Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy—it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right?

With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Join Simply Held to have Oprah, Jenna, and Reese’s adult selections automatically put on hold for you!