Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July Chick Lit Review #2: Men, Money, and Chocolate

This is my second review this month for the Chick Lit Plus Challenge. I decided to do two because I had actually already read the book I originally chose for July. No idea when but I did. Bizarre! So, I chose Men, Money, and Chocolate by Menna van Praag. I saw it at the library and the title, cover, and synopsis pulled me in. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel didn't thrill me. Let's start with the synopsis from Goodreads and then I'll get into my thoughts of the book.

Maya spends each day in her café, dreaming of a perfect life: one filled with love, wealth, and beauty. But she can’t create the life she longs for. She tries to find fulfillment in the pursuit of men and money, and when that doesn’t work, she seeks comfort in chocolate. This just leaves her empty and lost. Then Maya meets a magical stranger who sets her on a path to create the life of her dreams. . .  This sweet and touching true-life tale about love, success, weight loss, and enlightenment will show you what is possible when you listen to your heart, believe in yourself, and take inspired action in the direction of your dreams. Based on the author’s actual experiences, this is a tale of transformation that teaches you how to love another without losing yourself, find work that fills your heart, and embrace the beauty of your body.
The main reason I didn't like this book was because it was too inspirational and self-help-y. (Yes, I just made up the word self-help-y.) I was expecting a novel that had a protagonist that went on a personal journey and eventually found a man. What I got was a novel that read like a self help book with lots of life lessons and so on. I am realizing that I really can't express the reason I didn't like this aspect of the book and I'm sorry for that! It's sort of hard to explain but if it was a true story (and it was very heavily based on Menna's own journey) it would have been found in the self help section of your local bookstore. Does that help at all? Hopefully!

That being said - I didn't dislike Maya, surprisingly enough. I could understand how she was feeling a little stuck and just didn't know what to do about it. She started off being almost skeptical of the New Age stuff her cousin recommends but she eventually is quite immersed in that lifestyle. I guess since I don't really believe in psychics etc. I didn't appreciate this part of the novel but I'm sure others would.

I think it's great that Maya took charge of her life and did something that scared her - closing the cafe she was running after her mother passed away and taking that time to write. Not everyone has the guts to do that and she should be commended for that. However, I really didn't like that the book Maya wrote is titled the same as the novel, Men, Money, and Chocolate. Does that seem weird to anyone else?

Overall, I didn't love the book and can't really bring myself to really recommend it. If you're the kind of person who loves browsing the self help books at the store, I think you'd enjoy this one, at least a little bit. For everyone else? Unfortunately, I'd have to give it a pass. Can't love 'em all, right?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Author Guest Post: Amanda Strong

Thank you to Amanda Strong for this awesome guest post! It's really insightful and I hope you all enjoy it!

Have you been “friended” by an ex? Have you spied on your spouse or significant other’s Facebook page? Have you crossed the line with one of your “friends”?  In my case, all of the above, and that is why I wrote With Just One Click. To clarify, none of these stories are about me, but they have happened to friends, or friends of friends, and more frequently than you’d think!           

Facebook was the catalyst for me to dust off my pen and paper and pursue my passion … writing. Over the past few years, I heard stories about the complicated friendships and relationships formed on Facebook.  The sordid details were more like a Hollywood script than typical suburbia life. The people would change, but the same universal subjects popped up like, reconnecting with an ex, spying on your significant other or not trusting your partner’s friends, and crossing the line with a friend, leading to infidelity. The main stars of these plots were everyday people, someone’s sister, wife, mother, friend, or neighbor. These scenarios appear relatable and could potentially happen to any one of us given the right situation or circumstance.           

I learned social networking really doesn’t have many rules to live by, thus creating an enormous amount of freedom for each friend. When I began this book, I felt in some ways Facebook ruined lives. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater at all, but when you see first hand one of your closest friend’s marriage destroyed over a reconnection on Facebook, you can become bitter about social networking. Or when you hear one of your friends can’t be friends with her own husband, because she’s too suspicious and can’t help from stalking her own husband’s Facebook page. Or when a friend is friended out of the blue by an ex, and you see the curiosity and memories eat away at them, and the “what ifs” flooding their head. When you watch all these examples hover around the people you care about creating hurt and indecision, some negativity is bound to occur.            

As a friend, I witnessed the demise of a marriage in front of my eyes as an unwilling spectator, watching innuendo and speculation on Facebook turn into heartache. After that moment, I realized how comfortable people were on social networking sites. Almost forgetting so many people can see every word or picture you post. I wanted to highlight these relatable situations but in a fictionalized setting, hoping readers themselves would come to their own conclusions about social networking and relationships.             

In the book, I follow three women’s journeys, navigating through social networking and pivotal times in their lives. Chloe, a successful movie reviewer and serial dater, is added as a friend by her first love ... the one who left her standing at seventeen with a note in her hand as he simply walked away.  She’s faced with a decision… confirm or ignore a person she once hated, resented, and loved. Morgan, a loyal stay-at-home mother and wife, is blindsided one day with a discovery ... one of her husband's friends is his single and very flirtatious ex-girlfriend.   Brynn, a lonely mom to two distant teenagers and workaholic husband, becomes immersed in Facebook ... the one place she finds solace, hope, and herself again.  When she revisits the past with one of her friends, her world is turned upside down with regret and indecision.  Three lives changed forever with just one click. Confirming a friend isn't as easy as it seems ... but do these women have more in common than just Facebook? Beyond the juicy relationships, I touch upon the positives of social networking, like the friendships and the community setting where people can interact with friends they may otherwise never have been in contact with. I personally felt it was important to be neutral and not sway towards saying Facebook is good or bad. People will have their opinions on this subject, and they will not always agree. I hope the reader will come to their own conclusions about the three women’s choices.             

What surprised me after finishing the book and creating these stories was that I felt differently than I did in the beginning.  Mainly, Facebook is a forum used by individuals, each creating their own experience, always different and unique for that person. Social networking is a tool, whether you choose to join or not, and I think a person has to be honest with themselves about what they want out of the experience.  Ultimately, each person is in charge on Facebook. With or without temptation, they themselves are the ones making the decisions on their behalf, not the social networking site they happen to be signed up on.

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: With Just One Click

Raise your hand if you're on Facebook. Come on, I know almost all of you have an account - including my grandmother (Hi Mam!). If you're one of the many people who log on to Facebook regularly, you can identify with the characters in Amanda Strong's novel With Just One Click. This review is part of another blog tour arranged by Samantha over at Chick Lit Plus, and I'd like to thank both her and Amanda for letting me be involved!

As usual, I'll start of with the synopsis from Goodreads:

"Reluctance was matched with a pit in my stomach; once I joined, anyone could randomly find me...did I really want to be found?" Chloe, a successful movie reviewer and serial dater, finds herself added as a friend by her first love. The one who left her at seventeen standing with a note in her hand as he simply walked away. Will she allow herself to open old wounds? Morgan, a loyal stay-at-home mom and wife, discovers one of her husband's friends is his very single and flirtatious ex-girlfriend from high school. Will obsession and jealousy tear her solid marriage apart when she hunts for the truth? Brynn, a lonely forty year-old living with her two distant teenage children and workaholic husband, fights temptation while revisiting the past with one of her friends. Will her deception destroy her family? Three lives changed forever WITH JUST ONE CLICK. Confirming a friend isn't as simple as it seems... but do these women have more in common than just Facebook?
I really enjoyed this book. It was very character driven and I loved that. I'm going to start with the one thing I didn't love and then move on to other, better things! I usually really don't like books that have multiple characters who don't know each other at the beginning of the novel. Eventually there is a connection but if it doesn't happen soon enough I would sometimes lose interest. So, I was a little frustrated that the characters, Chloe, Morgan, and Brynn, didn't appear to know each other when I started the book. I plugged along though and was happy I did. Even though I was frustrated because I didn't know how the women knew each other (and I knew they had to...somehow...) I got involved in their lives anyway and wanted to find out what happened with them. It was somewhat confusing, particularily with Morgan and Brynn because I couldn't remember who was married to which man and how old their kids were. It was much easier to keep Chloe and her story straight. Eventually I told myself to read the stories as if they were separate short stories and trust that I would eventually find out how they knew each other. PS the way the know each other is quite clever and I never would have guessed that was the link!

Speaking of Chloe, I think she was my favourite character...I know it may seem wrong to pick a favourite, but in books like this there is always one character who I seem to be more interested in and drawn to. In this book, it was Chloe. Part of that may be because she's closer to my age and current stage in life. It was easier to identify with her starting a serious relationship than with Morgan and Brynn who were already married with kids. Not to say I didn't like them - it was just harder to relate to them and their story lines seemed a little more...serious. Morgan's trying to deal with a potential homewrecker while finding balance with her stay at home mom life. Luckily, she's got two adorable children and amazing friends who understand her situation and are always there for her. Brynn isn't happy with her marriage and life and finds a part time job to try and compensate. Her husband doesn't seem engaged with her and her teenage kids don't want to have anything to do with her. See what I mean? For a twenty something year old, it's a little easier to relate to a woman who's trying to move up even more in her career while balancing a new and serious relationship. It may also have had something to do with the fact that Chloe and Kyle were dealing with a long distance relationship - I'm doing the same thing, but we're luckily in the same province, not on opposite sides of the country!

While the characters definitely drove the story, there was also a very interesting aspect of social media going on. Each woman has their own obsession with Facebook and deals with the popular site in a different way. I have to admit...I sort of judged them for their habits. When I first signed up for Facebook it was right when all universities and college students were allowed to sign up...but no one else. I was in first year and it was great to stay in touch with friends who had either stayed back for an extra semester of high school or went to another university. Gradually more and more people were allowed to get a Facebook account - first anyone with a student email address and now anyone over 13 can have an account (and some even under 13 who get around the system). Because of when I signed up, I sort of grew along with Facebook. I learned early on that posting anything and everything was not a good idea and to keep an eye on my privacy settings - especially when it came time to find a job after graduation. This likely wasn't the case with Chloe, Morgan, and Brynn. They all came into Facebook late in the game when it was super popular and all their friends were on it. I can definitely understand their obsession with it because I had it too for awhile (and now it's kind of switched to Twitter...) but I cringed every time they posted something revealing and talked about their kids all the time. But maybe that's just me. All that being said, I loved the Facebook connection that was woven through all three stories. It shows that social networking has changed our society, for better or for worse, and we all need to learn to adapt to it.

Overall, I loved this book. It was fun for me to learn about the characters and I genuinely cared what happened to them. I was happy when they were happy, and sad when they were sad. Strong had a clever way for them to all be connected and I am so glad that they were. It seemed to wrap it up nicely for me. Not only did this novel have a great storyline but there was such an awesome integration of social media. Anyone with a Facebook account can relate to the issues the three women and their friends faced and I loved that. I highly recommend this book. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July Chick Lit Review: Wedding Season

No, you're not experiencing déjà vu. This is a different book from last month's review, just with the same title! However, I was incredibly upset and confused when I realized...I had already read this book! What the heck? I've been trying to figure out when or why I would have read it before now and just can't do it. I therefore must conclude that I've lost my mind :) That's the only reasonable explanation, obviously.

I know it probably seems like a bad thing that I read a book and didn't remember it, but I did enjoy this book. I must say though that I liked last month's Wedding Season more than this month's but they had completely different takes on weddings. Last month the book focused on a wedding planner (a job that I can't decide if I would love or not) who had two weddings to plan on the same day, one of which was her sister's. This month the novel was about a woman who had to attend or be in seventeen weddings in six months. Can you imagine??? I think I would go nuts...not only the stress of being in a ton of weddings and making decisions but all the money...oh boy. Two weddings in one summer was enough for me.

Now, I will give you the synopsis from Goodreads...

Seventeen weddings. Six months. Only the strong survive.

Joy Silverman and her boyfriend, Gabriel Winslow, seem perfect for each other. Living together in New York City, they have everything they want and everything in common--most important, that neither one wants to get married. Ever.

But when Joy finds herself obligated to attend seventeen weddings in six months (including those of her father, mother, younger brother, and five of her closest girlfriends), the couple is forced to take a new look at why they're so opposed to marriage when the rest of the world can't wait to walk down the aisle. As the season heats up and the pressure mounts, Joy must confront what it means -- and what it costs -- to be true to one's self.

A witty, wicked comedy of manners in the satirical tradition of Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh, Wedding Season is an intelligent, laugh-out-loud funny examination of friendship, faith, integrity, and the ideas and institutions that bind us together, shape our lives, and define who we are.

The synopsis mentions one of things that I wanted to comment on...this novel has a very Jane Austen type feel to it. It's hard to really describe but it really is a "comedy of manners" that the cover says it is. Joy is also very clever and critical of her society's norms - which is quite similar to Elizabeth Bennet from Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Joy can't understand why her friends all want to get married. She doesn't see the point if you can be just as happy without that piece of paper. Elizabeth can't understand why her friends would marry just to marry and be secure. She wants to marry someone she loves and respects. (Imagine not having that choice? It seems like such a no brainer now but women didn't always have that choice.) Can anyone else see the similarities or am I stretching with the comparison?

The book isn't very character driven which I didn't love. Ironically, there were a ton characters so I think I just didn't get a good sense of any of them. I actually found myself pretending that some characters didn't exist. Is that wrong? They just didn't add anything to the story and they bothered me. The last few books that I've read had main characters that were just so vivacious and likable and I found it hard to really connect with Joy. She was so set in her ways that marriage was evil and everyone who got married was stupid that it bothered me. Also, she had suspicions that her boyfriend was fooling around with another woman but didn't approach him about it. It was also obvious that he wasn't doing anything, at least it was to me. But maybe that was because I had already read the book... :)

The ending of this novel is a little surprising because it's not a typical happily ever after. I loved that, once I got over the fact that things weren't all wrapped up in a pretty little package. Even though things don't seem to be "perfect" at the end, Joy grew as a person and I think that's the most important thing.

Overall, I liked the book but I didn't love it. It's clever and real and has quite a few laugh out loud moments. (Joy's aunt's bachelorette party is pretty amusing). Has anyone else read this one? What did you think of it? I wish I liked it more, but you can't love everything! I would still recommend this novel for a fun summer read - it is wedding season after all!

Happy reading :)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Author Guest Post: Marika Christian

Below is a guest post that Marika graciously wrote for Books Etc. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

Cheatin’ Hearts

Ah, the moral dilemmas of working on a 1-800 Nasty number, another thing I had to confront when I was doing research. I was a little concerned, I wanted to share some of the calls with my readers, but what about the married thing?  A lot of the men I talked to were married, including the caller that I killed off in PHONE KITTEN.  So is phone sex cheating? I was married once, and while it felt like 20 long years, it was really only a bad eighteen months. I call it my young, dumb marriage, so I’m not an expert on a lot of the whole husband/wife thing.  I didn’t consider phone sex cheating.  I was getting paid to do it, there was no intimate exchange of romantic notions, and absolutely no physical contact. The guy in question didn’t even know my real name.  I got the credit card approval, and let “oh baby’s” begin.

Brian Thompson was one of my regulars and he was married.  We exchanged a few pleasantries, he told me what was going on, and I did the same. Of course, my pleasantries were all made up.  It was all very brief and in just a few moments he would get down to business, using his “sexy” voice to tell me exactly what he wanted to do. The calls weren’t anything special or even memorable.  At least not at first.

At some point Brian told me he needed to change his credit card. Apparently Mrs. T. had found the charges and had grilled him about the exact nature of business he was paying   Tatum and Associates for (Here’s a little tip, Tatum and Associates? Try T. n. A.  If you find a strange twenty dollar charge, see what you can do with the name of the company. Phone services have a sense of humor. )  For some reason I asked about the wife, and he told me that they were really just waiting out an economic crunch till they could afford to get divorced. Neither one of them were happy.  I believed him. See what I said about having no experience with the husband/wife thing?

We did a few more calls. All was well. Life was going on as usual.  One evening we did our regular chit chat, he used his sexy voice and I went into kitten mode, telling him exactly how I was going to strip for him.


Jiminy Cricket! It was the infamous Mrs. Thompson! She hung up. He hung up. I hung up.           
I was shaking, my stomach was flipping, and my guts were churning. It was like she walked in on us. I was shamed.  I immediately called my boss. I’m sure my voice was shrill, and I was talking a million miles a minute.  I knew she would know how to handle the situation. She’d had to have been through this before.

“That’s never happened to me.” Of course.

She laughed at me while I was telling her how humiliating the whole experience was.  We were having this “intimate” moment and it really was like the wife threw open the door and fired a shotgun into the room. My cheeks were red, I could feel it. How do “other women” do it? It was horrible. It seems silly, but I was so rattled I had to quit for the night.

Word spread, and in the morning every girl I worked with was sending me email, or an instant message asking for details, forcing me to relive the whole debacle again. Apparently, I was the first and only phone kitten that was ever caught mid-nasty with another woman’s man.

The next week, like clockwork, Brian was on the phone giving Tatum and Associates another twenty dollars, only this time he was using a gift card.  I explained that I hadn’t charged him for our last call since we were interrupted. I asked him what happened and he was very nonchalant about the whole thing.

I was still flabbergasted and embarrassed by the situation. “I can’t believe she was listening to us."

Brian went right into his “sexy” voice, “So Baby, did it turn you on?”

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Phone Kitten

Phone Kitten by Marika Christian is another book that is part of a Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour. Thank you to Samantha at Chick Lit Plus and Marika for letting me be a part of this tour!

First up, the synopsis of Phone Kitten from Goodreads:

Shy, slightly overweight Emily would die if she had to talk dirty face-to-face—especially to her hot boy friend. She sure didn’t set out to do phone sex—she wanted to be a writer. But when her BFF framed her for plagiarism, she got in a tiny financial hole and saw this ad for “phone actresses”… Hey, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. No pantyhose or pantsuits, no regular hours, you’re your own boss, and lots of people to talk to. Guys, that is. But here’s the odd thing—lots of them want to talk about more than Emily’s imagined attributes; they start to think of her as the best friend they’ll never have to meet. Next thing you know, one of her customers gets killed and Emily knows a lot more about it than she should. What’s a phone kitten to do? Solve the murder herself, of course—because wouldn’t it be a great story for the newspaper that wrongly fired her? It’s her ticket back to her real life—if it doesn’t get her killed.
(Quick note: I actually took out a bit from this synopsis. It gave something away about a character that I think is good not to know. I had obviously forgotten by the time I got around to reading my ebook and I'm glad that I did. So I'm not going to tell you! :) If you really want to know, just head on over to the Goodreads page)

If you're like me, you might be thinking...phone sex operator? Really? I'm not sure what I expected with a main character whose job is to talk dirty to men on the phone, but I was quickly proven wrong. While her job is what gets her into the mess of trying to solve a murder, it is not really the focus of the novel. Everything surrounding the job is written in a tasteful yet hilarious way. I give Christian credit for being able to write an amazing character with such a taboo job.

Part of why I loved this book was because of the characters. Emily is so incredibly lovable and down to earth, even if she does completely crazy things...like go off on a Nancy Drew adventure to catch a murderer. The only thing I didn't like about her? That she didn't think she was capable of having a good looking boyfriend because she was chubby. But, that wasn't a huge deal because I could tell this was going to be one of those stories where the character really grew as a person and accepted her so-called flaws and realized she really was a beautiful and amazing woman. I was happily proven correct as Emily starts as an insecure but great character and develops into someone even more fantastic and much more confident by the end of the novel.

Every good Nancy Drew wannabe needs some sidekicks, and Emily's came in the form of her gay best friend Dennis and his boyfriend Craig. Dennis is a trainer and, while he obviously loves her, is very tough on Emily. He just wants to make sure that she's safe and happy, but has his own special way of looking after her. I absolutely adored Craig. Every scene with him made me laugh. I really liked that she did not hold a grudge against Dennis for sharing things about her with his boyfriend. As you'll see in the synopsis, Emily's so called BFF turns on her and she's upset because she's lost the only girlfriend she had. While discussing the murder investigation with Craig he does something that is so stereotypically gay and Emily realizes that she's just found her new best girlfriend. I wish I had written down the exact phrasing of this scene because it made me laugh out loud.

This is one of those books that I have to tell you who I was picturing when I was reading it. Emily I saw as the gorgeous America Ferrera and Rick, her sexy boyfriend, looked like Roberto from The Bachelorette. That may seem random...but does anyone else who's read the book agree with me?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it - especially for a summer read. It's light and fun but with a great storyline. Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series will enjoy this hilarious debut novel from Christian. It made me laugh, made me think, and made me want to be friends with the characters. Do you need any other reason to read this book? I didn't think so. :)

Make sure you check out the guest post that Marika kindly wrote for me. I'm sure it will make you laugh!

Join Chick Lit Plus and Marika Christian next Thursday July 14th at 9pm EST/8pm CST for her TwitParty!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vacation Reads Challenge: Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun is probably one of my favourite movies so when I signed up for the Vacation Reads Challenge hosted by Ruby's Reads and Manga Maniac Cafe it was one of the first books that I thought of and I'm so happy that I decided to read it. I really enjoyed Frances Mayes' account of life in the small town of Cortona, Italy.

I didn't choose this book simply because I love the movie but because I would love to be able to travel to Italy. I admit, the movie may have fueled that desire and the book made me want to go even more. If that ever happens I want to make sure that I try to visit some of the smaller towns and really get a feel of the people and the culture of Italy. Mayes actually touches on this a little bit in the last part of the book when she discusses what the movie adaptation has meant to the town of Cortona and her book. The townspeople say that the tourists who come are there to see the culture and experience the history. Not to be loud and obnoxious tourists. Only problem with checking out the smaller towns? The fact that I don't know any Italian...

The book centred around Mayes buying Bramasole and the restoration and renovations of the house (done in part while they were living in California...can you imagine? Renovations are hard enough when you're at the house watching all the work being done, let alone when you're in another country trying to "oversee"!). Throughout this process we get to read about Mayes' love of cooking and her decisions on how to use some of the fresh ingredient from the area. Talk about mouthwatering! I will gladly visit Bramasole if she will cook for me.

I found that I had to keep reminding myself that the book wasn't a story - it was an actual account of Mayes' life in Italy. This leads to a discussion of the similarities and differences between the book and the movie adaptation starring Diane Lane. I'm one of those people who know that things have to be changed in order to make a successful movie.

That being said, I'm not really sure where some of the things in the movie came from. The biggest difference was that Frances is buying a house with her current partner, Ed, not on her own. Not only that, but they're planning on buying a house in Italy - it's not an impulsive purchase while on a gay tour of Tuscany. (And those of you who haven't seen the movie, I really do mean a gay tour. Frances' lesbian friends send her on the tour they were supposed to go on. Just wanted to make that clear!) Speaking of the lesbian friends - they were nowhere to be found, nor was the young female neighbour who the young Polish male falls in love with. There were, however, steaming toilets (right before hosting a wedding no less!), a lightening storm that fries a dishwasher, and a wall with "Polonia" engraved on it.

I find it interesting how Mayes notes in the last part of the book that there was an Italian lover added for the Frances character. I think it's interesting because she's essentially referring to herself as a character which shows that she knows the differences between books and films and what happens in the adaptation process. At least, I think so - maybe I'm totally off base! I'm not sure why a lot of these things were changed and/or added. Maybe these were parts of Mayes' life in Italy that just didn't make it into the book. Or maybe, like the Italian lover, these bits were added to make the story flow a bit more and to make it, well, a story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I think it's a great read for anyone looking to travel or wishing they could. Be warned - it could make you extremely jealous of any friends you have who are traveling while you're reading the book - even if they're just taking a road trip in your own country (you know who you are :) ). Remember that this is considered a travel memoir and isn't going to be a story like the movie is. Under the Tuscan Sun somewhat romanticizes the area but you can feel how much Frances and Ed really feel at home in Cortona and I loved that. This book was well worth the read. I would love to hear from any of you who have read this, or if you have any other travel memoirs to recommend.

Happy travels :):)