Thursday, September 29, 2011

September Chick Lit Review: Arranged

Ever read a book that you almost didn't want to finish because you didn't want it to be over but you desperately needed to find out what happened to the characters? Arranged by Catherine McKenzie was one of those books for me. I did not want to put it down! As much as I wanted to know what happened at the end of the story, I also didn't want it to be over because I wanted to stay engrossed Anne's life.

Want to know what this amazing book is about? Well, no need to wait any longer - here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, good friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share it with, however, she just can't seem to get it right.

After yet another relationship ends, Anne comes across a business card for what she thinks is a dating service, and she pockets it just in case. When her best friend, Sarah, announces she's engaged, Anne can't help feeling envious. On an impulse, she decides to give the service a try because maybe she could use a little assistance in finding the right man. But Anne soon discovers the company isn't a dating service; it's an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. She initially rejects the idea, but the more she thinks about it-and the company's success rate-the more it appeals to her. After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world, so why wouldn't it work for her?

A few months later, Anne is travelling to a Mexican resort, where in one short weekend she will meet and marry Jack. And against all odds, it seems to be working out-until Anne learns that Jack, and the company that arranged their marriage, are not what they seem at all.
 Wondering why the name Catherine McKenzie sounds familiar? Regular readers of my blog (and I love you guys!) will know that I read her first novel Spin awhile back (read my review here!) and absolutely loved it. I had actually picked up Arranged while I was in Chapters before I read Spin but didn't buy it. Once I got Spin from the library and devoured it I went right out and purchased Arranged. I'm so glad that I did.

Oh, Anne with an E. I love you.
 First of all, I LOVE that the main character's name was Anne Shirley Blythe. Yes. Named for that Anne Shirley. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favourites growing up and I know I'm not alone. Many Canadian girls grew up reading about this innocent red headed orphan. Highly recommended! Anyway, it was a little extra something in the novel that I just couldn't not mention. :)

Staying with Anne - I loved her. I think she was an amazing character and McKenzie made sure that the reader really got a sense of what Anne was like. She's a much more "with it" character than Katie in Spin but she still had some, shall we say, flaws that she had to work on throughout the course of the novel.

Anne also had a great cast of supporting characters - her best friend Sarah, boss/editor/friend William, brother Gilbert (yes, Gilbert Blythe), and sister-in-law Cathy. The only thing I'd say is that there were perhaps too many secondary characters and I didn't get a real sense of any of them. However, they were all there for Anne and that's quite important.

The story itself seems a little crazy but it really isn't. You just don't hear about arranged marriages very often anymore. I'm actually very curious as to how McKenzie came up with this idea. It's just such an interesting topic that I found myself wondering how many people have arranged marriages these days.

As for Jack? Loved him too. He really does seem like a perfect match for Anne but a good story can't be, well, good without some twists and turns. McKenzie delivers and makes you wonder how everything's going to turn out. The chemistry between Jack and Anne is just sexy enough and pretty realistic. Granted, I don't know what it would be like to jet off to Mexico to marry a man without ever meeting him before, but, hey, anything can happen on "vacation" :)

Finally, one other tidbit about this book that I loved - after a catastrophic revelation Anne is watching a marathon of Gilmore Girls on tv. As it turns out, Anne and I have the same favourite Gilmore Girls episode! It's the episode when Luke and Lorelai finally kiss for the first time (though the episode before that, Liz's wedding, is also a fave episode). I just thought it was pretty neat that we loved the same episode. Kinda geeky, I know. But I'm ok with that!
Exciting side note: While checking out Catherine's website I discovered that she has a third novel, Forgotten, coming out sometime...well, sometime. SO EXCITED! :) You can bet that I'll be reading it as soon as I can get my hot little hands on it.

Any readers from the States concerned that they can't get a copy of this easily? Not to worry! You can buy Arranged for Kindle (ok, it won't let me link which is SUPER annoying but go to, search for the book and it's there. Unless it's lying to me. I'm sorry if that's the case) AND Spin, Arranged, and the forthcoming Forgotten will all be published by HarperCollins in the US next year. Canadian friends, on the other hand, have no excuses. Buy Arranged and Spin right now. Read and enjoy. You won't be disappointed!

Happy reading :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Rock Star's Girl

Welcome to another stop on the Rock Star's Girl blog tour! The lovely Samantha over at Chick Lit Plus has once again arranged a fantastic tour. "Fantastic" you ask? I say that because I am absolutely in love with J.F. Kristin's novel and am so glad that I got to be a part of this tour. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Here's the synopsis from Kristin's website:

Emily Watts just wants a weekend break from the workaholic hours she's taken on to keep her business, a popular fashion-snark web site, up and running. What she gets is overnight celebrity and a career-killing media scandal.
While taking time out to attend a concert in support of friend Jesse Cinder, a struggling musician, Emily meets Cory Sampson, the lead singer of a chart-topping rock band. When she agrees to a date with Cory, making entertainment headlines is the last thing she expects. Even so, it's a minor surprise by comparison to her discovery that in the music world, media notoriety trumps all. Tabloid allegations erupt when Cory and fame-hungry Jesse use Emily for personal gain, and her tarnished image spells disaster — personally and professionally. To save the web site and writing career she's made her life and dream, Emily must go from being a pawn in the Hollywood headline game, to becoming the media mastermind.
I wasn't sure what I was going to think of this book when I first read the synopsis but after starting the novel I found myself engrossed with Emily's life and how she's dealing with a crazy set of circumstances. Those circumstances could easily be interpreted by the reader as far fetched but Kristin does a great job of giving reasons why Emily is being hounded by paparazzi because she happens to be dating a well known rock star.

I really loved Emily. I think she handled things spectacularly well when her personal life was suddenly being scrutinized by the celebrity press. No one can say for sure how they would react when their brand new relationship is all over the gossip magazines and websites and I think Emily did what most people would have done. I don't know if I would have been able to be as clever as she was when she was trying to get her life back so I applaud her creativity. (Vague? Yes. Read the book and find out what I mean!) Emily has a fantastic best friend, Shelby, who helps her through all of the craziness and stands by her, even when she is acting in a way Shelby doesn't approve of. Emily's the kind of character that we can all relate to, which is why I think I loved this book so much. She's an average girl who is working like crazy to keep her blog fresh while trying to have a life outside of work. Emily's someone you want to be friends with and I think that is what makes Rock Star's Girl so amazing.

I could not put this book down! It kept me interested the whole way through and I enjoyed the curveballs that were thrown into the story to keep me on my toes as I was reading it. The ending may not be what you're expecting but I think it was perfect. It ties things up so well that it almost seems like it's too good to be true but I think it's exactly how things should have turned out.

This is definitely one of my favourite books of the year and I hope this review does it justice! I strongly suggest that you find yourself a copy of Rock Star's Girl and keep your eye on J.F. Kristin in the future (she's currently working on her second novel). For those of you who have already read this one, did you love it as much as I did?

Wondering where you can buy this book?

And make sure you follow JF Kristin on Twitter too!

Happy reading :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vacation Reads Challenge: My Jane Austen Summer

Ladies and gentlemen, I have completed the Vacation Reads Challenge! *curtsies* I honestly didn't think I would be able to get it done - six books in three months and that was on top of many blog tour reviews and everything else that happens in the summer. But I did it! The sixth and final book I chose for this review was My Jane Austen Summer by Cindy Jones.

I'm switching things up a little bit with the synopsis - this one comes from Indigo (because the one on Goodreads isn't really the synopsis, it's a review from Publishers Weekly. Not helpful):

Lily has squeezed herself into undersized relationships all her life, hoping one might grow as large as those found in the Jane Austen novels she loves. But lately her world is running out of places for her to fit. So when her bookish friend invites her to spend the summer at a Jane Austen literary festival in England, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself.
There, among the rich, promising world of Mansfield Park reenactments, Lily finds people whose longing to live in a novel equals her own. But real-life problems have a way of following you wherever you go, and Lily's accompany her to England. Unless she can change her ways, she could face the fate of so many of Miss Austen's characters, destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
My Jane Austen Summer explores how we fall in love, how we come to know ourselves better, and how it might be possible to change and be happier in the real world.
I wanted to love this book. I really did. While I still haven't read Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey, I still consider myself an Austen fan. I have all six of her novels, several other novels that revolve around some sort of Austen plot (like Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict), and a biography. I also have several movie adaptations and Austen-esque films (like The Jane Austen Book Club). I even wrote an essay on Jane Austen adaptations for a film class I took in fourth year university! (Yes, I had some amazing classes). So, long story short, I wanted to like this book because it promised me a world where Austen was queen. And she was, don't get me wrong, but something just didn't work for me in this novel.

Part of me wonders if the reason I didn't love this novel was because I haven't yet read Mansfield Park. From what I understood, My Jane Austen Summer drew from that particular Austen novel and the criticisms surrounding it. Not to mention the fact that Mansfield Park is the novel the characters are adapting into a play for the festival. I'm going to give this novel the benefit of the doubt and assume that I would have gotten more out of it had I had already read Mansfield Park. I think that's fair, don't you? :)

There was a lot going on in this book. There was the literary festival, its uncertain future, the death of Lily's mother, Willis, Vera and Nigel, Bets and her theatrics, Magda and Archie and their affair, and so on. Some things worked well together and the story flowed, such as Lily feeling slightly unhinged, shall we say, because of her mother's death and wanting to find a way to hide from her own life. On the other hand, there were parts of the novel (the storyline with Archie, his wife and children, and his affair with Magda) that didn't need to be as in depth as they were. The flow was a bit off and that may have been something else that stopped me from loving this book.

I loved the idea of this novel - traveling to a literary festival based around a wonderful author. This is the reason I chose this book for the Vacation Reads Challenge - not only because it takes place in England and I desperately want to travel there, but because it would be like living in an Austen novel for a little while. (Through a quick Google search I see that "Jane Austen festival" generates a great deal of options. Note to self: look into these festivals!) It's just such a neat idea to devote an entire event to one author and I think it would be a lot of fun to look into going to such a festival.

Overall, I didn't love this book. I just couldn't. That being said, I think I would still recommend it to other Janeites. I'd likely warn them that I didn't love the book and give a little insight why but I wouldn't let that stop them from reading it. I'm sure others would love this book and I wouldn't want to get in the way of that! Has anyone else read My Jane Austen Summer? What did you think of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Happy reading! :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vacation Reads Challenge: A Year in Europe

Bonjour! I've finished my fifth read for the Vacation Challenge hosted, in part, by Ruby's Reads. I decided to read A Year in Europe by Rachel Hawthorne because it took place in three major European cities - London, Paris, and Rome. I would love to visit any of these cities, especially London and Paris.

Let's start off with the synopsis from Goodreads:

MEET THE GIRLS of A Year in Europe, a collection of three interconnecting novels about the adventures of traveling abroad.
Robin: Her junior year abroad in London takes a surprising turn when she falls for British hottie Kit.
Dana: Paris is the City of Love, and Dana's on a mission to find a gorgeous French boyfriend.
Carrie: She's crazy about Antonio, her Italian dream guy. If Carrie tells him the truth about her American heritage, she might lose him forever.
A Year in Europe. Three unforgettable stories. One unforgettable journey.
Overall, I thought this was a fun read. It was actually kind of nice to read about teenage girls who just wanted to have their first boyfriend instead of reading about women who are looking to jump into bed with someone or a teenage girl who wants to become immortal *cough Twilight cough*. I have to admit that I kept thinking, why are these girls so obsessed with getting a boyfriend and worrying about whether boys like them? Partway through Dana's story I realized that my friends and I used to act like Robin, Dana, and Carrie when we were 16. After that, I put my 16 year old self in their shoes and started to enjoy the book a little more.

I liked that the novel was based around the girls going abroad for a year and living and learning in another country. This is something that I never would have done myself in high school, since I was pretty quiet and liked staying close to home. I could really understand the tough emotions the girls found themselves having while they were away from their hometown, friends, and family. However, I couldn't quite understand why they were so clueless in their new cities. Carrie was the only one who had no problem where she was because her father's Italian and she's fluent in the language. Robin and Dana, on the other hand, had some difficulties - and Robin was only going to London! She had no idea that the "tube" meant the subway and the "boot" meant the trunk of a car. Maybe I'm judging too harshly, but I'm pretty sure I had a rough idea of the most common English lingo when I was their age. I do applaud Dana for heading to a country where she is not fluent in the language though - I can't imagine how difficult that would have been!

England is one of my top dream travel destinations (Scotland, Ireland, and Australia are also up there) so I was definitely most envious of Robin and her year abroad. I'd love to go to Paris as well, but since I'm nowhere near fluent in French, it would be a little more challenging. I took French up until grade 10 (one year past the mandatory French classes us Canadian kids have to take) but I didn't retain much - just enough to excel at the French questions on Jeopardy! :) Regardless, I would love to travel to Paris sometime in my life.

This novel was a fun read, nice and light for the summer. I would definitely recommend it to teenagers who are looking for a good book to lose themselves in. I've read quite a few of Rachel Hawthorne's books before and I've always enjoyed them. It goes to show that just because you're no longer a teenager doesn't mean you can't enjoy a good YA novel every once and awhile. Especially one that takes you to so many wonderful cities!

Happy, everyone! :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vacation Reads Challenge: The Perfect Man

Welcome to another Vacation Reads Challenge post! This time I will be taking you on a Caribbean cruise with a stop in Ireland and Spain with the novel The Perfect Man by Shelia O'Flanagan.

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

From a bestselling author comes a captivating novel about family ties, romance and leaving the past behind Two very different sisters, Mia (still in love with Alejo, the married father of her daughter) and Britt (the ice maiden author of a romantic bestseller), join a luxury honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean where Britt is the guest lecturer. Also on board are recently widowed Leo, still reeling from the discovery of his wife's betrayal just before her death, and Steve, a ship's officer who's soon looking for more than a holiday romance with Mia. Can Steve replace Alejo and is there any chance that Britt and Leo can see that they really should get together? When the characters head for home -- Mia to Spain, the others to Dublin -- it seems that all romantic options are off. But love has a way of triumphing in Sheila O'Flanagan's novels, even if it takes till the very last page...

I've read another of O'Flanagan's novels before (Bad Behaviour) and liked it so I was looking forward to this one. It didn't disappoint! It was such a fun read. It's a fairly long book and the great thing about it is that the story doesn't get dull or stuck. There was always movement with the plot and development with the characters. It was an enjoyable read all around.

What I found quite interesting about the characters Mia and Britt was that they were sisters yet weren't all that close. They had a deeper and more intimate relationship than two friends would have because they grew up together. This trip gave them the chance to learn about each other all over again. They were comfortable with being themselves around each other but there were deeper personality traits that the other did not understand. For example, Mia is still in love with Alejo which Britt finds baffling. As for Britt, she is a bestselling author but hates the life that comes with it. Mia can see that Britt is fantastic with the publicity even if Britt can't see it herself. They learn from each other and I really enjoyed that.

Like any great chick lit novel, the romance in The Perfect Man was present but wasn't in your face. You could figure out from the beginning which man should be with each sister but O'Flanagan does a great job of putting little twists and turns in the story and characters' personalities that make you wonder if you really did figure it out. The area of romantic relationships was one of the areas that I had issue with...both Mia and Britt tended to be quite hard on themselves when it came to relationships and I wanted to shake them both because they had so many great qualities! Luckily, they both came to their senses and realized that any man would be lucky to have them.

The reason I chose this as a read for the vacation challenge is because my own sister and I have been toying with the idea of going on a cruise ourselves. She's trying to decide if she wants to work on a cruise ship but wants to actually GO on a cruise before committing herself to working on one. Of course, we'd love to go somewhere hot like the sisters in The Perfect Man did (we live in Canada...we need to escape the winter!) but I'd really like to avoid a "structured" cruise. I want to be able to do what I want, when I want, where I want - not sit down to some stuffy dinner :)

Overall, I had fun reading this book. It was easy to put myself on the cruise and feel the roller coaster of emotions the characters go through. I would definitely recommend it to chick lit lovers!  I'll also be checking out more of Shelia O'Flanagan's novels in the future.

Happy Reading :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Just Finished: "Breaking Even"

Breaking Even by Kathleen Kole was a book I heard about through a Chick Lit Plus organized blog tour. Since I missed out on both those tours, I decided to take matters into my own hands and bought it for my Kobo so I could read it too! (This isn't the first book that I've read because of a tour CLP organized. This was also why I decided to give Click: An Online Love Story a shot. You can read my review of that novel here.) I'm glad I decided to get this book because I really enjoyed it.

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

Meet Penelope Whittaker. A sensible, do things the right way, soon-to-be-married accountant. Penelope is engaged to the wonderful, kind and caring Ben Miller ... a man she has known forever. Enter Single Dad. While on a school run, Penelope accidentally locks her keys in her car. A seemingly boring event, until she is offered aid by a very handsome (hubba, hubba) and personable Single Dad. Shaken by the encounter, or, more to the point, shaken by her reaction to the encounter, Penelope tries to put it where it belongs: on a shelf marked "Chance Encounters". Life has different plans.
This was one of those books that had me laughing out loud in some parts and cringing in others. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Cameron (Penny's young nephew) meets Scott (aka Single Dad). Cameron was so incredibly protective and made it clear to Scott that Auntie Pen was with Uncle Ben. Absolutely adorable. I was reading this part at the gym while working out and I'm sure people were looking at me strangely as I giggled at the imagery of a young boy giving a grown man the evil eye.

As for cringing...there were times when I wanted to smack Pen upside the head for being so silly and not listening to her friends. There's a reason the two women, Kris and Renee, were her closest friends - and not just because they're going to be her sisters-in-law. They know Penelope and Ben and can see the potential problems that will come from talking to Single Dad. Unfortunately, Penny can't see these problems and ignores their warnings. She also chooses to bottle up her issues instead of discussing them with Ben. The poor guy is left worrying about what he's done and what's going on with his fiance.

Even though Penelope is toying with the idea of starting an affair with Single Dad (whether she realizes it consciously or not), it is easy to relate to her and understand what she's going through. I found myself rooting for her and Ben and hoping that Kole would give me the ending I really wanted. (And no, I'm not going to tell you what the ending was. Read it yourself to find out!) Her friends are a fantastic support system and a good model for what marriage is really like (I'm assuming as I'm nowhere near marriage myself). I liked that Kris and Renee had their own lives and their stories were woven into Penny's while not overtaking the main plot.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and think many others would too. It's a fun read with great characters. For Kindle readers, you can buy the book here, Kobo users check out the book here, and for all the non-ereader readers a paperback can be purchased too. I think it's worth a buy and when you're done reading Breaking Even you should make sure to check out her Kole's next novel Dollars to Donuts. I'm looking forward to reading it myself!

Happy reading :)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vacation Reads Challenge: Burning the Map

First of all, I have to apologize for my apparent disappearance from the blogging world. It's been a whole two weeks since I last posted and I hate that it went on for that long *hangs head in shame* While I know I shouldn't make excuses, I have to say that it's been a crazy couple of weeks (I won't get into details but it involved much stress and hardly any free evenings or weekends). I hope to never go that long without sharing my thoughts on books again! Thanks for bearing with me and I hope you enjoy this MUCH overdue post.

With this review I am halfway done my reads for the Vacation Challenge! It's getting down to the wire and I still have two more to read (plus there's another post in the works...stay tuned!). So far I've "traveled" to Tuscany and Scotland, and with Burning the Map by Laura Caldwell I got to go to Rome and Greece.

Overall this was a fun and easy read - perfect for the summer. This was the kind of book that was great for someone who wants to travel or is about to start a new chapter in their lives - particularly on the job front. Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

Picking up a first novel is a bit like unwrapping a present, an exciting peek into the unknown. Laura Caldwell's debut invites readers along on a special trip -- a voyage of self-discovery, with plenty of adventure (romantic and otherwise) and a chance to explore friendships, new and old. Casey Evers is at a turning point in her life. She's just finished her law boards, she's about to start a new job, her workaholic boyfriend is about to pop the question and she's desperate for a last taste of freedom before she settles down to mapping her course through her new, grown-up, self-supporting life. That's why she's talked her two best girlfriends (whom she's seen much too little of since getting serious about John) into a gals-only trip -- a few days in Rome, then a few weeks in the Greek islands. This is Casey's chance to recapture a part of herself she's nearly forgotten -- the wild, fun-loving, passionate woman she may never be free to be again. Casey, Lindsey, and Kat had been like sisters for a decade and little more than passing strangers for the past two years. They've come to make up for all the special times they've missed in the past two years, to try to build a new friendship on the foundations of the old. Far from home, in exotic settings, with plenty of sexy guys and no responsibilities, these three friends learn that emotional baggage is a lot lighter when it's shared.
I checked out Laura Caldwell's website and had realized that I've already read one of her books, The Night I Got Lucky. I enjoyed that one too and it had a similar theme - the protagonist was trying to have her so-called "perfect" life but realizes that what she thought would be perfect may not actually be right for her.

The synopsis also gave me the heads up that Burning the Map was Caldwell's first novel. I didn't think of it at the time but it does make sense that this was her debut. While I liked the characters I feel like they could have been more developed and the storyline was fairly simple. That being said, I really liked the book. The three friends, Casey, Lindsey, and Kat are off on a trip for one last hurrah before Casey settles down to an established job at a law firm. The synopsis also makes it seem like the trip was all about the girls rekindling their close friendship, and while that was a huge part to the story, it was really a struggle to get to the end. I could understand that they had a huge hurdle to overcome (Casey had been distant since she started dating John and focusing on her law career) but there were arguments and pettiness between the girls that I just couldn't quite get over. It was also hard to see these three friends who had been so close become so disconnected. It really made me think about my own friends and what our relationships might be like in the next few years. I'm hoping that we stay close as we establish our "grown up" lives and careers. :)

I also really envied the girls and the vacation they took. They planned out this great trip to Europe and were able to get the money and time off work to go away. I know so many people say that you should just go away without worrying too much about the money, but I guess I'm just a worrier because I couldn't bring myself to spend all my money on a trip when I was just out of university. Of course, now I sort of wish I had but I'm hoping to go on a nice vacation...erm...let's just say soon. It may not be to Italy or Greece - both are places I would love to travel to - but you never know! I would love to travel to those countries partly because of the history Italy and Greece have. Comparatively speaking, I live in a young country (Canada for those of you who didn't know) and our history and development as a country is so different than many European countries. Reading about these girls taking a trip of a lifetime was a lot of fun, even if I was a little bit jealous!

Along with trying to breathe life back into her friendship with Lindsey and Kat, Casey is trying to sort through the second thoughts she's been having about her soon to be permanent law job and her relationship with her boyfriend, John. It's easy for me to say, as a reader and objective third party, that she should have realized there were issues when she was starting to wonder if she was making the right choices. I'm sure if it was me I wouldn't be able to see the problems that were staring me right in the face. In the end, Casey discovers what she should truly be doing and is happy, which is the most important thing. While I think that one of her decisions was very abrupt and could have been dealt with in a slightly different way, I applaud her for going with her heart and doing what she truly loves.

Like I mentioned before, this is a book that's great for someone who's starting a new chapter in their life. Anyone who has been in that position will know that easy answers are hard to come by and you should almost always follow your heart. Unless it's telling you to run off with a goat farmer in a country where you don't speak any of the language and have no hope of finding employment. Then I would at least consult some friends :) Overall, this was a fun read and think many other chick lit lovers would enjoy it as well.

Happy reading!