Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just Finished: Dollars to Donuts

Calling all donut and chick lit lovers! :) I've just recently finished Dollars to Donuts by the lovely Kathleen Kole. I'd like to thank her for sending along a copy for me to read. I enjoyed Breaking Even (you can read my review  here) so I was looking forward to her newest novel.

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

Take one newspaper columnist; move her from the anonymity of her home city to a sleepy, small town; add a dollop of nosey, suspicious and just plain odd neighbors; a dash of mystery in the form of a stained garbage can and a rodent and, finally, a large pinch of unsettling attraction to a virtual stranger and you’ll find yourself with a recipe that imitates April Patterson’s life.

Sound strange? It is.

April Patterson had no idea that when she decided to follow the path of family and love, she would find herself an unwitting player in an eyebrow raising cul-de-sac mystery, grasping for her privacy as she plays “Dodge the Neighbor” and being forced to examine her relationship motives ... all before she had unpacked her last box!

Taking a deep breath, and a large bite into a comforting donut, April consoles herself with the knowledge that it will all work out. It always does ... doesn’t it?
I have to be totally honest and let you all know that I didn't love this one as much as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, I was still entertained by the hijinks April and her friends got up to but there seemed to be a little something lacking in this one for me. I found that the relationship issue April has was too similar to the one Penny had in Breaking Even. I don't think I would have minded the issues so much (girl is in steady relationship, new and shiny boy comes along, she toys with a potentially bad idea, all is resolved) if it hadn't been so much like what Penny went through. I also found the turmoil and craziness with the neighbours seemed a little too separate from the rest of the novel - didn't quite flow for me.

All that being said, I was still invested in April's life and desperately wanted her to figure out her life. She seemed to be so stuck and I was rooting for her to decide what she should do to make herself happy. While the ending may not have been what I had chosen myself, I still find that it is completely right. I guess that's why Kole is the author and I am not :) Some people  may not appreciate it but I think Kole did what was right for her characters. And I have to brag about the fact that I saw the one part of the ending coming. Yes, I know I'm being vague again but you'll just have to read the book to find out what I'm talking about!

I really loved that April and Jessica, her older sister, were so close. I'm quite close with my own sister so it was great to see a true sibling friendship in a book. It was very realistic which I appreciated. I would love to know more about her life before the start of Dollars to Donuts. Perhaps a prequel? :)

Overall, I enjoyed reading Dollars to Donuts and I think other chick lit lovers would enjoy it as well. In fact, check out the home page for the Chick Lit Plus organized blog tour and you'll see many other reviews as well. This was a fun read and I'm looking forward to what Kathleen Kole comes out with next!

Happy reading :)

Just Finished: Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Ah, Jane Austen.

I admit, I have not yet read all six of her novels (Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park are still on my to be read list) but I still consider myself an Austen fan. So much so that I actually wrote an essay about Jane Austen adaptations for a film class in university (go ahead, be jealous. My roommates were). Side note: I do not recommend watching the epic BBC version of Pride and Prejudice , the new Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightly, Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson, and Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow all in the same week. I swear I was talking like the characters for days afterwards.

Back to the point of this post...Jane Austen Made Me Do It - a collection of short stories about or inspired by Jane Austen herself. The collection was edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, the creator of the website Austenprose. Overall, I loved reading these short stories. It took me awhile to get through because of other things happening in my life but it was a great read. Like most short story collections there were some stories that I loved and some that I didn't like quite as much. For the most part though, I was able to enjoy every single story.

What I liked about this collection was the variety in the stories. Some of them featured Jane Austen, like Lauren Willig's "A Night at Northanger" while others, such as "The Riding Habit" by Pamela Aidan, were continuations of some of Austen's novels. Some others took Austen's characters and plopped them in the real world ("Me and Mr. Darcy, Again..." by Alexandra Potter). There were even some stories that just featured someone who loved Jane Austen's work, like "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany. If you like the setting of Austen's novels most, you'll find stories that you like. If you're partial to some of the characters, well there are stories for you too. If you're just plain obsessed with Austen you're going to love the whole book.

Not only did I like that there was so many types of stories but I seemed to like one from each type. Some of my favourites include:

- "Waiting" by Jane Odiwe. This was a continuation of of Persuasion, Anne Elliot is forced to wait while Captain Wentworth goes to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Ooh, the tension!

- "Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley. This was a Christmas story so of course I loved it. Jane Austen makes a brief appearance, which I really enjoyed. It also has such a happy ending that made me like this story even more.

- "When Only a Darcy Will Do" by Beth Pattillo. The main character is an American student going to school in England. She decides to do a walking tour of London dressed like an Austen character. Only one person shows up - a good looking young man who appears to be dressed as one Mr. Darcy. I really liked the little surprise the author had at the end of the story.

- "The Love Letter" by Brenna Aubrey. This was actually the Grand Prize Winner of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest. The story one plays with Persuasion and tells about a man who evaluates his life and romantic past. It was very sweet.

- "Intolerable Stupidity" by editor Laurel Ann Nattress. When I first started reading this one I didn't think I was going to like it but I was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. Nattress has created a trial that, depending on the outcome, could see the banishment of any Austen adaptation. This includes the aforementioned epic BBC P&P with the memorable extra scene of Darcy in a wet shirt as well as the newer Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I don't get this one. Really just...don't). Could you imagine a world where we didn't have any extra Austen? It would be madness. Madness, I tell you!

Any Jane Austen fan, whether you've only read or seen the well known Pride and Prejudice or you're a die hard fanatic who's read each book multiple times as well as anything to do with Austen, will enjoy Jane Austen Made Me Do It. There's something for everyone and that's what makes this collection so great. I also really enjoyed the reading guide at the end. Perfect for a book club pick! I'd love to hear from others who have read this one or those of you who consider yourself an Austen fan as well. What's your favourite novel? Adaptation? Austen-esque piece of work?

Happy reading :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just Finished: What's Your Number?

I'm baaaack! Finally, here's a real post for you all. Being busy, going on a mini vacation, and being sick can really throw a wrench in things. I hope to have a few more blog posts coming up over the weekend. Then I'm away at a conference for the beginning of next week! Sometime soon I'll get back to a more regular schedule...promise! :)

I was sent What's Your Number? by Karyn Bosnak by Random House UK (thanks!). For those who only know the book from the movie adaptation (like myself) this book was actually published about five years ago under the title 20 Times a Lady.

Let's get right into it with the synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:

How many men does it take to find true love?

Delilah Darling's magic number was supposed to be twenty. She always thought she'd find the perfect guy by the time she'd slept with twenty of them. But when she wakes up naked in her disgusting boss's bed after a drunken night out, she's filled with regret — and realizes she's hit her self-imposed limit. Unwilling to up her number but unable to imagine a life of celibacy, Delilah does what any girl in her situation would do: she tracks down every man she's ever slept with in a last-ditch effort to make it work with one of them.

A hilarious romp through Delilah's past loves, 20 Times a Lady proves that in the end, numbers don't matter. True love will come when you're open and ready to accept it.
I have to admit, I didn't love this book. I really wanted to but there was something about Delilah that just didn't sit well with me. She was much too flighty and...well, honestly, annoying. I kept having this feeling that I knew we would never be able to be know, if she was real and we ever met. That being said, I know lots of people would find her hilarious and I don't want my opinion of her to sway any one else's decision. I do love that she really went on a journey, both literally and figuratively, in the novel. She starts off as a fairly immature woman who is obsessed with this idea that she's slept with too many men but she grows into a much more rounded person who is finally happy with herself. If that hadn't happened I don't think I would have enjoyed the book at all so I'm happy Bosnak took Delilah on such a great journey.

I haven't seen the movie adaptation of this movie yet but I can already say I'm annoyed because of Delilah's neighbour Colin, played by Chris Pine. Why am I annoyed? Because in the book Colin is Irish! I find Chris Pine attractive, don't get me wrong, but I would be much happier with an Irish guy. Swoon. I do think they were bang on by casting Anna Faris, even if Delilah is described as being a brunette. I think she will do an excellent job in the movie. I'm looking forward to watching the adaptation to see if I'm right. Has anyone watched the movie already?
Overall, I enjoyed the time spent reading What's Your Number? but I'm sure others would love it more than I did. I would still recommend it, especially to those who like Confessions of a Shopaholic. Like the synopsis says, Delilah's story is hilarious and it did have me laughing out loud at some points. I'd love to hear what others have to say about this book or the movie.

Happy reading! :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Christmas Challenge!

Ah, Christmas and reading. Two of my favourite things. I'm so excited that I get to combine them this year! How? you ask? By signing up for the Holiday Reading Challenge hosted by Book Lovers Inc.!

The BLI Holiday Reading Challenge

How exciting is this?

The idea for this challenge is to read as many Christmas novels/short stories/novellas as possible. Reading Christmas books is one of my favourite things about the holiday so I don't expect that this will be too difficult.

There are three levels that you could achieve...

Santa's Helper: read 1-3 holiday themed books
Serial Mistletoe-er: read 4-6 holiday themed books
Candy Cane-aholic: read 7 or more holiday themed books

My hope is to at least achieve Serial Mistletoe-er, if not Candy Cane-aholic but I'm being realistic in realizing that I may not have as much time as I may think I have.

Want to sign up yourself? Check out this post and get involved. This is going to be so much fun!

Happy Holidays! :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Author Guest Post: Irene Woodbury

First of all, I have to apologize for my lack of posts lately. I was hit with a wicked cold and was super busy at work - neither of which let me have time or the brain capacity to write anything worth reading! Now, onto the fun!

Irene Woodbury is currently on tour through Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours and while I have not read A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis (yet!) but I'm so happy to have a guest post for all of you to read by the lovely author herself. When I was checking out her website I was intrigued by the travel writing that she's done so this guest post explains a little bit about that. A big thank you to Irene for writing this for Books Etc. I hope you all enjoy it!

“Our long-awaited month in London was about to become the vacation from Hell!”
That was the lead of my first travel story, and truer words were never written.  It was November 2000.  My husband and I were on vacation in London.  It was cold, and it wouldn’t stop raining.  We didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.  The apartment we’d rented was in a quiet residential area that made us feel lost and out of it.  What to do?
My husband, who had a long career at Time Magazine as a reporter, had always wanted me to write travel stories.  I wasn’t interested.  As a full-time student in the 1990s, I spent the semesters writing papers.  I didn’t want to write anything other than a postcard on vacation.  But I was no longer a student, and we were both getting bored and cranky, and it was getting even colder, and it wouldn’t stop raining. 

One day my husband came up with a plan:  He would write a travel story, and I would help him.  Famous last words.  I soon took over, and, before I knew it, I had 40 pages on London walking tours.  I wouldn’t stop!  I absolutely loved it.  I wrote a rough draft on the plane ride back to Denver, and typed it on my computer the next day.  A few weeks later, the Los Angeles Times agreed to print it.    The 30-some pages I turned in ran as 6, but I didn’t care.  I was ecstatic!  My husband was happy.  It was the beginning of my travel writing career.
My next story also took place in London.  With my husband’s assistance, I did a long piece on the food halls of major department stores like Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, Marks and Spencer, and Selfridges.  Talk about work!  We were on the Tube all day, going back and forth from one to the other, interviewing managers, checking out the prices of marmite and biscuits, trying out cheese plates, having tea, analyzing the d├ęcor and uniforms the cashiers wore.   Seven days a week, we were in the food halls, gathering details on prune cake made by nuns in Spain, wild mushrooms from Italy, bread and pastries trucked in from Paris, pork and beef from the English countryside, salmon from Scotland.   I took notes and wrote.  My husband did the photos.   The Los Angeles Times ran that one too--a full page story!  I was thrilled, and the readers loved it.
I did many London stories over five years.  Another favorite was the Bridget Jones tour.  We were in London when the movie made from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, came out. I bought a copy of the book, got my pen, and stayed up all night marking the locations in the book. The next morning, I had a list, and out the door we ran!
There was her apartment on Bedale Street above the Globe Tavern in Borough Market, the Serpentine Gallery where Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy brawled over her, the boutiques she shopped in on Oxford Street.   We even had an authentic English breakfast at Debenham’s department store, where Bridget liked to munch her beans, toast and pork sausages.
Our tour also included stops at the elegant Claridges Hotel, where Bridget and Mark attended the wedding reception of her friend, Jude, and the dignified Guildhall, where Bridget endured the double humiliations of a make-up blunder and an undergarment malfunction during a formal reception.  Her date, the proper Mark Darcy, is embarrassed by her appearance and her inappropriate behavior, of course.
I loved this story.  It ran in the Toronto Star.  The final sentences were:  “No other tour has made us feel so comfortable in this complex city.  Thanks Bridge!”  To this day, I second that emotion.
Just one more London story, then I’ll move on!  I’d always wanted to have formal tea at the best hotels in London, so we did this as a story.  We had long, leisurely teas at the Lanesborough, Savoy, Ritz, Basil Street, and Dukes hotels.  The average price was $40 to $50.  What a wonderful time it was!  As we sipped our tea and munched scones, pastries, and finger sandwiches, I snuck in notes, (sometimes we told people what we were doing , more often we didn’t) and my husband discreetly snapped photos.   A well dressed Ritz security person finally told us:  “One more photo, and you’ll be asked to leave.”  Needless to say, we put the camera away. 

This was a terrific experience.  The story ran in the L.A. Times—and, by the way, the Lanesborough was the best of the lot for food, service, atmosphere, and attitude.
I’ll tell you about one Paris story—my favorite in that incredible city.  On the plane ride from Denver, I said to my husband:  “I wonder what it would be like to shop for second-hand clothes in Paris?”  I lived to regret that comment because every day when we woke up in the apartment we’d rented, he would ask:  “When are you going to do that story on used clothing stores?”
To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know how they referred to these places in French.  We finally found out from the American guy we’d rented the apartment from.  Then we looked them up in the phone book, got our Metro guide, and figured out how to get to these “depot ventes.”
This was another incredible fantasy trip.  You would not believe the clothes and accessories in these stores!  Yves Saint Laurent suits, Chanel handbags, Versace boots, Prada leather jackets, Dior dresses, Balenciaga skirts.  It was incredible.  We covered five or six stores all over the city, but we only had space for four in the story.  The shop-owners were fairly cooperative, but I kept a low profile and behaved respectfully and discreetly.  My husband took photos, but, once again, discreetly.   They knew they’d get publicity from the story—if it got published--so they went along with it.  But they wouldn’t put up with any nonsense!  It was the experience of a lifetime to trek through those stores and check out the extraordinary offerings for both men and women.  
If you’re going to Paris anytime soon, the four stores in the article were Reciproque in the 16th arrondissement, Depot Vente du 17eme (17th arrondissement), Misentroc on the Left Bank, and Alternatives in the Marais.  The prices are in every range.  The story ran in the Dallas Morning News and The London Daily Telegraph.   It will always be one of my favorites.
I won’t go into detail on other stories I’ve done, but I covered a literary walking tour in Dublin; the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid; a crocodile preserve near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, an indigenous Indian village in Mexico; the spas of Las Vegas, Elvis-related entertainment shows in Las Vegas, chocolate-themed specialty shops and cafes on the Strip, and backstage theatre tours in London.  I like variety.
Thanks for the opportunity to look back on some of the happiest days of my life. (There were a few downsides. It was an expensive pastime. I worked 7 days a week and didn’t have a computer with me. We never knew if the stories would sell or not, and when they did, we didn’t make much money.) I’m looking forward to getting out there again with my notebook, pad—and husband--one of these days. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Happy First Birthday to Books Etc.!

I can hardly believe it...I've been writing Books Etc. for a whole year now! I think that deserves a lovely, er, electronic cake...

There, I think that does the trick, doesn't it?

Now, I don't have any fancy giveaways or anything, but I wanted to take the time to thank all of you who have been with me from the start or stumbled upon Books Etc. sometime in the last year. Sometimes it's surreal to think of all of you reading my ramblings. I hope I've managed to keep you entertained and introduce you to some great books (and some TV shows) along the way.

I started this blog as a way to talk about one of favourite things - books. I can't get enough of them (seriously, ask anyone who knows me). I am happiest when I have time to read on breaks at work or am able to suggest titles to people. It means so much to me that you guys are reading this and commenting and I hope I can come up with reviews and other posts that inspire you to get more involved.

My very full bookshelf!

My hope is that I can keep growing Books Etc. over the next year. There are so many great blogs (like Chick Lit is Not Dead and Chick Lit Plus) out there and I hope to get up to their level someday. I'm going to start doing some weekly memes hosted by other blogs (stay tuned for "In My Mailbox" and "Top Ten Tuesday"). I love doing challenges (I've adored the Chick Lit Plus Challenge and hope Samantha hosts another one next year!) and have been introduced to some amazing novels through blog tours (also hosted by Samantha). As much as I love those things, I may try to cut back because I have a massive amount of books on my shelf that I haven't had time to read yet. I feel like the books that I've bought for myself aren't getting the attention that I wanted them to get. I also haven't visited the library nearly enough lately and that makes me sad. Must change that! Another goal of mine is to write more posts that aren't strictly reviews. I feel like I have more to say about books, authors, genres, and other happenings in the book world and want to try and incorporate that into this blog.

So now you know where I'd like to go with this blog and how I plan on shaking things up a little bit. I hope you all stick with me to see where this crazy blogging journey will take me in the next year. Thank you. Really.

Happy reading :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November Chick Lit Challenge Read #1: Unravelled

For my November Chick Lit Challenge read I decided to read something a little cozy. And what's cozier than a book with a ball of yarn on the cover? Unravelled by (Canadian!) Robyn Harding was a fun read.

Here's what this book is all about, courtesy of Goodreads:

Beth wasn't sure that joining a knitting club would fill the void created when she left her commitment phobic boyfriend and moved in with a kooky roommate, but it was worth a try. Even more than a hobby, Beth needed a new circle of friends to help her rebuild her life.

Together the club knit scarves, sweaters, and the bonds of friendship. Beth even started dating again - and this time she was doing it right! But Beth soon discovers that her new man has a secret so shocking it could end their relationship - and worse, destroy the best group of friends she's ever had. Unravelled is a hilarious tale of knitting, betrayal, and the power of friendship.
This was a book that I picked up on a library trip. I almost missed it but while I was wandering through the stacks the Canadian sticker on the spine and the interesting title caught my eye. I admit, it sat in my library pile for probably six or seven weeks before I finally picked it up to read (I kept renewing it...hope no one else wanted it!). I'm glad I did because it was an enjoyable read even if it doesn't quite make it to my favourites list.

There was a bit of craziness in this book that just didn't quite suite my tastes. Beth was one of those women with a deadline - she wanted to be married by a certain age and have kids by a certain age. I guess I can understand that to a point but I think putting these restrictions on yourself and your relationships creates unnecessary tension. I do appreciate that Beth really finds herself during the course of this novel. If a character makes me go through all sorts of stuff with her throughout the course of the novel I want her to change for the better, otherwise I find the book to be a waste of my time. Anyone else feel like that? When a character is obviously flawed but doesn't make any changes to their life to make it better? Happily, Beth was not one of those characters and I like how her story ended up.

There are a ton of supporting characters in this novel but I think they all could have used a little more development. For example, I couldn't quite understand why Angie and Beth were best friends. There are little glimpses of a good girlfriend here and there but for the most part Angie was totally absorbed with herself. I do, however, like that there are a lot of secondary characters because it meant there were lots of people available to help Beth on her journey.

There's an unexpected twist near the end of the novel that I did not see coming. I love when that happens because sometimes too many clues are given away during the course of the story and I figure out exactly what's going to happen. This twist is slightly outrageous but it totally fits with the feeling of the rest of the book. Even though it was a little bumpy getting to the resolution, I liked how Harding ended Unravelled.

Way back in January I made a resolution to learn how to knit because of another book series (the first in the series is The Friday Night Knitting Club and I suggest you give it a try!). There was something about a group of women getting together and bonding over this craft that really intrigued me. I did pretty well with my knitting for awhile but eventually it became a nice fixture on my end table. Once I read Unravelled though, I decided to pick it back up. It's not the prettiest knitting but I'm determined to create something with it. Even if it's a slightly wonky looking scarf.

Overall, I liked this book. I didn't love it but I definitely didn't hate it. I think other chick lit lovers would enjoy it too so if you happen to pass it at your own library I suggest you pick it up and give it a try.

Happy reading...and knitting! :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

November Chick Lit Challenge Read #2: Remember Newvember

Welcome to my second November review for the Chick Lit Plus Challenge. I stumbled across Remember Newvember by Jennifer Bogart a few months ago (and for the life of me can't remember how I did) and tucked it away in my head to save it for the November challenge read. It was only fitting as the book is about a woman who is dared to try one new thing a day for the entire month of November. 

Here's the full synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:

The dare should have been simple, but it turns into a life-altering journey. This inspiring book is deep investigative thinking, disguised as chic lit.

In just one month, Willow transforms from routine-oriented postal worker to try-anything-once adventurer. “I dare you to spice up your life,” her best friend urges – so Willow complies, not realizing the ripple effect subtle changes create.

A simple weblog listing her new activities quickly turns into an introspective exploration of who she is, where she’s going and the route she’s going to take. All her life, Willow has ambled without purpose, never straying from her chosen path. The moment Willow decides to take the stairs in her apartment building where she runs into Sawyer, the dreamy-man-voice, something in her psyche shifts. She is propelled into the adventure that is her own life with twists and turns that could only come from losing her inhibitions and making risky decisions.

Each new event becomes a catalyst in the development of Willow’s relationships with her friends, co-workers, siblings and love interests. Forced to look beyond what is presented on the surface, she discovers the truth of what lurks below, including an unpleasant display of her own chaotic emotions. By the end of her month of new discoveries, Willow loses her indecisiveness, her inhibitions and most importantly gains self-confidence and self-respect.
I loved the premise of this book. Trying something new for an entire month? Talk about getting outside of your comfort zone. Willow does all sorts of new things throughout the month, some are interesting, some are slight tweaks to her everyday routine. Instead of her usual beer on Wet Your Whistle Wednesdays, she has tequila (with less than stellar results). She goes to her first NHL game (with much better results). She suddenly becomes a pet owner (which is quite humourous) and she agrees to babysit her friend's daughter (she's really not a kid person). I won't give everything away but what I really loved about this book is that it made me think about my own life and how sometimes we get stuck in a rut and just need a shove (or a dare) to get us motivated to change things.

If I was a more adventurous or motivated person, I would have done my own version of Newvember. However, I'm not. At least I'm making a conscious effort to think about what I'm doing throughout the month and trying new things if they are staring me in the face. So far I've been able to do a few things: I've watched the opening ceremonies of the Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, drove to Ottawa - almost 6 hours - all by myself, went to the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa - cold and hard to see anything but it was lovely, finally tried a Beavertail - they're so delicious, and I signed up for a Secret Santa exchange on The Broke and Bookish. If you'll notice, those are only five things but five new things are all you need to enter the contest Jennifer Bogart is running! If you do that many things in "Newvember" and comment on her Facebook page you can win a print copy of Remember Newvember and a mug! Check out this blog post to see the book and mug. Now that I've done a few new things I can see what Willow felt once she got started on her challenge.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The story and plot were more captivating than the writing itself (there were a couple of things I felt should have been smoothed out but they didn't stop me from enjoying the book). Willow really made me think about my own life and what I can do to shake things up. Have you tried anything new this month? If you have or plan on doing so, I'd love to hear about them! I think this is a great book and think other chick lit lovers will enjoy because it doesn't quite fall into the typical chick lit category. Trust me. You'll enjoy the time you spend with Remember Newvember.

If you're wondering where you can get this great book, you can purchase it at and, and on Smashwords. What are you waiting for?

Happy reading :)

Just Finished: Stir Until Thoroughly Confused

I cannot begin to tell you guys how much I love Heather Wardell's books. Stir Until Thoroughly Confused was the third novel of Wardell's that I have read and it's been added to my Favourites of 2011 list along with the other two (you'll get the full list sometime in December, don't worry).

Here's what this one is about, courtesy of Goodreads:

Mary's given up everything, including an unsatisfying marriage, to become a chef. But the career comes with a side dish: Kegan, her sexy but controlling new boss.

They're soon in a relationship, and in all-too-frequent arguments, and when it becomes clear they can't work together and be together Mary faces a dilemma: keep her dream job or her dream man?

What I really loved about the first three novels I read were that they were all a little bit connected (Wardell calls them her "Toronto" series). Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo was the first and Go Small or Go Home was the next one - if you're so inclined and haven't yet done so, you can read my reviews of both of them here and here. I loved them both so I was cautiously optimistic that I would love Stir just as much and I did! I was a little worried as Kegan had shown up in the first two novels and, honestly, I wasn't his biggest fan. I don't know why I worried because Wardell was able to introduce a "life event" that changed Kegan and made him, well, more likeable. I was also unbelievably happy that Tess and Forrest from Go Small made frequent appearances - my favourite was the best and most touching wedding I've ever encountered. I'm glad Wardell brought back Ian and Candice too. Even though I didn't like them quite as much as Tess and Forrest, I still loved Polar Bear and their story and was happy to see some sort of closure with Kegan and Candice.

Even though you can kind of figure out that the main characters (in this case, Mary and Kegan) will end up together it's always a journey and I love that. There are twists and turns that I don't expect and, to me, that's what makes a great novel. The twist in this novel comes from a fairly classic problem facing many women - should Mary choose her dream career or her dream man? I don't think you'll be disappointed with how Wardell handles this conflict and how she resolves it - I sure wasn't. 

Wardell's characters tend be interested in things or come across things that I never would have thought about. For example, in Stir Kegan plays on an underwater hockey team. Like Mary I had never heard of underwater hockey and was so curious as to why Wardell had decided to put that in and how she had heard about it. Also, how did she come up with the menu premise for Magma? Focusing each dish around a certain spice, and having the tastings all have one spice in common. So interesting! It was the same sort of thing with Tess in Go Small - I never would have thought to create a character who liked creating miniatures. It's a part of the art world that most people wouldn't think of and I love that I got to be exposed to it through Wardell's book. There are lots of little things like the above examples that keep Wardell's books interesting and a little educational too. 

Overall, I loved loved loved Stir Until Thoroughly Confused. Once again Heather Wardell has written a book that I couldn't get enough of. I can't wait to keep working my way through all of her other books. Lucky for me, there are quite a few of them and she just keeps writing more too! I highly recommend you check out her books because they'll leave you completely satisfied.

Happy reading :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sarah Dessen Rocks My World

If you were to ask me who my favourite author is my answer would be Sarah Dessen. I don't care if she's a young adult author and I'm not a young adult anymore (well...technically I am, but not in the world of book categories). I will keep reading her books as long as she keeps writing them, no matter how old I get.

I've been reading Sarah Dessen for a really long time. Her first novel, That Summer , was originally released in 1996 (all these dates will be coming from the Goodreads pages) and her second, Someone Like Youwas published in 1998. When I started reading her books I was in high school so it was a few years after they were released (somewhere around 2001 or 2002 I think) but still early on in her career. I happened upon Someone Like You one day when I was at the library (and was very likely working at the time...found some of the best books that way). I can barely remember reading it but I do recall telling my best friend about it because I loved it so much. She read it and we've been hooked ever since.

Dessen has written a total of ten books and, for the most part, I find I love the newest one more than the last. I say "for the most part" because I didn't actually love What Happened to Goodbye (released this past May) as much as Along for the Ride (released June 2009). I'm not really sure why but it didn't seem to grab me as much - maybe I'm *gasp* getting too old for her novels? I sincerely hope that is not the case.

Let me do a quick mini review of Dessen's newest novel, What Happened to Goodbye - I really did like McLean and the fact that she and her dad had a special bond over basketball (I've always been tall so I played basketball myself all the way through elementary and high school). I also loved that her dad had a job much like Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares - just without the accent and massive amounts of swearing.  Now, don't get me wrong I absolutely adored the book. It just wasn't one of my favourites. I would still highly recommend it - especially to teens who are looking for something that has nothing to do with vampires.

I've written before about how much I love Sarah Dessen (you can read the posts here and here). When I used to work for a bookstore I would always try to recommend her books to teenagers and the parents who were looking to buy for their daughters. What I really love about Dessen is that no matter what your own situation in life is you will be able to find something in the main character (always female and always a teenager) that you can relate to. And it doesn't hurt that the novels all seem to be set during the summer! My all time favourite Dessen novel is This Lullaby. I think it's because I was able to identify with Remy and her situation a little bit more and I really wanted to find my own Dexter! It's been years since I've read it (and it's on my fairly large pile of to re-read pile, along with Something Borrowed and the entire Harry Potter series!) but I remember absolutely loving it.

With this year's release of What Happened to Goodbye, Sarah Dessen went on the usual book tour - with one notable exception. She came to Canada!!! I was very happy about this because she came to Toronto and I'm only a couple of hours north of the city. My best friend and I decided that no matter what we were going to one of the two talks and signings in September. Now, bear with me for a bit of story time...It was late in the evening the day before we planned to go to the Indigo event instead of the library event the day after and I decided to check my email. Imagine my surprise when I discovered an email telling me that I had won a contest and WOULD GET TO MEET SARAH DESSEN!!! I was so incredibly shocked and immediately called my friend to change our plans. She was just as speechless as I was! I have to say that I was not impressed that I found out with hardly any notice, but we changed our plans and made the drive to Toronto to the library event (in hindsight and from what we heard, it was a much better venue and event). We couldn't believe it. We got to go into a room with a few other contest winners and their guests (probably about 15 of us total) and chat with Sarah Dessen. It was unbelievable. We hung back and let some of the other girls ask questions (in this post by Dessen you can see a pic of the room but my friend and I were standing outside the frame!) but soaked up the awesomness of the evening. We were definitely some of the oldest there, we're 24 and many of the others in the audience ranged from 14-20, but we didn't mind one bit. We got our books signed and had the chance to talk to her quickly. Then there was the talk afterwards which was absolutely amazing. We learned so much about her (and I totally want to be her best friend) and her writing style. This was easily the highlight of my year!
Can you tell that I'm totally freaking out?
If you're still with me after this novel of a post, all I can really say is that I adore Sarah Dessen. I think she is an absolutely amazing person (read her blog to learn more about her) and an equally amazing author. I can't recommend her books enough. Even if you're past the young adult stage, I still think most people would love her books. I'd love to know if any of you have read any of Sarah Dessen's novels and what you thought about them. I'm already looking forward to her next one!

Happy reading :)