Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Author Guest Post: Laurel Osterkamp

This past week I had the pleasure of reviewing Laurel Osterkamp's novel Starring in the Movie of My Life (you can read my review here). Laurel was kind enough to write a guest post for Books Etc. I hope you all love it as much as I do. I totally agree with what Laurel has to say - what do you guys think? Bonus points if you've seen Citizen Kane too!

Cauliflower, Citizen Kane, and Chick Lit

When I was a kid I refused to eat vegetables. Honestly, the only vegetables I wanted to eat were raw carrots and salad. This drove my mother crazy, but eventually she decided a vegetable is a vegetable, and she started serving me raw carrots for dinner every night. At least I got my Vitamin A, even if I didn’t get variety.

I’m still not a huge vegetable fan, but I have expanded my horizons. I love certain spinach dishes, asparagus, leeks, and anything with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms. Recently I’ve learned to love roasted cauliflower with a little hot-pepper sauce sprinkled over it. Yummy.

So what does this have to do with books and film? Recently there has been some controversy on the blogosphere over two NYTs film critics’ statement that certain films are “vegetables” – valuable not so much as entertainment but as something to appreciate. What’s controversial about that? Well, certain people took offense, saying that these artistic, high brow films are entertaining and enriching. The two, they say, don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I teach film studies, so I’m not unfamiliar with this concept. Every year when we start our unit on Citizen Kane, my students are aghast at the idea that it is considered to be the best movie ever made. “Do you think it’s the best movie ever made?” they’ll ask me.

I tell them, “I think it’s hard to label one film as being the best ever made. Do I go home on Friday nights and watch it while eating ice cream? No. Do I think it has influenced film-making in hugely substantial ways? Yes. All I hope is that by watching it, you can appreciate what it has to offer.”

There’s that word again…appreciate. I’ve learned more from watching Citizen Kane then say, Mystic Pizza, but I’m always pleased to happen upon Mystic Pizza when I’m channel flipping. I guess for me the vegetable metaphor holds true. Vegetables are nutritious yet hard to enjoy at first. But once you acquire a taste for them, you love them. Sort of like me with roasted cauliflower.

So while I don’t think enjoyment and appreciation have to be mutually exclusive, I do think they’re often separate experiences. But not always…it’s all about variety. For instance, if you’ve been on the road and have ingested a lot of fast food, don’t you start craving salad? Similarly, if you all you’ve watched in the last month are romances, don’t you feel more ready to try an art house flick? Sometimes what you appreciate can be entertaining, what you crave can be nutritious, and what desire can be exactly what you need.

This leads me to another thought. There are lots of real quality romances out there, and there are also some very poorly done art house flicks. There are also salads covered with dressing and bacon that are unhealthy and lean cuts of beef that are both delicious and good for you. But people seem to have trouble with this concept. For instance, when I’ve gotten good reviews for my books (which I always appreciate, no matter what), people are likely to say “It’s not your typical chick lit”, or “I don’t usually read chick lit, but this was really good.”

The implication of course is that chick lit is inherently bad. As a writer of chick lit I don’t agree with that. I think you can find things to both appreciate and enjoy about pretty much any well written book, well made movie, or well prepared meal, no matter what its genre, subject, or ingredients.

So there you go. Prepare yourself some cauliflower and steak, turn on the TV or open a book, and enjoy your day.

And after you’ve eaten all your vegetables, don’t forget dessert.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June Chick Lit Review: Wedding Season

Ah, wedding season. While I have not had too many weddings to worry about yet I know the time is coming when I will have quite a few to attend in one year. I've already been in two weddings in one summer (sidenote: my profile picture is from my boyfriend's brother's wedding) and, let me tell you, it is not a very fun experience. Especially when you're unable to find a job right after graduating university. Woohoo! But I digress. This post is actually all about the wonderful novel Wedding Season by Katie Fforde that I read for my June Chick Lit Challenge Review. (Another fun sidenote: this was the last purchase I made with my discount at the bookstore!)

Let's start off with the synopsis from Goodreads:

Sarah is a wedding planner hiding a rather inconvenient truth—she doesn’t believe in love. But as the confetti flutters away on the June breeze of yet another successful wedding season she finds herself agreeing to organize two more events, on the same day, and only two months away. And while her celebrity bride is all sweetness and light, the other bride, Sarah’s own sister, quickly starts driving her crazy with her high expectations and very limited budget. Luckily, Sarah is aided in her seemingly impossible task by two best friends, Elsa, an accomplished dress designer, and Bron, a multitalented hairdresser. All three are very good at their jobs, but romance doesn’t feature very prominently in any of their lives. As the big day draws near, every moment is spent preparing for the weddings, and they certainly haven’t got any time to even think about love; or have they?
 I don't think this synopsis does the book justice quite honestly. It's about so much more than Sarah and the two weddings she is planning. Elsa and Bron each have a story to tell too. I loved this book, and not only because it featured a wedding planner (more on that later).

While the story does focus on Sarah, I appreciated that Fforde allowed for development of both Elsa and Bron. It seemed so natural for the three of them to become close friends as well as having a working relationship. The three women all have a somewhat negative view on love and relationships. Sarah is completely cynical and has given up on finding someone. Elsa is so shy and quiet and she doesn't really think she deserves a relationship. Bron is with a man who doesn't appreciate her and she's struggling to find herself again. I think Elsa was my favourite of the three and I think it's because she has the best "growth" story. I liked how each woman changed for the better and also, how she helped the other two evolve.

As I mentioned earlier, I really liked that this novel was all about planning weddings. Give me a book, tv show, or movie that is about wedding planning and I am one happy girl. It's not because I'm obsessed with planning a wedding for myself (thinking about getting married right now freaks me out, quite honestly) but because I enjoy planning events and think that weddings would be so much fun. Yes, I know it would be unbelievably stressful and brides are not always the best to deal with (I mentioned weddings are stressful, yes?) but they're the kind of events that have a lot of love, a purpose, and one hell of an awesome party. One major downside (and quite possibly the reason I haven't pursued wedding planning as a career): working weekends!

This is the kind of book that you know going into it that the main character(s) will end up with a man. And that's ok. I don't mind that chick lit books usually follow a typical formula, as long as the author does something new and fun with it. Fforde did that. When all the men were introduced, I knew which one ended up with each woman but I had no idea how they were eventually going to get together. That's what made this novel fresh - the common chick lit devices were used but Fforde put her own twist on it.

I highly recommend this novel - especially for a summer read. Anyone who has been in, attended, or planned a wedding will see the humour in it and will be able to identify with the story. Everyone else will enjoy it just as much as there is so much else going on outside the weddings. A quick check on Goodreads and I can see that Katie Fforde has many other novels. I think I'll have to find room for a few more of hers on my to-read pile! Happy reading :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Starring in the Movie of My Life

I'd like to start off by thanking Samantha at Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours and author Laurel Osterkamp for allowing me to be part of this blog tour!

And also...my apologies for being AWOL for awhile! I've been trying to get into a routine that has to include the occasional late work meeting, going to the gym, keeping up with reading, and, you know, having a life! I plan to do better. You can hold me to it!

Now, back to the point of this post! Here is the synopsis of Starring in the Movie of My Life from Goodreads:

I've been trying to nail down exactly what I thought and felt about this book. I'll be honest - I didn't love it and I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps this post will help me figure it out!

If you like a lot of drama, you'll like this novel. While I enjoy some drama every once and awhile, this was a little too much for me. Marriage problems? Check. Ex still in the picture? Check. Troubled high school student? Check. Car accident? Check. Pregnancy? Check. Attempted rape? Check. Bullying mother? Check. Absent mother? Check. See what I mean? I do have to say though, that even with all of these issues (and then some!) happening at essentially the same time, the storyline doesn't really get confusing or off track.

I found myself rooting for Nate for pretty much the entire novel. Even though he is the one the two women are fighting over (and I use the term "woman" loosely when it comes to Melody as she's still very much a high school student), we never really hear his side of the story. We get Sam's and Melody's perspectives and really find out the reason and rationale behind their actions. Speaking of which, I really liked that each chapter switched between characters. It allowed for me to really understand why they were acting the way they were and because every chapter switched I didn't feel like I was stuck on one character for too long. I thought this element of the novel was well done.

Samantha and Melody are essentially fighting over Nate for the majority of the novel. Why? Because they both think that he can "save" them. Both women are quite flawed at the beginning of the novel but by the end they are able to find themselves. While doing so, I think they realize that they never really needed Nate in the first place. Both Sam and Melody are strong females and I would think they would appreciate that they could save themselves on their own without any help.

As I said, I didn't really know why I didn't like the book. I gave a very in-depth synopsis of the book to a coworker this week. When I finished she said, "And you didn't like the book?" That got me thinking...it was a lot of drama and I couldn't easily find something to connect with in Samantha or Melody. When it's difficult to really identify with the characters, it is hard to get completely engrossed in the story.

Overall...I didn't love this book. I think it was just too drama filled for my taste. I am looking forward to seeing what others have to say about it because I think it would be a great read for lots of others. Check out the list of all the reviews here!

Stay tuned to Books Etc. because on Tuesday I have an amazing guest post from Laurel! I love it and I hope you all will too :)
Thirty-five-year-old Samantha acts without thinking. Her heart is huge while her sense of purpose is small; she's willing to fight for those she loves, but she's never learned to fight for herself. Eighteen-year-old Melody is cold and calculating, and she's driven by the desire to better herself. As these compelling yet deeply flawed women battle for the affections of twenty-five-year-old Nathan, he becomes increasingly confused and torn between them.
Nathan is Melody's English teacher, and after he saves her from being raped, she becomes attached. Melody longs for the affection she's never felt, so she involves people in her self-invented drama, making sure she is at once the star and the director. Meanwhile, Samantha is newly married to Nathan. But Samantha has hang-ups about motherhood and lingering feelings for her ex. To make sense of the world, Sam relates her life to the themes of her favorite movies, while she independently makes a documentary to jump-start her non-existent film career.
Stylistically influenced by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, Starring in the Movie of my Life is told alternately from both Samantha's and Melody's points-of-view and relates two complete yet combined stories about love, acceptance, and redemption. It speaks to our universal desire to be saved by the ones we love, and the monumental effort required tosave ourselves. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Author Guest Post: Misa Rush

As part of a blog tour run by Chick Lit Plus I read and reviewed Misa Rush's debut novel Family Pieces (you can read my review here) this past week. Misa was kind enough to write a guest post as well. Enjoy!

Hi! Thank you, Kaley, for allowing me to guest post.

I was asked to answer the question of “How I found the time and motivation to write my novel, well…with life getting in the way.”

Life in today’s world is busy. Moms are busy. Dads are busy. Even kids are shuffled from school to sports and extracurricular activities. My life is no different. I juggle the daily challenges of running a household, working, being a mom and being a wife. So when I decided I wanted to write a novel, finding the time was far from easy. Finding the motivation, however, was.

Several things motivated me to write. I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I wanted to set an example for my children to follow their dreams. Then, of course, there are the naysayers. If someone says I can’t…I am too stubborn not to prove them wrong.

When the drive is there and if you want something bad enough, you’ll find the time. For me, most of that time was in the middle of the night. Sometimes, I couldn’t sleep after my newborn had been up. Other times, I would wake up with an idea that I had to put down before I forgot. There were plenty of obstacles along the way, but the idea of seeing my book in print always kept pushing me forward.
I really appreciate Misa taking the time to write this post for Books Etc.! I hope you all enjoyed the insight as much as I did.

Don't forget that there is a TwitParty hosted by Chick Lit Plus and Misa on Thursday June 23rd at 6 pm CST (7 pm EST)! Use the hashtag #CLPMisa to ask your questions and participate!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Family Pieces

Welcome to my third blog tour post! First of all, THANK YOU to Samantha at Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours for organizing this tour and for Misa Rush for sending me her debut novel to review.

Let's start with the synopsis from Goodreads:

What do you do when your once charmed life falls to pieces?

Karsen Woods' life seems charmed from her hunkalicious boyfriend to her picture-perfect midwestern roots. Away at college, even the necklace she wears serves as a constant connection home - a family tradition created when her grandfather handmade each immediate relative an interlinking charm. Each piece crafted in the shape of a puzzle piece, each one interlinking perfectly together. But when the unexpected death of her mother turns her world upside down, she discovers there is a missing piece of her treasured family tradition and her life as she once knew it may never be the same.

Addison Reynolds resides in her posh Manhattan condominium and wraps her personal identity around running Urbane, the magazine empire built by her father. In a moment of haste, Addison divulges her deepest secret to her closest friend Emily - a secret she never intended to disclose.

Could one choice, one secret, bond two unlikely women forever?
When I started reading this book I honestly wasn't too sure what to expect. Happily, what I found was a book I thoroughly enjoyed and would definitely recommend to others. I will warn you that this post may seem a little disorganized and incomplete. This is because I don't want to give anything away and there are little twists that I don't want to spoil for anyone. Bear with me, please?

Normally I do not like books that start off with two or more characters who don't know each other and have seemingly nothing in common until halfway through the book when they meet. Drives. Me. Nuts. With that being said, I was a little concerned when I realized that the two main characters, Karsen and Addison, had no idea who the other was when the book started. Not to worry though! I knew at page 16 they were somehow connected, figured out how they were connected at page 37, and these hunches were confirmed at page 178. For those of you who have read this book already - were you able to figure out the twists?
You may think that I wouldn't enjoy the book so much if I had the main plot twist sorted out pretty early on. But that actually wasn't the case. I liked that it was predictable but not formulaic. Does that make sense? It was predictable in the fact that there were the typical devices that are found in most chick lit books along with the fact that I had it essentially figured out. However, it wasn't like any chick lit novel I had ever read before. Yes, the twist is found in other stories but it's done in a fresh and unique way in Family Pieces.

The one thing that did bother me was the fact that the two main women, Karsen and Addison, were not as three dimensional as I would have liked. I think this is because there were so many secondary characters that had such a huge impact on the novel and the story's progression - Brad, Hanna, Russell, Jacob, and Emily. There was also James...I won't say anything else about him, except that I had a hunch about how this plot line would go too. I was on fire! Anyway, I liked all the other characters and am so glad they were there but I wish I knew more about Karsen and Addison. The one thing that I really wanted to know was how Karsen went from being in school for science (PS kudos to her! There's no way I could do that. I'll stick with my Bachelor of Arts degree, thank you.) to what she ends up doing at the end of the novel. And I'm not even entirely sure what that is. This little issue with the novel definitely wasn't a deal breaker for me, just something that could have made the book even better.

This novel takes a family and tests them way beyond normal limits in a short period of time. While that had the potential to seem like horribly bad karma, Rush makes it work. There's the massive hit that Karsen takes when she finds out her mother has died, and then it's followed with quick one, two, three punches that keep delivering the hits. What makes this all bearable is the fact that Karsen has such an amazing family system, which is kind of the key to whole novel. A family may start with blood relatives but it can grow to include best friends and even people who start out as complete strangers. I loved that about this book - that everyone had a connection with each other, and such a powerful one, but it was believable. It really makes you take a minute to think about your own family and the people you're so close to and realize how important they are.

Overall, I loved the book. Flew through it because I needed to know what was going to happen but was sad when it was over. Even though there was an epilogue, I still wanted to know how things really worked out for everyone. I suggest you track down this book and read it. You won't be disappointed :)

Please join Chick Lit Plus and Misa on Thursday June 23rd at 6 pm CST (7 pm EST) for a TwitParty! Use the hashtag #CLPMisa to ask your questions and participate!

Stay tuned because I have a guest post from Misa for Tuesday!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A New Challenge!

Here I am on a lovely Sunday afternoon, checking out the various blogs I read, and I got to thinking that I should try and find a new challenge to sign up for, just for kicks. Well, as I'm looking through some posts I happen upon the Vacation Reads Reading Challenge! What are the chances? It's being hosted by Ruby's Reads and Manga Maniac Cafe.

Here's the lowdown: (which, in full disclosure, I copied right from Ruby's site - which is also why the formatting is a little off and the colour won't change for me)

Participant Information: 
  • Those who decide to participate in the reading challenge will strive to read six Vacation Reads. Six is the number we've chosen for the challenge, but you can always read more.  
  • Anyone can participate, even non-bloggers. Non-bloggers can post their reviews on LibraryThing, Goodreads etc.
  • Because of the short time the challenge is going to run, the deadline to join is June 21. The challenge runs from June 21 to September 23.
Qualifying Books:
  • Any books in any genre, as long as the setting is somewhere you'd like to visit.
  • The setting may be fictional, fantastical, or historical, so long as you explain in your review why you want to "visit" there.

If you're interested make sure you head on over to one of their sites (linked above) to sign up. Now I have to put on my thinking cap and decide where I'd like to travel and which books to read. Ooh, I've got one already! Stay tuned... :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just Finished: "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo"

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present one of my new favourite books...Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo by Heather Wardell. I'll start this rambling and lengthy post with the synopsis from Goodreads:

When Candice's in-laws died in a car accident eight months ago, she lost her husband Ian too. After only two years of marriage their guilt and pain have left them living together but apart. During Ian's month-long trip overseas, Candice plans to decide if her marriage can be saved, but when the first man she ever loved is the new client at work, she wonders what she truly wants from life and love.
When Heather first asked me to review her books a little while ago I poked around her website and found an excerpt from this book. I was hooked. I couldn't stop thinking about the story and the characters and wondering how they got through everything. I had quite a few other books to read but when I finally got around to reading Polar Bear I found that the rest of the novel was just as engaging as the first chapter.

There were so many things that I loved about this novel, so I hope I can remember to touch on all of them. First of all, the characters were fantastic. Each one was well developed and three dimensional. I really felt like I knew them and I wanted to be friends with all of them! And this was a very important thing. I think if I hadn't like the characters, the story would have been harder to take. Sometimes when cheating is at the centre of the plot it can be really hard to read and feel any sympathy or empathy for any of the characters. I felt like I could really understand the reason behind the decisions Candice, Kegan, and Ian were making.

My fave Giffin book!
Since I'm sure some of you don't know who Heather Wardell is (and you need to go educate yourselves right now...ok, finish reading this post, and then go check out all her books), I'm going to compare this novel to one by a well known chick lit author - Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin. A quick snippet from the Goodreads synopsis: This is the story for anyone who has ever wondered: How can I truly love the one I'm with when I can't forget the one who got away? I felt the same way about LTOYW as I did about Polar Bear...I could see why the characters were making their choices. I actually could see their reasoning so well that I knew exactly why they were having a hard time making the so called "right" choice. I'm not always ok with the whole infidelity storyline, just in case you think I am. In fact, I had a very hard time reading Heart of the Matter by Giffin. I was just not ok with Tessa's husband cheating on her (I was, however, amused that Tessa is Dex's sister. Yes, Dex from Something Borrowed). Anyway, slightly off topic now. Long story short - LTOYW and Polar Bear were similar but both were unique to the author and were equally delightful.

If you've been reading my previous posts you may have realized that I love reading Canadian authors and seeing whether they play up or ignore the fact that they are from Canada. Sometimes you have no idea if the characters are in Canada (see my post on Spin) and sometimes a Canadian city is named as the location, but that's it (see Love Struck). And sometimes, like with Polar Bear, you know the characters are in Canada and the reader actually gets to explore the city through the characters. At one point in this novel, Candice and Kegan head to Canada's Wonderland, the theme park in Toronto (technically it's outside Toronto...but when I'm driving south - I live north of T.O. - Wonderland signals the entrance into the dreaded GTA. I'm such a small town girl!). You're wondering where I'm going with this, aren't you? Well, the reason this part of the novel made an impression on me was because I knew what rides Candice and Kegan were on and Wardell didn't name the rides, only described them. I've been to Wonderland a few times and just thought it was so cool that I had been on the same rides the characters were on. Except Drop Tower. That ride just plain terrifies me. Anyway, this excursion by the characters actually prompted me to text my friend and tell her I wanted to go to Wonderland. Needless to say, she was a little confused as to why I was all of a sudden wanting to go :) Read this novel and wonder what the rides look like? Here ya go:
(PS Heather, did I get them all right? There were options for the wood and stand up ones!)

Drop Tower; SkyRider; Wild Beast; Swings of the Century
 Since I follow Heather on Twitter (and you should too! @HeatherWardell) and we are part of the same Chick Lit Challenge hosted by Samantha at Chick Lit Plus, I know that she is an avid reader. Turns out Candice is too, which the following two quotes show:
I was halfway to the door when a new Marian Keyes novel caught my eye. I picked it up to take a look and decided it needed to come hom with me.
Admit it. Many of you have felt exactly the same way at the bookstore.
Larissa stopped dead and gave me a good impression of a woman having a heart attack. "You...not going to Chapters? The world has gone mad!"
Love it. I think I want Candice to be my friend :)

Overall, I loved loved loved this book. Five stars, for sure. I've already told a few friends to read it and plan on making others to read it as well. The characters are amazing, the story flows, and you will not want to put it down.

What's that you say? Now that you've heard me talk about how amazing Heather's book was you want to know where to find all her books? Not to worry, I have you covered. (and, alright, I may be over exaggerating my influence :) Just a bit?) You can find them on Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon. There may be more but this should be enough to get you started, right? :) I definitely urge you to check out Heather's books. I am looking foward to reading more of hers!