Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Year of the Chick

Thanks for stopping by on another stop on the CLP Blog Tour for Romi Moondi's novel Year of the Chick! Thanks to both Samantha and Romi for allowing me to take part in the tour :)

Let's cut to the chase - here's what this book is all about:

An awkward family homecoming at Christmas.
A humiliating public weigh-in, with two judging parents as the audience.
The announcement of a deadline for arranged marriage doom.
And that's just the first two chapters.
In "Year of the Chick," Romi Narindra must find love before her parents find her a husband. This is a difficult task in a world where self-consciousness is at an all-time high, and dating experience at an all-time low.
Severely lacking in seductive skills and uninspired by her corporate job, Romi turns to what she loves, by writing about her quest to find love on her brand new blog.
From whiskey-breath scum bags to uni-brow creeps and everything in between, Romi and her wingmen come up empty time after time. Just when giving up seems like the thing to do, she meets a fellow writer unexpectedly.
On the Internet.
So will it be arranged marriage doom, or an Internet affair that's not as creepy as "To Catch a Predator"?
Time will tell in the "year of the chick," a twelve-month quest to find love.

It took me a while before I really started to enjoy this book. I don't know if it had to do with the actual story or if I wasn't in the mood for this particular book. I'm thinking it had more to do with my frame of mind when I started it as I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the novel. What seemed to turn it around for me was when the whole James situation (the Internet writer mentioned in the synopsis) blew up. (Sorry - that's a mild spoiler) At one point James told Romi that she plays the victim well by complaining all the time and I think that might be what turned me off Romi in the beginning. I could totally see her point (especially as I've been playing the "poor me" card lately myself. Sorry to my friends...) but it was sometimes hard to really connect with her and feel any real empathy. Once she had to face what had happened with James I felt more invested in Romi and her difficulties. Then the real fun began.

Romi is faced with some ridiculous situations. She's living with her sister and they have an unspoken rule that they don't discuss anything with each other nor do they reveal what the other is up to to their Indian parents. Who, by the way, just happen to want to marry off both their daughters to nice Indian boys as soon as possible. I don't want to give much else away but her parents seemed to have a knack of getting in the way of their daughters' lives and the results are both amusing and sad at the same time. I can't even imagine the craziness Romi would have been dealing with. That all being said - the insane parental situations provided some amusing moments. This book was funny! Though it would not be enjoyable to everyone, I found Romi's sense of humour to be refreshing and hilarious. For example, she's discussing chick flicks, You've Got Mail in particular, with a friend and says "Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are more destructive than crack cocaine." I absolutely loved that and any other female who's watched those classic chick flicks will understand what she means. There are plenty of other gems like that line that kept me giggling throughout the book.

I always appreciate when the main character in a novel has some great friends. We get to meet quite a few of Romi's friends throughout the course of the story and they all help reveal certain aspects of Romi's personality. One friend is her wing woman and they go out all the time to hunt for available men. Another is her best friend and seems to know exactly what to do and what to say to help Romi through her messy life. We also get to see Romi at a party being thrown for an Indian friend who just got married to an Australian. Romi's parents would have heart attacks at the thought of their daughter marrying a non-Indian so she talks to her friend about the culture and how it's more appealing when it's not all you are surrounded by. Very interesting stuff. What I'm trying to get at is that Romi's friends are great supporting characters. Sometimes you want to know more about the friends but I didn't feel that with this book. Moodi did a great job of figuring out just how much information to give out about the friends without comprimising Romi and the story that she needs to tell.

This book is very much for the twenty-something girl so it was right up my alley and I enjoyed reading it. I'm also super excited that there's going to be a sequel. Woohoo! After the ending in Year of the Chick I am really looking forward to finding out what else is in store for Romi. Check back on Thursday when Romi stops by Books Etc. to talk about the aforementioned sequel and what her writing life will be like in 2012.

Happy reading :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Just Finished: The Book of Awesome

If you've never heard of The Book of Awesome or the blog 1000 Awesome Things you are really missing out. I admit that I was a little critical when I first heard that the author of the blog was creating a book (ok, more than a little critical but my fellow booksellers - you know who you are - thought the same thing). Then I read it. *hangs head in shame* To author Neil Pasricha: I am sorry for thinking that the book was silly since you could read everything online anyway. I loved reading this book. It actually took me a while to get through all of it as it's one of those books that you pick up and read parts of but then don't read any more for a few weeks. Sort of like a coffee table book. But much funnier.

No idea what I'm talking about? The idea behind 1000 Awesome Things is pretty basic but brilliant. You know those little things in life that always make you smile no matter how you might be feeling? All of these awesome things have been compiled for your reading pleasure.

Here are some of my favourites from the book (and I've included the link from the blog where I can). This will give you an idea of what's found on the blog as well as providing a little more insight into me and my favourite things :)

- Bakery air
- Tripping and realizing no one saw you
- The smell of rain on a hot sidewalk
- A long hug when you really need it
- Laughing so hard you make no sound at all
- Solving the Wheel of Fortune puzzle before the people on the show (equally awesome - knowing the answer on Jeopardy when the contestants don't)
- Getting served breakfast in bed
- The smell and sound of a campfire
- Remembering what movie that guy is from
- The smell of books (this link is actually the smell of a library, which I think is more awesome anyway)
- Snow falling on Christmas Eve
- Getting something with actual handwriting on it in the mail
- Snow days

That is just a small portion of the many awesome things in this book. And there are countless others to be found on the blog and in the other two Awesome books, The Book of (Even More) Awesome and The Book of (Holiday) Awesome. My sister owns the other two as well so I anticipate many awesome evenings flipping through the books.

I encourage you to check out the site or even the book if you're so inclined. I love it because it makes you stop and smell the roses (or coffee aisle, or crayons, or freshly cut grass) and realize how many truly awesome things there are going on in life. This book also makes a great gift - graduation, Secret Santa, hostess, volunteers. It's thoughtful, amusing, and all around awesome.

Happy reading all you awesome people :)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Author Guest Post: Bethany Ramos

Earlier this week I reviewed 5 Stages of Grief by Bethany Ramos as part of the CLP Blog Tour (you can read my review here). Bethany was kind enough to write a guest post for Books Etc. I hope you all enjoy it!

Can a Ghostwriter Make It as a Novelist? How to Create Instant Street Cred as an Author

If you have always had a dream of writing a novel - as so many people profess to have - the best way to get your foot in the door in the world of writing is to establish an online presence. 

Develop Your Writing Credentials 
I have worked as a freelance writer/ghostwriter on Elance.com for a little over three years. In this transition into the writing world, it didn’t mean instant success for me. It did mean hard work, a willingness to take on less than desirable projects, and having a good work ethic to get my name out there. All of those factors are pretty much no-brainers when it comes to how to succeed in the career of your choice, and it shouldn’t be any different for a writer. 
If you do have a dream of writing a novel, I encourage you to start out with a job in the writing world. This gives you a bit of street cred when you shop your work out to agents, so that you aren’t just another writer in a sea of writers with brilliant ideas. 
The truth is that anyone can have a brilliant idea. But you have to be willing to do the hard work years in advance to make your idea have weight and seem attractive to the right agents and editors. 

Start Your Own Blog
If you are passionate about a particular topic, whatever it may be, start a blog right away. But don’t stop there. Anyone can create a blog for free, but it takes a person who is committed to writing to post on the blog several times a week - especially when you aren’t getting any comments. 
I currently have a chick lit review blog at http://chicklit-books.com/. I started this blog to support my chick lit writing career and to give agents and editors more information when they Googled me. I make a habit of posting to this blog several times a week, rain or shine. 
But the purpose of this blog isn’t to gain popularity and get me noticed as a chick lit reviewer, although that would be nice. The purpose of this blog is to support the work that I have already done and show any interested editors that I am committed as a writer. 
So, whatever genre, topic, or interest you may be passionate about, blog on it regularly. This is not only a great way to exercise your writing muscles, but it will create a Google trail with your name on it. The next time that you submit your manuscript, and a literary agent decides to do their homework on you, they will find a fully functioning blog with fresh posts to support your writing credentials. 
All of your work can be used to support any novel that you write and prove that you are worthwhile for a literary agent or editor to take on as an unpublished author. It worked for me!

Bethany Ramos is the author of the chick lit novel 5 Stages of Grief and is under contract to publish her children's book Lions Can’t Eat Spaghetti. She also reviews chick lit books on her blog ChickLit-Books.com.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Author Guest Post: Heather Wardell

This is the third and final instalment of Heather Wardell week! Today Heather has kindly written a guest post for Books Etc. In this post she talks about the research she did for Blank Slate Kate (check out my review here and the interview I did with Heather here). Once I read what she had to say I realized why I enjoyed this amnesia story over all the others I read - Heather's story is much more realistic. I hope you enjoy this guest post as much as I did! Thanks for writing this post, Heather, as well as allowing me to take part in this week's blog blitz! (PS this is the 100th post for my blog! I can't believe it. Thank you to all my readers for sticking with me. :) Couldn't do this without you!)

A huge part of who we are is our memories. If amnesia takes your past from you, are you really the same person? This is part of what I wanted to explore in "Blank Slate Kate". To do that, of course, I needed to learn about amnesia. 

There are two basic kinds of amnesia. In 'anterograde amnesia', you can't remember things going forward after whatever event caused the amnesia because those things are no longer able to be transferred into your long-term memory. For example, you might not remember what you had for breakfast today, but you would remember events that happened in your past before the amnesia began. 

My book focuses on 'retrograde amnesia', what most people think of when they hear 'amnesia', in which you forget your past. The memories may actually still be stored (which is why amnesia sufferers are often shown pictures and people from their past in the hopes those things will trigger the memories) but they can no longer be accessed.  

Our brains are amazingly complex, and it's not always clear precisely what caused a particular person's amnesia. The most common causes I found in my research, though, were: 

Head injuries 
I found several cases of people being struck in the head during a car accident or even by a soccer ball and losing access to their memories for some period of time. Usually these people do recover within a few months as the brain heals, although often without the memories of the incident that caused the amnesia, but there are exceptions. Scott Bolzan (http://thebolzans.com/) slipped and fell in a bathroom and lost all of the memories of his life save for a few fragments of his childhood. Benjaman Kyle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjaman_Kyle) was found in the parking lot of a Burger King in 2004 with no significant memories, unable even to recognize his own face in the mirror. Amazingly, despite an immense amount of publicity his real identity is still unknown, and he calls himself Benjaman Kyle (to go with of the initials of Burger King where he was found). 

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) 
This controversial treatment is used for cases of extreme depression or mania. Electrodes are applied to the scalp of a patient under general anaesthetic then enough electricity is sent through the skull to light a light bulb. The current lasts only a fraction of a second. The patient awakens from the anaesthetic confused and with no memory of events around the treatment but with no damage to long-term memories.  
At least, that's what's supposed to happen. Throughout my work on "Blank Slate Kate" I was haunted by the stories I read, especially the one about the 55-year-old woman who lost thirty years of her life, including all memories of her children and her marriage to her now-late husband, to ECT. Even eleven years after the treatment, she had regained none of those memories. As if that weren't bad enough, she'd also lost all memories of the career for which she'd trained (psychiatric nursing, ironically) and could no longer work. She did win a judgment against the hospital, but what kind of money would be enough to compensate you for thirty years of your life? ($631,000 is what she won. I'm quite sure she'd rather have her career and memories.) 

Alcohol or drug abuse 
Taken in sufficient quantities, both alcohol and various drugs can cause tremendous brain damage in all areas, and of course memory can be affected as well. Both memory storage and retrieval can be interfered with by these substances, the precise kind and degree of damage depending on what substance and how much of it. The "I blacked out last night" drinking binge is an example of this kind of amnesia. A dramatic and traumatic event Soldiers who've seen particularly horrific things, victims of child abuse, and survivors of terrorist acts often can't recall the events around the incident. Sometimes the amnesia is specific to that event and sometimes all memories are affected. Many people have experienced this on a smaller scale. Have you ever been involved in a car accident or a robbery and not been able to remember what happened afterward? I once tripped over a sidewalk and had a spectacular fall during a training run (which I immortalized in "Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many" - might as well use my disasters for my books!) and I can clearly see the dog of the man who stopped to help me up but in my memory the man's face is utterly blank other than his sunglasses. I'm quite sure he had features but even later that same day I couldn't recall anything about him. Essentially, my brain was focused on other things ("Are we okay?" "Anything hurt?") and didn't bother to record the details of my helper. 

Treating amnesia of course depends on why the memories were lost in the first place. If drugs or alcohol are the cause, then removing those might eventually let the brain recover enough that the memories are restored. Psychotherapy can help, especially in cases brought on by a traumatic event, and so can showing patients people and things from their past to aid in recall. Naturally, if the memories were not stored at all, then there can be no recovery. 
If the amnesia can be completely or partially overcome, it's usually the case that the older memories come back first and then the more recent ones. My research didn't entirely reveal the reason for this, although I suspect it's about how firmly recorded a memory is and how many times you've recalled and thought about it. Your newer memories haven't been encoded as deeply because they're still new and you haven't thought about them as much. 

Entire careers are built around studying amnesia and memory, and I've definitely simplified things both here and in "Blank Slate Kate". But I've done my best not to be inaccurate in my science and I hope I've succeeded.  I also hope that you've enjoyed this post and that if you don't already have my free-to-download "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" (http://www.heatherwardell.com/polarbear.shtml) you'll remember to pick it up. :) 

Thanks to Kaley for letting me share my research with you! And if you have any comments or questions about amnesia (which I'll do my best to answer although I'm not a doctor!) or anything else, feel free to post them!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: 5 Stages of Grief

Welcome to a stop on the 5 Stages of Grief blog tour hosted by CLP Blog Tours. I was looking forward to reading Bethany Ramos' novel but I'm still trying to figure out exactly how I felt about it. Let's start with the synopsis from Goodreads and then I'll try and put my thoughts into something that makes sense!

Danielle thinks that the worst is behind her, but she couldn't have been more wrong.
As a beauty editor of Denver's hot new High Life magazine, Danielle Starkey didn't have becoming a widow on her to-do list. Then nine months after her husband's death, she discovers he booked a vacation with another woman. Suddenly, Danielle sees Adam's death in a whole new light and has to get over it - for the second time.
Hit with the truth when she least expects it, Danielle brings a fresh, funny, and honest approach to the grieving process as she struggles through online dating, stalking her dead husband's mistress, and, hopefully, finding the man of her dreams. With her stubborn and sassy best friend April by her side. Danielle refuses to let sleeping dogs lie. Will she finally face the truth about herself and her marriage? Or will she succumb to one of the five stages of grief?
Let me start off by saying that I did like reading Danielle's story. I cared about her and wanted to find out how she would deal with something that seemed like a cosmic joke. Can you imagine what she was going through? I'm sure being a widow at a young age is bad enough but to then find out that your late husband had been having an affair? Brutal. With that being said, I sometimes felt like Danielle wasn't dealing with things very well. She finds out about Adam's affair and at first it seems like she isn't going to tell anyone, which I didn't think was a good idea. Happily, she did tell her best friend and her sister - both of whom were immediately there for her and wanted to make sure Danielle was going to be ok. That was great and I was glad to read that Danielle had such great moral support.

The book started off at a bit of a crazy pace. I learned that Danielle's husband had died, all about her job,  that her husband cheated on her, about her best friend April and her past and their friendship, and then she gets a dog. This all happened in the first twenty pages or so and it was kind of information overload. Things eventually slowed down, which I was grateful for. The story still moved along at a good pace and there was a lot going on but it didn't have the same hectic pace as the beginning of the novel. I know that the beginning is always when we're supposed to get the most info to be introduced to the story and the characters but it was a little too rapid fire for me.

Considering the heavy storyline, I did find myself laughing throughout the novel. I particularly liked when Danielle told April that you're not able to construct a man like you can a Build-a-Bear. I actually had to repeat the line to my sister who was in the room with me and she got a laugh out of it too. Even though I couldn't see the motivation behind some of Danielle's actions, I did like her. She was a good character and she had me interested from the start.

Danielle learns that you've got to trust yourself and be yourself before anything else can really work. While I would have enjoyed a bit more of a conclusion, I think the way the book was wrapped up was really quite sweet. Overall, I liked 5 Stages of Grief. There were a few hiccups in the telling of the story but I enjoyed the story that Ramos was telling. I do think I'd recommend it because the bones of a good story are there and I will keep my eye out for future works from Bethany Ramos.

Happy reading :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Author Interview: Heather Wardell

It's Day #2 of 3 of the Week of Heather Wardell! It's the Blank Slate Kate blog blitz this week and I've already reviewed it (check out my review here). Now we're onto the interview portion of the week! Heather was kind enough to answer some questions I thought up...even though she told me I was evil for making her think :) She thought hard and came up with some amazing answers. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. Stay tuned for a guest post from Heather later this week!

A big thank you to Heather for taking the time to answer these questions for Books Etc.!

Books Etc.: How do you come up with your story ideas? 

Heather Wardell: They come to me in many different ways. Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many (free this week on Kindle!) came from a moment where I saw a TV commercial for "Survivor" and thought how much worse the experience of being on Survivor would be if your fellow castaways were all your exes. Live Out Loud was originally sparked by wondering what a woman who believed she had created her masterpiece, the work she'd been put on earth to make, would do next. The book itself didn't end up being about that but that's where I started.
While most of the books start with a random thing I saw or heard, or a question I want to answer for myself (like "is there a right amount of selfishness?" which I'm exploring in a current work-in-progress), I also keep a list of ideas and interesting phrases that I use when I need a little inspiration. In the early stages of Blank Slate Kate I checked that list and found a line like "I woke up next to him and couldn't remember his name." I don't remember adding that to the list but I was probably thinking of a one-night-stand situation. When I saw it, though, it occurred to me that if the next line was "I couldn't remember my own name" there could be something interesting going on, and the book evolved out of that.

BE: There are many amnesia stories out there. How did you try to make Blank Slate Kate different?

Most of the novels I found involved what I call 'convenient amnesia' - the heroine forgets all the bad stuff when she doesn't need it then remembers everything at the exact moment she needs to know who her handsome hero really is. I did research on amnesia (some of which I'll reveal here in my guest post on Thursday) and learned that the retrieval of lost memories is almost never that clean and easy. Many sufferers of serious amnesia in fact don't ever regain everything they've lost. I wanted Kate's attempts to rediscover her identity to be realistic, and the ultimate cause of her amnesia is also realistic based on my research. (I never aim to write a textbook but I do think it's better to have at least a little fact in my fiction. :)

BE: You have to name a lot of characters in Blank Slate Kate - real names, new identities, potential baby names. How do you come up with your character's names?

I used to look at the books on the shelves in my writing room and steal authors' names, but I've used pretty much all of those! My current favorite method is the US Government census website. I figure out the approximate year in which a character is born and then go look at the top 1000 names for that year. So far, I've never failed to find one there that works for me.
The name just has to feel right to me. If it doesn't seem to suit the character I'm building, it will change. Amy in Live Out Loudwas Mindy for a while but it never really clicked with me so I kept looking until I found Amethyst and nicknamed her Amy.
I do not usually use the names of people I know, although Jen in Go Small or Go Home and Stir Until Thoroughly Confusedwas named after my cousin-in-law and shares her spirit and attitude. (I asked first. :) While these aren't people names, the seven women on the opposing team in Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many are all named after golden retrievers my parents own or have owned. (If you need a cuteness fix, check out their dogs at http://www.setherwood.com)

BE: What's your least favourite thing about being an author?

When I don't feel motivated. I love my characters and their stories and yet there are days I just can't seem to get myself into my chair to work. Over the years (I've been writing full-time since 2005) I have gotten better at handling this, usually by leaving the apartment and going to Starbucks instead. I always work well there. It does my waistline no favors but at least I get my writing done. :)

BE: What about your favourite thing?
Just about everything else. :) I love when I reread something and think, "Really? That came from my fingertips on the keyboard?" I love getting a flash of brilliance for a book in the shower or while driving -  it's such a neat feeling, not at all like I'm thinking things up but like they're appearing for me like gifts from above. I love getting email from readers (http://www.heatherwardell.com/contact.shtml if you'd like to send me one! :). And I love all the cool people I've met because I'm an author, such as lovely bloggers like you! :) (Aw. But it's true!)

BE: You're known for revisiting characters in your books and I love that. Did you start doing that consciously or did it just happen?
I love the way you worded this because it lets me answer like this: Kegan from Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo did it. :) When I was working on Go Small or Go Home, I sent my main characters Tess and Forrest to a restaurant. Since Forrest is a hockey player I figured they'd go to a sports bar, but that didn't feel right. I then realized he might not want to be surrounded by sports fans who would criticize his playing. So they had to go somewhere else. Before I knew it, they were at Kegan's restaurant and it turned out Forrest knew Kegan since he'd played hockey with Kegan's brother. It amused me and my early readers to have Kegan reappear, and I just kept doing it because it still amuses me and also because it helps to build a sense of the books' "world" continuing through time.

BE: On the same line, and purely to satisfy my own curiosity, in Blank Slate Kate do Ryan and Kate go to Magma? Or is it just a regular old restaurant that they go to (and then leave before eating but take the bread...love that scene!)?

Good job! It is most definitely Magma, the restaurant that opened in Stir Until Thoroughly Confused. :) I don't want to always have my characters going to the same two restaurants, since there are lots of options in Toronto, but in this case it felt like the right thing to do. (And I'm glad you love that scene - it was one of those 'flash of brilliance' things I mentioned above and it's probably my second-favorite moment in the book. First favorite being a tie between the beginning and the ending. :)

BE: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read as much and as widely as you can, because you'll get a stronger sense of what you do and don't like in a book.
Write your first drafts as fast as you can, because you can't edit a blank page so you need to get the story out where you can see what you've got. (They always seem MUCH prettier in my head than on the page in first draft. :) On the same note, do not compare your first drafts to anyone's finished work, including your own. In my early planning notes for nearly all of my books is a lament on how crappy this idea seems compared to the beauty of the previous book (the notes for which, of course, have the same lament about ITS previous book). Don't do this to yourself. :) My husband tells me that I am my own most important reader, and it's such a great concept. You absolutely have to write what you love. If your most important reader doesn't like the book, it's not right. Make sure you love it, and there will be other people who do too. (Related: don't try to write to "the market". You can't hit a bullseye on a moving target. Write what you love and it will find its readers.) Listen to yourself. Over the years I've come to recognize what I call "the oogh": a cold sick feeling just under my ribs when I go off-track in a book. When I feel it, I backtrack and figure out where it's gone wrong. I have never yet been led astray by the oogh and some of the best moments in my books have come from following it in a completely different direction than I'd intended to go. However your version of "the oogh" manifests, learn it and listen for it. I do outline my books, and that helps me tremendously, but I'm always willing to change the outline if the oogh demands it. (I feel compelled to add, "Don't worry if you sound insane" to my advice for authors. :) Creativity is a strange and weird thing, and if being a little strange and weird makes it flow better I am fine with seeming a little odd. :)

BE: What kinds of things do you like to do when you're not writing?

I read, of course: 114 books last year and I'm gunning for 120 this year. I play clarinet, and two years ago I started playing drums and am in the pit orchestra for the musical "Fame" in February. (I have to drum along to a rap. I am, to put it mildly, not a rapper. This is a challenge. :) I love crocheting and spend most of my evenings cuddling the cat and crocheting and watching as my husband plays video games. (Sometimes I read at the same time. :) (And I also like to overuse smilies, apparently!)

BE: And finally, a look to the future. I know you're always working on something - what can we expect from you in the next little while? 

I have three books in progress at the moment, so they all have codenames so I don't get confused. Flying Squirrel, currently in second draft, is about a doormat of a woman who develops inner and outer strength via the marathon. Gemstone, finished in first draft and awaiting its turn to be edited, features an Internet columnist undertaking a project to be "good to herself" for thirty days and realizing she has no idea what truly counts as good. In Hippo, currently in first draft, a woman arrives on what's to be her wedding cruise only to realize she's dated both her fiance's brothers and still has feelings for them both. My intent is to release all three of these books in 2012, and I'd love to also do a fourth if I can manage it! Thank you so much, Kaley! :) I'm honored that you gave me a space to ramble, and I'll be checking in between writing sessions to see if any of your readers have questions or comments for me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just Finished: Blank Slate Kate

I've already read (and adored) three other books by Heather Wardell so I didn't hesitate when she asked me to take part in this week's blog blitz for her newest novel, Blank Slate Kate. (You can check out my other reviews here, here, and here) As usual, I loved what I read and I think you will too.

Want to know what this one is about? Read on for the synopsis from Goodreads:

Waking up with a strange man is scary. Realizing you lost fifteen years of your life overnight? That's terrifying. With her memories from seventeen to thirty-two gone, Kate has no idea who she is and where she belongs. As she begins to fall for the man who found her, she wonders if she forgot those years for a reason. Should she keep trying to retrieve her original self, or start a new life?
I was immediately emotionally invested in Kate's story. I really couldn't imagine what she went through when she woke up and didn't know who she was, where she was, or who she was with. Not only that, but once she starts to get her bearings she looks up everything that's happened since she lost her memory. Do you want to relive the horror of learning about 9/11 all over again? I sure don't and I totally felt for Kate when she read about everything that's happened in the world since she was a teenager. I just wanted to give her a huge hug and tell her that, somehow, everything will be OK.

I love that I was able to get totally involved Kate's life. I felt what she was feeling, especially the absolutely heart wrenching moments (I won't give anything away but there's one moment with Kate and Ryan that had me tearing up). I commend Wardell on her ability to write in a way that made me feel like I was experiencing all of Kate's emotions right along with her.

I've read other amnesia stories before (most notably, Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella) and was interested to see how Wardell would put her own twist on this kind of story. I always say that I don't care if the ending of a novel is predictable if the journey to that conclusion gives me something different or exciting.  I really don't know a ton about amnesia so wondering how it happening right along with Kate was interesting. It was equally interesting to find out what had actually happened to Kate to make her lose her memory. It was something physical with a heartbreaking emotional tie to it.

I honestly had no idea what was going to happen with Kate in the end. She had so many options and so much to work through that I couldn't predict where she'd end up. I absolutely loved that. There are too many times when I can figure out what's going to happen in the books that I'm reading. I'm happy that Wardell kept me guessing and kept throwing me curve balls. This had me quickly turning the pages to find out the conclusion. The novel was wrapped up so well and I could not have imagined a more perfect ending.

Think you'd like to try out some of Wardell's books? Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo can be downloaded for free from a variety of sources (Smashwords, Kindle, Kobo) and Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many, which is exclusively on Amazon, will be free for this week only (January 23-27). So what are you waiting for? Get reading!

It's a busy week here at Books Etc. - stay tuned for an interview with Heather tomorrow (the 24th) and guest post from Heather herself coming up on Thursday (the 26th). Both are very interesting so you don't want to miss out!

Happy reading :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January Chick Lit Challenge Read: The Single Girl's To-Do List

If you can believe it, The Single Girl's To-Do List is the first book by Lindsey Kelk that I've read. I know, I know...apparently her "I Heart" series is spectacular but I have yet to read them. I decided that I would start the 2012 Chick Lit Challenge (you can still sign up here!) off with this book and I am very glad that I did!

This is what the book is all about, courtesy of Goodreads:
Rachel Summers loves a to-do list:
• Boyfriend
• Flat
• Great job
NOT on the list:
• Getting dumped
Best friends Emelie and Matthew ride to her rescue with an entirely new kind of list – The Single Girl’s To-Do List. Rachel doesn’t know it, but it will take her on all kinds of wild adventures – and get her in some romantic pickles too. And then it won't be a case of what but who she decides to tick off...
• Mr. bendy yoga instructor
• Mr. teenage sweetheart
• Mr. persistent ex
• Mr. deeply unsuitable
The Single Girl’s To-Do List gives Rachel the perfect heartbreak cure – and proves love is out there if you’re willing to take a chance.
I loved reading about Rachel's transformation in this book. She starts off as such a quiet and simple person (she was even told that she was boring) and by the end of the novel she has found the spunkiness that's always been inside her. On the surface it looks like Rachel's personality really changes throughout the novel  but if you really look at what makes her tick you realize that she just wasn't living to her full potential before. The Rachel at the end of the book isn't "new", she is "improved". This made reading the story so much more enjoyable than if she ended up being a totally different person.

Emelie and Matthew are perfect side kicks. We get to learn about their lives but it doesn't take away from the fact that we're reading this book for Rachel and her story. I also liked that we knew right away this wasn't going to be a girl-falls-for-best-guy-friend type story as Rachel is not Matthew's type...being that she's a she and he is gay. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the stories where the friends fall for each other but I like that this novel took a different approach. Rachel has some great friends and I think she really realizes that throughout the course of the novel. They're always there for her and at the same time provide us with some hilarious comedy along the way.

Back to the romance aspect of this book - I didn't really figure out who Rachel was going to end up with until well into the book. Kelk has some surprises and speed bumps along the way so it wasn't predictable. And who wants predictable? I was even worried at a few points because I didn't think I was going to get a nice ending (you know happy endings are the best) but I ended up loving the conclusion. It was sweet and allowed for Rachel to really find herself instead of immediately fall into yet another relationship.

Finally, I leave you with the awesomeness that is the destination for Rachel's big trip - Canada. Being Canadian, I notice these things. :) Too often characters will travel to the US and I appreciate that Kelk decided to send Rachel, Emelie, and Matthew to Canada AND that Emelie was actually Canadian herself. It was particularly interesting to read about their day trip to Niagara Falls. I've spent around twenty weekends down there since April so I can clearly picture what they see when they describe the tackiness of Clifton Hill (it really is quite tacky. And loud. And busy). I was happy that she realized that there was more to Niagara Falls than just the touristy stuff. Namely, the falls. It's a beautiful place and I really liked reading about Racehel's reaction to them in this novel.

Left: My first time seeing the Falls. Just a wee bit foggy.
Right: A (Google) photo of the Falls from the Canadian side.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading The Single Girl's To-Do List. It's fun, it's sweet, it's funny, it's awesome. I absolutely loved reading about how she learned to be single and fabulous. Now, if you'll excuse me, I will now be ordering Lindsey Kelk's I Heart series in its entirety.

Happy reading :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Author Guest Post: Lauren Clark

I reviewed Stay Tuned by the lovely Lauren Clark earlier this week (read the review here) as part of a blog tour hosted by the equally lovely Samantha at Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours. Lauren was kind enough to write a guest post for Books Etc. I hope you all enjoy it as I did! Thanks for stopping by Lauren :)

Nine Myths and a Truth: The Real Story Behind the Scenes at a Local Television Station** 

10. Reporters are paid tons of money!  FALSE—Reporters at small television stations are paid a little more than minimum wage. They are required to have a college degree and many just-out-of-school jobs are classified as a “One Man Band, ” which means that the reporter carries the camera, shoots the footage, does the interviews, then writes and edits the story.

9. Reporters get to meet famous people! SOMETIMES—I was fortunate enough to meet Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro and many local senators and congress members. However, I did interview Eliot Spitzer while he was New York State’s attorney general. Now that’s just creepy!

8. Reporters and anchors get lots of perks! SOMETIMES—Reporters do often get sideline tickets and backstage passes to events. However, it’s often a reporter attends only AFTER he or she covers the actual event, which means working for at least the first part of the concert, fundraiser, or dinner.

7. It’s always glamorous! NOT REALLY—Often, reporting took me to crime scenes, car crashes, bad neighborhoods, dairy farms, voting polls, and raging fires. My most unique assignments included reporting on a lost Emu and covering cattle judging at a local fair. In Alabama—try to stay cool and look pretty in 105-degree heat! In Upstate New York, this meant trudging through the deep snow to get a story.

6. If you’re an anchor, people do your makeup and choose your clothes! FALSE—In smaller markets, you do your own makeup (MAC is the best!) and bring your own clothes. Sometimes, the television station might give you a small clothing allowance, but a few hundred dollars doesn’t go far when you work 5 days a week.

5. Viewers call in and tell anchors how wonderful they are! SOMETIMES—I admit, I did get some fan mail and it was pretty fabulous. However, most often, people called in to complain about (1) an outfit someone was wearing (which a viewer didn’t like), (2) a story reported on (which a viewer didn’t like), or (3) a story that didn’t get coverage. There was one particular viewer who didn’t like the way I said “Iraq.”  (It’s not Eye-rack. It’s Ir-aq)

4. The hardest part of the job is interviewing people!  FALSE—I loved that part! I thought it was so amazing to talk to people from all walks of life and find out why they were a farmer, a policeman, or a teacher. I liked asking questions that made people think. Some of the most rewarding stories were health-related (recovery from an illness) or the features about children. The hardest part for me was the shift I worked:  2 am – 10 am. (This meant getting up at 1:15 am every morning!!)

3. You always have to dress up! FALSE—On the weekends, in smaller markets, it’s pretty common for anchors and reporters to wear a formal suit or top, but have jeans underneath and casual shoes (hidden under the desk).  I’ve known some sports guys to wear tennis shoes or flip-flops on set!

2. The camera adds ten pounds! FALSE—It’s actually more like fifteen or twenty! People often commented on how short I was or how much thinner I was in person. (Sigh!)

1. I’ve heard that anchors use Preparation H under their eyes to reduce puffiness!? TRUE—I’ve done it, anyway. When you’re working 2 am – 10 am, there’s only so much coffee and sugar can do!

Overall, it was an amazing opportunity to work as an anchor, producer, and reporter at two CBS affiliates. I 
made some wonderful friends, worked with many talented people, and really enjoyed the experience!

**These comments are solely the views of the author and do not represent the actual experiences of every anchor or reporter who currently works in or has previously worked in television news.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Stay Tuned

Thanks for stopping by another stop on the Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour for Lauren Clark's great novel Stay Tuned.

Here's the synopsis, from Goodreads:

For TV producer Melissa Moore, crisis management comes with the job. From employee disputes to her high-maintenance boss, there’s not much she hasn’t seen or can’t handle. But no one—including Melissa—expects a fistfight during the ten o’clock news. When sexy-but-crazy Alyssa Andrews lands a punch on her co-anchor’s face, Melissa jumps on set to help. She’s determined that WSGA’s reputation won’t be destroyed on her watch. Both anchors are fired and Melissa agrees to fill in—but not before polishing her look from haircut to heels. While the new Melissa wows WSGA viewers, her personal life starts fraying at the edges. Melissa’s husband is away more than he’s home, leaving cryptic Post-it notes in his wake. Her mother’s antics spiral out of control at the nursing home and a stalker decides Melissa is her next target. What happens next? Stay Tuned to find out…
The synopsis sort of makes the story sound a lot crazier than the book really is - which is actually a good thing. Everything has just the right level of craziness. It's all pretty believable, or at least the unbelievable aspects don't take centre stage so the rest of the story really comes through. The most outrageous thing about the book is Alyssa but her absolute nuttiness somehow works. The book manages to stay pretty realistic and it has a good storyline. It's less about the antics of the anchors at the studio and more about Melissa's own life journey. And that's what makes the book so great.

Melissa seems to have it all together - good job, good marriage, good kid, good friends. In particular she's very lucky because she has the best best friend a girl could ask for. Candace is always there for her and allows Melissa to rant, complain, or work things out however she needs to without minding that they always seem to be worrying about Melissa. Candace is a strong female and I think Melissa envies her a little bit. With Candace's guidance Melissa is finally able to realize that she's just as strong as her best friend. Some less than ideal things happen to Melissa along the way but those things help her realize what she's really made of. It was great to see Melissa go on this journey and end up with a great happily ever after.

For some reason I expected Melissa to be younger. Maybe I was thinking too much of the movie "Morning Glory", who knows. It didn't really matter once I realized that she was older and had a daughter in college. What I found mildly strange was that there wasn't a single conversation with Kelly, her daughter. This is because Melissa seems to be such an involved mom and really cares about her daughter. I'm fairly certain that she mentions talking to her on the phone but I never got to read the actual conversation. I know this might sound odd but I  think I was expecting Kelly to actually have a minor role. With everything that was going on with Melissa's life I really felt like we should have heard from her daughter. Obviously, this really isn't a deal breaker, I just found it a little odd.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was funny, it was sweet, and it was a little heartbreaking. It had all the makings of a great chick lit novel and, boy, did it deliver. I'd definitely recommend this novel and I look forward to reading more from Lauren Clark.

By the way, are you feeling lucky? Head on over to the Stay Tuned Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour page and leave a comment. Two winners will receive a $10 gift card from Amazon!

Happy reading :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Ode to "Once Upon a Time"

Guys, I am in love with this new show. I'm a girl who grew up with Disney so I'm a sucker for fairy tales. Is it any wonder that I am LOVING ABC's new fairy tale-esque show "Once Upon A Time"?

I heard about this show well before the start date, which was late in the television season. I was so worried about forgetting it was on that I made sure to put a reminder in my phone. What made me want to watch it? It was a combination of a couple of things...

- Fairy Tales - The show promised to tell the story of Snow White and Prince Charming. While she's not one of my favourite princesses (that honour goes to Cinderella with Sleeping Beauty and Belle following close behind) she's still a princess. I love how fairy tales are meant to be told out loud with great visuals. It's great that they've decided to take some classics and put a new twist on it for a television show. I mean, fairy tale characters that are trapped in our world and don't remember their old life? Pretty neat.

- Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin - I've been a fan of Morrison's since she was Cameron on "House" (it really is too bad she couldn't work things out with House...now we're given a revolving door of female doctors...but that's a little off topic). I knew she'd bring great things to the show and I was interested to see how she did on this new show. Same goes for Goodwin. I loved her as Rachel in "Something Borrowed" and was looking forward to getting to see more of her in this show.

Emma (Morrison) and Snow White (Goodwin)
I appreciate that they keep the fairy tales family friendly. They don't shy away from some of the "scarier" aspects of fairy tales - there's fighting with evil trolls and fires and there's a whole episode featuring Snow's Hunter - but they don't go into the gruesome details that they could. And I appreciate that. This means that the show's not for everyone but that's fine by me.

So far "Once Upon A Time" is meeting my expectations. Each show focuses on different fairy tales, Snow White, Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, Jiminy Cricket, and slowly reveals parts of each character's other life. You start to really understand what makes them tick and you realize what you think you know may not be true. So far my favourite episode has been "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". Yes, it was terrible upsetting at the end but it was just so good. I never even clued in about who Sheriff Graham really was and appreciated that the show surprised me.

I know I'm not the only one out there in the book blogging universe who's also obsessed with "Once Upon A Time" so feel free to comment and let me know what you think!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Just Finished: Small Town Christmas

First of all, happy new year! I hope you all had a great time ringing in the new year and I wish you all the best for 2012! :)

As you can see, I like to drag out the Christmas season as long as possible. I figure it's ok until after New Year's...makes sense, right? That's at least what I'm telling myself :) I had Small Town Christmas on my Kobo and I just couldn't let the season go by without diving in. So yesterday, amidst New Year's Eve celebrations (which were quite tame but enjoyable), I finished the collection.

This collection had three short stories - emphasis on short. The whole book is not even 150 pages so I flew through it. I'm not a huge short story person to begin with so these seemingly even shorter stories didn't thrill me as much as I hoped. They were quick and didn't really give me a lot of detail. They were, however, Christmassy. So they at least had that going for it.

I just finished Jill Shalvis' Lucky Harbor series (read my review here) so I could easily recall the featured characters in the first short story, "Kissing Santa Claus". It was just like the three full length novels - sweet and predictable in a good way. It was ridiculously short though and I barely had time to dive back into Lucky Harbor before I finished the story. It was nice to see how Logan's life turned out though.

I hadn't heard of Hope Ramsay or Katie Lane before reading this collection. Both of their stories were very sweet but didn't give me much insight into what their other works might be like. I won't hold that against them and if I ever come across something by either author I will definitely give it a try.

I really liked the idea of this collection - Christmas in a small town. That's probably because I'm a small town girl through and through, even if the town I grew up in is probably a bit larger than Lucky Harbor, Last Chance, or Bramble. I can easily imagine the small town charm and what it would be like during the holidays.

Overall, this was a quick read that gave me a good last hit of Christmas romance. If this one happens to come across your path, I say give it a shot but it definitely could have used another story or slightly longer ones. Small Town Christmas made me smile and that's usually all I ask for with my Christmas stories. Mission accomplished :)

Happy reading!