Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just Finished: The Lucky Harbor Series

I did it, I did it! I have finished another Christmas book in time to make it on the list for the Book Lovers Inc. Holiday Challenge. Phew! You're probably wondering how the above three novels qualify for a Christmas Challenge, aren't you? I actually read Simply Irresistible and The Sweetest Thing together in the combo book Christmas in Lucky Harbor. Those two books, plus Head Over Heels, were all written by Jill Shalvis. I thought they were sweet stories and I enjoyed reading them.

I got these books courtesy of NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing. "Christmas" in the title of Christmas in Lucky Harbor was what led me to them and I figured I may as well read the third novel while I was at it! I'm not going to put the synopsis in this post for these books because it would take up a lot of space so instead I will direct you to the Goodreads pages for each. You can find them here, here, and here. :) In a nutshell, these books each focus on a different sister - Maddie in Simply Irresistible, Tara in The Sweetest Thing, and Chloe in Head Over Heels. In true romance novel fashion, each sister falls in love with a different man and after a few obstacles are thrown in their path they all live happily ever after. The nice thing about these novels was that the relationship between the sisters was just as important as the romantic relationships. The three are actually half sisters, same mother but different fathers, and have never spent much time together. In fact, they hadn't seen each other in five years when they all came together for their mother's funeral. As it turns out, Phoebe, their wild and carefree mother, owned an inn in the quaint town of Lucky Harbor and the girls inherited it and all its problems. It's great to see how all the relationship between the women progress through the three novels.

It's very easy for romance novels (ok, any genre really) to get predictable and fall into a pattern. I always say that I don't care if I know who is going to end up with who at the end of the book as long as I'm entertained throughout the rest of the story. Fortunately, the Lucky Harbor novels gave me three sweet and fun stories. The sisters have to learn to fix themselves before they can let anyone else in and it was nice to see how they grew and evolved over the course of the series.

The only thing that I found disappointing was that I went into reading Christmas in Lucky Harbor expecting it to be totally Christmassy. Sadly, it was not. By now you'd think I would have learned my lesson but every year I assume that if "Christmas" or "holiday" is in the title of the book then it's going to be all Christmas all the time. Oh well. Even though I wished there had been a lot more Christmas in the book, I survived and still enjoyed reading it.

Overall, I enjoyed reading these books and I'm glad I read them back to back to back. I didn't really want to leave the world of Lucky Harbor and the inn and kept thinking about the books when I wasn't reading them. I think chick lit and romance lovers alike will enjoy Jill Shalvis' series. I'm definitely going to keep an eye on other books by her in the future.

Happy reading and happy New Year everyone! :)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just Finished: A Season to Remember

I did it! I managed to make it to the Serial Mistletoe-er level for the Book Lovers Inc. Holiday Challenge! Phew. I gotta say, I was a little worried that I wasn't going to make it. It's been a busy holiday season for me, as I'm sure it's been for all of you, and I've had a lot of reading to do so I haven't had as much time for Christmas books as I would have liked. Ah well. I've read four and am working on a fifth (even though I likely won't get it and the review done in time to count for this challenge). I'm happy with that :) My fourth Christmas book was A Season to Remember by Sheila O'Flanagan and I loved reading it!

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

It's Christmas at Sugar Loaf Lodge and everyone checking in to the luxury hotel has their reasons for spending the holiday away from home. A heartbroken guest tries to put the past behind her; a stressed couple long for peace and quiet; a young woman eagerly anticipates a romantic night with the man she loves -- although he should be spending it with somebody else. And it's not just the guests who are hoping for a happier New Year. Worried about their business surviving the recession, the hotel's owners are determined to make it a holiday to remember. As many more tales unfold, and a visitor from times past prepares to take her own journey, we watch and wonder: will everyone's Christmas wishes come true? This special book of touching and poignant stories is guaranteed to warm your heart on a cold winter's night.
The main thing that I loved about this book was the fact that it was actually Christmassy. All too often so-called Christmas books barely have anything to do with the holiday. Not only did the book focus on all the guests who were at the Sugar Loaf Lodge on Christmas but each story really captured the essence of Christmas - at least, what I think the holiday really means. There were wonderful family stories, old friends, and sweet romances. It was all about the relationships between the characters and they were made that much better because the stories and guests all came together at Christmas.

I loved that there were so many different characters who were guests at the Sugar Loaf Lodge because that meant lots of stories and insights into different lives. Each chapter held little snapshots of the characters' lives and they were written wonderfully. Just enough detail was given to really get a feel of their history and I felt like I knew the characters and understood their motivations. Definitely well done.

I also liked how O'Flanagan structured the book. Each chapter was a different story and was noted by the hotel room name (each was named after an Irish mountain). That being said, there were nine rooms (if I counted correctly) and many many many more characters. Needless to say, I found myself getting a little confused sometimes. Each story had a background element to it but there was also part of it that was in the present at the Lodge. This meant that characters were meeting each other and I found that I couldn't always recall the stories of some of the characters. I don't think this is really a bad thing - probably says more about me and my inability to remember details than the way the book was written!

I think another thing that I really liked was the setting of the book. The Lodge was almost another character, one who stood quietly by and gave everyone the little nudge they needed. Sometimes that was uninterrupted time together and sometimes it was time away from family. Neil and Claire, the owners of this lovely hotel, adore their work and are determined to make sure their guests have a wonderful time. Their love for what they do and their guests really comes through. Made me wish that I could stay at the Sugar Loaf Lodge myself!

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Season to Remember. It's just Christmassy enough but I think you could still enjoy it at other times of the year. This collection has just confirmed for me that I really like Sheila O'Flanagan's work and I will definitely be looking for more of her novels in the future.

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top Ten Reads of 2011

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. They created this feature because they're "particularly fond of lists" and since I also enjoy lists, I've decided to participate in this fun feature. This week's list is Top Ten Reads of 2011. Don't forget to check out their blog for a full list of everyone participating.

This year I really got into the reviewing swing of things. So much so that I have many books that I've bought for myself that are just sitting on my shelves, waiting patiently for me to get to them. I'm not sure when that will be but I hope to get to some of them soon! :) I read quite a few books this year (around 70ish) so it was difficult to just pick ten of my favourites. By the way, these are not in any particular order. The title links all lead to my reviews. This is just in case you missed them the first time around and/or you want to know more about what I thought of the book :)

1. Rock Star's Girl by J.F. Kristin
Loved the characters, loved the story, loved the conclusion. Just an all around lovefest for this book.

2. What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
I have been in love with Sarah Dessen for almost ten years so it's not a surprise that her latest book made it on this list. While I didn't love this one as much as some of her others it still had to be featured. I don't care if she only writes YA, I will continue reading her books until she stops writing :)

3. Second Time Around by Beth Kendrick
This story had me sucked in right from the start. The circumstances that lead to where the friends end up is quite sad (vague, I know. Just read the book) but the friends are able to truly find out who they are and it's such a great read. Friendship, love, finding yourself. Recipe for a great book.

4. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a series that I absolutely adore and I am so happy that Brashares wrote this final novel. Even though there's a major event that is so sad and depressing (and yes, it made me cry) it is wrapped up in the most perfect way. I never really realized that I was lacking a good conclusion to this series until I read Sisterhood Everlasting.

5. Arranged and Spin by Catherine McKenzie
Yes, I'm sort of cheating a little bit but I couldn't choose just one of McKenzie's great novels. If I'm being honest, perhaps I did like Arranged a little bit better than Spin but each book kept me entertained and enthralled for its entirety. I can't wait for Forgotten, McKenzie's third novel, which is apparently due out in May!

6. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
I've seen mixed reviews about this novel but I loved it. It's a massive book but I loved every bit of it. It's got magical creatures (vampires, witches, and the like) as well as a lot of really great historical detail. I'm very excited to read the rest of the books in the All Souls Trilogy.

7. Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, Go Small or Go Home, Stir Until Thoroughly Confused by Heather Wardell
I'm cheating again. Heather Wardell is definitely one of my top favourite authors as her books never fail to disappoint. I just had to include the three I read this year. I've got another to get to for January and I'm really looking forward to reading it!

8. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I had been told to read this book for years but it wasn't until this year that I finally got around to it. All those people who had suggested it were right. It's a captivating story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

9. Destined to Fail by Samantha March
For those of you who don't know, Samantha is the voice behind the popular Chick Lit Plus website. This was a book that grabbed hold of me and did not want to let go. The story is heavy but March does a fantastic job of telling it.

10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This was another book that many people told me to read. I wanted to get to it before the movie came out and I succeed. I ended up loving this novel, much to my surprise. It's got three interconnected stories that are told wonderfully.

And there we have it. My top ten favourite books of 2011. I hope you've found some more great reads to add to your 2012 to read pile.

Happy reading! :)

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: A Heart in Sun and Shadow

Welcome to another stop on the blog tour for Annie Bellet's novel A Heart in Sun and Shadow. This tour is being organized by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours and I'm happy I got to be a part of it.

Let's start with the synopsis from Goodreads and then I'll get into the review:

In an ancient Wales that never was...
Twin brothers Emyr and Idrys are cursed to live as hounds; Emyr by night, and Idrys by day. The twins believe they will be trapped this way forever until they meet the fierce and curious Áine, a changeling woman born with Fey blood and gifts struggling to fit into a suspicious human world. Áine unravels the fate of Emyr and his twin as all three of them fall in love. To free her lovers from the curse, she embarks on a journey to the realm of the fey where she confronts her own unique gifts and heritage. Ultimately, she must decide where her heart truly lies and what she's willing to risk to get what she desires most.
I decided to take a chance on this novel as it's most definitely not a chick lit book. I used to read all sorts of fantasy type novels when I was young and for some reason I got away from it as I got older. Good news - I found that I still enjoy a fantasy story. It's such a work out for my imagination which is probably why I loved them when I was younger. This book definitely needed a reader with a good imagination as there was a strong fantastical element to it. I admit, at times I found the story a little bizarre but at the end I appreciate how the story made its way to the conclusion.

I was a little confused at the beginning since the prologue introduced a character, Áine, who didn't reappear for a good while. We get the entire back history of Emyr and Idrys and how they become cursed before Áine comes back into the story. I understand that's part of the whole prologue deal but it just didn't work for me. Maybe it's because the story switched back to Áine's perspective and I read her back story before she was finally introduced to Emyr and Idrys the three of them. Of course, it could be just me. :)

There was a lot going on in this novel but it kept me intrigued from start to finish. I think this is the kind of book that you need to read with an open mind and a good imagination. I didn't love it but I enjoyed reading it. I don't think I'll continue reading the series myself, but I'm sure many other fantasy lovers would devour these books. All in all, I liked A Heart in Sun and Shadow (clever title, by the way) and am glad I got the chance to read it.

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Author Interview: Denise Grover Swank

Welcome to my first ever author interview! This is part of a blog tour hosted by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours for Denise Grover Swank's novel Here. (Check out my review here) Thank you to both Denise and Samantha for this opportunity. I hope you enjoy learning a little bit more about the novel and the author behind it! :)

Books Etc. - There's a significant plot twist about halfway through Here. How did you keep from revealing too much of the plot? 
Denise Grover Swank - Lots of playing around with the plot. I found at first that I didn't reveal enough. There weren't enough clues so I kept going back and layering more and more until I thought that there were enough to pique the reader’s attention and not have the reader taken completely by surprise when the twist came, yet not give it away either. It’s a delicate balance sometimes and even though all of my books have a mystery/mysterious element, I found Here the most difficult to get just right.  

BE - How did you come up with the idea for Here?
DGS - I wrote Here because I had written several adult novels and my then thirteen-year-old daughter wanted me to write something she and her friends could read. (She actually read all of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes with the exception of one chapter.)  But I wasn't really sure what to write. Paranormal was out for me. I love it but the market is saturated with it. I could have gone lite paranormal like I did with Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes but decided I wanted to try something different.  So there I was, back as square one. What was I going to write? 
I started thinking about what *I* love to read, television shows I love to watch, movies that make me excited and I narrowed it down to the TV show that has made the biggest impact on my writing: LOST. I thought about what I loved about LOST and then started spinning tangents off from there. And of course, since I wrote it for my daughter, there was a romance involved. 3. Did you always plan on making it part of a series or did you decide partway through writing the novel that you wanted to spend more time with this story?I planned a series from the beginning. Most YAs sell as a series so I kept that in mind as I wrote the story.

BE - You've written other types of novels before. Why did you decide to try your hand at Young Adult?
DGS - As I mentioned above, I wrote it for my daughter. That being said, the market had really swung toward the young adult market. It seemed like a good time to try it.

BE - In your research of other YA novels, were there any books or authors that influenced you?
DGS - I read a slew of YA before I started. My critique partner Trisha Leigh writes YA and stuffed book after book in my hand. I’m not sure any influenced me but I really loved The Hunger Game series and the Hex Hall series. (The two couldn’t be more opposite. LOL)

BE - What is your least favourite thing about being an author?
DGS - My least favorite part of being an author so far is the amount of time I spend on business.  I heard that it was time consuming and I thought I was prepared but it sucks much more time than I anticipated. Of course, I released four books very close together which was took a ton of time, but I’ve struggled to find a balance between the business aspect and making sure I’m still writing. I think, perhaps, I’ve found it now.

BE - Favourite thing?
DGS - My favorite thing about being an author is that I daydream - and get paid for it. I tell my kids that when I was little, I was a huge daydreamer creating elaborate stories in my head. That's exactly what books are: giant daydreams authors create and put down in words. I've got the coolest job in the world.

BE - Do you find yourself giving your characters qualities that you or people who are close to you have?
DGS - LOL No. If anything, I find myself making sure that my characters don’t resemble people close to me. Still, most of the time, I don’t think about it at all. The characters come to life in my head and become their own people. I rarely find myself attributing characteristics to them.
I do give my characters names of people around me, but I purposely know from the start that they are unlike the real person. For example, in The Chosen series, there’s a character whose sense of ethics and right vs wrong is questionable. I named the character Scott Kramer, after my friend Scot Kraemer who is a youth pastor. (Scot was a tremendous resource when I wrote Chosen and I jokingly offered to name a character after him. And then I did.)

BE - Are there any places where you find you get your best ideas or writing done?
DGS - There are two places I tend to have time to brainstorm and work through plot details: driving and in the shower. Could I be anymore clichéd? Yet it’s true. I’m performing a mindless task (although I’m not too mindless when I drive LOL) with nothing for my brain to do but sort through the mess I’m dealing with.
As for writing, I’m either at my desk (which honestly surprises me) or lately, in an overstuffed chair in my bedroom with my new laptop Scarlett. And of course, with headphones and iTunes.

BE - Now to end with something fun - where would you like to go on your dream vacation?
DGS - Wow, this is surprisingly hard. I love to travel and have a lengthy list of places I’d like to travel. Still, I really want to go to Italy. There’s so much history and it’s a beautiful.

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: Here

Welcome to another stop on the blog tour for Here: On the Otherside Series by Denise Grover Swank! This is another tour organized by Samantha over at Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours and I'm very happy I got to be a part of this tour. I enjoyed Here even if it didn't take the path I thought it would.

Here's the synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:

Sixteen year old Julia Phillips buries herself in guilt after killing her best friend Monica in a car accident. Julia awoke in the hospital with a broken leg, a new talent for drawing and false memories of the accident, in which she dies and Monica lives. The doctors attribute this to her head injury, but no one can explain how a bracelet engraved with her name ended up at the scene of the accident. A bracelet no one has ever seen before.

Classmate Evan Whittaker paid Julia no attention before the accident, let alone after. Now suddenly he’s volunteering to tutor her and offering to drive her home. She can't ignore that his new obsession started after his two-day disappearance last week and that he wears a pendant she’s been drawing for months. When the police show up one night looking for Evan, he begs Julia to run with him, convincing her that Monica is still alive. Julia agrees to go, never guessing where he’s really from.
I was loving the book up until the big plot twist (more on that later). Afterwards, I still really liked it. Even though the main characters were all teenagers, and therefore much younger than me, I was hooked on their story. Julia is so tortured with guilt and sadness and doesn't have anyone to turn to. I felt her pain and her delight when popular Evan starts paying attention to her.

As I mentioned earlier, this book had a crazy twist to it that I really wasn't expecting. While I knew something had to be revealed I was not at all ready for where Swank took the plot. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing, don't get me wrong. On Goodreads I only ranked this book as three stars but I think it's more of a three and a half. It would be a four if this twist wasn't so...futuristic...I think that's the way I want to describe it. It's not really the future but it has a crazy fantastical element to it. I really enjoyed the twist but it wasn't exactly a sub-genre that I enjoyed so I couldn't quite give it a full four stars. And no, I am not about to give anything away so that's all you're going to get out of me about that :)

If you like realistic novels but enjoy a good sci-fi book every once and awhile you will probably really enjoy this book. I'm not a sci-fi girl myself (I tend to lean more towards the fantasy side) so I think that's why I didn't find myself loving the book all the way through. By the way, Here is the first book in a series. Will I read the next books? Maybe. I do want to know what happens to Julia and her friends but I'm not sure if this genre is for me. I know others will love it because the story is captivating and Swank tells it well.

Stay tuned for my first ever author interview! My interview with Swank will be posted on Thursday the 22nd. And make sure you check out this link to see what other bloggers think of Here and leave a comment there - you could win a $10 gift card!

Happy reading :)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December Chick Lit Challenge Read: Wrapped Up In You

Here's is my final review for the 2011 Chick Lit Challenge hosted by the lovely Samantha at Chick Lit Plus. I have to say that I am so glad that I participated in this challenge as I got some great recommendations and met some awesome people. Because I had such a great experience with this challenge I will be participating again in 2012! (You can still sign up by going to this page. Go, go now!)

Since it's almost Christmas, I decided to read a holiday themed novel for this month's challenge and Wrapped Up In You by Carole Matthews was my choice. Here's the synopsis, from Goodreads:

A Christmas fling, or has Janie found the real thing? Thirty-something hairdresser Janie Johnson's single status is a constant source of gossip for her friends and clients. So after too many nights in with her cat, a blind date disaster and news that her ex is getting married, Janie realises it's time to do something dramatic with her life. It's time for an adventure! Leaving winter behind, Janie takes the plunge and books an exotic trip to Africa. Her friends think she's mad and Janie thinks they may very well be right ...but then she falls head over heels for her tour guide and fully fledged Maasai Warrior Dominic. But can Janie now face spending a snowy Christmas back home without him? Packed with unforgettable characters, romance and laughter, Wrapped Up In You is your very own perfect Christmas Carole!

When I love a particular author, as I love Carole Matthews (if you haven't read any of hers do it!), I tend to pick up their newest novels without paying much attention to what it's actually about. That was the case with Wrapped Up In You. It was by Matthews and it looked Christmassy. I was in. I wanted to love it. I tried to love it. I failed. Now, I definitely didn't hate it and I'm sure others would enjoy it but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I can't quite pinpoint what failed to excite me. Part of it is that it wasn't actually very Christmassy. Take a look at the cover up there. Now, reread the synopsis. I'm not crazy for expecting the novel to focus on Christmas, right? The novel started about mid December and went to almost spring (I think) with only a brief touch on Christmas. So, that was definitely unfortunate. I was also expecting something massively disappointing to happen to Janie. Everyone is incredibly wary of her new love, Dominic, and thinks that he's just using her for money and will leave her once he's wiped her out. All but one of her friends felt that way so I started wondering if it was true. I think that says something about the lack of connection I felt with Janie. I was believing her friends instead of believing in her and her love for Dominic. I didn't find myself rooting for her as I do for other characters in other novels. I also really wanted her to fall for her sweet and dependable neighbour Mike. The ending of this novel just didn't thrill me and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because I just wish things had turned out differently.

I don't want to turn people off of Wrapped Up In You (it still had Matthews' signature humour to it which I loved) but I can't quite bring myself to recommend it to other Carole Matthews fans. I think you'll all be expecting something different and will feel like me, a little disappointed. I hate when I have such great expectations for a book and am left with a "well...that was...meh" kind of feeling. I wish I had better things to say about this one as I feel like this review is a bit of a downer. I will say that I will still read more of Carole Matthews in the future. I just might pay more attention to the synopsis. Ah well. Can't win 'em all, right?

Happy reading!

PS This book also adds to my total of Christmas books for the Book Lovers Inc. Holiday Challenge. One more book and I move from Santa's Helper to Serial Mistletoe-er. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Just Finished: Holiday Kisses

My friends and family know that I'm a sucker for Christmas. I absolutely love the holiday and try so hard not to get overwhelmed with the craziness that always accompanies this time of year. One of my favourite parts about Christmas is reading all the silly romantic holiday books. I got Holiday Kisses from NetGalley from Carina Press and I am so incredibly glad that I did. I loved it. It was exactly the kind of Christmas book I wanted!

There were four stories in this collection:
This Time Next Year by Alison Kent
A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton
It's Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon
Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey

Usually there's one story in a collection that stands out for me and is my favourite. That was not the case with this one as I loved each one equally.

I really liked that there was a cohesive feel to the stories. It didn't seem like they were written by four different authors and I appreciate that they worked so well together. That being said, each story had a totally different romantic story. In This Time Next Year, Dillon and Breena are strangers but end up snowed in at his cabin in the days leading up to Christmas (don't be worried about the fact that they don't know each other and are stuck together - he knows her grandmother and that eased any worries I had). A Rare Gift features Wyatt and Calliope - he had actually been married to her older sister but the marriage was doomed from the start.  Carrie and Austin had been dating on and off for years in It's Not Christmas Without You. And in Mistletoe and Margaritas, Claire is a young widow who has found friendship in her deceased husband's best friend, Justin - turns out there's more than just friendship there. All four stories have the characters starting in a different romantic place and I loved that.

I'm not going to do a huge review for this one because I don't want to give anything away (it's more of a challenge with short stories!) but I hope you have all realized that I really enjoyed this collection of stories. If you're looking for epic literature, you will not find it here. But if you want some steamy and sweet Christmas stories this is exactly the book for you. It has just the right amount of Christmas spirit without being overwhelming. I was left with a warm fuzzy feeling after reading this collection and think other romance and Christmas lovers will feel the same way.

PS This is the second book I've read for the Book Lovers Inc Holiday Challenge. I'm slowly working my way to the Serial Mistletoe-er level!

Happy Reading! :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Childhood Faves

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. They created this feature because they're "particularly fond of lists" and since I also enjoy lists, I've decided to start participating in this fun feature. This week's list is Top Ten Childhood Faves. Don't forget to check out their blog for a full list of everyone participating.

I decided to start with this week and Top Ten Childhood Faves because I've always been a huge reader. My mom used to read to my sister and I all the time and we just kept on going once we were able to read on our own. This list is a mix of both from when I was just a toddler up until the end of grade eight (that's when I decided childhood stops). Because I was such a book addict (ha..."was"...yeah, I still am) I had to create an Honourable Mentions part to this post because I couldn't settle on just ten! I hope you enjoy this list :)

1. Little House Books - Laura Ingalls Wilder
This favourite comes with a really amusing story. The nursery school I went to was accidentally sent a complete box set with a big book order. I was only four years old at the time but they obviously knew I was going to be an avid reader so the teacher told my mom she could have it. I'm so glad I got that set because it was one of my favourites growing up. I even read all the other books that were about her mom, daughter, and so on. They were definitely more fictionalized but I loved them just the same.

2. Anne of Green Gables Set - Lucy Maud Montgomery
If you looked for a Canadian girl who's never heard of Anne of Green Gables I'm sure you'd only come up with a handful. This is a classic that's been read many times over by many girls. I devoured all of the books in one summer and I've also watched the movies and even a few episodes of the animated series!

3. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear - Audrey and Don Wood
I absolutely adored this picture book. It has the best story and some amazing artwork. This little mouse is trying to hide a gigantic strawberry from the bear with some hilarious results. If you're looking for a book for a young kid I definitely recommend you order this one!

4. Cinderella
Oh, Cinderella. What little girl doesn't fall in love with one of the Disney princesses? In my case, I adored Cinderella. When I was little my mom used to read me this story All. The. Time. From what I've been told, she would read it to me before bed and I would always fall asleep. It didn't matter if it was the first story or the third, without fail, I would fall into a Disney filled slumber after hearing the story of Cinderella and her glass slipper. While this story may appear as though I didn't like the book (I mean, who falls asleep during something they enjoy?) I like to think of it as a soothing story that was so comfortable and familiar that I was able to sleep soundly. :)

5. The Baby-Sitter's Club Series - Ann M. Martin
I loved loved loved this series when I was younger. There were so many to choose from at the library and I was always upset when one was missing. If I remember correctly, I had to make sure I read them in order. They were numbered for a reason! I think many girls grew up wanting to have a profitable babysitting  business just like Krisy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey. They seemed to have it all together! And the super specials? Fantastic. They were so much bigger with a much more involved storyline! When I used to work in a bookstore I always wanted to recommend this series but they're so outdated and hard to find that I never felt I could. Not to worry! You can now purchase updated and released versions of the books. Now, go find a twelve year old girl to give them to. And throw in the movie too...classic :)

6. Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
I have to confess that I haven't actually read the entire series. I know, I know. It's on my list of favourites and I haven't read all the books. I fail. However! I have read up to Prince Caspian (did a book report on that one in grade seven. Complete with a map and a stuffed sword fighting mouse!) and always enjoyed the fantasy and magical feeling the books gave me. An enchanted wardrobe that led you to a whole other universe? Count me in.

7. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
The Bear with Little Brain. He is probably the best bear ever (though I'm sure some would argue with me. Any takers?) and most loved by many generations. I'm in my twenties and still love him. In fact, I have asked for the newest movie for Christmas! Now if that doesn't make me the coolest person ever, I don't know what will. I loved Pooh Bear so much that I actually did a speech on him in grade seven (that appears to have been a good year school project-wise for me). I may have even moved on to the second level - speaking in the gym - that year! (I was painfully shy so to read a speech to many people was a big deal for me.) The story about a boy and his bear is so classic that it's no wonder he's stuck around for so many years.

8. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
Whenever I read Harry Potter I am always thankful that my younger sister was at just the right age when they became popular. We weren't one of the early adopters but I think we were one of the first to jump on the bandwagon after the first three books were released. And, boy, am I ever glad we did. My sister and I are definitely a little obsessed (she's done the midnight line up to buy the books. I never went that far figuring that she'll stand in line, read the book, and then pass it onto me) and we're totally ok with that. These books are best sellers for a reason. The story is great and your imagination goes wild when reading them. Thank you J.K. Rowling for creating such an amazing world and allowing us to be a part of it.

9. Little Women  - Louisa May Alcott
No, I was not a crazy advanced reader. My grandmother bought me an abridged copy of the classic and I used to read it all the time. And I admit, I still have not read the full novel. It's currently open on my Kobo and is waiting patiently for me to get started. There's just something about a story of four sisters who were so different yet so similar that I really liked.

10. The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs - Pheobe Gilman
Jillian Jiggs was great. There were a couple of books written about her crazy life but the one I remember most is the one where she makes all sorts of pigs out of old nylons. She had old pigs and young pigs, fat pigs and skinny pigs and she didn't want to sell any of them! The drawings and story were just downright adorable.

Honourable Mentions

- Berenstain Bears - Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
- Amelia Bedelia - Peggy Parish
- His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
- Circle of Magic  - Tamora Pierce

I hope you have enjoyed this massively long post and amusing (I hope) insight into my childhood. I sure had fun writing this and I came across two really amusing sites that any child of the nineties will appreciate. Check them out here and here and have a good laugh. I would love to hear what some of your favourites are too so please leave a comment!

Happy reading :)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Just Finished: The Night Before Christmas

I have started my Christmas reading! It's December now, it's allowed :) My first of the season was The Night Before Christmas, a collection of six romance short stories from authors Lori Foster, Erin McCarthy, Jill Shalvis, Kathy Love, Katherine Garbera, and Kylie Adams. And bonus - this is my first book towards the Book Lovers Inc. Holiday Reading Challenge! I hope to read at least four this Christmas in between all the other books I have to read.

I admit, I'm a sucker for Christmas romance stories and I always try to read at least one fluffy, entertaining kind of book every year. I throw in a few other Christmas stories too but they almost always have some sort of romantic aspect to it. I am a chick lit fan after all :)

I find that a lot of Christmas books have multiple stories by either the same author or different authors. I think those are my favourites because you get little hits of different types of Christmases - different cities, different families, different traditions. The stories in The Night Before Christmas were just like that. They also had one interesting commonality - each story took place on Christmas Eve. I have to admit, I didn't figure that out until after I had read the entire book and started writing this post. It is called The Night Before Christmas which, you know, is Christmas Eve. Duh. :)

These stories were by no means works of literary greatness but I had fun reading them. Each story featured a soon to be couple with a different kind of background. There are neighbours, friend's sibling/sibling's best friend, two stories featured coworkers, another had past lovers meet up, and the last story told the story of a barrista and a well known actor. I liked that they didn't have the same start to a relationship and that kept things fresh for me.

I think my favourite was "Snowed Under" by Erin McCarthy. Claire is out Christmas shopping when she gets soaked by a passing snow plow. Realizing she's a block away from her brother's house and he's out of town she decides to get cleaned up at his place. Imagine her surprise when her six year crush and brother's best friend, Justin, is in the apartment. What follows is a sweet story about what can happen when the timing is finally right.

All in all, I enjoyed reading The Night Before Christmas. It's full of Christmas spirit and new relationships. What romance or Christmas lover isn't going to like that? It's definitely got me in the Christmas mood and I'm looking forward to diving into my next Christmas book!

Happy holidays...and reading :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chick Lit Challenge 2012!

Guess what friends? The lovely Samantha over at Chick Lit Plus is hosting another Chick Lit Challenge for 2012 and I've signed up! I've loved doing the challenge this past year because it exposed me to a lot of great chick lit novels that I never would have come across otherwise. I also think it's the main reason Books Etc. has grown in the past year - so thanks Samantha :)

Stay tuned for many more chick lit reviews and I encourage you all to sign up as well! Just head over to the sign up page for all the instructions (and make sure you read them correctly because a lot of us fail at reading...ironic, isn't it?).

I'm looking forward to taking part in the Chick Lit Challenge once again!

Author Guest Post: Monique Domovitch

Monique Domovitch is currently on tour with Chick Lit Plus with her novel Scorpio Rising. While I haven't read this one (yet!) I am happy to present you all with this guest post Monique so kindly wrote for Books Etc. I took a look at her website and found that I really love how she decided to finally make a go of being a writer later in life. I hope you all enjoy this post, as I did!

I always knew I wanted to write, but it wasn’t until I retired that I decided, why not? Why couldn’t I do this? I didn’t have children living at home anymore, so bringing in a paycheck was no longer a priority.  
However, not needing the paycheck did not mean I didn’t want to be published. Before anything else, a writer is an entertainer, and much like a singer with a good voice would be dissatisfied singing only in the shower, I want readers to read my books. I need an audience for my stories. This meant that I had to treat writing just as I would any other business. I did my research. I found out what kind of fiction was selling. I created myself a private area where I go to write, and where—unless the house is on fire—no one is allowed to disturb me. I established a strict schedule—eight in the morning to four or five in the afternoon, and often later.  
Once I had the first draft of my manuscript completed, I decided that I needed an agent. But finding an agent is like searching for water in the Sahara. Publishers won’t look at a manuscript, unless its writer has an agent, but agents won’t represent you unless you have been published—yep, the old, familiar, catch twenty-two. That’s when I got a lucky break. I attended the San Diego Writers Conference and was discovered by agent Natalie Lacosil of Bradford Literary Agency. Two years later, I have two self-published novels, my Scorpio Series, and a three-book deal with Penguin for a murder-mystery series. I still pinch myself every day.
Okay, so far these are all steps that every writer must take, whether they are sixteen or sixty.  But the one advantage that age has given me is a wealth of knowledge, and experiences and emotions from which I draw, much as a method actor does to bring depth to his characters. If you haven’t read my novels yet, please do and let me hear your comments. I love connecting with my readers.
You can visit me on my website, .

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 :)