Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: Italian for Beginners

By Melissa Amster

I started "Italian for Beginners" with the expectation that it would be a light beach read. In some ways, it was. Kristin Harmel gives us a cute and romantic story that takes place in Italy. How easy is that for beach reading material?!? However, there's so much more to this book.

Having come off the heels from reading "The Opposite of Me," I was able to make some comparisons between Cat and Lindsey (from the previous novel). Both were focused on their work and had beautiful red-headed sisters who are luckier in love. Both women made decisions and took risks that fell outside the patterns of the lives they were used to leading. And both learned a lot about themselves and their families.

I was expecting this to pale in comparison to "The Opposite..." because I had set a bar for my summer reading based on that book. However, "Italian..." stands on its own as a well told and interesting story that keeps you guessing until the very end, and has lots of fun surprises along the way. I found myself cheering for Cat and even getting emotional. It made me want to go to Italy, see "Roman Holiday," and further explore something for which I've been told I have a talent. It's really an inspiring story as well, but only for those who are open to being inspired.

At the end of the book, Kristin includes a few recipes that were used in the story. However, there is one she left out that I would have loved to try. Maybe it was because one of her characters set the bar too high and readers would be intimidated trying to replicate such a recipe. :)

I definitely recommend "Italian for Beginners" to anyone who loves chick lit as much as I do. I know I definitely want to read more of Kristin Harmel's books!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who Wouldn't Want to be In *Her* Shoes?

By Melissa Amster

You wouldn't believe this, but I originally hesitated to read "Good in Bed" because I knew a girl named Jennifer Weiner when I was growing up and I thought she had written this book. I didn't want to read about anything to do with what my childhood friends knew about sex. Then I found out that it was someone else with the same name and everyone was recommending it, so I decided to give it a chance....and I loved it! Some of it reminded me of "Jemima J" by Jane Green, but that didn't bother me. I found myself laughing out loud and not wanting to put it down. I think I spent the good part of a day in bed reading it non-stop.

A year later, I bought "In Her Shoes" when it first came out and I loved it even more. I was hooked on Jennifer Weiner's books by then and rushed out to get each new one as soon as they came out in the following years. "Goodnight Nobody" got me through the first month of awkwardness with becoming a mother. "Certain Girls" talked about two things that I could relate to well, being Jewish and having a child with hearing loss. All her books have been amazing and have touched me in some way or another.

Last year, I got the opportunity to hear Jennifer speak in NYC. She was a very dynamic and hilarious speaker. I didn't get to take any posed pictures with her, but someone got one of her signing my copy of "Best Friends Forever." I later devoured the book in less than a week. I'm very excited to read "Fly Away Home" when it comes out this summer and I hope to meet her again when she comes to a signing in DC. (If they let over 200 people take pictures with Nicholas Sparks, I'm hoping they'll do the same with Jennifer.)

I remember her saying that she was inspired to write because she loved to read. I also love to read, so that gives me hope that I could one day put a pen to paper (or keys to a screen) as well as she does. I hope she continues to keep producing excellent page turners that I know I will continue to read.

Letts Get Together

I first connected with Billie Letts when I read "Where the Heart is." I even had dreams about being stranded in Wal-Mart long after I read that book. Then the movie came out the year after I read it. I liked it the first time and then fell in love with it the second time. I felt it totally surpassed the excellence of the book. It's still my number one favorite movie.

After WTHI, she came out with "The Honk and Holler Opening Soon." I thought the title sounded strange so I overlooked it. However, I went right for "Shoot the Moon" when it came out a few years later. I really liked it and shared it with friends afterward. In 2008, I read "Made in the U.S.A.," which was impossible to put down. It was a dark story, but so well written that I knew it would leave me smiling somehow. Then my mom told me that I'd love "The Honk and Holler..." so I finally gave it a chance and was not disappointed at all. It was such a good and moving story that I was sorry I didn't read it sooner.

While her stories are more about people who have had a rough go at life, they still feel like chick lit in some ways. There's still the aspect of romance in most of them. They're also page turners that are impossible to put down. I consider the movie of WTHI to be a chick flick, so that makes sense with the genre of chick lit books becoming movies. I just hope Billie Letts will continue to write more winners as wonderful as these past four have been.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Not-so-plain Jane

Another author I like a lot is Jane Porter. Between reading her books and Kristin Hannah’s books, I feel like I know Washington state like the back of my hand, even though I’ve never been there. I started out by reading “The Frog Prince” in late 2007 and followed that up with “Flirting with Forty”. Both were fun, enjoyable stories. Next came “Odd Mom Out,” which spurned a bunch of books about characters to whom the main character was connected. All the books that came out of that connection with Marta have been great stories and very hard to put down. I’m excited for “She’s Gone Country”, for which I just read a description on Amazon. I got to follow Marta’s friend Shey in OMO and “Easy on the Eyes,” based on her friendships with Marta and Tiana, and I’m excited to read more about her this summer when the new book is released. “Mrs. Perfect” was more about Marta’s rival, but it allowed readers to see her from another angle and it spoke to women about a fear we all have to consider in this day and age. “Flirting with Forty” was made into a movie on Lifetime and I enjoyed that too. It followed most of the story, with a few changes. It was cute overall though.

I also follow Jane Porter's blog. She has a lot of book giveaways and interesting news, as well as talking about her family and everyday life.

Keep up the great work, Jane!

Irish Eyes are Smiling

By Melissa Amster

I am a huge fan of two Irish chick lit authors: Marian Keyes and Cecelia Ahern.

I was drawn to Marian Keyes when I read “Watermelon” over 10 years ago. I loved the story and couldn’t put it down. She proceeded to write about the main character’s sisters in a few of her other novels. She still has yet to write about Helen, who seems fun and interesting. She also writes other novels involving a set of friends or women (and sometimes men) drawn together by a common circumstance. Her last book (“This Charming Man”) and current book (“The Brightest Star in the Sky”) seem to explore the latter set. I love her writing style and her books flow so well. She makes them all nearly impossible to put down! I’m always thrilled to find other Marian Keyes fans who get why I think she’s such a great author. I recently read "The Brightest Star..." and really enjoyed it. I've heard that she's taking time off from writing for personal reasons, but I hope she'll come back to it someday and finally give her readers a story about Helen Walsh!

As for Cecelia Ahern, I first saw “P.S. I Love You” at the bookstore in 2004. I was newly married and didn’t want to read a story about someone losing their husband. Almost a year later, I came across “Rosie Dunne” (now known as “Love, Rosie”) at the library and enjoyed it from start to finish. It was a cute and light story. The following year, I picked up “If You Could See Me Now” and read it quickly, as I fell in love with the story. After reading two good books from this author, I decided to give “P.S. I Love You” a try. I wasn’t disappointed and felt I could handle the topic better than I expected. It was such a warmly told, heartfelt story. I wasn’t happy with how the movie changed so much around. (For example: Holly, the main character, had such a huge and crazy family and the movie just showed us her mom and sister.) Over the last couple of years, I read “There’s No Place Like Here” and “Thanks for the Memories.” Both were cute stories, but I liked the latter better. “There’s No Place…” just seemed to end too abruptly for my tastes. Aside from her first two books, Cecelia Ahern manages to write stories that have more of a fantasy or fairy-tale feel. They still have a fun chick-lit tone, but they definitely stand out from most books in that genre. I look forward to reading “The Gift” soon, as well as any other fun stories that she plans to come out with in the future.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sparks will fly!

By Melissa Amster

This author blog is about Nicholas Sparks. I was first introduced to him when I saw "Message in a Bottle" over 10 years ago. I thought it was a good movie, but never read the book (due to my thing against reading the book after seeing the movie). Then I read "The Notebook" later that year and was hooked. A few months later, I read "A Walk to Remember" and loved everything about it. I was so disappointed by how the movie changed around the feel of the story. It was written to take place during a simpler time. It didn't work in the 90's and I felt it was only there to glorify Mandy Moore's voice (as beautiful as it is, and as much as I liked "Only Hope").

Later on, I read "A Bend in the Road," "The Rescue," and "Nights in Rodanthe" all within a short time period. As of now, I've read all his books except "Message..." and "Three Weeks with my Brother" (which I own now). As for the latter, I find it cool that he has a brother named Micah since my younger son is named Micah. :) And a girl I met at his book signing told me I'd really like it.

I've met him at two book signings. I forgot to bring a camera to the first one (in Illinois), but still got his autograph in "True Believer." That was in April of 2005. I met him again this past September in Virginia. I got a picture and his autograph in "The Last Song" this time. I also made a new friend during that signing. (The girl who recommended "Three Weeks...", as she was in line behind me and upset that she forgot her camera, so I offered to take a picture with my camera and e-mail it to her. We ended up talking through most of our wait in the long line.)

In addition to "A Walk...," I've seen the other movies made of his books (I loved "The Notebook" and still cry thinking about it) and am excited to see "Dear John" (now out on DVD) and "The Last Song" when I get a chance.

If someone were to ask which of his books is my favorite, I'd definitely have to go with "The Rescue." I also loved "The Last Song" and "A Walk to Remember." All his books have been interesting and captivating and I hope he'll write sequels to some more of them or bring back characters into other books. I eagerly await his next book, whatever and whenever that may be.

I consider his books to be chick lit on some level because they are all romantic and beautifully written, with an element of drama. While most of his main characters are men, I don't know a lot of men who read his books as diligently as women.

Also, my experience at his last signing goes to show that if you attend a book signing for an author, reach out to the other people there. You're all at the signing for the same reason, so why not make a new friend at the event? If you're going to wait in line for hours, it might as well be fun!

From one Washington to the other....

I’ve been on a Kristin Hannah book marathon lately. I started with “Firefly Lane” last summer and loved how smoothly the story flowed and how easy the characters were to connect with, no matter how similar or different they were to/from me. I still get emotional when I think about it. Then I saw some other books of hers at a library book sale and a local thrift shop and decided to check them out too. So far, I’ve enjoyed each one: “Between Sisters” and “On Mystic Lake.” I’m reading “The Things we do for Love” now, and have already gotten misty-eyed a few times. I just want to read more and more of her books and have been looking diligently for them at the store.

All the books I've read of hers so far take place in Washington state. She should write tour guides because with each story, I want to take a trip to check out the scenery she is describing. I've never been there before, but I can see it vividly through her characters' eyes.

There was a romance author to whom I was addicted back during my college days and the earlier half of this century. Her name is Katherine Stone. She has stopped producing novels for some reason and I definitely miss reading her stories now. Kristin Hannah’s writing style is very similar and I connect with her books the way I connected to Katherine Stone’s books in the past. She’s just that good! I definitely recommend checking her novels out sometime. Just keep a box of tissues nearby.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: The Opposite of Me

By Melissa Amster

"The Opposite of Me" is about fraternal twin sisters, told from the point of view of Lindsey, the smart sister. It explores their relationship in respect to events that take place in both their lives. These events lead up to Lindsey finding out a secret that will change their lives forever.

The way this story was written, I felt like I was being allowed into the mind of a close friend. Even if I had nothing in common with Lindsey, I'd still be able to relate to and sympathize with her. The book starts out with her trying to find out if she got an advertising account and the role of vice president. The stakes were so high that I became nervous for her, feeling almost like I was the one put through the wringer while waiting for important news. And as the story went on and I continued to learn more about Lindsey, I began to feel like she really was a close friend. The last time I felt this connected to a book character was when I read "She's Come Undone."

Words can't emphasize enough how much I loved this book. This was Sarah Pekkanen's first novel and she has definitely started off her career with a bang. I have complete confidence that "The Opposite of Me" will be a big hit. I hope she'll write a sequel from Alex's perspective in the way that Emily Giffin wrote "Something Blue" as a sequel to "Something Borrowed." I also would love to see this made into a movie someday.

Thanks to Sarah Pekkanen for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Review: The Reading Group

I enjoyed this book more than I initially expected that I would. When I first started, I had to keep going back to the beginning to review the characters. Elizabeth Noble starts with a couple of pages listing all the characters and their family members, as well as everyone's favorite book. Then she has a table of contents, showing which books they read each month for their group. I find this list to be helpful. It gave me the option to read the books prior to reading this novel. I didn't want to read any of the books and I had read one previously. Throughout the story, spoilers are given for most of the books that they read. This could be frustrating to someone who wanted to read the book they were discussing but never got around to it. It could also be nice for someone who wants the Cliff Notes version of a book so that they can sound cool discussing it with their friends (or their own reading group).

Anyway, the story follows a group of women through a year in their lives. Each woman deals with a series of ups and downs and is faced with making a difficult decision. Some decisions have moral implications. Their spouses, siblings and some of their children even loan their voices to this story. It is easy to follow and stay interested throughout the story. Each woman has a different voice and they all come together nicely. It's nice to see how they support each other and learn more about their situations and personalities, just through the books they read. I don't know if I'd categorize this as light summer reading because some parts are a bit heavy and sad. It's worth picking up though and by the end, you feel like you've made some new friends and may become inspired to start your own reading group. (Thanks to the P.S. section, there are tips for how to do this!) I'm definitely interested in reading more books by Elizabeth Noble in the future. I also know that if I started a reading group of my own, it would be all about chick lit!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Write Stuff

Like my play on words from the old NKOTB hit? :)

Anyway, my Mother's Day started out with a fabulous message from an author I really like. Rowan Coleman (The Accidental Mother) has a contest on her fan page every Friday. Anyone is allowed to submit a 420 character or less "Status Short Story." It's a story that you could fit into your Facebook status. So, I submitted my first short story this past Friday.

This is what I wrote:

She simply couldn't do it. There was no way she could choose a dress without her mother there. It had only been 2 years, but she still felt the void as if her mother had just departed from the world yesterday. When she returned home from her exhausting afternoon at Misty’s Bridal Boutique, she reached into the depths of her closet, where she held onto her mother's wedding dress for safekeeping. It fit like a charm.

This morning, I received a message that I was a runner up for this past Friday's contest! I know I didn't win a prize, but it was my first time out of the gate and I thought my writing might be rusty. Everyone had such good stories too! It was a huge honor just to receive such recognition from an author I admire and respect!!!

Is it any coincidence that I was flipping through an issue of "Family Circle" and found a short story contest that is open until September? I think this is another sign that I should try my hand at fiction again. Also, being told by someone (who has had their own book published) that I'm a good writer is even more inspiring. I already have a story idea going through my head. I just need to write it down.

I used to love writing fictional short stories. Creative Writing was one of my favorite classes in high school. I even had a play published in the school literary magazine and also directed by two different people in directing class. I received more praise for the play I wrote than the one I directed. It was nice to end my high school years with that type of recognition. I took a writing workshop in 2002 and while people who were biased liked my story, it fell flat on its face in the class. However, blogging again has given me the writing bug and I'm more inspired to write again. I truly feel that starting this Chick Lit group on Facebook has led me onto this path. I was seeking out authors to promote their books through the group and that's how I found out about Rowan Coleman's fan page and contest. I'm so glad I did! I already have more status short stories on deck for the next couple of Fridays.

If you're reading this and have any more words of motivation, please share them. I tend to slack off and I could really use this summer to work on a story for this "Family Circle" contest. I definitely want to go the chick lit route with this story Rowan Coleman got her start through a short story contest. I believe anything's possible at this point!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Back to my (chick lit) roots

I had posed a question to the group on facebook yesterday:

What is the first book that got you started on the road to Chick Lit?

This was my answer:
Mine is "Bridget Jones's Diary." I was reading a lot of mystery and horror novels in high school and college. I got into Katherine Stone's books, but I think she's classified more as romance than Chick Lit. I read BJD in 1998 and laughed throughout the story. That got me interested in more chick lit novels and by 1999 (after I graduated college) I was hooked on a new genre. :)

I wanted to elaborate a bit...
When I was a kid, I liked a younger version of Chick Lit known as "Sweet Valley High." I also was into "The Babysitter's Club." SVH was a bit ahead of my time, since I was in 5th grade and they were talking about high schoolers. The author put out another series called "Sweet Valley Twins" and it was about Jessica and Elizabeth's junior high days. BSC had girls closer to my age and I could relate because I was babysitting a lot too. Both series had their share of drama and romance, but more on the level that was age-appropriate for those books.

In junior high and up through college (and a bit beyond), I read V.C. Andrews' novels. I was addicted and even made a fan club. Someone from the club told me about Katherine Stone and that was my first encounter with romance novels. I was reading those, along with a mix of horror and Oprah-friendly novels. Basically, anything I could get my hands on!

During the summer of 1998, I picked up "Bridget Jones's Diary" by Helen Fielding. I laughed out loud throughout the story and couldn't put it down. At the time, I didn't think to categorize it as chick lit and went back to read my usual favorite types of books. After I graduated from college, I was taking the train a lot for job interviews and later for a short-lived contract position. Therefore, I needed books! One such book was "Watermelon" by Marian Keyes. I also loved that story and was excited to check out more of her books as they came out. Then I read "Run Catch Kiss" by Amy Sohn, which was a funny story about a Jewish version of Carrie Bradshaw. Eventually, I just got hooked on chick lit. I still read some Oprah recommended books and biographies, but chick lit takes precedence over my bookshelf.

I have friends who also like chick lit and we have done book exchanges. I am still doing a book exchange with one of them, even though we end up holding on to each other's books for a long time. I loan one of my neighbors all my chick lit books, as well. It's nice to have someone close by to share in my love for chick lit. I had been e-mailing with a few friends on facebook to discuss books we are reading and share recommendations or other chick lit news. That is what inspired me to start this group. I actually started it last year but didn't have the time to focus on it with my upcoming move. I don't know what inspired me to pay more attention to it, but I'm glad that I did. It's starting to flourish and even gain attention from authors, so that's very exciting. The more the merrier! I'd love to be able to write a chick lit novel someday, but I don't have the motivation at this time in my life. I always have story ideas running through my head though.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Starting from scratch

I have been running a group on Facebook called Chick Lit Central and have decided to keep a blog for the group, as well. I would like to post about books I've read and invite other readers to share stuff about chick lit that they would like to see posted. I'll even credit the readers for their post. It can also be a forum for authors to promote their newest books. I'm open to other suggestions about which direction this blog should take. Please feel free to share your thoughts!