May 31, 2013

Book Reviews: Belles

More books, yay!  My only problem is that I'm going through my self-made "summer reading list" in about two weeks.  And it's not even June yet, let alone summer!

Belles (Belles, #1)

Belles by Jen Calonita
Grade: A-
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she's ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn't go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn't thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates' Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls' lives forever.

The Good: The setting, which I LOVED.  I'm a Southern girl at heart (*cough*SouthernGirlKitchen*cough*), and I love the thought of Southern belles, accents, chivalry, and what-not.  I really liked how Mirabelle grew as a character (in this book and the two others in the trilogy).  I was hesitant to like her, but she grew on me.  Hayden and Kellan were good characters, too.  I liked that both the Monroe parents were present.  That seems to be more common in YA books these days, which I like.  It wasn't so long that parents were absent (dead, an alcoholic, ran away, etc.).

The Bad: First off, I HATED how Hayden and Brayden's names are so similar.  It's not that hard to prevent that from happening.  I've seen some complaints about Isabelle and Mirabelle having similar names, but I liked it with them.  The whole "belles" thing.  Plus, they usually went by Iz or Izzie and Mira.  What else...oh, yes.  I would've liked a bit more of that Southern charm feel, you know?  Sure, there can be mean girls but I wanted to see more who practiced those good Southern manners.  I also don't feel like Isabelle grew as a character so much.  If a book isn't action-packed and action-driven, it needs to be character-driven.

The Ugly: I don't recall any bad language.  The romance stayed fairly chaste.

Winter White (Belles, #2)

Winter White by Jen Calonita
Grade: A
Summary: Isabelle Scott and Mirabelle Monroe are still reeling from the revelation that they share more than just the roof over their heads. The media has pounced on their story, and while Izzie and Mira have each put on a happy public face, someone is leaking their true feelings to the press. It seems as if the world is watching their every move, but at least the girls have each other.
With cotillion season right around the corner, however, Izzie and Mira have barely had time to process their newfound sisterhood. Mira has dreamed of making her debut in a gorgeous white gown forever--now if only she had an escort... Izzie, meanwhile, is still struggling to find her place in Emerald Cove, which seems ever more impossible with EC mean girls, young and old, trying to keep her down. As cotillion preparations heat up, there are dance steps to learn, manners to perfect... and secret initiations to complete?
It's time for the gowns to go on and the gloves to come off.

The Good: There's a cotillion.  A cotillion.  Ignore my girlish squeals.  I think I truly am a Southern belle at heart.  I liked how Mirabelle-and this time, Isabelle-got character development.  I enjoyed the ending.  Christmas!  Okay, now I'm just spazzing over random things that make me happy.

The Bad: Ugh, if I could, I'd rant about how annoying I find Brayden.  Seriously, he's one of the worst characters I've ever seen.  I wasn't a fan of Dylan or Kylie either (Kylie is even worse in the next book).  I kept thinking Dylan was in cahoots with Savannah, to be honest.  Also, *SPOILER ALERT* I'm getting tired of traitors.  Lucas in book one, Callista in this one.  Especially because I really like Callista and thought she was a good person!  Jen Calonita seems to love her mean girls and traitors, that's for sure. *END SPOILER*

The Ugly: Same as with Belles.  Not any bad language that I can remember, and making out is as bad as it gets. Although there is a character who was born out of wedlock, so what's implied there isn't great.

The Grass Is Always Greener (Belles, #3)

The Grass Is Always Greener by Jen Calonita
Grade: B+
Summary: How many secrets can one family keep?

Amid preparations for Emerald Cove's extravagant Founders Day celebration and their own shared sweet sixteen, Isabelle Scott and Mirabelle Monroe are longing to break free from the tight constraints that come with being the daughters of a prominent public figure. When Izzie's estranged aunt, Zoe, breezes into town, the already uneasy family dynamic is turned on its head.

Izzie's finally found her footing in Emerald Cove by leading the Social Butterflies, her school's prestigious club, and she has no interest in getting to know yet another long-lost family member. But Mira, who's on a mission to try new things and make new friends, is drawn to Izzie's artsy aunt. And when Mira meets a handsome, brooding painter, her entire perspective on life begins to shift.

As tensions mount in Emerald Cove, Zoe's laid-back attitude appeals to both girls. But when she offers Izzie the chance of a lifetime, it's time to make a tough decision. What's more important: family or freedom?

The Good: I love how the Monroes and Isabelle feel more like a family in this book.  And when Izzie blatantly disobeyed Bill and Maureen, they punished her.  At first I was like, "Oh, c'mon!" And then I was like, "Wait a minute...what Izzie did was seriously wrong.  Yay for parental discipline!"  Character development in this book...Mira didn't grow so much now that I think about it, but she had Belles and Winter White to mature.  I think Izzie really grew up in this book.  And the conflict with Zoe was good.

The Bad: Brayden is still around, blah. :P And Kylie?  Oh my gosh, I do not like that girl.  I didn't like Violet's actions in this book, either, for that matter.  I kept thinking, "Seriously, girls, GROW UP."  I don't feel like my friends and I ever act that catty and immature. (Sometimes we get crazy and goofy immature, but not bratty, toddler-esque immature.)  Finally, I'm not sure how I felt about the didn't give me the right closure, overall, I guess.  This was the last book in the Belles series, right?  Oh, and a recommendation to all authors - fancy font is a great representation of handwriting, but it should be READABLE.  There was a letter from Isabelle's grandmother towards the end of the book, and I really struggled to follow it completely.

The Ugly: Same as the other books.  I also didn't find Zoe to be a good role model, and I'm concerned the author excused her actions too much.

Overall, this series is definitely something I recommend.  I loved the twists and the characters.  It just needed a bit more Southern flavor.

May 27, 2013

Book Reviews: Cinder and Scarlet

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Grade: B+
Summary: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

The Good: It's a fairytale retelling, which is awesome.  I think it's also one of the first that mixes in dystopia and science fiction.  And who would ever think I would like sci-fi?  Well, as a general rule, I don't.  But with Marissa Meyer's's actually pretty good.  Cinder was a strong character.  At the risk of spoiling the end, I liked how Marissa gave little hints to Cinder's true identity throughout the book but it wasn't so blatantly obvious and by the last page, we still don't know all of Cinder's history, which leaves mystery and interest.

The Bad: Someone died.  And I was all like, "How could you let that person die???" But the death provided motive and something important for the sequel, so I guess it's not really bad.  Kai bothered me sometimes, especially because I felt he fell in love/was too flirty with Cinder.  I think I also wanted just a teeny bit more back story on their dystopian world.  But not all in the first few pages.  That would be boring.  No, it would need to be interspersed throughout the book.

The Ugly: I think there might have been a couple bad words, but nothing worse than PG-level.

Overall, this is definitely a must-read.  The only reason it didn't get an A is because I liked Scarlet, the sequel, better.

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Grade: A
Summary: Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

The Good: It's a sequel.  That I like better than the first.  And that rarely happens.  I think it's because I liked Scarlet herself more than I liked Cinder.  She has a unique personality from Cinder, keeping the two main heroines from running together.  Scarlet has fire, passion, and spunk.  She's a red-head after all.  The personality and hair are a package deal, I guess.  Also, I enjoyed how we learned more of Cinder's back story, and then Scarlet's own history was thrown in.  Wow.  Crazy twists and loops.  Wolf and Scarlet's dynamics were great, and I loved their last scene in the book.

The Bad: More violence, but it's dystopian, so that should be expected.  I think, if The Lunar Chronicles ever become movies, it'll be a lot more violent on the big screen than it is in the book.  For me, at least.  Hmm...what else.  There's another death that provides motive and such, but it's still like, "Why???"  I can't say any more about it, because it would spoil a lot.  I didn't like how I was constantly guessing Wolf's alliance.  I would've liked a little more hinting one way or the other just so it wasn't such a surprise.

The Ugly: Pretty sure all the swearing was still PG-level.  The romance in this book is a bit more animalistic so it seems a bit more, I don't know, fiery and passionate to me.  A bit more tiptoeing around the PG-13 border.  But there's nothing overtly inappropriate.

It's a great read.  If you've read Cinder, you need to read Scarlet.  But do not read Scarlet first.  Nothing will make sense.  You will curl up in a ball because you're so lost and confused.

Now I'm off to bake mini cheesecakes for dessert tonight.  Don't forget that this is Memorial Day, not National Barbecue Day, so take a moment to remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives so we can remain free.

May 24, 2013

Woes of a Writer

1) Don't tell your guy friend you killed him in a book.  He'll give you this look that says, "How could you???"

2) Said guy friend will then try to get you to change his death scene.

3) Another friend will try to get you to make her character a fairy.

4) No one but fellow writers understands that anything they say or do, can and will be used in a book.

5) People ask if you write about them.  If you say yes, they want to know everything about their character.

6) Everyone ignores the sign on your door that says "WRITING - DO NOT DISTURB UNLESS IT'S A MATTER OF LIFE, DEATH, TAYLOR SWIFT, OR CHOCOLATE."

7) If you tell someone to hush because you're scribbling down a story idea, they'll keep on talking.

8) You are less important than the readers, the booksellers, the librarians, the editors, and EVERYONE.  Even though it's your book that is (hopefully) providing enjoyment to the world.

9) There's always that worry that your book stinks, and all of your friends are just being nice when they say it's really good.

May 23, 2013

Ways to This Writer's Heart

1) Chocolate (Preferably dark, but if it's milk chocolate-covered pretzels, I'll still be happy.)
2) Herbal tea
3) Books
4) iTunes
5) Cats
6) Taylor Swift
7) Paris
8) Vintage clothes and shoes
9) Time alone to write
10) Bagels with cream cheese
11) Cheesecake
12) Roses
13) A revolving bookcase

May 22, 2013

Book Recommendations

Historical fiction
This one was a bit hard, and I ended up scouring my shelves since nothing came to mind.  Then I found...

Andie's Moon by Linda Newbery

It's set in 1969 and part of a series set at No. 6, Chelsea Walk in London.  What really drew me to this book was the time period-the 1960s.  Chelsea is a perfect setting for a book set in 1969.  The mod scene and trendsetting teens feature, along with the Space Age and art.  The ending was a bit unsatisfactory to me, I want to note. It's a fairly tame book, though.  No foul language that I can remember.

I've really gotten into fantasy over the past few years, so choosing just one book was near impossible.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Fairytale retellings are one of my favorite things in the world.  In fact, with my own fairytale series, I've created two originals and then, with the third, I've got a bit of a Sleeping Beauty twist going on while sticking with the perimeters of my book's world.  Anyways, Jessica Day George's spin on the 12 dancing princesses is fantastic.  She makes it her own, and I love how she expanded it into two more novels.

Science fiction
If you know me well, I am not a sci-fi girl.  Not at all.  Just the thought of anything remotely science-y makes me wrinkle my nose.  But then I came across...

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I've heard about this book from various places, but today was the first time I actually gave it more than a passing glance.  I've read the first 5 chapters (courtesy of iBooks), and I can't wait to read more.  I've also read the first 5 chapters of the sequel, Scarlet (yeah, before I've even finished Cinder), and I think I'm liking Scarlet more, strangely enough.

Classic novel
I bet y'all can guess what I'll recommend here...

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Darcy is swoonworthy, Elizabeth is witty and lovable, Jane (the character) is sweet, Mr. Collins is hilarious (especially in the 2005 movie version), etc.  It's like an 1800s soap opera!

Contemporary YA fiction
This was another hard category to pick just one from.

Pies & Prejudice by Heather Vogel Frederick

As y'all should know, I'm a huge Mother-Daughter Book Club fan.  The series' premise is great, and each book kept me interested.  This one is easily my favorite of HVF's series (Tristan is my favorite male character from the series and this is the book where he got his introduction; hello, he's basically a teenaged Mr. Darcy!), but the rest are all a close second.  If you haven't read MDBC yet, I implore you (I will get down on my knees and beg) to give the series a try.

Christian lit
Settling for just one was hard, but I think my favorite Christian book is...

Katie Weldon series by Robin Jones Gunn

That's right.  I couldn't just pick one.  Christy Miller is my favorite of Robin's series, but there's something about Katie's quirks and vivacity that just pulls me in.  Plus, the book titles for her series are so cool (Peculiar Treasures, On a Whim, Coming Attractions, Finally and Forever).


Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

It's a book about a cat.  And Iowa.  And a library.  It couldn't get any better.  I also loved the personal information from the author.  It made the story feel real.  And there's an awesome cat.  I already mentioned that, didn't I?

My first introduction to Ally Carter was through Kate.  Last summer, I first read Ally's Gallagher Girls series.  Fast-forward about eight months, and I decide to read...

Heist Society by Ally Carter

I actually didn't think I'd like this series, but now I like it more than Gallagher Girls. Kat and Hale are cool characters, I love the names Ally invents for the heists (both the ones the gang ends up using and the ones they dismiss), and the entire series idea is great.

Middle grade fiction
In case you didn't know, middle grade is generally for ages 8-12.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

The setting is really why I like this book so much.  The novel's events take place in Chicago at the Art Institute, specifically the Thorne Rooms.  If you've seen the Thorne Rooms, you know how magical they are.  Once again, the book's premise is unique, and that's what makes a stand-out novel.

Bonus Christian
So there are three genres I'm doing another book in.  For Christian lit, it's going to be...

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

Nothing could be better than a fairytale retelling (especially Beauty and the Beast!) mixed with a realistic medieval setting and Christian themes.  I loved how I could pick out cross-over pieces from the Disney movie, along with details from the original fairytale.  And the best part about Melanie's heroes is that they're just that - heroes.  Princely, chivalrous, strong, Godly, etc.  Her heroines are great, too.

Bonus fantasy
I had to include an extra fantasy book, and my choice is...

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Alisa gave me this book for my birthday about three years ago.  The first time I read it, I thought it was nice, but not the best novel.  But as I've reread it, I've fallen in love.  Miri is a lovely main character, and the idea of quarry-speaking is clever.  Palace of Stone is a great sequel, and I've heard there's a three-quel in the works...

Bonus classic
Finally, my last recommendation.

Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

If you're like Emma Hawthorne, you've never even heard of these books.  They're classics, and I read them for the first time when I was 7 (I was an advanced reader back then). Of course, I only read the first four.  The rest were saved for when I was older.  Betsy wants to be a writer, and it's fun to follow her dreams.  Her parents encourage her love of writing, just like my parents.  Plus, the covers on my editions are just so beautiful. (They're like the one I featured above, which is about Betsy's freshman year of high school.)

Honorable Mentions
Percy Jackson and the Olympians/Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

May 18, 2013

Book Reviews

I'm currently up in Minnesota for another college visit, and I read a ton of books on the drive up here.  So... I decided to review them.

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
Grade: C
Summary: Will Elise’s love life be an epic win or an epic fail?

At Coral Tree prep in Los Angeles, who your parents are can make or break you.  Case in point:
As the son of Hollywood royalty, Derek Edwards is pretty much prince of the school—not that he deigns to acknowledge many of his royal subjects.
As the daughter of the new principal, Elise Benton isn’t exactly on everyone’s must-sit-next-to-at-lunch list.

When Elise’s beautiful sister catches the eye of the prince’s best friend, Elise gets to spend a lot of time with Derek, making her the envy of every girl on campus.  Except she refuses to fall for any of his rare smiles and instead warms up to his enemy, the surprisingly charming social outcast Webster Grant.  But in this hilarious tale of fitting in and flirting, not all snubs are undeserved, not all celebrity brats are bratty, and pride and prejudice can get in the way of true love for only so long.

The Good: I love Pride and Prejudice retellings.  P&P is one of my favorite novels, so if you can reinvent it well, then I’m a fan.  I loved how the names clued into who was who (Elise Benton=Elizabeth Bennet).  Mary, the middle sister, was left out.  I didn’t mind so much, since she was kind of annoying.  Georgia (a.k.a. Georgiana) was sweet.  She was one of my favorite characters in Jane Austen’s book and it was no different in this retelling.

The Bad: Where were Mr. Collins and Charlotte?  Where was Lady Catherine?  Seriously, those three characters add so much humor and interest.  It felt odd with them left out.  I also felt like time passed too quickly in the novel.

The Ugly: A couple bad words were dropped, ones that really surprised me. (I was not expecting the f-bomb.)  Also, I don’t think Webster Grant (a.k.a. George Wickham) was punished appropriately for his actions—after all, these are teenagers, not adults.  For that matter, neither was Chelsea (Caroline Bingley).

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this book.  If the language wasn’t an issue, I would’ve given it a B- and said give it a try.  But I like to keep this blog PG-rated, and therefore, I can’t recommend a book that drops the f-word and s-word so casually.

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell
Grade: B+
Summary: Camp Frontier promises families the “thrill” of living like 1890s pioneers.  Gen will be thrilled if she survives the summer stuck in a cabin with her family and no modern amenities.  But ever the savvy teen, Gen sneaks in a phone and starts texting about camp life.  Turns out, there are some good points—like the cute boy who lives in the next clearing.  But when her texts go viral as a blog and a TV crew arrives, Gen realizes she may have just ruined the best vacation she’s ever had.

The Good: I liked the ending.  I enjoyed how Gen’s parents acted like parents.  Gen reacted a bit stereotypically to the vacation idea, but she really grew as a character.  One part towards the end, when modern amenities were discussed, was very funny.

The Bad: A large cast of characters can either make or break a book, and unfortunately, I think it broke this one a bit.  It was a challenge to keep everyone straight.  Some reactions seemed a bit dramatic.

The Ugly: Not any, really, thank goodness.

Definitely give this book a try!  The basic idea is different and new, and I was quite looking forward to reading this book when I checked it out of the library.  Perhaps you’ll like it better than I did. :)

Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Grade: B+
Summary: Emily is sick and tired of being a middle sister.  So when she gets an assignment to describe what she’d change about a classic novel, Emily pounces on Little Women.  After all, if she can’t change things in her own family, maybe she can bring a little justice to the March sisters. (Kill off Beth?  Have cute Laurie wind up with Amy instead of Jo?  What was Louisa May Alcott thinking?!)  But when Emily gets mysteriously transported into the 1860s world of the book, she discovers that righting fictional wrongs won’t be easy.  And after being immersed in a time and place so different from her own, it may be Emily—not the four March sisters—who undergoes the most surprising change of all.  Lauren Baratz-Longsted’s winning confection will appeal to fans of Little Women as well as anyone who enjoys a modern twist on an old favorite.

The Good: The book overall is a creative idea.  I like how Emily was stuck as a middle sister still when she arrived at the March house.  Her personality was the same.  She didn’t drastically change.  If a preteen or teen girl hasn’t yet read Little Women, this is a good way to get them interested in LW. (MDBC introduced me to Daddy-Long-Legs and I read P&P after I read Pies & Prejudice.)  Without spoiling the ending, Emily’s intent is to change Beth’s death and who Laurie ends up with.  One of these changes is impossible, and I really liked that part.  It made sense.

The Bad: But overall, I didn’t like the ending.  It was weird and confusing to me.  The whole bombshell about Amy was out of the blue, and I wasn’t a fan.

The Ugly: Nothing that I can remember.

I would most definitely recommend this book.  Despite what I didn’t like, I did enjoy the book.  There’s a good possibility I’d read it again.

Secrets of My Hollywood Life series by Jen Calonita
Grade: B

The Good: There are six books in this series, and I started off amused and enjoying the books.  The first one is great, and the second and third are awesome, as well.  The fourth and fifth were good.  Kaitlyn was a nice character.  I liked how her relationship with Sky developed through the series.  Austin was cool, too.

The Bad: Kaitlyn kept encountering the same issues, time after time, in my opinion.  Plus, the constant string of mean girls really got old.  The sixth book was awful, in my opinion.  At the risk of spoiling a major plot point, the author spent about four chapters on this weird dream sequence that annoyed me to no end.

The Ugly: A couple bad words (thankfully, nothing too foul) and a bit too much making out for my tastes.

This series is worth checking out, but don’t be surprised if the sixth book lets you down.  Honestly, book 5 was a much better high point to end the series on.  I kept pinching myself while reading those four chapters, hoping I was dreaming.

May 16, 2013

As a Writer...

I found something useful I'd like to share with fellow writers.

So... enjoy! :) Do you think you'll use this?  And why might it be beneficial to a writer?

May 2, 2013


Just wanted to remind y'all of my baking/cooking blog. ;) It recently underwent a makeover, so I'm hoping that'll drum up some more interest. :)

Please follow and tell your friends about it!