Review of Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams

How did I get it? It was a present from my girlfriend for my birthday or Christmas, if I remember correctly.

Genre: YA fiction

Synopsis: Can a spot on a teen reality show really lead to a scholarship at an elite cooking school AND a summer romance?

Sixteen-year-old Sophie Nicolaides was practically raised in the kitchen of her family’s Italian-Greek restaurant, Taverna Ristorante. When her best friend, Alex, tries to convince her to audition for a new reality show, Teen Test Kitchen, Sophie is reluctant. But the prize includes a full scholarship to one of America’s finest culinary schools and a summer in Napa, California, not to mention fame.

Once on-set, Sophie immediately finds herself in the thick of the drama—including a secret burn book, cutthroat celebrity judges, and a very cute French chef. Sophie must figure out a way to survive all the heat and still stay true to herself. A terrific YA offering–fresh, fun, and sprinkled with romance.

Review: I read this book in one sitting on a lovely Sunday morning (it took maybe 3 hours or so, I think). I wasn’t particularly enthralled at first; it seemed, for the first 10 pages or so, like the author tossed in backstory every chance she got, and I’ll admit it annoyed me a bit because to me, knowing every last detail about the protagonist’s life in the first 20 minutes is never a good thing. However, after I got over that little pet peeve, this little novel proved to be a charming read. I can’t say there was anything terribly original about it other than the droolworthy recipes included, but it was fun nevertheless. Sophie was a nice, likable character, and the rest of the cast, especially Stan and Shelby, were delightful to meet. There wasn’t too much drama or romance involved, and while there weren’t any shocking plot twists, my interest didn’t wane and I was pleasantly surprised that the author didn’t fall into some of the typical boxes that I would have put her in at the beginning. This novel turned out as a fun, fluffy, satisfying read that, with the culinary twist, was very refreshing.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend it? 100%

Other Books By the Author: Kathryn Williams has also written several other YA novels including The Debutante and The Lost Summer. Take a look!

Netgalley November and NaNoWriMo

Happy November 1!

This is just a quick post to let you guys know that I’ve signed up for Netgalley November! This event is hosted by A Daydreamer’s Thoughts, K-Books, and Bookish Treasures, with the idea being to make a dent in your pile of TBR Netgalley books this month. There are five levels ranging from Easy (1-4) to Netgalley Superstar (21+). I’m doing the Easy level because I have other things on my plate that are hogging my time, so I just have to decide which book to read first!

I’m going to do my best to post some sort of update once a week or so on my progress and the books I’m reading, and there should be some ARC reviews going up as well, so if you’d like to know more about Damselfly or The Curse Keepers, keep an eye out!

Also beginning today is the fabulous/masochistic NaNoWriMo, which I for the sake of my sanity and preferred sleeping pattern will not be participating in this year around, however much I wish I had the time to. But honestly, I’m happy with the pace I’m going at for the moment, though I’m doing a bit of a mini NaNoWriMo myself just to keep on track. I do, however, wish all of you participating in the writing festivities the best of luck. Just keep going and writing and believing, and even if you don’t make it all the way, something is better than nothing, so be proud of yourself no matter what happens. Work hard and, most importantly, have fun!

 

ARC Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

How did I get it? Netgalley

Genre: Science fiction, dystopian

Synopsis: “Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is now to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion…and more. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and in Cat’s heart.

Review: Okay, so first things first. This? This was beautifully written. Like, crack-your-heart-open-and-make-you-bleed kind of beautiful. Every word had thought behind it, every character was real and complex and emotive. This is a book that you have to take a break from every once in a while to just lay there while your brain takes it all in. It’s powerful and poignant and deep, and it’s like reading something vast and tiny at the same time, a small story that feels big.

The main character, Cat, is someone with a plethora of faults, which in my case made her more relatable, although I can see how she might grate on some people’s nerves. Her journey through life is very tumultuous and she makes a ton of mistakes, but I liked that about her, and she certainly isn’t the only one with issues in this book. Her parents, her friends, and the other people around her have their own flaws, and I really enjoyed how much thought Ms. Clarke put into every single character. I grew especially fond of Finn, which is probably due in part to my love of the awkward-male-turtle role, but Finn really did make my heart ache. Reading about Finn’s struggle to understand his surroundings and his own capacity to feel made me think about human nature and emotions, and how powerful they really are. How ironic that a robot should be the one to teach readers about humanity.

***SPOILER***

One thing that I didn’t care for was the plotline concerning Cat’s marriage. For one, a lot of Cat’s interactions with Richard made her seem, well, catty. And also, while I understand this part of the story is crucial, I didn’t like the way it was done. Richard’s character was horrid, yes, but it didn’t feel authentic. His violence and mistreatment of Cat were done in a way that made me feel like the author was just saying her lines, and there was nothing raw or cutting in their final interactions. Cat’s behavior toward Richard seemed like a shallow effort by the author to show her strength of character, as though by publicly embarrassing him or saying “You hit me, so I’m divorcing you” automatically makes her a woman of steel when in reality, it felt like there was very little thought behind Cat’s actions, like the author was shoving words in her mouth and situating her just how she liked.

***END SPOILER***

I don’t read books like this very often simply because I end up walking around for the next week with a hangover. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s very draining, especially in my case since I read it in a day. But at the same time, this book was completely and totally worth the energy. The author put such care into it, and it’s so stunning both stylistically and thematically that even if I didn’t like the story, I would love the book anyway for the writing.

Rating: 5 stars

Recommend it? Yes

Other Books By the Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke has also written a YA series called The Assassin’s Curse, which from what I can tell looks pretty awesome.

Stacking the Shelves #1

***Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. It’s a chance to share any books you’ve bought, borrowed, or received in the past 7 days. All of the books on this list are linked to Goodreads.

Here I go, diving into these awesome memes! I’ve been buying wayyy too many books considering the amount of time I have to actually read them (which adds up to about .5 seconds per day), so I figured I should share them with the masses. Or rather, any poor unfortunate souls who happen upon my wee little blog.

And with that, here we go!

1. How to Read Literature Like A Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster

This is something I’m reading to help me with my senior project. I’m shadowing an English professor and if all goes well, my final product will be a completed syllabus and outline for a course on banned/controversial books.

2. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

I am so excited to write a review for this book. It’s basically a conversation between the author and Winnie the Pooh about Taoism and it’s so freaking adorable.

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3. The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles

This includes the three Greek tragedies “Antigone”, “Oedipus Rex”, and “Oedipus at Colonus”. I’ve read the first two for my lit class and enjoyed them, although Greek ideals amuse me.

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4. “Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay” by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry, and Diana Ossana

I didn’t know how much I needed this until I saw it on the shelf. I’m very intrigued by screenwriting, so maybe this will inspire me to give it the old college try.

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5. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This is for my lit class. I cannot believe I’m actually going to read an entire book about a giant bug. God help me. Although this brings up my favorite joke (which, to my knowledge, I came up with): What is it called when you are attracted to a bug? INSECTuous. (Please laugh. That was funny, admit it.)

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6. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford

Women in history=my favorite thing ever. Especially when we’re talking about women who are traditionally overlooked by historians and society in general (aka, basically all women). I’m not sure just how well-researched this book is, but the title is enough for me to want to read it.

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7. Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

I have a bumper sticker on my car that says “I Heart Jane Austen” and I basically worship her. She’s such a clever author and her books are just chick-flick enough to warm the cockles of my heart and just sad enough that I have to wipe away at least one tear per reading. So obviously I’m all over a book that equates to a big giant “Kudos to Jane!” banner.

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8. Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming A Literary Genius in 365 Days by Jane Mallison

I feel like I should know the classics. I mean, they’re classics for a reason you know? So I should at least give them a chance and try to understand why the literary has embraced them so fully. And a guide to finding those books never hurt anybody. ;)

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9. “Howl” and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

Ginsberg was pretty…interesting. I watched that movie with James Franco and I liked what I saw, and I hate reading poetry on the Internet (it feels like cheating) so I thought I’d go ahead and buy his stuff. Also, the little book is really thin and tiny and cool.

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10. Manhattan Transfer by Dos Passos

I bought this for my lit. class, didn’t read it, and there’s not really a need to read it anymore, so this is going on the Maybe Someday shelf. If anyone reading this post enjoyed this book, please comment below and tell me why you liked it. I’ve heard plenty of negatives about it, but not enough positives.

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11. Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason by Nancy Pearl

Who doesn’t want a book of lists? As a self-diagnosed list-maniac, I drool over books like this.

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12. “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare

It was 20 cents! What was I supposed to do, leave it?

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13. “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

I feel like your bookshelf isn’t complete without some R&J.

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14. “Henry V” by William Shakespeare

I dunno, it was cheap and I’ve always been mildly interested in it, so why not?

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15. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

Well we’re reading this in lit in the spring, so I thought I’d be a total nerd and read it now instead.

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16. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

I’m considering putting this on my fake syllabus for my senior project. I’m not that excited about reading it to be honest, but I’m going to try my best.

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17. “‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore” by John Ford

I’m actually really excited about reading this. It’s an early 17th century play about a brother and sister who fall in love (with each other, in case that wasn’t clear), and I’m just coming off a pretty serious “Borgias” kick, so I need something taboo and scandalous to keep me going. (I think incest is a thing now. It seems like it’s all over HBO. Which, if I’m honest, doesn’t bother me at all.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list, and if you have any recent additions to your bookshelf, you can comment here or make your own Stacking the Shelves post!

Review of “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges

Genre: Nonfiction, philosophy, war

Synopsis: As a veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges has survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans. Hedges, who is also a former divinity student, has seen war at its worst and knows too well that to those who pass through it, war can be exhilarating and even addictive: “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

Drawing on his own experience and on the literature of combat from Homer to Michael Herr, Hedges shows how war seduces not just those on the front lines but entire societies, corrupting politics, destroying culture, and perverting the most basic human desires. Mixing hard-nosed realism with profound moral and philosophical insight, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick this summer, which is lucky for me as my summer reading for AP Lit this year consisted of war books, one of which was War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I enjoyed this book, despite my original trepidation. It made me think about a lot of assumptions and beliefs instilled in me by American culture and it really opened my eyes to the truth and reality of war as opposed to the “myth of war” that Hedges describes. Knowing his background, I could ignore the slightly overdone language when needed, but the author has a very nice way with words for the most part, and I found myself tearing up at several points in the book.

It also, rather surprisingly, has affected my own novel. There is certainly violent conflict in some portions of the story, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to think about the psychological aspects that accompany war when it comes to my characters. War Is a Force gave me a clearer view of the realities of any violent situation and helped me cement in my mind how I will approach fighting and battle scenes in Star Kings. We’ve all been exposed to cultural icons such as LOTR, “Braveheart”, “300”, and “The Patriot”, to name a few, and it never occurred to me personally that there was any other way of portraying war. Chris Hedges, however, has made me consider more fully how I want this part of my story to go, and I have a feeling this awareness of the nature of war will be invaluable when it comes to writing those scenes.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Recommend it? Absolutely.

Review of “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Genre: YA fantasyCity of Bones cover

Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….

Review: I read this book, and its sequel, in the hazy wee hours of the night during freshman year. When I decided to start the series over, partly because the movie is coming out in August ERMAGAHD, I remembered loving it, and I remembered an adorable gay guy, but that was about it. So I started reading with a fair bit of optimism, and I wasn’t let down.

Cassandra Clare has a writing style that could satisfy the vast majority of age groups, though it is geared toward a teenage audience. She has characters and plotlines that most YA writers wouldn’t dare to attempt: a (very adorable) gay relationship between a closeted Shadowhunter boy and an 800-year-old flamboyant warlock, a *SPOILERS* not-really-but-it-seems-like-it incestuous couple, disturbingly creative methods of murdering people, etc… As a writer and as someone who maintains the motto “as long as you’re happy and your actions aren’t hurting anyone (including yourself), it’s your life”, I really appreciate Ms. Clare’s fearlessness and sensitivity toward more controversial issues (although I have to eyeroll at the thought that who someone loves and/or sleeps with is something people feel the need to argue about, because frankly, it’s none of your damn business, but that’s another issue).

I did have a few problems with this book however. For one, the main character Clary gets on my nerves constantly. Her character doesn’t flow very well, she’s childish, she can’t open her damn mouth without saying something thoughtless, and she is completely unaware of her own looks. The last bit irks me because it’s so ridiculously overused, and her lack of confidence sometimes makes me want to drown her in pickle juice. But she does have great moments, and she’s a fairly dynamic character, although I would’ve liked to see a bit more character development (ie, I want her to freaking GROW UP and act like an intelligent life form once in a while).

Also, I would’ve liked Valentine (the oh-so-dreadful villain) to be a little more original and less like a blond, better-dressed version of Voldemort. While I understand how he became who he is in the book, his backstory didn’t really grab me, and he still felt pretty one-dimensional to me by the end.

But, flaws aside, I enjoyed this book a lot and I recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of this genre. While Clary doesn’t grab me, most of the other characters do (especially Jace *swoon*) and I’m willing to look past her shortcomings in hopes that the following books in the series will spice her up and make her more likable.

Rating: 4 stars

 

I’m Not Dead, I Promise…

I’ve just been a little bit busy the past few weeks. I hope you’ve all been reading and writing wonderful things; I know I have. I’m currently lost in City of Bones, the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, which I’ll most likely review once I’m done with it (yes, I know I’m terribly late to the TMI party, shhh). I’m also working on doing a bit of plot-tweaking and solving a few somewhat big issues on my own project, so wish me good luck!

In more blog-related news, I’m considering writing a post about POVs. I’m having a mid-novel crisis about them at the moment, and I hope writing a post about will serve to help me sort it out and/or clear things up for you in some way. Let me know if this is something you’d be interested in (input is love after all).

Anyhow, I just thought I’d write a quick note to reaffirm my status as “alive and not dead/missing”. I hope you all are having a great February, and happy belated Love Day!

 

Review of The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

**Warning: One or two spoilers**

So I read this novel, The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, on Tuesday in one sitting, which I honestly haven’t done in a long time. I’ve seen the movie twice already, and I’ll be pre-ordering it on Amazon in the next few days (if you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I fell harder than diamonds for that movie).

What’s interesting about the book/movie relationship is that Stephen Chbosky wrote the book with a film in mind, and he produced, directed, and wrote the script for the movie version, which is a secret, far-away dream of mine. So I was really excited about reading Perks and seeing if it was as good as/better than/worse than the film, only to discover that any comparison is pointless. They are both incredible in different ways, and trying to pick one over the other is like trying to pick a favorite snowflake.

The novel, short at just over 200 pages, is written in a letter format, and I quickly grew to love the way Charlie, the main character, expresses himself on the page. For such an age, he is remarkably thoughtful and observant, and the way he sees the world and life around him is so refreshing. He made  me laugh one minute and cry the next, and I don’t do either easily when reading.

I was also very happy to see Patrick included and given a significant role in the story; I’m a huge support of LGBT rights, and to know that Perks has been a YA bestseller despite having a leading character who is gay (flamboyantly so) warmed my heart. Patrick is, I must say, one of my favorite characters, both in the movie and the book. Not only is he an incredible friend to those he cares about, but he has issues that many people can relate to and sympathize with. I teared up several times during a few of his scenes, especially the one in the cafeteria.

Sam was everything I hoped she’d be, strong and flawed and beautiful, far from perfect but still someone I can’t help but admire. She’s been through so much and she’s still standing, keeping her heart and mind open and never giving up.

This novel is so powerful because it is fearless. There is suicide, drug and tobacco use, sex, teen drinking, homosexuality,  physical and sexual  abuse, and dangerous amounts of good music, good books, and good advice. I can imagine many parents would find faults in its content, would protest their children reading such a scandalous book, but even though I personally don’t agree with many of the things the characters do, this novel merits not only respect, but appreciation. It is a coming-of-age story, an honest, fresh look of that crazy time between adolescence and adulthood, and it does it with a style that’s both whimsical and somber.

If you are willing to take a chance, try this novel. You may or may not love it, but you will certainly be affected by it.

As for me, it is and will remain among my list of favorites. Thank you, Stephen Chbosky, for giving us your words.

To chapter 4!

This past week has been a bit unproductive writing-wise because both my best friend from Arizona and my father’s family came to town for a visit at the same time. I had a great time, but I unfortunately had very little time to write, though I did my best when I got the chance. I also finally got an iPhone (the 4S model) and I’m absolutely in love with it. <3

I’m back now, thank Buddha, and I’ve reached chapter 4 of my novel, in which my main character…okay I’m sick to death of saying “my main character” (it’s such a mouthful for me), so his name is Dastan. Anyway, Dastan’s father is captured, and I’m excited but at the same time dragging my feet again because I know the first time writing that scene is going to be hard and probably not that brilliant, but I just have to get over it, don’t I?

I’ve also seen three very inspiring movies that I highly recommend (well, Pitch Perfect wasn’t really “inspiring”, but it was pee-in-your-pants funny), Les Misérables and Perks of Being A Wallflower. Neither are necessarily writing-related, but they have given me some really great ideas that I could work into a future novel. Les Mis is a movie that I have been obsessing over since I first heard about it, being a huge fan of both the musical and the book (though the movie was not all that special), and it did not let me down; in fact, it went beyond anything I could even imagine. The cast was just brilliant, the music gave me goosebumps like every two seconds, and it is simply one of the most incredible musical films ever made in my opinion. Go see it. Now. Then you can come back and finish reading.

Perks of Being A Wallflower was at the dollar theater, and all I knew about it was that it had a cool soundtrack, Emma Watson (my ladylove), and drugs. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, and what it turned out to be was unforgettable. I just ordered the book off Amazon, and I will without a doubt be buying the movie the second it hits stores. It’s not a movie for everyone, but if you have an open mind and you want to be inspired, then this is a great one to see. I absolutely loved it.

Now, last thing (my God, this is a long post). I went to B&N Thursday and picked up another writing book/guide/instruction manual shindig called 90 Days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet. I’m on page 56 so far, and I also read the end (because I fail as a human being, yes I know), and so far it’s a great read. Domet is very frank and no-nonsense (like a good deal of college professors), and pretty much a badass sassbucket, if you take my meaning. She had me laughing from the first page, and she has a very set way of approaching the novel-writing process, which may not be for everyone, but I’m certainly enjoying the read. The book works like an actual lesson plan, with first a prologue, and then actual day-by-day assignments that help you build both an outline and a completed rough draft. I love outlining and writing exercises, so I’m looking forward to trying out her methods, perhaps over the summer when I’m less pressed for time (and energy).

Hope your New Year is going well!

 

Books books books!

So, with holiday money racking up (always lovely) I’ve had the chance to purchase a few goodies for my bookshelf. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a wonderful book called The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. While reading it for the past week or so whenever I caught a free moment, I’ve had several epiphanies about my own novel series that I’m both excited and irritated about. I’m sure most if not all writers have experienced the moments when, completely out of the blue, an idea hits you that will pulverize both your plot and your sanity which, while not necessarily a bad thing, tends to be a bit like pulling the rug out from under you. That’s what’s happened to me. Three times. In five days. I’m hanging on by a coffee-soaked thread.

For one, I found out that my leading character, whom I originally thought was unknowingly adopted as a baby and never told his true parents’ identities, was in fact raised by his father. In the woods.

I also found out that the novel does not take off with the death of the MC‘s adopted mother, but with the capture and kidnapping of his biological father. Naturally and unsurprisingly, I have yet to be informed of exactly how said father is captured and ‘napped.

And the quaint forest village where he was originally raised turned into a city fortress built into the side of a mountain.

Lovely.

However, I think, despite my exasperation with this strange new direction the story is taking me, I quite like the idea of writing it.

But back to the book. I highly recommend it to any writer, especially those who have trouble finding time to write. I do have some warnings about it, though not everyone may necessarily be bothered by the same things I am. The style and structure of the book can be restricting in some ways; it reads like a week-by-week lesson plan, with specific exercises and lots of plotting and character work. Each chapter is intended for a certain number of weekends, and while you can skip certain sections that aren’t interesting or valid to you personally, you would do well to read all of the chapters so that you can understand the book thoroughly. I enjoy the plotting exercises especially because I happen to be a bit of a plotter and I enjoy working out the kinks in a story and fleshing out ideas. Using this book’s suggestions and an old sketch book I found lying around the house, I’ve been having quite a time exploring the ideas of Ray and Norris and it’s really benefited both me and my novel. They both seem to be very seasoned writers and it shows in the way they approach writing. One thing that they focus heavily on which I’m not crazy about is “objects”. A good number of lessons focus on developing objects to associate with characters and situations, which in itself is a great thing to mention; however, 40+ pages are spent on this topic and after a while it gets tedious. I found myself skimming a lot of it.

This book has been really handy for plotting and character work, but I’m more than halfway through it and they haven’t even begun approaching the actual writing of the novel, which seems a bit odd to me considering they claimed in the introduction that, using the book’s methods, the reader is supposed to have a completed rough draft. I’m not particularly trying for a completed draft in 52 weekends, but it would be nice if the book didn’t seem to stray so much from its original purpose.

Having spewed out that mini-rant, I would still definitely recommend it as an addition to your bookshelf. There are many exercises in it which have helped to get me out of a tight spot, and it’s very easy to follow, with examples from both published books and samples from the authors’ own writing.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season surrounded by those you love and those who love you, and fingers crossed that this coming year is a great one!