Weddings and Wasabi

Weddings and Wasabi by Camy TangWeddings and Wasabi by Camy Tang
Sushi Series # 4
Wine Press Publishing
Number of pages: 124
My copy: ebook, review copy from the author (Thank you!)

After finally graduating with a culinary degree, Jennifer Lim is pressured by her family to work at her control-freak aunty’s restaurant. But after a family dispute, Jenn is determined to no longer be a doormat and instead starts her own catering company. Her search for a wine merchant brings John into her life-a tall, dark, handsome biker in form-fitting black leather, who’s Hispanic to boot. It would be wonderfully wild to snag a man like that!

Shy engineer Edward tentatively tries out his birthday present from his winery-owner uncle-a Harley-Davidson complete with the trimmings. Jennifer seems attracted to the rough, aggressive image, but it isn’t his real self. Is she latching onto him just to spite her horrified family? And if this spark between them is real, will showing her the true guy underneath put it out?

And what’s with the goat in the backyard?

* * *

I’ve been a fan of Camy Tang ever since I heard about her and read the first book in her Sushi series, Sushi For One?. I liked that she wrote chick lit with an Asian flavor, and while I’m not Chinese/Japanese like her heroines are, I find that I could relate to the family and growing up woes that the four cousins experienced. And they’re Christian, too, so the stories resonate with my faith.

Unfortunately, Camy’s contract for the Sushi series only covers 3 books, so only Lex’s, Trish’s and Venus’ stories came out in full-length novels. Fortunately, Camy announced a few years back that she would be releasing a novella about Jennifer, the fourth cousin. Imagine my delight when she sent her street team a free copy. :)

Jennifer Lim is the nicest among the cousins, so nice that she knows she can be a doormat sometimes. When she finally graduated from her culinary degree, she finds herself pressured with having to fulfill some family “duties” that her aunts had pressed upon her. After a particularly bad party with an encounter with her ex, Jenn finally stands up for herself and starts a catering company. This starts her adventure that brings Jenn into learning that it takes a lot of courage to follow your dreams and even more to leave those dreams and trust that God will make things happen.

It felt nice reuniting with Camy’s characters again. I love the bond that Lex, Trish, Venus and Jenn had, and how they would always be there for one another no matter what. I also loved and hated their family. I don’t know how Chinese/Japanese families really are, but their Aunty Aikiko really grated my nerves. How can a relative be so manipulating and conniving and just…annoying? Ugh. It almost felt a bit unreal with that aspect, but who knew, right? Maybe people like that do exist.

I like how things came into somewhat of a full circle in this novella. While this could be read as a standalone, like the first three, but I think reading all of them would provide a fuller experience with the story. I always find back stories interesting, so knowing what happened to who in previous books while reading this one helped a lot in appreciating the events in this more. I especially liked how one of their cousins seemed to be friendlier to them now, and how their grandmother played a surprising role too.

The only thing I probably did not like in Weddings and Wasabi was how short it was! I missed the build up in the old novels, especially in the romantic sense, so I was a little detached from the romance here unlike in the others. It did provide for a good, quick and light read, but I was definitely hungry for more. :)

Weddings and Wasabi is available now in print and ebook through WinePress, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Rating: [rating=4]

2011 Challenge Status:
11 of 20 for TwentyEleven Challenge (Slim Pickings)

30 Summer Feel-Good Reads at Female Network

I wasn’t expecting this list to be up so soon, but it is! Just in time, because after a tropical storm weekend, I was already missing the sunshine. Even if it is too hot sometimes. But what better way to cool off than pick up a feel-good book (and an ice cold drink), right?

I am over at the Female Network once again today for a list of 30 Feel-Good chick lit reads. :)

Click the image to go to the list! :)

I think I’ve read a little more than half of the books on the list, while the others are on my wish list. Much thanks go out to Chachic, Holly, Angie, Janice and Kai for the reviews the posted for some of the books on the list (and their reviews are really the reason why I added some of them in). :)

Hop on over to the list to give your comments or share other feel-good reads! Suggestions for future book lists are also welcome here — leave a comment and I’ll see what books or characters or any-book-related things I can come up with. :D

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years LaterSweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Number of pages: 304
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

Now with this striking new adult novel from author and creator Francine Pascal, millions of devoted fans can finally return to the idyllic Sweet Valley, home of the phenomenally successful book series and franchise. Iconic and beloved identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are back and all grown up, dealing with the complicated adult world of love, careers, betrayal, and sisterhood.

* * *

If there was a book that I could blame for my being a bookworm, it is definitely Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley. I didn’t start with SVH like most people (and I hardly read them, now that I think about it) — I started with Sweet Valley Kids after I saw my classmate reading it back when I was in 3rd grade. When I grew older, I started on Sweet Valley Twins, and read so much more Sweet Valley after that. I remember even getting random Sweet Valley books from Book Sale whenever I needed a quick read because that’s what Sweet Valley has always been for me: quick, easy and comforting reads. A reminder that somewhere, somehow life can be absolutely perfect (even if it sets a totally bad standard). :)

It’s been years since I last read a Sweet Valley book, so when news of Sweet Valley Confidential came out, I knew it just had to be one of the books I must read this year. No excuses — as a girl who practically grew up in Sweet Valley, there is no way I cannot read this. :-)

So I’ll keep the summary brief to avoid spoilers. It’s roughly 11 years since Sweet Valley High, and Elizabeth is living on her own in New York City, refusing to answer her sister’s calls. She is lonely and angry, and the only person she is willing to talk to from her hometown is conceited rich boy Bruce Patman, who is now her best friend. What happened to Elizabeth? Why is she refusing to answer her sister’s calls? What did Jessica do that made sweet, calm and well-loved Elizabeth Wakefield flee and close her doors? And how did she become best friends with 1BRUCE1, of all people?

When I finished reading the book, I knew I looked like this (thanks, Hyperbole and a Half for the accurate illustration):

Image from Hyperbole and a Half

I know some of my friends and Twitter followers have read my reaction, and I can’t help it. When I finished the last page of the (e)book, I actually sat on the bed and stared into space, wondering what the heck just happened to what I read.

The appeal of this book lies in the nostalgia it brings. I didn’t really read that many SVH books but I was still familiar with the people there — Lila, Ken, Steven, Todd, etc. It was definitely a trip down memory lane and I can’t help but remember all those crazy stories that I read back then. The magic dolls, the numerous beach trips, the people who all wanted the twins dead or at least want to be them. Of course, since the books were written by ghost writers, continuity errors abound, but I can easily forgive that. It was fun seeing the characters and laughing at how silly they all were and are, even after 11 years. Sometimes I want to shake them: Elizabeth, stop being angsty! Jessica, why are you always crying? Todd! Why are you being such a sissy? Caroline, why are you still meddling with your friends? Why haven’t you all moved on from high school?!

It’s not bad. In fact, I found Sweet Valley Confidential very entertaining, and it kept me amused while reading and hours after I finished reading. However, it was very brain-numbing, and it was probably because of the sheer ridiculousness of the plot. The twins are still perfect gorgeous beings that everyone loves no matter how self-absorbed they could be. You’d think that people would have grown up from their high school woes, but no, everyone’s still hung up with old high school issues and hardly anyone has moved out. Come on — I’m hardly in contact with some of my old high school friends. Was Elizabeth the only one brave enough to move away? Wait, scratch that — it’s not even bravery. She ran away from something, and if she were really and truly brave, she would have stayed to face the entire mess. Also, the big reveal of why Elizabeth left? TOTAL DUD. I expected more from you, Francine!

The writing leaves less to be desired, bordering on cheesy at times. The POV and tense switching can get a bit annoying, although I have to give it to Francine Pascal — there were distinct differences in the characters’ voices that made you know who was speaking a few lines in. Sometimes, though, I feel like she was drunk when she wrote some of the parts, or at least, very sleepy. “He heard her and turned to look but almost without recognition, so frantic was he.” (p. 262) “So frantic was he”? Archaic-sounding much?

Now you see why I ended up like this after reading?

Image from Hyperbole and a Half

In the end, this book reminds me of what Jessica said in one of the Sweet Valley Jr. High books (I loved that spin-off — probably my favorite of all the SV series). After she and her sister threw a party and invited their old middle school friends who ditched them when things were going bad at the party, Jessica realized what it means when people say, “You can never go home again.” That is exactly what I felt after finishing Sweet Valley Confidential. I grew up in Sweet Valley, it’s been fun hanging out with all those people, but I don’t think I can ever feel at home with them. I think it’s time to move out.

So. Do I recommend Sweet Valley Confidential? It’s not really that terrible. It’s like reading a trashy romance novel (with trashy love scenes to boot!) or a gossip magazine about your favorite fictional characters. You have to expect that it’s like that so you won’t be annoyed at the time you spent reading this book. If you’re just the curious kind who didn’t really love (or at least like) the books before, I don’t think you’d be able to finish this. But if you were a fan, get ready for a fun, mind-numbing, and slightly ridiculous trip down memory lane. :)

Rating: [rating=2]

Excerpt: Read the first chapter here

Other reviews:
Shannon’s Sweet Valley High Blog
Forever Young Adult

Save the Date

Save the Date by Jenny B. JonesSave the Date by Jenny B. Jones
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Number of pages: 320
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

When Alex and Lucy pick out wedding invitations, they wonder if they can be printed in vanishing ink.

Former NFL star Alex Sinclair is a man who has it all–except the votes he needs to win his bid for Congress. Despite their mutual dislike, Alex makes Lucy a proposition: pose as his fiancee in return for the money she desperately needs. Bound to a man who isn’t quite what he seems, Lucy will find her heart on the line–and maybe even her life. When God asks Alex and Lucy to scrap their playbook and follow his rules, will they finally say, “I do”?

* * *

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones because if I were to judge this book by its cover, it didn’t give me the chick lit vibe. It gave me a romance novel vibe, sure, but not really chick lit. Am I the only one getting that? I want chick lit, but I’m not entirely sure if I wanted a romance novel — if you get what I mean. Nevertheless, I requested this from NetGalley because the blurb seemed interesting despite its familiarity, and I heard good stuff about the author on Twitter.

Maybe it’s the leftover February air that made me start reading this, and once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Save the Date starts with Lucy Wiltshire dancing around her kitchen, preparing a meal for her boyfriend Matt, expecting a proposal coming very soon. However, she was crushed when Matt says he’s choosing his job over her, and he had to move away, just as when Lucy can’t leave her hometown because she was about to open her foster home for adolescent girls, Saving Grace.

Fast forward two years later, Lucy seems to be doing well, until life decided to throw her a curve ball: she loses funding for her foster home and she needs money, quick. Gold coins don’t grow on trees and Lucy is desperate. Enter old schoolmate and rich boy Alex Sinclair who was running for Congress. A chance encounter between the two gave Alex a good image for the election, so he proposes to Lucy: they would pretend to be a couple and get engaged to boost Alex’s image, and Lucy gets paid to be his fake fiancee, enough to fund Saving Grace for years to come. Left with no choice, Lucy says yes, praying that she wasn’t making a mistake. As they play along with the lie, demons from the past surface and they find out that God’s plans are higher than our plans and He can work His purpose even in our flimsy human plans.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. This had the same vibe as  A Billion Reasons Why but it has less of the Southern drawl and more of real and sympathetic characters. I liked Lucy from the start — she’s a darling, but she was far from a weakling. She’s been toughened up by the hardships she experienced in her life and even if she suffers from a big inferiority complex, her heart is always in the right place. I admire her passion for the girls she’s caring for and her fierce loyalty to what she believes in, even if sometimes it comes off as stubbornness. While I’m not much taken by Alex’s described good looks and his charisma, I thought he was good for Lucy. He is far from perfect which I really appreciated, and I’m sure his faults and his growth in the story is something that other people have experienced. I liked how their relationship developed and how they saw each other in a better light despite the lie that they have built for their image. I lost count at how many times I sighed and wished that they’d realize that they were perfect for each other, and that one of them would make a move that would break the the pretend relationship they have so they could move into something real. Their banter was refreshing and witty, none of the gooey, over the top exchanges that didn’t feel natural. I liked that even if it seemed like an outrageous story, everything in the story still felt real, like it could happen to anyone.

This modern-day Cinderella/The Princess Diaries-like story by Jenny B. Jones is definitely worth the read. I can’t relate 100% with everything, but Save the Date shares important lessons on love, compassion, forgiveness and allowing God to work in our lives, and I think those concepts are pretty universal, anyway. While there’s nothing really new in the premise, the characters, their voices and the author’s humor shines through in the story, making this a very, very good read. :) I look forward to reading more of Jenny B. Jones’ books.

Rating: [rating=4]

Other reviews:
Michelle’s Book Review Blog
Novel Reviews
Backseat Writer
Bookworm Hollow

Love Your Frenemies

Love Your Frenemies by Mina V. EsguerraLove Your Frenemies by Mina V. Esguerra
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 144
My copy: ebook from Smashwords

Kimmy Domingo was the kind of girl everyone hated and envied — until her fiancé dumped her a week before their wedding. Soon after, she quit her job, hopped on a plane, and just hid from everyone who knew her. A year later and she’s back in Manila to be maid of honor at a wedding she can’t miss.

Kimmy’s home because she’s ready to start over, but she also knows that some people at that wedding were responsible for the mess her life turned out to be. The first step to recovery? Cutting off the ones who caused her troubles to begin with: her best friend and her first love.

* * *

The release of Love Your Frenemies by Mina V. Esguerra totally made my Monday morning happier, and it also made me lose sleep because I couldn’t put it down. I was so excited to read this that I put all other currently reads down, and the need to write my thoughts on feels more urgent than writing reviews for the two books that I need to review first. I can only think of two reasons why I have this urgency: it’s because I really liked this book and I need to share my thoughts ASAP, and because I’m such a Mina fan. ;)

Love Your Frenemies features Kimberly Domingo, a familiar character for those who have read Mina’s first book, My Imaginary Ex. For the uninitiated, Kimberly, also known as Kimmy, is the b*tch in her debut novel, the villain in Jasmine and Zack’s romance. It’s easy to hate her in that book as she was painted completely in black and white. More of a companion novel than a sequel (so you don’t have to read My Imaginary Ex to understand this…spoiler warning for that novel, though, if you haven’t read it!), this gives us a different picture of Kimmy, one year after she left after being dumped by Zack. Kimmy goes back home for her best friend’s wedding, changed from her one year absence. Determined to start over, she slowly faces all the things she left behind — her family, her Country Club friends, her old job. She’s also ready to cut off the people she’s declared toxic in her life, namely her bride-to-be best friend, Chesca, and her first love, hunky and charismatic Manolo.

I love spin-off stories featuring other characters, especially the villains, because it gives readers an entirely different perspective. It’s also a great character study and a perfect example of how our first impressions of people don’t tell us much. I like how Mina built Kimmy’s back story here, making her less evil and just another person who had issues to deal with on her own, issues that happened to entangle other people. It shows that people aren’t always black and white, but mostly gray.

I also liked that this one focused more on Kimmy’s self-discovery and friendships than the romance. Oh sure, Manolo’s hot (but I still find Lucas of Fairy Tale Fail hotter, LOL), but Kimmy’s relationship with him wasn’t the sole focus of the story. Love Your Frenemies isn’t really just about love but about, well, frenemies. :) I liked how Mina made the other characters three-dimensional. Like the first Kimmy in My Imaginary Ex, some of them were easy to hate at first, but as the story unfolded, I started to somewhat understand why they did what they did, even if it’s not what an ideal friend would do. I found myself feeling somewhat affectionate towards them in the end, and it further proves that people are not what you always believe them to be.

Love Your Frenemies is filled with flawed characters that paints a very accurate picture of how complicated and messy relationships — family, friendships, and romantic ones — are. It doesn’t have any of those heart-stopping, tingle-inducing romance, but more of the introspection of a woman who’s trying to build her life back from the mess that it has been and is determined not to make another mistake. The characters are far from perfect, and honestly I don’t think they’d be my crowd, but they’re definitely the kind of people that you’d want to be on your side even if they can be a pain in the neck more than half the time.

I think Love Your Frenemies show how much Mina really thinks about what she writes. It’s difficult to give a voice to a villain and make her human and deserving of sympathy, but Mina does it almost effortlessly in her newest novel. Kimmy isn’t your most lovable character, unlike Jasmine or Ellie or Carla from Mina’s previous novels, but she’s the type of character that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the last page, teaching us important lessons on discovering yourself, forgiveness and the ties that bind.

Highly recommended, and don’t think I’m saying that only because I’m such a fan. ;)

Rating: [rating=4]

Other reviews: