Saturday, June 04, 2016

Friday Girls' Night - Hotpot!

I've been meaning to blog for the past two days - don't want to lose the 30 Days Blogging Challenge blogging mojo, but it's just been so hectic! I knew going into the 30 Days Blogging Challenge that if I completed it, there'd be another big challenge awaiting me: maintaining my blogging through the month of June. June this year is ultra busy for me!! Mainly because my cousin is getting married on June 18, so there's a lot of things to get ready for. Family get-togethers, dinners, the wedding! I'm going to try my best to continue blogging regularly this month, but if you don't hear from me, you know why!

Tonight, I had an impromptu girls' night at home. My friend E had gum graft at the beginning of May and therefore has missed all the gatherings. Earlier this week, she had the stitches removed, so I jumped on the occasion to have dinner with her. However, she still needs to be careful and is preferable for the food to be soft. So I was wondering what to go eat... and thought hotpot would be a great option. So that's what we had!! And I finally got the portions right!

The upper right picture is friend E enjoying hotpot :) The bottom two is us before and after eating... Food coma!! LOL.

My sister's been doing a DIY project: coasters. This will be her little, personal gift for all the weddings she's attending this year :) First up is my cousin. Basically, she printed pictures and stuck them to tiles she bought. Here she is, applying resin to them so it'll protect the pictures like a varnish.


So far, the coasters look great! We're waiting for them to dry to see the final result. After, only one more step: stick felt under them... and voila!

That's it for me tonight! Hoping to do the New Releases post for June this week-end :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

30 Days Blog Challenge - Complete!!

Woohooo!! I made it!! With this post, I complete my 30 Days Blog Challenge!! Yay me!!

Okay, so I missed one day, but that's acceptable. 30 days of blogging out of 31... for someone who's been having such a hard time, it's awesome! :) Big thank you to Ames for the challenge!! Also, thanks to everyone who participated to the challenge, visited and left comments :) You made a difference!

I'm pretty happy because out of the 30 posts, I have 7 reviews and 11 books related posts. So more than half were about books :) Which is pretty much what I wanted! Now that the challenge is over, I know I'm not going to be blogging daily. It was really hard to come up with relevant topic everyday ^_^; However, for sure, I found my groove and will do it more regularly! :) I'm really excited about it and I think that's what I was missing for so long... That little spark of excitement :)

On that note, I'm leaving you with some nice pictures... In the past month, I was able to blog about another of my hobbies, Chinese dramas :) In one of the post, I mentioned one of my favorite Chinese actor, Yuan Hong. Well, he got married last week-end!! Check out some of the pictures!! 

They make such a pretty couple! His wife is also an actress; however, I'm unfamiliar with her. They were a pretty low-key couple. I heard they were dating... at the beginning of this year IIRC. Can't believe they already got married :)

Loved Yuan Hong's groomsmen!! So handsome... and Hu Ge was one of them! One Chinese tradition is for the groom to go and pick up the bride. Usually, the bridesmaids and bride's good friends will block the groom's passage in order to evaluate his worth through some challenges :P Groomsmen usually help the groom out... It was fun to see Yuan Hong's groomsmen come prepared with bags and equipment. They look like agents on a mission LOL.

In the end, they did succeed in getting the bride! :) Congrats to the couple!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson

I finished reading this book on Saturday and have been recommending it left and right ever since :P I thought it'd be nice to review it, so people know why I've been pushing it on them :)

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson
published by St. Martin's Griffin in May 2016
Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing—down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books—well, maybe not comic books—but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on—and they might not pick the same side.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Series: None

The Story: Trixie Watson and her two best friends, Harper and Meg, are seniors at Messina Academy for the Gifted - Mess for short - basically a high school for genius. The entrance exam is 3 hours long, there is a gag rule about disclosing their IQ numbers, they take courses such as "History of the American Immigrant" and "Economics of the Third World," they all willingly take on assignments for extra credits... and on the first day of each month, an updated ranking list is posted. Trixie's goal this year is to graduate third, thereby putting an end to her Rank Tango with her arch nemesis Ben West and beating him once for all. That means, between school work, comic books and sleep, Trixie will have time for little else... and she's dumbfound to find out her best friends have a different plan for their senior year - they want some interaction with the opposite sex! When Harper starts dating Cornell, the two groups of friends become one, bringing Trixie and Ben together without them having a say. The more they spend time together, the more Trixie and Ben realize that perhaps there is more to their bickering than the monkey bars episode when they were 8 years old... While they figure out their relationship, they also need to find out what's happening with the rank list.

My Opinion: I've been in a contemporary YA kick lately and picked up The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You on a whim after the cover caught my eye (I was wondering if this book was from a traditional publisher or self-published ^_^;)... and I am sooo glad I did because it was such a great, fun read!! You know when you go into a book without any expectations at all and it turns out to be a gem? Well, that was The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You :)

One of the reasons why I enjoyed The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is because the Mess wasn't a regular high school. Every student was a genius and so, as Harper pointed out, they were all nerds. It effectively took out the usual cool vs. geek conflict and just like that, The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You wasn't your usual contemporary YA. Obviously, they were not all friends, but it did feel like the characters were all on equal footing. Also, it was refreshing to actually see all the students care about their studies and their grades. The atmosphere was also different because of the pressure these kids were under, their motivation and ambition... and I enjoyed the camaraderie that resulted from it. To some extent, the setting reminded me a lot of the one in Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg - another book which I loved - where the characters were attending a performing arts high school.

I also really liked all the characters. While they were nerds, they were not one-dimensional. They had hobbies, they had likes and dislikes beyond studying. Obviously, it goes without saying that they were very smart and more mature than most teens... but at the end of the day, they were still young adults and act so at certain times. Ms Anderson did a great job balancing everything :) I have to say, I very much enjoyed Trixie and Ben and their chemistry. I loved their verbal duels... both of them were witty and quick-minded and it gave rise to some interesting conversations. I thought their romance was believable as well... because for two persons to snipe at each other the way Trixie and Ben did, there must be some attraction somewhere. Yes, it was really hidden deep, but it had to be there :) I thought the romance was sweet and the reveal at the end, so funny LOL. I loved their circle of friends. I enjoyed their dynamics and it was a lot of fun seeing the guys and girls interact and integrate the bigger group. Their loyalty to one another was admirable... particularly between Trixie, Meg and Harper. It's always nice to have someone at your back who believes in you. I also appreciate that there was no purposely unpleasant character.

There was no emotional conflict in this book. Instead, there was a mystery and I have to say, it was quite unusual! It was very well-done, interesting and definitively pulled me in. My only complaint would be the resolution of it was a bit rushed and hard to follow at times. Still, very refreshing.

Finally, I have to commend Ms Anderson's writing. This was her debut novel and it was very well executed. I really enjoyed Ms Anderson's voice. There was a snappy rhythm to it and Ms Anderson has great timing and is quick-witted. Personally, I never thought that discussions on a club's quorum would make me laugh... but it did in The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You :)

As much as I loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, I don't think it'll reach everyone unfortunately. I feel that for maximal enjoyment of this book, the readers have to have an inner geek. There is a lot of references to "geeky" pop culture such as Doctor Who, Marvel comics, Joss Whedon, etc. If you don't have some background info on these topics, you'll miss some jokes and references and that could lessen your enjoyment. The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You has a definite Big Bang Theory vibe to it. If you enjoy that show, then you should be fine! :) I'd still give it a chance regardless, but like I said, it'll be a lot more fun and enjoyable if you catch everything :)

My Grade: A-.  I smiled and laughed throughout The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You. It truly was a fun read for me and I'll definitively be checking out Ms Anderson's next book :)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Young Adult & New Adult

All right! My last Romance Starter Kits post! LOL, honestly, most of the kits contain my favorite books or favorite authors. Guess you recommend what you know :)

Today, I'm featuring Young Adult and New Adult romance books :) Two genres which have really surged in the past few years. In blogland, NA seems to have somewhat eclipsed YA... probably because of our ages LOL. I think it's easier to relate to characters who are in their early to mid-20s than teens :P However, I think a reason why NA is so popular is the flexibility of the genre as well. Teens have to attend high school, not much they can do about that. And if they don't, well the situation is weird... and there are just so many weird situations we can read before getting tired of it. NA though is meant to be the beginning of adult life with many, many possibilities :) Therefore, bigger window for wowzers :)

Without further ado, here are my picks for YA and NA:

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Letters to Nowhere by Julie Cross
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
The Only Thing Worse than Me is You by Lily Anderson

I love, love My Most Excellent Year. It's just a great fun book. It's a lot more than high school... it's about discovering yourself and families, the one that you have and the one that you choose :)

Letters to Nowhere was very refreshing because the heroine is an elite gymnast. So instead of going to school, she trains and therefore, offers a different perspective/lifestyle. She also deals with the loss of her parents in an accident... at a time where she really needs her parents' support.

Pivot Point is my only non-contemporary YA suggestion. Well actually, it is contemporary, but it has a twist - heroine has a psychic power that allows her to see the two outcomes when she has to make a choice. In this case, her choices are to stay with her mother in the psychic compound or go with her dad in the normal world. I loved the writing, the parallel storylines and the romance was very sweet :)

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour is one of the books that made me fall in love with the YA genre. It showed me that there was a lot more to this genre than books about high school drama. That a contemporary YA book could be deep and fun at the same time :)

I think the reason I love Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson is the same: the characters don't go to a regular high school. In Take a Bow, they are at a performing arts high school and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, a school for genius. It's interesting to see how teens deal with so much pressure and refreshing because they have something else to focus on than who's the most popular and so on.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan
The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen
A Shattered Moment by Tiffany King
Wasted Words by Staci Hart

A good romance story doesn't necessarily mean a man and a woman. Love happens to couple of same sex too and it was a pleasure to see Wes and Jamie's love story unfolds in Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy :)

Sport romances in NA aplenty. When I think NA and sports romance, three names come to mind: Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy and Kristen Callihan. Ms Callihan is the one who delivered one of my favorites: The Friend Zone. A womanizer football player trying to be friends with a girl who has nothing in common with him... Is it possible? :)

Ms Bowen is now one of my auto-buy authors. The series that made her so popular is The Ivy Years and my favorite book is The Understatement of the Year. However, since I've already chosen Him, also a m/m romance, I chose my second favorite book, The Shameless Hour. It's rare to see heroines who are so confident in their sexuality and who assume their choices... Even more rare is for these heroines to be likable and that's exactly what Ms Bowen pulled off in The Shameless Hour.

Teens spend years planning what their life after high school is going to be, what they will do in college and after... but what happens when tragedy strikes and those plans change? That's what happens to the heroine in A Shattered Moment. On the night of graduation, her and her best friends are in a car accident... and she's one of three who survives.

Finally, I chose Wasted Words because not all NA are about college students :) The main characters in Wasted Words are out of college and starting their adult lives... This is a sweet and light romance :)

And there you go, my Romance Starter Kits. I do hope that one day, they will serve someone :) And that even romance readers will be able to find new "precious" with these posts LOL.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Historical

One of the most popular genres in romance is Historical... and it's kind of unavoidable :) Trust me, I tried! However, when all your friends are gushing about some well-known, popular historical romance authors, you wonder... and you start by reading one book, then a second, a third. Next thing you know, you have a list of go-to historical romance authors :)

Like everything else, romance genre popularity is cyclic. I feel that at the moment, historical romance is down... I have no doubt it'll eventually reach the top again. In the meantime, it did leave us with many good recommendations :)

Oh, by the way, I'm a regency historical reader... That's why all of my picks are from that sub-category ^_^;

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas
The Ideal Wife by Mary Balogh
And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke
My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander
The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie

Lisa Kleypas and Mary Balogh are two big names in historical romance and should be included in every starter kit in my opinion. It's also interesting to see the contrast of their writings which probably stems, in part, from the publishers they are with. I find Avon to be a bit more permissive and probably why Ms Kleypas' style is a bit more fluid. Ms Balogh's style is more restrictive and in my mind, portrays the time period a bit better. Anyway, Devil in Winter is a great book and was part of a hero duel back in the blogging days :) Funnily, Ms Kleypas' next book, Devil in Spring, will be featuring the son of Devil in Winter's couple as its hero :) As for The Ideal Wife, it's one of my favorite books by Ms Balogh. It was first published in 1991 and I read it in 2011 and enjoyed it a lot. I said earlier that Ms Balogh's style was more restrictive. It's also timeless which probably explains her long and steady writing career :) One of the few authors that consistently published her historical books without fail.

I'm a huge fan of Laura Lee Guhrke and that's because I find her books to be different from the typical regency historical romance. She tends to set her stories in the 1890s-1900s... that time period where everything is on the cusp of change. Where the nobility has to adapt to new realities, where the "normal" people are having more opportunities, etc. And that's why I chose And Then He Kissed Her.

My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander features a happily married couple, something you don't often encounter from the first pages of a historical romance. It has great banter and also, features spies in a different light :)

The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie is another favorite of mine. The hero is a nobleman and for once, upstanding. Not a scoundrel or a rake. Heroine has backbone and is independent. Also, you need to enjoy kids because she's the guardian of her 4 half-siblings. Again, the feel and storyline are refreshing compared to most regency historical romance.

Books/Authors I considered:

Loretta Chase - I'm just not a huge fan of hers like many are. She wrote some books that could be considered as classic when it comes to historical romance... but I feel her career has been waning a bit ^_^; So I chose Ms Balogh instead.
Lorraine Heath - One of my favorite historical authors and on my auto-buy list. I left her off from this starter kit mainly because I was already featuring two authors from Avon and I wanted a bit of variety in the starter kit.
Caroline Linden - She's my up and coming historical romance author. Weird to say that from someone who's been published for 11 years, but while I enjoy her writing and books a lot, I feel she hasn't written THE book that will mark her career yet. I'm looking forward to it :) Also, another author from Avon.

Your thoughts? :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Urban Fantasy & Fantasy

We're back with the Romance Starter Kits post. Today, I'll be covering Urban Fantasy as well as Fantasy. Initially, I got carried away... and then, I remembered Romance Starter Kits ^_^; So I had to review some of my choices. Obviously, for many of these books, the romance is not the focus... but at least, they do have a strong romance element in their stories.

For Urban Fantasy, my choices are:

Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews
Death's Mistress by Karen Chance
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

For Ms Briggs, I decided to choose between her  Alpha & Omega and Mercy Thompson series. Obviously, I would recommend both, but for a starter kit, I wanted to stick to one book per author and also, add a bit of variety. I went with Alpha & Omega because the romance was more prominent. It also got me hooked on the Alpha & Omega series faster than the Mercy Thompson's :) This is my pick if someone would ask me for werewolves.

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong was a no-brainer. This is one of the first series I've read and one that is complete-ish :) The situation the H/H find themselves in at the beginning of Bitten is also quite unique and brings complexity to the romance. What I liked about this series is that we do change narrators and the evolution of the characters. Also, it's a well-rounded world. This is my pick for someone who wants a bit of everything: werewolves, witches, necromancers, demons, etc.

Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews is the third book of the series, but it's the one that really got me hooked and it's in this one that the romance really solidifies and becomes really important in the series. I feel the author was finding her voice and world in the first two, but with Magic Strikes, she really hit her stride and gained a fan forever :) Also interesting is the world the story is set - different than ours. This is my pick for someone who wants a kick-ass heroine with lethal sword abilities and magical powers.

I hesitated a bit with Death's Mistress because the romance in this one isn't as strong as in the other books... However, for the humor and action, I had to add it. The story is a bit dizzying, but a lot of fun. This is my pick for someone who wants vampires... or actually, dhampirs.

Finally, Rosemary and Rue. It's not my favorite urban fantasy series; however, it's very solid. What I like about this series is the story moves swiftly and we're starting to get answers! This is my pick for someone who wants fairies.

Books/Authors I considered:

Written in Red by Anne Bishop - There is sort of a romance thread, but so far, it's been more about the world building and how it's changing.
Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep - It kind of takes a while for the romance in this series to really start and by the time the heroine makes a choice, I feel the books have become a tad too predictable. Good books, but the 5 above are better...


For Fantasy, my recommendations are the following:

Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

I would consider these two books/series to be fantasy romance. The romance is crucial and takes place in a fantasy worlds, hence fantasy romance. I absolutely love these two books for their uniqueness and the epic love stories!

Books/Authors I considered:

Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher - I love this book as well, but while it does have some romance threads, that's not what I loved about it... and therefore I left it out.
The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop - This book is part of Ms Bishop's Black Jewels series. I did enjoy that series a lot and yes, there is a romance in the first three books... but once again, the romance is not why I enjoyed the series as much. Also, it was kind of a weird romance. Anyway, if I had to choose a book from this series to recommend, it would be The Shadow Queen where the love story is a bit more traditional and more vital to the story. However, it's hard to read The Shadow Queen as a stand-alone and that's why I left it out.

So, your picks?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: Wasted Words by Staci Hart

All right, taking a little break from my Romance Starter Kit posts to post this review! I just finish reading this yesterday, so this review is really fresh off the press :)


Wasted Words by Staci Hart
self-published in May 2016
Some universal truths refuse to be ignored.

Peanut butter and jelly are a match made in heaven. Spaghetti and meatballs are best friends forever. And guys like Tyler Knight don’t go for girls like Cam Emerson.

She knew from the second she met him that he didn’t belong on her bookshelf, the six-foot-six ex-tight end with a face so all-American, it could have sold apple pie. So she shelved him next to the supermodels and rock stars and took her place on her own shelf — the one with the flannel-clad, pasty-faced comic book nerds. Most of her boyfriends have existed between the pages of books, but rather than worrying over her own lacking love life, she puts all her energy into playing Cupid, using her job at the book bar, Wasted Words, as her stomping ground.

Tyler Knight always looks on the bright side. His career-ending injury turned into a job as a sports agent. A horrible breakup led him to Cam, his quirky, smart roommate who is far more beautiful than she realizes. She’s made it perfectly clear she’s not interested in him — not like that at least — but if she ever changes her mind, he won’t hesitate. Because he doesn’t see the lines she’s drawn between them, as much as she insists that they’re there. Deep down he knows that despite their differences, they’re a match well made.
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary romance
Series: Bad Habits, Book #4 (?)

The Story: Cam Emerson and Tyler Knight became roommates when Tyler needed a new place after being dumped by his model ex for being too nice and boring. The two have become great friends and hang out together almost everyday. A bookworm, Cam's mission is to find THE book that will make Tyler love reading.

Cam is a quirky, cute, smart and short geek. She's always been different and has embraced her passions. She's currently working her dream job at Wasted Words, a book bar, as a manager. She also enjoys matchmaking people together. She's had a painful love experience in high school and because of it, she firmly believes that people who are too different cannot be together. That's why when Tyler, her six-foot-six, gorgeous roommate, expresses his feelings, she doesn't think they have a future... yet, she can't resist him.

Will Tyler be able to prove her wrong?

My Opinion: This was such a cute read!! I checked out the book on Goodreads because of the cover and the blurb just sold me - I love opposites attract romance. So happy I gave this a try and that's why I'm reviewing it right away :)

I loved Cam and Tyler. They were both great characters!! I think a lot of us will relate to Cam who's a book lover: re-reading a book because the last three didn't reach her, trying to find the perfect book for Tyler, etc. :) She loved books and I could really feel that love, which made me love her LOL. Also, she was a great boss, so much fun and really into it. Seriously, I wish Wasted Words existed so I could work there! She was just so dynamic and passionate... Of course, she had faults and issues, but she was honest and upfront about them and knew when she was wrong. The only thing I disliked was her hobby of playing matchmaker. It served the story to a certain extent, but personally, I could have done without. As for Tyler, such a great hero!! I loved him! He was just such a nice guy, being handsome was the bonus LOL. I loved his understanding, patience and persistence. Seriously, if I could meet a guy like Tyler, I'd be really, really happy and wouldn't hesitate a second to snatch him up :)

The romance was pretty awesome as well. Cam and Tyler had a lot of chemistry and I loved that they didn't jump into bed right away after expressing their feelings for each other. Kisses, hugs, sleeping together (not sex), hanging out... It was just so sweet. I liked that they communicated and once again, have to mention Tyler's understanding and patience towards Cam's issues. He tried to be there and reassure her, convince her they'd work. What I liked also is that there was no game between them... and the author didn't go the typical route either. For example, before Cam and Tyler realize their feelings for each other, Tyler goes on a date... That's when he starts to realize that he wants to be with Cam, but is not sure about Cam feelings. Well, he doesn't go on and date this girl like most romance books. Instead, he tells her he's interested in someone else and confronts Cam with his feelings. There were many instances when Ms Hart could have chosen the convoluted way that many other authors have chosen... and I'm not saying that those authors were wrong, but it was nice Ms Hart didn't take the easy way to create conflicts. Instead, the romance conflict stemmed from Cam's past relationship and readers were aware of it early and it all made sense. It also added a layer to Cam and shows us that no matter how self-assured someone is, there is always some vulnerability somewhere.

Where the book falters in my opinion is the timeline. The story spans about 1.5 week and Cam and Tyler's romance, a week. I thought that was pretty rushed given everything they went through. Yes, Cam and Tyler had this strong friendship/roommate relationship as a basis for their romance, but I wished the author had expanded on the transition from friends to lovers. Wished we've seen more of Cam and Tyler as a couple, alone, to really cement their romance in my mind. While the romance was very sweet, it seemed to lack the intensity for me to really believe everything happened in a week and that Cam and Tyler could weather through the conflict. And that's why I kind of wished Ms Hart hadn't added the whole matchmaking part of the story... Like those parts could have been dedicated to Cam and Tyler instead.

My Grade: B. Wasted Words was a sweet and cute read and I'm very happy to have read it. However, I feel like it was missing a spark in order to make it truly memorable. Also, there were a few editing errors - nothing major, but still slightly annoying ^_^;