A Case of the Blues

So I was lazily reading (by lazily, I mean it — I’m still such a slow reader from last month) one day this month when I noticed a little curious thing.

It seems like I have a case of the blues.

Literally.

Check out the print books I’ve finished reading lately:

Blue, blue, blue, blue, blue

Okay, Ender’s Game isn’t exactly that blue like the others, but the cover has dark blue tones. But look at all the blue! Even the ebooks I’ve been reading have (mostly) blue covers:

Wonder by R.J. PalacioFreshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Have you ever noticed that with what you’re reading? I don’t pay huge attention to covers, but this is pretty cool how I seem to gravitate towards blue covers. Not that the blueness really means much to the stories in the books. There may be a psychology in this, with how there seem to be more blue-toned covers out there, right? Is it because it presents stability (as this infographic says)?

Of course there’s a part of me that makes me want to break this record of blues. I suddenly find the color of the cover affects how I’m choosing the next book I want to read. Just to break the color consistency.

So how about pink? :)

Tada! Pink!

Falling Together

Falling Together by Marisa de los SantosFalling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Publisher: William Morrow and Company
Number of pages:  358
My copy: trade paperback, bought from Bestsellers

What would you do if an old friend needed you, but it meant turning your new life upside down? Pen, Will, and Cat met during the first week of their first year of college and struck up a remarkable friendship, one that sustained them and shaped them for years – until it ended abruptly, and they went their separate ways. Now, six years later, Pen is the single mother of a five-year-old girl, living with her older brother in Philadelphia and trying to make peace with the sudden death of her father. Even though she feels deserted by Will and Cat, she has never stopped wanting them back in her life, so when she receives an email from a desperate-sounding Cat asking her to meet her at their upcoming college reunion, Pen goes. What happens there sends past and present colliding and sends Pen and her friends on a journey across the world, a journey that will change everything.

* * *

I’ve always dubbed March as a special month because of my birthday, and I take advantage of that by meeting up with as many people that I can, especially those that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s always the best excuse IMHO: “It’s my birthday, let’s meet up!” Of course, I often ended up treating the people to coffee, dessert or sometimes even dinner because of that fact, but I never really minded that. In the past month alone, I’ve been out almost every weekend and two to three times on week nights to meet up with my barkada (my closest friends), college roommates, thesis mates, book club friends, church community friends — old friends, new friends, people from almost all stages of my life, I took the time to meet them this month. Sometimes I end up traveling farther than I want to, staying out and losing sleep and being so exhausted that I don’t have time to read (or blog), but I think all of those times were worth it.

This is one of the reasons why I chose Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos as my birthday read. Pen, Cat and Will met in college, and have been the best of friends ever since. Their friendship was so strong that even their romantic relationships took a back seat from their friendship, making them an almost impenetrable circle. But that was the past, and it’s been six years since Pen has seen Cat and Will after they walked out of her life. She never stopped missing them, even if they had missed major milestones in her life such as the birth of her daughter, Augusta, or the death of her father. When Pen and Will receive an email from Cat asking them to meet at their college reunion, they couldn’t refuse. But when they were faced with the unexpected at the reunion, Pen and Will set off to find their missing friend all across the world in a journey that really changed everything for them.

I love Marisa de los Santos. I can’t help but swoon over the way she writes — there’s a certain beauty and elegance in her writing that just makes everything…well, fall together for me. Falling Together is a pretty slow book, one that builds up slowly and flashes back on a lot of memories to tie up the numerous strings spread out around Pen, Will and Cat. Her characters come off feeling like they are also your friends and not just friends with each other, like you’re a part of their circle. Pen is reminiscent of Cornelia in Love Walked In and Belong to Me with her observations and her small eccentricities, although I think I would choose to be with Cornelia over her because I find her more of a darling than Pen. Cat is sufficiently made into a mystery, and it made me wonder what her motivations were in doing what she did. Will is almost like Teo Sandoval in Marisa’s first two books, but also not quite. Maybe the half-Filipino aspect of Teo made him more attractive to me than Will. Sometimes it feels like these characters are a little too whimsical, or maybe a little too different, or maybe even a little too perfect sounding, but Marisa includes little quirks that make them less of those a-little-too’s.

Speaking of Filipino, one of the main reasons why I was so excited to read this book was because a part of it was set in the Philippines. Marisa de los Santos has Filipino roots and I can’t help but feel so proud about how she described the Philippines and the Filipinos in this book. Here’s an example:

Maybe it was the food or the muted light or the ceiling fan’s slow, hypnotic paddling of the air or maybe it was simply that every journey — and Pen had come to see herself as a person distinctly on a journey [...] — has its land of the lotus eaters, its drowsy slowdown in momentum. There would be time to winnow out the reasons later, but as she sat in the living room of the house in which Cat’s father had grown up, surrounded by someone else’s family — Cat’s family, the one she had flown across the world to find — with a plate of food on a tray in front of her, all Pen knew was that she wanted, with her heart, to become a part of the place, to unpack her bags, hunker down, and stay. (p. 284)

And something about the food:

But there was nothing “nothing special” about it: great piled tangles of noodles rife with bits of vegetables, meat and shrimp; a concoction of eggplant, okra, green beans, squash and bitter melon called pinakbet; banana blossom salad; whole fish, crispy and gleaming with sauce; thin egg rolls called lumpia that Pen could have eaten like popcorn; and, glory of glories, down the center of its own special table, a roasted suckling pig, burnt orange, glistening, dizzyingly fragrant. Pen had a momentary qualm at seeing it whole … but once dismantled, the sublime combination of hard, crackly skin and nearly white, meltingly tender meat caused such rapture in her mouth that she gave hearty thanks to God that she was not a vegetarian. (p. 286-287)

That last paragraph made me hungry.

The second time, more prepared, she stayed long enough to understand that the coral reef off Balicasag Island packed more gorgeousness per square centimeter than any other place she had ever been. At the same time that it was exactly like something she had seen on a nature show, it was like nothing she had seen on a nature show because everything — from the imperious butterfly fish trailing their scarves to the brown undulating ribbons that Pen assumed were eels (but might not have been; it frustrated her not to know) to the neon blue coruscations, so penny-small ad quick that they might have been tricks of light — each thing, every individual scrap of embodied beauty, was palpably, unmistakably, alive.

So were Pen and Augusta, alive and in the thick of it. Pen had expected to look down and see fish, and she did, but when she looked to her side, there they were, too, suspended next to her face or flowing by in iridescent streams, and, when Will swam over to take Augusta to see an anemone clownfish and Pen dove downward, the fish were above her as well.  (p. 303)

I’m not being biased here, but that last paragraph is absolutely true. I almost squealed with delight when I found out where exactly they were heading in the Philippines because I was just there a month ago. So much beauty, and it’s just one island. :)

A word of warning, though — if you’re expecting them to head to the Philippines early on, well…they won’t. I had to adjust my expectations with that because I thought that the characters would spend a longer time in my home country but the travel happened at the last third of the book. But even so I’m not really complaining, and it’s not really a wild goose chase for their friend all across the world. When I got to the end, I felt like even if I was made to wait for the part I wanted to read the most, the timing was pretty right and I was so invested in the characters and the story that I want them to find their answers in the place I called home.

I was perfectly, perfectly charmed with this book. Again, I may be pretty biased about it because so far, I’ve loved every book that Marisa de los Santos wrote. Even if I can’t relate to it much (by that I mean nothing like that has ever really happened in my life), there’s something in her books that makes me feel that she wrote it just for me — or someone like me who craves for this kind of life fiction. For this kind of story that talks about love and friendship and family and the ties that bind, and all of those things falling together in one complicated and beautiful mess.

I’m not sure if Falling Together is for everyone, but if you’ve ever read and liked Marisa de los Santos’ other books, then you will probably like this. Just how much is another thing, but as far as I am concerned, Falling Together is the perfect birthday read. And I am definitely keeping this one on my shelf. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Lit Witch
USA Today

Confessions of a Serial Kisser

Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van DraanenConfessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 304
My copy: hardbound, birthday gift from Aaron

EVANGELINE LOGAN WANTS a kiss. A spectacular, heart-stopping, life changing kiss. Somehow The Crimson Kiss (a romance novel she’s become obsessed with) and Four Steps to Living Your Fantasy (a self-help book she’s reading) have fused in Evangeline’s mind and sent her on a quest for a kiss. But the path to perfection is paved with many bad kisses—the smash mouth, the ear licker, the “misser.” The phrase “I don’t kiss and tell” means nothing to the boys in her school. And worse: someone starts writing her name and number on bathroom walls. And worst of all: the boy she’s just kissed turns out to be her best friend’s new crush. Kissing turns out to be way more complicated than the romance novels would have you believe . . .

* * *

Wendelin Van Draanen is the author of one of my favorite books ever, Flipped. I love Flipped — I have read several times and pushed to several people and even cried while watching the movie. I never really got around to reading the author’s other works, until I got it for a gift. It took me another year to read it (just like my other books in my TBR, heh), and I thought it would be the right book to cleanse my palate over reading something a little bit more serious.

Evangeline Logan is a serial kisser — she knows it, and she justifies this because she wants one thing: a crimson kiss. The kind of kiss she read in the romance novel she found under her mother’s bed, a kiss that will turn her world around. So after a makeover, she goes to school and starts searching for that crimson kiss. How? By kissing boys of course. But it’s not turning out the way she expected it as rumors about her started spreading. As if that’s not enough, her best friend’s too busy and her two-timing dad is making a comeback. And she still hasn’t found her crimson kiss. What’s a serial kisser to do now?

Going into Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen and expecting it to be like Flipped was kind of a big mistake. I wanted to like this more, but a third into the book I was very annoyed with Evangeline. I’m definitely not the kind of person who would do what she did, but let’s be honest now: who would do such a thing? How could she expect that she’d find that perfect crimson kiss by kissing random boys — by random, I mean strangers too! All because of a romance novel?

Okay, that may be the entire point of the book — that you just can’t find a crimson kiss randomly — but Evangeline not expecting that she’d have a reputation after what she has been doing was just kind of naive. It’s like getting a pair sidi cobra boots: if you keep wearing them long enough, you’ll be known as the person who wears them. Evangeline reminded me a bit of Kelsey in Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, but I would be a bit more forgiving with Kelsey if she had done what Evangeline did because she’s still pretty young. I had to double check what year Evangeline was already in (junior to senior? There was a mention of emancipation at some point in the book) because I thought her attitude was kind of too young for her age.

The chapters in this book are pretty short and they kind of remind me of my stories back in high school. It didn’t have the same fluid story like Flipped, and there were some plot points that felt a little too stretched out or a little too contrived. The guitar thing for example — where did that come from? Sure, she likes music, but the guitar thing just came out of the blue for me. Evangeline’s issues could have had more depth in it especially since I’m sure there are kids who are in the same situations, but I’m afraid it veered towards the shallow end with how Evangeline reacted with everything. And that boy who really liked her all along? I saw that coming a mile away.

That being said, though, there’s an overall lesson in the book that wasn’t that bad, really. The book touched a bit on communication and forgiveness, which was pretty nicely done in the end. Evangeline’s penance was hard enough, although I wish she wasn’t such a whiny girl about it. How her kissing issues connect with her home issues was also explained, and at least that gives an overall hopeful resolution for them. It’s just sad that by the time those things came, I didn’t care about any of them anymore.

Confessions of a Serial Kisser could have had a good story going for it, but in the end I was just pretty annoyed with the main character and there was too much going on that I was just relieved that it was over when it was over. It was pretty fun (and I use the term lightly) sometimes, but if you’re expecting something like Flipped… well, better lower your expectations.

Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
Persnickety Snark
Becky’s Book Reviews

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Publisher: Dutton
Number of pages: 313
My copy: signed hardbound, ordered from Book Depository

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

* * *

The YA reading world was buzzing with excitement last year when John Green announced that he would have a new book out, and I was one of them. I was one of the people who was terribly excited when he said he would sign all pre-orders and I pre-ordered mine by December, which kind of made me wait a bit when our local bookstores surprisingly got copies on the day The Fault In Our Stars was released. I had to avoid reading reviews of the book because I was so antsy to read it but I had to wait an entire month to get it. I forgot about that because this greeted me as soon as I opened the book when it finally arrived:

I got a yeti! :)

Yay a yeti!

The Fault In Our Stars introduces Green’s first female protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster, who was diagnosed with a Stage IV thyroid cancer at the age of 12. By a medical miracle, she is now 16, but remains terminal and knows that one day cancer will come back to claim her. During a cancer support group meeting, she meets charismatic Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor who seems to be interested in her. Wary but also mildly curious, she starts spending time with Augustus, inadvertently changing her life as she knows it.

Reading The Fault In Our Stars reminds me of this time a few years ago when some high school friends and I attended a wake of a classmate’s sister. The sister’s — let’s call her Mary — death was a shock to all of us. Our high school was small so we pretty much know each other, especially the ones who belong to a certain group of kids, like the achievers. Mary was one of those, and not only was she a smart kid but also a jock, and pretty much an all around nice girl too. She took up Psychology in college and just graduated before cancer took her away from everyone at the age of 20.

We weren’t close, but I was good friends with Mary’s brother, who was in my batch. We went to the wake, and I remember being nervous at looking at her casket because…well, I was scared to look at someone so young yet dead. I remember bursting into tears when I finally looked at her, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t only because I was sad she was gone but because it reminded me of something that I was afraid to think of.

To quote my blog entry from that time:

It was like I was staring at my own mortality. Back then, I only hear of cancer from people who are aging, from people on TV. It wasn’t a possibility for me or any of my friends before — we’re too young and the world’s so big and there’s so many things to do for us to suffer from a disease like that. But seeing someone even younger than me pass away, not even getting to experience how it is to be outside of school…to imagine someone like her going through chemotherapy treatments…it doesn’t feel right. It’s so unfair.

You know what they’d say about this: but life is never fair. And anyway, everyone will die at some point, it’s just that someone left earlier. But that doesn’t really make it feel any better, or make losing people to death (and cancer) less painful, right?

Here’s a fact: after reading The Fault In Our Stars, I am still pretty much convinced that John Green can do no wrong with writing contemporary YA. His latest novel has all the wit and charm and realness that only he can write. This book is just as charming as An Abundance of Katherines with all the funny dialogue, as well as having the memorable characters and scenes as Paper Towns (Isaac is one of my new favorite sidekicks). The Fault In Our Stars has the comic relief and the seriousness of Looking for Alaska, but definitely less of the unattainable girl because Augustus made himself attainable right from the start. ;) The only thing this book has that the other Green books don’t have is the cancer, and John Green tackles that subject with enough sensitivity and seriousness that it makes us who are blessed not to experience that (whether with ourselves or with someone else we care for) somewhat understand a fraction of it. The book is very readable and realistic, despite some of the scenes that felt a little too outrageous and yes, a little too romantic and almost cheesy for my taste. Oh, but don’t get me wrong — this romance is probably the best of all in all of Green’s novels. Chasing an unattainable person and deciphering their mysteries can be a bit tiring, don’t you think?

Cancer plays a big part in this book, but if I you ask me, I didn’t see this as a cancer book. Cliche and cheesy as this may sound, I saw this book as a book for the living, to remind us of some things that people with terminal cases know: that we are all dying. I think if this was a normal contemporary YA story without the sick characters, I would’ve felt annoyed at Augustus’ presumptuous comments to Hazel, and I would tell Hazel to stay far far away from this boy who thinks he’s got her all figured out. But I believe Augustus was acting that way because he knew that life is short, and if you don’t say what you feel, or at least, if you’re not perfectly honest with the people you care about, then one day it might be too late for you to say the things you wanted to say in the first place. It goes both ways too — learning to receive the care and love and attention that other people offer out of their affection. Sometimes that’s even more difficult than giving it, because we think we don’t deserve it. There’s just as much grace in receiving kindness and love as in giving it. If anything, Hazel and Augustus’ love story is about choosing to live our lives despite the fact that we are all dying.

And because comparisons are unavoidable — here’s the order of all John Green books I have read based on how much I like them:

  1. Paper Towns
  2. The Fault In Our Stars
  3. An Abundance of Katherines
  4. Looking for Alaska

Paper Towns has the best plot out of all IMHO, but I think The Fault In Our Stars shine just as well as my favorite. So it might have taken me some time to get this book in my hands from its announcement to its release, and some more time to read it but the wait for this book was definitely worth it. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Book Harbinger
In Lesbians with Books
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Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith ZeitlinFreshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons
Number of pages: 282
Release date: March 1, 2012
My copy: ebook, review copy from the publisher

Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great – her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course…

Meredith Zeitlin’s Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters was like a walk down high school memory lane and I remembered my own freshman year (mis)adventures. The book’s heroine, Kelsey Finkelstein, is an incoming high school freshman and she’s planning to make her mark. This means going up to the next level and rebranding herself, even if her family is being impossible to her. With her friends behind her and her middle school rival out of the way, Kelsey is determined to be a new person in high school and maybe even catch the eye of her long-time crush. If only it were that easy! Soon she finds herself at the receiving end of a junior’s wrath and the subject of a mysterious school paper photographer (that always catches her in her worst moments) among others. Will Kelsey ever be able to do what she wants to do with all these catastrophes?

Ah freshman year. Those were the days. My freshman year in high school was a memorable one, only because I was pretty much excited at being a high school student. I considered transferring to another school when I graduated elementary but I eventually decided not to because most of my friends stayed in the same school. My parents just suggested it to me, in the end I stayed, which was a good thing too, because staying in my small high school made me one of the achievers. :P That’s what being in a small school (4 sections per batch with 35-40 students each) does, I guess. Anyway, I was surprised at the number of new students in my class, though, which almost made me as a new student too because my other friends were distributed to the other three sections. There were so many awkward moments in the first days because we were all trying to get to know each other, and pretty soon, I found a comfortable group of friends.

The happy moments didn’t really last long — I think puberty tends to make teens a lot cranky and bitchy to one another. I often call my freshman year as a year when I became almost like a war freak. Not because I would go and pick fights but for some reason I end up being a part of some petty fights! There was a particular time when I tagged along with my best friend from another section because some people from our group was mad at me and they managed to get everyone else to hang out with them leaving me behind. There were also times when I’d be a part of the group who leaves someone behind and then we’d have a confrontation of sorts. There were so many misunderstandings between the groups of friends, about things that I can only think of as petty when I remember them now.

Oh but don’t get me wrong — my freshman year was pretty fun overall, despite all those petty fights. I ended the year on a good note, and my friends and I all made up before the year ended. I remember feeling pretty sad that freshman year was ending and it was the only time we can be called freshman ever again. Until college, that is (and I loved college).

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters gave me that bittersweet feeling of being back in high school again, and a huge relief that I wasn’t there anymore! Kelsey is a vibrant narrator — a classic 14-year old girl who wants to make things different for herself. I saw myself in her (although I saw my sophomore self, not freshman) and if my 14-year old self read this, I bet I would have wanted to be friends with Kelsey. However, at my age now, I wanted to reach in the book and hold her back, to tell her to relax and that it will be okay. Those disasters weren’t really disasters, and she could treat her family better. But knowing myself during 14 and Kelsey? I doubt she’d listen. :)

I liked the cast of characters around Kelsey, although I thought some of them felt a little bit like the typical TV high school cast — the bully, the hot guy (who didn’t turned out to be so hot at all) and the annoying sibling. Still, I think they were able to play their roles well. I liked Kelsey’s friends and how they often emphasized how their friendship is more important than boys, and even if one of them put a boy first, they were still all there for each other afterwards. I was pretty shocked at what they are doing at the age of 14-15 though — getting drunk? Partying like crazy? Discussions about spray on tanning and the like? It never happened when I was at that age — to me, anyway. Okay fine, I was that age 12 years ago so this comment doesn’t really count anymore. Who knows what high school kids are doing now? I’m just not used to it, I guess. The first time I had alcohol was 16 (and it was a teeny-tiny shot that gave me a headache). :P

There were just some times when I thought the book felt a little long for my liking, but since it covers an entire year of high school, I guess it had to be that way. I didn’t always like Kelsey, but she grew on me by the end of the book. Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters is a fun read if only you’re willing to go down your own memory lane and remember your own high school experiences. It ended on a pretty open note which leaves a lot to the imagination. However, if Ms. Zeitlin will come out with sophomore, junior and senior year books for Kelsey and her friends (preferably narrated by her other friends too), then I would definitely be in line to get them to know what happens next. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
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Forever Young Adult
Love YA Lit