Vintage Love

Vintage Love by Agay LlaneraVintage Love by Agay Llanera
Publisher: Self-published
Number of pages: 114
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

26-year-old Crissy Lopez’s life is in dire need of a makeover. Her wardrobe revolves around ratty shirts and beat-up sneaks; her grueling schedule as a TV Executive leaves no room for a social life; and worst of all, she’s still hung up on the Evil Ex who left her five years ago.

When her fashionable grand-aunt passes away and leaves behind a roomful of vintage stuff, the Shy Stylista inside Crissy gradually resurfaces. Soon, she feels like she’s making progress — with a budding lovelife to boot! But the grim ghost of her past catches up with her, threatening to push her back into depression. To finally move on, Crissy learns that walking away is not enough. This time, she needs to take a leap of faith.

* * *

There was a time in my life when I pored over fashion blogs, especially those blogs where the authors showcased the outfits they made with half the items from thrift store shopping (aka ukay-ukay). I can count the number of times I went thrift store shopping with one hand, so I am a little envious with those people who seem to score so much good stuff in these stores while I can’t seem to find any. I think this is some sort of talent, or you know, you just have to devote more time in it so you can actually find something. Anyway, it’s been a long time since I last scoured thrift shops, and reading Agay’s Vintage Love kind of made me want to go do it again.

We meet Crissy Lopez in Vintage Love – a 26-year-old producer from a local network, whose life needs a serious make-over. Her usual wardrobe consists of jeans and sneakers, and her schedule gives her little free time for herself. To top it off, she’s still hung up over her ex. When her stylish grandmother passes away, leaving her with all funky vintage items, Crissy decides to do something with her life. But what will she do if her past decides to catch up on her just as she is making progress? Can she make that leap to leave it all behind?

Vintage Love is as cute as its paper-doll cover. I liked Crissy from the start — she seemed like a very smart heroine who is caught up with her career, and it’s something that I think everyone her age can relate to. I liked how she was passionate for her art, but not really her job, and how she went for what she really wanted to do as the story went on. Plus, there was more to Crissy than just the romance — the story had her really trying to improve herself, and the romance seemed to just come along as a bonus. The secondary characters in the book were also quite interesting, with the sort-of subplot for her best friend, Bea. This subplot wasn’t intrusive and it fit the story well, and it makes me want to have a little spin-off for her too. Mama Maring is another secondary character I really liked, and her presence in the novel was really felt even if she wasn’t really there.

The romance angle is cute and swoony and I really liked the text messages part, where lead interest, Vince, tried to cheer her up. Hee, I liked it because that thing was one of those “moves” back in college, when text quotes were still the “in” thing. Using that style in the story just fits in the whole vintage thing. The romance was pretty grounded and realistic, and it gave the characters enough space for their attraction and their relationship to develop, and even heal from whatever issues they both had. We can learn a lot with what Crissy went through, and the story’s lesson on choice. My favorite quote in the book sums it up very well:

At any given moment, at any given struggle, you always had a choice. Even happiness was a choice.

Vintage Love is not just a romance story, but also a story of strength and recovery, finding yourself and going for what you love. You don’t have to be a fan of vintage stuff to appreciate this novel. I think we all have a little bit of Crissy in us, and I hope that after reading this book, our inner Crissy’s will find the strength to take a leap of faith, too. :)

Rating:

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The Year of Secret Assignments

secretassignmentsThe Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
Ashbury/Brookfield # 2
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 340
My copy: paperback, from Aaron

Three girls. Three boys. One of them’s a total psycho.
It’s teenage life as it really feels. Only funnier.

The Ashbury-Brookfield pen pal program was designed to bring together the “lowlife Brooker kids” (as they’re known to the Ashburyites) and the “rich Ashbury snobs” (as they’re called by the Brookfielders) in a spirit of harmony and the Joy of the Envelope. But things don’t go quite as planned. Lydia and Sebastian trade challenges, like setting off the fire alarm at Brookfield. Emily tutors Charlie in How to Go On a Date with a Girl. But it’s Cassie and Matthew who both reveal and conceal the most about themselves — and it’s their secrets and lies that set off a war between the two schools.

* * *

I’ve been meaning to read more Jaclyn Moriarty books ever since reviews about her Ashbury/Brookfield series popped up in other blogs I follow. I’ve been meaning to, but I never got around to buying one because I wanted to start with book # 1 but it was kind of hard to find. I ended up getting the second book from one of the book swaps we had in the book club, put it on my TBR pile and forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when I was looking for something light and quick to read.

I was probably halfway into it when I checked Goodreads and realized that I was reading the second book, but then it didn’t matter anymore because I’ve gotten over my being nitpicky with the series I read. That, and I didn’t even notice that it’s the second book already, because I didn’t feel lost at all while I was reading this.

Best friends Lydia, Emily and Cassie are students from Ashbury and are all in the same English class. One of their assignments for the semester is to send letters to their penpals from Brookfield, their rival school. They didn’t want to, but they ended up doing so for the grade. Lydia meets Seb, and they spend most of their letter writing times exchanging challenges to get one out of class or to recognize the other. Emily teaches Charlie how to be good with girls. Cassie gets Matthew, who threatens her at first, and then turns nice after Cassie talks about herself more. Told in letters, emails, transcripts and diary entries, The Year of Secret Assignments is a fun and touching story of rivalry and friendship with a good dose of pranking fun.

I really enjoyed reading The Year of Secret Assignments. I enjoy reading books in letter format, but only if they’re done right. I liked how the letters in this book gave me different perspectives of a certain event, and it wasn’t that hard to follow even if I had to go back again and again on the same scenes. The voices of the characters were all distinct, and their stories were all different but interesting enough for me to latch on and watch them unfold. I really liked Emily and Charlie because they’re so likable, but Lydia and Seb seem more fun with all their pranks.
But the best part of the book has to be how their friendships were written. There was no doubt that Lydia, Emily and Cassie were good friends, and it was shown from how they cared for each other and how they mention each other in their letters. I liked how they all come to defend each other, and how they all come through for each other at all times. Their friendship reminded me of some of my favorite ones in YA fiction, such as the ones in Jellicoe Road, or Saving Francesca. I guess that’s also another similarity in Australian YA?

Even if this was the second book in the series, I didn’t have a hard time following the story. I think the books are based on different characters, anyway, and the characters in the other books are just part of the secondary cast. I liked how real the Ashbury/Brookfield world is, and I look forward to reading more of them when I get my hands on the other books. :)

I think the amazing thing is this: that you are just as lovely as you ever were, except stronger and braver than before.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook

Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards 2013

This day last year was the 2nd Filipino ReaderCon at the Filipinas Heritage Library. It was a fun, fun, fun bookish event, but one of the most memorable things I did as part of the organizers of the event was be a part of the first Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards. It was such a fun experience working behind the scenes in the awards, setting up voting forms, writing posts and cheering silently for the books that I hope would win. It also helped that I was working with two great girls (who know so much more than I do about books! :D).

Preparations for the 3rd Filipino ReaderCon are all under way, and that means we’re also starting to work on the 2nd Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards. In fact, nominations have been open since August 9! Have you nominated your favorite book yet?

Filipino Readers' Choice Awards

What books can you nominate? Any book (print or electronic) published in the Philippines from January to December 2012. Yes, even self-published books count! 

What are the categories? Children’s picture book, Chick lit, Novel in English, Novel in Filipino, Comics / Graphic novels, Short story anthology, Essay anthology, Poetry.

I’ve been checking out my reviews before I wrote this post, and I saw some books I read and reviewed on the blog last year that fits the criteria (most fall under Chick Lit category…why am I not surprised? :D):

Have you read any of these books, too?

Nominating a book is as easy as filling out this form, and you can nominate more than one book! Don’t worry about nominating books that you think your friends have nominated too — we like reading your reasons for nominating. :) And yes, do tell your friends, your co-workers, and everyone you know about this. :D Nominations are open until August 23 — but don’t wait until the last day to nominate!

More updates about the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards will be posted on the Filipino ReaderCon website, Facebook and Twitter. :)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of pages: 181
My copy: paperback, from Fully Booked

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

* * *

I wish I could say I’m a huge, huge Gaiman fan like my other friends are, but really, the only Gaiman book I’ve read in my life is Stardust. I read it twice and loved it, and I always associate good memories with that book. I meant to read more Gaiman, but the only other book I have at home is The Graveyard Book, which has been in two of our book club’s polls but kept on losing to other books so I had no reason to pick it up anytime soon. I knew he was one of those really awesome authors (plus he has the most awesome New Year’s messages), and I know I had to read more of his works but it just doesn’t really come up in the priority list. So when my friends started raving about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I was only mildly curious.

Until I saw the book, touched it and realized how pretty the physical copy was. Needless to say, after a few moments of touching the cover, I went ahead and bought the book. Yes, I am easily swayed like that.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short book, about an unnamed narrator who visits his childhood home and goes to the end of the road, where he remembers his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. It started with a man who lived with them who committed suicide, and then all sorts of weird things happened after that, trapping him in a bizarre world that has enchanted his family. It’s too much for a little boy to deal with on his own, except that he wasn’t really alone because his new friend Lettie promised to protect him at all costs.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane held me captive from the first page. It had a lovely sort of storytelling that was comforting and creepy at the same time — you know it’s not real, but there’s that fear of the things that our hero is getting himself into. I liked how honest and quiet the narration is, how the hero as a boy tried to make sense of things and be brave, even if things are getting creepier and creepier. You can feel all the doubt and worry and fear in him, and I wanted so much for him to prevail, for him to find a way out of things and save his family. It felt a little bit like a fairy tale, with how everything was set up, but also not so much, because there were really some frightening instances. Not scary in the sense of ghosts, or how horror movies were scary, but more of I’m so scared for you type of terror.

I think my favorite part of the entire story is the hero’s friendship with Lettie. It’s easy to nitpick on the Hempstocks and their abilities, but I won’t because other reviewers have done that already. I’d like to focus more on how Gaiman wrote the friendship — it was my most favorite part of the book. I liked how Lettie stood by him and protected him up to the end. It made the ending a lot more bittersweet, and full of heart. Yes, heart. That’s the right word to use — especially with what I one of the Hempstocks said to the hero near the end of the book:

I think you’re doing better than you were the last time we saw you. You’re growing a new heart, for a start.

Suffice to say that after reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I will start working on reading more Gaiman. If all his books has the same kind of lovely storytelling, then I certainly don’t want to miss out. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
marginalia
The Girl Who Read and Other Stories

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Publisher: Picador
Number of pages:  636
My copy: paperback, bought from Avalon.ph

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.

* * *

I have a feeling I will be a part of the unpopular opinion for this book. We picked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon for our book discussion last June, and I was  looking forward to it because it seemed like it had an interesting premise. But wait, let me be honest. The only thing I knew about this book before then was that it was a book about comic books. I don’t collect comic books but I read them every now and then, so I figure this should be something I would really enjoy, right?

Joe Kavalier is a young Jewish artist who was given a chance to go to the United States and escape his Nazi-invaded hometown. But because things were always unpredictable back then, Joe couldn’t get to the US in the conventional way. He sought help from a friend, who taught him the art of escaping ala-Houdini, and Joe makes it to his cousin, Sammy Clay’s place in Brooklyn safely. Sammy is a guy looking for a partner he can create stories with — heroes and stories, in the form of a comic book, which was a novelty thing in America in that time. Sammy teams up with Joe and creates a band of superheroes, where they put their dreams and fears, with Joe maybe having more at stake in the stories than his cousin has.

So this book was an utter challenge to read. Perhaps the book came at a particularly slump-y month in reading, and it was 600+ pages thick…but really. Talk about really slogging through the book. It was the first time I actually went to a discussion without finishing the book. (I finished it the following day, though :D) I was curious enough with the story to keep on reading, but the writing made it a little difficult to just keep on reading. The writing reminded me a little of that one Biology class in college where if I lose just a few seconds of focus from what our professor is saying, I lose everything completely. There’s a word in one of the reviews of this books in Goodreads that’s pretty much the right word to describe it: bloated. There’s so much being said about so many things, but it doesn’t really add anything to the reading experience as far as I’m concerned. The only thing that really kept me from skimming parts of the book is the thought that maybe there’s something in this part that I will need to know in the later parts. I had the same mindset in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, too, but I remember being a little more satisfied when things started to come together for JS&MN.

Then again, I probably shouldn’t compare a fantasy novel to a historical novel.

There were some parts that I really liked, though, and I felt somewhat invested in the characters (I really liked Luna Moth :D). My heart went out for Joe especially, after that thing happened to him that made him almost lose it. And there was that scene with the dogs, too! (Oh those dogs!) I liked how the story stressed a lot on just how it is to be in a “free” country while war is happening in other parts of the world. There were good points in the novel, and I really appreciate it, but I’m afraid some of it may have gotten lost in all the layers of text that I had to wade through.

That being said, even if I didn’t really like this book so much, I can still see why it’s an award-winning novel. Joe and Sam’s story is a story of love at its core, all wrapped in the complications of life, war and comic books. The comic book angle is one of the brilliant parts of it, IMO. Like I said, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is still a pretty good book, really…but perhaps it’s just one of those books that’s not really for me.

Rating:

Required Reading: June

Other reviews:
marginalia
Book Rhapsody
In Lesbians with Books