Too Good to Be True

Too Good to Be TrueToo Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN
Number of pages: 383
My copy: Kindle edition

When Grace Emerson’s ex-fiancé starts dating her younger sister, extreme measures are called for. To keep everyone from obsessing about her love life, Grace announces that she’s seeing someone. Someone wonderful. Someone handsome. Someone completely made up. Who is this Mr. Right? Someone…exactly unlike her renegade neighbor Callahan O’Shea. Well, someone with his looks, maybe. His hot body. His knife-sharp sense of humor. His smarts and big heart.

Whoa. No. Callahan O’Shea is not her perfect man! Not with his unsavory past. So why does Mr. Wrong feel so…right?

* * *

Grace Emerson has a little bit of a problem. Or, a big problem, but one of them was something she can’t really do anything about because it involves her younger sister dating her ex-fiancé. Grace is supposed to be all okay about it except she wasn’t, but she didn’t want her sister to feel bad about it, so she did what she does best: invent a boyfriend. She tells her family that she’s dating a Dr. Wyatt, just to get them out of her face, but it does exactly the opposite. Then enter her new neighbor, Callahan O’Shea – he’s hot, for sure, but he has a bad past, and Grace just couldn’t be involved with him. Never mind that he was funny, and smart, and he has a big heart. Never mind all that. Besides, how would he like her, even, when she literally clobbered him with a stick when they first met, and that she is dating a nonexistent doctor?

So I didn’t really plan on reading Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins that day I opened it. I only meant to scan it, you know. Read a little, then decide if I should read it again later on. But lo and behold, soon, I was already 25% in, and I decided that I should just go and read it because I couldn’t put it down. True to form, this Kristan Higgins novel had all the things that a Kristan Higgins novel has: a strong woman with a lot of dating mishaps, a guy she’s currently getting over, a smoldering hot guy that you just know is for her all along, a wacky family (with issues to boot), and finally a dog. Of course there’s a dog, and the dog pretty much steals the show for most part.

This was really, really fun, and I remember being enamored by Callahan O’Shea the moment he and Grace had their meet-cute. I loved Grace for all she is – history buff, sometimes klutzy, but with a huge huge heart for the people she loves. I felt really, really irked for her when she dealt with her sister, but I also understand where she’s coming from even if I don’t have a sister. I have friends who are exactly like Natalie, and you just love them but sometimes you feel really frustrated that they get everything, even the things that were supposed to be yours. Unfair, right? But in this case, this was really a good thing for Grace, because obviously things worked out for her in the end.

I love the romance here, too — Callahan wasn’t the kind of lead interest I thought he was. I love it when the Significant Development finally happened, and I couldn’t stop smiling about it. Granted, there could have been more tension in the meltdown of the two leads, but there were too many things happening around them already so adding more might be overkill. And again, Callahan O’Shea was just a really surprising lead. Seemingly bad boy with a good heart, definitely. :)

I liked Too Good to Be True so much that I actually finished it in two days. I think this will be in my Kristan Higgins favorites list (together with All I Ever Wanted and Somebody to Love). More, please!

Number of dog-eared pages: 6

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

God must’ve had single women in mind when he invented dogs.

“I need to run next door, and then head to the hardware store, Grace. Anything you need?” Cal said, turning to me.
I need to be kissed. “Um, nope. No that I can think of,” I said, blushing again.

Why couldn’t people be happy alone? Love took your heart hostage.

Holding hands had to be one of the most wonderful things God ever invented, I thought as we went into the restaurant. A small but undeniable claim on someone, holding hands.

Rating:

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Steph Su Reads

Lost Lake

Lost LakeLost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Number of pages: 304
My copy: Kindle edition

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it’s the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn’t believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake’s owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake’s magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

* * *

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my go-to authors for comfort reads. I think everyone who’s ever read any of her books know this. There’s something about her words, the magic realism in her novels that just hits the right spot. So I was very excited when Lost Lake came out, and I couldn’t wait to get lost in this new, magical world crafted by her SAA’s words.

A year after her husband’s death, Kate Pherris wakes up. Her mother-in-law, Cricket, plans to move her and her daughter Devin with her, but Kate didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. When Devin finds a postcard from her Kate’s Aunt Eby from Lost Lake, the mother and daughter drive off to Lost Lake. Eby Pim knew Lost Lake is going bankrupt, and with a heavy heart, she finally decides to sell it. When this news comes out, Eby’s old friends started coming back, to spend one last time in the lake. Eby thinks she made the right decision, but something doesn’t sit well with her. Lost Lake is a place where lost people find themselves, so what happens when they lose it?

I got lost in Lost Lake a few pages in, and I mean that in a good way. There’s the usual magic and beauty in this book. It’s not quite the same as Garden Spells, a bit more similar to The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but still unique in its own way. I really liked the setting. Most of my vacations by the water involve the beach – sun, sand and whatnot. Lakes aren’t too common here in the Philippines (at least, there’s not much of them that I know), so a lake vacation is interesting to me. I loved the old cabins, the lake that seemed like magic, and all the other memories that the cast of characters had in the lake. The history gave the place a lot more personality, and it was so nice to dip into all of it and see how much the place meant to everyone in Suley. I wanted to be there in Lost Lake, too, to witness the magic of the place first hand.

But in a way, I guess I was there, too. True to form, SAA’s words brought me there, too, and it was such a pleasure to be there. Reading this felt like a vacation, the one where I made new friends in the form of the characters in the story. I loved Eby and Kate and Devin, but the people who really shone here were the secondary characters – Lisette, Selma, Buhladeen (I love her name), Wes, the alligator. I loved them in their signature quirkiness, their whimsy and the little magic that they call carried in their own. The thing with SAA novels is that even if there is a little bit of magic, somehow you’d still believe that they were just normal, everyday things. That’s what I love the most about magic realism – how magic is not new, and how it’s all so subtle but it leaves a big mark in the character’s lives.

Lost Lake was good, except maybe compared to the other SAA books, it had a little of a lost quality to it, too. I don’t mean it in a bad way; perhaps there was just too many things to love that I couldn’t really settle into any of them to love them fully. I suppose this isn’t bad, but I had a lot of books for comparison and Lost Lakepales just a little bit in comparison to the others. If you’re new to SAA and you want to dip your toes into her stories, then this may be a good one to start with, and then I would recommend you read her others, too, because trust me: it gets better from there.

Number of dog-eared pages: 37

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.

Magic is what we invent when we want something we think we can’t have.

All the women in their family had sturdy frames. They weren’t meant to break, but most of them did anyway, blown down by that perfect storm called love.

If we measured life in the things that almost happened, we wouldn’t get anywhere.

We are conduits for happiness. Remember that.

You can’t change where you came from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don’t like the ending, you make up a new one.

When your cup is empty, you do not mourn what is gone. Because if you do, you will miss the opportunity to fill it again.

Sometimes, the best endings are the one that surprise you. Sometimes, the best are the ones that have everything happening exactly how you want it to happen. But the absolute perfect endings are when you get a little of both.

Rating:

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Dear Author

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful ThingsTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 304
My copy: Kindle edition

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this bookis a balm for everything life throws our way.

* * *

I first heard of Sugar through Hilary, one of my favorite bloggers. She often mentioned stuff she wrote on her posts, and for a moment, I thought that “Sugar” was someone she knew personally, because she often referred to her like she knew her from real life. Then I wandered over to The Rumpus, and found that Sugar was actually an advice columnist. Now I have read several advice columns before – in magazines, while having my hair done in salons, most of the time. I read them, but they’re not really my cup of tea, you know? Not that the people don’t offer sound advice, but I would rather talk to people I know for advice because they know me better.

But Sugar seems like a different story. I mean, read this:

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

How beautiful is that? I meant to read more of her posts, but then I got a copy of her Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of the Dear Sugar columns. Some of my Goodreads friends gave a really high rating for it, so I scanned the first few pages and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop reading. Because this book is possibly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in the longest time.

The thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that it is filled with tiny, beautiful things. Cheryl Strayed writes with the right mix of brutal honesty and gentleness in an answer to the people who wrote to her, asking for advice. And these people who wrote these letters are everyday people with everyday problems. Or, some of them may not be everyday problems, but they’re situations that we, perfectly imperfect humans, get into. And I know it’s impossible for one person to truly experience every single thing that these people wrote about, and Sugar doesn’t pretend to do that. What she did instead is meet their problems with her own vulnerability and offer what she has, in hopes of the words finding the their home in the hearts of the people who sought her.

And I think it worked, because I could only count with one hand the letters that were close enough to what happened in my life, and yet Sugar’s answers hit me, resonated in me “like a clanging bell.” The truth that she wrote were truths that I could also use in my own life — and I think other readers could use it, too. Her words on courage and love and compassion were a balm to the soul, and even if she delivers them sometimes with an edge, her love shines through, warm and inviting and healing. No judgments whatsoever. Just the loving truth. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Tiny Beautiful Things is the kind of book where I wished I had some kind of photographic memory, or at least I could remember each quote with clarity so when I need words for trying times, I know what words to pull to keep me afloat. This is the kind of book that I would reread from the first page to the last, the kind of book I will pick up and flip through randomly and still find something to feed my soul. I loved everything about Tiny Beautiful Things, and I hope in my heart that this book finds its way to the people who need it.

Number of dog-eared pages: 125

Favorite dog-eared quotes (among others, because there’s just. too. many.):

Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams that was built by your own desire to heal.

There is a middle path, but it goes only one direction: towards the light. Your light. The one that goes blink, blink, blink inside your chest when you know what you’re doing is right. Listen to it. Trust it. Let it make you stronger than you are.

Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce.

The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.

What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart.

You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.

We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts.

When you set new boundaries there is often strife and sorrow, but your life will be changed for the better.

Forgiveness doesn’t sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Guardian
Miss Bookish Girl
Her Life With Books

Required Reading: April 2014

You know what? My decision last March not to set any reading lists was actually one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my reading this year. It was actually so nice not to worry about what I will read, or if I will finish anything that I set myself to read. I picked up whatever book I wanted and read at my own pace. That was definitely refreshing.

So here’s what I read last month:

  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (5/5) – Definitely one of my favorite reads so far. So many gems in this one. :)
  • The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding (3/5) – Fun contemporary YA, with theater and musicals and a writer mom.
  • Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins (4/5) – Heee so much fun and swoon! You can never go wrong with a Kristan Higgins.
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver (3/5) – Finally finished this! I wasn’t as in love with this as I was with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but I really liked the longer version of Bath, entitled “A Small Good Thing”, here.
  • Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (3/5) – Still magical and still lovely. I want to go and be lost in Lost Lake, too.
  • 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley (5/5) – This is a retreat book, so I started this on February and ended on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Definitely life-changing. To Jesus, through Mary.
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green (reread) – A reread because I was asked to moderate a book discussion about this. I liked it better the second time around. :)

See, I read a lot last month! (And of course, I wrote zero reviews for them. Haha)

But now it’s April, and it’s sorta back to the reading list reality. Sort of. I have a reading list, which I bet I wouldn’t be able to follow as strictly because I always get distracted by other shiny books nowadays and I am just a slow reader now, so there. :)

Required Reading 2014 - April

Holy Week falls on April, and I’ve always tried to have a Holy Week theme for my books whenever it rolls around because it sets the right mood. I realized that I didn’t have fiction that’s good for Holy Week this time around (I had the last two Narnia books in 2012 and Iscariot in 2013). But now that I seem to be taking a liking to some non-fiction books, and we keep on talking about some of these titles at SFC meetings, so I figured it’s time to actually read things that the Pope wrote. (And Pope Francis is cool.)

rrapril2014

  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – our book club’s book of the month. :)
  • The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and Lumen Fidei by Pope Francis – because like I said, Pope Francis is cool. And it’s about time I read some encyclicals. And The Joy of the Gospel has joy in it, and it’s my word for 2014. :)
  • Illusion by Frank Peretti – This has been on my TBR for years, and it’s kind of suprising because I love Frank Peretti. I should have started reading this ages ago. :)

I also plan to read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, but I didn’t put it here because I’m pretty sure I won’t finish it this month. :P