The Mysterious Benedict Society

mbsThe Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Mysterious Benedict Society #1
Publisher: Little, Brown
Number of pages: 456
My copy: paperback, bought from Powerbooks

Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they’ll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies. So, if you’re gifted, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, they could probably use your help.

I’ve had The Mysterious Benedict Society in my TBR pile for years, after I bought it when I read reviews about how “smart” this book was. Back then I was still a series completist, so I had to start with the first book and planned to get the rest of the books later on because it was just right, right? But anyway, that didn’t happen, and the book remained in my TBR pile until one day, I decided to pick it up because I wanted something else to read. And I figured it’s about time to get this off there.

An ad in the newspaper appears, looking for smart kids who were willing to go through a series of tests. Out of all who took it, only four children passed: Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire. The kids were brought to Mr. Benedict, who tells them of an evil plan that they need to stop and sent them as spies to the Learning Institute of the Very Enlightened, the school where all this evil seems to be coming from. Adventure follows, as well as danger, but there was too much at stake for them to just give up.

They were right. This book was fun and smart, and a lot of it made me think of just how they’d get out of the scrapes they get into. The kids were easy to like, even Constance, who started out so annoying and stubborn but later became endearing just because of those qualities. There was mystery, yes, and as a reader I had to keep on thinking, too, about  just what was happening and how they would ever get out of the messes they got into.

I just think the book was just a tad long. I know all scenes worked out to the ending, but I remember being a bit impatient with this at some point that I was almost skimming. It could just be a case of reader ADD, though, but I can’t deny the relief I felt when I was finally done. To be fair, the ending was pretty heartwarming, and it felt like a reward after reading the length of the book.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a smart and fun book, and while I was a bit lukewarm about it (Maybe that means I won’t be one of those kids who will take that exam. Or pass it. Heh), I think I’d really like to keep this copy around once my nephew is old enough to read. :)

Rating: 

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.

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Good Books and Good Wine
The Book Gaga

Buqo YA 2 Blog Tour: Sweet Complications

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Buzzer beater in today’s tour stop because work and life are in the way of the reading and blogging life (as always). But today, before the day ends, I’ll be reviewing one of the stories in the second Buqo YA bundle!

Once Upon a Sticky Note by Kristel Ann Cruz
Buqo YA 2: Sweet Complications (buy on Buqo!)

Nate and Tanya have been “talk all day, every day” best friends for years but on the eve of Nate’s birthday, Tanya realized she has started developing more-than-platonic feelings him. They’re going off to college soon so confessing anything that might make things complicated between them doesn’t sound like a good plan, especially now that Campus Sweetie Armi has entered the picture. What would Tanya do? Could she? Should she? Grab a sticky note and place your bets.

I’ve been seeing this story in the #buqoYA twitter feed during the time the stories were being written, and I thought this was such a cute title. I love sticky notes, too, and I was really curious on how this item would fit in the Nate and Tanya’s love story.

This is a short, short story, but despite its length, I was really convinced that Nate and Tanya were truly best friends, with the way they knew each other and the history they had together. I think that is the most challenging about writing friends-turned-lovers stories – building on their history and making the readers believe that they are meant to be even from the start (except writing that trope for YA is a bit easier because the characters are younger). I liked their back story, which was simple, and how Tanya truly loved Nate as her best friend and not just a guy she liked.

Once Upon a Sticky Note had both the sweet and the complications, as this bundle is all about. Don’t worry, the ending is more sweet than complicated. :P My only wish for this story is that it was a little bit longer, if only to flesh out their characters and their stories more. Nevertheless, this is a very sweet and cute YA story that you should not miss. :)

Rating: 

Excerpt:

Of course it also doesn’t hurt that he is nice to look at. I have always pegged Nate as a pretty boy, but his unassuming ways make him look more attractive. I like his thick eyebrows, his smiling eyes, and the dimple on his left cheek that mirrors mine. I can’t even tell you how many jealous stares I have fielded when we walk through the school together, or how my heart secretly swells seeing these.

It’s quite melodramatic to say that our lives have never been the same since we became closer because we are still very young, but that fact doesn’t make it any less true. I will feel so lost when the time comes he or I would have to go our separate ways. Graduation is coming soon and to be honest, I’m dreading college. I wonder if we will be as close as we are now or whether I will be left behind, a mere footnote to carefree high school days.

It was almost morning when I realized I am in love with my best friend.

About the author:

It boggles the mind how someone so shy and awkward found herself in Public Relations, but somehow Krissy makes it work. If she were a fictional character, she’d be a female Ted Mosby. Whether it be prose, poetry, a watercolor painting, or a craft project, she is happiest when she makes. Talk about books, movies, and lipsticks with her on www.krissyfied.com

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BuqoYA 1 blog tour: Taking Chances Review

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Buqo YA 1: Taking Chances by Justine Camacho-Tajonera, Raquel Sarah A. Castro, Six de los Reyes, Kaye Dee, Rafael P. Pascual, and Jen Suguitan
Publisher: Buqo
My copy: review copy

Whether looking for closure, proving their worth, or wondering what happens after a moonlit night, the characters from these stories will invite you to take a chance for love. Will they find what they’re looking for? Or will their hearts get broken? Step into their shoes and find out.

A little history: I was supposed to be a part of this (or any of the other bundles in the Buqo YA books), but I sucked at time management back when the class was ongoing and I totally wasn’t able to focus and write. I did get a new job by then, plus it was Papal Visit week. Granted, I was two chapters away from finishing my story by the last day of the class, but I realized that I didn’t want to turn what I had in because it was far from publishable form, and I had zero time to edit after the class ended because life, and work.

So I let my story rest (and it’s still resting). But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to support my fellow authors, right?

So, Taking Chances is the first Buqo YA bundle. Each bundle contains six stories, and the stories in this book are all about what the title says: taking chances. The stories are short and sweet, because they’re all romance, and they’re all set in the Philippines, so yay, because we can never have enough of Filipino YA novels/short stories, right?

Of all the stories in this bundle, three are my favorite: Justine Camacho-Tajonera’s A Portrait of Jade, Six de los Reyes’ After the Moment, and Jen Suguitan’s Never Too Late. A Portrait of Jade is about Jade who goes to an art camp in Baguio to escape being under her sister’s shadow. She meets Alex, a snotty art boy who criticizes her work, and they get paired up with their final project for the camp. I liked the whole concept of the camp, and how the two worked on the projects. It was really sweet and interesting, and Jade’s growth at the end was a pleasure to read.

After the Moment – thinking about this story makes me want to giggle and sigh incoherently. There’s something about the characters and how the story was written that makes it so engrossing. I rooted for Aria from the start, and I was immediately in her head. Her banter with Kris was so real that I kept on smiling all throughout. This is my favorite in this bundle, and I’m really, really glad that there will be a continuation for this. :)

The bundle ends with Never Too Late, which was about Cass who goes on a trip to Corregidor and ends up being in the wrong tour group because of her tardiness. Cass is struggling to deal with the death of her older sister, Sam, and she was terribly at odds with her other sister, Anj. Then she meets Noah from the tour group, who accompanies her through the trip, where Cass learns an important lesson on beginning again. I like how this didn’t deal too much with the romance, but also with Cass’ grief and her family. Noah felt like the icing to the cake here, but not in a bad way – because why eat cake without icing, right? This story made me want to go to Corregidor soon. :)

If all the stories in the other Buqo YA bundles are as enjoyable as this, then I am so excited to read the rest. :) You can get this book (and the other Buqo YA bundles) from Buqo YA 1 for only Php 45. Totally worth it. :)

Rating: 

Check out the other blog tour stops here! 

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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.

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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

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Number of pages: 242
My copy: Kindle edition

Comedy’s fastest-rising star takes to the page in a book of essays, personal anecdotes, and impassioned pleas.

Multi-hyphenate Mindy Kaling is an Emmy-nominated writer, the actress famous for playing the beloved Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and the author of one of Twitter’s most popular and quoted feeds.  She is a keen and witty observer of life, romance, and pop culture, whom the New York Times recently called “an entirely original and of-the-moment” performer and Entertainment Weekly deemed “one of the ten funniest actresses in Hollywood.”

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy shares her observations, fears, and opinions about a wide-ranging list of the topics she thinks about the most: from her favorite types of guys (including Sherlock Holmes, NBA players, Aaron Sorkin characters, and 19th-century fictional hunks) to life in the Office writers’ room to her leisure pursuit of dieting (“I don’t travel, speak other languages, do crafts, or enjoy sports, but I love reading about new diets”) and how much she loves romantic comedies.  Loaded with personal stories and laugh-out-loud philosophies, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a must-read by one of the most original comedic voices working today.

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I’ve seen Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling on blogs since last year, I think, but I didn’t pick it up because I wasn’t a huge fan of memoirs. Plus, I didn’t really know who Mindy Kaling was. I only watched a few episodes of The Office, and not enough about her, and there was only one episode of The Mindy Project that I watched for #romanceclass. For some reason, I started reading more non-fiction books and memoirs this year, and after reading a comment from a friend on Facebook about this book, I finally decided to pick it up. I wasn’t planning to read it immediately, but then I decided to scan through the first pages…then I started laughing. And I was hooked.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? talks about Mindy’s experiences and observations about life — and by that, I meant she talked about a lot of things: from friendships to her parents, to her ethnicity, school, fashion, weight, and her work as a writer. There’s also a bit about romance, Irish exits (so that’s what this means!), and comedies. Not knowing much about Mindy, I thought I’d get bored with it, but I wasn’t even halfway through the book and I couldn’t stop laughing. Her observations and comments were spot-on, and I found myself relating to some of it. Cliche as this may be, reading this book felt like I was just hanging out with Mindy somewhere and I was listening to all her stories about her life so far. Also, laughing very hard, because I imagine she’s a great storyteller and she’d definitely hold the room’s attention. :D

There were just some chapters in the book that I kind of spaced out on, particularly the parts about comedies because I’m not a huge fan of those. But I really liked reading her behind the scenes commentaries on The Office, particularly the bit about Steve Carell. Who would’ve thought? It made me kind of want to watch a bit of The Office, as well as The Mindy Project, if only to get more quotable quotes from her.

And this is me being silly, but a teeny part of me feels ashamed that I didn’t read her books within two days (because she said “This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink.”)…but she would understand, right? Heh. :D Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a funny and refreshing read, a good in-between books for when you read too much fiction or when you have too much drama in your life, or when you just want to laugh, period. Definitely keeping this on my shelf. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 37

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

For instance, they say the best revenge is living well. I say it’s acid in the face — who will love them now?

But writing about my struggles was actually really fun. Besides, who wants to read about success, anyway? Successful serial murderers, maybe.

Haley and I would talk for hours about which member of ‘N Sync we’d want to marry. After long deliberation, the answer was always J.C. Chasez. Joey Fatone’s last name was going to be “Fat One” no matter how great he was, and even though they didn’t know at their age that Lance Bass was gay outright, they sensed he’d make a better good friend and confidante. As for Justin Timberlake, well, JT was the coolest and hottest, but too flashy, so we couldn’t trust him to be faithful. J.C. Chasez was the smart compromise.

If you’re going to punch someone in the face, your best bet is to punch your best friend.

I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.

When you think a girl looks pretty, say it.

…We are magic to you: you have no idea how we got to look as good as we do.

I think when men hear that women want a commitment, they think it means commitment to a romantic relationship, but that’s not it. It’s a commitment to not floating around anymore. I want a guy who is entrenched in his own life. Entrenched is awesome.

In real life, shouldn’t a wedding be an awesome party you throw with your great pal, in the presence of a bunch of your other friends? A great day, sure, but not the beginning and certainly not the end of your friendship with a person you can’t wait to talk about gardening with for the next forty years.

Rating:

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