This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Number of pages: 288
My copy: e-ARC from Netgalley

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

* * *

I’ve only read one Leila Sales book, Past Perfect, and I had fun with it because it was so, well, fun. I remember really liking the setting and the characters and how it felt like such a good summer read, so I dove into This Song Will Save Your Life with the same expectations: that this will be a light, fun read, a perfect companion for my recent trip.

But…I was wrong.

I was wrong about the light and fun part, actually. I honestly thought This Song Will Save Your Life is about a girl who builds a playlist and all that, and the “saving your life” part was just metaphorical, a symbolism of sorts. Well, it as kind of like that, but I didn’t expect it to be so serious. In a good way, that is. Elise Dembowski is unpopular, but not because she did something. Or maybe she was unpopular because she tries so hard, too hard. But all Elise wanted was to be seen, to have friends, and when her last attempt failed, she gives up (and this was the part that shocked me and told me that this might be different from the previous Leila Sales book I read). Then Elise discovers an underground warehouse party where she meets people who knew nothing about her and calls her their friend. Ellie finds herself spending more time with them, until she gets into the DJ booth and realizes that there was something else to love about her new secret: DJing.

So this book is about Elise and her quest to fit in, a secret club, and DJing. The last two were a bit unexpected, but it was only unexpected because I didn’t read the summary when I got the book; I just requested it because it was Leila Sales (and the cover was pretty). Like I said, I was surprised at how heavy this book felt at the start, at how big Elise’s problems were to her. I didn’t expect that at all, but that development was gripping enough for me to want to find out what happens next.

The book was a bit slow at the start, and again, because I didn’t read the book’s summary, I wasn’t really sure what would happen. I wasn’t sure about the secret party warehouse angle at first, until the other characters grew on me and I wanted to know what would happen to them. The romantic angle made me cringe a little, and you know how when you read something like that that it was doomed from the start, and you’re not sure how to feel if it didn’t end up doomed? I had that feeling in my stomach while I was reading it. The writing was clear and vivid that I could almost feel how it was to be in that party, to dance and sing with other people as Elise changes the music, to be one with the crowd and all that jazz. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really party.

The other side of Elise’s life really hurt to read, too, and it made the contrast between her day life and her night life really stand out. It made me realize yet again how high school kids can be mean even if they didn’t intend to — how a simple act of ignorance of another person can really break someone, even if you didn’t intend to do that. There was that particularly mean action made for the sake of “postmodern art” that really got to my nerves, but I liked how it was handled in this book, and how in the end, Elise found a reason to like herself more than wishing that other people like her too. And isn’t that the point? That we be convinced of our worth, to know that it has never been tied to someone else?

I was really liked This Song Will Save Your Life, and I think not knowing what it was about when I first read it contributed to how much I liked it overall. I didn’t end the book wanting to be a DJ, nor wanting to find secret warehouse parties, but I did end it feeling a little bit more compassionate for other people and for myself, too. And I think that’s good enough.

Number of dog-eared pages: 8

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I thought about how my back hurt from standing and my ears rang. But I also thought about how exciting it had been. How powerful I had felt, knowing that I alone had the ability to make people dance, the ability to make them happy.

I’m telling you, never fall for a music man. It only ends in heartbreak.

True, things don’t stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always YOU: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable.

Rating:

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Daring Greatly

daringgreatlyDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Publisher: Gotham
Number of pages: 260
My copy: Kindle edition

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities.

* * *

I first heard about Brené Brown from one of my favorite personal blogs, and there I found her TEDx talk on vulnerability and shame. From then on, I was a fan, and I really wanted to read her book that talked more about vulnerability. I considered my 2013 as a year of learning about vulnerability (besides learning how to be brave), and I thought that it was such a mind-blowingly simple thing, this vulnerability. I mean, it’s simple because it’s all in us, but it’s also possibly quite the hardest thing anyone will ever allow themselves to be. But it’s necessary, right?

2013 came and went, and it was a rollercoaster of a year for me. Sometime near the end of the year, I decided that I was going to make Daring Greatly one of the first books I will read in 2014, because the end of 2013 kind of steered me in that direction. So when 2014 rolled around, I opened the book and started reading.

10% in, and I was already learning so much, that I wondered why I didn’t try to read it earlier. I mean, this could have helped me deal with life things back then!

On a serious note, Daring Greatly is a book that dares us to dare greatly. If you’ve watched her TEDx talks, this book is pretty much an expanded edition of what she said there. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is about how we can practice vulnerability and cultivate shame resilience in our everyday lives so we can dare greatly and help others to do the same. Using comprehensive research on shame (the one she talked about on the video — yes, this is me urging you to watch that video), Brené talked about her personal experiences and the results she received from interviews and surveys that shed light on shame and how it is to be the “man in the arena”.

I loved this. Like I said, 10% into the book, I was already nodding and noting and highlighting so many parts, because they rang true. These were the things I was trying to learn myself last year, and the things I tried to practice. These were the things I desired to have with practicing vulnerability. I loved how open and relatable this was, and I could feel that the writing itself was very vulnerable, with the way Brené shared bits of her life and research in the book. And it’s compassionate, too, because even if some parts hit hard — as in, I can’t believe I didn’t do this, I’m so stupid, la la la – she always brings you back to the fact that our mistakes don’t make us. We may make wrong choices, but it doesn’t tell us what we’re worth.

I enjoyed reading this for the most part because it’s not just a self-help book, but also a book packed by research. Brené even talked about her research process at the end of the book, and you she knows what she’s talking about. It’s so refreshing to read this, and find someone openly discussing something that we all want to be (even if sometimes we didn’t think we want it). I really enjoyed the chapters on debunking vulnerability myths, and that chapter she named after Harry Potter. :D (Because when you think about it, shame is like a dementor.) I think I just sort of spaced out with the vulnerability in a corporate setting (which is funny because I should be interested in that given that I live in corporate world). The parenting section was interesting even if I’m not a parent, and you know that these are just the things you want to note for when you have your own kids.

So overall, I really liked this book, and I was glad that I read this to start off my 2014. I really liked Brené’s Final Thoughts in the book, about that guy who was inspired by Brené’s TED talk, and decided to tell the girl he was dating for several months that he loved her. He got rejected.

She told him that she thought he was “awesome” but that she thought they should date other people. When he got back to his apartment after talking to his girlfriend, he told his two roommates what had happened. He said, “They were both hunched over their laptops and without looking up one of them was like ‘What were you thinking, man?’” One of his roommates told him that girls only like guys who are running the other way. He looked at me and said, “I felt pretty stupid at first. For a second I was mad at myself and even a little pissed at you. But then I thought about it and I remembered why I did it. I told my roommates, ‘I was daring greatly, dude.’”

He smiled when he told me, “They stopped typing, looked at me, nodded their heads, and said, ‘Oh. Right on, dude.’”

I truly believe that Brené Brown had it right: Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. There were many things in Daring Greatly that I wished I had known earlier, but it’s also okay that I learned it now, because I don’t think I would have appreciated its value then. To live an authentic, wholehearted life, we need to dare greatly, over and over again. Even if we fail, because guess what — our failures have nothing on us, because we are enough. :)

I was daring greatly, dude. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 74

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity…to let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster – that’s an intense form of vulnerability.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.

Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and cultivate hope. The joy becomes a part of who we are, and when bad things happen — and they do happen — we are stronger.

“What are the gremlins saying?”

Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.

Shame resilience is the ability to say, “This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.”

If you own this story you get to write the ending.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.

Rating:

The Catastrophic History of You and Me

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess RothenbergThe Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
Publisher: Penguin
Number of pages: 401
My copy: Kindle edition

Brie is the “biggest, cheesiest, sappiest romantic” who believes that everyone will find their perfect someone, so when Jacob, the love of Brie’s life, tells her he doesn’t love her anymore, the news breaks her heart, literally, and she dies. But now that she’s D&G (dead and gone), Brie revisits the living world to discover that her family has begun to unravel and her best friend has been keeping an intimate secret about her boyfriend. Somehow, Brie must handle all of this while navigating through the five steps of grief with the help of Patrick, her mysterious bomber-jacketed guide to the afterlife. But how is she supposed to face the Ever After with a broken heart and no one to call her own?

* * *

My friend Kai recommended The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg to me way back it first came out, but I never got around to reading it for some reason. Then one day, while waiting for some friends to pick me up in a bookstore in a mall that I’ve only been to once, I saw the new cover of the book and read the back blurbs. I don’t know what happened, but I decided to pick it up. Perhaps it finally piqued my interest? I can’t even remember if the words “letting go” were there, but in case they were, then it was probably why I decided to get it.

Brie dies because of heart break, soon after her boyfriend, Jacob, breaks up with her. Impossible, yet it happened, and Brie wakes up in the afterlife, unsure of what exactly she needs to do now. She meets another soul, Patrick, who goes with her when she revisits her old life. Brie realizes the extent of the loss that the people she left felt, and how things were suddenly so far away from what she’s expected: her family’s breaking apart, her best friend “going out” with her ex. Brie being dead meant she couldn’t do anything about it…or could she? How can she move on now, knowing that everything and everyone she left are now so messed up?

I didn’t really expect to love this book so much while I was reading it, but I did. Brie’s voice was fresh and snarky and so fun to read, that even if she was essentially dead, it wasn’t so hard to relate to her. I liked how Brie was such a normal girl, with her family, her dog, her friends and her boyfriend. Everything about her seemed normal, until she died, of course. But even so, Brie’s personality shone throughout, and I laughed with her, felt sad with her and I felt truly, truly happy for her when things started falling into place at the end.

The book isn’t really about death per se — it didn’t answer the mysteries of life or anything — but more about grief, and moving on. I liked how the story was framed around the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), which is basically applicable not just to deaths but anything that we ever grieved for. Here, I read about how Brie’s family and friends worked through these stages, and Brie as well…and they didn’t handle it all spectacularly. Which is okay, because they’re humans, and we never really go through all those 5 stages perfectly and not have battle scars in the end. The Catastrophic History of You and Me is really more about letting go, moving on, and forgiving – others and yourself – and that part really resonated with me.

I liked pretty much everything about this, except maybe the other backstory about this other character and the complications of souls was kind of dizzying. I mean, I got it, but a part of me kind of feels like it kind of came out of nowhere, and it was an additional layer that really didn’t need to be there. Except, of course, it provided a better resolution for why things were like that between them, but overall, I could do without it.

I was smiling at the end of this book. It was funny and sad and heartbreaking and hopeful all the same time, and I’m really glad I read The Catastrophic History of You and Me. I almost forgot that this was more of a paranormal romance novel than a contemporary one. :) If you’re grieving, or if you’ve ever had a hard time moving on or letting go, then this book will be a good friend for you. Trust me on this. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 22

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Falling in love is pretty much the same thing as being eaten alive by a grizzly bear.

News flash, Bozo. Don’t ever tell a girl to relax. It only makes us madder.

You can obsess and obsess over how things ended – what you did wrong or could have done differently -  but there’s not much of a point. It’s not like it’ll change anything.

It was one thing to leave. But to be left. That had to be even worse.

You’ve got to let go of this desperation. You’ll never have a chance of moving on otherwise.

Maybe all heartbreak is created equal.

The trouble is, sometimes words are like arrows. Once you shoot them, there’s no going back.

May you always have love.

Rating:

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Kids These Days (Stories from Luna East Arts Academy, Vol. 1)

Luna East Blog Tour Header(See all the other #LunaEast tour stops here!)

luna east vol 1.front.coverKids These Days (Stories from Luna East Arts Academy Vol. 1) by Various Authors
Luna East Arts Academy, Vol. 1
Number of pages: 145 pages
My copy: ebook review copy

The stories from LUNA EAST ARTS ACADEMY are about love. And also, friends, food, kissing, rumors, mean people, insecurities, birthdays, breakups, making up. We set it in an arts academy because we wanted everyone to have a talent, and know it. Because no one is ordinary, if you know them well enough.

Who are you, at LUNA EAST? Are you a popular kid, a wallflower, a drama club diva, a debate whiz? Visit lunaeastacademy.org to read more stories from #LUNAEAST, and submit your own. For readers 16 and up.

* * *

It all started at a #romanceclass meet-up, when Mina mentioned that she dreamed of writing a Sweet Valley-esque type of series, but set in the Philippines. Everyone who attended that class had read Sweet Valley at some point in their lives, so it was a pretty exciting idea. We all started chattering excitedly about it, like where the school would be and the activities, and started calling dibs on characters in the school – the jock, the teachers, and the like. Stories started getting written over the next few months, a website was set up to house the stories, continuity was established, and now, the first volume of the book is out. (Well, almost out, because as of this writing, it’s still a few days before the launch. :D)

The stories in Luna East were cute and fun, and there were no two stories alike. I liked how there were so many eyes to see high school in, and so many people to rub elbows with. Since this is just volume 1, the stories barely scratch the surface of what could be happening inside the school, but it’s a good start to get yourself acquainted with the environment. True enough, it felt like the school was a playground for the imagination, and reading through the stories got me more excited to finish mine, and mention some of the characters who were already in the other stories.

And that’s my favorite part of this, really – the continuity. I’ve always loved it when characters have a cameo appearance in other stories. I loved how one character would even have speaking lines in other stories, giving them more depth. Don’t you love it when authors work with each other and come up with completely original stories? :) (And if you’ve read #romanceclass novels, you’ll probably spot a familiar place used in several stories, too. :D)

I didn’t study in a school like Luna East, but even so, reading this was almost like I was back in high school. In a good way, though, because my high school life was pretty tame and I could use a little excitement. As the summary said, the stories here are mostly about love — you know, the high school kind of love. Crushes, unrequited love, love-hate, unexpected type of love from the popular people to the people who consider themselves nobody inside the halls of Luna East. But more than love, they’re also stories of friendship — from kids who grew up together to kids who just got to know each other. You might see yourself in one of these stories, because even if the setting is completely fictional (and artsy), and even if you never had to wear unnecessary vests, high school is pretty much a universal experience for all of us. You might hate it or like it (or like me, you’re pretty ambivalent about it), but there’s always that one (or two, or three) high school memory that you will always tell the friends you meet post-high school.

But yeah, even as I read this, I found myself shaking my head at times while saying, kids these days. Hmf. Seriously, though, the first volume of Luna East was such a fun read. Come and see what’s inside, and you might just find a spot for yourself. And when you do, perhaps you’d like to write about it? :)

Favorite dog-eared quote:

She was still holding her sword. He touched its tip, fingers walking until they reached her hand. She let them stay here. (Fifty-Two Weeks by Mina V. Esguerra)

Luna East, with its unnecessary vests and unnecessary crest, was where you went in a decent and down-to-earth person and came out a snob. (Yours is the First Face that I Saw by Ronald S. Lim)

Our family helps us become the best versions of ourselves. While with friends, we discover and learn to come to terms with our desires. (The Letter by M. Protacio-de Guzman)

“Maybe it’s about time that we quit this dance.” (Where Do We Go From Here by Jen C. Suguitan)

Rating:

Come join us at the #LunaEast launch on February 8, 2014, 6pm, Ayala Museum! :) It’s also the first year anniversary of #romanceclass, so if you want early feels for February, then join us! Get to meet the authors, mingle with other fans, and have some cookies! We’d love to see you there. :) Go, Wolves!

Luna East Book Launch Details

 

All I Ever Wanted

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan HigginsAll I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Harlequin
Number of pages: 409
My copy: Kindle edition

One Happily-Ever-After Rocking Chair…

…and no sign of any forthcoming babies to rock in ol’ Georgebury, Vermont. For Callie Grey, turning thirty means coming to grips with the fact that her boss (and five-week fling) is way overdue in his marriage proposal. And way off track because Mark has suddenly announced his engagement to the company’s new Miss Perfect. If that isn’t bad enough, her mom decides to throw her a three-oh birthday bash in the family funeral home.

Bad goes to worse when she stirs up a crazy relationship with the town’s not so warm and fuzzy veterinarian, Ian McFarland, in order to flag Mark’s attention. So Ian is more comfortable with animals…. So he’s formal, orderly and just a bit tense. The ever-friendly, fun-loving and spontaneous Callie decides it’s time for Ian to get a personality makeover. But dang, if he doesn’t shock the heck out of her, she might actually fall for Vermont’s unlikeliest eligible bachelor….

* * *

All I ever wanted — at least, at that particular time — was a nice, fluffy novel to sink my teeth into. The last time I read a Kristan Higgins novel was some sort of research for #romanceclass. I had fun, and but it was still partly research and I didn’t really breeze through it when I read it. This time, I just really wanted something fluffy, something that wouldn’t really make me think too much but I would still enjoy. So I scanned my library, picked All I Ever Wanted and settled in.

Then I met Callie Grey, and nothing is ever the same again.

Okay, perhaps that’s a little exaggeration. But Callie is one of the brightest heroines I’ve read in all the Higgins novels I’ve read so far. Callie just turned thirty, and she was coming to terms that maybe her boss Mark wasn’t going to fall for her, especially after he announced that he was dating the newest addition to their small advertising company. Callie tries to move on, and she meets the formal-but-really-kind-of-stiff veterinarian, Ian McFarland. It wasn’t love at first sight, because Ian was a little too formal for Callie’s fun-loving personality, but she gives him a chance with a personality makeover to help his business. Callie wasn’t really interested in him…but he was cute. And single. Why not?

Callie, Callie. I loved her from the start, from her emotional diarrhea to her family to her cheerful outlook in life. I loved her dog Bowie, and her rocking chair, her grandfather and how she has the little town of Georgebury wrapped around her finger with her sunny personality. I’m pretty sure I would have been friends with Callie if I were there, mostly because she’s pretty much everyone’s friend there. But she had me right from the very start, and I knew how exhausting it must be to try to be so happy all the time even if there were people around her that broke her heart. I loved her, maybe because I saw a bit of myself in her, especially with how she talked to herself about moving on from Mark. Her thoughts felt real, and well, sometimes too real that it hurt a little.

I can’t remember having so much fun with a Higgins novel. I can’t find anything not to like in All I Ever Wanted — it was such a fun read with just the right amount of swoon and tension. I liked how Ian and Callie were such opposites but still so seemingly perfect for each other. It’s like Ian gets Callie, even if half the time he seemed to get annoyed at her for being so bubbly and everything. I remember grinning like an idiot at one of their first few “moments” together. I was giggling happily at that turkey scene that led to so many things for the two of them. They balanced each other off quite well — they’re all cute and awkward and sweet, but not too much to make it too cheesy. It was fun reading how the two of them stumbled around each other, like putting together a puzzle where some pieces didn’t seem to fit at first, until you find their perfect place.

I really liked All I Ever Wanted, if it’s not obvious yet. :) I think the trick with reading Higgins novels is that you don’t read one after the other so you get enough time to savor the swoon and enjoy the feels. All I wanted was a nice, fluffy and romantic read, and All I Ever Wanted pretty much nailed it. I’m really glad I picked this one up. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 19

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I felt a warm and fuzzy glow in my heart. People were just the best. I loved people. Most people, anyway.

“Look, Callie,” he said quietly, “I didn’t meant o insult you, but it’s clear I did. I meant only that…” His gaze drifted to his dog, then to the bookcase. “You don’t have to try so hard.” He paused, then met my eyes with some difficulty. “Not with me, anyway.”
Oh. Oh.

Then again, I was excellent at misinterpretation.

I’d tried so hard to get him to notice me, and when he finally did, tried so hard to be perfect. Even after he’d put our relationship on pause, I’d tried so hard. Tried to be cheerful, tried to be upbeat, tried to not let my feelings show, not to blame him, not to mind when day after day, week after week, his nonchalance eroded my heart.
Sometimes being an optimist was quite the fucking effort.

You fill up the whole room, sweetheart, to try to fix everyone’s problems, be everyone’s friend. You don’t have to try to hard. We’ll love you just the same.

Rating:

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