The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Cycle # 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 409
My copy: paperback, gift from Scholastic Philippines

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

* * *

The first time I heard about The Raven Boys, I wasn’t really that curious. I read some of Maggie Stiefvater’s books, but I wasn’t a super duper fan unlike others. I received the book as a gift, but I let it sit in my TBR for a long time, and every time I see it (just like when I see other books on my TBR, actually), I tell myself that I will read it, one day. One day. That day finally came when I realized that I’ve been reading too much on Hannah the Kindle and I wanted to feel pages in my fingers, so I picked a book randomly from my TBR pile. I picked The Raven Boys, scanned through the first chapter and decided to read it.

Blue Sargeant belongs to a family of psychics, but she’s not one. She couldn’t see or hear or predict anything, but she comes along with them because she could amplify their powers. Every year, on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue goes with her mother in the church yard where they watch and get the names of all the soon-to-be-dead as they walk along the corpse road. That night, instead of Blue’s mother, her aunt Neeve comes in her stead, and for the first time ever, Blue sees someone, and this soon-to-be-dead boy speaks to her. The thing is, Blue has always been told that she would kill her true love with a kiss, so seeing this boy and speaking to him made her even more determined to stay far away from him. But her path crosses with this boy, Gansey, warm and alive and also an Aglionby boy, one of the rich ones from the private school nearby. Even if she vowed to stay away, she finds herself drawn to him, and to his three friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah, in their quest to find a magical line and a supposedly long-dead Welsh king.

People told me that the book starts out slow, and I need to be patient, so I thought it was going to be a slow read. Lo and behold, I was finished after two days. It was that good, my friends. (Or, I just really needed a breather from all the “heavier” books I’ve been reading.)

One thing I really loved about Maggie Stiefvater’s books is the writing, in all her beautifully descriptive, mood-setting prose. That is still present in The Raven Boys,but instead of it setting the scene like in The Scorpio Races, most of the words were used to describe the characters, the real stars of the book. I loved how each character came alive soon after they were introduced in the book. Their voices were clear and unique, and you knew exactly who she was referring to and who was speaking in the entire text. I loved how there were more points of view here, and I read how one character saw another — even if most of the POVs switch from Blue to Gansey to Adam. I didn’t exactly feel like I was one of them when I read this; it was more like I was given a chance to see and observe them privately, hovering around the corners and seeing how they interact with one another.

And I loved it. I loved all the characters, from Blue to her family and to the boys and their own complicated lives. I remember not being able to choose between Gansey and Adam, and hardly paying attention to the other two boys but later they grew on me, and I loved them fiercely as Blue did (although she wouldn’t really admit that yet). I liked their friendship – how the boys all look out for each other and are solidly on each other’s side especially when others threatened one of them. I think everyone’s made this comparison already, but the boys really reminded me of the boys in the movie The Covenant, and my friend Kai and I even tried to match each of the Raven Boys to the Witches of Ipswich. :D

I was surprised at how fast I read The Raven Boys, but I wasn’t really surprised with how much I liked it. I think halfway through the book, I was already convinced that I would like it, anyway. And I was so, so glad that I had its sequel, The Dream Thieves, on my TBR when I was done reading. Gimme more, please. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 16

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

The key, Gansey found, was that you had to believe that they existed; you had to realize that they were a part of something bigger. Some secrets only gave themselves up to those who’d proven themselves worthy.

When Gansey was polite, it made him powerful. When Adam was polite, he was giving power away.

“You’re the table everyone wants at Starbucks,” Gansey mused as he began to walk again.
Blue blinked. “What?”
Over his shoulder, Gansey said, “Next to the wall plug.”

My words are unerring tools of destruction and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them.

Rating: 

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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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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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