Saint Anything

saintanythingSaint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Number of pages: 417
My copy: paperback, ordered from Book Depository

Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

But of course the newest Sarah Dessen will not escape my grubby hands.

Saint Anything is about Sydney, whose life changed when her older brother Peyton was convicted for drunk driving. Everyone loves Peyton, so when he was taken away, it felt as if Sydney’s life went with him, especially with how her family was left coping with the loss. Everyone was so concerned about Peyton, but Sydney couldn’t help but wonder about the his victim – what about him? Then Sydney meets the Chathams, a family that runs a pizza parlor near her school. They befriend Sydney, and soon, she gets into their world of pizza, the perfect fries, and bands. For the first time ever, Sydney feels that people are finally seeing her.

As with every Sarah Dessen I have read, Saint Anything starts out a bit slow, laying the groundwork for the story to come alive. I have read enough Dessen to know that this was her style, so I was patient, knowing it will all pay off in the end. And it did, as I was introduced to the Chathams. They charmed me, they really did. I loved their family dynamic, and how they were all crazy in a good way. I loved the pizza place, and Layla and Mac’s friends from school. The lunch scenes were perfect in so many ways and I looked forward to reading all of that.

Then there’s Sydney’s mom, who, I must admit, was a bit too much with holding Sydney to a certain standard. But again, it’s what mothers do, I think? It wasn’t really so surprising. But the real “villain” here wasn’t her mom, but that creepy guy who keeps on worming into their story. I suppose it was because I knew about him before I started reading, and that made him creepier. But either way, even if you don’t know him before this, I doubt you’d find him less creepy.

In a way, Saint Anything reminds me of my most favorite Sarah Dessen book, The Truth About Forever. There were many similar elements that make it almost a mirror novel, but not too much that they’re too similar. Mac is no Wes, but I still really liked him, and I really liked his slow-burn chemistry with Sydney. Bonus points to the Saint reference. :)

I really enjoyed Saint Anything, and if you’re a Dessen fan, this does not disappoint. I’m still waiting for a book in the POV of a Dessen boy – it’s about time, right? While I’m waiting, I think I’ll go and reread her previous books. :)

Rating: 

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

“There’s no shame in trying to make stuff work. It’s better than just accepting the broken.” I wanted to say he was lucky he even had a choice. That for most of us, once something was busted, it was game over. I would have loved to know how it felt, just for once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings.

You weren’t invisible, not to me. Just so you know.

Relationships evolve, just like people do. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean you know everything about them.

When faced with the scariest of things, all you want is to turn away, hide in your own invisible place. But you can’t. That’s why it’s not only important for us to be seen, but to have someone to look for us, as well.

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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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Please Ignore Vera Dietz

veradietzPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Publisher: Ember
Number of pages: 326
My copy: paperback, gifted by Maria

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Please Ignore Vera Dietz was a book that I’ve been wanting to read for so long but I never got a copy, until Maria gave me a copy. Of course, it was parked on my shelf up until the book discussion activity by the person who gave me this book.

Vera Dietz has loved her best friend, Charlie Kahn, for so long. But he abandoned her to be with Jenny Flick and the Detentionheads. Now he’s dead, so Vera goes back to her life, working full time at her job and school, trying to ignore the ghost Charlies that haunt her and tell her that she needs to tell the truth to clear his name. Will she do it? Or will Charlie’s abandonment pre-death keep her from doing the right thing?

This is my first A.S. King book, and somehow it reminds me of Courtney Summers and E. Lockhart, with all the issues (from the former) and the mystery (from the latter). There’s a lot that was hinted about the overall story here that makes you just want to read to know what really happened. Vera is a smart kid. Despite her sucky situation – especially now that her best friend is gone – she sees what’s wrong and tries to avoid it. But despite all this show of “strength,” Vera is still ultimately a kid who is facing a whole lot of grief, not just with Charlie, but from her stripper mother and her father who tries to ignore the serious things.

The fun part of the narrative are the multiple POVs from Vera’s dad (and his flowcharts!), Charlie, and even a particular landmark in their town. The writing is very sharp, and very realistic, and at the end of it all, I just want to hug Vera.

We will learn to forgive ourselves in tandem.

I liked this, I really did. :)

Rating: 

Number of dog-eared pages: 15

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right.

I felt a mix of wanting to kill him and wanting to kiss him at the same time. When I thought of what true love must be like, I figured it must be like this, and not the stupid eighth grade infatuation most girls my age felt. True love includes an equal part of good and bad, but true sticks around and doesn’t run off to Vegas with a podiatrist.

I want to tell her that the only thing you get from walling yourself in is empty.

I reminded myself that the one thing Jenny Flick couldn’t buy, no matter what she used as currency, was a ticket to drive on the high road next to people like me.

EVERYONE deserves to be happy. But no one gets there by freaking out or sulking or running. So. Here’s a tissue. Clean yourself up and start back at the beginning.

I have gone from invisible Vera Dietz to invincible Vera Dietz.

 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

colorlessColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Knopf
Number of pages: 386
My copy: hardbound, borrowed from Ranee

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel– a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan–from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

I’ve been wanting to read a Haruki Murakami novel for the longest time, but I can never choose which book to read. Everyone I ask seemed to have too many different recommendations, and some of them even hesitate because they know that there were some things in Murakami’s books that aren’t really my cup of tea. Then someone recommended Murakami’s latest book (at least, at that time) then, because I liked collecting train maps. But of course I didn’t get a copy, until I borrowed a copy from a friend.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (which I will call Colorless Tsukuru from here on out) is about Tsukuru Tazaki and his four friends – or at least, the story of their friendship, and how they just stopped wanting to be his friend. His friends’ abandonment hurt him deeply, and he carried this all the way into his adult life. Then he meets and dates Sarah, who forces him to confront his past for his own peace of mind.

Colorless Tsukuru is a surprisingly easy read. The prose was fluid, and it had some sort of dreamlike quality to it. There was a time when I stopped reading for a long time, but it wasn’t because I found it boring – it was just plain busy-ness. But when I picked it up again, I read through it so quickly and found myself so invested in Tsukuru Tazaki that I rooted for him.

There’s a lot about Colorless Tsukuru that resonated with me, and made me feel strangely sentimental. It’s not just his fascination with trains that got me — I like train maps and riding trains, but not necessarily how trains work — but more of Tsukuru’s friendships and how he lost them. I think that was what saddened me the most, how there were some things that you just couldn’t bring back, and the hard choices that people make for the sake of friendship. There’s a lot of sadness and regret here, and when the reason why all that happened was finally revealed, I was even more saddened to realize that it was an even harder situation. As expected, closure isn’t really as clean as we all wished it would be.

There’s something about being young and having friends and witnessing the changes that happen to all the people in the group that makes one a little nostalgic, yeah? But if anything, it made me think of my own friendships, and I can’t help but utter a little prayer that what happened to Tsukuru and his friends won’t happen to my own friendships.

I really enjoyed my first Murakami, and I’m glad that this was the first one. The book lingered with me even after I read it, and sometimes I still sigh a little when I think of Tsukuru Tazaki. I’m still undecided if  I will start working on reading Murakami’s other books – maybe I will, someday. But now, let me just savor the feeling and the memories of this book.

We truly believed in something back then, and we were the kind of people capable of believing something – with all our hearts. And that kind of hope will never simply vanish.

Rating: 

Number of (imaginary) dog-eared pages: 17

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Still, he had a constant nagging fear that someday he would fall away from this intimate community, or be forced out and left on his own. Anxiety raised its head, like a jagged, ominous rock exposed by the receding tide, the fear that he would be separated from the group and end up entirely alone.

You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them. If nothing else, you need to remember that. You can’t erase history, or change it. It would be like destroying yourself.

Unless you take the leap, you can’t prove it. And once you actually make the leap, there’s no need to prove it anymore. There’s no middle ground. You either take the leap, or you don’t. One or the other.

If something is important enough, a little mistake isn’t going to ruin it all, or make it vanish. It might not be perfect, but the first step is actually building the station. Right? Otherwise trains won’t stop there. And you can’t meet the person who means so much to you. If you find some defect, you can adjust later, as needed. First things first. Build the station. A special station just for her. The kind of station where trains want to stop, even if they have no reason to do so. Imagine that kind of station, and give it actual color and shape. Write your name on the foundation with a nail, and breathe life into it. I know you have the power to do that. Don’t forget – you’re the one who swam across the freezing sea at night.

You don’t lack anything. Be confident and be bold. That’s all you need. Never let fear or stupid pride make you lose someone who’s precious to you.

High Fidelity

High Fidelity by Nick HornbyHigh Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Number of pages: 323
My copy: paperback, bought from D’s Books in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films (Reservoir Dogs…); top five Elvis Costello songs (Alison…); top five episodes of Cheers (the one where Woody sang his stupid song to Kelly…). Rob tries dating a singer whose rendition of Baby, I Love Your Way makes him cry. But maybe it’s just that he’s always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think (awful as it sounds) that life as an episode of thirtysomething, with all the kids and marriages and barbecues and k.d. lang CD’s that this implies, might not be so bad.

I’ve been wanting to read Nick Hornby books for a long time, but I never found a reason to pick any of them up. Sure, he was on my radar, but every time I’d be in the bookstore to get a new book, I just don’t stop by to check his books. Maybe it’s because I have a bias for female contemporary (romance) authors, or you know, I just never had a reason to, until now.

So we discussed this book last April in the book club. I started reading this as soon as I finished the previous book, and when my friends started finishing the book ahead of time, I wondered if I was having a hard time reading it because I was busy, or because I was just disinterested.

Don’t get me wrong – High Fidelity was very entertaining, and I thought Rob was a bit of an adorable music dork who was just starting to group. I liked the setting, and while I wasn’t super enamored with his friends, I thought they provided a pretty fun cast of characters. The song references weren’t exactly my cup of tea, but somehow all of them made me imagine this in a movie (even if I didn’t actually go and watch the movie version of this book).

But at the end of it all, I felt pretty apathetic over Rob. Perhaps it was his whining that got to me, which I tried to understand because I knew I also did that (and sometimes I still do that). Maybe it’s because of how he treated Laura, except Laura wasn’t so great either. I wish I can say that I couldn’t relate to him, but I have had my share of disappointments in romance – perhaps not like Rob’s, but don’t all romantic failures have some kind of common vein in them? I didn’t exactly dislike Rob like some of my other friends did, but I didn’t like him so much, either. I had no strong opinions about him (or his story, for that matter), which kind of made me pretty much apathetic to the book.

The ending was okay, and okay, I liked how there was that some sort of turnaround there for everyone. But I think that’s the extent of care I could give to this. Maybe I should watch the movie version of this for better appreciation? I would try to read another Nick Hornby book, but perhaps not anytime soon, and I would probably only do it if I was given a more compelling reason. Don’t take all of my words, though. I think it just wasn’t for me, and like Rob’s other relationships, I think that’s okay.

The best part of the book, IMHO, was the discussion. My adopted little brother did an excellent job with the discussion, and I actually bought a faux leather jacket to follow his whims as the moderator. ;)

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

…sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time. (p. 63)

…he’s worried about how his life is turning out, and he’s lonely, and lonely people are the bitterest of them all. (p. 151)

Rating: 

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