Required Reading: June 2014…or the lack of it

Look at that, May passed by and I say hello to June, but I can still see my Required Reading post from last month!

Really, you have to believe me. I was really all set to get more reading done, to get more books reviewed up here and all that jazz…but life happened. The short version is I applied and got accepted for a new role at work and my relatively relaxed work life went from zero to haywire as I transitioned into the new role. I’ve only been here for almost two weeks and it feels like a month already. How is that?

Oh, and there was also that Japan trip that was all sorts of lovely, and I will blog about it in my other blog…when I get the time. (Hopefully, soon.)

But I did do some reading, mostly at the start of the month. Here are the books I finished:

  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (5/5) – I had to put this on hold sometime late April, but I picked it up again and I loved everything that happened in the end. I can’t wait for the next book! Gansey! ♥
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (4/5) – Finished reading this the night before I left for Japan and I was all: !!!!!!!!!!
  • The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) by Pope Francis (4/5) – Chunkier compared to The Light of Faith, and had a bit more technicalities when it comes to preaching, but it was still lovely and very practical. :)
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (3/5) – I read this in the midst of all the craziness at work, because my brain could only handle something light. This wasn’t as light as I thought it would be, but it was still lovely in so many ways.

I am still currently reading the following:

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – really liking this, and now it makes me wonder why I never read this before. Oh, maybe because it suits me better this time. :))
  • To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – I marked this as “on hold” on my Goodreads, but I will read this again. As soon as this craziness settles down.
  • Dust City by Robert Paul Weston – I have this on my nightstand, I started reading it, but got distracted by Fangirl.

See, it wasn’t so bad. Except that I’m still getting my footing for my new role and there’s a lot of stuff to do and learn right now that I have put my reading on the backseat. Like on weekends. Or over breakfast. This happens, right?

Required Reading: June 2014

Which brings me to this month’s Required Reading.

Or the lack of it, really.

I was thinking of what books I will read for the month, but then got distracted by the things I needed to do for work. I realized after a while that I’m not sure how much time I will have to read this month because we have major events to focus on at work…so I have decided (and it’s sort of an easy decision, too) to do what I did last March and have no reading list this month.

There. I can’t promise to post updates this month but I will try. Really, I will. Maybe I’ll surprise you guys and myself. But if I don’t…well, don’t worry, I’m just here. :) Here’s to a crazy busy happy June. :)

Required Reading: May 2014 + April Recap

Why is it already May? Why is it already the fifth month of the year? Why.

April was interesting, because there were so many holidays and I had a lot of reading done. I actually spent a lot of quality time with Hannah the Kindle that I felt like my print books were all screaming out at me to read them, read them! But fear not, I did make a dent in my print TBR. (Of course, I didn’t blog that much again, but why are we even surprised about that?)

Here are the books I finished for April:

  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr (3/5) – Mystery, murder, and psychology. This reminds me of Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH Batacan, but set in historical New York. It was fun, but after some time I got a little impatient to get to the end. I love the psychology there, though. It reminded me of those days when I wanted to study Psych in college. Also reminded me of Criminal Minds. :D
  • The Best Man by Kristan Higgins (4/5) – Love love love Kristan Higgins. I enjoyed this one so much. :D
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (4/5) – So much beautiful writing, but quite sad. But really so beautiful.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (4/5) – I picked this randomly on my shelf and finished it within three days. I was surprised at how readable this is, and how much I loved the Aglionby boys and Blue. I liked this so much that I immediately started reading the next one.
  • The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) by Pope Francis (5/5) – Read this during the Holy Week, and I loved it. Simple language, deep stuff, and a lot of light. This made me want to read all the previous encyclicals by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II. :)
  • Blast From Two Pasts by Kristel Villar (3/5) – #romanceclass’s latest! I read this in a day and enjoyed the light romance between Cara and Lucas. The fulfillment of childhood crushes, hihi.
  • The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins (3/5) – My second Kristan Higgins in a month, and the second in the Blue Heron series (first book being The Best Man). I liked this, except not so much as the first book, or the other Higgins books I read. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel this as much as I did the others. Too bad, because the lead interest is British.
  • If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (2/5) – Our book club’s book of the month, and it was an interesting read. And confusing, too, because by the middle of it, I was tempted to trash it. Funny how I finished reading it about ten minutes into the discussion. Haha. The discussion proper was fun, though. :D

See, that’s 8 books. That’s a lot. I am currently 12 books ahead of my reading goal this year, and I’m tempted to up it to 75 again, but I realized that if I do that, I will probably slow down and try to catch up with the rest by the end of the year. So…no. Maybe I’ll go reach 52 first. :D

Required Reading: May 2014

For this month, I realized that I might have made a mistake with some reading plans. I called for a buddy read for a classic, forgetting that our book of the month for May is a difficult book. But oh well. No turning back, I guess. To counter that, I picked two YA titles off my shelf, just so I won’t get lost in the stream of consciousness in one of the books I will be reading. :D

That is, you know, if I don’t become terribly busy with other life stuff this month.

rr-may2014

  • Something new and borrowed: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – borrowed from Kai. She had a WTF moment after reading this, and I told her that it wasn’t surprising because that’s E. Lockhart, and her books are really smart. And also because of her WTF moment, I borrowed the book. :D
  • Something old and bought: Dust City by Robert Paul Weston - I bought this book on a whim in 2010. That’s four years ago. It’s been on my shelf since then, and I wanted to read something that I bought from years ago, and this jumped out at me.
  • Something even older, and free: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - I said I’d read an Austen every year, but I didn’t read any last year, so now I’m picking it up again. This is a buddy read with some book club friends, which we started before April ended. I am surprised at how readable this is — see how far along I am in the dots? I wonder if this is really just more readable, or maybe I’ve adjusted with reading Austen? But anyway, I like this so far, and I can’t wait to read more. :)
  • Something even older, and free (also, difficult): To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - Well several lists said this is a difficult book. Our book club’s book of the month, and I have no idea how I will go about in reading this. But I will try, and if/when I finish this, I will consider it as 2014′s major reading achievement. ;)

There you go. I have a trip coming up this month, and possible job changes so I won’t pressure myself to read all this (except maybe To The Lighthouse). Then again, my upcoming trip has long bus rides there, so yeah, more reading time (as long as I don’t fall asleep).

Oh, and April is also our book club’s 4th year of existence. We started the month with a (wickedly fun — although some might say it’s just wicked :D) April Fools’ Joke, and ended it with a discussion + Amazing Race. Fun times. :)

#TFGat4 (Photo from Ella)

#TFGat4 (Photo from Ella)

See those lovelies? I missed them a lot. :)

Too Good to Be True

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Number of dog-eared pages: 6

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

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

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

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

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

Rating:

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Steph Su Reads

Lost Lake

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Number of dog-eared pages: 37

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

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

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

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

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

We are conduits for happiness. Remember that.

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

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

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

Rating:

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Dear Author

Tiny Beautiful Things

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number of dog-eared pages: 125

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

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