Five Flavors of Dumb

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony JohnFive Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Dial, 352 pages

THE CHALLENGE: Piper has one month to get a paying gig for Dumb—the hottest new rock band in school.

THE DEAL: If she does it, she’ll become manager of the band and get her share of the profits, which she desperately needs since her parents raided her college fund.

THE CATCH: Managing one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl who is ready to beat her up. And doing it all when she’s deaf. With growing self-confidence, an unexpected romance, and a new understanding of her family’s decision to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, Piper just may discover her own inner rock star.

In 2007, I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel with my main character as the manager and the guitarist of a Christian band. I had a pretty good idea for a story, really, with the band looking for a female vocalist and I figured the hardest part was writing about their chemistry. It turned out it wasn’t. The hardest part was writing about music because even if I’ve helped produced some concerts before, I still didn’t know how it feels like to be in an actual band, or even to just manage one. Suffice to say, that was one of the hardest novels I’ve tried to write.

But that doesn’t stop me from putting singing characters or bands in my stories. I don’t know why — maybe it’s a frustration because I know I am hardly musical? Oh I listen to a lot of songs, but I usually pay attention to the lyrics and not the music. Maybe it’s because I have a secret dream of being a rock star or a manager of a band?

Antony John’s latest novel, Five Flavors of Dumb spoke to my inner rock star and band manager. I’ve been eying this book for the longest time (even made a Want Books post about it) ever since I saw it from That Cover Girl. I was planning on waiting for the actual book to arrive but I had an ebook itch I needed to scratch and I was very easily swayed when she convinced me to. And this is one splurge I am very glad I did. :)

Five Flavors of Dumb tells the story of Piper Vaughan, deaf girl, who gets recruited to be the manager of Dumb, the new rock band in school. What would a deaf girl know about music, right? But Piper says yes to it after she finds out that her parents used her college money to buy a cochlear implant for her baby sister, Grace, who was born deaf. She has one month to bring in the cash, and it would have been easier for her if Dumb actually worked together…but as luck would have it, it wasn’t. And craziness ensues.

Five Flavors of Dumb is such a fun read from the start all the way to the end. I loved Piper’s voice. If you didn’t read the blurb, you’d honestly be surprised to find out she was deaf as she revealed it. I loved how smart and snarky Piper was despite her circumstances, and the fact that she was hearing impaired made her rock some more. I love how the other characters were more than what they were at first, from Ed the love interest who can play anything with stainless steel drums and particularly the other girls, Tash and Kallie. The characters were a diverse group, and it really brought out the “flavors” in the novel.

There’s also a lot more going in this novel other than Piper’s deafness or managing the band. This book also tackled some music history (Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, for those who are curious), passion, a bit of self-image and a lot of family. I was torn between Piper and her family when tensions rose about her deafness and her sister’s cochlear implants, and normally I would think it was unfair for Piper. I hated Piper’s father at first for being so prejudiced against his daughter, but he had a good redemption in the end. It really is a difficult situation for a family to be in, anyway. The choices that Piper’s parents made are choices that they shouldn’t have to make, but they have to and just find ways to deal with what happens after. I loved how that issue was resolved and how everything was tied up at the end. To put it simply: it rocked.

I was kind of expecting it to be like Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (which I also liked a lot), but Five Flavors of Dumb had all the things I liked about that novel, and more. This is one of the books that I think I will also get in print version when I see it in the stores here so I can lend it to other people and they can read for themselves how much this book rocks (and the cover is just really pretty). Don’t miss out on this one rocking your world. :)

And you know what? This book just gave me a problem. I’d need to fix my Top 10 reads of 2010 again to make room for this one.

Rating:

My copy: e-book, from Amazon Kindle store

Cover and blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:

The Book Smugglers

YA Addict

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of DaresDash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  240
My copy: hardbound, Christmas gift from Ace

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

* * *

One day early this year (way before I met the Goodreads people) I was going around Fully Booked in Eastwood when I suddenly had this little fantasy. I wondered: what if, as I was looking for books to get, I meet a guy who has the same taste in books as I do? A straight, single guy, near my age, who reads for fun? And let’s make him cute, too.

It was a little fantasy that my friends and I entertained often, and it almost became a topic of a story for my fiction blog (one day I will write that). It was definitely something my single bookish friends and I thought would be very nice but may be rare, as we know few guys who are willing to read the same books we do, and most of the people we see in the bookstore near our office is filled with girls (that is, until I met the Goodreads people, again).

So it’s no wonder why Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan would call to me. Okay, I didn’t really pay attention to it first because I wasn’t really a fan of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by the same authors, until I read a review. I checked the sample and fell in love with it on the first few pages, particularly on the opening scene. Dash finds a red notebook amidst the books in the Strand, and inside were a bunch of clues left by a girl named Lily. He figures out the clues and thus starts the passing of the red Moleskine notebook back and forth between the two. Dash and Lily accomplish dares all around New York City from each other and bare their innermost thoughts to the other through the red notebook, all the while wondering if the words represent the persons behind them.

The story happens during the holidays, so I figured Christmas should be the right time to read it (thanks again to Ace for giving me a copy during the Goodreads Christmas party). And I was right. I am so glad I read it at this time of the year. :) Like I said, I wasn’t very enamored by Nick and Norah, but Dash and Lily really made me fall in love. There’s so many things to love. Maybe it was the bookstore? Maybe it’s the Moleskine notebook (which I love, by the way)? Maybe it’s how the story unfolded despite it being slightly hard to believe?

Dash and Lily are two very interesting characters. They’re not the angsty teenagers that we read in contemporary YA but they’re very smart and witty teens who are very different yet they speak to each other in ways only they can understand. While I didn’t find Dash particularly dashing, I thought he was very well-adjusted for his age. Perhaps it was all the reading that he does that makes him a gentler version of the male gender? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. Lily, on the other hand, is probably the most optimistic female character I’ve ever read so far. She isn’t one of those angsty teenage characters who cannot find happiness or love in other people, or those kids who worry about their image so much that they’d get diet pills with amphetamine even if they don’t know its side effects. She reminds me of myself in so many ways: she bakes, she likes animals, her positive outlook, and in how she’s never had a boyfriend. Lily is such a delight to read because I feel like I’m reading some things I write, almost like I was reading my journal.

And just as the characters, the story was very charming. It tried to tackle more than the usual boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love story and that’s good, but sometimes the connections and issues feel a bit too messy and hard to follow. The entire interaction may seem a bit far-fetched too, and I don’t think this will be very effective here in Manila, but I can forgive that for the sake of fiction (and that’s why it happened in New York and not here, LOL). Despite that, though, I thought the plot was well-executed, and I found myself hanging on to every word all the way up to the end.

My copy of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares has so many dog-ears too because of the quotable quotes! For example:

Pretty Aussie cover for Dash and Lily :)

Prayer or not, I want to believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, it is possible for anyone to find that special person. That person to spend Christmas with or grow old with or just take a nice silly walk in Central Park with. (Lily, p. 75)

I wish I could remember the moment when I was a kid and I discovered that the letters linked into words, and that the words linked to real things. What a revelation that must have been. We don’t have the words for it, since we hadn’t yet learned the words. It must have been astonishing, to be given the key to the kingdom and see it turn in our hands so easily. (Dash, p. 87)

You think fairy tales are only for girls? Here’s a hint — ask yourself who wrote them. I assure you, it wasn’t just the women. It’s the great male fantasy — all it takes is one dance to know that she’s the one. All it takes is the sound of her song from the tower, or a look at her sleeping face. And right away you know — this is the girl in your head, sleeping or dancing or singing in front of you. Yes, girls want their princes, but boys want their princesses just as much. And they don’t want a very long courtship. They want to know immediately. (p. 131)

And my favorite (and is very applicable for the coming year):

There are just lots of possibilities in the world…I need to keep my mind open for what could happen and not decide that the world is hopeless if what I want to happen doesn’t happen. Because something else great might happen in between. (p. 227)

The blurb was right. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a feel good book that would make you want to start “…perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.” It doesn’t have to be Christmas when you read it, but the holidays add to the ambiance. It’s the kind of book that will surely leave you smiling long after you have read the last word. :)

I’m not about to start looking for a red notebook in Fully Booked…but as for leaving one? I’ll never tell. ;)

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Steph Su Reads
Bart’s Bookshelf
The Huffington Post

Did you know that leaving a comment on this entry would give you a chance to win some of the books up for grabs at my  Anniversary Giveaway? If you don’t…well now you do. :) Click the image for the mechanics and the list of prizes (and I think these prizes are awesome, but that may be just me. :P)!

Leave a comment on any entry from December 24 to January 9 and get a chance to win some of my favorite books in 2010! Open international! :)

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton’s Children
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

* * *

The thing I like best about reading contemporary novels is how easy it is to relate to the story. Without the magic and any other fantasy or sci-fi elements in the story, it’s easier for readers to put themselves in the characters’ situations. You don’t need to understand or figure out any underlying symbols in the story, and you feel that whatever happens in the story can also happen in real life.

However, I found that I’ve been increasingly picky about the contemporary books I’ve been reading this year. Contemporary novels is my first love in the YA genre, but lately I felt the same thing I feel about paranormal YA: what’s new? Everything I read sounds the same, give or take a little details, so…what else is there to read? Why even bother reading some if it’s the same as the last one?

So Anna and the French Kiss wasn’t high on my want list because of this, thinking that this is just one of those hyped books that everyone gushes about. Maybe I would read it, but it wasn’t in my priority list. It took Angie’s review to convince me to get it, especially when I got read this part of her review:

…Fortunately, her next door neighbor Meredith takes her under her wing and introduces her to her small  circle of friends, including smart Rashmi, her goofy-but-talented boyfriend Josh, and one Étienne St. Clair–known to one and all simply as St. Clair. Anna has it pretty bad right from the start…the two of them hit if off immediately. But there is a fly in the ointment. Naturally. He also has a longtime girlfriend at a nearby college. And their mutual friend Meredith is in love with him. Which rather clearly spells steer clear for poor Anna.

From that moment, I knew I just had to get this book. I downloaded the Kindle sample, read it and enjoyed it before I slept and then bought it as soon as I was awake enough the next day. I’ve been itching to buy an ebook lately but I was hesitant to do an impulse buy, until Anna and the French Kiss, that is.

And I tell you: the impulse buy is absolutely worth it.

I can’t decide what really did me in the story as there’s just so many wonderful things inside. I liked how the book was set in Paris but it wasn’t focused on the Eiffel Tower but on other attractions that are normally forgotten in other books set in that city. I liked how real everything was in this book, how easy it was to be immersed in Anna’s world like I was actually there. I liked the little complexities in the plot and how it didn’t focus solely on the romance between the two major characters but in other very real issues as well: family issues, cancer, absent friends, and independence, just to name a few. These issues were addressed in a very smart and optimistic way without feeling like the book was trying to accomplish so much in so little time. While the exciting parts of the book weren’t really that surprising in the sense that you know it was bound to happen eventually, the pacing was perfect and the relationships were built on very solid foundations that you know that whatever happens, thing will be okay in the end.

Another thing about contemporary novels is no matter how real they are, I couldn’t really relate to them 100% because I could only find very small parts of myself in the heroines, or the situation they are in isn’t something that I would be in. Sure, I have never been to Paris or have been in another country for that long to study, but Anna’s relationship with St. Clair reminded me of something that happened to me a few years back. I won’t elaborate, but I will share a quote that could summarize it all:

I don’t want to feel this way around him. I want things to be normal. I want to be his friend, not another stupid girl holding out for something that will never happen.

Straight through the heart, right? I couldn’t stop seeing similarities between myself and Anna, and I think I lost count at how many times I could relate to her. I wished that I had read this book way back then because I bet this would have been my best friend. Although I am over that part of my life already, I cannot help but wish for a friend like St. Clair. He’s far from perfect, but he’s someone I’d want to be really good friends with. :)

There is so much I can write about this book, but really, it would be better if you just go find a copy and read it to see for yourself. I’ve been looking for a book to blow my mind after I’ve gone through some “okay” books in the past few weeks, and this one blew my mind (and my heart!) in a totally unexpected way. If Anna and the French Kiss was food, it would definitely be chocolate: the kind you cannot get enough of from the first bite so you keep on getting more, but you try to slow down to savor the taste and to stop it from running out too soon. I devoured the book in a couple of days, and I enjoyed every single word of it. I haven’t said this about a book for a while now, but I am not ashamed to say it for this one: I loved this book. :)

Rating:

My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle store

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Angieville
Persnickety Snark
Steph Su Reads

Magic Strikes

Magic Strikes by Kate Daniels
Kate Daniels # 3
Publisher: Ace Books
Number of pages: 310
My copy: paperback, bought from PowerBooks

Drafted into working for the Order of Merciful Aid, mercenary Kate Daniels has more paranormal problems than she knows what to do with these days. And in Atlanta, where magic comes and goes like the tide, that’s saying a lot.

But when Kate’s werewolf friend Derek is discovered nearly dead, she must confront her greatest challenge yet. As her investigation leads her to the Midnight Games—an invitation only, no holds barred, ultimate preternatural fighting tournament—she and Curran, the Lord of the Beasts, uncover a dark plot that may forever alter the face of Atlanta’s shapeshifting community…

* * *

Everyone I know online and offline who recommends this series has said this already so my saying this doesn’t really have that much bearing but I have to say this: Magic Strikes is the book in the Kate Daniels series. If at Magic Bites and Magic Burns, I only liked and really liked this series, Magic Strikes is the book that made me love it, love Kate and everything else in her fantastic universe.

In Magic Strikes, we finally learn more about Kate, her past and her mission. I love that there wasn’t a big dramatic reveal to it, really, but it was written like Kate has decided to trust the reader and tell (almost?) everything. We see Kate growing from the lone warrior to a part of a team, from someone who’d rather not have any attachments to someone who’d die just to make sure all the people she cares for is safe. There’s so much character growth for Kate in this book that it’s impossible not not to love her even more, and to want to be as awesome as she is especially when she starts kicking butt.

It was also really fun to get to know the secondary characters — from Jim, Kate’s old partner to Andrea, her new best friend and all the way to the Pack’s medmage Dr. Doolittle (whose animal counterpart is so cute and fitting :) ). Their relationships and dynamics with one another was also fun to read, particularly the shapeshifters, making them not just a simple pack, but almost like a family. Ilona Andrews knows how to make the supporting characters shine, putting spotlight on them in the right times and giving them little quirks that make them feel real despite their magical abilities.

It’s really hard to point out what I really loved about this book because there were so many awesome things about it, but if I were to choose, I’d go with the reason that made me end this book with a huge silly smile on my face: all the Kate and Curran moments. ♥ Ah, I can’t remember the last time I was this invested on a fictional (non) couple. Kate and Curran’s banter is not just funny but also sweet and yes, sexy. “Baby.” I never thought I’d like reading that pet name, ever, until Curran said it. :P

I know most of this review is just squee-ing, but there’s just so much to squee about in Magic Strikes. I love it, and I love this series, and I’m very, very happy that I splurged on these books because it was absolutely worth it. I’m so glad I don’t have to wait too long to read the fourth book, Magic Bleeds. In fact, I’m reading it now. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Angieville
Artseblis
Janicu’s Book Blog
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers

Magic Burns

Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews
Kate Daniels # 2

Publisher: Ace Books
Number of pages: 260
My copy: paperback, bought from PowerBooks

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic goes wrong, Kate Daniels has seen her share of occupational hazards. Normally, waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. Now Kate’s going to have to deal with problems on a much bigger scale; a divine one.

When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta’s paramilitary clan of shapeshifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. During a flare, gods and goddesses can manifest – and battle for power. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug-of-war between two gods hoping for rebirth. And if Kate can’t stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive…

* * *

I wasn’t planning to read Magic Burns immediately after I finished Magic Bites because I didn’t want to go through the entire series too fast, plus I always rest in between reading a series so I can read other books from my TBR pile. But after I finished the first book, I was reeling so much from Kate and the magical Atlanta that I had to read what happens next.

Some time has passed after the events of Magic Bites happened, and Kate wakes up to a phone call from her former partner and shapeshifter Jim who offers her a gig. Together, they disarm an arsonist successfully, but not before the culprit is killed by an unknown assassin. As Kate sets to investigate this, she finds a bigger concern not just for her but for everyone: a magical flare is coming up, and when magic runs rampant, things are destined to go wrong.

Magic Burns further immerses us into the world of Ilona Andrews’ characters, where magic and technology rises and falls every now and then. This is further expounded here with the occurence of a magical flare that comes once every seven years. More creatures are introduced, including the existence of gods and goddesses, that even Kate wasn’t really buying despite all the magic that she knows. I like how more things seemed to be explained here, including how magic can make people, more insight on the Pack dynamics and the interesting new addition, the witches. The world building here is as solid as the first, and despite the amount of extraordinary things in Kate’s world, it was easy to accept the fact that these things exist.

What makes Magic Burns (and Magic Bites) so readable is how it’s not just serious fantasy. I love the little funny quips and things that happens in the novel, and I find myself shaking my head as I chuckle at a seemingly ridiculous scene but still very fitting. I think “deadpan” is the right term to describe it. For example, there was a scene in the book where Kate was talking to Gasthek, a necromancer, through a vampire host he sent to her office:

“What’s in it for me?”

“Monetary compensation.”

The day I took the People’s money would be the day I give up on being a human. “Not interested. Any other offers?”

The vampire stared at me, his mouth slack as Gasthek assessed his options. I took a couple of forms from my desk, put them in the vamp’s mouth, and pulled them up by their edges.

“What are you doing?” Gasthek asked.

“My hole puncher broke.” (p. 117)

See what I mean? I can only imagine what that scene looked like. :P

As always, Kate was very awesome here. In Magic Bites we get to see a bit of Kate and how tough she was. In Magic Burns, we see a bit of Kate’s soft side as she forms a relationship with Julie, the kid she “adopts” early in the book. We see her fierceness in protecting the person entrusted to her and what lengths she would go to just to keep her safe. Despite Kate’s strong personality and her need to be private, she’s not one without friends. She knows and keeps the value of friendship, going as far as provoking even the Beast Lord just to protect her friend. I like this side of her because it makes her more human. Further into the novel, though, we see a bit of how powerful Kate can be, and we learn a bit of her past, which I believe will be expounded on the latter novels.

And speaking of the Beast Lord. Ah Curran. :) I think I am starting to understand why the girls I know who like the series sigh with a mention of Curran. :) And that final scene? I wouldn’t have gotten The Princess Bride reference if I didn’t read this Goodreads review. I immediately re-read the last part and gave a tiny squeal (just tiny because I was in the office when I finished this) — “As you wish!” Squeeee! ♥ They tell me it gets better in the next books, so I can’t wait to read them.

Magic Burns is a solid follow-up to Magic Bites, if not better. :) I am about to start Magic Strikes, and I can’t wait to read more Kate and of course, whatever there is between her and Curran. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Angieville
Artseblis
Janicu’s Book Blog
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers