Required Reading: April 2014

You know what? My decision last March not to set any reading lists was actually one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my reading this year. It was actually so nice not to worry about what I will read, or if I will finish anything that I set myself to read. I picked up whatever book I wanted and read at my own pace. That was definitely refreshing.

So here’s what I read last month:

  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (5/5) – Definitely one of my favorite reads so far. So many gems in this one. :)
  • The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding (3/5) – Fun contemporary YA, with theater and musicals and a writer mom.
  • Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins (4/5) – Heee so much fun and swoon! You can never go wrong with a Kristan Higgins.
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver (3/5) – Finally finished this! I wasn’t as in love with this as I was with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but I really liked the longer version of Bath, entitled “A Small Good Thing”, here.
  • Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (3/5) – Still magical and still lovely. I want to go and be lost in Lost Lake, too.
  • 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley (5/5) – This is a retreat book, so I started this on February and ended on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Definitely life-changing. To Jesus, through Mary.
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green (reread) – A reread because I was asked to moderate a book discussion about this. I liked it better the second time around. :)

See, I read a lot last month! (And of course, I wrote zero reviews for them. Haha)

But now it’s April, and it’s sorta back to the reading list reality. Sort of. I have a reading list, which I bet I wouldn’t be able to follow as strictly because I always get distracted by other shiny books nowadays and I am just a slow reader now, so there. :)

Required Reading 2014 - April

Holy Week falls on April, and I’ve always tried to have a Holy Week theme for my books whenever it rolls around because it sets the right mood. I realized that I didn’t have fiction that’s good for Holy Week this time around (I had the last two Narnia books in 2012 and Iscariot in 2013). But now that I seem to be taking a liking to some non-fiction books, and we keep on talking about some of these titles at SFC meetings, so I figured it’s time to actually read things that the Pope wrote. (And Pope Francis is cool.)

rrapril2014

  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – our book club’s book of the month. :)
  • The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and Lumen Fidei by Pope Francis – because like I said, Pope Francis is cool. And it’s about time I read some encyclicals. And The Joy of the Gospel has joy in it, and it’s my word for 2014. :)
  • Illusion by Frank Peretti – This has been on my TBR for years, and it’s kind of suprising because I love Frank Peretti. I should have started reading this ages ago. :)

I also plan to read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, but I didn’t put it here because I’m pretty sure I won’t finish it this month. :P

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David LevithanWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Publisher: Speak
Number of pages: 301
My copy: paperback, Christmas gift from a colleague

will grayson, meet will grayson

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths. Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high school stage.

* * *

There was a time soon after I graduated college that I was so obsessed with High School Musical. I was unemployed, and I was a kid at heart who can’t stop watching Disney Channel all day while I did nothing, so when I saw the trailer for High School Musical, I was curious. Then I watched it, and watched it and I couldn’t stop. I loved the entire thing. I even bought the book, and then watched the movie(s) and played the songs until I got sick of it all. But I have fond memories of those movies, and sometimes I kinda wish that I can break into song any time and people will just join me in singing…even if I can’t sing. Haha.

But anyway. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan features two Will Graysons who meet one night in the strangest place in Chicago.. There’s the “don’t speak, don’t participate” Will Grayson, best friend to Tiny Cooper, a large and gay guy who heads their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. All Will is concerned with is not getting noticed, but being friends with Tiny Cooper makes that difficult. And then there’s Tiny’s friend Jane, who seems nice, but Will wasn’t sure if she’s straight or not. And then there’s Will # 2, or will grayson (without the caps), who lives a hard and isolated life, with just an online friend named Isaac making his life easier. The two Wills meet one night, and then their lives change…and it all goes down in a high school musical made by Tiny Cooper.

It seemed like the best time to read a John Green book where he wrote with someone else is always around the holiday season. Or maybe I’m just saying that now because last year, I read Let It Snow around Christmas time too, and I enjoyed it, so when I was looking for a happy book to read during the holidays this year, I decided to read this book. I was already tickled by the first chapter — classic Green, introducing his main characters: a lead who isn’t really interested in standing out, a girl who seems partially unattainable, and a loud sidekick (except this time we have a louder and bigger sidekick). It was cute, and then I go into the other will’s world and I was plunged into a dark, depressing world. I almost stopped — what was this? Why is this will so sad? And why is it taking so long for the two Wills to meet?

I honestly thought I wouldn’t like it, especially since I felt that will’s chapters were too depressing. Granted, will was depressed, but I wanted to finish his chapters so I can go back to the other Will, who was partially pleasant. That, and it was kind of fun reading Tiny Cooper, even if it seems like the book should have been about him because…well, it was all about him. Suddenly he didn’t seem like a sidekick. But anyway, I found Will’s chapters funnier, and I liked the cute little “dancing” thing he had with Jane. It was something you’d expect from John Green, really, and it was really nice to read.

I really thought I wouldn’t like the book, but then I got to the end and I actually found myself tearing up at some parts. I think the best part of this book isn’t the romance, or even the Will Graysons meeting, but Will’s friendship with Tiny. It reminded me a little of my own friendships with people and how true it was with how we all just happened to be friends, and we didn’t really seek each other out at first. Although I don’t completely buy the fact about you can’t pick who your friends are, I like the sentiment that Will expressed when he told Tiny that if he could pick his friends, he would still pick Tiny. That was really heartwarming.

The ending did feel a little contrived, but I thought it was sweet and funny, especially at the exchanging numbers part. Hihi. But it was a nice way to end it, especially since I’ve long suspended my disbelief with how the musical came together and all that. Just like in High School Musical - you don’t really think what they did could happen in real life, right? But still, it was fun to watch, and it was a nice and sweet ending. Same with Will Grayson, Will Grayson: the ending was nice and heartwarming, and I actually found tears in my eyes by the time I ended the book.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson isn’t exactly the best holiday read (or…I don’t think it really counts as one, really), but I enjoyed reading it. Oh, and I remember people telling me that Tiny Cooper is the best John Green sidekick…but I think I’m still a Radar – Paper Towns kind of girl. :D

Number of dog-eared pages: 30

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. It’s because a little piece gets lost – the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. The whole shape has changed. (p. 174)

It seems to me that all things we keep in sealed boxes are both alive and dead until we open the box, that the unobserved is both there and not. (p. 197)

When you date someone, you have markers along the way, right. You kiss, you have The Talk, you say the Three Little Words, you sit on a swing set and break up. You can plot the points on a graph…But with friendship, there’s nothing like that. Being in a relationship, that’s something you choose. Being friends, that’s just something you are. (p. 260)

We’ve been friends too long to pick, but if we could pick, I’d pick you. (p. 260)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Oops, I Read A Book Again

Let It Snow

Let It Snow

Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green
and Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Speak
Number of pages: 352
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors–John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle–the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

* * *

The Philippines celebrates the longest Christmas season ever, with Christmas unofficially starting once the -ber months come along, and all the way to mid-January, as indicated in the Catholic Church’s Liturgical Calendar. I think it’s because we just really like celebrating Christmas here — and that’s also why I am posting this review weeks after Christmas season is over (but really, I was just too busy so I only got to write this review now).

I’ve been meaning to read Let It Snow for a while now, but every time I intended to get it, it was always out of stock. When the new version was released, I got my copy, and told myself I’ll make it my holiday read for 2012. I mean, when is the perfect time to read this but you know, Christmas? Let It Snow is a book with three holiday romances, with each story intersecting a little bit with the next. The first story, The Jubilee Express by Maureen Johnson, had main character Jubilee in a train on her way to her grandparents in Florida after her parents were jailed for a Flobie Village Convention riot. The train was traveling in the middle of a snowstorm which causes them to stop and get stranded in Gracetown, where she meets Stuart who gives her a home for the night. In John Green’s A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, Tobin, the Duke and JP were summoned from Tobin’s house where they were happily watching movies from Tobin’s dvd rack to a race to the Waffle House in the middle of a snowstorm, and it involved a game of Twister, lots of snow, twins and lots of running to get to the finish line. And finally, we meet Addie in The Patron Saint of Pigs by Lauren Myracle, who’s deep in her own drama on Christmas after she gets ditched by her ex-boyfriend on their make-up date. When her friends called her self-absorbed, she tries to prove them wrong by volunteering to pick up a teacup-sized pig for her best friend, which led to meeting the person responsible for her break-up, a pig buyer, as well as Jubilee and Tobin, where it all goes down in Gracetown’s local Starbucks.

Let It Snow was fun, if only because of the romantic Christmas-y vibe. I’ve read/listened to just one Maureen Johnson and I liked it enough, so I was expecting to fairly enjoy her story in the book. I did, except maybe I didn’t really buy how fast Jubilee “fell”. And I couldn’t help but think of what happens next for them after the story. But it was fun, and I liked Jubilee and the quirkiness of the family and the good back story each character had. John Green’s story was the highlight of the book, with the most quotable lines in all. It gave me the warm fuzzies that I expected, and I loved the entire adventure in the snow at night, the craziness and the conversations and how it all unfolded in the end. I saw what would happen in the end way before I got there, but even if it was a bit predictable in that sense, I still liked how it all unfolded and it left me smiling for the “happy middles” when I finished it. I’ve never read any Lauren Myracle, so I have no benchmark for this story. I liked it okay enough, although it didn’t have the same warm fuzzies that the first two stories had. I honestly felt sorry for Addie, but I also saw her friends’ points when they were talking to her. I liked it when the characters from the other stories finally showed up at the end, although I thought it fell a bit flat, like the characters from the other stories were not the same ones I’ve read earlier. The last story could have been stronger, I guess, or maybe it just paled in comparison because the first two stories were good.

So, Let It Snow wasn’t exactly the most amazing holiday read, but I enjoyed reading it. It wasn’t as fun and engaging as Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (which I reread after reading this one), but Let It Snow was light and fun enough to read during the busyness of the holiday season. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: December

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Rabbitin

Required Reading: December

Well November was quite a dismal reading month. Not because I was having a slump, but because I was just so, so, so busy. :/ Ugh. Most of the time, I just wanted to go home and sleep, instead of stay up and read. And did you see how many times I blogged last month? Even more sad.

I only finished one book for my November reading list, and it was a spillover from October. (Speaking of, can you believe I still have a spillover from my October reading list? I’m so sorry Will Henry!)

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (3/5) – I liked it, but perhaps not enough. I will write a review. Someday.

But it’s a new month, and while I can’t guarantee that I would not be busy, I will promise to catch up with stuff before 2012 ends. I will find a way to get rid of all the review backlogs even if it’s been months since I read them. Good luck to me.

On to December! Can you believe it’s the last month of the 2012?!

Required Reading: December

I will take it easy for December, because I don’t want anything too heavy, and because I did say I was going to catch up on my backlog, right? I don’t want to pressure myself with all the reading, so I will just stick to these two light ones. :)

Required Reading: December 2012

  1. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle – I’ve been wanting to get this book for ages, but I never got around to it because it doesn’t feel right if I get it when it’s not December. Plus I always seem to run out. Thank goodness they came out with this pretty copy, so now is the time to read it! :)
  2. The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka by Roald Dahl – This is a spillover from last month, and I’m really just supposed to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I got the book with the two stories anyway. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is our book club’s December book, and we’re discussing it on the day of our Christmas party too. I’m so excited! Our moderator asked us to choose a name for our discussion, and I am Tinaweena Peanutbutterina, the girl who makes magic with peanut butter. :)

There you go. If I don’t get to read these books, I don’t know what’s up with me. o_o If only it’s possible to go on vacation and read while I bundle up patagonia downtown loft somewhere cold this month…but alas. I cannot. I might squeeze The Hobbit in since the movie is showing soon, but I really hope I find the time. Hee. Or maybe I should just watch the movie without reading the book first, since I did do it for the three LotR books, anyway. :)

And that’s it! Again, can you believe that it’s the last month of 2012? Wow. Happy December, everyone! :)

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Publisher: Dutton
Number of pages: 313
My copy: signed hardbound, ordered from Book Depository

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

* * *

The YA reading world was buzzing with excitement last year when John Green announced that he would have a new book out, and I was one of them. I was one of the people who was terribly excited when he said he would sign all pre-orders and I pre-ordered mine by December, which kind of made me wait a bit when our local bookstores surprisingly got copies on the day The Fault In Our Stars was released. I had to avoid reading reviews of the book because I was so antsy to read it but I had to wait an entire month to get it. I forgot about that because this greeted me as soon as I opened the book when it finally arrived:

I got a yeti! :)

Yay a yeti!

The Fault In Our Stars introduces Green’s first female protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster, who was diagnosed with a Stage IV thyroid cancer at the age of 12. By a medical miracle, she is now 16, but remains terminal and knows that one day cancer will come back to claim her. During a cancer support group meeting, she meets charismatic Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor who seems to be interested in her. Wary but also mildly curious, she starts spending time with Augustus, inadvertently changing her life as she knows it.

Reading The Fault In Our Stars reminds me of this time a few years ago when some high school friends and I attended a wake of a classmate’s sister. The sister’s — let’s call her Mary — death was a shock to all of us. Our high school was small so we pretty much know each other, especially the ones who belong to a certain group of kids, like the achievers. Mary was one of those, and not only was she a smart kid but also a jock, and pretty much an all around nice girl too. She took up Psychology in college and just graduated before cancer took her away from everyone at the age of 20.

We weren’t close, but I was good friends with Mary’s brother, who was in my batch. We went to the wake, and I remember being nervous at looking at her casket because…well, I was scared to look at someone so young yet dead. I remember bursting into tears when I finally looked at her, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t only because I was sad she was gone but because it reminded me of something that I was afraid to think of.

To quote my blog entry from that time:

It was like I was staring at my own mortality. Back then, I only hear of cancer from people who are aging, from people on TV. It wasn’t a possibility for me or any of my friends before — we’re too young and the world’s so big and there’s so many things to do for us to suffer from a disease like that. But seeing someone even younger than me pass away, not even getting to experience how it is to be outside of school…to imagine someone like her going through chemotherapy treatments…it doesn’t feel right. It’s so unfair.

You know what they’d say about this: but life is never fair. And anyway, everyone will die at some point, it’s just that someone left earlier. But that doesn’t really make it feel any better, or make losing people to death (and cancer) less painful, right?

Here’s a fact: after reading The Fault In Our Stars, I am still pretty much convinced that John Green can do no wrong with writing contemporary YA. His latest novel has all the wit and charm and realness that only he can write. This book is just as charming as An Abundance of Katherines with all the funny dialogue, as well as having the memorable characters and scenes as Paper Towns (Isaac is one of my new favorite sidekicks). The Fault In Our Stars has the comic relief and the seriousness of Looking for Alaska, but definitely less of the unattainable girl because Augustus made himself attainable right from the start. ;) The only thing this book has that the other Green books don’t have is the cancer, and John Green tackles that subject with enough sensitivity and seriousness that it makes us who are blessed not to experience that (whether with ourselves or with someone else we care for) somewhat understand a fraction of it. The book is very readable and realistic, despite some of the scenes that felt a little too outrageous and yes, a little too romantic and almost cheesy for my taste. Oh, but don’t get me wrong — this romance is probably the best of all in all of Green’s novels. Chasing an unattainable person and deciphering their mysteries can be a bit tiring, don’t you think?

Cancer plays a big part in this book, but if I you ask me, I didn’t see this as a cancer book. Cliche and cheesy as this may sound, I saw this book as a book for the living, to remind us of some things that people with terminal cases know: that we are all dying. I think if this was a normal contemporary YA story without the sick characters, I would’ve felt annoyed at Augustus’ presumptuous comments to Hazel, and I would tell Hazel to stay far far away from this boy who thinks he’s got her all figured out. But I believe Augustus was acting that way because he knew that life is short, and if you don’t say what you feel, or at least, if you’re not perfectly honest with the people you care about, then one day it might be too late for you to say the things you wanted to say in the first place. It goes both ways too — learning to receive the care and love and attention that other people offer out of their affection. Sometimes that’s even more difficult than giving it, because we think we don’t deserve it. There’s just as much grace in receiving kindness and love as in giving it. If anything, Hazel and Augustus’ love story is about choosing to live our lives despite the fact that we are all dying.

And because comparisons are unavoidable — here’s the order of all John Green books I have read based on how much I like them:

  1. Paper Towns
  2. The Fault In Our Stars
  3. An Abundance of Katherines
  4. Looking for Alaska

Paper Towns has the best plot out of all IMHO, but I think The Fault In Our Stars shine just as well as my favorite. So it might have taken me some time to get this book in my hands from its announcement to its release, and some more time to read it but the wait for this book was definitely worth it. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Book Harbinger
In Lesbians with Books
RonReads
The Book Smugglers