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

All I Ever Wanted

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan HigginsAll I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Harlequin
Number of pages: 409
My copy: Kindle edition

One Happily-Ever-After Rocking Chair…

…and no sign of any forthcoming babies to rock in ol’ Georgebury, Vermont. For Callie Grey, turning thirty means coming to grips with the fact that her boss (and five-week fling) is way overdue in his marriage proposal. And way off track because Mark has suddenly announced his engagement to the company’s new Miss Perfect. If that isn’t bad enough, her mom decides to throw her a three-oh birthday bash in the family funeral home.

Bad goes to worse when she stirs up a crazy relationship with the town’s not so warm and fuzzy veterinarian, Ian McFarland, in order to flag Mark’s attention. So Ian is more comfortable with animals…. So he’s formal, orderly and just a bit tense. The ever-friendly, fun-loving and spontaneous Callie decides it’s time for Ian to get a personality makeover. But dang, if he doesn’t shock the heck out of her, she might actually fall for Vermont’s unlikeliest eligible bachelor….

* * *

All I ever wanted — at least, at that particular time — was a nice, fluffy novel to sink my teeth into. The last time I read a Kristan Higgins novel was some sort of research for #romanceclass. I had fun, and but it was still partly research and I didn’t really breeze through it when I read it. This time, I just really wanted something fluffy, something that wouldn’t really make me think too much but I would still enjoy. So I scanned my library, picked All I Ever Wanted and settled in.

Then I met Callie Grey, and nothing is ever the same again.

Okay, perhaps that’s a little exaggeration. But Callie is one of the brightest heroines I’ve read in all the Higgins novels I’ve read so far. Callie just turned thirty, and she was coming to terms that maybe her boss Mark wasn’t going to fall for her, especially after he announced that he was dating the newest addition to their small advertising company. Callie tries to move on, and she meets the formal-but-really-kind-of-stiff veterinarian, Ian McFarland. It wasn’t love at first sight, because Ian was a little too formal for Callie’s fun-loving personality, but she gives him a chance with a personality makeover to help his business. Callie wasn’t really interested in him…but he was cute. And single. Why not?

Callie, Callie. I loved her from the start, from her emotional diarrhea to her family to her cheerful outlook in life. I loved her dog Bowie, and her rocking chair, her grandfather and how she has the little town of Georgebury wrapped around her finger with her sunny personality. I’m pretty sure I would have been friends with Callie if I were there, mostly because she’s pretty much everyone’s friend there. But she had me right from the very start, and I knew how exhausting it must be to try to be so happy all the time even if there were people around her that broke her heart. I loved her, maybe because I saw a bit of myself in her, especially with how she talked to herself about moving on from Mark. Her thoughts felt real, and well, sometimes too real that it hurt a little.

I can’t remember having so much fun with a Higgins novel. I can’t find anything not to like in All I Ever Wanted — it was such a fun read with just the right amount of swoon and tension. I liked how Ian and Callie were such opposites but still so seemingly perfect for each other. It’s like Ian gets Callie, even if half the time he seemed to get annoyed at her for being so bubbly and everything. I remember grinning like an idiot at one of their first few “moments” together. I was giggling happily at that turkey scene that led to so many things for the two of them. They balanced each other off quite well — they’re all cute and awkward and sweet, but not too much to make it too cheesy. It was fun reading how the two of them stumbled around each other, like putting together a puzzle where some pieces didn’t seem to fit at first, until you find their perfect place.

I really liked All I Ever Wanted, if it’s not obvious yet. :) I think the trick with reading Higgins novels is that you don’t read one after the other so you get enough time to savor the swoon and enjoy the feels. All I wanted was a nice, fluffy and romantic read, and All I Ever Wanted pretty much nailed it. I’m really glad I picked this one up. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 19

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I felt a warm and fuzzy glow in my heart. People were just the best. I loved people. Most people, anyway.

“Look, Callie,” he said quietly, “I didn’t meant o insult you, but it’s clear I did. I meant only that…” His gaze drifted to his dog, then to the bookcase. “You don’t have to try so hard.” He paused, then met my eyes with some difficulty. “Not with me, anyway.”
Oh. Oh.

Then again, I was excellent at misinterpretation.

I’d tried so hard to get him to notice me, and when he finally did, tried so hard to be perfect. Even after he’d put our relationship on pause, I’d tried so hard. Tried to be cheerful, tried to be upbeat, tried to not let my feelings show, not to blame him, not to mind when day after day, week after week, his nonchalance eroded my heart.
Sometimes being an optimist was quite the fucking effort.

You fill up the whole room, sweetheart, to try to fix everyone’s problems, be everyone’s friend. You don’t have to try to hard. We’ll love you just the same.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Angieville
Steph Su Reads

The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing by Kristan HigginsThe Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Harlequin
Number of pages: 400
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Lucy Lang isn’t looking for fireworks…

She’s looking for a nice, decent man. Someone who’ll mow the lawn, flip chicken on the barbecue, teach their future children to play soccer. But most important: someone who won’t inspire the slightest stirring in her heart… or anywhere else. A young widow, Lucy can’t risk that kind of loss again. But sharing her life with a cat named Fat Mikey and the Black Widows at the family bakery isn’t enough either. So it’s goodbye to Ethan, her hot but entirely inappropriate “friend with privileges,” and hello to a man she can marry.

Too bad Ethan Mirabelli isn’t going anywhere. As far as he’s concerned, what she needs might be right under her nose. But can he convince her that the next best thing can really be forever?

* * *

I read The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins because I need to get into the “romance” mood while I was writing my romance novella. Back that time, all the books I was reading were not in the romance genre and I needed the appropriate feels, as well as a reference for my story, and this was the closest I could pick. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read this as much as I wanted to during the time I was writing the first draft of the novella because I was too busy. Plus my mind just won’t get into the mood without it being influenced too much)

I’ve had my eye on this book ever since I read (and liked) Somebody to Love. I met Lucy and Ethan in that book from Parker’s POV, and I liked them so much that I wanted to read how they got together anyway, especially when the dad of Parker’s son is Ethan. Strange set-up, don’t you think? In The Next Best Thing, Lucy Lang is a young widow who is ready to date again. She isn’t looking for spark — just a nice man who wouldn’t die on her anytime soon or even make her too in love because she’s not sure if she can suffer the loss again after her husband died. With that in mind, she had to take the first step: she had to tell Ethan Mirabelli, her brother-in-law and best friend, that they have to stop hooking up. But Ethan isn’t convinced that Lucy needs anyone else — will he be able to convince her that he’s what she wanted all along?

This was lots of fun. I loved Lucy and the people that surrounded her in that small town. The entire town felt so real, with Lucy’s mom and aunts who were also all widows (The Black Widows), Lucy’s in-laws, her ‘nemesis’ Dorall Anne and even Jimmy, her deceased husband. I love that Lucy is a baker, and she’s also as neurotic and lovable as Kristan Higgins’ other heroines are. I liked how Lucy and Ethan’s relationship was shown, from when they met to how it all finally ended — the push and pull, the tension and how they tried to be around each other. I loved how Lucy got to the realization at the end, and how she made peace with her past. That “grand gesture” in the end was messy and funny but still perfect for the two leads.

I really liked The Next Best Thing, and I think I liked it especially because Parker was also there and her character was quite consistent there as it was in the spin-off. If I were ever to have Lucy moments, I would want to have a friend like Parker. (But I think I already have several Parkers in my life :D)

The Next Best Thing is another really good book from Kristan Higgins. I’m still working through her back list, but I won’t read too fast because I want to make sure that I always have one of her books unread in my shelf whenever I need a pick-me-up. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine

Catch of the Day

Catch of the Day by Kristan HigginsCatch of the Day by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: Harlequin
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

This catch of the day could be the dish of a lifetime!

First Date à la Maggie
Take one lovelorn diner owner (me)
A generous helping of nosy local gossips
A dollop of envy at married sister’s perfect life
A splash of divine intervention (my matchmaking priest)

Combine ingredients with one adorable puppy, add a strong but silent lobsterman with a hidden heart of gold . . . and watch the sparks fly.

* * *

I took some time thinking if I should get Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins after I finished reading Somebody to Love. I really liked Somebody to Love, and I was really curious to read one of the first stories that it spun off from — or at least, where the setting came from. I tried to look for it in local bookstores (I didn’t exert too much effort, really), but I was really looking at the one at the Kindle store, which was relatively cheaper than other ebooks. Resistance was futile, and I eventually got myself a copy and immediately started reading it.

Maggie is a catch. She owns the diner in quaint little Gideon’s Cove, and is pretty much an all-around nice girl, always ready to help those in need. But if she was such a catch, then why was she still single? Maggie thinks that she’s single because the guy of her dreams was actually a priest, but even so, that doesn’t stop her from pining over him. With her love life (or lack thereof) already the talk of the town, where else can Maggie go? She’s sure the town’s stoic and quiet lobsterman Malone is not the answer to her woes…until he finds his way to her heart.

I liked Maggie right from the start — her vibrant voice coupled with her single life woes talked to me from page 1. I felt like Maggie and I could actually be friends in real life, and I can definitely relate to all that she feels, except maybe if we’re friends in that small of a town, we’d both have a hard time finding our own pairs (or at least, getting found). Maggie is very smart and likable, but she does have her silly, stupid moments which always comes whenever she was around Father Tim or Malone.

Just like Somebody to Love and Until There Was You, Catch of the Day was a comfortable and easy read. I did stop reading it for a while in favor of Jane Eyre, but I found that it was just as easy to go back into the book even after not picking up for a long time. The characters in Gideon’s Cove were all the people you’d expect to read in a small town setting, and that also makes Gideon’s Cove such a quaint place to be in. I can almost see what Joe’s Diner looked like, and how the people knew each other because of the size of the town. Of course, this makes embarrassing moments all the more embarrassing because everyone basically knows everyone. But what’s a fun romance novel without the embarrassing moments?

That being said however, as much as I liked this book, I found that I didn’t really like it as much as the first two Higgins I read. I think it’s because the I got used to reading the thoughts of the two main characters in the other novels while this one I was just in Maggie’s head because of the first person point of view. I guess I liked knowing both sides of the story, except maybe I think it wouldn’t work as well here — knowing Malone’s thoughts wouldn’t exactly make him mysterious loner dude here. But this is just me nitpicking. :) I’m afraid I’m not really fond of mysterious loner dudes, though, so I wasn’t really sold on Malone, but I do agree that this lobsterman has a heart of gold. And I think that’s what really counts. :)

On another note, I love that Higgins always have pets — particularly dogs! — in her books. Maggie’s best friend and golden retriever Colonel was both charming and heartbreaking, and I found myself sobbing so hard one morning while I was reading this book. I saw it coming, actually, but it didn’t make it less painful. Sigh.

There was a point in the novel that I was really hoped that something I sort of expected to happen won’t happen, because if it did, I would end up not liking this book at all. I was really, really glad that it didn’t go that way, though! Catch of the Day is sweet and cute and basically everything that a comfort read should be. Kristan Higgins is slowly becoming one of my favorite light and fluffy comfort read authors, so Catch of the Day will definitely not be my last book from her. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Angieville
Dear Author

Somebody to Love

Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN Books
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

After her father loses the family fortune in an insider-trading scheme, single mom Parker Welles is faced with some hard decisions. First order of business: go to Gideon’s Cove, Maine, to sell the only thing she now owns—a decrepit house in need of some serious flipping. When her father’s wingman, James Cahill, asks to go with her, she’s not thrilled…even if he is fairly gorgeous and knows his way around a toolbox.

Having to fend for herself financially for the first time in her life, Parker signs on as a florist’s assistant and starts to find out who she really is. Maybe James isn’t the glib lawyer she always thought he was. And maybe the house isn’t the only thing that needs a little TLC…

* * *

When I spotted Somebody to Love in Netgalley, I immediately requested it, having enjoyed Until There Was You last year. I wasn’t really planning to read this soon, but then I started and got to know Parker (and the Holy Rollers!) and I just couldn’t stop. Somebody to Love introduces Parker Harrington Welles, a children’s book writer who relies on the trust fund she had and building her world around her one and only son. She is essentially rich, but she didn’t really live as a rich girl. Which was fortunate, because when her father got jailed for an insider-trading scheme, Parker is left penniless save for what she had now and a house left to her name by an estranged aunt. Thinking she could easily sell the house for extra money to start again, she was surprised to find that the house was more of a shack and it needs a lot of work. Enter James Cahill, one of her father’s lawyers, who was asked to help Parker with whatever she needed. Parker had always been annoyed at James not only because of a shared history, and she really wished he wasn’t there…except that he’s proven to be helpful in fixing the house. That, and he’s looking pretty…well, hot is the only word to describe it.

This is only my second Higgins book but she’s slowly becoming my go-to read for anything light and fluffy but not too light and fluffy. I loved Parker for being a writer, and for being an all-around pretty good person despite the fortune she had in her name. Here’s a girl focused on her career and her family, and it was a refreshing thing to read. I liked her wit, and I know this is weird, but I liked that she talked to herself because I do the same thing too! ‘Talking aloud, the writer’s affliction.’ So that explains it! :P

I haven’t read the other Higgins book set in Gideon’s Cove, Maine (Catch of the Day — which Angie recently reviewed) so I wasn’t introduced to this place, but reading it in Somebody to Love was a very lovely experience! The small-town charm, the diner, how everyone knows each other — I want to go there! Of course, everyone knowing each other isn’t always a good thing, but I guess I wouldn’t mind if Vin, Maggie and the others are there. My favorite scene in this book is the part where Parker first enters the diner and sees everyone in town there — for what reason? It’s for you to find out. :)

Of course, I can’t not mention the romance in this book. I’ve been getting very lucky with the romance in the books I’ve been reading — almost all the books I read lately have this slow-burn romance going for them, and Somebody to Love is no exception. While James and Parker have a history that I wasn’t really much of a fan of, the development of their relationship was such a pleasure to read that I can’t help but giggling every now and then. I liked that James wasn’t just a token hot guy, but a character with his own hang ups and history and had his own story going for him. He’s an individual completely different from Parker, and reading their conversations and watching their relationship grow was the best part of the book.

Somebody to Love is definitely a mood-lifter, and it’s a great book to read in between serious books or when you just want to be lost in a good romance in a pretty place with interesting neighbors to boot. :) After this, I am definitely getting the two other Higgins books that this was spun from – Catch of the Day and The Next Best Thing. And then I will work my way through the rest of Kristan Higgins’ back list. :)

Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins will be out under HQN books on April 24, 2012.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Fairy Tale Floozy