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:

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads

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