#JustWritePH: For Love Blog Tour – Excerpt and Review

JustWritePH-blog-tour-banner

And it’s time for another blog tour! I watched the #JustWritePH from the sidelines via Facebook and Twitter, and I want to say how proud I am of this initiative. I’ve always said that the PinoyWriMos were the most inspiring bunch of writers I know, and I’m even more inspired now that this has happened and there are a lot of new stories for everyone to enjoy.

What is #JustWritePH? The #JustWritePH workshop, which ran from July 1 to August 8, 2015, challenged participants to write a story and prepare it for publication in a little under 6 weeks. Tips and lessons were delivered online & in person. The reward? Guaranteed distribution on Buqo, plus marketing opportunities like a bundle launch (held at Bo’s Coffee Megamall on August 22), a Facebook party, and a blog tour.

And since I’m a romance fan and author, I’m going to review the For Love bundle, specifically, Sigh No More by Carla de Guzman. :D

#JustWritePH—For Love
Authors: Beth G., Carla de Guzman, Giselle Bacalla, and Amae Dechavez

Bundle description:

Love is never easy, but the journey to that happily ever after is what makes it worth it. Witness the struggles of these characters as they work their way through both new romances and second chances at love in this four-story bundle. Features “I Still…” by Beth G., “Sigh No More” by Carla de Guzman, “Velvet Valentine” by Giselle Bacalla, and “One Sweet November Day” by Amae Dechavez.

JustWritePH-ForLove-CoverSigh No More by Carla de Guzman
Connect with Carla: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

Beatrice and Claudia never thought they would see Benedick and Hiro ever again, not that they wanted to. But when the business opportunity of a lifetime hinges on Ben and Hiro’s work, they find themselves head over heels and crashing into the boys again. But why did they ever have to be apart in the first place? Can Hiro win Claudia’s heart back? Can Beatrice and Benedick ever stop fighting? This book is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

I read and liked Carla’s two previous works, Cities and Marry Me, Charlotte B! so I was very happy when I saw that she had a story in this bundle. I liked the set up from the very start, with Beatrice and Claudia and their stationery/art store. I liked their friendship and their banter, and they were two very fleshed out characters from the start. Then Ben and Hiro arrived, and madness ensues. But seriously, Ben and Hiro were just as charming characters, and funny, too, especially when Carla brought us back to how they met and what happened then and now.

Ben and Bea were the main characters here, so most of the focus was on their love story, and I loved it. I liked that both their perspectives were shown, and it was very entertaining once some plans went into action. I liked the panic in Ben and the hesitation that Bea felt, and it made me curious why they weren’t together when they were so obviously good for each other. The story unfolded gracefully, and I was really invested in them, so much that I already saw who was the real problem in the story even before the characters decided to do something about it.

Sigh No More was incredibly enjoyable, really, It was funny and romantic with just the right depth to make the story believable and make you wish for your own dorky Ben. ;)

Still need convincing? Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Right. Morning outfit selfie. Here we go.

I really looked awful in the morning, all messy hair and puffy eyes. That last beer really was a mistake. I adjusted the angle of my phone slightly, before I gave the camera my brightest, still-slightly-sleepy smile. I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to wear today (horror of horrors) and I ended up with my loose, ripped drawstring jeans, my favorite chunky sandals and a loose white shirt. It was going to be another hot day in DC, so a pair of plastic cat eye glasses went with the outfit. I put my hair up in its usual half-topknot and grabbed Claudia’s peach lip tint to swipe over my lips. I looked into my vintage full length mirror and snapped the photo.

“Beatrice Noble: Up and ready by 10 am and I’m already working,” I typed out on the phone’s notes. “Had a back and forth conversation with our printer regarding our new greeting card line while in bed, now heading off to meet with Claudia at Petit Jolie.”

That sounded good, didn’t it? I frowned little at myself in the mirror. I widened my eyes until I looked crazy and puffed out my cheeks. Gaze into the eyes of an underpaid, overworked, under-slept self-starter!

Claudia Crowne and I quit our jobs two years ago to start our baby, the Noble Crowne Paper Company. We started out with small jobs, making invites for relatives’ weddings, postcards and notepads. Then the next thing I knew, my life turned into a whirlwind of printers and paints, clients and meetings. Suddenly my social media posts were more important than times in and out, my 9 to 5 had turned into 24/7, and the voice in my head telling my that there was something inherently wrong with doing what I loved had finally dulled into a whisper.

Was it scary? It was still, in a lot of ways. Sometimes I think that it’s all been a fluke, or a dream of some kind, but then I check my ratty old filofax and the list of things I have to do just make me feel happy. It’s so weird.

One of the lifestyle blogs Claudia and I religiously followed finally responded to Claudia’s emails and asked for a ‘day in the life’ article from the girls of Noble Crowne. It was a big deal for us, and both Claudia and I were determined not to screw it up

Which was why, when I arrived at Petit Jolie, I wasn’t at all surprised to see that Claudia was wearing a short, sleeveless tunic printed with orange roses, mums and little red flowers that I used to pick from bushes as a child. Claudia made that dress from a pattern I gave her when I was first starting to paint. Now almost every piece that we produced in our little stationery company featured my hand painted flowers.

“You couldn’t be just a bit more subtle?” I teased, kissing my best friend’s cheek as we sat on our usual table of the corner cafe. Claudia and I lived within walking distance of each other on Kings’ Street in Old Town, Alexandria, a little neighbourhood in Virginia that still had wrought iron street lamps, twinkle lights on the main street, small Victorian buildings, shops and boutiques just by the Potomac River. I loved our neighbourhood. It was so pretty and quaint, despite being a stone’s throw away from Washington DC. Petit Jolie was a small boulangerie in the middle of an American street and smack dab in the middle of the town. It was also where the idea for Noble Crowne was born.

The #JustWritePH – For Love bundle is 75% off (Php45/$0.99) until September 27  from Buqo! You can also enter the raffle below for a chance to win a free copy! :)

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond CarverWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 159
My copy: paperback borrowed from Angus

This powerful collection of stories, set in the mid-West among the lonely men and women who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time, was the first by Raymond Carver to be published in the UK. With its spare, colloquial narration and razor-sharp sense of how people really communicate, the collection was to become one of the most influential literary works of the 1980s.

* * *

I attended the wedding of my brother’s best friend last week. I like weddings. It may be something that runs in the family since my brother is a wedding videographer. But I really, really like attending weddings, because it’s such a happy, happy day. Plus, I really like hearing wedding vows.

Anyway, my wedding weekend read is Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which I borrowed from Angus when I got the chance to check out his bookshelf. This is my first Carver, and the first time I have heard about him also because of Angus’ rave review. This is a collection of short stories about people who talk about, well, love. I figure it may be a fitting book to bring since it’s a wedding and all. What do people talk about when they talk about love in weddings?

Before I go to the proper review, let me tell you what people talk about when they talk about love in a wedding. Weddings are happy, happy days, not only for the couple but also for everyone who came to celebrate with them. It’s funny, though, how people often look forward to the wedding and see it as a “happily ever after”, when it is really just the start of something new. The priest gave this lovely homily during my brother’s best friend’s wedding that had all of us laughing and me thinking really hard. He talked about good memories and bad memories, and how ten, twenty years down the road, the couple will lose a lot of things: their youth, their health, their money. And when people lose these things, when life gets difficult, sometimes it’s harder to hold on and remember your commitment. And then he reminds them that they’re not the boss of each other, and getting married in the church – in front of God and in front of the people – is their promise of giving up the right to give up on each other, no matter how hard life gets. Then they said their vows, and…it was so real and so beautiful.

Then, I spent time with my parents over the weekend, and I took the time to observe how they treat and interact with each other. My parents have been married for 30+ years, and sometimes I think I take that for granted. That weekend, I saw how they act around each other, and I realized how their love is that quiet, enduring love that I also want for myself. There are some things that my mom would say or do that, if I were my dad, would rub me the wrong way and I would say something back in defiance…but my dad does nothing. Instead, he smiles, and just takes it and does something. My dad would do something, or say something that, if I were my mom, would feel like it lacks emotion or affection, but I see that my mom doesn’t see that. I see how they’re around each other and how they support each other and how they love us so much, and my heart just swells because I see a glimpse of what the priest said, and I see what kind of love I want, and the one that I wish I would be able to give, too. Imperfect, yet strong and enduring.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love isn’t too romantic — in fact, sometimes I think it’s not romantic at all. It’s not like the romance books I usually read, with fluff and cheese and swoon and kilig that makes them so fun to read. No, Carver’s collection of short stories about love is about love in many forms, but it dealt with love after all the kilig and swoon and cheese and fluff are gone. Most of the stories are melancholic in its nature, and for a moment, it didn’t seem like the right thing to read on a wedding weekend. But it seems perfect, too, because this book somehow set my thoughts straight — or at least, gave me a different perspective, after the reception is over and the wedding fuzzies have started to fade.

Most of the stories in this collection are stories of lonely people, or people seeing lonely people, or people talking about old experiences of loneliness that is related to love. The realness in these stories is what got to me: this is what could happen, days, months or years after the wedding day. These stories can happen, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only ending. Love doesn’t mean mistakes won’t happen, or your loved ones will always be healthy or you will never fight. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. The stories were short and the writing was simple, and sometimes I get surprised when a story is over and I wasn’t exactly sure what it was supposed to tell me. But as I read on, I realize that these stories are fragments of love in its everyday form, during the hard parts, and also, in some of the happy parts, too.

I liked most of the stories, but three stories stood out: After the Denim (“He’d tell them what to expect! He’d set those floozies straight! He’d tell them what was waiting for you after the denim and the earrings, after touching each other and cheating at games.“), Everything Stuck to Him (“Things change. I don’t know how they do. But they do without realizing it or wanting them to […] he stays by the window, remembering. They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else – the cold, and where he’d go in it – was outside, for a while anyway.“) and the title story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (“I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.“). When I was done, I found myself rereading parts of some of my favorite stories (especially the last one), and then sitting down at home and thinking about love.

Because really, what do people talk about when they talk about love? My friends and I do this a lot, and while we all have these ideas and dreams and everything, I don’t think we will ever grasp what love really is about. The best we can do, I think, is try.

Let’s have a toast. I want to propose a toast. A toast to love. To true love. (p.141)

This is my first Carver, and I don’t think this will be my last. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody

 

Required Reading: February

Sometime around January, I was thinking of what books I would have lined up for February seeing that it was Valentine’s month and it’s sort of the right month to pick up romance novels and such. How cliche of me to do that, but I liked having themed reads. I like reading certain books at a certain time of the year because the month’s celebrations call for it. I think that makes it more fun (albeit masochistic, especially in February, if you know my stories :P).

Anyway, as I was choosing books from my Mt. TBR, I wondered if I could do a theme for every month. Which led to me thinking that maybe I can have kind of direction for the books I read in this year, instead of just choosing randomly. I would be able to conquer my TBR a bit for the entire year but without the big pressure of reading them all, you know?

So I came up with my own, sort of TBR challenge for 2011, where:

  • I would pick 4 books from my TBR pile that I should read within the month that sort of fits one kind of theme.
  • These books should not be included in other 2011 challenges.

This doesn’t mean that I would only read the books I listed within the month. These are just the books that I should read within the month, but I can read other books, too, in the pace that I want to. Call it required reading, I guess.

WAIT. Okay that’s the name of this “challenge”. Required Reading. :D

I have constructed a list in my planner which is still subject to change. I will share them every start of the month, of course, but for now, my February line up!

Thanks, we heart it!Well it’s obvious the theme is love. Like I said, it may be a bit masochistic for me because of the current state of my love life (or lack thereof — but I will not post that here. If you want more of that, it will be posted in the personal blog :P)…but hey, everyone loves a good love story, right? With all it’s red and pink magic. :)

So from my TBR, here are my February Required Reading!

  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

There’s a book on summer love, a dystopian novel about love being a disease, a novel about a wedding, and finally a retelling of a Roman myth with the god of love. I even feel like throwing in a few more romance novels in the mix here. Let it be a month full of books on love, yes? :)

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! :)

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Walker Books
Number of pages: 386
My copy:
paperback, UK edition

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life — and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

* * *

I think the thing about reading books about death and grief is it’s hard to relate to it if you haven’t experienced the kind of grief the characters are experiencing. I’ve read a couple of books that dealt with those topics and while I really loved them and the characters resonated with me, I don’t think I fully related to the characters and their plight because I am still blessed enough not to experience the kind of death that these characters had. This holds me at arm’s length at them, making me more of an audience than a player in the story.

But that does not stop me from reading books like that, and that includes The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. No one is a stranger to death, and we would all have to deal with grief sooner or later. Lennie was one of those people who had to deal with grief sooner, when death took her 19-year-old sister, Bailey, away through a freak heart disease. This death makes Lennie’s world come undone. She drifts from day to day, shutting herself from her Grandmother and Uncle Big, thinking only about her loss and how Bailey would never have a future.

The Sky is Everywhere is one of those grief books that show us a different kind of grieving. The kind of grieving Lennie did was something people would frown upon, especially those who do not know the feeling. In the middle of Lennie’s grief for her sister, she falls in love. Strange, right? She finds herself wanting to be physically close to Toby, her sister’s boyfriend, and at the same time, she finds herself getting attracted to new guy Joe, who makes her heart feel like the flowers blooming in her grandmother’s yard. Guilt eats Lennie after every “happy” moment in love — how can she fall in love and be happy when her sister is dead? What kind of a person kisses her dead sister’s boyfriend?

There is a beauty in Jandy Nelson’s writing that makes this book almost ethereal. It was almost like the words in the pages were music, flowing seamlessly into the other without being too flowery. Lennie’s emotions run gamut around the book, and I liked that my copy is the UK edition so I was able to see her poems in full color where she “leaves” them:

Somehow, these things made the book more personal, and sometimes harder to read because it was like I was seeing something very private. But it’s not like the other parts of the book aren’t too personal either, and it strikes a chord in me, even if I cannot relate 100%. For example:

How will I survive this missing? How do others do it? People die all the time. Every day. Every hour. There are families all over the world staring at beds that are no longer slept in, shoes that are no longer worn. Families that no longer have to buy a particular cereal, a kind of shampoo. There are people everywhere standing in line at the movies, buying curtains, walking dogs, while inside their hearts are ripping to shreds. For years. For their whole lives. I don’t believe time heals. I don’t want it to. If I heal, doesn’t that mean I’ve accepted the world without her? (p. 222-223)

There were a few times in the book that I felt the familiar choking sensation of tears wanting to come, and another part of me is thankful that I am still spared from that kind of pain. Perhaps in reading this book, I will be somehow ready?

But if there was a lesson that The Sky is Everywhere imparts, it’s that there is no wrong way of grieving. Everyone grieves their own way, and it’s our hearts’ ways of healing itself and moving on. This very idea/lesson gave me a hard time in rating the book, because this meant the meat of the story is just Lennie’s way of grieving…but honestly, the romantic aspect just didn’t sit well with me. While I thought Joe and Toby were pretty well-rounded characters and interesting guys for Lennie to fall for, I wasn’t very sold in the love triangle. It was obvious who Lennie would choose is the end anyway. Plus, the entire Joe thing felt just a bit unbelievable for me, almost exaggerated in romanticism. I’m pretty sure I’m just nitpicking with that. Call me old fashioned, but I want my romance a little bit built up with a solid foundation and not just filled with music (figuratively and literally with instruments such as upright bass and the like) and flowers and kissing and all that. I can’t help but compare this book with one of my favorites, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen with their thematic similarities, and how romance played a part in how the main characters grieved. If I were to choose which romance I’d prefer between Lennie-Joe and Macy-Wes, I am definitely for the latter. The Lennie-Joe build up just does not sit well with me. I guess I really am old-fashioned that way.

Nevertheless, The Sky is Everywhere is still a beautiful novel, in story and in writing. Romance aside, I thought it was a  great debut for Jandy Nelson, and I am looking forward to reading more of her works.

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Book Harbinger
Angieville
Steph Su Reads
Persnickety Snark