This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Number of pages: 288
My copy: e-ARC from Netgalley

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

* * *

I’ve only read one Leila Sales book, Past Perfect, and I had fun with it because it was so, well, fun. I remember really liking the setting and the characters and how it felt like such a good summer read, so I dove into This Song Will Save Your Life with the same expectations: that this will be a light, fun read, a perfect companion for my recent trip.

But…I was wrong.

I was wrong about the light and fun part, actually. I honestly thought This Song Will Save Your Life is about a girl who builds a playlist and all that, and the “saving your life” part was just metaphorical, a symbolism of sorts. Well, it as kind of like that, but I didn’t expect it to be so serious. In a good way, that is. Elise Dembowski is unpopular, but not because she did something. Or maybe she was unpopular because she tries so hard, too hard. But all Elise wanted was to be seen, to have friends, and when her last attempt failed, she gives up (and this was the part that shocked me and told me that this might be different from the previous Leila Sales book I read). Then Elise discovers an underground warehouse party where she meets people who knew nothing about her and calls her their friend. Ellie finds herself spending more time with them, until she gets into the DJ booth and realizes that there was something else to love about her new secret: DJing.

So this book is about Elise and her quest to fit in, a secret club, and DJing. The last two were a bit unexpected, but it was only unexpected because I didn’t read the summary when I got the book; I just requested it because it was Leila Sales (and the cover was pretty). Like I said, I was surprised at how heavy this book felt at the start, at how big Elise’s problems were to her. I didn’t expect that at all, but that development was gripping enough for me to want to find out what happens next.

The book was a bit slow at the start, and again, because I didn’t read the book’s summary, I wasn’t really sure what would happen. I wasn’t sure about the secret party warehouse angle at first, until the other characters grew on me and I wanted to know what would happen to them. The romantic angle made me cringe a little, and you know how when you read something like that that it was doomed from the start, and you’re not sure how to feel if it didn’t end up doomed? I had that feeling in my stomach while I was reading it. The writing was clear and vivid that I could almost feel how it was to be in that party, to dance and sing with other people as Elise changes the music, to be one with the crowd and all that jazz. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really party.

The other side of Elise’s life really hurt to read, too, and it made the contrast between her day life and her night life really stand out. It made me realize yet again how high school kids can be mean even if they didn’t intend to — how a simple act of ignorance of another person can really break someone, even if you didn’t intend to do that. There was that particularly mean action made for the sake of “postmodern art” that really got to my nerves, but I liked how it was handled in this book, and how in the end, Elise found a reason to like herself more than wishing that other people like her too. And isn’t that the point? That we be convinced of our worth, to know that it has never been tied to someone else?

I was really liked This Song Will Save Your Life, and I think not knowing what it was about when I first read it contributed to how much I liked it overall. I didn’t end the book wanting to be a DJ, nor wanting to find secret warehouse parties, but I did end it feeling a little bit more compassionate for other people and for myself, too. And I think that’s good enough.

Number of dog-eared pages: 8

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I thought about how my back hurt from standing and my ears rang. But I also thought about how exciting it had been. How powerful I had felt, knowing that I alone had the ability to make people dance, the ability to make them happy.

I’m telling you, never fall for a music man. It only ends in heartbreak.

True, things don’t stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always YOU: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Midnight Garden
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Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie BroshHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Publisher: Touchstone
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook from Netgalley

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is.

I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative—like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it—but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly.

So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book: Pictures. Words. Stories about things that happened to me. Stories about things that happened to other people because of me. Eight billion dollars. Stories about dogs. The secret to eternal happiness.

These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

* * *

I’ve loved Hyperbole and a Half ever since my colleague told me about the blog. I remember there were days when I’d read the blog and start laughing uncontrollably at my desk, reading and rereading my favorite entries and hoping for more, more always more because the world needs more stories from Allie. I loved the drawings, the seemingly impossible stories about her dogs, the stuff about cake, the Alot and stories of her childhood. They were funny and crazy and just a delight to read, and the blog became one of my go-to places whenever I need some cheering up.

So I was thrilled when I found out she had a book coming out, because like I said, I can’t get enough of her stuff. It took a little while, because of her adventures in depression, but I was glad when I saw the book up on Netgalley. It came at a pretty good time, too, because I needed something quick and funny to read, and this was just the one I needed.

Hyperbole and a Half contains some of the stories that you can find in Allie’s blog, with some new stories, too. I had fun reading the stories in this collection, although I have to admit that some of them didn’t make me laugh too much because I have read them too many times in the blog. I guess I can only laugh about them so much?

The other never-before-seen stories were funny, though, and I especially loved the one with the goose. Oh my Lord, I had a grand time reading that one, and I can’t stop laughing over the images of the goose trying to get in the room, and the scene in the car. The funniest part of it were the actual photos of the goose to prove that it really happened — you know what, even if it didn’t really happen, I don’t care. It was just so unbelievably funny that it is now a part of the favorite Hyperbole and a Half stories in my head.

I think most of my reading experience was hampered a bit by the device I used to read the book and the ebook formatting. I read the book in my phone because reading it in Hannah the Kindle Paperwhite won’t be fun because the illustrations aren’t colored. My phone has an itty-bitty screen though, and it made reading just a little bit bothersome compared to say, if I read it in an iPad or a bigger tablet. Plus the formatting was sometimes wonky, so I wasn’t sure if I was reading a new story  or if it’s a part of the previous story until I’m sort of halfway through.

But I think Hyperbole and a Half is best read in print format, because of the illustrations. I liked it a lot (alot, heehee :P), and it was still pretty funny despite the technological limitations I faced. If you’re a fan of her blog, go and get this, at least to have a print copy of the stories you loved. But if you’re sort of new to her, you can dip your toes in her stories by browsing through her blog.

Oh, and like everyone else who reviewed this book said, I have to say it too: I missed the Alot. :(alot

 

Number of dog-ears: 6

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

Nobody can guarantee that it’s going to be okay, but – and I don’t know if this will be comforting to anyone else – the possibility exists that there’s a piece of corn on the floor that will make you just as confused about why you are laughing as you have ever been depressed.

Sometimes expectations arise as a result of oversight on my part. But when there’s a snag in my plans because I failed to account for something, it still feels like reality’s fault. Reality should know about my plans. It should know when I’m not expecting to deal with the unexpected, even if it isn’t very unexpected.

Rating:

Parasite

Parasite by Mira Grant Parasite by Mira Grant
Parasitology # 1
Publisher: Orbit
Number of pages: 512
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives…and will do anything to get them.

* * *

Mira Grant is back, and she’s not writing about zombies. This time around, she’s writing about worms — tapeworms, to be exact. Genetically engineered parasites that everyone in a future world has, that somehow keeps the world healthy. It seems impossible, but SymboGen Corporation made it so, and everyone in the world has those tapeworms that they try to keep healthy. Even Sally Mitchell, a girl who survived a freak accident. She was almost dead, but suddenly, she’s alive, with no memory of her old self. She’s considered a SymboGen miracle, and she tries to live her life as normally as she can while she tries to live a new life from the old Sally that everyone knows. But it’s not so easy, especially when people are starting to have a sleeping sickness, the kind where people start to shamble like…well, zombies. And they’re getting violent. And somehow, they’re always all around Sally.

So Parasite got me excited because this is Mira Grant, the woman who wrote my most favorite zombie series so far. When I started reading this, I kind of felt bad that she wasn’t writing about Shaun and Georgia and the rest of the Newsflesh gang, but I was excited to dive into this new world that she wrote. As with Feed, Parasite‘s world-building is very detailed, so much that I felt that if I tried to look for research about the SymboGen implants, I felt that I would find some. The articles and the passages inserted in between read like real ones, and I actually read them instead of just ignoring them (like I do sometimes), so I can get into the story.

Sally/Sal reminded me a little bit like Georgia, but less of the bad-assery that the latter had. I liked her, because she seemed like a genuinely nice person, albeit a little confused. But it’s understandable given her predicament. I liked her family, too, even if it felt a little strange that they seem to be all high-profile ones. Truth be told, almost all the characters in this book seemed to be different shades of gray — I’m not sure who’s really a good guy or if they’re somehow a part of the bad group or something. The only person I was convinced was on Sal’s side was Nathan, her boyfriend, but then sometimes I don’t feel that too much, either.

The story was action packed at some, but it got a little too long and rambly at some point. I knew Feed was also like that, but I didn’t really notice it then because I got the topic (blogging) and I liked the zombies. In Parasite, I struggled a little, because sometimes I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the science talk. Kind of like how I felt sometimes with Deadline. That being said, though, there were a lot of parts that kind of made me go “WTF?!” because of pure…well, strangeness of it. Like, I don’t know, extracting x number of pounds of tapeworm from someone’s body? Er, right. :/

Overall, though, I liked Parasite. As always, there was a time when I truly worried for the characters, and I really wanted to get to the bottom of the story. Of course, since this is a part of the series, I didn’t get most of the answers I wanted because they will be revealed in the next books. My prediction did come true, though, and I saw it coming the moment it was explained in the book. I won’t say what it is, but it’s definitely kind of…well, surreal and again, WTF?!

If you’re a fan of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Parasite may be a hit or miss, depending on how attached you were to the former. I liked Parasite, though, even if I terribly missed my zombies. But there were some kind of zombies in this book anyway. Not quite the zombies I know, but I’ll take it anyway. If you’re into medical science fiction (is my term correct?), then you will probably enjoy Parasite. 

Now the next question is: will you ever agree to have a tapeworm inside you if it would make you live longer?

Number of dog-eared pages*: 8
* Since this is an ebook copy, I counted the total number of highlighted/bookmarked parts. :D

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

After all, what’s the point of helping create an apocalypse if you’re not going to be around to see it?

But there were too many people I truly cared about for me to ever agree with a plan that started “we’re going to wipe out the human race.”

Rating: 

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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

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

Iscariot by Tosca Lee Iscariot by Tosca Lee
Publisher: Howard Books
Number of pages: 352
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins the Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas’s vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems, in the end, to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Iscariot is the story of Judas, from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus that forces us to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

* * *

Ever since Tosca announced that she was writing this book in 2010, I have been eagerly waiting for this to come out. I loved her first two books, Demon and Havah: The Story of Eve, and a novel about Judas Iscariot is something that I know only Tosca can write with the same heart-wrenching clarity and sensitivity that she did in her first two books. When it came up available in Netgalley, I immediately got it and saved it in my Kindle. Of course, it took me ages to finally start it, until I decided that it would be my Holy Week read.

Judas Iscariot. The traitor. The betrayer. It’s so easy to hate him, and blame him, because if he didn’t sell Jesus for 30 silver coins, then maybe Jesus wouldn’t have died. It was simple, right? But have we ever wondered that even if Judas hadn’t done what he did, would Jesus still have died? After all, it was salvation history, and it was God the Father’s will for the Son of Man. Would someone else have betrayed him? And we always associate Judas with something evil, but if he was evil, why would he even be a part of Jesus’ closest circle? Why would Jesus even call Judas friend? 

Iscariot doesn’t attempt to answer this, but instead presents what we know of Jesus’ time in an even more clarity. Tosca brings us to the heart of that time — the social and political unrest of the Jews against the Romans, the religious customs of the Jewish and how important it is to them, and how the Pharisees just seem to be everywhere. And then there’s Jesus, who shocks everyone and speaks of a radical faith, heals people, drives out demons and resurrects the dead. We see all this in the eyes of Judas bar Simon, who came from a tumultuous childhood and is desperately wishing for a messiah. When his paths cross with Jesus the Nazarene of questionable birth and he follows him together with eleven other men, he wonders if he is the one. He wonders, and dares to hope, torn between love for his master and wanting a specific vision for the people. In Iscariot, we see Jesus through human eyes — through doubting, human eyes and a heart that is so scared to hope — and it brings the readers this question: if I were Judas at that time, would I have done the same thing if I thought it was the right thing?

What an unsettling novel. It’s kind of hard to explain what effect this novel had on me. It reminds me of the Gospel during the Palm Sunday mass — you know, the one where the priest is Jesus and the mass goers are the people and we all had speaking parts in the Gospel? My heart clenched like crazy when I had to say, “Crucify him!” The second time I had to say it, my eyes burned with tears, because I knew that at several points in my life, I had crucified Christ because of my sins. And I keep on doing it whenever I fail to be loving, when I fall into sin. In Iscariot, we see Judas and the apostles in all their humanity, and how they tried to follow Jesus even if they do not understand him. Tosca weaves a story of how everything must have been like for Judas as he fights against himself in hoping that this charismatic Nazarene could be the savior of all — and how he tries to act as a good friend when he realizes that maybe his master may not be what he expected him to be. Tosca’s writing was rich and colorful, and it puts all those miracles and stories in the Gospels in a more concrete way, so much that it felt like I was also there. Here’s a favorite part, when Jesus calmed the storm:

In a flash of lightning, I saw the sandaled feet of Jesus, flagging against the floor of the boat, loosely in the water, like the body of a dead man, floating. Had he drowned, then, there beneath the stern? Had he departed from us silently, without even a word of farewell? Soon we would all be fortunate to float like that on any water here.

I told myself to let go, to lunge forward and seize him by the legs. Then the boat jinked sideways, throwing us all backward. For a horrifying instant, I thought we would capsize. I opened my mouth to cry out to him, only to be slapped in the face with a crashing wave that slapped my ears and sent my head ringing.

It was John who fell down over us, grabbing me by the arm when I nearly fell over the side. “Master! Save us!”

It was a horrid sound, that scream. I would remember it for the rest of my life.

I covered my face, trying to shield my eyes. Against the dark, I saw him, the pale of his tunic in the sluicing blackness, rising up. In my deafness, I heard him when I should not have against the screeching gale:

Be still.

The words had not been shouted to the furious wind or issued to the sky, but spoken as through directly to my heart.

I’m not very good with history or theology, so I can’t speak if this book is super accurate, but for a piece of historical “fiction”, this definitely made me think. It made me feel sympathetic at the least, and it made me see Jesus in a different light. It made me see my Savior’s passion and death in a different perspective. It made me see my own humanity, and the depth of Jesus’ love even for those who He knew would betray Him.

And aren’t we all that, anyway? Haven’t be betrayed him at some point in our life? And won’t we betray him in the future, because we are human and we are weak? And Jesus knows that…still, He loves us without a doubt.

I finished reading Iscariot before 3:00pm on Good Friday, and I was a little overwhelmed with the time and how it ended. I knew how it would end, and yet…it left me somber. It left me sad. Would there have been redemption for Judas, if he had just waited? Could he have become someone like Peter, who denied Jesus but accepted mercy which led him to become the great church leader that he is? If he had just waited until Sunday, would he have believed that Jesus was indeed the person he had been waiting for his entire life?

We would never know.

I admit that I may be just a little biased because I love everything that Tosca has written, but if you would read any of her work, I think Iscariot: A Novel of Judas is the best place to start. It’s not the easiest thing to read, but it’s one that will leave you longing for your Savior.

Book trailer:

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Rating:

Required Reading: March

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