Smitten

SmittenSmitten by Kristin Billerbeck, Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Number of pages: 432
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Welcome to Smitten, Vermont. With the help of four friends, it’s about to become the most romantic town in America. The proposed closing of the lumber mill comes as unwelcome news for the citizens of Smitten. How will the town survive without its main employer? A close-knit group of women think they’ll be smitten too.

* * *

In a town called Smitten, their main source of income is their lumber mill. With the lumber mill comes the men, who’s used to providing for their families, content with the life of being men despite the fact that their town had a very…well, feminine name. What happens then, when the town’s only source of income closes? The women come to the rescue, of course. Taking advantage of the town’s name, a group of friends planned to turn their town into a romantic tourist spot. Armed with lots of ideas and a whole lot of faith, Natalie, Julia, Shelby and Reese work with the rest of the town to and pray that their ideas would take off and put Smitten on the map — and maybe, along the way, they would find someone to be smitten too as well.

I love short stories and anthologies for the simple fact that they’re so easy to read and digest. I got Smitten from Netgalley because of that, followed by the fact that one of the authors in this book, Kristin BIllerbeck, is a favorite. I was in the mood for a cozy romance last month (being February and all) while I was in the middle of some (sort of gross) zombie books, so I picked up Smitten ready to be, well, smitten. Interestingly, the authors of this book are all friends with each other in real life, and they even had a note at the start of the book to share their story of their friendship. Like I said, the only author I have read there is Kristin Billerbeck, so I was looking forward to reading what she wrote there, and I was also curious with how the other authors write. Maybe this would convince me to get some of their books too.

The best thing about this book IMHO is the setting. The town of Smitten came alive to me from the first page, and I was rooting for the girls’ ideas to come to fruition in the town. Smitten seemed like such a picturesque town that needed some feminine touch, and I looked forward to reading how the town improved towards the romantic direction in each story. It may seem a little too much of a perfect town at some point, and maybe if I thought of it a little further as a too nice town it would be a bit creepy. But I want to be there, and I want to spend some time in their town even if I wasn’t a part of a couple.

The stories were pretty entertaining, too, although I can’t say I liked all of them. This is a collection of stories but I realized that it’s not really an anthology because the stories are all connected to each other and you can’t read the next without reading the one that precedes that because you’d get spoiled. Think of it as a series of spin-offs in a book. The thing with short romance stories, though, is they don’t have as much time to develop the romantic relationship from the ground up. By this, I mean, the stories can’t really start from the two characters getting to know each other for the first time and then their relationship developing from something because it would need a longer length to make the relationship feel more realistic to avoid the risk of it being another insta-love story. Unless of course that is the real intention. But anyway, with this in mind, the love stories in Smitten were all about the girls and their old time friends or old acquaintances in the town that they never really paid attention to, or have pined for but has been unrequited for some time until this. To be perfectly honest I had a hard time adjusting to that because I was used to reading full-length novels with the romance starting from the very start. The idea of old-time friends suddenly turning into lovers took some time getting used to1. But once I got used to it, I got all the nice tingles when the stories developed.

But as nice it was for the romantic relationships to start from friendships in Smitten, I felt that the shortness of the stories kind of hindered the book from delivering a bigger “oomph”. For some stories, I was just getting used to the two characters dancing around each other and (wholesomely) flirting when suddenly, they’re on their first date or someone’s confessing their love or someone is stealing a kiss from someone. Before I got used to that, the couples are fighting, or having an argument or dealing with old issues. The only story that didn’t feel too abrupt at some point was the last (my favorite among the four), and it even had some kind of foreshadowing from the previous story, which made it exciting for me because it felt like a spin-off (and you know how I love spin-offs). I’m sure the word count limit is an important factor and it’s one of the things that made the stories so and we can’t really do anything about it as a reader. I just really wish that the stories were just a little bit longer.

Despite those nitpicks, Smitten is still a pretty good book. It was exactly what I expected it to be: a nice and cozy, fluffy, romantic read. Granted, there could have been more swoony moments, but overall, it’s a nice (and clean!) book about romance and faith. My favorite story is Reese’s, but like I said up there, don’t skip the stories! Reading the first three makes Reese’s story the most satisfying of them all. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Vic’s Media Room
These Pretty Words
Reading in Winter

  1. You know this just shows how I think of the friend zone, LOL. But let’s not talk about that here. []

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse AndrewsMe and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Publisher:
Abrams

Number of pages: 304
My copy: ebook ARC from Netgalley

Up until senior year, Greg has maintained total social invisibility. He only has one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time—when not playing video games and avoiding Earl’s terrifying brothers— making movies, their own versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. Greg would be the first one to tell you his movies are f*@$ing terrible, but he and Earl don’t make them for other people. Until Rachel.

Rachel has leukemia, and Greg’s mom gets the genius idea that Greg should befriend her. Against his better judgment and despite his extreme awkwardness, he does. When Rachel decides to stop treatment, Greg and Earl make her a movie, and Greg must abandon invisibility and make a stand.

* * *

I admit: I requested this book on Netgalley because of the cover. Don’t you think it’s so cute? This is the kind of cover that I would want to be printed as a poster and placed on my room. Or over my desk. The colors in this cover is enough to cheer me up, and I wouldn’t mind just looking at it without really knowing what’s inside.

Oh but wait, I actually read it. I don’t know about you, but the book’s synopsis reminded me of a John Green novel — and not just because The Fault in Our Stars had a girl with cancer in it1. Even the start of the book kind of reminded me a bit of Green, with the geeky guy and the “sidekick”, but that is really pretty much where the similarities end.

Here’s the thing about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: this book had a guy named Greg who’s content with just skimming and being under the radar and not making any real friends so he won’t have to be ridiculed for being a part of a group. The only “friend” he had is black-guy Earl, who’s had a difficult home life and whose default expression is “pissed”. And then there’s Rachel, the dying girl who Greg used to be linked to, and is linked to again because his mother asked him to visit her and keep her company. And there are movies, too – home movies, since Greg and Earl are big time movie fans and pseudo movie makers. Secret movie makers because they never let people watch any of them, until Rachel came along anyway.

Here’s another thing: this book doesn’t really have a real and solid plot that isn’t mentioned in the title. This book really feels more like a study on high school and how a kid deals with having a friend (who he won’t admit is really a friend) who’s battling cancer. And even then, Greg didn’t even admit it. He isn’t out to win any trophies for friendship, or any of his abilities for that matter. Greg is so down on himself and what he can do that it made my heart hurt. At one point in the book, I wanted to shake him and say that he better snap out of his “Oh I’m good for nothing so I’ll just make you laugh” type of thoughts. I guess there was just too much self-deprecating quips in the book that it got me a bit turned off — it’s either I’m just too positive, or his character is really just too negative. I’m not really sure.

That being said, though, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl really is hilarious, and it’s a good book to lift you out of a bad mood with all the quips and tangents and all the movie stuff (if you don’t think of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph and stuff). I also loved Earl — maybe even more than I liked Greg — for all his tough-guy persona with a soft heart inside. I can imagine his “pissed” and “mega-pissed” expression, although I can’t exactly think of him as an actor. I think most of my LOL time happened when Earl was present, although he also showed that he had a more difficult life compared to Greg. Personally for me, if anyone had the right to complain about his life, it was Earl. Rachel also had more rights to complain, with the cancer and all. I liked Rachel’s quiet presence in the story, her snort-laugh and how she changed (but also not really changed) Greg’s life. I thought all the scenes with her was pretty poignant, and I liked how she really tried to help Greg even if he wasn’t willing to be helped that much. Their dynamic was pretty unusual, but it worked, and it really made the book true to its title.

Overall, this book is an enjoyable read, albeit not really as much as I expected. I guess I was used to having books make me feel so many things and think so many things that I imposed these expectations on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl too, when it’s really not that kind of book. I doubt this will be one of my favorites but in the grander scheme of things2, this book is one I’d recommend for anyone who’s looking for a few lot of good laughs.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews will be out March 1.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Nocturnal Library
The Readventurer

  1. I haven’t read the book yet, in case you’re wondering []
  2. Wow, look at me using this phrase, haha! []

Wanderlove

Wanderlove by Kristen HubbardWanderlove by Kristen Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 352
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

* * *

I love traveling. Granted, I’m not the most traveled person around, but I love being able to go to places. I love seeing new things, I love being (almost) anonymous in a sea of people who may or may not understand me. I love figuring out how a train system goes and how I can go from one place to another. The itch to travel hasn’t been that big in me until I got to go to Europe last year, and ever since then, I’ve been thinking of other places in the world that I must see in this lifetime. There’s something about being able to achieve a traveling dream that makes you want to travel again, especially while I still can. I’ve got a bucket list of places that I want to go to and while a part of me wonders how will I be ever able to afford all those trips, it does not stop me from dreaming.

I guess that’s why Wanderlove was such a hit with me. Bria Sandoval wanted to be a global vagabond, especially after her senior year in high school spun out of control and left her lost. She signs up for the Global Vagabonds tour to Central America, thinking that she would be with people her age. But the brochure she read was wrong and she ended up being with a group of tourists that followed a too-rigid schedule for her to actually find time to rediscover herself. Then she runs into a group of backpackers — real backpackers who go from one place to another with just the clothes and the bags on their backs — led by dive instructor with a bad boy aura Rowan, and his humanitarian sister Starling. Bria takes the chance and joins them. It’s the trip of a lifetime for Bria, and she hopes that somewhere along the way, against the backdrop of Mayan temples and Belizean islands, she finds exactly what she was looking for.

Again, I love traveling. But truth be told, traveling is kind of a cliche interest among people my age, at least from where I come from. Everyone wants to travel, because it’s such a good way to spend money and to see something new. But I know that only a few of those people who has put “traveling” in their interests can actually quit their jobs, sell everything and just travel.

I know I am definitely not one of those people.

The backpackers in Wanderlove? They’re the real deal.

I wasn’t really expecting to love this book so much. I was just expecting to like it, but not really like it. But I was captured from page one. I loved Bria — her doubts and uncertainties, how she pretends to be a well-seasoned traveler even if that wasn’t true. I loved how different she was from the first chapter to the last, and how her fears can translate into something universal, even if I’m not an artsy person. Bria’s need to escape is something everyone feels, and something that traveling can quickly fix, even if it’s just for a while. I feel you, Bria. I really do.

Also: the romance. This is another one of those slow burn romances that just makes my toes curl with delight. :) While the build up to the romance didn’t really span months like how it was in Flat-Out Love, it was still believable with all the time that Rowan and Bria spent together. I loved how they danced around one another, how their conversations can go from disliking each other to having a mutual understanding that led them to protect one another from people who do not understand them. There wasn’t too much drama in how their relationship was built up, and I liked how it all ended, especially where it all ended. Wanderlove at its finest. :)

Finally, the setting. I think it helps that the author is also a backpacker, so the experiences and the places that the characters visited felt very real. I have to admit that Central America was never in my bucket list. After reading this book, though, I also wanted to pack my bags and go see the places they saw. Okay fine, I don’t think I’ll go backpack like they did anytime soon, but I so want to go where they went. Someday, someday. I’ll go there. Maybe after I hit South America next year1.

If you’re ever one who’s loved traveling, or one who’s wished to travel but never got to, I recommend Wanderlove by Kristen Hubbard to you. I hope this book fills you with the same kind of love as Bria found and Rowan had, and that somehow, it also helps you find the place(s) in the world that would stick in your heart. :) You could find this book or similar titles by Kristen Hubbard with Amazon Coupons.

I leave you with this quote:

You got to find your own places. The places you get, girl, the ones that stick in your heart. And if you’re lucky, you find people to share them with.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine
Makeshift Bookmark

  1. World Youth Day 2013 is in Rio de Janiero — wohoo! []

Hallowed

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand
Unearthly # 2
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 416
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

* * *

One of the books that absolutely surprised me last year was Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly. I can’t keep stressing it enough, but you know, when a book surprised you, you would have the tendency not to stop talking about it. And this is for a paranormal romance novel friends. That is really something. With that premise in this review, it was obvious that I was one of the squealing readers who well…squealed, when I saw that the next book, Hallowed was available in Netgalley. I was supposed to read it as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo, but resistance was futile and I ended up reading it even as I was writing.

Spoiler warning for Unearthly in the next few paragraphs — stay away if you haven’t read it yet.

Hallowed picks up from where Unearthly left off, where Clara was still reeling from the events that happened in the fire and how she messed up her purpose by saving Tucker instead of Christian. There was also that fact that Christian was actually an angel, and how she can’t deny the attraction between them, even if her heart belongs to Tucker. But there are other things that require her more immediate attention, like her angel training with her friend and the fact that the Black Wing could return, and finally, there was her dream. Her dream that tells her that someone important to her is going to die, soon. And there is only so much she can do without falling apart.

This book was…well, it’s a lot to digest. On one hand, there’s Clara, who’s still a very entertaining character. Her voice still sounds authentic despite the different challenges she had to face, and she never wavered one bit. Her relationship with Tucker was still as sweet as ever, and sometimes I kind of want to stop reading because they got too sweet. :P The great addition in this book, IMHO, was Christian. Love triangles are kind of an old thing in YA, particularly in paranormal romance, but I think the love triangle in Hallowed was exceptionally done. I liked how there was never really a clear answer on who Clara would and should choose, and how the two guys seem to have equal footing in her life. I’m still a huge fan of Tucker, though, but I would like to see how Clara having Christian in her life would play out.

I also really loved that there were more revelations to Clara’s angel heritage, and her powers as well. The high points in the book is really with knowing all these things like Clara’s powers and the rest of her family. The revelation is done gradually so we never get too much information, and there were some truly surprising parts. As with Unearthly, I thought the mythology here was also well done, and yet there still seemed to be more that could be revealed in the later books.

But you see, Hallowed isn’t really a book that is centered on the romance, or even on Clara’s angel powers. This book is really about family and loved ones and yes, loss. Saying anything more would be spoilery, but it’s probably the thing that could make or break the novel for other people (although I use the term “break” loosely). Hallowed has the capacity to punch you in the gut — hard — and leave you reeling with different emotions. That is what makes this book so different. And good.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Midnight Garden
Makeshift Bookmark
Smitten Over Books

Protection for Hire

Protection for Hire by Camy TangProtection for Hire by Camy Tang
Protection for Hire # 1
Publisher: Zondervan
Number of pages: 336
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Tessa Lancaster’s skills first earned her a position as an enforcer in her Uncle Teruo’s Japanese Mafia gang. Then they landed her in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Now, three months after her release, Tessa’s abilities have gained her a job as bodyguard for wealthy socialite Elizabeth St. Amant and her three-year-old son.But there’s a problem or two … or three …. There’s Elizabeth’s abusive husband whose relentless pursuit goes deeper than mere vengeance. There’s Uncle Teruo, who doesn’t understand why Tessa’s new faith as a Christian prevents her from returning to the yakuza. And then there’s Elizabeth’s lawyer, Charles Britton, who Tessa doesn’t know is the one who ensured that she did maximum time behind bars. Now Tessa and Charles must work together in order to protect their client, while new truths emerge and circumstances spiral to a deadly fever pitch. Factor in both Tessa’s and Charles’s families and you’ve got some wild dynamics—and an action-packed, romantic read as Tessa and Charles discover the reality of being made new in Christ.

* * *

What do you get when you cross the niece of the head of the Japanese mafia with a Southern belle in need of protection and a straight-edge lawyer who hates the said mafia? Tessa Lancaster is the niece of Teruo Ota, the head of the San Francisco yakuza. Left by her dad when she was young and living with a difficult relationship with her mom and sister, she becomes some sort of mercenary to her uncle’s mafia, working as an enforcer for her mafia cousins. She was doing fine just like that until she decided to take the fall for her cousin Fred’s careless murder of his girlfriend, landing her in prison. Seven years later, Tessa is out, and she’s turning over a new leaf, after meeting Christ in prison. But her reputation precedes her that everyone’s still afraid of her, making it hard for her to live a normal life. Until she meets Elizabeth St. Amant with her three-year-old son on the run from her husband who’s trying to kill her. Elizabeth hires Tessa to be her bodyguard, which would be a fine job if not for Elizabeth’s lawyer, Charles Britton. Unbeknownst to Tessa, Charles was the reason why Tessa served extra years in prison, and Charles does not trust her…but he can’t deny the attraction that he feels for her. Throw in Tessa’s Uncle wanting her to work for him again, her mom, her sister and her new found faith, and…well, God only knows what could happen.

I’m not just saying this because Camy is one of my favorite authors, but really, Protection for Hire was such a fun book. This book is reminiscent of her Sushi series with all the wackiness and hijinks that the characters get into. But because Tessa had such a shady past and a heavy responsibility on her shoulders, there were more risks involved for her. She’s not one who’s worried about things such as zafus or make-up, but life and death situations. Tessa reminds me a bit of Venus, my favorite Sushi sister, but a bit more vulnerable especially since she’s been trying to live her faith. Her vulnerability is what made Tessa so endearing, and I rooted for her from the start up to the end.

The other characters surrounding Tessa were a hoot, too. Camy’s characters are one of my favorite things to read in her novels. They always feel so real, and I felt like I could easily be friends with them. In Protection for Hire, I loved Charles’ family, especially his mom and his brother! Such a darling family, and I don’t care if Charles’ mom cooks all the random food. Plus, she was a breath of fresh air from Tessa’s annoying (yet, well meaning…most of the time, anyway) mother. As always, there’s the heroine’s crazy family, which seemed to be a staple in Camy’s stories. I thought Tessa’s immediate family would be similar to the Sushi sisters’ clans, but I was glad that it turned out to be different, and dare I say, more entertaining to read. The Japanese mafia aspect was very interesting too. It was the first time I’ve read about the yakuza, and while it wasn’t really discussed in detail here, I liked the overall mafia/The Godfather-like feel that the story had.

Now, I wouldn’t have liked this so much if the plot wasn’t as good as the characters. There’s lots of action, funny moments and yes, romance, in Protection for Hire, enough to keep me glued to the pages. There were moments of shock, too — the good kind, the one that made me sigh and smile with delight when it happened. :) There was enough suspense in the story to have me guessing about what exactly were they up against. It almost came to a point where I was a bit overwhelmed with all the plot twists but in the end, I think it still paid off well. The wrap up at the end felt just a teensy bit rushed for me, but I guess it was still in character given Tessa’s family.

Protection for Hire is a fun, action-packed and romantic book that will definitely satisfy those who crave for that kind of stuff. If you’re wary of the faith aspect of the novel (being that it is a Christian novel), don’t worry — it’s never preachy or in-your-face. If you’ve ever been one who has tried to move on and make up from past mistakes and yet still find yourself under a microscope and slapped with your mistakes on the face over and over again, then you will be able to relate to Tessa. Throw in the a cast of hilarious, gripping plot and good writing, and…well, you have yourself a really awesome book. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
USA Today
TitleTrakk
Librarian Laura’s Book Reviews