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

The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations by Sara ZarrThe Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown
Number of pages:
309

My copy: hardbound, ordered from Book Depository

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

* * *

I used to play the piano when I was a kid. I’ve dreamed of having a small piano at home, but my parents settled for a keyboard instead (which was, in the end, a good choice, because [1] I didn’t really play piano for long; and [2] having a piano during the Ondoy/Ketsana flood of 2009 would just be horrible), and I took several lessons on it. I liked it a lot, and I always thought the piano was a lovely instrument and I wanted to be able to play it more. Unfortunately, by fifth grade, I realized that I didn’t really have that much of a musical aptitude. I mean, I can play, I can read notes, but I didn’t really develop that ear for listening to music and being able to play it without sheets. (But wait, does that even exist?)

But either way, even if I don’t play the piano now, I still like it. And I really like reading books with musicians in them, whether they’re bands, or singers (or girlfriends of singers), or a band manager, even. Plus, The Lucy Variations is a Sara Zarr novel, and I love Sara Zarr.

Lucy Beck-Moreau is a piano-playing prodigy, the next great concert pianist that everyone’s buzzing about. Or was, until she walked out on a major recital after learning of a death in the family. After she walked out, the piano playing was left to her younger brother, Gus, to fulfill the family’s expectations. When her brother gets a new piano teacher who not just teaches him but encourages Lucy to try again, she wonders if it’s worth it, and if she could ever escape what her family — most especially her grandfather — would think if she decides to go back and play again.

The Lucy Variations felt just a little different from the other Sara Zarr novels I’ve read, what with Lucy being a bit of a more quiet, organized little musical genius who just wanted to be normal. At first, it was hard getting to know Lucy because she felt so closed off, even if I was basically in her head all the time. But eventually, she started showing more of herself, to understand how it is to be where she was, and how suffocated she felt with the pressure of her family in playing the piano. Lucy felt real — despite being a little detached — and I eventually started caring for what she cared about in the book, most especially her brother. I liked how she struggled not to play and when she played, she got lost in it, and I could see that she really loved it. Piano, the music, and making music. I think the only thing that really niggled me in Lucy is her attraction to older men — way older men, which was really something because she’s just sixteen. But perhaps it wasn’t really that kind of attraction, but more of seeking attention. She never had the chance to be around boys her age, at least ones who didn’t see her as competition.

The overall story was quiet, and maybe because of the music aspect, I felt like there was an accompanying background music to all of this while I was reading it. I liked The Lucy Variations, overall. Perhaps not as much as I liked Once Was Lost or How to Save a Life, but still good enough. I sort of called what happened near the end a few pages before it, and when it happened, I was secretly glad because I always felt there was something fishy about that character. And I liked how Lucy saw it later on, how she saw past the hurt and what had come out from it. I guess that is the best example of what “daring greatly” meant, as one of my favorite bloggers said in one blog post, how in the end, Lucy dared again, and it was what mattered: Because when was the last time she gave her whole heart to something? (p.291)

Number of dog-eared pages: 24

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Sometimes, you should be allowed a tiny bit of joy that would stay with you for more than five minutes. That wasn’t too much to ask. To have a moment like this, and be able to hold onto it. (p. 78)

Adulthood is a perpetual state of confusion. (p. 182)

But what they’d done together, what had been opened by becoming so close, she could still love that. She could love their conversations and their hours at the piano and the results of their work. She could even love the way it hurt right now, because when was the last time she gave her whole heart to something? (p. 291)

That, all of it, belonged to her. She didn’t have to let Will take it away, the way she’s let her grandfather, the business, herself, take her love for music. She would hold on to what was her. Let go of what wasn’t. (p. 291)

Rating:

Required Reading: January

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger

Daring Greatly

daringgreatlyDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Publisher: Gotham
Number of pages: 260
My copy: Kindle edition

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities.

* * *

I first heard about Brené Brown from one of my favorite personal blogs, and there I found her TEDx talk on vulnerability and shame. From then on, I was a fan, and I really wanted to read her book that talked more about vulnerability. I considered my 2013 as a year of learning about vulnerability (besides learning how to be brave), and I thought that it was such a mind-blowingly simple thing, this vulnerability. I mean, it’s simple because it’s all in us, but it’s also possibly quite the hardest thing anyone will ever allow themselves to be. But it’s necessary, right?

2013 came and went, and it was a rollercoaster of a year for me. Sometime near the end of the year, I decided that I was going to make Daring Greatly one of the first books I will read in 2014, because the end of 2013 kind of steered me in that direction. So when 2014 rolled around, I opened the book and started reading.

10% in, and I was already learning so much, that I wondered why I didn’t try to read it earlier. I mean, this could have helped me deal with life things back then!

On a serious note, Daring Greatly is a book that dares us to dare greatly. If you’ve watched her TEDx talks, this book is pretty much an expanded edition of what she said there. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is about how we can practice vulnerability and cultivate shame resilience in our everyday lives so we can dare greatly and help others to do the same. Using comprehensive research on shame (the one she talked about on the video — yes, this is me urging you to watch that video), Brené talked about her personal experiences and the results she received from interviews and surveys that shed light on shame and how it is to be the “man in the arena”.

I loved this. Like I said, 10% into the book, I was already nodding and noting and highlighting so many parts, because they rang true. These were the things I was trying to learn myself last year, and the things I tried to practice. These were the things I desired to have with practicing vulnerability. I loved how open and relatable this was, and I could feel that the writing itself was very vulnerable, with the way Brené shared bits of her life and research in the book. And it’s compassionate, too, because even if some parts hit hard — as in, I can’t believe I didn’t do this, I’m so stupid, la la la – she always brings you back to the fact that our mistakes don’t make us. We may make wrong choices, but it doesn’t tell us what we’re worth.

I enjoyed reading this for the most part because it’s not just a self-help book, but also a book packed by research. Brené even talked about her research process at the end of the book, and you she knows what she’s talking about. It’s so refreshing to read this, and find someone openly discussing something that we all want to be (even if sometimes we didn’t think we want it). I really enjoyed the chapters on debunking vulnerability myths, and that chapter she named after Harry Potter. :D (Because when you think about it, shame is like a dementor.) I think I just sort of spaced out with the vulnerability in a corporate setting (which is funny because I should be interested in that given that I live in corporate world). The parenting section was interesting even if I’m not a parent, and you know that these are just the things you want to note for when you have your own kids.

So overall, I really liked this book, and I was glad that I read this to start off my 2014. I really liked Brené’s Final Thoughts in the book, about that guy who was inspired by Brené’s TED talk, and decided to tell the girl he was dating for several months that he loved her. He got rejected.

She told him that she thought he was “awesome” but that she thought they should date other people. When he got back to his apartment after talking to his girlfriend, he told his two roommates what had happened. He said, “They were both hunched over their laptops and without looking up one of them was like ‘What were you thinking, man?’” One of his roommates told him that girls only like guys who are running the other way. He looked at me and said, “I felt pretty stupid at first. For a second I was mad at myself and even a little pissed at you. But then I thought about it and I remembered why I did it. I told my roommates, ‘I was daring greatly, dude.’”

He smiled when he told me, “They stopped typing, looked at me, nodded their heads, and said, ‘Oh. Right on, dude.’”

I truly believe that Brené Brown had it right: Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. There were many things in Daring Greatly that I wished I had known earlier, but it’s also okay that I learned it now, because I don’t think I would have appreciated its value then. To live an authentic, wholehearted life, we need to dare greatly, over and over again. Even if we fail, because guess what — our failures have nothing on us, because we are enough. :)

I was daring greatly, dude. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 74

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity…to let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster – that’s an intense form of vulnerability.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.

Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and cultivate hope. The joy becomes a part of who we are, and when bad things happen — and they do happen — we are stronger.

“What are the gremlins saying?”

Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.

Shame resilience is the ability to say, “This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.”

If you own this story you get to write the ending.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.

Rating:

Required Reading: March 2014 + February Recap

This post comes a little late, mostly because I was out almost all weekend, and then I got sick with a nasty bout of stomach flu last Monday. And then the blog silence, I really have no excuse other than I was busy for most of February with trips, and reading, and writing. So yeah, I am letting myself off the hook for the blog silence. We all should do that for ourselves, right?

Anyway, so February. If January was such a good month for all the books I said I’d read…on February, I didn’t finish anything.

Well, okay, I finished reading some books, but I didn’t finish the books I said I’d read. (I’m almost done with Raymond Carver’s Cathedral…but you know, I could have finished it earlier, except I didn’t.)

So, instead of wallowing on that fact, I will just list the books I finished reading on February, because I think they’re pretty good:

  • Kids These Days: Stories from the Luna East Arts Academy, Vol 1 by Various Authors (4/5) – Love your own! So proud of this anthology, and I hope I can make it to Volume 2! :)
  • The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg (4/5) – Such a sweet, sweet novel about love and life and letting go. May you always have love. :)
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (3/5) – What a laugh-out-loud read. I want to be friends with Mindy Kaling.
  • Quicksilver by RJ Anderson (4/5) – I really liked Ultraviolet, and I’ve had its sequel in my Kindle for the longest time before I finally got around to reading it. It was a little confusing at first because I forgot the events of the first book, but after a while I got into the groove, and wow, this one was just as explosive as the first one.
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales (4/5) – I picked this up randomly while I was on my trip to Cagayan de Oro. I was surprised that I read through it so fast. It’s good, and I thought it was a light, feel-good novel but it’s not. Not so much, anyway. I think I’m going to really add Leila Sales to my list of must-read contemporary YA authors.

See, it wasn’t a bad reading month. Just that I didn’t follow my reading plan. It happens, right?

Required Reading: March 2014

March is my favorite month, so normally I would pick books that I really want to read — books from favorite authors, books I’ve heard good stuff about but reserved it on my shelf for the reading slump days. I had a partial list of books ready for this month, like The Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, More Than This by Patrick Ness, and The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde. But when I was composing this post in my head earlier, I realized that if I was enjoying just picking up whatever book I want to read from my TBR pile, even if it’s not the book I said I’d read for the month.

And with that, I decided: I will not have a Required Reading list for March.

Nope. I will read whatever I want this month, whatever I feel like reading, and whenever I want it. And no pressure to finish. :)

My OC tendencies and my need to trim down my TBR pile is kind of complaining, but I dunno. This sounds like a good plan to me. :)

So there. :D I leave you with my new favorite photo of our not-so-little book club, from our book discussion that happened last month:

Photo c/o Ella

Photo c/o Ella

Happy March, everyone! I hope you have a splendid one. :)

Required Reading: February 2014 + January Recap

Hello, and happy February! How was your January? I hope it was filled with joy and lots of good books. :)

Before I go to the books I read in January, and the books I will read for February, let me talk about some things first. You know, for a change, to shake things up. :D

First off: the Bloggy Birthday Giveaway Winner!

I meant to announce this earlier, but life and work got in the way. Eeps, sorry about that! But thank you to everyone who greeted and left recommendations in my blog’s birthday post. You just made my wish list longer! :) Here are the recommendations:

  • From Goldie: I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman, Airport by Arthur Hailey, Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella, and The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • From Maria: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
  • From Louize: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • From Bennard: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  • From Monique: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • From Lynai: Hinds’ Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard
  • From Tin: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • From Chris: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  • From Kat: The Devil and Miss Prym by Paolo Coelho

Thanks so much for the recommendations! :) I will find a way to read all of sometime (probably not this year, but I will find a way :P). Thank you so much for the well-wishes for the blog, too.

And now the winner, thanks to random.org:

Chris

Yay, congrats, Chris! I will send you an email about this soon (and figure out what will go in the package :D).

Second: First Book Club Discussion for 2014 + Book Club Feature

Our book club had our first discussion for the year last January 18. We talked about The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and we dared each other to read books. It was a fun afternoon, as always, except that my immune system gave in the middle of the discussion, so I started to get sick by the end of it. Massive headache, followed by my voice going away, perhaps as a sign not to speak! ^^;

TFG's F2F25 - Photo c/o Joy

TFG’s F2F25 – Photo c/o Joy

Thanks to everyone who attended, and thanks to The Appraisery in Cubao X for the venue! :)

Speaking of the book club, we were featured in Wanderrgirl! :)

TFG at Wanderrgirl

TFG at Wanderrgirl (And that photo there is so family-ish)

My friend Isa asked if I could write about the book club for Wanderrgirl last December, so of course I said yes. :) It was an absolute surprise to see it posted yesterday. Click here to read the entire post (and yes, I may have gone a bit sappy there :’) )!

Third: January Required Reading Recap

I did say that I read more in January, and true enough, I finished 8 books. 10, if you count the rereads. Of course, two of them were pretty short, but still. :) I was quite surprised that I finished two nonfiction books, too. And wrote a bit more reviews than I did in the past months. :D

  • History in English Words by Owen Barfield (3/5) – My first Barfield was an interesting reading experience. I promised I’d write a review, so I’ll save all other thoughts for that. :)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (5/5) – just as lovely as the first time.
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (4/5) – So, so powerful. This made me laugh, nod, and cry at so many parts.
  • The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (4/5) – I really missed reading contemporary YA, and I’m so glad I had Sara Zarr to fall back on. Really liked this one. :)
  • Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews (3/5) – A fun romp back into Kate Daniels’ world. :)

I’ve managed to get ahead with my quantity reading goal, so I can sort of rest easy for a while. I think. :D

Fourth: February Required Reading

February 2014 Required Reading

And now we go to my February reading list! I used to always go for the love theme for February, but this year I sort of decided not to go too much into it. Oh, there’s still love in some of the books I will read, but I won’t go all sappy and read too many romance novels this time around. Like I said, just to shake things up a little. :)

feb2014books

  • The Zigzag Effect by Lili Wilkinson – I’ve tried to read this before in previous challenges but I never picked it up because I lagged behind from the other books. Oops. :D
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver – Our book club is reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love this month, but since I’ve already read that, I thought of picking up this book instead.
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – And there’s my “love” book for February. I’ve heard rave reviews about this book from book club friends, so I’m pretty sure I will be in for a treat.

And there you go. This is quite a long post! I hope you all have a delightful, love-filled February. :)