Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith ZeitlinFreshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons
Number of pages: 282
Release date: March 1, 2012
My copy: ebook, review copy from the publisher

Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great – her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course…

Meredith Zeitlin’s Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters was like a walk down high school memory lane and I remembered my own freshman year (mis)adventures. The book’s heroine, Kelsey Finkelstein, is an incoming high school freshman and she’s planning to make her mark. This means going up to the next level and rebranding herself, even if her family is being impossible to her. With her friends behind her and her middle school rival out of the way, Kelsey is determined to be a new person in high school and maybe even catch the eye of her long-time crush. If only it were that easy! Soon she finds herself at the receiving end of a junior’s wrath and the subject of a mysterious school paper photographer (that always catches her in her worst moments) among others. Will Kelsey ever be able to do what she wants to do with all these catastrophes?

Ah freshman year. Those were the days. My freshman year in high school was a memorable one, only because I was pretty much excited at being a high school student. I considered transferring to another school when I graduated elementary but I eventually decided not to because most of my friends stayed in the same school. My parents just suggested it to me, in the end I stayed, which was a good thing too, because staying in my small high school made me one of the achievers. :P That’s what being in a small school (4 sections per batch with 35-40 students each) does, I guess. Anyway, I was surprised at the number of new students in my class, though, which almost made me as a new student too because my other friends were distributed to the other three sections. There were so many awkward moments in the first days because we were all trying to get to know each other, and pretty soon, I found a comfortable group of friends.

The happy moments didn’t really last long — I think puberty tends to make teens a lot cranky and bitchy to one another. I often call my freshman year as a year when I became almost like a war freak. Not because I would go and pick fights but for some reason I end up being a part of some petty fights! There was a particular time when I tagged along with my best friend from another section because some people from our group was mad at me and they managed to get everyone else to hang out with them leaving me behind. There were also times when I’d be a part of the group who leaves someone behind and then we’d have a confrontation of sorts. There were so many misunderstandings between the groups of friends, about things that I can only think of as petty when I remember them now.

Oh but don’t get me wrong — my freshman year was pretty fun overall, despite all those petty fights. I ended the year on a good note, and my friends and I all made up before the year ended. I remember feeling pretty sad that freshman year was ending and it was the only time we can be called freshman ever again. Until college, that is (and I loved college).

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters gave me that bittersweet feeling of being back in high school again, and a huge relief that I wasn’t there anymore! Kelsey is a vibrant narrator — a classic 14-year old girl who wants to make things different for herself. I saw myself in her (although I saw my sophomore self, not freshman) and if my 14-year old self read this, I bet I would have wanted to be friends with Kelsey. However, at my age now, I wanted to reach in the book and hold her back, to tell her to relax and that it will be okay. Those disasters weren’t really disasters, and she could treat her family better. But knowing myself during 14 and Kelsey? I doubt she’d listen. :)

I liked the cast of characters around Kelsey, although I thought some of them felt a little bit like the typical TV high school cast — the bully, the hot guy (who didn’t turned out to be so hot at all) and the annoying sibling. Still, I think they were able to play their roles well. I liked Kelsey’s friends and how they often emphasized how their friendship is more important than boys, and even if one of them put a boy first, they were still all there for each other afterwards. I was pretty shocked at what they are doing at the age of 14-15 though — getting drunk? Partying like crazy? Discussions about spray on tanning and the like? It never happened when I was at that age — to me, anyway. Okay fine, I was that age 12 years ago so this comment doesn’t really count anymore. Who knows what high school kids are doing now? I’m just not used to it, I guess. The first time I had alcohol was 16 (and it was a teeny-tiny shot that gave me a headache). :P

There were just some times when I thought the book felt a little long for my liking, but since it covers an entire year of high school, I guess it had to be that way. I didn’t always like Kelsey, but she grew on me by the end of the book. Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters is a fun read if only you’re willing to go down your own memory lane and remember your own high school experiences. It ended on a pretty open note which leaves a lot to the imagination. However, if Ms. Zeitlin will come out with sophomore, junior and senior year books for Kelsey and her friends (preferably narrated by her other friends too), then I would definitely be in line to get them to know what happens next. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Hobbitsies
Forever Young Adult
Love YA Lit

Flat-Out Love

Flat-Out Love by Jessica ParkFlat-Out Love by Jessica Park
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 400
My copy: ebook review copy from the author

Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it.

When Julie’s off-campus housing falls through, her mother’s old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side … and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there’s that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That’s because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie’s suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that … well … doesn’t quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

* * *

Flat-Out Love surprised me last year because it just started popping up on friends’ blogs and Goodreads profile around the same time. It took me a while to get myself a copy (because I was hoping someone would buy me the ebook for Christmas, LOL) and I finally took the initiative to request for a copy when people started putting this book in their Best of 2011 lists. What is up with this book that everyone seemed to love it?

Julie Seagle is excited for college, but her excitement was dampened because of a little housing hijinks. But the Watkins came to the rescue after her mom calls her old friend and soon, Julie moves in with them, up until she finds a new place to live. The Watkins family seem like any other normal family in Boston, except for the presence of Flat Finn, the cardboard cutout version of the eldest son who said to be traveling all over the world. But there seem to be something off everywhere, and Julie being the fixer that she is, wants to find out what. And if it includes falling in love with the real 3-dimensional Finn who’s currently traipsing all over the world…then why not, right?

So, I was surprised by Flat-Out Love. Yes, even as I was reading it, it kept on surprising me. It was a bit longer than I expected, but it was hardly boring. The characters felt real and their banter genuine. Julie was very easy to relate to, and like her, I loved and enjoyed my college years. Reading the book made me miss my own college years — choosing classes, meeting new people, studying for class and writing papers. Julie’s relationships with the rest of the Watkins family was so fun to read, especially her friendship with Matt and Celeste. Celeste was an odd girl but I thought she was a darling. Matt was your typical geek, but it wasn’t the only reason why I liked his character. Like Julie, he has a very distinct voice and character, and yes his defining moment in the book made me shed some tears, too.

The secret wasn’t really hard to guess. I already had a guess about it early on, and I was wondering if my hunch was wrong. I wasn’t. I’m sure other people would also be able to guess, but don’t stop reading there. It’s so easy to get invested in everyone in the story and I wanted to know what exactly happened, why the secret was such. That, and because I really like everyone already, I just really wanted everything to work out for everyone. It’s like I’ve become friends with all of them and with good friends, you just want the good for them.

And since there’s love on the title…how about the romance? Well, the previous ravers reviewers of Flat-Out Love were right to rave about it. The fun conversations, the “moments”, the slow and steady and delicious burn…awesome. It had all the good romances in it — even the ones that didn’t work out. Reconciling everything after all has been undone1 was kind of a challenge, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around it for a bit. Still, it doesn’t make the novel less enjoyable. I had a big smile on my face when I got to the last page. I meant what I said on Twitter when I finished this novel: What a deliciously satisfying read. ♥

Oh and did I tell you this book is indie? :)

Rating:

Required Reading 2012: January

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Janicu’s Book Blog

More information: Flat-Out Love website / author blog

  1. I apologize for the vagueness, if I say anything more it would be spoilery. But those who’ve read this would understand :D []

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living on Her Own Terms

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living on Her Own TermsAstigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms by Tweet Sering
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 156
My copy: ebook, review copy from publisher. Thank you! :)

Far from the grownup she thought she would be, Tweet Sering, 30-plus and tormented by a raging discontent with stale notions of how one must live, strips herself of the trappings of adulthood—no job, no savings, no insurance, and not even a credit card—and resolves to begin growing up again.

In this memoir that is by turns sharply funny, intelligent, outspoken, but also pained and bewildered, Tweet shows her readers how being astray can turn into being astig (tough). Her essays remind us of long, late-night chats with our favorite friend, so that the substance of the go-for-broke account of her journey is not muddled by easy sentiment, but shines with a desire to cheer us on into our own journeys of being a tough girl. An Astigirl.

* * *

When the new year rolled around, I was more than ready to start a new book, eager to start filling my 2012 shelf. However, it felt like the books I was starting weren’t really making the cut. I couldn’t really get into it. It may have been just some kind of New Year blues or something — I don’t know. I received Astigirl as a review copy from Flipside on the first day of work and was all set to read it later in the month. Until decided to take a peek at it after work…and I could not put it down.

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms is Tweet Sering’s account of how she turned into her own kind of tough girl. Tweet talks about a range of things: from a fan letter to Angelina Jolie, to a family discussion on whether Manny Pacquiao’s politics, to how she let go of her finances, to how she decided to drop everything to follow her dream. She talks about serious things about a man she loves and her art, and how she was asked to write her grandmother’s biography to seemingly not-so-serious things such as how she wants to strangle Bella and kick Edward as she read New Moon. With a warm, personal tone akin to a friend sharing her experiences to another, Tweet Sering makes her readers feel that if she can do it, then we can, too.

Ah. That almost slump I had was instantly gone after I read the first entry in this book. Astigirl is the perfect book to read for the new year. It’s got all this freshness and honesty that no other fiction book can offer. I thought it would be all about the kind of toughness that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate or relate to, but I was wrong. Think of this as sort of a Filipino version of Eat Pray Love, but less of the annoying over-privileged “I have money to travel all over the world” feel. In fact, Tweet talked about how she didn’t really feel a strong attachment to money, something I know I had to learn.

I was kind of glad I read this on my Kindle because it makes it easy to highlight quotes. Believe me, when I got to the middle, I realized I was highlighting almost every other page. Maybe it was because of the new year, or maybe it was because Tweet Sering talks about things that every young Filipino woman is thinking but is too confused or too afraid to set out for: to do something meaningful. I would share with you my favorite quotes but they’re too many of them, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself. :)

Being nonfiction meant not everyone will agree with this, but it also means that it can be read again and deliver a different message altogether. Astigirl is a great book to start the year with, and I think it would also make the perfect gift for girlfriends and girl friends. I don’t necessarily agree with everything and I thought some of the entries were a bit long, but I really enjoyed the book and I would definitely browse through it again.

So, if you’re a Filipino woman in your 20’s or 30’s and if you’re feeling a little beat from life or you need a little inspiration, get Astigirl by Tweet Sering. It will do you a lot of good, and hopefully, it will also give you that push you need to go after what you need to do to be your own Astigirl.

Rating:

Buy a copy: Flipreads | Amazon

Alternative Alamat

Alternative Alamat

Alternative Alamat by Various Authors, edited by Paolo Chikiamco
Publisher: Rocket Kapre and Flipside
Number of pages:  174
My copy: ebook review copy from the editor

Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides… yet too few of these tales are known and read today. “Alternative Alamat” gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us–and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse, and develop a hunger, for those venerable tales.

* * *

When I was a kid, I had fond memories of reading about different Filipino legends for school. These legends were really made to teach a lesson to us kids to be nice, respectful and hardworking, really, and not just tall tales for bedtime stories. Most notable was the legend of the pineapple, which tells of a girl who felt lazy to look for what her mother was asking her to find and her exasperated mom wishes for her to have many eyes so she can find it and poof, she turns into a pineapple. I cannot remember, though, of a story talking about other Filipino legends, myths and epics other than the usual kiddie stories, save for Maria Makiling (the fairy that lives in Mount Makiling, one of the well-known mountains in the Philippines) and the Biag ni Lam-Ang (The Life of Lam-Ang), which I had to know because my mom is from Ilocos. So I was one of the people who knew almost nothing about Philippine Mythology that jumped at the idea of reading Alternative Alamat, a collection of stories from Filipino writers edited by Paolo Chikiamco (writer of High Society). Since I vowed to read and review more local fiction ever since I started this blog, I know I can’t miss this one.

The thing I like about anthologies is that it doesn’t require as much commitment as a full length novel does. You can read one story, stop and go back to the collection after some time without feeling lost. But the thing is, I never really wanted to stop reading Alternative Alamat because I keep getting surprised by the stories it contained. There were times when I thought that I wouldn’t like the story I was reading after a few paragraphs, and then I end up really liking it in the end because of some kind of twist. I think there’s something for everyone in each story in this collection. Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St. (Eliza Victoria) reminded me of those stories I read in our literary folio in college, with its YA-ish, magic realism charm. Harinuo’s Love Song (Rochita Leonen-Ruiz) and Keeper of My Sky (Timothy James Dimacali) with their lyrical prose, were haunting and sad tales of a love that shouldn’t have been and couldn’t be. There were stories that gave different perspectives on some of the Filipino goddesses all bearing the same first name Maria but all with different personalities: Conquering Makiling (Monique Francisco) for Maria Makiling, Beneath the Acacia (Celestine Trinidad) for Maria Sinukuan, and The Sorceress Queen (Raissa Rivera Falgui) for Maria Malindig. There were stories from legends that seemed like a stranger at first but then turns into something more familiar: Offerings to Aman Sinaya (Andre Tupaz) deals with how we have turned from the old fishing ways to the newer ones that destroy the oceans; Balat, Buwan, Ngalan (David Hontiveros) seemed like meta fiction of sorts since it mentions a book of local legends that was published and launched. Then there were the fun things, like alternate histories, that picks on the two times that the Filipinos fought back from the Spanish conquerors: The Alipin’s Tale (Raymond G. Falgui) and A Door Opens: The Beginning of the Fall of the Ispancialo-in-Hinirang (Dean Alfar). And if you have ever read any of the Trese comics, then you’re in for a treat here because The Last Full Show (Budjette Tan) is a story that shows a side of Alexandra Trese not shown in the comics. It’s hard to pick favorites among the stories because they each had something different to like about it — the writing, the treatment of the myth, the characters, the twists. There are also illustrations in the book too (done by cover artist, Mervin Malonzo), that are also based on Philippine myths and perfectly complements the content. It’s really a treasure trove of the things that make the Filipino culture so rich and colorful, and I’m pretty sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Alternative Alamat also contains a few appendices about notable Filipino deities, interviews with experts on the field, tips on researching Philippine myths and a glossary of terms. While it may seem that these things were included in the book for foreign readers, I think it’s also for Filipinos like me who know almost nothing about Philippine mythology. I think this makes Alternative Alamat more accessible to readers, regardless if you’re a Filipino or you’ve lived in the country for a while or you’re just a curious reader who’s interested in the title even if you have no idea where in the world the Philippines is.

Is there anything I don’t like about this? Well, I just wish that it was a little bit longer. I truly felt sad when I read that the anthology was closing with Dean Alfar’s story. But having this book out in the wild now doesn’t mean it has to stop there, right? After all, there is always an option for a second volume. ;) And also, a print version would be nice. So I can gift this to friends who refuse to get an e-reader. :D But other than that, there’s nothing else I would nitpick on. I think all the things I wrote up there sufficiently says how much I loved Alternative Alamat. I’ve never felt more prouder to be a Filipino when I was reading this. Somehow, I felt that this book and the stories in this collection were mine — mine because I am a Filipino and the stories found inside is a part of my heritage. :)

So if you’re one of the people who received an e-reader for Christmas, or you’ve had one for a while and you’re looking for something really new to read for the new year, then imagine me pushing, no, shoving this ebook to you. If you’re going to get one new ebook before this year ends or if you’re going to buy a new one as the 2012 comes in, make it Alternative Alamat. You won’t regret it, I promise. :)

Rating:

Book page: Alternative Alamat at Rocket Kapre
Buy a copy:
Flipreads | Amazon | iTunes

Other reviews:
The Girl Who Read
Bookish Little Me

Solid

Solid by Shelley WorkingerSolid by Shelley Workinger
Solid # 1
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 221
My copy: ebook review copy from the author

Eighteen years ago, a rogue Army doctor secretly experimented with a chromosomal drug on unknowing pregnant women. When he was killed not long after the children were born, any knowledge and evidence seemed to die with him – except the living, breathing, human products of his work.

Almost two decades later, the newly self-proclaimed “open-book” military unearths the truth about the experiment, bringing Clio Kaid and the other affected teens to a state-of-the-art, isolated campus where they soon discover that C9x did indeed alter their chromosomes – its mutations presenting as super-human abilities. The military kids, who come from across the nation and all walks of life, come into their own as lighter-than-air ‘athletes’; ‘indies’ as solid as stone walls; teens who can make themselves invisible and others who can blind with their brilliance.

While exploring her own special ability, forging new friendships and embarking on first love, Clio also stumbles onto information indicating that the military may not have been entirely forthcoming with them and that all may not be as it seems…

* * *

This year, I discovered a little sub genre that I’m starting to like — superhero fiction. I’m not sure if it really is a valid sub genre (I’m pretty sure it falls under science fiction), but I’m really, really liking reading stuff about superheroes or mutants. I’m pretty sure this stems from all the X-Men cartoons I watched when I was younger. I’ve only read two books that dealt with superheroes, or at least people with powers that didn’t involve magic (The Rise of Renegade X and Being Jamie Baker) this year, so when Shelley Workinger, author of Solid, sent a review copy for the first book in her series, I was glad to accept.

Eighteen years ago, an army doctor secretly created a drug that modified the chromosome of a baby while they were in the womb and administered them to unknowing pregnant women. No one knew about this even after he was killed, until the military unearthed the truths of this experiment and called on all these children to spend some time in a hidden campus for some testing. Turns out this drug allowed the children to have superhuman abilities, much like superheroes — if only these kids know how to harness their powers. One of these kids is Clio Kaid, who joins the program not knowing what it was really about. As Clio explores whatever ability she had, she also makes new friends and even possibly found her first love. And then things turn weird when she finds information that tells them that maybe the military is hiding secrets from them, and she recruits her friends to find out what exactly is going on.

Solid is very entertaining, as it plays on familiarity and some pop culture to make it an easy to relate to novel. In a way, this book reminds me of The Secret World of Alex Mack, and I could definitely see this one being made into a TV show for teens. I liked Clio’s voice, and while I didn’t really anything super spectacular about her, I found her very easy to like. Her friends were also very interesting and different — snobby and domineering Miranda, shy Bliss (who, for some reason, reminds me of Glimmer from She-Ra), funny Garrett and charismatic Jack. I liked their group’s chemistry a lot, and it was nice for Clio to have a group of friends to turn to in the middle of all of this.

That being said, however, despite the entertainment value, I felt that Solid lacked a bit of “oomph”. It may be because it was a bit too short for everything to make sense. I felt a bit detached from the climax, probably because I didn’t feel a proper build up for it? I didn’t have a whole sense of danger, really, maybe because I found that I could predict what could happen when the high point of the book happened. I could see it being very well played on TV, though — so maybe it could work as a TV show? I also wished for more explanation for their abilities, because that’s always something I look forward to in reading these kinds of fiction. Maybe it will be explained in the next books? Also, the ending also felt a tad too cheesy, but it may just be me.

Still, Solid was a pretty good debut, and I think it has a lot going for something independent. Maybe with a prettier cover, it could get picked up more? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not really feeling the purple chromosome — it gives me a first impression of a paranormal romance novel when it’s really not. Or maybe a prettier typeface, one that doesn’t really remind me of some labels on cord covers.

Solid is available in ebook and paperback format. Its sequel, Settling, is out today, and is also available in both formats.

Rating:

Other reviews:
All of Everything
Raindrop Reflections
Book Lovers, Inc