Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of DaresDash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  240
My copy: hardbound, Christmas gift from Ace

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

* * *

One day early this year (way before I met the Goodreads people) I was going around Fully Booked in Eastwood when I suddenly had this little fantasy. I wondered: what if, as I was looking for books to get, I meet a guy who has the same taste in books as I do? A straight, single guy, near my age, who reads for fun? And let’s make him cute, too.

It was a little fantasy that my friends and I entertained often, and it almost became a topic of a story for my fiction blog (one day I will write that). It was definitely something my single bookish friends and I thought would be very nice but may be rare, as we know few guys who are willing to read the same books we do, and most of the people we see in the bookstore near our office is filled with girls (that is, until I met the Goodreads people, again).

So it’s no wonder why Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan would call to me. Okay, I didn’t really pay attention to it first because I wasn’t really a fan of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by the same authors, until I read a review. I checked the sample and fell in love with it on the first few pages, particularly on the opening scene. Dash finds a red notebook amidst the books in the Strand, and inside were a bunch of clues left by a girl named Lily. He figures out the clues and thus starts the passing of the red Moleskine notebook back and forth between the two. Dash and Lily accomplish dares all around New York City from each other and bare their innermost thoughts to the other through the red notebook, all the while wondering if the words represent the persons behind them.

The story happens during the holidays, so I figured Christmas should be the right time to read it (thanks again to Ace for giving me a copy during the Goodreads Christmas party). And I was right. I am so glad I read it at this time of the year. :) Like I said, I wasn’t very enamored by Nick and Norah, but Dash and Lily really made me fall in love. There’s so many things to love. Maybe it was the bookstore? Maybe it’s the Moleskine notebook (which I love, by the way)? Maybe it’s how the story unfolded despite it being slightly hard to believe?

Dash and Lily are two very interesting characters. They’re not the angsty teenagers that we read in contemporary YA but they’re very smart and witty teens who are very different yet they speak to each other in ways only they can understand. While I didn’t find Dash particularly dashing, I thought he was very well-adjusted for his age. Perhaps it was all the reading that he does that makes him a gentler version of the male gender? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. Lily, on the other hand, is probably the most optimistic female character I’ve ever read so far. She isn’t one of those angsty teenage characters who cannot find happiness or love in other people, or those kids who worry about their image so much that they’d get diet pills with amphetamine even if they don’t know its side effects. She reminds me of myself in so many ways: she bakes, she likes animals, her positive outlook, and in how she’s never had a boyfriend. Lily is such a delight to read because I feel like I’m reading some things I write, almost like I was reading my journal.

And just as the characters, the story was very charming. It tried to tackle more than the usual boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love story and that’s good, but sometimes the connections and issues feel a bit too messy and hard to follow. The entire interaction may seem a bit far-fetched too, and I don’t think this will be very effective here in Manila, but I can forgive that for the sake of fiction (and that’s why it happened in New York and not here, LOL). Despite that, though, I thought the plot was well-executed, and I found myself hanging on to every word all the way up to the end.

My copy of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares has so many dog-ears too because of the quotable quotes! For example:

Pretty Aussie cover for Dash and Lily :)

Prayer or not, I want to believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, it is possible for anyone to find that special person. That person to spend Christmas with or grow old with or just take a nice silly walk in Central Park with. (Lily, p. 75)

I wish I could remember the moment when I was a kid and I discovered that the letters linked into words, and that the words linked to real things. What a revelation that must have been. We don’t have the words for it, since we hadn’t yet learned the words. It must have been astonishing, to be given the key to the kingdom and see it turn in our hands so easily. (Dash, p. 87)

You think fairy tales are only for girls? Here’s a hint — ask yourself who wrote them. I assure you, it wasn’t just the women. It’s the great male fantasy — all it takes is one dance to know that she’s the one. All it takes is the sound of her song from the tower, or a look at her sleeping face. And right away you know — this is the girl in your head, sleeping or dancing or singing in front of you. Yes, girls want their princes, but boys want their princesses just as much. And they don’t want a very long courtship. They want to know immediately. (p. 131)

And my favorite (and is very applicable for the coming year):

There are just lots of possibilities in the world…I need to keep my mind open for what could happen and not decide that the world is hopeless if what I want to happen doesn’t happen. Because something else great might happen in between. (p. 227)

The blurb was right. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a feel good book that would make you want to start “…perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.” It doesn’t have to be Christmas when you read it, but the holidays add to the ambiance. It’s the kind of book that will surely leave you smiling long after you have read the last word. :)

I’m not about to start looking for a red notebook in Fully Booked…but as for leaving one? I’ll never tell. ;)

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Steph Su Reads
Bart’s Bookshelf
The Huffington Post

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Leave a comment on any entry from December 24 to January 9 and get a chance to win some of my favorite books in 2010! Open international! :)

Dining with Joy

Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Number of pages: 320
My copy: Kindle edition

Joy Ballard has a secret: she’s a cooking show host who can’t really cook.

When her South Carolina-based cooking show, Dining With Joy, is picked up by a major network, Joy Ballard’s world heats up like a lowcountry boil.

Joy needs help. Then she meets chef Luke Davis who moved to Beaufort after losing his Manhattan restaurant. A cook at the Frogmore Cafe, he’s paying debts and longing to regain his reputation in the elite foodie world.

Luke and Joy mix like oil and water…until Joy is exposed on national television. With her career and his reputation both under fire, they’ll have to work together to fix the mess. Is it possible that they can learn to feast on God’s love and dine with joy?

* * *

I had a realization when I was reading this book: I like foodie books. I don’t mean books about food like cookbooks or anything that talks about food. I mean fiction with food as one of its major elements. I’ve read two in the past year (The Crepe Makers’ Bond and Always the Baker, Never the Bride) and although I was pretty lukewarm about them, I enjoyed the cooking aspect of both books and how food played a part in the story.

Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck is no different. I enjoyed reading her two other Lowcountry romances, Sweet Caroline and Love Starts with Elle, so I was thrilled to find out that she wrote another one that was set in Beaufort. I was excited to find out Joy’s story, and see the old characters in the previous novels pop up every now and then in the book.

Joy is a paradox: she’s a cooking show host who can’t cook. It’s a weird thing, but she’s pulled it off for three seasons, ever since she’s taken over her dad’s show after he passed away. The combination of good editing, a supportive staff in on her secret and lots of humor and entertainment from Joy that she has survived for three seasons, but after her producer sold off the show to a bigger network, things are bound to change. Then Joy meets Luke Redmond, the new assistant chef at the Frogmore Cafe, who becomes her co-host, and she sees him as a way out. But as she prepares for the fourth season of Dining with Joy and she gets closer to Luke, Joy digs a deeper and deeper hole for herself and it seems like it would take a miracle — or at least, something divine to get her out of it.

Dining with Joy carries the same sweetness and charm that the first two Lowcountry romances did. I love reading about Beaufort and their little idiosyncrasies. I love the seemingly relaxed nature that everyone has, how everyone’s about sweet tea, or food, or Bubba’s biscuits from the Frogmore Cafe. I love how close-knit the community seems, and it reminds me a bit of our own neighborhood, particularly our street. It’s one of those settings that you wouldn’t mind visiting over and over again, not because it is really that interesting but because it’s very peaceful.

Joy is definitely a different character from her friends Caroline and Elle. Whereas Caroline seems soft-spoken and Elle is gentle, Joy is feisty and stubborn, borne out of a seemingly absent father. Joy is strong and independent, which is needed especially since she’s works in the show business. However, her pride became her weakness especially when she decided to work things out on her own, particularly with her secret and her growing affections to Luke Redmond. Luke, on the other hand, carried almost the same characteristics as the other heroes in the other books, Mitch and Heath. In a way, he almost seems too perfect, but I liked how the author still gave him some flaws.

Out of all three books, this seemed like the book that had less “God” moments, but I think it also contained the best nugget of God-wisdom of all: God is good and God is love. I do wish that message was given more focus. Dining with Joy felt like it had too many things going on at once that some of them ran together too much and it didn’t give as big as an impact as it should have. At times the story seemed too slow, although things did wrap up nicely in the end.

This is probably the best “foodie” novel I’ve read so far this year, but compared to the two other Lowcountry Romances, I liked the other two better than this one. Nevertheless, Rachel Hauck did a great job with Dining with Joy, and I cannot wait to try to recipes at the end of the book. :) Banana bread, anyone?

Rating:

My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle store

Cover and blurb: Goodreads

You may also want to read:
Review of Sweet Caroline
Review of Love Starts with Elle

Other reviews:
Along the Way
Cleverly Changing
Peeking Between the Pages
Widsith
Kate Blackham Editorial Services

No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached by Mina V. Esguerra
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages: 146
My copy: paperback from National Bookstore

Carla is a whiz at her job: she’s efficient, reliable, and a total genius when it comes to putting something together at the last-minute. The snag is she’s single and turning the big three-oh in a few months. Her girl best friend (yes, she’s married just like the other girls in Carla’s barkada) keeps trying to set her up with stable banker-types, while her guy best friend (single – the other single one) encourages her to play the field – no strings attached. Then, through no set up or extraordinary circumstance, Carla meets Dante. Hot, smug, sexy Dante. Definitely not a banker-type and seemingly too good to be true. So there’s got to be a catch. There is. He’s five years younger. Is the universe telling Carla to finally let loose and enjoy a fling with a younger man? Or is there a lot more to this awkward situation that she bargained for?

* * *

I attended my godsister’s wedding yesterday, the second wedding I attended this year. I came out of my brother’s wedding last October relatively unscathed with questions about my own wedding, but this time around, I wasn’t so safe. For one thing, I was called for the bouquet toss even if I was trying to make myself scarce at that point (my godsister called me out). Then as we were saying goodbye to the newly weds and my godsister’s parents, they were all saying to me, “Don’t forget to invite us to your wedding.”

Sigh. Sure I won’t forget. I figure it would be less exasperating question if I was actually nearing the altar, but alas, I’m not.

That is probably what Carla in Mina V. Esguerra‘s latest novel, No Strings Attached, felt, especially when her friends started getting married and having a life very different from her own. It doesn’t help that the only remaining single in her group of friends was Tonio, the guy who likes to play the field. Carla is tired of being set up with stable banker types that she doesn’t really like, and at the same time, she doesn’t like how Tonio does it. Then she meets Dante, and things go from cold to sizzling hot between the two of them. The only catch is Dante is five years younger. Does she stay or does she go?

I’ve been hounding the bookstores ever since Mina announced in Twitter that her new book would be out soon, and I was giddy when I finally got my hands on it (boo on Eastwood stores for not having them in stock as fast as the other branches). This is another light and quick read from Mina, albeit a little different from her first two novels, My Imaginary Ex and Fairy Tale Fail. I can’t really pinpoint if it’s more serious or not, but it is certainly different. Like what Chachic said, the story focused not on how the love story unfolded, but on the complications of the relationships, especially to the people around Carla and Dante.

Mina shows how chick lit does not always have to deal with heroines finding their soul mates or wanting to get married. Sure, it has romance and there is the set-ups and talks of weddings, but No Strings Attached has a different kind of romance. It’s one that we don’t really get to see on movies or TV or read in any other books. I liked how No Strings Attached tackles a different kind of love story, one that I am pretty sure some Filipinas experience as well. I liked how Carla seemed like a very real person, and her friends offer enough contrast to her for the readers to see the different sides of the story without telling it to them in a long monologue of sorts from the heroine.

I can’t really relate to Carla’s predicament, but I do know I see myself in her best friend, Mary’s shoes. I don’t necessarily set my friends up with stable banker types, but I’d probably react the same way she did if I find out that some of my close friends are in a relationship similar to Carla’s. I’m not proud of it, but the good thing about books is some characters act as a mirror, and it helps me to realize or remember things about myself that I need to keep in check (or sometimes even get rid of) in order to be a loving friend.

It’s not my favorite Mina book (that slot still belongs to Fairy Tale Fail), but it’s another good local chick lit to be lost in for a couple of hours (or days, if you’re not a fast reader). I guess I don’t have to say that I am her fan now, but if it needs saying: if there’s a Mina Esguerra fans club, I am definitely in. ;)

Oh, an in case you were wondering, I didn’t catch the bouquet. :P

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton’s Children
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

* * *

The thing I like best about reading contemporary novels is how easy it is to relate to the story. Without the magic and any other fantasy or sci-fi elements in the story, it’s easier for readers to put themselves in the characters’ situations. You don’t need to understand or figure out any underlying symbols in the story, and you feel that whatever happens in the story can also happen in real life.

However, I found that I’ve been increasingly picky about the contemporary books I’ve been reading this year. Contemporary novels is my first love in the YA genre, but lately I felt the same thing I feel about paranormal YA: what’s new? Everything I read sounds the same, give or take a little details, so…what else is there to read? Why even bother reading some if it’s the same as the last one?

So Anna and the French Kiss wasn’t high on my want list because of this, thinking that this is just one of those hyped books that everyone gushes about. Maybe I would read it, but it wasn’t in my priority list. It took Angie’s review to convince me to get it, especially when I got read this part of her review:

…Fortunately, her next door neighbor Meredith takes her under her wing and introduces her to her small  circle of friends, including smart Rashmi, her goofy-but-talented boyfriend Josh, and one Étienne St. Clair–known to one and all simply as St. Clair. Anna has it pretty bad right from the start…the two of them hit if off immediately. But there is a fly in the ointment. Naturally. He also has a longtime girlfriend at a nearby college. And their mutual friend Meredith is in love with him. Which rather clearly spells steer clear for poor Anna.

From that moment, I knew I just had to get this book. I downloaded the Kindle sample, read it and enjoyed it before I slept and then bought it as soon as I was awake enough the next day. I’ve been itching to buy an ebook lately but I was hesitant to do an impulse buy, until Anna and the French Kiss, that is.

And I tell you: the impulse buy is absolutely worth it.

I can’t decide what really did me in the story as there’s just so many wonderful things inside. I liked how the book was set in Paris but it wasn’t focused on the Eiffel Tower but on other attractions that are normally forgotten in other books set in that city. I liked how real everything was in this book, how easy it was to be immersed in Anna’s world like I was actually there. I liked the little complexities in the plot and how it didn’t focus solely on the romance between the two major characters but in other very real issues as well: family issues, cancer, absent friends, and independence, just to name a few. These issues were addressed in a very smart and optimistic way without feeling like the book was trying to accomplish so much in so little time. While the exciting parts of the book weren’t really that surprising in the sense that you know it was bound to happen eventually, the pacing was perfect and the relationships were built on very solid foundations that you know that whatever happens, thing will be okay in the end.

Another thing about contemporary novels is no matter how real they are, I couldn’t really relate to them 100% because I could only find very small parts of myself in the heroines, or the situation they are in isn’t something that I would be in. Sure, I have never been to Paris or have been in another country for that long to study, but Anna’s relationship with St. Clair reminded me of something that happened to me a few years back. I won’t elaborate, but I will share a quote that could summarize it all:

I don’t want to feel this way around him. I want things to be normal. I want to be his friend, not another stupid girl holding out for something that will never happen.

Straight through the heart, right? I couldn’t stop seeing similarities between myself and Anna, and I think I lost count at how many times I could relate to her. I wished that I had read this book way back then because I bet this would have been my best friend. Although I am over that part of my life already, I cannot help but wish for a friend like St. Clair. He’s far from perfect, but he’s someone I’d want to be really good friends with. :)

There is so much I can write about this book, but really, it would be better if you just go find a copy and read it to see for yourself. I’ve been looking for a book to blow my mind after I’ve gone through some “okay” books in the past few weeks, and this one blew my mind (and my heart!) in a totally unexpected way. If Anna and the French Kiss was food, it would definitely be chocolate: the kind you cannot get enough of from the first bite so you keep on getting more, but you try to slow down to savor the taste and to stop it from running out too soon. I devoured the book in a couple of days, and I enjoyed every single word of it. I haven’t said this about a book for a while now, but I am not ashamed to say it for this one: I loved this book. :)

Rating:

My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle store

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Angieville
Persnickety Snark
Steph Su Reads

The Sky is Everywhere

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

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