12 Best Books of 2012

So the 2012 reading year was interesting because I think this is the most I’ve explored different genres. I blame my book club for this, especially with our monthly discussions and their book recommendations. As a result, I didn’t reach the 150-ish book goal. However, I did enjoy exploring these other books that I wouldn’t normally read, so it’s still a pretty good year reading year.

I’ll talk about my reading stats more on another post. First, let’s get the best list out. 12 Best Books for 2012. Let’s get at it, shall we?

  1. Angelfall by Susan EeGruesome, creepy and scary but absolutely fun. I read this book because of all the good reviews I read from my Goodreads friends, and I devoured it in several days. I loved Penryn the kick-ass heroine and the equally bad-ass angels who caused the apocalypse. When is the sequel coming out again? Please make it soon?
    Angelfall by Susan Ee Continue Reading →

Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Sarah OcklerBittersweet by Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Number of pages: 378
My copy: review copy, borrowed

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances… a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life…and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last…

* * *

I wasn’t exactly a Sarah Ockler fan and while so many people raved about her debut, Twenty Boy Summer, I was just pretty lukewarm about it. So I wasn’t very interested to read her newest book, Bittersweet until I started reading cute reviews about it from some of my trusted reviewers. Curious, I borrowed a copy from a friend and read the first few pages, and before I knew it, I was halfway through. :D

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler is about Hudson Avery, whose bright figure skating career is just ahead of her. But that was three years ago, before her father left. Now she’s the best cupcake maker in the small town of Watonka, baking and serving luscious desserts in their family. diner. When Hudson receives a letter from her old mentor’s foundation for a shot at a scholarship, she starts dreaming again. But with Hudson’s family relying on her, she’s not sure if she can actually go for her dreams. And don’t get her started on Josh Blackthorn, the cute hockey player who’s sending her seriously mixed signals.

Okay, here’s the thing: I loved Bittersweet the moment I read about Hudson being a figure skater and then later looking for the perfect cupcake “to fix all things.”  I don’t think I’ve ever shared in this blog ever so let me share this now: 1) I like to bake and 2) I used to dream of being a figure skater. The only one I only really got to do was the first one and I have long ago abandoned the dream of being a figure skater — I don’t think I have the skills or the body for that. :P However, reading Bittersweet had me living vicariously through Hudson, and I was in a very, very happy world in the next few days of reading the book.

But it’s not a completely happy book. Hudson has been burned and she continues to be burned out in the things she’s doing. She wants something big, to do something she loves, and I can definitely relate with what she’s feeling. That being said, however, Hudson is not so jaded that she’s just full of angst. She’s a funny and reliable narrator, and I loved being in her head for the story. I loved her passion for both cupcakes and skating, and I really, really wanted the best for her as the story goes on. I also loved the other characters, particularly her past and present best friends Kara and Danielle and I completely adored her little brother Bug! The boys of the hockey team were also a very good addition, and I loved that particular angle in the story.

Bittersweet is also one of those books with the slow burn romance, and a love triangle that isn’t so annoying. I really liked how balanced the attention was, and for a moment there I wasn’t sure who Hudson would pick (but I was definitely campaigning for one number fifty-six). The love triangle also didn’t mean enemies for the two guys concerned, which was also a huge relief because who needs guys beating each other up? I was also glad that she wasn’t the kind of heroine who’s also fixated with having sex on top of her other problems in the book. The book’s ending reminded me a bit of a Disney movie, but I like Disney movies so I think the ending was just perfect. :)

On a final note, here’s a warning when reading this book: don’t read it hungry! Or, just make sure you have a couple of cupcakes on hand and use Meijer coupon codes for some organic snacks. I didn’t, but the moment I finished this I went to the nearest cupcake store near my office and got myself some treats. This book also made me really, really crave a cupcake baking session — I’ve never really made any fancy frosted cupcakes, but this book made me feel like maybe I could. And I should. Soon.

Like I said, I wasn’t a big fan of Twenty Boy Summer, and I wasn’t really interested in reading any other Ockler book after that. But now that I’ve read Bittersweet, I think I have changed my mind. Bittersweet is a cute, cute contemporary YA book, and I am definitely acquiring my own copy soon. :)

Last: writing this review had me craving for cupcakes again. Like these:

(all images from weheartit.com)

Nom nom.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Midnight Garden
Blackplume

BTT: Current

Booking Through Thursday

I finally caught Booking Through Thursday on time! I have been meaning to do a BTT post for a while but I always forget, and I’ve always been busy just before the week ends. I thought this week’s BTT is simple, but it also helps me to talk about something that the book bloggers have been abuzz with since this weekend. This week’s question is:

What are you reading right now? What made you choose it? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it? (And, by all means, discuss everything, if you’re reading more than one thing!)

Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonRight now I am reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I have been planning to get a copy of the book for the longest time but it wasn’t really a priority book for me, you know, the book I absolutely must have and read now. I figure it’s a book that I will eventually get to read, but not anytime soon, you know?

But last weekend kind of bumped this book way way up in my TBR. Long story made short: Wesley Scroggins, associate professor of management at Missouri State University and Christian, wrote a piece about how Speak is a filthy and immoral book, equating it to soft porn for the two rape scenes in the book. He moved to ban Speak and two other books, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut out of the school’s reading list because of that reason, and of course, everyone was outraged. Who wouldn’t be?

Now I haven’t read Slaughterhouse Five, but I’ve read Twenty Boy Summer and while I it wasn’t a favorite book of mine, I didn’t think it was bad enough to be banned. People who know me in person know that I am a Christian and I stand by my beliefs firmly, but I don’t avoid every single book that has sex in it. I may not like it, but it doesn’t mean that no one else should read it because it (and I quote Mr. Scroggins): “…glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.

Seriously now.

Anyway, so I’m reading Speak right now, and I’m only about halfway done, and my heart is going out to Melinda. This is a girl who has serious issues of depression and trauma, someone who badly needs help, who needs a friend, who needs someone to listen to. I already know what will happen in the story, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of how Melinda is dealing with her situation.

Melinda’s story is heartbreaking. It’s not easy, and this is just fiction. Melinda isn’t a real person, and my heart is already going out to her. What more for girls who actually had the same experience as Melinda? What more for girls who are ostracized by their friends because they do not know the truth and the girl is too scared to talk about what happened? Because let’s face it: date rape happens. It can happen to anyone. In a perfect world, the victim would have a supportive family, understanding friends and she be able to speak up, move on and be a survivor instead of a victim of that crime. It is possible. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in this broken world, one that is filled with sin and brokenness and not everyone has a good support system to help them get over the trauma.

This is why books like Speak exist. To talk about issues that we are afraid to talk about. To help victims find hope, to give them a friend, albeit fictional. You know what they say about books being friends? Well, Mr. Scroggins, it’s true, and sometimes books can be the only friends that some of the rape victims have.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as banned books in the Philippines, since I’m not familiar with our library systems and all, but I hope it doesn’t reach that point here. While I agree that some books may need to be reviewed and discretion should be advised for some books depending on the reader’s age, book banning is an entirely different story. Most especially if you haven’t even read the book yet. That just reeks of ignorance.

I don’t see anything un-Christian about Speak. And I definitely think that banning this would just do more harm than good. Consider this post my choice to Speak Loudly.

Here’s an update from Laurie Halse Anderson about the situation, as well a compiled list of all articles written about Speak Loudly by the Reclusive Bibliophile.

Follow Friday / Book Blogger Hop (2)

It’s Friday, and I am so glad that it is! Because tomorrow is Saturday, and I am in need of a break (even if I had a break yesterday – holiday, yo!).

Anyway, this week has been relatively easy, even if I still have a ton of things on to-do list. Next week should prove challenging because I would be acting lead for our team, and it may mean I won’t have time to read and post…except maybe for Wednesday, because it’s Mockingjay release day! (It’s Wednesday here because the release in the US is on Tuesday – timezones and stuff) I. Can’t. Wait. Can I have a Mockingjay Leave, please? I can’t not read that book that week, especially since I’ll be joining the Mockingjay Launch Party next Sunday.

I will probably be busy during the weekend, and I’m hoping to post an IMM post on Sunday, but in case I don’t, here’s my second Follow Friday / Book Blogger Hop post! :)

Permit me to copy my friend Amaterasu’s FF post, and list the books reviews I posted this week. I’m actually quite surprised at the number of reviews I churned out this week — goes to show how fast I read and how much I managed to squeeze in my free time this week!

Look who’s a reviewing machine. :P

This week’s featured blogger for Follow Friday is Joy from Edgy Inspirational Romance! Now this is awesome — she writes Christian romance! :) I am definitely a new follower of Joy now. Lots of people joining the FF, too, see all participants of Follow Friday here. :)

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books time, and this week’s question is: How many blogs do you follow?

My Google Reader has about 1000+ entries everyday, and I hardly read them all. I follow so many blogs, and not all of them are book blogs. I try to trim it down to 3 digits every day just so it doesn’t look overwhelming. One day when I’m really bored, I will get through all those unread feeds, promise! Sometimes I end up marking them as all read without reading them, and I miss about reading other stuff, like 5th wheel insurance…but sometimes I just don’t have the time. :| I’m trying to trim down my feeds by unsubscribing to those I don’t read anymore, and I’ve got a long way to go!

As for book blogs, I follow a lot, but I have about twenty or so that I really read and try to comment on. Sometimes the sheer number is kind of overwhelming…but that’s where multitasking comes in. ;)

Happy Friday, everyone!

Not Exactly the ABSE

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah OcklerTwenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 290 pages

“Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it.”
“Okay.”
“Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?”
“Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?”

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie—she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

I love reading summer books, because I love summer. Summer in the Philippines can be horrendous, but I love the sun, I love having long days and plans with friends and going to the beach and just enjoying the sand, sea and the (seemingly) infinite possibilities that a summer day can bring (like getting personalized basketballs, for example).

I wasn’t sure what Sarah Ockler‘s Twenty Boy Summer was about when I first saw it, and from the title, I thought it was just one of those summer fling books. Imagine me wrinkling my nose at the idea. But after some time, I decided to try a sample and realized from that it wasn’t just a summer fling book, but one that also tackles grief and friendship, and that was enough for me to give it a try. Twenty Boy Summer is about Anna, Frankie and Matt, who have been best friends forever. Anna, our protagonist, has been harboring a secret from the two of them: she has been in love with Matt for years now. On Anna’s 15th birthday, she gets her wish when Matt kisses her after their cake fight. They keep this secret relationship from Frankie at least until they get to their yearly vacation to California, where Matt promises to tell his sister about it. He never got the chance to tell her because the day before they were to leave for California, Matt passes away from a heart defect. Everyone is devastated, but not as much as Anna, because her secret relationship with Matt would forever remain a secret.

A year later, Anna gets invited to join Frankie’s family for their vacation. Anna and Frankie were convinced that this would be their ABSE (Absolute Best Summer Ever), and the perfect time for Anna to lose her virginity, so they set up a twenty-boy contest. The logic was simple: they would be in California for 23 days. Give or take 3 days of sight seeing, that leaves them 20 days to meet a boy each day. Anna still can’t get over Matt, but she also promised to take care of Frankie, so she says yes to this plan. Then starts their supposed absolute best summer ever.

Sarah Ockler definitely hit it right with the summer theme in this book, and it made me miss those days when my friends and I were planning beach trips, whether it is overnight or a long trip on faraway places in the country. Twenty Boy Summer has a lot of those elements, almost making me feel the sand between my toes or hear the surf as it hits the shore (aptly described as Sshhhh, ahhh. Sshhh ahhh. Can you hear it now?). In a way, it’s a pretty relaxing book, despite the themes it attempted to tackle. There were also some great descriptions of items in the story, such as the sea glass being mermaid’s tears, or the ocean being “licorice soup”, or how Anna felt after her first time. I think Ockler had a way with words that actually transported me to the beach just by imagination.

What was kind of disappointing with this book is sadly, the characters. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I pay close attention to the characters of books I read. Sometimes I think I like characters more than the plot because I think even the most boring plots can be spiced up by strong characters. I like it when I connect to the characters at some level, even if I can’t empathize or relate to their situation in the book. I tried my best, but I just couldn’t connect to Anna or Frankie in this book. I figure it may be because Anna and I don’t have much in common, but I don’t think that’s a valid enough excuse for me to feel distant from them. The setting pulled me in, yes, but the characters kind of put me at arm’s length through out the novel. I felt that the characters were somewhat inconsistent with how they were initially portrayed. Anna first came off as the good and sad girl who secretly grieved for Matt, but as the story unfolded, she seemed inconsistent to that. Her witty comments seemed a bit out of place, and her and her emotional outbursts felt lacking. For example (spoiler warning):

A lie? It hits me like a sledgehammer, releasing all the hurt and sadness and confusion I’ve held inside the last fourteen months. I jump up without speaking and bolt to the shore, unable to hold it any longer.

“How could you leave us like this?” I bawl at the sky, tears spilling into my mouth, ignoring the blurred runners who pass behind me without slowing. Just another drunk little girl, they must think.

“Tell her!” I should. “Tell her you made me promise! Tell her it’s your fault! Tell her it was a lie for you, too! Tell her you loved me!”

Maybe it’s just me, but that particular passage lacked something, some oomph. I didn’t feel Anna’s anguish; it felt more like a show than real emotion.

Frankie, on the other hand, seemed to go from being the bad girl to the good girl and back to bad. She seemed to be the typical girl who’s acting out because of someone’s death, but it didn’t feel genuine. However, Frankie’s character is kind of justifiable after a huge revelation in the book, so that kind of saved her. Anna is a bit too confusing for me to really like her, and that’s saying a lot since the novel is in first person POV. I felt more like a silent spectator through out their adventures in the novel. At least I was on the beach, right?

Furthermore, I wasn’t sure if it was able to tackle the grief aspect right. I had no qualms about how friendship issues were dealt with, but I think the grief part wasn’t highlighted enough, save for those small moments (ex. Anna and Matt’s mother talking about Matt, Anna and Frankie’s conversation at the end about Matt). Perhaps it was meant to be that way — I’m not sure. Actual grief is kind of hard to write about, but there’s a lot of YA books that managed to tackle that gracefully (perfect example: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen).

Overall, this isn’t really a bad novel. I liked the summer aspect and the setting, but the characters and some of the serious themes that it attempted to deal with didn’t really work out that well for me. Some reader discretion is advised, especially for the young ones since this book also deals with losing one’s virginity over a summer fling (which obviously won’t work for me, either). It’s okay enough to be considered a good read for my standards, but in the end, it’s just not my type of summer.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 68 out of 100 for 2010

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads