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

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Number of pages: 288
My copy: e-ARC from Netgalley

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

* * *

I’ve only read one Leila Sales book, Past Perfect, and I had fun with it because it was so, well, fun. I remember really liking the setting and the characters and how it felt like such a good summer read, so I dove into This Song Will Save Your Life with the same expectations: that this will be a light, fun read, a perfect companion for my recent trip.

But…I was wrong.

I was wrong about the light and fun part, actually. I honestly thought This Song Will Save Your Life is about a girl who builds a playlist and all that, and the “saving your life” part was just metaphorical, a symbolism of sorts. Well, it as kind of like that, but I didn’t expect it to be so serious. In a good way, that is. Elise Dembowski is unpopular, but not because she did something. Or maybe she was unpopular because she tries so hard, too hard. But all Elise wanted was to be seen, to have friends, and when her last attempt failed, she gives up (and this was the part that shocked me and told me that this might be different from the previous Leila Sales book I read). Then Elise discovers an underground warehouse party where she meets people who knew nothing about her and calls her their friend. Ellie finds herself spending more time with them, until she gets into the DJ booth and realizes that there was something else to love about her new secret: DJing.

So this book is about Elise and her quest to fit in, a secret club, and DJing. The last two were a bit unexpected, but it was only unexpected because I didn’t read the summary when I got the book; I just requested it because it was Leila Sales (and the cover was pretty). Like I said, I was surprised at how heavy this book felt at the start, at how big Elise’s problems were to her. I didn’t expect that at all, but that development was gripping enough for me to want to find out what happens next.

The book was a bit slow at the start, and again, because I didn’t read the book’s summary, I wasn’t really sure what would happen. I wasn’t sure about the secret party warehouse angle at first, until the other characters grew on me and I wanted to know what would happen to them. The romantic angle made me cringe a little, and you know how when you read something like that that it was doomed from the start, and you’re not sure how to feel if it didn’t end up doomed? I had that feeling in my stomach while I was reading it. The writing was clear and vivid that I could almost feel how it was to be in that party, to dance and sing with other people as Elise changes the music, to be one with the crowd and all that jazz. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really party.

The other side of Elise’s life really hurt to read, too, and it made the contrast between her day life and her night life really stand out. It made me realize yet again how high school kids can be mean even if they didn’t intend to — how a simple act of ignorance of another person can really break someone, even if you didn’t intend to do that. There was that particularly mean action made for the sake of “postmodern art” that really got to my nerves, but I liked how it was handled in this book, and how in the end, Elise found a reason to like herself more than wishing that other people like her too. And isn’t that the point? That we be convinced of our worth, to know that it has never been tied to someone else?

I was really liked This Song Will Save Your Life, and I think not knowing what it was about when I first read it contributed to how much I liked it overall. I didn’t end the book wanting to be a DJ, nor wanting to find secret warehouse parties, but I did end it feeling a little bit more compassionate for other people and for myself, too. And I think that’s good enough.

Number of dog-eared pages: 8

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I thought about how my back hurt from standing and my ears rang. But I also thought about how exciting it had been. How powerful I had felt, knowing that I alone had the ability to make people dance, the ability to make them happy.

I’m telling you, never fall for a music man. It only ends in heartbreak.

True, things don’t stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always YOU: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Midnight Garden
Good Books and Good Wine

 

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

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. :)

The Catastrophic History of You and Me

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess RothenbergThe Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
Publisher: Penguin
Number of pages: 401
My copy: Kindle edition

Brie is the “biggest, cheesiest, sappiest romantic” who believes that everyone will find their perfect someone, so when Jacob, the love of Brie’s life, tells her he doesn’t love her anymore, the news breaks her heart, literally, and she dies. But now that she’s D&G (dead and gone), Brie revisits the living world to discover that her family has begun to unravel and her best friend has been keeping an intimate secret about her boyfriend. Somehow, Brie must handle all of this while navigating through the five steps of grief with the help of Patrick, her mysterious bomber-jacketed guide to the afterlife. But how is she supposed to face the Ever After with a broken heart and no one to call her own?

* * *

My friend Kai recommended The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg to me way back it first came out, but I never got around to reading it for some reason. Then one day, while waiting for some friends to pick me up in a bookstore in a mall that I’ve only been to once, I saw the new cover of the book and read the back blurbs. I don’t know what happened, but I decided to pick it up. Perhaps it finally piqued my interest? I can’t even remember if the words “letting go” were there, but in case they were, then it was probably why I decided to get it.

Brie dies because of heart break, soon after her boyfriend, Jacob, breaks up with her. Impossible, yet it happened, and Brie wakes up in the afterlife, unsure of what exactly she needs to do now. She meets another soul, Patrick, who goes with her when she revisits her old life. Brie realizes the extent of the loss that the people she left felt, and how things were suddenly so far away from what she’s expected: her family’s breaking apart, her best friend “going out” with her ex. Brie being dead meant she couldn’t do anything about it…or could she? How can she move on now, knowing that everything and everyone she left are now so messed up?

I didn’t really expect to love this book so much while I was reading it, but I did. Brie’s voice was fresh and snarky and so fun to read, that even if she was essentially dead, it wasn’t so hard to relate to her. I liked how Brie was such a normal girl, with her family, her dog, her friends and her boyfriend. Everything about her seemed normal, until she died, of course. But even so, Brie’s personality shone throughout, and I laughed with her, felt sad with her and I felt truly, truly happy for her when things started falling into place at the end.

The book isn’t really about death per se — it didn’t answer the mysteries of life or anything — but more about grief, and moving on. I liked how the story was framed around the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), which is basically applicable not just to deaths but anything that we ever grieved for. Here, I read about how Brie’s family and friends worked through these stages, and Brie as well…and they didn’t handle it all spectacularly. Which is okay, because they’re humans, and we never really go through all those 5 stages perfectly and not have battle scars in the end. The Catastrophic History of You and Me is really more about letting go, moving on, and forgiving – others and yourself – and that part really resonated with me.

I liked pretty much everything about this, except maybe the other backstory about this other character and the complications of souls was kind of dizzying. I mean, I got it, but a part of me kind of feels like it kind of came out of nowhere, and it was an additional layer that really didn’t need to be there. Except, of course, it provided a better resolution for why things were like that between them, but overall, I could do without it.

I was smiling at the end of this book. It was funny and sad and heartbreaking and hopeful all the same time, and I’m really glad I read The Catastrophic History of You and Me. I almost forgot that this was more of a paranormal romance novel than a contemporary one. :) If you’re grieving, or if you’ve ever had a hard time moving on or letting go, then this book will be a good friend for you. Trust me on this. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 22

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Falling in love is pretty much the same thing as being eaten alive by a grizzly bear.

News flash, Bozo. Don’t ever tell a girl to relax. It only makes us madder.

You can obsess and obsess over how things ended – what you did wrong or could have done differently -  but there’s not much of a point. It’s not like it’ll change anything.

It was one thing to leave. But to be left. That had to be even worse.

You’ve got to let go of this desperation. You’ll never have a chance of moving on otherwise.

Maybe all heartbreak is created equal.

The trouble is, sometimes words are like arrows. Once you shoot them, there’s no going back.

May you always have love.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Amaterasu Reads
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac