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 Ee. Gruesome, 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 →

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Publisher: Random House
Number of pages: 509
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

* * *

If you asked me a year ago if I knew who David Mitchell was and if I have plans of reading any of his books ever, I probably would just give you a blank stare and then shake my head. I had no idea who he was, and his books weren’t really my type of books. So when my friend Monique reviewed Cloud Atlas early this year, I liked the review but I didn’t think that I’d go and get it because it felt like a “serious” book and I was still attached to my YA.

Then…I don’t know, peer pressure? Word of mouth? Hype? I see more and more of David Mitchell’s name on Goodreads, and more and more people raving about him and so I wonder — what’s the deal with him? Is he really that amazing? Will I like him too? Curiosity won me over, so I decided to finally try a Mitchell book. Since Cloud Atlas seemed to be the most popular, and the fact that its movie is coming soon, some book club friends and I set up a reading buddy session with the fans eagerly eavesdropping on our mini-discussion.

Cloud Atlas contains six stories that span across different eras and set in different places all over the world with completely different characters and story lines. At first it seems that each story is independent from one another, until after I finished the first chapter and I was all, “Huh?”. As it turns out, the six stories were structured in a way that each is connected to the other despite the differences in settings, characters and genre. Yes, genre. Curious yet?

We start with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, a journal of an American notary from Chatham Islands back to California set in 1850. From Adam we meet Robert Forbisher in Letters From Zedelghem, who writes to his friend Rufus Sixsmith about his time as an amanuensis to an old and blind musical genius, Vyvyan Ayrs, who can’t distinguish a piano hinge in his condition, but can talk and make good music despite it. Decades later, in Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, there’s Rufus Sixsmith again, and he meets journalist Luisa Rey who attempts to blow a conspiracy wide open. After we are left hanging with Luisa Rey, in comes the British Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who gets in all sorts of scrapes which he thinks could form a movie on his life entitled The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, if he can get out of it alive. Even more years later, in An Orison of Sonmi~451, we are transported into a dystopian world set in a new Korea called Nea So Copros, and clones called fabricants are employed to do all sorts of dirty work for everyone. Sonmi~451 is a clone who is up for execution and she is given the chance to tell her stor before she goes to the Litehouse. Finally, set into the very distant future, there’s Zachry and the story of his tribe in Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Everythin’ After. From there, the story goes back to Sonmi~451, Tim Cavendish, Luisa Rey, Robert Forbisher and finally back to Adam Ewing.

Here’s the thing about Cloud Atlas that made me realize that I will like it: it’s like a novel of spin-offs stories. And I like spin-offs. I liked how Mitchell surprised me in every story, and I wasn’t sure what to expect every time a chapter ends (and more often than not, I’m left wanting more with every chapter because it just ends). I liked how he stretched my imagination with every story, I liked the way he writes and how the novel switches from one genre to another seamlessly. By the third story, I knew I would like the book — the question is how much I would really like it. As I read the last few chapters, I thought this would just be a four-star book…and then I got to the end. You know how you don’t want the book to end, but you want to keep on reading because you want to know what happens? Then when you get to the very final line, the chills just come? And they were awesome chills? Really awesome chills? And then you want to read the book all over again? That’s what Cloud Atlas did to me.

I know this review is being a bit vague, but this book is not the kind of book that you’d want to be spoiled when you read it. The structure may seem like a gimmick, but I think for this story, it’s an effective way to tell the story and make connections. As a whole, I think Cloud Atlas is a book that deals with connectedness. Each character’s story can stand on their own and can be taken as it is, but once you start putting them together, we see that their stories become richer, more meaningful in several ways. It’s just like how each of us has our own story and we can live with just that…but once our lives cross with one another and our stories touch…everything changes.

To summarize: I loved Cloud Atlas. I loved it, I loved it. And from how my friends have raved about Mitchell’s other books, I am now looking forward to reading the rest of his works. Especially if his other characters make a cameo in his other novels! :) I think that’s the best part of this Cloud Atlas reading experience: discovering a new author whose works will make you just want to read more and more and more.

Oh, and I am definitely looking forward to the movie. Have you seen the five-minute trailer?

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Awesome, awesome chills. :)

Rating: [rating=5]

Required Reading: September

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
A Thought On Each Page

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

Honey, Baby, SweetheartHoney, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Number of pages:  308
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

It is summer in the Northwest town of Nine Mile Falls, and sixteen-year-old Ruby McQueen, ordinarily dubbed The Quiet Girl, finds herself hanging out with gorgeous, rich, thrill-seeking Travis Becker. But Ruby is in over her head, and finds she is risking more and more when she’s with him.

In an effort to keep Ruby occupied, Ruby’s mother Ann drags Ruby to the weekly book club she runs. When it is discovered that one of the group”s own members is the subject of the tragic love story they are reading, Ann and Ruby spearhead a reunion between the long-ago lovers. But for Ruby, this mission turns out to be much more than just a road trip….

* * *

I’ve had Deb Caletti’s Wild Roses lying around at home for more than a year now but I never found the time to read it because I never really thought I would enjoy it. That’s me judging a book and an author without any valid basis, and my only defense is that I read from some blogs in my reader how Deb Caletti books didn’t work for them. So I figured that I may not like it too.

And then friends started recommending Honey, Baby, Sweetheart to me, so I was mildly curious. Of course it had to be the Deb Caletti book that is the hardest to find — is it because it’s a National Book Award finalist? I don’t know. But when I finally found it, I decided not to let it go because I was curious.

Honey, Baby, Sweetheart sounds like your typical YA romance from the title alone, so I was kind of expecting that when I started reading it. Here we meet Ruby McQueen, The Quiet Girl, who finds herself hanging out with rich, gorgeous and mysterious thrill-seeker Travis Becker (who can afford to get several gift card sleeves if he wanted to). With Travis, Ruby felt like a different girl — someone who isn’t quiet, someone who can do the things normal Ruby wouldn’t do. But when she discovers some things about Travis that means trouble, she finds herself in over her head. To keep her distracted, her mom brings her to her book club meeting where they discover one of their members is the subject of the love story that they were discussing. Too crazy? Together they embark on a road trip to reunite the lovers, and as with all road trips, Ruby discovers more about herself in the process.

And this is where I eat my words about me probably not liking any Deb Caletti book. I was a third into the book when I felt that tug inside me that told me I will like this book no matter how it ended. I was never the quiet girl but I liked Ruby and I connected with her uncertainties and her attachment with Travis. I could identify with her need to be with him even if she couldn’t understand it, even if I’m not the kind of girl who likes bad guys. :P But I liked Ruby, and her voice, and I liked how it was quite easy to understand her and how she couldn’t understand that part of her that liked Travis so much. I also liked the supporting characters, especially Ruby’s mom and her brother, and the rest of the book club members that she gets to know. It made me realize that I like wacky old people in books — they’re almost always such a hoot.

The book had a distinct summer feel that made me just relax whenever I go back to reading it. It’s such a comforting read even if some of the situations in the book were kind of heavy on the emotional side. I guess it’s the writing that made it so comforting — Caletti has a way with words that may seem flowery to some but it hit just the right spot for me. Case in point, one of my favorite parts:

You could see the magic we all had that day. The magic that comes with the force of a mission, lit with a fine and rare energy. The magic of purpose and of love in its purest form. Not television love, with its glare and hollow and sequined glint; not sex and allure, all high shoes and high drama, everything both too small and in too much excess, but just love. Love like rain, like the smell of tangerine, like a surprise found in your pocket. We were all part of that. (p.198)

Sigh. It made me want to be a part of that adventure that they were all about to embark on.

The story is reminiscent of the Letters to Juliet movie, and the road trip isn’t really anything like how John Green does it, but there’s a pretty satisfying ending that just made me sigh with happiness. I like that this isn’t just about romance, but really about love and the ties that bind us together. I especially liked how love was described in the context of books:

We are all a volume on a shelf of a library, a story unto ourselves, never possibly described with one word or even very accurately with thousands. A person is never as quiet or unrestrained as they seem, or as bad or good, as vulnerable or as strong, as sweet or as feisty; we are thickly layered, page upon lying page, behind simple covers. And love – it is not the book itself, but the binding. It can rip us apart or hold us together.

This is definitely the kind of book that I would recommend to any teenage girl who’s looking for herself, and the kind that I think my younger self would probably really like (understanding is another thing, though! :P). And this is one of those books that I will probably go back to every now and then when I’m feeling lost.

So, I totally take back what I said/pre-judged about Deb Caletti. I really, really enjoyed Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. It’s definitely one of my best reads for this year on the contemporary YA front. :) While I’m not ready to declare my love for the author just yet, I think I’m going to bump Wild Roses up my TBR soon. :)

Rating: [rating=4] (but very close to a 5)

Required Reading: July

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Chachic’s Book Nook


Wonder by R.J. PalacioWonder by R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 320
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

* * *

There was a time a few years ago when I was hearing mass with my family, and I happened to stand beside this man at church. The man wasn’t dressed the way other people were dressed during Sunday mass. He looked scruffy, almost like he came straight from the streets to the church, without even wearing wide shoes for men. He didn’t look dangerous, and perhaps he even is nice given that he was in church and all. But what I really noticed were his hands. They were, if I were to be perfectly honest, kind of scary. The memory’s vague, but I remember that it looked like he had some kind of skin disease — lesions, wounds and spots — the kind that one would refuse to touch in fear of contagion. I was afraid to touch it, knowing especially that at a certain part of the mass, I would have to hold his hand while praying The Lord’s Prayer.

I tried, I really did. I was in church, and holding hands with a stranger during a prayer is the thing to do. It was the good thing, the kind thing, the loving thing. It was expected. I told myself that I would do it, that I would hold his hand during The Lord’s Prayer and not be scared or repulsed or look for a hand sanitizer after the prayer. I told myself, I prepared myself and I wanted to do it.

But I didn’t. When the priest told everyone to “join hands and as one family pray the prayer Jesus had taught us,” I chickened out, opened my hand but did not take his, looked ahead and prayed, feeling the guilt grow heavier as the mass went on.

This particular memory may seem insignificant and well, I may be blowing things out of proportion. Perhaps the man never even noticed me at all — but it struck me because I really wanted to do the kind thing, but I didn’t because I was afraid. Just like how the other kids and grown ups in the book reacted to Auggie in Wonder by R.J. Palacio. August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that made him quite special to his family for his need of extra care. He has never attended a normal school, until he agreed with his parents to start attending fifth grade at Beecher Prep. Auggie is a perfect fit for the school, except maybe for his face. Told in Auggie’s point of view as well as five more from the people around him, we follow Auggie as he faces one of the most challenging times of his young life.

I was prepared for a barrage of emotions that Wonder could probably give me, after reading several reviews and updates from Goodreads friends about this book. I knew that I was probably going to like it, but what I wasn’t prepared for were what kind of emotions it would bring. Being a middle grade book, the writing was pretty simple and easy to read, especially since most of the narrators were kids as well. Wonder is bound to remind readers of their own middle school (or in my case, late elementary years, since we do not have middle school in the Philippines) experiences. It’s strange to think of it, but young people can be very mean, even if it’s not on purpose, and Wonder shows how it could be. My heart went out for Auggie, especially since he did not ask to look like the way he does. Like his parents, I wanted the best for him too.

The story was told not just in Auggie’s point of view, but also with five other kids who surrounded Auggie’s life. This made the book a little easier to relate to because let’s admit it: most of us don’t have what Auggie has. Of all the characters, I identified the most with his friend, Jack. I really wish I could be like Summer, that I could choose to be kind before anything else. I think Jack represents the side of everyone who tries to be good but fails, and then tries again anyway. And I think the trying is the most important part of it all.

There’s a lot of buzz with what Wonder teaches, or attempts to teach, but I think maybe we shouldn’t over think it too much. Sure, there are some parts that may seem a little simple, that the ending may seem to be a little too nicely wrapped up, almost like how a movie is done and we know real life is never that way. I see it as a simple thing: I see Wonder as a middle grade book that teaches kindness — to quote, …to be kinder than necessary.That as human beings, we do not just have “…the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness…” and to choose that even when it’s not easy, when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Even though reading Wonder reminded me of that particular incident I shared at the start of this review which brought back some of the guilty feelings, this book made me feel a lot better after reading it. A little bit more whole, even. With a stronger resolve to be kinder than necessary. I think that a book that can make its readers feel like that is worth a second glance.

Rating: [rating=4]

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine
The Midnight Garden
The Readventurer


The Reapers are the Angels

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden BellThe Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
Publisher: Holt
Number of pages: 225
My copy: paperback, ordered from Book Depository

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.

For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can’t remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.

* * *

I’ve been wanting to get The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell during the time I was so crazy for zombies in fiction, and that’s one of the reasons why I got this from Book Depository in the first place. I wanted to add every single book that had zombies in it, until it became a little bit too mainstream for my taste. That’s probably why I made this book languish in my TBR for a while, almost forgetting that I had this book with me until lately. Because you know, sometimes you have to dig through your TBR just to get some books out and get that number down.

The Reapers are the Angels introduces a world that is full of zombies, the kind that steel garages don’t really stop. There’s nothing really new about that, but then here comes Temple, a fifteen year old girl who’s turned herself into a vagabond after something happened in her past. She runs into a small community of survivors who take her in, but when she accidentally kills a man who tried to take advantage of her, she is back on the run now that his brother is after her. On her journey, she meets a group of hunters who take on a new way of survival, picks up a mentally challenged man who becomes her unwanted ward, stays with a rich family who refuses to acknowledge the state of the world and gets caught by a horrifically mutated group of people whose loyalty to each other leads them to kill. All this time, Temple fights the evil she thinks is in her while running away from the man who wants to kill her.

Or perhaps running away isn’t the right term. As the story goes on, it doesn’t really feel that Temple was running away — perhaps there was something else. It was almost like this chase gave her some kind of purpose, and it was interesting to read about that. Temple is a different girl and we know it right from the start. Why she chose to be alone is a mystery, and how she seemed to unafraid later on as she travels is another question. Her character makes this initially simple and typical zombie story come more alive. The Reapers are the Angels isn’t a story of zombies or the fallen world but a story of a person wrestling with her past and trying to atone for this. Temple’s brokenness makes her who she is — the hard, no-nonsense girl with awesome fighting skills — but it doesn’t lessen her compassion for others who need her help, even if she doesn’t really want to help at all. I found her unlikely “friendship” with Maury, the mentally challenged guy she helps and “adopts”, quite endearing and possibly my favorite part in the entire story.

But this book isn’t really an easy read. The lush writing helped a lot in making me want to read this, but this is a bleak book — not quite as hopeless as The Forest of Hands and Teeth and also not quite as action packed as The Enemy, but still pretty, well, not cheerful. There were also lots of philosophical talk, which makes this book really a story of survival and how humanity carries on after an apocalypse. I think what makes this book a little harder for me to read was the gross-out factor — like I said, I may have gone soft, and there were some scenes in this book that made me stop reading for a bit just so my stomach would stop churning. Oh Tina, what do you expect of a zombie book, anyway? Just…don’t read this while eating, especially for some parts.

Even so, I find that I loved The Reapers are the Angels, especially for how it ended. Sigh. –> That will be my one and only clue for you. I think The Reapers are the Angels is a beautifully sad but deep book, and I was a very satisfied reader when I finished the book. It’s not at the level of how much I loved Mira Grant’s Feed, my favorite zombie book of all time, but Alden Bell’s creation has made it into the list of zombie books I will recommend to people who want to read about them. This is a good one, folks — gross scenes aside, this is a zombie book that lived up to my expectations, and I hope it lives up to yours, too.

See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness firsthand.

Rating: [rating=5]

Required Reading: February

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine