Terra Firma

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 373
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

As he continued to stare, I wanted to point to my cheek and remind him, But you were the one who wanted this, remember? You’re the one who asked-and I repeat-Why not fix your face?

It’s hard not to notice Terra Cooper.

She’s tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably “flawed” face. Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob’s path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?

Written in lively, artful prose, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley has woven together a powerful novel about a fractured family, falling in love, travel, and the meaning of true beauty.

* * *

I’m a big reader (obviously), but there are certain books that I can say are my absolute favorites, ones that I would willingly read over and over again and bring with me to a deserted island, if given a choice. Some of them are This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen and probably Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

I’m happy to say that North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley just joined their ranks. :)

In this day and age, media plays a heavy influence in how one views beauty: one must be tall, thin, have straight hair, blemish-free and white skin. If you fail to meet any of these requirements, then sorry, you can’t be beautiful. A lot of girls suffer from low self-esteem back then, including me. I never really talked about it and I covered everything with laughter, but deep inside, I didn’t feel beautiful at all. Every other girl I know seems to be more beautiful than I am. I wasn’t thin enough, tall enough (human growth hormone, anyone?), fair skinned enough, pretty enough. I feel like being beautiful is a long shot.

That was how Terra felt, even if she possessed great body and great hair and the smarts to finish high school a year early. Despite all of these, Terra never thought of herself as beautiful because of one flaw: the port-wine birthmark the shape of Bhutan on her face. All she wanted to do was get out of the small town and make her own map at a faraway college — far away from the people who know her, especially far away from the control of her father, a disgraced cartographer.

Now if you’ll think about it, the search for true beauty is not a new story line. Other books might have mentioned it, had a story about it, but I think the beauty of North of Beautiful is that it really tackled the issue head on. Although Terra never called herself ugly outright, she admits to hiding behind a mask and falling under everyone’s expectations of her. She craved control, so she set out on a plan to follow her older brother’s footsteps and to be finally free of everything in her life. Of course, all her plans change when life throws her all kinds of things — like getting into a car crash, for instance — but that is really where her journey started.

This is another book with very strong characters, all of them somehow making a mark in me as I read it. Strong characters are easier to identify with, and could make even the most cliched story somehow work. They all had unique voices, and I can actually imagine them in the small town of Colville: from Terra’s dad and his condescending comments to Terra’s mom’s timidity to Jacob’s easy smile and funny quips. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more effective antagonist who uses words to abuse other people — I mean seriously, Terra’s dad definitely takes the cake. I can’t remember how many times I willed for Terra and her family to stand up to their dad on the first parts of the book! The attraction between Terra and Jacob felt real, too, and not rushed. The author certainly took her time in building their relationship, which I really appreciated, and when the fallout came? Oh dear, my heart went out to both and I almost wished that the little complication didn’t happen at all. Even Susannah, Terra’s aunt, who passed away before the story started, made her presence felt in the story.

A lot of other interesting concepts were discussed too, especially the ones related to cartography, since it was Terra’s dad’s occupation. Other than Colville and a bit of Seattle, I was also brought to China, making me want to see the sites that they visited there. The concept of geocaching was also explored, which is kind of like a more high-tech type of treasure hunt. Definitely something a geek would like. ;)

And the book’s ending? Totally satisfying. :)

North of Beautiful is a wonderful book, and I’m really glad I had the impulse to buy it. :) It’s definitely something I recommend, especially for girls, to remind us all of what true beauty is really all about.

I leave you with this quote from the book:

Let the glossy spreads have their heart-stopping, head-turning kind of beauty. Give me the heart-filling beauty instead. Jolie laide, that’s what I would choose. Flawed, we’re truly interesting, truly memorable, and yes, truly beautiful.

Rating: [rating=5]

Stealing Heaven (Elizabeth Scott)

Stealing Heaven (Elizabeth Scott)My name is Danielle. I’m eighteen. I’ve been stealing things for as long as I can remember.

Dani has been trained as a thief by the best–her mother. Together, they move from town to town, targeting wealthy homes and making a living by stealing antique silver. They never stay in one place long enough to make real connections, real friends–a real life

In the beach town of Heaven, though, everything changes. For the first time, Dani starts to feel at home. She’s making friends and has even met a guy. But these people can never know the real Dani–because of who she is. When it turns out that her new friend lives in the house they’ve targeted for their next job and the cute guy is a cop, Dani must question where her loyalties lie: with the life she’s always known–or the one she’s always wanted.

I am not exactly an Elizabeth Scott fan. I bought two of her books on an impulse sometime last year (Bloom and Perfect You) and I didn’t like them. Since then, I wasn’t really keen on reading another Elizabeth Scott book, fearing that it might just end up like the ones I read.

I don’t know what made me give her another chance in this book — maybe it was the cover, maybe I was just bored so I picked this up.

I’m glad I did.

If I was disappointed with the first two Elizabeth Scott books I read, Stealing Heaven changes all those first and second impressions. The premise alone was interesting: here was Danielle, who has been stealing things since she could remember, and she felt that it would be what she’d be doing all the rest of her life. She’s never had a real ID in her life and she has a lot of fake names for as long as she could remember. Danielle has no friends, knows more about houses and security systems and getting information, even if she didn’t go to school. She’s loyal to her mom and she loves her, even if she seems to be the adult one in the family. However, when Danielle and her mom get to a small town named Heaven, things change for her.

Stealing Heaven was way different from Bloom and Perfect You. Somehow I felt it was more serious, and the story flow was smoother and somehow easier to read. It reminded me a lot of a Dessen book, which is probably one of the reasons why I liked it so much. There were strong characters all over — characters I can’t help but like. One such character is Greg, the cop who befriends Danielle and cared more about her than his being a cop. I thought Greg was a very nice contrast to Danielle — Danielle is a crook, to put it simply, while Greg is the one who puts crooks to jail. He had a very interesting back story, and he felt genuine enough for me to believe that he did care for the protagonist. He was witty, and he didn’t give up on being nice to Danielle even if she was always putting him off. In a way, Greg reminded me of Dexter from This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen, but less of a goof (and that reminds me — I want to re-read that book).

What I also really liked about this book is how everything wasn’t really wrapped up nicely in the end. I mean, there was a proper ending, but the author didn’t fix everything in favor of the protagonist so everyone’s happy. With Danielle’s situation, there were some things that she could not undo which made her lose a friend she could have had, there’s her mom who she knew will go back to their old lifestyle, and there’s her, standing up and living the life she always wanted on her own. This is the type of ending where you know that the protagonist grew/will grow into a better person, and somehow that leaves me, the reader, with some kind of hope, and know that things will be okay for this fictional character that I’ve learned to love while reading the book. :)

I liked this book so much that I’m willing to give the first two Elizabeth Scott books I read another chance and read them again. Maybe this time, I’ll learn to like her books better. But even if I don’t, I still think that Stealing Heaven is one gem of a book. :)

And before I end, here’s a little line in the book that I really liked:

The sculpture I saw looked like nothing from far away, just a lump of rock, but up close you could see it was a figure pushing up out of the ground and reaching toward the sky. There was a little plaque under it. It said “Stealing Heaven.” …

My mother taught me to believe in silver, to believe in things, but I think it’s more important to believe in me.

Rating: [rating=4]
→ The first Elizabeth Scott book that I liked! If you would read Scott, this is a good place to start.

2010 Challenge Status:

* Book # 15 out of 100 for 2010

→ Get Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott on Amazon.com

→ Elizabeth Scott’s website

Little Red Cowboy Hat

Little Miss Red by Robin Palmer

Little Miss Red by Robin Palmer

Sophie Greene gets good grades, does the right thing, and has a boyfriend that her parents — and her younger brother –just love. (Too bad she doesn’t love him.)

Sophie dreams of being more like Devon Deveraux, star of her favorite romance novels, but, in reality, Sophie isn’t even daring enough to change her nail polish.

All of that changes when Sophie goes to Florida to visit her grandma Roz, and she finds herself seated next to a wolfishly good looking guy on the plane. The two hit it off, and before she knows it, Sophie’s living on the edge. But is the drama all it’s cracked up to be?

I think I mentioned it before — I love re-tellings. When I found Robin Palmer’s books one random day at National Bookstore, I knew I had to read them.

Little Miss Red is Robin Palmer’s third fairy tale based novel, and this time, she took the story of Little Red Riding Hood and turned it into a fun and wild and surprising story about love and drama.

Sophie’s tired of her life. She wants to have a more exciting life — something that her favorite novel character Devon Deveraux has. She’s tired of not being able to do what she wants to do because it doesn’t “fit” her, and she wants a more exciting life than she has. When her trip to Mexico with her friends got canceled, Sophie gets sent to Florida to bring a family heirloom to her grandmother. Because of a case of chicken pox caught by her boyfriend, who has pushed the “pause” button in their relationship, Sophie meets Jack, a daring, good looking guy and thinks that finally, she’s getting the adventure she deserves.

Little Miss Red is a fun read, and I really found myself rooting for Sophie all the way. Somehow, I found myself relating to her struggle about drama — I’ve always had a time when I wish that something exciting would happen to my life, but when it finally does happen, I find myself wishing for my life to be boring all over again.

There were times I wanted to slap Sophie silly when she kept on falling for Jack’s charm, even if it was already obvious that he’s just mooching money from her. I knew I would not be surprised if Jack turns out to be a crook all along, but Robin Palmer surprised me with the ending, which just made me feel, well, a bit sorry for someone like Jack.

No more spoilers here now, but I can say that Robin made the story of Little Red Riding Hood a bit more interesting than the old fairy tale, and ended it with a sort of unexpected twist. :) It’s a fun, entertaining read, something I’d recommend to YA and fairy tale lovers out there. And one last thing: I like the overall lesson of Little Miss Red: sometimes, drama is really unnecessary in life. And in love, it’s the boring things that really count in the end.

Oh, and good news to all Robin Palmer fans: she’s going to write another fairy tale retelling, this time, it’s Snow White. Now that is something to look forward to. :D

Rating: [rating=3]

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 14 out of 100 for 2010

→ Get Little Miss Red by Robin Palmer on Amazon.com
→ Robin Palmer’s website

The Cop and the Blue-Haired Chick

Going Too Far by Jennifer EcholsGoing Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Publisher: MTV Books
Number of pages:  245
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

How far would you go?

All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far… and almost doesn’t make it back.

John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won’t soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won’t be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge – and over…

* * *

I’ve read glowing reviews about this book from different book blogs I frequent. Again, I’m sort of kind of hesitant with getting impulse buy books because I’ve had a bit of bad experiences with them. But when I saw this book, I decided to get it. I thought, “Why not?”

I’m just really glad the impulse buy was worth it. :)

Going Too Far is about Meg the rebel and John the cop, who get to spend time together as a punishment to Meg for going to the forbidden railroad tracks. Meg just wants to have fun, and to make the last of her weeks in the small town go by fast, while John is serious about his responsibilities as a cop and has a huge fixation on the railroad tracks. As the two of them spend time together, they get to know more about each other, and yeah, eventually fall in love.

But it’s not a typical boy-meets-girl, Stockholm Syndrome type of story. I’d have to agree with the other reviews I read about this book: it’s a novel full of issues. It’s not really dark/deep issues — they’re real life issues that could happen to anyone, and that explains why Meg and John are doing what they were doing. These issues were slowly fleshed out, in a way that I didn’t see them coming. I had to back up a few lines to make sure I read them right, and then went back to the story, wanting to know more.

While I didn’t stay up late to finish this book in one sitting, I was hooked in the story. I wanted to know what happened, I want to know how they’d end up together, and how they would settle the leaving thing. The ending was satisfying, and hopeful, and you know things will somehow work out for the both of them.

Oh, and even if this is an “issue book”, it was refreshing to read that it didn’t have too dark/issue-dwelling tones. I’m not sure how to describe it, but the storytelling did not depress me even as I found out the characters’ issues.  There were certain dialogues in the novel that reminded me that it’s a young adult novel, and it somehow lightened the overall mood.

Going Too Far is a good book — it’s not exactly a favorite, but I do recommend this book for those who want good, realistic teen fiction.

Rating: [rating=3]

The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth

The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth (Shelley Adina)

The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth by Shelley Adina
All About Us # 6
Publisher: FaithWords

Number of pages: 256
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

The girls of Spencer Academy are ready to take on life after high school . . . if they can make it through their last term!

Lissa Mansfield has come a long way since transferring to Spencer Academy two years ago. She’s made a great group of friends in Gillian, Carly, Mac, and Shani. She’s strengthened and grown her relationship with God. She’s even gotten over the Callum McCloud “incident” from her first term. Now she’s set to graduate and experience college life!

But with the girls about to separate and head in different directions, Lissa is faced with some of her biggest challenges yet. Her archenemy, Vanessa Talbot, has a shocking secret—one that could destroy her reputation forever. Can Lissa act on God’s prompting and reach out to her foe when Vanessa needs a friend the most? And with college on the horizon, will Lissa and Kaz finally come to terms with their feelings for each other? High school may be ending, but the excitement has just begun!

* * *

There are certain books that can wait before you actually crack its pages. They’re the types of books that you want, but are in no hurry to read, so they sit pretty on your shelf, waiting to be picked once you’re finished with what you’re reading, or once you feel like reading them. They wait patiently for you, never complaining, never taunting you to read the last few pages to see what would happen in the end, and it can wait for a long time before you actually read it without complaints.

This book wasn’t one of them.

When I read the first book of the It’s All About Us series for the first time, I wasn’t really pleased with it. I liked it, yes, but I didn’t feel like it was a favorite because I couldn’t really relate to it, and all the name and brand dropping kind of got to me. I mean, the characters were Christian; why are they spouting off brands and such? Don’t they have better things to do than concentrate on designer brands or something? I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls started complaining about nose blackheads there given the way they were so brand conscious.

I could have given up on the series then, but I have this obsessive thing on finishing what I started, so when the next few books came out, I got them and read them. Slowly, I started to fall in love with the characters and understand where they were coming from, even if I couldn’t relate too much. I found myself rooting for them, and even if I don’t really wish for the kind of life they have, I wished to find friends like Lissa, Gillian, Carly, Shanni and Mac — friends who would stick by you through and through and pray with you and be there for you like real God-given friends are.

I have to remember that these books were written to cater to a specific kind of group: the Gossip Girl/insert book series name here generation. I like watching Gossip Girl on TV, but I never picked up any of their books because I never felt interested in it. A friend told me they’re good, but they were kind of scandalous, especially for the audience it was written for. The It’s All About Us series counters that, and shows us that girls can love God and still have fun. The books focus on the real important things: friendship, love, family, following God’s will and growing in God’s love. It’s like a breath of fresh air for all young adult books, and it’s something that parents wouldn’t be afraid to let their daughters read. :)

I’m blabbing about that because I’m trying to avoid spoilers for this book. I got this book yesterday, and I was trying to resist reading the book because I told myself I’d finish Persuasion first. I failed miserably, picked the book up last night and read it until way past my bed time, and it was so worth it. I slept with a huge smile on my face knowing that was the ending, and even if I wanted a bit more, I’m okay with how this series ended. I really liked Lissa in this book, much more than I did in the first book. I like how she had matured from the girl who wanted to be popular to a girl who loves her God and her friends and is happy with that. I like the other conflicts in the story, too, and it was nice to see more of Vanessa even if I don’t know what else will happen to her. It was really nice to read more of Kaz, too, and I wouldn’t mind having a best friend like that. :) I just kind of feel off about how Lissa was depicted in the cover — I don’t know if it’s just me, but Lissa there (the blonde) looked a bit too old to be the Lissa I imagined. Carly (I think it’s her, the one on the right), looks gorgeous though. :)

What I love about the entire series is it never really wraps up everything nicely — the consequences of their actions are still there and they can’t turn back from their mistakes. They just have to learn to forgive themselves and others and ask forgiveness and trust that God knows what He’s doing. It doesn’t sugarcoat any of the issues, but instead connects it with practical lessons and teachings that could be applied in everyday life.

If you haven’t read the series yet, I recommend that you start with the first book because it’s really where the story started, and this book concludes the series in a really romantic and satisfying way. :) No regrets in buying this yesterday or staying up late to read this. I’m going to miss the girls, but I’m happy to know I can always visit them on my bookshelf.

It’s you. It’s me. It’s us. – Lissa Mansfield

Rating: [rating=5]