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.)


  • 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

A Girl Named Mister

A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes
Publisher: Zondervan
Number of pages: 223
My copy: hardbound, won from Goodreads giveaway

My boyfriend used to think it was cute,
a girl named Mister.
Used to think I was cute.
Used to be my boyfriend
what feels like a million years ago.
Then again,
I used to be a good Christian girl,
the kind who would never, well…
Just goes to show how little people know.
Even I was surprised by me.
Now, I close my eyes
hoping to see exactly where I went wrong.

Mary Rudine, called Mister by almost everyone, has  attended church and sung in the choir for as long as she can remember. But then she meets Trey. His long lashes and smooth words make her question what she knows is right, and one mistake leaves her hiding a growing secret. Another Mary is preparing for her upcoming wedding and has done everything according to Jewish law. So when an angel appears one night and tells her that she—a virgin—will give birth, Mary can’t help but feel confused, and soon finds herself struggling with the greatest blessing the world will ever know. Feeling abandoned, Mister is drawn to Mary’s story, and together both young women discover the depth of God’s love and the mysteries of his divine plan.

* * *

I’m not a poetry person. When I was younger, I tried my hand at writing some poems because I wanted to be a writer. I started off with the poems with correct syllables and enough rhymes, and then I graduated to free verse poems which didn’t have the same poetic tone that other poems I read do. When I got to college and joined our literary folio, I
decided that I am not a poet, and while I appreciate some poems every now and then, I would really rather read prose.

I can’t really remember why I joined the Goodreads contest for A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes. I think I was too excited to join giveaways then, and I was just clicking on “enter” whenever I see it’s a genre or an author or even a publisher I’d like. I’m not always lucky with giveaways, so color me surprised when I found out I won this book. I got kind of hesitant when I found out that this was a novel in verse, but a free book is still a free book. Of course, the book was sent to my dad (and it kind of took forever to get there), and I wasn’t able to get it until he stopped over in the country last weekend before heading to China for a company event.

A Girl Named Mister is a novel in verse about a 14-year-old girl named Mary Rudine, nicknamed “Mister” for her initials. She’s your typical Christian teenager who grew up in church: she’s a part of the choir, her best friends were from church and she believes in preserving her purity for marriage. Then she meets Trey, whose beautiful eyelashes captured her heart and eventually everything she has. As Mister struggles with her secret guilt and its seed, another Mary’s story plays out. This teenage Mary has always been a good Jewish girl, and she was soon to be wed to Joseph. When an angel appears before her and tells her she would be a virgin mother, her world is turned upside down (and it’s not just because she would need to find baby clothes). Mister finds solace in this Mary, and as she gets to know more about her namesake, she finds out just how deep God’s love and how big God’s plans can be.

I breezed through this book in a night. Being written in verse, it was a quick and easy read, almost like I was reading some kind of Psalm. However, the issues it tackled weren’t really easy. The story is as real as it can be, and I know it is happening to other teenage girls everywhere in the world. The good thing about this novel is how the author juxtaposed Mister’s story with Mary’s story. It was kind of hard to fathom at first how Mister, who bore the weight of her sin with her literally, could relate to Mary the mother of Jesus,  whose pregnancy was divinely ordained. I liked how the author showed that even if Mister sinned, He still had a purpose for her and she is not a lost cause. It’s easy to put God in a box and think that He cannot do anything about us when we do something bad. But as I’ve learned — not only in this book but in real life — His ways are higher than our ways, and He is bigger than whatever sin we can ever commit in this life. No matter how big the guilt is, His grace is still bigger and stronger and more powerful than that.

I also liked how real Mary came off in this book. It’s easy to think that Mary as this sweet, solemn-faced woman who followed God’s will without hesitation. In Nikki Grimes’ novel, we see Mary’s struggles as she accepted God’s will, as she told Joseph and her parentsabout the angel’s message and even her struggles as she carried Jesus in her womb. It’s always nice to realize that even if Mary was set apart by God to carry His son, she was also still very human. This book helped me see another side of Mama Mary. I thought the author got it spot on with this particular part:


I always thought
Mary had it easy,
her knowing all along
God was the one who
wrote her story.
Guess I was wrong.
Turns out she needed God
as bad as me. (p. 171)

A Girl Named Mister is a quick but not exactly an easy read. It made me cry and sigh, but in the end it made me smile as I, with Mister, realize the power of God’s forgiveness, the grace of second chances and the depth of His love. :) Highly recommended.

Rating: [rating=5]

Book trailer: I thought the book’s trailer was very creative and almost cinematic. :) Guess the part where I started tearing up again. ;)

[youtube 7EaFRS7vdIE]

Other reviews:
Handle Like Hendrix

The Dead-Tossed Waves (Carrie Ryan)

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth #2
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 404
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

* * *

The Unconsecrated make a comeback, but this time they are known as Mudo, and the story is told in the eyes of Gabry, Mary’s daughter. Gabry has lived a safe and sheltered life, behind the barriers of Vista, and she’d like to keep it that way. She lived with her mother at the light house, helping her mom decapitate Mudo whenever some of wash ashore from the incoming tide. She knew her mother was not a local, and she was stranger than what the other people in the village, but she was used to it, being that her mother was from The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Gabry wasn’t one to question anything in her life — as long as she’s safe and her family and friends are, too, she’s okay.

But one night, she tagged along with some of her friends and the boy she likes to go outside of the barrier — and it was the mistake that changed Gabry’s life forever. In an instant, she saw her friends turn into zombies, and the guy she loves, Catcher, runs away into the forest after having been bitten. Gabry manages to run back to the safety of her own home, but not without repercussions of her actions.

The Dead Tossed Waves is a different kind of zombie novel, at least, very different from its prequel. Gabry was very different from Mary — while Mary was headstrong and dreamed big, Gabry was contented with where she was. She was afraid almost half the time. Mary acted with a purpose, while Gabry acted more out of impulse, out of need. Gabry was reactive, doing things because she had to, not because she wanted to, at least up until the last part.

We also see a few characters from the previous novel and even visit Mary’s old village again. There are a lot of new additions in the world of the Unconsecrated/Mudo: a cult, Breakers, and Recruiters, and the Dark City, which I think we’ll see more of in the next book. We get a lot more answers in this book, too, although they weren’t that clear, it’s enough to give an idea why there were fenced villages and why Mary’s village was shut off on its own with the Sisterhood.

This book kept me reading and guessing almost all the time. Just when I thought things were over, it’s not. I hated the part when Gabry comes to realize her feelings but then the guy (I’m not revealing who :P) is suddenly pulled from her grasp. My jaw was hanging open at that time! There was an overall depressing tone in this book’s prequel and this one is a lot better in terms of delivering hope in such a dire situation. It made me root for the protagonists more, and hope that they will come out of this alive and they will all see each other again.

Overall, I liked this book. It has a lot more romance in it as compared to its predecessor, but it wasn’t cheesy or annoying unlike other novels. Gabry wasn’t the best protagonist ever, but she has a lot of room to grow, and I look forward to reading about it in the next book (if there is a next one). :D

Rating: [rating=3]