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The Ivy Series by Sarina Bowen

I was chatting with my good friend Angie about books recently and she mentioned that the Ivy Series by Sarina Bowen is pretty good. Here’s the tweet where she recommends them:

Since this series has Angie’s stamp of approval, further evidenced by her glowing review of The Year We Hid Away, I read the books as soon as I could.

recommended by Angie

An image created by fellow YAcker Laura

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve tried ice skating (obviously it’s not common in sunny Manila or Singapore) and what I know of hockey is basically what I’ve seen on the Mighty Ducks movies when I was young. But I think it’s a fun sport, even if I’m not familiar with it, so that’s one aspect of the series that I enjoyed reading about. Another thing that I really liked was the fictional Ivy League college setting of the book. I loved my college years and it makes me happy to read about characters who are at that stage in their lives. So far, the only books that have a college setting that have made a positive impact on me are Easy by Tamarra Webber and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Now I can add Sarina Bowen’s books to that (short) list.

The Year We Fell Down and tea

The Year We Fell Down and TWG’s Grand Wedding tea

The Year We Fell Down

I started The Year We Fell Down late one night and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get into the story. I stayed up late and was able to read a good chunk of it, but had to eventually go to bed and get some sleep because I had work the next day. For a novel that has a main character who was recently in an accident, The Year We Fell Down didn’t have as much angst as I was expecting. I really liked Corey and sympathized with the situation she found herself in – to suddenly have lost the function of her legs is brutal for someone who has always wanted a career in sports. I feel like she handles her issues well in spite of all the difficult adjustments that she has to make in her life. At first, she mostly interacts with her roommate Dana and their neighbor Hartley, but eventually she starts exploring her options and expanding her circle. I really enjoyed reading about how she takes charge of her life. I liked the slow burn romance between Corey and Hartley and how it started with the two of them hanging out as friends. Hartley is a great guy but he has his own problems to deal with and I felt that it took a while for him to work through them. He was being quite dense for a while there. I also felt like the build-up of their relationship was much better than the final few chapters of the book. It’s still an enjoyable read overall but I think the other books in the series are stronger than this installment.

The Year We Hid Away

The Year We Hid Away

Oh boy! Bridger and Scarlet sure have some pretty serious problems in their lives and none of it is their fault. Both are caught in difficult situations because of their parents. Bridger and Scarlet are just doing the best that they can and taking things one day at a time. Bridger doesn’t even have room in his life for a relationship and he doesn’t plan to get involved with Scarlet but they just click and become friends anyway. It’s a very realistic college development: how they hang out during lunch, walk to classes together and study together. It’s funny that these two are both hockey players but they don’t even bond over the game because they both have their reasons for not joining the varsity team this season. That’s one thing that I wish we got to see more of, it would have been nice if they got to spend some time together on the ice. I’m glad we got to see more of Bridger than how he was shown in the first book, basically a player who parties hard. There’s really so much more to him than that and it’s amazing how he copes with everything that’s going on with his life. I really liked Scarlet and could understand her need to move away from her parents and get a fresh start in college. Bridger and Scarlet are pretty similar in the sense that they felt like they had to deal with their problems on their own, so I liked seeing them rely on each other as their relationship developed. I was hoping to see more of Hartley and Corey in this installment but Bridger was actively distancing himself from his friends because he didn’t want to burden them with his problems. But that’s a minor issue that I had with the book and I was fully absorbed from start to finish. I was happy with how things worked out towards the end.

Blonde Date and granola

Blonde Date and breakfast (granola with almond milk)

Blonde Date

Blonde Date is different from the rest of the books in the series because it’s a novella that occurs in between books 2 and 3 and has nothing to do with hockey. If you read The Year We Hid Away, you already know how Blonde Date will end. I enjoyed this quick read because it features secondary characters from the second book. Andy was such a nice guy and was a huge help to Bridger so I liked seeing him in the limelight. He really deserved to get a date with a girl he’s been crushing on. It was also nice to see that there was Katie had more depth than was initially depicted in the earlier book. Short and sweet, Blonde Date was a fun read that had its funny moments (e.g. Andy’s internal monologue).

The Understatement of the Year and green tea brioche

The Understatement of the Year and green tea brioche

The Understatement of the Year
Rikker and Graham! Oh my goodness, these two boys have such a bittersweet romance. So much history between the two of them. And then so much tension when they meet again a few years after they’ve parted ways. I wanted to hug these two and tell them that everything will be all right. I love that Sarina Bowen chose to do something different by bringing in an M/M romance in a series that has earlier M/F novels. I found it fascinating to read two different perspectives in this novel: Rikker who is openly gay vs. Graham who has hidden deep inside the closet. It’s funny that the situations they find themselves in are so different and yet they’re both so isolated and lonely. Rikker struggles with being accepted and recognized as a part of the hockey team and also has to deal with being a transfer student. Graham can’t even figure out whether he’s straight or gay and therefore, can’t really be true to himself, his friends or his family. He tries to numb himself with as much alcohol as he can take the moment Rikker enters the scene because he has no idea what to do. To be honest, there were moments when Graham was being frustratingly difficult but I forgive him because he has reasons for being like that and he really is sweet and loyal in his own way. I was a little nervous while reading their story because I really wanted things to work out for them. They’ve already had enough heartbreak in their lives and they deserve to have some happiness. I liked that the story didn’t just revolve around these two guys but also involved their teammates (Hartley was a steady presence in this one), their friends and their family. I loved Graham’s mom, Rikker’s grandma, their mutual friend Bella and even Rikker’s ex Skippy. It was a pleasure reading about Rikker and Graham and their story stayed with me days after I finished the book. A solid installment in a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

___________

These books are companion novels and can stand well enough on their own. Some characters overlap but I don’t think one book spoils any of the others. If anything, I wanted the books to be more closely tied together – to see all of the characters hang out and be good friends to each other because they all deserve to have trustworthy friends who will stand up for them. I feel like Sarina Bowen has a knack for writing about characters in messy situations, with more serious problems on top of the usual ones that a regular college student would have. I always root for her characters and I’m more than satisfied with how their problems are resolved. The Ivy Years is a really good series and I’ve been recommending it left and right, definitely one of my favorite discoveries this year. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, I heard it’s going to be about Bella, who was a pretty important character in The Understatement of the Year. Good to know she’ll be getting her own story!


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Filipino Friday 2014: Have you ever wanted to write a book?

filipinofriday

I thought it would be fun to participate in this week’s Filipino Friday. For those who don’t know, Filipino Friday is a weekly meme that started with the Filipino Book Bloggers, and has evolved into a yearly pre-Filipino ReaderCon tradition. Every Friday, a topic will be posted and all Filipino readers are encouraged to make their own post about it. I can’t attend the ReaderCon in Manila but I can join in this virtual meme. Here’s this week’s topic:

As a reader, have you ever thought about writing a book? What kind of books/stories do you want to write? Or are you now a published author, and what compelled you to go fulfil this dream? How was your journey from reader to writer? How did you go about getting your book out there?

No, I haven’t really considered writing a novel or a novella. I have some friends who have asked me the same question because they know that I have a book blog and I’m passionate about reading. But I just never felt driven to become an author. I mean, it’s hard enough to keep up with blog posts nowadays. I remember there was a time when writing reviews was easy but now that’s just a distant memory and I keep struggling with blogging. I think writing fiction would be even more difficult. I did write short stories and poems back in high school and college for my literary classes but that was extent of my journey into fiction writing.

I also feel like I would have high standards if I ever decide to write something. If I want to publish something, I would want it to be as well-written as some of my favorite novels. Otherwise, I don’t think it would be worth publishing. If I ever decide to write fiction, it would either be set in the Philippines or have Filipino characters if it’s contemporary. If it’s fantasy, I would want the mythology to be reminiscent of Filipino folklore or history. I know some authors were inspired to write books because what they wanted to read wasn’t available in the market and I think it would be great to have more Filipino fiction in the genres I read. Also, I’ve heard authors say that some of them write because there are plots/characters/stories in their minds that are just begging to be written. That’s not something that I’ve ever encountered, personally. I’m not saying it’s not going to happen because who knows what the future will bring but as of this moment, I’m not planning to become an author.

What about the rest of you, any plans of writing fiction? Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all have some fun weekend plans.


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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

There has been a lot of buzz about I’ll Give You the Sun in the book blogosphere. I’ve seen bloggers who received review copies of this, raving about the book. I read Jandy Nelson’s debut novel The Sky is Everywhere back in 2010 and I have fond memories of it even if I barely remember the details since it’s been so long. I’ve been looking forward to I’ll Give You the Sun and it made me happy that I had an added reason to bump it up when it got chosen for our book club discussion.

I'll Give You the Sun

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways… until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else — an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

I found I’ll Give You the Sun an absorbing read. It was easy to get into and kept me interested until the end. It reminded me of some of the Aussie YA contemps that I’ve loved because it has a similar feel and tone. It’s a novel filled with flawed characters who have experienced difficult situations, who are trying to live life one day at a time. Jude and Noah are teenage twins, both filled with a lot of artistic potential. Noah paints and draws the world as he sees it. Jude creates sand sculptures of women, and also designs and sews dresses, which she learned how to do from their grandmother. The narrative changes from Noah’s point of view when the siblings are 13 years old to Jude’s 16-year-old perspective. These two have such strong personalities and it was fun to read their narration. They’re super close at the start of the story but drift apart later on. I kept reading because I wanted to know the events that led to the emotional distance between two people who were previously inseparable. I also wanted to see them heal their brokenness together. This leads me to one point that kept me from truly loving the book. I felt like there was a lot of grief, hurt and pain in I’ll Give You the Sun and yes, there was also hope, forgiveness and healing but I don’t think there was enough to create a balance. Maybe it would have been better if the ending was extended a bit? I don’t know if that would have worked but I just felt like I wanted more from the story. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading I’ll Give You the Sun. There’s a lot to like in this book – such as the complex relationships between family members, the slow burn romance, the quirky narration and all the descriptions of art. I think most readers of contemporary YA would enjoy reading this. I will definitely be watching out for Jandy Nelson’s next book.


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Top Ten Places I Want to Visit Because of Books

Top Ten Tuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I really like this week’s topic! I love novels that have a strong sense of place because it feels like I get to travel with the characters when the setting is so vivid. I love traveling and exploring new places but I don’t get to experience it as often as I’d like because I’m not a millionaire. Some of the places that I want to visit because of books I’ve read are:

Greece – I’ve been wanting to visit Greece ever since I fell in love with the Greek mythology stories that I used to read back in high school. Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is set in a fictional place reminiscent of Greece and because it’s one of my absolute favorite series, it made me want to visit Greece even more. Photo from Megan Whalen Turner’s Tumblr:

MWT - Greece pic from tumblr

Eddis’s secret temple. (The Erechtheion’s other porch.)

France – Laura Florand sure knows how to describe a place well. Her Amour et Chocolat series made me want to visit Paris and I’m very grateful that I was able to do so. I still want to visit Grasse and the surrounding areas (Nice, Cannes) because of her La Vie en Roses series. I would love to visit perfume manufacturers to make my own personalized perfume. And to see lavender and rose fields in person. Photo taken by Laura Florand and shared for Amour et Florand:

Exploring the streets of the towns around Grasse leads here, in Cagnes (Haut de Cagnes), France.

Exploring the streets of the towns around Grasse leads here, in Cagnes (Haut de Cagnes), France.

 

Australia – ALL of the wonderful Aussie YA novels that I’ve read have made me want to visit Australia. I feel like there’s something in their water that enables their authors to write such amazing books. Some of the Aussie books that I’ve loved are written by Melina Marchetta, Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Vikki Wakefield, Kirsty Eagar and Andrea K. Host. Video of Melina Marchetta and Kirsty Eagar hanging out in Sydney, shared for Marchetta Madness back in 2012:

 

Prague, Czech Republic – So many friends who have visited Europe keep saying that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I loved reading about Prague in Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which had such an atmospheric setting. This reminds me that I’ve yet to read the sequels to that book.

Ireland – Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series is my favorite when it comes to historical fantasy. The books are set in an ancient version of Ireland with the added benefit of having magic. The setting is such an important part of the story and it’s described so well that it makes me want to visit the modern, non-magical version of that world.

New York, USA – In Truly by Ruthie Knox, May hates New York at the start of the novel so it becomes Ben’s mission to show her around the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. I love that Ben tries to convince May to like New York by bringing her to restaurants that serve delectable dishes. I would love to try all the delicious food that was featured in that book! Also, New York always seems like a good idea because of Broadway. Musicals galore!

Russia – I loved how Russia was described in A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson and Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, two of my favorite books. It seems like a country rich in culture and filled with beautiful sights. Plus I have a Russian co-worker who constantly talks about his homeland and everything he says just encourages me to visit the country. Also, I’ve tried Russian food and it’s delicious.

Scotland –  I was born and raised in the Philippines so beaches for me have always meant tropical beaches. So I would be very eager to see a different kind of beach like the one described in The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley: harsh and cold but it has its own beauty. Scotland was also described with fondness in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is another reason why I want to visit the country. Also, EWein lives there! I would love to meet her in person.

World of Harry Potter – It’s not very common for a series that you love to have a theme park dedicated to it. So of course, I would love to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter either in Florida or in Japan. I’m super jealous of friends who have been to those places! I’m pretty sure I’ll have a great time if I ever get to visit either of those theme parks and I would probably be tempted to buy a lot of souvenirs.

New Zealand – I would love to visit the sets created for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Who wouldn’t want to visit The Shire? I’ve always felt like a hobbit because I’m tiny (I’m five feet flat) and I like having several meals a day.

What about you, what are the places that you’ve read about that you want to visit?


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When reading trumps blogging

"There's always time to read." A snippet from The Winter Sea

“There’s always time to read.” A snippet from The Winter Sea

I apologize for the silence on the blog lately. I feel like I should put up a sign saying, “Do Not Disturb. Busy Reading Books” or something like that. It’s not that I don’t want to blog, it’s just that I would much rather read. Some of the books that have kept me occupied the past few days (weeks?) are:

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

I would really like to review all of these but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. I’ve learned not to put pressure on myself when it comes to blog-related stuff. I’m just thankful that I haven’t experienced a reading slump in ages and that good books have been distracting me lately. If anyone is curious about what I’ve been up to, I keep Goodreads fairly updated on what I’m reading. I also update Instagram quite regularly but most of it is random stuff that I’m doing and not always book-related.

Anyway, just wanted to drop by and say hi to everyone. What has been keeping you all busy recently? Have you guys read some good books that you think I should check out?


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Blogger Meet Up: Liyana of Liyaland

Liyana Meet Up

Liyana of LiyanaLand is a Singaporean book blogger. I met her online when I moved to Singapore about two years ago. We’ve been trying to set up a face to face meeting for a while but our schedules don’t always align. Last Thursday, we finally got to meet when she set up an impromptu dinner. Turns out we both like this Aussie accessories store called Lovisa so we spent some time browsing there before heading off for dinner. We both ended up buying stuff because they were on sale! We decided to have dinner at Fish and Co. and ordered mussels with garlic butter sauce, fried calamari and the New York fish and chips (with parmesan stuffed inside).

Liyana meet up - Fish and Co

The food was yummy and we talked about so many things! Such as reading, book blogging, bookstores, authors jobs, Singaporean culture, the literary scene in Singapore vs. Manila, travel, food, hamsters (Liyana has 30 of them), etc. Really anything and everything that popped into our minds. It was a lot of fun to hang out with Liyana because I feel like we have a lot of things in common so we didn’t run out of things to talk about. I’m sorry that I’m not able to provide a detailed recap of all the topics we discussed. We spent several hours together – from browsing in Lovisa, dinner at Fish and Co. and then lining up for frozen yogurt at Llao Llao. It was a lovely way to spend a Thursday evening and we’ve already promised each other that we would do it again soon. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another two years to see each other again!

Liyana meet up - Llao Llao

Previous meet ups with other bloggers:
Alexa of Alexa Loves Books
Steph and Tarie
Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous
Michelle of See Michelle Read


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How often do you reread?

Son of the Shadows Kindle

I just started rereading one of my favorite fantasy novels, Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier. I decided to reread it because my good friend Maggie started the Sevenwaters series recently and has been raving about the books. It reminded me of how beautiful Marillier’s writing is and I wanted to experience it again. Also, I haven’t reread any of the Sevenwaters novels since I first discovered the series back in 2010. This got me thinking about how seldom I get reread books. I always feel like I want to read ALL THE BOOKS and that I don’t have enough time to read all of the titles in my TBR pile. There’s just something about the potential of discovering a new book to love that draws me in, so I have this tendency of picking up a new book instead of revisiting an old favorite. This is why I don’t get to reread favorite titles even though there are times when I really want to. Another reason that prevents me from rereading is that most of the books that I’ve loved have been reviewed on my blog and when I reread, I wouldn’t have anything new to write about. Although that’s not such a major issue since I don’t want to pressure myself when it comes to blogging.

I’ve been better about rereading books this year because of the no pressure policy. Some of the books that I’ve reread are:

Silent Blade and Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews
Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore (for YAckers discussions)
The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand (influenced by Amour et Florand)
A Rose in Winter by Laura Florand
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

I know that still doesn’t seem like  a lot but it’s better than nothing. Some of the titles I want to reread if I find the time for them:

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
The Touchstone trilogy by Andrea K. Host
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Something About You by Julie James and maybe some of the other books in her FBI series
The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, but I’m planning to reread this when the release date of the next book has been announced
Pegasus by Robin McKinley, but closer to the release date of the sequel
The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, in preparation for the next book
The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, in preparation for Clariel

Let’s see if I get to reread any of these titles. I know some people have traditions of rereading certain favorites every year so I’m curious about what the rest of you have to say about your rereading habits. Do you allocate time for it? Are there books that are part of a series that you reread right before the latest installment is released? Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough time to read/reread?

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