Chachic's Book Nook


Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I’m not a big fan of zombies in fiction so I wasn’t initially curious about it but then I started seeing positive reviews from several of the blogs that I follow. I decided to give it a try when I was able to borrow a copy from fellow Filipino book blogger Jason of Taking a Break. Thanks Jason!

Here’s the summary from Isaac Marion’s website:

R is a young man with an existential crisis – he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

A zombie love story? Pretty unusual, right? I normally think of zombies as gross but I wasn’t even worried about the ick factor because like I said, I kept hearing good things about this novel. I’m glad I picked it up because I really enjoyed Isaac Marion’s writing. I liked how introspective R is as a zombie. Even though he can’t even remember his name and he has a hard time articulating what he wants to say, there are so many complicated thoughts running in his brain. I was also pleasantly surprised at the humor that I found in the first few chapters of the book and I’m a fan of R’s friendship with fellow zombie, M. Considering how limited their speech is, R and M’s conversations still manage to be entertaining. Although I haven’t read that many zombie novels, I think it’s a different approach to be inside a zombie’s head and I feel like that’s something that sets this book apart from other zombie books out there.

Zombies are not usually the heroes of the story – they’re usually not capable of much thought and are meant to be killed off to move the story along. This book is different from the usual zombie lore because it deals with the remaining humanity of zombies. Sure, they’re dead and they physically differ from humans, but they still have feelings. In R’s case, he’s a zombie who doesn’t want to be one. He feels the zombie hunger for human flesh and brains but he doesn’t relish the feeling. And I think he welcomes the change in himself when he consumes a teenage guy’s brain and develops a connection with the guy’s girlfriend, Julie. He suddenly feels the need to protect Julie instead of eat her and that’s how a very unusual friendship starts. Readers get both points of view – from the zombies trapped in their existence to the humans struggling to survive in a world populated by creatures bent on devouring them. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that both parties aren’t happy with the current situation and both Julie and R try to find a way to change things. I think I mostly enjoyed this novel because of R’s character and how unexpectedly profound his thoughts were for a zombie. I recommend this one to fans of zombie novels or dystopian fiction. Or actually I think this is one zombie novel that can be recommended for non-zombie fans like me.

Other reviews:
Taking a Break
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers


Flat-out Love by Jessica Park

I saw my friend Flannery of The Readventurer reading Flat-out Love on Goodreads and I was intrigued by the premise. I asked her what she thought of the first few chapters and this is what she said, “I’m liking it a ton. If it keeps up like this, I will be reccing it to all of you. It’s contemporary YA with a sense of humor.” So I’m glad author Jessica Park gave me an electronic copy for review and I read the book as soon as I could.

Here’s the summary from the book’s official site:

When Julie’s off-campus housing falls through, her mother’s old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side … and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there’s that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That’s because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie’s suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that… well… doesn’t quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

The cover is an original artwork by Robyn Hyzy and I think it looks great, all bright and happy. I was hoping that the cover would reflect the contents of the book and I wasn’t disappointed. It was so easy to read Flat-out Love because there’s enough banter between the characters to keep things funny. I read this on my Kindle and there were several hilarious scenes that left me smiling, I’m sure the people around me found it weird that I was amused by a reading device. I really liked that the main character, Julie, is in college because we really need more New Adult or older YA books. I could definitely relate to Julie and everything that she felt about college – how she was excited to start learning new things, how she looked forward to meeting like-minded people and how she was just generally happy about the whole experience. I loved my college years and I felt the same way Julie did. Aside from that, Julie is also deathly afraid of heights and I have the same fear! Well, I don’t have it as bad as Julie does. And I’ve always wanted to try skydiving. I’m jealous of my friends who have tried jumping out of a plane to free fall. The way skydiving was described in this book strengthened my resolve to give it a try, not in the Philippines though because I have a feeling the equipment here won’t be as trusty as what’s available in other countries.

I admit I guessed the family secret way before it was revealed but that doesn’t mean I didn’t savor the build-up. As Julie got to know the whole family – Erin and Roger, Finn, Matt and Celeste – I felt like there were enough clues in there to understand what happened to make them so unusual. I really enjoyed seeing Julie develop friendships with the siblings – from her online flirtations with Finn, her day-to-day hang out and study sessions with Matt to her tentative efforts to reach out to Celeste so the little girl can come out of her shell. I think these were the relationships that brought the novel to life. And the romance? It took time to form and is the opposite of instant love. I’m totally on board that kind of romance and character development. I also loved that social networking was such a big part of the novel, there were Facebook status messages all throughout the novel and Julie and Finn chatted on Facebook all the time. What I didn’t understand though was why Julie hated Twitter. Oy Julie, Twitter is awesome, it lets me communicate with fellow book bloggers AND authors. AUTHORS! Who are rock stars in my world. I highly recommend this one to readers looking for older than usual contemporary YA characters.

Celeste carries around a cardboard cutout of her oldest brother and calls it Flat Finn. Like I mentioned, I only read an ebook version of this book and I didn’t have an actual copy. So I thought it would be a good idea to create a Flat Flat-out Love (FoL). Check out the pictures:

Flat FoL with other contemporary reads, YA on the left and adult on the right.

A nod to the painted design of the cover.

Flat FoL with Facebook as its background.

Other reviews:
The Reading Date
Book Labyrinth
A Book and a Latte


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I remember buying my beautiful copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret when I was in the States for a vacation back in 2009. I got the gift edition for just $11 (yay bargain!) and I haven’t gotten around to reading it until this year because of the huge TBR pile. I finally got to pick it up for a read along with my friend Capillya of the fabulous That Cover Girl and fellow Filipino book blogger Aldrin of Fully Booked .Me.

Here’s the summary from the book’s official site:

ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come together… in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

If you’ve seen an actual copy of this book then you know that it’s quite a doorstopper. But don’t be daunted by the book’s size because it’s actually a quick and fun read with all of the illustrations and black and white pictures interwoven into the story. I only read the book at home, I couldn’t carry it around with me because it was so heavy and I was surprised at how quickly I went through it (didn’t beat Capillya’s record though, she read it in one sitting). I wanted to take pictures of all my favorite scenes in the book but I restrained myself since I couldn’t post all of them anyway. Hugo is a twelve-year-old orphan living in an apartment inside the walls of a train station in Paris. Isn’t it cool that there are apartments IN the walls of the train station? Pretty nifty. His uncle has disappeared and he has no choice but to take over his uncle’s duties as the station’s clock keeper. Hugo does this in secret though because he’s afraid that he’ll be sent to prison or to an orphanage when authorities discover that he’s living on his own. He can’t let that happen because he’s working on a little project. Want to know what that sekrit project is? Then go read the book! Sorry, I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but you find out early on what Hugo’s secret is.

I sympathized with Hugo because he’s obviously smart and has awesome skills when it comes to fixing mechanical devices and yet he was so alone. Poor Hugo. He felt like he couldn’t depend on anyone else so he relied on his own skills (as a sneaky thief) to keep him fed. I think I’ve already established my fondness for thieves in fiction here on the blog. His thieving ways lead him to and old man who owns a toy booth at the station and the old man’s god-daughter. When I think about it, nothing spectacular or unexpected happens in the book but I had so much fun following the story through both pictures and words that I didn’t really mind. Brian Selznick has a unique storytelling method, his artwork tells as much of the story as the text. While I’m not a huge movie buff, I did enjoy learning about the details of the first few films and how they were developed. Now all I have to do is look for these old films so I can watch them. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is one of those books that I can recommend regardless of a person’s preferred genres. It’s a middle grade novel but told in such an unusual format that is really worth checking out. This is the kind of book that you can read even when you’re in the middle of a reading slump because it’s so easy to fall into. I’m looking forward to watching the movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, when it comes out later this year and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be just as enjoyable as the book.

Other reviews:
Fully Booked .Me
The Book Smugglers
Random Musings of a Bibliophile


Retro Friday: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I can’t believe I’ve never featured Kristin Cashore’s books here on the blog. She only has two books out, Graceling and Fire, but she’s already on my list of auto-buy authors because both books are awesome. I think I never reviewed her books because I felt that they got enough attention from the blogosphere. But I’m determined to write reviews for all the books included in my list of favorites so here we go.

Here’s the summary from Kristin Cashore’s website:

Graceling is the story of Katsa, who has been able to kill people with her bare hands since she was eight. Katsa lives in the seven kingdoms, where very occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace. Gracelings are feared and exploited in the seven kingdoms, and none moreso than Katsa, who’s expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle, King Randa. But then she meets a mysterious stranger named Po, who is also a Graced fighter and the first person ever to challenge her in a fight. The two form a bond, and each discovers truths they never imagined about themselves, each other, and a terrible danger that is spreading slowly through the seven kingdoms.

Graceling was published back in 2008, a few years before I started the blog and I remember I got the recommendation for it from Sounis. I was so excited to read it but it wasn’t initially available in local bookstores so I asked a friend to get a copy for me from the States and I’m glad she said yes. Graceling became one of my favorite discoveries that year. Gracelings are humans who have a highly specialized skilled called a Grace. Graces come in all forms – it can be as simple as being Graced as a cook to as unusual as Katsa’s Grace of fighting. All Gracelings have mismatched eyes – Katsa has one green eye and one blue. That’s the only way they know a child is a Graceling, through his or her eyes and they never know what the Grace is until it manifests itself in some way. Katsa discovers her Grace when she accidentally kills a man when she was just a young girl.

Katsa is the kind of YA fantasy heroine that I enjoy reading about. Strong female protagonists for the win! Katsa’s physically strong, she could probably kill using just her pinky, but she’s also an emotionally complex character. She reminds me of characters in books by Robin McKinley, Sherwood Smith and Tamora Pierce. If you’re a fan of those three authors and you’ve never read this book then I highly suggest that you get a copy as soon as you can. Katsa’s uncle, King Randa, takes advantage of her fighting skills by employing her as his own personal thug. At the start of the book, Katsa really believes that she’s nothing more than a thug even though she hates doing her uncle’s dirty work. She doesn’t believe she’s capable of building relationships so she keeps people at arm’s length. As she learns more about herself and her Grace, Katsa also starts to trust other people. I was totally on board the romance as well, I didn’t think it was instant love and I liked that they were friends first before they were romantically involved.

I remember that Graceling was pretty hyped the year that it came out. I had high expectations after all the trouble that I went through to get a copy and I wasn’t disappointed. Graceling has everything that I look for in my YA fantasy reads: a unique world that I can get lost in, a court setting with political intrigue, characters who change and develop throughout the course of the book and relationships that take time to form. Writing this review has reminded me that I should read more epic fantasy, I think I’ve been reading more contemporary novels this year. Fire is also an amazing book but in a different way and I’m planning to write a review for that as well. I seriously cannot wait for Bitterblue to be published, I’m going to pre-order that as soon as there’s a release date.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
By Singing Light
One More Page
Good Books and Good Wine


The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

I’ve had my copy of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle since 2007 and when I noticed that the edges are starting to turn yellow, I decided that it’s high time I read it. This is a fantasy classic that’s a popular favorite. I can’t even remember where I got the original recommendation for it. And no, I haven’t watched the movie. I didn’t even know there was a movie until I started reading the book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea-foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.

The unicorn discovers that she is the last unicorn in the world, and sets off to find the others. She meets Schmendrick the Magician – whose magic seldom works, and never as he intended – when he rescues her from Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, where only some of the mythical beasts displayed are illusions. They are joined by Molly Grue, who believes in legends despite her experiences with a Robin Hood wannabe and his unmerry men. Ahead wait King Haggard and his Red Bull, who banished unicorns from the land.

The unicorn doesn’t usually care for humans but one day, she overhears two men talking and realizes that she might be the last unicorn in the world. She decides to leave her lilac wood to find out what happened with the rest of her kind. She’s aided in her quest by friends she meets along the way – Schmendrick the Magician and Molly Grue. This book made me realize that I should read more novels with unicorns in them. I don’t think I’ve read any other novel that has a unicorn as a main character? I’m kind of sad that I didn’t read this book sooner because I feel like this is the kind of book that I would have fallen in love with when I was in my early teens. The story started out a bit slow for me but quickly picked up once the unicorn faced the Red Bull, sorry for being vague, I don’t want to give away spoilers. I was also able to appreciate Peter S. Beagle’s writing, it’s lyrical without being too heavy. Does that makes sense? I feel like his writing is perfect for this kind of story – one that has elements of magic and a fairy tale-feel to it. And it’s not the usual kind of fairy tale either. Here’s a sample of the writing:

“The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch’s door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.”

Doesn’t that make you curious about this book? I can see why The Last Unicorn is a favorite of so many readers. I’m surprised by how much I liked it considering that I normally go for epic fantasy with strong female protagonists although the unicorn IS female and she can be considered a strong character in her own quiet way. I also liked the secondary characters in this book – Schmendrick, Molly and Prince Lir. Each had his or her own quest and I was rooting for them to find the things that they’re searching for. If you haven’t heard of this book and you enjoy reading fantasy, you should definitely grab a copy as soon as you can. It’s a story filled with magic, warmth and truths about what it means to be an immortal magical being as opposed to being human. For a book that’s been out for a while, it doesn’t have that many reviews in the blogosphere. I should read Peter S. Beagle’s other books. I’ve noticed that I mostly read novels by female authors and while I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it would be a good idea to add more males into the mix. So let me know what are your favorites out of Peter S. Beagle’s backlist and I’ll try to check them out.

Other reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine
Belle’s Bookshelf


The Mark of Solomon by Elizabeth E. Wein

I think we’ve safely established that I’m a book pusher and there’s nothing I enjoy promoting more than under-the-radar books. I am constantly amazed that so many excellent books don’t get the attention that they deserve. I reviewed The Sunbird by Elizabeth E. Wein last year, hoping that more people would read her books but I haven’t been that successful because I haven’t seen reviews of that book in the past year. Also, it makes me sad that The Sunbird is now out of print. So now I feel like I need to talk about The Mark of Solomon, the duology that comes after The Sunbird, because the blogosphere seriously needs to show more Elizabeth E. Wein love.

Here’s the summary for The Lion Hunter, the first book in The Mark of Solomon duology, from the author’s website:

It is the sixth century in Aksum, Africa. Twelve-year-old Telemakos — the half Ethiopian grandson of Artos, King of Britain — is still recovering from his ordeal as a government spy in the far desert. But not all those traitors have been accounted for. Before Telemakos is fully himself again, tragedy and menace strike; for his own safety he finds himself sent, with his young sister, Athena, to live with Abreha, the ruler of Himyar — a longtime enemy of the Aksumites, now perhaps a friend. Telemakos’s aunt Goewin, Artos’s daughter, warns him that Abreha is dangerous, a man to watch carefully. Telemakos promises he will be mindful — but he does not realize that Goewin’s warnings will place him in more danger than he ever imagined.

I’ve already dubbed Telemakos as Gen-in-Africa so that should serve as enough encouragement for all Megan Whalen Turner fans out there. I originally found out about these books from Sounis, back when I didn’t have a blog and I got most of my recommendations from that community. If you have no idea what I’m talking about (shame on you!), Gen is the main character in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner and he’s all kinds of awesome. Telemakos is young but he’s wise beyond his years. His upbringing as a half-British, half-Aksumite noble and his innate curiosity has landed him right smack in the middle of political intrigue involving several countries. I find it ironic that he has such a striking physical appearance – cinnamon-colored skin, bright blue eyes and pale hair – and yet he excels in subtlety. A line from page 11 reads: “Oh, the wealth of intrigue you heard when no one imagined you were listening.”

Elizabeth E. Wein is not afraid of letting her characters suffer and even though I’ve known from the start that Telemakos is as brave as they come, my heart goes out to him whenever something terrible happens. *huggles Telemakos* He also kept surprising me with how intelligent his strategies were. Sorry for being vague but he kept being thrown into situations where he had to make the most out of his wits if he wanted to keep himself and everyone he cares for out of harm. Also, the secondary characters in these books? They’re all so smart and complex and they keep readers guessing. You never know who’s really trustworthy. Which also paves the way for complicated relationships between the characters. I love that you can feel the love and respect that the characters have for each other but their interactions are never simple.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom should be read together because the first book ends on a major cliffhanger. I heard that they’re actually just one book that was split by the publisher, I have no idea why. The Sunbird is the first book about Telemakos and The Mark of Solomon duology continues with his journey. They’re historical fiction books set in Aksum (ancient Ethiopia), Africa but there’s a hint of Arthurian legend in them as well. Telemakos is actually the son of Medraut (Mordred) and the grandson of Artos (Arthur). So if you’re a fan of historical fiction or Arthurian tales or you just want to read books with excellent worldbuilding, multi-faceted characters and plots riddled with conspiracies then you should pick these up as soon as you can. And spread the word about them when you’re done reading.

Other reviews:
Blogging for a Good Book
By Singing Light
Sherwood Smith


Pink by Lili Wilkinson

I’ve been neglecting the Aussie YA Challenge the past few months because I still have the rest of the year to finish it and I only need two more books. But when my good friend Celina offered to let me borrow her copy of Pink by Lili Wilkinson, I decided to go ahead and read it. I’ve been hearing good things about this book. Also, that’s one less book for me to buy. Thanks again, Celina, for lending your copy. :)

Here’s the summary from Lili Wilkinson’s website:

Ava Simpson is trying on a whole new image. Stripping the black dye from her hair, she heads off to the Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence, leaving her uber-cool girlfriend, Chloe, behind.

Ava is quickly taken under the wing of perky, popular Alexis who insists that: a) she’s a perfect match for handsome Ethan; and b) she absolutely must audition for the school musical.

But while she’s busy trying to fit in — with Chloe, with Alexis and her Pastel friends, even with the misfits in the stage crew — Ava fails to notice that her shiny reinvented life is far more fragile than she imagined.

Pink is a delightful, contemporary Aussie read. It’s all about how the main character, Ava, is confused about a lot of things in her life. She thinks her girlfriend Chloe is awesome and she feels lucky to be in a relationship but she also wants to explore and discover other things about herself. She’s tired of always wearing black and trying not to care about school because that’s what Chloe wants. So she transfers to Billy Hughes so she can wear pink, act all girly and maybe even date a guy. Ava just didn’t realize that things aren’t so simple. It’s hard to form friendships when she’s hiding so much about herself. She doesn’t even know when she’s just pretending and when she’s being real. I think Pink’s storyline is something that most teenagers will be able to relate to. I can remember being confused about so many things in my life back when I was that age so I could definitely understand where Ava is coming from. As Ava finds out for herself, it takes time for things to fall into place. You can’t just magically be somebody else even when you transfer schools.

As with most novels set in high school, the characters are divided into the popular and unpopular groups – in this case, the actors vs. the stage crew. I’ve always liked theater settings in novels because there’s so much that happens in preparation for a play or a musical (and also because I like watching theater productions in real life). The characters get to bond over rehearsals or while building sets. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Aussie YA rocks. Why can’t Filipino YA be the same? :P Pink is funny and very easy to read. Ava is one smart girl but some of the things that she gets herself into are hilarious. I felt embarrassed for her several times. But I was always rooting for her, I wanted her to make sense of everything that was confusing in her life. Ava makes mistakes along the way but that’s part of growing up. I think she did the best that she could and that’s all that we can ever ask of anyone. I recommend this for fans of contemporary fiction and international readers should take advantage of the fact that this has been printed in the US so it’s more accessible than other Aussie titles. I’m already looking forward to reading Lili Wilkinson’s A Pocketful of Things.

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads
My Girl Friday
The Readventurer


Saving June by Hannah Harrington

For some reason, Saving June by Hannah Harrington was released early in Australia. I’ve seen raving reviews from those who have been lucky enough to get copies of the book and that persuaded me to read it as soon as I can. The ebook can be purchased from Angus & Robertson and Borders Australia. If you want a physical copy, you can order it from Fishpond. Also, Harlequin Teen said on Twitter that Saving June will be available on NetGalley in August.

Harper Scott knows she can never measure up to her perfect, older sister June, so she’s never tried. In fact, she’s done her best to be the opposite – lukewarm grades, detention as often as she can manage it, basically be the rebel daughter. She’s as surprised as everyone when June commits suicide a week before graduation, leaving behind a mess that no one can figure out. When her divorced parents decide to split June’s ashes, Harper takes matters into her own hands and embarks on a road trip to California with her best friend Laney and Jake Tolan, a guy who claims to be June’s friend. June always yearned to go to California and Harper thinks it’s the perfect place to scatter the ashes.

Ah this book, this beautiful book. It deserves all the hype that it’s been getting, I can’t even stop thinking about it. Right off the bat, I empathized with Harper, with all her pain and confusion and anger – not knowing how to handle living in a world without her big sister to take care of things. The road trip that she plans with her best friend is the perfect way for her to cope and ease that feeling of being suffocated. She doesn’t understand why Jake wants to go with them though. Mysterious, classic rock-loving Jake with the piercing green eyes – one moment a douchebag and a knight in shining armor the next. He has his own reasons for being that way and it didn’t diminish his appeal in my eyes. I’d love to meet someone like him in person – someone passionate about music who provides anecdotes each time an unfamiliar song plays, who believes that a proper mix CD should have a story to tell just like a book. Harper, armed with her Polaroid, Laney, with her enthusiasm and friendliness and Jake, with his music are the perfect combination for a memorable road trip.

Saving June has everything that I look for in my contemporary reads: believable characters with realistic problems, amazing friends, romance that takes time to form (as opposed to instant love). Some scenes had me smiling and chuckling at the situations Harper, Laney and Jake get into while other scenes had me tearing up and aching for all of them. I love how these three characters are fully fleshed out with their distinct personalities. This is the kind of book that stays with you even after you finish reading it, the kind that makes you want listen to all of the songs mentioned in it. Saving June is about grief and loss but also about life, hope and love. It has earned a spot in my favorites and will definitely be included in my best of 2011. The premise reminded me of The Sky is Everywhere and Sharing Sam while the slow build up of the romance felt similar to Going Too Far. So if you’re a fan of those three books, make sure to read this one. I will be on the lookout for Hannah Harrington’s other novels.

And because I love so many lines from the book, I can’t help but quote Jake:

It’s just nice, I guess. Knowing that someone else can put into words what I feel. That there are people who have been through things worse than I have, and they come out on the other side okay. Not only that, but they made some kind of twisted, fucked-up sense of the completely senseless. They made it mean something. These songs tell me I’m not alone. If you look at it at that way, music… music can see you through anything.

I’m not as passionate about music as Jake is but I agree with what he said, more so if you replace “music” with “books”. Yeah, books can see you through anything.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Irresistible Reads


Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

I’m usually not a fan of short stories. I don’t know why but I never get to finish the anthologies that I buy. Since I wanted to give Laini Taylor’s writing a try, I decided to pick up Lips Touch: Three Times. I was also curious because I’ve heard such good things about this book from both Holly of Book Harbinger and Kristen of Fantasy Cafe and I know they have excellent taste when it comes to fantasy books.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

A girl who’s always been in the shadows finds herself pursued by the unbelievably attractive new boy at school, who may or may not be the death of her. Another girl grows up mute because of a curse placed on her by a vindictive spirit, and later must decide whether to utter her first words to the boy she loves and risk killing everyone who hears her if the curse is real. And a third girl discovers that the real reason for her transient life with her mother has to do with belonging — literally belonging — to another world entirely, full of dreaded creatures who can transform into animals, and whose queen keeps little girls as personal pets until they grow to childbearing age.

Lips Touch contains three short stories – Goblin Fruit, Spicy Little Curses Such as These and Hatchling – set in different worlds. The common theme in these stories is that they’re all about kisses. Each story has its own set of lovely artwork done by Jim di Bartolo. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while now so I sneaked in some reading time in the bookstore and by the time I finished reading the first two stories, I decided that I’d love to own a copy. I was planning to wait for the paperback to be released because it would be cheaper but was worried that it wouldn’t include the artwork so I went ahead and got the hardcover instead. I’m not regretting the decision because I ended up loving it. Laini Taylor’s writing is lush and lyrical, exactly what I look for in my fantasy reads and her husband’s illustrations are the perfect enhancement to these stories.

To keep this review concise, I’m not going to comment on each story but instead share what I think about the book as a whole. I’m a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed reading these stories because the writing is a bit darker and grittier than my usual favorites. The more disturbing aspects of the stories were balanced out by the positive things like love and hope so I never had a problem with them. Also, I’m usually not a fan of YA urban fantasy but these stories had a fairy tale feel to them than I don’t even know if I can classify them as such. It was easy to fall into the atmospheric writing. I’m amazed at how much the author was able to accomplish in terms of worldbuilding considering that these are short stories with limited word count and not full-length novels. I felt like they were just the right length and didn’t feel that they were rushed. My favorite out of the three is Hatchling and I certainly wouldn’t mind reading more about that world. I hear that she’s planning to come out with a book with the same setting, can’t wait to read that. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to track down the rest of Laini Taylor’s books because Lips Touch left me hungry for more of her writing. Lips Touch is a lovely book that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans out there. It certainly deserves to get more attention.

Since I included a sample of the illustrations found inside the book, I thought it would be fitting to quote the author as well. This is a non-spoilery tidbit from Goblin Fruit:

Kizzy wanted to be a woman who would dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy’s blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn’t possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer’s small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear an indigo veil against the stinging sand, just like the nomads.

Kizzy wanted.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Fantasy Cafe
Steph Su Reads
Presenting Lenore


Retro Friday: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

It’s no longer Friday here in Manila but what the heck, it’s still Friday in other parts of the world. I thought it would be fitting to feature Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes for Retro Friday since it’s a contemporary YA book that comes highly recommended by Angie of Angieville, who hosts this weekly meme. Aside from Angie’s review, the title and the premise made me curious and I didn’t hesitate in buying a copy when I discovered that it’s available in local bookstores.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When Sarah Byrnes was three years old, her condition became synonymous with her surname. Her face and hands were badly burned in a mysterious accident, and her father refused to allow reconstructive surgery. She developed a suit of cold, stainless steel armor to defend herself against the taunts of a world insensitive to her pain. You enter into Sarah Byrnes’s world on her terms, or you don’t enter.

Enter Eric Calhoune – Moby to his friends. Eric passed through his early years on a steady diet of Oreos and Twinkies and root beer floats, and he sports the girth to prove it. Because of their “terminal uglies,” he and Sarah Byrnes have become true masters in the art of underhanded revenge directed at anyone who dares to offend their sensibilities.

When Eric turns out for the high school swimming team, he begins to shed layers of extra poundage. Fearing the loss of the one friendship he treasures, he gorges to “stay fat for Sarah Byrnes,” who discovers his motive and threatens to beat him more senseless than she thinks he already is. Then the truth of Sarah Byrnes’s horrific past finally catches up with her.

Oh boy, was this book full of issues or what. I think all of the usual teenage problems today were featured in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. It’s the kind of book that you can give to any teenager and say, “Here, read this. Learn from it.” Don’t let that dubious cover fool you, the inside is so much better than the outside. This book has been out for a while and I don’t know why they haven’t come out with a better cover for it. Eric and his friend Sarah Byrnes (she insists on people using her full name) are very smart and intriguing characters.

I thought it was great that Eric’s swim coach, Mrs. Lemry, has a class called Contemporary American Thought and that it encourages students to dig deep inside and discuss the things that really matter in life. Their discussions revolved around religion, the value of life and anything else that seemed relevant to member of the class. Not the usual thing when it comes to contemporary YA books, right? What’s amazing about this class is that it doesn’t matter what the students believe in, there’s no right or wrong opinion, just as long as they share their thoughts. Teenagers can rarely have conversations like those with friends or family, which is a shame since I think that kind of thing is important. It would have been amazing if I had a class like that back in high school, I can say with all honesty that I would’ve loved discussing topics like those. I’m sure that this book would have made an impression on my teenage self if I read it back then.

I love romantic contemporary YA with swoon-worthy characters as much as the next girl. But when it feels like so many of the books that I read follow that formula, it’s refreshing to pick up a book with a different point of view: that of an intelligent teenage boy who has lived his life mostly on the sidelines. There is a bit of romance in the book but it really wasn’t the focus of the story. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to male friends and it definitely deserves to get more attention. I haven’t seen reviews of this in the blogosphere so please pick it up if you get the chance, more so if you’re a fan of contemporary YA novels. I was actually surprised when I found a copy locally because I thought it wasn’t readily available because of the lack of reviews.


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