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Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge: Giant Days

graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream

Image designed by my friend Kim of Dreaming of Espresso. Thanks for letting me use it!

Giant DaysThe only book challenge that I signed up for this year is the 2016 Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge, and I went for the Modern Age level. This challenge is kicking my ass! I thought it would be totally manageable, and I was half-right because it hasn’t been difficult to read at least one graphic novel a month. I just haven’t been able to keep up with the reviewing part. But hey, last month’s review was a 3 volumes in 1 review type of thing so I think I’m still good.😛 Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman was supposedly my March graphic novel but I’m posting my review late, because this work week has been tiring and I wasn’t able to find time to sit down and work on a post.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of handwringing boys, “personal experimentation,” influenza, mystery mold, nuchauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of “academia,” they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive.

Giant Days, Vol. 1 was the book that I read during my birthday. I bought a copy of it earlier this year based on the recommendation of my good friend Maggie. I don’t think I’ve ever read a graphic novel with a college setting so I was curious when I found out about Giant Days. I was also drawn to the bright yellow cover and the illustration on it, showing a girl concentrating hard while she’s typing away on her phone. The art style seemed fitting for the storyline, and it reminded me a bit of some cartoons that I watched growing up. It had a young and fun vibe to it. Right off the bat, readers are introduced to Susan, Esther and Daisy. Three college girls who have totally different personalities but have become close friends in a short span of time. It was easy to sink my teeth into Giant Days and I found it an enjoyable read, but I couldn’t really say that I loved it. It was fun to get to know the girls and to see them supporting each other through their college-related adventures, but I wasn’t as invested in them as I would have liked to be. The length felt too short for me to get to know them enough. It would have been a stronger read for me if it had more character development. As it was, I felt that the storylines were spread a bit thinly to shine the spotlight on each of the girls. While it’s an interesting graphic novel, I’m a little undecided on whether I’d pick up the second volume due to be released sometime in April. I should probably read the rest of the graphic novels on my TBR pile before deciding to buy more.


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Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

I was introduced to Kirsty Eagar’s beautiful writing through Raw Blue, which I read and loved way back in 2011. Wowza, I didn’t know it’s been that long! I was pretty excited when I found out that she has a new book this year and with such a bright and fun cover too. I saw Aussie bloggers raving about Summer Skin, and I knew that I needed to have my own copy sooner rather than later. Thankfully, Book Depository now has stocks of some Aussie titles and I was able to order Summer Skin from their store. I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as my copy arrived. I was reminded of how good Aussie fiction is, and now I want to read ALL THE BOOKS.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Summer SkinJess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.

The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls.

The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold… and smart enough to keep up with Jess.

A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable?

It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Just your typical love story.

It was a good thing I started reading Summer Skin just as the weekend started because I was engrossed from start to finish. I stayed up way too late (or too early depending on your definition) on a Friday night to read it. I would have gobbled it up in one go if I didn’t have plans to go out with a friend. As it is, I devoured it as fast as I can. I’m going to try and be coherent in this review, but I basically just want to say, GO FORTH AND READ THIS BOOK. Summer Skin is the kind of book that makes me want to go back in time so I can give it to my teenage self. I think it would have changed my life back then. The Aussie college experience described in this is different from my own experience in the Philippines in a lot of ways, but strangely similar in certain aspects, especially in the emotions involved. Like the feeling of having more independence than you had in high school, without the responsibility that comes with being an adult in the workforce. And also trying to make sense of things but feeling clueless. I felt that Kirsty Eagar did an amazing job of describing the crazy roller coaster ride of college days, when the highs were so high and the lows were so low.

Jess intrigued me from the first scene. I thought she and her girlfriends were all awesome. I kept wanting to cheer them on, YOU GO GIRLS. The four of them have such distinct and varied personalities, and it was fun to see how they balanced each other out. I felt that they have just the right mix of flaws and strengths for teenage girls. They were far from perfect and they made mistakes, but they also tried to learn as much as they can from those mistakes. And they showed their strengths in ways that suited their personalities. They’re in that stage of their lives where they’re still trying to figure things out, and they’re starting to gain more awareness about themselves. It was helpful that all throughout that process, they have each others’ backs. It’s always a pleasure to read about strong female friendships because that’s always something that I would be able to relate to. I met some of the best friends that I have during college, and I can’t imagine life without them.

It’s obvious from the book’s summary that Summer Skin has romance in it, and I thought it was very well-written. I seriously could not get enough of Jess and Mitch! I loved all of their interactions, and I kept waiting for scenes that had the two of them together. I’m normally not a fan of drama in a romance but everything that Jess and Mitch went through felt necessary. They needed to experience all of it to grow and develop both individually and as a couple. I wouldn’t call their romance slow burn because sparks fly the moment they meet and they do act on it, but the depth in their relationship is earned the hard way. Also, I thought it was really cute that their family and friends were invested in their relationship. One of my favorite scenes was Jess and Mitch’s brother trying to get to know each other better. The adults in this novel were pretty great, they treated the younger characters with respect – giving advice whenever necessary but ultimately letting Jess and Mitch make their own choices.

As an aside, there’s a lot of music mentioned in the novel and while there isn’t a playlist found at the end, it can be found here. Summer Skin is the kind of book that you would hug to yourself after you turn the last page. I have a feeling I’d be sorely tempted to reread this sooner rather that later. Definitely one of my best reads in 2016, I’ve already started book pushing this to all my reader friends. Immensely readable, Summer Skin deserves to be read by anyone interested in realistic fiction about college experiences. I will be anxiously waiting for Kirsty Eagar’s next novel.


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Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge: The Wicked + The Divine

graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream

Image designed by my friend Kim of Dreaming of Espresso. Thanks for letting me use it!

The only book challenge that I signed up for this year is the 2016 Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge, and I went for the Modern Age level. This means I need to read and review at least one graphic novel per month. On the reading part, that’s definitely not too difficult to accomplish! The reviewing part is more difficult. I received Vol. 1 of The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie (Illustrations), Matt Wilson (Colorist), Clayton Cowles last Christmas and I bought the next two installments right after. I read all three volumes together so I’m consolidating mini reviews of them in this post.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

The Wicked + The Divine - The Faust Act The Wicked + The Divine - Fandemonium The Wicked + The Divine - Commercial Suicide

Vol. 1: The Faust Act – So many people were gushing about WicDiv and it kept being mentioned whenever I asked for graphic novel recommendations. I was excited to get started on Vol. 1 because I thought the concept for the series was brilliant. I was intrigued when I read the premise, and immediately wanted to find out more about these young men and women who turned into gods, and manifested their powers by performing concerts. They thrived on these performances, and the audience loved them. Kind of similar to how much influence rock stars and pop stars have in the real world, just a little bit more intense. I thought the artwork was gorgeous and reminded me a bit of Jem and the Holograms, one of my favorite animated shows when I was younger. Vol. 1 served as a quick introduction to the series, showing readers a wide range of characters. I enjoyed reading it but I was mostly confused by the time I reached the end. I felt like I couldn’t get a clear grasp of the storyline. Good thing I already had a copy of Vol. 2 with me so I could dive right in.

Vol. 2: Fandemonium – Vol. 2 continues with the story that Vol. 1 started and introduced a few more of the gods. I went through Vol. 2 pretty quickly because I wanted to understand what was going on. And yes, I did get some of the answers that I wanted but even more questions were raised. Just when I thought I would finally see everything come together, BAM! Something else happens that I can’t figure out. I know I’m being very vague here but I don’t want to accidentally mention any spoilers. Similar to how I felt when I finished Vol. 1, I wanted the next installment ASAP. I was lucky I started reading these just as Vol. 3 was released.

Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide – I was so glad Vol. 3 was readily available in Kinokuniya Singapore. I didn’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next. Going into Vol. 3, I had no clue that the illustrations would be different from the earlier two installments. Each chapter was illustrated by a different artist. While the idea may seem appealing to other readers, I really liked the original artwork and wanted the story to continue in that way. I found the abrupt changes jarring. On top of that, I still felt mostly confused even if I was already in the third book in the series. Sadly, it was a disappointing read for me. I just wasn’t invested enough in the story or the characters.

After reading three volumes, my conclusion is that WicDiv isn’t a series for me. There’s too much violence, too many questions, and not enough answers. I wouldn’t have minded the violence if I loved the story, but sadly, that wasn’t the case here. As always, I’m glad I tried something new. But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that I would have a better experience with my March graphic novel read.


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Artistic License by Elle Pierson

Act Like It by Lucy Parker surprised me with how good it was. I even included Lainie and Richard in my recent list of favorite literary couples. I immediately wanted to read more books written by the author but saw that she only had one title that was out. Then I followed her on Twitter and discovered that she self-published another book under a different name: Artistic License by Elle Pierson. To make things even better, the Kindle edition was available for free for a few days. Of course, I grabbed a copy and read it as soon as I could (also because I was gently nudged by my friend Angie).

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Artistic LicenseWhen of the world’s prestigious art collections comes to the resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand, shy art student Sophy James is immediately drawn to the pieces on display – and to the massive, silent, sexy presence keeping watch over them. She’s completely fascinated and attracted by the striking planes and angles of his unusual face, and can’t resist sneaking out her pencil when he’s not looking.

Security consultant Mick Hollister is used to women looking at his ugly mug – but not with the genuine pleasure he sees in the face of the girl with the charcoal-smudged fingers and terrible skills at covert surveillance. A security breach brings the two into fast and furious collision, and an unlikely friendship begins to blossom. And an even more unlikely – and very reluctant – love.

Introvert Sophy is content with her independence and solitude. She’s never looked for a long-term relationship, and isn’t sure she wants one now. Mick, apparently born with a face that not even a mother could love, has given up all hope of having one.

They have nothing in common. They shouldn’t even like each other. And they can’t stay away from one another.

Going by how Act Like It sucked me in, I knew I should start reading Artistic License on a weekend or I would lose a lot of sleep. I was right. I read most of the book on a Saturday and ignored everything else that I had to do (as usual, I was supposed to do some chores). I couldn’t put it down once I got in the swing of things. It was just too much fun to read about Sophy and Mick. I liked the unusual circumstances of their meeting, and how that incident brought them together. While there’s initial attraction, both of them weren’t looking for a relationship so they started off as unlikely friends. Unlikely because at first glance, it seems that they don’t have much in common. In spite of their differences, they soon realize that they’re able to read and understand each other very well. Sophy is an introvert and is painfully shy. She rarely opens up to strangers, only her family and friends truly see her bright and vibrant personality. She’s happy in her solitude and she immerses herself in her art. For some reason, she instinctively trusts Mick from the moment they meet and she quickly lets her guard down around him. Mick has a tough exterior, matched by his looks, but is really such a sweet guy. He’s had some nasty experiences in the past and definitely deserves all the friends that he could get. He needs people to back him up and stand up for him, and Sophy becomes on of those people in just a short amount of time.

I think the transition from strangers to friends to lovers felt very natural in Artistic License. Even as friends, both Sophy and Mick were wary of each other. They’re both observant types, and they were careful around the other person. I thought Sophy’s introvert nature was a huge factor in this. Also, Mick has his own reasons for not getting too close to someone else. I also think it gave their romance an unusual flavor. While I have always been classified as an extrovert, there are times when I think I’m an introverted extrovert. I could relate to Sophy needing her alone time, and trying to reconcile the idea of opening herself up enough to let another person into her life. She’s worried of what she has to give up in order to be in a relationship, even if she does want to be with that person. It is a pretty big step for anyone, especially for someone who recharges by being by herself. Mick is the perfect gentlemen in the sense that he gives Sophy all the space that she needs. I really liked that there wasn’t any unnecessary drama between them. They were honest with each other and there were no mind games. All the conflict were from external factors. There’s a dash of mystery and suspense in this story, but the focus is definitely the development of Sophy and Mick’s relationship. I really liked how the secondary characters played a part in the love story, like Mick’s best friend Sean had some fun scenes and Sophy’s mom also gave some great advice.

I also enjoyed reading about the Queenstown setting of the book. It’s a refreshing choice of setting, not the more common US or UK locations in romances. I’ve never been to New Zealand but now I want to visit it because of the descriptions in Artistic License. Seems like a great place for a vacation. The author shared this picture of the setting on Twitter:

No matter what name she writes under, I will definitely be watching out for this author’s next book. I hope one will be released sooner rather than later!


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Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Act Like It by Lucy Parker is a gem of a contemporary romance novel that I discovered when my friend Angie mentioned that it’s a good one. I found the premise intriguing and I settled down to read this book on a Saturday afternoon. Good thing I started it on a weekend because it kept me absorbed until I finished the whole book. I ignored chores and errands that I had to do because I just couldn’t stop reading.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Act Like ItThis just in: romance takes center stage as West End theatre’s Richard Troy steps out with none other than castmate Elaine Graham

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard’s antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

I’m a fan of certain tropes in romance if they’re done well, and Act Like It has two of them which I really enjoyed: a pretend relationship and a brooding, arrogant, Darcy-esque male lead. Castmates Lainie and Richard are persuaded to have a fauxmance in order to boost the publicity of the play they’re in. While Lainie admires Richard’s acting abilities, she thinks he’s rude, full of himself and makes things difficult for everyone when he doesn’t get his way. And Richard doesn’t really know Lainie beyond what he sees of her during their rehearsals and performances. Like he doesn’t really think it’s worth his time to get to know her. Understandably, both of them were very, very reluctant to start a fake relationship and it was funny how awkward they were with each other at the start. Even though they’re both actors, they weren’t able to magically portray a happy couple right away. But they soon got the hang of things and for a pretend couple, they remained surprisingly honest and true to each other. There really wasn’t a lot of faking involved between these two… just a slow process of getting to know the other person and realizing that maybe they’ve been too quick to make judgments. I really liked the dialogue in this one, from snarky insults to more affectionate teasing to meaningful conversations. It really was a lot of fun seeing them interact.

As with all romance books that I truly enjoy, Act Like It is a story of two flawed characters. Both of them recognize the imperfections of the other person and yet they’re willing to accept them. Lainie was easy to like, she has a big heart and is generally a kind person. Also smart and sassy. But like I said, she’s not shown as a perfect person. It’s actually her past mistakes that come back to pester her and Richard more than once in the course of the story. She’s also very much a product of her large and loving family, and I really enjoyed seeing her relatives involved in her life. Richard is a little more difficult to root for but what really worked in this book was that it had his point of view as well. I wasn’t kept in the dark as to the thoughts running in his head. Like how it becomes obvious that he doesn’t really go out of his way to be mean to people, it’s just that he doesn’t have the patience to be nice. I believe this is the first time I’ve read a romance with a West End setting and I really enjoyed it. I felt that the author made the British theater scene come alive. I love watching musicals and it was entertaining to see the behind the scenes aspect of it. A sample of snippets that I liked:

“Occupational hazard: too much time spent amongst artificial sets, slight loss of grip on reality.”

____________

“She knew from experience that spending hours every day pretending to be someone else could become a habit difficult to break. She could go off duty, so to speak, and find herself performing the role of Lainie Graham, which could seem as artificial as any character she inhabited onstage.”

Act Like It was a pleasant surprise. It’s one of those romances that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, a very cozy kind of read. I wouldn’t mind rereading this again, if I ever find myself in the mood for it. I will be anxiously waiting for Lucy Parker’s next novel.


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Sleeping with Her Enemy by Jenny Holiday

I read Saving the CEO but wasn’t that impressed with it, so I wasn’t planning to read Sleeping with Her Enemy. But then I saw my good friend Brandy’s review and I decided to give it a try. It’s easy to give in when the book’s price is just USD 0.99! I’m glad I picked it up. I liked this a lot better than the first book (I’ve mostly forgotten what happened in that one).

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Sleeping with Her EnemyAmy Morrison is supposed to be at her wedding. But when her husband-to-be jilts her at the altar, a distraught Amy runs to the only place she feels safe — her office. Besides, everyone who works on her floor is at her wedding… except him. Dax Harris. Playboy, executive, and Amy’s official office enemy.

While he and Amy don’t see eye-to-eye on the best of days, Dax can’t help but feel badly when he sees Amy mid-meltdown. Next thing he knows, he’s gotten her good and drunk, and they’re making out like two teenagers. And since neither of them want anything serious, why shouldn’t they be frenemies-with-benefits? Because there is no possible way they could ever fall for each other…

The book summary makes it seem like the two MCs jumped into bed right after the girl was left at the altar but that’s not what really happened… sure, there was a lot of attraction between the two of them but they didn’t act on it until much later. They transitioned from office enemies to frenemies to friends. I really enjoyed their banter and several of the scenes made me grin. Also, I really liked that both of the MC’s families played a part in the story. I always enjoy seeing the involvement of friends and family in the couple’s lives, because that makes the romance even more realistic. Dax’s family is the best, I enjoyed all of the scenes that had his mom, dad and sister in it. While Amy’s family wasn’t as great, I’m glad they still got some page time because her relationship with them has been a big influence on her life.

I also liked the book’s setting (Toronto) and I even Googled some of the places mentioned in the book. The descriptions for Dax’s quaint and cozy house were lovely, and I thought it was pretty sweet that Amy was able to find refuge there. And yay for unnecessary drama. I think that was one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. Recommended for contemporary romance fans! I’ll be interested in trying out Jenny Holiday’s other books.


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Mini Review: Soppy by Philippa Rice

Soppy by Philippa RicePosting a short review of this one because even though I enjoyed reading it, I don’t think there’s a lot that I can say about the book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

True love isn’t always about the big romantic gestures.

Sometimes it’s about sympathizing with someone whose tea has gone cold or reading together and sharing a quilt. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love.

SOPPY is Philippa Rice’s collection of comics and illustrations based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, SOPPY captures the universal experience of sharing a life together, and celebrates the beauty of finding romance all around us.

I’ve seen some of Philippa Rice’s illustrations online but didn’t realize that she had a book until a few weeks ago. I couldn’t resist grabbing a copy when I saw it at the bookstore. Soppy was such an adorable read. It’s not really a graphic novel but a collection of illustrations of mostly ordinary (but also very sweet) moments in a couple’s life. Some pages have dialogue while some are just artwork. Of course, my favorites are the scenes that show the couple reading together! I thought the whole book was pretty cute and I’ll probably end up browsing through it from time to time. I really liked the red, black and white color scheme used in the artwork because it goes well with the lovey dovey theme of the book.

Soppy by Philippa Rice - reading

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