Chachic's Book Nook


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Book Haul: First Ever Library Stash

Guess who’s the newest member of the Singapore public library? *raises hand and jumps up and down* Yes, I couldn’t resist. I signed up because I’ve always wanted to have access to a library. It’s like a dream come true for a book lover from the Philippines. I dropped by after work – the library is inside the mall beside the MRT station. It was about to close by the time my application was processed so I just grabbed books that are on my wishlist:

This Is Shyness by Leanne Hall
God Is In the Pancakes by Robin Epstein
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson
The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
Amplified by Tara Kelly

I have no idea if I’ll be able to finish reading all of these in three weeks but I just wanted to take advantage of the fact that I could borrow eight books in one go. Also, I want to make the most out of the 53 SGD membership fee. And I have been a bit book hungry lately because books are so expensive over here compared to Manila. This is what my tiny bookshelf in Singapore looks like:

It’s not as great as my bookshelf back home but it’s always comforting to have books near you. What about the rest of you, did you buy or borrow any books this week?


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If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I really don’t know why I put off reading If I Stay by Gayle Forman for so long. Maybe I felt like there were already too many YA novels about grief and death? But I’m a sucker for books like those when they’re beautifully written so I knew I’d read this eventually. Because of a certain Twitter conversation, I knew I was going to read If I Stay sooner rather than later.

Here’s the summary from Gayle Forman’s website:

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make.

If I had known how much I’d enjoy reading If I Stay, I wouldn’t have waited so long to read it. I think Mia’s interactions with the various people in her life – parents, younger brother, grandparents, boyfriend and best friend – were done really well. It was surprising how fully fleshed out the secondary characters were, given that there were so many of them. It felt like I really got to know them as Mia looked back on her significant memories of them. If I Stay is one of those novels that are all about relationships and can make readers feel all kinds of feelings. It’s a book filled with heartache – it always is when we’re dealing with life and death situations – but I never felt overwhelmed. I admit I found certain sections of the book a bit slow but I didn’t mind because I understood that Mia had a difficult decision to make – the kind of decision that involves a lot of introspection. I find it amazing that I haven’t seen spoilers about Mia’s choice even though I’ve read so many reviews for this book. I guess the book has such a beautiful ending that people understood it would be a shame to ruin the experience for other readers.

I really liked how close Mia was with her non-traditional parents because it’s always nice to see supportive parents in YA. Mia’s parents were the opposite of strict and they reminded me a bit of my own parents. I was also a fan of the slow burn romance between Mia and Adam. How they love different kinds of music but it still brought them together – Mia plays the cello and loves classical music while Adam plays the guitar and is a member of a rock band. Their relationship isn’t perfect because they both have their issues and they had to work until they found their rhythm. I think what they have is intense and sweet at the same time. I’m not as into music as these two but that didn’t keep me from liking their love story. I know I said I liked how things ended in If I Stay and I was okay with leaving things like that but I have a feeling I’ll be reading Where She Went soon. I can’t resist, knowing that it’s written from Adam’s point of view. If I Stay is a delightful read in so many ways and is the kind of contemporary YA that I can recommend without hesitation. I’m so glad I gave in and read it. Will now be on the lookout for Gayle Forman’s other novels. Going back to the reason why I read this book, do I think Adam and Tom (from The Piper’s Son) will be mates if they ever met? Maybe. But I get the feeling Adam would get along better with Jake (from Saving June). Or they could all just form a band and have jam sessions together.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Angieville
See Michelle Read
Wear the Old Coat
The Readventurer


18 Comments

The Returning by Christine Hinwood

I ordered a copy of The Returning by Christine Hinwood because it’s blurbed by two of my favorite authors: Megan Whalen Turner and Melina Marchetta. Of course, I had to read it! It also recently received the Printz Honor. Plus, both the premise and the cover looked intriguing.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone – all his fellow soldiers slain – suspicion swirls around him. He’s damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him?

The writing is certainly different from anything that I’ve ever read. I’m not even sure what genre The Returning falls under – I feel like it’s a mix of both fantasy and historical fiction. Fantasy because it’s set in a different world (made up locations). Historical fiction because aside from the setting, I feel like it could be a story set in the past. There’s no magic in The Returning. The whole book focuses on the aftermath of the war between Uplanders and Downlanders and how it affects the various characters. I had a mixed reaction to this book: I’m glad I got to read it because I was intrigued but I didn’t end up loving it as I expected. It took me a while to get into the writing because of the shifting points of view. I felt like I couldn’t hold on to one character long enough for me to like him or her. Also, it’s a quiet kind of novel in the sense that nothing big or dramatic occurs. After all, we’re getting a glimpse of what life is like AFTER the war.

Overall, I think it’s a good book but I’m afraid it’s not something that every reader will enjoy. Like I said, I’m not a fan of the shifting POVs. At the start of the novel, I felt like every chapter was narrated by a different character (I think there were four or five various POVs). Just when I was starting to root for a character, the POV changes. I did like how everything came together in the second half of the novel but I was surprised at how fast the latter chapters moved in comparison to the earlier ones. The first half spanned months while the second half jumped a couple of years ahead. I liked that it’s a complex novel and that Christine Hinwood created so many layers to the story – we see what it’s like for a veteran soldier to go home, what it feels like for the family he left behind, how hard it is for him to make friends. I also liked the bit of romance weaved into the story but it felt underdeveloped. I think the narrative would have worked if the novel was longer because readers would get to know the characters more. As it is, I liked the book a lot more before I read it because it had so much promise. I feel bad because I could have fallen in love with The Returning but didn’t. If you’re curious about this book, I recommend that you still give it a try because you might end up liking it a lot more than I did. I’ve seen mixed reviews for Christine Hinwood’s debut novel – some loved it while it didn’t work for others – so I guess it really depends on the reader.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Persnickety Snark
Books and Threads
Just Booking Around
Killin’ Time Reading


11 Comments

Good Oil by Laura Buzo

I can’t remember where I got the original recommendation for Good Oil by Laura Buzo but I’ve heard such good things about it. I’ve put off reading it because after this, I’ll be out of Aussie YA books to read. But I wanted to include it in this year’s Aussie YA Reading Challenge so I went ahead and picked it up. I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago but real life got in the way of things so I haven’t posted my review until now.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

“Miss Amelia Hayes, welcome to The Land of Dreams. I am the staff trainer. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei and I will give you the good oil. Right? And just so you know, I’m open to all kinds of bribery.”

From the moment 15-year-old Amelia begins work on the checkout at Woolworths she is sunk, gone, lost… head-over-heels in love with Chris. Chris is the funny, charming, man-about-Woolies, but he’s 21, and the 6-year difference in their ages may as well be a hundred. Chris and Amelia talk about everything from Second Wave Feminism to Great Expectations and Alien but will he ever look at her in the way she wants him to? And if he does, will it be everything she hopes?

Good Oil was published in 2010 but I get the feeling that it’s set earlier because the characters use landlines instead of mobile phones to contact each other and there’s no mention of the internet. I just noticed that little thing but I certainly didn’t mind because it reminded me of how things were like when I was in high school. What I really liked about Good Oil is we get alternating perspectives from both Amelia and Chris. I could relate to fifteen-year-old Amelia, still in high school and nursing the biggest of crushes even though she knows there’s no hope. If you’ve ever had a crush on someone unattainable, then you’d really like Amelia. She’s also smart and passionate about the things that she believes in. And a bonus point for all of us readers: she loves to read as well. A quote from the book from Chris’ POV: “She even takes the goings-on of fictitious characters personally.” Umm Chris, why is that surprising? I do that all the time! I could also relate to Chris, who’s older but not necessarily wiser. Funny, charming Chris who studies in college while working in Woolsworth, or what he calls the Land of Dreams. He’s heartbroken and dulls his pain by consuming as much alcohol as he can. Endless drinking sessions in college? Been there, done that. If you’ve ever been lonely and heartbroken, you’ll be able to sympathize with Chris too. I felt like his voice was very realistic for a guy in his early twenties.

I’m beginning to think there really is something in the water that Australian authors drink. How else can we explain the number of well-written YA novels that keep popping up? Good Oil is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the interactions between the two main characters – how Amelia looks up to Chris and wants to spend more time with him even if nothing romantic develops between them and how Chris calls Amelia youngster but starts to think of her as maybe something more (although he also knows there couldn’t be anything between them because of the age difference). I liked the tension and the friendship between these two, their conversations are intriguing and fun to observe. It also made me realize how vastly different high school and college students behave. Good Oil is something that I’d recommend to all fans of contemporary YA, I just wish it was a lot easier to acquire. I think this is the last Aussie YA title that I will review for this year but I’m looking forward to reading more of these in 2012! I definitely had a lot of fun completing the Aussie YA Reading Challenge for this year.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Inkcrush
Readventurer
The Crooked Shelf


11 Comments

Past Perfect by Leila Sales

So glad that a galley of Past Perfect by Leila Sales became available in the Simon and Schuster GalleyGrab because I’ve been curious about the author. Plus, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her debut novel, Mostly Good Girls, so I jumped at the chance to read this. I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago but I wanted to post my review closer to the release date, October 4.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

A summer job is exactly the distraction that Chelsea needs in order to finally get over Ezra, the boy who dumped her and broke her heart to pieces just a few weeks before. So when Chelsea’s best friend, Fiona, signs them up for roles at Essex Historical Colonial Village, Chelsea doesn’t protest too hard, even though it means spending the summer surrounded by drama geeks and history nerds. Chelsea will do anything to forget Ezra.

But when Chelsea and Fiona show up for their new jobs, they find out Ezra’s working there too. Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past… or will this turn out to be exactly the summer that Chelsea needed, after all?

Don’t you just love that cover? Everything about it is cute – from the chalky raindrops to the pink font to the girl wearing a green rain coat and a flower clip. It’s kind of weird that the novel is set in summertime but the cover depicts a rainy day. Also, I don’t think the cover represents the historical village where Chelsea works for the summer. It still looks fun though and I wouldn’t be surprised if readers are encouraged to buy the book based on just the cover design. The contents of the book go well with the cover in terms of being light and fun. It’s all about Chelsea’s summer vacation and how she spends it by working at the historical village of Essex. Her parents are full-time employees of Essex so she’s been working there ever since she was a child but she was never really that into it. This year is different because it’s the first time that Chelsea’s best friend, Fiona, will be with her. Even though Chelsea would rather work at the mall like a normal teenage girl, she thinks being at Essex won’t be so bad with Fiona there. Her ex-boyfriend Ezra unexpectedly turns up as well. To complicate matters, Chelsea gets nominated as the Lieutenant in their war games against the teen employees of the other historical village in town.

I liked that Past Perfect is set in a historical village because that’s something different. I don’t think we have anything like that here in the Philippines? If we did, I’d enjoy visiting it. Even though I’m not that familiar with American history, I didn’t have any problems with the historical facts thrown around in this book. I guess I just wasn’t able to appreciate them as much as an American reader would be able to. I think it’s great that history was portrayed as something a bit nerdy but still fun. The reenactors in both camps take their jobs very seriously. The war games between the two sites was also interesting and I thought of it as a less intense version of the turf war in Jellicoe Road. I would have liked the romance to be more developed, it felt like there weren’t enough swoon-worthy scenes for me to be totally on-board. Overall, I enjoyed reading Past Perfect and would recommend it to fans of contemporary YA but I didn’t fall in love with it like I was expecting. I think I’m in the minority I’m still curious about Mostly Good Girls though.

Other reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine
The Allure of Books


21 Comments

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


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Nightspell by Leah Cypess

I enjoyed reading Leah Cypess’ debut novel, Mistwood, last year and I’ve been looking forward to her next novel, Nightspell, ever since. Thankfully, my friend Celina allowed me to borrow her copy so I bumped it up the TBR pile.

Here’s the summary from Leah Cypess’ website:

When Darri rides into Ghostland, a country where the living walk with the dead, she has only one goal: to rescue her younger sister Callie, who was sent to Ghostland as a hostage four years ago. But Callie has changed in those four years, and now has secrets of her own.

In her quest to save her sister from herself, Darri will be forced to outmaneuver a handsome ghost prince, an ancient sorcerer, and a manipulative tribal warrior (who happens to be her brother). When Darri discovers the source of the spell that has kept the dead in Ghostland chained to this earth, she faces a decision that will force her to reexamine beliefs she has never before questioned – and lead her into the heart of a conspiracy that threatens the very balance of power between the living and the dead.

So I’m usually not a fan of ghost stories but I made an exception with Nightspell because of its intriguing premise. Besides, even if the Ghostland setting is a bit creepy, it wasn’t really scary. I’m a big scaredy cat when it comes to ghosts, I don’t even watch horror films. I didn’t have to worry about that in this book. Darri travels to Ghostland, a country where every murdered person comes back as a ghost to avenge his or her death, only then could they move on. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way in the past hundreds of years. Most ghosts are content to just pretend to be alive instead of focusing on vengeance. They distract themselves with various amusements and the intricacies of court life. The dead would rather exist as ghosts than fade away into the unknown. Also, the ghosts in Nightspell only become insubstantial when they want to. Foreigners are never even sure whether a Ghostlander is alive or dead until they get confirmation. Darri, with her brother Varis, land right smack in the middle of the political conflict between the living and the dead in Ghostland. Add to that her shaky relationship with her both siblings, Callie and Varis, and Darri is one unhappy Ghostland visitor.

I’ve heard others say that they liked Nightspell more than Mistwood but I like both about the same. Both books are set in the same world but in different places and they share only one common character. Just like Mistwood, there’s also a lot of court intrigue in Nightspell and you never know when a character is telling the truth or keeping secrets. I did figure out one plot twist but I was kept guessing for the rest of the book and I enjoy that kind of suspense. I wanted to keep on reading until I discovered how everything fell into place. One minor quibble about the book, I didn’t feel like there was enough romance in it but maybe that’s just me. I’m kind of used to having a swoon-worthy male lead in my YA fantasy reads. Darri reminded me a bit of Harry from Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword because their names rhyme. Just kidding! It’s because Darri is strong-willed, loves to ride horses and is more comfortable in the company of the warriors in her tribe than with the courtiers of Ghostland. Recommended for readers who like their YA epic fantasy with a dash of political intrigue. I’m curious where Leah Cypess will go with her next novel.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
Book Harbinger

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