Review: Shtum by Jem Lester


Shtum
by Jem Lester

Summary:
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation - a strategic decision to further Jonah's case in an upcoming tribunal - Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben's elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men - one who can't talk; two who won't - are thrown together.

A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Orion
Expected publication date:  April 7, 2016
Source/Format: e-ARC via Netgalley

My Thoughts:
Full disclosure: I am really eager to read this book with it pitched as perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. While The Curious Incident is about Christopher, a young mathematician with a different view of our world; Shtum is more about the people around Jonah, a boy seemingly trapped in his own beautiful world. 

Shtum is told in Ben’s first person PoV. It started with what seems to be one of the routinary mornings in his family where he cleans up Jonah, his son with severe autism, while his wife Emma prepares breakfast. They just received a rejection letter for their request for Jonah’s placement in a specialist residential school. Fraught with disappointment and misery, both husband and wife decided to fake a separation to improve Jonah’s case in the tribunal. They will never have this routinary day again. Ben and Jonah will have to stay with Ben’s father, Georg.

Ben’s voice is that of an alcoholic pessimist loaded with self-pity. His narration is most times abruptly cut off from scene to scene like he’s telling something then passed out from drinking then starts telling the next thing. Ben is not exactly a character to love but the magic of the book is that, just when you start to decide to really hate on Ben, it pulls you in and you’ll end up really having a lot of empathy towards him. His story is not about his quest for his own greatness, no he is too cynic for that. It’s about how even a broken man with no good prospects on the horizon for his own life finds the will and determination to fight for his son’s future.

Although Ben is not too likable and well, to avoid revealing too much of the plot, I’ll keep my opinions of his wife Emma to myself, other characters are actually endearing. Georg as a grandfather is genuinely fond of Jonah. Him as a father is a weird support system to Ben; watch out for lots of snarky father and son banter. Mauritz who is an ever loyal bestfriend to Georg provides the much-needed comic relief whenever he is around. Ben’s bestfriend Johnny is the right mix of bestfriend whom Ben needs. Johnny’s family is supportive, too. There’s the sweet teacher, Maria and at the center of it all is the sweet boy Jonah traipsing on his own beautiful world, mindless of the ugly people who do not understand the situation he is in.

This book is so honest and harsh with the realities of having a special son that it left me utterly messed up in a rollercoaster of emotions. Feels include, but not limited to: tears of mini-heartbreaks, bursts of anger, snorts of bitter laughs, warm glint of hope. If I might squeeze some more of what I liked about the book, I’ll add that there is a fine display of tension at the middle part on whether a residential placement is really what’s best for Jonah, shown through Georg’s character. There are also a couple of small twists, we all love to be mildly surprised, thank you very much. And an added bonus is Georg’s backstory. The only thing that bothered me a bit were the few times when I can sense the author lurking behind the thoughts of Ben (when Ben used metaphors like a writer and not someone who runs a catering rental business) and in a letter written by Georg (when Georg used dialogues, maybe that’s just me because I don’t write letters like that). Aside from that tiny thing, Shtum is a fascinating book worthy of your precious reading time.


My Rating:

Cover Reveal: The Hometown Hazard by Dawn Lanuza

Today, I am pleased to be a part of revealing the cover of Dawn Lanuza's upcoming new title, The Hometown Hazard. Thanks to Bookish Diaries for organizing this event.

Let's check out first what the book is about, shall we?

About the Book:

Genre: New Adult, Romance
Release date: January 29, 2016
Synopsis: 
Jules Coronado has been away from her hometown for almost a decade but when an intruder breaks in to her childhood home, she finds herself coming back. Changes evidently took place in her small town, including her childhood best friend’s younger brother, Kip – now tall, slightly scruffed, all grown up and caught climbing into their garden wall.

Kip Villamor has a mission and despite Jules’ doubts, they team up: going on fieldtrips, tackling unsuspecting men, and trespassing offices to dig up dirt. But Jules has secrets of her own, one that might be exposed – unless she keeps her walls up. But climbing walls are Kip’s forte, remember?

Will her secrets keep her on his side, or will it force her to disappear again?

About the Author:

Dawn Lanuza started writing stories when she was just a kid (they weren’t good or even finished). She works for the music industry by day and writes meet cutes and snappy comebacks by night. ‘The Boyfriend Backtrack’ is her first book. She currently lives with her family and an adopted dog.

And now, the cover:



I think the cover captures the mystery and romance of the book's storyline. The purple color with the building details at the background seems to depict night-time in a city with a boy above the title (Kip) contemplating how to climb the walls to get to the girl below the title (Jules). The book title is stylishly made into the walls, complete with plant overgrowth. What a pretty.


So that's what I think about The Hometown Hazard's cover. Tell me what you think about it in the comments below.


Stacking the Shelves (STS #4)


Image: Kaboompics

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's all about sharing the books added to our shelves, may it be physical or virtual.

It is with much thrill to tell you that aside from getting my hands on two books recently, I also have experienced two book blogging milestones with them, too. How cool is that?!

So come and join me for a while as I babble about new books and book blogging firsts.

From Edelweiss:

Some two weeks or so, I've heard people over Twitter squealing about Beyond the Red by Ava Jae being a ready download title from Edelweiss. Because the squeals are pretty persistent (particularly those ones that came from Aila of One Way Or An Author), I got excited too and downloaded it. Soon enough, Nori of ReadWriteLove28 came up with the brilliant idea of doing a read along and without knowing how read alongs work, I joined in. If you want to check out some tweets about the read along follow the #ReadBTR hashtag. So yeah, that was my first time reading a book with some awesome bookish people and it's a great experience. I've finished this book already and I tell you, it's a great action-packed read. I'll post a full review soon.

Beyond the Red by Ava Jae


From Netgalley:


Next up is about my first ever Netgalley request approval. It's also a book I have stumbled upon while thumbing down my Twitter timeline. A publicist is doing a twitter giveaway of proofs for Shtum by Jem Lester and when I checked the summary, it's being compared to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (this one I love dearly; it's my first ever review blog post!) so I know I have to read it. Unluckily, I did not win the giveaway so what's a desperate girl to do but head on to Netgalley and request for a review copy, right? It's a long shot really because of my not-so-stellar blog stats but lo and behold, I got approved that very same day! You have no idea how joyful I am about this. It is one of my life's miracles! *cries a bucket of happy tears*


Shtum by Jem Lester

So sorry and please excuse my long gushing for these two books that I got. I won't mind you sharing some book blogging firsts down in the comments. Or just share the books you've acquired lately. Leave a link to your book haul post, I'd be delighted to stop by. :)

Blog Tour: Sidekick by Natalie Whipple (Review)


Thanks for joining me on my stop for Natalie Whipple’s SIDEKICK blog tour. Follow the tour along and find out what other reviewers have to say about this book by clicking the banner above. And in case you did not know yet, there is an exclusive blog tour extract in my previous post. Plus we have an ongoing international giveaway for this book there, too.

Summary:
Russ is a high school football player who feels like he always comes in second to his best friend, Garret. In sports. In school. With girls. Well, he's tired of it, and he gets the rather foolish idea that if he can win the heart of the new girl in town before Garret he can prove he's not just sloppy seconds.

His plan? Use his anime-obsessed sister's group, who has befriended the new girl, to get closer to her. He'd never tell the team, but he's been going to Anime Night for years and might even enjoy it. That would ruin his reputation, just like his secret love for cooking and James Taylor.

But pretending to be something you aren't catches up to you eventually, and Russ can only get away with living two lives for so long. As more than one person reveals they have something to hide, Russ must figure out what and who he really wants in his life. And more than that, he needs the courage to make it happen.

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Whipple House
Publication date: November 10, 2015
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes &Noble | The Book Depository
Purchase a signed copy from the author HERE!


My Thoughts:
Hey, hey, hey! SIDEKICK is a book that might pull you out from a reading slump. It was an easy breezy read for me (you know how I’m really a slow-reader) but it has some pretty deep stuff.

It’s a quite refreshing point of view to read a jock main character. For me, the heart of the book lies in Russ figuring out if he’s being a fake or not. Does changing the person he is depending on who the people around him are warrant as fakery? Does being nice to everybody being phony? I get how Russ feels pretty hard not to care about how people think of them when they’re high up there the social strata and everyone seems to be looking up at him and Garret. I love how Russ mulls over on things like that and how him and Garret are not your traditional shallow jerk jocks.


The people around Russ and Garret are interesting characters, too. Keira, the freaky new hot punk girl is mysteriously seductive. The Dork Gang and its leader, Izzy the tyrannical younger sister of Russ, are a bunch of people I found so enjoyable to read. If Izzy would have me in her group, I’d want to spend lots of anime marathon nights with them.

I have a lot of other favorites in the book such as how a famous burger joint, Parker’s, is the happy place of our main character and instrumental to help him decide what to do with his life. I also enjoyed those moments between Russ and his dad. There’s this touching one where Russ wants to do good and win the game because his dad is watching. And there are lots of parts where his dad pester him about what he wants to do in the future, college applications and whatnots. Oooh, and I can’t wait for you to read this messy hilarious huge sibling war between Russ and Izzy.

I will not tell much about the romance aspect of the story because I do not want to spoil it for you. Let’s just say that oblivious-to-his-own-good-looks-and-charms-Russ had a fair share of girls and he ended up with the one I shipped him with. I am so happy about this.

This book is not only about some insecure jock wanting to surpass his cooler best friend because of a girl. It is way more than that. It’s about a boy trying to not lose his individuality to those stifling expectations of his world. It’s about a boy looking at himself assessing whether he’s being real or a fake. It’s about a boy who’s weighing in if he’ll choose reputation over friendships. It’s about a boy being uncertain of his future after all the high school drama is over. This book has a lot of real complex teenage boy reflections. There might be a lot of other books that explore the same theme as Sidekick, but this one I have enjoyed very much. It made me feel good and I turned the last page with a smile.

My Rating:

Book Excerpt + Giveaway: Sidekick by Natalie Whipple


Today is the release of Natalie Whipple's new title, Sidekick. As a treat to your bookworm heart, you may read an extract here, plus win for yourself a Kindle copy of this greasy, delicious-looking read! Massive thank you to Dianne of Oops! I Read a Book Again for organizing this release day blast.


Summary:
Russ is a high school football player who feels like he always comes in second to his best friend, Garret. In sports. In school. With girls. Well, he's tired of it, and he gets the rather foolish idea that if he can win the heart of the new girl in town before Garret he can prove he's not just sloppy seconds.

His plan? Use his anime-obsessed sister's group, who has befriended the new girl, to get closer to her. He'd never tell the team, but he's been going to Anime Night for years and might even enjoy it. That would ruin his reputation, just like his secret love for cooking and James Taylor.

But pretending to be something you aren't catches up to you eventually, and Russ can only get away with living two lives for so long. As more than one person reveals they have something to hide, Russ must figure out what and who he really wants in his life. And more than that, he needs the courage to make it happen. (Add to your Goodreads TBR here)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Whipple House
Publication date: November 10, 2015
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes &Noble | The Book Depository
Purchase a signed copy from the author HERE!

About Natalie Whipple:
Natalie Whipple grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook.

She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I'M A NINJA series, FISH OUT OF WATER, and MY LITTLE BRONY (under K.M. Hayes). In addition to that, she is on the writing team for the cRPG Torment: Tides of Numenera that should be out sometime in 2015.

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Tumblr | Newsletter


Book Extract:

He shrugs. “You hungry?”

“Always.”

“Parker’s?”

“Of course.” Parker’s Drive-In is our place, and I mean that in the manliest way possible. Old Man Parker puts bacon grease in the burger meat, so the whole place smells like a giant slab of pig fat. There’s nothing better in the world than this homage to bacon.

Parker’s is always open, so when we pull up at midnight there are still a couple of people sitting in the bright red booths. When Garret opens the door, the cashier, Buck Parker, smiles wide. He’s the oldest of the four Parker boys. The whole family works there, and most of them are proud of it. I guess I would be too if I’d won awards for Best Drive-in Food. This place is one of the few reasons anyone comes to Clovis. The other two are family and farmers markets.

I’d never tell a soul, but sometimes I wish I could work here, even for one day, just to see how they create their burger masterpieces.

“Awesome catch, Garr!” Buck says. “If you don’t make the news, I’ll be shocked.”

Garret shakes his head, using that oh-I’m-not-so-great smile all the girls fall for. “It was just a lucky catch. Russ did all the legwork.”

I shove my hands in my pockets, trying not to be annoyed at Buck for overlooking me and my eighty-nine yards running tonight. But yards run don’t matter when you aren’t the one with the ball in the end zone. At least Garret acknowledges me. I do appreciate that.

“Way to go, Russ.” Buck glances at me with an overcompensating grin. Praise means nothing when it’s forced, so I can’t bring myself to answer. “What’ll you buys have?”

We both get two bacon burgers with a side of chili fries. Garret gets Coke, but I go for Sprite because Coke tastes maybe one degree better than beer.

We dig in, and I try not to moan over the crunchy bacon goodness. At Parker’s they chop up the bacon and make a full-on patty to go on top of the hamburger. So every single bite is full of bacon, bacon-flavored hamburger, and sharp cheddar. I have no choice but to forgive Buck for overlooking me. I bow to their burger genius.

Giveaway:
One lucky bookworm will win a Kindle copy of SIDEKICK, open internationally! Enter below:


Review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Am I Normal Yet?
by Holly Bourne

Summary:
All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: The Spinster Club #1
Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd.
Publication date:  August 1, 2015
Source/Format: I borrowed my sister's finished paperback copy.
Purchase links: Amazon | WHSmith |  Waterstones

My Thoughts:

One of the greatest things a book can do is to influence your way of thinking to stand up for something. We read mostly just to be entertained but once in a while, you stumble across that one book that not only amuses you but also opens your eyes to the wrongs of this world and compels you to somehow help to make it right. This happened to me unexpectedly after reading Am I Normal Yet? (AINY)

AINY is about Evie’s quest for a normal sixteen year-old life while recovering from OCD and general anxiety. In her recovery diary, she wrote a list of things she considers “normal at 16” like getting herself a boyfriend, making new friends and getting invited to parties and gigs. One by one, stuff got ticked off from her list but at the cost of slowly losing herself in the “normality” of things.

"There’s so much crazy stuff in the world – everything’s a mess most of the time – but people who can’t handle it are called mental and have films made about them...But what if they’re just reacting to the weirdness of the universe? Isn’t it more weird to just think everything’s okay, when it clearly isn’t?"

What charmed me initially is Evie’s beautiful mind. She compartmentalizes her thoughts to categories like good or bad or logical or not. She explains things from how she chose a certain outfit (I found this funny) to how people nowadays still don’t get mental health problems (I found this one truly INTENSE). Sometimes, she even does bullet lists and flowcharts to make her point. Clever girl.

Then enter Evie’s newfound friendship with Amber and Lottie. They go on coffee and breakfast dates, discuss boy troubles and stuff, and most importantly founded The Spinster Club. AHHH, THE SPINSTERS CLUB! I WANT IN, WHERE DO I SIGN UP?! Forgive me if I will go on gushing lengthily about this awesome, awesome feminist squad. So halfway across the book, one of the girls got fed up with how unfairly her love interest treated her. The other two girls, being the good friends that they are, comforted her with chocolate and calming words. And suddenly their conversation dived deep with how horribly women are measured up on their worth on how they are liked by men. They started to question why there are offensive words thrown at girls like ‘slut’, ‘psycho girlfriend’ or ‘spinster’. There and then, they decided to reclaim the word ‘spinster’ and turn it into something other than lonely and bitter. Thus, born The Spinsters Club!

"We can reinvent the word ‘spinster’, make it the complete opposite of what it means? Like ‘young’ and ‘independent’ and strong?"

Soon enough, membership cards with cute cat designs are dished out (gimme, gimme!), club meetings with feminist agenda and cheesy snacks are held and feminist complaint letters to proper authorities are sent. I love how because of their support for each other, they have found strong opinions against gender inequality and started acting on it, albeit in small ways. But of course, there will STILL always be random talks about boys. #friendshipgoals

Put yo fists up high if The Spinsters Club is also your kind of thing.        Photo: Disney

Speaking of boys, Evie had more than one love interest in this book. It’s pure genius how all these love interests are given their sweet moments to shine with our heroine. And there are parts with well-executed tensions of love triangles, too. While reading, I can feel myself as Evie falling for these guys, finding their faults and being disappointed, only to get reeled back in the wild roller-coaster ride called being young and all-searchy for romantic love.

Oh, one last thing. You know that somewhat awful trope in YA books where family is totally discarded out of the picture? There is gladly none of that here. We find Amber bickering with her younger brother, we have Evie’s parents being all-controlling then slowly mellow down into more-understanding and there’s an abundant display of sibling love between Evie and her younger sis, Rose. TBH, sister stories always get me (because I love my sister dearly; she lends me books!) so I may or may not have shed tears on those tender Evie-Rose moments.

This book is a witty mesh of narrative tackling themes of mental health, friendship, teen romance, family and feminism. As for me, I love especially how it amusingly introduced me to the world of feminism. It’s actually the first time that I learned about things like Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Bechdel Test, and Madonna-Whore Complex. Before I read this book, I personally did not feel extremely discriminated as a woman. Now that my eyes are peeled open, I see these tiny things where there is in fact gender inequality. UGH, don’t let me start with how I found some product in the grocery with a variant targeted for women having a higher price tag with the variant targeted for men! Or don’t let me talk about how I wrote an e-mail to that product’s Customer Care and slightly schooled them about feminism!!! AND YES, I’M ALSO STARING AT YOU MEN WHO FIND JOY IN CATCALLING and OBJECTIFYING RANDOM WOMEN! More important than these tiny things however are those big things going on in other places like banning of education or private parts mutilation just because they are girls. These atrocious big things are maybe hard to tear down instantly as they are ingrained in their belief system for a long time but I think we can help in chipping it away by first being aware that gender inequality is not a myth and then start campaigning against it. In that light, I think AM I NORMAL YET? is an excellent book for feminist beginners like me. It’s a book that delivers awareness about gender inequality and it’s also a campaign call for us to be Spinsters Club members ourselves. I hope more girls AND boys (‘coz remember Emma Watson’s rousing UN speech #HeForShe) will read this one.

My Rating:

Stacking the Shelves (STS #3)


Image: Kaboompics

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's all about sharing the books added to our shelves, may it be physical or virtual.

I am in a major reading slump these days and what could be a more clever way to cure it than to obtain more books! My sister and I bought two paperbacks from our last bookstore stop. Also, I received an e-ARC for a blog tour organized by Dianne of Oops! I Read a Book Again.

Take a look at the books that I got this week (with links to Goodreads):

Bought from a local bookstore:

Another Day by David Levithan and Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira



For Review:

Sidekick by Natalie Whipple (e-ARC)

Photo: Goodreads

So, any new books added to your shelf lately? Share it with me in the comments section. Or link me up to your book haul post, I'd be delighted to stop by. :)

Review: Playing the Player by Lisa Brown Roberts

Playing the Player

Summary:

The Good Girl Vs. The Player
Round one begins...


Trina Clemons needed the money. Why else would she - the most organized, prepared student in school - spend the summer as a nanny and partner with the biggest slacker ever? Now she's ready to tackle nannyhood with her big binder of research and schedules. Just don't ask her about the secret job of "fixing" the bad habits of a certain high school player...

Slade Edmunds prefers easy hook-ups, and Trina is definitely not his type. She's all structure and rules, while Slade wants to just have fun. Fortunately, Trina has no idea about the bet Slade made with his best friend that he can totally get her to unwind by the end of summer...

Then the weirdest thing happens. There's chemistry. A lot of it. 
But nothing gets between a boy and a girl like a big, fat secret...

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Expected Publication date: September 14, 2015
Source/Format: Review e-copy from the publisher via Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon | Barnes &Noble | iTunes | Kobo
Parental Guidance: mild exchange of cuss words


My Thoughts:
The girl is uptight. The boy is laidback. They both think that they are not each other’s type. But then when they are together, the chemistry is inevitable. The girl is in it because of the extra pay. The boy is in it because of a bet. Can a relationship bloom when it’s built on lies? Sounds pretty much all the other romance books that you’ve read already, right? Uhmm, yes... and no.

I consider myself a very hard to please reader of purely romance books. Usually, I would only read romance that goes with elements of fantasy or dystopia or adventure. This is because I started reading romance books at a very young age of nine years old so I thought that by now I am already immune to the charms (a.k.a. the formulaic plot) of a purely swoony feels book. I have never been so wrong. I was surprisingly seduced by this book that I’ve devoured it in one sitting.

Maybe it was because of the unconventional characterization of our protagonists. Trina, although described as a stickler for rules and schedules wears her hair short and wears swimsuits and shorts. Normally, uptight girls in books are stereotyped as long-haired and wears long skirts or long jeans only. Slade is also not your typical brooding YA guy. He is a person who is easy to read. He works to win the love of Trina. There is this one time when he reaches out to Trina’s bestfriend to get more inside info on Trina. He likes country music. And his wingman and bestfriend, Alex, is gay. Talk about a bit of a character diversity here.

Or maybe it was because of the writing style. The book is written in the shifitng point of view of our main characters. So we both get to know how each other’s feelings. Each chapter includes the day the story happens, so you don’t lose track of their schedules. Like for example, MWF's are for nannying duties. And Tuesdays are for Trina’s swim lessons.

Then, maybe it was because of the adorable kids, Gillian and Max, that the two of our protagonists are babysitting. The two kids have well buit-up characters as well. And there seems to be an uncanny mirroring of these two kids with our protagonists. Gillian is free-spirited like Slade and Max is reserved like Trina.

Heck, maybe it was because of the predictability of it all. We all love a good plot twist but sometimes, it’s just satisfying to read something that you’ll be able to foretell what will happen and to see what you foretold unfold on the pages you’re reading.

There may be some nanny trips that are too extreme and I found hard to believe why the kids’ parents agreed to those. There are exchanges of love letters (oh yes!) but I wish the author shared the content of those letters for a more swoony effect. But all in all, the book made my toes curl from start to finish. Read this if you are still miserable from that good mope-y read you've recently finished (like me) and you want to wash it down with some lighthearted romance.

My Rating:

Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not

Summary:
The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough. 

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Soho Teen
Publication date: June 2, 2015
Source/Format: ARC/Won from Dianne of Oops! I Read a Book Again (Check out her review of MHTN here)
Purchase links: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books of Wonder
Parental Guidance: cuss words, drugs, suicide, teenage sex, vandalism, violence

My Thoughts:
Calling all advocates of diverse YA reads for some virtual toast and cheers and happy dance for the success of this Adam Silvera’s debut novel! This book has done some pretty impressive work in representing a poor, gay Latino in YA. Bravo!

I will tell you straight-out, this one deals with some deep, heavy stuff. Lots of thought-provoking questions were swimming my brain while reading. Questions like: What if you are someone but you can’t be that someone because the people around you, the things that happened to you and the circumstances that you are in won’t allow it? What if the people whom you care for and love makes you feel unworthy? How can you find happiness if you’re not happy of who you are? If there’s a way to wipe out the things about yourself that you are ashamed of and makes you unhappy, will you take it? Will you choose blind happiness over an insufferable unhappiness?

All these questions were answered/resolved by the time I turn the last page. I love it when a story comes together like this. For me, the twist and the ending are both perfect. And it goes without saying that I am soaked with all the feels after I finished reading.

Soaked with all the feels.
Photo: Giphy

The book is divided into five parts. I am grateful to authors who put markers on their work by dividing them into parts and putting witty chapter titles. I know it’s mainly our responsibility as readers to figure out the book by ourselves but chapter titles are very helpful in seeing the book in a big picture. For example in MHTN, just by looking on the titles of each part, you can easily tell that this is the main character’s quest for happiness.

For the most part, I can relate to Aaron’s quest for happiness (and him not knowing how to ride a bike 'coz I can't, too). Sometimes, it cannot be helped but to be unhappy because you CANNOT EMBRACE some side of yourself that seems less agreeable with the society. It’s easy to say, “have courage” or “love yourself” but nah, we all know it's not that easy in real life.

Aside from Aaron, a lot of other characters are also relatable. Even Eric, the almost absentee brother. Because sometimes we assume that our loved ones are strong and they don’t need our help. Even Brendan, the ignorant friend. Because sometimes when we care for a person and thinks that they are doing life wrong, we resort to shoving our opinions down their throats unaware that we are harming more than helping. Thomas is my favorite because of the irony that he says the wisest things in the book but he hasn't figure out what he wants with his own life yet. And lastly, my heart bleeds with Genevieve for falling in love with the person who will never love her in return.

I love how the sci-fi vibe is so subtle. The subtlety makes it all too real and believable. At first Aaron even thought that Leteo is a scam until one childhood friend of his has successfully undergone the procedure. Leteo is always just this looming presence until it became Aaron’s only option from his misery. Now you have to read the book to find out what happens between Aaron and Leteo. Check back with me after you read the book, okay? Or if you've already read it, come by the comments section and let's discuss it further, shall we?

For now, let me end this post by sharing with you these two life lessons that Aaron learned (and that I learned as well):
  1. Aaron learned that he should not place the responsibility of his happiness on others. He does not need someone, like a dead father, to teach him how to be happy or how to ride a bike.
  2. Aaron learned that no one is worth compromising his happiness for and it's okay to call it quits with people who hurt him just because they can’t accept him for who he is.

Ahhh, thank you bookish gods for beautiful books with life lessons!

I told you guys, deep, heavy stuff, right? So HAVE COURAGE and LOVE YOURSELF everyone!!!

My Rating:


Review: The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
by Teresa Toten

Summary:
Two-time Governor General's Award nominee Teresa Toten is back with a compulsively readable new book for teens!

When Adam meets Robyn at a support group for kids coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder, he is drawn to her almost before he can take a breath. He's determined to protect and defend her--to play Batman to her Robyn--whatever the cost. But when you're fourteen and the everyday problems of dealing with divorced parents and step-siblings are supplemented by the challenges of OCD, it's hard to imagine yourself falling in love. How can you have a "normal" relationship when your life is so fraught with problems? And that's not even to mention the small matter of those threatening letters Adam's mother has started to receive . . .

Teresa Toten sets some tough and topical issues against the backdrop of a traditional whodunit in this engaging new novel that readers will find hard to put down.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)


Series: Standalone
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: March 2015 (first published August 27th 2013)
Source/Format: Paperback/Giveaway won from Fay of Bibliophile Soprano (THANKS!)
Purchase links: The Book Depository | Amazon

My Thoughts:

Adam Spencer Ross is a fourteen-year old who believes certain numbers are bad, taps his foot or fingers in certain patterns, and perfectly stacks his Thor comics in order of issue. He has a bad case of OCD and is trying to learn to control it with other kids with the same problem in a support group. He does not take these meetings seriously until one fateful day when Robyn Plummer stepped into the room. Then suddenly, Adam wanted to be a hero. He felt the need to become better in order to save Robyn. He was a boy who has never had a goal before but because of Robyn, he became a man with written goals. 

I picked this book up randomly and before I knew it, I was past halfway through it. It was surprisingly a very engaging and light read for a book dealing with a tough issue (mental disorder/anxiety/OCD). I expected myself to be gloomy under a dark cloud while reading but really I was like this most of the time:



Lots of times the book is cute, swoony and funny. Adam’s observations and thought process are funny. Him falling in love instantly with Robin is funny in a cute way. Him having to perform a ritual before entering doors is funny in a sad way.

I liked this book big time so right after I finished reading, I literally shoved it to my sister because I have to know someone else’s thought of it. Well, it took ages for her to finish (I’m a slow reader and she is way slower) but I am happy to report that she also liked it. I asked her what her favorite parts were and she said she specially liked the romance between Adam and Robyn. Me on the other hand greatly liked the friendship aspect of Adam both with the support group peeps and with Ben Stones, his childhood friend. I love that Adam was both open to make new friends with the people in support group and at the same time he gets to keep his friendship with Stones intact, despite his illness. We both agree that Adam’s little half-brother, Sweetie, is such an adorable addition to Adam’s life. Basically, we just want to wrap these characters in a big burrito and smoosh them all with hugs!
"Everybody lies.Well, hell, maybe everybody has damn good reasons to lie. Maybe we all just lie to hide the hurt or to fake being strong until we can be strong. That's not so bad is it? Is it?"

This is a story of a boy’s struggles of having to grow up, of making new friends and keeping old ones, of dealing with first love, of living with lies and of facing family troubles. Basically, Adam Spencer Ross is a typical teenage boy, except that he is not, because of his OCD. I commend the author for a well-researched work. I think this is a great representation of what teenage mental illness is about. Most of the time their lives are as regular as the next teenager, except when they have to deal with their monsters inside. Read this book if you're in search for a quick YA read with a little something of everything: fluff, family, friendship, faith and heroics.

Rating:


Event Recap: Blogging Seminar by Frances Amper Sales

Photo credit: Powerbooks Facebook page
After a little over two months of book blogging, I confess that I still mostly don't know what I'm doing. So when I saw Powerbooks' poster for a FREE blogging seminar, by no other than Frances Sales, a prominent mom blogger, I grabbed the opportunity to learn more about the biz.

The seminar was held last July, 19 in Powerbooks Greenbelt 4. I took down notes during the seminar then asked Frances after if I could share it here in the blog and she so kindly said yes. So here are some bits and pieces from my notes:

Introduction of her blog
Frances decided to start blogging because she loves writing and already has an editorial background. She used Friendster at the start where only her approved network of friends can view her posts. She received lots of love from her posts in Friendster and decided eventually to move on to Blogger.

She started her personal and lifestyle blog in 2005. Topaz is her birthstone and her blog is a glimpse of her life so she named her blog Topaz Horizon. She said that in hindsight, Topaz Horizon is actually not a very good blog name because she got asked about a lot why she named her blog as such. She said that a good blog name tells right away what your posts are about. A good name, she said for example, would be “A Sea of Shoes” if you are blogging about shoes.

In 2009, she also started a parenting blog called Topaz Mommy. She decided to have a separate blog for parenting because she felt the her readers in Topaz Horizon wouldn't appreciate her posts about motherhood. She threw a caution however to beginner bloggers to avoid as much as possible creating multiple blogs. Do just one and focus all your energies there.

Frances discussing her blogging tips.

How she grew her blog?
  • Thru SEO. SEO is knowing how to use keywords to enable your post to be on top spot in Google searches. She said that SEO today is different from SEO when she was just starting out. She said that these days, Google changed it’s algorithm to show original content rather than keywords only. (That's better, right?)
  • Thru networking. This means regularly visiting other blogs, leaving comments and your own blog link. Comments should be meaningful and should show that you really read the post. Comments such as, “Great post, please visit my blog.” is a big no-no.
  • Thru social media. Share your posts in various social media, too.
  • Branding. This means making your blog stand out midst the sea of other blogs swimming in the net. So how do you go creating your own brand? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself to help you create your brand: What can you talk about all day long? Who do you want to talk to? How do you want people to describe you in a sentence? What words can you use across all your platforms? What makes you unique?

“What makes you unique, will make your blog unique.”

How to earn money from blogging?
  • Thru ad placements in your blog
  • Thru sponsored posts. This consists of working with brands to create content for them to be posted in your blog. This includes but not limited to recipes, tips, product features or product review
  • Thru sponsored social media posts. Posts in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts which features the product of the sponsors.
  • Thru affiliates. Online stores such as Amazon have affiliate programs that when a customer used your blog link to purchase on their site, you will receive a portion of the proceeds.
  • Thru selling your products and/or services in the blog. If your blog is about crafts, you may sell your work thru the blog. There are also bloggers who offer services, such as blog layouting and design.
  • Thru brand ambassadorships. I think this one will best work if you're already an established and highly esteemed blogger (like Frances) and the brands you have worked with wants to make you an ambassador and/or be the face of the brand in events and social media.

"If they believe in you, they will want to work with you."

Ways to make your blog succeed:
  • Be true to yourself. Do not go accepting sponsored products for features (or go joining blog tours for us book bloggers?) if you don’t believe in the product yourself.
  • Be disciplined. Check your grammar. Have an organized blog layout. Schedule your posts especially if sponsored and stick to your schedule.
  • Be humble. Do not be a diva. Do not demand freebies. Do not gate crash parties.
  • Be generous. Provide link-ups in your posts.
  • Collaborate like crazy. Think like Taylor Swift. Do not compete with other bloggers. Collaborate instead. Do not be threatened. Help each other instead. You don’t have to kill the competition in order to succeed in blogging. Blogging is so unlike the television where they have to compete for the people’s viewership. People can both visit your blog and other blogs as well.

"Collaboration is key."

Other tips:
  • Post regularly. Online readers are not that loyal. If they don’t see you posting that often, they will unfollow you. If you will be on a hiatus, make an official announcement and an estimated time on when you will come back.
  • Balance between regular posts and sponsored posts.
  • Don't go into blogging thinking that you just want the money.
  • Do not publish comments from trolls.
With Frances.

Needless to say but i’ll say it anyway,THE SEMINAR WAS A GOLD MINE. A bunch of thanks to Frances, Powerbooks and Enderun's The Study. It was so inspiring to hear Frances’ success stories in blogging. And what’s even more exciting is if I can apply all her success tips in this blog. Well, let’s see...

If you missed this seminar, there will be a more extensive one in August 27, (it’s a weekday, what a bummer!) with deets HERE.


Review: In The Beginning There Was Us by Ingrid Jonach

In The Beginning There Was Us
by Ingrid Jonach

Summary:
What would you do if you were God? If you had the power to not only give life, but take it away in the blink of an eye? These are the questions that haunt fifteen-year-old Abbey Baxter after she resurrects a boy, long lost to the ages.

The achingly beautiful and eternally melancholy Cole not only serves as a welcome distraction from her long-time crush, Elwin, but also eases the heartache that persists since the sudden passing of her younger brother, Junior, four years earlier.

As the intrigue of her relationship with Cole deepens, so too does the mystery that surrounds a growing phenomenon sweeping through her small West Virginian town, transforming the lives of its residents. Around her, two bedroom cottages are transforming into mansions without explanation and residents are waking up to bank balances that have tripled overnight, all under the watchful gaze of the sinister American Laboratory for Particle Physics, located on the outskirts of town.

As Abbey searches for answers in a bid to solve the mystery in partnership with Elwin, she’s forced into a realization that that some things are better left buried, including her newfound love, Cole.

This cautionary tale of heartache and obsession explores the endless possibilities of the universe and its devastating impact on two young lovers from different worlds.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: a companion novel to When the World Was Flat (and we were in love), but can be read as a standalone
Publisher: self-published
Date of Publication: April 28, 2015
Format acquired/Source: I received an e-copy of this book from the blog tour/review opportunity organized by Dianne of Oops I Read A Book Again. This in no way affects my views.
Purchase here: Amazon | Smashwords

My Thoughts:
I started reading this book with a feeling of immense excitement BECAUSE...


I think this is my very first sci-fi YA read! Meanwhile, it's the second book of Ingrid Jonach for her Other World Collection. This collection consists of young adult novels with re-imagined histories and possible scientific explanations for the inexplicable in a contemporary setting. See Ingrid's guest post in the blog HERE where she explained why she loves writing this genre.

Abbey Baxter is a fifteen-year old daughter of a depressed ex-teacher turned housewife mother and a workaholic scientist father. Her father works for a Laboratory in fictional Albert Falls tinkering in a particle that’s seemingly causing some anomalies in their town. Because her parents does not always seem to be around, she always locks herself in her art studio or hangs out with her bestfriend, Mali, whose older brother, Elwin, Abbey has a long-time crush on. But Elwin does not seem to care for Abbey that way. Soon, Abbey found herself inadvertently conjuring through a painting, a handsome boy she named Cole. Cole looks up to Abbey as his god. Abbey on the other hand is smitten by Cole. And thus, started this dangerous relationship and the consequences that came with playing god.

Okay, I will be upfront and honest with my general reaction with the book: it was an okay read for me. My favorite part was the ending because it was brilliantly haunting and unexpected. I also like some funny dialogue sections between Abbey and Mali. And I especially enjoyed Ingrid’s fine writing skills in depicting certain scenes. There are times when she could make something from the pages feel real. One example for me was when the heroine was thrown down the ground and felt myself wincing on the imaginary pain while reading.

One thing that thew me off though was the sluggish development of the story. It’s almost already 60% in with my reading when things started to really pick up. Most parts in the beginning and in the middle are overshadowed by romance and love triangle. Some swoon-loving readers might like this, but it’s just not for me.

Also, I have issues on the believability of some things in this alternate world and history:
  • First example, Europe was wiped out before our story began because a group of OVER A THOUSAND scientists and engineers agree to turn the particle in question into a weapon of mass destruction. Upon reading this, I was like WOAH, that was a lot of unethical and unthinking scientists and engineers over there!
  • Then there was this time when Abbey willed Cole (through her thoughts) to take a vacation in Alaska only to pull him out of there the next minute and have him appear back in Albert Falls to fulfill boyfriend duties. Yes, points for swoon but this is just so physically impossible for me. Shush, Abbey, don’t try to convince me that you have a monopoly of the god particle!
  • Also, Abbey seems to have used up all her time sulking in her art studio, doing part-time job at a bookstore, hanging out, sleeping over and reluctant partying and I wonder, WHAT ABOUT SCHOOL?! Teens in real life spend most of their time in school, right? There sure were sparse mentions of school (that mostly refer to previous school years) but no actual scene in school or actual schoolwork. I’m aware that the town was in lockdown for the most part but it did not say clearly whether school was out or not. And if school was out, should they at least must have a massive amount of take-home schoolworks to do? I might have said “school” way too much, I’m stopping this right here.
All in all, I think some unique-seeking readers will probably love ITBTWU. As for me, despite some of my issues, I am still delighted that I got to check it out BECAUSE YOU, GUYS...


Seriously, this book stirred in me some real newfound curiosity in science (googled lots of jargons while reading) AND raw cravings for more sci-fi reads. So, what sci-fi book should I devour next? Hit me up with your recs in the comments.

Event Recap: #KMRinPH Book Signing Tour

Poster photo from NBS Facebook page

It's been said somewhere that you never forget your firsts. Well, this was my very first attendance in a book signing event and I tell you, it was truly unforgettable. But first I must admit that I almost did not want to go because of the bad weather that day (it was raining so hard) but the thought of meeting esteemed YA contemporary authors and having signed books got the best of me. Also, I agreed to meet up with one of my favorite book bloggers, Sab of Sab The Book Eater, to hand over a book that I won from her blog. So here's my recap of what went down last July 5th:

I went with my sister at the venue at around 1PM. I thought we're gonna be early enough for the 2PM start time (according to the poster) but the place was already packed with eager fans when we got there. All the seats were already filled. People without seats were either milling around the venue chatting with friends or sitting on the cold mall floors doing, what else, some reading! We came by the registration area, signed our names, have our books checked (because books for signing must be bought at NBS) and picked our queue number, 410.

After registration, we joined the people sitting down on the floors. Various bookish videos from Epic Reads were shown on the stage screen: greetings by YA authors, book quotes, book blurbs and book nerd problems as re-enacted by some YA authors (our personal favorite). The energy of the people around us was sky high. Shouts and screams of cheers were in order whenever their favorite authors or books were being shown on screen. Shouts and screams grew even louder when Katie, Melissa and Robyn were called on-stage.
Photo from NBS Facebook page
Before the signing, there was a little Q&A with the three lovely authors. Okay, for this part I beg for your forgiveness because I was not able to take note of all the questions and answers. Maybe next time, I'd be more equipped and ready? Moving on, some of the questions asked were the authors' dream cast for their books (celebrity names that I heard were ChloĆ« Grace Moretz and Shiri Appleby), the songs they thought were suited for their books, favorite quotes from their books, and advice to young and budding writers. There were only two questions that I remembered the answers for. The first one was which classic literature were their favorites; Katie answered the Eloise children's series, Melissa answered Pride and Prejudice and Robyn answered The Great Gatsby. The second question was if they are currently writing something new and what is it about; Katie said she is working on a 90's tragic love story, Melissa said her next novel is about a girl coping from her mom's death and Robyn's is about two girls who both dated a boy who killed himself. My writing does not sound exciting but when the three ladies were discussing their WIPs, you can sense that people in the audience, myself included, were collectively half-wishing that their new books will materialize out of thin air so we can all read them right there and then.

After the Q&A, the signing began. The organizers were calling queue numbers by 20's and we were number 410!!! We exited the venue (with a little concern that the signing will take forever) and at this time Sab texted me to meet her up. So we met and she handed over the book prize and have our photo taken together. The first photo my sister took was shaky so we awkwardly asked for another again. She was ever so nice and she assured us that although there are a lot of people to be entertained and books to be signed by the authors, we will have our turn in no time. We parted ways and my sister and I decided to eat some snacks first. After eating, we went back to the venue and waited for our turn. While waiting, we entertained ourselves with reading and looking around fellow bookish peeps having the time of their lives meeting their favorite authors.
With Sab of Sab The Book Eater

And then it was finally our time to have our books signed! We were actually both giddy with excitement. I think I was not able to say anything to the authors but a wide smile was plastered on my face the whole time. My sister was actually the one more interactive than me and I remembered her having little chats with both Katie and Melissa. Katie has the most infectious laugh and Melissa has the most soothing voice. Then she told Robyn (who is so prettily wearing her Taylor Swift looking dress) that they are both left-handed. I was supposed to be just standing there taking photos by the sides but the NBS people were kind enough to allow me to have photos taken with the authors as well. And what's more, I also got HUGS from all three of them!!!


I checked the time after we had our turn, it's just 5PM. All in all, the experience was so worth the wait and so worth braving the downpour of heavy rains. I will surely attend another event with any of these three beautiful authors.

Were you there at the #KMRinPH book signing event, too? Or if not, have you attended the same kind of event and how awesome was it meeting beautiful and shiny authors?! Tell me about your experience so we can both flail and do shimmies together. :)