Review: The Martian by Andy Weir


The Martian
by Andy Weir

Synopsis:
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: The Martian #1
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication date:  February 11th 2014 (first published September 27th 2012)
Source/Format: Bought/eBook
Purchase link: Amazon 


My Thoughts:
Hey-o, of course this book needs no introductions, with a strong 4.39 average rating in Goodreads from over half a million account users and with a movie adaptation starring Matt Damon. I’ve seen the movie and I liked it. I’m trying to decide if I want to read the author’s sophomore book, Artemis, being released this month. I have a copy of “The Martian” lying around so I guess it’s high time to read it and have a feel of Andy Weir’s writing style.

Happy to report, I am with the majority on this one. High stakes and humor are what I enjoyed most in this book. I mean, what could be more dangerous and high stakes than being stranded alone in a hostile planet? And yet Mark Watney, despite his dire circumstance is joke-y, has a never-say-die attitude and has ace problem solving skills which, made his character easy to root for. The periphery characters — NASA employees, Mark’s crew mates, and basically all the humanity — are all rooting for Mark’s survival, too so there is really no villain character here. Man versus Mars, bring it on!

I admit there are boring hard science stuff, this is why I do not read sci-fi that much, but I mostly skimmed over these parts and still found the book enjoyable. I will keep this post short now because there is nothing much I could add to the glowing reviews other people wrote. “The Martian” is entertaining and I decided that I will read Andy Weir’s next book.


Diversity Watch:
Mark Watney is racially indeterminate.

Director of Mars Missions, Venkat Kapoor’s ethnicity is not explicit in text but I am inferring he has Indian roots. He mentioned his religion is Hindu.

Director of JPL, Bruce Ng’s ethnicity is not explicit in text but I am inferring he has Asian roots.

Martinez, one of Mark’s crewmates, explicitly mentioned that he is Mexican.

Vogel, one of Mark’s cremates, is the European Union’s delegate for the Ares 3 mission. He is German.

Guo Ming, Zhu Tao, Su Bin Bao from the China National Space Administration.


My Rating:

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao


Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
by Julie C. Dao

Synopsis:
An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress--and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.


(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date:  October 10th 2017
Source/Format: Netgalley/eARC
Purchase links: Amazon Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks | Book Depository


My Thoughts:
“Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” follows Xifeng, a peasant girl with exceptional beauty and great destiny. Her witch aunt Guma groomed, disciplined and taught her poetry, history and other ways of the aristocrat, as preparation for her future. A part of Xifeng doubts her foretold great destiny but another part wants to believe it. One day, while being fed up with her aunt Guma’s beatings, the part of Xifeng which believes fate won over and she decides to run away with her lover, Wei. Together, they chase their luck in the Imperial City.

Xifeng’s character is a re-imagined origin story of one of the most iconic fairy tale villains, the Evil Queen. As a villain in the making, Xifeng is not intended to be likable at all but she will grow on the reader just the same. She never lets people who step on her get away with it. When people underestimate her, she does every thing in her power to prove them wrong. The Feng Lu Empire is a man’s world but Xifeng gets to do a little smashing of the patriarchy in the end. Murky morality aside, she is a strong character for sure.

I like how Xifeng’s character takes the reader to an exploration of the concept of freedom. A large chunk of the book is about Xifeng starting to figure out her way to being free and her own person. There is this thought Xifeng had earlier in the book where she questions if running away with Wei is the freedom that she wanted after being finally free from Guma’s clutches: “When had she gone from being Guma’s possesion to Wei’s?” Hey Wei, dude, don’t mess with this girl, she can think for herself. And then there was this instance when she killed small animals for their hearts to heal a scar in her face. This ritual had always upset Xifeng before when Guma made her do it but when she does it on her own volition, there is this hint of triumph in Xifeng. I had goosies when it dawned on me that she was upset in sacrificing animals before not because she thought it was wrong but more of because she was being forced to do it.

Being on top has become Xifeng’s idea of ultimate freedom. Xifeng one by one discards any thing (poverty, love) and any one (there are murders, gasp!) she thought would suppress her from ascending the ranks of the Imperial court. She totally becomes out of touch from herself, even succumbing to an evil spirit so she can ensure the fruition of her goals. Am I giving away too much plot here? Sorry, I just cannot stop with too much pleasure in discussing all things Xifeng. Just as I told you, she grows on the reader.

The book’s world-building is not that defined yet. I hope it gets more enhanced on the sequels. The Feng Lu Empire appears to be vast but I experienced only a glimpse of it. Aside from Xifeng’s travel from her obscure village to the Imperial City, most of the story’s setting is limited inside the city of women, which is a place she cannot leave as a court lady. There are still a lot of people (the Five Tigers, the Crimson Army, the royalty of the other Kingdoms) and places (Kamatsu, Surjalana, Dagovad) mentioned that I hope to meet and visit in the next book/s.

The supporting characters are serviceable but aside from maybe Aunt Guma and Empress Lihua, they are mostly broadly written. There is a distinct lack of humor that I know is not really required but could pick up on the unexciting bits of the book. The pacing is a little uneven with the first parts going slow and steady day by day, week by week and then rushing to year by year on the last parts, using casual birth and death of periphery characters to indicate the passing of time.

Strangely enough, I am willing to let go of these little flaws and jump right into the next book in the series. I just want to bear witness to the terrible things Xifeng has in store for the Feng Lu Empire. I also can’t wait to meet the Snow White equivalent of the series, although I believe I’ve already saw her briefly in this book. I hope she becomes a formidable foe to Xifeng. “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” is a confident set-up piece for a book series, with a strong anti-heroine at its front and center. It delivered a promising origin story and an excellent character study for Xifeng whom we all know is bound to unleash her reign of terror in the future. I don’t know about you, but until someone proves to be a worthy adversary to her, I’ll be standing here holding a sign: U DA BADDEST & DA FAIREST, XIFENG!


Sidenote: Check out the ongoing PH Blog Tour of "Forest of a Thousand Lanterns", hosted by Erika @ The Nocturnal Feyfor giveaways and reviews from other Filipino book bloggers!


Diversity Watch:
Although The Feng Lu Empire is inspired by Imperial China, there are mentions of other people of color (brown skin, copper color skin, etc.) in its capital.

Shiro, the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Kamatsu, is a dwarf.


My Rating:

Wandering Thoughts: Things That I Want To Add In My Reviews But No Can Do

Image: Kaboompics

Wandering Thoughts is where I let my mind stray, think and talk about non-routine things. This is an avenue for bookish personal stories, fun posts, musings and discussions.

When I read reviews from reviews sites and fellow book bloggers, I sometimes stumble upon stuff that I find so pretty or brilliant or important that I want to also incorporate them with my own book reviews. I want to emulate them because they make their reviews so extra. Being extra means you love what you’re doing. Being extra shows passion. But most of the time, I end up not doing these things in my reviews because either I actually cannot do them myself or I could do them if I really try but it would eat up too much time. So here are some of the special stuff other people have in their reviews that I wish I have in mine but no can do.

  1. Book photography

    Image: Pixabay
    I cannot for the life of me take decent photos of anything. I have shaky hands so I almost always end up with blurry, or grainy, or off-center images. And on a really bad day, I do a combo of these three disasters  in one pic. Also, I have zero creative juice in arranging books to pretty flatlays. Like what background should I use with this particular book cover? Or how to pick things that goes with the book in the photo? I see people using flowers, candles, origami and such, how do they even come up with these themes, color coordination and all that aesthetic? My lack of competence in capturing pretty pictures is one of the reasons why I do not bookstagram. Book photography, while it comes natural for others is too much for me to handle.

    One of the many talented book blogger slash photographer out there is Hazel of Staybookish who takes crisp and clean photos. I also like the minimalist aesthetic of book photos by Shelumiel of Bookish and Awesome which also functions as header images for his review posts. And if going crazy with colors is your thing, Cait of Paper Fury is the ever reliable book blogger.

  2. Parental advisory

    Image: Pixabay
    It’s good practice to include trigger warning advisories in book reviews. I make sure that I do this in my reviews because I believe it’s important and the right thing to do. Another thing that I think important and value-adding is a parental advisory for books. TV shows and movies have them so why shouldn’t books be any different? I feel that this is needed especially for middle-grade and young adult books. I often see Goodreads questions from parents asking if this book or that contain mature content. I mean, I hope they are asking because they want to guide and explain sensitive matters (like sex and drug use) to their children and not to censor them on what to read or not. There are times when I feel obliged to include parental advisories in my reviews but I don’t do it because of general laziness. Woah, seeing my reason for not doing something I feel important in plain writing makes me look like an irresponsible adult. I suddenly feel bad. But the good thing is, there is a review site who does this kind of thing already. I found this review of “What to Say Next” by Julie Buxbaum from Common Sense Media really helpful and informative for parents. So for all the parentals in need of mature content warnings for their kids, head in on this review site.

  3. Book quote

    Image: Pixabay
    I do give quotes from the books I review, but not all the time. Kate of The Bookaholic Blurbs is consistent in providing quotes at the end of her reviews. I dunno, perhaps blame my general laziness again. Even if the book is quotable, I keep forgetting to bookmark all the beautiful lines. And sometimes I am just more engrossed with the story and not conscious for searching quotable quotes while reading.

    Quote posters are gems that I wanna also be able to do in my reviews, too. Have you seen these quote posters in Hazel’s review of “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” by Melissa Bashardoust?! Darn nice, it’s like woven with magic or something. I dream of conjuring things like these but alas, I am the Squib of making things pretty. True story: back in high school, my Science teacher required us to prettify our notebooks and I made use of those pesky cray pass colors. Long story short, I made mine messy instead of pretty. Like I can’t even read my science notes through all the mess, what even is the point?

  4. Talk to me portion

    Image: Pixabay
    I would love to have more interaction in my review posts but sadly,comments come in trickles in this side of the internet space. It’s an arid, windy place where tumbleweeds go to tumble. Swoosh! There’ goes one tumbleweed a tumblin’, see?

    Of course I get few comments mainly because I have little (like close to zero) blog following. But being a little book blog aside, I think that another great way to get readers’ reactions and comments is by throwing them your post-related questions. It’s like give and take (or Newton’s Third Law which I don’t think I learned properly because of my stupid messed-up science notes). It works like this: I give you my thoughts about this book and I ask what’s your take on it. Have you read it yet? Are you planning to? Questions like that. An example would be, again the great Cait of Paper Fury. (Is it too obvious that I idolize her?!) She has this “Chat With Me” portion at the end of every post and look at the flurry of comments in her blog. But then again, we have to factor in her huge blog following. So I guess the formula is blog fame + asking questions in posts = party everytime in the comments section! Would I like to test this little theory and put it to practice in my blog? Partly yes, but mostly no. I can work on asking questions with my blog posts from time to time but amassing a huge following is a tricky thing to achieve.

There you have it, the extra stuff that I really want to add in my book reviews but can’t. Mostly because of laziness and incompetence. Or euphemistically speaking, let’s just say that I’d rather spend more time reading and being content with my own style of reviewing than trying too hard on things that I have no talent for. Don’t get me wrong tho, the lack of pizzaz in my reviews does not mean that I don’t love what I’m doing. I treasure my book blog. I enjoy talking about books. I put effort in every post that I write. I work through my word wall of reviews, brick by brick with my own sweat and tears.

 Talk to me portion: Hah, let’s do this! How about you? Are there “extra” stuff that other bloggers do that you wish you can do in your own blog? Or are you one of the talented book bloggers out there? Maybe you make art nails that look like the art cover of books? Or you put fashion pieces together to capture the aesthetic of book covers? Show me your stuff, leave your artsy reviews in the comments so I can see them.

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake


Satellite
by Nick Lake

Synopsis:
A teenage boy born in space makes his first trip to Earth.

He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home.

Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known.

Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.

But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.


(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date:  October 3rd 2017
Source/Format: Netgalley/eARC
Purchase links: Amazon | Kobo | Book Depository


My Thoughts:
“Satellite” presents an earth in the near future, suffering heavily from the effects of global warming. Drought, hurricanes, rising sea levels and river waters so cold that if any living thing falls in, immediate death from hypothermia is certain. Some wild animals like lions and elephants are already extinct. Mankind is looking up to space for any earth-like planet to colonize.

In such backdrop, three babies are born in a space station: our narrator Leo, and twins Libra, and Orion. Their mothers are astronauts themselves. But these kids cannot be brought by their mothers yet because their young bodies are too fragile to survive the impact of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. So they remain in standby in the space station raised by rotating astronauts until they reach the age of sixteen years old, presumably strong enough to survive the journey back home. But what is the definition of “home” for these kids? For Leo, it’s strange to call earth his home because it’s some place he hasn’t been.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is Leo’s life in the space station. It is a slow start for me mainly because the book has to establish the nuts and bolts of life in space. The second part, which narrates Leo’s experiences in earth is where things start to become fascinating. The reader re-discovers the wonder of seeing things for the first time through Leo’s eyes. The way Leo describes ordinary things on earth — the smell and taste of bacon, the sight of eggs frying in a pan, the feeling of locking eyes with a cow or touching a puppy—is so poetic, it brings me close to weeping. These are the great parts of the book.

Now for the meh parts. Upon his arrival, I expected Leo to experience interaction with various earth-raised teens. Sadly, the nearest school has been closed off and the people he met are limited to his retired astronaut turned ranch owner grandpa, some farm hands, and the employees of the Company which took over NASA. Leo spent a sheltered life on his grandpa’s ranch. He tried to contact Libra and Orion but discovered that his connection with them has been cut off. He was kept in the dark for so long,my anticipation for what’s really going on becomes boredom. And when some action seems to start weaving in the story, in the form of mysterious people leaving him notes implying that he needs rescuing, Leo dismissed the surfacing doubts about the people he trusts and just went on with his privileged life on the ranch. I imagine a wasted future earth where teens outside Leo’s bubble live hard-knock dystopic lives. But Leo’s narrative feels too detached and lacking urgency. Eventually, Leo was not able to do anything much. He is always dependent on people around him. Even on the third part of the book when  Leo supposedly stands up for himself, his actions are pretty much perfunctory.

The book is written with deliberate shortcuts in spelling and capitalization. For instance, “I see you.” is written as “i c u.” And “doctorate” is written as “Dr.ate”. Maybe it was used for futuristic vibe? Or to denote that hey, the world is ending, who’s got time for proper spelling? Whichever case, I am not bothered by it but some might not like these kind of stuff in their books so I’m just saying it right here.

Speaking of futuristic style, fashion in this imagined future is so forward and gender bending. Men wearing make-up, nail polish, and heels is commonplace. And there is one mention of a woman having her gene modified to grow beard. It’s mildly amusing but feels rather irrelevant to the story, TBH.

Another irrelevant aspect of the book for me is the romantic subplot. Yes, it’s so small and does not eat up the main plot but that’s my point, it’s so small that the book could’ve done away with it. Personally, I’d rather not give Leo much hope in romance. The book keeps on repeating this thing about the moon loving the earth from a distance and him having no one near him after all is like the perfect moon to earth.  I’m rambling here but if you already know the ending like I do, I think you’ll understand.

“Satellite” has its merit in giving its readers Leo’s all wide-eyed and wonder perspective. It was a delight feeling his sensory overload with earthly things after being born and raised inside a tin can in space. But the plot’s progression is so slow with its sections of autopilot action crammed in the third part of the book. Leo, Libra, and Orion are the hero trio that could have been. They have this game while in space of blurting out things that they would do on earth. I hoped and dreamed those things with them. I imagined them having legendary adventures on earth like becoming mermaids or such. (I heard that astronauts of NASA nowadays spend training in deep sea levels because it resembles zero gravity so becoming a mermaid is totally not a far-fetched idea) But sadly, those dreams did not fly...or swim for Leo, Libra and Orion, with the three of them just ambling through the story by letting people around them manage their lives.


Diversity Watch:
Leo is explicitly described to be attracted to same sex.

Libra is brown-skinned.

The new space agency is a merger of NASA, the Indian space agency, and a private company. I am assuming that a huge chunk of its employees are from India.

Santiago, a woman working in Public Relations of the space agency, is described by Leo as having Hispanic accent.

Soto, an astronaut in training, is described by Leo having blond hair, tan skin, green eyes that taper gently at the outer corners. Leo guessed his ethnicity as part Japanese or part Korean.

Ku, an Asian astronaut.

Yuri, a Russian cosmonaut.

An aircraft pilot, Lankolun is described by Leo as dark-skinned.


My Rating:

Blog Tour: 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough (Review+Giveaway)




Hello and welcome to my stop for the blog tour of 13 MINUTES by Sarah Pinborough. I wanna thank Fantastic Flying Book Club for organizing the blog tour. 

Today's business is for me to introduce the book and share my thoughts about it. The tour is also hosting a giveaway for an advanced review copy (ARC) of the book for U.S. residents. At the end of this post is a rundown of all the participating book blogs, so be sure to visit them too on their designated tour stops.


About 13 Minutes


"Mean Girls for the Instagram age." --The Times (London)

The New York Times bestselling author known for her thrilling twists is back: 

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you're a teenage girl, it's hard to tell them apart.

Natasha doesn't remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this--it wasn't an accident, and she wasn't suicidal. Her two closest friends are acting strangely, and Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before when she got popular, to help her figure out what happened.

Natasha's sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn't try to kill her? 

13 Minutes is a psychological thriller with a killer twist from the #1 internationally bestselling author Sarah Pinborough.


Series: Standalone
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Expected Publication date:   October 3rd 2017
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon Barnes&Noble | Kobo | Book Depository | iBooks | IndieBound

About Sarah

Sarah Pinborough is a critically acclaimed adult and YA author based in London. 

Sarah was the 2009 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story and also the 2010 and 2014 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Novella, and she has four times been short-listed for Best Novel. She is also a screenwriter who has written for the BBC and has several original television projects in development.

Her next novel, Behind Her Eyes, coming for HarperFiction in the UK and Flatiron in the US (January 2017) has sold in nearly 20 territories worldwide and is a dark thriller about relationships with a kicker of a twist.

You can follow her on Twitter @sarahpinborough


Review:

My Thoughts:
Natasha, Hayley and Becca were childhood BFFs. That’s up until when Becca’s baby fats did not shed in sync with Natasha’s and Hayley’s. They deemed her not worthy of their squad and had her replaced by Jenny. The new trio became the Barbies, your resident mean girls. But one morning, Barbie leader Natasha’s body is found tangled on twigs, floating by the icy river. She survived, despite being dead for thirteen minutes and in a coma for days, but cannot remember how and why she almost ended up in a watery grave. And when she wakes up, she inexplicably feels gravitated towards seeking comfort from ex-BFF Becca, instead of turning to her two current BFFs.

A person such as Natasha is as expected, hard to relate to. She is the spoiled reigning queen bee of the wild hive that is high school. She basks in the glory of her popularity. She does things just for kicks, she manipulates people, she loves drama. Nothing really bad went off in her charmed life until her thirteen-minute death. Then enters average-student Becca, who keeps the narrative grounded. She is the person we can most probably relate to. Becca is our conduit to finding out what really happened, when Natasha slowly sheds her veneer and asks for help in piecing together her missing memories.

Most of the narrative follows Becca in 3rd person point of view but the author did not skimp on giving the reader a lot of vantage points. There are chapters with 1st person narration by Natasha through a journal she was asked to keep in helping her recover her memories and there are excerpts of her consultations with a psychologist. These elements really fleshed out her character. There are news clips of the incident and related incidents which give more background info or sometimes help move the plot forward. There are interspersed text messages between Hayley and Jenny which shows their desperation with the investigation and also provides a build up to the plot. And the notes scrawled by the investigating police detective gives an observer’s perspective of how these teens are reacting with everything going on.


The most notable thing about “13 Minutes” and what made me glued to the pages is its affecting prose. In the first few pages, there is a sense of urgency there while Natasha is drowning to death, with a succeeding sense of relief when she was saved. When characters are questioned or invited to the police precint, the book makes it believable that they are really possible suspects. So as not to reveal a lot of the plot, let me just say that all through my notes, I have scribbled a lot of “OMIGOSH!” moments for varying reasons and emotions. It is just astounding how this book can make you feel eerie things while just sitting and reading. 

The teen characters are complex and affecting, too. One instance they show glimpses of vulnerability and kindness then the next, they say and do things that makes my skin crawl. There is an element of power play here between these teen characters. Adults (parents, teachers, police, counselors) are visibly around but they are subtly relegated to the back, like mere spectators in a game of chess. And the book is smart in letting these angsty teens toy with control and power while making the adults one step behind or completely oblivious with what’s really happening. The whole flipped set-up where teens seem tough and adults seem frail adds a layer to the eerieness of the book.

“13 Minutes” is ultimately a story of childhood friendships gone awry. It gave me this new askewed grasp of what having a bestfriend means. Yeah sure, having a bestfriend is one of the nicest things: a support system, a confidante, someone who gets you and can totally read you like a book. But having someone know you through and through can also sometimes backfire. The phrase “Be my bestfriend” is probably ruined for me because of this book. Damn, this book is deliciously dark! Go ahead, indulge.

Diversity Watch:
Natasha, Hayley and Jenny are white.

Becca is racially indeterminate.


My Rating:

Giveaway

  • 1 ARC of 13 MINUTES by Sarah Pinborough
  • US Only
  • No giveaway accounts PLEASE!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule

Don't forget to follow the blog tour along and hop on these blogs as well on their designated stops:

September 27th

September 28th

September 29th

September 30th

October 1st
Reading Wonderland - Review + Favourite Quotes

October 2nd
The Bibliophile Confessions - Review + Favourite Quotes

October 3rd
The Candid Cover - Review + Playlist + Dream Cast
Supercalireader - Review
Staircase Wit - Review + Playlist + Dream Cast

Review: It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne


It Only Happens in the Movies
by Holly Bourne

Synopsis:
Audrey is over romance. Since her parents' relationship imploded her mother's been catatonic, so she takes a cinema job to get out of the house. But there she meets wannabe film-maker Harry. Nobody expects Audrey and Harry to fall in love as hard and fast as they do. But that doesn't mean things are easy. Because real love isn't like the movies...

The greatest love story ever told doesn't feature kissing in the snow or racing to airports. It features pain and confusion and hope and wonder and a ban on cheesy clichés. Oh, and zombies... YA star Holly Bourne tackles real love in this hugely funny and poignant novel.


(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Usborne Publishing
Expected Publication date:  October 1st 2017
Source/Format: Finished paperback from the publisher. (This, in now way affects the integrity of my review)
Pre-order links: Amazon | Google Play | Book Depository


My Thoughts:

Audrey Winters has been burned twice by romantic love. First is when her dad left their family for another woman. Second is when her boyfriend dumped her for another girl. She starts working part-time at a posh cinema to distract herself from her heartbreaks and there she met Harry. Harry, who despite being a bad boy, is irresistibly persuasive in making Audrey open and trusting again.

“It Only Happens in the Movies” is basically a YA book that satirizes romantic films. It tries on a lot of stuff to set its tone: Audrey’s Media course work which shows her utter disdain of how unrealistic romantic films are, screenplay of the things that she wants to say to her faithless dad, zombie film-making featuring a zombie bride who has an agency to make her own choices, montage of Audrey’s happy romantic days complete with background music and blooper reels of Audrey trying to be nice with a girl competing for Harry’s affections. For the most part, the story adheres to the romcom plot formula to prove the toxicity in most romantic films. To make its case, a chapter will begin with a snippet of Audrey’s course work featuring a certain element of romcom like “The bestfriend who only exists to be your bestfriend” and then that chapter will introduce a character that somehow fits the bill. Or another snippet that lambasts “The grand gesture” and then will be followed by scenes of Harry making a huge romantic effort to win Audrey. Audrey’s media course work snippets are funny and what’s funnier is when she contradicts herself and violates her own rules about entering relationships. I don’t think that the book will even pass the Bechdel Test and personally knowing Holly Bourne’s previous works, that is super funny in an ironic kind of way.

Through humor, the book exposes the dangers of cute and commercial cotton candy cinema that feeds our unrealistic romantic fantasies. It makes the reader realize that stuff onscreen do not often reflect reality, thus it will eventually lead us to disappointments with how real-life romantic relationship works. Yes, it is a takedown on romance films but what I like about it is it does not offend people (like me) who enjoy fluff in films (and books). The book does not make itself sound superior over this brand of entertainment. It’s even indulging in some ways like referencing a lot of familiar romcom films. “Before Sunrise”, my favorite romantic film of all time (a fact which I have mentioned here and here in the blog before) is directly referenced in the book and mentioned in Holly Bourne’s bonus content in a positive light. Also, one of my favorite parts is when Audrey made a survey for her course work about which is the best cinematic kiss ever and I’m like,YAAS, I’M HERE FOR THIS! Audrey has many conversations about the survey with Harry and her friends. Audrey watched a film called "Cinema Paradiso" a film about film-making and cinematic kisses(?). I haven't watched this before onscreen but the book's explanation of it unexpectedly made me tear up.

“I do exist. I am here. I am part of this life, whether you like it or not. I will have reactions. I will be a human. I won’t go away quietly. I deserve to be here.”

The book made its main character explore and discover relationships on her own. Her friends are there for support but they don’t tell her what to do. I love the dynamics of friendship here that is very different but somewhat the same with the Spinsters Club. BTW, Holly Bourne’s feminist colors are often showing in the book but that’s not a bad thing, I’ll eat up feminist stuff any time of day. Most (note, not all) adults around Audrey are cool, too. They do not choke or control her with rules. Her mom for one lets her do things and is not like against relationships just because of her failed marriage. Another adult, Loulou who warned Audrey about Harry’s bad boy reputation is like okay-Imma-warn-you-but-it’s-still-up-to-you. Her Media course teacher is concerned about her work and is also instrumental for Audrey meeting up with a relationship expert. This meeting with the relationship expert is also one of my favorite parts because their conversation about real-life romantic relationship is so insightful. 

All in all, I am entertained and enlightened. The narrative is character driven with plot points moving based on Audrey’s choices. Audrey made mistakes, learned her lessons and the last pages have a solid empowering ending for her. Highly recommended for fluff-lovers and fluff-haters alike, for people going through a heartbreak or for young teens just starting to find out what romance is all about. Oh, and you should really read this if you are a film lover. BTW, definitely the best cinematic kiss for me is the one in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in all its under the rain glory BECAUSE LOOK AT THE CAT, EVEN THE CAT IS FEELING IT!!! How about you, which film gets your vote for the best cinematic kiss? (Holly Bourne, actually put up a poll about this in her Tumblr )



Diversity Watch:

Audrey Winters is racially indeterminate.

Harry is described as looking like Joseph Gordon Levitt (Asian or Jewish?).

One of Audrey’s friends, Leroy is a gay church-going Catholic. He is not out yet with his parents. He has a boyfriend named Ian.


My Rating:



Review: A Messy, Beautiful Life by Sara Jade Alan


A Messy, Beautiful Life
by Sara Jade Alan

Synopsis:
Life is funny sometimes.

And not always the ha, ha kind. Like that one time where a hot guy tried to kiss me and I fell. Down. Hard. And then found out I had cancer.

I’m trying to be strong for my friends and my mom.

And I’m trying so hard to be “just friends” with that hot guy, even though he seems to want so much more. But I won’t do that to him. He’s been through this before with his family, and I’m not going to let him watch me die.

So, I tell myself: Smile Ellie. Be funny Ellie. Don’t cry Ellie, because once I start, I might not stop.



(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Entangled TEEN
Expected Publication date:  October 2nd 2017
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon Barnes&Noble 


My Thoughts:
“A Messy, Beautiful Life”concerns Ellie Hartwood, a seventeen year old leader of her school’s improv group, Spontaneous Combustion. At the start of the book, her team is sharing the stage with another school’s improv group, Scared Scriptless, where she met Jason. Ellie and Jason have undeniable chemistry and connection not only in their stage performance but in romance department as well. But then Ellie is diagnosed with cancer and Jason has just lost a family member from it. Ellie is now torn between keeping Jason, the person who brings her happiness or pushing him away to avoid bringing him sadness.

Whoever wrote the book’s blurb should get some kind of credit because that’s what drew me in to be interested in the book in the first place. Ellie’s voice in the blurb sounds like someone who is sunny and fun but suddenly here comes cancer. I thought it would really be interesting to see how a person with such personality would handle such a devastating situation. And then perusing through the first pages, I found out that Ellie, Jason and their friends do stage improv and I’m like hey, I haven’t read a YA contemporary with characters doing improv before. This is going to be interesting. After finishing the book tho, I’m like sigh, this is disappointing.

The narration is more telling rather than showing. There are a lot of times where Ellie makes info dumps on how certain improv acts are done. Here’s one example: “In the game of Freeze, two players do a scene until someone on the sidelines yells “Freeze” then the players have to hold whatever pose they were in. Another actor tags one person out, takes on the same position but starts an entirely new scene that justifies the starting position. It continues as people call out “Freeze” and start new scene after new scene.”

The characters, even the supposedly sunny and funny Ellie, have lacking personality. This is a shame because Ellie had the potential to be an inspiring character. Jason had the potential to be the supportive and gentlemanly love interest. But they are not given anything much because most of the things are told rather than shown. The side characters are just like background noises, telling the main character what to do: you should go to the party, Ellie; you should already tell Jason you have cancer, Ellie; you should sign up for the standup contest, Ellie.


The characters’ emotions are also kind of just stated there in the pages but not felt by the reader. There are scenes where the characters are in tears but I am not emotional about it. Or where the characters are laughing and I find myself not laughing with them. And where Ellie and her friends are swoony about their love interests and I’m kind of like a dead tree stump reading but not feeling anything. Of course, it’s not like I’m a real dead tree stump cursed to be devoid of emotions but it’s more like the book makes the characters cry, laugh and swoon without having to do the work of building up to those scenes.

While reading, I was getting the sense that things are happening a bit too fast for the characters. There is one when I was like what, they are kissing already when they’ve just met?! I backtracked and checked and it was actually already a matter of days already. Again, the passing of time is literally expository and told by Ellie like, “it’s been nine days since...” too many times and that’s not okay. It could do with filling the pages with daily, routine student activities like class attendance and stuff so the readers feel the passing of time as something resembling real life.

I could tell that the author really has the know how of improv, a backdrop that would really be interesting for cutesy romantic fluff. And the trope of getting through a life-threatening disease such as cancer has proven to be a success in milking the readers’ sympathy in many YA contemporary books. It was a shame that “A Messy, Beautiful Life” had these two things in potential but was not able to deliver on selling both the laughs and tears to me, (a real live human reader and not a dead tree stump, just to clear that thing up).


Diversity Watch:
Ellie’s ethnicity is specifically mentioned. Her mother has Italian descent and her father, Scandinavian.

Jason has tan skin and blue eyes.

Hana Yooon, one of Ellie’s bestfriends is mentioned to be Korean.

Quinn, the other bestfriend is mentioned to have two dads, Steven and Gary.


My Rating:

Stacking the Shelves (STS#10)

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.

Huzzah, book wanderers! I am here for another book haul post. BTW, I noticed a shifting pattern in my last couple of book haul posts and it's that apparently, I am more inclined now to acquire digital copies because eBook sale!!! And I thought I'll always be a paperback girl. One pro that I see with this is that I don't get to worry about shelf space. We never stay the same, do we?

So here they are, have a peek at my new books! (Clicking the images will lead to Goodreads)

Bought:

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

 Emmy & Oliver

Promdi Heart

Summer Feels

From Netgalley:

13Minutes MessyBeautifulLife

Satellite

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Amazon Freebie:



Bookmail:



What about you? Noticed anything that has changed in your book buying habits? Do you think those changes are for the better or for the worse. Hit me in the comments and tell me what books have you acquired lately. :)


Review: The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis


The Temptation of Adam
by Dave Connis

Synopsis:
Adam Hawthorne is fine.

Yeah, his mother left, his older sister went with her, and his dad would rather read Nicholas Sparks novels than talk to him. And yeah, he spends his nights watching self-curated porn video playlists.

But Adam is fine.

When a family friend discovers Adam’s porn addiction, he’s forced to join an addiction support group: the self-proclaimed Knights of Vice. He goes because he has to, but the honesty of the Knights starts to slip past his defenses. Combine that with his sister’s out-of-the-blue return and the attention of a girl he meets in an AA meeting, and all the work Adam has put into being fine begins to unravel.

Now Adam has to face the causes and effects of his addiction, before he loses his new friends, his prodigal sister, and his almost semi-sort-of girlfriend.



(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Expected Publication date:  November 7th 2017
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon Barnes&Noble | Indiebound


My Thoughts:
Adam Hawthorne, receives an eighty-day suspension from school because he has done a thing revealed much later in the narrative. His disciplinary outline requires him to attend addiction group meetings, participate in a smaller forum of teen addicts and regularly go to Mr. Cratcher’s house to record a music album. In the duration of his suspension, Adam met fellow addicts Mark, Trey and Elliot, who call themselves Knights of Vice, and got involved with this girl, Dez.

I initially got excited upon reading the synopsis of “The Temptation of Adam” because porn addiction is a subject rarely tackled in YA. The book mostly revolves around this question: Can a broken person deserve love? The question it poses is interesting enough and the book has something to say about self-acceptance but it’s bogged down by a bunch of disappointing elements.

The book lost its focus from Adam’s redemption and romance plot because of elements thrown in that does not give much value. For one, it shoehorns music that does not feel organic to the characters. The reader is not given much to believe that the characters are talented enough to play instruments or work in music. Halfway through, the characters decide to hop on a road trip searching for a MacGuffin that does not yield anything much in the end. Mr. Cratcher is introduced as a seemingly important character then dropped out of the pages for a long time to give way to the said road trip. And the next time he is mentioned, we don’t even get to meet the guy in person.

The book has a tendency to repeat itself on a lot of things. Adam has a recurring nightmare that gets described too many times. Honestly when it’s dream sequence description time, I want to take a nap myself because I already got it, son: Adam has mommy abandonment issues. Dez repeatedly denies that she is a manic pixie dream girl. What’s eye-roll inducing here is she did not do anything much to prove that she is not a MPDG except to say it over and over again. The romantic plot is a cycle of Adam wooing Dez, Dez seemingly reciprocating his feelings only for her to pull away at the last minute because a.) they will just “consume” each other b.) kick addiction first before entering a relationship c. a variation of a and b junk.




Speaking of Dez, let me say it straight: I don’t like her. Her mercurial attitude is irritating. I think her character suffers in trying so hard to be cutting-edge. One moment she aspires to be the antithesis of MPDG, – a feat she miserably failed – next moment she is a rich white teenager suffering from the cool girl syndrome. Sometimes, she puts up an “I don’t care” facade. Other times, she wants drama. Even the supposedly redeeming things she do – like not wanting the comforts of beng a rich kid or when she spews feminist stuff – are a bit off for her. She was injected with too much personality, it’s brain-frying.

An addiction story is mostly a self battle of wills and there is not enough showcase of that in the book because the narrative is very plot-driven. Adam is basically just reacting to what the plot is serving him. The plot points move from one point to another without a clear direction, so that’s another problem. I think the book is aware of its aimless wandering; like there are scenes during the road trip part when the characters are not even doing anything. The book compensates by overselling the drama with Adam’s self-pity and Dez’s rich kid problems.

There is also an attempt to add a humorous tone but that fell short. One example is the banters betwen Adam and Dez which have the potential to be witty but unfortunately almost always ends up in drama and volatile conversations. When the characters are laughing, I feel like I’m out of the loop from an inside joke or something. Adam is jokey, he managed to make me snort a few times but I don’t like it when he mimics Gollum. He could be trying to be funny while trying to convey the turmoil inside him, but it did not induce any laughs from me.


Other stuff that did not work for me: characters finding things they need or meeting the right people to talk to is too convenient. The book’s commentary on sexism, racism, consumerism and other –isms are too on the nose and did not fit seamlessly with the story. The resolution to Adam’s strained relationship with his mom was truncated and solved out of the pages. The thing that made him suspended from school was addressed haphazardly. Adam was all weepy and emotional about it but he did not made me feel anything. I am not really invested in the romantic relationship between Adam and Dez in the first place and nothing really made me care until the end.

I imagine that an addiction story is inherently frustrating because the reader is whirled right in the middle of a character’s psyche with a mad cycle of recovery and relapse. But that is good frustration. “The Temptation of Adam” is a bad kind of frustration for me because of its confusing, repetitive and contrived plot elements. I do not doubt that the book has it’s heart at the right place but there are just too many things that obstructed its path to the thoughts and idea that it wants to convey.


Diversity Watch:

Adam and Dez are white.
Trey, one of the Knights of Vice teens, is El Salvadorian.
Mr. Cratcher’s wife Gabby is black.


My Rating:

PH Blog Tour: How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat (Review)

Hello my fellow bookish wanderers! Thanks for ambling by here to join me on my stop for the PH Blog Tour of "How to Disappear" by Sharon Huss Roat. Thanks also to Hazel of Stay Bookish for letting me join the roster of Filipino book bloggers on a mission to spread the word about this #mustread. I've already seen reviews from other book bloggers saying good things about this book -- here's one from Kate of The Bookaholic Blurbs -- and I am so stoked to share today my thoughts about it with you. But first, let's take a look what the book is about:


How to Disappear
by Sharon Huss Roat

Synopsis:
Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.

So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.
To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.

In this beautiful and illuminating narrative, Sharon Huss Roat shines a light on our love of social media and how sometimes being the person you think you want to be isn’t as great as being the person you truly are.

Series: Standalone
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication date:  August 15th 2017
Source/Format: ARC borrowed from Hazel of Stay Bookish
Purchase links: Amazon Barnes&Noble | Book Depository


My Thoughts:

A few pages in and I’m already ugly-crying with reading “How to Disappear”. Chest tight with feels and eyes welled up in tears, I cannot help but relate to Vicky as she is overwhelmed with a sense of abandonment from having left behind by her BFF, Jenna. I know how it feels to be the “weaker” person in a friendship. I know how hopeless it can seem when your friend is like your anchor to life and your gateway to being social but you have to part ways for reasons: moving houses, getting accepted to different colleges, having different jobs. You both promise to be friends forever and to keep in touch but things just never stay the same way.

It's refreshing for me how this book is somewhat a perspective flip of the new kid on the block trope. I have already read a handful of YA contemporary books dealing with this transferee student and how he/she copes with new school, new people, new everything. But what about the friend that the transferee teen left behind? What’s his/her story? How will he/she cope? I am so lucky to have read this one and get to know Vicky as she treads the path from being #alone and wanting to fly under the radar all the time to #seeme and being okay to let people surround and support her. I like Vicky and her shy, quiet kindness. I perfectly understand why she feels the need to disappear and hide under the guise of a virtual identity.

The supporting characters of the book are likable as well. The romantic subplot has a love interest who is funny and clumsy in an adorable way. There is a well-meaning but meddling helicopter mother. And some stereotype-defying characters: popular kids who are nice, a loud friendly student who is in the funk sometimes, a seemingly perfect student who has her own fair share of pain. Plus, there are two cats in the book! I love anything that has cats in it.

Re-creating a scene where Vicky avoids attending a party by attempting to hide in the shrubs. She got found by a cat.
P.S. I suck at taking photos, but whatevs.

I am sure “How to Disappear” will be a hit among a lot of young readers. They will more or less find themselves in Vicky or in one of the characters in the book. This story is fitted for the social media generation: the people in fandoms who consider their Facebook groups an online home, the people whose existence is validated when their favorite celebrities interact with them in Twitter, the people who stalk cool people in Instagram. The book is like a virtual hug to its social media obsessed readers. Some people (and books) look down on the youth’s weird affinity with social media. This book, however, depicts Vicky's relationship with social media with care and empathy, never condescending on her decision to hide through Vicurious, her online persona. To be honest, although I am already a full-grown adult, I also vent, seek a little appreciation and even cry for help online. I am one of the “shallow” people whose day gets made by a sincerely kind comment on my posts (please don’t judge me, thanks), so it’s not a surprise that this book got to me.

Some might dismiss a story of a socially awkward girl turned social media sensation as a bit of a stretch. But for those of us who read to live vicariously in books with daydreams and happy endings, this book is .


Diversity Watch:
Vicky and her bestfriend, Jenna are white.

Adrian Ahn is one of the popular students in Vicky’s school. He is part-Korean. He is in a band and has a number of fans in school. In one occasion, the book mentioned three freshmen admirers following him around: two girls and one boy.

Raj Radhakrishnan is one of the students in Vicky’s school. His name suggests Indian heritage. Two unnamed Indian students are mentioned walking the hallways of the school while Raj is attempting to talk to them.


My Rating: