Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Title: What If It's Us
Author: Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication date: October 9, 2018
Pages: 448
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Arthur Seuss is interning at a law office in NYC for the summer. Originally from Milton, GA, he is already having a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings. He misses his home, his friends, his car and even Waffle House. He still keeps in contact with his best friends Ethan and Jessie and he cannot wait to go home until he meets Ben at the post office.

Ben Alejo is recovering from a breakup and intended to mail Hudson's belongings back. However, instead, he meets Arthur at the post office. A flash mob comes forth and Ben leaves the post office with the breakup box still in hand. He has nothing to do but hop on a train to visit his best friend Dylan. However, Ben left behind a shipping label that acts like Cinderella's glass slipper. Arthur is determined to find Ben in the populous Big Apple.

What If It's Us is written by the dynamic duo Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. With their style of writing merging together, What If It's Us is a book that opens new doors. From it's pop culture references to humorous situations like being caught in a flash mob wedding proposal to the fate being on their side, Albertalli and Silvera know how to write a book to induce major feels. Also, not only is the writing fantastic and there is great character development, but the diversity within the novel is perfect. From religion to ethnicity to identity to ability, this novel covers a lot of bases without feeling forced; it's natural. It represents life in modern day.

Within the novel, fans of Albertalli and Silvera can tell right from the get go who wrote each character. Arthur's and Ben's voices are distinguishable from one another and they have their own personalities. We have musical loving Arthur who has dreams of going to Yale. And then we have Ben who is currently writing a fantasy novel, currently in summer school and he is trying to get over his breakup with his ex-boyfriend. The concept of the plot is a subtle but genius one. It just works so well.

What If It's Us is apologetically honest. The characters can be blunt but they channel their true feelings and thoughts to the readers. Readers can connect with what the characters are going through. Nothing is sugarcoated. Everything is real and raw. Albertalli and Silvera have a way of connecting with their audience where the readers understand the characters in their books. I highly suggest readers of YA contemporary to read this book! If you want to read an uplighting, cute novel with a dash of humor, definitely check out What If It's Us.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Novel Notes: What I Have Been Up To

So many might have noticed that I haven't been super active on twitter and on my blog. Let's say I have been pretty busy with life. One major life changing thing is that I will be getting married in a couple of weeks so a lot of my free time as been spent on planning and organizing everything for the wedding. However, it doesn't mean that I am not making time for reading and blogging. I am still finding time to read but I am reading at a more slower pace this year than previous years. I am still attending book events but I am being more selective about what book events I am attending. I am blogging only when I want to blog and I do not want to make it a forced activity just to keep up with numbers. That is not my intention at all. Blogging is avenue to escape the real world for a bit just like how reading is.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to Boston Teen Author Festival this year and I will not be able to partake in a lot of the events on the day of the Boston Book Festival. On the same day of the Boston Book Festival, my sister and I are seeing Hamilton! I was lucky enough to snag a pair of tickets for decent seats on a weekend. Because Hamilton is Boston this fall, we had to try to be in the room where it happens and I can't wait to see Hamilton next weekend!

Lately I have been reading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness because I want to try to re-read All Souls trilogy before jumping into Time's Convert. I also have a few other books on my TBR list that I hope to read this month. Because it's October, I want to read some atmospheric novels. Speaking of October, I am so excited about this month because October screams fall! The air gets crisper, the leaves change color and it's the start of the holidays. October is my favorite month but my favorite time of year is definitely September to December.

I love all the festivities during this time of year from apple picking to baking pies to celebrating holidays with family and friends. When it starts getting colder, out comes the out hot chocolate. Right now, I have been enjoying some pumpkin spice lattes and cold apple cider. Soon I will be starting with the baking. My specialty is baking snickerdoodle cookies. It's the one recipe that I perfected and it took me years to perfect it. It's my go to for parties and I love gifting tins of snickerdoodles to people during the holidays.

Some book events that I am looking forward to include the following:

☆ Wednesday, October 10th with Claire Legrand talking about Sawkill Girls at Trident Booksellers and Café.

☆ Wednesday, November 7th with Julie C. Dao talking about Kingdom of a Blazing Phoenix at Brookline Booksmith

☆ Wednesday, December 19th with Cassandra Clare talking about Queen of Air and Darkness at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

What are some things you are looking forward to this fall? What book events are you planning to attend in the next few months?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and the meme moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. This week's Top Ten Tuesday asks bloggers to list their top ten books on their fall 2018 TBR. The following books are in no particular order. 

1. Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness is Marcus's and Phoebe's story even though Elizabeth and Matthew are still a big part of the book. This novel is for all the All Souls trilogy fans out there!

2. The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the fourth installment in the Magisterium series and I cannot wait to find out more about Call, Tamara and Aaron. If you like to read middle grade fantasy, books about boarding schools and if you like magic, check out this series.

3. The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the last installment of the Magisterium series which came out earlier this month. I am dying to know what happens next and how the series ends.

4. Kingdom of a Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao is the sequel to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. In this fantasy novel, readers will follow the story of Princess Jade unlike its predecessor which follows the story of Xifeng. This novel is the retelling of Snow White with an East Asian twist. I loved Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and I cannot wait read about Jade's story.

5. Enchantée by Gita Trelease is a historical fantasy taken place in Paris in the late 1700's. Camille Durbonne wields magic and uses dark magic to create another persona of 'Baroness de la Fontaine.' But of course magic has a price.

6. What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is about two guys names Arthur and Ben who meet at a post office in NYC. The rest is history! They meet, get separated and get reunited again. The universe has something in stored for them. Read this cute contemporary novel the fall!

7. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand is a thrilling standalone horror novel about three girls discovering unique powers that will help them defeat a monster that preys upon young women. I am intrigued about this novel and I am sure it will be a chilling read for October.

8. Wildcard by Marie Lu is the sequel to Warcross. Follow Emika has she decides whether she trusts Zero or Hideo in this sci-fi novel. Join Emika with her fellow Phoenix Riders as they survive the world of threats, twists and turns. Who can you trust?

9. Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood is an anthology showcasing short stories about women and witchcraft. I am a big fan of paranormal stories and this anthology is definitely a nice way to get into the creepy Halloween mood without fully committing to a novel. Sometimes short stories can be quite fulfilling.

10. City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab is a dark fantasy middle grade that is perfect for October! It's the first book in the Cassidy Blake series and delves into the world of ghost hunting. Cassidy can see ghosts and her parents are Inspectres, a somewhat inept ghost hunting team. Cassidy even has a best friend named Jacob who also happens to be a ghost.

What books are you look forward to this fall?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Zola's Elephant by Randall de Sève

Title: Zola's Elephant
Author: Randall de Sève
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 9, 2018
Pages: 40
Source/format: ARC//The Horn Book

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

When Zola moves into the neighborhood, her new next-door neighbor is too shy to go over and introduce herself. Plus, Zola already has a friend to play with—an elephant!

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Zola's Elephant is such a fun and timeless book. The narrator is a kid meeting Zola for the very first time when Zola moves into town. Zola has an elephant friend who loves toast and hide and seek. At first the narrator describes Zola from far away but eventually befriends Zola. Seeing Zola interact with her elephant with other animals is comforting. There's a clubhouse where Zola relaxes, shares secrets and shares stories. The narrator is afraid that they cannot be friends with Zola because Zola has an elephant as a friend already. Randall de Sève shows how children are scared befriending others. It takes courage to step up and meet someone new. However, because Zola is new in town, befriending someone can help ease the anxiety for Zola since she doesn't know anyone in the new town she moved too.

Pamela Zagarenski uses muted colors and creates a lot of textures within the illustrations. The brush strokes creates a nice backdrop for the story. Some pops of color such as yellow and red adds some warmth to the paintings. The scattered stars throughout the picture book adds a sense of whimsy. Throughout the book, the illustrator has the same small rocking horse and yellow bird hidden through multiple pages. Teapots and teacups are also very prominent on most pages. This acts sort of a Where's Waldo finding game which can be fun for kids. Circles and rectangles are popular shapes that decorate the pages. The rectangles create a patchwork look to the houses and moving boxes.

Overall, Zola's Elephant is a visually pleasing and fun multi-purpose book. Children get to explore different feelings when meeting someone new and it also addresses kids' imaginations. This timeless and whimsical book is perfect for those who want to read about friendship and befriending others. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Keeper of the Bees by Meg Kassel

Title: Keeper of the Bees
Author: Meg Kassel
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Pages: 304
Source/format: Hardcover//Publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

KEEPER OF THE BEES is a tale of two teens who are both beautiful and beastly, and whose pasts are entangled in surprising and heartbreaking ways.

Dresden is cursed. His chest houses a hive of bees that he can’t stop from stinging people with psychosis-inducing venom. His face is a shifting montage of all the people who have died because of those stings. And he has been this way for centuries—since he was eighteen and magic flowed through his homeland, corrupting its people.

He follows harbingers of death, so at least his curse only affects those about to die anyway. But when he arrives in a Midwest town marked for death, he encounters Essie, a seventeen-year-old girl who suffers from debilitating delusions and hallucinations. His bees want to sting her on sight. But Essie doesn’t see a monster when she looks at Dresden.

Essie is fascinated and delighted by his changing features. Risking his own life, he holds back his bees and spares her. What starts out as a simple act of mercy ends up unraveling Dresden’s solitary life and Essie’s tormented one. Their impossible romance might even be powerful enough to unravel a centuries-old curse.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Keeper of the Bees is a companion novel to Black Birds of the Gallows. Dresden is cursed harboring bees inside of his body with the sole purpose of following harbingers of death and assisting them in an arrangement by targeting those who are vulnerable and are at the brink of death with a deadly bee sting. However, in Concordia, Missouri he meets Essie Roane, a girl who is not afraid of him and can see the face others can't see. Essie hallucinates and sees delusions for most of her life. When she meets Dresden, she views him like poetry, beautiful in every way as the montage of faces of those who die flicker and change within him. She describes how he smells like honey and she is no afraid of the guy that claims that he wants to kill her.

Meg Kassel has a way of writing which sweeps you off your feet wanting more. Diving into this paranormal romance novel is a treat! The novel is very atmospheric full of detailed descriptions of the surroundings and touching the five senses. Dresden and Essie are not your average couple. They both have unusual traits that are not deemed normal by society. But they both see pass each other's flaws and embrace each other's individuality.

Keeper of the Bees is a loose retelling of Beauty of the Beast. We have Dresden who physically is not appealing but most people do not see his real face; they see a generic face. And then we have Essie who is deemed odd because of her hallucinations. Essie's family is actually has a long history of mental illness. Those in the Wickerton line that are too much to handle are often sent to the Stanton House. Essie's father wants her committed but Essie is trying to avoid the Stanton House at all costs. Her Aunt Bel is doing all she can do avoid committing Essie. However, Dresden finds out some haunting information of how the Wickerton curse started.

Kassel introduces us to another type of species in the novel. A Strawman works in a different arrangement than how a Beekeeper and a Harbinger work together. The Strawman tells Dresden that he is there to make sure Dresden rights a wrong. Dresden has no clue what this means until the end of the book. Unlike in Black Birds of the Gallows, Dresden the Beekeeper and Michael the Harbinger are friends.

The novel alternates between chapters with Dresden's and Essie's POVs. Although there is instalove in this novel, the attraction is more about showcasing the love of a person as a whole and not focusing on typical traits. Those who read Black Birds of the Gallows will notice some familiar faces in Keeper of the Bees. Because of the nature of the novel, there are some instances of death, sexual assault and verbal abuse.

Keeper of the Bees is a dark paranormal romance for readers who are looking for a book beyond the average witch, vampire or werewolf novel. It's a hypnotizing romance where the reader is rooting for Dresden's and Essie's happy ending.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Title: Summer Bird Blue
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publication date: September 11, 2018
Pages: 368
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆☆1/2

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

"Music is what makes up the single soul we share. I don’t think I’ll ever find another person in the entire world who understands me the way Lea does. We’re the only two people in the universe who speak our language."

The first chapter introduces readers to Rumi Seto, Lea and their mother before the accident. Rumi and Lea are inseparable and they knew each other so well. They understood each other when others didn't. Lea's death impacted the family. Rumi felt alone and her mother started to abandon her even though her Aunt Ani keeps reminding Rumi's mother that she needs to remember that she still has another daughter. Because Rumi's mother was so distant, Rumi ended up living with her aunt in Hawaii.

Rumi once promised Lea three wishes to make up one Christmas. Two wishes were fulfilled and one was not yet. Rumi knew that she had to finish "Summer Bird Blue." Both sisters loved music and Rumi feels like she needs to finish the song in order to fulfill the wish for Lea. They were each other's best friend. Aunty Ani hopes that music will help Rumi heal but Rumi is having a hard time moving on.

Kai Yamada and Gareth befriend Rumi and when Rumi moves to Hawaii. Kai is interested in Rumi but Rumi turns down his advances. After all, she is all temporary living in Hawaii so her mother can mourn. However, Rumi does give in to at least become friends with Kai. Rumi also befriends Hannah and Jerrod. While Rumi struggles to move on after her sister passes, Kai is struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life. His father wants Kai to join the navy but Kai wants to go to college. Rumi doesn't pay attention to Kai until he sings. She is actually entranced by his singing probably because music is so important in her life. Lately she has been distancing herself from music because it reminds her too much of Lea.

After reading Starfish, I found Akemi Dawn Bowman's writing honest and real. She writes about some tough topics that teens go through and she paints a journey of growth of how a character can overcome their fears and live their lives to the fullest. Summer Bird Blue tackles grief of the loss of Rumi's sister, Lea, and the feeling of abandonment of parents who doesn't say goodbye. I feel a lot of my students can relate to this book with a loss of an immediate family member or feeling like they have a disconnect with their parents.

Rumi's mother sends Rumi to live with her aunt in Hawaii away from Rumi's home in Washington. When Rumi was younger, her father left the family a little bit after Lea was born, never to return back to see his family. Rumi finds solace spending time with her next door neighbor, Mr. Wantanabe. He keeps Rumi balanced between her grieving for Lea and her trying to fit in with her peers. I see him as a father figure that Rumi never had. She asks him for advice and pours her soul when playing his piano and ukulele. They also relate to losing someone in their life that they are close to. Rumi lost her sister and Mr. Wantanabe lost his wife.

Summer Bird Blue is split into three sections: Summer, Bird and Blue which represent different stages in Rumi's mourning. Throughout the book, there are memory flashbacks with Lea makes an appearance during times when Rumi is trying live her life and she is constantly reminded of Lea based on what she sees, does, hear, etc.

By the end of the novel, Rumi learns how to cope with Lea's death and she even mentions how she misses her mother. Rumi learns to open her heart to live her life without worrying that she will be heartbroken. Kai is Rumi's rock and he is helping her heal. He stands by her side when she needs him the most.

Bowman discusses mental health within the novel in a way where asking for help isn't shameful. Each person copes differently when they lose someone dear to them. Some might turn to music, some to food and some might check themselves into a clinic. As Aunty Ani mentions, "Grief is a monster--not everyone gets out alive, and those who do might only survive in pieces. But it's a monster that can be conquered, with time." 

Rumi needs friends and that's what she finds when she moves to Hawaii. Even though she is not romantically interested in Kai, she learns more about herself and identifies as asexual. This is my first novel that I read that has an asexual character and I hope it's not my last. Also, this novel has a highly diverse cast of characters.

Summer Bird Blue is a compelling yet an emotionally well written novel about grief, loss, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and finding oneself. Summer Bird Blue is just as beautiful as Bowman's debut novel, Starfish. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, August 20, 2018

To All The Boy's I've Loved Before Film Review

Image from medium.com
I cried and laughed during this film adaptation of To All The Boy's I've Loved Before. I watched it three times this weekend. Not only is the film well casted but it captures the essence of the book with the same title. To All The Boy's I've Loved Before, the novel, is one of my favorite books of all time. Actually, I love the whole trilogy. Jenny Han wrote a book that I can re-read again and again and I will never get sick of it. I see myself in Lara Jean Song Covey and can relate to her love for baking, love for vintage things, love for writing letters and the fact that she has great taste in style. If you haven't noticed the ice blue pops of color throughout the film, you must know that I am all for it! I have to say that everything in the film is aesthetically pleasing.

Viewers follow Lara Jean on a path of finding herself. When she starts "dating" Peter Kavinsky, her father hasn't seen her this happy for a long time. This happiness reminds him of Lara Jean's mom when she was alive. Dr. Covey wants his daughter to be happy. Even Lara Jean's friend, Chris, notices that Lara Jean is happier with Peter.

Peter challenges Lara Jean to step outside of her comfort zone. Although a hot tub video popped up, Lara Jean musters the courage to stand up for herself. Peter also stands up for her as well. There is one scene at the Corner Cafe where Lara Jean admits that she is scared to be in a relationship and that's why she doesn't have a boyfriend. Lara Jean is scared that if she lets people in, she will lose them...just like her mother. I feel that this scene is very important and I am glad it was in the film.

The relationship between Dr. Covey and his daughters shows a very positive and supportive family dynamic. Although there may be same squabbles between the Song Covey sisters, the sisterly love between Margot, Lara Jean and Kitty is strong. This romantic comedy is the perfect combination of humor, mostly through Kitty, to endearing love notes and the connection that Lara Jean and Peter have.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before shows how everyone doesn't have the perfect family with two parents and a couple of kids living in a nice house with happy lives. Lara Jean lost her mother at a young age and Peter's father walked about on his family and is remarried and has another family. A lot of people can relate to both family dynamics.

This is one of the very few Asian led films I've seen in a long time and I love that there is Asian representation in a young adult book to film adaptation. Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing and I am glad to see Asian actresses play the Song Covey sisters. Representation matters! Also, who noticed Jenny Han's cameo in the film? The film adaptation is well casted and the soundtrack is perfect!

Can I say that having JAM at the end of the film is the perfect segway into a sequel? Great call for including that scene at the end of the film. I would love to see P.S. I Still Love You turn into a film adaptation! If you haven't read the To All the Boys I've Loved Before trilogy, please read them! Also, please root for more films!