Saturday, September 7, 2013

book review: the best night of your (pathetic) life by tara altebrando

Title:  The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life
Author:  Tara Altebrando
Publisher:  Dutton Juvenile (2012)

An all-day scavenger hunt in the name of eternal small-town glory

With only a week until graduation, there's one last thing Mary and her friends must do together: participate in the Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt. And Mary is determined to win.

Mary lost her spot at Georgetown to self-professed "it" bully Jake Barbone, and she's not about to lose again. But everyone is racing for the finish line with complicated motives, and the team's all-night adventure becomes all-night drama as shifting alliances, flared tempers, and crushing crushes take over. As the items and points pile up, Mary and her team must reinvent their strategy--and themselves--in order to win.

After completing this book, I wanted to instantly tell everyone to read it. Why? For one, it's plausible that people will. It's short compared to other novels - only 269 pages. Two, it's fun. As the synopsis above tells you, it's a pretty campy plot that revolves around the events of one night. In that way, a reader can look at it as just a fun story, one filled with enough plot twists and pitfalls to be entertained. Three, it's deeper than just a "campy" story. That's right, this novel can be viewed both ways, depending on how you're feeling when you're reading it. (And isn't that just the best when books do that?) Altebrando presents a story filled with last goodbyes, resolve of relationships and life events, initial nostalgia, and letting the broken pieces go... finally. Here are some reasons why I loved it... and then a comment about something I thought was pretty wonky...

1. The novel's format. More and more nowadays, we're seeing interactive novels that tell the reader, "STOP! Enjoy this for a second." Think Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Chopsticks, and the forthcoming Damsel Distressed. These books often use photographs and music, but with The Best Night, it does so by providing the lists of the scavenger hunt items within the text. This provides a nice break in the novel's otherwise uninterrupted prose, and just reading over the lists, it's like a reader's along for the ride with Mary and her friends, which should be a goal of any author out there, especially young adult authors. Awesome possum!

2. Altebrando's prose. HALLELUJAH! I think many readers can understand the power of present tense, and it is used to perfection in this novel... well sorta. See, the novel's not exactly in present tense, but it sure seems like it:  I even had to go back to my copy and check. Definitely past tense. But that's not the point; it FEELS like present tense, and I guess that's all that matters. The dry wit, humor, and fast-paced click of the story line takes all the greatest parts of present tense into its loving, familiar past tense embrace. To quote pre-Twerkin' Miley, "It's the best of both worlds." Cyrus aside, Altebrando has captured the teen thought process in the written word of first-person narrator Mary, which is truly a piece of art. Also, I love the moments where Mary tells herself, "WAKE UP, MARY!" It's so real. I love it.

3. The idea of the hunt. The scavenger hunt, you guys. THE SCAVENGER HUNT! I wish my high school would have done something this awesome at the end of my senior year. In fact, I want to organize this for future graduating classes or some other groups I'm a part of now because it's THAT AMAZING! This kind of inspiration is what books should give readers (AKA all caps inspiration...). 

4. The high school drama. After graduating, everyone says, "I miss high school, but I don't miss the drama." Well, they're all lying. The reason why people like high school is because of the drama; it makes it interesting, exciting, horribly exhausting, and perfect when the drama is finally figured all out and people are friends again. WHEW! It's a beautiful mess, this high school stuff. What can we say? But the epitome of the high school drama is right here in this novel. The class bully and football star, the "also-rans," and the unprofessed love triangles are in full view throughout the story. It just has everything, both for people in high school still or out of high school that may be just a little nostalgic.

5. The fantastic lesson. For all those that haven't passed the high school phase of their life yet, this book hits the nail on the head about coming to terms with facing the unknowns in life. Especially when it comes to moving on from high school - and I've had conversations with friends about this before - this thought crosses people's minds:  "Did I just peak? What if my life only goes downhill from here?" What a scary thought, right? Unfortunately, there's no certainty that it will ever be better, but I loved that Altebrando tackled this idea in her novel. Although a depressing thought, I'm glad it's been added to the YA world. It's surprisingly skipped a lot.

6. Honestly, Mary!? AKA The "Wonky" Thing ***SPOILER(kind of)*** Okay, so Mary is super in love with this guy Carson throughout the first half of the book, and then she finds out some stuff about stuff - like I'm actually gonna tell you exactly what happens - and she's all of a sudden like, "Oh yeah, I don't really like him anymore." 1.) I didn't realize crushing on somebody was like an On/Off switch. 2.) I would be furious if what happened to me happened to her. Her reaction seemed unrealistic, but whatever... The awesomeness of the rest of the book makes up for it.

All right! So the verdict is... 

"Altebrando delivers a powerful must-read about the glory of the past, the uncertainty of the future, and the potential of the present. People of all ages should devour The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life as soon as possible, like NOW!"

So... have you read it? What did you think? Do you want to read it? Do you have questions? Let me know in the comments below. :)

'Til next time!

Monday, July 29, 2013

book review: when you were here by daisy whitney

Title:  When You Were Here
Author:  Daisy Whitney
Publisher:  Little, Brown (2013)

Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity.

Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

Guys, I was so excited to read this book, and I assure you it does NOT disappoint. Right from the start, Whitney's prose takes such a realistic take on loss, recovery, discovery, and resolve that it simply is a masterpiece when read in its entirety. Here are a few things I loved from the novel.
1. I love the imagery that Whitney presents. Whether we like it or not, humans have a tendency to assign personal value to items that remind us of other people. Isn't it called sentimental value? Yes, it is. And this is only heightened when the people who we connect with specific things are gone in our lives. Whether it be the piano that Danny's mom used to play show tunes on or the gardens that so remind him of Holland, it is so indicative of real life. Things are important to us because of the people that they remind us of (hanging preposition). Especially when Danny has to deal with the material things his mom left behind when she died, this is really important, and I loved it.

2. Kana! Kana is the daughter of Danny's apartment housekeeper in Tokyo. I loved the positive energy Kana brought to the story, and the healing touch of friendship she offered to the opposite Danny as he healed. In some ways, she reminded me of Kate, Holland's mother and Danny's mother's best friend, because she was the "fixer" of this story --- she was the one who pushed Danny to heal and to look forward in life. Kana was also super funny, so she was great to have around.

3. The first person narrative / present tense writing style knocked my socks off. After reading many books, I've decided this is my favorite style to read because it just clips along and is so action-based, where the characters haven't digested, mulled over, and are finally regurgitating their story. YUCK. This is fresh, this is wonderful, this is living with the character. I'm so happy that Whitney chose this style for Danny's journey. The only thing maybe I would've liked to see was more dialogue, but that's pretty secondary due to the fact that this was more of an emotional journey than physical... well, it was sort of physical because...

4. The setting! One thing I absolutely adore about books is that they take you to places you have never been. Seeing as the majority of the novel took place in Tokyo, I was more than happy to take part in this novel, especially since I don't know all that much about that specific city and the customs that are practiced there. That being said, I'm not sure if I would want to indulge in all the sushi they ingest in the story. That's a little bit too much fish for me!

5. I'm always a bit leery about jumping into a novel with a protagonist the opposite gender of the author. Either it can be a pleasant surprise or a complete disaster. In my humble opinion, this may have been the only fault in The Fault in Our Stars. Regardless of other stories, Whitney did so well in this. Speaking as an ex-teenage boy (meaning that I'm no longer a teen, not the other thing you may have been thinking), the nail was hit head-on. Everything from prose over dialogue, the insecurities, the EVERYTHING was just wonderful and true to character. Even the length of the book was perfect for this. If you need to know something about guys, people, know that 1) it's medically impossible for people to multitask, which includes males AND females, and 2) guys only like to talk up to a certain point (not to generalize...), especially when something is tough to deal with. So a novel narrated by a guy that's 263 pages - which makes room for a one-track mind and a tight plot - is perfect.

6. LAST ONE! There's been some notice that Danny is SUPER RICH. Whether flying to Tokyo like it's no big deal, having an apartment in Japan and a house with a pool back in LA, and living pretty high on the money like it's no big deal, Danny does seem to have some cash. That's right, I'm not going to deny it. However, I will say that this is a lifestyle, AND books, like I said about traveling, open up new worlds; embrace it. Even though I won't be flying off to Tokyo or Cabo or the Swiss Alps anytime soon, I'm completely fine with reading about it. And watching it ... my latest Netflix series is 90210, so that should pretty much tell you where I'm at with my life right now.

"Daisy Whitney works wonders with When You Were Here. Her characters leap off the page in this modern classic of endings, beginnings, and all that comes in between."

The Verdict? Daisy Whitney works wonders with When You Were Here. Her characters leap off the page in this modern classic of endings, beginnings, and all that comes in between.

ALSO! Whitney, a communications guru, produced a number of on-the-ground vlog posts pertaining to Tokyo life featured in When You Were Here. You can find all of these videos at

'Til next time!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

sharing: little free libraries

This is bookish! In 2009, Todd Bol and Rick Brooks started the Little Free Library movement in Wisconsin. Little Free Library, Ltd. is a non-profit organization of citizen volunteers (called "Stewards") offering communities free books via a large, enclosed bird feeder-esque container. The stewards, or caretakers of the library, can contribute books for others to read and return (or keep) as well as others in the community, who may donate books to the library, too. With a passion for green practices and quality of community life, Bol's and Brooks's concept has swept the nation and world. In fact, you can see how many Little Free Libraries are around the world on THIS GOOGLE MAP; you can also find a Little Free Library in your neighborhood there as well!

Building a Little Free Library is easy and, to be listed as an official Little Free Library, only costs $25. This trend captures two of my deepest interests - reading and community development - so it's no surprise I love the idea and community spirit Little Free Libraries can foster. Recently, a third Little Free Library was "planted" in my community by a local Girl Scout Troop. You can see a picture of this specific Little Free Library below.

One thing I love about Little Free Library is that each steward designs their own, so they can be so unique and creative. I encourage you to look on the Google Map of Little Free Libraries around the world (above), where you may find pictures of Little Free Libraries if you click on a specific LFL icon.

Let me know in the comments if you've heard of these or are participating in this great cause in anyway! Book bloggers CAN get out from behind their keyboards and make a difference for literacy in their immediate community, and this is one way to do so. For more information, visit

'Til next time!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

book review: the book of broken hearts by sarah ockler

Title:  The Book of Broken Hearts
Authors:  Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Synopsis: When all signs point to heartbreak, can love still be a rule of the road? A poignant and romantic novel from the author of Bittersweet and Twenty Boy Summer.

Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.

I absolutely adore Sarah Ockler as an author. Writing about human relationships is often a hard thing to do, and from her previous books, Ockler has proven herself a heroine of difficult topics. This ability and success, paired with her imaginative story telling, is what I loved about The Book of Broken Hearts.
I gobbled all three-hundred fifty pages of this story up within a weekend. It was a quick read for me because it was that good and fluid. It's always a pleasure to read Ockler's writing because it can be so deep and yet so breathable simultaneously. You understand the characters' situations, want to spend time with them, and never want it to stop. This, in my opinion, is a must for contemporary literature. So often, the fourth wall (the connection of the book to the reader) isn't broken because of one reason or another, but Ockler can do this, and it's because her characters are so interesting; you want to know them, and so you make an effort to do so. This was the case with both Jude and Emilio. Unlike the protag in, for example, a Sarah Dessen book, Jude originated from a household with deep cultural roots, since her parents came to America from Argentina. Love interest Emilio originated with a strong sense of family with his Puerto Rican heritage as well. With the faintest scent of familiarity in these characters and a foreign vibe that could open up a culture not often highlighted in YA, Ockler did a fantastic job with characterization, and consequently the basic premise of the novel.

On its own merits, I felt The Book of Broken Hearts was pretty standard as far as plots go. The love interest, obstacle, parent problems, dealing with loss, growing up, learning an important lesson. Of course, the specific love interest, the specific obstacle, etc. are what make the story interesting. And in this case, Ockler really shook it up for YA readers that may be sick of the same characters and plots repackaged again and again. Two things stick out to me in Broken Hearts along these lines, and those are Jude's father struggling with Alzheimer's Disease (which is revealed pretty early, so no spoiler there), and the fact that the protagonist's family is from Argentina (which I've already mentioned). 

Alzheimer's is one illness that I haven't seen addressed too often in YA, if at all. Seeing the disease through Jude's eyes, the child of a patient, was a journey that certainly set this book apart from other contemporary YA titles, almost all of which seem to have a sick or missing father for some reason. Mental illness is something that is being addressed more and more often in literature, fortunately. I'm glad to see that Ockler paid attention to this and delivered the message in such a poignant way. 

The family being from Argentina (and thus speaking in bouts of Spanish at points) led to a flashback of high school language class for me, too. Luckily, I did remember most things, and it wasn't such a problem for me. I could see how it could potentially be off-putting for other readers that have no background, however; so know this:  you could pretty much use context clues to figure out what they're saying. I was also glad to see the family's culture so readily available in the book as well. I was craving empanadas the entire time! Yum! :) Actually, writing this, I still am, which reminds me... WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK ON AN EMPTY STOMACH! Seriously, you'll thank me later. It was like a flashback of my craving for cupcakes while reading Bittersweet. *Mouth watering.*

There are a couple things that had me thinking so-so about the book, though, which I was really surprised about because Ockler is usually air-tight with things. The first was a problem with the first couple chapters of the book in general. I don't know if anyone else had this problem, but it was SO. INCREDIBLY. CONFUSING. Yikes, I eventually got into the swing of things, but I wasn't sure if it was just me or if the book was the one that seemed a little scrambled. Did anyone else have this problem? And for those who haven't read it yet, totally know to stick with it; at around page 30, you'll get it.

I also definitely could've done without the parts when she talks about her hand-me-down clothes, especially because it isn't resolved in the end of the story. Maybe there was a specific purpose for Jude to be talking about them at certain points, but it just seemed out of place whenever those comments came up (if I'm right, it was only about twice, but it just seemed weird). The same thing goes for her theater life. After reading the book, I thought, I think about references to musicals all the time in my daily life... why didn't Jude if she was so theatre-y? Oh well.

Third, I could not stand that the book synopsis had me anticipating this sweeping love story, but the book is primarily and forever more about Jude's father and dealing with her sisters. At least, that's what I felt was the focus. The fact that the only reference to these huge parts of the story in the synopsis was "she's spending the summer helping her ailing father" was, in my opinion, a little bit misleading. AILING FATHER? That's it? That's what the story is all about. *Frustrated* Let's face it:  the story's not so much about Emilio as it is about Jude learning to let go of her past and, in some regards, her close hold to family.

Possibly due to this confusion or misleading marketing, the whole thing in general seemed to fall a little flat. At this point, I feel I'm being a bit picky, but at the end of the book, it was kind of one of those nose-scrunch things. Like it wasn't bad, but... The whole time, I felt like I was waiting for these amazing moments between Jude and Emilio, and they never really came. Instead of those amazing moments, Jude had a fight with her sister, and Emilio would comfort her. Or Emilio would help her with her dad after an episode. In the end, I'm not really sure why the publishers chose to use this synopsis. In conclusion, if you haven't read it yet, make sure you know that the plot of her "ailing father" takes precedence over everything else in the novel. 

Also, Pancake the dog was hilarious. He reminded me of Dug from Up!. :)

"Ockler delivers another thought-provoking and truthful novel filled with moments of humor and heartbreak."

After reflecting on it, my final verdict is as follows:  With The Book of Broken Hearts, Ockler delivers another thought-provoking and truthful novel filled with moments of humor and heartbreak, but (like the movie Dreamgirls) it's probably better the second time through due to a marketing mix-up. 

Soooo... that's all I have. Thoughts? Did you read it? Do you want to read it? Link me to your review or let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Let's discuss the fact that the German edition of this book, Verlieb dich nie in einen Vargas, translates into "Never Fall in Love With A Vargas." And the cover:  let's hear about the cover, too! :D

'Til next time!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

cover redesign: #scandal by sarah ockler

Oooolala! Following the recent release of The Book of Broken Hearts, #scandal, Ockler's next novel, is leaving people itching for June 17, 2014, the release date of the social media-centric story. In honor of this, I've decided to create a cover for #scandal as a part of my recent cover redesigning endeavors! Note (to clarify...): This is NOT the real cover. The real cover has not been released yet.

If you don't have the 411 on #scandal, here's a synopsis:
Love in the time of social media ...
Lucy isn’t one for frilly dresses or anything too “official school function.” But when her best friend Ellie catches the superflu and begs Lucy to take her boyfriend Cole to prom, she agrees.
The only problem? Lucy has a secret crush on Cole, years in the making. When a Facebook scandal explodes after the prom party and exposes more than just Lucy's secrets, it’s up to Lucy to deal with the fallout — Ellie and Cole, her newfound reputation at school, and her older sister’s unexpected return home — all while trying to graduate.
But in a world where “friend” is a verb, “like” is a popular vote, and life’s most deeply held secrets are broadcast to the masses in a single click, can Lucy survive the scandal and follow her heart?

It's an interesting concept, and I love the brand new title they've chosen. I can't wait to find out more about it. :)

Did you like what you saw here? Or maybe you didn't. Let me know below! If you have any books that you'd like to see a redesign for, you can also post suggestions. Classics, history, fiction... you name it. I'd be more than willing to accommodate! ;)

'Til next time!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

cover redesign: twenty boy summer by sarah ockler

I had a tough time with redoing this one. The title is just so that I couldn't use the same format of my previous cover redesigns for Sarah Ockler's books (See Bittersweet and Fixing Delilah), which is a shame because I really wanted them to look uniform and stuff. Nevertheless, I think I was ready to try a different format. As you can see, I tied in the whole friendship of Frankie and Anna into the cover design; I also wanted it to be "California Cool:" hence, the font and ocean pic. You can compare it to the original cover below! I, too, would have liked to include red sea glass into the design, but decided against it last minute, although it would have been pretty groovy... okay, I'm never using that word again.

ANYWAY! Did you like what you saw here? Or maybe you didn't. Let me know below! If you have any books that you'd like to see a redesign for, you can also post suggestions. Classics, history, fiction... you name it. I'd be more than willing to accommodate! ;)

'Til next time!

Update! There may be interest in seeing the cover I tried to design that coincides stylistically with those of Bittersweet and Fixing Delilah. For your viewing pleasure, you can find this one below. In it, you'll be able to see the problem with the wording. Or maybe that could fly with a book cover? Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

cover redesign: fixing delilah by sarah ockler

For this week's Cover Redesign, I'm sharing one that I actually created while putting together Bittersweet's redesign from last week - a redesign for Sarah Ockler's Fixing Delilah. I was planning to do a total cover overhaul of Ockler's complete collection to date much like Sarah Dessen's books were completely redesigned last year. However, I hadn't read The Book of Broken Hearts yet (unfortunately), and the Twenty Boy Summer cover just didn't jive with the others... so maybe I'll release those later when I finally get around to working on them a bit more. But rather than leaving this beaut chillin' on my computer like a villain, I thought I'd bring it along for some sunlight today. Because, as it turns out, Wednesday is cover redesign day.
Fixing Delilah is largely about the family and, as it turns out, the physical belonging of Delilah's family in Delilah Hannaford's grandparents' home, which is representative of the physicality of many relationships we have. So that's what I focused on here, specifically using an image that I could picture as her grandparents' house in the book - old and super picturesque. You can compare it to the original cover below. Tell me what you think, and thanks for stopping by!

Did you like what you saw here? Or maybe you didn't. Let me know below! If you have any books that you'd like to see a redesign for, you can also post suggestions. Classics, history, fiction... you name it. I'd be more than willing to accommodate! ;)

'Til next time!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

my book club + book review: the art of hearing heartbeats by jan-philipp sendker

Title:  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Author:  Jan-Philipp Sendker
Publisher:  Other Press (2012)

Synopsis: A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was the first book of a brand spankin' new book club I started with some of my friends earlier this summer (or spring if you are formal about summer starting four days ago). First, let me tell you about my book club. Or, more accurately, let me show you the banner of our online discussion group with our name...

Bahaha! Yes, we are now and forever more "The Bookleggers." Cute and campy, right? We'd like to think so. Anyway, let me get on with this review.

When our book club picked The Art of Hearing Heartbeats to read, I didn't know anything about it besides the fact that it was a love story. I'm glad to see I'm so selective. Fortunately, it turned out to be really good, jam-packed with these nuggets of wisdom that just blew my mind and really made me think. And as it turns out, I really enjoyed it!

The plot and themes presented in the book were really the nuggets of gold in Hearing Heartbeats. The narrator (of sorts), Julia, travels from New York to Burma, her father's childhood home, to follow the paper trail of her father, who disappeared from Julia's life four years prior to the story. As luck would have it, she finds a man named U Ba that tells her father's story in its entirety, from beginning to end. Tin Win, her father, was born a child that brought with him the superstition of illness, and this only proved itself right as his immediate family either died or abandoned him; he also became blind in the process. His childhood neighbor, Su Kyi, however, took the now-blinded and orphaned child into her home, encouraging him to cultivate his mind in the mountain monastery in their small village. This is where he meets Mi Mi, a crippled Burmese girl who turns out to be Tin Win's love interest. Through circumstances, the couple's budding love and impending marriage is disrupted by an unfortunate situation that bring's Tin Win to the city of Rangoon, and eventually the United States. Coming to terms with understanding her father's past and his undying love for this woman Mi Mi, who is not Julia's mother, frames the plot of the story. I love East Asian/Pacific Island culture, so that also helped me just eat this book up; if you like similar kinds of cultures, especially in the 1930-1950 era, I'm sure you would love it, too!

The lessons and nuggets of wisdom passed on in this book were plentiful. Everything from truly knowing your parents as more than caregivers to the human need for symbiosis, it was just incredible to see these truths come to light. No joke. At one point in the book, Julia asks, "What do we know about our parents, and what do they know about us? And if we don't even know the individuals who have accompanied us since birth - we not them and they not us - then what do we know about anyone at all?" And that was it for me, because it is so true. SO TRUE. After awhile, you take for granted the people you interact with on a daily basis, and you forget to ask them things that really matter instead of simply observing them in everyday life and passing judgment freely. I read this quote to my mom, who immediately said, "What do you want to know?" It was a really fantastic conversation we had, and my entire family joined in on it, too. For that conversation alone, this book was worth it for me.

*SPOILERS* Some of the situational things in the book are familiar, of course, as is true with any tragic kind of love story. For example, at one point, Tin Win and Mi Mi, while being separated, exchange love letters to each other, but because of Tin Win's relative who is sponsoring his schooling (and intercepting the letters), neither is receiving any of the letters. Very The Notebook-esque. Some elements of the story were also super poetic, which worked in its favor. For example, the title draws upon an ability acquired by Tin Win when he loses his vision at a young age. He can hear people's heartbeats and can adequately judge them based on this sound. I was like, "Who cares if that's super impossible. That is such a beautiful idea." *END SPOILERS*

The one thing I can say I didn't so much like about this book was the flow of the writing, but this was so menial compared to the message of this novel, it really didn't matter to me because I understood the process behind the book. I'll explain. Jan-Philipp Sendker originally wrote Hearing Heartbeats in German. Kevin Wiliarty translated it for its English-language debut. This translation is most likely why it's not as smooth as some highly-acclaimed classic novel written in the 16th century English old country. But as I said, it really didn't affect my view of the book because of the beautiful story and my knowledge of the fact it was a translation. In other words, it was forgivable.

As a last point, the end of the novel offers a fantastic twist that I didn't see coming, so if you read it (and I sincerely hope you consider doing so) know that I was totally blown away by it and was totally blindsided by the mere possibility of such a thing to be true! IT WAS GREAT!

Truly, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was amazing. If I had to, I would probably rate it 4.5/5, but the message the novel offers would definitely be 5/5. I hope you have the chance to pick it up sometime!

'Til next time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

book review: second chance summer by morgan matson

Title:  Second Chance Summer
Author:  Morgan Matson
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster (2012)

Synopsis:  Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

Okay, to start off, I have to say that despite some of the more YA clich├ęd plot lines and themes that you think are going to be going on in this book, you should definitely read it because it will surprise you. After reading Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Morgan Matson is one of my more favored YA authors, and there's a reason for that:  her dialogue is so well scripted. Often authors fall short on the conversation of characters just because they like to fixate on the emotions behind it all. Not Matson. She focuses on both so well. I think she's actually a screenwriter or something? Don't quote me on that, but if she is, it shows. Below are a few tidbits that a really enjoyed about the book, and then one maybe that I'd like to see different. :)

The characterization of the novel was fantastic. First off, I love it when people pay homage to the whole personality birth-order theory when talking about siblings and the family. Not only is it interesting for you to compare yourself to your siblings, but it's almost like there's an immediate bond with anyone that fills the role that you do in your family. I say this because I immediately identified with Taylor because of the whole middle child kinda thing, so that was neat (although not for your non-middle children out there). But no worries, you non-middletons, this theory rubbed off on all the characters:  Taylor's siblings, her parents, her neighbors. From working in coping mechanisms (Taylor's tendency to run away) and more, Matson really understood what was going on in the characters' heads and psyches and did well in weaving in the history of each character and drawing upon that to create this fantastic plot deep with rich players that simply leapt off the page. I super appreciate that!

Speaking of plot, this story was so heart-breaking and fantastic. As you'll find out in the first few pages (and probably from the synopsis above), Taylor's dad is diagnosed with cancer. His request that they spend his last summer with his family at their cabin is a great idea by all accounts, but dismal for Taylor, as she hadn't left things very friendly when she fled the cabin five years before the story takes place. Now, she must face the demons that she locked up all those years ago. Taylor's journey, aside from the arc of her father's health, is plagued by the painful mending of these broken relationships through a summer job (where she must encounter her ex-best friend), everyday life (where her love interest - who she knew as a child - moved in next door to their cabin), and more. I really liked how there was more things than just her dad's story going on here. If there hadn't been any Henry - her love interest - or friend stuff going on, this book would be SO depressing, let me tell you. And, you know, real life isn't just one battle at a time. I'm also really glad Matson worked in classic movies into her story with the whole community movie on the beach event Taylor had to organize. It's another thing I love about her writing:  she incorporates real-world connections to popular culture. So the plot really brought to life a real situation with which a lot of people can identify. Stories reflecting life is important with writing arts.

It's probably notable to say that if you're a Sarah Dessen fan, you'll like this book because they draw some similarities that are common in contemporary YA writing. The loss of a parent (no less a father), sibling and family conflicts, recovering from childhood events, and "firsts" are all part of the story. For these reasons, as well as the setting and the basic "feel" of the novel, it's very Dessen-esque, although Matson has a signature writing style that makes it her very own (As I said, her dialogue is so fantastic, and the use of flashbacks really brings the story to life!).

So this is a pretty glowing review so far, but I have to say something that somewhat comes off as criticism, right? Well, Warren - Taylor's older brother - drove me nuts! Honestly. It wasn't even funny. By the end of the story, he came around, but he was completely unbelievable towards the beginning of the story. Between fear of rodents and all of the other stupid things he would do, it was like he was twelve years old, or was written at first like her was 12, but boosted up to 19 in a later draft. Anyway, I didn't like his character one bit, although he offered an extra substance to the story as it progressed.

As a summer read? Definitely do it. I highly recommend both Second Chance Summer and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour to any audience. Matson is a talented dialogue writer, obviously draws from personal experience, and mends everything into a tapestry that's hard to criticize. It was fantastic!

'Til next time!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

cover redesign: bittersweet by sarah ockler

Above is my latest cover redesign, inspired by Sarah Ockler's Bittersweet. The original cover, below, leaves something to be desired and is, for some audiences, confusing. For the cover, I wanted to include two major elements that are important to the journey of the story - figure skating and cupcakes. I also really wanted to take a whack at the newest trend in cover design. These skinny letters draped over pictures is EVERYWHERE, guys! Skinny, tall letters is a trend, no less, but it's finally coming to fruition in the new releases section of bookstores. I kinda like how this one turned out.

Did you like what you saw here? Or maybe you didn't. Let me know below! If you have any books that you'd like to see a redesign for, you can also post suggestions. Classics, history, fiction... you name it. I'd be more than willing to accommodate! ;)

'Til next time!

Friday, June 14, 2013

life story: of milk and mildew

            There are two things you need to know about me. The first is that I have an overwhelming urge to want to save the world. Those kind of aspirations are admittedly crazy in every way, especially for one person. You'll see what I'm talking about later. The second? I'm one of those people that picks up trash in public spaces... thus, saving the world (debatable, but for all blogging purposes something we'll stick with).
            It's not out of obligation. No, I volunteer to pick up trash. No one tells me I have to, no one tells me I should and nudges me onto the side of a highway; I do it because I think it's fun. At this point, you're probably saying that I have zero friends. After all, who suspects that the person who is walking around with a garbage bag and work gloves on the side of the road has a bunch of people knocking on their door to hang out? You're right! No one. But I assure you, I have friends. They're just extremely busy... seemingly all the time. Hmmmmm... I'll be right back...

            Okay, I'm back! One of my friends answered a phone call from me; it's all good. Back to what I was saying. I'm not crazy. But if someone saw me a few weeks ago, digging through the garbage (which is suspicious in itself) they may have thought I was.

            It was a beautiful spring day, probably the first day of the year where it feels like summer. I had just finished raking and cleaning out gardens in a little downtown park in the small suburban town in which I live and was driving home, sore and aching, yet feeling a sense of accomplishment that I find extremely difficult to attain.
            It was the golden hour of the afternoon, the time of day where the sun is just at the point where it skims the landscape in its dusky glory, just perfect light for bonfires to be lit and mosquitos to venture from wherever they seemingly disappear to during the day. Sunglasses on, driving, radio static breaking through the hum of the car engine. It was pretty great. And that's when I saw it.
            A car wash stands as the gateway to my hometown's small downtown district. Closed down, weeded over, abandoned for all its worth, this little red building had been a hot spot in its heyday. I remember as a little tyke travelling through the little station. It had two long hallways made specifically for cars to cruise through and enable the owners to use the equipment inside to make the car presentable for any occasion. First date, prom, job interview:  what have you, it was always there. But in recent years, the cute little station had undergone an owner change that was for the worst. The doors that once hosted many-a-car were closed and chained with padlocks. The red paint that adorned the concrete brick walls began peeling. The bright yellow letters on the overhead flat roof reading, "Car Wash," (surprisingly) saw much better days. The air pump for tires in the parking lot went into disservice. And, finally, the concrete construction with two holes to contain travelers' McDonald's wrappers and gas station snack recepticles overflowed into the surrounding area.
            Now, while the normal person would be totally fine with the fact that garbage was blowing everywhere, I took it as a personal attack on my goal to save the world on this fine afternoon, and instantly pulled into the abandoned car wash parking lot, ready to settle the score. After all, this hadn't been the first time I noticed the problem. No one had emptied these "garbages" in at least two years. Again, sad story about car wash in disservice...
            I parked my car right next to the concrete trash can-esque center, inspected the problem fully, and fetched three jumbo garbage bags from the trunk of my car. (Yes, I keep garbage bags in my trunk:  deal with it.) I opened up one end of one of the garbage bags, watching it billow in the slight breeze, and first dealt with the garbage scattered throughout the vicinity. Among the trash, there were realtor yard signs, gummy worm package wrappers, and surprisingly, a large cardboard box. Not thinking much of it, I stuffed everything in the bag and headed back to the source of the scattered items.
            The pseudo garbage cans, even at first glance, were a monstrosity of a problem. Garbage of all kinds - plastic, glass, paper - were thrown into the collections with little care. Each time the wind picked up, the bottles at the top of the heaps of trash would rattle, threatening to throw themselves off the pile and onto the asphalt. But even worse was the smell; these open pits were so exposed to the elements - rain, snow, what have you - that the water had not only penetrated, but made the entire pile of forgotten elements soggy and probably something much more disgusting as the trash descended into the concrete hole.
            Proceeding with caution, I started digging through the trash, scooping each and every bit into the first garbage bag, which seemed to fill up faster than I had anticipated. But then again, when people are throwing away (and I'm not kidding here) a 101 Dalmations sleeping bag, shirts, and robotic dogs into a roadside car wash's outside trash can, you know there's going to be a problem. Despite the minor smell issue, as I went along things actually were pretty peachy. Everything seemed to be mostly dry, manageable to handle, and relatively small. There weren't even any personal hygiene items, which are common in places like this. I tied off my first garbage bag with ease, opened up another, and started filling that one as well.
            A couple handfuls into the second bag, that aforementioned problem arose. All of a sudden, I could smell something awful permeating the air around me, even more so than before. It smelled either like puke or my cooking, which coincidentally smell and taste the same. Bile rose in the back of my throat, and I briefly stepped away. A moment passed over me when I thought it may just be a passing stench riding the breeze. But it was not; I knew better than that. I worked up the courage to grab a handful more of garbage, and in clear sight, there was my problem.
            I've heard of soured milk before, but surely there was no preparing me for what I saw. Under the weight of the other garbage, a gallon milk jug had been squished, and its contents spilled over the remaining trash can contents. Curdled, in big chunks like cottage cheese, it had festered in its place for a long time, long enough to be overpowering to the nth degree. "Yuck, yuck, yuck," I tried to suppress as I jumped back, but it was too much.
            I approached the can again and saw the opaque white curdles at the bottom of the bin, and said out loud, "Yeah, about that... I can't." I immediately moved away from there and onto cleaning out the second concrete hole in favor of the first, but I knew it was inevitable I would face the gag-worthy collection just waiting for me feet away. Luckily, for now, I could avoid it. And avoid it. And avoid it. And avoid it. Then, the second hole was cleaned out. My gloves were a little soggy from the trash at the bottom of that second bin, but it wasn't hard to get over it. I tied off the second bag and then took a deep breath.
            The curdles were still awaiting me at the bottom of the pit, on top of what one could only assume were more disgusting things. But I wasn't going to stop here. I had come so far. Two entire jumbo bags full of garbage. And the car wash looked better when there wasn't trash overflowing the vicinity. Who else will do it if you don't? I asked myself. Unfortunately, I knew the answer:  no one. And it would look SO good if this trash was cleaned out and replaced with dirt and some beautiful flowers. I have to do this, I thought. So I took a deep breath and reached toward the sour milk-stained remains in the bin.
            Sour milk stained my gloves, seeping into the fabric and into my skin, and I felt the bile rise again. I swiftly brought the contents into the bag and continued on. Through moist, damp, disgusting contents that once littered dashboard roadtrips, baseball game concession stands, or gas station shelves - I can only imagine. Through mold and mildew-stained pieces of paper. I cleared it, scraping the bottom, dropping the final bits of trash into the third and final garbage bag, dropping in my soaking work gloves in behind - by this time, they were caked with the curdled milk - and tying the clear plastic tight into itself.
            I walked directly to my car, the smell of sour milk lingering on my body. "That was so gross. Yuck," I audibly proclaimed just to verify how disgusting it was to myself. "I'm never doing that again." The first bag had torn in spots from the pointed wire of the realtor yard sign, but I didn't care. I shuddered as I dropped into the driver's seat of my car and drove as a fast as I could home. I was halfway there when I realized why I could still smell the wretched milk-puke-my cooking smell. Drawing my hand to my nose, I realized it actually had seeped into my skin.
            Within seconds of pulling into my driveway, I was in the shower. I imagine it was a bit like the scene from Baby Mama with Tina Fey washing the dye out of Amy Poehler's hair.

            Yeah, it was exactly like that, except Tina wasn't there, obviously. After the shower, however, I did feel much better, especially after I cleaned the steering wheel of my car and the sour milk smell disappeared from its interior for good. Thank God.

            In the end, for what it's worth, I'm not crazy. Given, I was the person both talking to myself and bent over an abandoned car wash's concrete trash cans in order to clean them out. But while I may have seemed like a crazy person at the time, the garbage bags I filled were taken away within days, and those holes are being filled with topsoil and flowers. So maybe crazy does work.

'Til next time!
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