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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)


Synopsis  
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 https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgmafGmkyk1dbRA2ORyfp6A

'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 www.littlefreelibrary.org.

'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?


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