October 23, 2015

Book Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last WordEvery Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Rating: /5

Get a copy here!

It took me so long to write this review down because the thing with reviewing a book that grabbed special place in your heart is worrying that the review you write wouldn’t justify the perfection of the book. Every Last Word did that to me.

Sixteen years old Samantha McAllister had been diagnosed with Purely-Obsessional OCD, which means she had a difficulty to control her own mind. Sam was easily obsessed over certain things, constantly filled with morbid thoughts of almost anything, and always second-guessing every single thing, both good and bad things. If things were good, Sam would feel the urge to doubt and mull over it until she thought she didn’t deserve it. If things were bad, Sam’s brain seemed like it always had a way to vision it to an extremely worse level. It made Sam struggle with daily life, moreover being one of the popular girls at school. Telling her best-friends of the popular circle was out of the question because even without her keeping a secret, their relationship was already a big fat challenge for Sam. Talking to psychiatrist and swimming had been two things that made her fight a little more bearable to face. But Sam’s life didn’t just last during that two sessions of talking and merging with the water; Sam had a whole 24/7 for 365 days to deal with every year. A whole years to dodge her mind from being ‘invaded’, to hide her number three-related habit from people, to pretend her life was normal.
When a girl named Caroline said hello a few lockers away from her, Sam never thought it would be a start of something more. Caroline who’s nothing like Sam’s best-friends became so much more when Sam caught herself telling Caroline her secrets with ease. Caroline was also the one who introduced Sam to a place where no one but school’s underdogs knew about. A place called ‘Poet’s Corner’ which Sam laughed at when Caroline said it would change her life, but turned out true. Sam met so many amazing people in that exclusive poetry club; people who she never saw around at school before because she’s too focus on her circle of friends. Writing poems helped her so much to transfer her overflowed thoughts into a better media than anxious feelings. Meeting those people with similar mindset and interest had shifted Sam’s perspective of seeing life. With a mental support from Caroline, slowly Sam started to find more courage to keep her fighting the anxiety. Especially when AJ, the boy who once shared a quite bitter history with her back then was now the one who gave her a much more important reason to change for better. Being among the ‘poets’, Sam realized that she had been missing the meaning of true friendship for years. The comfort, the feeling of being a part of something, the way it warms your soul without a word being said, Sam had never really found it before. When Sam started to find her place in her new circle of friends, Caroline insisted that Sam told the rest of the group about her sickness. But how could one confess that she had a problem with her mind? That it was constantly swarming with things she should’ve never thought in the first place? Finding new friends were definitely not an easy business for Sam. And to lost them all through a confession about her sanity?
Sam thought it was enough of having Caroline as the only friend she told her sickness to because Caroline got her like none of her friends ever did. And surely Sam wasn’t about to find out if the rest of the group felt the same way about her. Not even with AJ. But when what Sam had been holding tightly onto burst forth into debris of inconceivable reality, she was forced to face the real battle she’d been avoiding all along. That sometimes hiding a part of yourself, whatever it is, wouldn’t make your life any easier than just letting it paints a color to the portrait that captures every side that is you.

I always love books that deal with mental illness issue. I don’t know. It’s just that I never really meet any person who’s dealing with one. I want to know about it in a form that is not just a bunch of scientific facts on medical journals. I want a story of people who lives with it; I want a social perspective about it. And so I choose fiction read to help me fulfill my need on that. Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Down Syndrome, I read about all that but never an OCD one. Well, I read one but it’s more to the compulsive type and wasn’t really the main focus of the story. That’s why the second I read the blurb of Every Last Word on GR I knew that I had to read this one. No further questions needed.

Enlightening Details of Topic
First of all, I know almost nothing about OCD before and I’m really glad that the author did describe EVERYTHING about it in this book. Unlike every book about mental illness that I’ve read before where the story was mostly told from the perspective of the characters who didn’t suffer the illness, Every Last Word was told from the very person who’s diagnosed with OCD, Sam. We got a clear picture of Sam’s struggle to fight her illness, how it affected her social skills, her never-ending haunting fear that maybe she was indeed crazy. Though many would assume that this book would be really sad and all, I think that Every Last Word was a bit more to the heartwarming side than heartbreaking. Sam who’s been living with OCD since at a very young age actually had been doing real good handling her own situation. She had this psychiatrist who really knows what to do to help her, a very supporting family, and whenever her anxiety kicked in, she knew exactly what action should she do to tone it down. It was that as she grew up, the need to feel ‘normal’ was one thing that had been pressuring her. Sam just wanted to be like any of her friends whose their only secret was which boy they hooked up with last weekend, that their only worry was what dress to wear on party tomorrow night. Sam wanted to be able to share all her burdens to her friends, having a long heart-to-heart talk with someone her age, not a shrink or anyone on her family. That’s why the appearance of Caroline in her life was like a highlight of her long ‘lonely’ time. She found herself pouring her heart out to Caroline, something she never even thought of doing with her childhood best-friends.

Relatable Character
I’m sure that so many people could relate with Sam’s character (I could). The feeling of wanting to be ‘normal’ is something that almost everyone ever felt at least once in their life. It doesn’t have to be something grand, but it is all out there, the definition of ‘normal’ that everyone dreams of having: ‘I’m-smart-like-them’ normal, ‘I’m-that-easy-going-as-them’ normal, ‘I-have-a-pretty-hair-as-hers’ normal. All of that is the kind of ‘normal’s that you would easily overlook as you grow up and earn your own share of wisdom about life. In Sam’s case, she’s having an I-don’t-have-such-restless-and-uncontrollable-mind kind of normal which made her attempt to make peace with it was a little tricky. That’s where the professional-help played a major role in this situation. The author successfully captured every moment of real life of people with OCD through the neat and well-built plot of the story.

Real Portrayal of Friendship
I like the dynamic of teenage friendship in this book. Tamara didn’t necessarily add too much drama into it because Sam was not a complete timid character and despite her anxiety issue, she didn’t mind uttering her opinion when a situation was disadvantaging her side. The author also didn’t actually pointing out that Sam’s choosing poets-friends over Crazy Eights (Sam’s group of popular friends) meant the former is the good kids group and the later is the bad kids group. It was more like that as life changing, so does people. People grew up, and along with that they would form a new opinion toward certain things. Sam used to be that popular girl who enjoyed making fun of unpopular kids and as she grew up and life made her see and experience a lot of things on her own, she realized that what she’d done before was awful. Her friends might not―or hadn’t yet―realize that because they didn’t go through the same thing Sam did. And it was fine; it’s not the end of their life. It was something that happened all the time: people changed, people move on. Sam might not be a solid part of Crazy Eights anymore, but she wasn’t necessarily an enemy either.

Captivating Romance
Sam’s romance with AJ was something to die for. I loved how it was slowly built and how their moments weren’t just these meaningless cute scenes of two people in love. It was more. Sam and AJ were bound through a bitter past, an understanding of being an outcast, and a shared passion of writing poetry. AJ helped Sam to go through whatever it was Sam was dealing with as Sam learned to understand what AJ used to feel like being someone ‘different’ than the rest. When Sam struggled with her own guilt of keeping AJ in the dark about her illness, AJ was so patient to not pushing her and to wait for Sam to tell him everything on her own will.

A LOT of Feels
Reading this book made me feel a lot of things all at once but strangely not sad. I was amazed with Sam’s struggle to make peace with herself. I was touched by the sincerity of AJ’s love to Sam. I cried because I was relief that Sam got such a great support team behind her back, ranging from wonderful psychiatrist to amazing boyfriend. I cried because I was glad that everything was finally working in the end. I was in awe with all of those beautiful poetries everyone writes in this book. I was charmed by every little detail the author slipped here and there to strengthen the connection between every element in the story. I was in total speechless when that major heart-attack trigger twist was unraveled making me furiously flipping back the pages all the way to the first chapter and reread it right in that moment because I JUST COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES WITH WHAT I READ.

Final Thought(s)
I really enjoyed how Tamara presented such a heavy topic in a way that didn’t frustrate readers with its dark tone or its medical-y science-y explanation of the illness, but there were enough important details about OCD that the readers could get from a fiction book. It’s obvious with the way the author relayed the story that the reason she wrote this book in the first place wasn’t solely to increase awareness of people about this illness. It’s also to encourage them who’s diagnosed with the same illness as Sam to understand that they’re not alone; that there are another ‘Sue’ who will help them going through their situation, that somewhere out there, there will be another ‘poetry’ for them, another ‘Poet’s Corner’, another ‘AJ’ that will support them throughout the way.
Every Last Word tells a story of a teen with mental illness trying to ‘fit’ in with her surroundings. It might be heartbreaking for some but I opt with the term heartwarming and touching since that exactly what this book made me feels. And this might be such a long (and boring) review to read, but I could suggest you to skip this review and just read the book.
That’s, people, how badly I recommend you to read this book.
P.S. If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys music while reading, I suggest you to visit Tamara’s website to find her playlist(s) for the book. It’s so good and splendidly fitting!

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.

October 21, 2015

ARC Review: Black Diamond (Diamond in the Rough #2) by Elisa Marie Hopkins

Black Diamond (Diamond in the Rough Series, #2)Black Diamond by Elisa Marie Hopkins
Rating: /5

*I received e-ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

Pub. Date: October 20th, 2015

Get a copy here!
Black Diamond picked up where it left off after the tragedy of Sophie Cavall’s kidnapping by some mysterious people with unclear motive. Even though the drama was finally over, apparently it was not the end of the traumatic episode of Sophie’s life. The captor might had been caught, she might had come back to Oliver’s arms, but the discomfort feeling and flashes of dark memories still haunting her days here and there. It wasn’t a trauma that Sophie felt within her soul, she was sure; it was a feeling of constant wary and cautious toward every little odd happening around her. It didn’t help that she had to deal with her new-found cryptic half-sister, Sarah, every day. Sophie couldn’t really figure her out, what with Sarah’s undecipherable relationship with John Bridge, Sophie’s said captor. Now even after the cursed man was held away, he still managed to have control over Sophie’s life. Oliver never stopped assure her that everything was over, that John wouldn’t get a chance to hurt her again. But as much as Sophie wanted to believe him, she just couldn’t shake the weird feeling she had inside. John never revealed the actual motive behind the kidnapping. Sophie believed that there must be something behind the different way John treated her than the other victims. When the disturbing tragedy was twisted around by the media into some drama with Sophie as its main actor, Sophie couldn’t just stay still. With the help from a trustful resource, Sophie found out that there was more to John’s secretive act; that there were people who took advantage of Sophie’s circumstance at the same time. Was this some sort of psychological game that John has plotted all along to drive Sophie’s sanity to the edge? Or this might be a big conspiracy to ruin not only Sophie’s career and life, but those of her closed one as well? Whatever it was, Sophie should make a quick move to unravel it. And whoever it was, could very well not only break her apart, but also threaten her relationship with Oliver.

It’s ‘More’!
I still remembered how the ending of A Diamond in the Rough makes me all giddy to read its sequel. Now, Ms. Elisa did it again with Black Diamond. Compared to the first book, Black Diamond has a far more complex plot. The details kind of make me light-headed but once I got a hang of it, the plot was really intriguing that it had me on the edge of my seat for hours. The plot was very well-thought and even though the complexity might be a little too much for some people, the author made it bearable with her flowing writing style. Not only that she always chose the right words to relay the complex plot in a way that would be easy to digest, she had this style of including subjective opinions on certain things in the book that made the story was not just a plain fiction but also a fiction that has valuable material on some real issues in our life. And those facts she slipped here and there about anything was just amazing!
Anyway, I wouldn’t go far with the plot since it was too complicated to be explained briefly here.

‘Diamond’ Couple: Best Favorite EVER
Now, let’s talk about the characters. As always, I am fascinated by the unique couple of Sophie and Oliver. I couldn’t forget how this couple had stolen my heart on book first with their smart and humorous banters. Sophie’s demeanor had shifted into a tad more aggressive after the kidnap. She over thought every potential threat. She went ballistic upon a slight uncomfy-ness. Her no-nonsense personality made her recovery a lot faster than most kidnap survivors because instead of wallowing herself in bad memories, Sophie focused on improving herself in self-defense physically. But deep inside the tragedy left her a mental scar which she didn’t want to acknowledge but couldn’t nevertheless. Being kidnapped was already a bad nightmare come true, but being kidnapped by a psychopath whose motive was unknown was nightmare in a whole worse disturbing level. It left an unimaginable feeling of discomfort that lingering even when you were no longer being kidnapped.
I really felt bad for Sophie for all those circumstances she’d been through since she was just a kid but I didn’t want to pity her anyway. People like Sophie didn’t want to be pitied and I felt so touched that Oliver knew that side of her very well. It wasn’t because Oliver didn’t care about her; it was because he cared about her that he did that.
‘He wants to hold her in his arms, but he waits. Oliver sees her for what she struggles with: sees her for what she desires. Right now all of her is yelling, “Just let me be.” And he accepts her quietness, just sits there as if saying, “Okay, but I’m here anyway.”’ 
Oliver, as always, showed his infinite support for Sophie in his own way. He always knew where to position himself toward her in just any situation. He knew when to stay behind the line and when to step into Sophie’s space. And Sophie, as hard-headed as she could be, knew when to let her guard down in front of Oliver. Each of them might be a frustrating person for the others but they always tried to make a room in between their egos to be filled by love. They might argue all the time and when they got into real fight it would be a little worse but they always admitted each other’s mistake in the end. I think I’m more and more mesmerized with this couple each book. I guess I understand now why the author chose a title of diamond…

He’s Not Perfect but He Is
Despite all the perfections that we saw in Oliver Black, we were once again reminded that he was just a human who made mistakes in his life. I liked how he didn’t want to keep anything from Sophie; that no matter how embarrassed he was about himself, he would just tell her everything anyway. I really really loved how his mind works. And with all his cute little trivia and logical speech, how precise and careful he was with his every move and plan, he could as well make a thousand mistakes and I would forgive him a thousand times as well.

Romantic-Suspense, Literally
Whenever I find a ‘romantic suspense’ read, my mind would always fly to the kind of book that has so much thriller scenes in the story and spice it up with romance to attract female readers. Black Diamond is not like that, though. This book is labeled itself as romantic suspense, and it is exactly what it labeled as. It’s a romance. And a suspense read. Black Diamond and its predecessor might be the best suspense novel I’ve ever read with its rich details of events, plot and twists and all. And they are also a romance. A romance in which the hero and heroine didn’t need to say they love each other repeatedly for the readers to feel the sparks between them. The author didn’t even need to over-sweeten Sophie and Oliver’s moments because just the two of them being together on the same scene, bickering, arguing, complaining, throwing fun facts, had already romanticized the scene to a degree that makes you craving for more and biting your nails in a mix of awe and envy.

Working Brain Is Sexy
As much as I want to go over and over again about this couple, I think it only fair to discuss another part of the story. Did I tell you the part where I was fascinated by the richness of the twist? This book did make my brain works. I couldn’t decipher the mystery behind all these twists. You need to focus if you want to get the story. But don’t worry that your brain would get all twisted because the author slipped casual jokes here and there. I think I laughed and smiled a lot more in this book than in book one.

The ending, as usual, was one cruel punishment from the author to the readers who enjoyed the book a little too much. I literally dropped my jaw and had a hard time putting it back when that particular line on the epilogue slapped me hard on the face.
But I know that I could always count on Ms. Elisa to pay it back on the next book. Well, It’s just a matter of patience now...

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.

October 16, 2015

Book Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Things We Know by HeartThings We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby
Rating: /5

Get a copy here!

Things We Know by Heart tells a story that follows the life of people after an organ donation. A seventeen years old teenager, Trent, died on a car accident and per his own request; his organs were donated to the others who needed it. The moment he took his last breath, lungs, kidney, liver, cornea, and heart were sent directly to those who might have been waiting for the organs they needed all their life. Quinn Sullivan, Trent’s girlfriend, had a rough time accepting the fact Trent was really gone. She holed herself up for days and refused to be accompanied with anything but grief. At least, Trent had left parts of them to stay alive in the world and that’s the only treasure Quinn still could cling onto: to reach out to each of them and see for herself how Trent still could share happiness with others even if he’d already gone. But one person missed the tear-inducing encounter tied under Trent’s good deed. The person who received Trent’s heart refused to be met by the donor’s family for a reason. Even though Quinn had met the four others recipient, it was the recipient of the heart that Quinn wanted to meet the most. That heart had been the one that Trent used to love Quinn, to encourage him calling her name on that first meet, to where Trent kept his promise to be with Quinn all his life. It was the heart that Quinn matched its beat with hers, the day she thought everything would be all rainbows for them in the future. Quinn wanted to see who the person who received the most treasured part of Trent was. Even if it would be from afar, even if there’s no chance for her to feel it again, Quinn needed to know who it was for one last closure before she moved on.
‘For so long, I was the one with his heart. I just need to see where it is now.’
Thomas Colton. It was the name Quinn found as Trent’s heart recipient when she browsed it and stumbled across his sister’s blog one day. Quinn had sacredly following the blog updates as his sister wrote all of about Colton’s recovery days for the world to see. Now, four hundred days after Trent’s accident, Quinn decided to break confidentiality right of organ recipient by seeing Colton. She thought of all reasons to mentally justify her action and came up with none. But she only wanted to see, no more than that. Holding onto that simple promise to herself, Quinn drove over to Colton’s family surf shop only to be slapped by another shocking revelation. Quinn might succeed in stopping herself from crossing any more boundaries, but she surely didn’t expect for the nature to take control and give her a cosmological coincidence to meet Colton, didn’t expect to find something shift in the air as their eyes met, didn’t expect for a string to tug her heart from that more-pathetic-than-normal encounter.
‘…like maybe even though we don’t know each other that well, our hearts do.’

What I Feel
God, I feel like my heart is broken to pieces all over again writing that synopsis above. Though I (weirdly) didn’t shed a single tear while reading, this book successfully grinded my heart into confetti. I did have tears gathering in the edge of my eyes but that’s it all. All I felt, though, these little gasps, some mini heart-attacks, and lots of lemme-close-the-book-and-my-eyes-for-a-sec moments. Guess that time I wasn’t just in the mood to cry at all because now that I think again, this is a truly heartrending story to not cry over. What a rebel mood!

Stellar Points (Lots of it!)
Anyway, I have a lot of things that I really really loved from this book. The simple plot―though it was kind of dragged at some points―, really lovable characters, heartbreaking facts and trivia of heart and heart transplantation, sweet sweet romance, and all those bewitching words the author used to tell this story. Everything worked together in sync to send these mellow viruses all over my body while reading the book.
The characters are utterly flawless. Not that I meant they all have personality of angels, it’s more because they’re so natural it almost feels like seeing actual persons. All characters perfectly portrayed the feeling of real persons when being put in such circumstances. How they were broken, left, hurt, and slammed on the face by harsh reality. Quinn’s parents were not directly involved in the main issue but there were scenes where we could see a glimpse of their wise characters that Quinn could learn from.
(Just where the hell have I been all my life that I only notice her books now??)
I really love how detailed Jessi’s narration of every scene, every emotion, and every place the characters were in. The story took majority of its setting on water while involving variety of water-sports as like kayaking and surfing. The sets where Quinn and Colton went kayaking on were my best favorites. The picturesque description of the river, the cave, how the algae caused bioluminescence with the water, lying on the boat watching the fireworks lit up the sky in fourth July, God, these are materials worth-filming! Actually, when I was only a few chapters through, I did keep thinking that, ‘this book should be made into a movie’. Can you believe that I actually have a vivid picture of that scene in my mind? That if this book somehow going to make it to the big screen and if the universe wants me to fill the director position (???), I already know how the scene would go on? And the emotion, every single feeling, was smoothly conveyed to the readers to feel along with the characters. Amazing that during the entire 304 pages, this book successfully shifted my attention from my own life to these characters’ life.

‘You-Got-Me-On-My-Knees’ Romance
The romance between the main characters was the attraction point. With so many secrets hidden behind the layer, Quinn and Colton chose to put everything aside except the growing feelings in each their hearts. Quinn, as she tried to brush the guilt both to Trent and Colton. Colton, as he tried to leave behind the past that had shaped him into who he is now. I’m aware of how fast the progress of their relationship here, like how quick Colton decided that he interested in Quinn and how Quinn almost never said no to Colton’s invitation to hang out. But nothing about it bothered me because besides the ‘heart’ thingy between them, I liked to think that there was another reason for them to act so. For Quinn, obviously, it was because she wanted to spend some more time with a part of Trent (even though the feeling would eventually grow into something more). For Colton, he might feel what we called as ‘love at the first sight’. Cheesy, I know, but I could really picture Colton’s character as someone just like that. Colton is a good, soft-hearted boy with a charming and rather shy personality. But once he set his targets on, he would take anything to reach for it. Meanwhile Quinn is the kind of girl that loves too much, grieves too much, yet quite a risk-taker when she wants to. I loved the adventurous side within her that perfectly matched Colton’s strong-willed. Together they made a sweet couple whose relationship would stay as strong as their determined self.
'As hard as we both tried, and as much as we both wanted it to be otherwise, we are made of our pasts, and our pains, our joys and our losses.'
Quinn was the girl who surrounded by memories of the past and Colton was the boy who only wanted to focus on the future. As their hearts collided, they anchored each other to stay in the now, in the present where future is meant to be faced not blindingly mapped out; where the past is meant as a reminder to always be grateful, not something that you should dread or cling onto too much. A misfortunate fate brought them together so they could learn one important lesson of living that they might had been missing out before: to let go of the past, to not worry too much of the uncertainty of the future, to just live in the moment.

My Issue(s)
The ending was predictable but for once in my life I didn’t even care about it. My only issue with this book is probably the lack of parents’ involvement in the story, especially Colton’s. While I really love how caring and protective his sister could be, with a condition as complex as his, it would be much better to involve the role parents to give a more familial touch to the story.

Final Thoughts
Things We Know by Heart doesn’t just provide sweet love story of young people but it slips another important element to enrich it as well, which is acceptance of loss and letting go of the pasts as part of continuing to live … and to love. With a rare yet brilliant topic and engaging writing style, this book is going to be your next perfect read of poignant romance.
I just hope that my review does do justice to the beauty of the story.

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.

Book Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

ElsewhereElsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Rating: /5

Get a copy here!

Elsewhere has a very unique idea of a story. Actually I was a bit taken aback by its topic of afterlife and how casual the author made it looks like. I was a little worried that this would be the kind of story that too morbid to my liking that would make me feeling strange all day after reading it. Well, it did make me feels strange all day since the moment I turned its last page, but it was this ‘can’t-stop-my-mind-from-wandering-back-to-it’ strange, a little of ‘what-the-hell-did-I-just-read’ strange, and thrown in a ‘weirdly-entertained’ strange. It was every strange feeling all mixed up at the same time, filled my mind with it like that feeling when you watch a foreign ancient cartoon from a country you never heard before. God, even talking about it makes me feel strange…

The Unique Plot
The kind of afterlife Zevin brought up here was this place not much different than Earth with rules that so much different from Earth. I’ll try to put it here as simplest as possible.
People who died on Earth were brought―or rather shipped―with this ship called S.S. Nile to Elsewhere. In Elsewhere, those dead people got to live all over again under one most essential circumstance: instead of growing up and continuing their ages, they aged backward here. It meant, when someone died on the age of 40, they would lived in Elsewhere from the age 40 all the way down to seven days old as they shrunk back into babies (WTH, I know). These babies then would be sent back to Earth through the River so they could be born into a new family and lived a whole new different life.
That’s, people, the main point of the story. It was pretty simple unless the details of the Elsewhere itself was anything but simple.

I’m a Heartless Monster…
I was amazed with how detailed the author described Elsewhere from its setting, its rules, the way of living, to the cycle of ‘life’ people goes through there. And what impressed me more was the fact that she told it all in this casual tone of third person perspective that kept changing from one character to another. At first it was a dog perspective then it was a girl’s perspective then another character. It altered back and forth real smoothly that you didn’t feel bothered by it. And the casual tone I’m talking about here is how the story came out a little more comical than it supposed to be, what with the dead and afterlife topics. The heroine, Liz, was this kind of character who thinks too much and keeps a lot of rather silly opinion of things in her mind. She didn’t even mean it to be funny but it came out that way nevertheless. Even the cause of her death that was real tragic (a hit and run accident) slowly became not that sad as she thought of it over and over again. And I feel really really, truly, bad for saying this, but the way she mulled over the event again and again in her mind made the tragedy sounded more ridiculous than sad. And again, something as sacred as one’s last word could be an evidence of such an embarrassing downfall for human generation when it came to Liz’s. God, this book is trying to turn me into a heartless monster!

Amusing Romance
I almost didn’t have any issue with this book (beside the strange feeling) until Zevin decided to throw in some romance sparks within the story. If you haven’t notice, I’m a big fan of romance. But I know when to not expect romance in a book. Elsewhere becomes one of it. The first half of the book was pretty (weirdly) enjoyable and somehow purposeful (???). When the romance came in, the rest of the story became even weirder than before. It confused the story a little, I think, because all of sudden it was about Liz’s feeling to this Owen guy than her perspective about life in Elsewhere anymore. Somehow I understand the reason why the author felt the need to slip a romance into the story. But the thing is, this book has a characteristic of short-length scenes and fast-paced plot. So the romance was executed quickly: it was insta-love (no doubt). But the interesting part is―God, I can’t believe this―the appearance of romance in this book was only adding material to the humorous part. Owen is a really unbelievable character who’s going through some love-crisis. I’m not even going to reveal what I mean here but there was this scene between Liz and Owen that struck me as what must be the most ridiculous romance scene ever written in a book.

Lesson(s) Learned
Anyway, the ending I can assure was decent. Despite how much I laughed while reading the book, I could see where the author wanted to go with this story. That people, when given a second chance, they tended to second-guessed it than used it as best as they could. In Elsewhere, everyone was given the ‘last’ second chance they could ever get and might be the best one as well because as they aged backward, it also meant to reflect to things they’d had done in their life on Earth. Some wasted it by keeping themselves deep in sorrow, regret, and anger. Some did not. Fifteen years Liz took us to a journey of self-acceptance, appreciating life, and of living in the moment rather than worrying the future that’s uncertain and the past that has passed. Oh, and I loved the analogy of tree that one of the characters used to describe the connection between Elsewhere and Earth. That’s the simplest way to put it!

Final Thoughts
In the end, I don’t know if I have to say that I love this book. Elsewhere is definitely not a bad book but it’s not something that I would want to reread again in the future because of this odd aura that surrounding it. Zevin’s idea of this story was an amazing one and the way of telling she chose for this book was utterly unique. She combined two very different worlds of death and humor and made this genius combination that strangely comical. If I didn’t keep feeling weird while reading this, I was sure this would be one of my favorite books. But all in all, this would be the most unique story I’ve ever read in my life.

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.

October 13, 2015

(Netgalley) ARC Review: Always Second Best (Broken Dreams #3) by Elodie Nowodazkij

Always Second Best (Broken Dreams, #2)Always Second Best by Elodie Nowodazkij
Rating: /5

*I received digital ARC of this book from Victory Editing through Netgalley*

Pub. Date: October 13th, 2015

Get a copy here!

This is the kind of book that I wanted to love but couldn’t nevertheless. There were some points that I found good but I had problems with majority parts of it. Please know that Always Second Best is part of a series but you could enjoy it anyway as a standalone.

Sixteen years old Em had her heart broken by a boy last summer. That summer should’ve been the summer she earns the ‘price’ of her patience from nursing her little crush on her brother’s boyfriend, Nick, for God knows how long. Turned out the said boy had another plan in mind. Nick broke her heart then gone to a series of date throughout the summer. The last girl he dated was Jen, the girl who’d been an undeclared enemy to Em. It was unfair that he could go around dating any girl at school while Em had been drowning herself to a pool of sorrow. Paired it with her own issue with real mother who refuses to reconnect with her and the pressure of the upcoming audition in which her future as a dancer was at stake, Em felt like the ground she stepped on would disappear any moment these days. In between the dance practice that killing her both mentally and physically, Em still had to balance her days between mentally slapping herself for still crushing on Nick and working on her last letter to the mother who never reaches out back. But as days passed by, Em discovered that there were more to what she knew behind all those issues that surrounding her tight like her dance practice schedule. There were more to the betrayal, the rejection, the false revelation, and the pressure that coming on her way. And apparently, there was more to herself that she hadn’t figured out yet all this time.

If you notice, what I described on the brief synopsis above is nothing like the blurb said. Aaand, here comes my first issue with the book: the mismatch between the title/description with the content of the book. When you saw the title then you read the blurb, it was obvious that this book would tell a story of someone who struggle with a label of always being a second best all his/her life and it might end with the person could finally overcome the issue. This, truthfully, was intriguing and what got me into reading this book in the first place. But the thing is I didn’t see this ‘always-being-second-best’ issue actually being presented anywhere in the book. There were scenes where Em thought of herself as a second best but really, it was all just in her mind. Because in all those fifty-two chapters, I assure you that no one treated or even gave any impression of putting that label on Em. It was all just her, really.

Then about the story itself, well, it was fine. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t any special either. But sometimes I don’t mind reading a cliché story as long as the writing style is engaging. With Always Second Best, sadly I couldn’t find it. What I noticed the most was how the author loved―like really really loved―to repeat the same first word(s) of a sentence three times in a row several times like this:

'I so don’t want to get into a talk with her. Not when Nick’s supposed to be here. Not when I’m supposed to finally have the talk with him. Not when I believe maybe, just maybe, we finally have a chance again.'

It was good at first as it helped the author to intensify the feeling that she wanted to relay to the readers on that particular scene (even I, myself, loved to write like this sometimes because it’s kind of poetic). But when it was done again and again, in almost every page of the book, it somehow became boring and even slightly tiring and annoying. Also, the author seemed having a problem arranging the plot. The pacing was real slow in the beginning as the story went on uneventfully. And then at one point, twist after twist came barreling in but the tensions only lasted no more than one minute as it moved into another scene quickly. There were scenes that seemed rushed. Several unnecessary details were included yet the seemingly critical points were overlooked or just ended up in vague closures. Most twists, even the important one like the truth behind Em’s real mother’s rejection, were unraveled curtly like it didn’t mean anything. The tension-building was almost absent as the transformation between each scene were unsmooth and happened quickly. Thus, it was hard to really connect with the story as we didn’t have enough time to feel along with the characters.

The characters themselves weren’t developed well. Each character didn’t hold any certain characteristic so it was hard to tolerate them, both main and side characters. The shallowness of the characters caused me to feel indifferent to whatever they did in the story. And this is really really sad because sometimes it was the characters that pull me close when the story didn’t engage my interest. I actually was intrigued with Nat’s story but her role was cut out so sudden without any closure in the end. I liked her friendship with Em that even though they were not close, they went along alright. I could relate with this kind of friendship. And also Jen, she was the reason I laughed for the first time while reading this book. Even though the change in her character was a bit confusing, I liked her when she decided to be a little more ‘reachable’ by people around her. I also liked Roberto, Em’s brother, but again, their characters were too shallow to allow readers getting to know more of them.

Despite everything, I appreciated the efforts the author put into building moments of Nick and Em. Their togetherness was not overdone to a sickening level or too plain to be called a romance. It was decent and the pace perfectly suited their age. The ending was realistic enough. Not everything worked in the end but at least everyone got what they truly needed. The moral lesson implied here was good, too. That sometimes when you have no idea where to go from where you stand at the moment, you just need to crawl back inside your heart for a while and ask your own self for a direction. Because after all, the one who can give you the best answer for that is no other than your own self.

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.

October 5, 2015

(Netgalley) ARC Review: My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards

My Secret to TellMy Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards
Rating: /5

*I received digital ARC of this book from Sourcebooks Fire through Netgalley*

Pub. Date: October 6th, 2015

Get a copy here!

This is the first book I picked out from my TBR list after my long hiatus of reading so I kind of expected a lot from it to be a good starter. Good thing that My Secret to Tell wasn’t just live up to my expectation (which was ‘containing sweet romance’) but it also brought out a thrilling vibe within the plot that I welcomed warmly ‘cause it’s been a while since I last read something suspenseful.
‘He’s eye candy for them, but he’s something much more dangerous for me. Something a lot like gravity. Because being around him feels like falling. Every. Single. Time.’
(Chapter I; My Secret to Tell)
With a strong prologue, this book started real intriguing. A sixteen years old, OCD-cleaning, Emerson May found blotches of red-dark stain on her bedroom window that evening. It’s not helping that she’d just got off the phone with her best friend, Chelsea, who’s panicking over her father that was brought to hospital after badly being attacked in their home. Trying to be calm, she followed another blotch on her bathroom knob and what she saw next stopped her breath completely for a few seconds. Blood was everywhere; on the floor, covering the white tile; on the legs, hands, clothes, covering the boy with tears-streaked eyes. Never in her life had she imagined of having this boy she’d been crushing on for years in her bathroom in this kind of circumstance. But there he was, Deacon Westfield in blood-stained shirt, shaking so badly on her bathroom floor instead of in hospital with his sister waiting on their father. The scene right in front of her could be a very perfect evidence of a crime case but it was the last thing Emmie had in mind when she calmly and without a doubt took a quick action of cleaning the mess Deacon brought along with him. They didn’t have much time when Emmie’s mother came home. No words being said and definitely nothing were explained. But in that short moment only their eyes speak as Emmie sneaked Deacon out to the night. She wanted to believe it was the truth they exchanged but eyes could be telling everything all at once―the truth, the lie, or the thing only she wanted to see.
What happened next was a mess. People accusing Deacon as the one who attacked his own father; even his sister and their family lawyer believed so. Deacon made it difficult for people to see the bright side of him on the case by running away and avoiding meeting his family. It was Emmie who stood by his side and God knows she wasn’t there just because she had a special feeling for him. With an attitude, a bad history with his father in the past weeks, and a record of police, Deacon did make a perfect fit to the questioned culprit. But Emmie had seen him in his worst and it was nowhere near violent. Going against the current, Emmie decided to help Deacon find a justice in his father’s case. Disappointing her own parents might be her biggest fear but leaving Deacon in the trap felt much worse. Emmie might have a fixer trait but this wasn’t only about fixing things for Emmie, this was about fighting for her belief and bringing justice to those who deserve it. What Emmie didn’t know was sometimes looks can be deceiving, especially when you put too much faith on it.
‘How many times have I been so determined to see the best in things that I didn’t face the reality right in front of me?’
(Chapter XV; My Secret to Tell)
I really enjoyed the story with all the suspense feels. Some people might think that the plot was predictable―well, I had successfully guessed the culprit from the start―but there were parts that I didn’t see coming. I loved how not cliché the story came out in the end; that the characters weren’t always right with their decision; that the heroine didn’t turn into a complete fool for love; that not every issue was resolved right away just because it was the end. But what I loved the most was the lesson relayed through this story: that people who could break us down completely were those who are the closest to us. This is ironically a fact that maybe most of us have seen in our life. That’s because the closest person to us is the one who knows our weakness best. Thus when there’s a will and there’s a chance, they could easily use it against us.

Emmie’s character was so relatable. Her obsession to clean and arrange every mess around her, for one, was something that I could imagine doing every day though mine was not that extreme. What made her stand out than another heroine in most YA was that Emmie wasn’t that kind of girl who’s so head over heels to her crush that she couldn’t see anything beyond him. Emmie was brave, loyal, sometimes comical in mind, and probably the most rational heroine I ever found in a YA. What she did, she did it in her own will. Her heart might be filled with her feelings to Deacon but her mind worked independently. And her issue with her parents, she dealt with it quite maturely for someone her age. She constantly worried that she would let her parents down and she tried real hard not to, but she didn’t entirely agree to them as well. Emmie didn’t want to be a ‘good’ daughter who would say yes to everything her parents wanted her to be but ended up keeping regrets all her life later on. She’s simply amazing and I really didn’t hold a thing against her character.

Even though the romance wasn’t the focus of the story, I was satisfied with how it was built. The fact that Emmie was the one who Deacon chose to run to when he was all shaken up showed that after all he did have a feeling for her too. The romance was beautiful, pure, and somehow mature. Together they made a sweet couple as they completed each other. Deacon had been by her side for a long time, stood for her, believed in her, made her feel not alone when the trouble comes. And now when the table was turned, Emmie made sure to be all of that for him, not because she loved him, but because she knew him. The loyalty, the trust, and the faith that they’d been putting on each other’s hands since they were kids slowly built deeper as they faced more complicated situations and more complex problems together growing up. The scene of their escapade, though short, was powerful because it contained exactly what I wanted to know about how their romance changed them into better persons. It was always calming to read a good romance of a young couple.

The thing that bothered me a lot though was the title. With a title My Secret to Tell, sure the first thing comes to our mind would be ‘whose secret?’. But with the cover like that (a girl standing alone, looking right into the camera) who doesn’t agree when I say the secret was the girl’s? Then I dove into the book and the story was told from the girl’s perspective. See? It must be the girl’s. The fact is… (this might sound like spoiler but trust me, IT’S NOT) Emmie didn’t have any secret to tell. I said it before that it always bothers me when a story doesn’t match with the title, vice versa. And this, right here, was my bothered expression when I realized it >:(

All in all, the author wrote the story beautifully. I loved the voice she used to Emmie as the narrator and the words she chose to form such poetic sentences in almost every page I read. Her characterizations were rich and the plot was neat with some unpredictable turn of events throughout the book. People who love suspense read would definitely enjoy this book and those who prefer romance book like me wouldn’t be disappointed as well.
My Secret to Tell is my first book from this author and I don’t hesitate to pick up another title from her for my next read.

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.

October 1, 2015

Book Review: Grayson's Vow (A Sign of Love) by Mia Sheridan

Grayson's VowGrayson's Vow by Mia Sheridan
Rating: /5

Get a copy here!

“Never fret, my love, the universe always balances the scales. Her ways may be mysterious, but they are always just.” 
(Isabel Dallaire ‘Gram’, Chapter I; Grayson’s Vow)
Mia Sheridan never ceases to amaze me over and over again!
It seems like romance story does flow in her blood, really.

I had this book on my TBR list before the title was even announced, even less the cover. All I knew that it would be another book of my best favorite romance series Sign of Love. I’ve read the other five out of six books from this series and I loved them all to my deepest bone. Of course I wasn’t even hesitate to pick this one up ‘cause I believed Mia Sheridan would never let me down with her writing.

Grayson’s Vow was based on the sign of Libra. The epigraph I quoted above had me all even more certain that this book would be an exquisite romance story. This book was featuring a unique, weirdly compatible, and endearing couple of Kira Dallaire and Grayson Hawthorn. Kira was the epitome of witty plotter. She’s funny, risk-taker, and a rather impulsive person. She’s the kind of person who never sits still and always runs around creating her own way instead of taking the common way, though most times her ideas would just bring her to some ‘tragic’ ends. Even though Kira’s been let down again and again by the very persons who supposed to protect her, she always tried her best to not let them, who count on her, down. It was her Grammy who taught Kira how to find a positive side of everything. That’s why when her grandma passed away, Kira practically lost the anchor that used to tie her down from floating away with the cruelty crawling around her. Having no one to lean on anymore and being exposed to a recurrent heartless shaming by the people who she thought loving her, Kira decided to go to Napa and left behind the luxury of her house that held nothing but fake happiness all along. Holding on to her grandma’s wisdom and some of her own undisputed skill of plotting; Kira came up with a worth-trying yet rather desperate idea of moving on. It was meant to be the most brilliant idea Kira ever plotted in her life, except, the other party who’s involved in this grand-scheme might have a different opinion on that.

Grayson Hawthorn only knew the feeling of being unwanted, disgraced, and betrayed all his life until he ended up believing that he was all of that: unwanted, a disgrace, a person who deserves to be deserted. It was none other but his own parents―his father and stepmother―who made sure Grayson knew where he stands in the family. He struggled to find the ground to put his feet at when he was tripped over another accident that land him into spending five torturous years in prison. It was when he came back that his deceased father left him the vineyard on the verge of breakdown to him. Though Grayson knew it was definitely not easy to keep the vineyard running, he made a vow to not let his father down. The father who’s been so distant toward him for years had left him a legacy to keep in the end; it was the only reminder he needed to keep going with his effort. But being a felon with all the negative labels plastered on his presence, it felt like him against the world all over. It was when a girl, a passionate little plotter came to his vineyard and offered him a business arrangement in the middle of chaos somehow lit a spark of hope in his eyes. It was sounded pretty risky but it might worth a try. But could he believed in a stranger who was obviously desperate yet looked as if she got the world all controlled in the little palm of her hand? Grayson Hawthorn was never the one to go against the current but with Kira Dallaire this might be time for him to set aside his worried and doubt and just act. But Grayson would do it all; no matter what the risk waiting in the end of the street, Grayson would stop at nothing to keep his vow.

As usual, Mia Sheridan is back with her undoubtedly graceful writing. As always, I felt like highlighting every word she wrote because they’re just too good to not being savored again and again. Grayson’s Vow was written flawlessly. The scenes, the plot, all the twists, and the characters, everything was very well thought out and not a single part was too plain or too exaggerating. Mia is a kind of author who’s detailed in her writing so you could expect a lot from this book. The story was set in Napa―which I know nothing about until I read this book. But the way Mia describing it made me feel like I was there seeing everything with my very own eyes. The life in Napa, the peaceful scenery of acres of vineyards, the enchanting old style of the Hawthorn residence with its maze and the gardens of peaches and apricots; Mia did a stellar job describing all that in rich details. Right after I finished this book for the first time (I already read this book twice, anyway. I just can’t help it), I went straight to my browser and looked up for Napa and there on my screen the imagination I built from Mia Sheridan’s description was projected into realism. The pictures of the vinery exactly like how I imagined it, with the owner’s house, gardens and fountain, and I shivered of the fact that I actually never knew how Napa was like before I read this book. It was like I ‘see’ Napa through Mia’s words and it was a hell of an experience for me.

Look! Grayson's Vineyard... lol! (photo source: Bouchaine Vineyards)

The storyline was really good. Compared with the other books from this series, Grayson’s Vow had the lightest tone among the rest. Even though Mia always opted for a HEA in her every book, Becoming Calder/Finding Eden, Archer’s Voice, and Kyland were more to the type of torn-my-heart-in-pieces read while Stinger and Leo were less heart-wrenching (but still making me cry a river, indeed). Grayson’s Vow did make me cry at one point but the majority tone of the book was amusing.

Kira was instantly drawn to Grayson’s gorgeousness on the first encounter.

‘He looked like every hero in every fairy tale I’d ever dreamed, come to life. And, God, I wanted to believe in heroes again.’
(Kira, Chapter III; Grayson’s Vow)
Yet the second time―when they officially met―she got a glimpse of fact that Grayson’s outer beauty didn’t really reflected what was on the inside.

‘But sometimes, I supposed, a girl just had to be her own hero.
Especially when the hero in question turned out to be a dragon.’
(Kira, Chapter III; Grayson’s Vow)
I was completely taken by the mischievous voice of Kira and how she successfully steered the usually calm Grayson into a fire-breathing dragon. Their moments were more hilarious than romantic most of the time yet it was the very thing that makes me crave for more. Among the other heroines of Mia, Kira stood out the most for me because of her interesting and relatable personality. She quickly escalated to the top list of my favorite heroine in this series. Meanwhile Grayson was so lovable yet slightly frustrating every time his insecurity got the best of him. Then Kira with all her cheerful nature totally turned his world upside down.

‘She kept me off balance and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I liked it so much.’
(Grayson, Chapter IX; Grayson’s Vow)
God, I really couldn’t get enough of this couple!

This book made me laugh A LOT. It was such a fresh turn from the usual heavy story Mia brought on her previous books. Not that I minded it heavy, ‘cause I will forever have ‘torture-me-with-your-romance-story’ moment when it comes to Mia’s books. I’m just masochist like that.
There were a lot of comical scenes but there was this particular line that made me double-over with laughter. I don’t know about you, but this was just too funny for me.

‘He turned to Kira, his face lighting up as if she were the sun and he had just been looking into the darkness. Me being the darkness in this particular circumstances.’
(Grayson, Chapter IX; Grayson’s Vow)
Oh, boy… Bitter dragon alert!

The moment they agreed to execute the plot Kira had proposed to him, attraction and frustration took turns coming over between them. Kira with a personality like a sunflower, always looking up to the sun, was the polar opposite of Grayson’s cynical caterpillar demeanor, always looking down to the dark ground. Yet this is where their connection was tied in balance. Both had been done wrong badly by their closest people but they reacted differently to the events. Being with Kira made Grayson’s upturned world balanced right back to its axis. It was really beautiful how their romance was slowly built and grew even stronger over times. There were some pushing around happening but when they finally surrendered to each other’s heart, there was an epic love story established in the end.

‘If you let it, pain makes more space for love within you. And the love we carry inside makes us strong when nothing else can.’
(Grayson, Chapter XXIV; Grayson’s Vow)
After some revelations that caused both pain and total deep betrayal, Grayson realized that sometimes the best vow to keep was the one that was built under sincere intentions from both parties. With Kira, Grayson found that vow that he would keep with all his might for the rest of his life.

“… there will be times when we disagree or fight, or even question the other. There will be times when loving you brings up every fear inside me. But my vow is this: no matter what happens, I will never leave the room until we’ve worked through it.
And by that, I mean I won’t draw away inside myself either. I’ll stay present until we’ve solved the issue between us, no matter how long it takes. I don’t want you ever to worry I’ll push you away again. I vow that to you with my whole heart.”
(Grayson, Chapter XXV; Grayson’s Vow)
Somebody, vow that to me…

The story successfully relayed the analogy of the sign Libra through Kira and Grayson’s journey of love. The balance of their relationship finally accomplished once they understood that the very basic of loving someone was to love in truth.

Grayson’s Vow was the perfect read for those who want to read an epic romance in a beautiful writing. Though I will definitely recommend Mia’s other books with equal intensity, this book was suitable for those who enjoy comical read as much as romantic read. With plus points from some lovely side-characters, wonderful details of the setting, and heartwarming epilogue, this book would make you laugh a lot, cry, breathless, and fall in love from page one to the last.

“And sometimes we’ll meet halfway, but other times, I’ll come to you. And I’ll try my very best to put my pride aside so I know when I need to be the one to do that.”
(Grayson, Chapter XXV; Grayson’s Vow)

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.