Review: How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

How Hard Can Love Be?
by Holly Bourne

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber's hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there's prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie's advice, there's no escaping the fact: love is hard.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: The Spinster Club #2
Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd.
Publication date:  February 1, 2016
Source/Format: Finished paperback from the publisher.
Pre-order links: Amazon | iBooks | The Book Depository | Kobo

My Thoughts:
We first met Amber in Am I Normal Yet? (AINY) as Evie’s all judgy, eye-rolling friend when it comes to topics about boys. She instantly became my favorite Spinster Club girl then because I can relate to her aversion to girly discussions about boys, so when I heard the news that the next book in the Normal series will focus on her, my exhilaration is in shrill tell-me-more mode. 

At the beginning of How Hard Can Love Be? (HHCLB), Amber is set to spend her summer vacation in America to meet her estranged mother. Amber is reaIly looking forward to catching up and bonding with her, but mom has other plans. Plans like cancelling out on their scheduled trips at the last minute. It didn’t help that the bumchin man who took her mom away abroad (a.k.a. mom’s new husband) is always hovering and keeping away their alone time together. Alas Amber has no choice but to keep herself busy with chores in the summer camp (owned by the bumchin man) and mingle with other camp staff that includes the extremely attractive Prom King Kyle. Should Amber allow herself to get distracted by her budding feelings for Kyle? Is summer love worth chasing after when she knows for sure that it will eventually end, hurt and make her unhappy?

Love in this book deals with both Amber’s jarred relationship with her mom and her possible relationship with Kyle. It's basically past experience with (or rather without) motherly love versus future prospects for romantic love and in the middle of it all is Amber’s heart plagued with pessimism. We now understand why she is all snark and snide with boy topics before. It’s her defense mechanism to protect herself from the perceived hurt love will cause her. Okay, I so get this situation and I know a lot of other girls can relate to this, too.

It’s a good thing that Amber made a new friend who taught her the taoisms of Winnie the Pooh. And of course, her Spinster Club friends are there to the rescue via Skype video calls or emails or texts. It’s always a treat and a total riot when the trio are talking to each other. Big bonus are their feminist discussions. One of the topics brought up that I learned a lot from is on how to deal with a raunchy girl who also happens to be your rival for the attention of the boy you fancy. ‘Coz feminism is not about hating on other girls but on fighting for equality alongside fellow girls.

So filled with strong feelings for a boy and support from her friends, it’s all up to Amber now if she will pursue or not this whirlwind summer lovin'. I have to say that it’s quirkily cheeky of Holly Bourne to write a love story for the anti-romantic Amber. The result is not your typical castle-building-in-the-air swoon but more of the thrill of seeing two people forge a connection bit by bit in comfortable silences and conversations of getting to know each other. Hint on their convo: Kyle learns from Amber that feminism is for men, too. The whole timeline of Amber’s vacation is only a matter of few weeks but it’s gladly not insta-love.

At it’s core, HHCLB leaves us some lessons on living and loving. Life is hard, love is hard but enjoy the ride ‘coz it’s always worth it. At the sides, it shows us that an awkwardly tall, plain-faced girl with stringy ginger hair can be a strong lead character of a YA romance book. Read How Hard Can Love Be? and let Amber inspire you to take a chance on love.

Beware, patriarchy is everywhere. Even in the seemingly harmless song and dance film, Grease, where I lifted some of this post's GIFs. Girls, don't go changing your cardigans to skintight clothing just to impress the boy you like.

My Rating:

Teaser Tuesday: How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne (TT #1)

Photo: Kaboompics

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Grab your current read, flip to a random page, share two teaser sentences, but avoid spilling spoilers!

I am currently halfway reading through How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne. It is Book # 2 of the Normal series. This continuing story of the Spinster Club girls focuses on tall and ginger, Amber.

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd.
Expected publication date:  February 1, 2016
Source/Format: Finished paperback from the publisher.
Purchase links: Amazon | iBooks | The Book Depository | Kobo

"How is this good for feminism? How is this about 'liberation'? It's backfired. Men are doing really really well out of this raunch culture. Instead of girls burning their bras and fighting to be paid equally, we're all worried we're not sexy enough and are competing with all the women we should be fighting alongside - not against - over who has the nicest tits."

"I was so alone.
I was in a strange stupid country, in a strange stupid camp, with no real friends, and why? Why was I doing this? To see my mother who didn't want to see me? To force her love to me? Force her to care when it should be something that comes naturally?"

Just as in the first book, Am I Normal Yet?, the feminism discussion is also strong in this book. Amber is also dealing with a complicated relationship with her mother whom she meets again after two years of being away from her.

That's it. I shall now continue reading this wonderful book. Share with me in the comments some quotes from your current read. Or link me with your Teaser Tuesday post.

Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw
by Aaron Hartzler 

Critically acclaimed memoirist Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice, takes an unflinching look at what happens to a small town when some of its residents commit a terrible crime. This honest, authentic debut novel—inspired by the events in the Steubenville rape case—will resonate with readers who've ever walked that razor-thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

The party at John Doone's last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early. . . . But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills's shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn't have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate's classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can't be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey? And what responsibility do they have to speak up about what they saw?

National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti calls What We Saw "a smart, sensitive, and gripping story about the courage it takes to do what's right."

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date:  September 22, 2015
Source/Format: ARC won from National Book Store Twitter Giveaway
Purchase links: National Book Store | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Parental Guidance/Trigger Warning: rape

My Thoughts:
Kate Weston got a bit hammered at a schoolmate’s house party and things that went down that night was all hazy to her. The details came bits and pieces to her through friends and social media on the next school day. She was all the more surprised when the police came to to arrest four boys from school for sexual assault charges. 

What We Saw is a lot of things. It’s about the confusion of being there but not exactly having the knowledge of what really happened. It’s about searching for the truth and trying to figure out what to do with it once you found it. It’s about how a teen’s decisions are affected or molded by friends, parents, adults, community and media. It’s about how those decisions can change everything. It’s also about first love, young dreams and teen angst against parents. More importantly, it is a book that gives a social commentary on rape culture. All of these seems to be too much to handle for one book but it all worked well for me.

Being narrated on Kate’s first point of view, her smart sporty voice feels authentic and real to me. It’s refreshing how regular and non-dysfunctional her family is but Kate still finds some things to whine about them. Just some typical teen stuff, right? The book is very character-driven. As Kate gets to know more and more of what really happened, she has to make some really tough decisions. With her relationships with parents, friends and boyfriend at stake, our heroine has to face that it’s not always easy to do the right thing. And being truthful is not often honoured and glorified.

Let me share one of shining moments that I love in this book. So, one of Kate’s classmate was being a jerk about the issue and their teacher, Mr. Johnston, schooled the class on how to properly treat a “wasted girl throwing herself to boys”. The teacher made it clear that a wasted girl is incapable of giving her consent and boys should not assume that she’s asking to be taken advantage of just because she is drunk and hanging around with them. He also pointed out that a man’s natural state is NOT a rapist. He then made the class come up with decent things to do to a drunk girl such as calling her parents, not letting her drive, providing her a safe place to sleep, etc. This scene is a perfect discussion that raises awareness about rape culture and it’s more powerful when you read it yourself. The book is so full of more shining moments like this all throughout, touching also on the role of the community, the mainstream media and the social media on this issue.

What We Saw is such an eye-opener. Another plus for your reading experience is if you love some display of bird symbolisms here and there. The book also employs the use of repetitive sentences throughout the pages to emphasize how some things are larger than life that we can’t see the changes happening to them: change in our relationships, change in our perceptions and opinions. My only quibble are the instances that I spotted the author’s shadows lurking in “as you know” sentences, Kate’s use of complete names when introducing new characters and a whole paragraph of explanation of what a line drill is in Kate’s thoughts. But those are minute and easily forgivable compared to the relevance of the book’s message. I highly recommend this book and its message needs to be spread out.

My Rating:

Stacking the Shelves (STS #5)

Image: Kaboompics

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's all about sharing the books added to our shelves, may it be physical or virtual.

Hey, it's my first book haul post for 2016. This week sucks for me (and maybe for many of you, too) because of David Bowie and Alan Rickman's passing. I am literally angrily shaking my fist to Death and all his friends and screaming, "Noooo, why?!" I admit I don't know these great guys personally but they somehow became a part of me through their works. At least two David Bowie songs are familiar to me: 1.) "Heroes" which was the song used for that "infinite" moment in the movie adaptation of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"; 2.) and "Under Pressure", an anthem that I blast on whenever I can't deal with life and stress. These songs have lifted me up and helped me through some tough times that it's a sad thing that world is now without the person who sung them. My sorrow for Alan Rickman is of another level for the obvious reason that for me, he was and will always be the flesh and face of Professor Severus Snape. Twenty-one gun salute to you, Sir. You made the Slytherin House proud.

So through the surge of tributes given to these men this last few days in the internet, I got a fair glimpse of their life, art and advocacy and the feeling of loss grew greater. Some might argue that it's a bit shallow of me to mourn their passing but I can't help it. So sorry, I just have to let this out. Maybe enough of it for now and on to sharing my new books to you.

Physical book received:

The book that I've probably pimped and pushed to other people in 2015 is Holly Bourne's Am I Normal Yet? One of the proofs of my love for this book is my all-praises review here. How Hard Can Love Be? is the sequel to Am I Normal Yet? and the second book to Holly's "Normal" trilogy. I can't wait to immerse myself in this and read on the continuing story of friendship of the Spinster Club girls. Huge thanks to Usborne Publishing Ltd.
How Hard Can Love Be?  by Holly Bourne

Electronic books via Edelweiss/Netgalley/Publisher:

I'm browsing through new titles uploaded in Edelweiss and I found The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl to be a ready-download. I've heard lots of good things about this, so I'm grateful to Peachtree Publishers for giving me the chance to read it.
 The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Fifteen Lanes sounds like one of those books that deliver a relevant message so I immediately requested to view it in Netgalley and I got approved. Thank you, Tundra Books.
Fifteen Lanes by S.J. Laidlaw

Ain't no teen drama like a prom-related drama. I got pretty pumped up for this one since November last year and the publisher has kindly sent me an e-ARC this week. Thank you, Sky Pony Press.
Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath

Just yesterday, I got randomly granted to view this title in Netgalley. Big bunch of thanks to Sourcebooks Fire.
My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul

That's all. My apologies for all my moping in this post. I'm only just supposed to share new books for crying out loud, but my emotions got out of hand. I will now take comfort in the distraction of future reading all these new books and from believing what Dumbledore said about death being the next great adventure. If you want to distract me more from all the bad feelings, please do share with me the books you've acquired recently or leave links of your book haul post.

My 2016 #RockMyTBR List

In my last post, I announced the various challenges that I'll be participating in for 2016, one of which is #RockMyTBR hosted by Sara of The YA Book Traveler. I already got the chance to skim over my bookshelf and came up with a list of books (mostly YA) that I intend to finish for this challenge. I will post my list here so other readers can check if we have some books in common that we could buddy read with. Also, this list will be my way of tracking my progress with the challenge. I'll update this post from time to time to cross out those ones that I've already knocked off from my TBR pile.

Here goes my list, with book titles linked to Goodreads:
  1. Another Day by David Levithan
  2. Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
  3. Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay
  4. Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang
  5. Famous In Love by Rebecca Serle
  6. How To Love by Katie Cotugno
  7. Lottery Boy by Michael Byrne
  8. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
  9. Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor
  10. Meritropolis by Joel Ohman
  11. Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre
  12. Starry Night by Isabel Gillies
  13. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
  14. The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie
  15. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  16. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  17. Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini
  18. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

To recap the mechanics of #RockMyTBR: read a minimum of one book per month from books already owned (published). I am aiming for the minimum twelve books for the whole year but I sandbagged a few titles in my list just in case I DNF some.

So, have you also done some listing of the books that you will read for 2016? Do you have any titles from your list that we have in common? Just hit me in the comments if you want to buddy read with me.

My 2016 Reading and Blogging Challenges

Yesterday, I made a post resolving on a lot of things related to reading and blogging. I imagine that it will be a lot of hard work and I'll need a lot of support and prodding from the reading community so I decided to join some challenges.  Here they are:

    Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge Probably the reading challenge with the most number of participants. Maybe it's popular 'coz it's so easy to join. As long as you have a Goodreads account, just set a number of how many books you want to read for the whole year and you're done! Also, you can re-set the number of your reading goal anytime. You know, so when it's already in the middle of the year and you feel that you set the bar too high for yourself, just tinker down that number and you're right back on track. For 2016, I doubled up my goal from twenty in 2015 to forty books this year. Let's see if I get to the end of 2016 without tinkering down that number. How about you? Have you set your Goodreads reading goal yet? If not, I think you should do. And while you're at it, you should also add me as your Goodreads friend. Here's a link to my account. 

    2016 Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole of Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon of It Starts at Midnight! I know that this space has been lackluster in 2015 compared to other book blogs. This year I resolve to spice things up with discussion posts that will show my personality as a reader and a book blogger. Big thanks to Joey of thoughts and afterthoughts for referring me to this challenge in his comment to my New Year's Resolution post. Basically, you just start or post a book discussion in your blog or in Goodreads and link it to the monthly linky provided by the hosts. At the end of the year, the number of discussion posts contributed will be tallied and ranked into levels. For my first year in doing this challenge, I will aim for the Discussion Dabbler level which means I should have 1 to 12 discussion posts for the whole year. Learn more about this challenge here and sign up with me.

    Comment 365 Challenge hosted by Nori of ReadWriteLove28. One of the things I resolve to do this year is to organize my blog hopping and commenting ways because I love commenting and connecting with the bookish community. Lucky for me and for other blog hoppers as well because this year, Nori of the #RQWN Twitter fame is hosting this challenge where you have to visit and comment on 365 blogs the whole year. Totally doable, right?! Yes, it is because Nori has already compiled the ultimate master list for 2016 blog hopping and all we have to do is visit and comment. Thank you, Nori!

    #RockMyTBR Reading Challenge  hosted by Sarah of The YA Book Traveler Sometimes us readers are such harsh, fickle-minded people who abandon already owned books for newer hyped-up titles. This challenge is dedicated to those poor book babies forgotten and pushed at the back of our shelves (and tablets). Mechanics: just read at least one book per month from the published books already owned, post monthly social media updates of progress with the challenge hashtag and interact with fellow readers. Open to all readers, learn more here!

So there, all the reading and blogging challenges for me in 2016. What about you? Which challenges are you joining in this year? How do you feel about those reading or blogging goals that you set for yourself? Do you think you will totally achieve them? Honestly, I am a little anxious about all these goal setting and challenge participating because I don't deal with stress all too well. But this year, I want to overcome that, too. Huzzah, I got this!

Will I slam a trophy or just a participation award for my 2016 challenges?
Photo credit: Disney Pixar/Inside Out

2016 Book Blogging Resolutions

Yay, it's the first day of 2016, Happy New Year! Secretly, I wish 2015 did not come by so swiftly because of this eternal nagging feeling that I haven't read enough in the past year. So moving on, I thought that I need to improve on a lot of things and I need to write them so I can remember to do them. Stick with me for a while, here goes my book blogging resolutions for 2016, in no particular order:

    Read more books. For 2015, I set myself to read twenty books and I am happy to report that I achieved this goal. Twenty books is a small number compared to other readers that I see in Goodreads so I want to up my game and double it to forty books. Still a measly number but, yeah, I also have to remind myself not to compare my reading pace to others.
    Do discussion posts. My 2015 posts consist only of the usual reviews, tours, memes, and such. I need to have my personality shine more in the blog and I think doing discussion posts will achieve this. Also, I want to add something thought-provoking on the bookish community table. I already have some ideas in the bag, I hope I can pull them out soon.
    Be organized. I will definitely have to struggle with this. I don't schedule my posts. I just do them on a whim. So I need to fix this and make a schedule of my posts. I also need to have a process on blog hopping, like how many blog visits per week and which blogs will I visit. I think I will go TEN blog visiting and commenting per week. Is that enough or too much? I don't know, maybe. I will just to figure this out along the way. Okay, so I've seen some readers making spreadsheets of the blog visits that they will do this year. Props to these dedicated people. I think I might ask some help from them to get me through this.
    Expand my reading horizon. I tend to read YA more but I do not want to limit myself to it. I want to check out new adult, adult and even middle-grade titles, too. If I can push myself more, I'd love to read and review some classic books that I was avoiding before.

That's all for now, fellow book nerds. How about you? Do you have anything you want to improve on for 2016? Hit me in the comments.