Saturday, August 15, 2015

My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business

My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was picking something to listen to on a road trip with my parents, this brought back memories of watching the Dick Van Dyke show with them (in reruns) when I was little. I have also loved Mary Poppins since I was a child, and mom loves it too. I thought my dad would enjoy this one, too, but his review was: "eh. I like books better." Ha.

I loved the stories from the past, both of his childhood and the early days of trying to make it as entertainer any way possible. My favorites were the stories of the making of Mary Poppins, as well as that of the Dick Van Dike show.

It's hard to hear his view of spirituality, especially of how he was turned off from organized religion - bigots have no place in a church, and I'm sad that turned him off.

A lot of these racially-charged and political stories from the 60s and 70s are much more personal to my parents, and I think it's harder for them to listen to stories from that time than it is for me, because to me it's just history, and it's interesting to hear his perspective as a relatively famous entertainer.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Woods, Vol. 1: The Arrow

The Woods, Vol. 1: The Arrow The Woods, Vol. 1: The Arrow by James Tynion IV
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really intriguing start. This book had the perfect amount of mystery - just enough intrigue to keep you engaged, without crossing over the line into frustrated confusion. In that respect, it kind of reminds me of the tv show Lost, although this adventure is developing at a faster pace.

At this point in the story, we have a ton of questions, and very few answers. What planet were they transported to? How and for what reason? Is it the planet that is making them extra-violent, or was Coach Clay always like that? He did seem surprised by his actions in the end? Maybe there's something that applies the tendencies you already have?

As for the crew in the woods, what is up with Adrian? Did he get some sort of vision from the first standing stone? He was already arrogant and condescending, but he's especially driven and emotionless on his current quest. And what (who?) exactly lives in those woods? What are those creatures and who are those people? Also, does no one know the first rule of scary stories is you don't split up?

As for the pyramid, did that get here in the same way the school did? And what's up with the cave drawings and Cyrillic? More people brought here by the magical force? As for character development, so far, we don't know too much about these characters because we've been focused on their quest, but hopefully we'll get to know then more in the next volume.

I have to also mention, I love Michael Dialynas' artwork. It's strong and graphic without being simple, and I especially love the colors. It's worth it for you to pick this up even if it's for the artwork alone (but the story's fun, too).

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Saint Anything

Saint Anything Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Sarah Dessen's books. They are more than just romance, though romantic connection can play a part. Sydney is lost, and feels invisible. I get where her parents are coming from, that how can she be such good friends when just met, but what they don't see is how lost she was before, how they quickly became her whole world.

You can get locked into the person people see you as, and sometimes it takes a new person, new environment, new experiences, and people who have never met the "old" you, to break out. A lot of kids, this happens when they go off to college. It's important for Sydney that she have people that didn't see her as Peyton's sister, but saw her for herself.

How perfect was Mac? He is just so sweet and gentle and really just a nice, dependable guy. I'm not sure how I feel about his used-to-be-fat storyline, because it has whiffs of fat-shame to it. The only thing that makes it better is that his losing weight was a choice he made himself, because he didn't like how he'd become and was afraid he would get worse. His story was an echo of Sydney's in many ways - he didn't really see himself clearly, and needed someone new, who didn't know who he used to be, in order to fully see who he had become.

Ames, of course, was a frustrating character to watch. It was really hard to see how oblivious Sydney's parents were to his true nature, which seems shocking when it was so clear to everyone else what a creepster he was. Also, how could Peyton have been friends with him? Just another in a string of bad decisions? I will say, it was a relief when her mom finally saw that she needed to draw some boundaries, even before he assaulted Sydney.

It was great to see her parents come to her defense, but I'm still frustrated by her dad and his lack of interest in most everything going on in her life. I get that he had a lot going on as well, but letting his wife make all the decisions, even when he can see how wrong and misguided they are, is just as bad as willfully making those wrong decisions.

I wish this book would have gone on a little longer, if only we could see how Sydney and David Ibarra's conversations went, and how their relationship developed, but I guess that's a situation where nothing was going to be solved by one conversation. It's a lot like life, where there is no definite conclusion, but everything is an ongoing process, and you just have to be open and willing to take the next step.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

We'll Always Have Summer

We'll Always Have Summer We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This one was hard to read sometimes. Part of me felt like if Belly was going to end up with Conrad, they should have just let her be with Conrad without dragging Jeremiah into it. Belly kept pushing Conrad away, and Conrad kept encouraging her to, until the very end when he finally told her the truth and tried to get her back. And Jeremiah knew the whole time how Belly would always feel about Conrad. I'm annoyed he ignored that for 2 years, and annoyed that he kept pushing their relationship forward while knowing that, but I guess I should he relieved that he finally said enough is enough. Took him long enough.

Conrad. Ugh. This noble idiot stuff really bugs me, especially when it's about a girl who ends up being treated like a possession who is passed back and forth. I get that Conrad was messed up after his mom's death and thought that Jeremiah would be the better, more stable option for Belly, but he didn't have the right to make that decision for her.

I guess you could argue that they needed to go through this horrible and uncomfortable situation to grow up, mature, and truly appreciate one another, but what a painful process. Did Conrad need to see Belly nearly marry his brother in order for him to treasure her? And I still don't get how Belly can go from being let's-break-up angry with Jeremiah to let's-get-married so quickly. That wedding was seriously the worst idea ever.

As for the epilogue, while I appreciate that Belly and Conrad ended up together, it felt like we missed out on the most important part of their story -- how did they get back together? How did they learn to trust and rely on one another? And how in the world was Jeremiah ok with it all? We'll never know, since that was all skimmed over.

I appreciated the Conrad-narrated chapters this time around, since he is such an enigma, and it was always hard to tell how he really felt about Belly.

The main thing I did like about this book was the female relationships. Belly spent so much time in the previous two books obsessing over her relationships with the boys, to the detriment of her development of her female relationships. It was a relief in this book to see her friends with Taylor again and building a new friendship with Anika.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

It's Not Summer Without You

It's Not Summer Without You It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Another sad, sad book, but one that also had a lot of hope. Susannah was really the heart of this book, even though she is not physically present for most of the book. Everyone is reacting to her absence, in both negative and positive ways. People say things they don't mean, and then hold on to their hurt and regret.

When the air finally clears, it's like a cloud had lifted. Everyone can breathe, and be honest with one another, and start to deal with how wrecked they have been. It clearly wasn't working to deal with anything on their own, so when they could finally lean on each other, it was a relief.

Of course, this book once again danced around Belly's relationships with both Conrad and Jeremiah. We jump into the action after Susannah's death and after Something Major had happened to not only break up Belly and Conrad, but completely separate them. It actually was a little disappointing to eventually find out that there wasn't some sort of big blow out, there was just disappointment and hurt feelings and no communication.

I was also disappointed that Belly and Jeremiah let whatever was going on with Conrad, in addition to the overwhelming sadness of Susannah's death, keep them apart as well. As much as Belly should have called and gone to see him, he could have reached out to her, too.

As for the romance stuff, I'm not convinced Belly is really ready to move on from Conrad. She's said that before and gone back to him. Granted, she did seem to feel something when kissing Jeremiah that she'd never felt before, but is that enough to make a difference? I really hope so, because having chapters from Jeremiah's perspective this book made me realize how strongly he has cared for Belly, and made my heart ache for him. Conrad may love Belly, too, but when he won't even admit it to anyone, it's not actually real.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jenny Han once again does such a fabulous job expressing the complex emotions of youth. Even when you take out the sadness and tragedy of someone dying of cancer, which always takes emotions to a new level, the confusion of young love can be overwhelming.

I’m the youngest of all of my siblings, and the youngest of all of my cousins, so I know what it’s like to be excluded just for being the baby of the family. It never bothered me as much as it bothered Belly, but I get why she would be upset. Even though Belly’s not that much younger than Jeremiah, Stephen, and Conrad, because she is also a girl, she has always been a little excluded, a little separate from their fun and camaraderie. Yes, she has her own relationships that she’s built with each one, but it’s not the same as being one of the gang.

The title "The Summer I Turned Pretty" makes you think that everything really happens during this summer: the boys suddenly realize she is a girl and boom – they like her. I’d like to think, though, that, like Cam, they had noticed and liked her all along. Part of me feels bad for Cameron – he was a genuinely nice guy who was kind to Belly and made her feel more special than anyone else. It could be that they might have been able to have a great, lasting relationship, since they had so much in common and got along so naturally. Unfortunately (for Cam), he was not the boy that Belly had loved all her life. Had Conrad made it clear that he had no romantic interest in Belly and never would, I really think that Belly would have been able to move on, either with Cam or Jeremiah or someone else down the line. Yes, a part of her would always love him, but there’s nothing wrong with that providing you can truly move on.

I definitely feel bad for Jeremiah – he was in a similar situation with his mother being sick and his father maybe sort-of abandoning her while she’s dying, but he was still able to keep it mostly together. I guess the main difference between his reaction and Conrad’s is that Jeremiah never thought of his father as a God, a perfect being who could do no wrong, and Conrad did. It doesn’t help that Jeremiah has long felt second best to Conrad, first in his father’s eyes, and then to Belly, too.

Clearly Belly and Conrad’s story isn’t done. We all know this is just the first book in a trilogy, and when book one ends with Belly and Conrad apparently running off together or something, there’s bound to be a twisty tale to read about in book 2. I’m still not convinced I love them together. It’s not like Conrad needs to prove himself worthy of Belly, it’s just that, at this point, it feels like he holds more power in their relationship. She’s loved him for years, and he knows it. He is older than her, and more experienced (I’m assuming). Of course, we live in Belly’s head, and see everything from her perspective, so we’re biased to be on her side. I’m hoping in book 2 that we get more honesty and openness from Conrad, because without that, it’s hard not to doubt the strength of his feelings for Belly. And I want to believe.

Most of all, I’m hoping that the four of them can stay friends as time passes. Belly might not have any girl friends that she loves and trusts the way her mom and Susannah love and trust one another, but she has her boys: Conrad, Jeremiah, and even her obnoxious brother Stephen. I’m hoping they can follow their mothers’ examples and really treasure their friendships with each other. I have a feeling that Jeremiah and Belly’s friendship will be particularly important, especially if her relationship with Conrad continues to develop romantically.

And I hope they can return to the beach house every summer.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I went to Star Wars Celebration this year in Anaheim (my first!), the only panel I went to was a live reading from these audio books, and it was so entertaining and excellent -- the actors switched hats/robes/etc when changing between roles! -- that I knew I had to find this right away.

I cannot fully express how utterly AMAZING this book is. If you're a fan of Shakespeare or Star Wars, you should definitely pick this up, but I would recommend this to absolutely EVERYONE, it is so good. Also, do yourself a favor, don't just read this book, but listen to the audiobook! It's not simply the book just being read, but the production quality is so excellent, it's actually more like an audio performance than anything else. There are multiple voice actors performing, many of whom each play multiple roles and do the voices and everything. These people are truly talented, and a joy to listen to. Characters like Darth Vader, Luke, and C-3PO sounds exactly like they do in the movies -- except them are saying things in a very Shakespearean way.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to warm up to Novak's style, but once I did, I really enjoyed most of these stories. The first few felt a bit cliche, like he was trying too hard to be quirky, but eventually, the stories settled into an interesting rhythm. Some of them were short, some were long, but all felt like just the right length. Most of them I liked in general, but I definitely have favorites, and there were a few I didn't like at all or get. Luckily, you were quickly (usually) on to the next one, and there was a good chance I would like that one. I was listening to this one on audio in my car, so it was hard to take notes, but I went and found a print copy so I could at least make lists of the stories I did and didn't like.

My favorite:
Sophia (title of book comes from this story, incidentally)

A few of the stories were interconnected, though that wasn't obvious at first:
All You You Have to Do VVVV
Missed Connection: Grocery spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on Wednesday

Stories I Liked:
Short ones like Kindness Among Cakes & If You Love Something & Romance, Chapter One
No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg
The Something by John Grisham
The Girl Who Gave Great Advice
The Ambulance Driver
The Man Who Invented the Calendar
MONSTER: The Roller Coaster
Kellogg's (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy)
Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle
Constructive Criticism
J.C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote

Stories I Either Didn't Like or Understand:
One of These Days, We Have to Do Something About Willie
Dark Matter
Walking on Eggshells (or: When I Loved Tony Robbins)
The Ghost of Mark Twain
Kate Moss

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was a Sweet Valley fan as a teenager, so I was looking forward to picking up this book and seeing where the girls and company had been over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, I was mostly disappointed.

I found this book to be cliche, with no depth to the characters. We're told they have changed, but when we don't see that change happen, it's just not believable. The over the top language and imagery, like bodies leaning with passion, made it laughably ridiculous. In addition to the plotting and character flaws, the constantly switching narrator made things hard to follow. It was one thing when it kept switching between Elizabeth and Jessica, noted by their location, but then suddenly we were hearing other people's thoughts and feelings, with no transition. If your narrator is an omniscient observer, that's one thing, but this wasn't that. This was just poor writing. The flashbacks were also a little frustrating, though less so than the narrator issue.

The characters also changed feelings too quickly. For the amount of rage Elizabeth claimed to have felt, it seemed like she forgave Jessica pretty easily. Not that she shouldn't, it just seemed too sudden of a change. Also, for someone so serious, her feelings about men changed really suddenly: from attraction to friends with benefits to just friends with Will, then from friends to lovers with Bruce. By the way, I HATE the word lovers. It's the 21st century. Pick a different word.

In addition to the previously mentioned writing issues, there also seemed to be a plot problem -- the timeline was all screwed up. Was the wedding only a week after the party? It seemed like it should be longer, but then at one point it referenced "the party a week ago." The resolution of conflict felt rushed and sudden as is, but then when compressed down into the space of a week, it was excessively unbelievable.

In the end, I think I figured out the primary source of the problems while listening to the author interview at the end of the audiobook. Francine Pascal says, "I am the god of Sweet Valley and I can make these characters do whatever I want." And that she wanted to shock people by having characters do things they'd never done before. It's because the author was throwing the characters around at her whim that they were so inconsistent and unbelievable.

I honestly would have a hard time recommending this to anyone other than the most diehard Sweet Valley fans.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

King Dork

King Dork King Dork by Frank Portman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently saw Dr. Frank play when he was in Seattle, and hadn't realized before that night that he was the same Frank Portman that wrote this book. I love his music and clever songs, and immediately bumped King Dork to the top of my to-read list.

Now I never was a teenage boy, so I'll give the benefit of the doubt that this is really how boys think, especially about girls. I was quite a bit turned off at first with how Tom viewed and treated Fiona at the party. He kept going on about her body, and not really focusing on the other stuff he liked about her. He couldn't even recognize her face if he saw her again.

Fortunately, good parts of this book mostly made up for the bad. I loved Tom and Sam's rotating list of bands, and their commitment to being in a band, even if it wasn't always a real one. It's hard to believe saying you're in a band has this effect on women, but I guess it's true.

I read a lot of reviews talking about how the girls in this book are sluts and how this book is completely sexist. First of all, who has the right to call a girl a slut for being open with her sexuality, especially as a teenager? If Deanna and Celeste did anything wrong, it was cheating on their boyfriends, but you can't be mad at them for being with multiple guys if that is their choice. If anything, these girls are a sign that the book isn't actually sexist. Sure, Tom ends up with 2 girls he's "seeing" and doesn't tell them about each other, but they each have multiple guys they are also "seeing," so the sexual revolution goes both ways, I guess. The biggest thing to object to is mostly how Tom and the others talk about these girls, not in their actions themselves.

The most interesting part of this book to me was Tom's search for the truth about his dad, and his research into the C.E.H. library. He had obviously not come to terms with his Father's death, especially with all the mystery surrounding it. Finding these books, and a mystery that he could possibly unravel about his father's teenage years, gave Tom a chance to connect with the father who was gone on another level. Of course, we are frustratingly left with no real conclusion to Tom's search, but isn't that how life normally is? Not every mystery gets solved, especially when people are sticking to multiple, different stories. Whether Tom's dad's death was a suicide, accident, or murder, it's likely we'll never know. It goes along with the idea that every narrative is subjective. Tom mentions at one point that Holden Caulfield is an unreliable narrator, and it made me think that it's possible Tom is unreliable as well. Were these girls really that into him? Nobody knows but him.

All in all, I was left thinking this book was pretty good, and despite the rocky start, I was glad I finished it, if only for the awesome glossary at the end, with both correct and incorrect pronunciations and hilarious definitions. I also dislike Jimmy Buffet, by the way. It's very important you know this about me.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Midas Flesh Vol. 1

The Midas Flesh Vol. 1 The Midas Flesh Vol. 1 by Ryan North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The premise of this comic is fantastic, and I don’t blame Ryan North for working on it for 10 years, just to find the right way to tell it. We all know the story of King Midas, who was both blessed and cursed with the ability to turn things to gold with a single touch. But what if that golden touch was transmuted through objects as well, turning everything that touched an object Midas was touching into gold as well, including air? It wouldn’t be long before the whole planet is covered in gold, everything dead and frozen, all turned literally into gold.

That is exactly what happens in this book, but the story doesn’t end there. Centuries after the Midas “miracle”, another race of people (that look remarkably like humans) happen upon the planet, realize what is going on, and quickly erase the planet from their maps and database, to hide the potential weapon from the rest of the universe.

Oh, you didn’t realize this was a weapon? Well, in the planetary war we are thrown into, an all-powerful Federation is in control, and a few rebels who stumbled upon long-lost information about the golden planet are trying to fight back to rescue their people. A team of three (Joey, Conner, and Fatima) travel to the gold planet to try to figure out a way to weaponize whatever caused the golden epidemic, because if they can harness that power, they can use it to stop the Federation. Instead of a mechanized weapon, though, what holds the power is literally Midas’ flesh and blood. And they quickly discover possessing the Flesh isn’t the same as being able to use it.

So far, I love the characters and find the plot really intriguing. So far, we’ve seen a little bit of Conner the dinosaur’s backstory (Did I mention there were dinosaurs? THERE ARE DINOSAURS!!), but I can’t wait to hear more about Joey and Fatima’s motivations. It’s easy to see why Conner is fighting back – his wife was murdered and his people destroyed by the Federation. He either runs and lives in hiding his whole life or fights back at this point. But Joey and Fatima both appear to be humanoid somehow, so I haven’t quite figured out why they are on the wrong side of the Federation.

There are a few things so far that are rather curious. First, that humanoid beings could possibly develop somewhere other than Earth is pretty far-fetched. Also, all the aliens of all species seem to speak English, which is pretty much not just improbably, but impossible. At least North acknowledges the unlikelihood of this when he has them able to read the crown that says “MIDAS” and argue over the likelihood of being able to read the language of a foreign planet. That made me laugh, and I understand that simplifying the language and cultural barriers makes it easier to focus on plot. I’d rather have interesting, well-written story and characters that just happen to speak the same language.

Last but certainly not least, I love Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb’s artwork. The style is simple and engaging, and I appreciated being able to read in the back about not only North’s process of creating the comic, but the artists’ process of visual conceptualization, from establishing a visual style to the collaborative process. The more cartoony style of art really suits the subject matter well, and I can imagine the art style appealing to not just adults like me, but also to kids.

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Black Widow, Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread

Black Widow, Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread Black Widow, Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had a vague fondness for Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanov, since the Avengers movie, but I've never really known too much about her. I've heard, though, that they'll be diving more into her backstory in Avengers 2, so I thought I'd read up a little more on her.

This book is just fantastic. It's full of adventure and emotion without detailing everything in Natasha's past. I know enough about her to sense her regret and understand why she lives the way she does now. No matter what she's done in the past, who she is now is someone to admire and look up to, whether she believes she is worthy or not. Also, she has a adorable black cat just like me.

Phil Noto's artwork is perfection. I love the way he draws Natasha, strong and beautiful but not over-the-top bombshell. She's a fierce super spy, not someone there just as eye candy. There is something about Noto's art that is almost watercolor-like. It's very fluid and loose, graphic without being hard lines and block shapes. I am clearly not an art critic, as I try to explain why I love this art so much. I just do.

Though different in style, this book feels much like Fraction's Hawkeye book, an expose on what Avengers do when they're not saving the world as part of a super-team. Like Clint Barton, Natasha is one of the few Avengers without anyone super powers or magical suit, so it feels a little more down to earth. They are just humans like us, after all. In a way. And I loved the little scene with Clint falling out of a building behind Natasha, and her lawyer saying "That looks bad." HA! Hawkeye reference FTW! I'll definitely continue to follow this book, and look forward to the next trade publication, whenever that may be.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the Sun I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous and moving and heart-breaking and hopeful, all at the same time. The writing is so transcendent and descriptive, it often felt like I could see the action taking place in front of my eyes. I loved the narrators alternating between Noah at age 13/14, telling the story of what broke them, to Jude at age 16, telling the story of how they were healed. The more we lived inside each of their heads, the more we loved each of them, and truly felt both their agony and ecstasy.

I loved living inside Noah's head because everything was vivid Technicolor, full of life and felt with deep passion. His brilliance both connected him with and disconnected him from the world around him. When we finally got inside Jude's head, she was so locked up with guilt, she was being strangled by it. If she hadn't met Oscar and Guillermo, if she hadn't fought to free herself from her stone prison, if the secrets hadn't come out, she would have eventually imploded.

Most of the time, when teens fall in love and talk about forever and soul mates, the cynic in me rises up and rolls her eyes and says, "yeah, sure." Despite my natural cynicism, though, I found myself truly believing in the emotional connections between these characters, in the whole idea of split-apart souls, and people who are meant to be together. It doesn't mean I don't think there's anyone else out there that Noah and Jude could be happy with, other than Brian and Oscar; it just means I believe in the strength of their connection, their passion to be together. Who knows what will happen down the road, but for now, they have each other, and they have happiness.

I love how interconnected everyone was, the impact each person had on the twins and each other. Noah and Jude both knew Oscar, but a different version of Oscar. Noah and Jude both knew Guillermo, but a different version of Guillermo. Noah and Jude both loved their mother, but knew a different version of her. The accident was no one's fault, and changed everything; but somehow, still, nothing was changed. The twins' mother is a hard character to deal with because she has such a strong pull on their lives, and the power to make them delirious happy or ridiculously miserable. I truly believe that she loved the twins' father, so it's heartbreaking to see their relationship fall apart.

Most of the time, when books wrap up happily (or as happily as they can), as much as I desire happy endings, part of my can't help but think, "well, that was convenient." Not so this time: this ending felt happy in its own way and perfectly perfect, and this is definitely a book I'd recommend.

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