Review: Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones

I got into bicycling a few years ago when my parents-in-law bought my husband and I a pair of bikes. Since we lived in Long Beach, we loved to take trips along the Los Angeles River. Long Beach has a great bike community, and the streets were always perfect for cycling.

Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones

Hello Bicycle Review by Bumbling Panda

I didn’t know much about bicycles though, which is why this book HELLO BICYCLES by Anna Brones was such a cute addition to my library. It’s a guide for bicyclists that touches on how to exercise to keep in shape to cycle and also how to keep your bicycle tuned. There are even crafts projects that will turn an old tire tube into a wallet and other cool objects.

Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones Review by Bumbling Panda

Hello Bicycle Review by Bumbling Panda

The illustrations in this book were also adorable. The book is aesthetically pleasing to look at and thumb through. I loved the color scheme. I think it would make a perfect coffee book as well as an informative guide for the bicyclist. If you have a friend who loves to cycle, I’d definitely recommend buying this book for them.

Hello Bicycle by Anna Brones Review

Review: Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn

Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn

Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn is such a cute book. One of those you’ll want to have lying around on your coffee table. It’s full of adorable illustrations and positive quotes that you can flip through to brighten part of your day.

Think Happy

I would highly recommend it as a gift. I could see myself browsing through this if I’m going through a tough time, and would even give it to a friend to help her cheer up.

Think Happy

Think Happy

On a random note, I’m now blond!

After watching a million videos and reading hundreds of articles (huge exaggeration here, obv.), I now know a lot more about hair than I did before.

Review: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Sometimes you read a book so amazing, you just want to cherish it and keep it a secret so that no one else’s opinions of it can ruin everything you loved. That’s how I felt about The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice.

But then I realized that beautiful things are not meant to be hidden away. This was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It was another book that made me stay up late into the evening when I shouldn’t have. It was one of those books where I was constantly going, just fifteen more minutes, thirty more minutes, an hour longer because I couldn’t put it down. I’m still experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Set in 1950s London, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets centers around Penelope, the wide- eyed daughter of a legendary beauty, Talitha, who lost her husband to the war. Penelope, with her mother and brother, struggles to maintain their vast and crumbling ancestral home—while postwar London spins toward the next decade’s cultural revolution. Penelope wants nothing more than to fall in love, and when her new best friend, Charlotte, a free spirit in the young society set, drags Penelope into London with all of its grand parties, she sets in motion great change for them all. Charlotte’s mysterious and attractive brother Harry uses Penelope to make his American ex-girlfriend jealous, with unforeseen consequences, and a dashing, wealthy American movie producer arrives with what might be the key to Penelope’s— and her family’s—future happiness.

Vibrant, witty, and filled with vivid historical detail, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is an utterly unique debut novel about a time and place just slipping into history.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

Like always, I didn’t read the blurb before I read the book since I like to be completely surprised. I delved into this lovely world and its complicated cast of characters without any expectations, and was always pleasantly introduced to people and places and shops and clothes that brought me to a different world. I wish I could go to teas at Aunt Clare’s and go shopping for Dior and fall in love with rich, handsome men.

While I love young adult novels, I’ve never been a fan of young adult romance novels or the New Adult genre that’s popped up recently. I prefer reading about teenagers who have magical powers, are fighting evil forces, or otherwise saving the world. Teenagers falling in fictional love always seemed so fickle to me (even though my own marriage was born during my teenage years 😛 ). I had also just finished reading a New Adult novel which left me feeling more frustrated than anything [ONLY TO FIND OUT THAT THERE’S A SEQUEL. Now I have to read it because I don’t like leaving things unfinished].

It was difficult to remember that the characters in this book were still teens. There was something sophisticated about Penelope, but also vulnerable. The person she would become was already there, but she had to be hurt and challenged in order to become her. In a way, we’re all like that, a little lost and insecure, waiting for life to pummel us into the shape we’re meant to be.

It’s also cool and at the same time not-so-cool to have a best friend who is prettier and more experienced and daring and amazing than you. Then again, why would you want to hang out with anyone who doesn’t challenge you to improve and be a better version of yourself? Not different, just better. I think Charlotte grabbing Penelope’s hand at a random bus station was the best thing that could have happened to either of them.

So I’m a sucker for romance. I burnt myself out reading too many romance books one year and thought maybe I should give it up. But then there are novels that aren’t explicitly romantic, but the love story will sneak itself in there, which makes it all the better.

Harry totally came off as an asshole at the beginning. He continued to treat Penelope pretty callously throughout the book, but even in those moments of “meanness” he had his way of being sweet to her and knowing her in ways no one else could. Her attraction to him sort of snuck up on her secretly and before she knew it, she was falling in love with him. Which is totally my favorite sort of love story. It probably started when he gave her the guinea pig. Maybe I am a total sucker, but the fact that you later find out he was actually altruistic and one of those dudes who came off as an ass but really was a good guy all along totally got to me. I saw a bit of Mr. Darcy in him.

I also loved the fact that they didn’t just get together right away when Marina didn’t work out for him after all. He realistically spend time away so that they could have their own relationship, isolated from the incidents that had forced them together.

The only weird part about the book, honestly, was when Penelope’s crush Rocky ended up with her mother. Like I totally saw that coming since he was forty-five and probably more in her mother’s age range. Just the fact that he was her love interest first kind of killed that for me.

Romance

Seriously, everything was perfect about this book. It’s always risky to rate anything 5/5 stars, but I think this book deserves it.

Review: Slammed by Colleen Hoover

Slammed Review by Bumbling Panda

I was first introduced to Colleen Hoover at a book club, when we read one of her other novels, November 9. The club seriously slammed the book for so many reasons, but I still enjoyed the author’s writing style, so I thought I’d give her another chance.

At the very least, I can say the book was entertaining. I read it all in one day because I needed to find out what happened next, sort of like a Korean-drama addict when I can’t stop myself from pressing the “Next Episode” button despite that I hadn’t slept in two days.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads (which, as always, I did not read before I started this book. Surprise!):

Following the unexpected death of her father, 18-year-old Layken is forced to be the rock for both her mother and younger brother. Outwardly, she appears resilient and tenacious, but inwardly, she’s losing hope.

Enter Will Cooper: The attractive, 21-year-old new neighbor with an intriguing passion for slam poetry and a unique sense of humor. Within days of their introduction, Will and Layken form an intense emotional connection, leaving Layken with a renewed sense of hope.

Not long after an intense, heart-stopping first date, they are slammed to the core when a shocking revelation forces their new relationship to a sudden halt. Daily interactions become impossibly painful as they struggle to find a balance between the feelings that pull them together, and the secret that keeps them apart.

I’m not saying I hated Slammed. I’m just saying that reading it was a bit frustrating. Maybe I don’t like reading about teen romance in general? I like my young adult dating to be done behind the front stage while the teens are conquering the world or defeating evil or epic-fantasying themselves out. So yeah, it’s my fault that I picked up a teen romance book.

Slammed by Colleen Hoover Review by Van Hoang

Here are some things I just couldn’t get on board with.

The fact that Will and Layken fall instantly in love

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I do get that there are some people you meet and are instantly attracted to, but. Come on. Serial killers and society have made us assume that all strangers are creepers until proven otherwise. Why is Layken trusting this guy so much already just because he has a little brother the same age as hers?

Will being creepy like literally the day after they first meet

Sure, everyone likes a guy with confidence and all. But he’s already touching her freely, examining her shoulder when they barely even know each other? Not cool. Here’s a quote from the book:

It startles me when I feel him brush the hair off my shoulder and touch my neck. His fingers slip under the collar of my shirt and he pulls it slightly down over my shoulder. “You’re going to need a new bandage soon.” He pulls my shirt back up and gives it a pat. His fingers leave a streak of heat across my neck.”

They have probably known each other a collective of one hour, two hours tops. No. Just no.

Their love is just oh so perfect–at the beginning

Gag me. When they first meet and have their date and everything, it’s like the world is rainbows and unicorns and butterflies. It was just a little too sweet. I get it though. The author was setting up their infallible relationship so that when crap hit the fan, it got all over the room too. But it was still a little cringey to read.

THE DRAMA

Layken seriously needs to stop wailing and whining and making it all about herself. I mean people have cancer and she’s all woe-is-me, I can’t make out with my boyfriend because society. I’m not saying people had cancer like how my mom always tells me kids are starving in Africa. People in the book. Literally had cancer. Or died. And she’s hiding in her non-boyfriend’s house having a weird breakdown organizing his CD collection.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. Will, her love interest, shares my opinion. More than halfway through the book, he’s all “Are you that selfish that you don’t give a crap about anyone else’s problems?” It was like YES THANK YOU, PLEASE TELL HER TO SHUT UP. I mean, her mom just told her she has CANCER! And she’s crying about her own problems!

What. Just. What.

Slammed by Colleen Hoover Review by Bumbling Panda

Here’s what I enjoyed about the book

Her best friend Eddie is super cool. One of those kids you wished you had met when you were new to a high school.

I totally related to Layken when she was all “It’s weird when your best friend has a better best friend.” Growing up in a big city, it is hard to actually make real, stable relationships despite that you’re constantly surrounded by people.

Despite that Layken often came off as whiny, spoiled and self-absorbed, Colleen Hoover created a character who was lonely and complicated and real. Layken had been through a lot of grief and trauma, and then she had to fall in love on top of it. I can understand her emotional meltdowns to a point. She was just a little annoying sometimes.

But let’s not let Will off the hook. I mean, after he found out why they couldn’t be together and he asked her to quit his class, he should have followed through. No good came from her remaining his student. I get it, Slam Poetry changed their lives and she needed to stay in the class for the sake of the story. But Will making the decision to let her stay said a lot about his character.

Not that I wouldn’t have done the same thing in his place. I’m weak too. It also irked me that he was just as fickle. He was supposed to be the responsible older adult. Yet it was Will who kept pulling Layken back when he should have set boundaries on their relationship. Like seriously? You can’t keep it in your pants for a few months?

Anyway now that the rant is over, I have to say I did enjoy the book. I read it straight through in one day. And now that I realized it’s part of a trilogy, I have to look into the other books. The author knows how to keep you hooked. Her characters have a real voice and she builds a wonderful cast and world.

Review: Home on the Range by Ruth Logan Herne

So I did not know this book was second in a series, and just picked it at random since I don’t like knowing what books are about before I read them. I did feel a bit lost during references to characters in places in the book that were prominent to the series as a whole but still enjoyed the story.

Pros:

The children were realistic and not annoying, and their development after what they’d been through was well paced and informative. I’m not a parent but I learned a lot about child psychology in this book.

I liked the cast of characters, including the main ones.

I really felt like I was living in a ranch.

Dakota was the sweetest fictional little girl ever.

Cons:

I am Christian, and I picked a Christian book to read, but felt like I was getting so much Bible verses shoved down my throat. I felt like they could have been added in a more organic way but sometimes felt forced to the point of cringing.

(spoiler) That weird thing with Nick walking away from Elsa after her meltdown didn’t sit well with me. Yea he had a reason to be angry, but walking away from someone who just had a panic attack is not okay, especially when you were professing your love to her, and telling her nothing she could say would turn you away, literally just a day ago.

The writing style often felt repetitive. There was lots of telling and explaining rather than showing, in addition to all of Elsa’s psychological explanations. It all got kind of tedious. Example, Nick’s internal monologues stated at least 3 or 4 times that he married Whitney to spite his father. And then he has a conversation with his father saying the exact thing. We get it.

It was an overall enjoyable book, full of sexy Cowboys and PG kissing and lots of Bible verses. I would recommend it if you are looking for a clean, cute summer read.

Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (the audiobook)

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson (Review), narrated by Lincoln Hoppe

Full Disclaimer:

I love Lincoln Hoppe as a narrator and will listen to him read anything, even if it’s just a grocery list.

That being said, Hoppe did a great job narrating this book, as he does every book I’ve listened to. He really knows how to bring the characters to life, especially for stories written in first-person narrative.

Synopsis of the story (taken from Goodreads):

On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man’s disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.

Another disclaimer:

I don’t like reading about blurbs about books before I read them. I don’t like knowing what the book is about because I want to find out for myself. I like plunging into novels without any expectations so I can be completely surprised and amazed by all the changes a character goes through.

The moment I started listening, I was hooked

The writer has an amazing ability to draw me in with graphic, gritty details that had me cringing but perversely drawn into the story. Sort of like when I see roadkill and I know it’s gross but I can’t help but stare. The character’s background was given in sharp detail without drawing away from the main plotline. The writer was able to give us a glimpse of how the character is the way he is without making any rationalizations or becoming boring.

The story stayed amazing and enthralling until about halfway through the book when…weird things…started to happen.

Now, yet another disclaimer. I love fantasy and science fiction. I believe 75% of what I read falls into the epic fantasy genre, which I’m only stating to point out that I have no trouble suspending my belief, especially when reading a novel.

But I found the stories Marianne Engel told, once she entered the scene, too distant to be believable. I believe this was where the writing became a muddled for me. She told the story in detailed prose, but she kept referring to the main character (and we never find out his name) as “you,” which would sort of snap me out of the story to remind me that it was just a story, thereby making it less believable. I know it was to keep the narrator unnamed, but this was the end result.

Once I finished the book, I was even less convinced of the magic that had originally kept me so enthralled in the first half. I was instead overwhelmed with questions, like:

1. If Marianne is really more than 700 years old, what happened during the time she died and was resurrected? Did she live to be that old, then died, then was re-born? Or did she lead many lives, forever searching for her true love (aka the main character)? If so, did she remember who she was in each life? How did she know who she was in this life?

2. How come Marianne could remember her past life but the main character couldn’t?

3. If she gave all her hearts to those gargoyles, wouldn’t they be alive somehow? Because she gave her last heart to the main character so…

4. What did she mean when she said “Our kind don’t die easily”?

5. How come Marianne’s penance to achieve salvation was so much more severe than the main character’s? If you really wanted to argue, he was a much bigger sinner than she was in both timelines. I mean, she was a nun who decided to marry a guy for love. He was a mercenary who killed people, and then later became a porn star (never thought I’d write that sentence, ever). So she had to live 700 years and give out hearts and carve gargoyles till she bled, and all he had to do was chip away at his own statue?

6. What was the point of it all? Was it to prove that their love endured all these years, all these lifetimes? That their love brought them back together even after death? Because that sure didn’t happen. Like, okay, yeah, they were brought back together. And sure, they got to spend some time together. But in the end, she left him. Again. And when they were together, she spent all that time carving or being annoyed when she was not carving.

All I’m saying is I didn’t feel the love. I heard him talk about it. I heard Marianne talk about it. But I didn’t feel it.

6. Or was it to point out that your life isn’t over unless you’ve paid back all your sins? Like our lives on this earth are just sentences in purgatory we’re made to live until we’re given enough chances and paid off enough sins to finally enter heaven.

Which is the complete opposite of the salvation I’ve put my faith in.

If you look at the main character’s journey toward salvation in the end, however, it is a beautiful development. He went from being a cynical porn star/drug addict to someone who was loved, and loved others. His growth alone was enough to carry the story.

I have to give this book 3/5 stars. If you love prose and the beauty of words, I would recommend at least reading the first few chapters, just to appreciate the writer’s beautiful execution. I would recommend the book as a whole just so we can talk about it. But for me, it lost its magic and left me feeling more lost than saved.

Review: Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen by Victoria AveyardGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

I’ve been on this huge YA kick, probably because I’m trying to write one of my own and mostly because they’re the best stories out there. I’ve never been into those super literary novels. Sure I love my classics (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE will always have a special place in my heart), but once in a while I like to indulge in gripping action-y teen romance, fickleness and all.

That being said, I’m really sick of these series where the books just end mid-cliff-hanger.

I get it. Sometimes stories are long and a trilogy or series is necessary. But even so, each installment in a series is meant to be a story on its own, complete with beginning, middle, end; inciting incident, growth, rising action, climax…you know, that mountain thing our English teachers were always drawing on their white boards.

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But lately the series I’ve been reading, especially YA, are all just one long story that drags on for as long as possible, broken into three chunks that aren’t really complete in and of themselves. And then you’re forced to wait and read the next story just because you’ve already started this one and you need to know how it ends.

Now that my tirade is over, here’s what I thought of Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard.

I like a strong female character.

Mare isn’t a simpering female fool, and it’s refreshing to see a female character grow into her own in a realistic way (as realistic as developing magical abilities and rising to great power in a matter of months can be).

Thank God there was no love triangle.

I’ve never been a fan of love triangles, so I’m glad that any hint of one in this book is pretty clear cut. I don’t like characters that go back and forth between their love interests. That’s greedy. Make a decision.

Action and progress.

These books were pretty easy to read, because there was a lot of killing and fighting and attempted murdering; and scenes that didn’t involve action sequences were very short.

But there was no sizzle.

However, while having shorter, progressive scenes made this book fly by, it also made the world, story, and characters feel distant. I could never quite connect with Mare because I felt as if most things were summarized. Unless she was killing something or someone was killing her, there was a slight fuzziness to the story, like I was viewing it through a glass. I couldn’t get myself to care about the characters that she cared about, because I never got close enough to them. I’m usually a sucker for romance. Any mention of a blush or faster heartbeat in the presence of a muscled prince, and my spine goes ramrod straight. But with Mare and Cal…there was no sizzle for me.

The villain didn’t get to me.

Along that line, when (spoiler alert) Mare is betrayed by a certain someone…I didn’t feel betrayed. I didn’t hate him. To me it was just another…[insert plot point here]…sort of thing.

Overall, I enjoyed these novels. My opinion might be overshadowed by how upset I was that the book ended abruptly on a cliff-hanger, and I really just don’t appreciate getting sucker punched like that. I also normally wait until a trilogy is complete before I embark on the journey because this is a personal pet peeve. I don’t like having to wait until the next installment to find out what happens. The fact that the second book ended the way it did, added to the fact that I now have to wait for the next book made it even worse.

But I will be reading the last book. So it was a pretty entertaining series nonetheless. I would give these a solid 3/5. Hopefully by the time the last book comes out, my anger will have dissipated, and the story will justify its spread across three books.