Wednesday, July 01, 2015

#7 of 36: Receding Hairlines and All: A Review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Receding Hairlines and All: A Review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I thought this was a lovely read. I will have to add that I blame my friend, Ines, for pointing out Levi's receding hairline (which prompted me to obsess over it as I read the book). This book was my reward for finishing a romance novella in May. I devoured it like cake. It was a quick read because I loved the story. I loved Cath, of course. I will always picture her in my head as someone jumping on her bed during an emergency dance party. I thought she was named after Willa Cather. I was disappointed to find out otherwise. But I loved Reagan even more. She reminded me of Eleanor (from Eleanor and Park) somehow. I don't know why. Maybe because she was a big girl. I loved how she became friends with Cath out of pity. What a cool girl. I would be scared to have her as my actual roommate, though. I'm a total wimp. But I wouldn't mind having her as a friend!

I have to admit: I am not into fan fiction. I like reading original stuff. Don't think I'm a snob. I am not. I can understand why there's a huge base of fan fiction out there. People don't want a story to end. I have nothing against that. But I find myself in Professor Piper's position. If I were running that creative writing class, I, too, would demand for original work.

All in all, I had fun reading Fangirl. I still like Eleanor and Park more, though. I don't know why. It punched me in the gut, maybe. I will be reading more Rainbow Rowell books soon.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

#6 of 36: Love and Timing: A Review of One Day by David Nicholls

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love and Timing: A Review of One Day by David Nicholls

I read this at a fevered pace during a company outing. It was my pre-reward for having finished a novella manuscript (the actual reward was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. What is this complex reward system, you might ask. But I digress!). I loved this book. I couldn't put it down. Em, of course, was the one I was rooting for. Dex was always a mess. There are really some people who bring out the best in others. And that's Em.

The story is a catalog of missed opportunities (all the way to the end though I won't say more because I won't put any spoilers here). Life is full of them. But one must go along and make the most of what one has. That's what Em does through and through. She makes a lot of mistakes. She actually make light of them (like that delightful, all too real passage on her job at a dead end Mexican restaurant). But she doesn't drown in them. She goes on. She finds her groove. Add Em to the mix and everything will be fine (or you'll have a laugh, at least). She's the kind of person I'd like to be friends with.

And of course, it's sad, too. But I won't dwell on the sadness. I will, instead, focus on that lovely kiss on St. Swithin's Day which promises a life of sweetness...but not in the way that one expects.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

My #SparkNA Adventure: Chasing Time

A picture I took from Cambugahay Falls, Siquijor (one of the waterfalls in my novella, Chasing Waterfalls)

First of all, what is #SparkNA? Read about it here, from Mina V. Esguerra's website. So, onto my adventure.

When I signed up for the class, I didn't realize what I had gotten myself into. You see, I signed up for an online accounting class and got a new job all around the same time. I wanted everything to work. That was how I realized that I could literally make the time if the stakes were high enough. My mini pep talk to myself: No complaints. You got yourself into this; you finish all of your commitments.

One June 6 (last day of the #SparkNA class), Mina asked us: 1) what worked, 2) what didn't, 3) what's next. For me, what worked was the outline, which was a prerequisite at the start of the class. If I did not have an outline, I would have floundered. Some writers prefer not having an outline at all. However, given the volume of work I had given myself, it was an absolute necessity for me. I have a vague memory of May 2015. It was a haze of deadlines and hard work. It reminds me of the time I was breastfeeding my first child. I was committed to it. That meant I had to pump my breast milk 2-3 times a day during work days. At the time, I was working at a telco (read: dynamic business, crazy work schedule). But somehow I managed to do it (mostly because my boss understood how much it meant to me). But how I did it? I don't remember. I just stuck to the schedule, whatever happened. I could pump my milk anywhere! So, that was what happened last May. I was mostly sleep deprived.

What didn't work was the deadly rush. I wanted my cake and I wanted to eat it, too. Hahaha! I just kept going and going. I have to say that this links back to a second element of what worked: a support group. Beta readers are blessings from heaven. My wonderful friends, Therese, Ines and Liana, all editors, were such a big help during the review phase. Ines was also working on her own #SparkNA novella, mind you. So, I was overwhelmed with gratitude when she agreed to read my work and give me very helpful feedback. I couldn't have finished my manuscript without my beta readers' invaluable support. A big, heartfelt thank you to Therese, Ines, and Liana!

What's next? Apart from waiting for word from Spark Publishing/ Anvil Publishing... I want to publish my novella, Chasing Waterfalls, online, on as many digital distribution platforms as possible. But yes, I'll wait, of course, for the print opportunity. Fingers crossed.

On May 30, 2015, I hit the "send" button and submitted my 28K-word novella to Mina with my query letter to the editors of Spark Publishing. On June 1, 2015, I started at a new job. On June 9, 2015, I received my verified certificate for my Introduction to Financial Accounting Class. It was all possible.

What did I learn from all of this? Somehow, life imitated art. Our challenge for #SparkNA was "to be brave." In particular, this was the instruction from Mina's email: "You don't have to say it in the book, but when we read it, we must be able to describe your MC to our friends as BRAVE." Well, what is bravery? What is courage? One of the dictionary definitions I came across was: the ability to do something that frightens you. Oh boy. That was what happened between April and May. The other half of the equation is: WHY? As I said earlier: it depends on the stakes. For me, the stakes were all high for the things I wanted: to write; to develop; to learn. I realized that time really is the most precious resource. It's even more valuable than money (you can always make more money...but you cannot produce more time...we are all equally given 24 hours a day and every day is a reset). At the beginning of the class I thought I would be chasing time. But it didn't turn out that way. I ended up creatively carving out niches of time. It was an art.

Thank you, Mina, for putting together the class (and for making more classes available! I absolutely love the structure of your classes!). With #SparkNA, I pushed myself like I've never pushed myself before. It was all worth it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#5 of 36: Practical Paths for Self-Observers: A Book Review of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It's a wonderful book. I bought it, initially, for validation (because I'm a closet introvert!) but I came away with so much more. It took me through the scientific basis of introverted behavior (sensitivity to stimuli), navigating relationships (especially between extroverts and introverts who are naturally drawn to each other), and raising introverts (dealing with "shyness" and how an introverted child can thrive with the right environment). There was also a bonus of workplace introversion (a third or half of the entire workforce are introverted) and a beautiful insight on introversion: successful introverts are willing to sacrifice their comfort (or nature) to do what they love or what they truly care about. There's a particularly touching story of a professor (Professor Little) who can't look people in the eye but who gives impassioned lectures because he genuinely cares about the growth of his students.

I also liked how Cain emphasizes that the Western world was built for the extrovert ("leadership qualities") when, clearly, in Jim Collins' research (Good to Great), it is humble, unassuming, and introverted leaders who can take good companies and make them great. She also illustrates how Eastern culture values silence and considers introverted behavior wise.

All in all, it is an insight-laden book with many practical paths that an introvert can take to thrive in this noisy world.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

#4 of 36: The Tragedy of Having Gods as Parents: A Review of The Chrysanthemum Palace by Bruce Wagner

The Chrysanthemum PalaceThe Chrysanthemum Palace by Bruce Wagner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Tragedy of Having Gods as Parents: A Review of The Chrysanthemum Palace by Bruce Wagner

The main reason I got this book was because one of the main characters is called Clea. Clea is the title of one of the Alexandria Quartet books by Lawrence Durrell (I was named after one of them). I also named my daughter Clea. I was hoping that the Alexandria Quartet might be mentioned somewhere in the book. I mean, Clea is a very rare name. There might be a big chance that the author would refer to it somewhere in his book. I was not disappointed. If only for that, I was satisfied.

It took me more than a few months to start reading the book and it took me a month and a half to finish this book. It was my bathroom reading fare. The story was a bit dragging. Three spoiled brats do not not make very attractive characters. However, I could identify. After all, I grew up in the shadow of a very flamboyant beauty queen mother. I know the insecurities that come with very accomplished/ very beautiful parents.

The novel was full of pathos. However, coming from a third world country put the lives of Bertie, Thad, and Clea in perspective. How could these drug-addicted children of celebrities find despair when they are all well-fed and presented with lots of opportunities despite being has-beens? In that sense, I felt alienated. I did understand that the story revolved around the tragedy of being the progeny of gods and goddesses.

What did I enjoy? I loved the parts when Starwatch became part of the plot. It was a reference to Star Trek, of course. And that's why it was great. The story within the story was equally enthralling (or, in fact, more enthralling). I also liked the character, Miriam (a. k. a. Meerkat), Thad's agent and Bertie's lover. She seems to have been one of the most levelheaded of their bunch.

Overall, this is a reflective and somewhat depressing read. It has entertaining peeks into the glitzy Hollywood life. But don't be fooled. This book is a tragedy. Expect grandiose soliloquies and unforgiving parents who drive their children to suicide.

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Being in a Baker's Shoes: A Review of Save The Cake by Stella Torres

Save the CakeSave the Cake by Stella Torres
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being in a Baker's Shoes: A Review of Save The Cake by Stella Torres (*spoilers ahead)

My first reaction to the story was: why is everyone talking formally and without contractions (ex. I do not understand why women put on makeup)? Even if most of the characters are Hispanic or half-Hispanic...I'm not sure they talk like that today. Maybe a generation ago. Weirdly enough, there are some contemporary expressions like addressing women in a familiar way by saying "girl." I'm putting this up front because it was a distraction to reading the story.

Now, onto the story. I loved all the descriptions of the baking. Though, I didn't understand why Eloisa and Monica are always worried about their cakes falling apart (also, I'm not sure anyone would pay for a fondant-covered cake that had ribbons to cover cracks). It was nice to be in the kitchen and baking supply warehouse with Eloisa. That was when she was in her element. I had problems with her character, though, when it came to love. I felt that she was either repressed or had double standards. Why was everyone, including Eloisa, judgmental about Hazel getting married legally before getting married in church? This is especially worrisome when I find out what happened to Eloisa in Singapore. Why was she suddenly making out with Sean Alvarez the first chance she gets alone with him? She's 28 years old! Why would she be concerned about her older brother and father getting in the way of her relationship?

I liked how Eloisa changes from kitchen assistant to a woman with her own business. In fact, if the story revolved just around that I think I would have been satisfied. I feel that Eloisa is more inconsistent in her love life. I'm not sure if she's liberated or conservative. She certainly *acts* conservative but when I get to know more about her, she *thinks* in a liberated way. That would have been fine except she also *judges* in a conservative way. Don't get me wrong, I like complex characters. However, Eloisa's choices seem disjointed sometimes. I don't know where she's coming from. There was actually no conflict in the way of love. I just found it weird that she moved so fast with Sean. That was what led me to believe she was repressed. However, her relationship with Gino (flashbacks) made me rethink that. Maybe being far from her family emboldened Eloisa?

Lastly, I didn't think the conflict between Paul (her older brother) and Eloisa is so believable. Paul's concerns about Sean are too superficial. If Sean really had a hidden past, I would understand why he was so protective and unreasonable. But Sean is a perfectly nice guy with no history of fooling around with women. So Paul was overreacting *all* the time. I would have wanted more scenes where Paul was just being a jerk, in general, rather than concerned about Sean, just to bring up the fact that Eloisa and Paul really can't work together. I also found it strange why she would find any reason to blame her friends, Hazel and Denise, for the brouhaha in Singapore. That was her own fault (or Gino's, if you look at it another way). I didn't see how she could distrust her friends over that incident.

Overall, it was nice to be in a pastry chef's shoes. I would have wanted more baking and self-discovery and less fooling around with Sean.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

#3 of 36: Which One Will It Be?: A Review of In Over Her Head by Anne Plaza

In Over Her HeadIn Over Her Head by Anne Plaza
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Which One Will It Be?: A Review of In Over Her Head by Anne Plaza

My first observation: the language was distracting. Mainly, the past tense kept getting in the way of the present tense.

Now that I've gotten that first observation out of the way, let's get to the story. The Jerome vs. Richard mystery did keep me at the edge of my seat. I was wondering who Erika would end up with. I thought it was an effective way of keeping my attention as a reader. Lorra, Erika's best friend, was kind of annoying. However, instead of the main character undergoing a transformation by the end of the story, it was actually Lorra who went through it. It kind of makes me want to see the story from her perspective instead of Erika's.

I also noticed that Jerome is more developed as a character versus Richard. I get to see him transform from possible jerk to a sweet and thoughtful guy. On the other hand, Richard is just a jerk, period. I don't even know why Erika still liked him. The conflict between Erika and Richard was just so well established that I hardly found any reason for Erika to still fall for Richard.

Overall, this was a page-turning read. Read it to find out who Erika ends up with. :-)

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Sugar & Spice: A Review of Only A Kiss by Ines Bautista-Yao

Only A KissOnly A Kiss by Ines Bautista-Yao
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sugar & Spice: A Review of Only A Kiss by Ines Bautista-Yao

This review has been long overdue.

You know that it's a good story because you get lost while reading it. Well, that's what happened to me when I read Only A Kiss. Surprisingly, the most interesting character in OAK is the girl that Chris falls in love with sometime during his high school years. For some reason, I found her more interesting and complex than Katie (or even the girlfriend he ends up with in college). She's a bit of a jerk but I find that I gravitate towards characters who are not that easy to figure out.

Overall, this was a very sweet read. I finished it in exactly a week (and I had a very busy schedule last December!). I really loved how both Chris and Katie get to really develop as individuals (with their own loves and lives) before they start a relationship with each other.

Lastly, and I think a lot of people have already commented on it, OAK's cover is just gorgeous.

Disclosure: I am a friend of the author. :-)

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Monday, March 02, 2015

#buqoYA: Finishing a Portrait of Jade

#buqoYA class pic (not a complete one, though) last Feb. 28, 2015. We had cupcakes!

I am a fan of Mina V. Esguerra's workshops. I've only just completed one in the past: #buqosteamyreads. I came away with two short stories, both over 5,000 words.  I tried joining a #romanceclass and a #flirtsteamyreads class but these two are still in draft and outline mode. I'm not sure when I'll finish them because a) life got in the way (yes, excuses, excuses) and b) I already missed the bus. Deadlines are deadlines, after all.

Okay, first of all, what is #buqoYA? It's an online YA (young adult) story writing class moderated by Mina V. Esguerra (with two optional face-to-face classes) sponsored by buqo (a Pinoy digital bookstore, see more below). It started last January 19 and ended last February 28 2015. The goal: finish a story, not less than 5,000 words, based on an assigned trope (trope = a significant or recurrent theme; a motif. In other words, a familiar theme that one can find in literature).

My number one reason for loving writing classes like #buqoYA: I am a working mom. Huh? What does that have to do with writing a story? It just means I'm busy. I have a regular job* and I have two young kids. I do a lot of balancing acts. I need structure to finish anything. I need to be accountable to someone, too (like Mina, for instance). I also especially like the way Mina gives me an assigned trope. It's like fate dealing me a hand (or like life, pretty much!). This kind of structure doesn't clip my creative wings. It actually gives me flight! It's narrow enough to challenge me and yet broad enough to take on any number of characters I can create. I just love this kind of assignment.

Other things that helped: detailed discussions on each trope (I really appreciated the face-to-face class where we got to interact with screenwriters, Chacha Sawit-Esguerra and Anton Santamaria), having team mates to cheer us on (my good friend, Ines Bautista-Yao was a fellow trope mate!), and (this one is new from Mina) challenges along the way to spur us to really think through our stories (and submit on time!).

The result: a story that reached more than 15,000 words. I've called it A Portrait of Jade. It's gone through a lot of draft titles already, from The Color of Complicated to Semi-Precious to, finally, A Portrait of Jade. I have my beta readers to thank: Liana, an editor I trust, Ricky, a friend who also happens to be an artist, and my fellow trope mate, Ines. With all of their input as beta readers, I think the story improved a lot (it was their input that got me editing the existing story and writing another 2,000 words).

So, how did I finish? Apart from loving my main character, Jade, I really wanted to get to the bottom of the story. I wanted to understand how such a talented artist could be so insecure. I really liked how Mina requires all of us to write about a main character who is "not ordinary." It's easy to start with a blank canvas: a Hello Kitty without a mouth, a character that anyone can insert themselves into. So, I liked how I needed to come up with someone who's both interesting and still developing. I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to finish my #buqoYA story. A fellow #buqoYA classmate and I were joking about how we, married (and older!) women, found it easier to write steamy reads versus YA. Teens are hard to figure out! But then, of course, as we wrote, we remembered that we were teens once, too. So, surprise, surprise. I ended up writing something longer than both my #buqosteamyreads stories combined. It helped that I learned stuff from Mina's other classes: 1) writing in acts and scenes (these gave my outline a fixed structure -- more of the acts, I was a bit more flexible with the scenes) and 2) reading from Mina's reading lists (they really help!). 

I'm excited to see my fellow #buqoYA classmates' stories on buqo over the summer! Congratulations to everyone! Thank you, classmates and beta readers! And thank you, Mina! I'm looking forward to finishing more stories under your classes.

*Disclosure: I work for Hand.Interactive, Inc., the company behind buqo, the Pinoy Digital Bookstore and Reading App. I also happen to be a writer. :-)

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