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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. :-)


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#2 of 36: Why I Liked Mindy (And Of Course, Eleanor and Park): A Book Review of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why I Liked Mindy (and Of Course, Eleanor and Park)

I loved this book. I didn't expect to like it from the blurb (reminiscent of Jane Eyre, for me. Why cheer on two unlikable and unattractive characters?). Hahaha. What a shallow reader I am. It turns out, Eleanor & Park is something that I should have read long ago. It was so authentic. It sucked me right in. I, somehow, could identify with Eleanor: that home situation where you're always walking on eggshells. I know that. Rowell had that uncanny ability to zero in on a Romeo & Juliet episode in my life and make it literature.

A friend of mine recommended this book. As in, "read it naowww!" she said. According to her, the book combined the passion of first love with bullying and racial discrimination. Yes, on those three points. Plus, I saw in it added dimensions of family dysfunction and identity building. It hurt on so many levels but it fascinated me, too. The shifting POVs definitely helped improve my appreciation of the story. Also, the fact that it was set in 1986 was a bonus. The 80s were my growing up years. There was so much I didn't appreciate based on E and P's playlist.

My favorite character? She was a side character, not one of the main characters. But I very much loved, Mindy, the mom of Park. I especially loved the part when her feelings for E took a turn for the better. It can easily be missed. That's why I loved the subtlety of how Rowell described that scene. It was through Park's eyes: no judgment, no interpretation.

All in all, highly recommended book. The thing is, I feel like the last person on Earth to have read this book because everyone is already on Rowell's third or fourth book. Oh well. Better late than never. I am now a fan.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kulintang

Photo of kulintang (creative commons license) attributed to Phillip Dominguez Mercurio.

I was just crying over this. Too many people have died in Maguindanao.

Note: The kulintang is made of eight gongs. Each of them has a name.

This is for all the fallen.

Kulintang

by Justine C. Tajonera

Panentekan

A shadow passes,
grass in the sun,
blood in the soil.

Romingkar

A flock of birds
cannot hide the sound
of bullets.

Romapunut

The tarmac is quiet.
Forty-four coffins
are wrapped in red cloth.

Lomalis

Was the sound
of the bullet
louder than her scream?

Sagorongan

The wind whistles
through broken grass
that will grow again.

Mananggisa

The palay grow on
one stretch of land.
Grains of rice fall like rain.

Mamals

The mangroves are
full of fishes
and hiding children.

Pangandungan

Trees stretch
slowly
from graves.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Forty

kalachuchi/ frangipani/ plumeria - by Renesis (wikimedia commons)

Forty 

by Justine C. Tajonera

Halfway down the steps, toward
the gate, the kalachuchi tree that bends
over the small pond in the cemetery
comes to mind. She is waiting
for me. I look forward to that
day. It's just that I have so much
to do. Not enough days to watch them
fall asleep. Not enough nights of reading
to them in bed. We haven't walked among
the ruins in Mycenae yet, he and I.
I watch at the threshold. Time to cross
over. It's just another door.

Monday, January 12, 2015

#1 of 36: Here's to Love, A Review of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First SightThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished most of this book on a Sunday night (I bought the book on the 8th but I didn't really start reading in earnest until yesterday, the 11th). It was a reading assignment for a YA writing workshop that I'm participating in. I didn't expect all the tears especially because I did a lot of eye rolls at the beginning of the book. At first I didn't get why Oliver, the love interest, was into Hadley, the protagonist. After a while, though, I started enjoying the whole thing. Most of the love story progresses in the air, literally. It's been a fantasy of mine to fall in love on a plane, on a trip abroad, alone. Of course it never happened. This story is probably a proxy.

More than that (the love story), I loved the back story of Hadley and Hadley's broken-up parents (and come to think of it, Oliver's parents too). I, too, can't forgive Hadley's dad for what he did. But I do get that children from a broken home need to move on. I guess that was why I kept crying. It was the father-daughter relationship that really moved me.

Lastly, Oliver grew on me. Well, no really. I just imagine Benedict Cumberbatch's sexy British accent and I'm already half in love with him. Haha! This was a great, light read to start off my 2015. Here's to love!

Note: BTW, if you're wondering what the #1 of 36 means --> I just gave myself a 36-book challenge this year. Now, that might not seem like much but it's going to be pretty busy. I think 3 in a month is already a stretch. Hopefully, I surpass this.

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