Monday, December 31, 2012

Cheerio, 2012!

Plunging into the adult world is no easy feat, and 2012 is the year that officially let me feel that. As they say, life comes with no guidebook; we young crops have to be careful with all the baby steps we're taking into the real world. We shook off our training wheels, soldiered on, and thought: “Yes. This is it, this is what I’ve always waited for. I can do it.” Everything  about Adulthood: Stage One is an uphill struggle, but hey—it didn’t mean we can’t have fun!

I will never forget 2012 for all the memories it etched in my heart, both the good ones and the bad ones. I felt so much stronger right now, after going through the wild jungle of problems and troubles...which is apparently just the start of it all. I stumbled and got back right up. I got misunderstood and I forgive. I misunderstood and was forgiven. I encountered new people that I came to love, friends who have the same “wavelength of quirkiness” as me, friends that entered my life in astonishingly unexpected ways, friends that I know I can rely on. I got to keep old friends who would back me up as I do the same to them.  I turned 365 days older. I got to try new things; I got to let new dreams bloom inside me.

Sure, there are times when I feel like crying and encasing myself with a cocoon of despair; there are times when I feel like I’m on the brink of giving up. Lots of times. But for all its worth, the last 12 months were full of happier moments than I could ask for. The brighter scenes thawed the darker ones to the point of vanishing. I'm thankful for everything.

Here are some of the photos I found collected in a random folder on my desktop. I’m sure there are tons of more snapshots out there on the info superhighway—and there are a thousand more memories that are captured only by my heart’s built-in shutter—but I guess I’d post this handful. They would already tell a lot…

PAGE1PAGE2PAGE3 
I’ve been in a wild roller coaster of emotions, lessons, and indelible memories. In all honesty, these photos just pale in comparison! I’m raising my metaphorical glass to whoever is reading this: let’s welcome the new year with hopes for a more blessed year! Expect the challenges and the blues, but never forget to look up to see the silver lining that's always there for anyone who looks for it. Cheerio to 2012 and cheers to 2013! :)

Happy new year!

Review: Every Day

Title: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Every Day

Admit it: at one point in your life—that specific point when you find yourself scooped up by the gigantic hurricane of all the mess you’ve made in your existence so far—you’ve wondered what it would be like to wake up as another person. You’ve longed to restart. You’ve longed to get the chance to draw your life once again on a clean slate because you can’t handle this trouble-jumble anymore. You’ve longed for an escape.

David Levithan toys with this idea and throws in a poignantly ironic spin on it for his latest novel, Every Day. Blurbs say that this is Levithan’s most ambitious work yet, and I can see where they are coming.

While we accept the old dogma “life doesn’t come with an instruction manual” as true with bittersweet acknowledgment, sixteen-year-old A sort of wishes it to be true, literally. After all, a concrete compilation of precise instructions on life would be a big help to someone like A…that is, someone who wakes up in a different body, in a different life every morning.

There’s never any warning about where the “transfer” will occur or who the next “host” will be. A doesn't have an idea why or how it happens; he doesn’t even know what he actually is! For almost two decades, he eventually learns to make peace with this fact. He even established his own rules: don’t get too attached, don’t get noticed, and don’t interfere. But everything changed when he opens his eyes one day and finds himself in the body of Justine, Rhiannon’s boyfriend. He falls in love with Rhiannon in a flash, and he knows he has to dismantle the guidelines he set for himself. But is love really possible in this strange setup?

Even if it’s been a while since I last read something written by Levithan, I was a tad astonished to find how he deftly builds one intricate inkscape of a story with the simplest of words. His prose here is very much reminiscent of The Lover’s Dictionary: straight and to-the-point, yet with hem that is swaying with subtlest hints of romantic poetry. I read somewhere before that music is love in search of words. Upon reading this book, I know that it somehow contains that music. His sentences sing, and anyone who doesn’t mind having loads of saccharine in their read would have a good time with this book. Every Day, however, is not all cheese.

Levithan deliberately uses the novel’s narrative force as a tool to explore issues regarding sexuality. The main protagonist fully accepts whatever the gender of his host is; A himself is fluid, and more than once he (thinks he) falls in love with people regardless of their sexuality. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual…he knows these are all just trappings around our true selves, and he gets passed through them to see the core. As he uses this to make some pseudo-commentaries, you’ll know that Levithan obviously still leans on some hope of an LGBTQ utopia, one that we took a glimpse of in his other novel Boy Meets Boy.

It’s hard to make a verdict when it comes to the characters, though. I can’t consider A fully fleshed out—and this has very little to do with his actually not having flesh. To be fair, not having a permanent body affects one’s identity as a character. A’s nature requires him to adapt; he holds nothing but his ideals and self-imposed laws that define him as a dignified entity. But I noticed that while his voice effectively exudes the biting tang of adolescence—being witty one minute and being heart-meltingly romantic the next—there are a few parts where he lacks the solidity of a strong narrator. It’s like, he’s already had his hooks on the reader’s interest, and then the hooks would slip out of their grip without any warning. But I guess it’s understandable, since it mostly happens when A’s doing his transient transfer to unremarkable people (with appearances ranging from three paragraphs to two pages, obvious unnecessary slice-of-life fillers). As for Rhiannon, I think it’s safe to say she’s a clear case of Mary Sue. It will stay the same even if we see her through an alternative POV, even without A’s love-struck goggles of perception.

The plot is twisted in a sense that it’s practically a labyrinthine bulk of little detours and turns—sans losing the main point, of course. Levithan managed to make the main storyline magnified. He didn’t exactly paint a portrait of ideal love. In a way, I think that A’s feelings for Rhiannon for the most part of the book are self-destructive. When I say self, I mean both A’s self and the body he’s occupying. The moment he disregarded all the rules, he has also disturbed the “harmony” of the owners of the bodies he wore. He managed to save one life, yes, but compared to the others he used as tools so he could follow Rhiannon around? For the record, I’m not one of those girls who consider stalking as romantic.

But hey, it’s young love. For A, the world is practically a fleeting concept—we can’t blame him if for once, he found something that he wanted so badly to hold on to for more than 24 hours. Or forever. A soon realizes that what he’s doing is selfish (and sort of “evil”), but even with this little epiphany he didn’t seem that well-developed. The novel’s ending wrapped up nicely, though: knotted with a heart-wrenching bittersweetness of letting go, and the silhouettes of hopes and possibilities looming beneath the last sentence.

Despite its flaws, I still consider this book one of David Levithan’s bests.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bookwormism Update (sort of)

If RL wasn’t always pulling me away from the lappy every time a light bulb of blog idea pops into my head, my online havens wouldn’t seem as empty as they are right now. Apologies for my little case of negligence! You know the drill, magazine work and all that jazz. 

But since Gala is now slowly being wrapped in the Christmas spirit, workload pressure isn't as heavy as compared to last month's. I guess I'll be able to blog regularly soon! I’ll be posting reviews for David Levithan’s Every Day and Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller (+ a couple of doodles) in the coming days, so stay tuned.

In other news, I went to three different branches of Book Sale last week. I wasn’t so lucky with my initial tries, but check out the pre-loved books I got from the SM Manila branch on my last book-hunt day:


new stack

I got all these babies for just Php 315.00. Can you believe that? If I remember correctly, Gregory Maguire’s Mirror, Mirror costs around Php 600.00 when brand new, like Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Lost. Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Secret Life of Bees are at around Php400.00 each in National Book Store, while The Hangman’s Daughter is perhaps at Php 600.00 (the whole packaging looks a tad like Penguin Deluxe editions). Even though it’s the only hardbound tome in the stack, Tender Morsels is priced the lowest. I was able to get it at only 35 bucks! Yeah, talk about luck.

In addition to that stack, I also bought David Levithan's Love is the Higher Law and Gregory Maguire's Matchless (largely discounted—originally priced at 520 but I acquired it for only a hundred bucks).


fairyland - Copy

I'm currently reading Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I'm liking it so far, but I have to admit I still haven't gotten over Michaelis' The Storyteller. It's gotta been one of my favorite books ever. In fact, I only picked up Valente's novel because it sounds like Abel's fairytale for Micha, the one with the little queen and her green ship. I want to reread it so badly, although I know I'll undergo another severe literary heartache the second time around. Which, of course, I'm more than willing to endure.

How about you guys? What are you currently reading?

PS: To those waiting for replies and emails, I may be able to get to you tonight or tomorrow morning. Sorry for the delay!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tannatek and Leemann

The StorytellerLady Luck seemed to like smiling at me when I’m in a book-hunting mood.

Through some kind of bookstore serendipity, I stumbled upon a copy of Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller. There was something about its synopsis that drew me in; I think I was initially curious as to how the author will make reality and fairytale stand cheek by jowl, and if she can weave both into one sleek patchwork of literature. What I encountered inside was nothing I expected. Most YA books today—bittersweet or otherwise—have a certain 'candy' feel to it that screams, "I'm written for you young peeps!" This novel is not one of those.

The Storyteller is part-mystery, part-romance, and part-thriller. You'll be surprised how Michaelis evenly divides the novel into those three. I was only twenty pages in when I found myself muttering, "This book is probably going to rival The Solitude of Prime Numbers (Paolo Giordano) in my heart." And that’s saying a lot—Prime is an unsurpassed lit royalty for me when it comes to coming-of-age love stories. 

For some peculiar reason, I get easily magnetized by depressing stories. Nestling into my system with no apparent effort are tales that are twisted, un-sugarcoated, and chock-full of brutal truth, yet peppered  sparingly with sparks of hope across its storyline. These sparks may or may not bloom in the end. I’m not a happy-ever-after junkie, but when I start caring for the characters so much, I often feel like melting into a pool of crying mess when they don’t get a fairytale ending. It happened in Prime.

The Storyteller is very bleak and dark that the fairytale and romantic angle it flaunts in blurbs are barely existent. Well, they are there, but they’re wrapped up in a cloud of grim and grit, and there are only a handful of times when you can see a little glint of hope. School drug dealer aka “Polish peddler” Abel Tannatek and good-girl-in-a-bubble Anna Leemann are the main characters. I’m  currently 170 pages in (I put down the book a few minutes ago) and I can already foresee what I’ll be by the end of the book if they don’t get a blissful conclusion. If they won’t, well, at least I wish the author gave them a well-written ending. I’ll tell more about this book in my review.

The images above are from the book trailer, which you can watch here.

Deeper into Life

Deeper into Life

Review: Juliet, Naked

Title: Juliet, Naked
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5/5 stars)

Juliet, Naked
Musical fandom is no strange land to many of us. No matter what genre we strike a chord with, we are meshed together by the fact that we take a string of linked notes as some form of medicine for the soul, taken through the ears and channeled straight to our very cores. No matter how occupied our hearts seem to be, there’s always a slice that we save for music. It’s just sometimes, some people’s slices are far bigger than the others’… so much bigger to a point that the chunks reserved for something else were devoured by this slice, too.

Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked touches on this subject. It starts in an old toilet, which happens to be an important stop in a fan’s pilgrimage in honor of the purportedly legendary American musician Tucker Crowe. The said fan is the self-proclaimed “Crowologist” Duncan, and he has dragged his partner Annie to the trip. The old toilet is said to have been the last place Crowe went to before he left the music industry and disappeared into god knows where for more than two decades. For diehards like Duncan, the toilet has some kind of historic importance and a mystery waiting to be unveiled.

While Annie likes Juliet—Tucker Crowe’s last album before the commencement of his era of ‘reclusion’— she doesn’t share the same fanaticism Duncan has for the musician. In their 15 years of being tied down by a marriage of convenience, Annie has long accepted this quirk in Duncan’s personality. They’re living in some sort of bleak peace in some sort of bleak town called Gooleness, until this little bubble of strange serenity was burst by a break in Crowe’s 20 years of silence. An acoustic, barebones compilation of the songs in Juliet is released as a record called Juliet, Naked. Needless to say, it causes a fan racket in the Crowe community. What Annie and Duncan didn’t see coming is the stir it will also cause in their relationship. Duncan pens a rather hyperbolic appraisal for the release; Annie then offers the Info Superhighway her honestly lukewarm review, which in turn catches the attention of Tucker Crowe himself.

Paths begin to converge, diverge, and crisscross messily until they end up in a tangle of roads that lead into a better or worse life, depending on which one you choose. This literary piece may end up looking half like a huge nod to the lives of musical snobs, but a closer inspection at the bigger picture may unveil to you something so familiar. What you’ll see is a portrait of life as we often make it: a multiplex of twists and turns that exist not only so we can prove ourselves that we can’t stay trapped in a place where we’re not happy, but also to add to life’s no-nonsense beauty.

I was told that Nick Hornby’s roots are a combo of ‘music and messy relationships’, and it’s ever apparent in Juliet, Naked. It doesn’t take me too long to ease to the sound of Hornby’s storytelling voice, even if he shifts every so often between the three main characters. Maybe it’s because my bookshelf has been saturated with too many YA lit lately, but his writing style seems to be a breath of fresh air. I’m totally scribbling down Hornby’s complete oeuvre in my Christmas wish list.

The characters are astonishingly human and well-rounded. Their thought processes give them the mold of their personalities, with their doubts and fears acting as fingers that knead on their very being until they are as palpable as a person sitting next to the reader. Hornby knows how to extract the precise words we need to let out from the otherwise wordless complexity of aloneness and loneliness. Why do some people stay in an ‘okay’ situation rather than venturing forth to find a ‘great’ one? How can too much caution cause so many regrets that it can rival ones created because of carelessness? These questions are answered in the book.

We see details of Crowe’s daily life as he unwittingly pushes his third marriage into the brink of failure; we see how Annie clings not-so-tightly to a live-in setup she’s enduring for fifteen years. It’s safe to say that banality takes the forefront in most chapters. This could have triggered a negative reaction from anyone who wants to read something extraordinary, but only if not handled deftly. Hornby purposely uses this facileness to encapsulate the feeling of being trapped and hopeless in the cage you built yourself.

I couldn’t say it’s excellent plot-wise, though. It makes me a tad sad when a narrative has such good characters that don’t fit well with the rather middle-of-the-road storyline. And it has nothing to do with the abovementioned banalities; it’s all about the plot that’s too easy to recognize (if not actually predict). I’ve seen it from miles away, even before halfway through the novel—a fact that didn’t stop me from finishing it.

If anything, this book is the literary equivalent of a peculiar symphony that gives us a déjà vu whenever we listen to it—or jamais vu in my case, because I think I’m too young to feel like it’s too late for my life to have some kind of redemption after taking the wrong path. Not only is this a story that severs the line dividing musical evangelism and beastlike fanaticism. It’s also a story of managing to find the right moment to restart, which is often construed in three letters: NOW. It’s an overwrought power balladry of passion and hope, one that you know could have stuck to its G-Clef cleanliness but instead plunged an octave lower to poke with the deeper undercurrents of its chosen theme.

3.5 stars for an unforgettable read.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Doodles on tees

Juliet Elizze is a book buddy I met through Tumblr. She’s one of the many bookworms I converse with about my latest reads, particularly ones falling under the YA genre (our latest fangirl session is about Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood).

One time, she asked me for permission to use a couple of my doodles to be printed on her shirts. What else would my reaction be? I was flattered. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I’m just a nobody who scribble colored squiggles on paper until they form shapes and words. I’m just an ordinary literary geek like her!  Today, she DM’d me copious of apologies because she said she hasn’t included credits in the drawing. I assured her that I don’t mind, that her printing my work on her shirts is credit enough. :)

These are the shirts:

ShirtDesigns

They’re my doodles from Paper Towns and The Sandman: The Kindly Ones! If anything, this was an early Christmas gift from an online friend. I haven’t even met her in person. If she’s reading this right now, I want her to know that she practically made my week. Thank you so much for this!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Because fairytales are my kryptonite

If for some reason you’ve loitered around any of my online havens, you’ll find it easy to say that a certain“fairytale junkie” vibe hangs suspended somewhere in their pixelized spaces. But just to make it clear: I’m a fan not exactly of fairytales that have gone under Disney’s sugarcoating machine, but of the classic cautionary accounts containing ugly and violent truths.

Once Upon a Time

It’s easy to give hefty fives  to  stories that I think won’t make Brothers Grimm roll in their graves. Oh, and if someone will ask me to choose between steed-riding princesses capable of saving themselves and damsels waiting dreamily for their knights to  rescue them, I’ll choose the former without thinking. You couldn't really blame me for making Cinderella (aka Queen of Damsels in Distress) wear combat boots in my URL to symbolically change her into someone who falls in the latter category. Glass slippers are too fragile. :p

Don’t get the wrong idea. I have nothing against happy-ever-after’s…or “true love,” for that matter. I love Disney’s depictions, but I’m really just the kind of media consumer who enjoys fairytales in their earliest form and their revisionist counterparts.  Once Upon a Time, a TV series I recently discovered, relies heavily on the latter category. Saying I like it is an understatement—I’m totally hooked!

    
Cast
Prince Charming, Snow White, Emma Swan, and Evil Queen Regina

Once Upon a Time zeroes in on the events following the supposed-to-be-happy-ever-after’s as scribed in most storybooks. Flashbacks from the Enchanted Forest are told alongside the “present” events taking place in Storybrooke, Maine (bad pun, but I’m letting that pass). The premise is that the Evil Queen banished every fairytale character we know—Snow White, Prince Charming, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, among others—into a land without magic. Everyone is torn apart from everything they love, making happy endings virtually impossible. Nobody remembers who they are in the past and they live fairly nondescript lives in this little town, frozen in time. That’s until Emma Swan arrives.

EMMA Emma Swan: Because being a damsel-in-distress is too mainstream

Unbeknown to her, Emma is actually the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. She is sent away via a magical wardrobe so she won’t be engulfed in the Evil Queen’s dark curse. Rumplestiltskin reveals to her parents that on her 28th year, Emma will come back to combat the Evil Queen and save them all from the curse. But how would she do that if she thinks fairytales are just make-believe stuff made to cradle kids in bedtime cloud nines?

This is a story unlike all those that have accompanied you before plunging to slumberland in your younger years. It’s like someone just wrote an epilogue of happy-never-after right next to the Disney-fied conclusions, and another someone is writing a sequel to get the happy ending back. I love the struggle.

OUAT 
Turn to the next chapter: OUAT Season 2

I find that Once Upon a Time is a great way to get my fix of revisionism, which is not necessarily sans humor, romance, and an avalanche of nuggets of wisdom. I’m currently catching up with the second season. :)

I’ve always wanted to know what would happen if fairytale princesses were thrown in an arena where they have to fight to win the heart of the (usually) nameless Prince Charming. I guess the creators of Fables graphic novels can answer that for me; Once responds to this odd yearning from another perspective and just made a mishmash of every fairytale imaginable. Its creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (of Lost and Tron: Legacy fame) managed to sew everything seamlessly and throw twists and turns into the mix.

OUAT5Not-so-Little Red Riding Hood, aka Ruby

Among the “minor” fairytales featured, their version of Little Red Riding Hood is one of my instant favorites. The story of our scarlet-clad heroine has been retold and re-imagined for God knows  how many times; when I was watching Once, I was clearly hoping they won’t butcher it just for the sake for deviating from the norm. I liked it a lot.

OUAT6
Belle

I’m growing fond of the show’s Belle, too. I’m initially drawn to her because of a handful of shallow reasons (like her accent and her curiously Disney-ish outfits, haha!) but Season 2’s progress is putting more “flesh” in her, and I love that. Character growth is one of the most important elements of a good story.

OUAT8 
Rumplestiltskin aka Mr. Gold

What would this show be without the villain/antihero? Perhaps he and Regina share the title when it comes to technicalities, but I just want to commend how he adds a filthy albeit flavorful tinge to the story. Expect that something intriguing will happen when he’s onscreen, whether he’s Rumple, Mr. Gold…or that kind man known as Baelfire’s father.
___

While I do admit to loving this series, I can’t say I do so without reservations. No show is perfect, after all. Once Upon a Time has its share of bad portions like (1) using a mediocre style of repeating one-liners to purportedly establish a connection with the “past” and “present,” and (2) those handfuls of episodes where they give us a back story of a character and then just throw loose ends away, not even attempting to make a follow-up to fully cement a character’s growth.

Be that as it may, I’m still smitten by it. I’ll continue watching it with the hopes that it will transcend its imperfections one episode at a time. Once Upon a Time has so much potential and I want to see it bloom. :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: Missed Connections

Title: Missed Connections: Love, Lost and Found
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

MICON

A chance encounter with someone you think could be your soulmate holds an almost magical charm. If your mind lingers on it long enough, your imagination will start churning out what-could-have-beens, coupled with a wish that the other person is thinking of you too. All you could do is punctuate it with longing sighs…or perhaps you could cram an ellipsis on it instead by posting a “Missed Connection” online.

Missed connections often crackle with the electric current of romantic possibility, but they may also be a way to reconnect with an old friend, to look for a relative you’ve lost touch with, or just to express gratitude to a stranger. Whatever its purpose is, one thing is clear: there’s really no stopping the mushrooming of these cyber messages in the bottle.

Confession: one of my guilty pleasures is spending a sizable amount of time reading missed connections online. I never fail to have my daily dose of fiction, so I think it wouldn’t hurt reading tidbits that happened in real life. They’re tale fragments that my writer side would consider ultimately fic-fodder, but my cheeseball side would think as sparks of hope of connecting in a bleak world wrapped in a general atmosphere of pessimism and selfish disengagement. They’re like fairytales-in-making, and there’s really no telling if they’re going to end up with a happy-ever-after or just stay unfinished forever.

Missed Connections: Love, Lost and Found is one “picture book” I really treasure. It contains a bunch of missed connections from various online sites, this time partnered with paintings of the award-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall.

To say that Blackall’s artwork fully captures the weight of every missed connection is an understatement. Through strokes of Chinese ink and water color, she added quirky, wistful, poignant, comical, and tender flavors to the posts.

But what I love the most about this book is that most of the time, Blackall managed to insert her own version of “what if” into each message. This was done not through illustrating scenes of the possible future, but by merely depicting the exact moment boxed within the four corners of that missed connection. My favorite in this verse would be the “I Wish I Could See Your Head” one, where Blackall drew a girl with the parts of her head portrayed as if it were in a clinic poster. Cradled in the cranium section is an unmade bed with two pillows, suggestive that it had two occupants not so long ago. I think it’s cleverly peculiar, how Blackall supplied an answer of some sort to post writer who wished he could see inside the beautiful stranger’s mind.

Oh, and I like the fact that Blackall didn’t bother to go Grammar Nazi on all posts. The misspellings and misplaced punctuations are kept where they originally are, and I think it added to the credibility and reality of the missed connections.

Anyway, describing all my favorite illustrations would just “spoil” it for you; I want you guys to check out the illustrations yourselves. In all honesty, words can’t equate to the paintings’ exquisiteness. In fact, seeing them kind of rekindled the frustrated painter in me. I’ve gone back to painting recently, and I make it a point to always make time for this artistic endeavor. I’ve also scribbled a new item on my bucket list after finishing the book: to write and illustrate a book for my future kids. :)

It’s overall a book worthy of appreciation and the time you’ll spent flicking through it. “If a picture is worth a thousand words,” Ilene Beckerman says, “Sophie Blackall has created a bookstore you’ll fall in love with.” I couldn’t agree more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

“On the Way to Granny’s”

Just one of the mediocre speed-paintings I did over the long weekend. Painting relieves so much stress, I tell you. I guess I just prefer splashing angry and sad colors on paper to sulking. I feel so much better afterwards.

Red

What can I say? Art therapy is amazing. Sometime in the future, I hope I’ll be able to paint more pictures not because I’m stressed or anything, but just because I wanted to. :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Girl of Nightmares

Title: Girl of Nightmares
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Girl-of-Nightmares
“I’d go through hell for you” is perchance one of the most hackneyed declarations of true love a person could ever concoct. But no matter how many layers of oozing cheese were dabbed on it, you got to admit that the volumes it speaks are not subdued one bit. Nothing beats the classic “I’ll do anything for you.” What more if someone means this literally?

That’s practically the premise of Kendare Blake’s Girl of Nightmares. The novel picks up right where Anna Dressed in Blood left off, centering on teenage “ghost hunter” Cas Lowood. Anna Korlov, the homicidal ghost whom Cas fell in love with, opened a gate to Hell so she could drag the baleful Obeahman into it to save Cas and his friends. Months after the incident, Cas is continually haunted by images of a tortured Anna both when he’s asleep and when he’s awake. He will not be at peace as long as Anna isn’t, and he’ll do anything to pull her back. But Anna is already dead, and the world Cas lives in belongs to the living. Is he doing the right thing? Is it worth letting the new world he built around himself crumble, letting his loved ones down all for the sake of a ghost who had her share of murders?

Amidst all the chaos going on in his life, there are a few things Cas is very sure of: that he loves Anna more than anything, and he’s going to save her no matter what.

With Girl of Nightmares, Blake spun a tale of “rescue the not-quite-damsel-in-distress” as a sequel to what was billed as her “average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people” story. Cas might have taken the spotlight solo this time, but the story never makes bones about the fact that the plot still banks on romance, though not as heavily as did its predecessor. Even if Anna is absent for the most part of the story, Blake managed to make it as though she’s there all the time, her presence heavy and ominous.

Cas as a character hasn’t changed much. He still has that inner sarcasm factory inside him functioning every waking hour, his cynicism and superiority complex still his biggest features, and he still irks himself for being the miserable, lovelorn guy that he’s become. Despite all these, he’s surprisingly easy to like as a narrator. I think it’s because Blake made it so that his thought processes are bluntly honest and often hilarious. It’s not often that the readers are let into the mind of a character with zero walls to guard what other writers would rather keep behind closed doors.

I loved how in the few chunks of Anna moments near the end, she proved that she would not fit into the mold of princesses who needed someone else to save them. One character comments something to the effect of “You gotta act, we don’t need damsels-in-distress here.” Anna merely smirks and shows what she is really made of, fighting in the way she only knows how…after being burned, stabbed, broken, and exposed to several other kinds of torment.

The plot is thankfully not dual in nature like that of Anna Dressed in Blood. Be that as it may, I liked the subplots that branched out, including the realistic repercussions of Carmel being catapulted from the high school Queen Bee to a ghost-buster team tagalong, how Cas dealt with everybody thinking he’s a special case of emo kid gone mental, and how the secrets of the Order of the Biodag Dubh are revealed. I find the new characters enticing as well; Jestine is admittedly annoying in her first appearances, but I gradually grew fond of her. Oh, and I think I love Aunt Rikka and her gingersnaps (those who’ve read it would understand).

I guess what really took the cake are the author’s palpable descriptions. This is kind of hard to do when you’re speaking through the mouth of a boy who has no time for pretty words, but Blake pulled it off perfectly. She is able to deftly create what she wanted the readers to see and feel. She brings to life gory and bloody scenes, textures you’d shudder to feel, and scent you’d crinkle your nose at. Watch out for the scenes in the museum and the Suicide Forest. If you have an exceptionally overactive imagination, I don’t recommend reading the latter at night. There is a big possibility of robbed sleep.

The story was carefully paced; it’s not slow to a point that you’ll be get wrapped with ennui, but it’s also not fast that there’s no room for the other story elements to develop.
I became a tad emotional when I reached the part I consider the climax. And it’s not when they’re combating the Obeahman in Hell; it’s when Cas has to make the ultimate decision regarding Anna. He’ll consider it a wild goose chase if he’s selfish, but what I can say—love does unspeakable things to people. I wept a little at the end.

Girl of Nightmares is a wildly unforgettable romp about love that transcends death, of unselfish devotion in the most dire of consequences. Four stars for an amazing read.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Submarine

Title: Submarine
Author: Joe Dunthorne
Genre: Coming-of-age
My Rating: ★★★★ (3/5 stars)

01COVER

Precocious doesn’t begin to cover fifteen-year-old Welsh boy Oliver Tate, protagonist of this offbeat coming-of-age novel by Joe Dunthorne. But even with his booming IQ, Oliver isn’t exempted from toiling to trudge the dangerously rocky roads of adulthood. He naturally dons the confidence of a self-styled social scientist and arms himself with a cautiousness that being an explorer of an emotional landscape requires. With these in hand, plus a couple of printouts from various instructional websites, Oliver plummets into the adult world to complete two self-assigned missions: (1) get rid of the reasons ungluing his parents’ marriage and (2) discover what makes Jordana Bevan—his pretty (and pretty oddball) muse—tick.

In Submarine, Dunthorne takes us into one roller coaster of a ride that anyone who has passed (or is currently in) the transition of being callow to grownup would be familiar about. A mishmash of laugh-out-loud comedy, valuable introspections, and teenage inanities, Submarine is a true portrait of modern adolescence that isn’t easy to forget.

I’ll make no bones about it: I found out about Submarine through Arctic Monkeys vocalist, Alex Turner. It is his music that backdrops Richard Ayoade’s big screen adaptation of this novel. Sheer curiosity pushed me to search for what’s really behind the poetic subtleties of the songs “Piledriver Waltz,” “Stuck on the Puzzle,” “It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind,” and “Hiding Tonight.” And I want to find these out not from the movie but the original source material.

The book is a mixed bag for me. I quite liked its sharp crudeness, its unashamed hormone-driven absurdities, and its uncensored representations of things we prefer to keep behind closed doors. With that said, I did enjoy the all-access pass into Oliver’s mind. This is mainly roots from my penchant for believably bright heroes. His amusing quirkiness—akin to of many others I’ve read in other books—is a passport straight to my heart. But unlike other precocious protags, he managed to carve a special space in it for one reason: his intelligence is coupled by a funny kind of coldness. Dunthorne expertly conveys this to the readers as only superficial. Oliver scientifically speculates about and explores emotions of other people, but never does he do it to himself. His thought processes are basically robotic comedy, but the readers could see easily through him via his actions and offhand reactions.

Nonlinear narration is no problem with me. However, there are certain parts in the book that swerved off a little too far from the path that their cohesiveness is sacrificed. I understand that it’s a part of Oliver’s personality-tinged narration devices, but I thought Dunthorne could have a little more control on it. But yeah, perhaps it’s only a pet peeve.

The book is overall a crudely charming treat. With an array of literally new words (Oliver is practically a human dictionary and thesaurus), this romp in an angsty young adulthood is a remarkably twisted contribution to a gamut of formulated YA tales gracing our bookshelves nowadays.

Oh, and of course: it’s a love story too, but one that doesn’t even get near the cheesy side. That said, I’m going to end this review with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“She’s the only person I would allow to be shrunk to microscopic size and explore my body in a tiny submersible machine.”

Oh, so Oliver.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bookwormism Update!

newest purchase

I know what you're thinking. Yeah, I know I’ve  already got a towering heap of (I-promise-)to-read’s, but three more babies to join the family wouldn't hurt, right? I just can’t help but pick these up right away! :)

I’ve been hearing lots of good things about David Levithan’s newest book, Every Day, and its magnetic pull at me when I saw it in the book store is…so strong that there’s nothing to do but just relent. Haha! I hope it’s really worth the buy, the premise is refreshingly unique. As for Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I’ve been dying to read this ever since I finished watching the movie adaptation (needless to say, I’m still under Audrey Hepburn’s “Moon River” spell).  And of course, I finally got the Green-Johnson-Myracle anthology Let it Snow! I’m putting it right next to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares for my Christmas reads. :)

I’m currently reading Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood. The long weekend is a great time to catch up on my semi-abandoned book-friends. How about you? What are the books you just bought or the ones you’re devouring right now?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Like a Comet

LilaZacharov

“A girl like that…perfumes herself with ozone and metal filings. She wears trouble like a crown. If she ever falls in love, she’ll fall like a comet, burning the sky as she goes.

Girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless. They are always hungry. They are bad news. They will drink you down like a shot of whisky. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs. What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again."

-Cassel Sharpe on Lila Zacharov, Black Heart (Holly Black)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bookwormism Update: October-November Haul

Haul

OCTOBER-NOVEMBER HAUL. Here’s what I got from the Manila International Book Fair + some books I think I haven’t included in my previous hauls.
  • The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don Delillo. “Set in Greece, the Caribbean, Manhattan, a white-collar prison and outer space, these nine stories are a mesmerizing introduction to Don DeLillo’s iconic voice, from the rich, startling, jazz-infused rhythms of his early work to the spare, distilled, monastic language of the later stories.” (x)

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. “A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology.” (x)

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Because when everybody else is reading about a certain Christian Grey, I’d rather be reacquainting with Mr. Dorian Gray. :p “Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work.” (x)

  • Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. “What happens when a washed-up musician looks for another chance? And miles away, a restless, childless woman looks for a change? Juliet, Naked is a powerfully engrossing, humblingly humorous novel about music, love, loneliness, and the struggle to live up to one’s promise.” (x)

  • Submarine by Joe Dunthorne. CURRENTLY READING. “The dryly precocious, hero of this engagingly offbeat debut novel, Oliver Tate lives in the seaside town of Swansea, Wales. At once a self-styled social scientist, a spy in the baffling adult world surrounding him, and a budding, hormone-driven emotional explorer, Oliver is stealthily (and perhaps a bit more nervously than he’d ever admit) nosing his way forward through the murky and uniquely perilous waters of adolescence. His objectives? Uncovering the secrets behind his parents’ teetering marriage, unraveling the mystery that is his alluring and equally quirky classmate Jordana Bevan, and understanding where he fits in among the pansexuals, Zoroastrians, and other mystifying, fascinating beings in his orbit.” (x)

  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. “A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.” Gemma Doyle book 1. (x)

  • Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake. Sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood. “It’s been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can’t move on. His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they’re right, but in Cas’s eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.” (x)

  • Missed Connections by Sophie Blackall. “In her first book for adults, the artist Sophie Blackall creates a deeply felt, poignant book about love—a book that captures the mystery, the yearning, at times the cosmic humor behind the “what if?” of a missed connection.Like a message in a bottle, a “missed connection” classified (usually posted on a website) is an attempt however far-fetched, by one stranger to reach another on the strength of a remembered glance, smile, or blue hat.” (x)

Review: Black Heart

Title: Black Heart (Curse Workers book 3)
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Romance, Fantasy
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5/5 stars)

BlackHeart

Once upon a time, I mentally festooned Holly Black with the Goddess of Fictional World-Building sash when she gave me two tickets to her alternate universes, also known as the official receipts for my copies of White Cat and Red Glove. After finishing Black Heart, the third installment of this underrated trilogy, I figured I’ll have to give her a trophy now because she totally wrapped this series up nicely—and not just in the setting development part.

A brief peek for those who don’t know what this series is all about: Cassel Sharpe comes from a (dysfunctional) family of con artists and “workers,” or people who can control your emotions, dreams, luck, and memories, alter your physical condition, kill you, and even transform you into anyone or anything with just a touch of their fingertips. This is why ungloved hands are deemed as dangerous as unsheathed knives and why workers are commonly considered as criminals. Cassel, after many years of believing he’s the only non-worker in the family, finds out in the worst possible way that he’s the most powerful worker in his generation: he has the power of transformation.  White Cat and Red Glove revolve around Cassel’s once nondescript-turned-extraordinary life when it was peppered with problems involving his deceptive brothers, his ‘engineered’ memories, some murder mysteries, his love life, and his future. Black Heart deals mostly with the last two.

I have to confess, it took me a while to get myself to write a review for this book because it rendered me incoherent for a few days. First, because it’s the conclusion of one of my favorite trilogies out there—surely, you bookworms know how hard it is to say good bye to your beloved stories (Last Book Hangover, anyone?). Second, I initially can’t form a concrete verdict because the things I love about it and the things I’m disappointed with in it are trying to eclipse each other. And third, I keep rereading and rereading parts of it so I can resolve reason number 2.

When I finally broke it down, I think the best thing about this series is still the world-building. I’ve encountered stories whose authors try to establish lands of make-believe that end up too shabbily constructed that they appear cartoonish against the “serious” plots they accompany. Black’s is not like that. Her intelligent, multi-plotted story fits the world she crafted with utmost care. If she ever pens spin-offs set in the same universe, I’d gladly surrender my whole purse and piggy bank to immediately acquire copies of those.

Character-wise, Cassel’s growth seems barely noticeable, but it is there. I’m thinking his development has not been that obvious to me because there are moments I got a tad annoyed with him for being such a cheesy lovesick lad, so, my bad. Anyway, I think he’s still a good albeit unreliable narrator. I love how the readers have access to his mind but he still gets to keep the major stuff behind closed doors and reveal them for climax (this is attributable to Black’s storytelling prowess, which we’ll touch later). What I’m not so happy about is Lila’s character. I used to love this soon-to-be mob princess in the previous books—I even love Lila Zacharov in 13 Pieces!—but my hopes for a fully-developed feminine character were crushed. I was expecting her to be explosively powerful, not just an entity that was breathed into life with foundationless adoration. The other characters were molded fine, though I think they are not particularly memorable.

If I were to rank all the books in the trilogy based on the best plots, Black Heartwould come second, right next to White Cat. Black played the conman-turned-FBI agent angle very well, but whatever magic she put to focus on this, she didn’t apply it on the minor plotlines. Unresolved mysteries involving an important gem, clouded identities, half-baked new characters, and a seemingly misplaced storyline about blackmail are just some of the rough story fragments strewn throughout the book. Questions crop up upon the introduction of a new issue, but almost all of them remained unanswered till the end. The major plot’s still satisfying, though.

I guess aside from world-building, the other thing I liked the most about this is Black’s writing style. The way she writes in simple vocabulary contrasts brightly against the intricate twists she puts into the story’s major plot. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, I commend how she can deftly let us into a con artist’s mind—including most of his plans—but still manage to surprise us when the biggest secrets are finally unveiled.

Over all, I still think this is a very good read. :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Japanese ‘Old Kingdom’

SabrielAbhorsen

Two of the things I admire about Japan are their art and rich culture. It was during my high school days when I became fully immersed in these two: I found myself loving anime and manga, I delved into their mythologies (thanks to my Asian History classes), got myself interested in youkai’s and deities, and of course, got smitten with their quirky literature (Haruki Murakami).

So it was no surprise when I stumbled upon the cover arts of the Old Kingdom’s Japanese versions and instantly loved them. Above are Yumiko Ishibashi’s illustration for Sabriel and Abhorsen, featuring two of the main characters of the whole series. I adore how Ishibashi incorporated some Eastern elements into her depiction of the characters, especially in their garbs. The one showing Lirael faintly reminds me of some warrior from an ancient Japanese painting I saw years ago.

If for some reason the Japs decide to produce manga/graphic novel translations of this series, I’m giving all my money just to acquire it. :’)

“Schadenfreude”

I was still a Livejournal gal when I first encountered the word “Schadenfreude.” I came across the word in a box of drabble prompts, back when I was still actively churning out flash fictions for my fandoms. For some reason, there was relief when I found out there’s a term for this kind of thing:
Roz Cast Schadenfreude, n- a German word that refers to the pleasure derived from failure or misfortune of others.
As far as I can tell, it doesn’t take rocket science to know when some people are secretly happy when you fail—or even just when you make mistakes. It baffled me a lot. I mean, why? I don’t want to bill it as insecurity, or an odd reaction that rushes into some people’s system because it makes them feel better about themselves, but that’s all the conclusion I have.

Here’s the thing: no person has it all. No one's perfect. Like, I’m not perfect, and I don’t mind flaunting my flaws as if they’re hard-won trophies. Kind people throw me nods and cheers for the things I think I do well, and I’m extremely thankful for them. But if there’s one thing I can say I’m ridiculously proud of about myself, it’s that I don’t have this “schadenfreude” mentality. It is possible to be comfortable in one's skin. If I’m sorry for a person, I’m genuinely sorry for him—I don’t need to subscribe to some chameleon techniques when I’m actually stifling a secret mirth inside me.

This post is brought to you by utter disappointment (some people won’t stop giving it to you).

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Case of the Redhead Symphony Soldier

JOEYTHUNDER 
Joey Thunder, The Cab bassist

October has already stepped in but my throat is still practically sore from the two crazy nights I and a couple of my friends spent last month, squealing like rabid fangirls in the mall tours of alterna-pop/rock band The Cab. They were in the country originally to front for Maroon 5’s Overexposed tour concert, but they stayed for a few more days to do ‘free concerts’ in Ayala Malls.

Kit, Angel, and I knew early on that we’d be drowned with proofreading works when The Cab performs at Trinoma, so we decided to just watch them at Alabang Town Center (ATC)  the next day. Being the broke lassies we always are (lol), we weren’t able to enter the “pit” but still managed to squeeze ourselves against the barricades nearest the stage. It was one unforgettable night.

Admittedly, The Cab is not my favorite band—and they’re not really there up on the higher notches of my five-star ear-sweethearts. I won’t go on saying they are my least favorite, of course, because they are not. Why would I even come to their show? I enjoy a handful of their songs, and I happily bopped my head and sang my heart out when the group performed them (I and Angel agree that most of the tracks sound poppy and boy band-ish).

Allow me to use some space for a little bit of shallowness: I noticed Joey right off the bat because he’s ginger. Haha! I have this weird penchant for ginger musicians (they’re not in the same genre, but he’s currently sharing the throne with Tori Amos). After a little bit of Googling, I found out that he’s into arts, too; he draws, paints, and writes poetry. He's very family-oriented and transforms into a gooey pile of cheesiness when it comes to loved ones (guys who are not afraid to be like this rock!). Oh, and there’s a little bit of geek in him as well!

comicbooks

I can’t say he’s the best bassist I’ve ever listened too, but I can attest that he’s one musically talented dreamboat. :p I’ve seen him as a little restless beast onstage, head-banging, jumping around, and executing awkward dance steps all throughout the duration of the show.

Anyway, the show at ATC only lasted for about an hour and thirty minutes. Alex Marshall (keyboardist and guitarist) was one sweet guy, I realized. About halfway through the show, I was sing-screaming the lyrics so loud that he swiveled to look at our direction more than twice. He called one of the staff, handed the latter a guitar pick, and pointed at the still screaming me. The said staff maneuvered his way through the crowd and gave me the pick. :) I’d love it if Joey’s the one who gave it to me, but this is memorable enough!

Angel and I went again to their show at Glorietta, which is their last one—we managed to enter the fangirl pit this time because Angel got tickets from her cousin, who is working in Ayala Malls. I was rendered almost voiceless after that day, but it’s totally worth it because I saw Joey for two straight nights. :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Past Weeks’ Bookwormism & Dorkology

To say that my blogging has fallen off the wayside is an understatement. But even if work is doing a good job of robbing big chunks of my online time, I don’t let it interfere with my little bookworm-and-dork life. :)

Curse Workers Trilogy

In fact, I’ve just finished rereading the first two books in Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy. This set of gems is seriously underrated—the fandom needs to grow bigger! I personally think that Holly Black is YA literature’s goddess of world-building. Her version of America bears believable weights and dimensions that it felt almost real! I still love Barron Sharpe even if other CW readers want to immolate him. However, I think my inclination towards his character has tinges of a bookworm’s version of Stockholm Syndrome…if you know what I mean. :p

My jeepney rides to work and weekday insomniac hours are also known as my Black Heart time. The book’s good so far.

Dorothy

In other news: it’s the 20th anniversary of Repertory Philippines Children’s Theatre (RPCT)! As an offering, they’re staging The Wizard of Oz from August to December. I watched the show for GALA magazine. I can’t fully disclose my thoughts about this right now as I’m writing a review for our mag’s October issue, but I’d say it’s an explosion of colors and cuteness that made me feel like a kid all over again. Please do grab a copy when it’s out!

Anyway, I think I’ll write a separate rev for this (and for Eugene Domingo’s Bona which I also watched recently) after our October ish’s been released. :)

gouache

Check out the latest addition to my semi-abandoned art supplies! After watching The Wizard of Oz, I went home 500 pesos lighter...and with an 18-color Reeves gouache box set cradled in my bag. I know I shouldn’t have brought extra money with me, but I don’t really regret it. There are just some days when I feel like my last resort is the world of arts when I think of an ‘escape.’


Cheers and Ciao!
Airiz

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our life story.

book

“Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves.”

-Ann Fadiman

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

REVIEW: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Süskind
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Historical
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5/5 stars)

PERFUME1 PERFUME2 

Among the muck and moral filth of 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born with an abnormally strong sense of smell. He doesn’t have a scent of his own, but he is destined to be an olfactory genius. Grenouille bathes himself in the knowledge of the world’s aromas, but he grows dissatisfied and embarks on a new endeavor: to find the perfect scent. This undertaking, however, takes him down the wrong path, and he becomes one of the most prolific serial killers of all time.

After turning the last page of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I’ve come to the conclusion that Patrick Suskind himself is a magnificent perfumer, except that he has words instead of scents. Like Grenouille, he didn’t draw phrases from a florid lexicon in order to produce his best product; he just strung all the hideous truths he could find in his chosen setting and set them forth sans verbal sugarcoating. The piece, as a result, is all naked exquisiteness.

If gritty fairytales are your cup of tea and if you are not a happy-ever-after junkie, I think this novel is a perfect treat. Perfume is a dark fable with historical foundation. The fact that it’s hard not to be awed by how Grenouille crafts his masterpieces even if he is practically a monster is enough to send chills down your spine.  It’s one of those books that purposely place you in the limbo of indecisiveness about wanting to root for the “protagonist” or not.

Grenouille as a character is a hard nut to crack. Suskind grants readers all access to this psychopath’s mind, heart, and every aspect of his personality, but for some reason I still couldn’t consider him three-dimensional. I guess this is because Grenouille lacks the “realness” of being a human for he goes around like all the senses he needs are condensed in his nose. He sniffs and it’s as if he sees with it. He sniffs and he’s like he’s eaten with it. He sniffs and he feels with it…heck, he sniffs and orgasms with it. I know this is deliberate, but it kind of snitched a large chunk of his dimensionality. Be that as it may, he still emerges as a formidable entity that begs to be stamped indelibly in the readers’ minds. He wouldn’t have a problem with that.

I love how even if this is a seductively horrifying serial killer tale, it wraps up in a gloomy realization of one’s true identity not found, even tackling why it is important to be loved for who you really are in other to receive genuine happiness. The end is of course gruesome, but there’s a hint of sadness that lingers with it.

4.5 stars for a seductively chilling read.




Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Anna Dressed in Blood

The Saga That Must Not Be Named left many things in its wake, and I used to think that one of them is the holocaust of paranormal romance in literature. Every YA bookshelf I checked became so crammed with mediocre girl-meets-(insert monster here) stories. The novels’ backbones were offshoots of offshoots, and the overly enthusiastic blurbs plastered on their backs did nothing to my doubt meter but shoot it up one notch higher after another. Once, when the don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-synopsis adage got my conscience tingling, I actually tried reading one. It didn’t work out. If unfinished readings were akin to relationships with no closure, I knew I was the jerk for breaking it off…and I didn’t care. I realized a long time ago that a bookworm’s life is too short to be spent on terrible books.

But then came Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood. Even if I swore not to flip open any YA paranormal romance novel again, I made an exception and picked it up. There were very good rumors about this novel floating in my trusted bookwormverse, so I think, “why not?” Also, I know that my love for Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom-type necromancers—those who instead of reviving the dead are actually putting the revived dead back to rest—will get the better of me. No point in even trying to resist the urge once I saw the book’s premise.

Anna Dressed in Blood follows the story of sixteen-year-old Cas Lowood. After his father’s demise in the hands of a murderous ghost, Cas has inherited an unusual vocation: killing the dead with a mysterious athame. With an oath to avenge his father clutched to his heart, he travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat, dispatching the vicious ghosts they manage to keep up while following local lore and legends. Pesky things like the future and friends are kept at bay, though Cas has to put up friendly veneers to coax out the information he needs from other people.

Cas doesn’t expect anything out of his three-step routine—track, hunt, kill—when he arrives in a town where the ghost they call Anna Dressed in Blood resides. But he finds out that Anna is quite different from the other phantoms he encountered before. Sure, like ordinary ghosts we hear of in urban legends, she’s still wearing the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder—once white, now drenched red with blood.  But that’s where the similarities stop. More than anything, Anna is a cursed entity, and she has killed everyone who ever dared to step into her home…except Cas, for some reason.

Anna Dressed in Blood singlehandedly restored my belief that there is no holocaust for paranormal romance lit. It isn’t perfect by any means, but I enjoyed every bit of it. To be fair, it wasn’t the kind of book that zeroes in solely on romance; two-thirds of the whole thing exuded an ambiance that is full of more profession-related obsession rather than romantic ones. I became a little too fascinated with Cas’ love for death itself, which subtly took center stage in those parts. With his superiority complex, self-destructive antics, and an inner sarcasm factory working 24/7, Cas is definitely going to be added to my favorite snarky antiheroes roster. His narrating voice is fun to read, though there are a few parts that I think would be better if written from someone else’s perspective.

While I knew beforehand that it’s going to be a horror story with a dangerous ghost in the forefront, I was still caught off guard by how it turned out to be a blood fest and gore galore. Kendare Blake takes “detailed writing” to a whole new level when she describes the murders. I commend that, and also the fact that she’s not afraid to kill off characters in a blink of an eye. That seems to be a little problem with YA books lately, I came to find: writers are so in love with every character they make—regardless if they’re good or bad—that they just don’t have the guts to wipe them off via death.

Anna Korlov’s character starts off as intriguing, and I gradually grew fond of her. I may be a little biased, though; I have a penchant for cutesy characters with a berserker’s streak, and Anna just happens to fall into that category. She isn’t like any girl protagonist whose bad deeds are sugarcoated so they can still pass as the heroine. Anna is Anna—she may once have been innocent, but her hands are forever dirtied with the blood of everyone she’s killed. I yearned for more of her 'living human' time, but I still thought she's three-dimensional even in death.

The other characters are amazingly colorful too, although I think they need a little more fleshing out. Carmel comes off as a flat “Queen Bee” character, and Thomas doesn’t seem to have any remarkable role other than the Side Kick who offers deus ex machina more than once. To be quite honest, the other minor characters like Gideon and Mofran sound more interesting than them; I wish these good ol’ men have more screen time (or page time, whatever you prefer to call it).

The plot can keep you up at night—not because it’s the kind of story that can instantly make you retreat to your pillow-and-sheets fortress with a wish of a nightmare-free slumber, but because it’s too engrossing that if you don’t finish it in one reading, you’ll definitely think about what will happen next before you go to sleep. When romance finally bloomed in the story, it did so without so much cheese. And excuse me for fangirling but I have admit, I root for Cas and Ana!

My only issue with the plot is that it is actually dual in nature. Three fourths of the book was trained on Anna’s enigmatic story, and I liked its pace and the direction it is going. Needless to say, I was quite disoriented when the focus shifted on something that I know is important, albeit one that looks better as a subplot till the end of the book. I would have liked it better if it was addressed in the sequel, but Blake has another plan in mind. It wasn’t so much of a big deal, really, but I think the transition would be smoother if it was done that way.

All in all, I liked Anna Dressed in Blood so much. I have a skyscraper-high to-read pile on my bedside table, but no one can stop me from reuniting with Anna Korlov on my next pay day. I’m going to purchase its sequel, Girl of Nightmares

Monday, August 27, 2012

And I turned 21.

21st

I wasn’t at home when the clock chimed twelve on August 24th. I was at the office, proofreading the first draft of our magazine’s September issue—so different from the way I spent my previous birthdays. Well, this is it, I guess. My inner child would perhaps reside in me forever, but I’m 21 now. I’m officially an adult. :)

I won’t go into details like I usually do. I just want to say that the only things I wish for right now—aside from the one in that faux cake above—is good health and happiness. :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quotable Arts

High quality giclée prints of the following awesome arts are available at etsy. Distilling literary quotes from a handful of the masters down to a single graphic representation, Evan captures the raw concept of the sentence and makes it damn purty to look at as well.

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