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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5 6 










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  10 9

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vignettes from Last Week

Virginity

I unintentionally lost my alcoholic virginity exactly one week before my 21st birthday. My subscription to teetotalism wasn’t due to being overly health-conscious or anything like that—I just can’t get to change my taste buds’ dry response to any kind of alcohol. So that night, when my other officemates were downing glasses of wines and cocktails, I was just contented on nursing a glass of iced tea and munching on some chocolate-coated buns.

It was on our way home when one of my friends told me that those buns were actually chocolate tequilas.


Human Pillow

It was Saturday evening and I’d just finished book-shopping. With earphones stuck into my ears and four new novels in my bag, I happily hopped my way to the terminal where jeepneys going to R.Papa were waiting for passengers. Halfway on the ride home, I stopped in mid-head-bop when I felt someone’s head slowly leaning on my shoulder. My first instinct was to jerk away, but when I saw that this person beside me was actually a very tired-looking old woman in a maid’s uniform, I didn’t move an inch.

Even when I had more than an arm span of space to occupy on my other side, even when other people were throwing funny looks at us, even when we were the only passengers left on our side of seat, I stayed and remained her human pillow for the rest of the ride. I gently (and guiltily) woke her up when I reached my stop, hoping that her sleep-blurred eyes saw my slight smile before I got off.


Missed Connection

I blame it on Sophie Blackall and her book on “missed connections.” Okay, maybe it’s  not her fault at all. Perhaps it’s all because of those cyber message-in-the-bottle entries that I binged on one boring morning while admiring Blackall’s watercolor illustrations.

It happened on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I went to 7-Eleven to buy a couple of sachets of instant milk tea and packs of oat cookies. As always, I had my earphones on; I think my sister tinkered with my phone, because the player was uncharacteristically on shuffle mode. I let it play for a while till I get to the convenience store.

Then for the first time, Rivermaya’s “You’ll Be Safe Here” played. For the past few months I’ve only been listening to my pop-punk and indie playlists, and all of them contained music of foreign bands. A giggle that was oddly threatening to bubble out of my throat evaporated when I came in eye contact with a smiling guy, who was standing far in the middle of the store. I could tell he was tall, for I could see his whole face popping out from behind the stand of chocolates.

Fighting the sudden flurry of “missed connections” sceneries in my head (and failing), I silently cursed Rico Blanco’s singing voice and walked to the refrigerators. I told myself not to turn my head to the guy’s direction, but I was too stubborn to follow even my own thoughts. So I held my head up when I reached past the chocolate stand and saw the boy…with a girl animatedly talking beside him. Of course. I didn’t see the girl because she was short enough that the stand’s height would hide her whole body if seen from the direction of the door. I could have heard her talk, too, if it weren’t for the stupid music filling my eardrums.

I didn’t look at the boy again and just snatched what I needed, paid for them at the counter, and went home. I hate missed connections.


Add to the ‘Bucket’

I know what I’ll invest in on the next pay day: art materials. My drawing muses were alive again when I started studying illustrations of Sophie Blackall and Dallas Clayton last weekend. Both of them were amazing! My fangirling soon gave birth to a new bucket list item: illustrate a children’s book for my future kids. And write the story for it, too. :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bookwormism Update!

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New Baby: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. Hope it’s good and doesn’t turn out to be another Alice-is-just-dreaming tales out there. My other new babies are: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Missed Connections by Sophie Blackall, and Who’s Writing This by Daniel Halpern
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Full book reviews soon: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. Morbid much? I enjoyed both books! I know, I know, sorry for the extended delay! I’ve been very busy lately.
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Now (re)reading: White Cat by Holly Black. I feel like reacquainting with the first two books before I plunge to Black Heart. Yep, it’s Curse Workers trilogy marathon again. :p
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Next in line: Feed by Mira Grant. Depends on my fickleness, actually. I might pick up my dust bunny-accumulating copy of Steampunk!, who knows.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gaimaniac Alert: New ‘Smoke & Mirrors’!

“Broken” isn’t the right word to describe my wee fangirl alarm, were it a concrete thing. With the overwhelming flurry of alerts it receives in a short span of time, I think the best term would be “obliterated.” I couldn’t care less, though. And neither could Neil Gaiman—I think he’s even bent on melting every Gaimaniac into pools of excited mess, what with the amount of  literary news-bombs he’s launching lately.

A few weeks after announcing his new Sandman prequel mini-series in 2013, we heard that he’s also writing new books—one for adult (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), one for “really little kids” (Chu’s Day), and one for all ages (Fortunately, The Milk). Chu’s Day sounds a tad too cute; I heard it’s a picture book about a baby panda that keeps on sneezing. Perhaps I’ll buy it for my grand-niece. It’s never too early to introduce tots to good Brit authors! ;)

Check out what I saw on  Gaiman’s  Tumblr after some days of blog-hopping abstinence:

Smoke and Mirrors 1
Smoke and Mirrors 2

These are Dave McKean’s illustrations for the forthcoming Subterranean Press limited edition of Smoke & Mirrors, one of Gaiman’s earliest anthologies that I got engrossed with. The fact that there are going to be drawings for each freaking story is enough to make me shudder with sheer thrill. I need to have this! I’d love to see what McKean’s take would be on Troll Bridge, Murder Mysteries and Snow, Glass, and Apples.

What can I say? My Gaimaniac Disorder just went up another serious stage. I’m incurable and happy about it. :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pre-loved.

Preloved

Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Science Fiction, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★

DivergentPhoto by  cherylphang07

Disenchantment is not rare for dystopian lit fans these days. Every post-apocalyptic novel that pops up seems to have been inspired by the afterglow that The Hunger Games trilogy left in its wake, wrapped up poorly with a recycled premise and a promise of a new ride. It’s hard to find someone who writes like a true enchanter—someone who can still bring magic amidst the substandard hoi polloi of works under this genre.
Through her debut novel Divergent, Veronica Roth showed that she can rise as a very fine magician among groups of sub-par smoke-and-mirror artists, though not exactly one who can blind us with the swish of her word-wand.

Divergent is set in futuristic Chicago, where it is believed that the darkest demons residing in every human—selfishness, cowardice, ignorance, aggression, and dishonesty—have once driven the world to the brink of total destruction. A new society was thus born, systematically cleaved into five factions that cultivate a virtue opposing the one they believed to be the cause of society’s collapse: Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful), and Candor (the honest).

This is the kind of civilization sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior was born into. Belonging to an Abnegation family, she struggles to be a paragon of altruism and kindness, but knows deep inside that she doesn’t belong to her faction. The inconclusive results of her aptitude test reveals that she is one of the rarest part of the populace—a Divergent. Not knowing what this means and with her feelings growing more confused, she opts to abandon her old faction and transfer to another. Her choosing does require her to muster all her bravery, but she immediately realizes that she would need more supply of courage in trying to be an official member of her new faction…and, of course, attempting to know what being a Divergent entails.

When I read a summary of this novel somewhere, the thought that it’s just a mishmash of elements from Harry Potter (choosing factions=sorting into houses) and The Hunger Games (…ahem) got stuck in my mind. And it came off as really ridiculous to me. For one, I don’t think the structure of that new Chicagoan community is plausible. How can anyone divide the society into just five subsets and expect real, complex human beings to nurture/follow just one core value for the rest of their lives? I think it’s an eye-rollingly silly foundation, but I still moved on, thinking that I’d soon see what those people who enjoyed this book saw in it. And see I did.

Plunging into the story’s main point is easy and enjoyable once you get past the rather unconvincing elements. Divergent banks on a lot of action; if you’re a sucker for scenes that pack a punch, you’re in for an exciting ride. The novel does not sugarcoat anything. Violence is violence, death is death, and Roth writes them without so much as a flinch. While the book’s meat consists mainly of Beatrice’s (Tris’) lengthy initiation process to her new faction, it as well tackles a lot about friendship, family, love, and some societal issues. Not so much on the latter, though, which I think is strange for a book in this genre.

But more than anything, it’s about Tris’ growth as a character. Antiheroines are my type of my protagonists and she is a great example of one. She is a valiant Plain Jane with a spiteful streak; she tolerates being a piece stuck in the wrong puzzle that is her saint-like faction and admits to herself that she is selfish. She has her personal fears and insecurities but never does she run out of audacity when the situation demands it. She is human: she gets hurt, gets disappointed with others and herself, gets angry…and yes, gets trapped in the snares of young love.

Speaking of love, well, it is almost automatic that romance will be involved in books like this. Maybe because I’ve been rendered calloused by having encountered so many romantic subplots that didn’t work for me, I think I still need to warm up to the relationship between Tris and Four. I have a very little—in fandom-speak—“shipper-y” feeling for them, but it never quite bloomed even after I flipped the last page. But who knows? Insurgent might be able to do it to me.

Like wizard with a knack for using adrenaline-rich potions for action scenes and the most humane of spells for the creation of interesting characters, Roth has truly crafted a novel that could convince disenchanted fans to go back to reading dystopian literature again.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I miss writing…

Stories. I miss the feeling of being a young mother of the words of my own worlds. I miss the cry of a newborn plot in my head, an infant of fiction that I will cradle in my heart until it’s strong enough to stand on its own. I miss deciding if I will see this literary child as a boy or a girl—if the story will be masculine or feminine—but thinking that it doesn’t matter at all that much in the end.

I miss crafting characters that I will give this baby, not as dolls or marionettes but as people that she would grow up with. I miss grooming her with twists and turns, with conflicts within conflicts, and with climaxes and denouements. I miss seeing her grow up into a full story. I miss seeing her bloom.

I miss all the nights I used to spend weaving “clothes” for her—the right adjectives, the clever repartees, the right mixture of glam and grit that would make her more human. I miss all the days where I had little inner battles, whether I should braid her hair with ribbons of happy-ever-after’s or just let her tresses fall to her shoulders, open-ended.

And I miss that proud moment when I know she’s ready to be seen by the world, to be read.

I miss it. Everything about it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bookwormism Update!

It seems like my one-book-a-week plan is now inching into the “Goals that are No More” area of my mind, because new things that require my full attention keep on popping under my nose. But I won’t neglect my to-read babies, of course! I’d still find time to get through them. Stay tuned for my upcoming review for Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood!
 Parfum

In other news, Patrick Suskind’s the latest to join my Barrow Jane family! I wandered a bit in the bookstore after work, and I went home with an English copy of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. I’ll have to postpone reading The Maze Runner for a while (it’s a bad idea to read four straight dystopian YA books in a row, I tell you) and skip to either this one or the other anthology that’s been in my oldest stack for ages. We'll see! ;)

Happy reading! Cheers and ciao,
Airiz