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. :)