Tuesday, December 31, 2013

13 books that rocked my ‘13


Now that 2013 is tossing out its final ticks and tocks, I’m sure many bibliophiles out there are fondly looking back and picking out the books that made their year extra-special.

May I admit to a guilty conscience? Aside from being completely MIA online, I failed to give my bookscapades the size of slice they deserve on my time pie graph, as other things squeezed in and snagged spaces. (It’s that, or I’m just not good at time management at all. Could be the latter.) Be that as it may, my readings yielded a lit trove that still  includes the usual goodies: the unputdownables, the sensory overloaders, the page-by-page punchers,  the potential Nobel Peace Prize for Awesomeness winners, and the notorious ones that bring a promise of dried-out tear ducts, among others.

Well, tempus has fugited for my blabbering. Here's a baker’s dozen of my lit favorites, in no particular order:
  1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  2. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  3. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  4. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
  5. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  6. Dune by Frank Herbert*
  7. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz*
  8. Room by Emma Donoghue*
  9. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  10. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  11. Steampunk! by various authors
  12. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  13. How They Met & Other Stories by David Levithan
Check out my “best books” lists for the previous years:
*full reviews to follow

Adieu, 2013.

This year, I learned there are still so many things to learn.

This year, I learned to acknowledge the fact that holding on desperately to things that occupy a vast space of my heart isn’t necessarily good—at least not always. I learned there are some things you have to sacrifice for the time being, things you have to let go so you can face the other way…so you can take one step toward closer your coveted destination.

This year, I learned to embrace the truth about betrayal, how being in possession of its knowledge doesn’t really prepare you for the pain it accompanies when it finally stares down at your nose. I learned to let people in and let them go when they no longer want to be there; I learned to let people in and let them go when I no longer want them to be there.

This year, I learned to forgive more. This year, I learned to become stronger.


This year, I learned that friendship can be platinum-like and that it can be extremely brittle.  This year, I learned to take responsibilities for my actions before and after I do them. This year, I learned to be happier.
This year, I learned to be more patient.

This year, I learned—again and again—how no one can catch their dreams overnight, and if they do, it will only be a low-hanging fruit that can vanish in a blink of an eye. Achievements are more worth celebrating when you toiled for it, not when it’s handed to you like a cheap trophy you didn’t work for.

This year, I learned that not everyone will be happy about your little successes. I learned to laugh freely and think less of other people’s judgments, to shrug them off when they cast a dark cloud above my head. This year, I learned to filter the things that will build me up or break me down.

This year, I learned to appreciate little things more. I learned to embed good memories in my head and heart, to pull inspiration from them when I'm low on motivational fuel. I learned to rely on my loved ones' love for me, and I learned to let them rely on my love for them. I learned to treasure every moment I have with them.

This year, I learned that there’s so much to learn about learning.

This year, I learned, and I will continue to learn in the next.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: Neverwhere

Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: urban fantasy, science fiction
My Rating: ★★★★ (4.5)


Letting myself be ‘bitten by a radioactive Gaimanesque tale’ is probably one of the best things I did while exploring contemporary literature. Perhaps it did not transform me into some kind of a spandex-clad superheroine, but it gave me a peek into worlds of not-quite-dreams and not-quite-realities that made sci-fi and fantasy genres my cups of tea. These are worlds that only Neil Gaiman can bring to life. Once you get past their doorjambs, there’s no turning back. They are all damningly addictive.

Neverwhere, Gaiman’s first solo novel, is one of the bigger proofs that can easily justify his King of Fiction status in my personal lit hierarchy. It follows the story of young Brit everyman Richard Mayhew, whose life was turned upside down after helping a wounded girl on the sidewalk. He loses his fiancée, his job, his apartment, and nearly his mind. Suddenly it is as if he does not exist anymore—he has become semi-invisible, a non-person. He soon realizes that it is only this way with London Above. After he aided Door, the injured girl, he has unofficially linked his existence to London Below, a grittier and more dangerous parallel place to the one he has always known. In order to make sense of what is happening, he accompanies Door as she escape thungs on her trail, hoping that he can go back to his life in the end.

Neverwhere is an excellent amalgamation of almost all the essential elements a first-time Gaiman reader has to acquaint himself/herself with. There is the theme of ‘doors into alternate worlds’, angels, borrowings from other literary masterpieces that he tweaked into perfect molding with his story (Easter eggs from Lovecraftian tales are easily my favorite), and of course, magic. With his sterling prose, Gaiman blended and hooked these elements onto a fast-paced plot that is not just chockfull of adventures, but also of things you can pick up on a journey to self-discovery.

The ensemble of characters is wonderfully colorful. I liked Richard a lot, despite being a very nondescript antihero. Trying to untangle himself from the mess he got hurtled into by his Good Samaritan act, he is often stuck between being stubbornly reluctant and tremblingly terrified in assuming the role of a savior—a role he has to accept anyway, despite almost always filling the shoes of the guy-in-distress. It is worth noting though that in his unassuming eyes, he had just become some kind of a gender-bent version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale, desperate to go back home. He develops a quite understandable one-track mind. Before he can achieve his goal, however, he will have to face ordeals that will bring a lot of enlightenment about himself and life in general. 

The determined Door, the enigmatic Hunter, and the sassy Marquis de Carabas are intriguing characters that provide a stark contrast to the otherwise bland (albeit charming) protagonist. The plot leaves too many questions about them though, and I wish Gaiman will indeed go back and answer these or even expand this universe.

What I liked the most about this book is how Gaiman’s ace world-building made it seem like the two Londons have lived to become characters in the story as well.  Gaiman has once said that Neverwhere can be read concretely, but there is something about the whole ‘fraternal twin’ cities as he presented it that suggested heavily of satire. The busy London’s underbelly is often populated with those “who fell through the cracks in the world.” They can clamber back up, but if they are not completely ignored by the Aboveworlders, they will remain in their memories for no more than a moment. 

London Below residents are basically Rummage Sale Rejects on two feet; even the Lady Door, daughter of the prominent Lord Portico, is clad in an assortment of dirty colorful fabrics beneath an oversized leather coat. Based on their appearances, Under-wordlers are very possible representations of beggars, vagabonds, runaways, or even just those who lost their residences and jobs. Like in many major cities, losing either of the two is grounds for becoming a ‘non-person’ to other people, so to speak. Now, remember how Richard takes great notice and—does not forget—the wounded Door the first they meet? It thinks it is chiefly because only the kindest and most compassionate people are the ones who acknowledge or help these ‘Underworlders’.

As for the prose, what can I say? Gaiman does not dial down when it comes to showing his writing talent. Along with the characters, London Below came alive…a gritty, dangerous, and labyrinthine place where time and consequences roil differently from its counterpart. Replete with humor, action, and drama, the book is packed with stunning imagery (OH, and watch out for the torture scenes, for in the recesses of my post-nightmare memory a few nights ago I can see glimpses of the whole thing. It still disturbs me when I think about it.) 

The plot is admittedly sewn from standard tropes, but the execution is done exceptionally, capped with a Gaimanesque twist. The ending left many people disturbed or dissatisfied because it flips one substantial part of the book into what seems to be a wild goose chase, but I liked it a lot. The only things I am concerned about are the questions I mentioned above. 

4.5 stars for a very satisfying read!


PS: I'm deeply saddened to hear the news that a New Mexico high school has pulled out Neverwhere from its reading list because a parent complained it has graphic sexual content, or something along that line. I think the school's decision to pull out ('temporarily ban'?) the book is a knee-jerk reaction. From the news bits I've read Neverwhere has been on their curriculum since 2004, and there hasn't been a complaint ever since. Why relent easily to one mother's objections? Why pull out the book 

For the curious, click here to see the, um, "jumper-fumbling" scene. Honestly, the point of the whole thing is to underscore Richard's "invisibility" to them, and if the dear mom is having problems about the language  or the make-out scene itself she should try watching the shows her kid watches right now, or just spy on a bunch of high school kids to hear how they talk these days. *BIG SIGH*


Little Trip to Little Tokyo

Feeling the need to satiate our inner Japanophiles’ cravings, my friend Angel and I went on a Fridate food trip to a mini-district that earned a reputation for being a ‘palatable’ piece of Japan here in our country: Little Tokyo.


The restaurant village is easy to miss, as it was nestled meekly in the hustle-and-bustle of downtown Makati. Dwarfed by its neighboring buildings, it is only marked by red shrine gates or torii. But with the big buzz it causes in the Internet, it seems that adventurous gastronauts have no problems whatsoever in finding their way here to get a taste (or re-taste) of the distinctive Nippon cuisine it is famous for.

We arrived a little past 6:00PM; people are starting to pour in for dinner. The Zen gardens inside, softly lit by lamps and red lanterns, will make you feel like you are indeed in a little pocket of the Land of the Rising Sun. Most patrons are Japanese expats, too.

little tokyo

We first went to Izakaya Kikufuji, one of the bigger restaurants in the place. We only have a few hours to spend for a couple of reasons (one of which is, for me, having to wait for ages to get a cab or a bus as consequence to missing the train). Since we want to try at least two restaurants before we go, we only ordered something we can easily wolf down: fresh sashimi!

inside Kikufuji

Over this heavenly plate and mugs of deliciously brewed green tea, Angel and I shared stories and exchanged random comments about the place. She mostly let me “steal” as many fish slices as I want, as long as I will let her taste everything first. The  fresh and flavorful treat sent my taste buds to cloud nine one slice at a time.


We were not done with our meal when we began talking about our next trip to the place, preferably with more friends. Our order cost us about Php 900.

Before going to our next food stop, we dropped by Choto Shop (aptly named, since that was actually from choto matte—as in, ‘wait’ or ‘stop for a moment’. Even their logo is a rip-off of Mini Stop). Since neither of us can expertly read Japanese, we stick to products that have English labels, those that have pictures, or simply those that we easily recognize regardless of the language written on the package.


Being the budding tea evangelists that we are, we enthusiastically assaulted the tea rack and  chose a bunch we think we should try. We got ourselves two kinds each, promising to share what we have the next time we meet. I got myself a pack of plum-kelp or ume konbucha tea (my first taste of seaweed tea, which wasn’t really bad, though I think I’d like it more as broth instead); loose-leaf green tea; furikake; and three sticks of dango (dumplings), which we ate later in the night. Angel got herself a bunch of tea packs too, and some chocolates.

After that, we hurried to Hana restaurant, a small place you can spot easily since it has a takoyaki griddle outside its humble establishment. And indeed, it was a little “flower” in the place.



We sat at the bar and split our order of piping hot takoyaki, the taste of which shamed all my previous tastings of mall-stall takoyaki in my life. I mean, even the fish shavings were tasty enough to make me drool. It was savory inside and out, with all the sauces and mayo and the real octopus bits.  Priced at Php160, this is definitely worth going back for.

inside Hana

green tea kakigori

If you do drop by Hana, do not forget to try their kokiguri or flavored shaved ice. We chose the green tea-flavored one, and we could barely contain our foodgasm moments. I loved how the milky-matcha taste reaches even the finest ice shavings at the bottom of the bowl, unlike the pseudo-kokiguri I have tried before that lose their flavors halfway down their container. The red bean flavor at the top was an added treat, making their combination perfect (borrowing from someone: “Green tea and red beans is totally my OTP!”). I won’t hesitate to try this dessert again. It costs Php130.

It was past nine when we went out of Hana. Thinking there was still time to catch our respective rides home (I know the MRT closes at 10:00PM and there were shuttles still for Angel), we slumped on one of the stone benches inside the district, shared stories again, and munched on the dango we bought from Choto Shop.


The dumplings were quite tasty, but neither of us actually liked it. Angel repeatedly compared the sauce to tempura dip. As for me, my taste buds have no actual problem about it…it was my imagination that has.
I can eat seafood, poultry, meat, whatever…as long as the animal’s head is nowhere to be seen. Any part of the head—the eyeballs and the brains especially—is just an invitation for my previous meal to make a reappearance. Now, the dumplings look an awful lot like preserved eyeballs or something, and its gooeyness and saltiness (and the general quirkiness of Japanese culture) just didn’t help me. Oh, and I have my brain to thank for being helpful in dredging up splatter film scenes in my head. I triumphantly finished one stick, although not without letting out a hushed string of not-so-strong expletives. I know, I know, I would not even be fit for a mild Fear Factor audition.

Quite satisfied for the night, we went home with a promise to come back, perhaps at an earlier hour so we get to enjoy more of Little Tokyo. :)


PS: Bookworms who follow my blog, don’t worry, CICB has not magically transformed into a food blog. More book-geekery in the next posts!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A lifelong friend indeed.

book doodle

It’s been ages since I last doodled something book-related, and all I can give is a poorly scribbled one like this. Apologies! I’ve just been so busy lately with work and stuff, but I do hope you stick around. :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

‘Miss Peregrine’ news bits

The cover for Hollow City, sequel to Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, was revealed a couple of weeks ago by EW. Check it out:


I think it perfectly complements the cover of its predecessor, which features a levitating little girl, Olive (it is, in my opinion, a mixture of eerie and cute). Anyone else excited for the new set of strange, vintage snapshots in the book—and more of Jacob and peculiar kids’ adventures? :)

In other news, apparently they are releasing a graphic novel version of the first book. Click here for more info.

Monday, September 16, 2013

MIBF 2013 babies

Oh, books are definitely drugs. No argument could ever convince me otherwise. Based on my latest “inventory,” I’m in possession of over 150 unread novels among the countless books in our house’s shelves and pseudo-nooks. I know that’s criminally inappropriate, but it didn’t stop me from buying more books from the 34th Manila International Book Fair this weekend. I…just can’t help it. I’m a hopeless case, and I’ll shamelessly tell you I’m okay with it. :p

Anyway, here’s the stack that dismantled my carefully planned budget this month:

MIBF Stack - Copy

1.   Lit Riffs edited by Matthew Miele. Being a lover of music and literature, I just know this one will definitely strike a chord with me. The blurb at the back mentioned a story based on Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” and that sealed it for me. From Goodreads:
Following in the footsteps of the late great Lester Bangs—the most revered and irreverent of rock ‘n’ roll critic—twenty-four celebrated writers have penned stories inspired by great songs. Just as Bangs cast new light on a Rod Stewart classic with his story “Maggie May,” about a wholly unexpected connection between an impressionable young man and an aging, alcoholic hooker, the diverse, electrifying stories here use songs as a springboard for a form dubbed the lit riff.
2.   The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. It’s about time I start this 30-book series by one 0f the most respected British novelists!  Haha! I’ve only read one of his works, which is his pop collab with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. From Goodreads:
The Colour of Magic is Terry Pratchett’s maiden voyage through the bizarre land of Discworld. His entertaining and witty series has grown to more than 20 books, and this is where it all starts—with the tourist Twoflower and his hapless wizard guide, Rincewind (“All wizards get like that … it’s the quicksilver fumes. Rots their brains. Mushrooms, too.”). Pratchett spoofs fantasy clichés—and everything else he can think of—while marshalling a profusion of characters through a madcap adventure. (Blaise Selby)
3.   Dune by Frank Herbert. My recent reintroduction to the politically complex world of Gundam Wing—and my favorite desert-dwelling mecha pilot from there—made me curious about this Sci-fi classic. A fellow fanfic writer strongly recommends it. From Goodreads:
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
4.   Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’ve always wanted to acquire a physical copy of this book, except that the edition I kept on seeing wasn’t the one I liked (because yeah, I’m superficial like that when it comes to covers. Sorry not sorry.). From Goodreads:
Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.
5.   Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally. I chose between this and Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed. Picked this one because I've overheard two booknut-guys passionately discussing it. :p Also I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and since I refuse to touch history books right now, I’m going for this. From Goodreads:
Schindler’s List is a remarkable work of fiction based on the true story of German industrialist and war profiteer, Oskar Schindler, who, confronted with the horror of the extermination camps, gambled his life and fortune to rescue 1,300 Jews from the gas chambers.
6.   It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. It seems like everybody has watched the movie version except me, and that must be rectified. And I refuse to watch the flick adaptation before reading the source material first, so here it is.  From Goodreads:
Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job—Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does.  That’s when things start to get crazy.
7.   The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. I’m a big fan of novels touching the topic of “possibilities” using science fiction. I picked this up on a whim because the premise snagged me readily. From Goodreads:
After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well?
8.   The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Five novels in one volume--and for the price of one! Seriously, this is my jackpot purchase. I’ve bought just the first book in the series and it has the same price as this dear tome. From Goodreads:
Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author: Arthur Golden
Genre: historical fiction, drama, romance
My Rating:


Have you ever wondered what a book’s words would taste like if they were food? I think Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore would appeal to the tongue like a cup of tea, one so exotic it would convert you into a caffeine evangelist overnight. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief would be a stolen candy, a blob of heaven in your mouth that you wish would never dissolve—but it would, and after it’s gone you know you’ll be willing to steal again and again. I imagine the flavor of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things to be of an omelette from the eggs of a dream-eating dragon (if only, you know, such an exotic creature exists.).

I had a conversation like this with a fellow bookworm not so long ago. I remembered him telling me about the “oral” appeal mostly of literature I still haven’t read yet. One of the books he mentioned is Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. He described the whole thing as butter-like, as if the words would melt into your mind’s tongue while you’re reading it (non-verbatim, but you get the idea). I realized what he meant when I started reading the book myself.

Memoirs of a Geisha follows the story of Sayuri as she journeys from being an impoverished village kid to being one of the most popular geisha in Japan. She was born as Chiyo, a carefree girl from Yoroido. She was sold into an okiya in Gion and there she starts treading her way into Geisha-hood—which is, of course, littered with heavy obstacles.

It is no secret that Memoirs attracted huge controversies. There were issues about a certain breach of contract and a handful of inconsistencies that brought culture-related uproars, which just augmented after the release of its movie adaptation. These were not enough to make me jump into the bandwagon at that time, though. (I was always like, “I don’t need this now, my cranium’s near to bursting with all the Jap stuff from our Asian history class!”) Now I am realizing what I was missing in all those years.

The story was told by Sayuri as an old woman, recounting the past starting from a day that is “both the best and the worst in her life.” I like how Golden made it so that the adult speaker did not sound so invasive in the story of her younger self. Think of what most grandmas will sound like if they will sit back in their rocking chairs while imparting anecdotes of their folly as a youth, minus perhaps a big chunk of humor.

Golden’s descriptions are a joy to read. This is where I saw—or tasted, rather—the “butter-like” flavor of the book that my bookworm friend is talking about. The writing style is smooth. With its chosen POV you will be made aware that you are receiving the fictional story secondhand, but Golden’s style has given the readers a free pass to the past. You will be transported to another time and place, as if you are witnessing the events yourself.

That said, I am amazed by how deftly Golden weaved his words together. He took care especially when describing the various kimonos worn in the tale. They are spoken with the kind of awe only a poor girl would have after seeing the most beautiful dress in her life for the first time. However, I think it will work once or twice only; expressing everything in detail and with the same awed delight for the rest of the story is a little overwhelming. Golden’s writing seems butter-like most of the time, true, but that does not mean chunks of bread in it will be bad. ;)

My love for well-written bildungsroman is the main reason why I kept coming back to YA lit. Though not YA, Memoirs presented a rather…unusual coming-of-age tale in its first half. It is very interesting. Golden’s treatment of Chiyo’s slow blossoming reads a lot different from the western COA stories I’ve encountered before, and I liked it. I guess the history-based grit, which is spread throughout the novel, gives it an edge different from that of its peers.

Character-wise, Chiyo/Sayuri is the only I can consider decently molded, although there are a few times when I think Golden is falling short of the mark of effectively speaking with a female voice. I’ll even admit Chiyo/Sayuri is sometimes Mary Sue-ish. The others never seemed to have progressed past the second stage of their dimensional development. Potential runners-up: Hatsumomo, the only geisha in the okiya when Chiyo arrived, is an intriguing catalyst in the latter’s growth…even if that mostly meant she implicated a Cinderella-like syndrome to the girl’s tale. I am largely interested in the character of Pumpkin too, another geisha-in-training and in effect another “Cinderella” in the okiya, except that she was not as fortunate as Chiyo/Sayuri. I wished she was given more character weight instead of just being portrayed like a caricature for the majority of the story. I can see her as the most human if given substantial attention.

The male characters were not very remarkable, except maybe for the disfigured Nobu. The others gained no flesh and had nothing in them that could hook me. Chiyo/Sayuri developed a bizarre kind of love with one of these men, and personally, I wished she had just seen someone else—something else—that would fuel her to achieve greatness. As a reader, I think it was strange to feel nothing for the very person the main character holds in high regard, the very man that gave the narrator a spark of hope that she held onto through life. Knowing at the end that you didn’t particularly care for more than half of the character ensemble was a tad saddening revelation.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a gritty un-fairytale from the orient that wraps up rather bittersweetly. It has a handful of glaring flaws, but despite those I can say I genuinely enjoyed it. Perhaps I will pick up a couple of books about Geisha and pre-World War II Japan to check on the controversial inconsistencies, but I do not think they will change my mind about what I think of this book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Courage beyond words: “The Book Thief”

November 15—I could almost hear it like an approaching herd of mad bulls. After the recent release of official stills from the movie adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, dialing down my booknut-excitement is almost impossible. And just when thought I was calming down a little, look at what they released:

Liesl Meminger

GOOD GOD!  Aside from the fact that Liesl looks a tiny tad older here, I can almost visualize the book popping out in faithful big-screen goodness. My heart imploded a bit when I saw this on my Tumblr dashboard. It’s the first time I felt as if I don’t care if the adaptation will be good or bad—it’s like I just want to see everything on screen, to see it alive in another medium. And I hope that this movie will be a way for more people to discover the treasure that is this book. Everyone should read it.

“She’s many things, that girl,” says Markus Zusak of this poster, “but to me, right now—she looks ready.”

And that doesn’t end there. They have also released the full official trailer!

I have no more words for this. I can just sit back here and pray for November to come faster. Haven’t read the book yet? Rectify that now. :)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Here we go again: Detour 22

Sorry for being a negligent little blogger! This was supposed to be posted months ago. (Also sorry for automatically pulling off this apology template whenever I break my frequent hiatuses and then force you to look back. I sound like a poor parakeet.) Anyway, this one’s for my birthday, August 24. We only had a simple celebration with my family. Instead of posting photos, I thought about just putting up a simple doodle:

22ndbirthday - Copy
Birthday Wishes
Time breezes by so fast—it seems like only yesterday when I turned 21. Right now, all I can ask for is everything in the above speech balloon(s)… and maybe a little bit of guidance from the Big Guy Upstairs. Quarter life crisis isn’t so much of a fun romp. Haha.

Be that as it may, I can say I’m happy right now. Perhaps not always, and not overly, completely-without-problems, all-is-right-in-freaking-the-world happy, but happy just the same. There are days when I want to just break down, but when I look at the bright side of  things, I can feel a genuine spark of gladness in my heart. Perhaps all I need to do is nurture it with hope and faith. :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

View from a thinking playpen: Dorothy Catalonia

Cross-posted from my Gundam Wing/fandom tumblr: In which I blather more about her character and her Machiavellian chess games in the Eve Wars

Dorothy Catalonia

Dorothy Catalonia. If some people didn’t categorize her readily as a nutcase that popped in the middle of Gundam Wing for perhaps no other reason than to add a bit of color to the plot, they viewed her either as a poor excuse for a Relena Peacecraft antithesis or an obnoxious extra.

Once upon a time I thought the creators didn’t pay Dorothy any substantial attention, which might explain her lack of growth and dimensional weight as a character. I was constantly wondering why they’d let her open up so late in the series—it’s almost like it dawned on them that the audience will consider her presence a hairsbreadth away from being a total waste of space if they will not give her “war hobbies” at least an inch of depth. So they did, even if it’s on the penultimate episode (Ep.48: Take Off into Confusion).

One rewatch later, when I’m old enough to understand things in the show, I realized that the creators didn’t really write her off as an insignificant minor character.

For one, she was responsible for moving big pawns in AC 195’s one chess game of a war. She’s the whisper in Duke Dermail’s ear about leading the space forces and leaving Romafeller open to Relena’s voice. She somehow had a hand in Relena reign as a Queen and the subsequent birth of a unified world nation. But more importantly to her—important as in a deeply personal level—it was her suggestion that killed her grandfather in space. 

Now, Dorothy might be a vastly manipulative force with Romafeller blood in her veins, but she’s still a girl. Remember her terrified expression before she replaced it with a smirk. She’s good at putting up a tough face to the world since her father died (at least that’s what we can construe from her sparring with Quatre). Losing another father figure, this time because of her own Machiavellian schemes, must have made her crumble a little more inside. But with everything throwing itself at a chaos at that time, Dorothy would have no time to allot for grieving.

Then we see her siding with White Fang—being in the thick of things, not only getting on the front seat but hopping onstage as well. She had somehow involved herself in this war anyway, why not go all the way? But everything she planned went awry. Her mobile doll assault against the gundams was thwarted, Treize Khushrenada died, and—surprise, surprise!—she didn’t die. I’ve always thought she’d chosen the broken battleship Libra as her grave (see this pseudo-meta).

She’s a survivor. Aside from Milliardo, she’s one of the few people who held the “battle that would end all battles” belief who lived through the Eve Wars. Many people didn’t know Milliardo was actually alive. Wouldn’t it be a bit harder for her than anyone else there? Pondering about all the things she’d lost and in the end being proved a loser? You’d think that would be enough for her to just to decide to give it all up. To die.
But she’s there in episode 49. “I’m tired of living in the past,” she says in front of Milliardo’s and Treize’s graves. If there’s a major lesson Gundam Wing taught me as a kid, it’s that sometimes, being a survivor is equivalent to having to fight a longer, harder battle—the one in your head, the one in your memories. The true victors are those who chose not to be defeated by the ghosts of their past. Along with the others who started anew, Dorothy emerged and continued to live.

Oh, and it doesn’t end there. Dorothy appeared in Endless Waltz too. She’s her usual self, but this time she’s using her tactics to goad the people to go against Mariemaia in the most peaceful way they can. If she wasn’t there to provoke the mob, it would have ended a bit differently, more violently. 

I kind of loathe to know that her growth—as a character and as an individual—happened off-screen…but then again, there are massive chunks of important stuff the creators couldn’t cram into the animated medium, so I guess their little hints through Dorothy’s short scenes are enough. :)

Um, let’s not talk about Frozen Teardrop, okay? She has become the President of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation there, but I refuse to talk about it. JUST NO.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: How They Met & Other Stories

Author: David Levithan
Genre: Young adult, romance, LGBTQ
My Rating: ★★★★(3.5/5 stars)

how they met

Love stories has the wrong feel to it,” David Levithan says, describing the tales he stacks together in a 2009 anthology. “I prefer stories about love.”

You can say lots of things about Levithan, but you cannot deny he has quite an understanding of the L-word. I have read enough of his books to know that he enjoys re-exploring the wonders of teenage romance, of feelings that bloom for the first time, and of how a young heart becomes an adept recipient of happiness and pain.

How They Met and Other Stories is a good receptacle of this understanding, which the author breaks into bits and pieces that we can devour in one sitting.

Admittedly, the anthology contains tales that are so reminiscent of Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, and even his collab works Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohn) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green) that I was struck with a peculiar kind of nostalgia when I finished it. I liked the aforementioned novels. After reading How They Met, however, I came to a realization that my favorite Levithan books—as reflected from my favorite stories here—are those that swerve from his usual recipe.

These favorites, Every Day and The Lover’s Dictionary, are for me his most mature books to date. They toy with romance and love too, but Levithan’s changed approach contain more than the ability to give the readers a tingle of bliss from fictional first love or the twinge of pain from losing it. Every Day zeroes in on the how true love sees no gender (in more ways than one), the nature of good and evil in a person, and how a rotten society can downright denounce something that it cannot seem to understand. The Lover’s Dictionary holds the power of seducing readers into squinting between the lines…and even at the lines that came after the last word of each pseudo-lexicon entry.

How They Met and Other Stories is obviously more of a brother of the others. The stories touch on romantic (straight, gay) relationships as well as parent-child and sibling relationships. There are sweet ones, tragic ones, crass ones. Of the eighteen stories, I most certainly enjoyed How They Met, a series of flash fiction that tells how the narrator’s grandparents crossed paths; Princes, a story of a Jewish guy-dancer and how his younger brother stood up for him so the latter can stand for himself; and the one I think is the shiniest gem, The Number of People Who Meet on Airplanes. I became so in love with this piece I am more than willing to read a novel-length version of it! It follows the story of a couple which turns out to be one of the “products” of the plane seat-matchmaking of a man at the ticket counter. It is in this story that Levithan altered his writing slant slightly. It was devoid of teenage-y angst, confusion, and sometimes too cloying sweetness. The theme of soulmates, destinies, and if humans have a say on where fate would lead them are touched in a most memorable way, too.

The compilation as a whole is akin to a box of hard confection with a wide range of emotions as its flavored fillings. Mostly you will get sweet, but there are bittersweet too, and even some that cannot seem to decide which of the heart’s taste bud it would like to trigger more (I meant this in a good way!). Levithan recognizes the power of his craft and uses it as best as he could. However, if it were not for the abovementioned stories, I think How They Met would only seem a footprint of his other stories I have loved in the past.

3.5 stars for a good read!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bookworm paradise.

Well, all I can say is that Jorge Luis Borges must be so happy where he is right now.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: Reboot

Author: Amy Tintera
Genre: Young adult, dystopia, science fiction, romance
My Rating: ★★★★(3.5/5 stars)


In the remains of what used to be Texas, a strange respiratory virus called KDH has decimated the global population. Survivors have to be careful so they separated themselves into the rich cities and the poor slums, the healthy and the sick. But the virus chooses no social strata—some people from the “rico” still acquire the virus and die. The Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation (HARC) tries to get the situation under control by minimizing subsequent KDH outbreaks through quarantining the ill and protecting the survivors. What the HARC is more known for, however, is training the Reboots.

The Reboots are what you may call this dystopia’s version of zombies, except that they do not mindlessly shamble in hordes or are in possession of disintegrating bones and flesh. They are faster, stronger, able to heal, and less emotional versions of what they were in their previous life. They are what the KDH-infected young folks—or later on, just young folks—will become after they kick the bucket and come back to life. The HARC trains them to be perfect soldiers of a task force aiming to eliminate criminals and the sick.
It is said that the more minutes a human is dead, the stronger he becomes when he reboots. Our teenage protagonist Wren Connolly wakes up one hundred seventy-eight minutes after she took three bullets to the chest. This makes her the deadliest Reboot the HARC currently has in their arsenal. There is almost no trace of human left in her…or so she thinks.

Callum, her newest trainee, is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. He jolts back to life after only twenty-two minutes, making him still practically human and unfit to be a HARC soldier. His sunny disposition colored Wren intrigued: he jokes, he smiles, he questions things. And when the Under-60 (minutes) reboots, including her best friend Ever, start to act like violent animals, Wren suspects that there is something terribly amiss. For the first time in five years since she rebooted, Wren starts questioning things—both inside and outside of herself.

There is something about the continuous waves of YA dystopia in our shelves that makes me stop in my tracks and turn to another section of the bookstore. I know comparison is not always a good thing, but whenever I pick up a YA novel with a post-apocalyptic theme, I cannot help but see traces of a downgraded The Hunger Games in it. I grew tired easily and chose to bury my nose in other genres.
I was in the general science fiction section when I stumbled upon a copy of Reboot. Despite its synopses that make no effort in covering up the fact that it’s chock-full of YA tropes, the premise snagged my attention. I thought to myself, “Hey, it’s been a while since I last read a post-apocalyptic zombie story. This one sounds zombie-esque in a very interesting way. Might as well give it a try.” I didn’t regret it.

I will not make it sound like Reboot is different from its shelf-brethrens, because it is not. The book has the main ingredients of a regular dystopia novel we have nowadays: the badass heroine, the sweet love interest to coax out her softer side, an authority that supposedly keeps everything in order, a “glitch” in the system that the heroine sees through, and the first dashes of rebellion. It’s all in there. But what made me give this book four stars is how it seems to separate itself from its genre-mates that are obviously too in love with their respective concepts. Reboot is instead in love with the story it shelters; the author took time in setting the inter- and intrapersonal conflicts aflame, in giving it the right pacing speed (break-neck in the right scenes, slowing down in others to make room for character development), and in the gradual fleshing out of the characters.

Speaking of character development, I liked how Wren grows as a character. However, I would like to see her evolve more as an individual. Perhaps the sequel could rectify that, but I wish the author saw the development’s completion in this novel’s 365 pages. On the other hand, Callum’s character is an easy winner of a reader’s heart. People would think he’s there only to catalyze Wren’s development, but I think he stands well as a separate individual. Being stuck somewhere between being a human and being a reboot, I am totally curious to see his take on things; I even think it would be better if the story is told from his point of view. I think the dynamics between Callum and Wren is somewhat reminiscent of Peeta and Katniss’, except that Wren has broken up faster and embraced her emotions back.

I wish Ever was in the spotlight. For some reason I think the “friendship” thing that Wren and Ever have could have contributed a lot to our dear narrator’s growth as a very human (pun intended!) character.
Anyway, my only real gripe concerns world-building, which I am a big fan of. The characters that populate the setting were being tended by the author as well as she could, but I cannot say the same for the setting itself. The readers are given a quick view of what Texas has become, and sometimes there is a glimpse into the world of HARC. But whatever was served for the readers was extremely limited; I did not feel like I was transported in the interesting-sounding world Tintera has created. I am attributing this to the fact that we are learning everything from the POV of Wren, who has been under the HARC for five years.

Lots of questions popped in my head: why do the reboots continue on as if they are still alive—growing and aging instead of rotting like zombies or getting trapped in the bodies they have when they died? Why did the HARC hire human guards when they know the Reboots they are guarding are stronger than them? How does the HARC monitor all teen/youth deaths to the last details, especially the number of minutes they were dead? I hope these, along with the world-building issue, would be resolved in the sequel.

3.5 for a good read.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

‘The Book Thief’ movie: a first look

Ladies and gentlemen, our Soup for the Day is: tears of happy heartache with a dash of inexplicable excitement. This recipe is brought to you by the first images from the movie adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief…and the announcement that it will be released November 15 of this year!

Seriously. Only a few hours ago, the only page-to-screen flick I’m extra-thrilled to see this coming November is Catching Fire. I’m aware that a movie is being produced for the Zusak bestseller, but I didn’t know they’ll be releasing it this soon. I can’t wait!

Here are the TBT stills circulating the Tumblrverse as we speak:

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The main character,  Liesl Meminger, will be played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse. “It was quite uncanny, this kid. I was taken right away,” says Director Brian Percival. “It was this mixture of naive innocence but at the same time she’s actually quite ballsy. You feel that you can get kneed in the groin at any point.”

Perhaps my favorite among the six that came out, the still above shows Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) wrapping his foster kid Liesl in a light embrace. Just looking at it makes me feel warm and fuzzy—and perhaps a tad teary—inside. It's been a couple of years since I last read The Book Thief, and seeing this image sort of magnified the most heart-melting scenes I can remember from there. Ah, war-torn Himmel Street. I miss you and your earthly angels.

And this one? Please don’t even start. Rudy Steiner crushed my heart.

Here Liesl looks over as Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer), the Jew the Hubermanns are keeping in their home, sleeps soundly. The relationship between these characters is perhaps the most intriguing in the novel. Hopefully, that same “pulling” factor will be translated well on screen. I loved Max to bits: he was a fragment of a boy who once had the stupid gallantry to face death, changed over time to a man whose strength now lies in words and fiction. A really good counterpart to Liesl, since both their lives were saved by the power of words. I'm looking forward to The Standover Man and his other stories!

More photos:



I wonder how the movie will approach the Death-is-narrator slant. It's something I’ve always mused about when I heard they’re making a film off this. I’m guessing they will only use voice-over for Death, but they can always keep an actor behind closed doors to play the role. We’ll see. :)

Click here for more info.


Her soul slipped into a spacesuit of patched-up hopes.
She looked into the vacuum and muttered,
"If light-years can be measured in teacups,
I'd be drinking my way up into the stars."
But her dreams are nebulae, or even galaxies, away
and no amount of caffeine can bring her there.

Her heart nestled in a bed of sewn-together prayers.
She closed her eyes and whispered,
"If light-years can be measured in keystrokes,
I'd be writing my way up into the stars."
But Words, no matter how strong,
may need more fuel from her to bring her there.

Her tears were kept nowhere; they clouded her eyes.
She blinked them away and said,
"If light-years can be measured in saltwater,
would the nights I spent crying not be enough?"
The Universe went on spinning,
trying to ignore her despair.

Perhaps light-years can be measured
in how wide you can stretch
your heart's threshold for pain;
in how many lash beatings
your soul can take
or in how many buckets of tears
you can keep at bay.

She knows she doesn’t know.
She’s more than a sightless Spacewalker
but the starshine from faraway, perhaps, is enough
for her to walk blindly, for a while.

- © Airiz Casta, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review: Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young adult, romance
My Rating: ★★★★(3.5/5 stars)


A tale of two misfits filling each other's gaps, like shards of a broken trinket that would form a unique piece when they collide. Clichéd as it may be, this Symposium-ish love is what I am a terrible sucker for, especially when it is served with a hefty measure of bittersweetness.

I figured this is what Eleanor & Park is all about when I got myself a copy. The first time I heard of it, there was a clang of jackpot combination in my mental slot machine: misfits, heartbreak, music, and general geekery. Basically all elements I've always enjoyed reading about. A little bit of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist popped in my head, but for some weird reason I hope the book would trudge along the same roads as The Solitude of Prime Numbers. It was totally...an Airiz-magnet. I cannot think of a reason not to pick it up.

The story: Eleanor is the new girl in school. Clumsy, overweight, and in possession of one wild bird's nest of red curls, everybody sees the Bully Bull's Eye target on her back the moment she steps on the bus. Park is the "weird Asian boy" who keeps to himself and is the only one who (stingily) offers Eleanor a seat, just to cut off their classmates' antics. In the succeeding mornings—with douses of good music and heaps of comic books—the six-inch space between them depletes and finally disappears, giving birth to young love.

Many readers seemed to have cried over portions of this book. So while reading, I was continuously bracing myself for a blow that would send me weeping. It did not come. There was no big disappointment, however. The book felt a lot lighter than I expected, except that it was not the sort you would think of if you want a feel-good beach read. It carries a gritty heaviness with it—palpable but not overly obtrusive to the tale's lithe nature, affecting but not so much it could weigh your emotions down to notches of near-depression. I actually think this is a good blend.

I liked how Rainbow Rowell built up the characters. She let the readers see Eleanor’s and Park’s insecurities, fantasies, and darkest secrets—even those thoughts that do not make such sense but enter our craniums anyway—in details that I can only describe as sincere. She efficiently illustrated how these teens shaped themselves around the changes when they became involved with each other’s worlds. I think the development was a little slow but noticeable.

The book is divided into parts alternately focusing on the two main characters, labeled with their names. Sometimes a part only contains four words, sometimes more than six pages. Regardless of their length, Rowell showed off her way with words in them. I like the powerful ones: “He’d stopped trying to bring her back…she only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down déjà vu.”
There are hilarious ones, deep ones, sad ones, and ultra-foulmouthed ones. But my favorite are the subtlest ones, when the author dials down to her simplest descriptions. I like how Rowell dropped delicate hints about the blooming relationship of the characters. For instance:

Park was just her height, but he seemed taller.

Eleanor’s eyelashes were the same color as her freckles.

They do not say much, providing no space for sappiness; they were pretty much just observations. Still, I think they are a nice real-life-like hint. Ever realized we only notice small details about someone when we are growing closer to that person? Not just in a romantic way, either. And then look at these:

The first time he’d held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt.

Eleanor’s hair caught fire at dawn. Her eyes were dark and shining, and his arms were sure of her. The first time he touched her hand, he’d known.

Just a few words, but you could tell how far they have gone from the first “parts” I wrote there. Just a few words, but you know they contain so much.

Plot-wise, it is easy to see that Eleanor & Park is not a new story…and the author knows it. The book itself knows it. The tale is like a person who knows who she is and does not bother trying to be somebody else. Its intention is not to send out the message through megaphones of tragedies, unrequited romance, or happy-ever-afters. It just...is. The book is simply a reminder. It wants to remind the readers that love comes in a hurt-and-bliss package; that it takes more than just three words to make it work; and that sometimes, when the universe tells us it will not work at all, we can be willing to turn against it and prove it wrong.

I make no secrets about being always on the prowl for something new, and it was books like this that remind me there is no need for absurd gimmicks for a story to stand out. A wonderful irony presents itself in the character of Eleanor, whose weirdness snags a lot of unwanted attention. Zero in on that and you will see that the book’s individuality seems to be embedded in her character, too: she is what she is, and she will not change herself to appease the prying world. And in doing just that, she grabbed the interest of Park the same way this book brings out admiration from readers who unwittingly searchers for the treasure in this “ordinary” piece of lit.

I liked Eleanor & Park a lot, but I cannot consider it one of the bests out there. Not that it was trying to be. 3.5 stars for a good read!

(Not-so-important PS: I wish music was involved in a deeper way, and not just in a “she would definitely love this” way. There was so much a mixtape or a record could do.)

Just a phone call away

This is probably one of the only few things I and Holden Caulfield will agree on, 100%.  Anybody else missing The Catcher in the Rye?


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Penny for your thoughts (v.01)

Just when you thought you’ve passed the threshold of being an emotional train wreck when you left teenagedom, that you’ve shaken off being a problem-magnet from your system, that you’re off to a new start and can master to not falter from there…you feel that sob threatening to break out of your throat.

And it’s all right. Crying is all right.

Just believe that as long as you clutch tightly onto your stars, you have a lighthouse in your heart. You will not be lost. Let the tears flow; they are liquid punctuations in the history of your journey. They are necessary in this story. When they dry, look up and expect.

Expect more humps in the road. Expect rains. Expect changes. Expect hard punches. Expect mouths that will speak of judgments wrapped in pretty words when all you want are ears that will listen. Expect people to watch out for your mistakes, to chalk those up on your tally sheet of life errors so they can shove it to your face. Expect people to drag you down because they can’t drag themselves up. Expect problems to mushroom where you least expect them. Expect failure, expect failure, expect failure.

Expect the worst, but hope and work for the best. Sometimes, the best plans do not compose of looking straight into the far future with long scrolls of “plans” in your hands. Sometimes, for a time, putting one foot in front of the other is enough.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Gundam Inanities

In my book, anything Gundam-related is worth a post…even if it’s just about me bragging a new tank top. Haha! Well, it’s probably the coolest I have:

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The MS head silhouette there wasn’t from any of the Gundams in GW (it belongs to RX-78-2), but I took it anyway. The GUNDAM PILOT on it is more than enough. I wore this with a jacket on my first watch of  Pacific Rim. Hey, you can’t fault me for not finding a Jaeger Pilot shirt!

Since we’re already talking about Gundams, here are a few links that mech-lovers out there might be interested in checking out:
  • The Gundam Pixel Project. Stumbled upon this cute little project when the account liked one of my posts on Tumblr. Basically the owner is just breaking down all mobile suits—in all Gundam shows—into pixelly little heads. He’s light years away from the After Colony era, but I’m eagerly waiting for the Wing-heads. :)
  • Zeonic Scanlations. I’m only trying to follow his releases on Glory of the Defeated (and sometimes his summaries for Frozen Teardrop), but any Gundam fan should check out this site. Run by such a dedicated guy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Urban fantasy, horror, adult
My Rating: ★★★★★


For me, diving into a Neil Gaiman world is some form of sweet literary suicide: you clutch a chunk of his universe in your hands and feel yourself vanishing, for a time, from your side of the world. But if there is any death involved here, it is that of the reality scoffing at the belief that fantasy can’t teach you anything worth bringing back after your short period of escapism. In a Gaimanesque world, you always bring with you something that will change you after closing the book.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a good example of this. Gaiman has made gargantuan feats before like American Gods and the Sandman series (whose fandom, by the way, has been revivified months before the release of Sandman: Overture), and they both leave lasting impressions in their readers. Ocean is an entirely different kind of giant. In only 178 pages, it has an impact that can dwarf novels thrice its size; it has the power than can both slake and renew the thirst only a fiction-famished soul can experience.

The novel follows a nameless narrator who takes a solemn stroll down memory lane (semi-literally) and lets himself be assaulted by a strange portion of his childhood. Sitting by the pond in Hempstock farm, he recalls things that have changed his life in a way no other things ever could.

If I were to describe Ocean in a few words, I’d say it’s like a well-buried time capsule of the subconscious in book form. Have you ever noticed how there are certain fragments of the past that we remember more in feelings than in memories? They are the moments that don’t quite pass the threshold of clarity until we stumble upon something that brings us a rush of high emotions to magnify them. They are extra-special because they have contained themselves in a secret space in our souls to preserve the magic of their rareness. That’s how this poignant novel reads—or feels—like.

As always, I admire Gaiman’s ability to maneuver his writing voice box without ever removing the style that you can only associate with him. It doesn’t matter how old the character is, he’ll be able to worm inside their heads and breathe them to life convincingly. The magic just flows easily. Ocean is tagged as the newest adult book Gaiman has produced in a long time; it’s true in a sense. But you can’t possibly ignore how youthful its tone is when you’re finally reading it, even if the body is mostly just well-patched-up memories. The author is more than adept in playing the storyteller’s age seesaw. It’s an amorphous thing, his storytelling technique. In the end I’d say it’s a novel for adults, for children, and for adults whose scared children-selves are curled up somewhere in their cores, waiting to be noticed again.

The tale is populated by a colorful, female-driven ensemble: on one side Gaiman toys once more with the triple-goddess trope in the characters of the Hempstocks; on the other we have a Lovecraftian creature who assumes the form of a beautiful woman. The little narrator gets torn in the middle of the conflict of the two sides—which by the way I refuse to label “good” or “bad,” as their representations are thrown over with a blanket of shades of gray due to the differences of their motives (that is apparent too, even if the seven-year-old storyteller, like any other kid, has this blatant need to identify the black from the white).

Ocean does not follow a formulaic martyr story; instead we are presented with a reel of scenes that is just that—a reel that you couldn’t do anything but watch, no matter how you dread the next scenes. I love how the main character’s helplessness and a rather shocking sense of mortality permeates through the readers. Somehow, somewhere in the middle of the whole thing, the readers will realize they will stop being a listener and take the role of an unconscious sounding board of the narrator. Sympathy is easier established than empathy, and I laud this novel for aiming for and successfully achieving to build the latter.

The clash of the female forces is depicted in a perfect ballet of wonder, reasons, and sacrifices that I could not help but marvel at. They tell us that pigeonholing of power in genders can be annihilated; that we make choices and the world is not a jury of how we deal with the consequences; that no one passes or fails as a person. They tell us a portion of the things we already know but sometimes refuse to acknowledge.

This is a good read, the kind that lodges itself in your heart because it is more than deserving to be in that time capsule of memories you make when traversing the worlds of fiction. As far as I can tell, this is the closest thing Gaiman has ever written when it comes to autobiographical stuff. After devouring this, I felt as if I’ve been given a peek at something I did not know I wanted ‘til now, and I have to emphasize it has nothing to do with Gaiman being one of my favorite authors. I have confirmed that memories are fragile things too, and though they are as breakable as the next piece of glass, they can shatter whole skyscrapers of platinum if you will give them the power to.

Five out of five stars for the memorable ride.

It’s a two-way street.

Books Listens
        –Mark Haddon

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Of mind-melds and dialogues

My dorky heart got its fix of mecha overdose in the last two weeks when I watched Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim…twice. And I’m not disappointed! I enjoyed it despite its obvious Evangelionesque and trope-loving universe. Anyway, I’ll spill all my thoughts in a review later. Last night I managed to write a two-part meta about Pacific Rim’s piloting system and Gundam Wing’s ZERO system (anyone who’s lurked around long enough would have seen that coming). Read on if you know both the show and the movie, or if it colors you curious enough to scroll down. ;)

The Drift and the ZERO System

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In Pacific Rim, Jaegers are mech-titans that the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. built as the first line of defense against the amphibious monsters called Kaiju. A Jaeger is initially maneuvered by one pilot only, but the program’s scientists realized that the neural load and mental strength required to control a Jaeger was too much for a single person to handle.

In Gundam Wing, the ZERO (Zoning and Emotional Range Omitted) System is a technology that allows the pilot to interface with the mobile suit. But the ZERO system has frightening effects too: the onslaught of raw information caused by the direct brain interface is too much for the pilot, making him “hallucinate the possible paths [he] can take; as [he] tries to figure out what is going on, the system can overload the brain with too many statistics and estimated values, causing temporary insanity.” (READ MORE)

“It’s a dialogue, not a fight.”

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Drifting is a two-way mind-melding. Once you connect to a party through the neurological bridge you create, that party will be able to cross it and connect to you…whether you want it to or not (looking at you, Kaiju-lovin’ Geizler). In GW Episode 44: Go Forth, Gundam Team, Quatre masters the ZERO System to lead the other Gundam pilots in battle. They’re clashing against the mobile dolls, which are remotely controlled by Dorothy via an altered version of the ZERO. Basked in the system’s light and influence—and without any kind of clue—the leaders of the two sides realize they are fighting each other at the same time. (READ MORE).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Having a Writer’s Eye

Spilling my thoughts—and emotions—is almost a stimulus after I turn the last page of a book. In my bookworm circle I would be quick to jump into discussions, which are often a hodgepodge of con-crits and outbursts of fangirlism-laced blathering. But there’s always a time when I would sit quietly in front of the computer, weave my thoughts into a coherent tightness, and then let them crawl into the monitor. Sometimes I would gush, sometimes readers would hear a giggle between my words, but more often than not I’m earnest when setting my two cents onto the virtual tray that is my blog.

And then there’s always someone who will ask: “Why don’t you just enjoy it? Why don’t you just enjoy reading the book and stop looking for something you can comment on?"

The questions never fail to make me pause; I would have laughed if they’re thrown in jest. But they’re serious. It just dawned on me that when I devour any kind of literature, some people think I’m actively looking for something to include in a review.

"Why don’t you just enjoy it?" they ask.

"I do enjoy it," I would offhandedly reply.

It’s true. Whenever I hold a book in my hands, I’m largely aware that I’m holding two worlds: the story’s world and the author’s world. I can’t control it. The aspiring writer in me refuses to go blind; it refuses to un-notice the world-building, the gradual growth of flat characters into three-dimensional people, the adrenaline rush-inducing thickening of a plot, or the author’s narrating voice.

And I enjoy all these. I love having all these “back stage" happenings unfold before my very eyes. Sometimes I learn from them. Sometimes I marvel at them; sometimes I wish the author did something else that I think would make the final work better. It doesn’t feel like I’m holding the dear book under a microscope, really. It just feels like I’m getting close to its heart and its author’s heart.  It’s there and I can’t ignore it. It’s…natural.

The wonder of the whole thing goes so far that I would go on and reread some books. When I told a friend I’m re-reading a lengthy fiction, she got curious about my reasons. “It’s not like you don’t know what’s going to happen," she said. “You’ve known that in the first read. The element of surprise is lost." I told her that that may be true, but aside from reliving and relishing the “memory" of a story, I revel at the element of anticipation, too. I want to have a closer look at how the author created the twists and turns, how he handled the fleshing out of the characters, how he took the reader from here to there. I want to view these things with refreshed eyes, to know if the same emotions will boil in me when I read the same things the second, third, or fourth time around.

I savor all that alongside the show that spreads itself in front of the readers, also known as the story itself. Getting lost in this “side" of the world is escapism at its finest, and I don’t blame the people who think I’m not immersing myself fully in the bliss of fiction when my writer’s mind’s eye switch on alert mode. What they don’t realize is I’m experiencing double the joy. I’m sure there are others that feel like this way, too.

Reading is a drug; I can never refute that. But I know writing is a drug too, and I just can’t stop feeding my addiction when I know I can combine the two. :)

Safer than people.

Some people may consider this as some kind of an anti-social statement. Well, I say it’s a simple statement of a naked truth: