Monday, January 21, 2013

The Whereabouts of Happy Ending

When I’m having a [severely enjoyable] book hangover, I tend to lurk in my iTunes library and click at random tracks that may remind me of my favorite scenes in a novel. Not counting my non-lit fandoms, I’ve never really pulled a full music-chemist stunt up until last weekend. That was when, with my head still reeling with the bleak beauty of Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller, I decided to take my book-and-music marriage to the next level.

My plan to make an fanmix/playlist somehow turned into the creation of an actual mix-CD! Check it out!

Cover Art

I call it The Whereabouts of Happy Ending. It zeroes in on the romance facet of the story, aka Anna Leemann and Abel Tannatek’s relationship. You can listen to the mix on 8track or download it from sharebeast.

Track listing:
  1. Waking Dream (Natalie Walker) 
  2. The Story (30 Seconds to Mars)
  3. A Sorta Fairytale (Tori Amos)
  4. Poison & Wine (The Civil Wars)
  5. If I Had a Gun… (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds)
  6. The Killing Moon (Nouvelle Vague)
  7. Trouble Sleeping (The Perishers)
  8. Tiny Heart (Flyleaf)
  9. Open Your Eyes (Andrew Belle)
  10. Fade Away (Automatic Loveletter)
  11. The Ice is Getting Thinner (Death Cab for Cutie)
  12. In the Mourning (Paramore)
Committing a crime here, of course. I didn’t include any Leonard Cohen song on purpose, but that will be rectified on Vol. 2. Note that this mix heavily leans on the fanon side, since I’ve given Abel a more vocal presence here compared to the book. :p

CD Design

Here’s what it looks like on the inside! I’m aware that using the brown-yellow-orange color scheme is a little erroneous since it’s redolent of autumn, but I can’t help it. There was just something about these shades that suggest lightness, but one that isn’t quite equivalent to complete happiness. Never mind the white-to-blue winter scheme that I should have used; I can always save that for Volume 2. And hey, I think putting a little spice of dichotomy in things like this is always nice.

“Nothing was perfect, but everything was all right. The light was just never blue” is a quote from the book, spoken by Anna.

Inside cover
There wasn’t an initial plan to write or draw anything on the back of the cover art pamphlet, but the paint and Sharpie lines of the bike drawing bled out. I had to paint the back black. Getting myself a silver pen just made the itch to doodle a tad more irresistible, so here’s what happened.

“Sometimes, I don’t even know if I’m extremely happy or extremely sad. It happens a lot when I think of you,” is another Anna quote. Those headphone wires end into the words “white noise” because I can’t draw a Walkman that’s what Abel’s listening to when he wants to drown out the world for a while.

I’m on a re-reading spree lately. I think I might be able to make mixes for my other favorite books. I’m eyeing Paolo Giordano’s The Solitude of Prime Numbers and some of Neil Gaiman’s and John Green’s books. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult,
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

Cover - Copy
I’m the kind of person whose inner kid never gets dead-beat when it comes to marveling at new things with unadulterated delight, even if the shell cradling her is already twenty one years old. While this means finding extraordinary things in the most mundane of situations (sans, of course, the maturity diminishment), it also extends to the kind of media I consume. I don’t want to become one of those people who turn away from what they think are kid’s stuff and say, “Comic books? Cartoons? What are you, eight? I’ve outgrown all of those a long, long time ago.” I’m all for the good story, whatever form or medium it comes in.

This is why my fascination for fairytales still flares up vibrantly. There’s a wonderful concoction of revisionist tales and fantasy stories to this day that I’ll never tag as “just for kids.” And this is also why my attention was readily arrested by Catherynne M. Valente’s Victorian-esque The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making when I heard of it for the first time.

Blurbs and back-cover synopses can be a tad misleading and may inflate a memory balloon of a girl who fell into a rabbit hole, but this book’s more than just an Alice in Wonderland adventure. It’s a story that doesn’t only have the ability to bubble out a laugh from your inner kid’s throat—it also has the capacity to revive that inner kid, had it been sleeping under mattresses of off-kilter judgments and prejudices acquired through adulthood.

September on a Leopard September riding the Green Wind’s Leopard

At the surface, the story follows a rather generic blueprint. Twelve-year-old September gets invited by a creature called the Green Wind to the magical realm of Fairyland. Being stuck in a bland, adventure-less pothole of a house, she accepts in a flash. But she finds out that Fairyland is in chaos and crisis under the iron rule of the Marquess, and she is the only one who can put everything in order. How can an ordinary girl like her do it?

Expect a splash of colorful imagination that burst at the seams: cities unspooled from vivid threads and every textile imaginable, towns baked from the warmest and tastiest of pastries, all of them changing positions in the map. From the pen that spun out such multihued setting, you wouldn’t expect a cast of characters that would pale in comparison. There’s Lye, the rather forlorn soap golem; A-through-L, the humorously bright Wyverary (wyveryn + library? I join September’s doubt about this suspicious parentage); Saturday, a taciturn, wish-granting Marid; a flock of angry tsukomugami; grease-drinking and tire-gnawing fairies; and an untamed herd of bicycles.

Art2The Marquess and Iago, her panther 

Couple that with the cute sketched chapter openers, and there’s no reason why you should not consider this an amazing lit-treat.

September’s journey could have been all but one caucus race, but Valente stitched everything together to form a superbly coherent masterpiece. It has the potential to carve its own space in the classics shelf. Beneath all the marvelous elements that could steal gasps from a child, there’s a storyline that can pinch the heart and tickle the brains of all ages. In creating September, Valente has molded a new heroine that’s a clear portrait of all of us. She represents courage emanating from innocence, the fear that sprouts out upon knowing how the world can inflict pain unto us, and then the newborn courage to banish the aforementioned fear, the kind of bravery we acquire when we knew we’d rather be hurt than the ones we love. It’s the classic chronicle of growth, only wrapped in magic and sprinkled with genuine tears.

The story also touches on escapism, issues on authority, the power of stories, and ala-Symposium nudges on finding one’s soulmate.  Valente’s prose was also breathtaking in its beauty; the wordplay carries a hint of campfire narrating, shadowed by an almost musical quality to it. The whole book sings. Every sentence was lyrically whimsical. There’s no page where I couldn’t pull out a magnificent quote, but I’m taking this paragraph in the book (at random, take note):
“You see, the future is a kind of stew, a soup, a vichyssoise of the present and the past. That’s how you get the future: You mix up everything you did today with everything you did yesterday and all the days before and everything everyone you ever met did and anyone they ever met, too… Magic is funny like that. It’s not a linear thinker. The point is if you mash it all up together and you have a big enough pot and you’re very good at witchcraft, you can wind up with a cauldron full of tomorrow.”
Those who hungered for more when closing the book would be satisfied because Valente has spawned a prequel and a sequel. The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While follows the story of Mallow who appears inCircumnavigated as the “late queen” before the Marquess takes the throne from her. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels Therefollows Circumnavigated, centering on September’s abandoned shadow, Halloween, who becomes the ruler of Fairyland Below.

I think I’ve started yet another series that I would follow to the end. So it’s “For kids ages 12 and up”? Hey, I’m twenty-one, and I have an inner kid that’s alive in kicking with me. I’m definitely included under that umbrella! If you’re reading this, I recommend you to pick up this book and get lost in its magic.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Going back to classics

One of the items in my 2013 bucket list (aka a fancier name for a long catalogue of resolutions), is that I should read more classics. My reading list has been so saturated with contemporary novels lately. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I just need to remind myself that the yesteryears also have a treasure trove of literature. I should delve in them some more and rediscover why they were called “classics” in the first place.

classicMy stacks of classics at the Barrow Jane

Can you guys recommend some classic books to me? I’m planning to reread a couple or two from the above heaps, but it’s always nice to have some additions. :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lost and Found :)

Every time I find myself sinking into the pages, into every word and every phrase of the novel I’m currently reading—every time I feel like losing myself into the power of fiction again—it’s always a happy astonishment when I encounter bits of myself inside it. It feels like meeting a literary doppelganger who, instead of inspiring fear, makes a bud of bliss bloom in my heart. It’s always about the connection and relation.

Lose and Find

“We lose ourselves in books…and find ourselves there, too.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Of dreams, bravery, and joy.

For me, nothing beats starting the year with a dose of words of wisdom from one of my favorite literary rock stars of all time: Neil Gaiman! Check these out! I even made a doodle of one of his annual NY-wish. :)

Happy new Year Neil

“It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world. So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation. So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.”
-Neil Gaiman’s 2013 new Year’s wish
(PS: I just realized that Gaiman himself reblogged the doodle from my Tumblr a few minutes ago! OMG *insert bloodcurdling fangirl scream here*)

12 Books that Rocked my '12

books that rocked my year

And in a flash, we reached the epilogue of the 366-page tome of 2012. That year sure had some of its pages dog-eared (and rightfully so)! But before I get past 2013’s flyleaf, let me give you a list of the stories that commenced a mayhem both in my cranium and in my ribcage. Here are the stories that moved me in inexplicable ways, drove me to retreat into my cocoon of blankets to cry, teased out tickled laughter from my throat, or just plainly pinched my heart. Here are my top 12 books of 2012 (in random order):
  1. The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  3. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
  4. Every Day by David Levithan
  5. Black Heart by Holly Black
  6. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  7. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
  8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  9. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  10. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (review to follow)
  11. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
  12. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Runners-up: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, and Missed Connections: Love, Lost and Found by Sophie Blackall

See my top 11 books of 2011

Glass half-full.

Sometimes I imagine myself in a science fiction-y world where things like hope, optimism, and confidence come in the form of pills. Like, if I become weak-kneed with hopelessness, all I have to do is down a handful of tablets and poof! everything will be okay. I’ll suddenly be very confident, and even if I’m in a seemingly no-win situation, I’ll be able to find a way to get through it with good results.

Too bad such a world doesn’t exist.

I’m not exactly a subscriber to making resolutions when the calendar changes, but 2012 made me realize a lot of things…like it held up a mirror in front of me and I see, for the first time, the things that I should let go this year. And the top three?
  • I should banish the fear in my heart. Even if there’s never a shortage of I-can-do-this mantras in my system, even if I continually tell myself I’m not afraid to get hurt, there are always fleeting threads of fear that get tangled up inside me. I' realize I’m afraid of many things—of making the wrong decision, especially. But hey, mistakes are gifts, right? Life is a never-ending lesson, so I might as well get the most of it. If I ever make a decision, I shouldn’t label it as “wrong” if it didn’t turn out the way I expected. It’s always “right,” because at some point in time, I followed my heart to choose that decision.
  • I’ll walk in the present but oversee the future. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the moment, but it never hurts to look forward and see if your goal’s still there in the horizon. It’s not much of a juggle work, really. If I walk on and wallow too much in the present, I may not see if there’s a rock that can turn under my foot. I may stumble. I know I shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, but hey—we have this little God-given gift called common sense. Might as well use it.
  • I’ll go where I know I’ll be happy. I guess that doesn’t need any explanation.
My Mickey Mouse pez dispenser may not be crammed with some futuristic kind of pill that can instantly make me feel okay, but as long as I keep the glass half-full at all times, I guess I don’t have to worry so much. Cheers to 2013!

Review: The Storyteller

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Antonia Michaelis
Genre: Contemporary,  Mystery, Romance, Young Adult
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)


“How can writers create something so damn beautiful from something generally considered ugly…like pain?” It’s the first question that popped into my head after I flicked the last page of Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller.

I have no idea what I was getting myself into when I started reading The Storyteller. Honestly, all I knew was that I picked up a nondescript young adult novel with a fairytale flavor. I was expecting the usual fare. How was I to know that this 400-page tome would make me crawl into my fortress of sheets and pillows, where I would curl up into a sobbing ball of despair?

Even before you can read past its proverbial once-upon-a-time, you’d know The Storyteller is a bleak fairytale that would sooner or later knot messily into a happy-never-after. Anna Leemann is a seventeen-year-old girl who thinks she lives in a “soap bubble” of easy living. She’s the epitome of protected innocence, kept at a safe distance from life’s harsh realities. As she totters on the brink of adulthood, she becomes largely aware of the wall separating her from the world; it’s only a thin film, and she gets the urge to break free and experience more. The epiphany dawns on her when the mysterious school drug dealer, Abel Tannatek, unwittingly barges into her life as her first love.

But Anna and Abel are as mismatched as a spoon and a screwdriver. Abel is an abused and self-abusive mystery. He listens to white noise in his old Walkman to drown out the world and wears an Onkelz sweatshirt so everyone would leave him alone. He is the yin to Anna’s yang, the razor-edged corrupt to her soft purity, the dark splotches of ugly truth to her whirlwind of white lies. But beneath all the layers of his murky chain-mail is a delicate treasure: a heart of a tale-spinner, a boy who creates stories from an unknown limbo of words. Anna discovers one day that he’s dedicating a fairytale to his six-year-old half-sister, Micha.
Abel relates to Micha and Anna a multi-episode account of a little orphan queen pursued by hunters. It turns out the story has parallels in reality: social services and Micha’s violent, jailbird father could snag her away from Abel once they learned of the siblings’ impoverished state. Anna gets caught under the fiction’s spell, but when the people Abel includes in the story end up dead in real life, it’s Anna turn to be afraid. Has she fallen in love with a murderer?

The thing about The Storyteller is that it never pulls any punches like most of its peers under the YA umbrella. Antonia Michaelis answers the question “how far can people go in protecting the ones they love?” by knitting a disturbing tapestry of brutal scenarios—the kind that we’ll cringe to look at, but ones we’ll acknowledge as honest without second thoughts. Michaelis’ prose sometimes curls with the waiflike elegance of poetry, and every so often ends with the jagged teeth of pseudo-journalistic bluntness. It’s couched in a language that would swallow you whole and wouldn’t spit you out until you can taste the intense tang of every detail it has to offer.

The blending of fairytale and reality is seamless. Being a wet-in-the-ears pen warrior myself, I’m aware that it’s no piece of cake hooking a story with another without losing some of its identity. Michaelis does this with zero effort. The imagery can steal your breath away, no matter how gritty it may seem. Of all the facets of this book—romance, mystery, thriller—what I love the most is this, the enmeshment of contemporary realism with fantasy.

Abel and Anna unite in a fractured love story that I can call my kryptonite. My immunity to cookie-cutter storylines crumbled right away after I learned about their star-crossed portraits. They refuse to be tethered to the usual Romeo-&-Juliet formula—they don’t act as if they can’t be complete without each other or would die if the other did. They are their own individuals with their own dreams and apprehensions. The story’s pacing gives them time to flesh themselves out. Anna is deliberately depicted as inchoate due to inexperience, but she’s struggling to grow out of her shell; she’s everyone’s image of the last dollop of naivety before we launched into the world. Abel is not your usual hero, because, well, Michaelis never really made a hero out of him. Damaged and unstable, he’s a proof that not every victim manages to escape from the shackles of his past, even if a potentially transformative love unfolds before his very eyes. He’s a proof that not everybody gets saved.

In the end, I think this book has official turned me into a literary masochist. I’m not a happy-ending junkie to begin with, but it’s rare for me to marvel so much at something that stomped my heart to pieces and wouldn’t let me reassemble them. I was so torn between giving this book as a chew toy for our neighbor’s dogs and crafting a separate shelf for it after reading the epilogue.

There are so many scenes here that I would never forget: Anna’s torn cloak of love, bloodstained poppies in the snow, Leonard Cohen’s lyrics thawing with the dreary atmosphere, the little queen’s journey, or the last tragic scene that sticks around my memory like a stubborn ghost. I would never forget that both Michaelis and Abel are tale-spinners of the most powerful kind.

I’m a budding storyteller too, and in the most unconventional of ways, my belief for the magic of words—every bit of them that gets ploughed out from the imagination—is vindicated by this book.