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.

Libraryparadise

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: Reboot

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

reboot

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:

TheBookThief_sophie1 - Copy
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.”

the-book-thief-starring-sophie-nelisse
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.

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

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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:

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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.

Spacewoman

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)

ENP

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:

eleanor
Park was just her height, but he seemed taller.

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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:

eleanor
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.

park
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?

JDSalinger

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:

gundaam - Copy - Copy

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.