Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Ransom Hug!

Last April 26, the National Book Store (NBS) held a book-signing event for bestselling authors Ransom Riggs, Tahereh Mafi, and Veronica Rossi. Admittedly I haven’t read anything by Mafi or Rossi; I only went to the event for Riggs, having read his Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

waiting Kit’s and my books and our signing passes.

Ransom Riggs stageKindly excuse the goofy smiles, I’m starstruck!

I got a minutes-long interaction with Riggs after he put "pen scratches"—his words, not mine—on my copy of Hollow City (Miss Peregine Book 2). He also saw how big of a nervous booknut I am when I get starstruck. My meet-and-greet moment went like this:
STAFF: (Joking after hearing how an oldish fangirl before us screamed an I LOVE YOU to Ransom) These people need to remember the guy's married.
ME: (laughs) And his wife's here, too.
RANSOM: (overhears our exchange and looks up from signing the books, smiling) What is it about my wife?
ME: (gets instant cold feet)
RANSOM: Hello, how are you?
ME: ......
RANSOM: (smiles)
ME: .......
RANSOM: (smiles some more)
ME: (covers face) Oh my god, sorry! Oh my god, oh my god.
RANSOM: (laughs good-naturedly and motions me to come closer, then points at the camera) Let's keep it together for the picture, then after that we can fall apart.
ME: (realizes that I wasn't looking at him when he's giving me the Keep Calm coaching, but flashes what I wish was a decent smile anyway)


All right, that hug and these pen scratches. :)

Here’s to hoping other authors I like would come to the Philippines! They’re like the country’s nerd population’s rock stars, I know they wouldn’t regret coming here.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: A Long Way Down

Review: A Long Way Down
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Humor, Contemporary
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)

ALWD Photo by Andy Diluvian

At every tail-end of a published book about suicide—or an attempt to commit it—is a potential for controversy. Authors know that; the bravest ones refuse to pull punches and went on telling their stories the way they know how, steeling themselves for the future salvo of questions and accusations. They are willing to risk being pulled out of shelves later if it meant they would get their tales told first.

Nick Hornby emerged as one of these writers, but of an unconventional kind. In his book A Long Way Down, he relays the accounts of not only one, not even two, but four people about to commit suicide. And he finds that the best way to decline treading on eggshells for anyone is to shower his book with a dry, black humor.

A Long Way Down follows the story of four strangers who met atop a London building and ended up foiling each other’s plans to plunge to their own deaths. They are Martin, an ex-TV presenter who has “pissed away his life away” by sleeping with a minor; Maureen, a fraught single mother taking care of her disabled child; Jess, a stroppy teenager who was left by her boyfriend (and sister); and JJ, an ex-rock god who feels like a failure-on-two-shoes. They “postponed” their plans after a few heated arguments and some cold pizza slices. But would their unlikely alliance be reason enough to stop them from retrying to take their own lives?
Unless you are someone who gets fascinated by hearing other people’s tales of personal anguish, this book’s gist didn’t sound appealing at all. But Hornby’s deft hands made it so that his story would work, and it did nicely, with a number of brilliant, unforgettable moments in it.

The thing I liked the best in this book is how Hornby executed his fourfold delineation of the characters’ voices. The narrators are so different in a way that not even some misery-loves-company magic would be able to bind them together. Hornby spoke effectively through their mouths like they’re honest, live people—so real-like, in fact, that they did not click easily together as friends even after meeting the way they did. Hornby didn’t detour to the formulaic “we’re going to be friends and everything is going to be all right” road, because he did not intend the novel to become a self-possessed echo of a self-help book.  Even though he can pull these people together to sew up some semblance of miraculous hope, he did not, and just let them be their own individuals. 

JJ is an instant favorite of mine. It’s not only because his issues are very relatable (they hit so close to home at the time I read the book) but also because he’s four-dimensionally human enough to feel shame about how “shallow” his problems are compared to others’.  He’s so embarrassed that he fabricated an incurable disease from the initials of his favorite band as his reason to commit suicide. Does being a failure in something you consider your “everything” equate to your life suddenly becoming disposable? Does it really mean it’s the end? Does it mean you can’t start again? The fact that Hornby didn’t need cheese to touch this issue is laudable.

It is quite noticeable how the story didn’t dig too deep about the common issues surrounding suicide, like how the usual novel about it would. What Hornby tackled is more about lifestyles and the human condition.
The storyline is as non-linear as it could get with four different people telling it. The common things your book report format will ask you for will not be easy to find, so if you are looking for a fast-paced story with clear climaxes and resolutions, this book will be a difficult read. 

I myself would admit that I had a hard time with some parts I call the “troughs streak” because they didn’t seem to get anywhere for a long while. The story then just seemed to drag, and when it happens you sometimes get tired to care about the characters, even if you like them well in the beginning. Your interest just starts waning. Fortunately, the streak did break at some point and I began enjoying the rest of the story again, until the (open) end.

For the record, the book has been translated into the big screen and the movie’s currently showing in cinemas. I don’t know how to feel about the “major recalibrations” they’ve obviously done to the source material (thanks, trailer), but I won’t react yet since I haven’t seen the whole picture yet. :)

Britophile’d: The Great British Festival

Crowds of smitten-by-Britain hearts—including mine and my friend Jo’s—managed to get a little taste of London-esque cloud nine during The Great British Festival at the Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City last March 8.

The festival consisted of trade fairs, a pop-up theatre troupe, musical performances of British-inspired local bands, fashion shows, cultural dances, sports lessons, and a Cinema at the Park. It ran for three days (March 7-9) and I attended for only one, but the stuff (both free and purse-emptying), the memories, and the nuggets of wisdom I pocketed home are more than enough! Here are bits and pieces of  my Very British Saturday:

Mini Ben

Mahomet can’t come to the mountain so the British embassy brought the mountain to Mahomet: UK in Miniature! (I’ll word my own proverbs, thank you very much.) The default response for miniature exhibits, of course, is a long queue of festival-goers waiting for their turn to take selfies. Here’s my first photo-op with the Big Mini Ben. Technically it’s part of a sponsor’s stall and not of the exhibit, but we like to pretend. :p


If there’s a legit UK Tourist Photo-Op Commandments booklet in existence (I mean come on, books more ridiculous than this get published everyday), I won’t be surprised if one of its top items would be: “Thou shalt not miss a chance to take your picture with/in the iconic red phone box.” Let’s just say I’m “obedient”. Special thanks to Lee Cooper for this cute kiosk, since it’s the only one in the festival than can be opened. People never left the area until the storeowners put a chain around it at the end of the day.

I sort of wished there’d been a TARDIS though.

I didn't break the balcony!
Anyway, we hopped to another area and saw this…part of the Balmoral Castle. I think it’s better if they brought the whole thing and not just the clock tower, but hey, the event’s free. I should stop throwing my beefs around. But I’d just like to say I didn’t break the styrofoam balcony railings there…

Jozilla Firefox
…Jo probably did. I kid, I kid! But I’m still calling this picture “Jo-zilla” because it’s cute and perfect.


with Apple

Then off we went to pseudo-Wiltshire, England, Taguig, to the Hobbits’ version of the Stonehenge. I was surprised to bump into Apple, one of the former interns of the magazine I worked for last year. We chitchatted for a while and I introduced her to Jo before doing what we should be doing there, which was to take pictures. Written on that paper she was holding was “Happy Now?”, a reference to Danny Wallace’s book called Yes Man. I’m happy to see her well, and I’m secretly thankful she made an unintentional book recommendation to me with that sign. :)


And then we came to my favorite stall. Everyone knows any British event is not British enough if it doesn’t have tea…also known as the reason why 3/4 the contents of my wallet vanished into thin air that day. The Twinings booth was replete with everything that could bring a smile to my face. At first I was eyeing the phone box canister you can acquire by buying two flavors, but I spotted a very classy caddie that I instantly fell in love with. Without any second thoughts, I bought it along with a box of Earl Grey and of  Apple + Cinnamon + Raisins tea. Jo on Sunday got herself the canister, along with boxes of White Tea and Strawberry + Mango tea.

Drinking iced tea from our paper cups, we strolled on the cobbled streets and stopped on booths that interested us. One of these is the Chevening Scholarship stall at the Education Pavilion.


It is no secret that I, Jo, and Kit (who unfortunately couldn’t join us because she had to be in Cebu for a cousin’s wedding), plan on going to UK to study. Miss Anna, the scholarships and digital diplomacy officer manning the booth, invited us to sit with a scholar to talk about what it is really like to experience UK education under their scholarship. And so we chatted with Sir Alex, a lawyer and a Chevening alumni.
Remember the “nuggets of wisdom” part I mentioned at the beginning of this entry? I wasn’t just talking about useless trivia and whatnot. I’m talking about eye-opening truths, about things that can make us realize it’s okay to slow down if ever we’re zipping by lightning-fast with our lives.

This deserves an entry of its own but in a nutshell, Sir Alex told us there’s no need to hurry. He said we’re young ; we have lots of years to do what we need to get where want to. The thing with this scholarship or with any masteral degree class is that you have to have something that can make you stand out. We have to build up, to fatten up our portfolios. The Chevening grant is usually given to those who have proven something, like people who have already published books or created a good documentary or film. Needless to say, it is common for students to have bunches of rewards and titles under their belts before they grow the cojones to apply. He reiterated that timing is everything. He didn’t put it into words, but I know he was not in favor of our decision to apply as soon as possible.

I’ll save more of my thoughts on this for another post, but I’ll say we’ve dropped the speed meter a few notches now, focusing on what he advised us.

“Chevening’s going to be here forever,” he even quipped. “No need to hurry.”

cinema at the park

After the sobering talk, we went to the Cinema at the Park and watched what was left of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone movie when we slumped on the grass.  We munched on the meatpies Mrs.Lovett Miss Anna has given us, trading a few inevitable remarks about our chat with Sir Alex.

Pop-up Theatre with Mini Kit

The sun was setting when we caught up with the pop-up theatre troupe…after they have performed their skit. Lucky us, eh? I only managed to snap a picture of this scene, where the cast fawned over a cute kid that looked a lot like Kit (peace! But it’s the truth!). Jo told me she got to watch their skit the next day. It’s a a part of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and that’s Claudio, Hero, Benedick, and Beatrice.

Nessy and the Humans

Nessy, of course, was there too. We know we wouldn’t win against the kids, but Jo still tried to take photo with the lovable monster. She did get one, but…

…yeah. Nessy’s camera-shy. :)

Rolls Royce-horz

Mini Pacman

And then we have these cars. If they’re not what you call ultra-sexy I don’t know what is. Can you see that? The Jaguar? That freaking Rolls Royce? They’re so hot they inspire our inner wacky criminals, as I and Joanna joked we’d hotwire them if we could. :p

F1 Simulation

Speaking of cars, they’ve got an F1 simulator too. There’s a long queue on Saturday night; Jo had signed up then, but since the stall’s going to close at 8:00PM, we decided that she take her turn on Sunday instead. It looked fun!


Near the miniature Tower Bridge at the entrance, there’s a small “arena” built for the sports enthusiasts at the event. Philippine Azkals players Phil and James Younghusband held Football drills Saturday morning while the Philippine Volcanoes held Rugby drills Sunday morning.

look up at the moon
We ate at Slappycakes, SM Aura and went back to the event to take a few more photos. Aside from getting chummy-ish with a Big(ger) Ben, we also found our gateway to Gaiman’s London Below! MIND THE GAP, bubs! As for that Buckingham one, I know I just have to include it. They’re so adorable, looking up and wondering about the moon like that!. :)

For a few more minutes we stayed to listen to the band She’s Only Sixteen before taking off to catch the bus going to Buendia. It was an exhausting but fun day, and both of us are already stoked for the next festival—which we’re praying they will still hold in 2015.

Jo will be posting her three-day British experience at her blog:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On My (Oz-sessed) Radar: Dorothy Must Die

There can never be too many back stories, dark-themed retellings, or complex revisionist reboots of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

At least to me. Admittedly I’m still reeling from a post-Wicked: The Musical hangover, and I can’t help but scour the ‘Net for spin-offs or books that the L. F. Baum classic spawned. Minus the rest of  Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Years books that I haven’t picked up yet, I’ve found a new series that I found interesting:

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Dorothy Must Die
by Danielle Paige

“…Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still the yellow brick road, though—but even that's crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I'm the other girl from Kansas…”

No Place Like OzNoPlaceLikeOz
by Danielle Page, Dorothy Must Die 0.5

Dorothy clicked her heels three times and returned to Kansas. The end . . . or was it? Although she's happy to be home with Aunt Em, Dorothy has regretted her decision to leave Oz ever since. So when a mysterious gift arrives at her doorstep on her sixteenth birthday, Dorothy jumps at the chance to return to the glittering city that made her a star.

Setting off for the Emerald City, Dorothy is eager to be reunited with her friends: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. But she soon discovers that in the time she's been gone, Oz has changed—and Dorothy has, too. This time, the yellow brick road leads her down a very different path. And before her journey is through, Dorothy will find that the line between wicked and good has become so blurred she's not sure which side of it she's on.

Dorothy Must Die is released this April while No Place Like Oz, its digital prequel, is available online.