Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: The Song of Achilles

Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Mythology, revisionism, fantasy,romance
My rating:  ★★ (4 of 5 stars)

The true brand of a good tale, I once heard, lies in a string of four words signifying the storyteller’s power over his audience: “And then what happened?” These words indicate a sliver of magic in the middle of action, wedged between this or that plot point; it is a question posed as a half-baked sterling review, an evidence that the truly gifted tale-spinners can prod readers to continue thumbing through the pages for answers.

Contemporary literature pushes the challenge to summon these words up a notch, especially for authors who opt to give revisionism or retellings a go. How would you keep your audience spellbound when they already know what would happen?

Madeline Miller knows exactly what to do, as evidenced in her debut novel The Song of Achilles

Unfazed by the herculean task of taking on one of the greatest Greek literary masterpieces of all time, Miller manages to weave a story that feels simultaneously old and fresh. She borrows significant parts of Homer’s The Iliad for her novel’s backbone, though instead of giving the narrator’s seat to her titular character, she bestows it to a rather vague figure in the source material: Patroclus, the brother-in-arms and, in this universe’s canon, lover of Achilles.

(That detail alone could ignite a debate, but let us take it here as a fact the same way Plato did in his Symposium, Aeschylus in his lost play Myrmidons, or William Shakespeare in his Troilus and Cressida, shall we?)

The story unfolds as a bildungsroman. After accidentally killing a boy over a game of dice, the young prince Patroclus is exiled from his homeland to the faraway kingdom of Phthia, where he crosses paths with Achilles for the first time. Achilles, branded well even before he was born as “the best of all the Greeks”, is golden, beautiful, swift, and strong—essentially everything that Patroclus thinks himself to be the opposite of. But the envy and bitterness Patroclus harbors towards the boy vanished when they forge an unlikely a bond, a friendship that soon blossoms into love. They grow up together and nurture these feelings, despite risking the ire of the gods. Destiny, however, catches up to them: Helen of Sparta was abducted, and every Greek hero was called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Choosing a life replete with glory and fame over one lived in obscurity and irrelevance, Achilles joins the cause. Fearing for his beloved, Patroclus could only follow.

And this, as many of its readers would know, is where the tale latches itself onto the fateful events of The Iliad: how the Greeks and the Trojans engage in a ten-year warfare, how Achilles is dishonored by King Agammemnon, how Achilles nurses his wounded ego and withdraws from the battles, and how Patroclus decides to take matters into his own hands, unwittingly diving headfirst into his own downfall.

Enthralling and soul-wrenchingly poignant, I think The Song of Achilles proved it rightly deserved the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.

Since this patchwork of Greek events has been refashioned as the autobiography of the self-effacing Patroclus, the novel in its entirety takes an unassuming tone. It seems that Miller makes it a point for Patroclus to take the whole vehicle with him, as even his personality makes the novel’s title an altruistic dedication to the love of his life instead of being the story his own life.

This takes us to what many “classic fans” are pointing out as this story’s Achilles’ Heel: characterization. I have seen it argued many times that Miller’s Patroclus is in no way the same Patroclus that Homer created. The former is molded to be overtly maternal, a tad too “feminine” by preferring the art of medicine and cookery, buzzed by his undying love, and a “total zero” when it comes to the battlefield. Homer’s Patroclus, they say, is much stronger. He fought like a true warrior and is not underscored to be the bottom to Achilles’ top.

What they failed to pay attention to is the obvious: it is Miller’s Patroclus, not Homer’s. How is it that any Greek myth can have fifty versions that can be considered correct, and this cannot? Note, too, that Miller’s Patroclus is crafted to be an unreliable narrator. Just because Patroclus considers himself weak does not mean he truly is. What kind of assets should a character possess to be considered “strong”, anyway? Why would he be tagged in a prophecy as “The Best of the Myrmidons” if he is weak? Miller is throwing clues at you here. This is The Iliad sailing in the modern times, and she is making you take a step back and reassess what a “strong” character should be like.

Achilles, for his part, is a striking albeit lonely portrait of a Greek warrior. Throwing away my initial view of him as a child-man throwing a tantrum, I reopened my eyes to his character to learn his real tragedy—his semi-divine birth. He is a bevy of almost’s: almost a god, almost immortal, almost good enough. What’s worse is he would not simply die; he is prophesied to die young.

Acutely aware of his mortality, he seeks eternal life in the form of fame and glory, of his story etched in songs and urns. He simply cannot hold back if he wants to be immortalized. His emotions then, too, are of extremes, explaining why he practically goes berserk when he learns of what happens to Patroclus at the hands of Hector. See, Achilles does not seek any other person to get close to because he already has everything in Patroclus: a bosom companion, a friend, an adviser, a lover. Losing the man equates to everything being taken away from him. With his grief and wrath tearing through his hubris, he returns to the battlefield not for honor or reputation like everyone else, but for his fallen beloved friend.

Stepping back for the big picture, these two characters are pushed in the forefront romance-bound, with big chunks of the novel portraying them as younglings exploring their feelings. With that, I think it is only understandable how…hormonally charged some chapters came to be (I could do without that certain soft porn-ish bit actually, but we have passion-crazed teens at our hands, so…)

This does not mean the whole piece has degenerated into a lump of, to borrow from fandom-speak, vanilla slash. Even if emotions are highlighted, there are so much more going on in the story that Miller successfully delivers. From time to time there are slips with switches between modern and period-appropriate tones, but these are not exactly unforgivable. The purple prose that threateningly rears its head more than once in it is not deplorable either, as it sometimes do lend the words a splendor that readers can enjoy. If I will have one thing I disliked about it, it is how hastily-paced the chapters of the Trojan War seem to be, presented in stark contrast of the slow build-up of the first half of the book.

But the real beauty of The Song of Achilles, I think, lies in how Miller utilizes her literary tools to tug at the readers’ feelings. It could not be reiterated enough that the material she worked on is not new—we are talking about a three thousand-year-old poem here, and there is no escaping that even if her market consists mainly of young adults. Those who have played hokey instead of completing the required Homer readathon back in high school must have taken to SparkNotes for their Iliad and Odyssey book reports; if not, they might have watched an Iliad-inspired flick starring a very brawny Achilles played by Brad Pitt (with an armor-stealing Patroclus as his…uh, baby cousin). There is practically no reason for anyone to not know anything about it. Because of this, she knew she could not make the readers ask “and then what happened?”. What she did instead is wrote the tale in a way that will make her audience say, “This author knows that I know what will happen, and she’s making sure I’m relishing every step I’m taking until I get there.”

This technique gives her foreshadowing a different flavor, especially the ones pointing to the looming tragedy involving the two main characters. The audience that knows will take these bits of forewarnings as rungs—painful ones—towards the inevitable ending. I surmise that every time Achilles nonchalantly wonders “What has Hector ever done to me?”, a staunch supporter of the leads gets a shard of his or her heart shattered again, tenfold.

Over all, this has been one roller coaster of a read. I repeatedly go back to some passages just to revel at their raw beauty, sometimes to even cry at them. I would shamelessly admit that this book made me want to revisit Homer’s masterpieces again, just so I could see my darling characters again in a universe that classicists have unreservedly adored.

Four stars for a stunning read.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genre: Fantasy, romance
My Rating: ★★ (4 of 5 stars)

The way I see it, we readers are willing preys of the printed word. We lay ourselves open before the tales we encounter and wait for their best blows; we crave stories that are chiefly meant to enchant us. They need not be perfect. We just seek for works that can hold us under a spell, rendering us unable to put them down until the wee hours of the morning. We are always, always in search for a masterpiece that will beguile us with its beauty and power.

Finding such a book in the landscape of contemporary literature is a difficult task, especially around the young adult parts. You have to dig through layers upon layers of rubble to get to the actual gems. Fortunately, I found one in the form of Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn—a stunning jewel in its own right, although one with facets that necessitate a little more carving, honing, and polishing. 

Taking roots from the beloved classic A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn unfolds in a kingdom ruled by a brutal young caliph named Khalid, who takes a new bride every night only to have her killed at sunrise. Every day, a family mourns the loss of a daughter murdered without reason or meaning. Every day, riots rise but get easily quelled. Things only start to change when sixteen-year-old Sharzhad, whose dearest friend fell victim to Khalid, volunteers to be a bride with an underlying motive of avenging her friend.

The nightly stories that Sharzhad tells Khalid bought her several dawns, guaranteeing her survival. Things are going according to plan until she realizes that the king is not the monster that she thought he would be…and until her treacherous little heart begins falling for him. Though she teeters into surrendering to her feelings, Sharzhad decides it is an unforgivable betrayal and readies herself to take Khalid’s life despite her love for him.

Engrossing and truly “unputdownable”, The Wrath and the Dawn is brimming with intrigue, secrets, magic, and flavors that will appeal to the palate of readers who clamor for something different in the YA market.

Most of its characters are vibrant and intricate. Its abrasive heroine, for instance, balances out her fiery verve with a coldly manipulative charm; her way with words couples itself with a fairly dangerous level of cunning. But when matters relating to emotions barge in, she gets herself in a tug-of-war of decisions that she finds so difficult to win. She repeatedly scolds herself for the deplorable treachery to her friend and to dozens of other murdered girls, yet her heart screams an intelligible plea to see the good side to their executioner. I would have dismissed her as a lost cause then and there, but there is something about her that makes me root for her, despite the gigantic neon sign at the back of my mind screaming Stockholm Syndrome.

Then we have the enigmatic Khalid, unflinching wearer of the tags of a madman, a murderer, and a monster. It is tough to decode what hides beneath his impassive façade, but one revelation after another, we get a peek of the broken eighteen-year-old boy that he really is; we learn how he is trapped in a web of deceits and choices that becomes even more complex when Sharzhad steps into the picture. However, despite the reveals, I still felt like he persisted to be a half-solved puzzle in the end. I expected to close the book with a clearer grasp of his character, but other than the reasons for his actions, I see nothing else that can convince me he is fully fleshed out. I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel, if only that installment will zero in on molding him into a fuller…can we say antihero?

Among the characters, my favorite is Captain of the Guard Jalal Al-Khoury. Armed with his teasing personality, a scorching passion in protecting his family, and a stubborn resolve to see the good in people, he comes out to be a lot more likable than his cousin Khalid. As for the others, I’m going to need more prodding to even start liking them. I have always been thirsting for YA books with no love triangle in sight, so I surmise my several rounds of eye-rolls while reading about Taqir, Sharzhad’s childhood sweetheart who embarks in a journey a la-Iliad to rescue her, are only understandable. But I guess without him there would be no non-romantic conflict in the sequel (i.e. a war against a perceived ruthless ruler), so I have to give him that.

Also one of my problems with this ensemble is that there are not enough female characters who can parallel Sharzhad. An addition of one would be a welcome move in this largely masculine universe. Sure, there is the neighboring kingdom’s Yasmine, but aside from her snakelike allure and hints that she may be the yin to Sharzhad’s yang, the story gives no proof to further support it.

What I really loved about this is the world-building. Ahdieh proves to be a master in its craft. She makes turning the chapters a sensory experience—so vivid an experience in fact that the passages can substitute as tickets for the readers to the ancient realms of Middle East. With her words, I enjoyed touring the caliphate of Khorasan; I had fun basking in all its heat and hues, almost feeling the sun on my skin and almost hearing the scimitars clang against each other. I was colored curious by the intricacies of this universe. I became thirsty to learn more about Parthia and the kingdoms lying in the dunes beyond, the horsemen tribes of Badawi, the mystery of the hired assassins Fida’i, and many more.

However, there is a pitfall some portions of the story unsurprisingly trips on: purple prose. While most of the descriptions successfully helped in popping up the setting, there are parts that appear to be overdone, giving off an almost cloying effect. This extends to the adjectives for some of the characters. Khalid gets peppered with the most unflattering ones, as many of his portraits become too reminiscent of those brawny leads in old paperback romances. But hey, thanks to the novel’s curiosity-piquing plot points and turns, I managed to sift through those parts without taking a breather.

The Wrath and the Dawn, at its core, is a love story—it does not really pretend to be something else. That is the reason why it does not saturate itself with too much cutthroat politics similar to A Song of Ice and Fire, even if this is omnipresent in the novel and there is a hinted promise to tap more into that in the sequel. That is reason why the book gently carries human emotions to the writer’s playpen, poking at every feeling and mixing them altogether to bring forth varying levels of dimensionality to some of the characters involved.

I’d go out on a limb and say I enjoyed this book tremendously, even if tons of questions have all but crowded every corner of my mind while I was reading it. For specifics:

  • The rape/detached sex. The fateful wedding night. Amid the discussions of whether it was rape or not (with arguments saying it was our girl who initiated it to gain Khalid’s trust even after he tells her he expects nothing more than her life at sunrise), let us just focus on Sharzhad herself. It would have been more realistic had she felt more strongly about the icy consummation of their marriage instead of just letting pass a shrug in the form of “At least he didn’t try to kiss me.” And she was a virgin, for god’s sake! I just cannot fathom why her thoughts would not linger a bit about it, even if she has perhaps long accepted it as part of her plan. It struck me as odd and…cold. It also would have been a good opportunity for the author to explore such a taboo topic.
  • Stockholm Syndrome. It did not escape my notice that Sharzhad falls in love with Khalid even before she is made aware of the reason behind the killings. But I noted too, that it is in Sharzhad’s personality to seek out the good in everyone or to search for reasons before she takes action. In the process of knowing her enemy, she realizes what every other kind person around her tells her: that Khalid is not the hateful slaughterer she thinks he is. This is okay for me because it makes for a good story and a decent exploration of the characters’ “literary anatomies”. What I am uncomfortable with is the knowledge that some very young girls out there are probably reading this and contort their idea of real-life romance. Kids, this is fiction, okay? A dark one with a twistedly romantic swing, but still fiction.
  • Solutions to…the reason for the bridal murders. I would not fully spoil it here, but after knowing the reason, I thought they could have made a way around it. Find a way to not kill innocent daughters and, say, choose female criminals on the death rows instead, or old people who may volunteer if they learn what the reason entails. Perhaps they have attempted it and did not work? I am awaiting mentions of it in the next book.
Notwithstanding its more than a handful of flaws, I admit I was still shackled by the magic Ahdieh weaves through her tale. Maybe this is what Khalid had felt when Sharzhad surprises him with zero effort. I eagerly sought for answers, for the next moves, for the next scenes, and I am still excited to get my hands on the second book, The Rose and The Dagger. I think this is what stories should be like: truly bewitching despite its imperfections, keeping its audiences on their toes while they await the conclusion.

Four stars for an enthralling experience.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science fiction, contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5 of 5 stars)

If there is a kind of story I am certain we are all so eager to devour, it is that of survival. We are always excited to hear tales of men striving to stay alive in an isolated island, of friends stuck in a forest of cannibals, of sailors trapped at sea where they are forced to become cannibals, of unlikely allies in a town of living dead, and even of kids chucked in an arena where they are barbarically made to murder one another. We marvel at the things the main characters do just to keep going, and we sometimes put ourselves in their shoes, wondering if we will go the same path that they did.

So when I heard of Andy Weir’s The Martian for the first time—described by many as an interstellar survival story fronted by an astronaut Robinson Crusoe —I know it was just too good to pass up. I have to read it; after all, the string of existence stories that I treasure for their ability to quench my thirst for adventures is screaming for a new addition.

The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney who, after being mistakenly thought dead during a dust storm on Mars, is left when his crewmates are forced to evacuate the planet. He finds himself stranded on the Martian surface with (1) no way to signal Earth that he is alive, (2) food supplies that would run out years before a rescue mission reaches him should he be able to get a word out, (3) machinery that will probably get weathered by Mars’ unforgiving environment, and (4) possibilities to commit “human error” in his attempts to live. How long will he be able to sustain this fight when all odds are seemingly not in his favor?

Riveting, smart, and laugh-out-loud funny, The Martian is perhaps one of the best hard sci-fi tales that I have encountered in the past year. While it is teeming with technical details, Weir makes sure that readers who do not have much knowledge in space programs and modern science fiction in general would not be left behind. It charges along nicely at a gallop, making it an entertaining ride that would beg to be read in just one sitting.

Watney is perhaps the epitome of a narrator that is virtually impossible to dislike. Documenting his dogged journey to survive through a twenty-first-century style epistolary, he constantly pulls hope and strength from his resourcefulness and unlimited supply of gallows humor. Readers will find themselves laughing with and rooting for him, crunching their brows and ooh-ing at every problem solved, and face-palming whenever his efforts are met with inevitable setbacks. Through his rose-colored spectacles—or helmet faceplate, rather—he proves he has too steadfast a soul to be dampened by the Red Planet’s challenges.

If there is anything I came to almost not liking about this book, it is the change of point-of-view to show what NASA is doing on Earth to retrieve him (is that counted as a mini-spoiler?) and those handful of times on Mars when the readers are made to know something before Watney notices it. I understand that they are necessary. They are not bad per se, though there are times when the transitions are not seamless. But like bumps on a gratifying joy ride, it did not halter my enjoyment of the story.

Aside from Watney’s, another POV that I also loved is that focusing on his crewmates. The hard-knuckle science foundation of the whole novel gets its emotional punch on this side of outer space, where the Ares 3 crew proves they are a close-knit team through and through. They will do everything they can to get back to Mars and rescue Watney, even if it means having to cause a mutiny.

The moment I reached the last page, I immediately wanted to start it again. This is what I hoped every book I pick up will make me feel: a little bit exhausted from the life I lived with the protagonist while going on with his adventures, a little bit invigorated by the things I learned while reading, and all in all happy for having just read a very good book.

Five stars for the amazing experience.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

This home is swaddled in dust and cobwebs.

Let's say I have been on some kind of 'life arrest'.

I wish I could give you more acceptable reasons, like perhaps I have submitted myself to some kind of digital sabbatical or I have been deployed to accomplish some life-changing mission so I can justify my silence in this little pocket of e-universe. But the simple truth happened. Adulthood pulled me into a hurricane of bigger responsibilities, effectively reducing the already meager time that I used to allot for adding something (thoughtful musings and verbalized thoughtlessness alike) to this online space. Priorities took a 180-degree turn. The corporate world slapped on my forehead an invisible Post-It, reminding me that our nine-to-five could eat up the rest of our lives ...if we allow it to. Sometimes, I could be helpless about it. Sometimes, when I am stubborn and willful enough, I could escape it for a while.

Life simply happened.

I have not severed my ties to the online world totally, though. There are social networking sites, where time and again I put up something to express my never-ending love affair with books, a few words on current events, gushing about pop culture, among others. But what I missed is staying here. I missed spending hours doing book reviews, churning out meta-essays about fictional characters, crafting more poems, and even drafting fanfiction. I missed making poor excuses for artworks. I missed staying up until the wee hours of the day when all I do is scroll up and down to read posts of fellow bibliophiles, wallowing in the warmth of the fact that somewhere out there, people devote a big part of their hearts for literature and fandoms, too. Does all of this equate to missing being a kid? Hah.

But most of all, I missed writing. I write constantly in the day, but the kind of stuff I produce out there sometimes makes me feel like an obligations-fueled marionette, chained to a tiny bank account. I get tired of it sometimes, but hey, it's part of the equation of being an adult! I just truly missed the kind of writing where I feel more alive, more free,

Today, I realized it is about time I clear this online home of the dusts and cobwebs that have accumulated in my absence. I took the time to  put up a couple of book reviews (I cheated and have them anti-dated, haha!). I have more of those in my drafts, plus a few posts detailing what happened in the previous months. Maybe I'll get to clean them up and post more in the coming days, considering the amount of leaves I filed in December. I hope that by doing that I will be able dredge up the kid in me once more, the one with rosy-colored lenses when viewing the world. I feel the need to oil up again the gears I left almost rusting to the wind. And I guess I just want to feel holistically happy again.

(Now that I think about it, this has sounded more of a note-to-self than a "hi again" post to fellow bloggers. More precisely, it sounded more like a note to a version of myself, to the nerdy gal who actively contributes to the fandom she's a part of. Moving on...)

No matter how small of a thing it is to be able to blog again here, I'm so drinking to it. No alcohol though. Just a good cup of darjeeling will do.

If someone is reading this...well, see you in my next posts!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories

Author: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Genre: Romance, general; contemporary fiction

My Rating: ★★★ (specifically, 2.5 of 5 stars)

Short stories possess a kind of magic that novels sometimes do not have. The worlds in them seem smaller because of their length, but I came to realize that this is nothing but a hypercritical verdict: the worlds in them are in truth so much bigger, as there is a plethora of possibilities hanging at the ledge of every tale’s abrupt end. The readers often get to be the mind-pilots when they reach the said ledge, imagining what would happen past the borders. These tales are like tiny pieces of a universe pulled apart and made to stand alone. The very good ones are strong enough to make a reader believe they do not need to be a part of something bigger in order to do what volumes of others could, from something as small as scraping the reader’s heart to something as large as totally changing someone’s life.  Imagine what an anthology of these kinds of stories would be like!

But let us keep in mind that a tale’s power is directly tied to its effect to the audience. In the end, it is still a matter of preference and taste—what can reduce you to tears may only be able to make me arch an eyebrow; what can make me laugh like there is no tomorrow may only make you shrug.

Considering this, I believe that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s ’s anthology There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories may be regarded as a powerful collection, but one whose clout does not quite hit my heart’s bull’s eye nor grabbed at my interest for long. (The title did arrest my curiosity, I'll admit, but it was its contents that I have a few concerns with.)

Don’t get me wrong: the stories have a lot to offer. They bring forth a blend of bittersweetness, hope, desperation, grit, heartbreak. They flash facets of histories of women who sought, found, and lost love in a variety of places and situations: seedy apartments that witnessed infidelities, hasty and messy one-night stands, hesitant romances in corporate bubbles, trysts crutched by temporary bliss, and label-less relationships. They feature an assortment of women, too—there are strong ones, "weak" ones , and those lodged in between. But even though there is a lengthy list of rave reviews for this anthology and the one that preceded it (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales), I cannot seem to find a concrete element in it that will make me cherish it as something that is utterly remarkable.

I think my main concern with the whole thing is that even though the stories are meant to be stand-alones, the characters (and in effect, the situations they are in) seem to bleed into each other. And I am not talking in a seamless, spin-off-like Venn Diagram way either. It was as if there is a handful of templates for characters that get recycled for the individual tales, as though there is a lone element that make them identical in voice and demeanor.

The result, for me, is that there is no character that stood out. Well-written characters are vital for short stories because they often drive the whole tale with them. Like what I said in the beginning of this review, there might be a bigger universe outside a short story’s concrete margins when it reaches the end, but the space where characters could establish themselves as beings worthy of being remembered is very small. The process of character creation and/or development should happen here—it could not extend to those unseen margins.

I liked how each story unfolded, though. The successions of every scene hold a flavor of honesty and simplicity; their undemanding messages could be conveyed to their audience effortlessly. Remembering these bits as something notable could be a lot easier if their anchors—the characters, of course—are as strongly knitted as they are.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The 'Little Prince' Little Babel Hunt!

Ever since I fell in love with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince around 15 years ago, I pledged to embark on a little (dork-ish) mission of collecting its various editions in all possible languages. I wanted to have a 'tribute' space for it in my shelves that I can label "The Little Prince Around the World," something perhaps that you may tag as a shrine. I imagine it's going to be a beautiful babel of paperbacks for one timeless story.

 I started with an English copy, of course; I also have one in my own tongue, the Filipino translation that can still make me giggle when I read parts of it. And today, I chanced upon a French edition--THE STORY IN ITS ORIGINAL LANGUAGE! I had to clamp down my shriek when I found it, had to dodge curious looks from fellow book-shoppers when I clutched the copy close to me. I also had to insist that Yes, Ms.Cashier, I know it's in French and I'm still going to buy it! ;)  Frankly I have a long, long way to go with this mission: The Little Prince is translated in 250 languages! Good luck to me, right? If I'm lucky enough, I might even find a copy of it in Braille.

 So...I guess you guys know now what to give me this Christmas? Kidding...not. Maybe. Haha!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review: A Fall of Moondust

Author: Arthur Clarke
Genre: Hard science fiction, thriller
My Rating: ★★★★(4 of 5 stars)

Image courtesy of Google Images

Like its reel counterparts, popcorn literature set in outer space are usually replete with alien invasions, intergalactic skirmishes, and heroes trying to defeat extraterrestrial elements. But there is no written rule saying all works under the genre should have all these checklist items ticked—relying on hard facts, research, and a little bit of forecast will sometimes do just dandy. If done properly, they could even be better than most of those soft sci-fi treats. This dawned on me as I corrected 1/3 of my blasphemous mistake of Not Having Read Anything by the Sci-Fi’s Great Triumvirate (also known as Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, and Robert Heinlein) by picking up one of Clarke’s classic works, A Fall of Moondust.

Known as the first science fiction novel to be included in the Reader’s Digest’s Condensed Book, A Fall of Moondust is a futuristic (or pseudo-futuristic?) lunar disaster story involving the tourist “dust-cruiser” Selene, which sunk into the “Sea of Thirst” after a moonquake. Its twenty-two occupants must struggle to survive while the crew above them tries to trace and rescue them before it’s too late.

Readers need not become selenologists or even space buffs to notice that the world-building is superbly executed, although by now the delicate details of its science-based foundation are largely outdated. Clarke was not also able to foresee the influx of high technology that this generation could as well be having; the existence of cellular/smart phones or tablets and similar gadgets could have propelled the plot points into very different directions, from contacting people (they are not in too deep into the moon-pit anyway) to extracting some form of entertainment. This did not deter me from enjoying its multi-dimensionality, though. I loved the feel of the whole thing, from how space tourism worked in the author’s chosen setting—with of course a bit of involvement of politics, like how there are actually some officials who voted against turning the moon into a tourist destination, etc.—to how Clarke wrote the moon to appear both mystifyingly beautiful and stealthily dangerous. It was as if the moon was a character in itself, and that is always good in my book.

The characters are not as fleshed out as I wanted them to be, but I think they were decent for the most part. My favorite turned out to be the one person the other characters could not find themselves to like, the young grumpy astroscientist Tom Lawson. His antisocial, high-and-mighty attitude makes almost all people he meets peel away from him as if he is caustic, and that’s exactly how he wants it. He does not put up pretenses about caring for the people he is supposed to be saving; he is a cold problem-solver, bent on proving he is right when all of nature is trying to tell him otherwise. I liked him the most because he is ‘differently flavored’ from the rest of the characters. He stands out and does not make excuses for his actions, and though he sets out to make everyone thinks he is made of marble, there are moments in the book that poked at his soft core, handful of scenes that showed he could be an ordinary, scared human too. Through subtle episodes, it is hinted that his personality has been a by-product of a bad childhood. However, Clarke did not allot space for a dramatic back story as it could veer away the focus from the main meat of the novel, a choice that is unusual with overly dramatic books nowadays.

The thing that concerned me the most is the lack of strong women in the book. Sure, we have the flight attendant Sue Wilkins, but what purpose does her presence serve other than being a romance catalyst for one of the main male characters? She is described as formidable, but nothing in the novel ever backed that up—even that single sentence saying the skipper Pat Harris is simultaneously afraid of and smitten by her proved to be a tad too unconvincing . The rest of the women are passengers who are either bitter old maids with a bad case of “impacted virginity” (I mean, seriously?!) or obese wives who automatically turn themselves into butts of ridicule with zero effort.

But in terms of plot and pacing, this story simply shines. I was constantly at the edge of my seat, turning pages in awe as I await one plot twist after another (Clarke never runs out of rabbit to pull out of his author’s hat, I tell you). This is a prime example of a true-blue space thriller. They say this is not even Clarke’s best work, making me more excited about reading A Space Odyssey or Rendezvous with Rama.

Four stars for a satisfying treat!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Review: On Such a Full Sea

Author: Chang-rae Lee
Genre: Dystopia, Science fiction
My Rating: ★★★(3 of 5 stars)

On Such a Full Sea- Chang-rae Lee
Image courtesy of Google Images
In the wake of the commercial successes of ‘dystopian’ stories that have leapt from page to screen, the genre has been treated by many contemporary writers as their experimental sandboxes. However, modern dystopia requires a rather formulaic approach by design, so finding a title that effectively throws in a bit of thematic variety is very rare.

The typical formula goes like this: there’s a bleak setting, perhaps a wild landscape that is a by-product of (a) a big catastrophe, (b) an invasion of supernatural or extraterrestrial forces, (c) a deadly war, or (d) the neglect of its lousy stewards—humans. Smack in the middle, imagine surviving human settlements or patches of stratified societies closed off by walls or domes that protect them from the ‘world’. These societies live an unnatural lifestyle crutched by technology, with their governments continually promising to keep them safe. Enter a smart, young, and feisty hero/heroine, who will discover something wrong with the authority. That’s where (s)he will stand up, go beyond the walls, seek the help of the free outsiders, and try to rectify the wrong in the world she lives in.

Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea was introduced to me by fellow readers as a modern dystopian tale that is largely different from its peers. They told me it has the destroyed-world-with-walls setup, but insisted it is something new; they said it has got a young heroine in the forefront, but that it is not exactly catered for the young adult audiences. I was colored curious, so I picked it up. It turned out that the book does follow the typical modern YA dystopia blueprint, but the author twists his style in a way that lets the readers see—or feel—the genre in a new perspective.

In the story, the society is divided into three: the Charters, or the enclave of wealthy and sometimes cutthroat individuals living in grand villages; the lower labor colonists, usually of Asian ethnicity, who were driven away from their pollution-ravaged homes to now toil in providing the necessities of the Charter villages; and the counties people, the ‘uncivilized’ populace living beyond the gates that mark what are supposed the safe zones.

Our protagonist is a tiny teen-aged girl named Fan, a fish tank-diver in the labor colony called B-Mor (formerly Baltimore) who goes beyond the safety of their gates to search for her disappeared lover. Although we have her as the storyline linchpin, the book as a whole does not so much revolve around her as it does around the collective people of B-Mor. This is because the story is narrated in the first-person plural point of view, a powerful “We”.

The unusual POV choice is one of the things that separate On Such a Full Sea from its peers in the genre. It’s new and romantic; it’s friendly and able to establish an instant rapport with the readers. It could have been the story’s main strength only if it did not come twinned with its main weakness: the vague character makeup of Fan.

Whenever readers dive into a fictional world, I think it’s very important for them to have something to latch onto. Give the readers something to care for; give them something to root for. It’s obviously deliberate in Lee’s part to make a heroine out of an ordinary, quiet girl who makes an uncharacteristically bold choice, but if the reasons behind her choice are blurry, if they are just woven from gossipy speculations and blind admiration, her action that officially turned her into a legend loses a degree of impact. It may be an element of the fable structure, but the rest of the ingredients in the tale appear to be sacrificed.

The point is it’s good that the readers may get a fine, refreshingly impersonal, and sympathetically communal voice from the narrator, but it produces multiple blinds that prevent us from seeing what are supposed to be important in a good story. It makes a character, who could be unconventionally charming, a little too flat. The collective storyteller cheers for Fan’s successes, but what exactly for? Stepping out or running from safety is a significant symbolism for the B-Mors, but can its significance ripple through the audiences reading the whole thing?

(Some might argue that Fan did all what she did because of love. But saying that is just that, saying. The readers have never actually felt that love; the narrator is saying they know Fan loved Reg, but it’s all secondhand to the readers. That’s telling instead of showing.)

The world-building would have been spot-on if it weren’t for its loopholes—or should I say its inner mechanisms that are kept secret from the readers. Many questions popped into my head: How did such a society come about? What are the new main laws that such a society must abide by? What are the schemes they are using to keep a strong, surviving society where there is evidently a system for business, trade, and industry while chaos and ruin is running so close on its outskirts? These things, if touched even for just a couple of paragraphs or so, could have provided more concreteness to this universe.

There are so many things that needed to be presented clearly, but I do understand that Lee here is underscoring not the technical aspects of this world but the philosophy and effect of Fan’s actions. There are long passages on destiny, on freedom, on impacts of socio-cultural caste systems on a person's individuality, and on how a small decision of an ordinary girl can make people think again, can make people realize their choice is in their hands, can make people look the other way and remind themselves that they are actually longing for change.

Nevertheless, I loved how ‘romantic' my experience with this book had been. It's like listening to a friendly stranger talk fondly about the life he left miles away; it's like he has so much to say and you have so much to ask but time runs out, so when he leaves, you just let the loose threads of his story them be blown by the wind.

Although Lee succeeded in making me realize there is a refreshing flavor of contemporary dystopia out there, he wasn’t quite able in pulling me completely in his world. Some chapters proved to be engrossing while the others left me thirsty for more. I still think this is a decent read, though. I have heard that Lee’s previous works are much, much better than this, so I’ll definitely try them out.

Review: Orange is the New Black

Author: Piper Kerman
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
My Rating: ★★★(3 of 5 stars)

OITNB-Piper Kerman
Image courtesy of Google Images

Netflix’s hit comedy-drama series Orange is the New Black is the kind of show that should be labeled “bad for viewers who got heaps upon heaps of important things to tend to”, simply because a single episode could hold you captive (no pun intended) and make you forget about the said piles of responsibilities until you blink at your clock and realize you’ve just twelve hours watching the whole season. I should know—I’ve been singlehandedly thrown back into my couch potato mode when I got a hold of the first two seasons. Naturally, when I learned the series was based on a book, I know I have to pick it up.

Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is a short albeit delightful treat that is as engrossing as its web series counterpart. It follows the story of Piper Kerman, a “nice blond lady” who had to serve fifteen months in prison for her association with a drug-trafficker when she was still in her early twenties.

With the fast translation of books to TV series and movies nowadays, I have learned to work my way in the middle as a consumer who actively churns out my opinions about my favorite stories that happened to be presented in both formats. I have learned that for the most part, I favored books since they have always contained more honesty and more care for details. I have learned that TV/movie adaptations have a way of romanticizing scenes for a greater on-screen impact or aesthetics.

In the case of Orange is the New Black, I was right about the romanticizing part. But while I expected the book to be a patchwork of watered down scenes from what I have seen in the show, I still anticipated reading about a few things that could send brutal punches in the gut, things that could stand as eye-openers to society about what was really transpiring behind bars and in the American penal system—things that might have been the reason why this memoir received several thumbs up. Truthfully, I expected grit…lots and lots of it. Instead, what I’ve read about are the “normal” day-to-day accounts of prison life, which are not as bad as I thought they would be and could sometimes border on being soporific. The memoir actually reads like an all-women mixed-race/class Big Brother show except that everybody looks forward to being “evicted”, if you know what I mean.

That was not exactly a bad thing, of course. Reading the book was a very different experience compared to watching the series. While the show focused on the complex and often tumultuous relationships between the main characters, the memoir proved to be more insightful, zeroing in more on Kerman’s feelings, thoughts, and realizations. There were strings of hard-won lessons and advice there that could strike a chord with the readers. A few things that are begging for reform (i.e. facilities, BOP’s ‘ineffectual’ programs, etc.) were mentioned but were not mightily underscored.

Kerman’s storytelling was clean and she managed to throw in dollops of good wit and humor that buoyed the portraits of the inmates that she brought to life in her writing. However, some parts become repetitive, becoming a tad too banal and long-winded for a great read.

Oh, and I may have to say this too: in the end, I gleaned that TV-Piper was not entirely different from the real-life Piper, as she proved to be leaning a little on the high-and-mighty type. Throughout the book I couldn’t seem to see the narration detach itself from the “I’m white and better than and a class apart from you” vibe hidden underneath a thin veil of humility and friendliness. In fact, a little voice inside my head asked, “How many of those friendships do you think are genuine, and how many do you think did she establish for the sake of survival?” But hey, maybe that’s just me. :)

Be that as it may, Orange is the New Black proved to be a decent read in my commute to work and back, so here’s the three stars for that.

PS: I’d be waiting for season 3 of the show, of course.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle

Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddle
Genre: Fairytale, fictional revisionism
My Rating: ★★★★(4 of 5 stars)

Sleeper and Spindle

With today’s unending slew of accounts that unhook many fairytale characters from their more familiar (and often ‘sanitized’) bedtime storybook versions—like those featuring a thrice-divorced Prince Charming, a one-foot cyborg Cinderella, and a rifle-wielding Red Riding Hood who collects wolfskin coats—it is safe to say that revisionism, indeed, is the new black. Many authors and moviemakers are jumping on the bandwagon but only a handful can deftly play around in the genre. One of them is Neil Gaiman, and he has once again proved this in one of his most recent works, The Sleeper and the Spindle.

The novella is both a retelling and a mash-up of two beloved fairytales. When a “sleeping plague” spreads from a nearby kingdom, the unnamed Queen knows she has to do something. Stripping off her wedding dress to don her chain mail and sword, she travels to the kingdom with her three friend dwarfs and tries to stop the curse by the “usual way”: a kiss on the lips of the root of it all, the fair princess in her seemingly eternal slumber. Unbeknown to many, though, the princess is not who they think she is…

Long before its ‘picture-book’ release, The Sleeper and the Spindle has already caused a rather controversial buzz in the Internet. It was when one of its beautiful full-spread illustrations, the one showing Snow White and Sleeping Beauty kissing, surfaced in various social media. There were scattered homophobic bashings but after people got a hold of the tale, some are now complaining why there isn’t an actual inkling of lesbianism in it! That’s the hard-to-please audience for you, but I think Gaiman, being the playful prosemeister that he is, does this on purpose.

So yes, despite what it looked like, The Sleeper and the Spindle did not really cross into the LGBTQ territory. What Gaiman did is swerve into another path to underscore the will and power of women. Gaiman made her Snow White wear the Lady-in-Shining-Armor trope but with a twist; she wakes the princess from the witch-sleep, and the motive is to save her kingdom from the plague. Here, romance is pushed in the backburner; here, masculine roles are taken by the female characters.

More important than that, the women in the story—both the good and the bad—got to showcase individuality and the strength to stand by their own decisions. Yes, there is the overt problem of enchanted sleep, but the undercurrents of internal battles constantly pop up. Even in the beginning Snow White is shown as somewhat dreadful of the future. She has doubts, she wrestles with her conscience, and she wants to hold tightly to her freedom. Who says you should always stick to what is expected of you? Who says other people’s standards officially dictate what would become of you in the future? Gaiman concludes the book with an answer to that.

Typical of Gaiman, the story takes a flavor so dark, but one that does not quite cross the spine-tingling darkness of his other revisionist stories like Snow, Glass, and Apples. Good humor is thrown in there, too, the kind that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

And let us not forget to mention Chris Riddell’s gorgeous black-and-white art! These certainly added to the beauty of this little gem. Inlaid with metallic gold ink, the detailed, wispy illustrations give a modern gothic feel to the whole book. Seeing them made me want to check out other Riddell’s works, and I totally will.

Packaged altogether, this one deserves four stars.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Books that rocked my 2014

The bulks of offline commitments I had in 2014 proved a lot of things, and one of them is this: they may turn me into an online Janey-Come-Lately by divorcing me from my laptop, but they could never really tear me off the books I wanted to read. ;)

However, I must admit that the number of books I read last year had dropped a  few notches from the number of novels I flipped through in 2013 (needless to say, I failed to complete my GoodReads challenge). I’m just so glad that most of what I decided to pick turned out to be paperback jackpots, thanks to some of my bibliophile-friends’ recommendations.

Before I move on to new novels this year, I present here some of my favorite 2014 reads  in no particular order:

Check out my lists of top lit picks for the previous years:
*reviews to follow

Happy new year, booknuts! I hope you find lots and lots of amazing novels this year, and I hope you get to spread the love by telling other people about them. :)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Adieu, 2014!

And the clock struck twelve. When our ears catch its chime, when we hear the first sweet notes of “Auld Lang Syne” mixing with the screams of fireworks, we take it all as our signal to nosedive to our new beginnings. We’re always excited for a new start, yes?

But before we rush to create rosters of new resolutions, why don’t we take a last glimpse at the previous year’s happy highlights and carry them like a lucky keepsake for 2015? Per my blog’s annual tradition, I’m recounting here some of the reasons why my 2014 has been a reasonably good year.

The Year that Was

Wicked in Manila.
It was around mid-February when we got to cross out a big item in our bucket list. Why, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) just saved us the airfare to Broadway when it became home to the megamusical Wicked! Just thinking about it again brings back the magic of the night. If you wish to go through my extensive (though rather fangirl-y) account of the experience, you may read it here.

WickedThe Wickedest Night There Ever Was’ for the Oz-sessed trio

Baby Summer is born.
On February 18 our friend Debbie gave birth to her first baby, Summer. More than anything, the little angel is a blessing; the moment she became part of Debbie’s life, she has also indelibly imprinted herself on ours. She's the main reason now why the word "summer" brings us double-joy. Here's to hoping she grows up beautiful, healthy, and as (street-)wise as her mom. :)

 Summer, all grown up now! (Photo by Mommy Debbie)

The Great British Festival.
Our Britophile hearts were not able to contain our glee come March when the British Embassy mounted the first Great British Festival in Taguig City. It was a three-day celebration and although I attended for one day only, it became a memorable experience to me. Here’s an entry detailing my Very British Saturday.

Great British Fest Feeling tourist-y at the GBF 2014

Riggs Book-Signing.
In April, Ransom Riggs of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children fame visited the Philippines for a book-signing event in Glorietta. I missed his book-signing in 2013 so I made sure not to commit the same mistake when National Book Store brought him back to the country. If you want to know how my encounter with Mr.Riggs went, you may read it here.

A visit to book-lovin’ places.
Around May, my friend MJ took me to two new places in the UP Village that are home to many secondhand tomes: Bookay-Ukay and Cool Beans cafe. You may check this blog entry to know more about our trip to these places.

Bookay-Ukay and Cool Beans Bookay-Ukay and Cool Beans Cafe

This 2015, I’ll make sure to visit places that not only promote literacy but also flag the pride of being bookworms.

Team Building and ‘Dog-Paddle’ Lessons.
Our office spent three June days for a planning cum teambuilding session in Bakasyunan, Tanay, Rizal. After the hard slogs of gearing up for the entrance of our new Director-in-Charge and preparing for the next projects, everything seemed to consist of unadulterated fun. We stayed up late for karaoke, munched on good food, and played games!

It was also hear that I learned the ABC’s of ‘squirming across the surface of the water to save my life’ (I myself can’t even consider it a decent form of swimming. How sad is that? Haha!) We were in the pool when my colleagues found out I don’t know how to swim, so they grabbed that opportunity to teach me the rudiments of the activity. Their efforts came into…slight fruition in the end. At least now I can dog-paddle my way to safety if ever the boat I’m riding on gets capsized or something. :p

TeamBuilding KMIS Planning/Team Building in Bakasyunan, Tanay, Rizal

The start of our  H&F routines.
It was in late June when I and my friend Eliza began our weekend jogging sessions. The suggestion came up when we were eating a not-so-small meal at an Italian restaurant one night. Feeling bloated at the end of dinner, Elai offhandedly remarked that she should start developing some kind of health and fitness routines to stay in shape. In jest, I suggested regular runs...and I ended up accompanying her when she took it seriously. I’m glad it happened, though. Since then there hasn’t been a week that passed without us doing various calorie-burning stuff. :)

JoggingFrom one of my morning jog sessions with Elai (Photo by Jeff, who used to be the masculine Hermione to our femme Harry-and-Ron fitness tag team)

Finally 23.
Various dust devils of workload came crashing on us on July and August, but there’s no stopping my getting a year older. On August 24, I turned 23.

IMG_20140922_232503Birthday surprise at the office

HuCap Season.
In the DTI, the HuCap or Human Capital Development seminar-workshop season commences in September. Aside from the various seminars under TalkShop, Dale Carnegie, and other training institutions that I attended, I also got to subscribe to one of their physical wellness programs! For the latter, I and my friend Joanna signed up for a four-month yoga class.

TALKSHOP That one time when my Draw-This-and-That-Without-Lifting-Your-Pen talent honed in childhood became actually useful. And it’s in a serious seminar, to boot. (Photos by

Yoga Thursdays with Jo at Big Shift Studios, A.Venue Mall, Makati City.

We missed about three or four yoga sessions because additional workloads made it so that our nine-to-five schedule suddenly became too short for us to finish many of our tasks. But we have free yoga mats and we could use them when we take yoga classes outside of the HuCap Dev. program, so I guess we still won at that. :)

Manila International Book Fair.
Need I say more?

Back to the Walled City.
October is the first month our office held an ‘organizational culture’ activity that aims to strengthen the bonds between officemates. Considering time-and-place economy (along with the HR’s guidelines in choosing the activities), the team opted for a whole-day trip to the planetarium and the historic Intramuros.

Revisiting the Walled City provided an instant throwback to me and Kit since our alma mater, The Lyceum of the Philippines University, is located there. We reminisced about trudging the cobblestones and drawbridges, asking directions from the guardia civil, climbing its “walls”, and eating on the cheap stalls we call KFC (aka kikiam-fishball-calamares) right beside our campus.

Back to Intramuros 
Revisiting Intramuros.

Mystery Manila and Haunted Hunt.
The days approaching Halloween became extra-exciting as we tried the first live escape room game in the country, Mystery Manila. We were with our former professor and ‘office dad’ Sir Vic when we attempted to solve the mystery of Rebecca’s Room; we were with neighboring office friends Liah and Elca when we signed up for Mystery Manila’s Halloween offering called Haunted Hunt. Both games were fun, and we’ll make sure to play the other games Mystery Manila will offer.

MysteryManila Joining Mystery Manila as part of ‘Fat@Team’ and Team Pola B*tch.
(Excuse the latter name. It’s a long story.)

Pink Punch Sundays.
Determined to amp up our fitness routines during weekends and holidays,  Elai and I applied for memberships at the Elorde Boxing Gym in November. Here we’re currently undergoing a training program that gives our muscles the kind of soreness we haven’t experienced before—the kind of pain that tells us our bodies are alive. Also, ever since I started runs and exercises, I’ve spent months not seeing the need for my good ol’ friend Salbutamol. This, of course, means that I’m on the right track.

Boxing at Elorde GymBoxing Sundays with le fitness buddy :)

More runs and relaxation.
Knowing we’re into fun runs, my father invited me and Elai to participate in Tarlac’s Magic Star Color Run. As a sponsor under San Miguel, he’s got free race kits for the three of us. The event is not as big as Manila Color Run but it was as fun! The race proper was sandwiched between two rounds of zumba (one for warm-up and one for cool-down). There was also a brief color-powder festival at the finish line, and scattered mini-feasts all around thanks to San Miguel’s free drinks and snacks.

Color Run Magic Star Color Run in Tarlac City with Papa and Elai

After getting color- and sweat-drenched at the end of the run, we headed home for breakfast and prepared to visit one of the places in San Jose that gets flocked by pilgrims every Holy Week, the Monasterio de Tarlac. Perched atop the hillside retreat of the Monasterio is the thirty-foot statue of Jesus Christ, which is a dead ringer for the popular Rio de Janeiro image in Brazil. Its humble church, we were told, houses one of the sacred relics of the True Cross.

A Visit to Monasterio de Tarlac At the Monasterio de Tarlac in San Jose

A Very Retro Office Christmas.

Stress clung to us with a viselike grip that we barely noticed yuletide season creeping up slowly on the calendar. It was only on 18 December—a day after the very crucial first-stage ISO Audit for our office—that we took a real break. With a retro theme, our Christmas Party was all guffaws, games, and gifts!

Christmas Party 
The KMIS Retro Christmas Party 2014

It’s as if all our ‘beleaguered’ mode were switched off for a while; paperwork and assignments were traded for dances (courtesy of Tita Baby’s last-minute dance instructions on a 60s medley number), songs (courtesy of Sir Ren’s and Sir Resty’s last-minute invitation to join a John Legend number), and photo ops (courtesy of…everyone. Everyone is a camera freak!). Every member of the KMIS family was giving off childlike joy that time.

Dance When You Don't Need ToDoing impromptu “body wiggles” that I hoped passed as proper dancing…or not.
To be honest, I didn’t really care.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I used to be a true-blue member of the proverbial ‘So Timid I’m Almost Antisocial’ Club, but my membership got voided right after I found out that wiggling around (read as: dancing) to coax out adrenaline rush is an effective de-stressor. Trust me on this. Once upon a time, someone would need to pull a gun on me to actually get me to the dance floor. Now, upbeat music would automatically make me sway. What can I say, times are a-changing!

Jackstone Five The ‘Jackstone Five’ singing John Legend’s “All of Me” semi-disastrously.
No one memorized the lyrics.

Tagaytay trips.
Have I mentioned that my fitness BFF Elai is also Little Miss Wanderlust? Whenever she feels like leaving the city for a while, she’ll book tickets without second thoughts, grab her backpack, and go on her merry adventures. She invited me a handful of times to accompany her on her trips, but I only agreed to places that were at most three hours away from the metropolis (yes, sometimes I’m a clingy wife to my husband named Work). We went twice to Tagaytay this year. You may read about one of these here.

Tagaytay Trip Loving the verdant and cold Tagaytay.

Ther's a whole batch of other reasons why I should be appreciative of this year—passing the Civil Service Examination, receiving my appointment papers for regularization at work, watching musicals like The Last Five Years, witnessing my grand-nieces growing up (!), and even the littlest of things like tasting an array of different types of teas, getting a new hanging bookshelf on my bedroom, and, well, reading amazing novels.

But most of all, I’m grateful for all the people that helped make this year worthwhile. 2014 was akin to a reasonable dealer: while he made sure he released a substantial amount of good things, he balanced it out with rounds of a handful of bumps and misfortunes. I managed to go through the latter with the aid of my friends (both new and old) and my ever-supportive family (both blood-related and otherwise). I hope you’ll still be with me the same way I’ll be with you this 2015.

Cheers for a new start! :)