Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Seeds.

Points if you can name the pop culture reference. (Well, points if you actually read this blog...)

These are addictive. As addictive, I guess, as Sergei Lukyanenko's Watch series. Or weekends spent playing mad, mad RPG. I had undead warriors and unsolved crimes these past couple of days. And lots and lots of blood.

Sometimes I want my world to stay as uncomplicated as this.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sunshine (Robin McKinley)

Confession: this is not my book cover; this is. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of the YA cover. I have, however, become a fan of the book.

When I found out that this was the 2007 winner of the Mythopoeic Award, I was excited. My new goal is to read as much of the Mythopoeic winners as I can, especially since a number of them are already my favorites (Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Hand, Patricia McKillip, among others).

Sunshine bakes cinnamon rolls every four in the morning for her stepfather's quaint little diner. One night, she heads to the lake, gets abducted, and experiences what every Twilight fangirl dreams of: being shackled right next to a vampire.

Normally, I don't like characters like Sunshine. Most of them, I feel, are too conveniently dropped into a storyline with paranormal creatures and because of (surprise, surprise) some mystic power in their blood or some obscure prophecy, they are able to triumph over evil. Ho-hum. But while this may be true for Sunshine, Ms McKinley sets her apart through the observant tone her main character uses. Sunshine makes her days at the coffeehouse just come to life and it is this same eye for detail that allows her strange encounter with the vampire Constantine to remain on some grounded level of believability.

Sunshine is not quite romance, even if you have vampires and crimson ballgowns and a devoted human boyfriend. It's not quite science fiction either, even if you have a recently-concluded war with drastic effects and tech names for familiar things. There's a lot in Sunshine that makes you think you know where it's going, but it has surprised me in many (small and subtle) ways. I appreciated how the book deals with the morality of killing (a vampire, yes, but killing just the same) or the way that it leaves some loose ends that may (or may not) have anything to do with the main conflict.

But the ambiguity is not the sole reason that I feel that the book has two different personalities. As the story progresses, the reader will feel the change in Sunshine, but it's hard to pinpoint the exact passage when her tone changes. You do know that she still cares for the same things in the end, still wants her old life. But her voice--her storytelling--has moved on from its originally sharp and tongue-in-cheek effervescence into more deliberate, more mature shades. I suppose I loved that feeling, reading the last few pages of the book and letting Sunshine's realizations wash over me as well. Not really what I expected from another 'vampire novel.'

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta)

I was hooked from the very first line ('My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die'), so I know it will be very hard for me to stay objective about Jellicoe Road. The premise didn't sound like something I would be normally attracted to: Taylor is a troubled teen abandoned by her mother and raised at a boarding school, which is about to commence its annual territorial wars with the locals (Townies) and a visiting military camp (Cadets). For one reason or another, it's been on my Amazon Wish List for a while now and it was only yesterday when I was able to get a copy from my local bookstore. At one-thirty in the morning, I started to read it and didn't stop--except for a short bathroom break and to get a drink of water. It was that much of an emotionally addictive read for me.

It's about Taylor coping with being chosen to lead her school in the territory wars. It's about her dealing with the pain of a father she doesn't know and a mother who has abandoned her. It's about her searching for the one adult she depends on--Hannah, who found her at eleven and brought her to Jellicoe School but is now nowhere to be found. It's about trusting yourself and trusting others and learning to love. But this story is bigger than Taylor. Interspersed between her present-day struggles are snatches of an uncompleted manuscript that Hannah is writing, about five tragic teenagers who once called Jellicoe Road their home.

The more I read, the more I got hooked. Who were these teens? What did they have to do with Taylor? Ms Marchetta's plot is so complexly layered and so well-mapped out that even though you're not sure where it's headed, you feel compelled to read on. I admit though that once you've started making the connections, it's easy to see what happened to these characters' splintered past. Despite this, I didn't feel disappointed; the novel certainly didn't take the easy way out. Towards the latter chapters the book loses some of its steam (a particularly didactic scene between Taylor and Hannah didn't rise to the level of intensity the rest of the book had) but it's still an amazingly epic contemporary story that I would recommend. I did not regret falling asleep at four in the morning or that my pillow was wet with tears. I was happy to have been to Jellicoe Road and back, to have met these characters, and to feel that in some small measure my life had been changed.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Kotobukiya Star Wars Chopsticks Review and Giveaway

As a huge Star Wars fangirl (check out Exhibit A and B below), I've been meaning to post this link so I can increase my chances of winning some lightsaber chopsticks. Darth Maul and I need some awesome eating utensils to up our geek cred:

Kotobukiya Star Wars Chopsticks Review and Giveaway

Exhibit A. My travel buddy and me in Corregidor

Exhibit B. Maul in France--without me this time! (He's been all over the Philippines, and has been to France, Finland, UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and China!)

I feel that the Force is strong with me. Plus it's my birthday in a couple of days so... yeah. :) I'm sending the universe good vibes.

You can get those fabulous chopsticks from the Kotobukiya online store.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


I was addicted to saying things and having them matter to someone. - Jenna, Waitress

Things are very different these days. I started over. Tabula rasa, and it wasn't as if I had come all that far in the first place. It's not too difficult to have to adjust to a life I once knew but I can't help but miss spur-of-the-moment katsudon (a la Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen) or Ray Bradbury's 'un-pillow talk' (see his We'll Always Have Paris), and 'talk the whole thing away (p137).' Maybe I'm compensating by blogging again.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Paradox.

Tarragon is far from being my drink of choice when reading as something as surreal as David Mitchell's number9dream. It almost sounds like one of Eiji Miyake's dream tangents. But there's something about tarragon that steadies me and makes celebrating my highly-rational physicist cousin's birthday in the middle of a warm and quaint garden sound like a perfectly natural decision.

To Miguel, smartest of minds, quickest of wits, and most generous of natures: happy birthday.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

List-erature: Summer Teen Reads

My fifteen-year old sister and I barely have anything in common these days. She educates me on the benefits of lip primer and moisturizers with SPFs, she teases me for buying my clothes from Old Navy, and she mentally catalogues every outfit she will wear for the first month of her sophomore year. But one thing I feel that we will share for a long time is our love for reading. When she and the rest of my family visited me for their summer vacation, she brought with her a bunch of books to lend me--and ended up buying even more during her two-month stay.

As with most teen titles that my sister reads, the central theme among this collection is young love, although in varying degrees. From light and flirtatious to serious and even tragic, these books are great to pick up during the summer--or, if you're like me, eager for any excuse to reconnect with your younger self:

1. Seventeenth Summer (Maureen Daly). Published in 1942, Seventeenth Summer is regarded as one of the first (if not the first) YA books around. Of course, we didn't know this at the time we bought it so my sister found it rather old-fashioned, Googled it, and then resumed reading with new eyes. While the story of girl meets boy then goes off to college sounds tame and relatively uneventful by contemporary standards, Seventeenth Summer is quiet and observant and contains an innocence not often found on today's YA shelves. Angie and Jack have their own misunderstandings like any normal teens, prompting Angie to say that 'Just because you kissed a boy doesn't mean you're going steady,' before later asking herself with fragile sensitivity, 'Why do I keep remembering the smell of pipe smoke that you can't even see, pungent in the night air, and that small, warm silence when someone is near you? (p.139)'

2. The Lonely Hearts Club (Elizabeth Eulberg). Penny Lane and her friends have been burned by love, but what starts out to be a friendly pact to swear off guys suddenly becomes an after-school club that shakes up the entire school. I was surprised to enjoy this book as much as I did. It's not just about teen romance, it's also about friendship and being true to yourself, themes that are admittedly overdone in YA but are tackled with a clearly upbeat sense in Ms Eulberg's debut.

3. Two-Way Street (Lauren Barnholdt). I was really looking forward to reading this that I had my sister buy me a copy. But maybe because of my high expectations, I ended up on a lukewarm note. It's about Jordan and Courtney, who have just split up but find themselves taking a road trip together because it's too late for them to change their plans. There's a lot of tension between these two, especially when you find out that there's more to the breakup than meets the eye. I liked the way the plot is presented: jumping from Courtney's to Jordan's perspective, not to mention going back and forth from their first months together to the current road trip. But I guess I didn't really quite warm up to the characters or to the way they dealt with their (predictable) situation. Without giving too much away, I feel that Jordan could have done something other than what he did. Both their reasons for doing things never seem too clear to me. Of course, that would leave us without a story, but I guess this was just one of those times when I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough.

4. One Lonely Degree (CK Kelly Martin). This is one of the heavier books in this list, as it tackles sensitive issues like date rape, separation and betrayal. Finn's traumatic sexual encounter with a popular boy has scarred her emotionally, and the only person she can turn to is her best friend Audrey. So when Audrey starts liking Finn's childhood friend Jersy, she only gives them her blessing. But when Audrey goes away for the summer, Finn realizes that it's not as easy as she thinks. Ms Martin's novel is very controlled with its emotions that it doesn't dissolve into drama and hysterics. One of my favorite moments is when Finn puts on a Liz Phair song as she blocks out her parents' argument and realizes that it 'is the longest song in the world (p.37)'. As far removed as I may be from Finn's world, Ms Martin has a way of making it very believable.

5. The Juliet Club (Suzanne Harper). Serious Kate finds herself in Verona, studying Shakespeare and answering letters to lovelorn teens through The Juliet Club. Of course, Shakespeare references are abound, including a plot that borrows heavily from Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, I feel that Ms Harper tries to do much with the story. There are three main love stories involving all six of the Club's teen volunteers (how coincidental), but none of these are as thoroughly explored as I would have liked. There's even a few chapters about Kate's friends who act like a Greek chorus, which I doubt the story needed. On a minor note, all the letter writers sound as if they came from the same American high school (don't even get me started on how high school students would know about The Juliet Club, much less write to a fictional character via snail mail instead of spilling their guts on some online forum). But one of the book's strengths is its lovely descriptions (its Italian setting still makes it a good choice for a summer read) and I think that cutting down on some of the other plots would have helped turn The Juliet Club into a more charming read.

6. She's So Dead to Us (Kieran Scott). This is one of the more enjoyable (contemporary) teen titles that I've read in a long time (I've always been a fantasy/sci-fi/historical kind of girl). Ally returns to the posh upper-crust neighborhood that she was forced to leave two years ago and finds out that life is different at the bottom of the pecking order. This Mean Girls-meets-Gossip Girl title may sound derivative but Ms Scott keeps it fun. Her main cast are not cardboard cut-out stock characters which really makes me want to know more about them and what make them tick. Too bad that this is the start of a series--and it really ended on a cliffhanger. I'm still looking forward to more.

7. Geek Magnet (Kieran Scott). My sister and I really liked Kieran Scott's writing that we immediately bought this one. In this book, KJ, certified geek magnet, tries to get with the one she likes by getting rid of the ones she doesn't and realizes that it's not always easy to trade one for the other. It wasn't as fun for me as She's so Dead to Us was, but if you're a fan of teen romances, this one doesn't disappoint. I liked Geek Magnet's male lead a whole lot better than Dead to Us's Jake Graydon.

8. Boy Crazy (Hailey Abbott). It was one of those teen books that does not easily appeal to me, bursting with pop culture and a contemporary take on dating and friendship, so anything more than that might be unfair. It's a popular series, I hear.

9. Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler). My sister says she's tired of reading books where the protagonist tries to deal with the loss of a significant other. But this, this was just different for us. It moved me beyond all my expectations. Best friends Abby and Frankie spend a summer together, trying to put themselves together after the unexpected loss of Frankie's brother Matt (and Abby's secret boyfriend). But when he dies, Abby not only has to heal herself but she has to heal in private, painfully aware that the world does not allow her to fully grieve for this boy she loved. Ms Ockler's command of language and her acuteness of definition, turned what could easily have been over-the-top melodrama into a story that is poignant, and diamond-sharp, and real. She writes about 'all the old ghosts I tried to leave home float like dandelion seed wishes (p85)' or that 'a banished mermaid reads my letters and weeps endlessly for a love she'll never know(p289).' Just lovely. As someone who's known loss but has never been fully able to write about it, I am always left catching my breath when someone else does.