Filipino readers have never been really short on romance. The National Book Development Board (NBDB) 2012 Readership survey cites that 25% of their respondents read this genre (second only to the Bible). Bookstore shelves are overflowing with foreign and local titles. The country's biggest mass-paperback romance line dominates the market with a variety of series. Yuppies and millennials turn to Summit paperbacks for their own kind of kilig.
Add to that mix these new Filipino contemporary romance novellas. They're all published digitally and independently, making romances even more accessible to a larger market.
Well Played, a re-telling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice set in UP Los Baños. Los Baños is a town in Laguna, and is home to hot springs, science and research centers, and a university at the foot of mystical Mt Makiling. It's definitely a unique setting for a teen/NA read.
In the story, Patrice is a varsity football player who gets caught up in a little boarding house drama. Her best friend Dia is hitting it off with the campus hottie. Their younger friend Deenie is determined to break into social circles. To top it off, Patrice has to deal with winning soccer matches while matching wits with her cold and arrogant classmate Neil. I found myself matching the characters with their Pride and Prejudice counterparts (some were easier than others) and also familiarizing myself with some college/frat terms. I really appreciated the glossary because of it! All in all, it's a tightly-packed read for someone looking for more than the usual teen romance.
Vintage Love. Crissy's beloved Mama Maring passes away, leaving Crissy to find new homes for her grand-aunt's fashionable clothes and other vintage finds. It's not easy to let go of something, especially since Crissy herself is still dealing with a failed long-term romance. Enter Vince, vintage shop owner and all-around nice guy, who manages to catches Crissy's eye.
Reading this book made me wish that the local contemporary romances I had read in my twenties were as sweet. Props to the author's writing style; I liked how urban the situations felt, yet still brimming with charm and sweetness. I didn't feel that it had to try too hard to be current. Crissy and Vince were both believable, complementing each other's personalities and really making the romance between them (and their conflict) highly probable. It has the most 'conventional' premise among these three novellas, but I thought it avoided the genre's pitfalls quite well.
All's Fair in Blog and War. Travel bloggers Five and Jesse are opposites, but that doesn't stop the Macau Tourism Board from matching them up as tour buddies during a familiarization trip to Macau. Sparks fly as soon as they meet, but the two of them gradually transition to something more.
Even though the author blogs about food and not travel IRL, she does an excellent job in turning the setting into an important element of the story. It makes a great backdrop for all the kilig moments that Five and Jesse find themselves in. The novella is also a perfect travel companion itself, a fast-paced and enjoyable story that you can read during a plane ride. Despite the foreign setting, it's peppered with lots of interesting Pinoy tidbits -- Pinoy naming conventions and the local blog culture, among others -- reminding the reader of where its heart truly lies.
All three books bring something different to the romance table. They each have their own flavor and strengths. One day, you might find yourself in a Cubao X vintage shopper mood; the next, you might feel some boarding house nostalgia. And even if you aren't a Filipino reader, you may find yourself interested on how we live and love on this side of the world! You won't regret trying these out. You can get your digital copies of these titles through Amazon and Smashwords -- just follow the links.
It should also be noted that author Mina V. Esguerra is a vocal supporter of Filipino chick lit and self-publishing. In fact, both Ms Llanera and Ms Peria's novellas were products of Mina's online romance writing class (full disclosure: I took that class, too). So congratulations to the authors and to Ms Esguerra. It's truly an exciting time to be a Filipino romance author -- and reader.