Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interlude: Love Comes Along With the Rain

That's scribbled in chalk on the trail map at one of my favorite places in Kalibo, marking a rest stop on an 800-meter bamboo trail. I've always wondered what inspired the turn of phrase, the unexpected poetry. I've always wondered how many people have glanced at it and laughed at the cheesiness, how many have idled away at that rest stop and waited for the rain.

The Bakhawan Eco-Park is just a few minutes away from my home so when two of my good friends visited me from Manila, that naturally became our first destination. The place is filled with mangroves, vulnerable and imposing, depending on what time of the day you choose to visit. There's a little stretch of river cutting in between the forest and you have to cross a bamboo bridge to pass through.

Said bamboo bridge. Someday, I'd like to count how many bamboo poles there are to hold this thing up.

At the end of the trail are small cottages that you can rent for the day. By 'cottage,' I mean an open-air gazebo area and not an actual house, but it's roomy enough for five-six friends to just lounge in. I would often pack a few sandwiches for the trip, because the walk (although leisurely) can be a bit tiring, especially if you visit around midday. The last time I visited, the cottages were perched on the water's edge (the mangrove forest was found by the bay), so you could sit on the bamboo floor and dangle above the water if you were feeling adventurous.

Mangrove forest two years ago. The trees weren't so tall then, so the path was a bit shadier.

The bamboo path now.

But that was two years ago, just before a devastating storm brought raging mud and water through our province. The mangrove forest had acted as catch basin of sorts then, letting the mud settle where the water once was. Now, rows of new mangroves have been planted on the reclaimed ground, and there are plans of extending the old trail to cover this area. It's a little heartbreaking to see soil and trees where I had expected water, but it's good to know that the area has been re-purposed in a way, and that the result still makes for a lovely vista. That afternoon, a few teenagers were hanging out at nearby huts (and singing some World Cup song, according to my friends) but the place never lost its idyllic charm. I could really spend hours here just writing or painting or pretending that the 'art' I do can matter to someone else.

Cla's Treeson on vacation, with the newly-planted mangrove trees behind him. Yup, that part used to be water.

Sometimes it feels that I'm living in a place that time forgot, but can you blame me for not wanting to leave? I've grown to love so much about my new home and I was glad that I was able to share a little of that with my friends. And now, you. When you visit, bring the rain.
All photos were taken by my friend Nina, except for the second one, which I took in 2008. Other pictures can be found on Flickr, through Cla's photostream.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman)

Hooray for kilometric blog titles.

Fact: Finding out that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon didn't exist was more devastating to me than the discovering that Santa Claus was not a real man living in the North Pole. I read my first original Nancy Drew mystery when I was in the first grade (Nancy's Mysterious Letter) after my older bus mates bullied me for reading a kid-friendly Nancy Drew picture book (Mystery of the Lost Dogs). That was my rite of passage; ever since, the girls have included me in their make-believe games while waiting for the bus. I never got to play Nancy, by the way. I never even made it to Bess and George status. I was always one of the guest characters (like Carla in The Clue of the Crossword Cipher). It may not have been nice to be laughed at and made fun of, but because of that experience, I have grown to be a big mystery fan.

That is why I was ecstatic when I came across this title at our local Booksale branch. It gives an in-depth look at the origins of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, which was created by Edward Stratemeyer and his writing syndicate during the late 20's. The book continues to chronicle how both series have changed through the years, and how these well-loved characters have affected and inspired countless readers.

What I like best about Ms Kismaric and Mr Heiferman's work is how they have analyzed Nancy, Frank, and Joe and presented these characters that would make any reader -- both old fans and new to the series -- a clear picture of the world they inhabit. Reading it made me wish I had written a paper about Nancy back when I was still an undergrad. I especially enjoyed seeing how Nancy Drew mysteries measured up to the Hardy Boys' cases (I own about 15 of the Boys' series compared to about 40 of Nancy's but I have read more than that). Nancy's mysteries tend to be more cerebral while the Hardys' are more action-packed. The book also goes on to analyze the roles that their friends play in the mysteries, as well as the characters' relationships to the adults around them.

The book contains sidebars that were interesting for the most part, included to help the readers see the series through the various social milieus that have shaped them. There were lots of accompanying photographs too, but they had little to do with Nancy or the Hardy Boys and I wish there weren't so many of them. I was also looking forward to reading more about the various adaptations made of both series for TV and film, but although this was already included, it wasn't as detailed as I had hoped. The most recent TV reincarnations were only mentioned as photo blurbs.

Still, reading The Mysterious Case... was such an enjoyable experience. I felt transported to my childhood days and it made me wish that I had my collection here with me. I can only wish that these series that have greatly inspired and influenced me would still find a place in the shelves of a new generation of readers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chalice (Robin McKinley)

My life is in reverse now. I live ten minutes away from the sea. I vacation in the city. Ever since I moved, I haven't really been able to finish a new book (and I bought a lot of lovely titles with me). I'd start one but would almost always end up bookmarking it and leaving it somewhere else. Every book I've finished reading in November have all been rereads, and it was only during my short vacation in Manila that I was able to close the cover on a new title: Robin McKinley's Chalice, devoured in one sitting.

Chalice is an engaging fantasy, very quiet and descriptive. Dialogue is sparse, but what little there is shines with expression. It is a tale of Mirasol, plucked from her life as a beekeeper and named Chalice of the Willowlands. Being Chalice means being part of a Circle of honored individuals. As second in power only to the Master, it is her duty to bind their demesne. But their demesne has been broken with the deaths of the former Master and Chalice. With no one to guide her, Mirasol has to rely on her own knowledge and perseverance to meet her heavy task. She must stand by the new Master, an elemental priest called back from the Fire, now more elemental than human and together they struggle to keep their land whole despite dangers and threats from outside and within.

This is not a sweeping fantasy of dragons and magic. Instead, it is a subdued piece, a character study, a tale of strength and duty and healing. What I enjoyed most about it is Ms McKinley's subtlety, the lovely way that she draws on natural elements (in this case, bees and honey) to anchor her writing, the strong and blossoming friendship between Mirasol and her Master. She invites the readers to be part of Mirasol's journey, her fears and insecurities to her inevitable triumph. I felt that it buoyed me along, buoyed me enough to keep me from wanting to put it down. Chalice was truly the perfect fantasy in visit in the middle of my wet and grey December.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Juliet, Naked (Nick Hornby)

When Annie argues with Duncan over "Juliet, Naked," an album of previously unreleased acoustic demos of rock icon turned recluse Tucker Crowe, she accuses him of seeing her inability to share his views as "a moral failing [...] a character weakness (p30)." Tucker Crowe’s genius has been at the center of this couple's lives: Duncan, as an obsessed scholar of the singer's work ('fan' seems to be a flimsy word to use for someone who debates the nuances of a song sung by someone who could or could not be the former star); Annie, as the woman anchored to Duncan's side for fifteen years. A copy of Tucker's demos reaches them before its release and their reaction to it allows them to take a closer look at their beliefs, at their relationship, and ultimately, at themselves.

At the heart of Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked is the question of what is wasted and what can never be recovered. For Annie, it is the years she has spent in a relationship that went nowhere. For Tucker, it is the time he has spent running away from his responsibilities: his children and the legacy of "Juliet," the original album that turned him into a cult favorite. It also delves into the question of genius and art, and the "people who consume it ravenously (p70)." As with the title, the lives of these characters are stripped raw, exposed as Works in Progress, the what came before. Within them is a defensiveness not to own up to the fact that they have made mistakes.

Juliet, Naked affected me so strongly because like Duncan, I've grown used to dissecting books as he does song lyrics. There was so much of him, of the certain kind of hubris that a certain kind fan or a critic would bring to a review that felt so familiar to me. In a way, Juliet, Naked called me out on it—and yet left me feeling a little bit justified. "...you asked us to listen. And some of us listened a little too hard (p220)," Duncan says, as an apology. The image of the fanatic, especially the seemingly intellectual one who spends his time on an internet soapbox, is as unflattering as the mirror held up before me, but it is not unforgiving.

Some of the thoughts and behavior highlighted in the book made me laugh because of their familiarity: The way Annie constructs an algebraic equation to recover her wasted years (even considering what she calls her OST = own stupidity and torpor)was something with which I could relate. So did her dilemma of listening to Tucker's album before Duncan can ultimately made it seem "to belong to her more than him (p27)." My friends and I share music a lot and I understand this sentiment completely. When listening to music I enjoy, I will always equate them to the person who 'owned' them: Red House Painters to my fellow Lit grad, Maria Mena to my creative director, 30 Seconds to Mars, Snow Patrol, Florence + the Machine, and a whole slew of other bands to one of my best friends. Details like this made Juliet, Naked a very personal journey for me. I felt that Mr Hornby (always a vocal fan of music) really understood what he was writing about, and by doing so, revealed an intimate look at a world inhabited by those of us who regret and those of us who have listened a little too hard.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Change.

Work is now turning colored twine into Christmas balls while watching Jane Austen adaptations. Work is afternoons of checking and packing Japanese obi and sneaking in an ice cream break in between. Work is interviewing weavers and finding the poetry between their deft fingers, silent but uncontainable. I am writing more but writing is not work, never work. I am writing and the world disappears.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Want Books? (The Strain)

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now.
Sometimes I just really want lose myself in a thrilling/chilling read. Viral pandemic? Vampires? Guillermo del Toro? I was salivating from the get-go. I haven't read Richard Matheson's I am Legend but The Strain sounds like a more action-packed, less introspective read. Where Mr Matheson's novel deals with the after-effects of the pandemic on one survivor, the del Toro-Hogan collaboration chronicles the spread of the virus as it happens, how the world falls apart, how a war with the vampires begins, which all somehow makes me think of The Stand meets Y the Last Man. Very promising.

(Also, check out their very cool website.)

I've seen copies of the second book in the trilogy, The Fall but have yet to see this one. I've been avoiding picking up interesting-looking fantasy titles because they're part of a series, but looking at how fast-paced The Strain seems, I don't have the same problems with uh, sinking my teeth into it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter)

No one does dark and sensual stories quite like Angela Carter. She dances on the edge of taboo with her gothic imagery and rich metaphors. She has a deft way of using language to awaken the senses, and in The Bloody Chamber she re-imagines well-known characters and situations against a vivid tapestry of emotions.

That said, I'm glad that I read The Bloody Chamber all the way through, instead of using my usual method of reading the first, then doing random samples of the other stories until I have finished the entire book. This collection of short stories has a logic to it, with folktales and fairy tales retold close to their original narrative found at the beginning of the book ("The Bloody Chamber," "The Courtship of Mr Lyon") before drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the deeply reworked and refashioned spirit of the later stories ("The Lady of the House of Love," "The Company of Wolves"). Had I read it in my normal fashion, I would have lost the lush beauty of that build-up.

Ms Carter presents different women caught in situations not of their own choosing -- a young woman bartered away to a mysterious stranger, a wife trapped in a loveless relationship, a snow-child found by the side of the road -- and shows how the female characters reverse the power structure without reversing the gender roles. By embracing their feminine sides, her characters emerge the dominant figures within their own narratives.

What made this collection a heady read for me was Ms Carter's style, which varied from witty observation:
'Her face was acquiring, instead of beauty, a lacquer of the invincible prettiness that characterizes certain pampered, exquisite, expensive cats (The Courtship of Mr Lyon, p49).'

to sharp melancholy:
'The carnival air of her white dress emphasized her unreality, like a sad Columbine who lost her way in the wood a long time ago and never reached the fair (The Lady of the House of Love, p109).'

to the plain luscious:
'He strips me to my last nakedness, that underskin of mauve, pearlized satin, like a skinned rabbit; then dresses me in an embrace so lucid and encompassing it might be made of water (The Erl-King, p89).'

An embrace made of water. Images like that just hook me. I may have read the book hoping for stories that leaned towards horror but was drunk instead on the bold (if somewhat disturbing) re-imaginings that Ms Carter had in store for her reader -- as if underlining what her collection has shown me: one thought supplanted by another.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Wedding.

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

One of my favorite lines in literature captures one of my favorite couples perfectly. For more than ten years, I have been part of their lives, from friendship to courtship to romance to the here and now. The inevitable. Staircases. Bus rides. Twix Fail. Mammal. Mabango ang Clairol. The soldier from the mountain. Top Three + On Top. Overnights. Slow drives. Baguio. Boracay. Tagaytay. Enchanted. Haranas. Ep Four. Tomi Fun. Moon cake festivals. You killed three bears in one game. Killer iced tea. Instant English-Tagalog song translations. Friendship hierarchy. This is the yearbook entry of our lives. I love you. I love you. I have seen them laugh, cry, doubt, sacrifice, get mad, give in, and fall madly in love over and over again. I have been blessed to have two friends who have never made me feel that I was a third wheel, who have managed to draw me into their special circle with such warmth and openness. That's why I was deeply touched when they asked me to be part of their special day in so many ways. I can say finally, finally. My heart is full.

As weddings go, it was a lovely ceremony that celebrated the bond between two people. Sure, it consumed most of my waking hours for the past few weeks (months?) but they were moments I would gladly give up again for these two:

Chrissie and John from MWCDLS on Vimeo.

This video was done by the amazing team at Daniel Lei Studio.

Change the weather, still together when it ends.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fairy Tale Fail

Mina V. Esguerra, who wrote the uber-fun My Imaginary Ex title for Summit Books, has a new title out! The paperback was recently made available via Amazon although it's been out for months on Kindle.

Here's Mina blogging about it.

Congratulations, Mina! I'm VERY eager to read it! :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Want Books? (We Never Talk About My Brother)

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now.
I was young when I found out that there is still much magic in the world, and a good deal of that discovery I owe to Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. After reading the latest issue of his Raven Newsletter (they're selling movie frames, btw), I was reminded of how much I want to read his 2009 short story collection, We Never Talk About My Brother.

What little I've encountered of Peter S. Beagle's writing has already impressed me immensely so I'm looking forward to reading more. I'm especially eager for 'The Tale Of Junko And Sayuri,' a Japanese myth-inspired tale about magic and marriage; 'By Moonlight,' which won the 2010 Locus Award for Best Novella; and the title story, which uses Biblical themes and looks to be a powerful, character-driven story.

It's currently unavailable at my favorite bookstore branch, but I hope that I'll be able to get a copy before I leave the city. Reading this collection would be well-timed too, since it's nominated for a World Fantasy Award this October. Guess you all know who I'm rooting for!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope (Fred Watson)

No, this is not fiction. And no, this isn't entirely a review.

Not a lot of people know that I'm a huge astronomy nut. I keep a refractor here in Manila, as well as an assortment of binoculars scattered between the different places I call home. I have SETI@home. I regularly buy astronomy textbooks and pretend that I will someday volunteer at the Apache Point Observatory and help make a 3D map of the universe. But I'm no expert. I can still tell you that Venus is hanging pretty low tonight towards the west and will disappear in an hour or so, or that I'll probably be asleep by the time Orion is no longer eclipsed by the old factory behind our home. That's probably the only kind of backyard astronomy that I can do.

That's why I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Fred Watson's Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope. It remains firmly focused on just one essential aspect of astronomy by tackling the discovery, development, and the significance of the telescope. From key figures like Tycho Brahe, Isaac Newton, Laurent Cassegrain, and William Herschel to the various scandals and controversies surrounding the telescope, Dr Watson weaves history and fact into a friendly yet informative account that won't scare off beginning astronomers like me. It also accounts for the more well-known telescopes and observatories of our time which personally translates into a must-visit wish list.

In writing Stargazer, Dr Watson succeeds in widening the general public's understanding of such an important instrument. It presents a rich tapestry of stories that perfectly complements what I consider the most poetic branch of science.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi)

I was keen on reading Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl ever since I saw it mentioned on io9. But there was always some other book, always something else in the way. Then I came across his dystopian YA novel, Ship Breaker, and figured this was a good place to start as any.

At a time when the polar ice caps have melted and the ocean levels have risen, Nailer struggles to eke out a living as a light crew member, someone who strips copper and other useful wiring off grounded tankers and ships. After a particularly devastating hurricane whips through Bright Sands Beach, he and his friend Pima discover a new clipper ship that has run aground nearby. Its crew is dead, except for Nita, a wealthy girl who could probably be the biggest scavenge of all. But Nita (or Lucky Girl, as Nailer calls her) is no ordinary 'swank'; she's an heiress caught in the middle of a huge takeover of one of the world's biggest shipping companies. As expected, Nailer rescues Nita and with help from some unlikely quarters, they journey to restore her to her family.

The opening circumstances reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's Nation, where island boy Mau and shipwrecked rich girl Daphne find themselves turning to each other as they pick up the pieces after a life-changing tsunami. Of course, the differences in genre, tone, and approach prevent further comparison but the thought was pretty much foremost in my mind as I was reading Ship Breaker. Just a little reminder (again) to take my comments with a grain of salt, especially if I forget to be objective.

Mr Bacigalupi explores geopolitics for the younger set: the poorly-built cities that collapse under nature's tide, the corporate wars fought over flotsam and scavenge, the genetic experiments that breed half-men. I think Mr Bacigalupi builds Ship Breaker's world with admirable confidence and boldness and this well-drawn scenario was what immediately hooked me.

The novel is not without a few stumbling blocks. Its pace is exciting but somewhat uneven. Mr Bacigalupi spends the first four chapters detailing Nailer's work in the belly of an oil tanker, which I thought was a good pace for a reader acquainting herself with the boundaries of a new world. Somehow, though, in the middle of the action, certain things were glossed over. While I am satisfied with how the book turned out (the first of a series, I'm told) in the end, part of me wishes that the time Nailer and Lucky Girl spent in the Orleans had been longer than two chapters, or at least had been utilized enough to establish a stronger bond between the two, other than being co-fugitives. I didn't really feel the friendship or the mutual dependence and--if the last scene is meant as foreshadowing--an attraction beyond teenage hormones. The characters are a bit timeworn, but for a story that driven by plot, I think they were still effective.

Ship Breaker spins an exciting coming-of-age story. Before Lucky Girl, Nailer lives and dies by his scavenge: 'Ahead, the gull-white hull of the wreck gleamed in the sunlight, beckoning (p78).' In the last scene, as he is watching Lucky Girl's ship, his world and his possibilities have widened: 'Beyond it, the blue sea stretched to the horizon, beckoning (p323).' A lifetime has happened between these two incidents, and stubborn, enterprising Nailer waits to see how many readers will come along for his next adventure.

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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Infernal Devices Book One: Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare)

I didn't really expect to read Cassandra Clare's His Mortal Instruments Trilogy until I volunteered to 'test' it for my boss' daughter. While I wouldn't count it among my favorites, the series was still fun and I'd recommend it for some light reading. Too bad I thought some of the themes were too mature for my boss' sixth-grade daughter.

When one of my favorite store clerks recommended the news Cassandra Clare series, I was only moderately pleased. But that was before I read the blurb: Victorian England! Fantasy! Romance! Victorian England! (Yes, Bibliarch Glorietta, you have done a good job again.)

As far as first books go, I found Clockwork Angel a more engaging read than City of Bones and not because I am more fascinated with turn-of-the-century London than modern-day America. Angel's Tessa Gray proved to be a more fleshed-out heroine than Mortal Instruments' Clary. In the story, a shadowy figure called The Magister is eager to get his hands on Tessa's unique shapeshifting abilities. Her only recourse is to turn to the Shadowhunters for help, Nephilim who fight to protect the world from demons and to keep order among those known as the Downworlders. For Tessa, who shares society's very traditional views and has an unfailing loyalty to her family, being with the Shadowhunters is a test of her character and strength, especially as she must work with them to find the truth behind The Magister's growing threat. Tessa's ability to change her appearance after touching another's possession and then actually feel her new form's thoughts and emotions is not just unique to Ms Clare's Shadowhunter world, but is also a refreshing touch to the old shapeshifter story.

Fans of The Mortal Instruments will love how this new series explores the original characters' ancestors, but new readers will definitely feel that they need to read TMI to enjoy this. The action in Clockwork Angel unfolds quickly (finished this book in less than a day), though rather predictably. The characters are the real draw, in my opinion. I found Tessa more likable than most YA fantasy leads, and at the same time, I was also fascinated by two new characters: husband-and-wife team Henry and Charlotte. Charlotte is repeatedly called on to prove that she is a worthy leader of the Shadowhunter Institute despite her youth and inexperience, while struggling to find her place beside a husband who seems to prefer the company of his machines and inventions more than his own wife's. And as most YA fantasies go, there is a love story, too, but I'm not too attached to it. Yet.

Truth be told, Ms Clare's new series has now jumped into my Guilty Pleasures List. It definitely has all the right elements I need to distract me from the less-than-exciting things that go on between waking up and falling asleep.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Girls.

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things. -Saki

There is much truth to this, or so I found this weekend. To celebrate my friend Kaoko's upcoming wedding in October, we planned a bachelorette party for her in Singapore. We escaped a mummy, danced three million years ago, and ended up drinking tea for three hours straight. Just four thirtysomething friends (five, if you include one very patient husband) rediscovering a world of warmth and possibility that they once knew as girls. There really is something about free-flowing tea that unleashes hundreds of stories, whether you're in the company of good friends or lost in your own imaginings.

I had Weekend in Moscow, a light and fragrant green tea with rose petals and almonds. It was exquisite. I could almost picture myself curled up against a window reading a Regency classic like Georgette Heyer's Cotillion or an adult fairy tale like Ali Shaw's Girl with Glass Feet or Kelly Link's fantastically macabre Pretty Monsters, with a cup of that tea, waiting for the world to go by.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thomas the Rhymer (Ellen Kushner)

I did some emotional spring cleaning, realized that there were some issues in my life that I needed to fix, and began running away from things instead of facing them. Ran away from home. Ran away from friends. Even ran away from my blogs, as if that were possible. Now I know better--or think I do--so it is only fitting that I let a tale of disappearances herald me back.

Ellen Kushner opens her lush Thomas the Rhymer from Gavin's perspective, a farmer who lets a bedraggled harper into his home. He and his wife Meg find Thomas charming and spontaneous, an unabashed flirt, but the childless couple soon learn to look upon him fondly as if he were their own wayward son. Thomas doesn't stay for long, though, which Gavin understands: 'Madmen and dreamers, your rhymers don't live in the world like the rest of us do (p. 24).'

But despite his wanderlust, Thomas eventually finds his way back to Gavin and Meg, and it is in the quiet days he spends with them that he meets Elspeth. Something blossoms between them, and it would seem that the harper has found his match until one day, Thomas goes for a walk in the Eildon Hills and never returns.

Ms Kushner shifts her perspective from Gavin to Thomas himself, who recounts seven years of silence in the enchanting and opulent prison called Elfland where Thomas finds himself both pet and pawn in elven court. Enamored by the Elf Queen yet determined to find his way back to Middle-Earth, Thomas uses his wits to win his freedom. When he finally returns, he is a changed man, and finds that the world has also changed without him.

I have nothing but praise for Ms Kushner's craft. She deftly moves from one narrator to the other: Gavin's deliberate speech, Thomas' passion, and later, Meg's motherly observations and Elspeth's recollection. Each emotion is clear-cut and tangible, despite the unfamiliarity of the characters' situations. Ms Kushner inserts ballads and rhymes into the text but far from making it sound disjointed, the narrative becomes richer for it.

When Thomas and Elspeth meet after his seven-year sojourn, the exchange is bitter, unguarded, electric. I find it one of the most moving scenes I've read in recent memory. Elspeth recounts later, 'but then I became glad that he was there for me to ignore, to pass in the hall, to not ask for the salt (p.247).' For all its encounters with the fantastic, Thomas the Rhymer is replete with moments like this: a glimpse into lives that are not unlike our own.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

100 Book List Countdown

Possessed by either optimism or hubris last year, I vowed to finish 100 books for 2009. And though I've been quite slow blogging about them, I am happy to report to my three readers that I closed my last book on December 27, four days before the year was out. I picked up three fresh books after that, but have since been taking my own sweet time.

Here is the complete list, excluding titles that I merely re-read this year (so yeah, this list could have been longer had I concentrated on books new to me, but there's so much joy to be found in re-exploring a good book):
1. Stick Out Your Tongue (Ma Jian)
2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)
3. The Princess Diaries 10 (Meg Cabot)
4. Austenland (Shannon Hale)
5. My Swordhand is Singing (Marcus Sedgewick)
6. No one belongs here more than you. (Miranda July)
7. The Little Book of Forensics (David Owen)
8. Color: A National History of the Palette (Victoria Finlay)
9. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
10. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England (Brock Clarke)
11. My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead (edited by Jeffrey Eugenides)
12. Night Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko)
13. Royal Assassin (Robin Hobb)
14. Becoming Bindy McKenzie (Jaclyn Moriarty)
15. Feeling Sorry for Celia (Jaclyn Moriarty)
16. The Princess and the Hound (Mette Ivie Harrison)
17. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
18. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (Laura Willig)
19. Malinche (Laura Esquival)
20. Getting to Know You (David Marusek)
21. The Stone Rose (Jacqueline Rayner)
22. Winter Rose (Patricia A. McKillip)
23. The Man of My Dreams (Curtis Sittenfeld)
24. Silent on the Moor (Deanna Raybourn)
25. Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
26. What I Did For Love (Susan Elizabeth Philips)
27. The Changeling Sea (Patricia McKillip)
28. The Resurrection Casket/Doctor Who series (Justin Richards)
29. Kissed by an Angel (Elizabeth Chandler)
30. The Power of Love (Elizabeth Chandler)
31. Soul Mates (Elizabeth Chandler)
32. Tintin and the Secret of Literature (Tom McCarthy)
33. Proust and the Squid (Maryanne Wolf)
34. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (edited by Jeff Vandermeer and Mark Roberts)
35. The Sugar Queen (Sarah Addison Allen)
36. General Winston's Daughter (Sharon Shinn)
37. The Observations (Jane Harris)
38. Lady of the Glen (Jennifer Roberson)
39. Criss Cross (Lynne Rae Perkins)
40. A Curse Dark as Gold (Elizabeth C Bunce)
41. Belle/Once Upon a Time series (Cameron Dokey)
42. Pretty Monsters (Kelly Link)
43. The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
44. My Imaginary Ex (Mina V. Esguerra)
45. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockheart)
46. Carved in Stone (Linda Newbery)
47. The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
48. When It Happens (Susane Colasanti)
49. Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass)
50-53. Secret Sorceress (+ 3 other books)
54. The Ninth Stone (Kylie Fitzpatrick)
55. Devil's Cub (Georgette Heyer)
56. Ransom My Heart (Mia Thermopolis/Meg Cabot)
57. The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)
58. Murkmere (Patricia Elliott)
59. Ambergate (Patricia Elliott)
60. The Reluctant Heiress (Eva Ibbotson)
61. The Red Queen's Daughter (Jacqueline Kolosov)
62. Agnes and the Hitman (Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer)
63. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Joanne Fluke)
64. Eon Dragon Reborn (Alison Goodman)
65. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
66. The Book of Lost Things (John Conolly)
67. Carpe Diem (Autumn Cornwell)
68. Dracula's Heir: An Interactive Mystery (Sam Stall)
69. A Far Cry from Kensington (Muriel Sparks)
70. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)
71. The Ask and the Answer (Patrick Ness)
72. The Lighting Thief (Rick Riordan)
73. The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan)
74. The Titan's Curse (Rick Riordan)
75. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Rick Riordan)
76. Odd and the Frost Giants (Neil Gaiman)
77. The Tea Rose (Jennifer Donnelly)
78. City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
79. Impossible (Nancy Werner)
80. Making Money (Terry Pratchett)
81. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Trenton Lee Stewart)
82. I am a Dalek/Doctor Who series (Gareth Roberts)
83. Thud! (Terry Pratchett)
84. Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)
85. Salt A World History (Mark Kurlansky)
86. Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope (Fred Watson)
87. Tigerheart (Peter David)
88. An Abundance of Katherines (John Green)
89. The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen (Paul Spencer Sochaczewski)
90. Fevre Dream (George R.R. Martin)
91. Grail Prince (Nancy McKenzie)
92. Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List (Rachel Cohn and David Levithan)
93. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)
94. Bewitching Season (Marissa Doyle)
95. Wild Orchid/Once Upon a Time (Cameron Dokey)
96. Hush (Donna Jo Napoli)
97. The Glass Book of the Dream Eaters Volume 1 (Gordon Dahlquist)
98. The Woman in Black (Susan Hill)
99. The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan)
100. Anathem (Neal Stephenson)

On the surface, I've learned that:
1) 100 books in a year is an average of 3.65 per book, but I can actually consume about 2-3 books in a day, provided they're really light reads. Much thanks go to YA and romances, which prove to be the quickest reads for me.

2) Of all the books I've read this year, only about 20 of them come highly recommended. Okay, the actual number might be a little off; I'll have to go over my list. Not that the others are bad. I have more than enough good words to say about most of them, but only a precious few have reached my personal favorites category. The ratio seems extremely disappointing to me at this point.

3) Anathem was the hardest book I've had to read in a long time. It's about math and philosophy and aliens and contains words like polycosmic metatheorics. But thank you, Mr Stephenson. It's an experience I won't soon forget.

4) This year, I read what could be the crappiest romance series I've ever encountered. It had angels. And cheese. Plenty of cheese. Urgh. Why didn't I stop?

5) I was disappointed with myself for not picking up more Filipino books. I actually read part of Sarge Lacuesta's Flames and Other Stories and Ricky Lee's Para Kay B but never got to finish them. I vow to read more next year.

I don't think I'm crazy enough to go for another hundred next year after this, not especially after feeling pressured by mid-December. I'm glad I tried this, though. 100 is a nice number, especially when my instinct tells me my annual average would fall between a comfortable 60-80 books/year range. Looking back, I realize my list has leaned towards the lighter side of the reading scale so perhaps for 2010, I'll try to challenge myself with wider, more diverse reading material. Now there's a resolution. Happy new year, friends!