Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bookworm Gallery: Things by the Book

I've been so busy this month that instead of opening with the Bookworm Gallery feature, I had to end with it. Still, it's never the wrong time to feature a fellow book-lover. This month, it's Niner Guiao, attorney, environmental advocate, and beach-tripper. She's also one of my closest friends. Once upon a time, she went to Geneva for a three-month research position on climate change. Now she does consultancy work for a firm that deals mostly with ecologically sustainable tourism, as well as an institution involved with international law and climate change. She is also doing consulting work on intellectual property and cyber law.

Because of her schedule, Niner usually just reads one book at a time for each 'aspect' of her life, so to speak. "I read one work-book at a time, and one leisure-book at a time, but those two often go together. Depending on my mood or the exigencies of my schedule, I shift from one book to another," she says.

1. How often do you read these days? What kind of books/genres do you often read?
Every day, for at least four to five hours a day. I can’t really avoid it, since while I love to read, I also have to read for work. A lot of my work has to do with research, so I have to read academic-type books, like law commentaries and studies on climate change and intellectual property. On my own, though, I usually prefer to read graphic novels (manga), suspense, fantasy, general fiction and a whole lot of chicklit.

2. Name three books that you feel would explain the kind of reader you are.
Persuasion by Jane Austen, Ghost Hunt vol. 8 by Shiho Inada, and Black’s Law Dictionary.

3. Who are your favorite authors? Is there anyone on your auto-buy list?
Anne Stuart, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Jennifer Crusie are definitely on my auto-buy list. I also really like the work of Neil Gaiman, Karen Rose, Sophie Kinsella, Melissa Nathan, among others. Chris Mariano is on my auto-buy list, too. (Note: See why I love Nine?)

Niner highlights passages and writes notes in the margins of her work literature but just copies great passages in her notebook for her more leisurely reads.

4. You're heading to the beach. What title/s is/are in your bag?
It varies, depending on my mood and what’s out in the market at the time (haha), but right now I’d say Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Philips, What's Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, and the latest volume of Ghost Hunt by Shino Inada.

5. What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to protecting IP, especially when it comes to e-books?
Personally, I think that while current laws and their implementation could be better, in the long run things won't change unless you change the way people see it. There are so many brilliant people who can work around law and technology faster than it takes to come up with laws and work on their implementation. Intellectual property is an intangible thing, and while a case could definitely be argued that illegal downloading can be considered theft, it may be difficult to convince people of that since nothing entirely tangible is being taken.

Niner also shares her opinions on a lot of things, like the popularity of legal thrillers like John Grisham novels ('In the legal profession, problems generally arise because of a human -- rather than biological or medical -– factor, and can only be resolved by the same. It’s less technical in [that] sense... Also, it may be easier for the audience to relate to the conflicts and the characters in legal dramas because they address or challenge viewers’/readers’ own views on morality and relationships.') or climate change. Through her love for books, Niner expands her world one page at a time. For her, the best thing about reading is "the escape, the artistry, and the depth in even the simplest things."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blog Love: Textbook

Let me introduce you to this wonderful blog I recently discovered: Textbook. The genius behind it is John Jannuzi, who likes giving runway-worthy looks to characters from history, literature, film, and music. You can catch his complete list here.

Here are his posts on some of my favorite fictional and historical figures: Anne of Green Gables, Joan of Arc, Princess Leia, Amelia Earhart, Emma Woodhouse, and Peter Pan. I'm so in love! I actually wish I could include one of his images here, but instead I'll try to take my cue from him and try it just this once, with Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle.

So why Sophie? I've always enjoyed this Diana Wynne Jones book, and I think Sophie's a great (and safe!) choice to try this on. I'm thinking classic romantic and florals, but in bright colors to fit her strong personality.

1) Old Soul
Silk-georgette dress by Giambattista Valli, for those flower-picking afternoons in vintage (not elderly) style

2) Sophie's Choice
Sleeveless printed floral dress by Mary Katrantzou, because now she'll always have magic in her life

3) Mad Hatter
Hat by Yestadt Millinery, since old habits die hard

What do you think? Do these fit Sophie at all? If you could dress any fictional character, how would you do it?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

All Men of Genius (Lev AC Rosen)

When I first heard that someone had written a steampunk re-imagining of Twelfth Night mixed with a little The Importance of Being Ernest, I was over the moon. For months now, my friends and I have been obsessed by our play-by-post RPG world in which (in a total coincidence) our characters are staging a steampunk musical of Twelfth Night. You can see how this translated into an eagerness to get my hands on Mr Rosen's story.

No shipwrecks here: Violet masquerades as her twin brother Ashton so she can be a student at the illustrious, all-male Illyria College. What's admirable about her efforts is that she is not merely driven by personal ambition; she genuinely desires to change the way society looks at female inventors. Ironically, to do this she must submit herself to the standards and approval of men first. Despite the confusing social politics governing female inventors (Ada Lovelace is a patron of the college and she doesn't seem to have any problems gaining said masculine approval), All Men of Genius strives to impress upon the reader the celebration of individual differences despite society's standards and rules.

Violet's first days at the College, her interaction with her professors and peers -- these all seem to be an effective way to get the readers acclimated to the world of the text. As with other re-imaginings, I enjoyed seeing familiar characters show up in different roles. There was also the promise of something darker, more sinister, brewing beneath the surface (and I mean that literally: Violet and her friends uncover strange plots in Illyria's off-limits basement). But after a while these action-adventure elements seem tacked on. Twelfth Night already has a number of subplots going on, and giving Violet and her crew the added burden of discovering a plot that threatens Illyria College doesn't seem too well thought-out. That part of the plot felt thin and poorly explored both in intention and in execution.

The cover immediately made me think that it's being marketed as a young adult read but note: it's very bold about exploring homosexual relationships, bicuriosity, May-December affairs. That, together with the smattering of mature jokes and situations, ought to serve as a warning that some younger or more conservative readers may not find this the most ideal reading material. As a romance though, it has its moments, but to enjoy those I had to leave the young adult frame of mind and enter the Regency one: Violet is eighteen and the Duke is about thirty. Add to this their uncomfortable relationship of being student and headmaster and you've got a romance that I was surprised to find in what I assumed to be a YA story. (Note: If this wasn't marketed as YA, then please tell me. I'd love to know that I was wrong.) I enjoyed this quick read but I wouldn't call myself a fan; there's something in the gender politics that doesn't quite sit well with me, although I can't quite pinpoint what it is. But if that has you curious, then by all means, grab a copy and let's discuss. Despite this, Mr Rosen's writing is lively and impassioned enough that I'll be looking forward to his next book.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Island.

Someday I will send everyone a card
with nothing on it, only
the calligraphy
of a river, and in the back
with invisible ink I will say:
Forgive my happiness,
I have betrayed you all.

- from Eric Gamalinda's Enough

Sausage and vodka pasta at Tibraz in Boracay. One of my favorite places on the Island. Crazy weekend. I thought I'd be writing but ended up quite hung over on Sunday morning. I'm too old for this, I think, too old for the parties that I was always too uncool for, too old for staying late or smiling at cute strangers.

And what will they say about the pudgy girl with the glasses, reading in the corner? Will they make up stories about me, just as I do about them? Will our stories meet in the middle, turn themselves into a quiet epic about the ocean, where it goes, what it whispers to anyone who listens?

Monday, April 16, 2012

10% Off Your Next Book Depository Purchase

Don't you just love promos? I do! That's why Ficsation's offering to help you get 10% off on your next Book Depository purchase by clicking the link below and entering the code.

10% Discount / APMA12 Coupon Code / Book Depository

Any books on your wish list? Any upcoming releases you'd want to pre-order? Offer runs until May 14, 2012 so make sure you grab your chance before summer's over. Happy reading!

My Kind of Guy

Mina V. Esguerra, author of Pinoy chick lit titles such as My Imaginary Ex, Fairy Tale Fail, and No Strings Attached is coming out with her latest book, That Kind of Guy via Summit Publishing and she's hosting a giveaway on her blog. As part of her mailing list, I could have gotten a head start but after going all sentimental in my last post, it almost felt redundant -- but look! Isn't that what I'm doing now? *headdesk* Please bear with me. Still, I'd love to spread the news about Mina's latest book; her characters are always real and easy to relate to, and I'm sure this one won't be an exception.

So. Who's 'My Kind of Guy'? If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have come up with a rather exacting description. But having grown older (wiser?), I would just rather that he fit into the lines of an Alanis Morissette song:

You see everything
You see every part
You see all my light
And you love my dark
You dig everything
Of which I'm ashamed
There's not anything
To which you can't relate
And you're still here

I'm the kind of girl who has quirks and faults. He's the kind of guy who understands the kind of girl I am and what's important to me -- my family, my interests, my faith. And hey, if he's the kind of guy who will get me katsudon in the middle of the night or will take me places in a blue police box or can answer positively to the Dashboard Confessional question (do you like dreaming of things so impossible or only the practical or ever the wild or waiting through all your bad bad days just to end them with someone you care about?), then I won't have any other reason to complain.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Regret is the name I've given you.

Every year, around this time, I think about you:
So what is this, exactly? Do I call it an accounting of what might have been? I certainly entertained that thought more than once--and as I have recently discovered, so have you. Not quite the marriage of true minds as we were so quick to label it then, because we had our colossal share of impediments. Two months after that, you got married.

You were unexpected. You were every cliche visited upon me by ghosts of journals past. You made me roll a Will saving throw when I had -3 Wisdom; I could never win with you. But you were very real, and in the end, this will only be a remembering.
We were young. Once. See above evidence of every little emotion I felt obliged to document and wear on my sleeve. Someone once told me you have a son now, but maybe that's just my subconscious reminding me that I couldn't have made a difference anyway. Still every year, around this time, my heart curls up a little, into itself, as if it's something flammable come too close to the fire.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Peach Keeper (Sarah Addison Allen)

There's much comfort to be found in a Sarah Addison Allen book, and a lot of it has to do with her small town settings. They invite you to sit down in someone's kitchen, eat some homemade pastry, and gossip about the local characters. In The Peach Keeper, the former logging town of Walls of Water in North Carolina is front and center but there's something darker that's lurking beneath the surface. This scenic place, surrounded by waterfalls and hiking trails, has some buried secrets that are about to come to light with the re-opening of the Blue Ridge Madam.

The Blue Ridge Madam is a town landmark, built by Willa Jackson’s great-great-grandfather who lost his fortune when the logging business died out. Now the Women's Society Club, under the leadership of golden girl Paxton Osgood, has restored it and has invited Willa to the big day. But that's before they find a skeleton on the grounds, and both women -- never friends -- must now band together to solve a mystery that threatens both of their families.

There's an awkward but steady friendship that develops between Willa and Paxton, as the novel delves into the beauty of discovering friends and allies when you’re at a vulnerable stage of your life. These two women not only had shared history; they had shared interests and beliefs as well, including the importance of family and the love for their small town. It's the gradual unfolding of their friendship that I admired most in this book, rather than the inevitable romance between Willa and Paxton's twin brother Colin. In fact, I was a little more interested in the secondary romance (though somewhat improbable to me) between Paxton and Sebastian than I was in the former. Willa and Colin were just too cookie-cutter to me. There were no surprises there, though I admired how their relationship issues were later addressed.

Both Willa and Paxton become privy to their family secrets as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery and I like how these were slowly introduced into the story, even if it was easy to guess how things really happened. I also thought the whole police involvement in this cold case was glossed over but I suppose it wasn't the purpose of the novel. The Peach Keeper is meant to celebrate women and their friendships: friends like Agatha and Georgie, and later, Willa and Paxton. The tone and themes in this novel is somewhat heavier than the ones I've come to associate with Sarah Addison Allen's work but they still make The Peach Keeper worth a quick afternoon read.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater)

Every autumn, wild capaill uisce (water horses) emerge from the sea and into the small island of Thisby. Men brave enough to catch these flesh-eating, sea-mad horses -- the fastest steeds on land -- ride them in town’s Scorpio Races, held every first of November, a day when someone is sure to die.

How I just devoured this book. As characters, Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick have their own baggage and sorrows, their own hopes and desires but the story doesn’t choose to dwell on just these things. What it is about is a race, told from the perspective of two people who want to win for two different reasons. Puck joins the Scorpio Races almost on an impulse, a last-ditch attempt to keep her brother Gabe at home before he goes to the mainland. Later she realizes that her family’s future on the island depends on how well she does.

"Boys just aren't very good at being afraid," one character says, and this cuts into Puck's own bravery. She isn't going out there to make a feminist statement. In fact, she's not even doing it to save the house (in the beginning, at least); she's doing it because this is how she thinks she can keep her family together. She's not afraid of the capaill uisce; what she's most afraid of is losing what's left of her family. I like Puck’s fire. She dares to race on her island-bred horse Dove in a race for water horses. She is reckless because she has much to lose. She is brave because she needs to brave for others. "I have my own reasons for riding. [...] Just because I'm a girl doesn't make those reasons any less (p196)," Puck declares, and this made me cheer for her every time. I also like how Ms Stiefvater made sure that Puck had all options available to her, like the chance to run the race on a real water horse. It made the decision to race with Dove a practical, rational one instead of a purely emotional one.

The other protagonist of the story is Sean Kendrick. At nineteen, he’s got an almost otherworldly bond with the capaill uisce, especially the red capall Corr. Sean’s won the Scorpio Races for Malvern Stables four times now but no race has ever been more important than this one. This year he’s got a slim chance to win it all but not without risking it all too. Sean is a perfect foil for Puck’s character. He’s cool and steady, no matter the challenges being leveled at him. His is another story of bravery, one that is quiet and firm, like a cornerstone, something that cannot be shaken. The bond he has with Corr just moves me on so many levels. (Also, Sean is a great romantic lead. He’s the swoonworthy, silent, and brooding guy that most romance novels wish they had but can never perfect.)

Thisby is an imagined place, but I could easily picture it off the coast of Ireland or Wales. I like how this is fantasy world is a given, the magical woven into the mundane without any explanation. No one here is Dorothy bewildered by the loss of Kansas, no one is subjected to a mythological infodump. If anyone dares voice out the strangeness of the Thisby world, it is George Holly, the American horse breeder, but his question is more out of sociological curiosity, not "Why in the world are there things like flesh-eating water horses?" kind of way. I thought Ms Stiefvater showed a lot of skill and restraint when exploring the characters and culture of Thisby, especially in the way the island both revered and feared the water horses. She revealed just enough for the story to retain its mystery. I thought this way brought both Thisby and the capaill uisce to life. Ms Stiefvater carefully shows the readers just what these strange vicious horses mean to Thisby.

I was reluctant to let go of this even after I was done with the last page. I could feel myself still in Thisby, still standing on that shore and not wanting the moment to end. I guess it shows in the way I've gone on and on about this. Shutting up now. In my dreams, there's a capall waiting by the water's edge, daring me to come closer.