Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Depository Competition

Get a chance to win a retro Olympus E-PL1 Compact System camera (Black with 14-42mm black lens kit) from Book Depository just by sharing of a photo of you reading your favorite book in your favorite place. Sounds simple, right?

Head here for more details on how to join. The contest ends on Monday, August 27 at 5 PM GMT.

You can also win a Panasonic HD camcorder -- that rotating banner above would have probably alerted you by now -- so don't let my excitement for the retro camera stop you. More interested in the camcorder? Details here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mechanique (Genevieve Valentine)

The Mechanical Circus Tresaulti travels a wide circuit. Little George, who has grown up in the circus, knows that the Boss calls them 'the circus that survives.' In a time of war, the circus travels from city to city with its astonishing feats, giving poor and tired spectators one night of entertainment from a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Thankfully, this mechanical circus survives because of Boss and her terrible secret. But all secrets must come to light. Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti is a tale of creation and consequence, flying and falling.

At the heart of this steampunk tale are wings made of gilded bone, worn in the finale for years, when they still had the Winged Man act. Now, two of their acrobats, Stenos and Bird, desire it for themselves, without knowing what it can do to its owner. While the wings are pivotal to the story, I am constantly drawn to the other steampunk elements of the story, most notably the circus characters. I think that Panadrome, a one-man band with a tragic history, fully captures what the Circus Tresaulti is about.

Aside from Panadrome, the other characters are all well-fleshed out, pardon the irony. My favorites include Little George, who took on the important first-person perspective in some chapters; Ying, a young orphan who came to the circus at a very young age and who didn’t really know what she was signing up for when she joined; and Bird. There is an innocence in the first two characters that summon powerful contrasts in a story like Mechanique,reminding the reader how humanity can be easily lost because of bitterness and poverty. And Bird? I don't know. I still don't know what it is exactly about her that makes her larger-than-life, fearsome and vulnerable at the same time; I only know that she's a character that stays with me long after the book has ended.

Mechanique is told in vignettes. These snippets and drabbles are not always chronological but they're careful enough not to mess with the attentive reader. It’s also told in various points-of-view and even shifts tenses. So how does it get away with it? Maybe it's the language; the whole thing reads like poetry. It’s just that beautiful. You really get caught up in the moment and read the book as you would experience a multi-act circus. Snatches of what could be real, what could be imagined. Lines blurring because you blinked. Don't let this one pass you by.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Chain Mail Addicted to You (Hiroshi Ishizaki)

Two things have kept me from posting as many book reviews as I could have during the past few months. One: a business trip to Tokyo that had me occupied weeks before and even weeks after my visit there. Two: a role-playing game that my friends and I have been playing for the past ten months. I've gotten obsessed quite steadily.

It's hard to explain how truly addictive an RPG can get, especially to someone who hasn't played one. Chances are, I'll only get strange looks should I attempt to do so. In a nutshell though, an RPG -- especially one that is as long-term as ours is -- lets you develop complex relationships with the other players. It lets you populate an imagined world with projections of your own selves: a direct copy, maybe; an ideal, possibly. Sooner or later, you get attached to them despite your better judgment. And in building these relationships, an RPG can also isolate your from everyone else who isn't part of it. May sariling mundo, as we say in Tagalog, in more ways than one.

That's the premise of Hiroshi Ishizaki's Chain Mail Addicted to You. Four teenage girls find themselves answering yes to an enigmatic request sent to their phones: Would you like to create a fictional world? The game they play is fairly straight-forward. Each girl takes on one of four roles: a young girl, her stalker, her boyfriend, and a detective. Through their posts, they help build the action and flesh out the characters. But eventually, the lines between what is real and what is a game start to blur -- not just for the characters but for the reader as well.

Chain Mail takes the reader through the different reasons why someone would seek to escape into an imagined world. For example, Sawako is standoffish and isn't too popular with her friends. Mayumi, on the other hand, is devoted to her best friend, a star badminton player. She's never questioned her role in the relationship until now, when she realizes that she can make things happen, even if it's just in the game. Mr Ishizaki writes from each girl's point of view. It's a challenge, but he manages to differentiate the girls from one another. He is also effective in creating tension within the game. Even if all we read are excerpts from the girls' exchanges, sufficient excitement and paranoia is built to make us eager to find out what happens to the young girl and her stalker.

There are so many elements to Chain Mail that makes the reading experience an intriguing one. Though the twists in the story were not that unique, what stands out is the depiction of teenage life from something other than a western perspective. With its Tokyo setting, different concerns and motivations are pushed into the spotlight. Of course, with what I had revealed earlier, it goes without saying that I could relate to a lot of elements in this novel. My own experiences definitely color how I appreciate a book but I hope that you can give this psychological thriller (and a social commentary of sorts) a chance as well.