Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Favorite Reads of 2013

Recently, I was asked (along with other bloggers) to contribute my favorite books published in 2013. Check out the list here but I thought I'd share my other choices that didn't make the final list, in no particular order:

The Golem and the Jinni (Helene Wecker)
A rich, multi-cultural narrative that blends the immigrant story with Old World beliefs and legends. A golem and a jinni take separate paths but find themselves together in America, straining against the dictates of their natures and discovering themselves in the process. I was really immersed in the different histories of the characters, imagining deserts and dance halls as I turned each page.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carol Rifka Brunt)
I have a rather biased review here, but in a nutshell, it tells how June is coming to terms with the death of her uncle Finn. They have a special bond, and she is devastated when he dies. But Finn has another life that he has kept from June. After his death, June meets Toby, and forms a delicate relationship with another soul who had loved and cherished her uncle. In my review, I admit that 'the prose can get bogged down by over-articulation,' but it was a story that really touched me deeply.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
This will probably be included in a lot of year-end lists this so I'll be brief: it's a poignant and bittersweet coming-of-age.

Icon of the Indecisive (Mina V. Esguerra)
Mina's popular YA series ends on a high note. She takes elements from Filipino mythology and dresses them in familiar things: contemporary setting, love triangles, popular teens. But she also makes sure that Hannah's journey remains solid and relatable. It's great to read Pinoy YA -- popular Pinoy YA -- and discover that it has more to offer beyond the usual paranormal romance.

The Dream Thieves (Maggie Stiefvater)
I love Maggie Stiefvater's language and her fully-realized worlds. She peoples them with complex characters and The Dream Thieves is no exception. Here, she focuses the limelight on Ronan Lynch, a rich prep school boy whose titular capabilities hastens the Raven Boys along their quest for legend and power. I was looking forward to this book's release because I couldn't enough of the Aglionby boys Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. Ms Stiefvater's writing is very visual and poetic, keeping this series on my must-read list.

Project 17 (Eliza Victoria)
Ms Victoria crafts a world of high-stakes security and medical advancement against the backdrop of a futuristic Manila. Lillian is hired as the babysitter of Paul Dolores' brother Caleb, a smart and introverted man with schizoaffective disorder. Her job was supposed to be easy but her curiosity lands her in a more than what she bargained for. Great tension and action, plus I thought the characters are very engaging. I finished this in one sitting because it moved at a great pace.

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)
Fangirl chronicles a college experience that isn't quite like what we encounter here in Manila, but the insecurities, doubts, and struggles remain on point. It's a great look at college, writing, family, sisterhood, friendship, love; it tackles all these and makes them place nice with each other. It's the kind of book I wish I had read when I was younger. It's richly-layered despite a simple-sounding plot.

The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
I loved the protagonist Don Tillman, a genetics professor with a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome. He has decided to embark on a Wife Project, which makes him cross paths with Rosie, his opposite in a lot of ways. Mr Simsion did a great job of capturing Don's voice and making his character come alive. He never breaks character. It's the kind of book I'd recommend to anyone who says they're tired of the same old romance tropes -- or to anyone looking for a romance that can easily be translated into a romcom flick.

What were your favorite books of 2013 (whether released this year or not)? Share your thoughts -- I'd love to know!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Scribbled: All I Want for Christmas

My good friends and fellow #romanceclass authors Chrissie Peria and Miles Tan joined me in writing a short holiday story called All I Want for Christmas. It's free for a limited time as a thank you to our readers, mentors, fellow authors, and friends -- anyone and everyone who's helped us on our writing journey. It's also a way for us to end the year on a high note. Even if it's quite short (around 7,000-8,000 words), we still hope that you will like it.

This holiday season, Ginny wants nothing less than hot model du jour Luis Inoue. That's why when her best friend Issa invites both of them to a small sit-down dinner, she jumps at the chance to show Luis she can be naughty and nice. Will everything go according to plan? Or will Issa's brother Marco's interference keep her single all the way?

It was crazy trying to write round-robin (more on that on later blog posts), but it's still something I'd do again. I really enjoyed writing this story and sharing the experience with my friends. There were many things that I learned from the experience. I really appreciated seeing things from different perspectives; often there would be an incident that the three of us would approach differently, and then we'd all end up talking about what would be the best course to take. It also gave the three of us a first-hand view of the KDP Select system.

We didn't get to mention our specific thank you's on the e-book, so please indulge me as I include my shout-outs here:
• to Chrissie and Miles for sharing this journey with me;
• to Mina for inspiring us and helping us with #romanceclass (and no, I won't tire of saying this);
• to our #romanceclass classmates Dia, Ron, Anne, Stella, Agay, Kesh, Kristel, Tina, Jayen, to name a few, who really made 2013 a great year to be a Pinoy romance writer;
• to book bloggers like Chachic, Tina, Lynai, Monique, Cassandra, Sol, Freine... there are so many that I can't remember all of you at the moment but please know that your support means so much to us;
• to Reev, for the self-publishing help, whether print or digital; and
• to our readers (my special TY to Cassandra, Jin, and Grelyn), for the heart-warming support. You took a chance on me especially -- your bravery must be commended! :) Whenever I feel that all this is unreal, I just look at your reviews and tweets and messages of encouragement. I am very blessed that I can do this, thanks to readers like you.
Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.
So there you are, dear reader. I hope that you can download a copy of All I Want for Christmas now while it's still free -- and that it makes you smile at the end of your day. Happy holidays to you!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Notes on the 3rd Filipino ReaderCon

Last December 7, readers, writers, teachers, publishers, librarians, bloggers, and book clubs gathered to celebrate the 3rd Filipino ReaderCon at the Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila University. I was there with three hats on: first, as a speaker for The Digital Reader panel; second, as a writer since the #romanceclass chipped in to get a table and sell our work; and last (and more importantly), as a Filipino reader.

In keeping with its theme 'What Do Readers Want?', ReaderCon provided con-goers an opportunity to share their thoughts by placing huge boards on-site. I was excited to read what people had to say and how I could use this to gauge my own place in the industry.

Everyone had an opinion. Great way for writers and publishers to hear it.

So good to see people asking for more stories from outside Manila

One of the things that delighted me was seeing these posts asking for books set in other regions. My novella Cover (Story) Girl is set in Aklan, so this was good news for me. Don't get me wrong; I love romances set in Manila! It's the heart of all the action. It's crazy and cosmopolitan but it can also be quirky and quaint. But there's always room for romances set elsewhere. I believe it's a sign of a healthy publishing environment when we can offer reader diverse choices. And not just in romance, of course.

I'm trying to make one of these happen ;)

One of the suggestions here actually touches on one of my upcoming projects. :) I wish I could claim it so that I know I won't back out of it! But I've got so many things lined up that it's better for me to take it one day at a time -- I get writing ADHD. Even if I don't end up writing it, I will be very happy if someone else will.

'More YA' and 'more spec-fic' were common, but readers also asked for ethnic stories and poetry!

Another interesting aspect about browsing through the replies is that you really get a range of responses. You'll have people clamoring for one thing, and then see someone ask for something totally different. More evidence that the Filipino audience is eager for more. The challenge is up to writers to answer these demands as quickly and as substantially as possible.

Diverse tastes: Not everyone was a fan of romance...

...or of science fiction, either

Then you find the most unexpected requests. What else can I say? To each his own!

This was the clear winner of all the suggestions. 'Seriously.'

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren's How to Read a Book has this advice to dispense to readers: Your first judgment will naturally be one of taste. You will say not only that you like or dislike a book, but also why [...] The better you can reflectively discern the causes of your pleasure in reading fiction or poetry, the nearer you will come to knowing the artistic values in the literary work itself. I think that ReaderCon constantly reminds Filipino readers to speak up and be heard, to voice their opinions, to identify what works for them and what doesn't, and to allow them a forum where they can interact with authors and publishers. It's another way to aid all of us discover the artistic values within the works we read and demand whatever our reading needs require.

Congratulations to the organizers of Filipino ReaderCon and to all Filipino readers, because really, this is all about you. Us. See you again next year!

BONUS: One of the other boards asked who your favorite author was.

Someone wrote down EL James of Fifty Shades of Grey fame. Someone else couldn't resist adding, 'Tigang ka daw po ba?' (Tigang means dry or barren soil, but is also used to refer to someone who hasn't had sex in a while). No judgment, but it definitely made me smile.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Real Score Blog Tour + Giveaway

This could just about be the last blog tour that #romanceclass will have this year, and the honor goes to Kesh Tanglao's The Real Score. At first I thought that I might not be able to relate to the novella, but I was wrong. Ms Tanglao writes with a careful hand, managing the fine line between wish-fulfillment and reality, and knowing how to elicit the right emotions from her readers at just the right time. It's a lovely story that is already winning a lot of fans.

About the Book:
Caitlin's friendship with Marcus, the de facto frontman of the world's biggest boy band Gezellig, has long been an object of scrutiny by almost everyone--their friends and families, the media, and his fans--ever since they "went public" a couple of years back. Who wouldn't be interested? She was a nobody, catapulted into the limelight of his fame when he struck an unusual friendship with her.

To both Caitlin and Marcus, what they have is a "perfect little thing." But then something comes along and threatens it.

In a no-holds-barred interview, will they finally be forced to settle the score?

You can purchase the book through any of the following links:
• Paperback: Order here

Just as Caitlin and Marcus were persuaded to participate in an interview, so too has author Kesh Tanglao. The questions she has to answer are easier than her characters' though!

Q: Have you been to London?
A: No, I haven't, but it's one of the places that I want to go to (along with Paris, Italy, and Amsterdam)!

Q: What kind of research did you have to do to make the place come alive?
A:Working around how to make places you haven't been to in stories is a bit tough, so as much as possible I tried not mentioning specific areas. For research, I watched movies / TV series based in London, and there's Google and Buzzfeed UK (weird source, but their lists are fun!).

Q:Was it difficult to write a male character who wasn't Filipino?
A:Yes, it was. I think we were cautioned about this in class before, since Brits have different cultures than Filipinos, and there are different language nuances too. Some research helped, although I wished I had talked to someone British (or well-versed in UK culture) to make sure it was genuine.

Q:Did you set out to give Marcus any characteristics that might not be typically Filipino?
A:On Marcus' characteristics, not specifically, but I do made him out as someone more mature for his age.


I think that Marcus' maturity was definitely evident in the novella. He was shown to be very patient and understanding. The little dance he's had with Caitlin over the nature of their relationship was depicted quite well. With a different lead, with a different author, it may have gone a different direction, but in The Real Score, his devotion really hit all the right notes. So show Caitlin and Marcus some love and get your own copy of this book!

About the Author:

Kesh Tanglao is a full-time market researcher. When she’s not crunching numbers, she spends most of her free time watching TV shows, listening to music, and reading. Also a self-proclaimed fangirl, she likes cheering for her favorite sports teams and supporting her favorite artists. The Real Score is her first published novella.

Contact Info:

• Facebook:
• Twitter: @sparksfire
• 8Tracks:
• Email:

Giveaway time! Get the chance to win one swag bag that contains the following items: a paperback and bookmarks of The Real Score, Marcus and Caitlin's mini-care package, and a charm bracelet.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In Over Her Head Blog Tour + Giveaway

It's almost the end of the year and still, Mina V. Esguerra's #romanceclass is going strong. Ever since the class ended in early June, there have been eight contemporary romance novellas out in the market. Making a book tour stop on Ficsation is one that I devoured in one sitting, Anne Plaza's In Over Her Head.

About the Book:
All she wants is to get even...

Erika Apostol's quiet and unassuming life gets disrupted when she learns that Richard Javier, the very same person who broke her heart many years ago, is now back in the country. Her world is turned upside down as old feelings she thought were buried resurface to haunt her once more.

Determined to give Richard a dose of his own medicine, Erika finds herself involved in an outrageous plan devised by her friends. They enlist the help of Jerome Gonzales, an attractive and charismatic DJ (with a playboy reputation), to pose as her significant other.

As the plan goes in full swing, Erika discovers Richard's jealous side, and that there's something more to Jerome than meets the eye. Will this grand charade work out the way it should, or will she be left with nothing in the end?

You can purchase the book through any of the following links:
• Paperback: Order here

One of the things I enjoyed about In Over Her Head is the Richard-Erika deal. Any child of the 80's will appreciate that! So I asked Ms Plaza more about her naming conventions and how she chose names and personalities for her characters. Did she know that she was going to name her leads over this iconic anime pair? Or did that come after?

Aside from forming a cohesive plot for a story, I take great pleasure in naming my characters. For me it's like a make or break thing that would either push me to finish writing or just get me stuck in a limbo of no return. Here are two main reasons why I personally give importance in naming their characters:

• A character's name is essential for me to be able to think of their personalities and visual pegs. Names that sound and feel right is something akin to inspiration—they usually hit me during the most unusual times (i.e., when I'm about to fall asleep, or when I'm taking a bath). And just like having that spark of an idea, I have to write it down; otherwise, I'd forget it.

• Thinking of appropriate character names for my stories is an exercise to show how characters come alive in the writing process—they evolve into distinct individuals with different personalities and quirks.

I never really thought to name my lead characters after the very famous anime couple, but when I was still just talking about the plot with my cousin, the idea was already there. I didn't have names at that time, and thought it would be great to go for it. I mean, who could ever forget Richard Hartford and Princess Erika? I was a sucker for romantic plots in the shows I watched when I was a kid, and Daimos takes the cake.

When it comes to fleshing out the characters, I try to come up with a visual peg (VP). When I outlined In Over Her Head for #romanceclass, I already had a mental picture of what my characters looked like. VPs help me describe the characters a lot more in detail, from their physical appearance down to their mannerisms and personalities.

For instance, my initial VP for Erika was Michelle Monaghan from the movie Made of Honor. Michelle's character in the movie was a go-getter, a person who takes things seriously career-wise, independent, and a hopeless romantic. On the other hand, my basis for Richard was Won Bin in the movie Friends (with Kyoko Fukada). In that film, his character was hardworking, youthful, and persevering. I imbued these characteristics in my leads, albeit with a few tinkering on the physical appearance.

I was also asked who I would cast for the role of Erika, Richard, and Jerome if the book was to be adapted into a movie. As much as I'd like to handpick the artists I earlier mentioned, I already have an idea which actors would be perfect for the part.
But names and characters are just one part of the equation. Beyond these, the novella really moved me by the way the romance was handled. It took a familiar story (getting back at the Ex) and deftly infused it with rom-com elements and tropes (a love triangle, a player, schemes and lies) to up the ante. I think Ms Plaza really dealt with this excellently. It was so easy for me to fall into the story and its premise without question. At its core, it was still anchored around a very realistic situation, one that tugged at my heartstrings. I liked how the leads danced around each other -- just slightly beyond reach -- so that we can have something to root for in the end.

About the Author:
Anne Plaza has a degree in Psychology, but has actively pursued a career in writing in her previous work as a reporter and online editor. She currently works in the field of marketing communications and spends most of her time writing fiction (while not on the lookout for the nearest cupcake and cronut store). Aside from writing, she loves to read contemporary romance, young adult, fantasy, and historical fiction. She also collects stamps and postcards, and loves everything about cats. Anne is based in Quezon City, Philippines. In Over Her Head is her first published work in English.

Contact Info:

• Facebook:
• Twitter: @anneplaza
• Blog:
• Email:

Giveaway time! Get the chance to win one swag bag including the following: In Over Her Head postcard and bookmark, floral memo pad, A7 memo pad, and sticky notes, Idea Dream Think Memory Draw Japanese Wallpaper Planner, Jouets Origami Pure Diamond necklace (note: it’s not a real diamond. Haha!)

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

What I've Been Reading

In the past few months, I've been blogging less about book reviews and more about local authors. It's a conscious decision, especially since I started publishing independently. To be honest, I have a lot of hesitations about what being an indie writer can mean to my book-blogging self. Can someone be both writer and critic -- especially someone who does not have the pedigree or the cajones to lay claim to either label yet?

While the choice might have been easy to some -- I grew up wanting to be a writer and not a book blogger anyway -- it still puts me in murky territory. I love discussing books. I like talking about the writing process. So please be patient with me while I still try to figure out what to do with my little space on the internet here. In the meantime, here are the books that I've managed to finish recently:

Welcome to Envy Park (Mina V. Esguerra) - A contemporary Filipino romance about Moira, who's back in Manila just biding her time before she heads off to another Asian country for her next job. I liked the tone and the dialogue in this one. Among Ms Esguerra's other heroines, I could also relate to Moira best. She speaks and thinks with candor and her voice felt very genuine. Her romance with Ethan was quite well-developed to me, so organic and natural and extremely kilig. Their interplay was engaging without being heavy-handed. Robbie and Dante are still my favorite male characters, but when couples are involved, Ethan and Moira appeal to me the most. I finished the paperback but I still went back to my ebook version just so I could mark my favorite lines and situations.

Love Story (Jennifer Echols) - This was my first Jennifer Echols book. Erin had a interesting poor-little-rich-girl story, and I thought the novel's writing class backdrop made it a bit more self-aware of the tropes that the story employs. Some comments from minor characters felt meta to me, which made me smile. One of my major reservations about it was that I don't understand how the class also seemed to be in the same residence hall (and they're all from different majors too), which I thought was pretty convenient.

Project 17 (Eliza Victoria) - I love reading science-fiction set in the Philippines. Ms Victoria crafts a world of high-stakes security and medical advancement against the backdrop of a futuristic Manila. Lillian is hired as the babysitter of Paul Dolores' brother Caleb, a smart and introverted man with schizoaffective disorder. Her job was supposed to be easy, but her curiosity lands her in a more than what she bargained for. Great tension and action, plus I thought the characters are very engaging. Finished this in one sitting.

The Manual of Detection (Jedediah Berry) - Part noir mystery, part dream. The narrative is expansive and many-layered, as it follows a clerk who has to step into the large (empty) shoes of the best detective in the agency. On one hand, it is the story of the clerk Unwin who, like his name, is far from being a force to reckon with. Bland and ordinary, he doesn't understand how he could be promoted to detective position vacated by the investigator for whom he clerks and attempts to find a way back to his old humdrum position. But there's more here than meets the eye. Add to his story the different mysteries that detective Silart has solved, which are also being told and re-told in bits and pieces. Chapter headings echo the headings of a manual that Unwin has received on his first day at the new job -- the so-called Manual of Detection. This was a really engrossing read.