Book: Tabi Po

"Tabi Po"

Isang lalake ang bigla na lamang nagising sa loob ng isang puno sa gitna ng kagubatan na walang alaala kung sino siya at saan siya nagmula. Ang tanging alaala lang niya ay isang imahe ng babae na nakikita niya sa kaniyang panaginip, at ang tanging nararamdaman niya ay isang matinding gutom na mabilis na namumuo sa kaniyang walang pusod na sikmura. Isang gutom na mapapawi lamang ng laman…at dugo.

To translate, the synopsis says “A man wakes up inside a tree in the middle of a jungle, with no marry of who he is or where he comes from. The only thing he remembers is the image of a woman he dreamed of; and the only thing he feels is an insatiable hunger forming in his bellybutton-less gut. A hunger than can only be appeased by flesh…and blood.

It’s Good Friday in this part of the world, but I’m going to be a deviant and write about a graphic novel that’s not exactly Lenten friendly. No, I’m not trying to make a statement. It’s just that, out of my loot from this year’s Summer Komikon, this is the one I wanted to write about first.

Obviously, because it’s good. It’s so good.

Most of the time, when I write about comics, I write more about the story than the art. That can’t be the case for this book though. That’s because the art tells just as much of the story as the text does.

A few days ago, I wrote about how text necessitates history and time to let readers familiarize themselves with characters. That’s not the case with comic book stories because it’s as much a visual medium as it is a text-based one. A good artist would take the writer’s words and build a world through them. An exemplary artist would take it a step further, developing a universe with those words. That is, of course, if there’s harmony between the two minds. So imagine what happens when the writer and the artist is one and the same?

Tabi Po is an exceptional work of art that also happens to tell a story. But it can also be the other way around: it’s a masterful telling of a mythological creature’s origins that also happens to be a magnum opus.  It cannot be one or the other though, because when the dialogue stops, the art continues the story. Not that any of the dialogue are superfluous. The lines delivered underlines the story that the art is trying to tell.

Am I starting to sound like a douche? Apologies. That’s how much I am affected by this book. It is stellar, it is groundbreaking… well, maybe not groundbreaking… But it is awesome.

And I implore you to pick up a copy. You will not regret reading Tabi Po.

If you’re too cheap to buy the printed copy though, check the story out online.

Book: Fangirl

"Fangirl"

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life–and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is o n her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words…and she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

What I like most about this book is how vastly different it is from Eleanor & Park. It’s not a love story… Well, it’s not just a love story. We actually get two in this book, but the story is bigger than that.

This is Cath’s story about growing up.

Now, I didn’t have expectations when I started reading the book. Wait, that’s not true. I had a bit of expectation. I loved Eleanor & Park, and I was hoping for the same magic when I started reading this book. But, alas, the magic wasn’t the same. But that’s better than getting the exact same story with just the names of characters changed, right?

Cath was neither Eleanor nor Park. She was her own person, flaws and all. Which reminds me–that’s another thing I liked about Fangirl. Author Rainbow Rowell doesn’t shy away from making Cath unlikeable in some of the chapters. Instead of turning her into an dream girl or a blank slate, Rowell shows us, the readers, Cath’s family background instead. She gives us history. So instead of hating on Cath’s unlikeable traits, we understand her instead. We don’t judge.

And we do the same with the other characters. Well, with most of them anyway. Two characters are written to be completely antagonistic, I don’t think Rowell expects anyone to actually like them. But the thing is, we all know people like them. They aren’t just stereotypes or cutout characters…they’re people who populate real life.

I can go on and on about Rowell’s characters. But I won’t. Let’s get to the point–the reason why I wasn’t as happy with Fangirl as I was with Eleanor & Park. The stories didn’t align.

Fangirl isn’t a romance novel. The love story is part of the main story arc, but it’s not the be all and end all. But it runs its course too early, and it starts to feel tacked on in the latter parts, as Rowell wraps up the other story threads.

And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t a fan of the love story. I was more invested with the story about the sisters, the dad, and the missing mom… and I thought the love story took up too much space. Rowell writes wonderful family dynamics, and I felt the love story distracted us from the better half of the story, the part where Cath deals with her family issues.

Fangirl‘s premise, of Cath’s fascination with the world of Simon Snow and her resistance in leaving that phase of her life behind, parallels better with the family story. The love story should’ve been just a side show to the main attraction.

But I would still whole-heartedly recommend the book to anyone. Now, if I can’t convince you, maybe these other bloggers can:
Chicago Now
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
It Was Lovely Reading You

Book: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

"The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight"

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Set over a twenty-four-hour period, this is a cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves.

That last line sold the book for me. Unfortunately, the story itself was a little problematic in my opinion. And this is a weird way of starting my reaction post on The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight… but sometimes you just have to jump in to the part you want to discuss.

Like false promises.

I don’t think the novel was particularly cinematic, for one thing. Sure, the 24 hours thing screams road trip movie–except our characters are on a plane en route to London. But this time frame actually detracts from the overall experience, because the author was corralled into sticking with the here and now of the two character’s relationships without the breathing allowance that time gives. And, come on, how can you live up to your title when you’re not giving your characters time to process things…to actually fall in love?

Hadley and Oliver are great characters, and I feel like they were squandered on a premise that might have sounded amazing in the proposal stage, but didn’t completely work on paper. I think they would have resonated more with readers if we were given the time allowed to get to know them, to get a feel of them… Something more than the scraps of insights we were given by the book.

Which, I’m going back to the cinematic novel claim now, would have worked on screen depending on the actors’ abilities to deliver lines with gravitas, and with their chemistry. Pages and pages of history, of experience, can be translated into movements, stance, inflections, etcetera–but you can’t expect your readers to guess how your character is supposed to hold themselves in certain situations when we barely have any idea who they are.

A book is not a movie. You don’t have actors breathing life into your characters. You don’t have a director adding history into the way the characters interact. You don’t have a stylist layering the experiences through the way the characters dress. You don’t have a set designer giving clues to who the characters are supposed to be. All you have is the story. So let the story breathe.

This is not a book I would recommend. But, I am not telling you to not pick up the book either. You have to make your own mind up when it comes to these things. So here are a few reviews I found online, to balance what I wrote about the book:
Dear Author
Reading Lark
There Were Books Involved

Book: Lies Beneath

"Lies Beneath"

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters must prey on humans and absorb their positive energy. usually, they select their victims at random, but this time around, the underwater clan chooses its target for a reason: revenge. They want to kill Jason Hancock, the man they blame for their mother’s death.

It’s going to take a concerted effort to lure the aquaphobic Hancock onto the water. Calder’s job is to gain Hancock’s trust by getting close to his family. Relying on his irresistible good looks and charm, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock’s daughter Lily. Easy enough, but Calder screws everything up by falling in love–just as Lily starts to suspect there’s more to the monster-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined, and just as the mermaids threaten to take matters into their own hands, forcing Calder to choose between them and the girl he loves.

One thing’s for sure: whatever Calder decides, the outcome won’t be pretty.

I don’t remember now what made me want to read the book. Maybe it’s because the novel had a male perspective written by a female author? Or maybe it’s because the love story begins alongside the revenge arc? All I know was that I was expecting Lies Beneath to be something new… Something different. Instead, what I got was a better-written Twilight.

I am sort of dissing Lies Beneath. Because while it does have a better premise, while the conflicts feel more real, and the characters are developed more… it’s also feels like a Twilight rip-off. It’s as if the writer read Stephanie Meyer’s book and sought to make it better. If that’s the case, she succeeded. In leagues. But it doesn’t change the fact that, structurally, it is the same story. Down to the lovestruck damsel who is slightly kickass and, spoiler alert, willing to sacrifice herself for family.

Now, if you’re one of the lucky ones who were able to avoid reading Twilight, this is the supernatural romance that you should pick up instead. In case you’re interested in picking one up, that is. But be warned that this novel features a conflicted bad boy who keeps saying that he’s dangerous and evil, but is a complete puppy throughout the book. And the aforementioned damsel who is sort of kickass? She’s not completely bland, but you will get annoyed at how quickly she throws her personality away once she accepts that she is in love with our male lead.

And don’t even get me started on how our male lead is forced to save his damsel, leading to the damsel’s piqued interest in what the male lead could be. Notice that I say what instead of who. This takes the damsel through the same journey that Bella Swan undertakes in Twilight–of continually being intrigued by the male lead, of trying to catch him off-guard, leading to a jaunt to a secluded place where he can finally show her who he really is.

He even sparkles. Well, his tail does. It’s silver. But you get what I mean?

Sure, Lies Beneath is the better book. But what use is being better when the other book came first? And I think this novel would’ve been better had it not followed the same story trajectory that Twilight has. Because Twilight is not a good book to pattern your book to.

But what do I know? I don’t normally read supernatural romances. Let’s see what other bloggers have said about the book to see if I’m alone in my sentiments:
A Good Addiction
Once Upon a Twilight
Dark Faerie Tales

Book: Tears of the Giraffe

"Tears of the Giraffe"

Precious Ramotswe is the eminently sensible and cunning proprietor of the only ladies’ detective agency in Botswana. In Tears of the Giraffe she tracks a wayward wife, uncovers an unscrupulous maid, and searches for an American man who disappeared into the plains many years ago. In the midst of resolving uncertainties, pondering her impending marriage to a good, kind man, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and promoting her talented secretary (a graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College, with a mark of 97 percent), she also finds her family suddenly and unexpectedly increased by two.

There is something to be said about a straightforward story; one that is bereft of twists and turns, of gimmicks. It’s refreshing in this age when books either subscribe to the currently trending genre…when writers are always trying to find that plus one to make their story stand out.

Tears of the Giraffe, the second novel from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, eschews the unneeded and focuses on the story of Precious Ramotswe: her life, the people around her, and the two cases that she must solve.

Granted, this novel was published fourteen years ago. True, there were already a lot of books being published even then, but there was never that burning need to make each book be ground-breaking. They just needed to be well-written and entertaining, and readers will pick them up.

Nowadays, that’s no longer the case. Writers are being pressured to write the next epic.

The funny thing is, this gets indirectly discussed within Tears of the Giraffe. Writer Alexander McCall Smith talks about the changes in today’s values compared to the ones from before. McCall Smith shares his thoughts on the trends of today’s generation through characters Mma Ramotswe and Rra Matekoni. It’s actually very entertaining, reading how much difference a decade makes in people’s upbringing.

And it is equally interesting to analyze the difference in how the publishing industry has changed in the same amount of time.

I guess I really don’t have much to say about McCall Smith’s Tears of the Giraffe. It’s a solid story that’s refreshing to read. Which I had already said. But I am interested in hearing from anyone their thoughts on the trends in the publishing industry.

Why are we seeing fewer books like The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and more books on supernatural romance and mommy porn? That is, if that’s still the trend today.

Movie: The Winter Soldier

"Captain America: Winter Soldier"

After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy–the Winter Soldier.

I was never a fan of Captain America. I’m a Spider-Man kind of guy. But ever since Marvel began expanding its cinematic universe, starting with Iron Man back in 2008, I held out hope that the world’s dullest superhero would get a character makeover to make him more relatable to today’s audiences.

Marvel didn’t do that. Instead they wrote a story to highlight what makes Captain America a hero–his heart, his belief…his faith. The First Avenger made me see the shine under the dull exterior of Steve Rogers. Fast forward to years later, after his attempt at leading the Avengers in their first team-up movie, and we see Captain America come to his own. Finally.

Steve Rogers is a man of virtue. That’s what makes him dull. Because you know he will never make a mistake, and that he will always consider other people’s fates first before his own. He is not one of us. He is the Superman of Marvel, the beacon of hope, and of all things good. Of what we have to aspire to be.

And we don’t like being shown our weaknesses.

But when you put Steve Rogers in a situation everyone of us faces? When you give him problems that we ourselves have? When you see him struggle with things we struggle with in a day-to-day basis? You start to see that he’s not perfect. That he is us…at our basest form. Someone who just wants to do good; someone who just wants to do right.

Someone with the courage to do so.

This is when we start to root for him.

The Captain America of Marvel’s cinematic universe speaks to us because he is not painted to be the person we should be–but the person we could be…if we only had the confidence to embrace who we are, regardless of how we look, of how big or small we are, of who is opposing us.

Captain America: The First Avenger made me believe that a modern hero could be as virtuous and clean as Steve Rogers. (Which is weird, seeing as that film was a period movie.) The Winter Soldier made me believe that we can be like him too. And that’s just one of the things I loved about The Winter Soldier.

The cast is stellar. Chris Evans is Steve Rogers. Scarlett Johansson shows new depths in her characterization of Black Widow. And new addition to the team Anthony Mackie is awesome as the Falcon. The supporting cast was just as great, but I don’t want to mention why exactly as that would spoil certain parts of the film.

Let’s just say the only character that let me down was Agent 13, but that’s not so much because of how she was acted, but because there wasn’t enough screen time for her, and for the set-up of her potential as a love interest for Captain America. Heck, Cap’s friendship with Black Widow has more chemistry than any of Cap’s scenes with Agent 13.

That said, it is going to be hard to root for a new love for Cap anyway because of a Peggy Carter cameo that will make you tear up. You don’t want Cap to move on just yet.

Another thing that The Winter Soldier does exceptionally well is the characterization of its villains. And the film has a lot of them. Baltroc, Crossbones, Armin Zola… The list goes on, and we’re not even counting the titular Winter Soldier yet. In a Captain America film, you expect things to be black and white. Cap, after all, is our All-American Hero whose intentions are pure and true. Evil should be evil. But that’s not the case with The Winter Soldier.

It’s all gray area. And that’s what makes the film all the more interesting.

What happens when the embodiment of  all things good come fact to face with the moralities of gray areas? How will he discern good from evil?

What happens when a man who values trust above all else, is told to trust no one?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier will take your expectations and throw it under a bus. And then it gives you a film you never thought you wanted–and make you enjoy it.

Book: Manila Noir

"Manila Noir"

Manila’s a city of survivors, schemers, and dreamers… A city of extremes. Where the rich live in posh enclaves, guarded by men with guns. Where the poor improvise homes out of wood, tin, and cardboard and live by their wits. Where five-star hotels and luxury malls selling Prada and Louis Vuitton coexist with toxic garbage dumps and sprawling ‘informal settlements’ (a.k.a. squatter settlements), where religious zeal coexists with superstition, where ‘hospitality’ might be another word for prostitution, where sports and show business can be the first step to politics, where politics can be synonymous with nepotism, cronyism, and corruption, where violence is nothing out of the ordinary, and pretty much anything can be had for a price–if you have the money and/or the connection, that is…

To be perfectly honest, I have a very vague notion of what noir is. So whatever I was expecting Manila Noir to be, it definitely wasn’t what I got when I read the stories contained in the anthology. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Except when it is.

I liked some of the stories. I loved the Trese short. And a couple of the stories bored me to the point of putting me to sleep. Thrice. Yes, three times. In the span of a dozen pages. More or less.

And at the end of the day, I have nothing to take away from reading said book. Except, maybe a question.

How do editors decide on which writers to invite for collections such as Manila Noir?

There’s usually a foreword written by the editor to introduce the writers included in the anthology. I don’t remember if this had one. Not that it should matter. Right? But there’s a couple of writers who I have already read outside of this book… And I was surprised that I didn’t care much for the stories they wrote for Manila Noir, when I enjoyed their separate work.

Maybe the collection was limiting? Or maybe it was too expansive? I don’t know. All I know is that, while reading the book, my enjoyment levels fluctuated. I would enjoy one story, only for it to be followed by one I wouldn’t enjoy as much, before it would be followed by another I wouldn’t like at all.

Maybe I should stop reading books like this, since you never really know what you’re going to get. And I actually wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for the Trese short.

It’s a good thing that the Trese story alone was worth the price of the book.