Book: Assassin’s Code

"Assassin's Code"

When Joe Ledger and Echo Team rescue a group of American college kids held hostage in Iran, the Iranian government asks them to help find six nuclear bombs planted in the Mideast oil fields. These stolen WMDs will lead Joe and Echo Team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass murder, betrayal, and a brotherhood of genetically engineered killers with a thirst for blood. Accompanied by the beautiful assassin called Violin, Joe follows a series of clues to find the Book of Shadows, which contains a horrifying truth that threatens to shatter his entire worldview. They say the truth will set you free… Not this time. The secrets of the assassin’s code could set the world ablaze.

I picked up Assassin’s Code because it was the fourth book off the Joe Ledger series of books. Which is a good thing. Because I don’t think I would’ve picked this book up based on the above synopsis.

Then again, out of the four Joe Ledger books I’ve read, I think this one is the weakest off the bunch. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not up to par with his other books. Especially not with the Rot & Ruin series. After four adventures, I think I’m starting to feel some fatigue for the shenanigans that Joe Ledger and his Echo Team keeps getting into.

Or maybe it’s just this book.

Unlike in other Joe Ledger books, author Jonathan Maberry’s pacing for this story seems off. Maybe because there are way too many things going on, too many characters need to process things, too many plot threads are let loose in the wind. The result? Chaos.

Ultimately, when you read the book, that seems to be the intent. But for a reader looking for a break from real life? Chaos needs to be reigned in. Doled out in small doses. Chaos needs a little order, to be easier to take it in. And that’s what I found lacking in Assassin’s Code. Order.

I think it became harder to read when the book reached its second part. When the interludes began? I didn’t need the backgrounder. And, spoiler alert, the interludes are spelt out in the end. So there really wasn’t a point in writing the interludes.

And don’t get me started on the fake chapter enders. Where characters would discover something important–but it wouldn’t be revealed to the reader. It was frustrating. More than pushing me to move on to the next chapter, I kept having to put down the book to remind myself that it would be worth it in the end.

But was it?

I don’t know. On the one hand, I didn’t find the book bad. As I already mentioned before. It’s not bad. It’s just not as good. And when you’ve already shown readers how good you can be… Well, let’s just say I would be a little more wary when I pick up the next book off the Joe Ledger series.

Book: “Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults”

"Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults"

Perhaps the first of its kind released in the Philippines, Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults was conceived solely with the Filipino young adult reader in mind, with stories taht explore the concerns and fears of today’s youth through the lens of horror written by new and experienced authors.

Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults is the first of a series of anthologies covering science fiction, fantasy, and other genres, presented by award-winning editors Dean Francis Alfar and Kenneth Yu.

I found this gem of a book at the Quezon Avenue branch of National Bookstore. I must say, I love how this particular bookstore display their Filipino literature prominently alongside their imported counterparts.

That aside…aside, Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults is a breath of fresh air from the anthologies I’ve read in the past. Not that I’m dissing the other anthologies. It’s just that, I found this collection easier to read. It’s friendlier to casual readers.

My favorite story off this bunch is “Mommy Agnes” because of its twist. No, I’m not talking about the Shyamalan reveal. I’m pertaining to the dramatic twist at the end, which I totally did not expect this being a horror collection. It was well done. Subtle and not overly dramatic. Not very Filipino, come to think of it.

And if I picked the one I liked best, I have to pick one I liked least too–and that has to be “Eat Me.” Let’s just say it’s a matter of preferences, because I can’t really say anything bad about the short story. I just don’t like it.

What I love most about this collection though is the fact that it doesn’t try to explain its existence. It’s a book of horror stories for readers. Sure it says its Filipino Fiction, but it really doesn’t matter what nationality you are when you’re reading the stories. They are what they are. And no matter who you are, or where you are, some of this stories will spook you out of your seats.

But, of course, I cannot end this post without shamelessly plugging my other blog: Filipino Scares. If you’re into horror stories, do check my stories out!

Book: Dumpling Days

"Dumpling Days"

Pacy Lin is ready for summer! But her parents have decided the family is going to visit Taiwan for a whole month. Taiwan? Pacy isn’t even sure if she knows where that is.

And when she gets there, Pacy looks like everyone else but can’t speak the language, her art talent seems to have disappeared, and she has only her sisters to spend time with! But there’s plenty of adventure in Taiwan, too. As the month passes by, Pacy eats chicken feet (by accident!), gets blessed by a fortune-teller, searches for her true identity, and grows closer to those who matter most.

It seemed apt that the first post I was going to write for the month of August is about a book that takes place during the Ghost Month. I just wanted to put that out there.

Okay, so Dumpling Days. It says in the book that it’s a recollection of the author’s first trip to Taiwan. So I don’t know how much of it is just made up for creative license, and which parts are actually real. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. The end product is a heart-tugging memoir of a girl finding out who she can be by accepting who she is. And that’s enough for the book to get on my good side.

But here’s the thing. I can relate to Pacy Lin. I’m a Chinese guy born and raised in the Philippines. Filipino and English are my main languages for communication. And for thirteen years of my life, I saw my Chinese lessons as a torture device designed to keep me away from the television and my books. I speak better Italian than Chinese. Granted, I know more Chinese words than Italian words, but the point of that statement is, I never really connected with my Chinese heritage. Much like Pacy Lin.

Unlike Pacy though, I didn’t have a problem about cultural identity. During my first out-of-the-country trip, to Hong Kong, I was traumatized by a ship trip during a particularly stormy night. That kind of overshadowed whatever cultural shock I was going to experience. My second trip, to Taiwan, was composed of days spent locked in an apartment testing out Japanese video games for my uncles.

By the time I was sent to Xiamen (that’s in China) for a two-week ‘vacation,’ I knew enough Chinese words from school that I could get by. And, I don’t know why, but the people there liked me so much that they didn’t care about the fact that I couldn’t speak straight Chinese. One local even gave me discounts from her store whenever I thought her Filipino words.

It wasn’t until a third trip to Hong Kong that I would actually feel the alienation of being a Filipino with Chinese blood in a predominantly Chinese country. I had just graduated college. It’s been four years since I last studied Chinese. I felt like I could get by with just English. Until I realized that I was no longer that cute kid who spoke in Filipino or English to Chinese locals. I was a grown-up Chinese man who couldn’t even cobble up simple Chinese words together for a single sentence.

One particular memory sticks out from this trip to Hong Kong. I was thirsty and wanted to buy water. But I couldn’t remember how to say water in Cantonese (probably because of the thirst). I saw they sold Coke, so I said I wanted Coke. They couldn’t understand me. I said Coca-cola, and still nothing. Feeling like a smart-ass, because I could read the Chinese characters for Coke, I said I wanted to buy Ke-Kou-Ke-Le. And they looked at me like I had gone mad. I had to reach out behind the counter, point at the bottle of Coke and bring out the coins I was going to pay them with before they understood that I wanted to buy a bottle of Coca-cola.

That was embarrassing.

And unlike Pacy, I didn’t learn my lesson.

Four years later, during a trip to Beijing, I was almost run out of a store because they couldn’t understand my Chinese. Even after thirteen years of studying Chinese, I never realized that Hokien and Ko-gi were two different dialects. And that I was using the wrong one in Beijing.

The thing is, I don’t know if there will ever come a time when I would embrace my mixed heritage completely. The fact that I call myself a Filipino with Chinese blood kind of tells you how I see myself. But reading Dumpling Days… I would be more mindful to explain to my children why it’s important for them to study Chinese.

Event: The Cast Comics at Indieket 2014!

"Cast, the Comics Issue 12"

Cast Comics is back! And they’re bringing a very special cover of the long-awaited twelfth issue of their series to this Saturday’s Indieket!

Why is this a big deal? Because this variant cover won’t be available in bookstores or comic shops. Oh, and because it’s drawn by Harvey Tolibao, a superstar artist who has already done for Marvel titles!

Aside from this rare variant cover of Cast #12, Nautilus Comics will also launch the reprint of Arnold Arre’s Trip to Tagaytay, one of the best graphic novels that became hard to find as the years went on. Well, you don’t have to look any further–just drop by this Saturday at Indieket, at the Bayanihan Center in Pasig!

But don’t limit yourselves to the Nautilus titles when you get there. Bring extra cash. Discover new works and new worlds at this year’s Indieket!

Book: The Hangman’s Revolution (WARP, Book 2)

"The Hangman's Revolution"

Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent not known for obeying the rules, has arrived home after a time-trip to Victorian London where she helped an orphan boy named Riley escape his murderous master. Present-day London is very different from the one she left. England is being run by followers of a Colonel Box, who control the territory through intimidation and terror. Chevie is absorbed by this timeline and cannot remember fully the history she once belonged to. Though a part of her senses that something is wrong, she moves on with her life as a junior cadet in the Boxite police.

The day Chevie is ordered to confront Professor Charles Smart, the inventor of the time machine, she finds herself thrust back into the past. There, with the help of Riley and a few unlikely allies, she must venture into London’s catacombs and derail the plans of the charismatic leader who is intent on using his knowledge of the future to seize power.

I had such high hopes for this book. Seriously. Although the first book was, by any means, no Artemis Fowl, it was still entertaining. It was still a fun romp. This second book, on the other hand, had none of that fun. The stakes are raised, the consequences are harsher–and the few cheeky dialogue came off like an attempt at diffusing tension more than actual fun banter.

My main problem with it, I think, is the fact that author Eoin Colfer refused to tone down his humor despite of the story’s heavy theme. The Hangman’s Revolution talks of a future gone wrong because of one small change in the past. Our present becomes a dystopian future come early. And you can understand why Chevron would cling on to her acerbic tongue, but not the other characters. Not the villains, certainly.

I felt a disconnect. Instead of getting absorbed into the action, into the world, I felt displaced by the light tone given to the grim reality being presented. And I can’t help comparing this book to any of the latter releases from the Artemis Fowl series.

That series became more serious as the story progressed, but the characters kept their wits and their humor. And it felt organic, even during the times the characters were reset, memory-wiped, or meeting past selves. That’s because their humor came from the situation. The tone continued to be serious, and the dialogue can be taken seriously–but it’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s situational comedy.

The Hangman’s Revolution‘s humor felt more like slapstick forced into a macho-action thriller. It was out of place. And that affected my overall enjoyment of the novel. And this saddens me. Because I like Chevron and Riley as characters. They have a tendency to be like Holly Short and Artemis Fowl, but they have enough personality of their own to not be a carbon copy.

I will still, however, keep my eye out on a possible third installment from the W.A.R.P. series. Because I believe that, with the time travel arc closed, we could start to have fun with just Chevron, a Native American girl from the future, being in Victorian London.

Now, let’s see what other people have said about The Hangman’s Revolution:
Dark Readers
Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted Books
Shelf of Melanie

Book: Una & Miguel


"Una & Miguel"

Una and Miguel are total opposites! He’s the village heartthrob, part of the good-looking ‘in’ crowd while Una is popular for the wrong reasons. She writes songs, plays the harmonica, wears a hemp anklet, and has equally eccentric friends–not at all the type of girl Miguel and his friends go for. They call her and her friends outcasts.

For these two, love is truly a long shot. But when they’re forced to work together as punishment for a prank-gone-wrong, they find that falling in love might not be impossible after all. Will opposites attract? Or will they repel?

I have a few questions of my own to add: Why was this book reprinted? Was there a serious need for a young adult romance novella back in 2012? And why did Adarna House think to reprint this particular title? Because, honestly speaking, Una & Miguel is not a very likeable book.

My main problem with the book, I think, lies with the fact that it isn’t timeless. The story of Una & Miguel feels very dated, even though the author updated the story with so many 2011/2012 pop culture references. And for a book with a universal theme of love and acceptance, feeling dated is quite the feat–and not in a good way.

Then there’s our main couple: we never get to know Una & Miguel enough to actually root for them. And during the time where we’re supposed to empathize with them, we don’t. I, personally, found it very hard to root for either one of the protagonists because they were so damn unlikeable. Both are hypocrites, wanting the best of both worlds–standing out and still being accepted. Still being popular.

And that sealed the book’s fate with me. I didn’t care for the characters, so I didn’t care how their story unfolded. And, if you read the book, it feels like the author doesn’t care all that much either. Because as soon as Una and Miguel admit their feelings for each other, the story ends.

We already know that story. So many books have written that story. What we want to know is what happens next, and what happens despite. Eleanor & Park told us why the boy straddling the line between being ‘in’ and being an outcast cannot be with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. And yet it gave us a story worth falling for. Worth crying about. Alex Sanchez’s Getting It had a third non-love interest character play up the conflict about a guy trying to get the girl of his dreams. Heck, Tall Story was able to tell the same story better, and it was a story about siblings, and not a love story ripe with conflict.

So, once again, I ask: why reprint Una & Miguel?

I’m not trying to be a book snob. I love that local publishers are actually publishing books again. But why not push the boundaries? Go ahead, sell romance. But give us something new. Something we can proud of. Something that will say, hey, Filipinos can write fiction that’s just as good as the international titles–if not better.

So let’s quit with the Una & Miguels, the She’s Dating the Gangsters, and the Every Girl’s Guides. Let’s have more of the Roles, and Vince’s Life, and After Edens. Please.

Book: Landline


Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply–but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her–Neal is always a little upset with Georgie–but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal int he past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

A friend asked me to tell him what I think of Landline as soon as I finish. Thing is, when I put the book down, I couldn’t quite decide if I think the book is as good as Rainbow Rowell’s earlier efforts–or if I’m just being buoyed by good will from her better books.

Yes, I said better books. Because now that I have slept on it, I’ve realized that Landline isn’t as good, or as emotionally-gripping, as Eleanor & Park, or Attachments… Even Fangirl, with its over-long narrative is better than Landline. Why? Because in those books, more than the falling in love, we also get glimpses of our protagonists’ lives outside the love story.

With Landline, we begin with the problem. Georgie and Neal are married, but she could tell that her marriage is falling apart. And then it does. And then we go through the motions of their courtship through flashbacks, and the gimmicky premise of having Georgie talk to Neal from nineteen years ago. And she falls in love again. Until she realizes the gravity of talking to someone from so long ago. The power she has to change his future–her present.

The premise isn’t new, but the protagonist’s stake in it, sort of, is. You are giving a woman, who knows that her marriage is not working out, the power to change that. To see if there could be a better future for both her husband and her. And I feel like the novel wasted that potential by… Well, I won’t spoil the book for you. It’s still a well-written novel, even though I ended up not being a fan.

Landline is for the romantics. If you do not care about the characters’ backgrounds beyond how it affects the central love story, then this is the book for you. This is no Eleanor & Park. There is no epic love story that propels to teenagers to defy all odds. This is no Attachments, where our male protagonist is caught in a moral dilemma of how he fell for the love interest. This is no Fangirl, where, besides the love story, you have your female protagonist debating between the lifestyle she has and the lifestyle she thinks she ought to have. Landline just is.

It’s a simple story of falling in love all over again. And it can be enough.

Just not for me.

Now, let’s see what other people are writing about Landline:
Books and Swoons