Book: One More Chance

"One More Chance"

Is love enough to make a person feel fulfilled and happy?

Meet Popoy and Basha, two lovers who believe they are destined to be together forever. Practically inseparable, everyone around them knows there can be no Basha without the ever strict Popoy. Nor would Popoy exist without his damsel, Basha.

But when one of them realizes their feelings for each other can no longer make them feel content, they resolve to search for themselves outside of the safety of each other.

Will Popoy and Basha find happiness apart, or will they learn to give love One More Chance?

If I were to answer that question? I was happier when Popoy and Basha were apart. Much happier. To the point that I breezed through the parts of the book where they weren’t together, and I fell in love with the character of Basha: a woman who saw how important it was to find herself, to save herself from a destructive relationship… Who became a better person for it.

And that oft-quoted scene where Popoy said “she loved me at my worst. You had me at my best?” I’ve always thought it was an epic piece of dialogue that made you feel for the male lead. Now that I know the context of the scene? I wanted to punch Popoy in the face. Multiple times. And I don’t know if I would’ve felt the same way had I not read the book and watched the film instead.

The thing about novelizations is that no matter how close to the material a writer gets, you can’t help but add nuances and thought into the characters. I have never seen One More Chance as a film so I have no way to compare the two, but I do feel like Popoy got the short end of the stick in the novelization. Sure, we get an equal amount of time between the two characters and their motivations. But while Basha comes off as a sympathetic character, Popoy comes off as a douche most of the time.

Unless that’s how it was with the film too. I wouldn’t know. It’s just that… Throughout the book, I never thought Popoy deserved Basha. Which is why I really appreciated the fact that they weren’t forced to live happily ever after. Because I feel like Popoy should do more to earn Basha.

And he will get a chance to do that, when A Second Chance, the sequel to the 2007 film, comes out on November 25. Because of course One More Chance would have a sequel. Basha didn’t really get the closure she needed, and as romantics, Filipinos will always look for that happy ending.

I’m just hoping that however it ends, the characters would stay true to themselves. That they choose what would make them happy, and not what would satisfy the fans of the original film.

All that said, I have to commend writer Juan Miguel Sevilla for a well-written novelization that really gives body to the characters–and does not rely on knowledge of the film. The novelization of One More Chance can stand on its own. And the artwork by married couple Elbert Or and Lorra Angbue-Te add a much appreciated romantic whimsy to the whole package. I have to say though, the editor should do a better job at proofing the book. There were a number of glaring pronoun confusion within the book.

[Disclaimer: I was approached by ABS-CBN Publishing Inc to write about this book, but this is not a paid advertisement. The thoughts I wrote down are my own.]

Book: The Good Luck of Right Now

"The Good Luck of Right Now"

For thirty-eight years, Bartholomew Neil has lived with his mother. When she gets sick and dies, he has no idea how to be on his own. His grief counselor, Wendy, says he needs to find his flock and leave the nest. But how does a man whose whole life has been grounded in his mom, Saturday Mass, and the library learn how to fly?

Bartholomew thinks he’s found a clue when he discovers a ‘Free Tibet’ letter from Richard Gere hidden in his mother’s underwear drawer. In her final days, Mom called him Richard–there must be a cosmic connection. Believing that the actor is meant to help him, Bartholomew awkwardly starts his new life by writing Richard Gere a series of letters. Jung and the Dalai Lama, philosophy and faith, alien abduction and cat telepathy, are all explored in his soul-baring epistles. But mostly the letters reveal one man’s heartbreakingly earnest attempt to assemble a family of his own.

A struggling priest, a ‘Girlbrarian,’ her feline-loving, foul-mouthed brother, and the spirit of Richard Gere join the quest to help Bartholomew. In a rented Ford Focus, they travel to Canada to see the Cat Parliament and find Bartholomew’s biological father…and discover so much more.

Quick judgment: the book is good, it’s easy to read–and it’s very heart-warming. To those who liked author Matthew Quick’s writing for The Silver Linings Playbook, but wasn’t much of a fan of Sorta Like a Rock Star, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, would think this book is a return to form for the author.

But to tell you the truth, I didn’t really get the importance of looking for Bartholomew’s biological father. Not even in the end. But that’s mostly because, although we’re told that Bartholomew’s not right in the head for most of the novel, he’s actually a very well-adjusted guy. And that got me thinking–

We call people with mental disabilities ‘special,’ and this book underlines the fact that they aren’t unlike you and I. They might be handicapped, but they are able-bodied human beings too. They are capable too. They just have more to work through than us.

Or they’re not just as good as pretending they’re okay like normal people are.

And that’s the thesis of The Good Luck of Right Now, in my opinion. In pretending, how do we know when we’re fooling other people–or when we’re already fooling ourselves?

Quick posits early in the book that Bartholomew knows about pretending. He’s very honest about it. Apologetic, even. But over the course of the book, we get new pretenses from other characters. People who are saying something, but meaning something else. It’s a hard look at how we, as people, live our lives–always pretending, even in little things. Embellishing to make ourselves look better, or more humble–or just to not look like a bad guy.

The Good Luck of Right Now looks like a simple book, but it’s ripe for discussion; about our beliefs and our identities.

It’s something I would urge people to read–even if it’s just because I want someone to discuss the book with.

Book: The Forever Man

"The Forever Man"

Riley, an orphan boy living in Victorian London, has achieved his dream of becoming a renowned magician, the Great Savano. He owes much of his success to Chevie, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent who traveled from the future in a time pod and helped him defeat his murderous master, Albert Garrick. But it is difficult for Riley to enjoy his new life, for he has always believed that Garrick will someday, somehow, return.

Chevie has assured Riley that Garrick was sucked into a temporal wormhole, never to emerge. The full nature of the wormhole has never been understood, however, and just as a human body will reject an unsuitable transplant, the wormhole eventually spits Garrick out. By the time Garrick makes it back to Victorian London, he has been planning his revenge on Riley for centuries. But even the best-laid plans can go awry, as the three discover when they are tossed once more into the wormhole and spill out in a Puritan village.

Featuring remarkable heroes, an epic villain, and monstrous mutations, The Forever Man is another high-octane adventure from the impressive imagination behind teh internationally best-selling Artemis Fowl series.

What started out with a bang ended in a sputter. Eoin Colfer’s WARP series fails to deliver an explosive finale as the action becomes one-sided when his strong, independent female protagonist turns into a damsel-in-distress.

No, it’s not that I don’t like damsels-in-distresses. Some characters were built that way. But our heroine, Chevie, was never one. And turning her into one on the last book of your series, where the rest of the characters are too-smart-for-the-time male protagonists–it’s kind of annoying that our only female lead becomes a mewling victim.

It would’ve been fine though had there been other things to like in the book, but there isn’t. The characters we’ve met before haven’t developed, while the new ones feel too smart-alecky. And the worst part? The villain that was built up to be very formidable in the first book becomes kind of a joke in this final installment.

I know the WARP series is never going to become a classic, and that it’s written for a younger set of readers–that I’m not part of its target market. But Artemis Fowl was also written for those readers and I didn’t have a problem with that series. Heck, the first book of WARP, while kind of formulaic, was still a fun adventure. So I don’t get why The Forever Man fails to live up to expectations. Especially since I wasn’t expecting much.

This is not a book I would recommend.

Book: Save the Cake

"Save the Cake"

Twenty-eight-year-old Eloisa Carreon has come home to work at her family’s bakery as a cake artist after years of studying and working abroad. She years for the independence she had while living in New York and Singapore, but her overprotective parents and big brother monitor her every move. When she is tasked with creating a masterpiece for a high-society wedding, Eloisa meets handsome videographer Sean Alvarez. They discover a shared outlook on life and a mutual desire to escape the excesses of the nuptials. The attraction between them is undeniable, but Eloisa is weighed down by family expectations and emotional baggage from a past relationship.

With the wedding of the year fast approaching, Eloisa has a decision to make: Should she play it safe to avoid heartbreak, or take the risk on happiness with someone who can show her how to love again?

Ignoring the fact that the back blurb of the book was misleading, I’m still a little disappointed with Save the Cake. Not because I had high expectations to begin with, but because my expectations rose while reading the book.

When I pick up local books that are in English, there is always a tendency for the protagonists to read and talk like western characters. Which is why it was such a pleasant surprise to find that, from the moment we meet Eloisa Carreon, I knew she was a Filipina–even with her background in New York and Singapore.

I have to commend author Stella Torres for how grounded in reality her character feels. There’s just something about her, something I can’t put my finger on, that makes her breathe–that makes her come to life. She doesn’t feel fictional at all. Which means the author had done her job well with the character.

Something she also did well? The set-up. The first ten chapters of the book was a breeze to read. The author took time to establish the world Eloisa lives in, the family she lives with, and the people who orbit around her–but the pacing never lags. Everything is just right.

Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how Mina Esguerra’s Romance Class works. I don’t know if they have a deadline to beat, or if the novels were longer and had to be shortened for physical printing, or what. What I do know is that starting with Chapter Twelve, the pace suddenly goes into hyper-drive. It’s like there’s not enough time for everything to happen, and the structure suffers because of the breakneck pace the story suddenly employs.

The characters continue to feel whole though. Nothing changed with how they are written, with how they talk and react–but they are talking and reacting to things that shouldn’t have happened yet. New developments are shoveled in before the characters can even process what had just happened. The characters aren’t allowed to breathe. And this is a shame.

Because I would say that Save the Cake had a potential to be better, had it been allowed more time to stew. This is a romance novel, so why hurry through the romance? Why hurry through the nuances of a love story?

If you want readers to take local romance stories the time of day, then give them the time to fall in love.

Book: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between

"Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between"

On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide their future. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

If what we see of Clare and Aidan’s relationship in this book is any indication of what their relationship will be like in the future? I hope the answer to the question is goodbye forever.

Obviously, I didn’t enjoy the book. It wasn’t so bad that I had to stop reading, and my displeasure didn’t reach throwing-against-a-wall levels, but I must say that if I had a chance to tell my past self not to pick this book up? I would.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between is an exercise in futility. From the first chapter, we are told that at the end of this very long night, our main characters will find a reason to stay together–to risk a long-distance romance. So the night is supposed to strengthen them as it leads them to “familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations.

And it sort of does.

And then it doesn’t.

Reading the book, I had to wonder: did the author even know where she wanted the book to go? Did she know what her characters really wanted? Or was this a writing exercise that got published because her previous efforts sold well?

I’m not bitter here. I’m not a novelist trying to get my first novel published. But seriously, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between feels like something that one would find trawling through the Wattpad catalog. And even saying that, I feel like I’m going to offend some Wattpad writers.

There is nothing special about this book, and even it gimmick of a “scavenger hunt of memories” falls flat because the characters themselves give up on it halfway through. I don’t even know what the book wants to say except: people always break up, but because this is a romance novel, the protagonists will still find a way to each other.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I started reading this book. Entertainment? An escape? An interesting take on love? Whatever it was, I didn’t find it. But I did learn a lesson:

Don’t trust a popular author to always deliver a good story.

But, like I always say whenever I write anything about books I ended up not liking? Don’t take my word for it. Check out the blurb, find other bloggers who read the book. What didn’t work for me might have worked for someone else. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s unlikable.

Give the book a try–

But maybe borrow the book, instead of buying your own copy. Just in case you end up not liking it too.

Book: Carry On

"Carry On"

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here–it’s their last year at Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

This book left me breathless, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Rainbow Rowell first introduced Simon Snow in Fangirl as a fictional character within a fictional world. That means we should already know something about Simon Snow, right? Well, partly.

Thing is: Author Rowell isn’t writing the Simon Snow from Fangirl, and neither is she writing the “canonical” Simon Snow. The Simon Snow in Carry On is her own creation based on the foundation she built for his previous use. And, I might be wrong here, but I also felt like she was writing Carry On for readers who didn’t read Fangirl. Which would make sense. But I also feel like this is the reason why Simon Snow’s characterization felt rushed.

Simon Snow doesn’t earn his right to be a reader’s hero, because from the get-go, he reads like a whiny brat who always has to get his way. And I know that he’s supposed to be an amalgamation of every Chosen One we’ve met in the past decade, but those Chosen Ones had a number of books under their belt–they developed from naive innocents into saviors who had the right to whine. To feel bad about their destiny. To question their roles in the grand scheme of things.

Simon Snow had one chapter. And not a prologue at that.

It’s a testament to Rainbow Rowell’s ability to hook readers that one doesn’t just put down Carry On and move on to another book. Although Simon is an insufferable git, Rowell gives us two other characters who you would want to stick with: Penelope Bunce, and the mysterious Lucy. And it’s through them that I found a reason to continue reading.

Carry On is actually a masterful chosen-one story, with Rowell subverting tropes and writing amazingly flawed characters. The plot is well structured, and the big bad is threatening throughout–and even especially after the reveal of his identity and his role in the grand scheme of things. So I kind of feel bad that I’m not a hundred percent in love with the book.

Maybe it’s because of the love story. Because unlike in Eleanor & Park, or in Fangirl, or in Landline, or in Attachments–there’s nothing about Simon Snow nor Baz Pitch one would want to root for. Sure, it was obvious from the get go that they were into each other, but there was nothing about their romance that made me want to root for them to end up together.

I wanted them to solve the mystery, to save the world, and maybe have happily-ever-afters. But end up together? Why would I want that, when I’ve seen nothing about the growth of their relationship? Why would I want that when all I know about their relationship is told through anecdotes that does nothing to advance their character growth.

This is the first Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read where I didn’t fall in love with the love story. I just felt… nothing. No, that’s not true. I felt sorry for two supporting characters who were obviously in love but never got back together. But for the main couple?

I didn’t feel like Simon and Baz earned their happy ending together.

As a chosen-one story, I would recommend Carry On to fans of Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games trilogy, and especially to fans of the Inheritance saga. But as a love story? There are better books out there.

There are better Rainbow Rowell books out there.

Book: The Mystery of Valehollow

"The Mystery of Valehollow"

Welcome to Valehollow Estate.

Genius Detective Lorelai Wang and her assistants Chloe Karan and Dr. Mara Spencer have been summoned to the ancient mansion. Their mission: find the missing millionaire, Austin Sisley, and uncover the mysterious forces troubling Valehollow Estate.

As Lorelai delves deeper into the estate, myths become reality, and supernatural forces begin appearing. Strange happenings and sightings abound, and soon Detective Lorelei begins to question not only the case itself, but her own sanity.

On the one hand, I have to applaud the creation of a local choose-your-own-adventure book. It’s well-paced, it’s thrilling, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get every time you make a decision that will alter the course of your chosen story. For that alone, I would recommend this book to any kid or anyone to read with their kids. But we both know I don’t just stop there when I write about a book I read–

My main problem with The Mystery of Valehollow is this: I really, really didn’t like the audience surrogate: Lorelai Wang. I find her obnoxious and full of herself–and I found myself rolling my eyes at the things she says and does…unless she does it out of a reader’s decision. That’s the only time I’m okay with her decisions. But for the most part? I wish we could’ve had the Mara Spencer character as the lead instead. She might be a know-it-all, but she’s not as annoying self-aware of her genius.

And then there’s the girl friday–best friend Chloe. As a comic relief, she doesn’t work. Mostly because she’s nonsensical. But whenever she’s in the picture, I keep finding myself confused as to what is actually happening, and if her opinions has anything to do with what is actually happening in the novel.

Hating on the two characters we spend the most time on actually makes me feel bad. Because it makes The Mystery of Valehollow seem a bad book, when it’s only the two characters who are insufferable due to their too quirky and too over-the-top personalities. The rest of the book is fine–especially for a book written with kids in mind (I’m assuming.) It has the right amount of adventure, a right amount of problem-solving, and it really tests one’s observational skills. (Also, the artworks from artist Jed Siroy are properly creepy when it needs to be.)

I guess I’m only hoping now that if another Lorelai Wang Case File book comes out–writer Ace Vitangcol would tone down Lorelai’s annoying traits… And maybe find a new best friend for the self-aggrandizing hero.