Book: One Crazy Summer

"One Crazy Summer"

A Recipe for Disaster?

Ingredients:
1 college junior, fired from summer internship
1 secret crush, the cute and flirty type
1 crush’s best bud, with a secret of his own

1. In a large bowl, mix together college junior and secret crush.
2. Gradually add in crush’s best bud.
3. Stir until best bud’s secret is revealed.
4. Let mixture rest in a sleepy provincial town.
5. Bake under the blazing summer sun until golden brown (be careful, batter might burn).

Tania’s summer is more than she can handle! Her cooking career comes to a screeching halt before it can even take off. Then, best friends Rob and Mateo enter the picture. Can she figure out her feelings for them, AND get the internship credits she needs to make it to senior year?

More than two years ago, I wrote about Ines Bautista Yao’s Only a Kiss; a book I called well-written–but not very engaging because the characters were too perfect. Well, I found a book of hers that was much older, and…

Tania is definitely more relatable than the characters from Yao’s other book. She’s the right mix of spunky and vulnerable, and she makes mistakes and learn from them. Secret Crush Rob and Best Friend Bobbi, who isn’t mentioned in the blurb, are also great characters–and are in clear supporting roles from the get go, which makes it weird that Rob is played up as a third party option in the synopsis. The only character I’m not feeling in this book is Best Bud Mateo, who feels like he belongs in Only A Kiss–because he’s too perfect. That is… until he’s not.

Like Only A Kiss, One Crazy Summer is technically well-written. Structure-wise, there’s a clear progression of where the plot is going and what the characters are feeling. But I found it really hard to engage with the book.

I think it’s maybe because Tania is pining over some other guy when a love story is unfolding in front of her? Or maybe it’s because there’s really no conflict in the story, especially when Tania starts to fall for Mateo? And then, suddenly, because things are already working out, we get a plot twist from Mateo. A twist that was, to be fair, already seeded in the narrative. It’s just… Felt forced. Like Yao realized she needed a last minute conflict so that the book could have a grand romantic gesture afterwards.

I didn’t like it. I felt like Yao could’ve used a different conflict to make the grand gesture necessary. Or, she could have used the love triangle the synopsis teased to give this book actual drama. Because, as it is, One Crazy Summer is just the story of a girl falling in love with a guy who she was forced to spend time with.

Writing it like that, a better conflict would be for Tania to realize that Mateo orchestrated things to make her fall in love with him. (He did not. Let’s make that clear.) Although if he had, I wouldn’t have wanted for Tania to end up with him. But that would have made a more engrossing conflict than the one we got.

Overall, is this a book I would recommend? Probably not for those who aren’t already fans of romance. But if you’re a romance reader, then maybe this book could be an exercise in improving a good material to something more grabbing.

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Book: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

"Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies"

Michael Ausiello thought he knew every story line in the world–after all, he had a successful career as one of the most respected reporters in the world of television. But no sitcom, drama, or soap opera could have prepared him for the story line his own life was about to take. His partner for thirteen years, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer, and although Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease for eleven months, Kit eventually succumbed.

In this moving and darkly hilarious memoir, Michael tells the story of his harrowing and challenging final year with Kit while revisiting the many memories that preceded it, and describes how their undeniably powerful bond carried them through all manner of difficulties–with humor always front and center in their relationship. From road trips to romantic getaways, from work-related junkets to anxiety-ridden doctors’ visits, from spectacular collections of Smurf figurines to lots and lots of Diet Coke, Michael and Kit’s story will make you cry with laughter while breaking your heart at the same time.

A truly unforgettable reading experience, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is an inspiring and beautiful tale not of sadness and loss but of the resilience and strength of true love.

It’s truly a testament to the brilliance of an author’s writing when his publisher is willing to give away a book’s ending with the title. And it’s a testament to Ausiello’s love for his husband that you don’t want the book to end, because you don’t want anyone to die.

I don’t know if I’m considered a fan of Ausiello. I have, ever since I became connected to the Internet, followed his career from TVGuide.com to Entertainment Weekly, and then to TVLine–which is my go-to website for anything happening on American television. So when I found out that he had a book coming out, I put in a special order at my bookstore so I could obtain a copy.

As soon as I received the book, I tore into it. I let myself get absorbed to Ausiello’s life with Kit. But something curious happened while I was reading the book.

I kept forcing myself to put the book down.

The first time it happened was when I finished the fifth chapter. I could feel tears welling up as I thought to myself, “well, Kit isn’t going to die if I stop reading now.” He could live for another day, I thought to myself as I put the book down.

But I couldn’t stay away. Ausiello’s writing is like a magnet. It just draws you in.

The next day, it happened again. A part of me wanted to continue reading, and another part wanted me to stop. Inside my brain, a miniature version of myself was trying to fool me into thinking that Kit won’t die if I don’t finish the book. He can live for another day more.

This went on for a few more days. Until I ran out of chapters. And by then, I was already beginning to feel a bit of closure. I had already accepted the illness. The eventuality of death. And then I made a realization.

Ausiello had given his husband the best gift for someone who was gone too soon. He gave Kit the opportunity to live for another day. And another day. He gave Kit the chance to do what he does–becoming a part of other people’s lives. Helping them. Inspiring them. He lived for them.

I am grateful to Ausiello for opening up this side of his life for other people to see. It couldn’t have been easy to present the realities of their life, warts and all, but it made their journey all the more inspiring.

Happy endings are never not bumpy. And sometimes the ending comes before the happy. And we live on.

Thank you, Kit, for the life you lead. And thank you, Michael Ausiello, for sharing your love with everyone.

Book: Rich People Problems

"Rich People Problems"

When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her side–but he’s not alone. The entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe to stake claim to their matriarch’s massive fortune. With each family member vying to inherit Tyersall Park–a trophy estate on sixty-four prime acres in the heart of Singapore–Nicholas’s childhood home turns into a hotbed of backbiting and intrigue. As Su Yi’s relatives fight over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu but tormented by her ex-husband–a man hell-bent on destroying Astrid’s reputation and relationship. Meanwhile, Kitty Pong, married to China’s second richest man, billionaire Jack Bing, still feels upstaged by her new stepdaughter, famous fashionista Colette Bing.

In this sweeping tale that takes us from the elegantly appointed mansions of Manila to the secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, Kevin Kwan hilariously reveals the long-buried secrets of Asia’s most privileged families and their rich people problems.

Nothing is perfect–but Rich People Problems definitely comes close to delivering a perfect conclusion to the absorbing narrative that Kevin Kwan began with Crazy Rich Asians. As I read the last pages of the book, I felt two things: satisfaction and sadness.

Sadness because I have to say goodbye to the cuckoo cast of characters I’ve grown to love. Not that I would want another book; I don’t want them to overstay their welcome after all. This was the end that they deserved. And satisfied because Rich People Problems came full circle with the central relationship of the trilogy: that of Nicholas Young, his wife Rachel, and his family.

With all the focus on the opulence and the antics, some readers may forget that the most important thing for all the characters remain the same: family. They always want to put family first. And Crazy Rich Asians placed Nicholas against his family when he chooses to be in a relationship with Rachel, and when he married her in China Rich Girlfriend. Rich People Problems, at first, seems to have thrown that conflict away to serve more of what made the first book a bestseller–the shenanigans of these crazy rich Asians. But upon closer inspection, the book manages a perfect balance of giving readers what we think we want, while still delivering the final act of the story it began: There is less Rachel, yes; but as Nick’s wife, the two of them have actually become a single unit working to resolve all the remaining conflict.

I don’t know if Kwan plotted everything from the get go, or if he had a plan to publish a trilogy, and knew every beat he had to go through. What I do know is that he picked the perfect storyline to deal with all the unconnected story threads that needed tying up. Su Yi’s impending death is the perfect way to show the madness that people want to read about, while also dealing the emotional endings that each character needed to have–for the finale to actually work as a conclusion. And Kwan handles everything with the perfect balance of grace and lunacy.

Rich People Problems is one of the best book I’ve read for 2017. Hands down.

Book: Marceline Cinco’s High School Survival Guide

"Marceline Cinco's High School Survival Guide"

It’s been a while since I had to write my own synopsis for a book, but here goes–

Marceline Cinco’s High School Survival Guide is about the titular protagonist falling in love with the newly transferred Declan Mendoza. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. She then tells her best friend that she doesn’t have feelings for Declan, before using an alternate social media account to befriend him and stalk him. What follows is a series of events that could have been prevented had Marceline been truthful from the get go. But, of course, where’s the romance in just being honest?

As you can see from that synopsis, I am not a fan of this book. And it’s a shame. Because, honestly, I thought the idea of a young adult lost-in-translation romance is a great premise. But the writer keep choosing the lazy way of pushing the story forward. Throughout the book, you can see the author pushing plots forward instead of letting it find its way.

It doesn’t help that main character Marceline Cinco is not likeable at all. Which is a feat, considering she has all the ingredients of a relatable character. She’s not well off financially, she has family drama, she has insecurities, and she feels inferior to her best friend. But instead of rooting for her, I found myself getting annoyed at how she goes about living her life.

She takes her best friend, who helps her financially, for granted. She’s more antagonistic than her never-do-well guardian. The wit she masks her insecurities with is more mean and more calculating than the story’s supposed antagonists–forcing the writer to make the antagonists above-and-beyond cruel for the reader to root for the protagonist.

And then there’s perfect Declan Mendoza who, even at his lowest point, is a Prince Charming. It’s… irritating. One, because he doesn’t feel like a real character. And two, because you don’t want him to end up with your heroine, because you know she’s just going to muck up their relationship anyway.

But most annoying about this book is that, when you reach the midway point, the only thing barring Marceline from her happy ending is the fact that she used a fake online persona to get to know the guy she likes. Now, had there been a deep secret exchanged between her fake persona and the love interest that could ruin relationships, I can understand why the revelation would be damning. But there was nothing said between them that could break off a non-existent romance!

It was much ado about nothing.

Really, the only positive thing I can say about this book is the fact that it has a nice cover. And the premise is sound, even though it didn’t realize its full potential.

Book: The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book 2)

"The Dark Prophecy"

Go West. Capture Apollo before he can find the next Oracle. If you cannot bring him to me alive, kill him.

Those were the orders my old enemy Nero gave to Meg McCaffrey. But why would an ancient Roman emperor zero in on me (as Lester) in Indianapolis? And where is Meg?

Meg, my demigod master, is a cantankerous street urchin. She betrayed me to Nero back at Camp Half-Blood. And while I’m mortal she can order me to do anything…even kill myself. Despite all this, if I have a chance of praying her away from her villainous stepfather, I have to try. But I’m new to this heroic quest business, and my father, Zeus, stripped me of my godly powers. Oh, the indignities and pain I have already suffered! With impossible time limits, life-threatening danger… Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end of each task? Not just more deadly quests?

I am highly enjoying Rick Riordan’s new Percy Jackson series… And there’s got to be a better way of calling The Trials of Apollo while referring to the Greek and Roman mythological universe Riordan’s created.

That aside– The things I liked in the first book remain true here. Apollo might be a whiny wanker, but he’s endearing because of hapless helplessness–while maintaining his arrogance for previously having godly powers. This time though, he’s more aware of his shortcomings which is an amazing development to witness. Especially since he has another quest to face–and this time, he knows he can’t just rely on others to do things for him.

Meg takes a back seat for the early part of the book, but when she returns, we see her develop too. Not enough that we feel short-changed about not bearing witness to her character growth, but enough to see that this is not the same character who left our hero in the first book.

It is clear that Riordan loves this world more than the other ones he created. Or, at least, knows more about what he’s going to do in this world. There is love in how his main characters are handled, even when there’s only a passing mention of them. And there is a clear progression of where the characters, old and new, are going.

And speaking of characters; I am loving the addition of Emmie and Josephine to the series. The two were former hunters of Artemis, and are now guardians of a way station where demigods can rest. They’re unlike previous adult characters in that they clearly know when they’re in need of help, and when they can take charge. They have a very nurturing way about them that’s never existed in any of the previously introduced adults; while, at the same time, you know they are women that you mustn’t cross.

I love them so much that I feel more concerned about their fates than any of the other characters.

I also like the introduction to another mythology. Hopefully one that doesn’t get spun off into its own series, but rather married into the one we already know. Because with all these mythologies, and all of them having end of the world scenarios, it is becoming more interesting to me to see how Riordan marries the different kinds of apocalypses, more than seeing how he’s going to wrap up each one separately.

Another thing I’m liking about this series is how Apollo serves us a new point of view. Riordan’s heroes all complain about having gods interfere in their lives. And now we see a god try to navigate quests after quests, while having to deal with consequences of their actions–whether in previous books, or in established mythologies.

There is so much to like about The Trials of Apollo. And I am both excited and apprehensive about the next book. One part of me wants to see what happens next immediately. But another part of me, the one that still remembers Magnus Chases’s conclusion, is scared that the next book in The Trials of Apollo is a dud.

I guess I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Book: My Best Friend’s Exorcism

"My Best Friend's Exorcism"

High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby.

Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries–and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

You know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, I bought this one because of its cover. Designed like a home video release of a b-movie, the novel really stood out on the table of featured books. So, amazing work to cover designer Doogie Horner and illustrator Hugh Fleming.

Now as for the content…

My Best Friend’s Exorcism reads like a novelization of a horror film from the mid-nineties. It was reminiscent of The Craft, a film about teenage girls dabbling in witchcraft. And I honestly can’t tell if I like it, the book, or not. I was entertained, for sure, but beyond that–

I only remember parts of the book after putting it down. I remember not finding the characters very likeable. I remember the strange exorcist and the even stranger exorcism. I remember the things Gretchen had done to their so-called friends… I remember parts that stood out, but the book as a whole felt like a retread of things that have already been done. Things I have already read or seen. And, obviously, that’s not good.

I liked how the book tried to explore the sensibilities of the eighties, and how universal denial and blame is. I liked how the main character wasn’t confined by the perceived limitations of her gender, that she kept attempting to solve her problems. And I liked the glimpse of megalomania in the exorcist–which I felt could’ve been explored more–

But I didn’t feel like the book did enough for these things I liked. Just when I thought the book was going somewhere interesting, it would hold back. It would go back to being a b-movie novelization.

Or maybe I kept hoping for it to become something that it wasn’t. Maybe it really wasn’t more than just a story about best friends dealing with the demonic possession of the other. I guess I should just be thankful that the book was entertaining. Because I don’t regret buying the book, and I don’t regret the time I spent reading it.

I just wish it were more.

Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong

"Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu't Pitong Pusong"

Bago naglaho si Janus habang naglalaro ng TALA, nakita ni Manong Joey sa utak nito ang hinahanap nilang paraluman.

Sinundo ni Renzo si Mica sa Balanga para protektahan ito sa Angono at dahil may kaugnayan ito sa paralumang nakita ni Manong Joey kay Janus.

Samantala, nasa Kalibutan pa rin sina Manong Isyo para hanapin si Mira na malamang na nakuha ng mga mambabarang. Walang kaalam-alam ang lahat kung nasaan na si Janus hanggang sa makita ni Manong Joey na humihiwalay ang anino ni Renzo sa katawan nito at maaaring matagal na pala itong ginagamit ng Tiyanak!

Two years have passed since the second book off the Janus Silang series was released. Since then, the titular character has appeared in comics form, on stage, and was acquired by a television network to be turned into a soap opera. I don’t know what happens to Janus Silang in the future, but getting turned into a franchise seems to have worked in his favor. At least, novel-wise.

Janus Silang’s third book is the strongest offering from the series yet. Although I have qualms about author Edgar Samar’s decision to dive right into the action, I must say that the pacing in this installment is the most solid it’s been since the title first launched.

The characters all get proper development this time around–especially Mica. She who became almost an afterthought in the second book is given the right spotlight, and is used perfectly to balance the world of the fantastical with the normal. I also have to applaud Samar for Mica’s participation in this book, setting her arc up perfectly–and giving her a satisfying resolution. Well, a satisfying one for this book.

Plot-wise, Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong has what it’s predecessors don’t: a clear structure of where the characters have come from, where they are going, and where they end up. Twists are used sparingly, making them more effective. And it is clear now that Samar knows where he is taking his story, whereas it seemed like he was just pulling things out of thin air before.

And most importantly, for me, the book doesn’t read like an educational book anymore. Old Tagalog words are still sprinkled throughout the narrative–but they feel more organically woven in, used by characters who understandably speak in a more archaic way. But in general, the words used by the novel are more colloquial. More relatable. Easier to read.

Honestly, when I picked up Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Putong Pusong, it felt like a burden. I bought the book because I wanted to know how the story goes. After all, I do like the premise of the series. But after two books that weren’t as engrossing as I hoped it would be, I sort of lost hope that things would get better with the new book.

I’m glad that I was wrong.

Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong is the book that I always wanted the series to be. And I am praying that the next installments would keep this quality.