Book: The Grinning Niño of Barang (The Dark Colony Clasificado)

"The Grinning Niño of Barang"

In the oppressive midnight of Martial Law, a band of knights investigate a religious artifact in the festive town of Barang, Bulacan…

…Where, beneath the banderitas, an ancient evil awaits.

For the past couple of years, I haven’t been keeping up with the local literary releases outside of the Romance Class publications–so I was pleasantly surprised to find this title at the last Komikon. To be honest, I kind of gave up that The Dark Colony was going to have a second book, since it’s been four years since the first one came out.

Now, I didn’t pick this book up because of the synopsis. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t a comic book until I started reading it. All I knew, going into it, is that it’s from Budjette Tan, creator of Trese. And I have to give major props to JB Tapia because I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t Tan writing until I got to the Afterword. (Although, in hind sight, I should have. Tapia also wrote the first Dark Colony book. Tan just helped create the world. But the world-building is similar to Trese‘s, and it is exemplary.)

That aside, I thought The Grinning Niño of Barang was a more solid story compared to the first installment of The Dark Colony. The plot is straightforward, the objectives are clear, and the villain is fully realized. I wish I can say the same thing for the heroes though.

Don’t get me wrong. The protagonists aren’t stereotypes nor are they cardboard cutouts, but we see more of their weaknesses that they don’t feel balanced. I wanted to root for them. Badly. But as I reached the midway point, I feel like I only want to root for them because I didn’t want the villain to win.

On other other books, I would rave about the humanity of these characters. How they weren’t just heroes who come in and save the world. But when you’re reading a book about the supernatural, about good versus evil, you do want a bit of goodness in your heroes. Just a little bit of goodness can go a long way. And save for the narrator, none of the characters feel like someone you would want to root for in a fight. They’re real, yes, but not the heroes we would want.

Which is unfortunate, because I feel like The Grinning Niño of Barang succeeds where the first Dark Colony story failed: it gave us a clear story, a clear origin, and a fight to champion. It made us want to know more about this world, and the war that the good guys are fighting. Unfortunately, it also failed where Mikey Recio failed–it still didn’t give us a likeable character whose story we would want to follow.

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Book: The Dam Keeper

"The Dam Keeper"

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village, but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig’s father built the dam and taught him how to maintain it. And then this brilliant inventor did the unthinkable: he walked into the fog and was never seen again.

Now Pig is the dam keeper. Except for his best friend, Fox, and the town bully, Hippo, few are aware of his tireless efforts. But a new threat is on the horizon–a tidal wave of black fog is descending on Sunrise Valley. Now Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

I picked this book up because I thought the artwork was cute. I’ve never heard of The Dam Keeper before an artist I follow on Tumblr reblogged it, so I was not aware that it stemmed off an Oscar-nominated animated short film–and that it won awards from the San Francisco International Film Festival and the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

But even without knowledge of the short film, The Dam Keeper‘s synopsis quickly catches its readers on pertinent information. You wouldn’t need to have seen the short.

The Dam Keeper sets off by establishing the world Pig exists in. We find out who he is, who the other characters are in this story, and then we find out what pushes him to live life. The book tackles the complex issue of loss and surviving, but it does so in a way that it’s very easy to follow.

I don’t know if this is being marketed as a children’s book. What I do know is that it doesn’t look down on its readers. It trusts you enough to not feed you every little detail, while making sure that you know where each character is coming from.

What I liked the best about the book though is how the character of Pig wears his emotions for all to see. There’s sadness in the words he speaks. And, props to the artists who drew the book, they drew Pig’s sadness and resilience beautifully.

This is a beautiful book, and I don’t think there is anything I can write that would give justice to just how beautiful it is. So instead, I will say this: find a copy. Buy it. Read it. And see for yourself how masterful The Dam Keeper is.

Book: United As One

"United as One"

They hunted us for our legacies.
They are coming for you now too.
They know you have powers.
They fear how powerful we can become–together.
We need your help.
We can save the planet if
We fight as one.

They started this war.
We will end it.

I read this last year. I thought about skipping writing about this since it’s been so long, but the completion-ist in me didn’t want to go ahead to the new Lorien Legacies series without at least posting about the finale of the previous one.

So–

If you’ve been keeping up with the I Am Number Four series of books, United As One provides a very satisfying conclusion to the novels. The previous book, The Fate of Ten, stumbled in providing plot movement–and that actually leaves a problem for this last book. Which I will get to.

For the most part, United As One reads like a series finale of a television program. Things really come to a head, and you don’t know which of the protagonists will survive until the end. But the first few chapters felt a little cramped, with no wiggle room for breathing. I feel like some elements of United As One‘s first act would have benefited being introduced in the previous book.

I just hope they apply their learnings from the previous series to the one that’s currently being written now, Legacies Reborn.

And this is pretty much all I can write, because this is all I remember from my reactions after reading the book last year. There’s a lesson here for me as well: never disappear from blogging, unless you don’t have plans of ever returning.

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.

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.