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: 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: 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.

Book: Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)

"Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)"

Akala ni Janus, pangkaraniwang laro lang ang TALA Online.

Sunod-sunod ang pagbabago sa buhay niya matapos ang kahindik-hindik na pangyayari sa RPG tournament na sinalihan niya.

Pero nang matuklasan niya ang tunay na kaugnayan ng larong ito sa alamat ng Tiyanak ng Tabon, wala na siyang magawa kundi ipagpatuloy ang paglalaro!

[English Translation: Janus thought TALA Online was just an ordinary game. But after the horrifying events of an RPG tournament he joined, his life was never the same again. Now privy to the truth behind the game and its connection to the Demon Spawn of Tabon, he has no choice but to continue playing!]

That’s not a perfect translation, but neither is Janus Silang’s first foray into the world of comics.

On the plus side, the graphic novel iteration of Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon does cut out a lot of unnecessary exposition, and the really lengthy first act of the novel isn’t dragged out in comics form. On the not so good side? This version also cuts out a lot of the stuff from the source material that I feel were important.

Let’s be clear, I have no idea what went on behind the scenes to produce this comic book. I don’t know what decisions were made, and why they thought it was a good idea to condense a very exposition-heavy book into one very short graphic novel. So I’m judging this based solely on what I have in hand… Which is a really bad interpretation of the first Janus Silang novel.

I mean, just look at the inconsistency of the art. You have the wonderfully detailed world of TALA Online–and then you have the very bland pages of Janus’s life. I get symbolism, I do. But when things in Janus’s life started becoming crazy, shouldn’t that reflect as well on the art?

Never mind the fact that Janus doesn’t look like a teenager. Nor the fact that all the children look the same. (Heck, aside from a select few, almost all the characters look the same as well.) The biggest problem of the book is this:

It’s not friendly to those who are not familiar to the Janus Silang novels. None of the characters feel real. Your main protagonist lost all personality and doesn’t even develop. And the exposition suddenly cuts out and you’re supposed to glean information from art that, let’s be honest, doesn’t really convey its message very well. Had I not read the original material, I would have been lost as to what was happening, who were the good guys, and why the protagonist was so easy to persuade about things.

I feel like Anino Comics and Adarna House dropped the ball on this one. They shouldn’t have hurried this release because the source novel isn’t even old yet. They shouldn’t have limited the entirety of the first novel in just one comic book. And given the chance to reach a new audience with a different medium, they should have adapted the story to fit the new form of the story.

Is it too late to ask Adarna House to take back this graphic novel version and have them redo it? Properly, this time?

Movie: Everything About Her

"Everything About Her"

Powerful but ill-stricken business woman, Vilma Santos navigates her complicated relationship with her caregiver, Angel Locsin and her estranged son, Xian Lim in this story about acceptance, love and forgiveness.

I wasn’t really planning on watching this film, so I didn’t have very high expectations coming in. And, to be completely fair to the film, I actually enjoyed the shenanigans as Vilma Santos tried her darnedest to be Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, and Angel Locsin served her best Andrea (Anne Hathaway’s character from the same film). They both didn’t quite meet their goals but they were, at the very least, entertaining.

Then Xian Lim entered the picture, and everything went downhill after that.

Now, again in the spirit of fairness, it wasn’t completely Xian Lim’s fault. His character was all over the place, and that blame would either go to the writer, the director, or whoever was cutting the film. At least, that’s what I was telling myself until Xian’s big dramatic scene came. And I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was that bad.

Thankfully, the laughable acting is limited to two scenes. Both with Xian, true, but he wasn’t bad throughout the movie. Just with two very important, very dramatic scenes. Although, again with the fairness, it must not have been easy to find motivation for a character who doesn’t seem to have a reason for doing anything.

Which brings me to the biggest problem Everything About Her has: it focuses more on style over substance. Giving more weight to dialogue that can be quotable quotes instead of staying true to who the characters are. And what the viewers are left with is a convoluted mess of a film whose premise became as murky as the characterization of the main characters.

You see, the film is supposedly about a very hard, very independent woman who suddenly has to rely on a nurse whose method of taking care of someone is to be as familiar with them as possible. So she could cater to their needs before they even know they need it. Along the way, they’re supposed to find in each other someone that had been missing in their lives for so long: a child for the hard woman, and a mother for the nurse.

Now, had Xian Lim’s character been relegated to a supporting role, I think the film would have been better–more whole. As it stands, the film really was very entertaining and very clear prior to his characters arrival, as I already mentioned above. But his inclusion really throws the whole film askew. It was one thing that you don’t actually understand why he comes in in the first place, but he also complicates the Vilma-Angel relationship in a bad way. Because suddenly, it has to contend with a romance angle.

And it doesn’t work. Mostly because you never believe for a second that Xian is falling in love with Angel. And then there’s the fact that the film doesn’t really allow their romance to blossom because it’s more interested with the abandonment issues the three suddenly have.

Yes, it’s sudden. Because although the film begins with Vilma and Angel being well-rounded individuals with no hang-ups, the minute Xian enters the picture, they suddenly have issues about being left behind. And Vilma’s character suffers the most from this because, for the first part of the movie, it’s implied that she’s the one who had done the unintentional abandonment! And then, with Vilma suddenly being dependent on her need to be loved by a son who is being more of a diva than the diva the film’s title is referring to, Angel suddenly develops her own abandonment issues–that could’ve introduced and explored better had the romance angle never happened at all!

To top it all off, the film boasts of an amazing cast of supporting characters who, I feel, were all wasted because they weren’t given more to do. Michael de Mesa as the only friend of Vilma’s hard-to-love character could’ve also served as a sounding board for Xian’s character whose motivations were never clear–because the actor wasn’t that strong to convey it on his own. Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino’s presence in the life of Angel Locsin’s character was so negligible, she could’ve been an orphan raising her host of siblings on her own. Which is a shame, because in the three scenes Nonie and Angel had together, you can see the promise of a wonderful father-daughter relationship that could’ve been explored more, to highlight the journey Angel’s character is supposed to take.

But, no. We have to contend with being force fed Xian Lim’s character instead. Who, had he been given a clearer motivation, could have worked as a third main character. But he wasn’t. So he ruins the film instead.

I could probably go on further about the things I didn’t like about Everything About Her, so I’ll stop now. Let me just say that if you’re going to watch for Vilma and Angel, you won’t regret the ticket price. They deliver solid performances, even amongst the confused story-telling. But if you’re watching for any other reason? Lower your standards. Like, by a lot.

Book: Cover Story Girl

"Cover Story Girl"

1. She has amnesia.
2. She’s on the run from her father’s creditors.
3. She’s enjoying her last days on earth.

Ever since Jang Min Hee walked into Gio’s small museum, she’s given him one excuse after another about why she’s vacationing at scenic Boracay Island. Rarely has Gio’s neat and organized world been shaken like this. Soon he finds himself scrambling over rocks, hiding in dressing rooms, and dragging her out of bars. But how can Gio tell what’s true from what isn’t? Their worlds are getting unraveled–one story at a time.

I guess I unintentionally saved the best off the three widely-released romance class novels for last, and I have to give kudos to Chris Mariano for deciding to go with a male main character, and not an ideal one at that. Which is a breath of fresh air because, let’s face the facts, male love interests in romance novels usually fall under two types: the ideal man, or the bad boy who was secretly the ideal man all along.

Our main hero Gio is neither a bad boy, or the ideal man. He was just a guy trying to get by in his life, until Jang Min Hee arrives to add color to his humdrum life. It’s very much a Korean love story with a male character that acts distinctly Filipino.

What I liked about the novel best though isn’t the point-of-view. It’s the pacing. Chris Mariano has a good handle on how a love story should realistically unfold, without the dragging bits. She knows when to jump ahead in time, and when to expound on details. And the best part? It’s structurally sound.

I don’t think it’s a secret that even when I enjoy a story, I still find parts that I would want to do better had I been given a go at it. But this time, Cover Story Girl is great as it is.

Sure, there were still a few parts that made me pause to question if the character would really do something they had done, but they were few and they can be brushed under the all-encompassing rug of “love makes you do strange things.” And, in some instances, they can be attributed to the growth of the character as a person.

So in conclusion?

Cover Story Girl is as close to perfect as we can get in a local romance novel, and I would readily recommend it to other readers. I also look forward to reading whatever Chris Mariano writes next.

Movie: Haunted Mansion

"Haunted Mansion"

Ella is a girl who can see dead people–a fact that does not go unnoticed by the ghosts of a retreat house where Ella and her classmates have to spend a weekend reflecting on their lives. When her schoolmates try to discover if the horror stories about the retreat house are true, they unwittingly awaken an evil being bent on keeping an old family scandal a secret. And it us to Ella to stop the evil from killing her schoolmates one by one.

First, I want to get something straight: I’m a fan of Jun Lana’s independently-produced films. They’re smart, heart-tugging, and inspiring for a storyteller like me. Which brings me to the reason why I need a disclaimer in the first place: I don’t understand how a brilliant mind like Jun Lana (in directing and writing) can produce something like Haunted Mansion.

Of course, I know that this is a Regal film. I know I shouldn’t expect something earth-shattering. But Regal Films is the production outfit that produces the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise! At the very least, they should know how to do horror right. But, alas–

I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s start with the main reason why I don’t think Haunted Mansion is a good horror movie: the story is too complicated. Every single thing has to have an explanation. Why is this ghost doing this? Why is that ghost going there? The flashbacks, the segues, the expositions–instead of feeling like natural progressions for the story, they feel like sandbags that weigh the movie down. And the characters don’t even work for these information–they’re all handed to them by peripheral characters!

And then there’s the disconnect with the main character. Ella is supposed to be the person that the viewers will root for–but her muddled characterization makes it hard to even understand what she wants. She has issues with the way her father died. She can see dead people. She has a crush on a popular guy. Her best friend just told her that he likes her– So many things are happening, and the only important thing here should be her father issues. Which I feel was sidelined by the love triangle that feels forced anyway.

It doesn’t help that Ella’s actress, Janella Salvador, only shines when she’s fighting back against her oppressors. Well, the fighting back scenes and the ones she share with Jerome Ponce. It’s obvious that the actress has a preference as to which love interest she wants to end up with.

Then there’s the casting of Ingrid dela Paz as the rival. I don’t know if this was a given, but they should have picked someone else to play the popular girl who has it in for the underdog. Mostly because Janella is prettier than her and has better fashion sense. Also, she’s nice. Anyone who has gone through high school knows that those three things will instantly make you more popular than the bitch no one wants to cross. They should have gotten someone who was prettier. Or, at the very least, not used the very tired trope of the popular mean girl.

Now, if they were bound by the casting of Ingrid, the film’s wardrobe department should have intervened. What was so difficult about making Janella more dowdy, and putting Ingrid in more fashion-forward clothing? The characters keep saying that Janella’s character is a weirdo no one wants to hang out with, but nothing about her bearing and clothing reflects that.

A horror film works when it is grounded in reality. When it feels like it can actually happen. Seeing as the casting already made the film unrealistic, you would hope that at the very least, the logic behind the haunting would be sound. But, no.

The great evil of the house is supposedly a ghost but they suddenly becomes corporeal. And then, just to add the implausibility of it all, they are revealed to be a practitioner of the dark arts. Nothing leading to that reveal will prepare you for it, and it feels like it was only included to make it logical for said evil to be as powerful as they are.

Oh, and let’s not forget the opening scene that has no connection at all to the rest of the film: a kid and his mother finds themselves stranded by the retreat house, only to be killed by dark forces. And it is never mentioned in the film again!

Don’t even get me started on the out-of-the-blue scare that was supposed to establish Ella’s ability to see dead people. Because it’s such a perfect set-up to actually head into the scares, but is wasted when the movie goes back to setting up the unnecessary love triangle.

Nothing in this movie makes sense.

Haunted Mansion offers nothing more than cheap scares and shock factor. If you’re looking for something with more substance… Look elsewhere.