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.

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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: Turtles All The Way Down

"Turtles All The Way Down"

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russel Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russel Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

Confession time: I’m a bit biased when it comes to John Green. I liked the first book by him that I picked up. Everything that followed was a reflection of that first book, until The Fault in Our Stars. Which I also liked at the time of reading, but quickly outgrew. There was something that’s very adolescent in the way John Green wrote his characters, and they don’t hold up when you read them again a few years later. So when I picked up Turtles All The Way Down, I had low expectations.

Aza is not an easy character to relate with. Not at first. And my problem with this is the fact that she’s our gateway to this story. A character that questions the reality around her. It’s hard to grab hold of that. It’s like entering a fantasy world, and being told by your host that everything is fake. Not even unreal. Straight out fake. And it takes some getting used to. Especially since for the first few chapters, we are merely spectators in an expository journey.

And then Aza and Davis meet. Again, since in the story, they already had a shared history. Normally, this is where I put a pause on reading to question the author’s motives. Really? We finally see chinks in our character’s armor when she meets the love interest? But Aza doesn’t see Davis as a love interest. Not yet. She sees in him a kindred spirit. It helps that they have a built-in history. One that we get to slowly rediscover with the characters.

With Davis, his father’s disappearance, and the complications their reconnecting brings, the story begins to pick up speed.

The characters begin to feel real.

Somewhere between Chapters three and six, I realized that I couldn’t put down the book anymore. I realized I related to Aza, and Daisy, and Davis–and yet none of them are stereotypes of a character. In my head, I began to debate the pros and cons for the possible endings to the relationships that the book was presenting.

The book became engaging. Unlike previous John Green books that felt paint-by-numbers, Turtles All The Way Down was pushed by chaos, by circumstances that was inherent to the characters and the plot, but never felt like a driving force even as they push the story forward.

And I love how the book deals with certain issues realistically. Maturely. And I like how the book ends with a promise.

Turtles All The Way Down lives up to the hype.

Book: The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3)

"The Ship of the Dead"

Magnus Chase, son of Frey, the god of summer and health, isn’t naturally inclined toward being a brave warrior. Still, with the help of his motley group of friends, he has achieved deeds he never would have thought possible. Now he faces his most dangerous trial yet.

Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, along with a crew of giants and zombies, to sail against the Norse gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. But Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

If you’re a fan of Rick Riordan books, which I sort of am, then this book should be right up your alley. Just… don’t expect too much from it. Touted as the third book in the author’s Norse-mythology series, The Ship of the Dead is also the finale of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Except–

The Ship of the Dead doesn’t read like a finale. Well, the last chapters do, but prior to the obvious send-off to these new set of characters, the whole book felt like a third installment that would lead to a finale. And the whole time I was reading, I never entertained the notion that this is where the story would end. Because the stakes are the same. The adventures, albeit fun to read, are the same. The challenges and the “inner demons” are the same. There was no point in the book where I felt like the characters were seriously endangered. There was no one instance when I felt that there was a threat.

Before I continue, I will say that there will be spoilers ahead.

The problem with the third installment of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is that the villains are a dud. Loki, after being built up as a formidable enemy in the first two books, doesn’t really do anything in this one. He’s relegated to dreams and visions that don’t really do anything, because our protagonists aren’t endangered. The characters, although harmed throughout their adventures, always have Magnus Chase to heal them when things get too bad. The whole thing reads like a bedtime story for a kid who only wants happy endings.

Thing is, we know Rick Riordan can do better. The first Percy Jackson series effectively evoked our fears in the final two books. Although we knew the good guys would win, we didn’t know who we could lose. And we felt like we could really lose someone. The second Percy Jackson series did the same, although with a dud book along the way. Even The Kane Chronicles had a sense of foreboding. And this is why I feel the closer to the Magnus Chase is a disappointment. Yes there is closure… but there’s not much else in it.

That said, I applaud Rick Riordan for the subtle romance between our hero and Alex Fierro. It’s there. Simmering. But never in-your-face about it. He’s never preachy about Alex’s gender-fluidity, and it’s treated like it’s normal. As just another fact, alongside the green hair and the penchant for pink.

In this book, we also learn more about Magnus’s after-life friends. And this is where most of my disappointment stems from. I feel like we could have had another book, just so we could fully explore the background of the other characters. Who they are, and what they are to each other. Especially with how Magnus solves the threat.

I couldn’t help but think, after putting the book down, that The Ship of the Dead wasn’t planned to be an ending, but that Riordan ran out of steam and decided to just have it serve as the finale. And it didn’t help that I have just recently seen Thor: Ragnarok which confronted the Norse apocalypse. The Ship of the Dead felt like a cop out in comparison.

Television: Encantadia

"Encantadia"

Eleven years ago, when I was still in college, local network GMA-7 embarked on an ambitious journey to create a fantastical world where magic and monsters exist. And although my initial intention in watching the first episode were less than honorable, I was instantly hooked.

Encantadia was nothing like anything else on television–in the Philippines or abroad. Sure, we had the Lord of the Rings, but that was a cinematic event. On television, Game of Thrones was still six years away, the Shannara Chronicles had ten years more to go. One of the earliest completely fantastical television shows, Legends of the Seeker, began in 2008. And all of those are television programs that aired once a week with a lot of time to prep and produce each episode. Encantadia was a soap opera that aired five days a week.

I’m not saying that to build up an apology for what the program was–mostly, because if you’ve seen the original series, there really isn’t anything to apologize about. Encantadia rolled with the punches and dealt with limitations and restrictions through twists that made the show all the more interesting to watch.

A new generation of viewers were born in the era of Encantadia then. Smart viewers. Viewers who liked to be challenged. Viewers who then dreamed of seeing more programs like Encantadia.

I was one of those viewers. Fast forward to ten years later, and I’m now part of the team that’s shaping the “requel” of the series that got me interested in Philippine television again.

Now, before you ask– “Requel” was a term coined to distance the new Encantadia from the string of remakes being done by the local television networks. From MariMar, to Panday, to Pangako Sa ‘Yo, the series of old soap operas being remade for new viewers was leaving a sour taste in the mouth of their target markets. It’s either the remakes were too similar to the original, or they were too different.

That’s what Encantadia 2016 is striving to avoid.

By re-telling the original story with new twists and new information, new viewers will be able to follow what happened before without boring the viewers who have seen the original run (or has since streamed the original series on iFlix). We’re reshaping the narrative so things that happened originally are told in new and surprising ways. That way, we get to keep the old fans on their toes–while tipping our hat to the fact that they know where things are going.

But all of these retelling serves only one purpose: it’s to get all viewers (old and new) abreast to the ending of the original series. It’s to familiarize everyone again with the characters that were loved before. It’s to set up a new chapter alongside the old ones.

Because a “requel” isn’t just a retelling. It’s a sequel too. And I am telling you: the fan in me? The one that dreamed to write his own fantasy series because of the original Encantadia? He’s very giddy at the plans that are being set up and planted in the first part of Encantadia 2016.

I am promising you: this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Encantadia airs weeknights after 24 Oras, on GMA Network in the Philippines.

Book: The Fireman

"The Fireman"

No one knows exactly when or where it began. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one… Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that tattoos its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks–before causing them to burst into flames.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse treated hundreds of infected patients before contracting the deadly virus herself. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper now wants to live–at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their once-placid New England community collapses in terror.

But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger, a man wearing a dirty yellow firefighter’s jacket and carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known simply as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted…and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

Halfway through The Fireman, I was already starting to piece together what my eventual blog post about the novel was going to be like; about the monstrosity in human beings, and the humanity that can be found in those perceived as monsters. This thesis stuck with me until I put the book down.

The thing is, when I started typing the book’s synopsis for this post, I found myself wanting to write about the synopsis instead. Because, while interesting and intriguing, the book synopsis is also misleading as to what the novel is truly about.

In it, we get a sense of the Fireman as this truly mysterious being whose presence will dictate whether the world would survive or fall to ashes. But The Fireman is about so much more than The Fireman, or Harper for that matter.

Imagine the comic book series of The Walking Dead. Imagine that you didn’t have to wait a month for each installment of the issue. Imagine the series if it weren’t being stretched out to last for as long as possible. (No shade. I still find The Walking Dead comic book series interesting and entertaining, unlike it’s television counterpart.) Imagine having an ending for The Walking Dead. Now take out the zombies, but keep the apocalypse, the factions, and the conflicts in what it takes to be human. That’s The Fireman.

It’s a study on humanity and monstrosity, and how we usually mistake one for the other because of appearances.

Joe Hill is a master at painting this world with just his words, all the while putting meaning behind the visuals he is drawing up for the readers. The way he describes the characters, their changes, and the relationships they create continuously push his message of solidarity, of compassion, and of so many other things.

Then you finish the novel and go back to the synopsis, and you can’t help but wonder: why the focus on just that? I understand the novel is called The Fireman, but why focus on just one aspect of his being? Why box Harper to just her relationship with Jakob?

Sure, Harper’s failed marriage with the unhinged Jakob plays a big part in how everything unfolds. And yes, the Fireman does have a big role in the story that is being told. But to limit the scope of the novel to just the two is doing the novel a disservice. Harper’s pregnancy and her relationship to Jakob, and the Fireman aren’t the be-all and end-all of this novel.

To anyone who has yet to read the novel, don’t bother reading the synopsis. The novel is wonderfully written, and is, in my opinion, Joe Hill’s most mature work yet. You won’t regret cracking the tome open and entering this world.

Book: The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, Book 1)

"The Hidden Oracle"

My father’s voice still rings in my ears. Can you believe Zeus blamed me for the gods’ battle with Gaea? Just because the earth goddess duped one of my progeny–Octavian–into plunging the Greek and Roman demigods into a civil war that nearly destroyed human civilization. I ask you, how was that my fault?

Now I’m cast out of Olympus in the form of a sixteen-year-old mortal boy, acne and all! Sadly, I’ve been punished this way before. I know I will face many trials and hardships, I can only hope that if I suffer through them and prove myself worthy, Father will forgive me and allow me to become a god again.

But this time my situation seems much more dangerous. One of my ancient adversaries knows I am here and is having me followed. The Oracle of Delphi remains dark, unable to issue prophecies. Most embarrassing of all, I am bound to serve a demigod street urchin who defends herself by throwing rotten fruit.

Zeus could not possibly expect me to fix the Oracle problem by myself. Not in my present weak condition. It’s time for me to drop in on Camp Half-Blood, where I might find some talented fodder…er, I mean heroes to help0. No doubt they will welcome me as a celebrity! They will bring me holy offerings, like peeled grapes, Oreos, and–oh, gods–perhaps even bacon!

Mmm. Yes. If I survive this, I really must write an ode to the power of bacon…

I feel like half this blog post has already been taken over by the book’s back synopsis alone. And it’s not like the synopsis does a good job at selling the book. It doesn’t. In fact, I’m glad that this is actually the first time I’m reading this horrible synopsis–while typing it up. Because I very much would not have picked the book up based on the synopsis alone.

Ah, who am I kidding. This is Rick Riordan. And save for the really horrible Mark of Athena, I’ve enjoyed all of his books. Yes, even the ones from The Kane Chronicles. So even with this weird synopsis, I would have picked up the first book off The Trials of Apollo. I just wanted to say that the synopsis is horrible enough times that someone takes notice. And writes a better synopsis for the next book.

Because it really does a great disservice to the The Hidden Oracle, which I feel, is setting out to be a better series than both Percy Jackson and the Olympians, as well as Heroes of Olympus.

Of course, you first have to get over the fact that Apollo as a main character can get tiring pretty fast. And because Rick Riordan has been doing almost the same shtick for more than ten books, you can already see most of the twists coming a chapter away. But what this book has that the others don’t is interesting characters:

Apollo, as annoying as he is, is Riordan’s most flawed character ever–while still remaining a likeable goof. Meg, the aforementioned demigod street urchin, is a strong female character that has interesting non-romantic issues to deal with. And from the get go, we know that there will be no romantic subplot between the two that could wreak another Mark of Athena upon us.

And I love the fact that the book is told completely through Apollo’s perspective. There’s no jumping around between characters that makes cliffhangers annoying instead of page-turning. There is no split focus between characters that stops the main story moving forward.

The storytelling is linear, which I’m very thankful for, as there are no eleventh-hour twists that gets explained away by a new flashback detailing why said twist is supposed to work. And then, when we do get our twist (or rather, lack of twist?), it actually shakes up the relationship dynamics of characters that make readers look forward to the sequel. Because the new story potential doesn’t stem from the twist, but from how that twist affects our main character.

As I put the book down, I could tell that I was already looking forward to what the next book will bring. Especially with the revelations Riordan shares about the loose ends from his previous two demigod series. Now let’s just hope he doesn’t mess it up.