Book: BGMBYN Act 1

"BGMBYN"

AR-1896, Spain. For an empire whose fleets link oceans, whose armies bridge continents, and whose faith binds nations to a common will – the Philippine insurgency, is but a cloud within “The Empire of the Eternal Sun.”

Aimless. Transient. Futile

…yet clouds, hold storms.

1896: Bagumbayan – explores an alternate reality where thieves become soldiers, soldiers become heroes. And a people, become a nation.

I picked this book up a few Komikons ago. It was one of the purchases I immediately started reading as soon as I got home, but work and life conspired to stop me from writing about it. Until now.

To be completely honest, I’m not a fan of how the book synopsis was written. Having read the book twice now, the synopsis doesn’t really sell the story inside. It gives you a vague idea of what to expect: an alternate reality, yes. But other than that? Thieves became soldiers in our reality. They even became heroes. As did the soldiers who believed in our future. We became a nation in this reality, no matter how tattered we have become since. So what sets the book apart from our world and our history? What makes it an alternative?

Author Redge Tolentino masterfully recreates a history that did not happen; reading BGMBYN feels like you’re reading information that really happened–and yet also know that it didn’t. The settings and characters he uses are familiar enough that it feels like we know where the story has come from and where it is going, until we don’t.

And, trust me. We really don’t.

It’s one of the more promising independently-produced book I’ve read in recent years. Like Naermyth before it, BGMBYN creates a Philippines that is fundamentally different yet feels the same; populated with characters that we are already familiar with–not because we’ve seen them before, but because we know their pain, their joy, and their dreams.

The story situates us immediately in the middle of conflict, allowing the characters’ actions define who they are. Trusting us, the readers, to pick up on what is happening through stock knowledge of Philippine history. It reveals differences not to twist the plot, but to define what sets this story apart.

BGMBYN is a story that yearns to be read. I just hope the sequel comes out before interest on the book dissipates.

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Book: Leche

"Leche"

After thirteen years of living in the U.S., Vince returns to his birthplace, the Philippines. As Vince ventures into the heat and chaos of the city, he encounters a motley cast of characters, including a renegade nun, a political film director, arrogant hustlers, and the country’s spotlight-driven First Daughter. Haunted by his childhood memories and a troubled family history, Vince unravels the turmoil, beauty, and despair of a life caught between a fractured past and a precarious future.

It’s Filipino Friday time! And I was really hoping I’d be writing about a book that I’d be recommending wholeheartedly. I’m not. Obviously.

A bit of background. I found Leche while browsing in National Bookstore. I wasn’t really looking for any particular title at the time, I just wanted new books because my pile at home was dwindling. And then I saw Leche. It was a novel about a Filipino heading back to the Philippines after being raised in Hawaii.

Interesting? I didn’t really know. That’s all I knew coming into this book. Well, that and the fact that this is not locally produced. A printing press in the United States believed enough in this book to publish it.

Unfortunately, I can’t see whatever it is that publishers saw.

I mean, sure, Leche is very easy reading. It took me three days to finish the whole thing. And that’s while commuting! But there’s a difference between easy-reading and engaging.

Though, yes, Leche was very engaging at first. Even with its heightened version of reality. It was when the timeline become wonky that the book lost me.

Here’s a bit of backgrounder: Leche is set in the early 90’s. Cory Aquino is still president, and Kris Aquino is the darling of the media. But author Linmark thought it would be interesting to compress the 1990s to the 2000s of the Philippines and present it as Leche.

Instead of making cute (though odd) romantic-comedy films like Pido Dida and Magic to Win, Kris Aquino was already known as the Massacre Queen, hosting talk shows where she’s the one who’s doing the most talking, and is already broadcasting her secrets to the world.

Imelda Marcos is a megalomaniac who cuckolded her husband in revenge against his infidelity.

And Metro Manila is filled to the brim with closeted homosexuals, who all convene in a place called Leche.

Now, I don’t really mind heightened reality. Used correctly, it can be a very powerful tool in opening the eyes of the public. But at which point is heightened reality a form of satire, and at which point does it become too much that it’s just–wrong?

That’s my problem with Leche. I might not be the smartest reader, but I’m a reader nonetheless. Books are supposed to enrich (if not entertain); but at this end of the book, I’m left wondering if what I read was tongue-in-cheek or crass. If it was an attempt at a wake-up call, or the writings of a disillusioned ex-local.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that if one doesn’t understand something, then that something must be good. But I’m not saying that my views on this book is the be all and end all. Which is why it’s important to see what other people have said about the book–

You Fight Like Anna Rice!
Kirkus Reviews
Bakit Why?

What I wrote is my opinion. Just my opinion.

But if you’re looking for something easy to read, then why not pick up Leche. And then make your own mind up and then tell me what you thought about it.

Book: Stronger

"Stronger"

All he wants is to break through the prison’s stone walls, to flee the armed guards, to return to his old life.

Even if he escapes the prison, he cannot escape what he is. Thirteen feet tall. Hairless. Blue-skinned.

His captors see him only as a monster, a rampaging villain with inhuman strength and a temper to match. They call him Brawn. They don’t care about the truth–about the person inside. He is twelve years old and very, very scared.

His fear will not last forever. In time, it will be replaced with anger and determination.

He is certain that one day he will escape. And then…

And then they’ll all begin to understand.

Some writers tend to stick to formula when writing, but not Michael Carroll. With Stronger, he has managed to tie together the events of five books with a single character–and made it good.

In this book, we follow the story of Brawn, the big blue villain we first heard about in Quantum Prophecy (and eventually saw in the third book), before meeting him as a hero in the Super Human series. Through Stronger, we find out who Brawn really is, where he comes from, what had happened to him–and how he was able to become both a hero and a villain, and which side he finally picked in the end.

Having read all the books in Carroll’s series, I’ve always championed him as a writer who knew how to write the underdogs. I preferred both Super Human and The Ascension over the original Quantum Prophecy books because they were easier to relate to. Because you had a character who wasn’t super-powered. A character you can feel sorry for. A character you fear might not make it until the end. And it wasn’t so with the Quantum Prophecy books. For some reason, they prophecy itself made the characters and the action boring. You knew that so-and-so would survive. And that made it boring.

And yet, in Stronger, you knew exactly where the story was going. You knew the events that were being described. But it is, to me, the most engaging book of the series so far.

Has Michael Carroll gotten better as a writer? No. Because he wasn’t bad to begin with. The only difference between this book and the ones from the Quantum Prophecy series is that in Stronger you have a main character you’d want to root for. A main character you feel sorry for. A main character you want to get to know more.

With Stronger, author Michael Carroll sews together two timelines and one alternate reality as he tells the surprisingly simple story of a boy who just wanted to come home. And how he realized that he can never go back to who he was.

Having read this book, and seeing that the author seems to know where he’s finally going with his story, I’m very excited to find out where he’s taking the story next.

Of course, all this? Just my opinion. Let’s find out what other people have said about the book as well:
Kirkus Reviews
Good Reads