Book: They Both Die at the End

"They Both Die at the End"

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure–to live a lifetime in a single day.

What do you do when you’re told you’re going to die within the day? It’s a great question, and I love that They Both Die at the End tries to answer it in multiple ways. We have two main characters that are very different from each other, who then fate brings together to help them grow. I love that author Adam Silvera doesn’t go for the saccharine and goes deep into thoughts that most people probably have had, about what to do when confronted with the idea that they are about to die.

I love the book… but I’m not in love with it. Probably because it veered into romance territory near the end.

Spoiler alert?

I’m not going to say much. It’s just– I thought the book was amazing, and the way Silvera handled the multiple points-of-view was particularly outstanding. I love the way he threaded the stories together, and how passing characters in the beginning make quite an impact in the latter chapters.

But the love story felt out of place for me.

I understand that the characters would grow to care for each other. That they would grow to love each other. And there were hints throughout the book about the eventual… relationship development. It was not sprung on us. I just felt like, if the book really wanted to go there, they could have prepared the readers better. Or have been more upfront about it. As it was… the romance in the latter part of the book made me like it less.

Still– I do still love the book enough to recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a great story. Maybe other readers don’t (or won’t) feel the same way I do about the love story in the end.

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Book: Deadma Walking

"Deadma Walking"

John and Mark are gay beshies for life whose friendship is put to the test when one of them has a terminal illness and asks the other to help him stage his fake death, wake, and funeral as his dying wish. The result is a comedy of ‘deadly’ proportions.

There aren’t a lot of instances when one would say that the movie adaptation is better than the book it originated from. But this is definitely one of those instances.

Deadma Walking was one of the more entertaining films during the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival–which is why, when my friend A Messy Desk gave me a copy of the published screenplay that film was based of, I immediately started reading it…and started applauding the changes made to the material to make it more palatable to viewers.

It’s not that the original material was bad… It’s just very heavy-handed. And it misses a lot of opportunities at the same time. That said, the final film version also manages to miss the same opportunities–but the actors really do a lot to save the screenplay’s less-than-stellar parts.

But this isn’t supposed to be a comparison. I’m writing about the version that was published–which is different from the one people got to see on screen, and is also different from the one that won an award.

Deadma Walking, the published screenplay, is a work in progress. The emotional meat of the story is there, and the characters of John and Mark are funny enough that you’ll be able to latch on to their crazy antics. But most of the time, it felt like reading a person’s inner thoughts without filters. It rambles. On and on. And there are a lot of plot developments that need to happen earlier, but don’t.

It’s a good screenplay, to be completely fair. It’s just doesn’t feel like a final draft. Just one that needed to exist because an editor was probably breathing down the writer’s neck, to get him to cough up a version before a printer’s deadline.

Final verdict? If you’re going to read this book, make sure to lower your expectations.

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: Death Weavers (Five Kingdoms, Book 4)

"Death Weavers"

Cole is about to face his biggest peril yet.

Since arriving in the Outskirts, Cole and his friends have fought monsters, challenged knights, and battled rampaging robots. But none of that has prepared them Necronum.

In this haunting kingdom, it’s hard to tell the living from the dead, and secret pacts carry terrifying dangers. Within Necronum lies the echolands, a way station for the departed, where the living seldom venture.

Still separated from his power, Cole must cross to the echolands and rely on his instincts to help rescue his friends. With enemies closing in, Cole risks losing everything to find the one thing that might save them.

Before I begin, I must warn whoever is reading this that I’m not going to hold back on spoilers. So if you’re planning on picking the book up, I suggest clicking away and coming back once you’ve finished the fourth installment off Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series. Now, with that out of the way–

I actually don’t know if I liked Mull’s penultimate book to his current series. I mean, leading up to the finale, Death Weavers definitely ups the stakes and does a good job at building the tension. But at the same time, it feels a bit… much.

Now, I praised Crystal Keepers for breaking out of the Mull mold. It didn’t feel like it was a part of the Fablehaven series, and it was very different from the Beyonders trilogy. And the best part? It continued the Five Kingdoms story without being a carbon copy of the two books that preceded it–whilst standing out as its own story. Unfortunately, in Death Weavers, Mull zags again by doubling down on the fantastical countryside capers.

And not only is the fourth book back on fantasy ground, Mull actually brings back a lot of characters from earlier books–and even a couple from the Beyonders trilogy.

The thing here is: when Drake and Ferrin, both well-loved characters from the Beyonders books, first popped up? I thought it was a great way of establishing where and what the Outskirts was. And then they joined the adventure. Which would’ve been great had it been necessary for them to be part of the adventure. It wasn’t. Mull could’ve created new characters to join them, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Their inclusion, by book’s end, felt more like fan service than a story necessity.

Then there’s the cop out with Destiny.

See, in each book, Cole Randolph is saving one princess at a time. In this book, he’s supposed to save and protect the youngest princess, Destiny, from the bad guys who want to take her power. When Cole finally finds Destiny, they immediately get cornered by bad guys. Which was a good plot development, I thought. Then Destiny jumped into the river where no one comes out off, and I was floored. It was a risky move. Especially for a Young Adult adventure book. I loved it because it presents new problems, and it will definitely develop the characters as they confront an important death–in the book that has the theme of death hovering over everyone!

And then Cole saves her.

This is when I started disliking the character of Cole. I know he’s supposed to be the all-powerful savior, and the hero to the entire series–but, it’s hard to root for a guy you know will end up winning in the end. Sure he makes mistakes, but he doesn’t really experience loss. And that makes for a pretty crappy hero’s journey.

Of course, with this being the second-to-last book off the series, I’m still definitely picking the next book up to see how it all gets wrapped up; but I must say that the Five Kingdoms isn’t living up to the legacy of the Beyonders trilogy. The world feels half-formed, and the characters don’t feel like real people most of the time. The villains are still vague, and we’re already four books in–and although they’re all said to be scary, none of them feels threatening because of how powerful our main protagonist is.

I guess I have made my mind up about Death Weavers after all.

It’s a pretty disappointing book overall, even if it does do its job of building up the finale.

Book: Sorta Like a Rock Star

"Sorta Like a Rock Star"

Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber Appleton, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B), have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (aka the school bus her mom drives). Still, Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope, refuse to sweat the bad stuff. But when a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism–and her way of life–can Amber still be… well, sorta like a rock star?

I have a love-hate relationship with Amber Appleton. On the one hand, I love how optimistic her character is. I love that she loves helping people. But then, I really don’t like how she expects people to thank her for things she’s done. I hate the fact that she’s, for the most part, a hypocrite. She doesn’t do good things for the sake of doing them–she does them so she could feel good about herself.

Which is why I have to commend Matthew Quick. Off the three novels I’ve read off him, I think Amber is his most realistic character yet. She’s not a perfect person, and she’s not claiming to be. She has insecurities, she has misguided beliefs…and yet, at her core, Amber is someone you would want to root for. Not because she’s always striving to be better, but because she also makes mistakes.

Amber is one of us.

And I wasn’t a fan of hers for around half of the book. There’s just something about her that rubbed me the wrong way. That is… Until the ‘fatal tragedy’ happened. That’s when I empathized with her. But it was also then that I stopped connecting with her. Because in the events that occurred after that, I became more invested with the characters that revolved around Amber. Like Donna. And Private Jackson. And Father Chee. Even the football jerks. Amber stopped becoming an active character.

I don’t know if it was designed that way. Maybe. Because emotionally? It worked. As Amber became the receptacle for help, a role reversal from her being the giver of help in the first half, we see the emotional pay off for all the characters who were introduced.

This is when readers with a soft spot for good deeds will become emotional messes.

But I don’t consider Sorta Like a Rock Star as a good book. Although I liked how Matthew Quick wrote the main character, and I liked how the story unfolded, I still feel like the emotional punch in the end was a cheat. Out of the three Quick novels I’ve read, I continue to hold The Silver-Linings Playbook as his best one.

As for other people though… Let’s see what they thought of the book:
The Divining Wand
What’s Not Wrong?
Opinionated? Me?

Movie: Veronica Mars

"Veronica Mars"

Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown – just in time for her high school reunion – in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who’s embroiled in a murder mystery.

If you weren’t a fan of the television series while it was on the air, I don’t know how you’re going to like the film. Because, as a fan, it’s everything I wanted–but that might not be what casual viewers are looking for.

See, Veronica Mars is a series built on nostalgia. Not just for us fans, but for the characters as well. Events unfold in a place where everyone knows everyone’s business–where one character’s history ties in very much with another character’s. And the film even capitalizes on this, bringing back characters from the television series for one last victory lap, bring the characters back for a mystery that hinges quite strongly on events that have happened almost a decade ago.

Veronica has turned her back on the life of a private investigator. At the end of the series, Veronica cast her vote for Keith Mars to be the replacement Sheriff after the death of Don Lamb. But her dad lost. And she flew off the coop. She got out of Neptune to become a resident in a house of lies.

But a call from Logan changes everything.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

As a fan of the series, I know that Veronica wouldn’t have been able to stay away. Although, I must admit at being impressed she was able to stay away for nine years. For casual viewers though? Veronica looks like she’s doing something half-assed.

And she is. The difference between fans and non-fans is that we’re actually expecting this.

And Veronica falls right into step when she comes back to Neptune. Even picking the phone up at her dad’s private investigator’s office.

I missed this. While I love Veronica Mars, and while I thought Piz was a great addition to the show, I wasn’t a big fan of the final season. As I said, Veronica Mars is built on nostalgia. The third season of the program introduced too many new things. It wasn’t the same. And the film learned from this.

And so we see Veronica and the characters we love grow, mature, and be different people–and yet have that familiarity permeate their existence. Regardless of the years that had passed, these characters remain the same at their core.

Let’s face the facts: Veronica Mars is no Nancy Drew. Sure she can solve a mystery like the best of them, but it’s Veronica’s resourcefulness in the Neptune setting that actually elevates her to become something more than Nancy Drew could ever be: Veronica is as real a person as you can get in the world of television…and video-on-demand.

Which is why I think the film succeeded–even if reports of the weekend box-office say otherwise. Veronica Mars came back, delivered a doozy of a story, and kicked ass.

And she did it her way.

Whether or not we get another film, or if we’re just going to continue her adventures in the novels that were announced…I don’t really care. I will continue to support. I will continue to be a fan.

Because I don’t want to sing the lyrics of the Veronica Mars theme song and actually mean the words.

Book: Crash Into Me

"Crash Into Me"

Owen, Frank, Audrey, and Jin-Ae have one thing in common: They all want to die. When they meet online after each attempts suicide and fails, they made a deadly pact: They will escape together on a summer road trip to visit the sites of celebrity suicides…and at their final destination, they will do themselves in.

As they drive cross-country, bonding over their dark impusles, sharing their deepest secrets and desires, living it up, hooking up, and becoming true friends, each must decide whether life is worth living–or if there’s no turning back.

Right from the start, I decided to believe that all the characters would survive in the end. It’s just how these type of novels go. It’s either your character is already dead and they’re just recounting life before they did themselves in, or something will happen to change their minds about killing themselves. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Imagine my surprise when, as three characters become better people, one of them start to spiral deeper into unexplicable depression. It’s a great twist. It keeps the reader guessing. It kept me guessing if maybe I was wrong and there will, at least, be one casualty.

But the keyword to that statement is ‘inexplicable.’

There’s a twist. There always is one, nowadays. But the thing with twists is, they have to be earned. This one doesn’t earn it. I mean, the writer obviously knew he was going to drop the twist somewhere in the story–but it doesn’t fit. It feels forced. Tacked on. And the bad thing is, you also know that it’s part of one character’s history. An integral part that was purposefully held back just to surprise the viewers.

I hated it.

Not the twist. The twist is fine. I hate the fact that the author held back on it. He should’ve built up on it. No, I don’t mean put in clues. Voracious readers would be able to latch on to those and the twist wouldn’t make as big an impact to them. But in terms of how the characters relate to each other, talk to each other; let the omissions and the hesitations speak; let the fears show; and, let the readers feel what the character is supposed to be feeling.

Crash Into Me is a good book. Was a good book. It’s not completely original; but the story was solid and the characters, though they may not always be likeable, at least they’re relatable. It’s the twist near the end that completely ruins it for me.

But that’s just me. Head on to what other blogs have to say about the book, maybe they liked it better than I did. Here’s a few:
Read, Read, Read
A Good Addiction
Chick Loves Lit