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: 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: The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book 2)

"The Dark Prophecy"

Go West. Capture Apollo before he can find the next Oracle. If you cannot bring him to me alive, kill him.

Those were the orders my old enemy Nero gave to Meg McCaffrey. But why would an ancient Roman emperor zero in on me (as Lester) in Indianapolis? And where is Meg?

Meg, my demigod master, is a cantankerous street urchin. She betrayed me to Nero back at Camp Half-Blood. And while I’m mortal she can order me to do anything…even kill myself. Despite all this, if I have a chance of praying her away from her villainous stepfather, I have to try. But I’m new to this heroic quest business, and my father, Zeus, stripped me of my godly powers. Oh, the indignities and pain I have already suffered! With impossible time limits, life-threatening danger… Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end of each task? Not just more deadly quests?

I am highly enjoying Rick Riordan’s new Percy Jackson series… And there’s got to be a better way of calling The Trials of Apollo while referring to the Greek and Roman mythological universe Riordan’s created.

That aside– The things I liked in the first book remain true here. Apollo might be a whiny wanker, but he’s endearing because of hapless helplessness–while maintaining his arrogance for previously having godly powers. This time though, he’s more aware of his shortcomings which is an amazing development to witness. Especially since he has another quest to face–and this time, he knows he can’t just rely on others to do things for him.

Meg takes a back seat for the early part of the book, but when she returns, we see her develop too. Not enough that we feel short-changed about not bearing witness to her character growth, but enough to see that this is not the same character who left our hero in the first book.

It is clear that Riordan loves this world more than the other ones he created. Or, at least, knows more about what he’s going to do in this world. There is love in how his main characters are handled, even when there’s only a passing mention of them. And there is a clear progression of where the characters, old and new, are going.

And speaking of characters; I am loving the addition of Emmie and Josephine to the series. The two were former hunters of Artemis, and are now guardians of a way station where demigods can rest. They’re unlike previous adult characters in that they clearly know when they’re in need of help, and when they can take charge. They have a very nurturing way about them that’s never existed in any of the previously introduced adults; while, at the same time, you know they are women that you mustn’t cross.

I love them so much that I feel more concerned about their fates than any of the other characters.

I also like the introduction to another mythology. Hopefully one that doesn’t get spun off into its own series, but rather married into the one we already know. Because with all these mythologies, and all of them having end of the world scenarios, it is becoming more interesting to me to see how Riordan marries the different kinds of apocalypses, more than seeing how he’s going to wrap up each one separately.

Another thing I’m liking about this series is how Apollo serves us a new point of view. Riordan’s heroes all complain about having gods interfere in their lives. And now we see a god try to navigate quests after quests, while having to deal with consequences of their actions–whether in previous books, or in established mythologies.

There is so much to like about The Trials of Apollo. And I am both excited and apprehensive about the next book. One part of me wants to see what happens next immediately. But another part of me, the one that still remembers Magnus Chases’s conclusion, is scared that the next book in The Trials of Apollo is a dud.

I guess I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

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.

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 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.