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?

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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.

Book: Vintage Love

"Vintage Love"

26-year-old Crissy Lopez’s life is in dire need of a makeover. Her wardrobe revolves around ratty shirts and beat-up sneaks; her grueling schedule as a TV Executive leaves no room for a social life; and worst of all, she’s hung up on the Evil Ex who left her five years ago.

When her fashionable grand-aunt passes away and leaves behind a roomful of vintage stuff, the Shy Stylista inside Crissy gradually resurfaces. Soon, she feels like she’s making progress–with a budding lovelife to boot! But the grim ghost of her past catches up with her, threatening to push her back into depression. To finally move on, Crissy learns that walking away is not enough. This time, she needs to take a leap of faith.

If you come to Vintage Love looking for romance, you’d best look elsewhere. The love story told within the pages of this book is paint-by-numbers, and the male characters we are given don’t ever feel like real people. That said, if you do decide not to pick this book up, it’ll be a loss. Because Vintage Love, I feel, is a great love story–about loving one’s self.

I’ve learned to manage my expectations when it comes to local romance novels. Especially since they seem to be restricted to a certain number of pages. You can’t make a love story epic in 147 pages. That’s just the number of pages it takes to fall in love, and to get swept by the romance of it all. By the 147th page, you’re only getting to the meat of a love story: the conflicts. Because unlike other works of fiction where you can get invested in the main character within the first chapter, while you’re building your world and your conflict, love stories have to hook you in first with why you want to root for a certain couple to stay together–

Vintage Love does hook readers quickly, but you don’t root for the love story. Within the first chapter, you want Crissy Lopez to succeed–not at finding love, but at finding herself. Because, unlike in Save the Cake where we are forced to endure the mystery of what happened in the main character’s past, Vintage Love drops you right in the middle of the main character’s passion: film-making. Agay Llanera presents us a strong, independent woman who clearly isn’t happy with her life, but is making everyone else think she is.

Taking out the romance aspect of the book, I’m impressed with Llanera’s structuring of the plot. She makes a different use of death as a plot point, and uses examples instead of dialogue of how close the character is to the dead. The anecdotes and the way the character talks about the dead is a great way of establishing their relatioship without having to do extensive character-building. And while this particular relationship already ended in the first chapter, it clearly defines what happens in the main character’s life going forward.

Now, if we put the romance aspect back into the book, I’m not as impressed with the structure. We don’t get to know the male lead as well as we do Crissy, and it affects my need to root for their relationship. Bottom line: I didn’t care if they get together in the end. This is mostly because, as I mentioned earlier, the male lead doesn’t feel real. He’s not the end goal. He’s a plot device to get our main character to her actual goal: choosing to make herself happy. So when the inevitable relationship conflict happens, near the end of the book, I didn’t really care if the male lead goes. He’s served his purpose.

I can go on and on about what can make Vintage Love work better as a romance novel, but there’s really no need, is there? It’s already a good book. Just as long as you’re not here for the romance.

Book: Save the Cake

"Save the Cake"

Twenty-eight-year-old Eloisa Carreon has come home to work at her family’s bakery as a cake artist after years of studying and working abroad. She yearns for the independence she had while living in New York and Singapore, but her overprotective parents and big brother monitor her every move. When she is tasked with creating a masterpiece for a high-society wedding, Eloisa meets handsome videographer Sean Alvarez. They discover a shared outlook on life and a mutual desire to escape the excesses of the nuptials. The attraction between them is undeniable, but Eloisa is weighed down by family expectations and emotional baggage from a past relationship.

With the wedding of the year fast approaching, Eloisa has a decision to make: Should she play it safe to avoid heartbreak, or take the risk on happiness with someone who can show her how to love again?

Ignoring the fact that the back blurb of the book was misleading, I’m still a little disappointed with Save the Cake. Not because I had high expectations to begin with, but because my expectations rose while reading the book.

When I pick up local books that are in English, there is always a tendency for the protagonists to read and talk like western characters. Which is why it was such a pleasant surprise to find that, from the moment we meet Eloisa Carreon, I knew she was a Filipina–even with her background in New York and Singapore.

I have to commend author Stella Torres for how grounded in reality her character feels. There’s just something about her, something I can’t put my finger on, that makes her breathe–that makes her come to life. She doesn’t feel fictional at all. Which means the author had done her job well with the character.

Something she also did well? The set-up. The first ten chapters of the book was a breeze to read. The author took time to establish the world Eloisa lives in, the family she lives with, and the people who orbit around her–but the pacing never lags. Everything is just right.

Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how Mina Esguerra’s Romance Class works. I don’t know if they have a deadline to beat, or if the novels were longer and had to be shortened for physical printing, or what. What I do know is that starting with Chapter Twelve, the pace suddenly goes into hyper-drive. It’s like there’s not enough time for everything to happen, and the structure suffers because of the breakneck pace the story suddenly employs.

The characters continue to feel whole though. Nothing changed with how they are written, with how they talk and react–but they are talking and reacting to things that shouldn’t have happened yet. New developments are shoveled in before the characters can even process what had just happened. The characters aren’t allowed to breathe. And this is a shame.

Because I would say that Save the Cake had a potential to be better, had it been allowed more time to stew. This is a romance novel, so why hurry through the romance? Why hurry through the nuances of a love story?

If you want readers to give local romance stories the time of day, then give them the time to fall in love.

Book: Crash

"Crash"

Life’s too short to slow down, and no one knows this better than the young, the rich, and the screwed up.

In ‘The Faster They go…,’ the kids of The M of A and the P face the biggest, most dramatic situation their pretty heads and shiny hair have to fave ever: they are NOT invited to the biggest open party of the season! That sucks, really, especially if you already planned on who you’re wearing, right? Shit.

In ‘The Harder They Crash,’ things take a turn for the worse as they realize that surviving through the school year means dealing with the biggest threat they have to face: each other. With hearts racing, and hormones raging, there’s no stopping now.

Two exciting stories, one not quite unreal sequel. Brace yourself. You’re in for a ride.

I’m confused. It hasn’t been that long since I put down the first book in Siege Malvar’s Not Quite Unreal series, but I seem to have lost all grasp of what’s going on. Is it because the book doesn’t immediately pick up from the events of the first novel? Maybe.

What I do know is this: the writing is tighter, and characters are given space to breathe, even at the expense of diminished ‘screen time’ for others. Good things. Unfortunately, this also highlights the book’s weakness: its lack of focus.

Roles, the first novel off the Not Quite Unreal series, made the collective cast its main character. While everyone had different goals and different story lines, it all connected to one thing: the role image plays in the lives of people. Crash, on the other hand, had no uniting theme.

We know who the characters are. We know their dreams. We know where they are going. But, like Glee in Season 4, the characters don’t seem to know who they are in relation to each other anymore. It’s one major weakness that makes Crash pale in comparison to its predecessor. Because, suddenly, instead of having one major character, we have a bunch of minor ones who are scrambling at the tiny scraps of pages they are given to work with.

Crash lives up to its title. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The stories crash. And clash. And I wonder if this is the book the author wanted to write. Because while the writing is cleaner, it also doesn’t feel like the Malvar we read in Roles and Wakasang Wasak: books written before and after Crash, respectively.

What happened?

The book cuts off at another cliffhanger, pretty much promising a third book in the series. But seeing as Crash was published five years ago, one has to wonder what’s taking Visprint so long to publish it. Have they dropped the title? Or is Malvar taking his time in writing the follow up?

Whatever the answer may be, I just hope Malvar brings back the magic of Roles that he lost in Crash: the sense of unity that made readers want to like this bunch of unlikeable rich kids.

Book: A Bottle of Storm Clouds

"A Bottle of Storm Clouds"

Award-winning author Eliza Victoria mixes magic with the mundane in this special concoction of 16 short stories. A girl meets a young man with the legs of a chicken. A boy is employed by a goddess running a pawnshop. A group of teenagers are trapped in an enchanted forest for 900 days. A man finds himself in an MRT station beyond Taft, a station that was not supposed to exist. A student claims to have seen the last few digits of pi. Someone’s sister gets abducted by mermaids.

Take this bottle of storm clouds and explore the worlds within.

I just realized that I’ve run out of Filipino books to read, and I still have a couple of dozen imported books to go through! That needs to be remedied, and fast! But in the meantime, let’s settle in and talk about Eliza Victoria’s collection of stories: A Bottle of Storm Clouds.

I’m not going to be objective here. I’m not a fan of the short story format when it comes to fantasy, as the payoff usually doesn’t satisfy the investment you’ve put into the world-building. Fortunately, A Bottle of Storm Clouds features only a couple of stories that don’t live up to the expectations they set you up with. Most of the time, author Victoria sets up her world quickly with a few choice words, leaving the rest of the very short stories to make you fall in love with her characters, before they break your heart.

My personal favorites of the bunch is “Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling Street,” “The Just World of Helena Jimenez,” and “Once, In a Small Town.” Those are the stories that, while perfect as is, would also do well in a bigger scale–as their own novels. Although, “The Just World of Helena Jimenez” is very reminiscent of Eliza Victoria’s own Project 17 already. So maybe just the other two.

In “Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling Street,” Victoria creates a wonderful world of mythological creatures co-existing with human beings. The idea of bartering for something more valuable than money? It’s not original, but the author infuses it with so much earnestness, and so much loneliness, that you can’t help but feel for the characters. Even the unassuming protagonist whose point of view we follow.

Meanwhile, “Once, In a Small Town” creates such a rich world of stories that I think author Victoria can further mine. The idea of a town full of people with magical abilities? A gift that automatically doubles as a curse? These are great hooks and plot points for a bigger story that’s just waiting to be told.

I must say: Eliza Victoria has a great handle on creating mood with her words. And although I’m not a fan of short story collections, I must say this is a book that’s truly recommendable.

Book: Popped Too (Guest Blogger)

Remember the Popped Too book launch I went to? Well, they gave away copies of the book for bloggers to review. Except I knew I wasn’t going to be objective with it, as I’m not a big fan of Korean pop. So I decided not to be the one to read and review the book. Instead, I asked a friend (Chikai of Flaming Tofu) to write about it, since she’s into Korean Pop.

Take it away, Chikai!

* * *

"Popped Too" by Chinggay LabradorI’ve been a fan of Korean Pop (KPop) for three years now, though I can’t say I’m a longtime fan. I still consider myself a newbie in the KPop scene, since I was pulled in during the pop Hallyu in the Philippines–though I have been a fan of their dramas since I was in grade school.

The reason why I read the first book of the Popped series were these: One, my friend bought it and lent it to me; and two, I was interested to read a story that revolved around KPop.

First, a little background: In my group of close friends, only one of us was a fan of KPop. Eventually she got me hooked, and a few months later, the remaining two also got sucked into the world of KPop. (The last one to become a fan was actually the one who bought the book.) We were good friends even before KPop, but I can say that we had more fun because of it.

Before reading Popped Too, I advise you to read the previous book, Popped, first. The author doesn’t give a lot of time or pages in reviewing the events of Popped in Popped Too.

What I like about the series is that it’s like a fangirl’s daydreams in print form. Travelling to Seoul for the second time, as well as meeting and getting remembered by your favorite idols? How can a fangirl not want that, right? But Popped Too focuses more on Korean Drama (KDrama) than KPop. It narrates Andie Bautista’s KDrama-like love life with a Korean, Mac Park. Though there are still hints of KPop references with Andie and her friends’ fangirling, and her other friend Nica’s involvement in the heart of the KPop scene.

While reading the book, there were times when I just had to stop for a moment and squeal from the kilig. Because basically Popped Too is about love and the story of her friends.

Setting the fangirl’s perspective aside, the story gives importance to friendship. That is what I identified with the most (and not the traveling to Seoul part, because I haven’t done that–yet!) KPop made them build a closer relationship and have adventures. Hopefully, my friends and I will get to experience the same thing sometime in the future.

The story does not really have a complicated plot. Andie’s first person narrations just tell it as it is with some of her own thoughts added in. Since the plot is not really complicated, the problems are not really that heavy as well.

There are also words that don’t get translated from Filipino, like kilig and some lines of conversation. And, I must say, the Filipino words make it seem like an account of events that really happened to the author. It really feels like a firsthand account of a Filipina and her experiences of the Korean culture.

I am not really sure if non-fans would relate, or enjoy the books in the series. As for myself though, being a fan, I enjoyed reading both books as light-readings. It’s the type of book that isn’t too heavy, and it makes you think what would happen next. You would enjoy reading it like you would a blog post, or something similar. It is also short enough that you can finish it in one sitting. It’s good to read it if you want to take your mind off something even just for a little while, like watching a romantic movie or drama.

* * *

Thanks, Chikai!

Popped Too is available in all bookstores for P175. Published by Summit Books