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.

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Book: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between

"Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between"

On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide their future. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

If what we see of Clare and Aidan’s relationship in this book is any indication of what their relationship will be like in the future? I hope the answer to the question is goodbye forever.

Obviously, I didn’t enjoy the book. It wasn’t so bad that I had to stop reading, and my displeasure didn’t reach throwing-against-a-wall levels, but I must say that if I had a chance to tell my past self not to pick this book up? I would.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between is an exercise in futility. From the first chapter, we are told that at the end of this very long night, our main characters will find a reason to stay together–to risk a long-distance romance. So the night is supposed to strengthen them as it leads them to “familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations.

And it sort of does.

And then it doesn’t.

Reading the book, I had to wonder: did the author even know where she wanted the book to go? Did she know what her characters really wanted? Or was this a writing exercise that got published because her previous efforts sold well?

I’m not bitter here. I’m not a novelist trying to get my first novel published. But seriously, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between feels like something that one would find trawling through the Wattpad catalog. And even saying that, I feel like I’m going to offend some Wattpad writers.

There is nothing special about this book, and even it gimmick of a “scavenger hunt of memories” falls flat because the characters themselves give up on it halfway through. I don’t even know what the book wants to say except: people always break up, but because this is a romance novel, the protagonists will still find a way to each other.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I started reading this book. Entertainment? An escape? An interesting take on love? Whatever it was, I didn’t find it. But I did learn a lesson:

Don’t trust a popular author to always deliver a good story.

But, like I always say whenever I write anything about books I ended up not liking? Don’t take my word for it. Check out the blurb, find other bloggers who read the book. What didn’t work for me might have worked for someone else. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s unlikable.

Give the book a try–

But maybe borrow the book, instead of buying your own copy. Just in case you end up not liking it too.

Book: Royal Wedding, a Princess Diaries Novel

"Royal Wedding"

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity: living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend, Michael, managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course, Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.

But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: her grandmother has leaked “fake” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Can Mia prove to everyone–especially herself–that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

I picked this book up because this is the end of the Princess Diaries story that I sort-of grew up with. Which makes it embarrassing for me to admit now that I, apparently, only read the first three books of the series. The rest of my Princess Diaries knowledge comes from the Disney adaptation that the series of novels actually make fun of.

Fortunately, Meg Cabot has always this knack of drawing you into the action even without prior knowledge of what has happened before. Her characters, Mia more than the others, have a very distinct sense of the now that you can’t help but be caught up in what is happening rather than what has happened before. That’s why it’s easy to pick up where the last book left off. Doubly easy, I think, because Cabot offers a little refresher at the start, seeing as it has been years since she last wrote a Princess Diaries book. Maybe she was reminding herself of what had happened as well.

Cabot weaves in a child-like maturity into Mia in this final installment of her series. A reflection of her journey, and that of the readers who grew up reading her books. Out of Cabot’s characters, it’s always been Mia who spoke clearly to the Tumblr generation. My generation. And it’s satisfying to see, to read, that Mia hasn’t changed who she is. Yes, she’s older. Yes, she’s more responsible. But she’s still the same Mia. She didn’t suddenly turn into a Kate Middleton or someone along the likes of. And that makes me, and I’m guessing a few other readers, feel better, because it makes Mia more like a real person.

It makes Mia continue to reflect who we are as a generation. The ones who are working our asses off to better ourselves, to do better for our community–and not always succeeding. Mia is an inspiration. That even fictional princesses don’t get to sail smoothly into the horizon. Although, and I don’t know if this requires a spoiler alert, we all know she’s going to get her happily-ever-after sooner or later.

Royal Wedding, much like the other books in the Princess Diaries series, is a book that makes you feel good about yourself. Finishing this book, all I could think of after was that we need more books like this again. Books that will tell a new generation of readers that it’s okay to fail–so long as you pick yourself up and do better next time. That you should never give up. And that while you maybe the star of your own story, you shouldn’t forget that your supporting characters are the main characters of their own stories too.

I don’t know if that makes as much sense to you as it does to me. But that’s the best I can do.

Most Princess Diaries fans would’ve already read this book. If you’re new to the series, you might want to pick up the first couple of books before diving into this one. If you’re not a fan… Well, there’s nothing here that will change your mind.

Book: How to Fall in Love

"How to Fall in Love"

Adam Basil and Christine Rose are thrown together late one night, when Christine is crossing the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. Adam is there, poised, threatening to jump.

Adam is desperate–but Christine makes a crazy deal with him. His 35th birthday is looming and she bets him that before then she can show him that life is worth living.

Against the ticking of the clock, the two of them embark on wild escapades, grand romantic gestures and some unlikely late-night outings. Slowly, Christine thinks Adam is starting to fall back in love with his life. But is that all that’s starting to happen?

How does one fall in love?

Completely.

Utterly.

Without warning.

That’s what happened to me while reading Cecelia Ahern’s most recent book. I fell completely and utterly in love–without expecting it. Because, to be quite frank, I found the first few chapters of this book a chore to plod through. But I fought on. Because the premise intrigued me. How do you convince someone who wants to kill their self that life is worth living still?

Apparently, the answer is by living life with them.

Ahern is a master storyteller in this book, weaving the intricate patterns of a realistic love story without losing sight of who her characters are.

Both Adam and Christine are flawed characters. They have issues. And throughout the course of their story, their issues develop with them. Ahern doesn’t employ the magic of love in her story–she tackles the reality head on by having her characters address the fact that, even in love, they cannot change their very core in an instant just because they wanted to.

But what made me fall in love with Ahern’s book isn’t just the realistic approach it has about love between two people with issues. It’s how it tackles the distinction between falling in love, and falling in love with love. And it deals with the repercussions of every action the characters make.

Still, the book isn’t perfect. It holds back one particular information that changes how we see the characters. Specifically, how we see Christine. An information which I feel would’ve enriched the character had it been shared much earlier.

Because I don’t think this withheld information would change the trajectory of the characters’ stories. In fact, I believe that it would make the story much more satisfying for the readers, because you get to understand Christine’s motives from the get go. And you appreciate her actions more.

Even with this game-changing secret though, I still fell in love with the book. Which, I guess, is also the lesson the book wants to convey: you only know you’re in love with someone when you accept their faults–even before you find out the reason for them.

And I accept the faults of this book. Because, at the end of it all, it tells a beautiful story about life, love, and accepting your lot in life.

Now, go and find a copy of How to Fall in Love. Buy it or borrow it. Read it.

If you’re still on the fence about the book, then you can always read what other people have written about the book. To help you decide:
Chloe’s Chick Lit Reviews
I Heart… Chick Lit
Novelicious

Book: Shine

"Shine"

This is not a ghost story, thought there are plenty of ghosts in it.

And it’s not a horror story, though some people might be horrified.

It’s not a monster story either, though there is a monster in it. And that monster happens to be me.

I fell in love with Candy Gourlay’s writing with Tall Story. Unlike so many writers, she was able to marry her Filipino heritage with her England setting in such a way that it didn’t feel forced. Maybe because she never lost sight of how her story is about siblings who just happen to be Filipino. In her new book, though, I think Gourlay struggles with the made-up town of Mirasol. And I blame the story’s reliance on superstition and flashbacks.

In Shine, the author takes us to a town where people believe in monsters; and introduces us to Rosa, a girl made to believe that she was a monster because of a birth defect. The first chapter sets up this new world beautifully. And then, in the second chapter, it all goes to pieces. Mostly because there are three stories running simultaneously, and only one of them is handled well.

Plot number one: who you are versus who you say you are.

The most interesting premise of the book, I feel, is its plot about Rosa wanting to be seen as normal. And in a town where people are afraid of her because of how she looks and how she sounds, her only solace is the world wide web. A world where she can be whoever she wishes to be. A world where her looks won’t matter.At least, not at first.

Gourlay is a master at building up the suspense of Rosa making a friend online, and discovering that he lives in the same town as her. The friendship that grows between the two feels realistic, as well as they’re need to make actual physical contact. Unfortunately, this is where the ball gets dropped when it comes to their storyline.

The plight of Rosa’s friend is supposed to mirror hers. And it does that. But it also undermines everything that we were made to believe about Rosa’s town of Mirasol. Because the town painted to Rosa by her father and her nanny seems to discriminate against everyone with Rosa’s defect. And yet gives her friend a pass–until such time when the plot needs for him to be noticed.

Plot number two: who you are versus who you think you are.

Throughout the book, we are told the story of Rosa’s mother and her twin sister. Girls who are alike in so many ways–except one has a physical defect that forces her to stay at home. Making her envious of the twin who can leave the house. While making the non-defective twin envious of the girl who gets to spend more time with their parents, their loved one. The one who gets more, because she has less.

I liked this plot best because there is a clear progression of where the characters begin, of how they handle their problems, and of where they end up in their journey. And I love how none of the characters are purely good. They are human. They make mistakes. And they do their best to make the most of what they have.

Plot number three: who you are versus who you want to forget.

Interspersed between Rosa’s need to have a friend, and the story of how her mother met her father and lost a twin, is Rosa’s need to find closure for her mother’s death. And her obsession in seeing her mother’s ghost. But when the ghost does arrive, I feel like Gourlay doesn’t really know where to take the story.

So we get the mother’s twin instead.

The monster’s twin who is in love with Rosa’s father.

And, this is unclear, who might also be the reason why Rosa’s father won’t pack his things up, to move Rosa to somewhere where she won’t be judged. Where she can be normal.

Yeah, I don’t really understand this part. I get that Rosa’s father is a man who cares for people, but at the risk of his own daughter’s safety? The daughter who was almost killed by the superstitious folks of Mirasol? If I were the dad, I would’ve packed up my things and moved as soon as that happened.

It’s this plot that’s really bringing this book down for me.

That said, I do think the book’s great writing outweigh my concerns about the story. Shine is an engaging read, and it does bring up good points about image, and how perception plays a part into our lives. I just wish author Gourlay handled some parts of the book better than she did.

But, as always, don’t just take my word on this. Check out what other people have to say about Shine:
Love Reading 4 Kids
The Book Bag
What’s Good to Do

Book: Only a Kiss

"Only a Kiss"

When she was nine-years-old, Katie knew she wanted Chris to give her her first kiss. It wasn’t because she was in love with him (no way, he was her best friend! Besides, she was in love with his fourteen-year-old brother), it was because she could make him do anything she wanted.

Besides, it didn’t really mean anything. It was only a kiss after all.

But then things started to change. They grew up. They parted ways and went to different high schools. And other girls and boys–well, just one particular boy–came into the picture, throwing their lives upside down.

Told from the alternating points of view of Katie and Chris, this love story between two best friends will tug at your heartstrings and leave you thinking how the simplest things can mean so much.

Technically, Only a Kiss is a well-written book. Objectively, I have nothing bad to say about the story. Subjectively… I really didn’t like the characters. Especially as we get to know more about them. Especially as they grow up.

I have always advocated for realistic characters, so I don’t understand why neither Katie nor Chris is resonating with me. They’re real. They breathe. And author Ines Bautista-Yao writes them so well that I wouldn’t be surprised to meet these two in real life. But I still, for the life of me, couldn’t bring myself to like them.

Is it because I couldn’t relate to them?

Katie and Chris are real, yes. But they’re also perfect people. Too perfect, in fact. Katie is good at bossing people around, and she gets things done without ruffling feathers. Chris is good at sports, great with the ladies, and an awesome artist too. And I know people like this. People who are too good to be true–and yet are real people. And I am not them.

Yes, Katie and Chris make mistakes. But unlike me, their problems all revolve around love. Which, I guess, is because the book I’m reading is a romance novel. But, at the same time, it’s making me feel inadequate.

How can I like characters who make me feel insecure?

Why couldn’t Chris be the opposite of his older brother who Katie liked for so long? Why does he have to be perfect? And why, if he’s already perfect, does it take Katie so long to realize she has feelings for her best friend?

Why is Andrew, that one particular boy, so perfect too? With his nice demeanor, and his altruistic outlook in life, and his love for Katie?

And Katie… Where do I start with Katie? She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s good at what she does, she’s an amazing girlfriend, a thoughtful friend, a pragmatic person–

They’re all so perfect, yet so real–and so boring.

The central conflict of Only a Kiss is the love triangle between Chris, Katie, and Andrew. But there is no real love triangle. It’s pretty clear from the get go who Katie will end up with–because while both boys are perfect, and nice, and is someone you can root for–neither one actually does anything grand that would make you root for one or the other.

As a reader, I didn’t have any stakes as to what’s going to happen. Reading Only a Kiss is like reading a the blog of a rich, nice girl. It’s something you do because you like the person, and you want to support that person, but if you’re honest with yourself, you’d rather be doing something else.

Of course, as I always say, this could just be me. There will always be other people who like the books I don’t like. Don’t form an opinion based on just this reaction. Read what other people have written about Only a Kiss:
Amy Reece
Ron Reads
Her Book Thoughts

Or form your own opinion. Since I promote local books, I would rather promote this well-written (if bland) novel, than most of the published Wattpad stories that have no business being published.

Oh, and one last thing: Only a Kiss has one of the best book covers I’ve seen in local publications. Good job, people of Chamber Shell Publishing.

Book: Magkabilang Mundo

"Magkabilang Mundo"

The book didn’t come with a synopsis, just a scene excerpt at the back. An excerpt I should’ve read, so I could’ve had a little warning at the horrors waiting for me between the pages.

No, the story isn’t scary. The writing is. And I know I shouldn’t judge the book harshly, as it was written by someone who just wants to write, but this was an actual published book. The least the publisher could’ve done was to clean it up. It’s a thankless job, but hey, someone has to do it. You don’t just publish something just because it’s popular online.

This is the first Wattpad novel I’ve read outside of Summit Books’ Pop Fiction line. Seeing as I was already having problems with how Pop Fiction was hacking into the Wattpad novels and publishing less than stellar books, I thought I should look into other publishers to see if they were doing things differently. Based solely on Magkabilang Mundo, Summit Books has a leg up in the competition.

Magkabilang Mundo, or Opposite Worlds, tell the story of star-crossed lovers who transcend death and reincarnation to find their way back into each other. It’s a solid plot for a romance novel, but the execution leaves much to be desired. None of the characters are likeable, and the writer can’t seem to decide whether he (or she) is writing a love story, or a horror novel. How so? His main female protagonist alternates between a lovesick ghost, and a malevolent one hellbent on driving away the people who live in the house haunts. It’s a characteristic you can marry together, but let’s just say that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the book ended up saying there were two different ghosts in the house. The character was that disjointed.

And, to be fair to publisher Lovelink, I don’t think Magkabilang Mundo is something an editor could salvage without demanding major rewrites from the author. This isn’t like Pop Fiction’s The Bet which just needed some tweaking and expanding, but was pretty much okay for a non-professional writer’s work. Or He’s Dating the Ice Princess which would’ve worked with a few cuts, and some rearranging of events. Magkabilang Mundo is a mess of a story because the writer doesn’t really know who his main characters are. Half the book is told from the point of view of peripheral characters who end up not really doing anything except provide fake tension!

So I go back to blaming Lovelink. What made them think that this book was worth publishing?

Yes, I would like for more Filipinos to read books. Yes, these new generation of published works are generating more readers. But why can’t we provide something that wouldn’t turn them off from reading? Pop Fiction books make me want to strangle someone, but I can see the potential. This one just makes me want to strangle someone and stop buying local books altogether. And I’m not just being haughty and elitist here. Magkabilang Mundo is hard to read, not because it’s in Filipino, but because it meshes words that no one really uses anymore with expressions that are very, well, crudely 2013. Nothing jives.

I’m fine with Magkabilang Mundo existing online. I swear. If it gets read, then well and good. But I feel offended that it’s been mass-produced and given a prominent place in bookstores, when books like Karen Francisco’s Naermyth, Eliza Victoria’s Project 17, Edgar Samar’s Janus Silang, all of these better (and just as accessible) books, have been relegated to the back of stores. Heck, a Precious Pages book is easier to read than this. More enjoyable too.