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: One More Chance

"One More Chance"

Is love enough to make a person feel fulfilled and happy?

Meet Popoy and Basha, two lovers who believe they are destined to be together forever. Practically inseparable, everyone around them knows there can be no Basha without the ever strict Popoy. Nor would Popoy exist without his damsel, Basha.

But when one of them realizes their feelings for each other can no longer make them feel content, they resolve to search for themselves outside of the safety of each other.

Will Popoy and Basha find happiness apart, or will they learn to give love One More Chance?

If I were to answer that question? I was happier when Popoy and Basha were apart. Much happier. To the point that I breezed through the parts of the book where they weren’t together, and I fell in love with the character of Basha: a woman who saw how important it was to find herself, to save herself from a destructive relationship… Who became a better person for it.

And that oft-quoted scene where Popoy said “she loved me at my worst. You had me at my best?” I’ve always thought it was an epic piece of dialogue that made you feel for the male lead. Now that I know the context of the scene? I wanted to punch Popoy in the face. Multiple times. And I don’t know if I would’ve felt the same way had I not read the book and watched the film instead.

The thing about novelizations is that no matter how close to the material a writer gets, you can’t help but add nuances and thought into the characters. I have never seen One More Chance as a film so I have no way to compare the two, but I do feel like Popoy got the short end of the stick in the novelization. Sure, we get an equal amount of time between the two characters and their motivations. But while Basha comes off as a sympathetic character, Popoy comes off as a douche most of the time.

Unless that’s how it was with the film too. I wouldn’t know. It’s just that… Throughout the book, I never thought Popoy deserved Basha. Which is why I really appreciated the fact that they weren’t forced to live happily ever after. Because I feel like Popoy should do more to earn Basha.

And he will get a chance to do that, when A Second Chance, the sequel to the 2007 film, comes out on November 25. Because of course One More Chance would have a sequel. Basha didn’t really get the closure she needed, and as romantics, Filipinos will always look for that happy ending.

I’m just hoping that however it ends, the characters would stay true to themselves. That they choose what would make them happy, and not what would satisfy the fans of the original film.

All that said, I have to commend writer Juan Miguel Sevilla for a well-written novelization that really gives body to the characters–and does not rely on knowledge of the film. The novelization of One More Chance can stand on its own. And the artwork by married couple Elbert Or and Lorra Angbue-Te add a much appreciated romantic whimsy to the whole package. I have to say though, the editor should do a better job at proofing the book. There were a number of glaring pronoun confusion within the book.

[Disclaimer: I was approached by ABS-CBN Publishing Inc to write about this book, but this is not a paid advertisement. The thoughts I wrote down are my own.]

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: 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.