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.

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Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang

"Si Janus SIlang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang"

Apat na buwan na si Janus sa mansiyon nina Manong Joey sa Angono, pero naroon pa rin ang sakit ng dilang-karayom ng manananggal sa puso niya dahil sa pagkawala ng mga mahal sa buhay at sapilitang paglayo kay Mica.

Sumula ng Christmas break nang mawasak ang proteksiyon ng mansiyon laban sa Tiyanak at sa mga kampon nito. Matinding barang ba ito? Nawawala rin si Mira, ang isa sa kambal na baganing kasing-edad ni Janus at inampon din nina Manong Joey. Ipinagtapat naman ni Renzo kay Janus ang matagal na palang sinusundan ni Manong Isyo: bumalik sa mapa ng utak ng dalawang manong ang brain imprint ng Papa ni Janus at maaaring buhay pa pala ito!

If you don’t understand the Tagalog synopsis, it goes like this: time has passed since the events of the first book. Janus has already spent four months in Manong Joey’s mansion in Angono, but he can still feel the needle-tongue of a manananggal that was left in his heart by the loss of his loved ones and by him abandoning Mica. During the Christmas break, the protection around the mansion has been breached–and no one can explain why. Mira, one-half of the twins who are waiting for their powers to develop, has disappeared. And Janus finds out from Renzo that their elders are investigating the possibility that Janus’s father is still alive.

And now, the verdict:

Book 2 of Janus Silang is still very bottom-heavy. It took me three days to get through the first half of the book, and less than an hour to finish the last third. But unlike the first book where the bottom-heaviness could be fixed by a rearrangement of events that doesn’t change the plot structure at all, I don’t really know how to improve the second book.

Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang has a very solid plot structure. It makes sense why certain things happen when they happen. And although I disagree with some of the actions made by the main character, I can’t fault the reasons behind why Janus does what he does. My problem with the book actually stems from the digressions.

Teacher Cris, of the Teacher’s Pet blog, commented on my post for the first book about how the attention to detail contributes to the twist in the plot. And I agree to a certain extent. But I don’t think the same can be said for the digressions in this book.

Yes, certain events need to be set up. Yes, we need to learn more about the histories and background of familiar creatures because they are being remade into something different from what they were. But the digressions feel disjointed for me. Mostly because we are presented with pressing dangers, our characters are rightly alarmed, and yet none of them are acting like there is an emergency. They’re all so relaxed. That is, until the last third of the book, when the action finally picks up–and the exposition no longer feels like digressions, and flow organically from what is happening in the present.

I’m on the fence about this book. Unlike the first book that’s teeming with potential, Book 2 feels like a retread on a formula that was already problematic the first time. Which is a shame. Because, more than a year later, the first Janus Silang book is still the best local young adult novel I’ve read. And I was really looking forward to this one being better than the first book because we need less set-up than before. And yet…

And yet I will still pick up the third book when it comes out. Because I have to admit that I have higher expectations for Janus Silang than I do for other local published works. Because there is potential here. Because, although I am not completely in love with the second book, I can still say with confidence that this is better and more original than a lot of imported young adult series that I’ve been reading. And because I look up to the author in real life, and I believe he can churn out something better than this.

So I continue to look forward to the next book. And I’m crossing my fingers that the next book will, indeed, be better than the first two books in the Janus Silang series.

Book: High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)

"High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)"

The unceasing rain muffles the screams of the victims being pulled down, down into the murky flood waterse.

In the places too high to be reached by teh flood, the party continues for the priviledged, who indulge in a new designer drug which grants them the supernatural abilities of enkanto and aswang.

These are the murders and mysteries Alexandra Trese needs to solve as the tide continues to rise at the stroke of midnight.

I subscribe to the belief that rain washes away the past and affords us new beginnings. And what better way to start a new beginning here at the blog than with a book that revolves around rainfall–and the things that come with it? Trese‘s sixth installment: High Tide at Midnight.

In this collection, the Trese siblings and their allies face off against the growing threat of evolved monsters–and paves the way for an actual big bad that sets out to make the world of Trese more complicated. And engrossing.

Now, I am not blind to the dissatisfaction some readers are feeling from the recent releases of Trese. Some readers feel like the novelty has worn off, and that the stories are too fast-paced. Rushed, even. Personally, I like the no-time-to-breathe storytelling that Trese employs. But I do see why there might be unrest with other readers.

Because as fast-paced as Trese is, there is still that unshakable feeling of statis. That no matter how dire things become, the status quo will remain the same. One, because the main characters are too invincible. And two, because you do not actually care about said main characters. Especially the titular one.

Alexandra Trese can die and you’ll only feel sad because it means Trese is probably done as a series.

Trese stories are fun because of how writer Budjette Tan and artist KaJO Baldisimo bring to life old mythological creatures in our modern world. But if the novelty is no longer enough for a reader, then I think the series has nothing else to offer.

Yes, I really mean that.

Trese, six installments in, is about the adventure and the action. It is not about the characters. If it were, our heroine Alexandra Trese wouldn’t be as one-note as she is. There would be more peripheral characters whose lives would actually be changed by the supernatural goings-on. And you will actually fear for the lives of said characters. Because we do not have these, any development that happens will be plot-related, and everything continues to feel… unmoving. Static. But fun. And thrilling. And still.

The sixth book is no exception. I love the introduction of the new one-note characters: the gruff guardian, the chaotic-good husband-and-wife team, the metal smith, and even Manang Muning. It all feels exciting. Especially when they fight with the flurry of sea monsters who want to take over the mortal world. But at the end of the book, there was no lesson to be learned. There was no emotion to be felt. Just exhilaration. And the desire to see what happens next, not because I cared, but because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. How will the creators end the story? How else are they going to twist the world of Filipino mythology?

But I could care less if Trese 7 completely revolves around Maliksi and the Kambal. Or Hank defending the Diabolical while the Trese siblings take care of the action off-frame. I will still feel the adrenaline regardless of who is in the pages. The Trese siblings don’t make the Trese books. The modernized mythologies do. And while I continue to love it, I know and accept that I will also lose my interest in the series eventually.

Yes, I worry that if the creators don’t push the story beyond the plot twists and the big bad, then there will come a time when I will stop feeling excited for the new releases. And like with some of my friends, Trese will become just one of the comics I used to read.

Book: The Blood of Olympus

"The Blood of Olympus"

Nico had warned them. Going through the House of Hades would stir the demigods’ worst memories. Their ghosts would become restless. Nico may actually become a ghost if he has to shadow-travel with Reyna and Coach Hedge one more time. But that might be better than the alternative: allowing someone else to die, as Hades foretold.

Jason’s ghost is his mother, who abandoned him when he was little. He may not know how he is going to prove himself as a leader, but he does know that he will not break promises like she did. He will complete his line of the prophecy: To storm or fire the world must fall.

Reyna fears the ghosts of her ancestors, who radiate anger. But she can’t allow them to distract her from getting the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood before war breaks out between the Romans and Greeks. Will she have enough strength to succeed, especially with a deadly hunter on her trail?

Leo fears that his plan won’t work, that his friends might interfere. But there is no other way. All of them know that one of the Seven has to die in order to defeat Gaea, the Earth Mother.

Piper must learn to give herself over to fear. Only then will she be able to do her part at the end: utter a single word.

Heroes, gods, and monsters all have a role to play in the climactic fulfillment of the prophecy in The Blood of Olympus, the electrifying finale of the best-selling Heroes of Olympus series.

I had no expectations coming in to this last book off the Heroes of Olympus series. Mostly because I didn’t like the book that preceded it. House of Hades felt cluttered and all over the place. And honestly? I feared the same would happen in the last book with so many loose ends needed to be tied up still.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Rick Riordan manages to give proper spotlight to all the characters without short-changing anyone. Yes, I would have preferred more time for Percy, Annabeth, and especially Grover, but that’s mostly because I came into Heroes of Olympus wanting to catch up with their characters. I’ve grown accustomed to Jason and the new host of characters, and I actually do like some of the new ones as much as I do the old ones. So much so that I wouldn’t mind if author Riordan releases another series featuring the whole gang. Or maybe just a one-off.

Going back to The Blood of Olympus, what I liked most about it was the palpable tension you feel as events unravel. It’s pretty much common knowledge by now that Riordan prefers his chapters to be brimming with action, to the point that a scene of introspection surprises when it pops up. But this last book has a good balance of the action and the introspection, and I feel like Riordan has realized that his readership is growing up. Which is a good thing, because while an action-packed book is thrilling when you read it, it’s character development that keeps you going back. It’s character growth that makes you want to stay with a series.

I mean, look at Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin. The action is repetitive, as a book about the zombie apocalypse is wont to be, but because our characters are growing every chapter, every book, you want to keep moving forward with them. You want to stick with them. And whenever something bad happens, you hope that they survive whatever it is they have to go through. And then there’s James Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series. Everything is new, but the characters feel like retreads. They don’t grow, they just flow with the plot. And suddenly you’re justifying to yourself why you have to finish the book. And you shouldn’t have to justify when you’re immersed. When you’re involved.

And that’s what Riordan has done in the final book off the Heroes of Olympus series. He makes the readers involved. There is something at stake, and as the characters reach the end of the prophecy they’ve received, you can see them growing up to become better people–you see them making decisions that you know doesn’t come from the author’s desire to make a book action-packed. The decisions come from characters whose previous adventures have molded them to become who they are in the final pages.

That’s what’s makes a book series satisfying. The realization that you have gone somewhere, that you have learned something, and that you did not waste your time.

Rick Riordan, although I still do not like House of Hades, I thank you for not wasting my time.

Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon

"Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon"

Sa tournament ng TALA Online sa bayan ng Balanga, namatay ang lahat ng manlalaro maliban kay Janus.

Sunud-sunod pa ang naging kaso ng pagkamatay ng mga kabataan sa computer shops sa iba’t ibang panig ng bansa. Kinontak si Janus ng nagpakilalang Joey, isa rin umano sa mga nakaligtas sa paglalaro ng TALA na gaya niya. Hindi inasahan ni Janus ang mga matutuklasan niya mula rito na mag-uugnay sa kaniya sa misteryo ng kinahuhumalingan niyang RPG–at sa alamat ng Tiyanak mula sa Tabon!

For my non-Filipino readers, the synopsis is as follows: during a tournament for an online role-playing game, all the participants mysteriously died–save for Janus. Similar cases continues to pop up throughout the country. Janus was then contacted by someone named Joey, who claims that he survived the tournament like Janus did. But what Janus discovers about the online game is something he never expected–that he is linked to it–and to the legend of the Demon of Tabon.

It’s an interesting premise, and is the most promising Filipino Young Adult book I’ve read so far. It has an interesting take on local folklore, it’s easy to read, and it’s very engaging… But it takes so long for readers to finally get to that interesting part. Half the book, actually.

My main problem with Janus Silang is that it takes so long to set everything up, there’s barely any pages left for things to actually happen. Halfway through the book, I started wondering if there was any point to the anecdotes and digressions. And there is. But they come off as distractions more than anything else. Probably because the first few chapters details every single thing in Janus’s life. From the interesting to the mundane. So much so that by the time we actually get to the anecdotes that will pay off? We’re tired of them.

And there’s also the synopsis itself. It sets things up very nicely with Janus surviving an event. And then it talks about a fellow survivor. And then it delivers the punchline of Janus’s connection to the game that killed gamers. When you read the book, the first line happens immediately. The second happens midway. By the time the third line rolls about, you’re already two-thirds into the book. And it’s not a very long book to begin with. So what you get is a very bottom-heavy book that’s doesn’t present a very interesting top.

Obviously, you can’t take the book back from readers now, but there is one simple solution to the whole non-interesting top concern– Have Janus discover the fellow survivor by the second chapter. The way he deals with is feels rushed anyway, so why not put it at the very beginning, so he can deal with it as he deals with his world being torn asunder? Why not use the fact that his world is being torn asunder to become the catalyst for him to actually meet with his fellow survivor?

But, as I said, it’s too late to take the book back now. The book is still interesting anyway. I just hope readers didn’t give up before they got to said interesting part first.

All that said though, I am looking forward to what happens next. Hopefully, the second book wouldn’t need as long a set-up as this first book did.

Now, if you don’t agree with my assessment of the novel, here are a few other thoughts on the book from other book bloggers:
Brewed Thoughts
Teacher’s Pet
Some Thoughts

Book: Tabi Po

"Tabi Po"

Isang lalake ang bigla na lamang nagising sa loob ng isang puno sa gitna ng kagubatan na walang alaala kung sino siya at saan siya nagmula. Ang tanging alaala lang niya ay isang imahe ng babae na nakikita niya sa kaniyang panaginip, at ang tanging nararamdaman niya ay isang matinding gutom na mabilis na namumuo sa kaniyang walang pusod na sikmura. Isang gutom na mapapawi lamang ng laman…at dugo.

To translate, the synopsis says “A man wakes up inside a tree in the middle of a jungle, with no marry of who he is or where he comes from. The only thing he remembers is the image of a woman he dreamed of; and the only thing he feels is an insatiable hunger forming in his bellybutton-less gut. A hunger than can only be appeased by flesh…and blood.

It’s Good Friday in this part of the world, but I’m going to be a deviant and write about a graphic novel that’s not exactly Lenten friendly. No, I’m not trying to make a statement. It’s just that, out of my loot from this year’s Summer Komikon, this is the one I wanted to write about first.

Obviously, because it’s good. It’s so good.

Most of the time, when I write about comics, I write more about the story than the art. That can’t be the case for this book though. That’s because the art tells just as much of the story as the text does.

A few days ago, I wrote about how text necessitates history and time to let readers familiarize themselves with characters. That’s not the case with comic book stories because it’s as much a visual medium as it is a text-based one. A good artist would take the writer’s words and build a world through them. An exemplary artist would take it a step further, developing a universe with those words. That is, of course, if there’s harmony between the two minds. So imagine what happens when the writer and the artist is one and the same?

Tabi Po is an exceptional work of art that also happens to tell a story. But it can also be the other way around: it’s a masterful telling of a mythological creature’s origins that also happens to be a magnum opus.  It cannot be one or the other though, because when the dialogue stops, the art continues the story. Not that any of the dialogue are superfluous. The lines delivered underlines the story that the art is trying to tell.

Am I starting to sound like a douche? Apologies. That’s how much I am affected by this book. It is stellar, it is groundbreaking… well, maybe not groundbreaking… But it is awesome.

And I implore you to pick up a copy. You will not regret reading Tabi Po.

If you’re too cheap to buy the printed copy though, check the story out online.

Book: Animen 5-6

"Animen 6"

In the first four issues of Animen, we meet four of six plane crash survivors who suddenly gain superpowers–based on animals that they see just before they lost consciousness during the crash.

They find out that the lightning that caused their plane to crash, was also the source of their new-found powers. And that supernatural beings want to take the pieces of lightning embedded on their bodies to rid the world of humans.

Yes, it’s not the most original of plots–but at least it has one. And you can pretty much tell where the story is going.

Oh, wait. Were you looking for a synopsis? Well, I can’t really include the actual synopsis as it pretty much spoils whatever happens in the previous issues; so you’ll have to make do with the gist. Which is what I already gave. So let’s get one with it–

Whatever goodwill I had for the series is quickly dissipating. Not because the quality went down, it’s the same. It’s just that… I can’t believe I was taken in for a ride. I actually thought Animen was on to something okay, if not good. But as we get to know the characters better, I find myself not caring less and less about them. And, to be honest, I also find them a little grating.

On a good note, all the characters have distinct personalities. Unfortunately, you can’t relate to any one of them. One owns a chopper, one owns a yacht. Both of them don’t seem to have any family or work. And our one anchor to the crazy world that writer Ron Mendoza is relegated to the sidelines, while he tries to make a romantic move after killing– Oh, wait. Spoilers.

So, yeah. The characters of Animen, now that we know them, are shallow, self-absorbed, and kind of selfish. They don’t have redeeming qualities, and the only thing that’s keeping me from rooting against them is the fact that the villains are… well… more evil.

But I plan to stick with the series. It’s just a few issues now, anyway. Let’s see where the writer takes the plot. And I will read them without expectations. Or, at the very least, with less expectations than I had for the first six issues. Let’s just hope that whatever happens in the last issues would actually make sense.