Book: One Crazy Summer

"One Crazy Summer"

A Recipe for Disaster?

Ingredients:
1 college junior, fired from summer internship
1 secret crush, the cute and flirty type
1 crush’s best bud, with a secret of his own

1. In a large bowl, mix together college junior and secret crush.
2. Gradually add in crush’s best bud.
3. Stir until best bud’s secret is revealed.
4. Let mixture rest in a sleepy provincial town.
5. Bake under the blazing summer sun until golden brown (be careful, batter might burn).

Tania’s summer is more than she can handle! Her cooking career comes to a screeching halt before it can even take off. Then, best friends Rob and Mateo enter the picture. Can she figure out her feelings for them, AND get the internship credits she needs to make it to senior year?

More than two years ago, I wrote about Ines Bautista Yao’s Only a Kiss; a book I called well-written–but not very engaging because the characters were too perfect. Well, I found a book of hers that was much older, and…

Tania is definitely more relatable than the characters from Yao’s other book. She’s the right mix of spunky and vulnerable, and she makes mistakes and learn from them. Secret Crush Rob and Best Friend Bobbi, who isn’t mentioned in the blurb, are also great characters–and are in clear supporting roles from the get go, which makes it weird that Rob is played up as a third party option in the synopsis. The only character I’m not feeling in this book is Best Bud Mateo, who feels like he belongs in Only A Kiss–because he’s too perfect. That is… until he’s not.

Like Only A Kiss, One Crazy Summer is technically well-written. Structure-wise, there’s a clear progression of where the plot is going and what the characters are feeling. But I found it really hard to engage with the book.

I think it’s maybe because Tania is pining over some other guy when a love story is unfolding in front of her? Or maybe it’s because there’s really no conflict in the story, especially when Tania starts to fall for Mateo? And then, suddenly, because things are already working out, we get a plot twist from Mateo. A twist that was, to be fair, already seeded in the narrative. It’s just… Felt forced. Like Yao realized she needed a last minute conflict so that the book could have a grand romantic gesture afterwards.

I didn’t like it. I felt like Yao could’ve used a different conflict to make the grand gesture necessary. Or, she could have used the love triangle the synopsis teased to give this book actual drama. Because, as it is, One Crazy Summer is just the story of a girl falling in love with a guy who she was forced to spend time with.

Writing it like that, a better conflict would be for Tania to realize that Mateo orchestrated things to make her fall in love with him. (He did not. Let’s make that clear.) Although if he had, I wouldn’t have wanted for Tania to end up with him. But that would have made a more engrossing conflict than the one we got.

Overall, is this a book I would recommend? Probably not for those who aren’t already fans of romance. But if you’re a romance reader, then maybe this book could be an exercise in improving a good material to something more grabbing.

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Book: Marceline Cinco’s High School Survival Guide

"Marceline Cinco's High School Survival Guide"

It’s been a while since I had to write my own synopsis for a book, but here goes–

Marceline Cinco’s High School Survival Guide is about the titular protagonist falling in love with the newly transferred Declan Mendoza. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. She then tells her best friend that she doesn’t have feelings for Declan, before using an alternate social media account to befriend him and stalk him. What follows is a series of events that could have been prevented had Marceline been truthful from the get go. But, of course, where’s the romance in just being honest?

As you can see from that synopsis, I am not a fan of this book. And it’s a shame. Because, honestly, I thought the idea of a young adult lost-in-translation romance is a great premise. But the writer keep choosing the lazy way of pushing the story forward. Throughout the book, you can see the author pushing plots forward instead of letting it find its way.

It doesn’t help that main character Marceline Cinco is not likeable at all. Which is a feat, considering she has all the ingredients of a relatable character. She’s not well off financially, she has family drama, she has insecurities, and she feels inferior to her best friend. But instead of rooting for her, I found myself getting annoyed at how she goes about living her life.

She takes her best friend, who helps her financially, for granted. She’s more antagonistic than her never-do-well guardian. The wit she masks her insecurities with is more mean and more calculating than the story’s supposed antagonists–forcing the writer to make the antagonists above-and-beyond cruel for the reader to root for the protagonist.

And then there’s perfect Declan Mendoza who, even at his lowest point, is a Prince Charming. It’s… irritating. One, because he doesn’t feel like a real character. And two, because you don’t want him to end up with your heroine, because you know she’s just going to muck up their relationship anyway.

But most annoying about this book is that, when you reach the midway point, the only thing barring Marceline from her happy ending is the fact that she used a fake online persona to get to know the guy she likes. Now, had there been a deep secret exchanged between her fake persona and the love interest that could ruin relationships, I can understand why the revelation would be damning. But there was nothing said between them that could break off a non-existent romance!

It was much ado about nothing.

Really, the only positive thing I can say about this book is the fact that it has a nice cover. And the premise is sound, even though it didn’t realize its full potential.

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: Where Futures End

"Where Futures End"

Five Teenagers.
Five Futures.
Two Worlds.
One Ending.

One year from now, DYLAN develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world.
Ten years from now, BRIXNEY must get more hits on her social media feed or risk being stuck in a debtor’s colony.
Thirty years from now, EPONY scrubs her online profile and goes ‘High-Concept.’
Sixty years from now, REEF struggles to survive in a city turned virtual gameboard.
And more than one hundred years from now, QUINN uncovers the alarming secret that links them.

Five people, divided by time, determine the fate of us all. These are brilliantly connected stories of one world bent on destroying itself and an alternate world that just might be its savior–unless it’s too late.

In the future, who will you choose to be? And how will you find yourself before the end?

I was excited when I first started reading Where Futures End. The first story, Dylan’s development of his ‘sixth’ sense that allows him to see and enter an alternate world, wasn’t very original–but it was very engaging. Sure, Dylan was a character that we’ve met time and again in many fantasy adventure novels, but there was something in the way author Parker Peevyhouse wrote him that makes you want to see him get his happy ending.

And then his story suddenly ends.

Brixney’s story was strange. Original, yes– But also very familiar in our social media-obsessed world. Again, we get a character worth rooting for, and a predicament you want to see unfold.

And then her story suddenly ends.

I’m starting to feel restless. What is the author’s purpose in cutting the stories off? Why aren’t they being allowed to flourish? We’re being given promising beginnings with no middle, and no end– But then, I remember: the book blurb promises a last story that would link all of these vignettes.

The third story with Epony was more self-contained. A short story that had a clear beginning, middle, and end. My need for a satisfying story was quenched–even if the story itself wasn’t as good as the first two. And then when the fourth story with Reef ends, I’m starting to feel that my enjoyment of the book was diminishing.

Still. No matter. The final story promises to link all the stories together. I tell myself that it will work out, probably, because why else would people be saying the story was good. I started to hold on to the promise of the book blurbs. Of people saying the book was good–

And then I read the final story. A story that was supposed to link all the stories together. And it does, yes. But the stories were already linked in the first place. Reef’s story was spurned on by Epony’s. Epony’s by Brixney’s. Brixney’s by Dylan’s. And yes, technically the book didn’t lie when it promised an alarming secret that links all five stories.

But it’s a horrible link. It doesn’t tie up the stories together. They remain vignettes of half-realized premises that never became whole. Except the third story. And as I turn the final page, I find myself asking if the gimmick of linking these stories with a last story was realized because the author couldn’t find a way to wrap up the individual stories. That she couldn’t push the story forward to a satisfying conclusion.

Because the book ends and I don’t get the point of it all.

Because the book ends, and the weakest story in terms of originality and characterization suddenly becomes the strongest for actually having an ending and character growth.

Because the book ends, and all I want is the chance to go back in time and stop myself from buying it. Or, at the very least, warn myself not to expect anything from it. Can I do that? Can I go back in time and stop myself from hoping that this book would give me any satisfaction?

Book: Remembrance, a Mediator Novel

"Remembrance"

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva). But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child, to ghosts of a very different kind–including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself–Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night. Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later, but what happens when ghosts from her past–including one she found nearly impossible to resist–strike first?

The Mediator series was one of the things I really enjoyed reading back in high school and college; mostly because of the heroine who wasn’t always heroic and the supernatural element that, for the most part, wasn’t very complicated.

When I found out that Meg Cabot was following up the Princess Diaries wrap-up Royal Wedding with a new Mediator book, I was ecstatic. And then I started reading the book.

I guess I should learn the lesson of managing expectations. Again.

The Mediator series, for the first four books, were very short novels aimed at Young Adults. At the time, when you say a book is intended for the teen audience, it wasn’t very long. But, I’m guessing, when Harry Potter‘s length increased alongside its popularity, and people didn’t mind; the publishers must have realized that they didn’t need to limit the number of pages of a young adult novel. A good story will have teens reading, no matter the length of a book. So when the last two Mediator books came out in 2004 and 2005, the book was no longer restricted by a small number of pages.

Both Haunted and Twilight flourished with the additional pages. Meg Cabot was able to flesh out her characters more, and made Susannah Simon’s world more immersive. Which is why, when I picked up Remembrance, I was excited to crack open the book immediately. It follows the thickness of the last two Mediator books, and the synopsis at the back promised a great adventure.

A third into the novel though, I was asking myself–Why wasn’t anything happening? In the decade that passed, has Meg Cabot lost hold of Susannah Simon’s voice? Where are her friends? Why is she so hung up on just Jesse and herself when she was able to juggle having a social life on top of school and being a mediator before?

Things started picking up when Susannah finally moved on from being self-centered to start dealing with her ghost situation. From that point on, Remembrance started to read and feel like the old Mediator novels. Which brings me to ask:

Did the Mediator novels work in the past because Meg Cabot was restricted to a certain number of pages? Were they structurally sound and well-paced because the author wasn’t allowed to ramble on and on for fear of running out of pages to tell her story?

Maybe.

But what about Haunted and Twilight? Were they flukes? Or has Meg Cabot gotten used to writing her protagonists one way? As very talkative and very self-centered? Then again, the remaining two-thirds of Remembrance is good, and very reminiscent of Mediator books past. So was the first third just an example of an editor failing to reign in the writer’s meandering thoughts?

At the end of the day, I did still enjoy the book. And I still would like to see more of Susannah Simon, her stepbrothers, and the rest of her ghost-hunting crew. But, here’s to hoping that when a next time does arrive, we won’t be subjected again to a rambling first act that actually subtracts from the protagonist’s likability.

Movie: Everything About Her

"Everything About Her"

Powerful but ill-stricken business woman, Vilma Santos navigates her complicated relationship with her caregiver, Angel Locsin and her estranged son, Xian Lim in this story about acceptance, love and forgiveness.

I wasn’t really planning on watching this film, so I didn’t have very high expectations coming in. And, to be completely fair to the film, I actually enjoyed the shenanigans as Vilma Santos tried her darnedest to be Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, and Angel Locsin served her best Andrea (Anne Hathaway’s character from the same film). They both didn’t quite meet their goals but they were, at the very least, entertaining.

Then Xian Lim entered the picture, and everything went downhill after that.

Now, again in the spirit of fairness, it wasn’t completely Xian Lim’s fault. His character was all over the place, and that blame would either go to the writer, the director, or whoever was cutting the film. At least, that’s what I was telling myself until Xian’s big dramatic scene came. And I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was that bad.

Thankfully, the laughable acting is limited to two scenes. Both with Xian, true, but he wasn’t bad throughout the movie. Just with two very important, very dramatic scenes. Although, again with the fairness, it must not have been easy to find motivation for a character who doesn’t seem to have a reason for doing anything.

Which brings me to the biggest problem Everything About Her has: it focuses more on style over substance. Giving more weight to dialogue that can be quotable quotes instead of staying true to who the characters are. And what the viewers are left with is a convoluted mess of a film whose premise became as murky as the characterization of the main characters.

You see, the film is supposedly about a very hard, very independent woman who suddenly has to rely on a nurse whose method of taking care of someone is to be as familiar with them as possible. So she could cater to their needs before they even know they need it. Along the way, they’re supposed to find in each other someone that had been missing in their lives for so long: a child for the hard woman, and a mother for the nurse.

Now, had Xian Lim’s character been relegated to a supporting role, I think the film would have been better–more whole. As it stands, the film really was very entertaining and very clear prior to his characters arrival, as I already mentioned above. But his inclusion really throws the whole film askew. It was one thing that you don’t actually understand why he comes in in the first place, but he also complicates the Vilma-Angel relationship in a bad way. Because suddenly, it has to contend with a romance angle.

And it doesn’t work. Mostly because you never believe for a second that Xian is falling in love with Angel. And then there’s the fact that the film doesn’t really allow their romance to blossom because it’s more interested with the abandonment issues the three suddenly have.

Yes, it’s sudden. Because although the film begins with Vilma and Angel being well-rounded individuals with no hang-ups, the minute Xian enters the picture, they suddenly have issues about being left behind. And Vilma’s character suffers the most from this because, for the first part of the movie, it’s implied that she’s the one who had done the unintentional abandonment! And then, with Vilma suddenly being dependent on her need to be loved by a son who is being more of a diva than the diva the film’s title is referring to, Angel suddenly develops her own abandonment issues–that could’ve introduced and explored better had the romance angle never happened at all!

To top it all off, the film boasts of an amazing cast of supporting characters who, I feel, were all wasted because they weren’t given more to do. Michael de Mesa as the only friend of Vilma’s hard-to-love character could’ve also served as a sounding board for Xian’s character whose motivations were never clear–because the actor wasn’t that strong to convey it on his own. Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino’s presence in the life of Angel Locsin’s character was so negligible, she could’ve been an orphan raising her host of siblings on her own. Which is a shame, because in the three scenes Nonie and Angel had together, you can see the promise of a wonderful father-daughter relationship that could’ve been explored more, to highlight the journey Angel’s character is supposed to take.

But, no. We have to contend with being force fed Xian Lim’s character instead. Who, had he been given a clearer motivation, could have worked as a third main character. But he wasn’t. So he ruins the film instead.

I could probably go on further about the things I didn’t like about Everything About Her, so I’ll stop now. Let me just say that if you’re going to watch for Vilma and Angel, you won’t regret the ticket price. They deliver solid performances, even amongst the confused story-telling. But if you’re watching for any other reason? Lower your standards. Like, by a lot.

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.