2011 Book Report

I still have a few reviews (two, actually) to write, but I was out yesterday partying with my friends so naturally, I didn’t have any time to write. But now that we’re less than 8 hours to 2012, I have time to give a recap for 2011.

Total books read: 125
Total pages read:
33,647*
Total print books: 70
Total ebooks:
54
Total audiobooks: 1
Total rereads: 4
* Includes 564 pages from The Message Bible and 218 pages from Come Be My Light

Written by male authors: 38*
Written by female authors: 91*
* Books written by a male and a female author count twice

Reviews written: 121

Ratings:
5 stars – 25
4 stars – 53
3 stars – 35
2 stars – 8
1 star – 2
Did not Finish – 2

2011 Challenges Status:
20 out of 20 books for TwentyEleven Challenge
5 out of 5 classic books read
15 out of 20 Filipino Books
30 Required Reading Books

Well, this was a pretty good reading year, if I may say so myself. I’ve read and discovered a lot of fantastic books this year, and I think I managed to read more from my TBR pile even if I still keep on adding to it. It’s kind of a good thing I didn’t really receive gift certificates for books as much as I got old navy coupons (or wait, I really didn’t get that, either), because I might’ve bought more than I did. :P Plus, I read five classics! Granted, they’re not all long ones, but still, I finally got to five! :)

This year was also a bigger year for my blogging. I got to join Armchair BEA, met new bloggers online and interacted with people more. There were also other bookish things I attended here — like Goodreads and FBB meet-ups, the Filipino Reader Conference and book launches. I also started writing for another online magazine about book-related things, which is always a good thing. I would definitely do more of these things next year. :)

So yeah, 2011 was all sorts of awesome for reading (and blogging). Next year should be more interesting, especially when I finally pin down what challenges I’m going to join. :)

Now I probably won’t be able to blog again later, so let me take the chance to greet all you lovely readers and visitors a HAPPY HAPPY NEW YEAR! May 2012 be more awesome for you and may you read more good books in the coming year. :) Cheers!

Alternative Alamat

Alternative Alamat

Alternative Alamat by Various Authors, edited by Paolo Chikiamco
Publisher: Rocket Kapre and Flipside
Number of pages:  174
My copy: ebook review copy from the editor

Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides… yet too few of these tales are known and read today. “Alternative Alamat” gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us–and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse, and develop a hunger, for those venerable tales.

* * *

When I was a kid, I had fond memories of reading about different Filipino legends for school. These legends were really made to teach a lesson to us kids to be nice, respectful and hardworking, really, and not just tall tales for bedtime stories. Most notable was the legend of the pineapple, which tells of a girl who felt lazy to look for what her mother was asking her to find and her exasperated mom wishes for her to have many eyes so she can find it and poof, she turns into a pineapple. I cannot remember, though, of a story talking about other Filipino legends, myths and epics other than the usual kiddie stories, save for Maria Makiling (the fairy that lives in Mount Makiling, one of the well-known mountains in the Philippines) and the Biag ni Lam-Ang (The Life of Lam-Ang), which I had to know because my mom is from Ilocos. So I was one of the people who knew almost nothing about Philippine Mythology that jumped at the idea of reading Alternative Alamat, a collection of stories from Filipino writers edited by Paolo Chikiamco (writer of High Society). Since I vowed to read and review more local fiction ever since I started this blog, I know I can’t miss this one.

The thing I like about anthologies is that it doesn’t require as much commitment as a full length novel does. You can read one story, stop and go back to the collection after some time without feeling lost. But the thing is, I never really wanted to stop reading Alternative Alamat because I keep getting surprised by the stories it contained. There were times when I thought that I wouldn’t like the story I was reading after a few paragraphs, and then I end up really liking it in the end because of some kind of twist. I think there’s something for everyone in each story in this collection. Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St. (Eliza Victoria) reminded me of those stories I read in our literary folio in college, with its YA-ish, magic realism charm. Harinuo’s Love Song (Rochita Leonen-Ruiz) and Keeper of My Sky (Timothy James Dimacali) with their lyrical prose, were haunting and sad tales of a love that shouldn’t have been and couldn’t be. There were stories that gave different perspectives on some of the Filipino goddesses all bearing the same first name Maria but all with different personalities: Conquering Makiling (Monique Francisco) for Maria Makiling, Beneath the Acacia (Celestine Trinidad) for Maria Sinukuan, and The Sorceress Queen (Raissa Rivera Falgui) for Maria Malindig. There were stories from legends that seemed like a stranger at first but then turns into something more familiar: Offerings to Aman Sinaya (Andre Tupaz) deals with how we have turned from the old fishing ways to the newer ones that destroy the oceans; Balat, Buwan, Ngalan (David Hontiveros) seemed like meta fiction of sorts since it mentions a book of local legends that was published and launched. Then there were the fun things, like alternate histories, that picks on the two times that the Filipinos fought back from the Spanish conquerors: The Alipin’s Tale (Raymond G. Falgui) and A Door Opens: The Beginning of the Fall of the Ispancialo-in-Hinirang (Dean Alfar). And if you have ever read any of the Trese comics, then you’re in for a treat here because The Last Full Show (Budjette Tan) is a story that shows a side of Alexandra Trese not shown in the comics. It’s hard to pick favorites among the stories because they each had something different to like about it — the writing, the treatment of the myth, the characters, the twists. There are also illustrations in the book too (done by cover artist, Mervin Malonzo), that are also based on Philippine myths and perfectly complements the content. It’s really a treasure trove of the things that make the Filipino culture so rich and colorful, and I’m pretty sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Alternative Alamat also contains a few appendices about notable Filipino deities, interviews with experts on the field, tips on researching Philippine myths and a glossary of terms. While it may seem that these things were included in the book for foreign readers, I think it’s also for Filipinos like me who know almost nothing about Philippine mythology. I think this makes Alternative Alamat more accessible to readers, regardless if you’re a Filipino or you’ve lived in the country for a while or you’re just a curious reader who’s interested in the title even if you have no idea where in the world the Philippines is.

Is there anything I don’t like about this? Well, I just wish that it was a little bit longer. I truly felt sad when I read that the anthology was closing with Dean Alfar’s story. But having this book out in the wild now doesn’t mean it has to stop there, right? After all, there is always an option for a second volume. ;) And also, a print version would be nice. So I can gift this to friends who refuse to get an e-reader. :D But other than that, there’s nothing else I would nitpick on. I think all the things I wrote up there sufficiently says how much I loved Alternative Alamat. I’ve never felt more prouder to be a Filipino when I was reading this. Somehow, I felt that this book and the stories in this collection were mine — mine because I am a Filipino and the stories found inside is a part of my heritage. :)

So if you’re one of the people who received an e-reader for Christmas, or you’ve had one for a while and you’re looking for something really new to read for the new year, then imagine me pushing, no, shoving this ebook to you. If you’re going to get one new ebook before this year ends or if you’re going to buy a new one as the 2012 comes in, make it Alternative Alamat. You won’t regret it, I promise. :)

Rating:

Book page: Alternative Alamat at Rocket Kapre
Buy a copy:
Flipreads | Amazon | iTunes

Other reviews:
The Girl Who Read
Bookish Little Me

Winter Town

Winter Town by Stephen EmondWinter Town by Stephen Emond
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  336
My copy: hardbound, ordered from Book Depository

Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent’s divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she’s changed. The former “girl next door” now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, “Old Lucy” still exists, and he’s determined to find her… even if it means pissing her off.

Garden State meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in this funny and poignant illustrated novel about opposites who fall in love.

* * *

Winter Town is one of my most anticipated reads of 2011, mostly because I loved Stephen Emond’s other novel, Happyface. It was one of my favorite contemporary novels in 2010, with drawings to boot! So I was really very excited when my copy finally arrived, and just in time for Christmas. Don’t you think the cover makes this book fitting for December?1

Evan and Lucy are childhood best friends. Evan is this straight-A, all-around good guy who has a seemingly perfect family even if his dad is pretty demanding and has too many high expectations with him. Lucy, on the other hand, is this confident girl who’s not afraid to say what she thinks and the brains behind all her and Evan’s crazy antics during their childhood. Lucy moves away one winter after her parents’ divorce, and they barely kept in touch, until Lucy tells Evan that he’s visiting. Evan’s world practically stops and he drops everything to be with Lucy, even with the risk of his dad’s wrath. But Lucy is not the same confident brown-haired girl that he’s known now. Lucy is now dressed as a Goth, is quiet, and swings from one mood to the other. Evan is confused, but he’s determined to make the Old Lucy come out, even if it means going to extreme measures. But the thing is, does New Lucy want Old Lucy back? Or maybe it’s all just Evan?

Winter Town is the kind of book that quietly creeps up on you because it’s so…normal. I mean, it is meant to be normal because it’s contemporary, but there are no too many flashy things about it save for the illustrations. There’s no love at first sight, or magic, or ya jock and an unpopular girl or a popular girl and a geek getting together. It’s just about…best friends. Who secretly pine for each other. But first they had to deal with the changes and issues between them that they do not want to deal with first in fear of rocking the boat. This story set in winter time in a New England town was just so shockingly normal that it feels like it’s a breath of fresh air.

If you’d allow me to digress a bit. In my Catholic community, I often heard people share about their life, and how God changed it. More often than not, the sharing usually comes from people whose life was in total disarray until they find God and then things start to get better because they get a different perspective. The people with more or less normal lives, the ones who do not come from as dark of a past as the others, often listen rather than share, because let’s face it: people who had to go through bigger things often have a bigger lesson to share compared to those whose lives are normal and okay. Reading Winter Town and getting to know the two main characters reminded me of that. The book is told in two perspectives, which I was pleasantly surprised to find out later in the book. On the normal side, there’s Evan — and when I say normal, I mean absolutely normal. Save for the fact that his dad gives him a bit too much pressure in school, and despite his grades, he has no idea where to go or what to do or what he wants to be in the future. He’s perfectly okay going with the flow because it’s easier than swimming against the current. And oh, how I related to Evan so much because I pretty much had the same life. Not that I’m complaining now, because I sort of know better now that I’m older, but my dear Evan, I know how it feels to be so lost in the normalcy. Lucy, on the other hand, is on the other side of the spectrum, at least when she shows up a year after she left. It’s been a bad year for Lucy and all she wants is to forget, but she makes a mistake of relying too much on the stability of her best friend so her own world would be stable. I couldn’t relate to Lucy but I wanted to hug her and tell her it will be better because she just seemed so sad. And when her problems were finally revealed, it really made me feel sorry for her, not because it was particularly earth shattering, but it’s just something that anyone should experience, especially with how I’ve gotten to know her with how Evan described Lucy. The differences of these two main characters make Winter Town easy to relate to, because I’m pretty sure we are all Evans and Lucys at some point in our lives (and maybe until now).

Like I said, the story was pretty normal but that doesn’t mean it’s too ordinary not to warrant enough attention. I liked how the author tackled some questions about being up front with your past and dealing with your problems rather than running away from them, finding out what you really want and going after them even if it means not doing what other people expects of you and of course, friendship and romance and the thin line between that. It’s about time someone deals with that, and I think Stephen Emond manages to do that quite realistically.

Winter Town chapter spread

But the real highlight of Winter Town is really the illustrations. I wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who made me a fan of his work with just one book (and someone who generously drew me a picture of myself with a sunflower and books — look up at the banner!). I had to admit, I was expecting the book to be a little like Happyface, you know, sort of like a scrapbook/journal type of thing, so I was kind of surprised to see that it’s a prose with illustrations on the side. Which isn’t bad, of course. The illustrations were amazing, as expected, and they were a good complement to the text, especially because there were some times when I felt a little bit disengaged with the story. I guess I was kind of expecting an atmospheric read, something that would make me really feel winter as I read it2, but sometimes it didn’t really feel that way. There were times when I felt a little bit disconnected with the text, like I wish there would be a bit more description of the things happening and the places and the events, but then the illustrations would pull me back into the story. It makes me wonder now how the reading experience with the book be if the illustrations were removed. While I think the story will still be able to stand on its own, I bet it wouldn’t be as entertaining. Then again, removing the illustrations is pointless because Winter Town was made to be with illustrations. So…maybe I should stop nitpicking and just need to read more novels with pictures.

Comics in between the chapters

But enough blather. Overall, I liked Winter Town. While I wasn’t really as enamored with this as I was with Happyface, I still think Winter Town was still a very good read. It kind of breaks the mold of contemporary YA by…not really breaking it, if you get what I mean. I think that everyone will be able to find something to relate to in this book, whether you’re an Evan or a Lucy. The lessons of the story were pretty solid, and I really liked the ending: sweet, hopeful and open ended — just the way I like it. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Forever Young Adult
Midnight Bloom Reads


  1. Of course, I forgot the book in the office during Christmas weekend, so I didn’t finish this until after Christmas. []
  2. Especially since it never snows here! []

Interview: Camy Tang, author of Protection for Hire

I thought I’d end the year (or sort of), with an interview with one of my favorite Christian chick lit authors, Camy Tang. I read and loved her latest release, Protection for Hire, and I realized that while I had an interview with her in my old blog for the release of Deadly Intent, I never had the chance to interview her here. So, without further ado, here’s Camy to talk about her latest novel.

——

What was your main inspiration in writing Protection for Hire?

I love Stephanie Plum and The Joy Luck Club, and so I wanted to write a book with all the humor of both and with the action/suspense of the Stephanie Plum series.

I also love strong, capable heroines like from the TV shows Alias, Nikita, Covert Affairs, and the movies Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. I wanted to write about a strong woman with a heart for God, so I came up with my character, Tessa.

I wanted to give Tessa a reason to keep being involved in different crimes (so that I could have more books with her as the heroine) and the idea came to me that if Tessa had a shady past before coming to Christ, that past would provide good spiritual conflict as well as causing external problems in her life. I am a fan of The Sopranos — I don’t care much for the violence, but I liked the more humorous parts of the series, especially those involving the family fiascos. I thought it would be fun if Tessa belonged to the Japanese mafia, and I created a Japanese version of The Sopranos, which makes it both exciting and funny, mirroring the feel of the Stephanie Plum series.

For her hero, I thought up the most unlikely pairing–a straight-laced lawyer from Louisiana–and as I wrote, I let the sparks fly!

Protection for Hire by Camy TangWhat makes Protection for Hire so different from your other works? Was it any difficult writing it?

Protection for Hire is a slight deviation from my other books (but only slight, I promise). The
Sushi series is humorous contemporary romance, so it’s light and fluffy. My Sonoma series is romantic suspense, so it has a lot of tension and danger.

Protection for Hire is a nice mix between the two. It has the humor and family drama of the Sushi series but a bit of romance and suspense like in my Sonoma series. It’s a lot like the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, but for Christian fiction readers.

Tessa is a part of the Japanese yakuza in this Protection for Hire. I don’t think you’re a part of a yakuza (am I right…? LOL.) so I’m curious, how did you do your research for this novel?

There actually isn’t a lot about the Japanese mafia in San Francisco so I had to do a lot of research about the Japanese mafia in Japan, and then I also based the yakuza in my book off of research on other Asian mafia in the United States.

However, since this is a humorous novel, I also had the yakuza in my book not take themselves too seriously sometimes, and they have the same kinds of family problems as anyone else. I think readers will relate to my character even if they never have mafia family members. :)

Do you think Tessa would be friends with your other heroines too? Why or why not?

I like to think she’d be friends with them! I try to write heroines who are strong and flawed, and I think Tessa would definitely relate to the Sushi girls. She’s also probably relate to their numerous family issues.

If Protection for Hire would be made into a movie, who would you want to play the main characters?

I modeled Tessa to look a bit like Jessica Alba, since I loved how she was so vulnerable and yet so strong in the TV series Dark Angel. I picture Charles as looking like Bradley Cooper, but with a syrupy Southern drawl.

2012 is just around the corner. Do you think Tessa and Charles would make New Year’s resolutions? If yes, what do you think they’d resolve to do next year?

Tessa, being optimistic, would resolve to not argue with her sister and she’d break it within three hours. But she’d still try for the rest of the year just because she can’t stand when she tries to do something and fails in doing it.

Charles would resolve to do something boring like succeed in some milestone at work, but he’d be distracted by the antics of his mama and his younger brother. He’d probably meet his milestone, but not as efficiently or as quickly as he thinks he would.

What’s in store for Tessa in the next Protection for Hire book? How many books are you planning to write in this series?

The next installment in the Protection for Hire series is A Dangerous Stage which releases in late 2012. In this book, Tessa is hired to protect a rather hunky contestant on the television show Grab the Mic (a singing competition similar to American Idol, The Voice, and The X-Factor) whose life is in danger when his young daughter discovers that the show might be rigged. I’ve had to watch tons of episodes of American Idol for research, don’t you know. ;) There will also hopefully be a third book in the series releasing in 2013!

—-

Thanks, Camy! :) If you’re not yet convinced to add this book to your TBR, then you can read my review here (and also my reviews for Camy’s other books). Protection for Hire (as well as her other books) is already out under Zondervan, and for my Filipino friends, the book is available in Book Depository, Amazon Kindle Store and B&N Nook Store.

Protection for Hire

Protection for Hire by Camy TangProtection for Hire by Camy Tang
Protection for Hire # 1
Publisher: Zondervan
Number of pages: 336
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Tessa Lancaster’s skills first earned her a position as an enforcer in her Uncle Teruo’s Japanese Mafia gang. Then they landed her in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Now, three months after her release, Tessa’s abilities have gained her a job as bodyguard for wealthy socialite Elizabeth St. Amant and her three-year-old son.But there’s a problem or two … or three …. There’s Elizabeth’s abusive husband whose relentless pursuit goes deeper than mere vengeance. There’s Uncle Teruo, who doesn’t understand why Tessa’s new faith as a Christian prevents her from returning to the yakuza. And then there’s Elizabeth’s lawyer, Charles Britton, who Tessa doesn’t know is the one who ensured that she did maximum time behind bars. Now Tessa and Charles must work together in order to protect their client, while new truths emerge and circumstances spiral to a deadly fever pitch. Factor in both Tessa’s and Charles’s families and you’ve got some wild dynamics—and an action-packed, romantic read as Tessa and Charles discover the reality of being made new in Christ.

* * *

What do you get when you cross the niece of the head of the Japanese mafia with a Southern belle in need of protection and a straight-edge lawyer who hates the said mafia? Tessa Lancaster is the niece of Teruo Ota, the head of the San Francisco yakuza. Left by her dad when she was young and living with a difficult relationship with her mom and sister, she becomes some sort of mercenary to her uncle’s mafia, working as an enforcer for her mafia cousins. She was doing fine just like that until she decided to take the fall for her cousin Fred’s careless murder of his girlfriend, landing her in prison. Seven years later, Tessa is out, and she’s turning over a new leaf, after meeting Christ in prison. But her reputation precedes her that everyone’s still afraid of her, making it hard for her to live a normal life. Until she meets Elizabeth St. Amant with her three-year-old son on the run from her husband who’s trying to kill her. Elizabeth hires Tessa to be her bodyguard, which would be a fine job if not for Elizabeth’s lawyer, Charles Britton. Unbeknownst to Tessa, Charles was the reason why Tessa served extra years in prison, and Charles does not trust her…but he can’t deny the attraction that he feels for her. Throw in Tessa’s Uncle wanting her to work for him again, her mom, her sister and her new found faith, and…well, God only knows what could happen.

I’m not just saying this because Camy is one of my favorite authors, but really, Protection for Hire was such a fun book. This book is reminiscent of her Sushi series with all the wackiness and hijinks that the characters get into. But because Tessa had such a shady past and a heavy responsibility on her shoulders, there were more risks involved for her. She’s not one who’s worried about things such as zafus or make-up, but life and death situations. Tessa reminds me a bit of Venus, my favorite Sushi sister, but a bit more vulnerable especially since she’s been trying to live her faith. Her vulnerability is what made Tessa so endearing, and I rooted for her from the start up to the end.

The other characters surrounding Tessa were a hoot, too. Camy’s characters are one of my favorite things to read in her novels. They always feel so real, and I felt like I could easily be friends with them. In Protection for Hire, I loved Charles’ family, especially his mom and his brother! Such a darling family, and I don’t care if Charles’ mom cooks all the random food. Plus, she was a breath of fresh air from Tessa’s annoying (yet, well meaning…most of the time, anyway) mother. As always, there’s the heroine’s crazy family, which seemed to be a staple in Camy’s stories. I thought Tessa’s immediate family would be similar to the Sushi sisters’ clans, but I was glad that it turned out to be different, and dare I say, more entertaining to read. The Japanese mafia aspect was very interesting too. It was the first time I’ve read about the yakuza, and while it wasn’t really discussed in detail here, I liked the overall mafia/The Godfather-like feel that the story had.

Now, I wouldn’t have liked this so much if the plot wasn’t as good as the characters. There’s lots of action, funny moments and yes, romance, in Protection for Hire, enough to keep me glued to the pages. There were moments of shock, too — the good kind, the one that made me sigh and smile with delight when it happened. :) There was enough suspense in the story to have me guessing about what exactly were they up against. It almost came to a point where I was a bit overwhelmed with all the plot twists but in the end, I think it still paid off well. The wrap up at the end felt just a teensy bit rushed for me, but I guess it was still in character given Tessa’s family.

Protection for Hire is a fun, action-packed and romantic book that will definitely satisfy those who crave for that kind of stuff. If you’re wary of the faith aspect of the novel (being that it is a Christian novel), don’t worry — it’s never preachy or in-your-face. If you’ve ever been one who has tried to move on and make up from past mistakes and yet still find yourself under a microscope and slapped with your mistakes on the face over and over again, then you will be able to relate to Tessa. Throw in the a cast of hilarious, gripping plot and good writing, and…well, you have yourself a really awesome book. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
USA Today
TitleTrakk
Librarian Laura’s Book Reviews