As usual, I’m doing mini-reviews to catch up with my review backlog! Some Filipino books up for this Minis post. :)
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Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan
Publisher: UP Press
Number of Pages: 155 pages
My copy: paperback, won from a giveaway
Smaller and Smaller Circles is unique in the Philippine literary scene – a Pinoy detective novel, both fast-paced and intelligent, with a Jesuit priest who also happens to be a forensic anthropologist as the sleuth. When it won the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel in 1999, it proved that fiction can be both popular and literary.
I had only one Literature class for college, which made me just a little bit sad because it was one of my favorite ones, and I could use a bit more lit reading in my academic life. Anyway, we were assigned novels to read in that class, and I was really, really hoping that our group would get Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH Batacan because I loved the premise: a Pinoy detective novel? Serial killers? “The first of its kind” (at least, back in that time years ago)? I want it.
Anyway, our group didn’t get it, and I ended up borrowing my roommate’s copy, but not before I got spoiled with the ending because of the group who reported on the novel. But even so, I enjoyed reading it and was kind of glad that I had a chance to read it again for our book club’s discussion last May.
Did I like it on my second read, years after I read it the first time? Yes, I still did. I am a fan of crime procedural shows, so reading something similar gives me the same thrill of watching. The book reminded me of that tiny, tiny dream of being a forensic specialist that I sometimes get, if only I don’t get so queasy over blood. Smaller and Smaller Circles is still as engaging as when I first read it, and I still felt the thrill over the chase and the satisfaction on the ending. Granted, it wasn’t perfect and some of it weren’t that believable, but I still enjoyed reading it the second time around.
What’s In Your Heart by Ines Bautista-Yao
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages: 196 pages
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore
Nineteen-year-old Natividad-named after her deceased grandaunt, a fact she thoroughly resents-is nit going to win an award for Best in Goal Setting any time soon. She doesn’t even know what her real goals are, aside fro simultaneously pining for and getting over smart, hot, talented, charming Gabe, whose glassy perfection both dazzles and depresses her. Then the universe deals her a wake-up call in three sure steps:
1.) She starts an internship at a preschool, where the kids are chaotic but cute;
2.) She finds an intriguing, potentially life-changing stash of letters addressed to her grandmother from her namesake grandaunt; and
3.) She falls into a weird friendship with Luis, the boy with an infectious smile who seems determined to rescue her from Gabe-and from herself.
Will this wake-up call finally push her life forward or is Natividad, much like her old-fashioned name, doomed to forever live in the past?
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I wasn’t completely sold on the author’s first book, so I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to read this one. Curiosity won out, though, especially with this interesting cover. In a nutshell, What’s In Your Heart is about 19-year old Nat who is reeling from a break-up and had no clear direction in her life. Then three things happen: she starts an internship in a pre-school, finds a bunch of letters from the grand-aunt she was named after to her grandmother, and starts a friendship with good-boy Luis who kept on saving her, it seemed like maybe, Nat isn’t that lost after all.
Honest moment: Nat drove me nuts at the first part of the book. She’s so weepy and whiny and mopey that I didn’t feel like I wanted to read more about her. I couldn’t find anything too redeeming about her until she finally picked herself up, and I found myself slowly cheering for her. I liked the pre-school aspect, and Luis, and that tiny twist with him before things fell into place for her. The letters thing was a creative touch, except in the end, it felt a little too teleserye-like for me.
I really liked the last chapter, too. I think this is a more satisfying and well-rounded story than One Crazy Summer, and this is probably something I would like reading back in college when I was Nat’s age, too. :)
Sky Blue After the Rain by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo
Publisher: UP Press
Number of pages: 147 pages
My copy: paperback, borrowed from JL
This little volume brings together stories from Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo’s four collections of short fiction and her two novels, plus one new story.
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My friend JL lent this book to me because he wanted me to read one story, The Art of Understatement. But when I saw that this is a Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo collection, I decided to read it, anyway, since I really liked the author’s other collection, Catch a Falling Star.
It’s been a while since I finished reading this collection, and I am honestly struggling a little to remember what I liked about this. I liked what my friend recommended to me – The Art of Understatement left me feeling wistful, and wondering about my own writing. There were some familiar stories from Patriciang Payatot, which is the content of Catch a Falling Star. Several favorites, though, other than The Art of Understatement: The Warrior, which tells the story of two estranged friends who see each other one last time before one of them dies; The Tale of the Spinster and Peter Pan, a woman whose routine is disrupted by a young man in a rock band; The Ghost of La Casa Grande, an interesting take on a family history and how a mother tries to help her daughter get her happiness; and The Painting, a kind of story that seemed fit to be told around the campfire.
I am still quite partial towards Patriciang Payatot stories in Catch a Falling Star, but Sky Blue After the Rain is a good short story collection from Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, and is worth the read. It’s the kind you’d want to go back to every now and then to get your fix of a well-written short story with lots of Filipino flavor. :)