Minis: Outbreak, Goodbyes and a Prince

I have some books lined up for review but I thought I’d get the shorter ones out of the way with another round of mini reviews. :)

Countdown by Mira GrantCountdown by Mira Grant
Newsflesh # 0
Publisher: Orbit
Number of pages: 84
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

The year is 2014, the year everything changed. We cured cancer. We cured the common cold. We died.

This is the story of how we rose.

When will you rise?

* * *

This is actually one of the last books I read for 2011, and I got this because I’m such a loyal reader of Mira Grant and her Newsflesh universe. Countdown is the a prequel to her story and it narrates just how the Rising happened through the different perspectives involved in the story. I liked how the story wasn’t really as simple as how it seemed when Georgia talked about it in Feed. There were so many people involved, some that were already known such as the developers of the cure, and also some unknown people like the activists that caused the virus to go out. It had just enough detail without being too scientific or too political, and the growing terror of what just might happen because of the chain of events was very well conveyed. The slow unveiling of the effects of the new virus strain was horrifying at its best and you just know that it’s too late when it all comes down.

While there’s no Georgia or Shaun in this book yet, we get a glimpse of their parents and how they got involved and what happened that could have led them to adopting the two. It wasn’t really narrated as a whole, but when the book is done, it’s easier to connect the dots.

This isn’t a required reading to fully understand the series, but for fans who are itching to read the last book in the trilogy, Countdown is a good pick to satiate this hunger.

Rating:

What is Goodbye? By Nikki GrimesWhat is Goodbye? by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Raul Colon
Publisher: Hyperion
Number of pages: 64
My copy:  hardbound, gift from KD

Jerilyn and Jesse have lost their beloved older brother. But each of them deals with Jaron’s death differently. Jerilyn tries to keep it in and hold it together; Jesse acts out. But after a year of anger, pain, and guilt, they come to understand that it’s time to move on. It’s time for a new family picture-with one piece missing, yet whole again. Through the alternating voices of a brother and sister, Nikki Grimes eloquently portrays the grieving process in this gem of a book that is honest, powerful, and ultimately hopeful.

* * *

I read and loved Nikki Grimes’ A Girl Named Mister so I was very excited to get this book from Kuya Doni during one of our Goodreads meet ups. A slim volume with illustrated pages, this is a book that discusses griefs and its different effects on people struggling with it. Jerilyn and Jesse just lost their older brother — too much too soon that they are at a loss at how to deal. Jerilyn holds it all together, showing an unruffled exterior but inside she is just as broken as how Jesse acts out. Questions about life, death and family surface and we get to see how the siblings and the rest of the family dealt with this loss. It will never be the same again, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be whole.

Nikki Grimes’ poetry was easy to read and the illustrations were a good complement to the story. True to form, I found myself shedding some tears at a certain page, and I honestly cannot imagine losing my one and only brother too soon to death. While this book offers no solutions on how to handle grief and death and loss, it shows a hopeful picture that someday, it will all be okay.

Rating:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExuperyThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Publisher: Egmont
Number of pages: 96
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

A pilot forced to land in the Sahara meets a little prince. The wise and enchanting stories the prince tells of his own planet with its three volcanoes and a haughty flower are unforgettable.

* * *

I read this book sometime during high school, I think, not because of a school requirement but because people around me were quoting it and such. I remember being partly fascinated by it, but not so much to make it a favorite book. I just know that this book had a memorable line that everyone seems to know: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

I ended up reading the book again for our book club’s discussion, and seeing that it was a short book, I read it just a few days before the discussion happened. Still the same — the book had that whimsical feel, with the little prince’s innocence and stories bringing the pilot (and the readers) to wonder if this little prince was the real thing. The book didn’t bring any new emotions, but it reminded me of just how sad I felt when I got to the end. I remember not knowing the answer to the question: what do you think happened to the little prince?

Nevertheless, the book gained more meaning to me after my friends and I had a very good (and brain-frying) discussion on it. Despite its thinness, The Little Prince is one of those books that pack a pretty heavy punch with its different adages that is pretty much applicable to so many things in life. I’d like to believe that people of all ages will be able to pick something interesting in this book, even if it gets a wee bit childish for older readers. After all, this was written as a children’s book.

However, I would have to agree: the meat of the book really happens with the prince’s conversations with the fox. Don’t get me wrong — the rest of the book was pretty lovely as well, but if you need the most popular quotes in the book, just look for that chapter. It’s pretty much all there.

Rating:

Hallowed

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand
Unearthly # 2
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 416
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

* * *

One of the books that absolutely surprised me last year was Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly. I can’t keep stressing it enough, but you know, when a book surprised you, you would have the tendency not to stop talking about it. And this is for a paranormal romance novel friends. That is really something. With that premise in this review, it was obvious that I was one of the squealing readers who well…squealed, when I saw that the next book, Hallowed was available in Netgalley. I was supposed to read it as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo, but resistance was futile and I ended up reading it even as I was writing.

Spoiler warning for Unearthly in the next few paragraphs — stay away if you haven’t read it yet.

Hallowed picks up from where Unearthly left off, where Clara was still reeling from the events that happened in the fire and how she messed up her purpose by saving Tucker instead of Christian. There was also that fact that Christian was actually an angel, and how she can’t deny the attraction between them, even if her heart belongs to Tucker. But there are other things that require her more immediate attention, like her angel training with her friend and the fact that the Black Wing could return, and finally, there was her dream. Her dream that tells her that someone important to her is going to die, soon. And there is only so much she can do without falling apart.

This book was…well, it’s a lot to digest. On one hand, there’s Clara, who’s still a very entertaining character. Her voice still sounds authentic despite the different challenges she had to face, and she never wavered one bit. Her relationship with Tucker was still as sweet as ever, and sometimes I kind of want to stop reading because they got too sweet. :P The great addition in this book, IMHO, was Christian. Love triangles are kind of an old thing in YA, particularly in paranormal romance, but I think the love triangle in Hallowed was exceptionally done. I liked how there was never really a clear answer on who Clara would and should choose, and how the two guys seem to have equal footing in her life. I’m still a huge fan of Tucker, though, but I would like to see how Clara having Christian in her life would play out.

I also really loved that there were more revelations to Clara’s angel heritage, and her powers as well. The high points in the book is really with knowing all these things like Clara’s powers and the rest of her family. The revelation is done gradually so we never get too much information, and there were some truly surprising parts. As with Unearthly, I thought the mythology here was also well done, and yet there still seemed to be more that could be revealed in the later books.

But you see, Hallowed isn’t really a book that is centered on the romance, or even on Clara’s angel powers. This book is really about family and loved ones and yes, loss. Saying anything more would be spoilery, but it’s probably the thing that could make or break the novel for other people (although I use the term “break” loosely). Hallowed has the capacity to punch you in the gut — hard — and leave you reeling with different emotions. That is what makes this book so different. And good.

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Midnight Garden
Makeshift Bookmark
Smitten Over Books

Shiver

Shiver by Maggie StiefvaterShiver by Maggie Stiefvater
The Wolves of Mercy Falls # 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 390
My copy: paperback, review copy from Scholastic

the cold.
Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn’t know why.

the heat.
Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace…until now.

the shiver.
For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it’s spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human—and Grace must fight to keep him—even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

* * *

I decided to finally pick Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater from my TBR pile because of recommendations of some book bloggers who said that this book is a good Christmas winter read. Fine, winter isn’t really a thing here in the Philippines, but it’s been strangely hot lately when the weather is supposed to be cool, and I wanted something that would make me feel a little bit cooler, even if it is just fiction.

When Grace was 11 years old, she was one of the victims of a wolf attack. How she survived was one thing, and this should have made her wary of the wolves that lived by the woods in their back yard, but instead this has pushed her into an obsession. She can’t stop thinking about the yellow-eyed wolf, the wolf that “saved” her. Sam lives two lives, but he’s never stopped observing Grace, the girl he loves. He never talked to her, until one shooting accident somehow changes him back to human and Grace had to save her. Now that they have talked, and spent some time together, they cannot deny the attraction. But Sam feels that this may be his last time being human, and he and Grace have to fight for their love even if it meant opening up ghosts of their past and dealing with the things that threaten to tear them apart in the present.

I was surprised with Shiver. I don’t read a lot of paranormal romance books anymore, much less books about werewolves. I could read about vampires and angels but werewolves aren’t my thing — the last time I read an exclusively werewolf book was in 2010, and I didn’t really like it.  I thought Shiver would be sort of like mindless reading that isn’t really fluff and I felt that I needed that during the holidays. However…I was pretty surprised at how much I ended up liking it. This is my first Stiefvater book, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. My friends have said that she has this way of writing that’s very atmospheric, and they were right. There is an ease in her words that make it so easy to sink into, making it easy to accept the world of Mercy Falls and mingle with the different characters. Shiver‘s prose is both sad and lyrical, which makes some room for some very nice quotable parts. For example, I thought this description of the insides of the bookstore they went to was lovely:

As the hours crept by, the afternoon sunlight bleached all the books on the shelves to pale, gilded versions of themselves and warmed the paper and ink inside the covers so that the smell of unread words hung in the air.

The romance factor was pretty sweet and a lot intense, and I’m not sure if I should classify this as instalove. It seems like it, but also it doesn’t feel like it is, if that makes sense. I liked how it unfolded though, with all the shivering romantic tension and kisses and moments spent together. Of course I’m not particularly fond of how they were always left alone, although I liked how they noticed the absence of Grace’s parents in the narrative, even if I wished there was some change to that in the end. The he said/she said form was a good move IMHO, and I really liked reading about Sam’s struggle between his wolf and human self.

There’s an overall sad tone in the book that makes it not really fit for Christmas. It was kind of a slow read, too. Part of it was my savoring of the words, but the other part just kind of made me wonder where the story was going, because there’s no real sense of immediate danger for Sam and Grace, just the sense of an ending for what they just started having. I almost gave up on it somewhere when I was 2/3 in, but I’m glad I didn’t because I really liked how it ended. I’d like to think of my own possibilities at where their story is going after the last page. But since I have a copy of Linger on my TBR, I may as well read it sometime. But if you ask me, I thought the ending was really enough.

So yeah, I was pleasantly surprised with Shiver. I liked it. I’m going to let Linger …well, linger on my shelf a little longer, and I will also try to acquire a copy of The Scorpio Races since all my blogger friends have raved about it. But one thing is for sure: this won’t be my last Stiefvater book. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Good Books and Good Wine
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers
Angieville

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