12 Best Books of 2012

So the 2012 reading year was interesting because I think this is the most I’ve explored different genres. I blame my book club for this, especially with our monthly discussions and their book recommendations. As a result, I didn’t reach the 150-ish book goal. However, I did enjoy exploring these other books that I wouldn’t normally read, so it’s still a pretty good year reading year.

I’ll talk about my reading stats more on another post. First, let’s get the best list out. 12 Best Books for 2012. Let’s get at it, shall we?

  1. Angelfall by Susan EeGruesome, creepy and scary but absolutely fun. I read this book because of all the good reviews I read from my Goodreads friends, and I devoured it in several days. I loved Penryn the kick-ass heroine and the equally bad-ass angels who caused the apocalypse. When is the sequel coming out again? Please make it soon?
    Angelfall by Susan Ee Continue Reading →

Fan Girl

Fan Girl by Marla MinianoFan Girl by Marla Miniano
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages: 144
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

As a fan girl, do you:

A. Stalk your celebrity crush online and have a secret stash of his merchandise?
B. Believe that when he is singing onstage, he is singing to you—and only you?
C. Willingly agree to do anything he asks?
D. Leave your life behind and follow him to the ends of the earth?

For Summer, being the ultimate fan means doing all four. When the insanely good-looking half-Filipino frontman of hot local band Violet Reaction, Scott Carlton, singles her out, Summer knows her life is finally going to be spectacular. Only it doesn’t turn out that way. Scott leaves and becomes a huge star in the US, and where does that leave Summer? (Hint: check out letter D). Intrigued yet?

* * *

I liked Marla’s first four books, so I really meant to read Fan Girl as soon as it was released. Two things stopped me from getting it, though: there weren’t many favorable reviews for the book, and this was the first Summit Book that had the Php 175 price. I thought it was a bit too expensive for such a thin book, so I decided not to get it.

Fast forward to a year later, I happened to be at a mall, waiting for someone without a book. Friends, that is the worst possible thing for a reader to do: go out of the house without a book inside her bag. So I was browsing around National Bookstore, looking for something not too expensive and quick enough to read while waiting. There was nothing else I wanted there, so I wandered to the Filipiniana section and there lay the colorful Summit Books. Finally, I decided to get Marla’s book, especially since I was still having all the ~*feels*~ from her NaNoWriMo pep talk that I got to read that day.

So, in Fan Girl, Summer meets Scott Carlton, the half-Filipino front man of a local band, and to her surprise, he singles her out. Summer is used to fading in the background, to not being noticed, so she felt that Scott’s attention will change her life. It didn’t change the way she wanted it to, however, as she gets involved with Scott in a pseudo-relationship, until he packs up for the US with his baritone guitar at Guitar Center for his career. Left behind, Summer tries to move on, until something prompts her to do leave everything she knows to follow her heart. But does Scott want her heart?

So here’s the thing I realized (yet again) while reading Fan Girl: the reader’s mood while reading a specific book can directly influence how much he/she will like (or not like) the book after. This isn’t new, really, but reading Fan Girl stressed that to me. I normally would dislike someone like Summer because she was just being absolutely stupid over the guy, but for some reason, she kind of won my heart a little bit. Oh, she still made stupid decisions, but somehow I sympathized with her and I wanted the best for her. The entire story had some kind of a dream-like quality in it, perhaps because of the author’s way with words, and I can really imagine Summer going to a foreign land just to follow what she thought she wants. I didn’t approve of Summer’s decision, but sometimes there are things that people need to do to finally realize what we want them to realize in the end. I think the author captured that concept very well here.

Of course, there are certain aspects in this book where you might need to suspend your disbelief despite it being a contemporary novel — like, how Summer can just conveniently fly off, how Scott got a career there too easily, and how it was all wrapped up in the end. Somehow, it felt like some of the set-up were too convenient, too unbelievable.

Despite that, though, I liked Fan Girl. I’m still partial to Marla’s Table for Two and her newest one, From This Day Forward (review to follow!), but I think Fan Girl is a pretty enjoyable (albeit angsty) read. If I read this last year, I probably would have not liked it as much, but maybe that’s why I didn’t buy it last year. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Ficsation

Minis: Eliza Victoria

So it’s been months since I read all of these, and I apologize for the late, late, late reviews. I’m just catching up, you see, and since the following books are all form the same author, I thought I’d go and put them all in one post. :)

I’ve heard of Eliza online through some fellow writers in NaNoWriMo, I think, but I can’t remember if I ever sent her an email or talked before the 2nd Filipino ReaderCon. I’ve read her work in Alternative Alamat, and it was one of my favorite stories in the collection. It reminded me of those days in my college literary folio (the short times I’ve spent there, anyway), and it made me want to read more of her work. We follow each other on Twitter, but I was always shy in talking to her because I feel like I’m just going to fan girl. Haha. Imagine my surprise when she approached me during the ReaderCon. :D And then I did not even get to fan girl properly. :P

Anyway, these are three of Eliza’s works that I got and read after the ReaderCon was done. And I’m going to spoil you right now: I liked all of them. Very much. :)

Lower MythsLower Myths by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 87
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Lower Myths features two compelling novellas of contemporary fantasy from Eliza Victoria, one of the most talented young writers in Asian speculative fiction today. In “Trust Fund Babies,” children of two warring witch and fairy families face off in the final round to a centuries-old vendetta.

In “The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol,” an aristocrat and his daughter consult a famous lawyer-sibling pair about a mysterious crime. But in the lawyers’ hilltop mansion by the sea, they uncover sinister hints that their reality may not be what it seems.

Eliza Victoria’s fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications including High Chair, The Pedestal Magazine, Expanded Horizons, Usok, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction series.

* * *

I got this one as a sample first, and this was one of the cases where I loved the sample so much that I had to get the book soon after.To be quite honest, I was not sure what Lower Myths was all about, except that it contains two short stories/novellas and the sample just made me want to read on.Trust Fund Babies is a fun, with and fairy story that totally had that mafia feel. It’s violent and can be quite gory, but all done in a tasteful way. I liked the relationship of the families and the idea of the glamour. I can imagine this as a short film with all the effects and the mystery.

The second story, The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol is kind of confusing because of the shifting realities, but the world building is superb. There’s a certain disconnect at first, but when things start falling into place, I found it so engaging that I just have to find out what happened next. While it’s not really as fun as Trust Fund Babies (for me, anyway), I liked how this one played out. This is the kind of world that I cannot imagine writing on my own, but I love reading. :)

Lower Myths is a good starter for Eliza’s works, if you’re into quick, fantasy reads with a local flavor. Of course, it could also be too short for you, but that’s why you’d end up looking for her other works just to satisfy that craving. :)

Rating:
Other Reviews: The Girl Who Read and Other Stories

A Bottle of Storm CloudsA Bottle of Storm Clouds by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Visprint
Number of pages: 209
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Award-winning author Eliza Victoria mixes magic with the mundane in this special concoction of 16 short stories. A girl meets a young man with the legs of a chicken. A boy is employed by a goddess running a pawnshop. A group of teenagers are trapped in an enchanted forest for 900 days. A man finds himself in an MRT station beyond Taft, a station that was not supposed to exist. A student claims to have seen the last few digits of pi. Someone’s sister gets abducted by mermaids.

Includes stories that have appeared in the critically acclaimed anthologies Philippine Speculative Fiction and Alternative Alamat, and stories that have won prizes in the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards and the Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Literary Contest.

Lower Myths got me craving for more of Eliza’s stories, so when I found out that Visprint released an anthology of her stories, I knew I had to get it. A Bottle of Storm Clouds contains 16 short stories that have appeared in various anthologies, all with the same local fantasy goodness. I was so excited to get this one after the 2nd Filipino ReaderCon (I really, really wanted to win one, but alas, I didn’t) — and I wasn’t planning to read it immediately to save me some local fiction goodness, but I couldn’t wait, either. And so I read.

A Bottle of Storm Clouds is one of those books that you can’t help but keep on reading but you also don’t want to end just yet. I tried not to read this book too fast because I wanted to savor each story. There’s something interesting and entirely different in each story — some of them were creepy, most of them sad, but all had really good fantasy elements that stretched my imagination wider than it did before. :) I liked how Eliza hinged most of the stories with real human experiences like grief and sadness, family and friendship and love and even selfishness and life crisis. It’s a good balance between magic and reality, and there are certain lines that meld them together nicely, like this one:

Magic. Amanda thought of clear skies and stars, steamed rice and fish, bagoong soaked in vinegar. A cup of coffee in the early morning, the feel of grass, the city lights. Clarissa. Her brother carrying her on his back, her parents dancing on the cool patio as it rained. The ground pounding with life. A poem humming in her head. (Siren Song)

My personal favorites: Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St., Intersections, Sugar Pi, Parallels, Monsters, The Storyteller’s Curse, Siren’s Song. I think there’s a story for each and every reader in this collection, and probably even for every mood. I liked this collection a lot, and if you want to read good, local fantasy with different flavors, get A Bottle of Storm Clouds. I’m sure you’ll find a favorite in one of them. :)

Rating:
The Viewless DarkThe Viewless Dark by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 56
My copy: ebook, requested from the publisher

When Anthony found Flo dead, locked overnight in one of the reading rooms of the university library, he knew it must have something to do with Mary. Mary Prestosa, fourth year graduating Philosophy student, whom they had been investigating. Mary, who surprised her roommate one night by suddenly standing up from her bed, throwing the windows open, and jumping down, headfirst, to the dormitory grounds below. Mary, whose memory marked the trail of mysterious deaths and bizarre occurrences that followed her own fateful fall: the fifth-year Computer Engineering student who prowled the campus on all fours, thirsty for blood, believing he was a wolf; the revelation of an all-girls’ satanic cult; the demonic possession of a fourth-year student from the Department of Psychology; and now—Flo, dead.

* * *

So I read The Viewless Dark around October, because it was supposed to be a horror novel and the best time to read a horror story is during Halloween, right? I was kind of wary, though, because I’m not a fan of anything scary, so I made sure I read this in broad daylight.

The Viewless Dark is about Anthony’s friend, Flo, who was found dead in the university library. He knew his friend’s death had something to do with Mary, who committed suicide some time ago, and whose death Anthony and Flo were investigating. Here we see what really happened, and what Anthony knew about Flo that no one else knew and what exactly Flo had been going through the night before she died.

Of course I ended up reading this at night, anyway, because I need something to lull me to sleep. And even if I read this in broad daylight, I still felt creeped out every now and then with the story. I liked how the story unfolded from the death of Flo and into flashbacks that pointed just to how exactly Flo ended up that way to what happened to Anthony’s family. I liked how vivid the setting was and how sufficiently creepy the “possession” they set up until the final twist in the end which undid everything I thought I knew. And then Eliza wraps it up in a different way, giving it a poignant, almost hopeful ending.

I’m pretty sure I’m just chicken, and other friends might not think that this is as scary as I thought it was. But even so, I have a very good feeling that some of my friends will like this book just as much as I did. :)

Rating:

A Very Bookish TFG Year

Last Saturday, our book club had our last face to face book discussion for 2012, as well as our Christmas party. It was another awesome event, and really, I never expected anything less because weekends with my book club friends were always the highlight of my month. I’ve always meant to post about every meet-up like this, but I never got to, obviously (save for one post on my personal blog). I figure the year-end is always a good way to make a recap, so here we go. :)

tfg logo

 

Oh but wait – look we have a new logo! Thanks to Angus for bugging his friend to make one for us. :) Isn’t it purty? :D

A little background: our book club started out as an online book club that discusses books online but meets offline. When I joined, we didn’t have any book discussions offline, because our meet-ups weren’t always too many. We had about 3 big meet-ups every year from 2010, and then during those meet-ups we just talk books and gave away books and stayed together till everyone needs to go home. Late in 2011, someone came up with the idea to have a 100 Favorite Books List, which birthed the idea of finally having face to face book discussions.

I honestly wasn’t sure if it would fly. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to the first one because I was a bit busy then, and I was going through some personal stuff. But because I was made a moderator by late 2011, I felt that I was obligated to join them for that, even if it was my real first time to join a discussion. But again, we weren’t really sure if we could sustain the momentum, because a monthly meeting almost felt too much, especially coming from the meeting every quarter (not counting the smaller random meet-ups we have). I didn’t want it to die down, but I wasn’t really expecting it to really, really grow into a big event every month, you know?

But boy, was I surprised. :-)

Continue Reading →

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Little Brown
Number of pages: 909 pages
My copy: mass market paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe – in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

* * *

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is our book for our November discussion for the book club. It was my only choice among the three books that we voted for last July because our theme for November was horror and I’m not a horror fan, so I go for the least horrific. :P I’ve heard good things about this book from some blogger friends, plus our moderator, Monique, liked this one too, so I figured I will probably like it too.

The Historian is the story of an unnamed narrator and her family’s past. What starts as a simple book and some letters found in her father’s study turned out to contain a story bigger than she expected, even bigger than her father and her dead mother that spans across the centuries. The book is more of a collection of her recollection of her own research and her father’s research and travels about Vlad the Impaler and the danger that they encountered as they pried deeper into the life of the fifteenth century Wallachian ruler.

I started this book a little apprehensive, because like I said, I’m not a horror person. I don’t like scaring myself, so I was kind of careful when I started reading it. My friends assured me that it wasn’t that scary, but there were several times when I felt jumpy while I was reading this, especially when it was raining and when I was alone at home. I found the first part of the book quite engaging, where I was passed from the main narrator’s point of view to her father’s and back. I liked how the mystery presented itself, and how I got invested in the main characters in this first part. I liked the dangerous — and a little scary — tone around the first part, where they just don’t know what’s going on and how they do not know just how big the thing they’re poking is.

That was the first part. The second part was still quite interesting, but then somewhere in the middle, it started to lag. I don’t read much historical fiction, or anything that had too many historical documents for that matter. Somewhere in the second part, I was amazed at the setting but everything else was bogged down by the fact that the characters kept stumbling upon different documents, countless books and letters about Vlad the Impaler. I get it, okay. They are historians, yes, so these documents were a necessary part of the story, but man, they were tedious. I didn’t want to skim through it because I might miss something else, but I admit that I slowed down my reading at this part.

Come part three. Part 3 was a little bit more exciting, especially since it felt like they were getting closer and closer to uncovering the mystery. I got a little bit annoyed when they opened yet another book and read yet another letter, but when you’re that close to the end of a book, giving up is not an option. At least, not for me. And when the final reveal comes…I was all…huh.

I won’t spoil it for you, but at the end of the book, I had to clarify with some friends if I understood what I read, and they said I got it right. And after 900 pages, all I could think of was: That’s it?

Overall, I have a bit of mixed feelings with The Historian. Perhaps I was expecting more, and I was shelving it together with some of the adventure/mystery/horror books that I have read before and forgot that the book is really more of a travelogue and historical account more than it was supposed to be horror. I liked the writing and the level of detail that this book possessed, and it made me want to go backpacking around Eastern Europe (and generally all over Europe again — I totally drooled at the part where they were in France with the descriptions of food) to see the places the characters went to in the book. As far as the story goes, however, I thought the big reveal fell a little flat, and I was really expecting a big one after all the things the characters went / read through.

I didn’t really dislike The Historian, but I didn’t like it too much, either. It was a little bit more than just okay, though, because like I said, I enjoyed the travel part and the writing and maybe just a little bit of the research, until I felt like starting a drinking game for every document / letter / book that they read. I don’t regret that I read it, but I don’t think I’ll find it particularly memorable later on, either. Maybe I’m just not much of a history buff to be really in love with this, and I think my aversion to vampire stories made me a bit more disinterested after some point. The only real memorable part of The Historian as far as I’m concerned was the book club discussion, which was a fun time to discuss with good friends what we think of this chunkster. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: November

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookmarked!