Welcome to Envy Park

Welcome to Envy Park by Mina V. Esguerra Welcome to Envy Park by Mina V. Esguerra
Publisher: Bright Girl Books
Number of pages: 142
My copy: Kindle edition

Moira Vasquez is a doer. A planner. A get-up-and-goer. At twenty-two, she left her hometown to work in Singapore, to satisfy a need to travel as well as give her savings account a boost. Five years later and she’s back in Manila, with a shiny new apartment to her name, but no job, no career, no boyfriend. She meets Ethan Lorenzo, the quiet hunk of an IT consultant on the ninth floor of her condo building, and he’s a welcome distraction during this period of having absolutely nothing going on in her life.

But she has a plan – of course she does – and this is just a short layover on the way to the next country, the next job, the next big thing. Or will she be missing out on something great that’s already there?

* * *

Ever since I reached my mid-20′s, or at least, ever since I started experiencing the so-called “quarter-life crisis”, I started categorizing some of the books I read into a “QLC” category. This list includes Astigirl by Tweet Sering, and Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist, both of which are non-fiction. After reading Mina V. Esguerra’s Welcome to Envy Park, I finally had a fiction book in that QLC books list.

Moira Vasquez is on a break, and she’s taking this break in her brand new condo in NV Park after five years of working and saving in Singapore. And this break it meant: no job, no boyfriend, but with some plans on where she’s jetting off next. She has no plans of staying too long, really, even if Ethan, the cute guy who lives in the same building is proving to be a really good distraction. Moira is convinced that she’s home for a quick stopover, but what if what she needs is already right in front of her?

Welcome to Envy Park didn’t feel like the usual contemporary romance that I’ve known Mina for. Somehow, this book feels a little bit more mature and perhaps it’s because the romance felt like a side story to what Moira was going through. I admit that I’m not a Moira. I’m not the type of person who’d shake things up just because (until lately, anyway). I tend to become comfortable, and just settle there until the restlessness finally hits me and I drag myself up. I never thought of working abroad, and until now I still don’t think about it, but I do admire Moira for her guts to do it, and to keep on doing it. It takes a certain kind of personality, I guess, to be willing to uproot yourself every time.

But you can’t always uproot yourself, right? At some point in your life, you have to start thinking of settling down (I got that feeling when I turned 27. Then things happened, and now I felt the need to uproot myself again, heh), and this is basically Moira’s story. I liked how Moira was exposed to so many people in the book and how she observed them, and how she compared her life to them with her lists. Her voice is fun and fresh and her struggles with her thoughts, her career, her family and her love life felt true, like it’s something someone her age experiences.

The story flowed easily, although it may not be as gripping as other romance novellas are — perhaps it’s because again, it really didn’t feel like one for me. I thought it was more about self-discovery, and yeah, a certain kind of coming of age, and romance just happened to come with it all. And isn’t that how it really often happens in real life?

Welcome to Envy Park is a book about choices, how it makes us, how it affects the people around us, and the things that come with it. It’s a bit different from Mina’s other books, but it’s a good one. Definitely for people my age who are thinking of making major decisions in life (don’t worry, you’re not alone!). :)

Number of dog-eared page(s): 9

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

I swear, he just lets things happen, like he’s a leaf in the wind.

I don’t rock the boat if it’s not worth rocking just yet. As opposed to what, declaring to the universe things that haven’t happened yet?

Maybe I needed to place a tiny portion of my happiness in someone else’s hands, and not completely control it.

Rating:

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David LevithanWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Publisher: Speak
Number of pages: 301
My copy: paperback, Christmas gift from a colleague

will grayson, meet will grayson

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths. Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high school stage.

* * *

There was a time soon after I graduated college that I was so obsessed with High School Musical. I was unemployed, and I was a kid at heart who can’t stop watching Disney Channel all day while I did nothing, so when I saw the trailer for High School Musical, I was curious. Then I watched it, and watched it and I couldn’t stop. I loved the entire thing. I even bought the book, and then watched the movie(s) and played the songs until I got sick of it all. But I have fond memories of those movies, and sometimes I kinda wish that I can break into song any time and people will just join me in singing…even if I can’t sing. Haha.

But anyway. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan features two Will Graysons who meet one night in the strangest place in Chicago.. There’s the “don’t speak, don’t participate” Will Grayson, best friend to Tiny Cooper, a large and gay guy who heads their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. All Will is concerned with is not getting noticed, but being friends with Tiny Cooper makes that difficult. And then there’s Tiny’s friend Jane, who seems nice, but Will wasn’t sure if she’s straight or not. And then there’s Will # 2, or will grayson (without the caps), who lives a hard and isolated life, with just an online friend named Isaac making his life easier. The two Wills meet one night, and then their lives change…and it all goes down in a high school musical made by Tiny Cooper.

It seemed like the best time to read a John Green book where he wrote with someone else is always around the holiday season. Or maybe I’m just saying that now because last year, I read Let It Snow around Christmas time too, and I enjoyed it, so when I was looking for a happy book to read during the holidays this year, I decided to read this book. I was already tickled by the first chapter — classic Green, introducing his main characters: a lead who isn’t really interested in standing out, a girl who seems partially unattainable, and a loud sidekick (except this time we have a louder and bigger sidekick). It was cute, and then I go into the other will’s world and I was plunged into a dark, depressing world. I almost stopped — what was this? Why is this will so sad? And why is it taking so long for the two Wills to meet?

I honestly thought I wouldn’t like it, especially since I felt that will’s chapters were too depressing. Granted, will was depressed, but I wanted to finish his chapters so I can go back to the other Will, who was partially pleasant. That, and it was kind of fun reading Tiny Cooper, even if it seems like the book should have been about him because…well, it was all about him. Suddenly he didn’t seem like a sidekick. But anyway, I found Will’s chapters funnier, and I liked the cute little “dancing” thing he had with Jane. It was something you’d expect from John Green, really, and it was really nice to read.

I really thought I wouldn’t like the book, but then I got to the end and I actually found myself tearing up at some parts. I think the best part of this book isn’t the romance, or even the Will Graysons meeting, but Will’s friendship with Tiny. It reminded me a little of my own friendships with people and how true it was with how we all just happened to be friends, and we didn’t really seek each other out at first. Although I don’t completely buy the fact about you can’t pick who your friends are, I like the sentiment that Will expressed when he told Tiny that if he could pick his friends, he would still pick Tiny. That was really heartwarming.

The ending did feel a little contrived, but I thought it was sweet and funny, especially at the exchanging numbers part. Hihi. But it was a nice way to end it, especially since I’ve long suspended my disbelief with how the musical came together and all that. Just like in High School Musical - you don’t really think what they did could happen in real life, right? But still, it was fun to watch, and it was a nice and sweet ending. Same with Will Grayson, Will Grayson: the ending was nice and heartwarming, and I actually found tears in my eyes by the time I ended the book.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson isn’t exactly the best holiday read (or…I don’t think it really counts as one, really), but I enjoyed reading it. Oh, and I remember people telling me that Tiny Cooper is the best John Green sidekick…but I think I’m still a Radar – Paper Towns kind of girl. :D

Number of dog-eared pages: 30

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. It’s because a little piece gets lost – the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. The whole shape has changed. (p. 174)

It seems to me that all things we keep in sealed boxes are both alive and dead until we open the box, that the unobserved is both there and not. (p. 197)

When you date someone, you have markers along the way, right. You kiss, you have The Talk, you say the Three Little Words, you sit on a swing set and break up. You can plot the points on a graph…But with friendship, there’s nothing like that. Being in a relationship, that’s something you choose. Being friends, that’s just something you are. (p. 260)

We’ve been friends too long to pick, but if we could pick, I’d pick you. (p. 260)

Rating:

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Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira KalmanWhy We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Number of pages: 357
My copy: borrowed from Kai

I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

* * *

I think I mentioned it before that sometimes, you need to be in a certain mood to appreciate some books. Sometimes, no matter how other people like a book, if you’re in not in that kind of mood, you won’t be able to relate to any of the characters no matter what you do, or you won’t be able to feel what the book wants you to feel. (Of course, there are some books that are just really hard to get into, even if you are in that same mood, but that’s another story.)

So, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (and illustrated by Maira Kalman). I’ve seen this book and wanted this book when it was published, but I think I saw a not so good review of it somewhere, so I stopped wanting it. I have to admit that this is the kind of book that is right up my alley, especially since I was all about embracing your inner romantic last year. Then the book fell out of my radar, until it came back again and a friend lent me her copy because I figured it was time to read it.

Then I tried. I read the first few chapters, and then had the extreme desire to throw the book away so I stopped. I didn’t want to throw the book away because it was bad, no. I wanted to throw the book away because it was getting too close for comfort. And the truth comes out. :P Suffice to say, maybe I was in the mood for this book, but it was too hard to read it because I was too much in that mood. Did that make sense? Anyway, months later, I decided to try reading this book again because some girls in our book club was reading this. I figured, why not join them? It could be some sort of release, as a good friend told me when I mentioned it. So I put my brave face on and started again.

Why We Broke Up is a break-up story, a long letter from Min Green to Ed Slaterton, her ex-boyfriend, telling their story from her side based on the items in the box that she was returning to him. These items (the illustrated parts of the book) were remnants of their short-lived relationship: bottle caps, a box of matches, movie tickets, a protractor, a note, a book, among other things. Take it, it’s yours. This is why we broke up. Either you have the feeling or you don’t, Min writes, and we are left to wonder what exactly happened that led to Min and Ed’s break-up.

Warning: this is a book full of drama. Every page is dripping of Min’s bitterness and anger and heartbreak, and…well, it was kind of expected because of the title alone. The hard part of it, I think, is that I was kept in the dark why they broke up. I just know they broke up, but I didn’t know why, and Min just kept on repeating “this is why, this is why” with every item she wrote about. It wasn’t until the very, very end that we know, but the entire time, she just rambles on and tells their love story without a hint of the real reason why. And it’s hard to see, too, especially since Ed seems a perfectly good guy from the start. Okay, perhaps he’s not perfect — he seems secretive, he has this thing about saying “no offense” and he seems judgmental about some guys who aren’t into sports and labels them “gay”, but he seemed to really like Min, so why is Min being so damn dramatic about everything?

Since I was reading the story from Min’s POV, it was easy to pin the blame on her. You know how when a friend tell us a love problem, the first thing we often do is to try to find what our friend is doing wrong because it’s something we can fix, because we know our friend better than the other party? It’s that kind of thing. I read everything from Min’s POV, so it was easier to try to find something that she did wrong…until I found out the real reason why they broke up and then, damn it. Ed, you’re an asshole. I understood why Min is so angry. Granted, she wasn’t perfect, either — she shouldn’t have jumped right in ahead in the relationship, she should have took her time, she should have seen the signs from the start…but well she’s a teenager. This is young love. We have all been there. And I guess even if we have the wisdom of the years with us, things like this still hurt just the same.

The best part of the book, though, is Min’s friends. I loved Al and Lauren (there was another name, but I forgot, eep), and to some extent, Jillian, that girl that Ed dated before Min. I loved them, and what they did for Min in the end. They didn’t do anything so special, really, but they did what good friends do in times like this. I reread the last parts of the book because of them, and I was glad that Min had them with her in the fallout.

I’ve never been in a relationship, so it follows that I’ve never been in a break-up…but there were some times in my life where it seemed like the pain I was feeling is something akin to a break-up — at least, based on what I read and saw on TV. And maybe that’s why I ended up liking this book, because in some ways, I have been there. I know at least a fraction of what Min felt. Whether it’s a relationship ending, or an almost-relationship that never became one, there’s still pain there, and it hurts just the same. But the good thing I got out of all of this is…well, reading Why We Broke Up was strangely cathartic. Huh, my friend was right. Reading this book at the end of the year was a surprising release of feels. ;)

So yeah, I liked Why Why Broke Up. Perhaps if I read this last year, or any other time later, I wouldn’t have liked it as much. But I liked it, and I am glad I read it, despite all the drama. (Because trust me, I’ve had enough of drama in the past year. :P)

Either you have the feeling or you don’t.

P.S. The illustrations were a good touch. :)

P.P.S. And no, I don’t think I’m the “return all things” type person. I think I’m more of the “throw things away” one. ;)

Number of imaginary* dog-eared page(s): 7
* Because the copy isn’t mine. :)

Favorite imaginary dog-eared quote(s):

…let’s go, let’s go together toward something extraordinary and I started making plans, thinking we would get that far. (p. 39)

…thinking there was time, plenty of time to see what pictures we’d made? But we never developed them. Undeveloped, the whole thing, tossed into a box before we really had a chance to know what we had, and that’s why we broke up. (p. 65)

A note, who writes a note like that? Who were you to write one to me? It boomed inside me the whole time, an explosion over and over, the joy of what you wrote to me jumpy shrapnel in my bloodstream. I can’t have it near me anymore, I’m grenading it back to you, as soon as I unfold it and read it and cry one more time. Because me too, and fuck you. Even now. (p. 69)

We couldn’t only have the magic nights buzzing through the wires. We had to have the days, too, the bright impatient days spoiling everything with their unavoidable schedules, their mandatory times that don’t overlap, their loyal friends who don’t get along, the unforgiven travesties torn from the wall no matter what promised are uttered past midnight, and that’s why we broke up. (p. 86)

Rating:

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Tigana

tiganaTigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Number of pages: 692
My copy: Kindle edition

Eight of the nine provinces of the Peninsula of the Palm, on a world with two moons, have fallen to the warrior sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Brandin’s younger son is slain in a battle with the principality of Tigana, which the grief-stricken sorcerer then destroys. After sweeping down and destroying the remnants of their army, burning their books and destroying their architecture and statuary, he makes it so that no one not born in that province can even hear its name. Years later, a small band of survivors, led by Alessan, last prince of Tigana’s royal house, wages psychological warfare, planting seeds for the overthrow of the two tyrants. At the center of these activities are Devin, a gifted young singer; Catriana, a young woman pursued by suspicions of her family’s guilt; and Duke Sandre d’Astibar, a wily resistance leader thought dead. Meanwhile, at Brandin’s court, Dianora, his favorite concubine and–unknown to anyone, another survivor of Tigana–struggles between her growing love for the often gentle tyrant and her desire for vengeance. Gradually the scene is set for both conquerors to destroy each other and free a land.

* * *

I don’t read a lot of high fantasy novels because I’m more of a contemporary romance kind of person. And because of that, it takes me a while to really get into a world, especially one that required maps and had different names of people with powers and such. I noticed that a lot of high fantasy novels often had a lot of characters, too — with odd names to boot — so sometimes I feel like I need to get into a different kind of mindset before I take on a high fantasy novel.

Hah, I feel like I sounded like such a wuss there, especially since two of my closest friends in the book club are fans of high fantasy novels. So when they moderated the high fantasy discussion for our book club in 2013, I can’t not be too whiny about it. Especially since the book was about 800+ long. But I’ve finished Les Misérables this year, and while it’s not a high fantasy novel, it had a lot of characters. This shouldn’t be that hard, right? *cracks knuckles*

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is a standalone high fantasy novel set in a place called Peninsula of the Palm. Two people rule eight of the nine provinces in the Palm — Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Sometime in the past, Brandin’s younger son is slain in Tigana, and in his grief and anger, he flattened Tigana and cursed everyone to forget that it ever existed, except for those who came from Tigana itself. Some years later, some survivors banded together in hopes of destroying Brandin to get Tigana back, and also to overthrow the other tyrant in the Palm. What follows is a long story of magic, psychological warfare, political intrigue, hidden identities and a story layered with so many complexities that it’s hard to pick just what side you want to win at the end.

First off: Tigana was an easy to read book. Far from, say, Tolkien’s LotR, Tigana had such an accessible language that it wasn’t so hard to get reading. It helped that our moderators provided a guide to their naming conventions and who owns what province because it helped adjusting to the novel a lot easier and listing the characters in the head easier, too. And speaking of characters, I really liked Devin from the start — he seemed like a very interesting character, and I knew, even if I have essentially no idea what was going to happen in the novel (I didn’t read the back cover blurb before I started reading) that he was in for an interesting ride. I liked how he changed from a simple musician to something else, and how he had learned to accept the discovery of his roots and defend it. The other band of people surrounding Devin were so fun to read, too — they played off each other’s characters perfectly, and I liked how they all formed a tight-knit group that were there for each other throughout the story.

But I’m making it sound like it’s all light and fluffy. Truth is, it wasn’t. Tigana is a book filled with so many twists and turns for the characters to get to a certain goal. The interesting part of this is we don’t see just one particular point of view, but several. In Tigana, we also sort of get into the mind of Brandin and Alberico, and the things that surround them. We see their motivations, and how they changed from being this person to another, to the point that it was really kind of hard to choose which side to pick at the end. This gives another layer of depth to the novel, and somehow make it a little more realistic as far as how it parallels real life. Nothing is ever black and white, and even people we have pegged to be a certain kind of person. In a way, I wished there was some sort of happy ending for everyone…but then, you can’t always get what you want.

In the end, Tigana brings about a pretty satisfying ending…and then GGK suddenly brings another thing into the mix, and then it’s over. This is the first time in the longest time that I wished there was a sequel to a novel, and a high fantasy one at that, that I would totally read. I mean, that ending! How can I not want to know what happens next?

Overall, Tigana was a really great read. I think there were just some parts that seemed unnecessarily long, but like what I said in Les Mis, those parts make up for the novel’s background and gives it a richer texture, and I think that’s what makes chunkster novels different from the usual 300-400-page books. While I still think that I’m a contemporary girl at heart, I wouldn’t mind reading more high fantasy + chunkster novels if they’re as good as Tigana.

Number of dog-eared page(s): 21

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

The beauty we find is shaped, at least in part, by what we know the morning will bring.

He could guess, analyze, play out scenarios in his mind, but he would never know. It was a night-time truth that became a queer, private sorrow for him amid all that came after. A symbol, a displacement of regret. A reminder of what it was to be mortal and so doomed to tread one road only and that one only once, until Morian called the soul away and Eanna’s lights were lost. We can never truly know the path we have not walked.

“My third glass of a night is blue,” Alessan said. “The third glass I drink is always of blue wine. In memory of something lost. Lest on any single night I forget what it is I am alive to do.”

But time was not rewound, neither in the heart nor in the world as they knew it. It moved on, and things changed, for better or for worse; seasons changed, the hours of sunlit day went by, darkness fell and lingered and gave way to light at dawn, years spun after each other one by one, people were born, and lived by the Triad’s grace, and they died.

Words were power, words tried to change you, to shape bridges of longing that no one could ever really cross.

In this world, where we find ourselves, we need compassion more than anything, I think, or we are all alone.

Rating:

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Lolita

lolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 376
My copy: Kindle edition

Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

* * *

There are some books that I told myself I would never read. I would never put them in an actual list, really, but I know that these are the books that I would ignore in a bookstore, books that I wouldn’t even think of buying. Reasons behind this may vary, but you know how we readers have preferences depending on the books we enjoy, or the time we have or the things we value, and all that.

I said that about Les Miserables late last year. I’d never read it because it’s just too thick, and I simply have no time. Then I read it and finished it in 45 days.

I said the same thing for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I didn’t think I would read it, because frankly, I found the topic icky. I mean, a grown man supposedly “in love” with a child? I squirm at the thought — just as how I squirmed and looked away when I watched those crime shows (based on a true story or not) that involved someone who sexually abuses a child. It’s just not something I would even want to read, quite honestly.

And then, Lolita won in our book club’s polls for our September discussion. I guess in a way it was my fault for suggesting banned books as a topic for September, and this one made it to the final list. Lolita was far more popular than the two other books in the list, so it was kind of a shoo-in to win. I remember thinking (and saying this to one of the discussion moderators): Perhaps it’s time for me to read this. Year of the Brave, you say?

I won’t talk about the plot anymore because this is a pretty popular novel, with its controversial themes and gorgeous prose, as they say. I knew I was a apprehensive when I started reading hits. No, not because I can relate to any of it (thank God I don’t), but because I was wary of how it would go with me. Lolita is readable overall, because its prose isn’t hard to read, nor it is boring. It’s very well-written, actually, and it’s commendable especially since Nabokov’s first language is Russian. Humbert Humbert comes off as an unreliable narrator from the start, and Lolita is his account of what happened with her and to some events that led him to make that statement. I got confused about that, honestly — why “statement”? I figure he did something wrong there, but what? Did he kill someone? Who? Did he kill Lolita? (No, this isn’t a spoiler)

Let me go back to the prose. It was gorgeous, and surprisingly, it isn’t explicit. I mean, sometimes I have to go back to some passages to understand what Nabokov was writing about and then I’ll realize what happened there. Huh. And then I read on, and I go all, “Huh” again. I mean that in a good way, really.

Here’s the thing: I sort of predicted from the start that I would probably not rate Lolita higher than three stars, given that this isn’t really the kind of book I would read. I think even my friends expected that. But when I got to the end while I waited in line at the bank to pay some bills…I don’t know, I knew I couldn’t rate it that. I can’t explain it in full, but there was something in that ending that just made me change my mind. Is it the writing? Probably. Is it how Nabokov somehow made Humbert Humbert seemed deserving of sympathy? Maybe. I don’t know, really. It’s been a little over a month since I finished this book, but I still can’t answer that. All I know is I found myself thinking at the ending. It doesn’t make everything that he did or whatever happened in the story less icky because it is icky, period. But somehow, there was something in the ending that made me change my mind about rating this novel.

Lolita is controversial, I have to agree. But I also agree that this is just one of those books that a reader has to read in their lifetime. I’m glad my book club made me read this.

Number of dog-ears: 15

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.

My heart was a hysterical, unreliable organ.

And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope with my tears.

Rating:

Required Reading: September

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