All’s Fair in Blog and War

All's Fair in Blog and War by Chrissie PeriaAll’s Fair in Blog and War by Chrissie Peria
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 109
My copy: ebook, from Amazon Kindle Store

Five Cuevas @fivetravels
Three guesses to where I’m going next. Starts with an M. Ends with a U. Has a lechon named after it. #travel

Travel blogger Five thinks she has hit the jackpot when the Macau Tourism Board invites her over for an all-expense-paid blogger tour in exchange for blogging about Macau. But while she happily signs up for the trip, she didn’t sign up to be travel buddies with the infuriating Jesse. Will her dream vacation turn into a nightmare junket? Or will falling in love be on the itinerary?

* * *

I’ve been in a reading rut in the past month because I was too busy doing something else, and that “something else” is writing my novella. I took my own sweet time reading our book club’s book of the month because I couldn’t focus on it, and I didn’t have any desire to read anything else that isn’t contemporary romance because it was all my mind can handle that time. When one of our classmates in #romanceclass released her book into the wild last week, I automatically bought it and loaded it into my Kindle. For one, it’s contemporary romance, which is just what I need; it’s Filipino; and finally, it’s a classmate’s work, so I should support! (Plus, look at that gorgeous cover!) I finished reading this in a day, and when I was done, I found myself thinking, “What reading rut?

In Chrissie Peria’s All’s Fair in Blog and War, we meet Five Cuevas, a virtual assistant by night and travel blogger the rest of the time, reading an email from the Macau Tourism Board inviting her for an all-expense paid trip to Macau. It was something I would joyfully jump into, and Five does the same thing. It was exciting, until she meets Jesse Ruiz, the photoblogger who gets in her way and on her nerves. She’s determined not to let him ruin her trip, but it’s proving just a bit hard when she was partnered with him for the rest of the trip.

Okay, this is fun. So much fun. I love books with blogging, regardless of whatever kind of blogging that is. I love Five’s voice, and her passion for traveling and writing about it. I love the entire set-up and how she and Jesse met, and how their relationship grew in the story. It was a short trip, but it was believable, and reading the story made me want to go to Macau, or at least, find myself some egg tarts! There were so many lines in the book that made me smile, and it’s no surprise that I breezed through it because I just wanted to keep on reading to know what happens to them in the end.

Granted, the story could be longer, and there could have been more tension, but for a quick and light read, All’s Fair in Blog and War really works. It’s the kind you’d want to read on a trip, or the kind you’d recommend to a friend who’s going on a trip (I did that), or the kind you’d recommend to a friend who’s looking for a light read (I also did this). I was happy with the ending, and how they got to the ending, especially for a social media/blogging junkie like me. :P If you’re a blogger, a traveler or a reader (or, maybe even all)  who is looking for a light and sweet contemporary romance fix, then All’s Fair in Blog and War is a book for you. :)

Rating:

* Follow Five (@5travels) and Jesse (@wanderingcamera) on Twitter for more swoon online! :D

Minis: Circles, Hearts and Rains

As usual, I’m doing mini-reviews to catch up with my review backlog! Some Filipino books up for this Minis post. :)

* * *
Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH BatacanSmaller 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.

Rating:
Other reviews:
marginalia | Book Rhapsody

What's In Your Heart by Ines Bautista-YaoWhat’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?

* * *

I wasn’t completely sold on the author’s first bookso 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. :)

Rating:
Sky Blue After the RainSky 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.

* * *

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. :)

Rating: [rating=3

 

The Scent of Rain

The Scent of RainThe Scent of Rain by Kristin Billerbeck
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Number of pages: 305
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Could it be that the life Daphne’s always wanted is right under her nose?

Daphne Sweeten left Paris–and a job she loved–to marry the man of her dreams in the U.S. But when he stands her up on their wedding day, she’s left reeling and senseless. Literally. She’s been trained as a perfume creator and now her sense of smell has disappeared along with her fiance.

She has to figure out why her nose isn’t working, fix it, and get back to Paris. Meanwhile, she’ll rely on her chemistry skills and just hope her new boss at Gibraltar Products, Jesse, doesn’t notice her failing senses. They’ll be working together on household fragrances, not posh perfumes. How hard can it be?

As Daphne and Jesse work on a signature scent for their new line, she feels God at work as never before. And the promise of what’s possible is as fresh as the scent of rain.

* * *

Daphne Sweeten is a professional nose — by that, we mean she’s a chemist who is trained to be a perfume creator. When she gets stood up on her wedding day, though, her sense of smell disappears. Trying to piece her life back together, she works for a small company in Ohio, hoping to get her sense of smell back and fly back to Paris, which she gave up for the supposed love of her life. But her new job requires her nose, too, and her new boss, Jesse, doesn’t seem to notice that she cannot smell anything. They’re not creating perfume anyway — she can definitely do this, right?

I’ve always considered Kristin Billerbeck books as a comfort read ever since I read and liked her Ashley Stockingdale series years ago. It’s been years since I last read a Billerbeck book, but even so, it was easy enough for me to get immersed in the book. There’s a certain familiarity in the way she writes, in her characters and her stories that makes her books easy reading, hence the comfort read label. :)

The Scent of Rain has that Billerbeck formula — a girl who has some sort of romantic fiasco, a guy who’s all bad news for her and a guy who’s obviously good for her. Then there’s the supporting cast: the best friend, the family (who, more often than not, cares for the main character in a really strange way), and the church group who will help her get back on track. And there’s the villain, who we all hate, but we will eventually understand, because of something that will happen. This book has all the common ingredients in a nice and clean chick lit novel, with the bonus factor of the main character’s job, a perfume specialist. I really liked the scent aspect of the book, and it gave me a whole new perspective with how to scents work with our senses. And I agree — scents can bring memories! I remember holding on to a perfume bottle for so long because it reminded me of this particular memorable event in my life. :)

It’s a very enjoyable read, and I found myself rooting for Daphne and wishing that Jesse would finally make that step to move their relationship forward. I liked the set-up, though, and their relationship seemed very organic despite the short time they spent. There was just the right swoon, too, but not too much that it’s too cheesy. It was fun, but not mindless and it’s clean but not too prudish.

I think my only complaint is that certain event in the end that brought about the big changes — it felt a little too convenient despite it being a bit surprising, bordering on being a deus ex machina. But other than that, I really enjoyed reading The Scent of RainIt’s not super duper amazing, but it’s good, and it makes me want to start looking for my own personal scent.

Reading this book makes me want to revisit the Ashley Stockingdale series to see if I still like it as much as I did on my first (and second) reads. Hmm.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Wall to Wall Books

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

Wander Girl

Wander Girl by Tweet Sering Wander Girl by Tweet Sering
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 116
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Twenty-something Hilda Gallares is having a hard time navigating life after college. She’s stuck in a bad relationship and a dead-end job in her family’s travel business. Obviously, this is not the life of travel, excitement, and sweep-you-off-your-feet romance that Hilda had always dreamed of.

But after a pregnancy scare where she imagines the kind of life she might be living before she’s even really LIVED, Hilda finally starts a journey to search for her ideal job, her ideal self, and her ideal man. Will she finally try her hand at being a writer, or will she slug it out as a clerk at the travel agency? And will it be the passionate French backpacker she met at Sagada or the earnest Brit she met at the bar? But more importantly, will Hilda’s wandering lead her where she really wants to be?

* * *

I read and enjoyed Tweet Sering’s non-fiction essay anthology, Astigirl, early this year, so I was on the lookout for the ebook release of her novel, Wander Girl. I believe this book has been published in print before but is now unavailable, so the ebook version was the best thing to come along, especially since I felt like I would like Tweet’s other writings.

And you know what, I was right.

Hilda Gallares is also stuck in her own rut right after graduating college. Stuck in a dead-end job and a seemingly dead-end relationship, she knows that her life is not the one she had dreamed of back in college. After a pregnancy scare, Hilda sets off and tries to find herself, her dream job and her ideal man…but the question is, is she doing it right? And will her wander girl tendencies lead her to where she really wants to be?

I read Wander Girl overnight, and I can’t really remember the circumstances that led me to reading it that fast, except maybe that I was in some kind of personal rut. I figured I needed to do my own soul searching and also escape (it’s a paradox, but I think some of you will get it), so what better way to do that than to look for good local chick lit, right? Chick lit is about a woman finding herself, right? The book is written in a book format — meaning we are reading a book written by Hilda herself, not just the Wander Girl novel. I don’t know about others, but this made me enjoy the book immensely because it feels like I am actually reading something a fictional character wrote. Here we get a glimpse of Hilda’s family and her friends, which sets up the entire stage for her story to unfold.

I liked Hilda from the start, but I honestly don’t think I see myself in her. Okay, I see a bit of myself, but I think Hilda is just a little wilder than I am, which is saying a lot, since Hilda never really considered herself wild. But I liked her, she’s such a likable character. Her friends and family are definite characters too that I just really liked reading about them. Also, everything Hilda goes through is so fitting for those who are experiencing quarter-life crisis. While the experiences may not be similar, I thought Tweet Sering captured the despair and the feeling of wanting to do something meaningful in one’s life perfectly. I could change a few details in Hilda’s story and it could be my story just as easily.

I also liked how Filipino this book was, not just with the injection of Filipino words and expressions (a glossary is provided in the ebook copy), but with the values and themes it discussed: leaving home to live alone (not really something people would do here), family matters and even religion. I especially liked how religion and settling down factored in the story, and laughed so much at that particular scene where Hilda just breaks down and acknowledges this. You’ll have to read it to believe it. Hee. All the laughter!

I really, really enjoyed Wander Girland in a way, it gave me hope for my quarter-life woes. Like I said, there’s nothing like theright chick lit to cure me of some QLC. I especially liked this final quote (not spoilery, don’t worry!):

Because the best thing about wandering off, I have found, is coming home.

I don’t think I’m really wandering off, but I can say that I’m my own wander girl in a different sense. I think we all are. :)

I don’t know if Tweet Sering is writing another novel, but if she is, I will definitely read it when it comes out. If I may request — a spin-off for Hannah, the youngest Gallares sister? I feel like she needs a story of her own. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
marginalia