Trese

Last weekend, I was trying to get into reading Noli Me Tangere for my Required Reading challenge and because it was Independence Day. Unfortunately, I was having a hard time getting started — it is one of our National Hero’s masterpieces written during the Philippines’ Spanish era, so the language was a bit dated. I had a hard time getting into the book so I perused my shelf for something easier to read, but still Filipino because like I said, it was our country’s independence day.

So I said hello to Alexandra Trese again. :)

I can’t remember who told me about the Trese series — I probably read it in one of the many blogs I’m following. Since I was on a mission to read more Filipino work last year, I knew I should read it, even if I only bought myself the first copy. I got it, read it in an hour, and liked it but never got to review it. I even met the authors during the Metro Comicon last year, but I’m not a comic girl, so I wasn’t really that interested, or starstruck, unlike some of my friends were. Fast forward a few months later, after getting the next books and discussing graphic novels with Ariel (who gave me Books 2 and 3 for Christmas), I finally cracked them open.

Trese # 1: Murder on Balete DriveTrese # 1: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo
Publisher: Visprint
Number of pages: 104
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.

When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

* * *

Trese is a comic book series about Alexandra Trese, a bar owner who also works as a paranormal detective helping the Manila police in solving the weirder crimes that happen in the metro. Each book has a series of shorter stories inside, where we see Trese find the criminal through her contacts in the paranormal world. As it’s set in the Philippines, Trese’s paranormal contacts are all from the Philippine mythologyaswang, duwende, tikblang, etc.

I remember reading the first book last year and being impressed — it was very nice to read about something I know and grew up with given a different twist. Trese was likeable despite her very cold demeanor, and she immediately joins the strong female leads that I have read about in other books. I do find her a little bit too perfect in this though — perfect in the sense that she knows everything and she does everything right. I would’ve wanted her to mess up a bit, but that may be too much for me to ask in the first book.

The cases were interesting, and they tread carefully between the line of paranormal and horror (is there a line there? Not sure). I liked how it related to what I know as a Filipino, but not in the classic, dated sense. I liked that the story was set in places in Manila and how they were updated to the current times. No deep dark forests or remote provinces were the creatures normally lurk here, for sure. It’s fun, and thankfully not scary enough for me to really freak out, you know?

Yeah, I know, I’m a big chicken. :P

On the international front, I think Trese would be able to hold its own with a bit of limitation. I don’t think it’s very hard to understand, but I think the mythology would take some time to get used to and would need more research for a non-Filipino reader to understand. It’s easy for me to wrap my head around the creepiness of Balete Drive because I live here, but for someone in another country, I’m not sure if the creepiness factor would be the same. Still, I’d like to see how non-Filipino readers would view Trese.

Continue Reading →

Blue Angel, White Shadow

Blue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson OngBlue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson Ong
UST Publishing House, 229 pages

Twenty-five year old lounge singer Laurice Saldiaga is found dead in her room at the Blue Angel Cafe and Bar in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. Inspector Cyrus Ledesma, a Chinese mestizo cop with a dark past is assigned to investigate the matter. The bar owner, Antonio Cobianco, is a known associate of Mayor Lagdameo Go-Lopez. Ledesma walks into a cauldron of intrigues, labyrinths, crumbling edifices, dogfights and suspects that include a jaded whiskey drinking female bar manager, a psychic journalist, a dyslexic piano player, a quick trigger pit bull owner, an aging saxophone player and Cyrus’ own uncle, Police Chief Ruben Jacinto.

One of my favorite classes in college that wasn’t my major was my Lit class, not only because I had an awesome professor, but because I just simply loved to read. I loved that I was required to pick up a novel for class, and write a report about it. The only lit class I had was Philippine literature so I was only required to read local fiction, some written by some professors in the university. While that wasn’t what what I usually read then, I didn’t mind — I was allowed to read non-textbooks for class. In a word, it was awesome.

Reading Charlson Ong’s Blue Angel, White Shadow reminded me of those college days. I can’t quite put a finger on it, but there’s something about this book’s tone that reminded me of that. It’s been a while since I last read a serious Filipino novel so it took me some time to adjust to the tone of this book. In Blue Angel, White Shadow, we was introduced to Filipino-Chinese cop Cyrus Ledesma who was sent to investigate the death of Laurice Saldiaga, found dead in her room in The Blue Angel Cafe. The investigation leads us down Cyrus’ dark past and introduces us to several other characters — bar owner and singer Rosa Misa and her fiesty daughter Rosemarie, the old and kind-hearted Antonio Cobianco who has his own secrets, Manila Mayor Lagdameo Go-Lopez who formerly wanted to be a vet, pitbull owner Robert Cobianco, and Cyrus’ priest friend Fr. Jay among others — all somewhat related to the death of the singer.

I was expecting a typical murder mystery novel as I read Blue Angel, White Shadow, but was surprised to find something more. Instead of just following the main character collect clues to find out whodunnit, I was led through different character studies as for most chapters, I was introduced to the different people and how they were all (or will be) connected. It felt a little confusing at first, and I was impatient to know how all these characters related to the opening incident. I liked reading about the characters but I guess I was expecting something else that was why it took me a while to really get into the story.

But once I did, I realized just how good the author was in weaving the story. Even as he exposed the characters, their past and their possible motivations one by one, I couldn’t figure out who was responsible. Sure, other issues and conspiracies were discussed, but there was never a solid clue that pointed to the culprit. Once it was finally exposed, however, it seemed…well, obvious. It wasn’t even ingenious, just…well, obvious. I guess my years of watching CSI has never really rubbed off on me. The ending was pretty satisfactory, and interestingly, there was even a little romance. I liked how everything tied up in the end, answering most of the questions but not in a too clean way that it didn’t seem realistic anymore. I remember giving a satisfied nod as soon as I closed the book, my mind content with how it ended.

This isn’t really my genre, but I liked Blue Angel, White Shadow, and I am truly impressed by Charlson Ong’s writing. I feel like I could learn a lot with how he wrote his characters. I hope that the seriousness of the cover or the blurb wouldn’t make readers ignore this book because it is an enjoyable piece of fiction, even if I did feel the need to write a book report for school after reading it. :D

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 Filipino Books for 2011

My copy: review copy from UST Publishing House, c/o Tarie. Thank you! :)

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Dark Chest of Wonders

Love Your Frenemies

Love Your Frenemies by Mina V. EsguerraLove Your Frenemies by Mina V. Esguerra
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 144
My copy: ebook from Smashwords

Kimmy Domingo was the kind of girl everyone hated and envied — until her fiancé dumped her a week before their wedding. Soon after, she quit her job, hopped on a plane, and just hid from everyone who knew her. A year later and she’s back in Manila to be maid of honor at a wedding she can’t miss.

Kimmy’s home because she’s ready to start over, but she also knows that some people at that wedding were responsible for the mess her life turned out to be. The first step to recovery? Cutting off the ones who caused her troubles to begin with: her best friend and her first love.

* * *

The release of Love Your Frenemies by Mina V. Esguerra totally made my Monday morning happier, and it also made me lose sleep because I couldn’t put it down. I was so excited to read this that I put all other currently reads down, and the need to write my thoughts on feels more urgent than writing reviews for the two books that I need to review first. I can only think of two reasons why I have this urgency: it’s because I really liked this book and I need to share my thoughts ASAP, and because I’m such a Mina fan. ;)

Love Your Frenemies features Kimberly Domingo, a familiar character for those who have read Mina’s first book, My Imaginary Ex. For the uninitiated, Kimberly, also known as Kimmy, is the b*tch in her debut novel, the villain in Jasmine and Zack’s romance. It’s easy to hate her in that book as she was painted completely in black and white. More of a companion novel than a sequel (so you don’t have to read My Imaginary Ex to understand this…spoiler warning for that novel, though, if you haven’t read it!), this gives us a different picture of Kimmy, one year after she left after being dumped by Zack. Kimmy goes back home for her best friend’s wedding, changed from her one year absence. Determined to start over, she slowly faces all the things she left behind — her family, her Country Club friends, her old job. She’s also ready to cut off the people she’s declared toxic in her life, namely her bride-to-be best friend, Chesca, and her first love, hunky and charismatic Manolo.

I love spin-off stories featuring other characters, especially the villains, because it gives readers an entirely different perspective. It’s also a great character study and a perfect example of how our first impressions of people don’t tell us much. I like how Mina built Kimmy’s back story here, making her less evil and just another person who had issues to deal with on her own, issues that happened to entangle other people. It shows that people aren’t always black and white, but mostly gray.

I also liked that this one focused more on Kimmy’s self-discovery and friendships than the romance. Oh sure, Manolo’s hot (but I still find Lucas of Fairy Tale Fail hotter, LOL), but Kimmy’s relationship with him wasn’t the sole focus of the story. Love Your Frenemies isn’t really just about love but about, well, frenemies. :) I liked how Mina made the other characters three-dimensional. Like the first Kimmy in My Imaginary Ex, some of them were easy to hate at first, but as the story unfolded, I started to somewhat understand why they did what they did, even if it’s not what an ideal friend would do. I found myself feeling somewhat affectionate towards them in the end, and it further proves that people are not what you always believe them to be.

Love Your Frenemies is filled with flawed characters that paints a very accurate picture of how complicated and messy relationships — family, friendships, and romantic ones — are. It doesn’t have any of those heart-stopping, tingle-inducing romance, but more of the introspection of a woman who’s trying to build her life back from the mess that it has been and is determined not to make another mistake. The characters are far from perfect, and honestly I don’t think they’d be my crowd, but they’re definitely the kind of people that you’d want to be on your side even if they can be a pain in the neck more than half the time.

I think Love Your Frenemies show how much Mina really thinks about what she writes. It’s difficult to give a voice to a villain and make her human and deserving of sympathy, but Mina does it almost effortlessly in her newest novel. Kimmy isn’t your most lovable character, unlike Jasmine or Ellie or Carla from Mina’s previous novels, but she’s the type of character that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the last page, teaching us important lessons on discovering yourself, forgiveness and the ties that bind.

Highly recommended, and don’t think I’m saying that only because I’m such a fan. ;)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Smashwords

Ang Mga Kaibigan Ni Mama Susan

Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong
(Visprint, 127 pages)

I’ve been reading Bob Ong’s books since college, ever since a friend brought her copy of his first book, A B N K K B S N P L A Ko (That reads as Aba Nakakabasa Na Pala Ako – literal translation: Wow, I Can Read Now). Bob Ong is one of the popular Filipino writers, who, until now, I am not sure if he is really one person or many contributing to one book. I’ve read almost all of his books ever since then, always looking forward to his funny words of wisdom that pokes and reflects on modern Filipino culture. I remember resorting to his books whenever I needed a pick-me-up, and since then, he’s become one of those authors that I buy even if he isn’t really a favorite. Perhaps this is an addiction?

So when I saw Bob Ong’s latest book in Fully Booked, Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan (Translation: Mama Susan’s Friends), I didn’t think twice in getting it. I wasn’t even sure what it was about — I just knew it was Bob Ong, and whatever it is, I would probably like it. Even if I did not, it’s still local fiction, so I figure it’s still a win, right?

Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan brings us back to the days of school journals. Everyone must have had a teacher who made them do a journal for school — a small notebook with a recollection of what happened for a certain period of time to be read and graded by a teacher. I don’t really know the purpose of why our teachers made us do this except maybe for my college Literature professor. That wasn’t a particularly hard assignment for me, anyway, as I’ve always been journaling on my own — it was all a matter of filtering what you write for school, you see.

I didn’t know what the book was about when I got it. It wasn’t until I got back to the office to read about the book when I finally saw this trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

The trailer is in Filipino, but you don’t really need to understand it to figure out that this book is horror, especially when you get to the last part of the trailer. That stopped me from reading the book immediately. I was never a fan of horror, and I really go out of my way to avoid anything scary. I’m not a screamer, and I’m usually calm in reading or watching or listening to scary stories but my imagination wrecks havoc in me after.

So when I decided to read the book, I told myself I need to finish it in broad daylight. And so I did. In Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan, we meet Galo, who first started writing on a journal for an assignment and ended up keeping it because he did not want to waste his notebook. He chronicles his life in Manila where he lives with his relatives who never made living with them easy for him. He gets fed up with them and leaves to go back to the province to stay with his grandmother who raised him before he left for Manila. Things changed drastically from what he remembers in the province. Instead of finding the town to be just less noisier than Manila but still with improvements from his last visit, he finds that the town went backwards and were rejecting technology (no heated mattress pads, for example). His grandmother’s house grows increasingly creepier with the presence of different statues of saints and the weekly gatherings of her grandmother’s friends in her house. As weirder things start to happen, Galo tries to escape, but finds that there may be powers stronger than he is that are keeping him from doing so.

Talk about creepy. I read this in one bright and sunny afternoon but I couldn’t shake off the creeps especially in the last pages. I think one thing that made it really scary is the fact that it is a journal, and it’s a first person account. I liked how Bob Ong’s words flowed naturally and Galo’s voice rang clear all through out. I found that it wasn’t much different from the voices of his other characters from his previous books but there’s this distinct Bob Ong feel to it that is familiar. There’s also the fun references to some of the things I grew up with as a kid.

While I enjoyed reading it because of Bob Ong, I can’t say I liked it because like I said, I don’t like horror. The story is interesting and the last pages are truly creepy, but as a whole, it’s not my book. My rating isn’t really based on how much the book lacked but really more of a genre preference. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll probably enjoy this, but if you’re a big chicken like me…skip. For your peace of mind, skip it.

To further prove my point: after I finished reading this book, I woke up in the middle of the night from my sleep needing to go to the rest room. I almost decided not to go because it would mean standing up and going there alone, and who knows what I will find when I open my bedroom door? I keep on remembering the face in the trailer and freaked out at the thought of seeing that in the dark corners of our apartment. I got up eventually because I couldn’t hold it in any longer. But I left all doors and lights open, and ran back to the bedroom right after doing my business, all the while my mind remembering the last words of the book in absolute clarity.

Hmph. Big chicken, I am.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
1 of 20 Filipino books in 2011

My copy: Paperback, from Fully Booked

Cover: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
taking a break
Simply, Human

In My Mailbox (13): The First Weeks of January

It’s been a while since I did an In My Mailbox post, and it’s not because I went on a book buying ban, but because I was just too lazy to make a post about the stuff I got. I thought I’d be able to make it long into a the new year without buying new books, but alas. Who am I kidding?

So this is a consolidated post for the past three weeks of January, and maybe even some in December. If I can remember what I got back then, of course. :P

In My Mailbox is a weekly book meme hosted by Kristi from The Story Siren, where bloggers post about what books received that week, be it via  mailbox, library or store.

BOUGHT:

  1. White Cat by Holly Black – I only got this because Chachic posted a positive review of the book, and see, I’m still easily swayed. It helps that I got the e-galley of the next book from Simon and Schuster, so when I saw this in Fully Booked, I knew I can’t let it go anymore. :P
  2. Some Girls Are by Courtney SummersHolly reviewed this early this week, and well, consider me sold. I love contemporary and I like reading about high school cliques (sans the scandals, of course), and this one got really good reviews. I’m so glad I spotted this one yesterday when we visited Fully Booked after the FBB/Flippers meet up. :)
  3. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta – This was actually the first print book I purchased this year. I saw it in Fully Booked Eastwood and didn’t let it go, forgetting that there was a sale that weekend. Pfft. Ah well. :)

GRABBED:

Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal, translated by Soledad Lacson-Locsin. At yesterday’s Filipino Book Bloggers/Flips Flipping Pages meet up, someone had this translation of Noli Me Tangere up for book swap. I have been wanting to get my hands on a translated copy of this novel for a long time now, but I wasn’t sure which was the best translation. This one was what Blooey and the Flippers read last year, and is said to be a really good translation. I got it and no one stole it from me, so…yay. Finally!

Now a little backgrounder: Noli Me Tangere is written by the Philippines’ National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. This is a required reading in high school, but I never really read the novel in its entirety because our copy in high school was the summarized version (no, it’s not abridged, if you’re thinking that’s the term — it was actual chapter summaries that we had to summarize for another report. Hmph). I figure in my life as a reader, I must read this novel at least once in my life. So yay.

The bookmark is one of the giveaways for the Flippers meet-up. :)

GIFTED/BORROWED:

  1. Captivating by John and Stasi Elredge – this is a Christmas gift from my friend RE. I’ve read this one in college and it was one of those good books for women that I really liked. My mom has my other copy of this and I don’t even know where it is right now. Haha. I don’t know if I will read this anytime soon, but it’s nice to know I have another copy here to refer to when I need it. :)
  2. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis – this is lent to me by RE, too, and this is the best C.S. Lewis work according to him. This is only a lending copy though. Heh. I have a feeling I’ll like this one, too, and I’ve reserved it for February reading already. Now to find a copy of this one. Hmm.

WON:

Being Jamie Baker by Kelly Oram. I’ve seen this book from Kai‘s blog, and I added it on my wish list for the sheer pink-ness of it. :P I followed the author on Twitter, then on Facebook for her contest and even exchanged tweets with her during NaNoWriMo. I never expected to win because I’m not really lucky with winning, but lo and behold: I was her second winner! :) Thanks, Kelly!

This kind of took its sweet time to arrive at home, and I thought it would be lost in the mail forever, but good thing it arrived just before 2010 ended. :) I love how pink the book really is. :D The book is signed, too:

EBOOKS:

I got too many ebooks since December. Talk about crazy buying binge? Sort of. :P I also got a ton of e-galleys from Simon and Schuster’s Galley Grab. :D

Bought:

  • Miss Match and Match Point by Erynn Mangum
  • Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John – loved this!
  • Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen – my physical copy is with some friend, so I splurged on an ebook.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – loved this, too! Review coming up soon
  • Infinity by Sarah Dessen

For Review:

  • Save as Draft by Cavanaugh Lee
  • Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
  • Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
  • Red Glove by Holly Black
  • Stay by Deb Caletti
  • Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz

There is probably more, but I forgot about them.

I know I said I won’t be stressing over my TBR, but I really think I should get to reading the other books that are starting to pile up in the apartment, the ones I acquired before 2010 ended. I really should work on that. I should.

Yeah, I always say that. :P I bet most of you guys do too. :P