No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached by Mina V. Esguerra
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages: 146
My copy: paperback from National Bookstore

Carla is a whiz at her job: she’s efficient, reliable, and a total genius when it comes to putting something together at the last-minute. The snag is she’s single and turning the big three-oh in a few months. Her girl best friend (yes, she’s married just like the other girls in Carla’s barkada) keeps trying to set her up with stable banker-types, while her guy best friend (single – the other single one) encourages her to play the field – no strings attached. Then, through no set up or extraordinary circumstance, Carla meets Dante. Hot, smug, sexy Dante. Definitely not a banker-type and seemingly too good to be true. So there’s got to be a catch. There is. He’s five years younger. Is the universe telling Carla to finally let loose and enjoy a fling with a younger man? Or is there a lot more to this awkward situation that she bargained for?

* * *

I attended my godsister’s wedding yesterday, the second wedding I attended this year. I came out of my brother’s wedding last October relatively unscathed with questions about my own wedding, but this time around, I wasn’t so safe. For one thing, I was called for the bouquet toss even if I was trying to make myself scarce at that point (my godsister called me out). Then as we were saying goodbye to the newly weds and my godsister’s parents, they were all saying to me, “Don’t forget to invite us to your wedding.”

Sigh. Sure I won’t forget. I figure it would be less exasperating question if I was actually nearing the altar, but alas, I’m not.

That is probably what Carla in Mina V. Esguerra‘s latest novel, No Strings Attached, felt, especially when her friends started getting married and having a life very different from her own. It doesn’t help that the only remaining single in her group of friends was Tonio, the guy who likes to play the field. Carla is tired of being set up with stable banker types that she doesn’t really like, and at the same time, she doesn’t like how Tonio does it. Then she meets Dante, and things go from cold to sizzling hot between the two of them. The only catch is Dante is five years younger. Does she stay or does she go?

I’ve been hounding the bookstores ever since Mina announced in Twitter that her new book would be out soon, and I was giddy when I finally got my hands on it (boo on Eastwood stores for not having them in stock as fast as the other branches). This is another light and quick read from Mina, albeit a little different from her first two novels, My Imaginary Ex and Fairy Tale Fail. I can’t really pinpoint if it’s more serious or not, but it is certainly different. Like what Chachic said, the story focused not on how the love story unfolded, but on the complications of the relationships, especially to the people around Carla and Dante.

Mina shows how chick lit does not always have to deal with heroines finding their soul mates or wanting to get married. Sure, it has romance and there is the set-ups and talks of weddings, but No Strings Attached has a different kind of romance. It’s one that we don’t really get to see on movies or TV or read in any other books. I liked how No Strings Attached tackles a different kind of love story, one that I am pretty sure some Filipinas experience as well. I liked how Carla seemed like a very real person, and her friends offer enough contrast to her for the readers to see the different sides of the story without telling it to them in a long monologue of sorts from the heroine.

I can’t really relate to Carla’s predicament, but I do know I see myself in her best friend, Mary’s shoes. I don’t necessarily set my friends up with stable banker types, but I’d probably react the same way she did if I find out that some of my close friends are in a relationship similar to Carla’s. I’m not proud of it, but the good thing about books is some characters act as a mirror, and it helps me to realize or remember things about myself that I need to keep in check (or sometimes even get rid of) in order to be a loving friend.

It’s not my favorite Mina book (that slot still belongs to Fairy Tale Fail), but it’s another good local chick lit to be lost in for a couple of hours (or days, if you’re not a fast reader). I guess I don’t have to say that I am her fan now, but if it needs saying: if there’s a Mina Esguerra fans club, I am definitely in. ;)

Oh, an in case you were wondering, I didn’t catch the bouquet. :P

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook

Girl Meets World

Girl Meets World by Claire Betita de Guzman
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages: 143
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

From the author of No Boyfriend Since Birth comes another modern-day romance that’s sure to tickle your funny bone—and touch your heart. Mia Tupas is your typical shy girl daunted by the idea of talking to strangers and content with a humdrum routine of shuttling between work and home. But right after a fortuneteller spies a man in her future, Mia meets Leo, and the two hit it off immediately. There’s just one problem: Leo lives in Bangkok, and Mia balks at the mere thought of getting on a plane—she’s never even been around the country!

Still, the possibility of romance is tantalizing, and Mia manages to keep in touch with Leo through e-mail. But when she finally works up the courage to fly to Bangkok and find out where she stands, she discovers that Leo has left for Bali on the very same day.

Will Mia get her much-awaited chance at love? Join her on this entertaining, cross-country quest through Bangkok, Bali, and Vietnam for the man who just might be The One.

* * *

I wasn’t very impressed with Claire Betita de Guzman’s first novel, No Boyfriend Since Birth. It was my first local chick lit read as a research for my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel, and I ended up getting irritated at the heroine and the story because none of it felt real to me. When I saw that the same author has a new book out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it because of her debut. The excerpt seemed pretty interesting, but I didn’t know if it was a justifiable impulse buy.

I eventually gave in and bought it last weekend using some expiring National Bookstore GCs and read the book in a couple of hours. Girl Meets World is the story of Mia Tupas, a homebody who writes brochures for a local tourism company and is perfectly content with her routine life – home, office, with the occasional restaurant delivery meal every now and then. One day, she meets her colleague’s friend, Leo, and they have an instant connection. Egged on by a fortune teller, homebody Mia decides to go to Bangkok to visit Leo to see if he is indeed The One, and finds herself on a sudden trip to Southeast Asia, following the guy who may or may not be The One.

Altogether now: what is wrong with that picture?

The moment Mia decides that she’s going to Bangkok to visit Leo in the story, I immediately wanted to shake her. Okay, the going to Bangkok was forgivable, and no matter how much she denies it, I know she knows that her goal there was to talk to Leo…but when she goes to Bali, well…I wanted to smack her. The Mia from the excerpt was interesting, but as the story went on, I found her too romantic. Perhaps it’s my pride talking, but I think anyone would know that Mia running after a guy she only really bonded over through chat is not a good idea.

Girl Meets World is a typical chick lit with love as the main goal, and while it is better than No Boyfriend Since Birth, I feel that it still lacked on what other good chick lit stories have. Mia’s growth and realizations about herself felt unnatural and flat, almost like she was reading it off some book. The supporting characters were interesting, but their exposure was too little that I couldn’t really connect with them. I’m willing to suspend by belief over the sudden change of course in traveling, but the different situations Mia encountered in the different places she went to felt too forced that I can’t buy it. I know chick lit is supposed to be fluff and this one has a lot of it…but I think chick lit must also be substantial, and I think the book kind of failed in that aspect.

This book had a lot of similarities with Amazing Grace by Tara FT Sering, which I really liked, so maybe that’s why I did not like how this book turned out so much. That, and maybe because I kind of have too high standards sometime. ^^ Girl Meets World isn’t a total waste of a read, so if you want to read something really light and fluffy, give this a try. Otherwise, go for something from Tara FT Sering, Marla Miniano or Mina Esguerra.

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Girl Next Cubicle

Kataastaasan

It’s going to be a pretty quiet month, at least as far as my blogs are concerned because of NaNoWriMo, and other real life stuff that does not revolve around the novel. You definitely know I am writing my novel because I am starting to avoid contractions in my text to up my word count. See?

Anyway, other than NaNoWriMo, we have just moved out of our house for our long awaited house renovation, so I had to put all my books into big plastic bags and transferred them to this apartment down the street. This kind of stopped me from reading because I can’t just dig those books out without making a big mess. Most of my reading will be done via Astrid the Kindle now, but I will try to grab a book once in a while. Perhaps after November.

But of course I cannot stop reading. So when I’m not writing, I try to read. And that happened earlier while I was at work. I did not feel like writing, and I also did not feel like working, so I decided to poke around in my Kindle to see what I can read — something short and quick, to just wake me up.

Then I found Kataastaasan.

Kataastaasan by Hannah Buena and Paolo Chikiamco, is not really a book but a short 22-page comic that is set in 1770 in Cebu City and tells an alternate history of the Philippines’ struggle for independence from Spain. I don’t want to give anything away since it’s a pretty short piece, but suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how the story turned out! I’m not much of a comic person and I’m fairly new to speculative fiction, so I did not know what to expect with this, but I finished this one with only one thought: that was a really cool twist.

And it really is. I thought it was a very creative use of one of the many colorful aspects of Filipino culture, with a steampunk twist. The language was easy to understand and I liked the dark vibe it had despite the innocent looking characters. I’m also not very knowledgeable in making comments on artwork, but I thought the illustrations here were very good, even if it’s all in black and white. The lack of color just adds to the overall historic feel to it, IMHO.

I really, really liked this one, and it was worth the fifteen minutes I stole from work to read it. :P I’m hoping there would be more? I’m not much of a comic reader, but I’ll definitely be in line for this one if there is more. :)

Kataastaasan will be published by Espresso Comics, which hopefully will be published before this year ends. Thanks to Pao for the ARC!

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 95 out of 100 for 2010
* Book # 12 out of 20 for Project 20:10
Fine. I know it’s not a book…but I’m counting it in anyway. :P

My copy: e-ARC from one of the authors

Cover image: Rocket Kapre

Other Reviews:
Into the Wardrobe

Flight to the Stars

Flight to the Stars (and other stories) by Samantha Mae Coyiuto
Publisher: Anvil
Number of pages:  179
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

When Samantha Mae Coyiuto was barely ten years old, she had already wrote and illustrated three funny yet engaging collections of children’s stories. Now about to turn sixteen, this third-year high school student and nationally ranked junior tennis player recently launched her fourth book, Flight to the Stars & Other Stories, a collection of three short fiction that tackles serious themes encompassing teenage life and Filipino family dynamics.

Samantha began writing short stories using a laptop at the age of six. Having a natural penchant for cartooning, she also did the illustrations for her first three books, a series of fantasy and magical tales in which she displayed not only a talent for storytelling but also a sense of humor that made the stories such fun to read.

This is her first book of stories for young adults, in which she exhibits a deft touch for characterization and dialogue, a narrative flair for dramatic tension and charming wit, as well as the ability to tackle difficult issues confronted by individuals and families.

* * *

Two reasons why I got this book:

  1. It’s written by a Filipino.
  2. It’s written by a sixteen-year-old girl.

I wrote my first story when I was a seven years old. It was a story about how the different weathers (sunny, cloudy, rainy, stormy) were all fighting over their reign in the sky, which led to the people on earth pleading for them to stop fighting because it was getting hard for them there. The next story I wrote (that I still have a copy of!) is The Two Slumber Parties, were two friends fight and set a slumber party on one date, putting one of their friends in the middle to choose. I wrote more stories after I realized and declared that I wanted to be a write when I grow up, filling notebooks and notebooks with stories which always had a happy ending.

So why don’t I have a published novel now? Well, I blame it on real life taking over and me starting to get pickier and pickier with the stories I wrote. That, and computers, because around the time when I could have started submitting stories somewhere, I started getting into web design and that started my career as a web person. I admit to still feeling a pang of regret with my sort of forgotten writing “career”, but that’s why I join NaNoWriMo year after year.

Anyway, I was looking forward to reading Samantha’s book because I was curious about what someone her age could write. Flight to the Stars is an anthology of three short stories that, as the blurb mentioned, “…tackles serious themes encompassing teenage life and Filipino dynamics.” The title story, Flight to the Stars, tells the story of Mike and his relationship with his father and his mistress, and his own reflections on life as he gets married to the girl of his dreams. The second story, Sapphire, is about a girl and her battle with insecurities particularly with her weight, and her first heartbreak. The third story, The Purple Box, is about a man facing his sixty-first birthday with flashbacks on how he ended up where he was, thinking about the man who had inspired him to hope and the tragedy that shattered all that.

There is much promise in this collection of stories that the young author wrote. They’re all positive, family-oriented stories, all full of hope and life lessons. Like what other reviews said, this is the kind of book that I wouldn’t mind letting younger kids read, particularly those who are in their tweens and the ones who are ready to start transitioning to bigger, wordier books. There is a distinctly Filipino feel in their stories that makes them closer to the heart, and yet I think that people from other nationalities will also appreciate the stories, too. That doesn’t mean that grown-ups won’t appreciate this, though. I liked them well enough (even if I don’t really consider myself as a grown up sometimes :P), and the stories kind of reminded me of my younger years and the little concerns that I had then, such as assignments, going to the prom, being late for school, and all that.

However, as an adult reader who’s been reading a lot for the past few months, I think the age of the author really showed in her stories. Aside from the simple language, it pretty much showed that the author doesn’t really know much of the different troubles of growing up, at least by experience. I’m not saying that I know everything of course, but I was kind of looking for something in the stories that would evoke some emotions from me that unfortunately I didn’t get. These stories reminded me of the things I wrote when I was younger: written in rose-colored glasses, teetering at the edge of the serious, of the dark and the deep but never really making the plunge to see what’s going to happen after. There were many unexplored parts and issues in the stories that could have been could have made a different impact on the stories. Spoiler warning starts here. Case in point: in Sapphire, the eating disorder that the heroine developed felt like it was rushed, especially on the part on how she got over it. Sure, I understand that you’d do everything for your family, but an eating disorder is not something you’d just get rid of at a snap of a finger, just because someone is watching. I’ve never had an eating disorder but I know friends who have tried to get over it and it’s not easy. It’s not a deal breaker, but I feel that it’s important since this could be something that could spark a discussion with kids and their parents or their teachers, about eating disorders and self-image. Spoiler warning ends here. This may be just me nitpicking, of course…but readers who are looking for a very deep and emotional read may be a tad disappointed, so I would advise you to set your expectations right if you would decide to read this book.

Overall, though, this is a promising book, and I think it’s a great feat for a 16-year-old to write something like this. I wonder now — if she can get published, then I am pretty sure one or two (or ten!) of the hundreds of Filipino NaNoWriMo participants can do so, too. I bet if every budding writer in the Philippines had the same kind of support that Samantha Mae Coyiuto had, then we’d have more books written by Filipino authors and with the number of book lovers here in the Philippines, I’m sure there are guaranteed readers, too. I’m sure to be one of them. :)

Rating:

Other Reviews/Articles:
PhilStar.com – Samantha Mae Coyiuto’s constellation of stories
Smart Parenting – Flight to the Stars: A Book Worth Keeping for your Child

Catch a Falling Star

Catch a Falling Star by Cristina Pantoja HidalgoCatch a Falling Star by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo
Publisher: Anvil
Number of pages: 148
My copy: paperback, bought from National Booksotre

With this collection of stories, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo departs from the “tale” mode of Tales for a Rainy Night (1993) and Where Only the Moon Rages (1994), and returns to the realistic short story, the mode of her earlier collection, Ballad of a Lost Season (1987). But the simple narrative style and the nostalgic tone of these new stories about the young girl, Patriciang Payatot are reminiscent of the tales as well as of her travel essays, a genre in which she pioneered, and which some critics regard as her best work.

* * *

Okay that blurb won’t tell you anything at all — I just copied that from the back of the book.

I used to believe that writing short stories was easier than writing a novel, mainly because of its length. I mean, short stories are just short. You don’t need to put in so many characters, you don’t need to have complex plot lines, or chapters. But as I wrote, I realized that a short story is equally hard. In a novel, I can afford to ramble, I can afford to insert as many characters as I want, put in all kinds of random devices just to make something happen in the story. In a short story, I am limited because it’s supposed to be short, and a short story has to pack as much punch as a novel. Somehow, the characters have to be more memorable, the plot tighter and the ending more memorable, despite its length.

It’s been a while since I indulged myself in a good short story, so it was just timely that I saw Catch a Falling Star by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo in National Bookstore for only P150. I know my friend Sam likes her writing (loves?), and I trust her taste, so I figure this one seemed to be a good choice. Plus I like falling stars. ;)

Catch a Falling Star is a collection of short stories about Patricia Soler. Yes, you read that right: all twelve stories in the collection are about a girl named Patricia, or Trissy, her childhood, her school life, and other stories about her family and the places around her. It’s not a novel, and it’s not a series of stories that you have to read in order. According to the author, she wrote these stories after writing her novel, in memoir mode, as if an older woman was recalling stories of her childhood. So Trissy was born, and her stories first appeared in magazines such as the Philippine Free Press and Philippine Graphic before they were published into this book.

Just like the title, I thought the entire book was positively charming. Despite the length of the stories and how I was only offered glimpses of Trissy’s life, I thought she was a real person. The stories were written as if I was with Trissy in a coffee shop and she was telling me of all these stories of her childhood and laughing as she recalled them. The stories here are diverse enough to each pack its own punch — there was a story of the glasses she received for Christmas that she attempted to trade for a hopscotch stone, a story of her afternoons with their laundry woman who other maids thought was witch. There were stories from her conservative Catholic school and her classmates, stories of her befriending the most unpopular girl in school, a story of her being called “Patriciang Payatot” because of her stature, and stories of class reunions discussing one of their old classmates and her sad fate. There were stories about her family, of one summer vacation she spent with an aunt, of a boy that must have been her half-brother, and even a story of a woman who arrived at a wedding but no one knew who she was. And of course, there were stories of crushes, having loved and lost. It all seems very different, but there is a continuity in the stories that helped me keep track on where I am and who was who.

Trissy never lost her charm all through out the book, and the descriptions of her life were clear and imaginative, despite the seemingly simple text. I love how the author just seemed to have the right words to describe whatever Trissy was feeling perfectly, without sounding pretentious or too flowery. Case in point, from the story “Sweets for my Sweet”:

I expected my heart to break. Indeed, I was convinced that it had. I thought I could actually see the bleeding fragments lying about on the floor, waiting to be trampled on and crushed…

…And then I realized that it simply wasn’t true. Since Buddy had never been mine, I could not very well feel that I had lost him. (p. 79)

Even if most of the stories only showed Trissy from her childhood up to sometime during her college years, I didn’t feel cheated at the end of the book. I felt like a friend just simply ended her story, and is waiting for me to tell mine.

Catch a Falling Star is one of those anthologies (that is the correct term, right?) that hits the “I need to read something new but nothing too serious” spot just right. If you’re in need of a palate cleanser in between books, or you just want to indulge yourself in good local literature, pick this up and get ready to be charmed by Patriciang Payatot. :)

Rating: