10 for 2010: Blogging and Reading Highlights

2010 is definitely an awesome year for my reading and blogging, particularly book blogging. After years of trying to figure out a niche blog, I finally found it. :) I realized  that I love reading and writing about books is one of the most fun things I’ve decided to do this year. :)

But there are more, obviously, but it really wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the blog. And for other things. :) Here’s are my Top 10 Blogging and Reading Highlights for 2010. :)

1. Writing for The POC – Talk about a dream come true: getting paid to read and review books. When Pao emailed me to be a contributor for our old section, Pinoy Pop, I was excited to be on board. I really don’t know how qualified I was, but I was glad to be a part of the team. I loved having an excuse to read and review books. I’ve learned so much in writing my reviews when I did my stint at The POC, and I know that it helped me write better reviews. :)

2. Goodreads Second Meet-up - I have been active in Goodreads for the longest time already, but I have never posted much in the groups or interacted with any friends. One day, I just decided to post, and that got me invited to the second meet-up, and the rest is history. :) That was one of the best bookish meet-ups I’ve ever been in.

Mockingjay Launch

3. Mockingjay Launch – Of all my years reading, I realize that I’ve never been in an actual book launch. Mockingjay‘s release finally made me attend one, and I wasn’t just a simple spectator, too. :P I was one of the Live Action Role Players, and while we lost miserably, it was actually quite fun. It was also the first time when the Goodreads and Flippers met, had dinner and coffee and talked about so many bookish things, it was almost like paradise inside CBTL. :D

4. 100 Books – When I set out to read 100 books in a year, I had no idea if I would be able to do it. So when I finally realized that I did do it, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Now I feel like 100 books is such a small amount. :P More next year, perhaps?

5. Getting my Kindle – The ultimate bookish toy. :P Just like the iPod, I never thought that I’d give in and get a Kindle, but after a friend told me how awesome it is, I suddenly had a gadget lust. :p After a lot of thinking, I finally gave in and got one…two days before the new one was released. How fun, right? But still, no regrets. I love my Kindle, and it really is the ultimate bookworm toy. :P

6. Filipino Book Bloggers Meet-ups – I used to be very active with the Filipino blogging community back in 2007, but I stopped attending after some time because I felt that it was too big of a community and I don’t know where I fit in. I was really more of a lurker as I kept on blogging and as I started my book blog. However, I found out that the Filipino Book Blogging community is a very warm and welcoming group. This is where I found out that I truly have found my blogging niche. :D

7. Friends opening book blogs - This year is also the year when my good friends opened their own blogs. I don’t know if I influenced them, but whatever made them start, I’m glad they did. :D Shout out to Grace, Aaron, Ariel, Ace, and Jzhun specifically. :D

8. Winning contests and features - I have the worst luck in contests, and I hardly win the things I really want to win. And then I got a lucky streak: I won Dee’s 100+ Follower Giveaway and then I won a signed Being Jamie Baker by Kelly Oram (which I hope arrives soon — postal service during the holidays here kind of suck) a few weeks later. I also got featured in Dee’s Blogger Spotlight, and I find it’s very fun to be featured. :)

9. Author comments and replies on blogs and Twitter. I love getting comments on my blogs, but nothing makes me squee more than author comments. And ever since I made my Twitter profile public, I got more follows on Twitter, and I love it when an author replies to me or mentions me, or follows me on Twitter. It makes reading so much more fun and interactive.

10. Goodreads Filipino Group – I must give another shout out to this, even if I mentioned the first meet-up a few numbers back. They’re really some of the best people I met this year, and I am really, really glad I went to the second meet up even if I had no idea who I would meet there. :) Joining this group made me read more, made me appreciate books more and made me write more. :) They’re probably one of the best reading things that happened to me in 2010. (Awwwww)

My bookish family :)

What about you? What are your reading or blogging (or both!) highlights for this year? :) Share them in the comments section!

Check out my other 10 for 2010 posts!
10 Favorite Male Characters
10 Favorite Female Characters
10 Favorite Couples
10 Favorite Authors
10 Most Anticipated for 2011

The Anniversary Giveaway is still ongoing! I’m giving away some of my favorite books in 2010! Every comment you leave is one entry — the more comments you leave, the more entries you get! :) Click the image for the mechanics and the list of prizes!

Let the Games Begin

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 374 pages

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with every one out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I was never a fan of dystopian or post-apocalyptic literature. The thought of reading a book where the world I know has been destroyed by natural or human forces (or both), or one ruled over by oppressive totalitarian government is depressing. With all the bad news on TV and in the papers, I don’t need to escape to another reality that pains an even bleaker picture of the future. So when I first heard of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins from a fellow Filipino book blogger, I just skimmed over her review. Kids killing other kids–dystopia and gore? No, thanks.

Then, at last year’s Manila International Book Fair last year, I stopped at the central display of National Bookstore. There was a huge display for The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire, and a TV interview of Suzanne Collins playing on loop. The lady beside me was so enthusiastic about the books and, not wanting to waste my trip to the fair, I ended up getting both books despite my apprehension. Book-wise, that choice was probably the best I made last year.

The Hunger Games is set in the future in a nation called Panem, formerly known as North America, before a series of disasters decimated the once successful nation. Panem is ruled by the Capitol and divided into thirteen districts, each with a specific industry that sates the Capitol’s lavish needs. Seventy-four years ago, the thirteen districts revolted against the Capitol but were defeated. To prevent further uprisings, the surviving 12 districts were punished through the annual Hunger Games: each district provides “tributes” — a boy and a girl between the age of 12 and 18 — through a lottery called “reaping.” The tributes, after much pomp and ceremony, are sent to the Hunger Games arena where they are made to fight each other to the death in a televised extravaganza, until only one remains. The last remaining survivor is declared winner, ensuring that his/her family and neighbors will have enough food for the rest of the year.

We meet the heroine, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, on the morning before the reaping, with her best friend Gale, in the woods outside of District 12. In the course of the first few pages of the book, we learn a lot about her family background, her role as provider for her family, and the fact that her entire existence revolves around keeping her sister, Prim, safe. When Prim’s name is drawn in the reaping, Katniss volunteers in her stead, knowing that her decision likely means her death.

Katniss has to compete not only against tributes from the richer districts, many of whom have been training to participate in the Hunger Games all their lives, but with Peeta Mellark, a young man she has a history with. As the Games go on and the tributes fall one by one, Katniss has to draw both on her learned skills and rock-hard determination not only to survive, but to make the hard decisions necessary to make it back to her family.

The premise may seem a bit complicated, but Collins weaves it into the story in a manner that makes it comprehensible and unobtrusive, as readers are plunged right into the action. The first thing readers will notice in The Hunger Games is the solid world building. Panem, the Capitol and its Districts, were described in such a matter-of-fact tone and detail that it felt real. It wasn’t exactly the numerous details that made the world so convincing, but the way that Panem was portrayed not just as a place, but as a living, breathing character in the novel. The contrast between the rich Capitol and poor District 12 was stark, and disturbingly familiar, almost a mirror to the societal division between the rich and the poor here in the Philippines. Click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 62 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: Hardcover, from National Bookstore

Cover: suzannecollinsbooks.com
Blurb: Goodreads

Red Riding Hood strikes back

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
Hachette Book Group, 336 pages

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris– the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts fiercely alongside her. Now Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves and finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax– but loving him means betraying her sister and has the potential to destroy all they’ve worked for.

Twenty-five-year-old Jackson Pearce delivers a dark, taut fairy tale with heart-pounding action, fierce sisterly love, and a romance that will leave readers breathless.

There is something about a re-telling of an old, popular story that fascinates me. It started when a friend recommended Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, a re-telling of the book of Hosea from the Bible, and I’ve read a lot of contemporary young adult (YA) stories based on fairy tales–but not all re-tellings work. Some authors simply retell the story with different names and twists that have little impact on the story. However, for those that manage to infuse an old tale with originality, the result can be a clever and creative read. Such is the case with Jackson Pearce’s second book, Sisters Red.

The cover is very pretty, but don’t be mislead by it (and the fact that Pearce’s first novel was light and romantic): Sisters Red is not your ordinary fairy tale retelling. Pearce goes in an entirely different direction from her debut by writing a modern version of Little Red Riding Hood that is dark, dangerous, and quite violent. The novel starts with Scarlett and Rosie March as kids, when they first encounter a Fenris – a wolf who assumes the form of a handsome man, and who feeds on beautiful women. Scarlett kills the wolf to save her sister, but not without the Fenris killing their grandmother and leaving Scarlett scarred and blind in her right eye. Seven years later, the sisters, together with their childhood friend Silas, have devoted their lives to hunting these soulless beasts who continue to prey on other women. When the three of them realize that Fenris from different packs have started to hunt together, they know something was up: the Fenris are looking for the Potential, a possible new werewolf recruit. Scarlett, Rosie and Silas head out to the city to find the Potential before the wolves do. Scarlett is thrilled that she’ll be able to kill more Fenris; Rosie, on the other hand, is excited for an entirely different reason: she longs to spend more time with Silas, who has started to point her in the direction of jobs besides hunting, and toward a life resembling normalcy.

It’s brave of Jackson Pearce to put a dark twist to this fairy tale (although it must be pointed out that the original versions of Little Red Riding Hood were dark indeed). Click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 57 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: ebook, $9.99 from Amazon Kindle Store

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Sibling love and a little magic

Tall Story by Candy GourlayTall Story by Candy Gourlay
Cacho Publishing House, 233 pages

Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long lost half brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London, where he belongs. Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as mad as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. But he’s not just tall …he’s a GIANT. In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.

My brother doesn’t know this, but I consider him to be one of my best friends. He’s four years older than me, and like every other sibling pair, we used to have our share of screaming matches when we were kids. We only started having serious conversations as we grew up, thanks to the long rides from school to our house during college, when he’d pick me up. My relationship with him gave me a soft spot for stories about brothers and sisters, so it was no surprise that I couldn’t wait to read the recently released Tall Story by Candy Gourlay.

Tall Story chronicles the tale of half-siblings Bernardo and Andi, from the day they meet for the first time. Bernardo grew up in the Philippines under the care of his aunt and uncle, after his mom, a nurse, relocated to the United Kingdom to work. Bernardo grew up waiting for his papers to get approved by UK Immigration, so that he could live in London with his family. Andi is a small girl who loves basketball and barely knows her older brother, save for a few letters and phone calls. All that Andi knows is that her brother is tall, as her mom often stresses, and she wants him in London so they can play basketball together–but when he finally arrives, Andi is in for a shock. Bernardo is not just tall–he’s an eight-foot giant! As Bernardo and Andi get to know each other, Andi is pulled into Bernardo’s “magical” world and Bernardo learns how it feels to have a family.

If I could use one word to describe this novel, it would be “heartwarming.” I was thoroughly charmed by the entire book, and not just because it’s a brother-sister story. I knew I’d like Andi from her first line: Rush hour. So many armpits, so little deodorant. What Andi lacks in height, she makes up with ferocity and her can’t-miss basketball skills. Bernardo, on the other hand, is literally a gentle giant – he’s huge but not aggressive, sometimes rash and forgetful, but always bearing good intentions.  Bernardo and Andi’s voices are distinct, and they play very well off each other, giving readers a chance to understand and sympathize with both points of view. I ached for the two main characters to be friends, and rejoiced when they grew closer as the book went on. Click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 60 out of 100 for 2010
* Book # 9 out of 20 for Project 20:10

My copy: Philippine edition paperback, Php 275 from Powerbooks

Cover image: Original photo of actual book I own
Blurb: Goodreads

Sixteen Moons

Beautiful CreaturesBeautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

I hardly ever start reading a book without first having some idea of what it is about. More often than not, the book’s cover and title do a good job of that, and if they don’t, the blurb at the back definitely will, and these factors determine whether or not I buy a book. That wasn’t the case for Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (first book of the Caster Chronicles). I’ve been seeing this book around but I didn’t pick it up because I couldn’t figure out what it was about. It was always shelved beside the other vampire young adult (YA) romance books, and I wasn’t in the mood to read another Twilight. The cover was beautiful, like its title, but neither told me what those “creatures” were. The blurb wasn’t enticing either – it still sounded too much like the other supernatural YA romances out there. I only picked it up when I heard that a sequel was coming (with an equally beautiful cover) and when I saw that almost all of the book blogs I followed were excited about it. I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Beautiful Creatures is narrated by Ethan Wate, who hails from Gatlin, a small Southern town where everyone knows everyone. His mom’s death caused his father to become a recluse who left him under the care of their superstitious housekeeper, Amma. Unknown to Amma, Ethan had been having strange dreams about a girl he had never met, dreams which left physical evidence even when he woke up – dirt on his bed, water around him, and even a song on his iPod. When Lena Duchannes moves into town, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her, even when all his friends were ostracizing her. Despite Lena’s attempts to push him away, Ethan presses on, determined to find out the connection between him and Lena, and maybe help her blend in. But in the town of Gatlin, it’s never easy to fit in, especially if you have a secret as big as Lena’s.

Vague, I know, but after I finished reading the book, I understood why the book’s summary wasn’t any more detailed: revealing any more would spoil the story. Beautiful Creatures has an excellent plot, one that even some of the most critical book bloggers praised. At first glance, the book seems like it’s the typical boy meets girl–with an added dose of superpowers–but it’s much more than that. While the romance is an integral part of the story, it wasn’t there just for the sake of having the characters fall in love, as it connected Ethan and Lena to their pasts. Underneath the romance is an intricate web of details: the social groups and hierarchy of the town, the history of the curse that links Ethan and Lena, and most of all, the supernatural world that lies under the unsuspecting eyes of Gatlin residents. Aiding the plot significantly was the setting: Gatlin is a living, breathing setting that almost felt like another character – and perhaps it was. Garcia and Stohl definitely took time to build this small town, complete with histories, eccentricities and secrets. It was almost as if the residents of Gatlin (save for Ethan, Lena and her family) were one entity being represented by different personas, united in one purpose: to drive away anything that tries to shake things up. Click here to read the rest of the review.

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 54 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: ebook, $9.99 from Amazon Kindle Store

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads