Unseen Moon

Unseen Moon by Eliza VictoriaUnseen Moon by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Independent/Print-on-demand
Number of pages: 220
My copy: ebook review copy from the author

Ghosts in a mansion. A home invasion. A group of friends haunted by a murder. An unlikely friendship, a dead body in an abandoned house. A girl falling to her death, and another falling into the viewless darkness.

Unseen Moon collects five suspenseful stories by award-winning author Eliza Victoria.

* * *

When Eliza Victoria sent me an email about sending a review copy of her newest book, I couldn’t say no. Note that I’m not really a fan of dark fiction, or horror or suspense, but this is Eliza, guys. I read her stuff and liked it, even if they’re not the usual things I go for. I’m not really one for scaring myself, but I make certain exceptions especially when the author just writes really, really well.

Unseen Moon is Eliza’s newest collection that contains several of her short stories, most of them never been published in print. They’re part horror, lots of crime and suspense…and well, lots of dead bodies. Like her other works, the stories are well-written and I think they are exactly what she intended them to be — dark. Sometimes, a bit too bloody. But definitely dark. Here’s a mini-review of each of the stories, and my rating for them.

Needle Rain (3/5) – This is the story of Cleofe, Cedric, Brian and Emily, their friendship and the murder that happened in their town. For some reason, this story felt distinctly Filipino. The combination of the small town, hanging out with friends in the afternoon while eating, and the storms that raged in the story reminded me of my own younger years, where I would work on projects at home while a storm happened outside and it was only a matter of minutes before the house is plunged in darkness because the storm caused a power interruption. Of course, that’s the only thing that I related to in this story. :P Needle Rain comes off as a murder mystery story at first, and then it spirals into something else. I was quite prepared to be scared at first, but in the end I felt more sad. If only the characters were wiser, then it wouldn’t have turned out that way.

The Ghosts of Sinagtala (4/5) – This is a story of Ben and Emma, who inherited a mansion from their grandparents that had a dark history. Oh what a creepy, creepy story. Tricia was tweeting about this when she read it first, so I knew well enough to read this in broad daylight. And even then, I still got terribly creeped out. This is my favorite in the book, and I really liked the connection between the mansion’s past to Ben and Emma. This is the story that successfully made me not want to go out of my room at night to get a glass of water because I was afraid to find a little girl crying in the darkness. O_o

Summer Evening (2/5) – Twins Amarilis and Carlos were left behind by their older brother, Nathan, to his ex-girlfriend, Alicia, because he had a job to do. The twins hate Alicia, so when two guys entered their house to do something to her, they turned their backs. I wasn’t really a big fan of this because it felt too violent for me, and it kind of took me by surprise. That, and there was just something a little too disturbing with the characters — perhaps I just refused to believe that they are capable of what they are doing in the story? It’s still well-written, though, and the ending kind of made me want to wring one of the characters’ necks, but this was one story that I kind of wanted to end quickly because the events made me just a bit queasy.

December (3/5) – Gabriel makes an unlikely friend in an orphan named December, who has her own issues with the people around her. A dead body in an abandoned mansion, a dead body in the lake and lots of music form the core of this story. This one sort of reminds me of Summer Evening, but it was less violent and a little more melancholic than the previous story. In some ways it was a little bit disturbing, but I was able to sympathize with the two main characters in the story more than I did for the previous story.

The Viewless Dark (4/5) – I read this back in October 2012 and I really liked it. I didn’t exactly reread all of it when I read this book again. I still read parts of it, though, and felt the same chill I had when I first read it, and felt the same attachment to the characters, both dead and alive. I think this is a good story to end this collection.

Overall, Unseen Moon is another good collection of Eliza’s stories. It’s not as scary as I expected (except for The Ghosts of Sinagtala – remembering several scenes still gives me the creeps), but it was really quite dark. This collection is a little bit more similar to Lower Myths than A Bottle of Storm Clouds, sans the paranormal aspect. If you want to get to know Eliza’s works but you’re not a huge fan of anything that is out of the normal world, then Unseen Moon might be the right Eliza book for you. If you’ve read Eliza’s other works and you want more, then you won’t want to miss this one. :)

The ebook edition of Unseen Moon is available via Smashwords right now (four stories only, since the ebook edition of The Viewless Dark is available via Flipreads), but if you’re a print person, you can pre-order a print copy of Unseen Moon until May 10 through Eliza’s blog. An excerpt of the stories is also posted in the same blog entry.

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Voices in the Theater

Voices in the Theater

Voices in the Theater by A.S. Santos
Student Paranormal Research Group # 1
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 170
My copy: ebook review copy from publisher

Samantha Davidson has a secret: she can hear other people’s thoughts. Not everyone’s and not all the time, but it’s enough to convince her she can’t really trust anyone. Now, transplanted to a strange country, estranged from her family and peers, she begins to hear the voices of those no longer living or earthbound. Will she heed them as they lead her to a dark, forgotten corner of her past? Or will she surrender to the love and light offered by newfound friends, and learn to listen to the one voice she has long suppressed—her own?

Voices in the Theater is the first installment of A.S. Santos’ three-book Young Adult Paranormal Romance. Follow Sam and her friends in the Student Paranormal Research Group as they encounter bizarre and often dangerous supernatural occurrences, battle demons both spiritual and psychological, and navigate adolescence and young love.

* * *

When was the last time I read a paranormal YA novel? I cannot remember anymore. That was my main hesitation when I was offered a review copy of Voices in the Theater by A.S. Santos. Other than being categorized as paranormal, the story seemed more on the horror side and I also don’t do horror stories. So what made me read this, then? A friend telling me she thinks there’s a fit. I honestly doubted it, then, but I was craving for more local fiction so I said yes. When I found myself suddenly in a place where I can’t open my paperback and just start reading, I found myself starting this book, since it was the only new one in my phone’s e-reader.

I was wary about it, being paranormal and having that horror factor and all, but you know what got me really interested? Early in the book, I had a feeling the setting was familiar, and then 11% into it, it was confirmed:

De La Salle University: the place where I felt like a freak…

It’s not the freak part that got me, but the school — this book is set in my alma mater! :D How exciting is that? Talk about anchoring it in real life things.

Voices in the Theater is the first book in A.S. Santos’ Student Paranormal Research Group series. We meet Samantha Davidson, a Filipina-American who has a special ability: she can hear people’s thoughts. After her grandmother died, she and her family moved to the Philippines and she tried to live a normal life, except she joined the new org in school that dabbled in the paranormal. For their first project, they investigate on the rumored haunting in the school’s theater, where Sam hears not just the voices of the dead, but other spirits, too. With these hauntings confirmed, Sam realizes that there was more to it, and there could be someone close to her that these spirits are targeting. Sam has to act fast, but she realizes that there are many supernatural powers at play that knows her past, and she’s not sure if she can summon enough faith to do what she needs to do.

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. Well, being set in DLSU is already a big thing for me, so I knew I would like it, but I was really surprised at how much I really liked this! Voices in the Theater reminded me of those ghost stories that my college friends and I talked about around school, the Ghost Hunters TV show with the scientific paraphernalia, that old Spirits TV show where the characters had some kind of supernatural powers, and even a bit of my favorite Peretti novels with the angels and demons talk. I know this is a lot, but they just worked together really well and I didn’t feel the least bit bored with the story. The book kept me at the edge of my seat, and there were several times that I had to stop myself from reading because I was seriously getting creeped out. But I still wanted to read because I wanted to know what happens next.

Like I said, my enjoyment factor was upped because of the familiarity, and I was really thrilled when I read my old college org there, too! I liked how Voices in the Theater didn’t just deal with the paranormal but also touched a bit on faith, and what role it plays in spiritual warfare. And it’s really that — the meat of this book is spiritual warfare. I wished there was a bit more praying in the characters, but it might be asking too much. But I was glad there were praying characters there.

The only thing that I probably didn’t like was the romance aspect. It might just be me, but I was almost begging the book to not have that paranormal romance aspect because…well, because I didn’t like it. I even formed my own OTP among the characters (SAM + MIGS FOREVER!). Haha. But seriously, I could do without that romance. Please don’t let it go that way? At least it was tastefully written  and there’s some sort of healthy realism to it. It didn’t have that insta-love/I can’t live without you type of romance that I’ve grown to really dislike. Female heroine with sense FTW!

But overall, I thought Voices in the Theater by A.S. Santos was a really, really good book. Plus points to the ending, where I can really visualize where the final scene was happening. :D And more plus points because there was a certain part of the book that reminded me of the feeling I had right after I finished reading Mina V. Esguerra’s Interim Goddess of Love. I can’t describe it exactly, but it’s the kind of feeling that makes you want to start telling others about the book you just read. Because I am definitely recommending this book to anyone who’s looking for good Filipino paranormal YA (and to anyone who studied in DLSU!).

I can’t wait to read the next installment in the Student Paranormal Research Group series (what a mouthful!). :) Please come out soon! Thanks to the publisher for the review copy!

Rating:

 

Woman in a Frame

Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera FalguiWoman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera-Falgui
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 107
My copy: ebook review copy from publisher

In a darkened hall in a plain white box of a building was a portrait of a woman, a girl, really—an old-fashioned girl in a modern frame, leaning against the wall. Other paintings similarly arrayed surrounded her, waiting to take their places in the gallery.

Voices echoed in the room, a young man’s jeering and a young woman’s more tentative tones. Cool hands with long, delicate fingers lifted the portrait.

Perhaps what drew the young woman to this painting was the incongruity of a girl, grave and formal, set within the vibrant, flowing curves of the carved art nouveau frame. Perhaps it was the sense of kinship she felt. For the young woman, Ning, was the daughter of an artist, dreaming of becoming an artist. She knew nothing of the girl in the portrait, only that the intensity captured in the glimmer of its brush-stroked eyes reflected her own.

So begins Ning’s journey to her country’s colonial past to uncover the story behind the portrait—the story of Marcela.

It is 1896, and Marcela, of the renowned Simbulan artist family from Pino, Laguna, has fallen in love with Julio Benitez, a Spanish peninsular just come from Europe to woo the town’s belle: Raquel Riola, mestiza heiress. Torn between loyalties to family and nation, desire and social expectations, childhood and maturity, Marcela must learn to navigate dreams and deceptions to free her silenced love and stifled craft.

* * *

I’m not a huge fan of historical novels, really. I tend to stay away from them because they’re just not my type. Of course, there were some that I enjoyed, namely Jennifer Donnelly’s books, The Guernsey Literary …,and yeah, even Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, which I really attribute to the fact that these books had personal significance for me (A Northern Light had things about words, Revolution because of Paris, Guernsey because of the recommendations, and Noli Me Tangere because it was a Filipino historical novel), but other than that, I had no reasons to pick them up. They’re almost like classics to me — hard to get into, and really not my cup of tea. But I can make exceptions, especially since I did say I want to read more Filipino fiction, so when the publisher offered a review copy of Raissa Rivera-Falgui’s Woman in a Frame to me, I decided to give it a try.

Woman in a Frameintroduces Ning, short for Sining, who is a daughter of an artist and dreams of becoming an artist herself. Thanks to her deceased father’s connections, she was able to attend a summer art program where she stumbles upon a very curious painting of a woman who feels very familiar to her. Curious, Ning searches for the artist and the story behind the painting. In 1896, Marcela, a young artist from the Simbulan artist family joins her father to paint the town’s darling, Raquel Riola. Raquel is set to marry Julio Benitez, a Spanish peninsular from Europe. Marcela develops a friendship with Raquel, but also falls in love with Julio. She is faced with choosing between her family, new friend and her love, the social differences between her and Julio and a possible involvement in a brewing revolution against the government.

I liked Woman in a Frame. I wasn’t expecting it especially since I wasn’t really captured in the first chapter, but as I read on, I fell in love with Marcela and the Simbulan family and their life in 1896. I can imagine the afternoons where Marcela and her father would be at the Riola mansion to do their job, and how a Filipina and a half-Spanish girl would walk in the afternoons and chatter over things despite their differences. I’m not an artsy person, but I can vividly imagine the kind of art that the Simbulan family makes, and how it could become their living. I liked Marcela as a character, and her loyalty to her family and her friendship, and how she dealt with her affection for Julio. It was quite refreshing — she’s far from timid and shy Maria Clara, but more of a Sinang from Noli Me Tangere, especially with what she did in the end.

I think it was the freshness of Noli in my mind that helped me visualize the setting and in the novel, so it almost felt I was just focusing on another character in Noli when I was reading Woman in a Frame. A spin-off, if you may. There were the friars and the brewing revolution, but it didn’t take over the story and turn Marcela into a young Katipunera as I almost expected it to be. I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way, because I didn’t know if I’d like that turn! I liked the bittersweet feeling of the first love, and how it all unfolded in the end. The synopsis had that Filipino soap opera feel when you think about it, but it had a pretty interesting turn of events that wasn’t dramatic at all.

My only wish is that there was more Ning in the story! The story reminded me a lot of the dual narrative in Revolution but it lacked what that novel had — the dual narrative. I enjoyed the Marcela story, but I wished that we got to see Ning more since this was also her story. Okay, fine, it was more of Marcela’s story, but I just really wished we had more of present time and Ning, and not just some sort of info dump at the end tying up the connections between her and Marcela.

I still liked Woman in a Frame  despite that little nitpick, though! I think historical fiction fans will like it, and it’s a quick enough read and get lost in in a day. It also gives readers a good insight on Filipino artists and how regular people were a part of the revolution. And…yeah, the romance factor is pretty satisfying, too. :) Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera-Falgui is available in ebook format from Flipreads store, AmazonKobo and iTunes. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy! :)

Rating:

Speechless

Speechless by Hannah HarringtonSpeechless by Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Number of pages: 288
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret

Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.

Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.

But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.

* * *

Chelsea Knot cannot keep a secret, and she just stumbled on the juiciest piece of gossip she has ever ran into during her best friend and resident queen bee’s party. She spills the secret, thinking that it would elevate her popularity but instead there were surprising and violent results — one that almost ended up killing someone. Guilt-ridden, Chelsea confesses what she knows and instantly became a social outcast. She takes on a vow of silence, thinking she wouldn’t cause anyone harm if she just won’t speak up, even if she gets bullied in school. Despite this silence, Chelsea meets new friends in school who accept her, and for the first time since everything happened, she wonders if she can finally move on.

I liked Hannah Harrington’s debut, Saving June, which I read earlier this year, so when I heard that her next book, Speechless, is available for request in Netgalley, I was one of the many people who requested it. I was curious with the idea of going silent on purpose — I am a very talkative person, so I’m not sure if taking on a vow of silence is something I can really do. I doubt it, actually, and that is why there is fiction! :P

I didn’t like Chelsea at first, and it was so bad that I almost gave up on the book. While I enjoyed mean girl novels such as Courtney Summers’ Some Girls Are or Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and Shirley Marr’s Fury, I am almost always annoyed at their sidekicks, because they’re usually the type of people who are mean on purpose because they want to be popular. Not that the popular girls aren’t mean on purpose sometimes, but in movies and books, the sidekicks are usually twice as annoying. Chelsea is exactly like that, and I really didn’t like her from the prologue and even early into the first chapters.

And then…somehow, she just grew on me. I find it really cool how Hannah Harrington made Chelsea a character who can say so much despite not having much of a dialogue in the book. The transition from an annoying mean girl sidekick to someone who’s pretty likeable is very good, and I find myself siding with Chelsea up to the end.

There were just several things that kind of niggled at me in the book: the span of time where Chelsea changed from being a selfish mean girl to someone who thinks outside of herself didn’t seem too believable, although I admit that silence can really make people think (I have tried that…several times, but not as long as Chelsea did in the book). I also wished that Chelsea chose to speak again for the first time in a different situation. I don’t know, somewhere more…monumental? I wasn’t that impressed with the scene where she finally broke her silence. Also, the supporting cast seemed a bit too traditional of the YA characters — the quirky crowd that people don’t often notice in school who just always seems cooler and would always save the day. Not that I minded them — I loved Asha and Sam and the rest of Chelsea’s new friends, and I love the diner set-up, but a part of me thinks the diner set-up has been done one too many times (that, or the diner crew in Bittersweet is still my favorite). On the upside, I think there’s a cameo of Jake and Harper in one of the scenes, so fans of Saving June would really like that. :)

But I think my favorite aspect of this book is really the romantic lead, Sam. I liked him way more than I liked Jake, but it may be because of my tendency to go for the good guys. And by “good”, I mean the guys who don’t really have too many issues in life. I liked how Chelsea started to get to know him and how she started liking him and how it didn’t really take much “speech” for the two of them to like each other. I especially liked how Chelsea said that she knew she didn’t have to say anything to keep him because she knows he understands…and it’s just…sweet. New fictional YA crush!

On a more personal note, I found that Speechless hit a few uncomfortable spots for me, mostly because I can really relate to the talkative, gossipy Chelsea. Sometimes, it just feels so fun to talk and gossip, and more often than not, I never really thought of the repercussions of it until later. So in a way, Speechless reminded me to watch what I say, and if unsure, just enter the silence and zip it.

Speechless by Hannah Harrington is definitely different from the author’s debut, but not in a bad way. It’s more of…this book is a less angsty, happier sibling of the previous novel. While I really liked Saving June, I think I liked Speechless just a tiny bit more. :) And yes, it may be just because of Sam. :P Overall, I know I will be looking forward to whatever Hannah Harrington comes up with next.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Janina Reads
The Nocturnal Library

The Boyfriend Thief

The Boyfriend Thief by Snana NorrisThe Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 188
My copy: ebook, review copy from the author

Avery James has her life planned out: this summer she’ll work with a humanitarian program in Costa Rica, next year she’ll graduate at the top of her class, and after that, college and medical school. Perfect, planned, total order.

The only problem: getting the rest of the money she needs for the trip before the deadline. Hannah Cohen, her biggest competition for the valedictorian title, makes an unexpected offer: If Avery can win over Zac Greeley and make him break up with Hannah before the end of the school year, a check for five hundred dollars is all hers. Faced with the prospect of spending yet another summer working as a giant hot dog, it’s an offer Avery can’t refuse.

Zac is nothing like Avery expected. Within his chaotic world of midnight slushie runs and spontaneous dance parties, her total order is quickly falling apart while Hannah seems poised to get everything she wants. But just how much is Avery willing to give up for the perfect, planned life?

* * *

Avery has her eyes set on her life plan: she plans to attend a summer program in Costa Rica, graduate the top of her class during senior year and then head for medical school. She wasn’t going to let anything get in her way…except her dreams hang on a very critical issue: she needed more money to get into the program in Costa Rica. Then her biggest rival for the valedictorian position and ex-best friend Hannah gives her an offer: she will pay Avery five hundred dollars if she can make Zac Greeley break up with Hannah. Avery accepts the offer, only to be surprised that Zac is nothing like she expected.

I read The Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris expecting that there would be two girls trying to steal a guy, or at least a girl falling for a guy who has a girlfriend and the girl trying to steal him. You know, the kind you watch on TV shows that make you curse whoever you don’t like and wish for the guy to end up with the girl you most identified with? Well, it wasn’t at all like that, and I know I should have read the summary more so I wouldn’t bethat surprised.

But it’s not a bad surprise anyway. The Boyfriend Thief is a fun, independently published contemporary YA novel about a girl who likes being in control. Avery is a girl who needs to have everything in control, but not really without good reason. When Avery’s mom left them, she took control of their household, thinking that if she has everything under her control, then no one would leave anymore. I used to be/still am a control freak so I know how that feels, but I also know how hard it is when things do not go the way I want to. In a way I sympathized with Avery with this, and I was really worried at what could happen with the fallout.

Here’s the thing, though — as much as I can relate to Avery, I don’t think I really like her. I don’t think I would be good friends with her because she can be so uptight! I’d like to believe that I’m not like that anymore (dear friends, I’m not, right? :D) and I figure that if I met Avery, I wouldn’t really want to be friends with her. :-s That doesn’t mean that she’s a bad character though — I think this reaction is kind of a testament that she was well-written that I get this reaction. On the upside, her growth in the book felt real, and I found myself cheering for her when she finally loosened up.

The other characters that needs to be noted are Zac and Hannah. Zac seemed like such a darling. I liked him and his craziness, even if his spontaneity would probably drive me nuts, too. I liked his intensity and his chemistry with Avery. I wished there was more to Hannah, though, like a bit more dimension in her character? She was mean and calculating, but I wished there was some kind of redemption for her in the end, instead of being a “scorned woman” character.

Overall, I liked The Boyfriend Thief enough. It was a fun read (although not so quick, because I think I was reading Fellowship of the Ring while I was also reading this), and it’s also quite well written. I learned several things in this — not about stealing boyfriends, but how sometimes, we just have to let go of control and let life happen because sometimes it just works better that way. :)

Rating:

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