Minis: Eliza Victoria

So it’s been months since I read all of these, and I apologize for the late, late, late reviews. I’m just catching up, you see, and since the following books are all form the same author, I thought I’d go and put them all in one post. :)

I’ve heard of Eliza online through some fellow writers in NaNoWriMo, I think, but I can’t remember if I ever sent her an email or talked before the 2nd Filipino ReaderCon. I’ve read her work in Alternative Alamat, and it was one of my favorite stories in the collection. It reminded me of those days in my college literary folio (the short times I’ve spent there, anyway), and it made me want to read more of her work. We follow each other on Twitter, but I was always shy in talking to her because I feel like I’m just going to fan girl. Haha. Imagine my surprise when she approached me during the ReaderCon. :D And then I did not even get to fan girl properly. :P

Anyway, these are three of Eliza’s works that I got and read after the ReaderCon was done. And I’m going to spoil you right now: I liked all of them. Very much. :)

Lower MythsLower Myths by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 87
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Lower Myths features two compelling novellas of contemporary fantasy from Eliza Victoria, one of the most talented young writers in Asian speculative fiction today. In “Trust Fund Babies,” children of two warring witch and fairy families face off in the final round to a centuries-old vendetta.

In “The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol,” an aristocrat and his daughter consult a famous lawyer-sibling pair about a mysterious crime. But in the lawyers’ hilltop mansion by the sea, they uncover sinister hints that their reality may not be what it seems.

Eliza Victoria’s fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications including High Chair, The Pedestal Magazine, Expanded Horizons, Usok, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction series.

* * *

I got this one as a sample first, and this was one of the cases where I loved the sample so much that I had to get the book soon after.To be quite honest, I was not sure what Lower Myths was all about, except that it contains two short stories/novellas and the sample just made me want to read on.Trust Fund Babies is a fun, with and fairy story that totally had that mafia feel. It’s violent and can be quite gory, but all done in a tasteful way. I liked the relationship of the families and the idea of the glamour. I can imagine this as a short film with all the effects and the mystery.

The second story, The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol is kind of confusing because of the shifting realities, but the world building is superb. There’s a certain disconnect at first, but when things start falling into place, I found it so engaging that I just have to find out what happened next. While it’s not really as fun as Trust Fund Babies (for me, anyway), I liked how this one played out. This is the kind of world that I cannot imagine writing on my own, but I love reading. :)

Lower Myths is a good starter for Eliza’s works, if you’re into quick, fantasy reads with a local flavor. Of course, it could also be too short for you, but that’s why you’d end up looking for her other works just to satisfy that craving. :)

Rating:
Other Reviews: The Girl Who Read and Other Stories

A Bottle of Storm CloudsA Bottle of Storm Clouds by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Visprint
Number of pages: 209
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Award-winning author Eliza Victoria mixes magic with the mundane in this special concoction of 16 short stories. A girl meets a young man with the legs of a chicken. A boy is employed by a goddess running a pawnshop. A group of teenagers are trapped in an enchanted forest for 900 days. A man finds himself in an MRT station beyond Taft, a station that was not supposed to exist. A student claims to have seen the last few digits of pi. Someone’s sister gets abducted by mermaids.

Includes stories that have appeared in the critically acclaimed anthologies Philippine Speculative Fiction and Alternative Alamat, and stories that have won prizes in the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards and the Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Literary Contest.

Lower Myths got me craving for more of Eliza’s stories, so when I found out that Visprint released an anthology of her stories, I knew I had to get it. A Bottle of Storm Clouds contains 16 short stories that have appeared in various anthologies, all with the same local fantasy goodness. I was so excited to get this one after the 2nd Filipino ReaderCon (I really, really wanted to win one, but alas, I didn’t) — and I wasn’t planning to read it immediately to save me some local fiction goodness, but I couldn’t wait, either. And so I read.

A Bottle of Storm Clouds is one of those books that you can’t help but keep on reading but you also don’t want to end just yet. I tried not to read this book too fast because I wanted to savor each story. There’s something interesting and entirely different in each story — some of them were creepy, most of them sad, but all had really good fantasy elements that stretched my imagination wider than it did before. :) I liked how Eliza hinged most of the stories with real human experiences like grief and sadness, family and friendship and love and even selfishness and life crisis. It’s a good balance between magic and reality, and there are certain lines that meld them together nicely, like this one:

Magic. Amanda thought of clear skies and stars, steamed rice and fish, bagoong soaked in vinegar. A cup of coffee in the early morning, the feel of grass, the city lights. Clarissa. Her brother carrying her on his back, her parents dancing on the cool patio as it rained. The ground pounding with life. A poem humming in her head. (Siren Song)

My personal favorites: Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St., Intersections, Sugar Pi, Parallels, Monsters, The Storyteller’s Curse, Siren’s Song. I think there’s a story for each and every reader in this collection, and probably even for every mood. I liked this collection a lot, and if you want to read good, local fantasy with different flavors, get A Bottle of Storm Clouds. I’m sure you’ll find a favorite in one of them. :)

Rating:
The Viewless DarkThe Viewless Dark by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 56
My copy: ebook, requested from the publisher

When Anthony found Flo dead, locked overnight in one of the reading rooms of the university library, he knew it must have something to do with Mary. Mary Prestosa, fourth year graduating Philosophy student, whom they had been investigating. Mary, who surprised her roommate one night by suddenly standing up from her bed, throwing the windows open, and jumping down, headfirst, to the dormitory grounds below. Mary, whose memory marked the trail of mysterious deaths and bizarre occurrences that followed her own fateful fall: the fifth-year Computer Engineering student who prowled the campus on all fours, thirsty for blood, believing he was a wolf; the revelation of an all-girls’ satanic cult; the demonic possession of a fourth-year student from the Department of Psychology; and now—Flo, dead.

* * *

So I read The Viewless Dark around October, because it was supposed to be a horror novel and the best time to read a horror story is during Halloween, right? I was kind of wary, though, because I’m not a fan of anything scary, so I made sure I read this in broad daylight.

The Viewless Dark is about Anthony’s friend, Flo, who was found dead in the university library. He knew his friend’s death had something to do with Mary, who committed suicide some time ago, and whose death Anthony and Flo were investigating. Here we see what really happened, and what Anthony knew about Flo that no one else knew and what exactly Flo had been going through the night before she died.

Of course I ended up reading this at night, anyway, because I need something to lull me to sleep. And even if I read this in broad daylight, I still felt creeped out every now and then with the story. I liked how the story unfolded from the death of Flo and into flashbacks that pointed just to how exactly Flo ended up that way to what happened to Anthony’s family. I liked how vivid the setting was and how sufficiently creepy the “possession” they set up until the final twist in the end which undid everything I thought I knew. And then Eliza wraps it up in a different way, giving it a poignant, almost hopeful ending.

I’m pretty sure I’m just chicken, and other friends might not think that this is as scary as I thought it was. But even so, I have a very good feeling that some of my friends will like this book just as much as I did. :)

Rating:

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

One of our Thursdays is MissingOne of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next # 6
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Number of pages: 416
My copy: trade paperback, bought from National Bookstore

It is a time of unrest in the BookWorld.

Only the diplomatic skills of ace literary detective Thursday Next can avert a devastating genre war. But a week before the peace talks, Thursday vanishes. Has she simply returned home to the RealWorld or is this something more sinister?

All is not yet lost. Living at the quiet end of speculative fiction is the written Thursday Next, eager to prove herself worthy of her illustrious namesake.

The fictional Thursday is soon hot on the trail of her factual alter-ego, and quickly stumbles upon a plot so fiendish that it threatens the very BookWorld itself.

* * *

I was planning to put off reading Jasper Fforde’s latest Thursday Next book until I found the time to reread the first five books. It’s been years since I last read any of them, so I thought I’d appreciate reading this latest one better if I read the first ones again. Never mind that there are five of them and it would take significant time off my real TBR. But then I got sick a few weeks before I had to fly to Europe, which got me worried about all kinds of things especially because of that trip to Europe. I needed a book to get my mind off the possibilities that my 48-hour on/off fever could mean, so I finally decided to unearth TN #6 out of the TBR pile. If there was an ultimate escape novel, I figured Thursday Next should be one.

Some spoilers for the first five books — be warned!

So the last time Thursday Next was in the Book World, she ended up looking for a replacement for her character in her series because the original fictional Thursday Next was too violent to be her. One of Our Thursdays is Missing is told from this new fictional Thursday’s point of view — a gentler, bohemian character who never tries to make waves even if it means being the boring Thursday Next that no one likes. But when she gets called by the Jurisfiction to investigate a crashed TransGenre Taxi. Fictional Thursday Next finds herself in the middle of a mystery that gets her involved in all sorts of fictional drama, and a robot butler to boot. With the real Thursday Next missing, it’s up to fictional Thursday Next to save the day.

I think it was Aaron who mentioned the perfect word to describe the Thursday Next series: it’s so meta. The first five Thursday Next books are pretty much meta-fiction – fiction about fiction. It’s what makes all the books so much fun to read especially for book-lovers, because we’re basically reading about books that we may or may not have read. And just as when you think that Jasper Fforde has no way to impress longtime fans of the series, he does something completely surprising and makes it work. If the first five books were meta-fiction, the sixth book is meta-Thursday Next. Meta-meta-fiction – that’s what this is. Kind of hard to wrap my mind around it, but it still works. One of Our Thursdays is Missing has all elements of a Fforde novel: seemingly random characters, odd accidents, mystery, murder, all wrapped in a fun, seemingly absurd package. Jasper Fforde is a genius, I tell you. :)

This book cheered me up so much while I was sick, especially after reading lines like these:

The Snooze button was reserved only for dire emergencies. Once utilised, a reverse throughput capacitor on the ImaginoTransference engines would cause the reader instantaneous yawning, drowsiness and then sleep…To discourage misuse, every time the button was pressed one or more kittens were put to death somewhere in the Book World. (p. 26-27)

I fell asleep several times while I was reading this. I wonder who was hitting the Snooze button.

Harry Potter was seriously pissed off that he’d have to spend the rest of his life looking like Daniel Radcliffe. (p. 75)

Hee hee!

“The Great Gatsby drives taxis in his spare time?”

“No, his younger and less handsome or less intelligent brother — the Mediocre Gatsby.” (p. 273)

I was a bit afraid that it would be hard to get back into the series again especially since it’s been so long since I read the first five books, but given that this book is narrated by the fictional Thursday Next, I didn’t have such a hard time. I don’t recommend starting the series with this book, though, but there is no need to reread the other books to make sense of this one.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing probably isn’t as witty as the first four books (best one for me is still Something Rotten), but it’s a good and fun addition to an already awesome series. :) The question is: will there be a next Thursday Next book? I sure hope so! :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Bookmarked!

The Rise of Renegade X

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea CampbellThe Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell
Publisher: Egmont USA
Number of pages:  352
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Damien Locke knows his destiny–attending the university for supervillains and becoming Golden City’s next professional evil genius. But when Damien discovers he’s the product of his supervillain mother’s one-night stand with–of all people–a superhero, his best-laid plans are ruined as he’s forced to live with his superhero family.

Going to extreme lengths (and heights), The Rise of Renegade X chronicles one boy’s struggles with the villainous and heroic pitfalls of growing up.

* * *

I used to be a fan of the X-Men animated series when it was first aired in my country when I was a kid. I wasn’t able to watch most of it, though, but when I got a little bit older, I loved watching the newer series, X-Men Evolution, which I loved and tried to catch as much as I can. I couldn’t decide which mutant I want to become, or what superpowers I’d want to have if I were one.

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell reminded me of all those days I watched those animated series almost religiously with her fun and action-packed superhero novel. Normal people flock Golden City not to see the sights but in hopes of getting mugged by a supervillain and be rescued by a superhero. They also come in hopes of attending a party like what anti-hero Damien Locke has at the start of the story, where he would show the everyone the moment his thumb print turns into a V, just like every supervillain’s has when they turn 16. Superheroes have their thumb prints turn into an H, which literally separates the good guys from the bad guys. Damien never expected that his thumb print would turn into an X — born out of the union of a villain and a hero. What’s worse is he finds out that his dad is the goody-two-shoes Crimson Flash, who was determined to show that Damien can be a hero despite his insistence that he was a villain through and through. We follow Damien as he tries to find his identity through a new school, some bullies, an annoying half sister, a wannabe sidekick and a city-wide zombification plan. All in a day’s work of a superhero or a supervillain, right?

The Rise of Renegade X is such a fun novel that I can’t believe I put off reading it for so long. This not only reminded me of the coolness of X-Men, but also the fun and creativity of the movies Sky High and The Incredibles. The best part of the novel is Damien, hands down. I loved his voice and his snark. It’s impossible not to like him and root for him and hope all his plans, no matter how stupid they may seem, work out. Damien is smart and very self-aware for someone who is 16, but that doesn’t mean he’s always nice. However, his motivations for doing the “villain-y” stuff were never really just to be bad or cruel but most often in payback for something wrong did to someone, so it makes you wonder how much of a hero he really is. This choice offered to him makes Damien more real and gives the story depth, focusing on how a person should have a choice of who they want to be regardless of what family they were born with or not.

The supporting characters, particularly the ladies, makes the story more interesting, too. There’s half-sister Amelia who’s jealous of Damien’s position in the family and tries to make his life a living hell. There’s supervillain Kat, Damien’s ex-girlfriend who he insists isn’t special to him anymore despite the attraction he feels. And then there’s Sarah, a new classmate who assigns herself as Damien’s sidekick and tries to insist that he’s more of a hero than a supervillain. These girls bring out the different sides of Damien, and it’s fun to see how he reacts to each one and how it shoes that he’s not really your average villain or hero.

There’s little I could say with the plot, although I kind of hoped Damien went the other way instead. But the ending was still pretty satisfying that has that superhero-happy-ending-feel that the movies I mentioned above did. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is made into a movie, or at least, inspire a movie. The Rise of Renegade X is a fun read, recommended to all fans of superhero (or supervillain) shows, family computer (or nintendo dsi) games, comics or movies. I think people in my generation would definitely relive a lot of memories with this one. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Steph Su Reads
Janicu’s Book Blog

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

The last day of the rest of your life

Before I Fall by Lauren OliverBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of pages: 470
My copy: ebook

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all—looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12th should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it’s her last. The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she re-lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she had ever imagined.

* * *

I really wasn’t planning to read this book, because despite the blue eyes that looked out at me on the cover, I felt that it wasn’t something I would be interested in. Maybe it’s because I just glaze over the summary, or maybe I thought it would be just like the other contemporary YA romances that I haven’t felt like reading, lately. Maybe it reminded me too much of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which I thought was a really good novel already, and I didn’t want to read a book that seemed to be a copycat. Or, shallow as this may seem, I didn’t want to read it because it’s still in hardcover, and I’m not fond of hardcover books.

Regardless of my initial avoidance, I still ended up getting a sample of it from Amazon, and the sample kind of piqued my interest. Eventually, I got myself a copy and started reading, but I always put it off for some other book. It wasn’t until last week that I started to really focus on the book, and even then, I wasn’t sure if I would stick with it. The blurb pretty much tells it all: Sam Kingston is one of the popular girls in school, and she pretty much has a perfect life. February 12 is supposed to be one of the best days of her life, but the day goes horribly wrong at the end and Sam dies in a car crash. Although I was curious, it wasn’t something I thought I need to read immediately. That changed when I reached the end of the first chapter, and then I knew I just had to read it until the end. Just read Sam’s chilling words at the end of that chapter (Note: edited out some spoiler-y parts):

I know some of you are thinking maybe I deserved it…there are probably some of you who think I deserved it… — because I wasn’t going to save myself.

But before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that?

Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does?

Is it really so much worse than what you do?

Think about it.

I had to pause my reading to really absorb that part, re-reading the previous parts to really get the impact of what Sam was asking me, as a reader before I continued to the next pages. You see, I couldn’t really empathize with Sam because I never had first hand experience with the high school life and the cliques that this novel (or any other YA novel that is set in high school, for that matter). I studied in a very small high school, and I don’t think these kinds of cliques are really present in high schools in my country, especially the small ones. Sure, there were groups — or barkadas as we call it — but there was never a “popular clique”, the one that everyone fears, hates and worship at some level. That being said, I didn’t like Sam and her friends immediately. I guess all those TV shows and novels where the popular clique is synonymous to the meanest people in the school, it was easy for me to put them into that label too. And in the first chapter, they really make it easy. Sam, Lindsay, Elody and Ally are the classic mean, popular girls that we all know. They were mean and self-centered. They picked on people in school that they don’t like. They cheat on exams because they can and people are afraid of them. They worry more about their image rather than the other important things in life. They drank and smoked excessively, they didn’t follow traffic rules, had sex with various people. They lied, they do things only for their own good, they made up rumors about other students and the others followed suit. They were just nasty people who I know I’d avoid if they studied in my high school.

But does she deserve to die that way? Does anyone deserve to die because they’re mean and nasty, because they did something wrong, because they hurt other people, because they’re not very likable? Borrowing Sam’s words: is what these people did really worse than what anybody else does? Than what I do? Than what you do? Is it?

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