Love Your Frenemies

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Other reviews:
Smashwords

Emma

Emma by Jane AustenEmma by Jane Austen
Number of pages: 474 pages
My copy: ebook, free from Amazon

‘I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall’

Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.

* * *

I wasn’t sure what Austen to read this year until my book club did the choosing for me. Emma won as this month’s choice of read, so I knew I was going to read it early this year. Then I came across Miss Match by Erynn Mangum and found out it was based on Emma. I didn’t really like the former, and that made me wary with this book, thinking maybe I wouldn’t like this either (but I kind of doubted that, since this is a classic, and I’ve liked Austen so far).

Emma is about Emma Woodhouse, a 21-year-old woman who’s swore never to marry not because of past hurts but because she feels that she is perfectly content with her life. This doesn’t stop her from meddling with other people’s affairs, though and she’s decided to appoint herself a matchmaker for her new friend Harriet Smith, after she had proven that her matchmaking skills are good based on her old governess getting married to someone she matched her with. This meddling starts the mess in all of Emma’s life as she finds her carefully laid out plans unraveled, and she realizes that maybe she doesn’t always get it right. With a cast of other interesting and sometimes annoying characters, Emma finds out a thing or two about love from the most unexpected people.

Talk about a slow reading. I know I read classics very slowly because of how it was written, but Emma is probably the book that I took the longest time reading, since it takes me about 2-3 days to finish a book. Emma took me more than two weeks. At times I wanted to stop reading and pick it up sometime else, but I know that if I do that, I will get completely lost in the story and would have to start again.

Emma is highly amusing, even if it can get boring sometimes. I had to laugh at the long lines of dialogue — and I mean pure dialogue since there wasn’t much action being described as the characters talked. It made me imagine that they were all just standing around and talking in their long skirts and suits without really doing anything else but that. Sometimes I wonder if there was a point with all the dialogue and the number of names mentioned in the first few chapters got me so dizzy that I couldn’t keep track anymore.

Here’s a not-so-secret: I spoiled myself with the ending. Somewhere during the first part of the book, I decided to go on Wikipedia and read about the novel just so I know what to expect. I read the summary and continued reading the novel, watching out for the key scenes mentioned in the synopsis. I don’t think it made the novel less of a fun reading experience for me, but it did remove the surprise factor a bit.

The thing I realized about Emma is how different the heroine is from the two Austen heroines I’ve read: Elizabeth Bennett and Anne Elliot. I read in a review once that people always read and liked Pride & Prejudice first, enjoyed Emma more but loved Persuasion. I find that I have a different type of relationship with the books because of the heroines. Elizabeth Bennett is someone I’d want to be friends with while Anne Elliot is someone I wanted to be. Emma Woodhouse, on the other hand, is someone I know I am before I can become Anne Elliot. It’s like Emma is younger version of these two other heroines — the not so mature yet still smart heroine that grows into a character you’d love if she decides to learn from her mistakes. Emma is flawed and annoying at times, and I can say that I related to her more than I expected I would. It’s almost like looking in the mirror sometimes, and it’s funny because it lessens the annoyance I had with Emma at the first parts of the book.

I can say that Miss Match was definitely a lot like Emma, but even so, I find myself less irritated with Emma than Laurie. Maybe Laurie was really just irritating to me, period. It makes me wonder again if I was/am anything like Laurie, and if I saw the things I hated about myself in her. Maybe I did. The difference between Emma and Laurie is Emma seemed to have learned how to be a proper lady in the end while Laurie just kept on being…meddling. But that may be because it’s a trilogy, and there’s more character growth in the next books.

But I digress. Emma is an enjoyable read, despite its length. Was I ever so glad when I finished it! It does get better by the third part of the book, so if you’re reading it, just keep on because it gets interesting. While it’s not my favorite Austen novel (this still goes to Persuasion), I liked Emma a lot more than I expected I would. Like the other Austens I’ve read, the ending made me sigh in happiness, and made me close the (e)book with a smile. :)

Rating:

Zombicorns

Zombicorns by John Green
Project for Awesome contribution, 72 pages

There are a few authors who can do nothing wrong as far as I am concerned, and John Green is one of them. I’ve been seeing him tweet about a novella he was writing, but I never thought it would be released, and never thought what it was about. And then Aaron tweets about it, and I jumped in my seat. A zombie novella by John Green? And the title — does this mean there are unicorns? It was like a dream come true!

Zombicorns tells the account of Mia, a zombie apocalypse survivor in search of meaning in a bleak world. Technology and reliable document management solutions has fallen because of the rise of the zombies, so Mia’s only hope of getting her message across was this account of her life in the apocalypse. It’s a first person account that has the same kind of snark and unique to Green’s characters, despite the lack of geekiness in Mia. The circumstances that brought about the apocalypse in Zombicorns was funny and unexpected, and these zombies are the most unusual I’ve read so far. Not that I’m complaining — anything is possible in an apocalyptic novel, IMHO.

The best thing about this novella is how deep it goes. True to the John Green signature, this novel is funny and still it manages to capture human emotion in the unique way he does. The seriousness of Mia’s questions about life almost took me by surprise, but in a good way. It goes to show how good John Green is with the things he decides to write about. I didn’t even notice the lack of editing for Zombicorns — it’s even better than any of my drafts. (But hello — this is John Green we are talking about. I am not worthy to compare!)

I may be biased to say that this is a good read because I love the author, but it is a good one. If you can’t find any of his books yet, this may be a good one to start with. After all, it’s free. What’s there to lose, right? :)

Let me retract what I said on the first paragraph, though: there really are no unicorns in this story. This just means I have yet to read about actual zombie unicorns. Darn it.

Rating:

My copy: PDF, free download

Cover: from PDF

Other reviews:
Goodreads

The Chronicles of Narnia # 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia # 5
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 320
My copy: paperback, bought from Scholastic Book Fair

The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries. King Caspian has built it for his first voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne. The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, their cousin Eustace, and Caspian to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan’s country at the End of the World.

* * *

There are a lot of firsts in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the 5th book in the chronology of The Chronicles of Narnia (hm sounds redundant) and the 3rd book I have read in the series. This is the first time Peter and Susan are not a part of the story, the first time Caspian and his crew have set out to sea to look for the seven lords that his uncle Miraz sent away when he stole the throne,  the first time they ventured out to the far east and the first time we meet the bully Eustace Scrubb. Finally, this is also the first time I read a Narnia book without watching the movie first. I had planned to watch the movie version of this last year but I didn’t catch it in time before the cinemas were filled with our local film festival, and then the movie never came back. Nevertheless, I figured it’s time to read a Narnia book first before I go see the movie and see what difference it would make this time around.

I mentioned in a comment in a previous review that I feel like I appreciate The Chronicles of Narnia more now that I’m reading them as an adult compared to reading them as a child. I think if I read these books as a child, I would probably have skimmed some parts that I couldn’t understand. Now that I am reading them as an adult (or a young adult, if you may), I guess I understand the books better because I have better comprehension, and I have more experiences that could connect to the spiritual themes of the books.

This observation still rang true as I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If I were younger, I would have disliked Eustace so much more but at my age, I just felt kind of sorry for him because he didn’t know the magic of Narnia until he really got to experience it himself. As always, I liked how many times Aslan showed up (which felt more than the times he did in Prince Caspian), and for this book Lewis showed the Aslan who always takes care of his people. Not that he doesn’t show that in the previous books, but here we see Aslan save them in different instances.

I also really liked what Aslan told Edmund and Lucy in the end. Slight spoiler warning starts here. To know him by his other name in their world reminds me of how one grows spiritually. I got most of my spiritual nourishment from my Catholic community, but at some point, I felt the need to leave because I needed to know God in the world outside of it. It was easy to believe if you’re always immersed in that world, but I believe it takes a lot of maturity to believe in the midst of the humdrum of life, and I think that’s what Aslan wanted Lucy and Edmund to learn. End spoiler warning.

However, I think that compared to the first two books I’ve read in this series, I would have enjoyed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader more if I read it as a kid. It’s not one continuous story. There is a goal, yes, but the book is written in chunks — one adventure after the next, all leading to their final goal in the end, but not necessarily required to get to that goal. This is the type of book that I can put down after reading one adventure and go back to it without feeling too lost upon resuming. A friend and hardcore Lewis fan told me that this seemed to be the book were Lewis had most fun with Narnia, almost like he wrote it in parts just to explain the unexplored regions in the Eastern Islands, and then decided to put it all in one book since all of they were all in the Dawn Treader. I guess it’s just the writer in me that wishes for this book to have a more structured plot. I liked the explorations and little adventures in the book, but I think this one didn’t really have a real climax. Case in point: I found myself a scratching my head a bit at the part of the Dragon Island and then wishing that part happened somewhere in the end, to build things up a bit.

But that’s just me. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is just a bit more exciting than Prince Caspian, but not really as magical or charming as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable book, and a good installment to The Chronicles of Narnia. Up next, The Silver Chair! :)

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Show it Who is Boss!)

Cover: Goodreads
Blurb: Back of book

Other reviews:
Bookie Woogie

Reviews of Other Narnia Books:
#2: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
#4: Prince Caspian

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher:
Knopf

Number of pages: 288
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.

* * *

There are books that grab you by the collar from the very start and force you to pay attention to what you are reading. These books are typically the explosive, action-packed ones, ones that plunge you right into the action, leaving you breathless from the start all the way up to the last page. However, there are books that start off quiet, with barely a bang. You’re not quite sure what would happen with these books, but you allow yourself to be carried gently with the languid flow of the story. You think it wouldn’t really grip you so much as those action-packed books that you can put it down every now and then, reading at your own pace.

And then it proves you wrong. Somewhere in the story, the book grabs you by the hand and pulls you in, refusing to let go unless you get to the very last page, and you’re left even more breathless, wondering what just happened in the past pages and chapters.

That, my friends, is the kind of book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is.

I’ve been seeing this book for a long time now, but I never thought of picking it up because I often confuse it with other books written by Japanese authors that I am not sure if I want to read. Even my friends reading it in my book club didn’t make me read it because by then, I was more into reading YA books, and I never thought it would be something I’d like to read, anyway. When I ran across its ebook on sale on Kindle, I finally surrendered and purchased it. If my other friends liked it, I probably would, too, right?

Never Let Me Go tells the story of friends Kathy H, Tommy D and Ruth, who all met and grew up in Hailsham, a private boarding school somewhere in England. Kathy, now 31 years old, narrates her memories of her life as a child and early teen there, the next years as she, Tommy and Ruth moved to the Cottages after their time in Hailsham and finally her years as a carer where she crosses paths with Tommy and Ruth again. The book is really a collection of Kathy’s memories, told almost out of chronological order but in a way of significance, all leading to the readers wondering who Kathy is, why there were in Hailsham and what they are up to in present time.

To say anything more would be a spoiler, so I will leave you at that. I was partially spoiled already as I read the book because of some reviews that I read even if it was clearly marked with a spoiler. However, that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of reading this wonderful piece of work. As I mentioned above, Never Let Me Go is a book that starts off very quiet, with hardly any bang. In fact, there isn’t really much excitement in the book, yet I never found it boring. Kathy’s voice rang clear all throughout the book. It almost felt like I was sitting with her in a shop and she was just telling me her life story, or perhaps I was sitting at the passenger seat of her car as she regaled to me their little misadventures in Hailsham.

Even if it was told in Kathy’s point of view, the other characters’ voices were distinct, too. Kathy tells her stories about her friends with little bias to herself, which allows us to see and forgive them for their own faults towards the heroine. For example, every time I would feel annoyed at Ruth for being so dominating, Kathy would say something to make me understand her in a way, or would convince me that somehow Kathy was also at fault. Perhaps it was written that way because these are Kathy’s recollections and at her age, she definitely knew better than she knew then. Tommy and Ruth felt as real as Kathy was, and I truly felt their importance in Kathy’s life.

The strength of the characters didn’t really water down the plot, so there is still much satisfaction as the secrets behind their existence and Hailsham were revealed. As these are Kathy’s memories, they tend to jump from one scene to another before going back to the original intent. It may take a bit to get used to that kind of narration and it may turn some people off. However, that is almost the same way as some Sarah Dessen novels are, so I’m fairly used to that. Everything is revealed gradually and there seemed to be a quiet acceptance to everything that’s happening that even I am convinced that it’s really just the way it is and there is no way out.

Perhaps that is the most striking thing about Never Let Me Go. Kathy tells her story as if there was no other alternative, that it is really the only way for her and her friends. There is a quiet resignation in Kathy that she was destined to do what she was made to do, that there was no other choice but that. It makes me wonder what I would have done if I grew up in Hailsham and I knew what I know as I read this book — would I accept my fate as Kathy did or will I rebel? Or what if I was a guardian — how can I face those kids everyday for the first thirteen years or so of their life knowing what awaits them sometime in their life? Can my conscience take it, even if it is all in the name of science and the progress of humanity?

A movie version of this book starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightley came out last year (in all other parts of the world, that is. It hasn’t been shown here yet). If you’re planning to read this, DO NOT watch the movie trailer if you don’t want to be spoiled. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so I don’t know the difference, but it is always wiser to read the book first before watching the movie. Even if you’re not much of a reader, Never Let Me Go is too good of a book to pass up for the movie version. Make it one of the few books that you’d read in your life, if you must.

Never Let Me Go is one book that truly did not let me go (no pun intended). It reeled me in with its simplicity and refused to let me move on long after I finished with the last page. Beautiful and haunting, this is definitely one of my best reads for this year.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
2 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Will-Power? What Will-Power?)

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Perpetual Page-Turner