“Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Arts Academy, Vol. 1”

luna east 1KIDS THESE DAYS: STORIES FROM LUNA EAST ARTS ACADEMY, VOL.1
Author: Various
Read Date: 28 February 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The stories from LUNA EAST ARTS ACADEMY are about love. And also, friends, food, kissing, rumors, mean people, insecurities, birthdays, breakups, making up. We set it in an arts academy because we wanted everyone to have a talent, and know it. Because no one is ordinary, if you know them well enough.

Who are you, at LUNA EAST? Are you a popular kid, a wallflower, a drama club diva, a debate whiz? Visit lunaeastacademy.org to read more stories from #LUNAEAST, and submit your own. For readers 16 and up.

Luna East Arts Academy is a project of Mina V. Esguerra and the writers who were part of her online #romanceclass, but it is open to anyone who wishes to write a story. The school – Luna East – is a collaborative setting that Mina mentioned is a lot like the set-up for the Sweet Valley High series, where different stories establish characters, important events, the school structure, relationships, and other aspects of the world. The stories are Young Adult / Coming of Age, since Luna East is a high school.

The first volume contains 14 stories, most of which already make use of common characters and events. The collaborative aspect of the world-building seems to be working very well, and with continued editorial care and maybe the assignment of a continuity editor, hopefully that will not change (and only get better!) when the next volumes are published.

There are several very promising talents in this volume aside from those like Mina, who already have publishing credits. There are a few who are still a bit green, but I’m sure they will improve as they write more stories and as other more experienced collaborators give them advice.

The beauty of a project like this is that people are encouraged to start and finish their stories and are then given a medium by which to share them. When future volumes are published, though, I hope that more editorial direction (beyond just grammar checks) will be given to each story that will be included, and that there will be more variety in terms of the plot hooks and story arcs. I am aware that the setting will limit the variety a bit, but Sweet Valley was able to accomplish this to a certain extent, so I would really love to see the collaborators stretch their legs more.

My favorite stories in this volume are: Mina’s “Fifty-Two Weeks” (because the romance is really subtle), Ronald Lim’s “Yours Is The First Face That I Saw” (because indeed, Tyler and Sebastian’s story was kilig), Anne Plaza’s “Senpai’s #1 Fan” (because I can relate to the geekiness), D.R. Lee’s “Picture Me Naked” (because…well, I got valuable advice, ehem), and Stella Torres’ “Be Creative”.

Chrissie Peria’s “Sitting in a Tree” gets a special mention because of this dedication:

Sitting in a Tree

and because, hey, kissing booth.

And this calls for a Scoring the Book song (or Scoring the Story) because how appropriate is it that one of my favorite Korean artists, K. Will, came out with a collab song with Wheesung and the rookie group Mamamoo called “Peppermint Chocolate”? (He’s not in the video because he never appears in his music videos…except once, and then his character died…ummm, that’s another story.) So this is for you, Chrissie. 😉


English Translation, in case the closed captions don’t work for you: click!

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Scoring the Book: “Ignite Me”

This song reminded me a lot of Aaron (Warner) in the final book of Tahereh Mafi’s “Shatter Me” series, “Ignite Me”.


 
“You feel your heart beat loudest when it’s breaking
You and I both know our fatal flaws
We both know that love is what you make it
I want you
All or nothing at all”

♫ “All or Nothing at All” by Switchfoot (“Fading West”, 2014)

Scoring the Book: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read Date: 24 June 2013
Goodreads Reading Status Updates: None.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is, perhaps, one of Gaiman’s most accessible novels. While “American Gods”, “Anansi Boys”, and “Neverwhere” were critically acclaimed, I had a very difficult time reading them. It took me a long time to finish the first two, and I never did finish “Neverwhere” (although I finished watching the BBC mini-series).

I don’t know why that is; I love the premise of all those books, and I love Gaiman’s prose…most of the time. But until now, I’ve never been able to figure out just what it is in those books that I had difficulty with, to be honest.

To my surprise, I breezed through “Ocean”. The first-person POV was very immersive, and that’s exactly what you want when you read a Gaiman novel, although I don’t think it’s healthy for my sanity to be inside his head for long periods of time like this. It can get really weird in there. 😛 But Gaiman has written something deeply personal here, and you can feel it in every word.

Because the book is not marketed for children or young adults, I was surprised by how much time was spent during the narrator’s childhood. But then again, I think this is the kind of story that you will only really appreciate if you have a substantial childhood to look back on yourself.

There are a lot of elements here that are familiar to me from reading Gaiman’s other works, in particular, “Coraline”. (Ursula reminds me so much of “The Other Mother”.) This feels sort of like an aged-up version of that.

I struggle once more to grasp why exactly I couldn’t like this book more than I did, or to rate it more than a 3.5 when almost everyone has been raving about it. I don’t think it’s the book’s fault; I think it might be me, as cliché as that sounds.

[2013.06.25: Edited to add…] Okay, I will attempt to write something that I only just realized about Gaiman’s writing. It has a weird effect on me. When I read most of his books, my brain processes them like a half-remembered dream. Some parts are hazy, some parts are vivid, some parts baffle me, and some parts, I feel, are too deep for me to fathom. And so afterwards, the stories don’t have a solid impact on me or my emotions. By the end of the stories, I am in awe, and…that’s it.

My experience was different with “Good Omens”, “Stardust”, and “Coraline”, though. Those, I had a more solid grasp on. “Mirrormask” felt like a dream all throughout, but then again, if you didn’t feel like it was a dream while you were reading it, you’re probably reading another book…or you’re a real fantasy creature who lives in a world that strange. 😛 [end additions.]

And also, when I read books, I imagine that they have an aura about them that reflects how I feel after I’ve read them. This book’s aura is very grim and gray, except for the part where Lettie Hempstock allowed the narrator (what was his name again? Handsome George?) to immerse himself into the Ocean. That might be the only time I saw a brightness in the book.

Of course, that’s not the book’s fault. Gaiman told the story that he wanted to tell, and he told it well. There are just days when I want a book with a bright aura, and today is such a day.

So don’t let my Trelawney-esque mumbo-jumbo or my brain’s inability to properly process Gaiman dissuade you. This is something that I would recommend to people no matter what my experience with it was.

And now to score the book. Nell (넬), my favorite Korean band of the moment, just released a mini-album called “Escaping Gravity”. (They’re a real band, by the way, and not a singing boy group. Their sound is influenced by Brit rock, so it’s safe to give them a listen if you like that kind of music, or if you’re not fond of popular or mainstream Korean music, a.k.a. K-pop.) The promo single for the album is called “Ocean of Light”, and I think it’s appropriate to score the part of this book that shone like a bright beacon to me. 🙂

I’m in the ocean of light
My dreams are breathing
In the dazzling waves of light
I am being born again
I’m in the ocean of light
My dreams are dancing
In the big waves of light
I am being born again
In the ocean of light

 

Read this book:

  • If you would like to be introduced to the works of Neil Gaiman. It’s more accessible than his other adult novels, except perhaps for “Good Omens”, but that’s a collaboration.
  • If you feel like reminiscing about your childhood, which, hopefully, was more…sunshine-y than the narrator’s was.
  • If you like good fantasy, but you are deathly afraid of epic fantasies.

“Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2)” by Tahereh Mafi

unravel meUnravel Me (Shatter Me #2)
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Read Date: 27 February 2013
Goodreads Reading Status Updates: click!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. But only because of Warner, who’s worth maybe a whole star, maybe more. (What?! The rest of the book was only mildly interesting.)

tick
tick
tick
tick
tick
it’s almost
time for war.

Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.

She’s finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.

Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.

In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam’s life.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PRETTY MUCH ALL THE MATERIAL IN THIS SERIES*

So I thought that life-changing decision they were talking about in the synopsis will be something really epic, but as it turns out, it’s just Juliette finally succumbing to Noble Idiocy.

I first encountered the term when I got into Korean dramas, and perhaps one of the best examples is illustrated here: Noble Idiotic Cancer-afflicted Characters. If you’ve read “Unravel Me” and that scenario sounds familiar, well…now you have a term for it. 😛

I was annoyed with Juliette for most of this book, and to be honest, I really wanted to punch her in the face. If only she weren’t so powerful and so…fictional. 😛

First, there’s that noble idiocy. (I am a monster, I can kill you, therefore, we cannot be together. *gives Adam torturous looks for the rest of the book*) I do understand her plight and her genuine fears, but I was disappointed that she didn’t even give herself or Adam a chance to at least be trained or to even actively find a solution.

Juliette: ‘I can’t help but wonder what my life would’ve been like if someone had taken a chance on me.’

Me: Well, sister, you will keep wondering if you aren’t even willing to take a chance on yourself.

I liked, though, that Adam wasn’t willing to take all this bullshit from Juliette and kept insisting that he wanted to make things work. (Although sometimes, I think he’s just sexually frustrated. Sorry. I mean…right?) At least he redeemed himself after making the mistake of not telling Juliette that he wasn’t as immune to her as they thought.

Second, she was just so emo. It’s the book’s saving grace that Tahereh Mafi got Kenji and Castle to call Juliette out on being a selfish, whiny, anti-social brat. I really, really appreciate Mafi hanging a lantern on that. It’s a pity because you would’ve thought she’d be a bit more optimistic and proactive now that she has a Professor X in her life. You know, just a bit? Not to mention an awesome awesome friend in Kenji. If Kenji dies in the next book, I will seriously cut a bitch.

Also, I do think Mafi writes beautifully, and sometimes the similes and metaphors are so pretty they touch my heart, which is proven by the many tabs now sticking out of my copy of the book. But there are times, too, when it all gets cheesy and overbearing. Emo Juliette + Juliette’s voice in melancholic prose = a particularly trying time inside the character’s head. I do get that this is part of the character’s DNA, but I just wish there was some semblance of evolution in this aspect now. It was acceptable to see her so introspective and defeated only when she was locked up in an asylum. I don’t expect her to stop being this way entirely because then, she wouldn’t be Juliette. But maybe just…a little more positive? A little more willing to change her circumstances and to fight back? I loved when she was being funny and light-hearted and even sarcastic—those are some ray-of-sunshine moments!

The character who I did not expect to be such a fancy thinker was Warner (omo, he reads Shakespeare!), although reading “Destroy Me” changed that perception. Oh, Warner Warner Warner. There’s some hate for him out there as a love interest, especially post-“Shatter Me”, and I understand that. In fact, I approve. I felt the same way!

But I, like Juliette, find something compelling about him that I cannot name. He’s been described by other readers as a psycho, a warfreak, a megalomaniac. Well, he does own up to being a murderer and a troubled, unforgivable person, but people give him too much credit.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean he can’t make you swoon. After all, bad boys are attractive, right? And Warner is a very bad boy who you just might want to do bad things with. CHAPTER SIXTY TWO. ‘Nuff said.

Juliette: ‘I don’t know why my heart is losing its mind.’

Me: Damn. My heart lost it too. But I know why.

wave_of_feels-18739

I don’t know why she keeps giving Warner flack about going Darth Vader on her Luke Skywalker, by the way. (*in Darth Vader voice* Join me, and together, we will rule the galaxy…) Warner wants her to realize the true potential of her powers. Sure he wants to do it for World Domination (or so he says), but what about Castle? Castle wants her on their side so they can overthrow the Re-establishment, but he also admits that they will do it when they’re ready to rule. So both sides want Juliette on their side so they can gain power. Castle may have more noble intentions, but sometimes, when it comes to Warner, I think Juliette doth protest too much. It’s a good thing she’s not a hypocrite about her other feelings for him.

‘Warner is the one person I can be completely honest with. I always feel like I have to protect Adam from me, from the horror story that is my life…But with Warner, there’s nothing to hide.’

I am not yet too hopelessly romantic to think that Juliette will end up with Warner just because I like him, of course. Author Kate Evangelista once said that there seems to be an unspoken rule that the heroine must end up with the one who saved her first, and that was Adam.

Actually, I’m still not convinced that Warner will be good for Juliette in the first place. As of this book, he does have his own agenda despite his feelings for her, and nothing can erase his past, his crimes, and his family background. Basically, if Juliette was still living with her family, her mother would tell her to stay as far away from Warner as she can. And until things change in the third book, I’d have to agree with her.

I personally like him because he has more potential as a character, he has more depth, and he’s been brutally honest about what he’s really like so far, and I appreciate that. And also, yes, that compelling something I still cannot name. And the feels. But being on Team Warner/Team 62 doesn’t mean being on board the Juliette/Warner ‘ship entirely. In this book, for me, it just means I’m rooting for the character.

It’s telling, though, that the times when I liked Juliette in this book were when she was with either James or Kenji.

I also like that in the love configuration, it’s Juliette who is the more powerful entity. In most YA love triangles, it’s often the girl who’s the normal or weaker one—the human—and it is often the boys who have power or wealth or who are supernatural beings. This is a nice variation to the trope. I hope that she lives up to the hype when we get to the last book.

I should probably stop talking about the romance now. I just couldn’t help it because the plot didn’t really move forward as much as could be expected from such a thick book, and the romance constitutes a good chunk of it. 😛 You can’t even really argue for character development taking up a lot of space because there wasn’t much growth or change in Juliette.

Okay, let’s talk about abilities. The gist: the series has gone all dystopian X-Men on us.

Yes, I did expect to see a lot of mutants because the story is now set in Omega Point, but I didn’t want EVERYONE to be a mutant! Sure, I was willing to accept that maybe Adam was, and I kinda saw the Warner revelation coming after that. But even James?! Being Adam’s brother is not an excuse.

The only normal major character in this is Supreme Commander Anderson. And who knows, maybe he’ll also find out later that he’s a mutant, especially considering how his kids turned out. Statistical probability just got thrown out the window. It’s all just so…to quote James himself, convenient.

Sometimes I feel like the Omega Point and mutant rebel action plot thread belongs to a different story. I think it’s because of Juliette’s voice, which is so personal, internal, and emotional; it fits the romance aspect more than the action and secret mutant rebellion scenes which are best narrated in a more straightforward voice to be better appreciated. I’m hoping that Mafi will be able to more smoothly intertwine internal Juliette with heroine Juliette and the outside world.

I also hope that Juliette will live up to her potential, not necessarily as a powerful being, but as a proper heroine in the next book. Nothing like almost-death to get you motivated, huh?

♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫
And now to Score The Book. This has everything to do with Warner and Chapter Sixty Two. Sorry, Juliette.

♪♫ ♪♫ ♪♫

Read this book:

  • Only if you’ve read “Shatter Me.” Reading “Destroy Me” is optional, but recommended.

“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller

SongofAchillesTitle: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Read Date: 5 November 2012
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

——————————

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller’s page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.

Caution: Today, I am prepared to sacrifice virgins on the altar of literature. So beware, Song of Achilles Virgins and Iliad Virgins! This could get spoilery.
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Scoring the Book: “The Black Isle” by Sandi Tan

Title: The Black Isle
Author: Sandi Tan
Read Date: 11 October 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Status Updates: click!
Caution: Involves some rather graphic scenes, including those that are violent and sexual in nature. Not for very young readers or very squeamish adults.
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Uprooted from Shanghai with her father and twin brother, young Cassandra finds the Black Isle’s bustling, immigrant-filled seaport, swampy jungle, and grand rubber plantations a sharp contrast to the city of her childhood. And she soon makes another discovery: the Black Isle is swarming with ghosts.

Haunted and lonely, Cassandra at first tries to ignore her ability to see the restless apparitions that drift down the street and crouch in cold corners at school. Yet despite her struggles with these spirits, Cassandra comes to love her troubled new home. And soon, she attracts the notice of a dangerously charismatic man.

Even as she becomes a fearless young woman, the Isle’s dark forces won’t let her go. War is looming, and Cassandra wonders if her unique gift might be her beloved island’s only chance for salvation . . .

I admit to being a scaredy-cat when it comes to the paranormal, so I was at first very wary about reading “The Black Isle.” After a few chapters, though, I realized this wasn’t a horror novel; it’s actually a coming-of-age story of a woman who just happens to possess a supernatural ability.

The scope of this novel is quite ambitious for a debut–Cassandra’s life spans the 1920’s, the Japanese Occupation during World War II, and Shanghai’s liberation–but in general, Tan succeeds at telling a compelling story. Her style is evocative, so much so that if I could only draw or paint, I’d be able to create very detailed pictures of key scenes and places from the novel.

I told myself that ghosts were just another facet of its lush, equatorial diversity–the dead walking among the living, everybody sharing the same air, the same soil. This die-and-let-live attitude was part of the Island’s social contract.

I like that even though the story revolves around Cassandra’s ability to see and even command ghosts, Tan refrained from making this a horror-fest. The story creeped me out a lot, but not in a horribly frightening manner. The supernatural stuff feels just naturally a part of the setting and doesn’t call one’s attention so much that it was easy enough to focus more on Cassandra’s story.

And what a story she has–from pampered little rich girl to poor immigrant educated at a Christian missionary school, running a rubber plantation, marrying into a rich family, being a mistress to a Japanese officer and then to a revolutionary and later a politician. All of these stages of her life are haunted by ghosts and defined by her ability to see them, and everything is narrated by Cassandra herself, whose voice is very raw yet lyrical.

I yearned to tell Sister Nesbit that her school was swarming with horrors. Yet how could I crush the nuns’ illusions with my righteous testimony? Ghosts would have proved false the efficacy of prayer, a practice they were working so hard to instill in their 200 impressionable young wards…

Cassandra is not an easy character to like, actually. So many weird and out-of-this world things just happen to her that it’s difficult to relate to what she’s going through most of the time. But Tan does give us some room to sympathize with her. Cassandra wanted a normal and quiet life, but her powers just wouldn’t allow her to have one, so she does her best to survive; that, at least, is something that most people can understand.

This book isn’t for everybody, though; I recommend it for older teens and adults who are not squeamish. There are some rather graphic depictions of murder, violence, sex, and…well, if you ever read this, keep and eye out for the eels and the octopus. And the ghosts really aren’t the most frightening things you will read about here; it’s the living, breathing humans.

And now to Score the Book. The song that I picked is titled “One Love (한번의 사랑),” sung by balladeer Sung Si-kyung (성시경) from the soundtrack of the Korean drama “A Thousand Days’ Promise”. Yes, I now have a Korean Scoring the Book post; such is the way of geeky fan girls.

I picked this song because the melody evokes scenes from the time Cassandra lived happily (or as happily as she could manage) with her husband Daniel, and the lyrics speak to me of the time when that blissful interlude ended so abruptly because of one small but very crucial mistake in judgment that changed her life and of those close to her forever. I also thought that it would be nice to pick an Asian song for an Asian story. 🙂

There is no official music video for this song, but I found a fan video that is subbed with a romanization of the Korean lyrics and a very decent English translation.

 

This review is based on an Advance Readers’ Copy provided by Hachette Book Group USA (Philippines).

Scoring the Book: “The Serpent’s Shadow”

For some weird reason, I cannot force myself to write my review of The Serpent’s Shadow. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it, because I enjoyed it so damned much that I crashed Kindle for PC several times when I got bookmark-crazy.

So instead, here’s a Scoring the Book post, and I chose Live to Rise by Soundgarden, from the OST of The Avengers. Our heroes are like the Avengers of Ancient Egypt, aren’t they? People with different skills and powers who were brought together to save the world.


 
I particularly like the chorus of the song, which reminded me of Ra, the old bat. 😛

Like the sun we will live to rise
Like the sun we will live and die
and then ignite again.

Scoring the Book: “A Temptation of Angels” by Michelle Zink

One of my favorite things about Michelle Zink‘s latest book, A Temptation of Angels, is it isn’t your usual angel-falls-in-love-with-a-mortal story. The main characters are all on equal footing, so to speak, so we see a different kind of dynamic, and there was room to explore different avenues alleys (winks at those who have read the book) down which the different relationships and the story, in general, can go. There was also more room to build the world and its mythology.

“Holding On and Letting Go” by Ross Copperman is my Scoring the Book choice for A Temptation of Angels. I think it captures the helplessness that Helen Cartwright must have felt in the end—caught between two men who represent her past and her future, knowing that her choice was less about who to hold on to and who to let go of, but whether she is brave enough and ready to embrace her destiny.


 
This is a fan-made video. Ross Copperman doesn’t have an official video for the song.

One other favorite thing about the book: Griffin Channing. 😉 And that’s all I will write until I post my review. 😀

UPDATE, 3/30: I was just going through my song archives, and I’ve found my song for Raum. :S
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Scoring the Book: “Before I Fall”

I just finished reading Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall after a 5-hour marathon.

I was very hesitant about reading this book because I thought it would be a mega-drama that will make me feel depressed and sad for days. At least that’s what I got from the synopsis. It turned out to be a very different story than I expected, and in a good way.

I’ll post a full review in the next few days, after I clear my backlog of posts. In the meantime, I would like to share a song that I first heard in an episode of The Vampire Diaries: “Hate and Love” by Jack Savoretti, featuring Sienna Miller. This was the song that was playing in my head during that sweet moment between Sam and Kent, just before Sam entered the party on the very last day.

 
I didn’t cry when I got to the end of the book, but damn it, I think I can feel some of that sadness now.