“Mythspace” by Paolo Chikiamco

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I reviewed the published stories in Paolo Chikiamco’s “Mythspace” universe for GMA News Online:

“Tikbalangs in Space: “Mythspace” reimagines mythology as science fiction”

“Mythspace” is a wonderfully innovative take on Filipino mythology, which should appeal to readers of all ages. The diversity in the art and stories make for different and enjoyable reading experiences. The series is so much fun, so I hope more people, especially Filipino readers, will check it out. 🙂

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The “Magic Mirror” Series (Books 1-3) by Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi

the visionary voyageTHE “MAGIC MIRROR” SERIES: “The Visionary Voyage” (Book 1), “The Traveller’s Tale” (Book 2), “The Tomb of Time” (Book 3)
Author: Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi
Read Date: May-July 2014
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (average rating)

The “Magic Mirror” series tells of the adventures of brother and sister Marko and Miranda Lee, who one day found themselves living alone. Their parents went on a trip, leaving the kids with their grandfather, who likewise suddenly disappeared. Their grandfather, a historian and archaeologist, left behind a Magic Mirror and a string of mysteries that the kids must solve by going back in time. Tsai and Vittachi blend historical facts, people, and events from around Asia with fictional elements to form the backdrop for the Lee children’s adventures.

When I read about the premise of the “Magic Mirror” series, I was very excited. I love history, I love adventure, and this being focused on Asian history with Asian characters is a plus. It all sounds like the perfect formula for a fun new children’s series! On a personal note, it also reminded me of a wee story my high school classmate and I concocted for a (believe it or not) Biology class project, so I am rooting for this to be great.

The verdict: Great idea! The execution? Not so much.

Home alone

Being home alone has sparked numerous children’s adventures. I have no problem with this as a plot driver most of the time, but in this case, being home alone is just a given, and it baffles me. It’s just weird because of how tight-knit most Asian communities and families are, and yet weeks seem to have passed by and the Lee kids are still home alone. There was some mention of a housekeeper dropping in on certain days, but I can’t even tell how the kids manage to pay her or where they get the money for their necessities. Heck, even the Cahills in “The 39 Clues” had an au-pair and a dozen other relatives looking out for them. Also, shame on the teacher who already suspected they were living alone but didn’t even bother to investigate further.

I do realize that these little details don’t really need to add up because the core of the stories is the time-travel adventures, but some kid is bound to notice and ask, so I’m just going to put this out there. XD Talk about taking “Losing the Mentor” in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to the extreme. XD

Simple and sparse

This series is obviously written for younger children, so I don’t mind that the writing style is simple or that the books are only 100 pages or so on average. But simple writing to cater to a young audience doesn’t mean that details should be sparse. I can’t even picture Miranda and Marko and what they look like in my head. I know Miranda is twelve and Marko is ten, and that they were adopted by an American man married to a Chinese woman. There’s no info on whether Miranda and Marko were real siblings to begin with, or if they come from different biological families.

There’s also not much to go on with Mira and Marko personality-wise; they are rather wooden, kind of like chess-pieces that are just used to move the story from one plot point to another. I think one of the reasons why “The 39 Clues” worked well is because the characters are fleshed out, and readers discover new things about them as the series progresses. After 3 books of “Magic Mirror”, I don’t know any more about Miranda and Marko than when I started reading. I hope this changes when the rest of the series comes out.

This lack of detail also extends to the time-travel adventures themselves. We don’t get much time to appreciate the time period that we are reading about or the characters there because the writers seem hell-bent on plowing through plot point after plot point. A fast-paced adventure is all well and good, but sometimes we also have to stop and smell the roses.

Historical expositions

The historical focal points for the first 2 books were a bit lackluster: the first book dealt with a Chinese admiral and some pirates, and the second had something to do with Marco Polo. Sounds exciting, yes? Unfortunately, nothing much really happens in the story. For the first book, in particular, much of the plot and exposition is static. The third choice was brilliant, though: Emperor Qin Shin Huang and his famous tomb.

The third book is the best one so far, and the more exciting one. But it still suffered from lengthy expositions on history often spouted out by a helpful character. It’s nice that this series is also educational, but there is probably a more creative and less tedious way of explaining the historical background. Considering the structure of the stories, the longer expositions probably don’t belong in the narrative anyway. The authors also include end notes, so there is no need to get too lecture-y in-story.

Oh, speaking of history, there is the matter of Grandpa. He represents the “Call To Adventure” in Mira and Marko’s journey, but he has his own mysterious journey, which seems to involve meddling with history. This is the most interesting aspect of the series for me (it’s telling that I gravitated more toward the character who hasn’t even appeared “on-screen”), and I do hope that we get a good reveal and explanation in the end.

In general, I think that the authors have managed to achieve what they were going for: telling good adventure stories highlighting Asia and its rich history. I had too many things to complain about, but that’s only because this series has so much potential that I wanted it to work well. We need more books like this for kids in the international market. But right now, this series is a bit unpolished and under-edited. I hope the future installments will be better; the improvement from Book 1 to Book 3 is already encouraging.


Disclosure: Review copies were provided by Scholastic Philippines

“Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)” by Marissa Meyer

scarletSCARLET (The Lunar Chronicles #2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Read Date: 21 April 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

[Time Out For TV] K-Drama Review: “God’s Gift: 14 Days (신의 선물 – 14일)”

Goodreads is experiencing an outage, so all the reviews and The Mysterious Reading Society stuff that I planned to do are now on hold. I don’t want to continue reading because there are a lot of thoughts I still have to unload for the said reviews, so it looks like it’s the perfect time for a new Time Out for TV post.

This previous Korean drama cycle (January/February to March/April) was an exhausting one for me because the dramas I decided to watch all happen to air on Mondays-Tuesdays. But I finally got a reprieve as two of them finished airing this week!

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~゜・_・゜~ ☆ ~゜・_・゜~

GOD’S GIFT: 14 DAYS / 신의 선물 – 14일
Seoul Broadcasting System, Mondays-Tuesdays
3 March-22 April 2014, 16 episodes + 1 Special

I only have two reasons for picking which Korean TV series to watch: 1. A favorite actor or actress is in it, or 2. I find the plot or premise interesting. My list of favorite actors or those whose performances I am curious about is quite short, so most of the time, it’s the premise that sells a show to me.

“God’s Gift” had actress Lee Bo-young in it. I loved her in “I Hear Your Voice”, but I decided to watch this show because it’s a thriller and a whodunit with a time travel element. It’s certainly not unique, but it’s different from the usual romances that were masquerading as dramas with novel or supposedly innovative concepts.

In “God’s Gift”, Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Bo-young) is a television writer whose only daughter, Saet-byul, is one day kidnapped and then later found dead. [Side note: It seems like Kim Soo-hyun is a popular name these days. Here, it is the character’s (a woman) name. Not to be confused with the popular actor of “My Love From The Stars” or the actress who was cast in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.] Thinking that her daughter was murdered as an act of revenge for her story about recent serial killings, Soo-hyun, in despair, commits suicide by jumping into the same lake where her daughter’s body was found.

Meanwhile, a few meters away, ex-cop and private detective Ki Dong-chan (Jo Seung-woo) is about to be murdered himself by a bunch of gangsters. He tries to ask help from Soo-hyun, but she couldn’t hear him, and so he, too, dies in the lake.

Later, some unexplained magic envelopes them both, and they wake up 14 days before Saet-byul’s death. They cross each other’s paths at some point, and they figure out that their stories and their fates are intertwined, and that they must have been sent back to change their futures. What follows is a series of red herrings and revelations that were all subtly referenced in the events of the first 2 episodes leading up to Saet-byul’s death, and are slowly unraveled every day (1 episode = 1 day). Continue reading

“Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and ParkELEANOR & PARK
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Read Date: 19 April 2014
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Review summary: It was “Oh my gosh, it’s adorable” at first sight, but it did not sweep me off my feet.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

“The Staff of Serapis” by Rick Riordan

Staff of SerapisTHE STAFF OF SERAPIS (Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles Crossover #2)
Author: Rick Riordan
Read Date: 14 April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this adventure, Annabeth encounters more oddities in the subway than usual, including a two-headed monster and a younger blond girl who reminds her a little of herself.

Review Summary: A more cohesive, more imaginative, and mythologically richer crossover than “The Son of Sobek”, but still too formulaic.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

“Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3)” by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods and MonstersDREAMS OF GODS & MONSTERS (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3)
Author: Laini Taylor
Read Date: 10 April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this thrilling conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Karou is still not ready to forgive Akiva for killing the only family she’s ever known.

When a brutal angel army trespasses into the human world, Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat–and against larger dangers that loom on the horizon. They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves–maybe even toward love.

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

Review summary: Perhaps too ambitious, but a dramatic finale that readers who have journeyed with Karou will certainly appreciate.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

“Dreamer” by Brandon Sanderson (from the “Games Creatures Play” anthology)

games-creatures-playDREAMER (from the “Games Creatures Play” anthology)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Read Date: 6 April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Welcome to the wide world of paranormal pastimes, where striking out might strike you dead. Editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner are your announcers for this all-new story collection of the most peculiar plays ever made….

Sports fans live and die by their teams’ successes and failures—though not literally. But these fourteen authors have written spirited—in more ways than one—new tales of killer competitions that would make even the most die-hard players ask to be benched.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson’s “Dreamer,” a game of cops and robbers is a new challenge when the players are able to switch bodies at will.

Disclosure: Of course I only decided to read this anthology because Branderson has a story in it. 😉

I must admit I was surprised to see Brandon Sanderson’s name included in an anthology by Harris and Kelner because their collections often feature paranormal elements. But I did say I will read anything he publishes, so…

In his blog post on the release of the book, Branderson classified “Dreamer” as a horror short story. As I was reading it, though, it didn’t feel horror or paranormal.

It begins in the middle of a deadly chase and, as the synopsis says, the people involved can switch bodies at will. The entire story is, in fact, one continuous dynamic chase scene reminiscent of those in “Steelheart”.

I always expect a certain level of world-building and a well-defined magic system from Branderson no matter how short the story, and he doesn’t disappoint here. But perhaps that expectation is what killed this for me in the end. See, after the action-packed chase and after unraveling the rules of the world, I expected the ending to reveal some strange creatures or people with out-of-this-world abilities, but no. It was simple. So deceptively simple. Maybe that’s the downside to reading too much Sanderson–you don’t expect him to write something simple anymore. embarrassed But that is also the charm of the story–that something simple was set up so creatively. I just wish it felt more paranormal considering the anthology it was part of.

Harris and Co.’s usual readers will definitely enjoy this story, especially if they are new to Branderson. Sharders like me are in for a nice surprise.

“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!

“Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3)” by Tahereh Mafi

IGNITE ME (SHATTER ME #3)Ignite Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Read Date: 4 February 2014
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

One day I might break
One day I might break free

Nothing will ever be the same.

The fate of Omega Point is unknown. Everyone Juliette has ever cared about could be dead. The war could be over before it ever really began.

Juliette is the only one standing in The Reestablishment’s way. She knows that if she’s going to survive, The Reestablishment cannot.

But to take down The Reestablishment and the man who very nearly killed her, Juliette will need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together to bring down their enemy, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew—about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam—was wrong.

 
*SPOILER WARNING FOR ALL THREE NOVELS AND TWO NOVELLAS IN THIS SERIES*

We’ve come, at last, to the end of the “Shatter Me” series. So how did your predictions fare? 😉 Continue reading

“Where She Went (If I Stay #2)” by Gayle Forman

wswWHERE SHE WENT (IF I STAY #2)
Author: Gayle Forman
Read Date: 6 January 2014
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s been three years since the devastating accident–three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future—and each other.

Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

So I gave this one a 5 out of 5 stars, and I will be honest–I think at least one star out of that 5 had to do with me being happy about this installment after the depressing, gut-wrenching, sucker-punching, heart-piercing cry-fest that was “If I Stay”, and I mean all of that in a very flattering way.

I’ll be your mess, you be mine
That was the deal that we had signed
--“Messy”: Collateral Damage, Track 2

This is one of those “another point-of-view” stories–we get to read Adam’s this time–but Forman took a different approach compared to what other YA/NA authors did (e.g. Tahereh Mafi, Keira Cass, even Stephenie Meyer). Instead of an alternate POV of the same scene or event, Forman opted to continue the story but to tell it from Adam’s perspective. “Where She Went” continues Mia’s and Adam’s stories three years after the end of “If I Stay”. I liked this approach because it felt like I was reading both a new story and a sequel at the same time, and Forman was able to write it in such a way that it didn’t feel disjointed from “If I Stay”.

Despite his angst and rock-star emo-ness, I found Adam easier to read than Mia, but maybe this is partly because Adam did not have the spectre of death looming over him. And also, by the time Mia and Adam finally meet again, I was almost completely on Adam’s side and was ready to declare Mia persona non grata…well, at least until she had the chance to explain herself.

You crossed the water, left me ashore
It killed me enough, but you wanted more
You blew up the bridge, a mad terrorist
Waved from your side, threw me a kiss
I started to follow but realized too late
There was nothing but air underneath my feet
--“Bridge”: Collateral Damage, Track 4

One of the strengths of both “Where She Went” and “If I Stay” is the measured pace of the characters’ development through a very effective use of flashbacks, musical references, familiar emotional beats, and in the case of “Where She Went”, the song lyrics that Adam wrote for Shooting Star’s hit album. As I read through the books, I felt like the characters were…tangible–I felt like I knew them so well and could relate to them a lot even if I’m not even close to being as talented as Mia nor as famous as Adam.

Someone wake me when it’s over
When the evening silence softens golden
Just lay me on a bed of clover
Oh, I need help with this burden
--“Hush”: Collateral Damage, Track 13

Speaking of the lyrics, during Forman’s signing here in the Philippines, I asked her if she ever thought of completing the lyrics of the songs in “Collateral Damage:, and if she ever thought of having someone produce the album. She said that the lyrics were some of the hardest parts of the book to write, so she doesn’t plan on writing the full songs.

She also revealed that in the movie adaptation of “If I Stay”, the producers recruited actual musicians to act as Shooting Star, and that the members actually bonded and tended to practice playing music together. The music supervisors also produced actual songs for the band, and some will even be included in the movie’s soundtrack.

First you inspect me
Then you dissect me
Then you reject me
I wait for the day
That you’ll resurrect me
--“Animate”: Collateral Damage, Track 1

If these 2 books were a kind of music, then, appropriately enough, “If I Stay” would be a mournful solo cello piece, and “Where She Went” would definitely be a rock anthem that will bring the crowd to its feet.

❆ ❆ ❆
Related Reviews:

“If I Stay (If I Stay #1)” by Gayle Forman

If I StayIF I STAY (IF I STAY #1)
Author:
Gayle Forman
Read Date: 5 January 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she’ll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

Disclosure: “If I Stay” has been recommended to me so many times already, but I only read it now because National Book Store announced that Gayle Forman is coming to the Philippines on January 18. Back when I got my first recommendation and I read the synopsis, I felt like it might hit a little too close to home, so I didn’t read it.

Well, it did hit very close to home in more ways than one, and while it was a very good story and I loved it, this will go on my “do not re-read if you value your sanity” list. But it’s not you, Gayle Forman; it’s me.

I loved how Forman wrote Mia and everyone around her; they come across as real people, as if they could have been my next-door neighbors. (Although, sadly, my real neighbors aren’t as cool.)

I also loved how she fleshed out Mia’s life and relationships in between her critical moments after the accident. This highlighted the stark contrast between Mia’s almost fairy tale life pre-accident and her current condition. I was rooting for Mia to pull through, of course, but the contrast was so great that Mia’s internal conflict was very much justified, and readers can sympathize with her even if we are very much alive. And her conflict is also important when we get to reading “Where She Went”.

This book really put me on an emotional roller-coaster as very few books have before. I honestly think that may even be the reason why I can’t give this a straight up 5 stars, even though, again, it’s no fault of Forman’s.

Those roller-coaster moments are too personal for the internet, but I can say I hit rock bottom in this book when I got to the part where Mia’s grandfather whispered to her that it’s okay if she wanted to go. I had to say that to someone once in my life in the same situation, and I don’t think I can do it again.

I immediately read “Where She Went” after this, and I think I loved that book more because Adam’s angst and his battle with life was such a welcome read after Mia’s (and all the other characters’, come to think of it) battle with death.

I recommend “If I Stay” to…well, to just about anyone. Except those who are very depressed; stay away. 😛

Now I’m gonna go watch “WINNER TV”. Nothing like a bunch of cute and dorky boys singing and doing dorky things to make me forget about this post.