“Lower Myths” by Eliza Victoria

 

Author: Eliza Victoria
Read Date: 7 May 2012
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Review Preview: I just wish there are more stories in this book.
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“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.

I’ve stopped wondering some time ago why Eliza Victoria keeps winning all these different awards for her fiction and poetry. And with Lower Myths, she has definitely earned a place in my list of favorite Filipino authors.

Trust Fund Babies is my favorite of the two stories in Lower Myths. I love the whole The Godfather feel, and the mythology that Victoria re-imagined for this particular world. The story is pretty straightforward, sometimes even predictable, but it was engaging and entertaining from beginning to end. I also admire Victoria’s ability to build a detailed world and solid characters even for such a short story.

The Very Last Case of Messrs. Aristotel and Arkimedes Magtanggol: Attorneys-at-Law is a little more complicated in terms of structure, but it’s no less engaging. If the first story had a The Godfather feel to it, this one has some Inception undertones. The transition between the different “realities” can be confusing in the beginning, but it’s easy enough to follow after the first few glimpses.

Lower Myths is a must for those who love Philippine speculative fiction. I just wish that there were more stories in this book.


Disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided by Flipside Publishing.

“Taste” by Kate Evangelista

 

Title: Taste
Author: Kate Evangelista
Read Date: 30 April 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Reading Advice: Read this while munching on some pork cracklings! *insert evil The Count laughter here*
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At Barinkoff Academy, there’s only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.

One of the things that I look for in romance stories, especially when they decide to go down Love Triangle Lane, is a certain amount of uncertainty about the story’s One True Pairing (OTP). It doesn’t matter if there seems to already be a fated OTP (see Korean drama “The Moon That Embraces The Sun”); what’s fun for me is watching the second lead be his awesome self enough for me to re-think which team I want to be on. I hate it when writers make the second lead despicable or strangely unattractive just to steer us towards the direction of the main hero. I want to be able to choose who to root for. Occasionally, I even want to be able to chastise the heroine and tell her “I told you so.”

I mention this because it’s one of the things I liked about Kate Evangelista’s new YA novel, “Taste.” The two heroes who are vying for Phoenix’s heart are equally attractive, yet any girl could likewise conceivably have doubts about them both. The OTP eventually becomes obvious as we go further into the story, of course, but the second lead remains a worthy choice.

Kate Evangelista created a vivid world and detailed mythology for “Taste” that seems both fresh and familiar. I’m sure that when readers start to talk about the primary conceit of the book—what the Night Students like Demitri and Luka turn out to be—there will be numerous invocations of certain popular YA titles and how those have also re-invented particular mythologies.

If I sound like I’m skirting this Creature Issue, I apologize. I don’t want to spoil that revelation for other readers because it’s fun to see all the guesses that are floating around in Goodreads, Twitter, and book blogs. Apparently, vampires are leading the survey. *chuckles* As for me, I’ll just say that I didn’t see it coming. I suspected in the beginning that maybe Ms. Evangelista invented a totally new supernatural creature, but apparently not. So yeah, it’s certainly a fascinating twist, although, to be honest, I’m not sure if everyone is going to drink this mythological Kool-Aid.

While I like Phoenix’s courage and inquisitiveness and Demitri’s intensity, it was Luka and the secondary characters like his sister Yana, and Demitri’s younger brother Dray, who captivated me. Their personal stories and their motivations make them easy to root for.

Overall, “Taste” is an entertaining read that will appeal to fans of paranormal YA romance. I look forward to seeing what other stories Ms. Evangelista has in store for us.

p.s. Filipino readers should keep their eyes peeled for a Pinoy reference in the story! (Oh, great. Now, I’m hungry.) 😉

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Disclosure: This review is based on an ARC provided by Kate Evangelista.

Snapshots: Meeting Mina

A wee break from all the The Hunger Games re-read posts.

I’m still transcribing my interview with author Mina V. Esguerra, which will appear in the form of a profile on GMA News Online – Lifestyle sometime this week or early next week. In the interim :P, here’s a snapshot of what she wrote on my copy of Interim Goddess of Love:

I enjoyed finally meeting Mina, who I’ve only ever corresponded with via e-mail and Twitter. She’s very passionate about her writing, and was very forthcoming when I asked her to share her thoughts and experiences about self-publishing independent publishing. I hope I will be able to capture that enthusiasm in the profile that I’m writing. 🙂

College sophomore Hannah Maquiling doesn’t know why everyone tells her their love problems. She’s never even had a boyfriend, but that doesn’t stop people from spilling their guts to her, and asking for advice. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise when the cutest guy in school tells her that she’s going to have to take on this responsibility — but for all humanity.

The Goddess of Love has gone AWOL. It’s a problem, because her job is to keep in check this world’s obsession with love (and lack of it). The God of the Sun, for now an impossibly handsome senior at an exclusive college just outside of Metro Manila, thinks Hannah has what it takes to (temporarily) do the job.

While she’s learning to do this goddess thing, she practices on the love troubles of shy Kathy, who’s got a secret admirer on campus. Hannah’s mission, should she choose to accept it, is to make sure that he’s not a creepy stalker and they find their happily ever after — or at least something that’ll last until next semester. (As if she could refuse! The Sun God asked so nicely. And he’s so, well, hot.)

Interim Goddess of Love is available via Amazon and Mina’s Multiply Store.

So I installed Kindle for PC…

 
…and it was as if it can read my mind and it wanted me to like it so much that it included Pride and Prejudice as one of my free books. (Bribe me with the prospect of more Mr. Darcy? I think I love you now.) Or maybe real live Amazons are magically behind it all, just as Rick Riordan imagined.

The first book I finished reading on the KfPC (within 24 hours of installation) was Mina V. Esguerra’s Interim Goddess of Love. It’s my first MVE book! I’ll write a longer review or maybe something else after my interview with her, but for now, I’ll just say that it was a fun, entertaining, and often kilig read. 🙂

“Alternative Alamat” edited by Paolo Chikiamco

 

Title: Alternative Alamat
Author: Paolo Chikiamco (Editor)
Read Date: 21 December 2011
Goodreads Reading Progress Status Updates: Click here.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This book is included in my Notable Books from 2011 article on GMA News Online.
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Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides… yet too few of these tales are known and read today. “Alternative Alamat” gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us–and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse, and develop a hunger, for those venerable tales.

 
I love alternative takes on mythology (Rick Riordan fan here), so I thought “Alternative Alamat” would be a good place for me to start with my resolution to read more works written by Filipino authors.

I also love the idea of this compilation because it brings Philippine mythology closer to modern readers like no scholarly book of myths possibly could. I am not belittling the efforts of the authors who wrote the scholarly books, of course, for without them, we would know very little about our mythology. But younger readers and readers who are more exposed to foreign works wouldn’t likely pick up an academic book on Philippine myths for their leisure reading.

There are 11 engaging re-tellings in this anthology written by many familiar names in Philippine speculative fiction. Despite sometimes dealing with similar themes or mythological figures, the treatments are delightfully diverse.

“Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St.” – The pawnshop reminded me a lot of the Faerie Market in Gaiman’s “Stardust,” where the wares that are on sale are all whimsical and magical. This poignant story has its own local flavor and charm, though, and I love how Eliza Victoria intertwined the mythology with modern issues.

I didn’t have first-hand experience, obviously, but I was pretty sure a dying galaxy would be anything but dull. I believed it would be fantastic, breathtaking, heartbreaking.

 
“Harinuo’s Love Song” – It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of this story because it reads a lot like an old folktale, and I didn’t expect that kind of treatment. But this turned out to be an enjoyable read. The prose is lyrical and lush, and the plot is well-crafted.

“Last Full Show” – I’ve never read any of the Trese comics, and yes, you can throw all manner of insults and objects at me, but maybe you can throw the four volumes of those comics my way instead? 😛 This was so much fun to read, and I love that you didn’t need prior knowledge of the original comics to appreciate it.

‘Yes, the Tikbalang owes me three favors.’
‘Did you wish for world peace?’
‘No.’

 
“The Alipin’s Tale” – I love alternate history stories too, so this is a real hit with me. It doesn’t introduce any of the more obscure myths or personalities, but the mix of history and mythology grounds it for readers, and makes the fantasy aspect more tangible.

“Keeper of My Sky” – This story succeeds in its intention to intertwine science and mythology, this time. It’s a lovely tale, but it’s so sad and melancholic. I was thankful it wasn’t raining when I read this or I would’ve sobbed in front of my computer.

“Conquering Makiling” – This particular Maria Makiling theme is quite familiar, but the story had modern sensibilities. The conservation message is well-placed.

“The Sorceress Queen” – This one reads like a great classic fairy tale and also like those local genesis stories at the same time. I had a lot of fun imagining what this would look like if it was adapted as an animated short.

“Beneath the Acacia” – In my mind, I call this the CSI: Arayat story. 😛 I like the portrayal of Maria Sinukuan here because she seems more human. This is probably because the more fantastical spotlight is trained on the protagonist, Juan, but it’s a pleasant change. There was a little hiccup in the story that jarred me a little, though–when Mang Andres describes the supernatural characters, it sounds like he was explaining it to a foreign reader rather than to the other in-universe characters who already know what a kapre is.

“Offerings to Aman Sinaya” – I liked the story, although the point of view was a little unconventional, and therefore took some getting used to. The ending felt a little too abrupt.

“Balat, Buwan, Ngalan (A Myth for the 21st Century)” – I love how this incorporates the old tales into a modern world. I had a lot of fun spotting the pop culture references and nods to the old myths. My only problem was the POV. Because the narrative had a ‘meta’ feel to it like ‘Interview With The Vampire,’ I think this would’ve been more powerful had it been written from a first person POV.

Once more, you nod to yourself, then walk away from the table, dreaming with your eyes open, of love, and of chaining one’s self to the ghost of it, till the heart shrivels, and blows away on the gust of a desolate sigh.

 
“The Door Opens” – I panicked when I saw that this story had a good number of footnotes because I have a love-hate relationship with fiction that incorporates footnotes. I feel that it’s very rarely done well enough that the author doesn’t interrupt the flow of the main story. Dean Alfar did well, though. The main narrative read like a complete story in itself, so I had no compulsion to immediately check the footnotes, which would’ve been difficult because I would’ve done a lot of scrolling back and forth. Nevertheless, I found the structure of this story really interesting, and when I finally did read the footnotes, they embellished the main narrative really well. Plus points for the great alternate history concept!

As an aside, I just realized how awkward it is to read stories set in the Philippines whose characters speak in English. It can’t be helped, of course, but I find it jarring sometimes. If a story is well written, I do get over it, as was the case for all the stories I read.

Despite the diversity in treatment, I felt that there was a lot of underlying melancholy in all of the stories; they all seem so somber. I was looking for a bit of levity in some of the ones where that kind of tone would’ve been appropriate. All the old tales were already somber enough, I thought someone would actually do a much lighter alternative take. But this personal preference doesn’t take away from the quality of the stories at all.

I also wish the stories each dealt with unique deities or themes, that only one story would’ve had Maria Makiling for a subject, for example. But maybe this also reflects how much work still needs to be done in educating everyone that there exist pantheons of deities and a deep well of other Philippine legends and myths. “Alternative Alamat” is already a great first step toward that, with the interviews and appendices included in the book providing a springboard for further study. It certainly made me more interested in Philippine mythology, and I will definitely make use of the references to learn more.

I hope more authors and publishers will be proactive and think of other creative ways to bring this aspect of our culture closer to the popular consciousness. I’m proud of efforts like “Alternative Alamat,” and hope that more Filipino readers support projects like this. I have high hopes that soon we will find our own local Rick Riordan!

Fantasy is very important for personal growth. Myths, legends, and folktales provide fantastic stimuli for the imagination, and allow people to create an alternative persona.

 
One last thing: I wish they’ll publish a print copy of this book so that it will reach more readers, and because the illustrations by Mervin Malonzo deserve to be seen in print.


Disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided by Rocket Kapre Books.
 

“The Son of Neptune” by Rick Riordan

 
The Son of Neptune
Title: The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2)
Author: Rick Riordan
Read Date: 10 October 2011
Goodreads Status Updates: Click here.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (I really liked it.)
Review in a nutshell: This one’s a procedural, as Riordan novels go, but Percy’s reappearance and the introduction of a new Camp gives it a boost.

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Percy is confused. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn’t ring and bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth

Hazel is supposed to be dead. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem – when the Voice took over he mother and commanded Hazel to use her “gift” for and evil purpose, Hazel couldn’t say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wished she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.

Frank is a klutz. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery – although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially infront of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely – enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.

Beginning at the “other” camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes od Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophesy of Seven.

 
 
When a book opens with the hero being chased by Gorgons–one of whom, carries a tray of poisoned Crispy Cheese ‘N Wieners as a murder weapon–you know you’re going to have a lot of fun.

The Son of Neptune is a procedural as Riordan novels go, but yes, it does pack a lot of alter-mythology fun.  We get the time-tested Three-Heroes-Go-On-A-Quest formula, but this time with amnesiac!Percy Jackson, and a new boy (Frank) and a new girl (Hazel) from The Other Camp for Demigods (a.k.a. Camp Jupiter).

Riordan does what he does best, giving us a world where modern mortals exist side-by-side with creatures and elements from Greek and Roman mythology.  I love how he is so attuned to pop culture and what kids are into, and how he manages to incorporate mythology into those.

[Spoiler Warning for those who haven’t read the book] Honorable mentions for imaginative incorporations of mythology are:  the Amazons running Amazon.com; Iris’ health and wellness shop, R.O.F.L. (and I was so surprised Riordan even knew ROFLcopter!); and Thanatos’ iPad App for Reaping Souls.  I really like Thanatos, he’s…intriguing. I suspect he’s gonna have tea with Steve Jobs soon to discuss how to improve that app. 😛 [End Spoiler]

Riordan also dishes out his trademark action-packed side-quests and obstacles.  But while they’re exciting, the Quest formula reduces the overall suspense of the book dramatically because, obviously, everyone’s going to make it out alive anyway.  There’s a bigger Prophecy to fulfill, after all.

The first Percy Jackson and the Olympians series also suffered from the same problem, but Riordan does manage to drop surprises along the way as he develops his characters and their relationships.  So while I may not worry much about whether they will live or die, at least I can worry about how they will escape their predicament and how it will affect them as characters.  If the Olympians series is any indication, then the first 3 books of The Heroes of Olympus will be like the uphill climb on a roller coaster before the big drop.

Percy’s reappearance grounds this book as Jason Grace wasn’t able to do as effectively in The Lost Hero–readers already have a history with Percy, and are therefore more invested in his Quest.  It’s easy to root for him despite his new allegiances and alliances.

This isn’t to say that I prefer Percy over Jason at this point.  I know many people think Jason is but a shadow of Percy, but I don’t believe he was intended as a substitute–it’s just that he was placed in the position Percy has long occupied in the Riordan Hero Troika Template in the first book because he is the most important character then.  I’d like to think Riordan has a more interesting plan for Jason than that.

This isn’t to say that Percy’s characterization in this book is perfect either.  While he does ground the story because he’s a familiar character, I felt disconnected from him–like he was there, but what he thinks and does do not resonate much.

This problem may be a result of the multiple point-of-view format.  The first series was written purely from Percy’s general perspective, but The Heroes of Olympus has chapters that focus on specific characters.  It’s good for moving the plot forward and for providing back story, but I miss the more solid connection with the main character that the one-POV format provided.  And since we already know so much about Percy, there wasn’t as much development on his part compared to Frank and Hazel, and even Jason, Piper, and Leo from The Lost Hero.

Also, when did Percy ever learn to talk Valley Girl?  I don’t recall him using “like” and “dude” that much before.  Is this what happens when Juno/Hera decides to give you Temporary Amnesia? 😛

Speaking of the new characters, I’m not very happy with Riordan pairing everybody up, to be honest.  I liked it back when it happened with Annabeth and Percy, and it seemed like a necessary plot device with Jason and Piper.  I’m a hopeless romantic, but does everyone have to pair up?! Even Tyson?!

I’m not happy with the love triangles that are sure to pop up in Book 3 either.  If this is an attempt to get older readers into the series, then it’s a cheap shot.

In addition, while it was sweet, it was weird to read Percy contemplating his Future with Annabeth. I find it weird mostly because he’s only 16.  I concede that it may be believable considering the context; however, I still think it wasn’t something that Riordan really needed to touch on right now. Percy had enough of a motivation to ally himself with Camp Jupiter without those thoughts of a future in New Rome.

 

Credit: RickRiordan.com

 
One of the big pay-offs of the cliffhangers from the first book is finally seeing the Roman camp.  Camp Jupiter is wonderfully imagined by Riordan, and presents enough of a contrast with Camp Half-Blood that I seriously thought about which Camp I would prefer to be in, given the chance.  (For the record, I think I’ll remain a Daughter of Athena and stay in Camp Half-Blood.  Unless Riordan thinks up cooler stuff in the coming books.)

Praetor Reyna and Octavian from Camp Jupiter are interesting additions to the roster of characters.  Octavian seems like he could be the Luke Castellan parallel of the Roman side, though I can’t be sure he’ll follow a similar path–the Oracular Teddy Bear Stuffings aren’t very clear on that.  😛  And while Reyna may be caught up in one of my Love Triangles of Doom, she may actually be the character that romance won’t be wasted on here.

Frank and Hazel have more compelling back stories than Leo or Piper.  They also seem a lot more powerful than Leo and Piper.  If it ever comes down to a team rivalry, the cards will be stacked in Percy’s favor.

While he’s very likeable as a character, Frank’s little family secret–his secret power–seems too convenient, especially since he learns to use it only during a crucial point towards the end.  And Frank had so many other interesting things happening to him for the rest of the book, I felt like he overshadowed Percy sometimes.  Maybe the book should have been called The Son of Mars.  😛

Riordan sets the next book up well with the arrival of Jason’s team at Camp Jupiter aboard the Argo II.  It’s time for the Great Camp/United Nations Mixer! 😛

I fear for my sanity in case Riordan decides to give the Seven Heroes of the Prophecy a POV chapter each. o_O


A special thank you goes out to Sis Lianne, for lending me her copy of this book.  I suspect her generosity was tinged with the desire to have more people to discuss the book with, and thus, the desire to make me cheat on the book I’m supposed to be “dating exclusively” providing the impetus for this little “flirtation”, as Sheila calls it.  I have evil friends. 😛

Previously, on The Heroes of Olympus series: