{Book Review} Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green‘s arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction.*

Looking for Alaska is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years but never got around to doing it. It was published seven years ago (2005) and won the Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association the year after. I first heard of it through this magical microblogging website called Tumblr where I saw the powerful quote that made the book very memorable for me:

I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my hands around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.

Right then and there I wanted to read the book. I never got to obtaining a copy, though, until last Christmas, when my friend Yong gave it to me as a present; when I unwrapped the book, all the excitement started flowing back. He told me it wasn’t the happiest book ever, so I tried putting off reading it until what I thought was ‘the right time’. I never knew if this was the right time, however, but I decided to just read it and see why everybody else loved it so much. 

Looking for Alaska is a coming-of-age story that deals with love, life, friendship, loyalty, and the uncertainties of “the Great Perhaps”. It is divided into two parts, Before and After, but I can’t tell you what the reference point is, lest the whole story is spoiled. All of its characters are very well-written. Miles “Pudge” Halter was very effective as the protagonist, existing most of his life as a general nobody before transferring to Culver Creek Preparatory School, collecting last words and looking for a change in his life, or at least something different from what his life before used to be. These changes come in the forms of Chip “the Colonel” Martin, his roommate, and his friends Alaska Young and Takumi Hikohito. Miles gets instantly smitten with Alaska, a bookworm-slash-prankster extraordinaire who also happens to be impulsive, daring, and bold, something I suppose he considered as a refreshing change.  

More than being a story about teenagers going through high school while living rebellious lives, Looking for Alaska presents thought-provoking questions that adds depth to the book. How will I get out of this labyrinth of suffering? I loved how, between the lines and layers of teenage angst and rebelliousness, John Green managed to insert wisdom and insight about life, and even though some of it is deep, his writing can make you understand and grasp the beauty of it.

Looking for Alaska is my first John Green book (I know, I’m so late!), and true to the testaments of several other readers, this is indeed a book you will never forget. Funny, witty, clever, and insightful, I highly recommend this book. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Paperback, 221 pages
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Published: March 3, 2005
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Coming of Age

{Book Review} Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

By the prickling of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes.

It’s the first time I’ve read something of Ray Bradbury’s, but I already had high expectations from this book because I’ve heard so much about him. I have a friend who has read a lot of his work and she insists I read it every time I drop by the elusive secondhand bookstore in our school (which comes and goes as it pleases), and even the cover of this book says he is ‘the world’s greatest living science-fiction writer’. He’s still alive and kicking at the ripe old age of 91, but saying something that bold on a book cover must mean something – I mean, there must be a reason he has all those accolades, right? He even has an award named after him by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer of America. Now, on with the story!

A carnival and all the strange things that occur after its arrival to Jim and Will’s quiet little town make up Something Wicked This Way Comes. Jim Nightshade and William Halloway may look like two typical boys – curious, active, rowdy – but there is more to their connection than the fact that they’re neighbors and very close friends. Will was born a minute before midnight on October thirtieth, while Jim was born a minute after midnight, which makes it Halloween. This detail makes them almost like twins, and this forged a bond between them that overflows to everything they do – they win races together, neither a winner nor a loser, they sneak out of their houses together, they even do the same things at the same time even if they are in separate places. Just as you think they must have no differences, the mysterious circus arrives in the dead of night. This invokes a series of strange events that affect not only the boys, but the rest of the townspeople as well. While at first Jim and Will agree on their opinions of the carnival, as events get weirder and weirder, the decisions of each boy diverges. Nothing in Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show is what it seems, but will Jim and Will realize this before it is too late?

The book’s gothic themes make for one enjoyable read. I have always had a fascination with circuses and magic (part of the reason why I enjoyed The Night Circus [review] so much, and why I am looking forward to reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), but this one had a touch of horror in it, a genre I have been too scared to explore. Something Wicked This Way Comes does not make me have nightmares, but it certainly has that creepy factor that makes it really good. More than that, I really enjoyed Ray Bradbury’s writing. His descriptions of things are very poetic and – I swear I’m not exaggerating – mystical. There’s this magical feel to his words that are just so beautiful that I can’t help but be impressed. One of the passages that stood out for me was this:

Sometimes you see a kite so high, so wise it almost knows the wind. It travels, then chooses to land in one spot and no other and no matter how much you yank, run this way or that, it will simply break its cord, seek its resting place and bring you, blood-mouthed, running.
“Jim! Wait for me!”
So now Jim was the kite, the wild twine cut, and whatever wisdom was his taking him away from Will who could only run, earthbound, after one so high and dark and suddenly strange.

I have no trouble seeing why he is considered a master storyteller.

The book is divided into three parts, with chapters in it that weren’t lengthy, so it’s not too difficult to read. Several parts are wrought with imagery, descriptive that it’s not hard to see the story unravel in your mind’s eye, but a lot of the descriptions can be brief and to the point. One of my favorite chapters would have to be chapter thirty-one, which contains only ten words:

Nothing much else happened, all the rest of that night.

Just when I think I get Ray Bradbury’s style, he always manages to surprise me, which is really not a bad thing. It reflect onto this book, which is full of so many twists and turns not unlike the carnival’s Mirror Maze, and just like this fatal attraction (no pun intended), you can’t help but be drawn to it.

Now that I have finally made a dent into Ray Bradbury’s collection of works, there’s no looking back. I only have one other novel of his (Martian Chronicles) and an anthology (We’ll Always Have Paris), and though both are not high up my TBR pile right now, I have no doubt that one day I’ll devour them as fast as I did Something Wicked This Way Comes.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Paperback, 215 pages
Author: Ray Bradbury
First published: 1962
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Fantasy

{Book Review} Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (Courtney Crumrin, #1)

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (Courtney Crumrin, #1)

*Review copy provided by the publisher

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things is filled with dark humor and wild characters that I did not expect from a series that seemed to be aimed to a younger audience. I liked it, however, and for a first volume, it kept me engaged and wanting more. 

Courtney Crumrin, its titular heroine, just moved with her parents to her Uncle Aloysius’s house. I think mansion would fit better, but it is obvious that it has seen better days. It is now dark, spooky, and had all the looks of a haunted house. Courtney finds herself having a hard time fitting in anywhere for the days and weeks that follow, even in her own home. However, she finds out more about herself – she is in fact a witch. Uncle Aloysius is considered an oddball by many, and Courtney soon finds his strange but interesting collection of magic books. From here, she discovers a world far from anything she has ever imagined. Here she meets goblins, changelings, talking animals, faery queens, and a whole lot more. 

I am extremely fond of stories based on folk tales and paranormal mythology, and this is no exception. I really liked how writer/artist Ted Naifeh illustrated everything, and I enjoyed both the colored and black and white panes. Courtney Crumrin is filled with dark humor and wild characters – it is not unusual for children to be eaten by goblins, or mortal babies sold in the underworld market while a changeling cries for milk in its place. The fact that the author is unapologetic for these horrible occurrences, as if it really is a fact of life for the characters (and indeed it is, whether they are aware of it or not) made me love this.

For a first volume in a series, it did not fail to engage me, and I would not pass up a chance to read more of Courtney Crumrin. This series is especially recommended for people who love fairy tales and myths. People who love paranormal/supernatural cases in a graphic novel would find this fun to read. Despite looking like something suited for middle grade readers, I think this would suit young adults better.

The full color hardcover edition of Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things will be released on April 11, 2012.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3.5/5
Full color hardcover, 144 pages
Writer/Artist: Ted Naifeh
Colorist: Warren Wucinich
Publisher: Oni Press
To be published on: April 11, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure


{Book Review} First Date by Krista McGee

Addy Davidson is the last girl in the country who wants to be on the new reality TV show to win a date to prom with the President’s son. She’s focused on her schoolwork so she can get a scholarship to an Ivy League college, uncomfortable in the spotlight, never been on a date, and didn’t even audition for it.

But she got selected anyway.

So she does her best to get eliminated on the very first show… right before she realizes that the President’s son is possibly the most attractive guy she has ever seen in person, surprisingly nice, and seemingly unimpressed by the 99 other girls who are throwing themselves at him.

Addy’s totally out of her comfort zone—but that may be right where God can show her the most about who she is . . . and who she was meant to be. -NetGalley

*Review copy from publisher

I really liked this book, hence the four stars. Even though the plot is sort of cliche and predictable, I liked how cute it was and how Krista McGee incorporated Christian belief into it through Addy, the book’s protagonist. Despite the simplicity of the plot, the characterization was well-thought out, and each one has a distinct personality. It was easy to relate to them, especially Addy, and why they did what they did in the story was understandable. Also, I loved how this book, despite initially seeming to be a cute love story at first sight, managed to make me return to my faith with a renewed vigor and understanding. It is also admirable how the insertion of things related to religion is not stifling; in fact, it was just right. Not too much to alienate people of other religions, for instance, and not too little that it did not make any effect.

I admit, I am a sucker for well-known/nobody pairings, which is partly why I chose to read this from my ever-mounting TBR pile. It’s an interesting dynamic, don’t you think? A reality TV show to be the prom date of the president’s son? It was partly intriguing, partly preposterous for me. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Wow, what a guy. A reality TV show just to pick a date? Really?’ and believe me, I thought that throughout the first parts of the book, but Jonathon (not a typo, that’s really how it’s spelled) proved to be endearing, so no problem.

What I wished I could have seen more of was Addy’s relationship with the other contestants. I mean, she had her roommate (trailer-mate?) Kara as her buddy throughout the duration of the show, and it was finely established that the other girls hated everything about her, but I felt bad at the lack of closure. Much as Addy wished to help change people for the better, she was able to do that with only a few people – which is really remarkable, I’m not complaining – but I wonder what would have happened if the other girls finally softened
and were ready to be friends with Addy. Still, I guess that lack of that made this a bit more realistic, so it’s okay.

I really enjoyed First Date. I haven’t read much Christian fiction, and I hardly knew this was one before reading it, but I have no regrets! This is Krista McGee’s first novel, and I like it. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more of her work in the future if I were you!

PS By the way, this counts if you’re joining the 2012 Debut Author Challenge

In a nutshell…
Paperback, 336 pages
Rating: 4/5
Author: Krista McGee
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Published: January 10, 2012
Language: English

Genre: YA, Christian Fiction, Contemporary Romance

{Film Review} The Hunger Games (2012)

FINALLY WATCHED IT. I can barely think of writing as objectively as I normally would, I’m just so happy. Okay. Calm down, Alexa. Here goes.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Some book and movie comparisons will also be made.


The Hunger Games is the first film in four movies (says this) based on the trilogy of the same name by Suzanne Collins. Set in dystopian Panem composed of twelve districts (originally thirteen, but the thirteenth was obliterated), an annual event which requires a boy and girl tribute from each district summons Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) from District 12 to fight to the death against other tributes in an enclosed arena. Because the Hunger Games can only accept one victor, no tribute feels safe. Each of them has to fight for his or her survival, all the while being watched by everyone in Panem. As things get darker in every turn, Katniss has to learn how to outsmart the other tributes in order to emerge the victor. A lot of complications get in the way, of course, but it’s only just the beginning.

I first heard of The Hunger Games, from my best friend who loved reading YA, sometime in 2009. I was intrigued because I’d just read the short story by Shirley Jackson called The Lottery, and the themes were similar. When I heard that it was going to be turned into a movie, I was torn between feeling wildly delighted or worried that it might not turn out the way I expected it to. I know most people think this as well, so let me stop all that worrying by saying that: No. You have nothing to be worried about. The movie was brilliant. Let me explain. (At this point, there will be SPOILERS. You have been forewarned.)

We all have our expectations of how the movie will turn out – which scenes will be included, how they will reenact each scene, etc. – and I have found most of  the movie remain faithful to the book. Some scenes were different, but they were necessary and added more to the story. I liked some of the changes they made, like how they killed off Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) at the end, and the brief scene which revealed the more sinister side of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). I think this faithfulness to the events that occurred in the book – and how Suzanne Collins was part of the team that wrote the screenplay – was how Lions Gate won the series over against bigger rivals. And despite this faithfulness to the book, they were able to show the movie from different perspectives, not merely Katniss’s – the Gamemakers, the Capitol, people from the districts, even Gale – and this was a change that I liked wholeheartedly. Seeing the Gamemakers make changes to the terrain and creatures in the arena, in addition to all the other perspectives, added a new level of understanding yo the points of view of the characters in the movie.

 I absolutely, from the bottom of my heart, commend everyone’s acting. I had a different cast on my mind, but now I understand why they were chosen for their respective roles. They were perfect. Jennifer Lawrence did a terrific job playing Katniss. Despite her character’s  trademark stoic expression, Lawrence managed to portray her very well. Katniss did show some emotion later on, and Lawrence managed to do that pretty well, too. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth actually really fit their roles. Stanley Tucci was convincing as Caesar Flickerman, as are Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz, who played Effie Trinket, Haymitch, and Cinna, respectively. I adored Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane. I especially love the design of his beard. Kind of fits him, as a matter of fact. The tributes themselves were very good. Alexander Ludwig and Amandla Stenberg as Cato and Rue were my personal favorites. The whole cast was great, really, but I would just like to say how I loved Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of President Snow best. President Snow did not have that many scenes, but he was in the last (which lasted about thirty seconds) and I personally think it made quite an impact. Sutherland’s just so amazing. He managed to show his contempt of those rebellious “star-crossed lovers” remarkably well, with expressions as subtle as the curling of a lip. Hands down, my favorite portrayal. I couldn’t imagine anybody else who could have done it better.

The effects and the score was good, too. They showed Katniss twirling her dress, flames and all, and it looked fabulous. And you know that part in the book where Katniss hallucinated due to the trackerjackers’ bites? I loved how they showed that. The Cornucopia’s not as I imagined it to be – it was more of gold and smooth in my imagination – but it worked for the final scenes, which is enough for me. I love the costume design and makeup aspect. The Capitol and its people were just as I imagined them! They all look colorful, which reminds me of the characters from Alice in Wonderland.

Overall, it was a really good film. One of the more faithful – and more impressive – book-to-film adaptations I have seen in a while. You really shouldn’t miss it. And if you haven’t read the book, please please do so as well! The movie is the perfect companion to it.

Don’t be shy to leave your thoughts below!!! 🙂

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

PG-13
Runtime: 142 mins.
Released: 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross (screenplay), Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (screenplay, novel)
Producers: Robin Bissell, Suzanne Collins, Chantal Feghali, Louise Rosner, Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik, Aldric La’auli Porter, Bryan Unkeless
Music: T-Bone Burnett, James Newton Howard
Language: English
Country of origin: United States of America
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Drama, Thriller
 
Cast
Katniss Everdeen – Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellark – Josh Hutcherson
Gale Hawthorne – Liam Hemsworth
Stanley Tucci – Caesar Flickerman
Wes Bentley – Seneca Crane
Cinna – Lenny Kravitz
President Snow – Donald Sutherland
Effie Trinket – Elizabeth Banks
Primrose Everdeen – Willow Shields

 Source: IMDb

{Book Review} Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants

“Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. 
She has seen both these dreams come true. 

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon—from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. 

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.”* 

Before I go on to my review, let me insert a little disclaimer: I don’t know much about Tina Fey. I am serious. Her name is familiar, I know her face, she looks like she has a funny bone, but I haven’t really watched anything of hers. I haven’t seen an episode of 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live, or watched her movie Date Night, so I was initially just content to let it sit quietly in my iTunes as an audio book, forgotten. The only thing I know about her is in a .gif  file uploaded by someone in Tumblr where she was waving a plastic bag, saying she will put other plastic bags in it so that it is committing cannibalism, or something. I forget these important quotes. Even in that 10 second gif loop, I found her funny, so when I saw that audiobook, I decided to just listen. Heck, why stop yourself from reading a book anyway?

Not once during those 5 and a half hours did I regret this decision. Turns out you don’t need to have background information on Tina Fey after all – this book talks about the most important moments of her life. Bossypants also includes a tour through her mind, with various essays on her opinions of Photoshop, Sarah Palin, office hygiene, and several other things. All throughout the book, I could not stop laughing at her witty and sarcastic remarks. If you know Tina Fey (more than the little I know of her, anyway) and love her type of humor, you will definitely enjoy this book.

I expected this to be a sort of autobiographical tell-all, but it is not. Well, she does talk about various points in her life (like her college romances, less than normal honeymoon cruise, working in SNL and 30 Rock), but she also raises points on topics like sexism and ideal beauty that could serve as food for thought if you let it. For example, she highlights people’s perception of beautiful as something based on a “laundry list” of features women must have to be considered one:

Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, …, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.

That part was really spot on for me. And just before you think it’s beginning to sound serious, Tina ends the list with the punch line: “The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.” So there you go.

In addition to that, she also makes a good job of teaching how to be a good boss. I really listened for that because the book must be called Bossypants for a reason. True enough, there are stories of her working with other people in the business, with her trying her best to excel in her field despite the discriminating idea that “Women aren’t funny!”. I find it admirable how she has handled it well, and seeing where she is now, I think she deserves it.

My absolute favorite part of the book was when she read aloud a prayer she made for her baby daughter. It’s almost as long as this blog post, but the subliminal message is so heartwarming and touching despite the jokes. It almost drove me to tears. Mother’s prayers do that to me sometimes. 

It helps that Tina Fey herself narrated the audio book. As I am new to this audio book listening thing, I very much appreciated listening to the book in the author’s voice – feelings are much easily interpreted, and there’s nothing quite like hearing something from the original source herself. If I had read Bossypants instead of listened to it, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much. There’s something about listening to Tina saying her own jokes and narrating her life that makes listening to audio books a wholly different experience.

I recommend this book for anyone who loves a hilarious book with meat in it. And, of course, people who love Tina Fey. I am now very much intrigued about her shows and want to watch them. I suspect this was part of the plan, but who cares?!

In a nutshell…

Audio CD

Rating: 3.5/5
Author/Narrator: Tina Fey
Original Language: English
Published: 5 April 2011 by Hachette Audio
Genre: Autobiographical > Memoir, Nonfiction, Humor

{Book Review} Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry by Neil Gaiman and the Twitterverse

“Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled, and said, “We don’t love you anymore.” So began the Twitter Audio project, with a dazzling first line penned by New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman. What followed was an epic tale of imaginary lands, magical objects, haunting melodies, plucky sidekicks, menacing villains, and much more. 

From mystical blue roses to enchanted mirrors to pesky puppets, this classic fable was born from the collective creativity of more than one hundred contributors via the social network Twitter.com in a groundbreaking literary experiment. Together, virtual strangers crafted a rollicking story of a young girl’s journey with love, forgiveness, and acceptance.”*

This is the first audio book I actually finished so this will always have a special place in my heart. Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry is a the result of a collaborative effort by Neil Gaiman and the Twitterverse, wherein the famous author gets the ball rolling by tweeting the first sentence, and the rest of the world pitches in. The result was then turned by BBC into a script for an audiobook. 

I admit I was at first doubtful at the resulting quality of the story. Many a time have I tried playing that game where a person writes a sentence, and then another one continues it, and so on, and the resulting plot almost always turned out to be messy. Because of this, I steeled myself for what the outcome might be. After almost two hours, I resurfaced quite reluctantly into the normal world. Needless to say, I really loved it. Everyone who contributed managed to spin a beautiful tale of adventure and redemption, and I couldn’t help but root for Sam all throughout. I was very pleased at the resulting twists and revelations. Imagine all the contributors reading every tweet as they came and figuring out the best course of action to take for Sam and the other characters! It was brilliant, and I’m so happy for everyone who contributed to the story. I also commend Katherine Kellgren for her wonderful job on narrating. I was quite scared of listening to an audio book for fear that it would not be able to retain my attention, but her skill in adapting the best voice for each character and the emotions they felt were not lost to me. I really enjoyed the whole listening experience. 

This is indeed a very good starting audio book for those who want to try listening to them. You can download the audio books here. Enjoy!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

Audiobook from Audible

Authors: Neil Gaiman and the Twitterverse

Original Language: English

Published: Feb. 8, 2010 by BBC Audiobooks America

{Book Review} Trese #4 – Last Seen After Midnight

Last Seen After Midnight (Trese, #4)“Foul play. Magic spells. Supernatural criminals. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese

This graphic novel contains the following cases: 

CADENA DE AMOR 
In a neglected area of Luneta Park, where the grass grows untended, a man is found strangled by vines; which have started to grow outwards, killing anyone that gets in its path. 

A PRIVATE COLLECTION 
A manananggal has been found, tortured and murdered. The Manananggal Clan declares war on the Aswang Clan. Trese must find the real murderer before more blood is shed, before Manila gets in the crossfire of a supernatural gang war. 

WANTED: BEDSPACER 
A strange illness has affected the students living along Katipunan Avenue. The doctors are clueless on what’s driving these people mad with despair. Can Trese trace the source of this growing paranormal epidemic? 

FIGHT OF THE YEAR 
Once a year, in General Santos City, the demons and creatures of the underworld converge to watch a most awaited event, where the country’s greatest boxer fights for his very soul.”*

Last Seen After Midnight is the fourth in the series of highly successful komiks by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo. I was very much excited to read this after the impact of the third Trese book, Mass Murders, because even though I said last time that it answers much of my questions, admittedly, I can never get enough Trese. Unlike its predecessor, Last Seen After Midnight has taken after the first two volumes, wherein the cases are stand-alone. There is no story arc that connect the four cases, but that’s fine by me since each case proved to be interesting in its own right.

I wasn’t too keen on the first case since I felt that it was over too soon, just when it was really starting to build up, but I loved how they used the popular OPM song “Ang Huling El Bimbo” by the Eraserheads as a peg for the relationship between Florabelle and her plants. At any rate, I couldn’t help imagining actual plants singing this song, and I give Cadena de Amor bonus points for making me think such ridiculous things.

Fight of the Year obviously parodies world-class boxer Manny Pacquiao. I thoroughly enjoyed how the plot explained why Manuel, the boxer, trains so hard for his fights despite him not needing any more monetary prizes offered by each fight. It’s more than just the honor, but what that “more” is, you’ll just have to read and see. I laughed out loud at the explanation for why the crime rate is zilch whenever Manuel has a fight, but based on the context of the story it is entirely plausible. What that explanation is, you have to read to find out as well. Another thing that I’ve noticed most of the reviews never fail to mention – it is in this case where you get to see Trese in a dress. Yup. That’s right. Better savor that page because I don’t think we’ll see her in a dress anytime soon again. She really looked stunning!

The second case, A Private Collection, is where things got really tricky – and sticky – for Trese. There is only one other time where I was not entirely sure what would happen in the story, and that was in Mass Murders. Because of this, I loved the plot. The antagonist in the story is such a creeper, eurgh.

Last but not the least is my favorite, Wanted: Bedspacer. Usually I automatically get interested in a case if it’s set in a place where I frequent, and this is no exception. Since my school is along Katipunan, I felt a sort of connection to the setting. This time, though, my love for the plot exceeded my affinity for the location. This case includes the infamous bangungot, but this time, Budjette Tan used a different angle and a new perception that explains this phenomenon in a way that I thought was creative and original, if not heartwrenchingly beautiful. 

In this volume, I could not help but notice how different Alexandra Trese looks compared to the three previous books. KaJo Baldisimo has created an edgier, sharper version of Trese in this book, resulting in cleaner drawings compared to the sketch-like quality of Murder on Balete Drive and the others. I think what really marks the difference are Trese’s eyes. They seem more open now, anyway.

I will never stop loving Trese. I know, I’m such a fangirl, but still. I cannot express enough how I impatient I am for the next installment!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
140 pages
Writer: Budjette Tan
Illustrator: Kajo Baldisimo
Publisher: Visual Print Enterprises
Published: October 2009
Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Crime
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{Book Review} Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

“A compelling, often hilarious, and unfailingly compassionate portrait of life inside a women’s prison.
 
When Piper Kerman was sent to prison for a ten-year-old crime, she barely resembled the reckless young woman she’d been when, shortly after graduating Smith College, she’d committed the misdeeds that would eventually catch up with her. Happily ensconced in a New York City apartment, with a promising career and an attentive boyfriend, she was suddenly forced to reckon with the consequences of her very brief, very careless dalliance in the world of drug trafficking.

Kerman spent thirteen months in prison, eleven of them at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, where she met a surprising and varied community of women living under exceptional circumstances. In Orange Is the New Black, Kerman tells the story of those long months locked up in a place with its own codes of behavior and arbitrary hierarchies, where a practical joke is as common as an unprovoked fight, and where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated.

Revealing, moving, and enraging, Orange Is the New Black offers a unique perspective on the criminal justice system, the reasons we send so many people to prison, and what happens to them when they’re there?”*

This memoir begins with an interesting premise: a privileged blonde white woman goes into women’s prison, mingling with other women with entirely diverse backgrounds and races, mostly from the lower-class side of the social status pyramid. She was sentenced to stay there for a year. How will she survive, and will she ever fit in?

It’s a shame to know that I never would have heard of this book had not one of my book clubs recommended it for our monthly read. This was actually supposed to be for January, but it took me almost a month to read it, and quite a long time after to remember to write a review about it. Since the Goodreads blurb pretty much sums the book up, I will just spit out my thoughts.

I do not usually read memoirs or anything nonfiction, really, except for those book collections of murders and histories of useless things, so reading Orange is somewhat a new experience for me. It’s not my first time to read a memoir, but somehow this one feels the most recent and something that several people still experience today. Millions of people go to prison every year, and a lot of them are women, too. It might seem close-minded of me to think so, but I have always thought of prison as a man-dominated place, as they usually are the ones who commit the most publicized crimes and such. I don’t think I am alone in this, though, which is why Orange is getting quite a bit of attention. Kerman’s book opens us to the world of the women who quietly go into prison for crimes mostly related to drugs. She gets to meet several of them, and I really found each of the characters she introduced interesting. So what took me so long to finish it?

I wanted to like it. In fact, I do. As the book goes on, I sensed that Piper really changed for the better as she writes about her observations, socialization with the other prisoners and officers, experiences, and reflections. We get to know several interesting prisoners, some of them motherly and repentant, others bullheaded and rebellious. Some officers are shown as corrupt and unfair, while some are considerate and patient. It’s a world that feels so real, is so real. It’s just sometimes I feel like what she writes are somewhat repetitive. I get that she learned to live with what she’d done, she’s ready to start a new life, she runs and does yoga, etc., but sometimes I just want to skip it and read about what Pop, Natalie, Janet, Delicious, and the other people around her are up to. It is really thoughtful of her to point out what is lacking in the prison system as well, but until the end, I don’t see her suggesting ways on how to really improve it. Also, whatever happened to the inmates after she left? She said she would love to be in touch with them again. Some of them were released/sent to the halfway house around the same time she did, and I was really waiting for a time when she would describe seeing them again, how they changed and adjusted to their new lives, and everything else. I mean, she sounded affectionate when she described her inmates. 

On the other hand, I really enjoyed her vivid description of prison life. Granted, her stay in prison wasn’t as difficult as how other prisons must be like, but Piper Kerman did a good job of detailing her 15-month stay in Danbury. Her sense of camaraderie and friendship with the other inmates were fun to read, and I could totally imagine the events from her point of view. Most of all, I loved the people she met. They were so diverse in character and personality that they essentially made the book for me. It does change my preliminary judgment of how women prisoners are like. I am aware that there are those other prisons where the inmates are vicious and tough, but in this book, the inmates are just normal people who did what they did because they were desperate to get out of their current situations. Some of them have changed for the better, and in the end most of them are just as scared of the outside as most of us are scared of the inside. Reading about them does change one’s perspective somehow.

I feel differently about prison now, and I’m glad Orange was responsible for that. I don’t regret reading it at all. I’m glad I did. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Author: Piper Kerman
Original Language: English
Published: 6 April 2010 by Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Autobiographical > Memoir, Nonfiction, 

{Review} Batman: Prey

The front cover of Batman: Year One. I love how creepy and awesome it looks!
 

“Set in the Year One time frame, Batman must confront the sinister Dr Hugo Strange, a man with a deadly secret, out to stop and, if necessary, kill the Dark Knight. Who is the bloodthirsty Night Scourge, how does he link in with the police department, and where exactly does the mysterious Catwoman fit into all this?” *

I have been meaning to follow the Batman chronology for a while now, but I’ve only really come round to doing it fairly recently (this year, in fact). I love how, with every Batman story I read, I learn something new about him! Reading chronologically really helps, but I’ve been using this as my guide. As far as I know, there are no official DC listings for a Batman chronology, despite the wealth of comics about the Dark Knight that have been around for more than seventy years (Batman was first introducted in 1939). It suggested that after Batman: Year One (review here), I read Batman: Prey, so I dutifully obeyed.

Prey is estimated to occur shortly after Year One, so it is no surprise that we still see Batman as the dark, brooding hero coming to terms with his new mission as protector of Gotham City. Despite his best efforts to prove that he is actually one of the good guys, he is still a highly targeted vigilante for many of its citizens, particularly the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). At the moment, his only friends (and the only ones who know his real identity as Bruce Wayne) are the ever-loyal butler,  Alfred, and the detective-turned-captain James Gordon.

Prey begins with a police sting operation designed to catch a drug dealer who could reveal the syndicate behind it all. Before the GCPD could close in on the guy, though, Batman has shaken the guy and disrupted the whole operation. One of the officers, Max Cort, gets thoroughly infuriated by this and reports to an indifferent Gordon, who defends Batman by insisting that he is actually good for morale. In the next scene, Gordon is shown at a television show, being interviewed along with Gotham City Mayor Kauss and Dr. Hugo Strange, a well-known psychiatrist. Dr. Strange offers some insight against Batman, analyzing why he wears a costume, etc. The Mayor is very much impressed with him that he hires the man for his services in a newly-enforced “Task Force Vigilante” against Batman, unbeknownst to anyone in GCPD prior to Kauss’s announcement on-air. Against Gordon’s wishes, the Mayor assigns him as the head of said task force. As the story unravels, we get to see different sides of this Hugo Strange, as well as Max Cort, and even glimpses of Catwoman in between.

Even though I did not finish Prey in a day as planned, it stuck with me long enough for me to really get a kick out of it. I especially liked the latter parts, where the climax of the story is. The characters seemed very real, and were very convincing in their roles. Dr. Strange was, well, really strange, but more than that, he was downright creepy with his obsession and, to say the least, he was insane in the worst sense of the word. Max Cort proved to be as idiotic as Gordon thought he would be, all brawn with little brain, believing he could actually beat Batman! Tsk. As if. A thing that I would have liked to see more of was Catherine, the Mayor’s daughter. She was established at the beginning to be a very opinionated woman, but later on she just served as a pawn in the power play between Dr. Strange and Batman. Her faith in the Dark Knight was pleasantly unexpected, which naturally made me want to see more of her in a setting that gave her freedom to do whatever she liked. 

On the other hand, the art was, for me, exquisite. The illustrations by Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin and the coloring by Steve Oliff were brilliantly done, and the fact that it was made in the 90’s made it even more impressive. I was rereading some parts of Prey for this review earlier and I thought, ‘This is what comics should look like’. Probably part of what made me gush about the art was how I really love vintage style comics, especially from genuinely vintage comics. They just look so fine! Anyway, I really loved Prey. I was already dead set on loving Batman anyway, but reading stories like this made me remember why I love him so much. Really. 

In a nutshell…
Rating: 4/5
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Paul Gulacy, Terry Austin
Colorist: Steve Oliff
Letterer: John Costanza
Publisher: DC Comics
Published: 1990, New York 
Genre: Superhero, Crime