Book Review: The Historian

It has been quite a while since I’ve read an honest to goodness vampire novel that won’t make me feel short changed, so when my good friend Lei showed me The Historian at Fully Booked, saying this is the only vampire book she enjoyed reading so far, I had to take her word for it (after all, we more or less have the same criteria on whether a book is good or not).  And not such a bad decision to make – the minute I started reading, I couldn’t put it down anymore. In fact, I finished all 900+ pages in one day. 
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, is a reinvention of the story of Vlad Tepes, or in pop culture, the historical figure upon which Bram Stoker based his Dracula. But whereas Dracula focuses on how the main characters attempt to drive him back from London to Transylvania, and avenge his victims in their group, Kostova focuses more on the historical facts,  mixes the legend of how Vlad became a vampire, and the decades-old quest of a man and his long lost wife (with help from a myriad of friends) to defeat him.
In a gist, the novel is told in the first person by the unnamed female narrator and at times, told through a series of letters from the main characters and written chronicles taken from libraries in the story. This is somewhat similar to Dracula which uses diary entries of the main characters as its method of delivering the story. The narrator discovers an old book with nothing save a woodprint of a dragon in its middle pages, and questions  her father Paul, a gifted scholar and founder of a foundation. From here, the story reveals that the book is but one of four that Paul encounters throughout his journeys, and each owner had received the book anonymously, and had attempted to track down the meaning of the book and the dragon in its pages. 

As Paul digs deeper into his research, his mentor Prof. Rossi reveals he had received the same book shares his own research on Vlad Tepes and then mysteriously disappears, leading the former to go on a quest to find and rescue his friend. As he goes on this quest, he meets many friends and enemies, partners with Rossi’s daughter Helen, whom he discovers is a descendant of Dracula, saves his professor from a doomed existence, and fails to kill Dracula. He ends up marrying Helen and gets separated after a short period, after Helen decides to leave and hunt Dracula herself. The main characters converge at the end of the story, and Helen ultimately succeeds in killing Dracula and ridding herself of her fears, reuniting with her family and friends.
The novel lays its foundation on the fact that Vlad Tepes’ tomb has never been identified, even though he was a very notorious leader in the 15th century, raising suspicion that he might in fact, be still alive. This is perhaps the main selling point and strength of this novel  –> it is based on actual historical figures and events, and interweaves Catholic and pagan beliefs (which has always been the scariest combination for me). 
Another strength is Kostova’s detailed narrative; the reader will not have problems imagining any given scene or place. Each character plays a pivotal role; if not, then that character is still not forgettable – even Irina, the pretty niece of a professor whom Paul befriends in his search for Dracula’s lair.
However, while well-written, The Historian only serves to provide a more detailed historical background to Stoker’s own novel, compiling facts that are otherwise available to a resourceful reader, even on the internet (there are inconsistencies but can be overlooked in respect to poetic license). It doesn’t offer any new story or facet to the cliched topic, except to rewrite it under different circumstances. Also, given that Kostova has created remarkable characters, these persons share the same nuances and manners that it is quite hard to judge who is speaking the lines unless you see the actual name.
The Historian is like a typical  Victorian-era novel – flowery prose, long sentences that make up an entire paragraph devoted entirely to lush descriptions of scenes or places in the story. The only thing omitted is the use of old English terms; making the novel contemporary Victorian-esque (is there such a term?). This may be a turn on for fans of Bram Stoker and Anne Rice, but will definitely turn off the teen crowd who worship Stephanie Meyer. 

I recommend this book simply for the way it has been researched and written into one cohesive narrative. It’s far from being perfect, but it is a good read.

Home Scents

A couple of days ago, Ipe got this ceramic and brass oil burner with cut-outs from the Body Shop. I had long been using a cheaper version from SM Department store and I figured it’s about time I change it.

To be honest, I’m allergic to perfumes – or any strong smell for that matter. I can’t even wear baby cologne without having a sneezing fit or dizziness spell, leading me to think I have hyperosmia.  But if there’s one fragrance my olfactory senses allow, that would be fresh nature scents (and coffee and chocolate). I can inhale sampaguitas and ylang ylang and freshly cut grass for end. So, knowing I can’t wear perfume, I settled for scented oils at home.
I used to like jasmine when I was still at my parents’ house. I remember pouring half the little vial onto our small water fountain and letting the light fragrance sweep the room. Unfortunately, I can’t find the same jasmine scent in all the stores I have gone to in recent times. 
Anyway, the oil burner came with green tea oil and a reed diffuser and moroccan rose scent. The green tea started off nicely – reminding me of, well, tea. But, the longer I burned it, the scent became heavier and heady, until I felt the familiar dizziness spell coming over me. Test over. Green tea – failed.

 So, I set to trying the reed diffuser next – after all, it was Moroccan rose and I have always been able to tolerate rose scents. In fact, it’s my favorite scent (jasmine only comes in second; sampaguita would come in third). What could go wrong, right?

Well, nothing did. But, the problem was, I could barely smell it, even with my heightened sense of smell.  I could barely tell it was there. And the fragrance was slightly citrusy for my taste. So I would have to give this one a failing mark as well.
Which leaves me with my faithful rosewater scent from Crabtree and Evelyn – my all time favorite. In fact, I have the spray, oil and glycerin soap so I can spritz away anytime I want.  What I love about this fragrance is that it smells exactly how the roses at my mama’s garden used to smell – only more pronounced, but not overpowering, leaving you wanting more.
I also like Crabtree’s Wakaya Potpourri – a mix of orange blossoms, tiare flower, and driftwood. Reminds me of being in a fairy tale garden in the middle of a forest. Too bad it’s a seasonal product and I have yet to find it again in their stores here. If not, I’ll have to settle for buying it online.

Daily Fashion: Friday Casuals

I’ve never been a t-shirt person – even as a kid, I remember wearing blouses and knit tops, never shirts. Not that I don’t like them because I do. But t-shirts just don’t like me. Unless they have ruffles and studs and other embellishments (um, so I guess they’re no longer shirts, right?)
Johara top, Tyler; jeans, BYoUK (available at Adora); pale pink gold ballet shoes, Aldo; earrings and bangles, Accessorize
* pardon the messy sofa. Joey spilled a glass of milk and I haven’t gotten round to cleaning it. 😦

The Blue Bloods Series

Proving that the vampire craze is far from over,  comes another series targeted at the most fickle-minded of the lot: teenagers.
Set in Manhattan, this Gossip Girl meets Twilight creates a whole new perspective in the vampiric lore: instead of being creatures created by malevolent demons or spirits, vampires are the earthly forms assumed by the fallen angels. And by fallen, this means literally the angels who sided with Lucifer in the last heavenly war, who are in the process of regaining their angelic wings with the help of archangels Michael and Gabriel (called the Pure of Heart and Uncorrupted, respectively, since they went down to earth voluntarily to help their fellow angels).

Main protagonist Schuyler Van Alen is lovable in that she is both the underdog – being a new soul – the product of a union between Allegra (Gabriel) and a mortal man, her conduit or human companion, and the heroine – her humanity magnifies her vampiric powers. She is not helpless or a ditz, nor is she an ugly duckling. Her character is well defined and she doesn’t elicit sympathetic notions. Which is fine by me – I really don’t like the protagonists being portrayed as helpless airheads.

And of course, the requisite love triangle is ever present, with Jack (Abbadon) and Oliver (Schuyler’s best friend and as it turned out, conduit) fighting for her attention. Now, I also appreciate how dela Cruz has managed to evoke competition between the two without their rivalry being bitter – there are no violence, fist fights, or unnatural tension. And it’s played out well without being central to the story.

The story would not be complete of course, without an antagonist – and in my opinion, Mimi Force (Azrael), Jack’s twin/mate, is deliciously perfect. She’s someone you’d love to hate but love just the same, once you get past her mean and cold persona.

The other characters are well-thought of as well, with supporting roles that give the story the needed arcs where the main characters’ storylines will not suffice, yet not too much focused that their own subplots convolutes the story.

Now, given this, if you’re more on the Goth-side of the vampire fan circuit, then this series isn’t for you. It has very little bloodsucking, even for my taste; in fact, blood is hardly mentioned in the books that author Melissa dela Cruz has to write the word “vampire” every few page or so to remind you what it’s about.  It actually has more to do with the world of the rich and famous, with fashion, and teen angst. The characters’ being vampires appear to be just incidentals of the story.
While the story isn’t a big literary gem (I still hold that top spot for Anne Rice), I have to give credit to dela Cruz for a well-thought of background, good character development, wit, and for overall sustaining my interest throughout the four books (so far). In fact, I finished one book per sitting – it was that addicting! And like most fans out there, I can’t wait for book 5 and the companion book, Keys to the Repository, which are due June and October this year. 🙂

PS: Author Melissa dela Cruz is a Pinoy. Isn’t that single reason enough for you to read? 😛

My First Ever Official Office Event

So there. Officially a member of the workforce again and within two months, I am already in the thick of activities (though, natch, I was “chosen” for this task; I didn’t really volunteer). Too bad the theme was Filipiniana. I was hoping for something along the lines of Hollywood or Victorian. Hahaha.
* my baro’t saya bought in Divi for Php 500!
Played usherette to some of our VIPs at the office. Couldn’t take much photos because the event was held out in the open field – yes, in sweltering heat! It’s a miracle I didn’t collapse. You all know how heat-intolerant I am. 
We had some native dance performance complete with music:
And the food was so vibrant and colorful! And it tasted just as well. I wanted to binge on the meringue spied on the dessert spread but was to shy to hoard an entire plate so I contented myself with one piece. Sigh. 😦 Note to self: eat what you want when at a buffet party.
Here’s my new cluster (minus two, who had gone in hiding at the cooler parts of the compound), who all fondly call me mama:

Food Trip: Lorenzo’s Way

Ipe and I are always on the lookout for good FIlipino food, especially when Joey’s with us, since he only eats soup-y dishes, which is what led us to Lorenzo’s Way.
The resto is not exactly what you would call a Filipino restaurant – indeed, it presents an eclectic array of food which ran the gamut from Filipino to Western cuisine, all adjusted for the Pinoy tastebud.
We started off with some garlic bread, which I found too hard to my liking. I was almost worried coz we had ordered three dishes already. But when they served our first dish, Bulalo (beef shanks in veggie stew), my worries seemed unfounded. The beef was tender and the soup very flavorful – not contrived or chock-full of seasoning.
Up next was the King Prawns Creole Hollandaise. Now, shrimps and lobsters are my favorite seafood (plus clams and mussels but only if they’re baked) but this is OTT. heavenly  Served with buttered risoni, this dish is a full meal on its own. It’s rich, and yet not overpowering and leaves you wanting for more.
We also ordered this fish dish – I forgot what it was called, but it tasted like steak with sweet and sour sauce and lots of onion rings. Needless to say, it was delish!
Of course, no meal would be complete without some thirst quenchers and since we dined there a few weeks shy of the national elections, the resto offered presidentiables-themed fruit shake. 
I got the Gordon shake – which was a mix of strawberry/lychee fruits while Ipe got the Noynoy shake – mango with lime (I think). And while neither of the two got our votes, the fruity concoctions named after them got our two thumbs up. 🙂
Oh, and Lorenzo’s Way got the highest appreciation of all – Joey’s approval as seen in his de-kwatro position. A first, since Joey is very particular with how he appears in public. Hehehe.
Cost-wise, this restaurant is not for the cheap-diner. But if you’re after some quality cooking and ambiance, then this one’s for you. 
Lorenzo’s Way is located at the groundfloor of the Greenbelt 5.

Belated Happy Mothers’ Day

* My belated Mothers’ Day post. This essay has actually been posted in my older blogs and had appeared on the Inquirer many years ago so some of you may have read it before. But the message remains the same. 🙂

 

 

LOOSE ENDS

Perhaps, it’s because of the fact that I just got a phone call from my high school best friend that she’s giving birth to their firstborn baby in a few months’ time that I suddenly have this urge to write about mothers, motherhood, and that single most important female in my life right now:  my mom.
Not that I haven’t written anything about her in the twenty two years since my umbilical cord was cut from her.  In fact, I’ve written dozens upon dozens of essays, poems, and whatever little trinket I could produce in my waking moments, most of which were written when I was the angsty teenager in the house.  You bet, they were mostly her daily hate mail.  And I, the avid writer.
You see, living with my mother is like living with a policeman 24/7.  You have the right to remain silent…anything you say or do may be and will be taken against you.  She’s always on-duty, always on the lookout to catch you doing something against her Rule 101 book.  And I was fast becoming her most-wanted rule-breaker.
A good thing it would have been if there was a court of law to hear my case, as I would have loved to defend myself.  There was, but the bad thing is, my mother was also the judge.  My father was just like the court stenographer or the bailiff.  So you see, even before I could be declared legally an adult, I was already pronounced guilty as charged many times over. 
It was like having someone constantly breathing down my neck, literally and figuratively.  She reads my mail, eavesdrops on my phone calls, and even digs under my mattress for my diary!  Talk about privacy.  She knows my secrets and remembers them better than I do!
And I absolutely hated the way she would invariably lecture on the perils of having a crush (take note, not boyfriend) at such a young age when I was already in high school.  And if she ever found a piece of my notebook with a guy’s name on it, she’ll go berserk and once, even threatened to go down to the guy’s house!   (Now I know why I never had a boyfriend!)  For her, it was like losing your virginity already! 
But what I remember most in her rulebook is that back in high school, I had to be home by five o’clock.  Five o’clock p.m.  And my class ends at around 4:15 and the school service picks us up at 4:30.  If ever I so much as went beyond five ten, the school hotline would be ringing ceaselessly until I got home. 
In fact, when I was in college, it became a common joke for my friends to ask me what time my curfew is.  Every time we go out, there would always be that punch line of “What time do you have to be home?” And when the phone in my organization’s office would ring at exactly 5pm, I did not have to say it’s for me.  They already knew. 
And to match her curfew rule, she set this thing about me not being allowed to any school affair that went past six p.m. without a chaperon.  When I first heard about it, I was cool.  I mean I thought she was going to set me up with one her kumares’ cute sons.  Turns out though, she’s chaperon.  And my father’s the driver and my siblings are the alalays. 
Imagine what it meant for a teenage girl trying to be cool to show up at every prom, gala or dance with her entire family waiting for her at the lobby while she parties.  Get the picture?
It’s probably because of her stringent rules that I had a nearly non-existent social life all throughout my school days.  It was so hard to set gimmicks with me because then, we would all have to put my schedule into consideration.  My friends tried to accommodate it but I soon realized just how much of an adjustment to others being my friend was.  Needless to say, I ended up just saying no to avoid all the trouble.  
When I hooked up with a couple of my friends a few months after graduation, the first thing they asked was whether I still had a curfew.  And when I said no, you should have been there to witness the way their eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling and how their collective “Whats?” and “Reallys?” got everyone within five meters to turn and stare at us.  So you see, my mother was also a comedian.  She gave me that indelible mark of being the girl with the 5pm curfew and all the jokes that go with it.
And another thing funny with her is the way she pronounces things in English.  I mean, I’ve yet to meet someone who says “thank you” the way she does:  “tank you.”  I tried to correct her hundreds of times but she still insists that it’s the right way.  Everytime we go to the mall or some other public place and she starts talking in English, I feel like melting to the ground.  It was one of a teenage girl’s worst fears, you know, to be associated with someone who is mortifying to be with in public.  I had thought her a stigma that poisons my dreary social life.
I hated it the way she manipulated my closet, from the clothes down to every hair clip.  Sometimes, she would buy me ultra-conservative clothes that make me want to choke and sometimes, I end up wearing skimpy outfits that would shame Britney and Christina. I hated the way I know she’s prettier than I am and how she still gets suitors fighting their way to our door even when she’s married for almost twenty-five years to my father and has three kids. 
Yes, I hated her.  And I wrote her dozens of unsent letters (which she read anyway because I always hid them under my bed or in my pillow)  to tell her so.  And she never said I word.  And I hate her more when, after reading my letter, she would act as if nothing happened but then suddenly stroke my hair. 
But what I hated most about her was the way she could make me cry.  She can make me cry when I’m happy, sad or angry, and she can make me feel guilty for everything no matter how hard I believe in my innocence.  In fact, I must admit that she would have been a good lawyer had she wanted to.  She can make even the most hardened criminal own up to their crimes without so much as batting an eyelash.
And I hated her for always being right even when I know she’s wrong and the way she never has to apologize for her mistakes because I end up forgiving her anyway. 
There was a time when I nearly ran away from home when she told me she didn’t love me anymore.  And when she couldn’t remember my class standing when I graduated.  But then, everytime I pack my bags, I would hear her talking to her kumares and telling them how she could no longer find space in our wall to hang up my medals and awards or showing them a newspaper featuring me, even if the print was nearly microscopic.  And it was as if she knew what I was thinking.  Because every night that I make the attempt to run away, she would come to my room and hug me and just cry.
She never said she loves me.  She even told me that she doesn’t.  Nor does she call me anak like she calls my sister and brother.  I don’t have an explanation for this and sometimes I resent it.  But then, she would always tell my siblings to be like me because I’m a good student and a good daughter.  And she would secretly tell me that every day she realizes how special how am and how tough I am for putting up with hardships that my younger siblings just couldn’t get the hang of.
I still hate her from time to time.  But now I realize that hate isn’t really hate.  It’s just an emotion I feel because I love her.  It’s an emotion you cannot feel unless you love. 
For how can I forget the way she rushed to my school and told my preschools teacher off after she threw a chalk at my head?  Or the way she rushed to my aide when the inevitable bullies in high school called me names whenever I ran into them?
And how can I ever forget the way she always takes my side in any argument, helping me to win my battles before telling me that I was wrong in private?
How can I hate her for knowing what’s right and what’s wrong for me?  For having that infallible sense of what tomorrow will be like for me?
How can I hate her when everytime I picture her growing old and eventually leaving me, I end up crying and wishing that time would stop so that she, and my papa as well, won’t have to leave me? 
I hated her yes, for reasons that seemed so right then and yet so absurd now when I think of it.  Funny, because I hated her for the very reasons I love myself.  Because I know I’m just like her. 
I love gossip just like she does.  I love talking on the phone when I’m at home and listening to music all day while munching on chips.  I love shopping until the malls close and you’re left to exit through the employees’ door.  I love talking to plants as if they could hear and looking at the stars and wishing on as many as I could.   And I love heart-wrenching movies and books just like she does.
I don’t understand her and I do not think I will.  How can I, when I can’t understand myself most of the time?  Any amount of wisdom I may achieve probably won’t give me a perfect insight into how her mind and her heart work.  I don’t expect it at all.  I don’t think any daughter, or son for that matter, can ever fully understand their mothers.   But I doubt if any child can say that he would be better off without their mothers.  Because, though I may have hated her, and still do from time to time, I know I am.  And I cannot imagine being without her.
When I was a small kid and my mom went to work abroad, we had this theme song by Menudo.  I remember that I would wave at all the planes flying above me and shout “Ba-bay Mama!”  and then I would press the record button on the tape recorder and sing “If you’re not here, by my side…”  That was way back in 1985.  And it still brings tears to my eyes.
#

Purity: Keeping It Simple

I’ve been wanting to tell you about this cute little beauty product but I decided to test-drive it for two months before letting you in on the secret. After all, I might create hype and then the product might not turn out to be as good as I let on. 🙂

Good news is, it passed the two-month mark. I found this gem of a cleanser while I was out on a make-up shopping spree at my favorite haunts – Beauty Bar at Trinoma.  Aptly called Purity Made Simple, this one-step cleanser from Philosophy cleans and removes dirt AND makeup in just one go.

I initially feared that it would make me break-out; I have very sensitive skin which tends to erupt in huge cystic pimples when I wash with something other than my unscented Dove or Aveeno bars. But thankfully, this world-wide bestseller surpassed even my tried and tested bars. It even has a mix of twelve essential oils that softens and rejuvenates skin.

It’s a bit pricey at over Php1,200 but you get three products in one: a PH-balanced cleanser, make-up remover and toner. So now I get to ditch my old toner and bar and save time on separate washing and toning every day. Available at all Beauty Bar outlets. Or, ask your balikbayan relative or friend to get one for you as it is only half the price abroad. 🙂