Book: 13 Reasons Why

Suicide has been getting a lot of focus lately, what with reports of famous people, who at first glance, seem to live perfect lives, deciding to kill themselves. Robin Williams comes to mind; and you also have Tony Scott (director of Top Gun and brother of RIdley Scott) and L’Wren Scott (I will forever associate her with Nicole Kidman’s ethereal dresses at red carpet events) all dying by their own hands in the last couple of months. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 years old according to a 2014 study by
the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), and second among people aged 15 to 29 years old, per the World Health Organization (WHO).

So when I saw this book by Jay Asher and read the synopsis at the back, I was immediately intrigued. It was unique in that the novel told its story through the taped recordings made by high school junior Hannah Baker and the thoughts of and goings on while her classmate Clay Jensen listened to the tapes. Hannah had consumed sleeping pills a couple of weeks prior to the start of the novel while Clay was one of the recipients of the tapes. Before killing herself, she made audio tapes detailing the 13 reasons (by twelve people) why she was going to commit suicide. She then mailed the tapes to the first person in the list to be passed on to the next, prior to her death. A second set of tapes was sent out to their classmate Tony, to be released to the public if any of the 12 people on the list fail to pass it on to the next person.


Book cover.

I won’t go into much detail about the 13 reasons why (the WIki entry for it nicely listed them all down and you can also go to the official website), but what struck me was that Hannah killed herself because of bullying. Not the outright, name-calling type, but one wherein a guy she dated when she first arrived in their town, perhaps to make himself appear manly and more popular, spread rumors that they did more than just kiss on their first date. This rumor “snowballed” and got Hannah a reputation of being “easy” and unpopular (or popular, for the wrong reasons). Being a newcomer, she didn’t have many friends to defend her and the degrading treatment from her peers made Hannah desperate and alone. Her last resort was to approach their English teacher/guidance counselor and talk to him about suicide. However, after a short session wherein Hannah ended up feeling even more helpless, the teacher just let her walk out of the room without stopping her, knowing full well that Hannah was exhibiting suicidal tendencies.

Her last line in the book was “thank you” which to me was the saddest line in the book, signifying that she’d given up and the thank you was for her classmates, her teachers and everyone around her, for not showing any concern for her. A sort of thanks, but no thanks.

According to a study by Yale University, bullied people are two to nine times more likely to kill themselves, and another study revealed that more than half of suicides among young people are due to bullying.Among the red flags of suicide, taken from the website, are:

  • Showing signs of depression, like ongoing sadness, withdrawal from others, losing interest in favorite activities, or trouble sleeping or eating
  • Talking about or showing an interest in death or dying
  • Engaging in dangerous or harmful activities, including reckless behavior, substance abuse, or self injury
  • Giving away favorite possessions and saying goodbye to people
  • Saying or expressing that they can’t handle things anymore
  • Making comments that things would be better without them

While I have never had thoughts of suicide (thank God that I love life too much and have too many plans to consider that), I myself have been a victim of bullying all throughout my school life.

When I was in fourth grade, an older schoolmate once attacked me and a group of friends with a small knife; it became clear that the attack was centered on me and one other friend of mine. When we reported it to the school officials, our then Asst. Principal was so worried as she knew the attacker and that I was easy prey, she actually asked my parents to move me to another school as soon as possible. Transferring wasn’t quickly achieved in those days so I waited out the entire school year, and had to be taken to and from the school by my nanny (who was built like an Amazonian queen and who would have punched the guy asleep if given the chance) and watched by our teachers while at school.

Going to a new school gave me no respite however, as I experienced a different kind of bullying: name calling. I was born with wavy hair – neither slick straight but not curly enough to be cute. Needless to say, my wavy hair earned me the name “poodle”. I tried taming it with gels or putting water to keep my hair down until I eventually gave up and just wore headbands and tied my hair. Thankfully, my hair is better behaved now (and yes, I do get rebonds and digital perms alternately). The most amusing thing happened to me a few years back when during a reunion with my grade school classmates, a couple of my male classmates could not remember me until I told them, “ako yung tinatawag n’yo na poodle dati” (I was the one you called “Poodle” before) and it was like a lightbulb flashed above their heads. It was almost cartoonish.

Looking back, hIgh school was probably even worse – a lot of people will probably agree with me when I say high school is the toughest place to survive in. And it’s even tougher when you’re an average looking girl studying in an exclusive all-girls school where beauty, more than brains, is the currency. On a side noted, this is probably why I can relate very well to the song At Seventeen. A lot of organizations I wanted to join didn’t get me because I was up against prettier, more popular, or richer girls. I was even handed a note from a higher-batch schoolmate bearing the words “The Simpsons” during a snack break. This same schoolmate (who was also my neighbor a couple of houses over), would sing or hum at the top of her voice the theme song of the said program whenever  I would pass by her along the street.

(On hind sight, the grown up life isn’t too different from high school).

Thankfully, I wasn’t raised by my parents to be a pushover and I was too much of a loner (in a good way) to be bothered with such trivialities. My stubborn streak and my pride wouldn’t allow me to suffer in silence either – I reported both incidents to school authorities. I knocked over one of the guys who were bullying me straight into the ground (I was one of the taller girls in grade school). He never called me Poodle again. And I got a public apology over the Simpsons incident.

And I got the sweetest victory when I saw the look on their faces when they realized during our mini reunion that I don’t look too bad now (yes, losing all that acne, buck tooth, and big glasses helped a lot). Yes, the ugly duckling has somehow turned into a swan (come on, this is my blog, so better agree with me on this one!)

So you see, I had my feet firmly planted on the ground and was too level-headed; and I had a lot of friends and family to support me. But I know there are a lot of young people who are not as fortunate as I was.

Bullying, affects not just the victim, but the perpetrator itself. It’s a sort of self-defense mechanism on the part of the bully, to cover up some deep-seated insecurities. It has to stop and the only way I know how is to not be a bully myself.

Book: Sweet Valley Confidential

I must confess that while I was a serious reader back in grade school and all throughout high school (by serious, I mean I read the classics, mythologies, heck, I even read encyclopedias), my guilty pleasure was Sweet Valley. I started out with Sweet Valley High, then Sweet Valley Teens, and I even read a couple of Sweet Valley Kids. Then I moved on to Sweet Valley University. Most of my lunch breaks were spent reading these books and most of my Christmas shopping money went to buying the latest edition of these series. I practically grew up with the twins (well, them, and Nancy Drew) and I know a lot of my friends can relate.
So when I heard earlier this year about its release, I was so excited. I mean, we rarely get conclusive stories to our favourite series (yes, I am talking about the Vampire Chronicles and Lestat) and I was only too happy to be given this, and to be written by Francine Pascal herself, after having most of the series written by ghost writers.  

my hardbound copy, waiting for me on the sofa


Well, turns out, that excitement was all for naught. I could barely get through each chapter, especially those pertaining to Jessica. It was just unbearable to read her lines, peppered with “so” and “like” that the only thing so keeping me from throwing the darn book, was because I paid, like, almost Php900 for the hardbound copy. And don’t even get me started on the editing. I mean, given that there are hundreds of books in the Sweet Valley Universe and who knows how many ghost writers, there’s bound to be a couple of continuity issues, but within the same book? And can’t they even get the names consistent?
To be fair, I did find the book a bit entertaining and offered a bit of closure, except that I didn’t expect the ending to be like this. 
Liz and Jess (from the old SVH books; they later used real persons, most notably the Daniels, on their covers)
Shocker # 1 – I never, in a million years, thought that Steven would turn out to be gay. And according to the book, he had been having affairs left and right, and apparently, had been a sort of heart breaker even in high school. Wait. Steven? Heck, I thought he was the older, responsible brother who didn’t date around? And now this book is telling me he’s been having affairs with women, apparently to cover up for his identity issues. What’s the point of having this storyline? Was Francine trying to be more relevant with all the gay/lesbian themes rampant nowadays? She should have left Steven alone. 
The Wakefield kids
Shocker # 2 – Jessica is now with Todd. Whoa. Didn’t see that coming. Oh wait. I did. Actually, after all those Diary editions started coming out, I figured something like this would happen eventually. So much cheating and stealing boyfriends behind each other’s backs. I just didn’t really think Francine would go through with it. Oh, and Todd is now a writer. Seriously. 
Shocker # 3 – Bruce Patman is in love with Liz. Bruce has never been my favourite character in the books, but after that plane crash accident in college with Lila, I felt that he has improved a lot. And I quite agree with this pairing (well, if Liz can’t have Todd, at least she has the rich and impossibly gorgeous Bruce; though from the book covers, he doesn’t strike me as handsome, more like smug). 
Shocker # 4 – Liz apparently sleeps around. Ok, so the books only say that she slept with Will Connolly, the playwright she was supposed to interview and ended up being friends with. (might I correct – friends with benefits). But there are some vague statements implying that she does – such as when her boss drops her off at her apartment in New York and she contemplates sleeping with him to shut him up. I don’t like this. It deviates too much from the Liz I knew, the one who wouldn’t even sleep with Todd (and Tom Watts, later in college). 
Shocker $ 5 – Winston is dead. Apparently, he alienated himself from his friends when he suddenly got rich over a dot com venture with Bruce. That and the fact that he caught Jess and Todd at their shared apartment and had to cover up for it so as not to hurt Liz. Why kill Winston? I liked Winston.
There were countless other shockers, and inconsistencies in the book. And rather than bore you with my account of them, I found this website on the internet which chronicles practically all the books. It’s quite fun reading it, felt like relieving my high school life.
And, pardon me but I just have to point this out. Why did Francine have to set the book in the present? The fact is, we all know that Ned and Alice got married sometime in the 60s. They were hippies, remember? And they listened to Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, which was released in 1963. I know because I’ve read the sagas so many times I must have memorized them. That would mean the twins would be in their mid to late forties by now. BUT NO. In Confidential, they are only 27. Which would mean, it should have been set sometime in the late 80s or early 90s for it to be logically possible. And I am pretty sure Facebook wasn’t around then.
Needless to say, I am disappointed with this book. Probably the only reason I finished it (other than the price, as I mentioned) is because I was a fan of the original series and I needed closure. But if Francine thought that by writing this book, she would get new followers, she’s so wrong. I would not recommend this book to anyone, save my old high school friends who loved the series like I did.

Book: Before Ever After

I have been wanting to get my hands on this book since I heard about it back in July but it was sold out everywhere and I was unfortunately too tied up to make a reservation. Finally got it last week, two months after its release here and finished it all in one sitting yesterday.
While the book took me a chapter to get hooked, Sotto’s words were too well-written to be ignored. It’s even lyrical, with large doses of similes and metaphors and alliteration, and I bet if you read it out loud, you might find yourself saying it with perfectly timed beats. But get past the first chapters and the story picks up steam and gets too interesting you wouldn’t want to put it down. 
Before Ever After tells the story of Shelley, widowed three years ago, and how on the day she decides to live again, gets the shock of her life when a man who looks exactly like her dead husband shows up on her doorstep, claiming to be his grandson. After that, it becomes a whirlwind of Shelley’s recollection of how she signed up for one of Max’s guided tours across Europe and how at each stop, he would tell a particular historical event but through a personal point of view.
The book gets lots of brownie points for me for being well-researched; after all, once you get pass the flowery words, it’s the story that has to draw you in and in this Sotto has succeeded as well. Her description of Europe, peppered with identifiable landmarks and events interspersed with Max’s stories were so seamlessly integrated you could actually believe Max’s stories.
One other thing that I must commend her is for creating a remarkable central character –> I just adore Max, even as he left Shelley just like that. Each of his reincarnations add one more layer of complexity to his personality and he couldn’t have been more perfect, yet flawed, in the end.  I can’t say the same of Shelley though. She seems somewhat one-dimensional and relatively dismissible. I particularly can’t understand why she has to faint a lot of times; fainting is too 19th century and doesn’t really suit the heroine of the novel.
Sotto herself said that she was inspired by the Time Traveler’s Wife; I must say that while both deal with a love story between an ordinary woman and an extraordinary man, the similarity ends there. Before Ever After is better written, researched and intriguing though I must give points to the Time Traveler’s Wife for having a well-balanced pair of lead characters.
There’s also one underlying theme to the book which I found all too similar to a favourite book of mine: that of the family tree in Isabelle’s tomb which shows all the descendants of Max’s family and how he had been watching them throughout the centuries, stepping in to provide help and guidance when they are in need. This is too closely similar to the story of Maharet and the Great Family in Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned; it too has a family tree hidden in a house in Sonoma, with Maharet being her family’s guardian, benefactor, and historian throughout the millennia. Then I read that one of Sotto’s favourite writers is Anne Rice and that explains the similarity.
Needless to say, this book had me reaching for my Kleenex from the middle til the end, and I had to fight the urge to google the places and events she wrote about after I finished reading it at 2am this morning.
And I can’t wait for her next book.

Manila Book Fair Now On!

The three top most things that Ipe and I have in common are: travel and history (they go hand in hand for us), food and books. So you can just imagine we were practically salivating when we learned that the 32nd Manila Book Fair started today at the SMX. We literally rushed through a very hectic work day, beat traffic everywhere and finally made it with forty minutes to spare (it closes at 8PM). We wanted to have first dig at the books before the good ones get sold out. 
Well, what do you get when you set two book worms loose in a book fair with thousands of books? Well, got off the car and left hubby to park and started off on my own. We didn’t communicate except to meet each other at the exit come closing time. 
Our hoard? Well, 20 books in forty minutes! And it set us back only around Php2,300!
The hubby got all sorts of historical and religious books, as per usual. He headed straight to the St. Paul’s, Sinagtala and UST Publishing House booths. Can you believe the ridiculously low prices? He got all ten books at less than Php700! 
The 2nd book from the right, top, is actually quite hard to get. It retails for around Php400 but at the book fair, it was only Php50!
As for me, I circled the lot but figured I can’t honestly look through each given the limited time, so I headed to National Bookstore (typical me), Anvil and WS Publications – all at 20% discount or more. I got various titles from Filipino writers, with the exception of the Great Gatsby which I’ve been wanting to read for years but never got around to buying one. And I finally got Before Ever After which is sold out everywhere!
hubby got the Love Woman and Flowing On from the UST Publishing House booth
Oh, and I got the kid an anatomy book. I know, I know. He’s only four. But better start early right? 😀
I’m already thinking what to buy when we go back on Sunday. 
*The fair is until Sept. 18 at the SMX Ground Floor. You can click here for details on the exhibitors, map, etc. Happy shopping!

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.

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? 😛

Some catching up…

Been really really busy lately with work so forgive me if I had been a little remiss in updating my blog. Here’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of weeks.
Dinner with Lynda and Robin, on vacation from Australia, at Kabisera:
 Ate adobong kangkong, sinigang, okoy, and of course, sisig:
Had yummy yogurt at Yoswirls at the Venice Piazza:
Robin loved PInoy food – I wish we could have taken him to a nicer Pinoy resto – then he won’t be able to get over Pinoy food. We had to settle for Kabisera since it was the most convenient for us 😛
Roamed around High Street where there was a sand castle making contest sponsored by Sanuk:
Not sure though if this was for kids or adults – I didn’t really find any of the entries spectacular.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

Been so behind lately – FB, blog, everything. Mainly because I’ve been up and about and I’ve been lazy lately. Here’s what I’ve been doing the past week:
First up – Visita Iglesia at Our Lady of Lourdes in Tagaytay and Caleruega.

 Our Lady of Lourdes
 Then lunch at RSM. My parents first introduced me to RSM a couple of years ago and I’ve loved it since then. It’s better than the other places nearby and while the food is a bit pricier, you get what you pay for. Their food is marvelous plus they have one of the best overlooking spots along the ridge.

From top left: mango carrot shake, fresh fruit platter, laing, grilled blue marlin, sinigang (we had both pork and fish), ginataang chicken adobo, liempo
For dinner, we stopped over at Mushroomburger (Note: their Katipunan branch is opening soon). Too bad, I seem to have forgotten to save our photos there. 😦

The next day, we had lunch at Sonya’s, another must for Ipe and myself. The salad is just too good to pass up. If only we had this in Manila, I’d swear off meat for good.
Feli’s famous jump shot complete with props and costume
After a very filling lunch, we headed to Bay, Laguna for another foodtrip, er, Good Friday procession. And then, we had the food trip. 😛

chapel at the ancestral house

Capped off the two-day excursion with a scrabble game over coffee/shake at Delifrance, SLEX. Which Ipe and I lost, by the way. Note to self: buy scrabble game and practice. Haven’t played it in more than ten years. Another note to self: stop picking all the high value letters. Hahaha.

I seriously hope this group’s next destination would be the beach. I’ve been hoarding swimsuits like there’s no tomorrow and I don’t want to wasted them.

Field Trip in Taguig

Since it looks like Taguig will be our home town for quite some time, Ipe and I agreed to explore its little known corners – after all, ask anyone what to see in Taguig and they will probably all tell you: The Fort?
Anyway, a good thing our friend Carli was able to take time off from his hectic sched to guide us through the city and see the lake (Laguna).
First stop – Napindan Channel, which was constructed during the latter part of the Marcos administration to prevent the Pasig River from flowing upstream and mixing its polluted saltwater with that of the Laguna Bay’s freshwater, especially during summer, when sea levels are higher than that of the lake.

Apart from this, the channel also serves as flood control, a sort of dam to make sure water is contained at the Laguna Bay.

One end of the Napindan is Taguig while the other is in Pasig, so it’s also an alternative route linking the two cities. Except that the Pasig part of the bridge is still rough road (maybe their government forgot that it was suppose to construct this road).
 Ferry boat station in the Pasig side of the river
Its quite amazing to see green fields in the city. Just last week, we saw a rice field just off  of a bustling main street. Now, we see so much greenery it’s a surprise we were still in Taguig.

view of The Fort from across water lily fields

We decided to climb up the dike and have a look at the lake itself and this is what we saw – shanties and lots and lots of fish pens. While I’m okay with these, I really wish the government or LLDA will clean up the side of the lake as it is quite chock full of garbage. I’d hate for the lake to turn into the Pasig River.
 This area is home to a couple of livelihood. Aside from fishermen living beside the lake on one side of the dike, water lily farmers live on the other side, near the city. Water lilies are harvested, dried and made into bags, boxes, and other native handicrafts. These are then sold at Market Market and other stores in Taguig.  Quite smart eh?
 farmer laying the water lilies to dry in the sun
I’ve heard that portion of the Laguna Lake will be reclaimed to make way for an airport. I just don’t know how long that will take. In any case, that would mean our house is between two airports. Haha. 
Taguig is a very small city; in fact, aside from the above, you only have The Fort to visit. So I guess our Taguig exploration is about done. 😛