Novel Reactions: 99 Percent Mine

I am more or less a mood reader. I switch off to lighter romantic reads when I’m on vacation or when I’m too pooped from numerous sad endings. So this is where 99 Percent Mine comes in: I needed a source of entertainment during a time when Netflix wasn’t a good option.

The story is simple, and it was enough to keep me entertained. So… it served its purpose, but will I recommend it to anyone? Nah. I’m not a fan.

The story isn’t that special. The main girl (Darcy) is in love with her childhood friend (Tom), who is also her brother’s (Jamie’s) best friend. Additionally, the childhood friend is pretty much family and is doing the siblings a favor. (Said favor is renovating their grandmother’s cottage.)

Darcy and Tom are obviously going to get together, and it’s not the predictability that put me off. (My guilty pleasure is reading/watching romantic comedies; I always know they end well.)

Here, in more detail than people who hate spoilers will like, are my reasons for feeling meh:

  1. The main characters are not likable. Darcy is incredibly selfish. She has zero self-control and cannot accept responsibility for her actions. She thinks she’s all that (not in the way that she would brag about her work but in the way that she would always try to protect Tom). Also, Tom is not even that great. He’s placed on too high a pedestal, but he’s really just there as a brooding, juicy piece of meat.
  2. It seems like the writer needed an excuse to bring the two in extremely close quarters, so for some reason, Tom (childhood friend/contractor) camps out at the project site while Darcy lives somewhere there. Excuse me? How ridiculous is that? I get that it’s fiction, and writers can invent things, but at least let these things make sense! A lot of safety precautions have to be taken at construction sites. People cannot just come and go as they please, and contractors do not just let their inexperienced clients do manual labor on their sites. I am baffled.
  3. How can a new business owner with so much to prove skip town for two months and then take credit for all of the work done in their absence? Yes, everyone needs to take a personal day or two (been there) at some point, but to take two months without consequences? Given Tom’s background, I expected more hustle from him. I get that this is supposed to be for dramatic effect, but it would have given off the same effect and still have been more acceptable if this disappearance was cut short.

I’ve read better romantic novels. I came in looking for a fun read—to be entertained without having to think too much (basically, I needed an alternative to tv shows). It was just ok, I guess. Actually, no, it wasn’t very satisfying. Perhaps I should have read something else.

Novel Reactions: How to Stop Time

In Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, we meet Tom Hazard, who is a really old man but just doesn’t look it. He’s lived through a lot of tough times over the centuries and consequently carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. He’s a pretty broken man. I didn’t love Tom, but I did find myself rooting for him as he struggled to survive.

Nothing is truly surprising with the plot. As the story unfolded, I found myself thinking “yes, this makes sense” and never “wow, what a plot twist!!!” Despite this, the story is still quite gripping, and I enjoyed reading all the way through. What made it particularly interesting for me was how Matt Haig portrayed Tom’s past lives. No, Tom was not a big deal in any time period; he always kept to the background, but he was there witnessing key points of history. (And I do love history.)

Overall, it was a pleasant read. There is some comfort that this was a somewhat predictable story because then it felt simple and familiar and not at all intimidating. But that’s not all there is to this book. The writing was great. There was never a dull moment in How to Stop Time, and the story moved at a manageable pace. To me, this is one of the books in which the incorporation of clichés was well executed. In case anyone’s wondering: yes, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an easy read. And to history enthusiasts.

Novel Reactions: White Teeth

White Teeth delves into family history and dynamics: an unlikely friendship between two men, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, and how this brought their families together. It explores what it’s like to be a person of color in London from the 70s to the 90s (though I am guessing even until today). It is the kind of book I’d recommend to readers who are more invested in characters than the plot, those who want to understand why people-are-that-way and who do not mind the lack of action in a book.

It took me a bit longer than usual to sort out my feelings about White Teeth.

I read this book based on a recommendation by someone in my professional network. This was one of three fiction books in a list of ten books, so I felt that the book would at least expand my reading horizons. It did; I have no regrets.

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Novel Reactions: Ilustrado

It could just be me, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado. I liked the way the writer incorporated different forms of media and literature, all of which eventually made sense as the story developed, into one cohesive work, but I was just … okay with it. It’s not a very long book, but it took me a while to finish. (This doesn’t mean I have nothing to say though. I have a bunch.)

Because I like my history, let’s first talk about the title, Ilustrado.

For context, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 333 years (I am not making this number up) from 1565 to 1898. The word “Ilustrado” referred to people from the Philippines who obtained their education abroad, in Mother Spain. This exposed them to liberal ideas, and they came back seeking to reform Spanish colonial rule (to turn the Philippines into a Spanish province instead of just a colony). Think: Jose Rizal and Plaridel.

But why use a word so old that it was used in history books?

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Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata

During my last trip to the Philippines (with only one night shared here), I went to the bookstore to line up find my next read. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (translation: Amapola in 65 Chapters) was one of two books I bought for myself. I may not be down to zip line, let alone sky dive, but I will (try to) read anything. In the same way I support independent bookstores, I like to venture into Philippine literature and look for local writers I can rave about.

This book was okay. So okay that I was not sure if I should even post about it, but I should really push myself to be more comfortable stating my opinion. So here it is: I wasn’t sold.

I love the way Philippine culture is so entwined with the supernatural and the way this book has manananggals in its fictional society but also portrays them in an almost realistic way: that they are not accepted in society even if some of them are good and do not eat humans. Of course, the book cleans manananggals up to make them less gruesome. There’s even a divide between manananggals that eat humans and the ones that don’t, and the manananggals are described as more human-looking (albeit the long and powerful tongue and the body split in half) in the book.

The other thing that makes Philippine culture so interesting is its subcultures. In this book, the Becky (LGBT) culture is featured because the main character, Amapola, is a gay impersonator/entertainer at a bar. (Here’s a quick Philippine Star blurb from way back to give you a rundown on the subculture.) There’s no denying that Beckys have forged their way into the mainstream and have influenced trends in society. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata is riddled with Becky to the point that I was flabbergasted—I had no idea what they were saying sometimes.

Although the supernatural creatures and the subcultures were amusing to read about, that was about it for the book. The story line was okay, and while I loved reading about Lola Sepa’s love affair with Andres Bonifacio (Andy, per my high school History teacher), I didn’t really like Amapola and the rest of the characters—except Nanay Angie because she has a heart made of gold. I wasn’t a fan of the savior plot, and the Grandiosa vs Montero subplot wasn’t very surprising.

To summarize: cultural depiction great, story line meh.

Ricky Lee is great at creating a picture. This isn’t surprising, as he’s written a lot of films. The tone of the book was incredibly entertaining, and I laughed a lot while reading, but I felt that it lacked a certain art to it. It reminded me very much of the hilarious romantic comedies I would watch during the MMFF, which I have also found to be formulaic money-makers. I know this book is supposed to be satirical, and while I can see it, it doesn’t cause a stir.

I gave this book away right after finishing it. Want to give Philippine literature another shot? Try VJ Campilan’s All My Lonely Islands, which actually made me feel some emotions.