July 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

Author:  Julie Kagawa
Category:  Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN

It is hard to say goodbye to the book series I love most, but say goodbye I must.  Having finished the final installment to Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series just moments ago, I need to start writing my review before I start reading it again …… and again.  Yes I am a happy reader.  The Iron Knight is worth the wait.

The book starts with Ash (prince of the Unseelie court) and Puck (Seelie court jester) looking for Grimalkin, the annoying know-it-all cait sith (in human terms: a cat).  But going through the Wyldwood is never easy. After battling many monsters, they finally find Grim, only to be joined later on by the eternal enemy of the cat, the Big Bad Wolf (whom we met in WINTER’S PASSAGE…. And Little Red Riding Hood).

Ash’s quest is to get a soul and become human, as the soulless immortal fey that he is can not survive in the Iron Realm, which is now the home of his beloved Meghan Chase, the Iron Queen.  But to do so, he has to pass extremely torturous tests, the 1st of which is to face the Seer.   I actually shrieked in surprise when the fey was revealed.   The Seer is the key to the quest.  Yet the question is, will Ash be able to let the Seer go?   

Herein lies the stupefying twist.  Of all the past characters in the book, this was the most unexpected.  For fear of spoiling the gem that is the Iron Knight, I can not say anymore about the plot.
Just know this:  from beginning to end, The Iron Knight is filled with thrilling adventures, unwavering friendship, surprising loyalty and uncompromising love from the most unexpected of characters.   It pulls you in, makes you sympathize with each and every Fey, including the one who may just destroy Ash’s resolve to finish the quest.  Perhaps my only bone to pick with the book is that it didn’t have enough Meghan and Ash moments.  But then again, this is Ash’s version, plus the ending more than made up for the iron queen’s absence.
Beautifully written by Julie Kagawa, this book is a Must read.  Of course you have to start from the very beginning with The Iron King, followed by Winter’s Passage, The Iron Daughter, The Iron Queen and Summer’s Crossing respectively.  But I promise you, all the hours you spend reading the series will be worth it. 
Happy Reading!

China, China Part deux

Aside from Tobogganing at the Great Wall of China, there are other things I recommend you do when you visit this great country.  One of which is eating at Dadong

With several branches across Beijing, one can not miss this restaurant.  One reason is the crowd.  My friends and I went early evening after a 3day reservation.  A few people were already in line to order and taste their famous Beijing duck, more popularly known as the Peking duck.  In the middle of the restaurant was an elevated area, the four corners of which stood brick ovens, and right smack on the middle of it was the hanging rack.  Right there in front of all its guests, the chefs would put duck after duck inside each oven.  Once cooked, the duck is pulled out by a long metal stick and hanged on the rack for oil dripping purposes. 
After which it is wiped down,  beak removed and served to the customers.  I tell you, having tasted Peking duck many times over, this was the best I have ever had.  The Duck was moist and very tasty.  Served with the wrap and several condiments, you can have it any way you want.  Plus, should the guest agree, they stew the bones for soup, though that I didn’t like at all.  Stick to the duck and your foodie spirit will be very happy indeed.

Another place to visit is the YASHOW market.  This is China’s version of our Greenhills tiangge.  A building packed with stalls full of bags, clothes and what have you.  Fakes abound of course but buying is in your discretion.  What I liked most about the place is the extreme bargaining.  Clothes, overruns of famous labels, can cost just 10% of its retail price.

Tip though, you have to be willing to walk away after naming your price.  Normally, the salesladies would run after you anyway.  Also try to appear disinterested.  Do not show excitement as they may just jack up the price.   My friend bought a beautiful short dress which originally was being sold for 350RMB.  In the end, after bargaining for 5minutes, she gave it for just 50RMB.  So if the salesperson refuses to give it at your price, stick to your guns, turn around and walk away.  Remember, with the number of stalls in Yashow, there’s bound to be a few selling the exact same items.
You can also go to the Qianmen Dajie.  Much like LA’s The Grove or the local BGC, this place is a 500 year old shopping area which the Chinese government renovated before the 2008 Beijing olympics.  Walking the long street takes a couple of hours what with stops at the many stores lining it. 
Local and foreign stores sit side by side. The facades of these are classic Chinese yet modernized. There are also souvenir stores which surprisingly have reasonably priced items.  If you get hungry there are several stalls selling candied fruits.  My choice?  Candied grapes.  Try not to get the candied sweet potatoes though.  It’s just not as good.

Do not miss the ever popular Tiananmen Square, Hutongs, Forbidden city and the Olympic sites especially the bird’s nest, the lights of which are still a sight to behold.  Overall Beijing was a fun experience.  Before going though perhaps you can download some Chinese language applications with audio options on your phone.  English is still not widely spoken there so this may help you, especially when ordering food.

Happy trip!

July 21, 2011

China, China

I am not singing though i have to admit, the song is ringing in my head and undoubtedly that would be my LSS (last song syndrome) the rest of the day.
Actually i just wanted to share with you my trip to china recently.
The first time i went to china i was 10 years old, terribly obese and looking like a boy, in fact an old lady went up to my grandmother to tell her that i was such a cute little man.  apparently there were no obese little girls in China with short hair except me.  anyway, it wasn't much of a trip.  at such a young age, i appreciated nothing but food.  so aside from that insult, i didn't really remember much else.

my second trip to china was a couple of years ago with my best friend Chiara.  we went to visit our friend Lylah who had just transferred there from manila.  She took us to the have-to-visit areas like Tiananmen Square, the olympic sites and the Great Wall of China: Badaling section, which supposedly is the most picturesque of the 7 great wall sections. indeed it was really beautiful and awe inspiring,  but for the adventurous at heart, there's something even better.
On our visit to China a few weeks back, with the addition of our friend Haze,  we went to the Mutianyu Great wall.  it's farther than the Badaling section from the main city but the one hour drive was so much worth it.  going up the wall, we had to ride the cable car.  the Great Wall itself is...well.....Great!  massive and long, with a beautiful view of the mountains.
We were there at 8am, the most perfect time of the day as the sun was not yet as hot and the place was not yet as packed with tourists. After two hours of picture taking, walking and hiding in the shade, plus eating, it was time to go down.  There are two fun options you can choose to go down: one is the Ski Lift which we didn't really go for since it was too like the cable ride.  the other one was the Toboggan ride.
The toboggan has a stick right smack in its middle that you can use to either break or go faster on the very long winding metal track that reminded me of playground slides...only wider and much much longer.  To say that i enjoyed it is an understatement, however, a warning... make sure to ride after fast people, otherwise you'd be like me.  we rode after 2 older ladies and i felt that by the time i reached the bottom, my hair had turned white from all that stopping and waiting.

For souvenir hunters, go back to the entrance of Mutianyu near the ticket booth.  there are stalls upon stalls of pretty much anything.  from clothes to dried fruits, shoes and calendars, everything was there.  Bargaining skills required of course, this is China after all, where a few bucks goes a long way. 
more on our Beijing, China trip next time.

Thanks to: Jojo and Lylah De La Cruz for the photos and everything else.
also to Chiara Bautista and Hazel Tolentino for the adventure.

July 14, 2011

The Iron Knight is coming!

I am more than excited for this book....Literally i am having a hard time breathing from anticipation.  the end to my favorite series, the one which i have a copy of in every form (paperback, ebook, kindle).  Is the end really the end? here's hoping that after The Iron Knight, more will come....Julie Kagawa i seriously can not wait any longer.  For those who do not know what to expect, read this from netgalley.com

Ash, former prince of the Winter Court, gave up everything. His title, his home, even his vow of loyalty. All for a girl… and all for nothing.
Unless he can earn a soul.

To cold, emotionless faery prince Ash, love was a weakness for mortals and fools. His own love had died a horrible death, killing any gentler feelings the Winter prince might have had. Or so he thought.
Then Meghan Chase—a half human, half fey slip of a girl— smashed through his barricades, binding him to her
irrevocably with his oath to be her knight. And when all of Faery nearly fell to the Iron fey, she severed their bond to save his life. Meghan is now the Iron Queen, ruler of a realm where no Winter or Summer fey can  survive.
With the (unwelcome) company of his archrival, Summer Court prankster Puck, and the infuriating cait sith Grimalkin, Ash begins a journey he is bound to see through to its end— a quest to find a way to honor his solemn vow to stand by Meghan’s side.
To survive in the Iron realm, Ash must have a soul and a mortal body. But the tests he must face to earn these things are impossible. At least, no one has ever passed to tell the tale.
And then Ash learns something that changes everything. A truth that turns reality upside down, challenges his darkest beliefs and shows him that, sometimes, it takes more than courage to make the ultimate sacrifice.

BOOK REVIEW: Wherever You Go by Heather Davis

Author: Heather Davis
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Category: Young Adult Fiction

Wherever You Go deals with alzheimer's disease, depression and death, factors that in a perfect world, teenagers don’t have to deal with but unfortunately, more and more do.

Holly is broken.  Her beloved boyfriend Rob is dead, she has only one friend in school, her family barely make ends meet and she has too many responsibilities as her mother depends on her too much.  This worsens as her grandfather Aldo, who suffers from alzheimer’s, started living with them.  She became the “mom” for both Aldo and Lena, her sister.  Then she gets close to Jason, Rob’s bestfriend from childhood, who is hurting just as much as she is.  They find comfort in each other’s company and eventually, love.  But something is wrong, Rob’s spirit isn’t letting go.  He can’t let go.  He’s earthbound without knowing the reason why.  The only person he can communicate with is Aldo who is slowly losing his mind.  And so with time running out, they forge a friendship that would help heal invisible wounds and broken hearts.  Together they help Holly and Jason move forward with their lives.

The story is lovely, albeit slow.  There were too many descriptions of everything that sometimes seemed unnecessary.  However this made me understand the characters better.  Of the four major characters, I liked Jason the most.  Although he’s shy, he still ends up confronting his feelings and showing that to Holly.  He fights for her, even though it meant losing his so-called friends.  And He has sincere intentions, that which could not be said about a lot of teenage boys in this day and age.  Rob on the other hand is slow in confronting the truth:  that he has to let the people he loves go.  He has the hardest time dealing with Holly’s moving on and towards Jason at that.  Holly can be frustrating in the sense that she is a victim of circumstances where there seems to be no way out.  How does one escape near poverty and responsibilities that can’t be passed on to another? It takes a lot, in fact it takes the whole book before she lets it all go.  But she does.  Aldo is like the grandfather we all have.  he loves his family but is in a body that no longer wants to work.  He shuts down and more often than not is lost, but no one is to blame.  What is commendable though is that he tries, with the help of Rob, to say what he has to say to help Holly, Jason and eventually himself.
In all, the book is a good read.  it imparts the truth that even when there seems to be nothing else in our lives, when no one seems to want to be with us or even to just listen to us…that sometimes all we need to do is to simply ask, and just be.

BOOK REVIEW: Tris and Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison

Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Publisher: Egmont USA
Category: Young Adult Fiction

Isolde or Izzie has always known her mother was a witch, she didn’t know however that she had her own powers.  And so she lived the life of an ordinary high school student with a popular too-good-to-be-true boyfriend and a scheming bestfriend until she meets Tristan, a mysterious boy who later saves her from an attack and almost dies doing so.
Their attraction to each other is too strong, so much so that Izzie mistakes it for a love potion plan that went awry.  but they eventually realize the truth, right before facing an ancient enemy that only Izzie can finally destroy.

I have to admit, I had big expectations for Tris and Izzie.  I was expecting a good love story and was hoping for a good element of paranomal adventure.  It tried to deliver that.  However, it did not succeed.
I felt rushed throughout the book.  There wasn’t really room to breathe in between developments from point A to point B. it felt like the author wanted to put all her immediate ideas into the book, so much so that I failed to sympathize with any of the characters…..  It also spelled lack of believability and suspense…. From The nonchalant way that Izzie mentioned Magic (many many times over), Mark’s immediate transfer of affections from Izzie to Brenna (and this after groveling at the hospital when Izzie got hurt),  Izzie’s realization that she can not live without Tristan, Mark’s acceptance about the reality of magic and magical creatures, plus the epilogue which just seemed like forced closure to the whole story.
The book, does have its moments.  The sweetness between the two main characters as well as Izzie's wit as she thinks is still something to read. Plus the book cover is great to look at. In all though, this book is not something I will pick up again. 
If you like books that are light, breezy and easy to read through, then this can be for you. However if you like characters that tug at your heart, then skip this one.  

BOOK REVIEW: Hereafter by Tara Hudson

Author: Tara Hudson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Fiction

Amelia is a ghost who remembers nothing of her life, including her death.  but that changes when she meets Joshua, who himself met death in the lake where she died.  but miraculously she saves him.  and in that short time that he was on the other side, he saw her.  and from then on, was able to communicate with her.  with joshua by her side, amelia eventually starts remembering her past and falls in love.  but how does one love a ghost?

That is the struggle that these two face, as well as Joshua's grandmother who wants to remove Amelia from their life. Amelia starts out weak, but as is what happens to heroines, finds her strength in the one she loves.

Joshua is a smart, sweet man who fights for what he believes in and who he loves, no matter what.  the fact that he is in love with a ghost of a girl who died a decade prior does not faze him.  he still finds ways to be with her and helps her remember who she loved the most, her mother.

Hereafter is a good book.  and like other YA books as of late, it is set up for a sequel. the end is not quite it. there are hanging questions like Eli's masters, her fate as a ghost, will she become human in the end or will joshua die as well, Joshua's extra ability as well as his sister's...so many questions to be answered in the next book, if not the one after it.
This is recommended for teen paranormal fans.  though it's not quite as romantic as Twilight nor the Iron Fey series, it is still a fun read for those who appreciate the genre.

BOOK REVIEW: RAGE by Jackie Morse Kessler

Book: RAGE
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Category: Young Adult Fiction/ Paranormal

I have bought and read HUNGER so my expectations with RAGE was quite high.  I am glad to say the author did not disappoint.  Truth be told, while Hunger made me cry, RAGE made me think.  I never really understood the thoughts and emotions behind cutting but this book made me think, and feel, differently.  it made me understand the possibilities behind it, and it makes me sad. though i can relate more to Hunger since i experienced an eating disorder myself years ago, Rage resonates with the same urgency, the need for understanding and help.  the need to be.
Rage is very well written with full characters....take Death for example. i have never read his character as humorous and as sexy as in this book.  He makes life personal.  and makes us understand that though he is what he is, Death is not a harbinger of doom but also salvation and ultimately Life.  

High school life for Missy here is Hell on earth and it gives us an insight into what it is now for our children. it can be a vicious hellhole for people who are different, who dare to not conform with society.  truly we have seen this in the 80s what with the breakfast club and sixteen candles, unfortunately it is much worse now.  and with the constant news about high schoolers being bullied and killing themselves, with crazy teen videos on youtube, does it not make you wonder what this world is coming to? the word tragic doesn't seem enough a description.

Rage opens our eyes to 2 things clearly:  high school hell and addiction to cutting.  both of which needs serious attention, not just by the school authorities, but most especially by the parents. if anything, the book can be a lesson and a saviour, for both people with problems and those who love them. ultimately, it may save the life of someone you love.

BOOK REVIEW: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Author: Josephine Angelini
Publisher: HarperCollins
Category: Young Adult Fiction

If you are a big fan of the series Twilight, Mortal Instruments and The Iron Fey, then for sure you can not miss this book. Starcrossed is all those books combined plus greek mythology.  

Helen is a beautiful, shy teenager whose life is turned upside down when a new (and big) family transfers to her town.  For some odd reason she goes into a rage when she sees them, especially gorgeous Lucas, who happens to hate her yet is intrigued by her at the same time.  She eventually finds out that she is a demigod, same as Lucas and his whole family.  All becomes well when they save each other's lives until someone starts hunting down Helen.  And though Lucas and Helen clearly want to be together, history and mythology plus a wrong claim, makes it impossible....at least in this first book.

Author Josephine Angelini
I have to admit i have become a big fan of Lucas and Helen. She strikes me as a typical teen with a lot of hangups, albeit hers are about her amazing beauty and freakish abilities which she never understood since she never knew her mother who is actually of greek god descent while her father is merely mortal.  Lucas on the other hand has always known who he is, what he was born and trained to be.  They are very different characters, the only similar thing about them is their attraction to each other, aside from their incredible and rare ability to fly.

I love how the author developed their relationship.  The speed with which it progressed was perfect.  You could actually relate and understand why they can not let each other go, even when they hated each other.  As for the rest of the family, Hector, Lucas' cousin strikes me as the Starcrossed version of Twilight's Emmet, while Jason is Jasper, and Cassandra and Ari are Alice together in the sense that Cass has the vision but Ari has the heart of Alice.  As for Helen, she is more like Meghan of the Iron Fey series, who doesn't know what she is worth.  Lucas.... well....he is like Ash...beautiful and sensitive Ash.

This is a book you should not miss.  The adventure and romance are exhilirating.   However There are a lot of open ends that would need to be expounded in the sequel DREAMLESS out in May 2012,  and I await with fingers crossed, that finally then, Helen and Lucas would be as happy as they deserve to be.
Starcrossed is now available at NATIONAL BOOKSTORE branches nationwide.

BOOK REVIEW: The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa

Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Category: Young Adult Fiction

"... if someday you wish to be married in a white gown and make this official in human eyes, I'm willing to do that too.  for better or worse, I'm afraid you're stuck with me now"- Ash
"You're not going to lose me....I promise"- Meghan
"I won't let anything happen to you.  You are my heart, my life, my entire existence"- Ash
"I want to be with you tonight.  I don't want to have any regrets when it comes to us. so yes, i'm sure. I love you Ash"- Meghan

The Iron Queen stopped time for me.  I could barely get off my bed and do whatever it is human beings do.  The book is just THAT beautifully written. Waiting for its release had been torture, but the result is more than worth it. From the moment i read the first line, i was hooked.  
Ash is no longer who we met in The Iron King.  So much more open, honest, loving, possessive and jealous.  Factors that made the book so much happier with many thrilling moments. Puck on the other hand is much more sarcastic and jealous, which made for a funnier read.  and Meghan... FINALLY, the tough woman that she is has come out.  She is strong, a bit naive yet willing to sacrifice everything for everyone else, particularly for Ash.  I haven't been this attached to characters in a long time, so this has been a welcome change.  Julie Kagawa doesn't just tell you who they are, she pulls you into their lives and makes you love each character as if they're part of your family.

In The Iron Queen, Meghan and Ash realize that she is still in jeopardy even after giving up her life in nevernever.  Puck on the other hand has also been exiled as he followed meghan into the mortal realm. Grim is also back, being his usual catty (no pun intended) self.  they proceed to (Exile Queen) Lea's where Meghan finds out that Puck is not as innocent as he pretended to be about her father's disappearance many years before.  All four of them plus Meghan's father were then loaned a home by Lea where Meghan trained to fight with a sword (tutored by Ash) and to use her summer glamour (by Puck). They were later asked by both the Seelie and Unseelie courts to fight for Nevernever, specifically Meghan as she is the only one who can enter the iron realm without dying.  So they fight and eventually win, but at a very high cost.

I have to admit, the ending shocked me.  It is not quite the ending i expected. I wanted Ash and Meghan together, solidly in love, happy, perhaps married as long as they are free to be together.  Yet, they are not.  Instead the complication happened.  One thing that makes me happy though is that there will be another book, The Iron Knight, and  I can not wait to read it and to see them finally where they are meant to be, in each other's arms.  Also I am looking forward to being in Ash's mind, and to see him and Puck interact with each other.  Their love-hate, best friend-worst enemy dance has always been a big part of the Iron Fey series' charm.

In all, Julie Kagawa wrote one of the best and most romantic books I have read in a long time.  She is an amazing writer who knows her readers.  The Iron Queen is a must.  The best and most romantic of all three. It really just keeps getting better and better.