April 26, 2012

Taste by Kate Evangelista

Another reason to be proud!
Filipina author Kate Evangelista is releasing her first international novel at the end of this month.  The cover alone is beautiful and very intriguing.  
I will be posting my review soon so until then, enjoy this:

At Barinkoff Academy, there's only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.


I sat up and followed Calixta’s gaze upward. I rubbed my eyes. I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. A statue? ­My brain refused to snap together coherent thoughts.  I didn’t realize I’d fallen so close to one of the garden benches until I stared up at the boy that sat on one. He was strikingly beautiful. His tumble of blonde hair curled just above his sculpted cheekbones. He wore a silk shirt and a loosened cravat, like he’d become bored while dressing and decided to leave himself in disarray. His ivory skin and frozen position was what had me mistaking him for something carved from marble by Michelangelo. Then he sighed—a lonely, breathy proof of life. If I had to imagine what Lucifer looked like before he fell from heaven, the boy on the bench would certainly fulfill that image. My brain told me I had to look away, but I couldn’t.
“Luka,” Calixta said again, her voice unsure, almost nervous. It no longer contained the steel and bite she had threatened me with, which made me wonder who the boy was.
He leaned on his hands and crossed his legs, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the night sky. His movements spoke of elegance and control. I’d encountered many people with breeding before, but his took on the air of arrogance and self-assuredness of someone used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it.
I only realized I’d been holding my breath when my lungs protested. I exhaled. My heart sputtered and restarted with a vengeance. Luka tore his gaze away from the stars and settled it on me. I’d expected pitch-black irises, like the other Night Students, but blue ice stared back at me.
“Human,” he whispered.
He reached out, and with a finger, followed an invisible trail down my cheek. I stiffened. His touch, cooler than Demitri’s, caused warm sparks to blossom on my face. He lifted his finger to his lips and licked its tip. He might as well have licked me from the way my body shivered.
Luka’s curious gaze held mine. “Leave us,” he said, but not to me.
“But—” Calixta protested like a spoiled child.
He spoke in a language I hadn’t heard before, remaining calm yet firm. The words had a rolling cadence I couldn’t quite follow, like rumbling thunder in the distance. They contained a harsh sensuality. The consonants were hard and the vowels were long and lilting.
Footsteps retreated behind me.
Luka reached out again.
It took me a minute to realize he wanted to help me up. I hesitated. He smiled. I smiled back timidly and took his hand, completely dazzled. Even with my uniform soaked from melted snow, I didn’t feel cold—all my attention was on him and the way his callused hand felt on mine. Without moving much from his seated position, he helped me stand.
“What’s your name?” he asked. He had a voice like a familiar lullaby. It filled my heart to the brim with comfort.
I swallowed and tried to stop gawking. “Phoenix.”
“The bird that rose from the ashes.” Luka bent his head and kissed the back of my hand. “It’s a pleasure meeting you.”
My cheeks warmed. My head reeled, not knowing what to think. I couldn’t understand why I felt drawn to him. And the strange connection frightened me.
From behind, someone gripped my arms and yanked me away before I could sort out the feelings Luka inspired in me. I found myself behind a towering figure yet again. Recognizing the blue-black silk for hair tied at the nape, relief washed over me. Calixta hadn’t come back to finish me off.
Demitri’s large hand wrapped around my wrist. Unlike the night before, no calm existed in his demeanor. He trembled like a junky in need of a fix. The coiled power in his tense muscles vibrated into me.
“What are you doing here?” Demitri asked.
I didn’t know he’d spoken to me until I saw his expressionless profile. I sighed.
I flinched. The ruthless way he said my name punched all the air out of me. “You owe me answers,” I said with as much bravado as I could muster.
“I owe you nothing.” He glared. “In fact, you owe me your life.”
“I don’t think so.”
Ignoring my indignation, he faced Luka, who’d remained seated on the bench during my exchange with Demitri. “Why is she with you, Luka?”
“I wasn’t going to taste her, if that’s what you’re implying,” Luka said. “Although, she is simply delicious. I wouldn’t mind if you left us alone.”
There it was again. Taste. The word that kept coming up between these Night Students and I was connected to it in an increasingly uncomfortable way. To taste meant to sample, but what? My flesh? They had to be joking because the alternative wasn’t funny.
“The sins of the father …” Demitri left his sentence unfinished.
Luka’s smile shifted into a snarl. “Obey my command.” His chin lifted. “Kneel.”
Demitri’s stance went rigid. His grip tightened around my wrist.
Okay, weird just got weirder. Why would Luka want Demitri to kneel before him? I thought back to Eli and the others bowing to Demitri when he questioned them, but they didn’t kneel. Seriously? Were they all living on a different planet or something?
Kneel.” Luka’s detestable smirk made his features sinister rather than angelic. The real Lucifer: a fallen angel.
Without letting go of my wrist, Demitri knelt down on one knee and bowed his head, his free hand flat at the center of his chest. “Your command has been obeyed,” he said formally.
Luka nodded once.
Demitri stood up and pulled me toward the school without telling me where we were going. Not having the time to thank Luka for saving me from Calixta, I risked a glance back. Luka smiled at me. His smile spoke of whispers, secrets, and promises to be shared on a later date

Author's website:  www.kateevangelista.com
Twitter: @KateEvangelista
On Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/13484226-taste
Taste is being published by Crescent Moon Press

April 20, 2012

Book Review: THE LAST ECHO by Kimberly Derting

Author:  Kimberly Derting
Category:  Young Adult fiction
Publisher:  HarperCollins

Violet Ambrose is a body finder.  She has the ability to find those who have been murdered and their killers by sensing echoes or imprints that are unique with each kill.    For many years she has felt like the odd woman out, one who can never be normal, despite the love and support of her family and her best friend turned boyfriend Jay…. that is until she meets Sara Priest.

Sara is a former FBI investigator turned special agent who handles a group of teen misfits, all of whom have special abilities: Gemma is empathic and feels others’ emotions, Sam is a genius psychic, Krystal communicates with the dead in her dreams and Rafe can see events in the past and future.  All have been recruited by Sara to work in solving murder cases.

For the first time Violet feels she belongs… the only problem is Rafe.  They have undeniable chemistry that is obvious to everyone especially Jay.  But Rafe confuses her: one minute reeling her in, another pushing her away.  Violet tries to convince herself that Jay is the only one for her, but her feelings for Rafe are growing in ways even she can’t understand.

In one of their investigations, Violet finds the body of a girl stuffed in a freezer.  She is the latest victim of the Girlfriend Collector whose modus is kidnapping and murdering young women before lovingly beautifying them for the police’s discovery.  His work is clean, leaving no leads and no clues. 

Working non-stop to find the killer, Violet has no idea that the Collector has set his sights on a new victim: Herself.

Author Kimberly Derting
Since reading The Body Finder and Desires of the Dead last year, I have been excitedly awaiting the release of its third installment, The Last Echo.

One thing that hooked me to the series is the romance between Violet and Jay.  So sweet and intense, author Kimberly Derting really made me feel attached to the two.  And given their history, being childhood best friends and all, I thought that even with Rafe’s character being introduced in Desires of the Dead, that nothing will affect their devotion towards each other.

I was wrong.  The Last Echo is a build up of a probable romance between Rafe and Violet.  It is pretty surprising how little of Jay is in this book so I was a bit miffed.  However the book as a whole is a wonderful read.

This book is much darker and creepier compared to the 1st two books.  Written in both the perspectives of Violet and the killer’s, it’s disturbing how unhinged and delusional the psycho was.  In a way I was sympathetic since it was explained why he became so warped, yet I couldn’t wrap my mind around his logic.  His line of thinking hooked me, reminding me of infamous murderer Ted Bundy.  But while Bundy killed out of sadism, the Girlfriend Collector did so out of a need for love.

Well-paced, intense, disturbing, heart wrenching, time freezing and confusing are words I’d use to describe this book in its entirety. I highly suggest you don’t miss out.  Read this book.

NOTE: Before picking this up, do read The Body Finder and Desires of the Dead first.  it’s well worth your time.

April 19, 2012

SEOUL-ace in Shopping

Souvenir shopping is always a must when I travel but so is bargaining, so instead of hitting the usual malls, my friends and I went to the Namdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea.

You hungry?
Namdaemun market is the oldest and largest in Seoul.  Much like Divisoria in Manila, there are stores and stalls in the middle of crowded streets.  Surrounding them are buildings that are limited in that some only sell accessories by the bulk while others only sell clothes.

Walking along Namdaemun was a thrill.  In part because of the lovely cold weather, but also because bargaining was welcome.  And though the sellers didn’t speak any English, calculator-punching and hand signals were enough.  It did help that I memorized this line, “kaka-chuseyo”, which means discount please.  That was all I really said after pointing and before paying.  It mostly worked.
Souvenir items were all over the place side by side with posters, notebooks, pens and other items printed with faces of popular Korean actors.  I nearly bought myself one but I figured, a face on my socks isn’t really my style.
You a fan? Anything and everything with images of popular Korean actors

Chiara and I eating mongo-filled bun  
  I couldn’t identify the foods they were hawking all over Namdaemun so what I did was mostly point and pay.  Good or bad, I wanted to try and experiment. But one thing I didn’t dare try was the bug-looking snack they were selling by the gram.  Fear factor material for sure but not for me.

One of the many Ginseng shops
For users of Korean Ginseng, Namdaemun might as well be paradise.  The popular Medicinal plant is sold in almost every corner and every size.  Toys also abound, including that which I have never seen before, Pororo character toys (Pororo is a cartoon show on Disney Junior created in Korea).

Namdaemun is easily accessible via taxi and subway so don’t miss it.  Also, Don’t forget to bring small bills and extra big bags when you go.  Happy shopping!

April 17, 2012

Love SEOUL-ution

The biggest HEAR
Love locks or love padlocks have been around a long time, some even say as far back as World War II in Serbia.   But for sure it has been seen in different parts of Europe since year 2000.  Now it has spread all over the world.  Love locks can be seen in Japan, Taiwan, Italy, France, Uruguay, South Korea and others.
Trees full of love pledges

Simply put, these are padlocks locked in public places like fences, bridges, even trees.  What makes this special, specifically to couples is that you write your name, your partner’s and your messages for each other on these locks as a pledge or public declaration of love.  No magic. No assurance of longevity.  Just a mere symbol of a couple’s affection for one another.

The Love Padlockers....
Since South Korea is one of the most romantic countries in the world, what with their many Korean dramas, it’s not surprising to see such display of love at Seoul’s symbol, the N SEOUL TOWER.

On the 2nd floor viewing deck, the wire fence enclosing the area is almost full of these love locks as well as the man made trees on the 1st floor.  But padlocks are not the only ones found there.  Some couples were more creative using bike locks, cellphone cases, keychains, plastic hearts and even paper in place of the usual.
My very own Love Locks

Anything and Everything
Just for fun, I joined the crowd.  Cute padlocks were available at the N Seoul gift shop for tourists like myself.  And at 11,500 won or about $11.00 for partner locks they were pretty overpriced (NOTE TO SELF: bring own padlocks next time).  Buyers are warned not to throw away the keys off the N Seoul as it might, and will, cause injuries. So they put a key drop box in the shop for recycling.  I decided to keep mine as souvenir.
Me and my Love locks......Hello Forever!

So now locked on the 2nd floor viewing deck are padlocks declaring my love for my husband and his for me (since he wasn’t there with me, I pledged on his behalf….ahhhh I love being a wife of ten happy years….). 

I know that a few years or even a few months from now, my locks would look battered and rusted by the elements or even hidden under other locks.  But I feel good knowing that along with thousands of other couples, I have left my mark in Seoul.

April 16, 2012

BEAR-y Lovely Day!

There are several TEDDY BEAR MUSEUMS around the world, three of which are found in South Korea.  I was able to visit the one located at the foot of N Seoul Tower, the symbol of Seoul.
Before going down to the galleries
Riding the bus
It’s easy to get to N Seoul tower, also known as Namsam tower because it’s on…you guessed it! Namsam Mountain.  One is via the scenic cable car which was impractical to us as we would have had to take the subway and walk 10 minutes before even getting on the cable car (Too much work for three tired ladies).  Another is via taxi but would have cost too much money.  So we settled on the bus.  That was perfect because the ride was comfortable and the drop off point was close enough to the tower.
Uphill walk to the tower

After a bit of an uphill walk, there was the N Seoul tower.  The tower itself is not beautiful, but what’s inside is. 
With my friends Hazel and Chiara
The Teddy Bear Museum is separated into two galleries.  The first is known as the Seoul History Center.  As its name implies, this is mainly about the history of Seoul made creative and entertaining by using teddy bears dressed in historical costumes, posing and going through motions of life then.  It shows Seoul as then capital of the Joseon Dynasty till the modern period.

A Royal wedding ceremony
The second gallery shows life in Seoul now.  Highlighting specific places like the popular shopping districts Myeongdong and Insadong.  As well as different aspects of life in Seoul.  Also on display are some of the oldest teddy bears in the world.

The King!
My favorite spot though is the Princess Hours zone.  Princess Hours or Goong is a popular Korean Drama (and my all time favorite) where Teddy bears were highlighted as its main character Prince ShinGoon was always playing with one named Alfred.  And every episode’s ending had teddy bears posing based on scenes within.  

Me with Royalty...bear version
In the Princess Hours area are two giant bears costumed in the prince and princess’ outfits.  They were beyond adorable.  There was also a shelf behind it filled with episode-end bears plus some actual scripts and memorabilia from the show.  For those interested, copies of Alfred the bear are for sale at the museum shop.
Market scene in the Joseon Dynasty

It doesn’t take that long to finish walking both galleries but it is worth your time.  Just make sure to load your camera well as for sure picture taking will be endless.  
Rock scene in SEOUL
Presidential Security Group of the Korean President in front of the Blue House
Princess Hours teddy bear version of the 4 main characters
The Prince and the Princess in their ceremonial wedding garb
A Wedding celebration
A bear taking a monkey's picture in a zoo... Hilarious!
Peddling Korean food
GO! South Korea!
Don't miss the Teddy Bear Museum!

April 15, 2012

SEOUL Searching

at the Lobby
A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I went on a trip to Seoul, South Korea.  We didn’t really expect much save for the very cold weather.  On my previous travels to other countries I would make strict itineraries so as not to waste time.  But on this one, I wanted to relax and play everything by ear and that is exactly what happened.  The only thing I made sure of, apart from the airplane tickets, was our hotel booking.
my cute hotel room

I chose Doulos Hotel based on the reviews I read on Tripadvisor.com, my go-to travel website.  I wasn’t disappointed.  It is a business hotel so it’s small, but very clean and well maintained.  Its biggest selling point is its price.  Under P4,250.00 or $95 per room per night is a bargain compared to other hotels in the area, plus the airport bus stop is a mere 3 minute walk as well as the subway station.  It also served free continental breakfast so my friends and I who are food fiends were very happy indeed.  Surrounding the hotel were many restaurants and food stalls that are open very late so we were never hungry. 

sunday crowd at Myeongdong
Yummy streetfoods
Our flight arrived early Sunday morning and my goodness it was freezing cold.  We were shaking by the time we arrived at our hotel.  The temperature during our entire stay (5 nights in total) ranged from 1c to 12c so you can imagine the layers of clothes we had to pile on each time we stepped out of Doulos.

With Chiara
We took a leisurely walk from the hotel to Myeongdong, their most popular shopping area.  Famous brands are clustered in that one gigantic spot. Korean beauty houses like Nature Republic, Face shop, Etude and Tony Moly had a store in every corner.  Plus H&M, Forever21, Zara, Uniqlo (the famous Japanese label) and others.  Since it was a Sunday Myeongdong was packed with locals, and along the streets, food stalls and carts selling socks, cellphone covers and every imaginable item were scattered. 

While walking I spotted a sign on the side of a building that said FREE Traditional Costume Experience.  The word FREE had us running inside the building to the Seoul Global Culture &  Tourism Center.  Reservation is a must so we put down our names for a 3:00pm Hanbok (Korea’s traditional costume) experience. 

Hanbok ladies (L to R): me, Hazel Tolentino and Chiara Bautista

Hanbok for borrowing
We returned after a hearty lunch (it’s a good thing Hanbok conceals big stomachs) ready and excited.  
They took us to a closet that had lockers to leave our stuff in while picture taking. There were several Hanbok to choose from plus headwear and shoes.  Hanbok for men and children are also available.  It took us about 20 minutes to finish taking pictures at the 3 picture zones.  One has a backdrop of Gyeongbuk gong (the palace), another looked like a tiny traditional room and the 3rd has mannequins dressed in costumes. 
 If you’re planning to go to Korea I suggest you not miss this.  But do put down your name early and be there at the appointed time as there’s a long line of people wanting to do the same thing.  The best maps are also available at the center so get several.

restaurant facade
After a few more hours of strolling and window shopping we took a cab back to the hotel.  Note that most Koreans do not speak English so it is best to have your hotel desk write down the hotel's name, address and phone number in Korean to show the cab driver. 

Dinner was an adventure.  Walking along one of the side streets near Doulos we chanced upon a restaurant that had a plastic frontage.  There was no sign in english so we just took a chance, and good thing we did because the food was great!  The lady who took our order just had 2 questions: beef or pork.  
Having Korean BBQ with Hazel
Apparently it was a Korean barbecue place and you can order just either of the two.  No chicken here!  We chose beef.  a short while later they placed a big plate full of marinated beef in front of us to cook ourselves.
  They also packed our table with plates of kimchi, vegetables, sauces, soup and a pitcher of cold water.  We stuffed ourselves with what became our favorite food in Korea and went back to the restaurant twice more during our stay.  

April 12, 2012

Book Review: OF POSEIDON by Anna Banks

Author:  Anna Banks
Category:  Young Adult Fantasy Fiction
Publisher:  Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Due Out:  May 22, 2012

“Imagine how you’d feel if you were asked to trade that one thing you love so that the human race can go on.  People you don’t even know. People who aren’t even born yet.  Would you do it? Could you?  Even if almost no one ever knew the huge sacrifice you made for them and would never appreciate what you gave up?”- Galen
“Are you saying….what are you saying?”- Emma
“I’m saying you’re what I want, Emma.  I’m saying I’m in love with you.”- Galen

Emma is shattered after losing her best friend Chloe in a shark attack.  But life has to go on so she is forced to go back to school where sees Galen again.  Galen is the man she met the day she lost Chloe, the man whose unusual violet eyes mirror her own, the man whose eyes search for hers as soon as he enters her class.

Unbeknownst to her, Galen is actually the Prince of Syrena, more commonly known as Mermaids, a descendant of Triton himself.  He started searching for Emma as soon as he heard about the girl with the ability to communicate with fish.  And he himself saw her power when she commanded the shark that attacked Chloe to leave them be.  Galen wants to find out if Emma is who he suspects, a Syrena who is breaking their law by living on land.

He quickly discovers that Emma is no such person… or at least she doesn’t know who she really is.  So he helps Emma discover, acknowledge and nurture her newfound power of breathing underwater.  Falling in love with her is inevitable yet wrong because Emma has the power of Poseidon, an ability to communicate with marine life, which means that as the last one of her kind, she is meant to marry the king of Syrena, Galen’s own brother Grom.  

There is also an unknown threat.  The Syrenas feel their own kind in the water and everytime Emma sets foot in the sea, an unknown Syrena is always sensed by Galen.  But the bigger problem is Emma’s lineage.  Her violet eyes identify her as a Syrena, but her white hair and pale skin is that of a half breed, a child of a Syrena and a human, which has been outlawed for hundreds of years.  Being so might bring danger to her life, especially when they find out that the unknown threat, the one they could never identify until the very end, is the one King Grom has been searching for for a long time.
Author Anna banks

Just when I gave up on this book, the cliffhanger reeled me in.  The ending is good….really good.  The pace is a bit slow and the sudden change in Emma from a weak, insecure girl to a tough one in a few pages isn’t really believable.  Galen is a more likable character though it threw me off whenever he’d say fingerlings referring to children. 
The support characters Rayna (Galen’s twin sister) and Toraf (Rayna’s mate/husband) are a welcome relief.  In fact I think their love story is even sweeter than that of Galen and Emma. I do hope they have a bigger story line in the sequel.
The plot is not the usual so kudos to the author.  Her description of the underwater world is also pretty thorough.  Unfortunately I didn’t get pulled into the story.  The romance between Galen and Emma lacks the thrill I always look for in love stories but I do hope this gets better in the follow up book.
If you’re tired of vampires, werewolves and dystopian series and are looking forward to something new, try reading this.  If only for the cliffhanger, I would recommend Of Poseidon.