The Loved and the Lost

, by Janine M.

Puppy love. Many have experienced that first flush in their cheeks, that tingling sensation, that different beat in their chests... Ah! The beauty of love at its most innocent! Or maybe not...

F. Sionil Jose is the author of the well-acclaimed Rosales saga (which I have yet to buy and read). I love anthologies and this collection of his short stories is a gem! I really want to read his novels in the future. Puppy Love and Thirteen Short Stories portrays love and its different facets (a love that is..., the love for...) and the loss of innocence. Humor is laid on thin and a certain heaviness is present in most, if not all of the stories. These are very thought-provoking and realistic (except maybe for one) that I often found myself questioning the reasons for the characters' behavior, why they have different notions about justice (who deserves it, who should give it, how they would get it, will they ever get it), and if hope isn't very far from anyone who would choose to keep it alive.

Puppy Love, the first in the collection, is about a man haunted by his first love who was separated from him by the war during the Japanese occupation. The story gives a nod to Wuthering Heights (a classic novel that makes my nose bleed so much I can't get past the second chapter). Remembering your first love  is indeed bittersweet.

The Female Principle is about a man and four women and how each has led to his ruin. Females! Are we really that bad? I think highly of Filipinas and I really hope that not all are as pathetic, selfish, self-righteous, and manipulative as the female characters.

The Letters is about how the sense of belongingness differs from one person to another. There are those who yearn the peace and quiet in the country and those who fit best in the upbeat and ambitious city life. Especially if a certain someone was "left behind".

The Other Forest tells us the story of how love is separated by our ambitions and our notions of what our purpose in life really is. How one can set aside love for a greater purpose, in this case a calling from God.

Waltz in my opinion, is the most heartbreaking story about a taboo topic. Does falling in love with your first cousin really count as incest? For years the characters do not act on it, do not talk about it, but know that it's there right in between. A tempting apple to take a bite of, and with a dance and a kiss they did. The woman is a bride in waiting and the reader is left to his/her own conclusions. Will they accept their fate or will an "incestous" infidelity ensue? We could only wish to know.

I'm not sure if the stories under Endings are really endings of F. Sionil Jose's other short stories. I found it hard to understand the last three, so please bear with my interpretation. Twilight is about how our dedication to our "craft" can't be passed on to the next generation who we are expecting to continue the "legacy" (in this case an old woman passing on her rice cake business to her granddaughter who actually detests it). The Wind's Mill is about a boy who is afraid of a lot of things and is often teased for it (the ending is either about adoption by a foreigner [American?] or an American visitor during the American occupation or Commonwealth period [Forgive me, I lack understanding]). No Escape is about a brother who died due to I don't know what because even the two sisters have no idea either (I bet their mother did since she's the one who's always out. All I could derive from it is it's a time of war). The Machine is about the advent of agricultural technology and I don't know why one family says they "won't be needed" anymore (maybe they are workers in a hacienda? they're definitely not carabaos).

A Walk With My Grandson I believe is the author's personal experience involving his walk with his grandson to get ice cream. Awwww... Generation gap is presented in a lighthearted tone, and we see how different yesterday and today are yet still similar in some ways.

Dream Videos is about a professor who is unfaithful and impotent (a perfect excuse to be an infidel?) who finds excitement and fulfillment in imagination and dreams, and living life to the extreme.

Knowledge is to put it simply about a bitch who used her influence on a simple, poor college guy to help her with her paperworks. Years later, he is the employee, she is the employer. Just as he thought the gap that wealth and power brought was bridged by "friendship", "a sense of gratitude" and that the new boss would "respect his ideas and regard him as an intellectual", the  bitch dismissed his thoughts. The bitch thought very low of the Filipinos who "do not think". Let's stand up people! Raise the quality of what we watch/listen to/read. Less of showbiz chismis, more of political awareness and social concern. At the end, I was mad that the man was scared of what the bitch could do (like fire him). Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge. How preciously one values it like gold or silver, and how lightly one regards it (knowledge is nothing without power? I thought knowledge is power?).

Walking on Fire is a fantasy and is quite freaky. History of a land owned by the Cobello clan.

Children's Stories for Adults is quite enjoyable. Dalipawen (a woman's undying love for an ambitious man. The Height of Martyrdom naman ha!) made me cry a lot! The Molave and the Orchid is also good. It's about the young giving perspective to the proud old. The orchid teaches love and humility to the molave. In the end they were still together! (table and flower in a vase)

Read the book. 'Nuff said.

 Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


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The Merging of Real and Pretend

, by Janine M.

My Imaginary Ex by Mina V. Esguerra
Here's what happens when you play pretend.

When Zack asks Jasmine to pretend to be his ex-girlfriend, she gamely agrees, thinking it would be fun. A few years later, she still has to keep convincing people that they were never together! Then one day, she finds out he's getting married--to someone she'd just met once! All of a sudden, things aren't so clear-cut anymore. Can Jasmine sort out her feelings (sometimes she can't even tell real from pretend when it comes to her and Zack) before it's too late?

This week will be filled with reviews of literature by Filipino writers because I'm feeling quite patriotic. That and I'm too lazy to pore over more lengthy novels from the West. Hehe.

So the second review to grace this blog would be another chick lit. (Hurrah!) It's actually my second time to read this because I want to remember all the details before I write anything about it. "Que horror!" if I mixed this up with some other book I've read. =))

The novel started immediately with the problem shoved to our face. I like its being straightforward, no beating around the bush. Then the next chapter takes the reader back to how it all started, which is actually, with a lie. From there we alternate from present to a more recent past, and we become frustrated with Jasmine and Zack's push-and-pull relationship. As for the characters, we have a college version of Zack who up to the present has intimacy/privacy issues; a Jasmine who used to avoid everyone blooming into a more confident version of herself  (passionate and sexy, as Zack put it at the end of the novel); Lena and Marjorie, second and third ex (technically first and second) respectively, quite different but similar in their concern for Zack; and of course a good chick lit won't be complete without the villains: cheating, scheming bitch Kimmy, and egotistic, condescending ex-BF Tim (glad he didn't have a lot of print exposure though).

An excerpt:

But all of a sudden, I wished that what Marjorie said was true. I knew she was basing it on a false assumption, and was most likely wrong, but...

If she knew I was never Zack's ex, would she and Lena have come to the same conclusion? Would they still think that this girl Zack kept talking about was someone he was in love with, or just a friend?

I wanted it to be true, though. So badly that it took me by surprise.  (page 80)

In a nutshell, this is about a guy who couldn't bring himself to tell the girl he loves how he truly feels, and relied on dropping hints that an all-too-dense Jasmine can't pick up. This is also about a girl who for almost a decade, was unconsciously in denial but wondered why sometimes she couldn't tell between real and pretend. Ultimately, this is about the people surrounding them, observers of a love story that wasn't before, but was actually in the making. In Jasmine's recall of an emotional college graduation, she realized, "Because it looked like everyone knew it but us, and that made me want to cry."

All in all, I highly recommend this to those who enjoy good, clean enough (well there's a passionate scene near the end. Who could blame them? They waited nine years for things to happen!) chick lit. I personally don't like Western counterparts that are too passionate (read: graphic *cringe*).

The parting line of the novel was very cute. :) I quote Jasmine:

"He was, in many ways, still my Zack from college."

Awwww... Bring on the cheese!!! :P

 Rating: ♥♥♥♥


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Quitters Never Win

, by Janine M.

Grace and AJ are like Christmas lights—off and on, again and again. But their last breakup was devastating. It was enough to make Grace want to run him over in her pale pink Beetle. She even composed 12 steps to quitting him, which wasn’t easy because he admittedly was her first love—the boy she lost her heart to when she was still collecting Hello Kitty stationeries; the boy she never stopped loving since. But something happens that changes Grace’s life forever. Now it’s time for her to reevaluate everything she has going for her and make a decision. Is this the end of Grace’s life as she knows it? Or is she finally going to have the happy ending she so desperately needs?

Attention: This review contains spoilers.

Nothing can drive you crazy like your first love.

So declares the front cover of Faye Ilogon's book 12 Steps to Quitting AJ.

The statement alone has led my mind to stray for a while, recounting the times I've had with my puppy love. Which then led me to thinking about my new flame who I consider my first (and hopefully last) true love. Ours is an "it's complicated"-Facebook relationship status-worthy situation, which I prefer not to divulge to the reading public. :P

Initially, I thought this was about Grace being impregnated by someone else, falling in love with that other man, and she's torn because she thinks she still loves her first love AJ (Andres Jose Bonifacio). I thought she sought comfort from someone else because AJ was such a jerk. That was basing from the summary. Having this scandalous expectation in mind, I started to read.

The plot has a few elements of surprise (but of course I already knew AJ didn't care about Grace being adopted but I didn't realize yet that he got her pregnant intentionally to finally settle down with her) and succeeded in most of its attempts at being humorous. I was laughing every now and then that my mom thought I'd gone off my rocker.  All of the drama naturally comes from the main character Grace, mulling over whether she should tell AJ about her Moses issue or not, and if she'd have a good future ahead knowing she has to sacrifice her laid-out plans. I like Veronica though she appears only very briefly as a surprise support character towards the end, eventually helping Grace make a decision. Though I highly doubt that this "instantly formed sorority between exes on a chance meeting" can exist in our society. Not unless the people involved are very open-minded and have no insecurity or trust issues. I love their gay friend Martin! Just read it to know why. :P

Indeed, theirs is a relationship no different from modern Filipino young couples. All the drama, the tampuhans, balikan ng regalo, sunugan ng litrato occur on any face of the archipelago. AJ is quite interesting to me though, because he hates any form of communication apart from seeing each other in person, let alone express lover's sentiments and affection via phone lines or a text message. The really touching part of the novel was when the love letter AJ wrote was revealed to the readers. Here's an excerpt (which is actually his ENTIRE letter to Grace. Faye please forgive me):

The One and Only Letter

I'm not good with words, I never have been. I can try to be for you, but I will never be half as good as you when it comes to choosing the right words to say. You see, when you're not acting nuts, you do have a way of putting words together. You make me want to buy whatever it is you're told to write about.

A few months ago, we watched that CSI: Las Vegas episode where Sara Sidle writes a sad love letter to Gil Grissom. I thought I'd use some of her words to write you my first attempt at a love letter, but I've worked so hard to make sure that it will be just as honest as hers. Honest enough to prove to you that I'm in this for keeps.

Here goes...

You know I love you. It seems that I’ve loved you forever. Maybe that love had to change over the years and I had to fall in love with other girls before I could find you again. But I love you.

Lately, I haven't been feeling very well. There's all this stuff with my parents wanting to go off to live and serve some godforsaken town. I worry about them and sometimes I've taken it out on you.

Anyway, I've realized something and I haven't been able to shake it. You scare me. You bring out all my fears. I am scared of losing you in sort of the same way I've always been scared that my parents will leave us for some bigger cause. My brother dealt with it by falling in love and starting his own family as soon as he could. I dealt with it by rolling with the punches. You know, never letting anyone see me sweat. My parents think I can hit the ground running all the time. I just really want to have a normal life and do normal boring things.

I have that with you. We're normal and boring and I absolutely like that. By "boring", I mean that I won't be shocked to know that you've left me to start a livelihood project somewhere. It's selfish and so middleclass but that's my version of a happy-ever-after. You and I both know we can do good without disappearing on each other or making too many sacrifices. My family is all about sacrifices and I'm obsessed with being normal. You know what I mean, right? Yes, I'm rambling already. But I know that you get me. So, now, I'm more scared of losing you. A lot of things can happen and you'll run into men who will be able to pamper you and say sweet things to you in French.

I'm not exactly broke, but I won't be able to give you a fancy car or a mansion. I'm bad at European languages and the only foreign-sounding endearments I can say to you are in Cebuano.Gihigugma ko ikaw.

Despite that, I've realized that it's time for me to bury my stupid insecurities and my god-awful issues. I know nobody else can love you like I do. They can try but I'm the only one who can say that I've pictured you fat, toothless, and old in my mind and I still find myself smiling...and getting dirty thoughts.

Know that you are my one and only. I know this won't make any sense but our being together is the only home I've ever really had. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's been three crazy years and I'm in it all the way.

I love you. I always will.


I also loved that it was written not in chronological order, but has Grace thinking of the past, making the readers understand her little by little. I have this newfound love for cute "lists" which in this novel were trivia, tips, "categories of exes" and of course Grace's 12 Steps to Quitting AJ. Prior to reading, I thought the 12 Steps was the highlight of the novel, but to my surprise it wasn't. I could use some of the tips on myself so that my guy won't be running away from me but instead come running into my arms. :P The Betty and Veronica comparison and the Martin-coined-painting-footbridges-and-fences-pink-idea were two of the funniest points in my opinion.

If your love life can be compared to blinking Christmas lights, realize that no step-by-step plans of action nor rules are necessary to keep your beloved. Honesty, trust, faithfulness and a hopeful heart are the best things you can give and you deserve to get. If you want to win at love, never quit without trying.

And oh, this novel is close to my heart because I have a brother named after THREE national heroes.

 Rating: ♥♥♥♥


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