Book Talk | Magonia, a Good Story Trapped in Bad Writing

A well written book isn’t the same as a well told story. That’s the first important lesson I learned as a writer: the distinction between writing and storytelling.

Now that I’m both a reader and a writer taking a shot at fiction, I value story and structure more than writing style because the former is a tad more difficult to master than the latter. I don’t judge books on the simplicity of writing but instead focus more on how well it draws me in and how good its story is.

When I read Magonia, I realized that while a great writing style may not redeem a bad story *cough Daughter of Smoke and Bone cough*, bad writing can doom a potentially good story on the very first chapter. 

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BLOG TOUR: Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi

As a 90’s kid who literally watched Disney classics on VHS tapes and shared a walkman with my siblings, social media (and the internet in general) didn’t dominate my childhood as it most likely did my younger brother’s and my cousins’. In fact, I was able to stubbornly stay away from Facebook until the second semester of my first year in pre-med. And even then I only logged on to message my group of college friends. I wouldn’t get obsessed with the internet until I discovered Livejournal (the OG blogging site) and the joys of oversharing personal details for the world to see. 

I was about 16 or 17 when the inevitable social media bell jar fell down on me so I have both the perspective of someone who, at some point, would feel physically ill when she couldn’t connect to the internet as well as someone whose life wasn’t constantly recorded and spent online – a perspective that I’m sure a lot of Gen Z kids can’t relate. 

When I first heard about Arvin Ahmadi’s book, Girl Gone Viral, I was immediately intrigued. The premise of a future where everyone’s lives are on display online – to a point where it’s downright voyeuristic – was fascinating but also not too much of a stretch of the imagination. I knew I had to read this book so when I got the email confirming that I’d be one of the hosts for the Girl Gone Viral blog tour, I was over the moon. 

Disclosure: as part of the #GirlGoneViralTour, I received an e-ARC from Penguin Random House so HUGE thanks to them and to the awesome people at Bookworms Unite PH for organizing this tour.

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Book Talk | Three Dark Crowns and the Virtue of Verisimilitude

Fiction is a powerful escape from the humdrum of reality. Naturally, readers are expected to suspend their disbelief if they wish to maximize the reading experience. When readers enter a story, they have an unspoken agreement with the book: I’ll accept the book’s version of reality as long as the book itself provides a reality that’s believable and consistent enough to get behind. Simple.

But there’s a catch. Even though it is fiction, stories should do the heavy lifting when it comes to suspending disbelief. Readers can’t and shouldn’t be expected to suspend all of their disbelief because then they’d just be a passive observer of the story’s events, barely critical of the characters, hardly conscious of what the story is trying to tell.

Fictional stories may not be real but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any realistic elements in them. The best stories are grounded in a conceivable perception of reality which is why readers can easily get lost in those worlds – at some level, the fictional world feels solid enough that readers don’t need to stretch to imagine themselves in that reality. You can accept that a secret world of witches and wizards coexist with ours and that only a little orphan boy can save that magical world from crumbling. You can buy a young Texan girl trapped inside her house is blown away into a weird and colorful world with talking lions and heartless tin men. You can even believe that a small island kingdom can have triplet queens born every generation and that they must fight to the death for the crown on their 16th birthday. All of those fantastical concepts are fine on their own and don’t really need to provide an in depth lore to explain each and every how and why.

However, when a book only spews concepts and ideas without the least bit effort in the building of a logical reality… well, readers can suspend their disbelief only for so long.

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Sequel Sundays | Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

Took a fully unintentional break for nearly two three weeks and now I have no idea how this blog contraption works. To be fair, I never really did figure out how to blog properly so this sudden disorientation isn’t actually out of the norm for me.

Sometime last year, I finally got myself to read Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. Suffice it to say, I laughed, cried, ugly cried, and made me rethink what it really means to love yourself. I mean, sure, it’s easy to say that everyone’s beautiful no matter their shape or size but to read about a teenager fighting to prove to everyone and to herself that she truly believes that she’s beautiful is hardly comparable.

After reading that kickass book, I knew I had to read the sequel, Puddin’, which was about two minor characters in the first book. Dumplin’ was an emotional rollercoaster that left me feeling warm and giddy. But did the second book do it better?

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Double Book Review | The Wicked Deep and A Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Spoiler Free)

Hello friends. I’ve been meaning to go back to my roots and write book reviews for this blog again but, honestly, most of the books I’ve read so far into 2019 haven’t really given me enough to dedicate a whole post about them. Oh, I’ve read plenty of 5-star books and a handful of 2- and 1-star books but for some reason, whenever I sit down and actually try to draft a review of an individual book, I get discouraged. I worry that I’ll just reiterate what other reviewers say.

As you know, a book has to be especially good or especially bad for me to want to write a full blown review of them. Ironically, both The Wicked Deep and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are neither. However, the two books were surrounded by a lot of hype when they first came out and even held a lot of promise at the beginning. When they inevitably disappointed me, I was especially stung.

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Book Talk | Ruthless Magic Pt. 2: Characters, Variations on Theme

Part 1 | Part 3

In the first part of this Book Talk, I went on a lengthy diatribe about how Ruthless Magic‘s story and structure did its theme absolutely no service though it had every opportunity to do so. Narrative decisions and worldbuilding concepts did little to assert the book’s moral argument – the story basically just meandered in a contrived direction, clumsily handing the reader hints of what it was trying to say at some point in the journey, until eventually it reached an unsatisfying end.

The first part discussed the book’s inefficiency at themes on a general level. Now it’s time we talk about the book more in depth. As I mentioned in the first instalment, there are different ways of applying the theme in the story, mainly by relating it to the story elements. One particularly effective way to do this is by designing characters as variations on the theme.

Ruthless Magic’s theme is harmony so it shouldn’t have been too difficult to write characters who had varying and contradicting approaches to that idea… right?

Well.

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Characters with No Personality, Monsters with No Teeth: Eliza and Her Monsters

What the cover art should say: Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a bore.

2017 has been a pretty good year in terms of reading for me. Sure I had to chop my Reading Challenge in half a few months back when I realized I couldn’t possibly finish 100 books by the end of the year but, it had to be done. Quality-wise, I’ve read a lot of great books this year so at least I have that. Which was why I took such a leap of faith when I bought the hardcover for Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. Statistically, it was bound to be a fairly good book, a 3-star-book at the very least. And what with all the praises I’ve read in its Goodreads page, I was assured a nice, fun read.

I was wrong.

Early on, around the third chapter, I was confused as to why I couldn’t get into the book. I had expected to take an immediate liking to it. The premise was fascinating enough – high school senior Eliza Mirk sidelines as the anonymous creator of the massively popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea – so I was honestly astounded as to why I felt nothing for the book so far. But I soldiered on, hoping that maybe things would pick up after a few more chapters.

Chapter six was the chapter I realized that I was not going to like the book. I remember because I was constantly live-tweeting the book because I had a lot of emotions and no social life whatsoever. I kept of going back to GoodReads and skimming the five- and four-star reviews, baffled as to what others had seen. Could I possibly have been reading the wrong book? Was it at all plausible that the copy I bought, in an insane twist of fate, was the first draft of the book? Or an alternate, obviously inferior version of it? Because, as preposterous as that would have been, it would explain why the book was so dull, so lacking in character, so ludicrously uninteresting, yet had so many glowing reviews. It was insane. I felt like I was being gaslighted. Never had I been so misled by other people’s reviews that I suspected I was going crazy.

(For the record, this is all just my opinion. If you liked the book, awesome. I actually envy you. I didn’t like the book and I can’t pretend otherwise so I’ll rant about it. This is my blog, after all.)

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Geekerella: Making a Tired Old Trope Great Again

Modern adaptations. Loose dystopian science fiction retellings. Dark fantasy treatments. Cinderella’s story is arguably the most adapted and retold fairy tale out of all the classic children’s tales. In the YA genre alone, there are countless novels (not to mention the never-ending film adaptations) that feature Cinderella staples like the cruel step-family intent on making the heroine miserable, a prince charming waiting to be wooed, a fairy godmother itching to help, and a fallen glass slipper (or some other outlandish footwear) leading the prince back to Cinderella. The formula is so familiar, the story done so many times in so many ways, that it’s almost impossible for a person to have not seen at least one Cinderella-esque story in their entire life.

There’s a reason why Cinderella’s story is so enduring though. A poor exploited heroine struggling for her own chance of happiness despite the odds against her can easily arouse sympathy to even the least romantic humbug in the room. A sprinkling of magic, a glimmer of that “true love” shtick  and a backdrop of a hokey moral (being good and kind always has its rewards), and you’ve got yourself the archetypal escapist fairy tales with a lasting appeal.

However, not all Cinderella stories are created equal. Some faithful adaptations give little to no new material, relying solely on the public’s nostalgic love for the fairy tale, and produce a bland tale. Other loose re-tellings either butcher whatever elements made Cinderella such a timeless classic in favor of adding new flavors and concepts and ruin the story completely. Not to mention the mere fact that Cinderella has been done so many times that people just… get tired of it. Even the most beloved of tales can get unoriginal and uninspired when distilled enough times. And no matter how fancy the decor, how eccentric the appearance, it’s still the same old Cinderella story.

Such was my dilemma with Ashley Poston’s Geekerella. The contemporary young adult novel is about as obvious of a Cinderella re-telling as one can get, the title itself almost unapologetically so. Not even reading the blurb at the back of the book, I knew what to expect. I mean, what else could there be in something so blatant? However, despite all that, I was still intrigued. I had read no reviews of it and wasn’t even familiar with the publishing company that distributed it. Call it my special spidey-book sense tingling but I knew – just knew – that there was something about that book that’s worth checking out. A part of me convinced that I wouldn’t regret it if I give it a try. My instincts were firing off every alarm to get me to splurge just a little bit on this one, unassuming little novel so I had no choice but to comply.

Boy am I glad my instincts are so spot on.

[spoilers ahead!]

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