Review: The Creeps by Fran Krause

Man, I haven’t done this in a long time! And my last one was also a Blogging For Books assignment. XD

I don’t know what took me so long to review this. I received this graciously from Blogging For Books late September; just in time for the Get Graphic readathon. In fact, this was my first read for that weekend. So what took so long? Uhm… I don’t exactly know how to review a picture book. Hah.

But I will try my best. Here goes.

The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection by Fran Krause is a little illustrated book about just that… a book of fears. But don’t be fooled. Some entries are cute, yes, but some made me stop and ponder about my own mortality. Really. All of these are legit fears, no matter how simple they are. Some center around the fear of the paranormal: ghosts, ghouls, monsters. Then some are what scares me more: embarrassing social situations that can (and has) happened in real life.

They are illustrated mostly in 4-panel comic strips. I like the almost childlike art style. It makes the situations seem friendlier… until it actually scares the wits out of you. I did tab a few – a couple – of my favorite situations, especially those that gave me pause. At first, I thought this book wasn’t going to affect me much because it takes a lot to scare me. But I was thinking of horror situations with ghosts and slashers, that kind of stuff. I wasn’t expecting this little book to hit me where it hurts the most. The fear of humiliation, being alone, rejection, failure… all of those are featured in a comic strip or two.

So yeah, I was expecting this to be a quick read, forget about it when I’m done. But no. This little book stuck with me and hey, it’s staying on my bookshelves for good. 🙂

Rating: 4/5 stars. It is a quick but meaningful read.

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Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

I remember starting to read this book around the second half of July. Yeah, it was around EVO 2017 was streaming. I thought that was the best time to do so. You know, I was in the gaming mood so reading this book during that time was a perfect combination! It wasn’t.

I requested this book from Blogging For Books and received it on the first day of Anime Expo, July 1st. I finished it a few days ago, September 21. This is a classic example of myself being a mood reader. I was psyching myself up for an epic eSports gamer girl kind of read but after the stress of EVO 2017, I was burnt the heck out.

But I’m here now. I read it. I finished it. And guess what… I liked it. A lot.

As you know, I love eSports. I’m usually a stream monster than an active player. I follow some Blizzard games and such but my gamer girl heart belongs to the fighting game community. My first foray into gaming (apart from JRPGs and survival horror) was Tekken 3, the national video game of the Philippines, and Marvel vs Capcom. I could play them for hours and this was the time before online gaming. Eventually, I got familiar with Street Fighter and Mortal Combat.

Fast forward to 2016. Specifically EVO 2016, my first and probably only EVO. We might go again but for now, I say “only” because… well, some people watch a stream for 9 hours straight in the comfort of ones room. My brother and I were on the stream for 9 hours. Straight. Like right behind the players’ chairs. It was an insane experience. No food, almost no drink, standing on our feet for about 9 hours. And thanks to Twitch, we have proof. The year before that, we also took a drive up to San Francisco for the Capcom Cup Finals where we bought our first fight stick. Up to that point, we were pad players. We’ve met most of our favorite players (I pretty much died when I met Nemo and Tokido so… I’m all good). I mean, these players are almost legendary. I was in awe. And I guess I always will be.

But I digress. That’s my background in eSports. This book, while it does mention Street Fighter, is about another kind of eGaming. It’s more of a virtual world. Think MMORPG. Our protagonist, Kali Ling is the first female captain of a team competing in the RAGE Tournament. It is an elite competition where virtual warriors fight to the death. Virtually, that is. But higher levels of the game become so intense that even real life players feel pain.

Kali, being the captain, has to deal with a last minute lineup change. Rooke replaces one of their longtime teammates and at first, he was hard to deal with. Apart from that Kali has to juggle being in the spotlight, her own personal problems, dealing with her inexperience with leading a team, and of course, the business aspect of a professional gamer. I enjoyed all the points mentioned in the book in explanation as to why professional gamers became athletes in their own right. For a geek/gamer girl, it was pretty awesome and so empowering.

I have to say that I half-read and half-listened to this on audio book. And I enjoyed both. It was a fast read. Sure, it wasn’t the best writing but it was fun and engaging. Although there were times when I felt the events in the book was all over the place. Some characters weren’t very developed but at the end of it all, they weren’t that needed to further the story. I loved Kali’s and Rooke’s back stories. Erin Spencer was a good narrator. She gave life to Kali and made it sound real. She was both strong and whiny at the same time. It actually reminded me of NA audio books for some reason. But then again, I wouldn’t 100% consider this YA either. Maybe an older YA? This does not shy away or sugarcoat sex and sexuality. Also, I love how easy and natural the addition of diverse characters felt. It was organic and not at all forced. There were characters of color and a lesbian relationship.

Another thing that I got an absolute trip from is that this book is set in LA! The final tournament was set “across the street from the newly renovated LA Convention Center”. Coincidentally, there’s construction going on right now at that general area. Hint, hint.

Overall, it was such an adventure. If you’re not much of a gamer, don’t shy away from this. There’s not much jargon and the few “classic” games mentioned are pretty familiar to many. And besides, the action was easy to follow and understand. It was pretty badass, if you ask me. I can totally see this played out in an RPG or an actual team tournament. I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book, Gauntlet. If that’s anything like this one, then I’m going to for sure enjoy it too.

Rating: 4/5 stars. I’m reading Warcross next so I’m definitely in a gaming mood!

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

After my last review book from Blogging For Books, I told myself that I was going to take a break and not request another one. I have so many other books left unread and those don’t have the “pressure” of reading and reviewing it within a certain amount of time. I was starting to feel boxed in and frankly, some of the titles available just wasn’t interesting me.

Until I saw Dark Matter by Blake Crouch in paperback on the list. I got this baby in the mail a couple of days before its release and I couldn’t be more thankful. I finished what I was reading as fast as I could. I knew that I was going to like this.

And I did. Oh boy, this was great. But not without flaws.

That book was intense. For a while. A total mindfck. At the beginning. Then it became something that I’m sure I’ve encountered before. Parts of this seemed so familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not that it’s a bad thing. It did not take away from my overall enjoyment of this book. In fact, it made it easier to follow. It’s best to go into this book knowing very little or nothing at all. Just be ready for anything. A quote in the book says is the best, “The most beautiful think we can experience is the mysterious.” Blake Crouch, sir. Thank you for taking us to this journey, pushing the limits of my own mind, and opening up so many possibilities.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We begin with Jason Dessen, a scientist in his late 30s living in Chicago with his wife and son. He’s a physics professor at a local college. The Dessens live a normal life, nothing special at all. But there was a time when it could have been special. Jason was well on his way to becoming a famous scientist. Daniela, his wife, was going to take the art world by storm. However, they instead started a family. They were content. Life was good.

Until Jason was abducted. “Are you happy with your life?” Those were the last words he hears before everything goes black. He then wakes up in a world that looks similar to his but is totally different. It had the same people but it’s a different life. He wasn’t the run of the mill physics professor anymore; he had awards in the field of science. Dani was there but their son was not. He had achieved all that he wanted. But did he really want this life over the one he had before he was kidnapped?

I’m struggling to describe the events of this book without giving out spoilers. You just have to go in blind. The premise alone is intriguing enough to have you picking up this book. But even with the obvious sci-fi thriller feel of this book, it was easy to follow. We follow in Jason’s POV and it’s an adventure from the first page to the last. I was rooting for Jason all the way and man, what a ride. Like I said above, the first half will mess with your brain. A certain suspension of disbelief is required of the reader but it’s not that hard to consider its possibility in reality. Everything was so intense. And then it kind of slows down in the second half once you get used to the circumstances. But it’s not any less powerful. The ending gives way to an unknown and to me, that is a scariest part of all.

This book explores the “what could have been” and “what else is out there”. I love this quote from the book:

We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality than we can possibly imagine.

It is so scary yet so human at the same time. We go by with our lives day to day, just minding our own business. But do you ever stop and think… what if I took the right turn instead of straight ahead? How would my life be right now if I did?

Rating: 4/5 stars. This can possibly be a great TV mini-series. Maybe by SyFy or FX.

Review: As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka

I think the sure fire way of making me post a book review is if I got the book from Blogging For Books. I’ve been lucky that I like majority of my choices. Thank you for sending this my way and I hope to find more new-to-me reads through this platform.

There is something about thriller novels from Sweden, Finland, Norway, thereabouts that I absolutely love. They translate well into English. They keep the fear, tension, and suspense. Not that I can read Swedish or whatnot. It’s the setting that helps keep the integrity; it’s always cold, rough, snowy, almost desolate at times. I definitely felt that in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, which I devoured back-to-back. Sure the names and places were confusing but I just remembered how they were spelled and I was good to go. They do thrillers so well that I am looking forward to reading more of them in the future.

Speaking of Lisbeth and her cast of characters, this book is marketed as The Girl… for YA. Here, we have Lumikki Andersson, an independent high school girl who tries to keep her nose out of trouble but her curiosity gets the better of her. As she tries to get away from dramas of high school, she stumbles upon a pile of bloody cash hidden in her school’s darkroom. From there, she traces the source of the money and the forces working behind it.

It is very reminiscent of the Millennium trilogy in that it deals with gangs, corrupt government officials, sneaking into places in disguise, kidnapping, mistaken identities, and of course, killing. Yes, this is YA but it doesn’t shy away from the idea of killing innocents and graphically describing how it was done.

I loved Lumikki. She’s a bit one-dimensional and flat. Think Daria. (I can name more anime characters that better describe her but let’s stick with Daria.) But she’s bad ass. And she is a good person. Yes, her curious nature propels her to find answers but she agrees to help an acquaintance that she doesn’t really know and frankly, thinks low of. But she was game to dress up, sneak into a private mafia party, get chased in the snow and shot at… all in the name of solving the mystery and saving this female acquaintance. And don’t confuse this to be a fairy tale retelling. “Lumikki” is Snow White. The trilogy is unofficially called the Snow White trilogy. References of blood on snow are repeatedly mentioned throughout the book. But there are no fairy godmothers or dwarves in this book. But those references provided a perfect set-up for tension.

However, there’s this one point in the book where I’m not sure if they were queer-baiting or I just missed something. There is technically no romance in this book but there were mentions of a love interest for Lumikki. For almost a whole chapter, there were no pronouns used to describe this love interest and the descriptions of Lumikki at the beginning of the book make her seem rather androgynous. But then she begins to pine for this person who ends up being a guy after all. And yet until they mention his name, I was convinced that it was a girl. Eh.

Overall, it was a quick read. Less than 300 pages of all action. Lumikki is a great character and you just can’t help to root for her.

Rating: 3.5 stars. I am interested to acquire the rest of the trilogy.

Review: A Study on Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

I enjoyed it. At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to know.

This book, at its core, is just like every modernized Sherlock Holmes story. Every situation fits conveniently perfectly to a story in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection. Too conveniently. I’ve watched my share of those to recognize that trope. You don’t have to have read the original story to figure out which story the case was based on but I could imagine it would’ve been a better reading experience. I’ve only read A Study in Scarlet, ironically, and The Hound of the Baskervilles – and of course, watched the BBC adaptation. It would’ve been awesome to have those lightbulb moments as more and more clues come to light. Like, “Aha! They’re talking about so-and-so story!” I certainly had that while watching Sherlock. I love how this follows family relations of the three main characters – Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty. It’s a bit cheap to have their names sound like their ancestors but hey, you got me. (“James” Watson though. Hm.)

Trust me. I enjoyed this book. And I would gladly read the next one as soon as it comes out on paperback (so it’ll match my signed copy). However.

I was ready to rate this more than I did but while this is a rather fast read, some parts left me confused. It IS extremely readable though. However, there were parts that didn’t flow very well, as if the previous paragraph didn’t connect well with the next. There were times when I thought I actually skipped a page. It was THAT disjointed. And the characters were rather one dimensional. While there were character description and some backstory, I didn’t really know these characters. Jamie Watson, the narrator, was aloof and it was as if he was just… there. Charlotte Holmes tried to be as cold and unattached as Sherlock.

Also, I had to constantly remind myself that this is categorized under Young Adult. As you know, as long as the protagonist is 16-19, the book is considered YA. But I honestly think that this book would’ve benefited more from an older setting. College-age, maybe. This boarding school thing got so confusing. Everybody seemed so much older than high school age. I don’t think the story would be any different if it were set in an Ivy League. In fact, I would’ve been more convinced if it were. That would take care of so many things. And so many triggers, be warned.

(I also have to throw this out there: is it just me or was there insta-love? I mean, it could be just that the writing was so unconnected that I missed the part where Charlotte became Jamie’s “best friend”. I mean, I got zero from Charlotte so it could all be in Jamie’s head. But then right before the ending… ah, whatever.)

I admit that this is the first “descendants of Sherlock Holmes” novel that I’ve read and it follows that sort of formula. If your parents are doctors, people will assume you’ll take the same route. I get that. But it was like Charlotte was a reincarnation of Sherlock – from the violin to the drug use to the way she would unknowingly push people away. Jamie said it somewhere in the book, “I’m not John Watson,” or something to that effect. You don’t have to be. I just hate the idea of being defined by a famous relative. (This paragraph didn’t make much sense. Sorry, it’s 11PM.)

Overall, it was a quick and easy read. I definitely needed that after Battle Royale. While I did have a lot of not so good things to say, I liked this book. Confusing but enjoyable.

 Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Review: Rad Women Worldwide, Written by Kate Schatz, Illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

Beyonce has said that “girls run the world”. And I believe we do. We can be anything we want to be. If this list of women doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.

I mentioned the great Beyonce. She is not in this book. But the great women who inspired her are featured here. I imagine future volumes would eventually include her and the rest of Destiny’s Child, maybe Hillary Clinton (regardless of what you think of her politically), Oprah, and Emma Watson too. Hey, maybe we can see 2ne1 too. A fangirl could dream.

This list has 40 great women from 30 different countries. Some of them are household names, some not really. But all of them impacted the world, empowered men and women, raised their voices and took action. They used their knowledge and talents to fight for change not just for women. We all know Malala Yousafzai who fought for education. A bullet to the head didn’t stop her from speaking out. Fe del Mundo, the first female who was accepted to the Harvard Medical School. A Filipina. She then devoted her entire life to children healthcare. Marta, a Brazilian futebol player who didn’t let poverty and her short stature from achieving greatness in the sport. And of course, my favorites Venus & Serena Williams who at 35 and 36, dominated this year’s Australian Open as runner-up and winner respectively. It boggles my mind why up to this day, they still have to fight to get the recognition they so truly deserve. There is absolutely no question that these sisters are already two of the best in history of sport.

The artwork in this book is intense. There ink drawings, black and white; some of them are just silhouettes. Their simplicity reflects somewhat of a subdued power, sort of a tribute to this amazing women and letting their actions speak for them. The descriptions in a form of essays are short but very well researched. They’re capsules of information but they are enough for the reader to realize how extremely amazing these women are.

I recommend this book to everyone, male or female, young or old. Maybe you’ll see yourself in these women and it’ll inspire you to do more. Who knows, maybe it’ll be you up there someday.

Rating: 5/5. I’ve never read something so empowering. Thank you, Blogging for Books, for the opportunity to read this and share it with others.

REVIEW: Ring by Koji Suzuki

Ring / Koji Suzuki

Ring / Koji Suzuki

Okay, we all know the drill. You watch a creepy video tape of a woman with long hair coming out of a well, walking closer and closer until she comes out of the TV itself. Throw in some static for effect, blinking lights if you must. And then you have seven days to live before you suffer a seemingly horrific death. Whether you watched the original Japanese or the Hollywood adaptation, you know how it goes, right?

Or do you.

This is one of the cases where I watched the movie (multiple times in two languages) before reading the book. Heck, I didn’t even know it was a book back when I first watched it. We all know Sadako, or Samara for you Hollywood types. The image of a long-haired girl dressed in white haunted our nightmares since this movie blew up. The static broadcast on the TV became a joke of sorts, “Oh, be careful. Sadako might come out of the TV.” But you can’t deny that it has scared you once or twice.

Going into this book, I thought I knew what was going to happen. After all, I watched the movie – the whole series – many times. But nope, this book still managed to surprise me. There are quite a few differences between book and film and I actually find the book more terrifying than the movie. With the movie, you have visuals to help you out, mood music (or lack thereof) to set the tone. In reading this book, you only had your imagination working for you. Even the almost deadpan delivery I’ve come to love from Japanese fiction helped with the overall horror of the book. A sense of gloom can be (almost) physically felt throughout this reading experience and if anything, that feeling gets worse and worse up to the end.

The book opens up with the mysterious death of a motorcycist on a random curb. With similar deaths across the city, authorities have chalked it up to heart failure. These people die with no apparent injury but with a terrorized facial expression. We follow a male protagonist in the book, Asakawa, Kazuyuki. He finds himself connected to these strange deaths because his niece is one of the victims. His investigation leads him to this seemingly innocent tape. After watching it, he is told he has seven days to save himself. But how?

Needless to say, it was a race against time. The author and translator did a great job conveying that sense of urgency Asakawa was feeling. I mean, the idea of knowing exactly when you’re going to die is terrifying. Knowing that there exists a way to prevent that adds on to the pressure. From the very beginning, you get this dark, unsettling, almost evil mood that doesn’t get any better. Truly, there was no way this book would lead to a happy ending. Asakawa shows the tape to his friend Ryuji so now, on top of everything he was going through, Asakawa had the burden of being responsible for his friend, if he were to die also.

The backstory of Sadako is still one of the best ones I’ve ever encountered. This is the reason why the origin story’s movie, Ring-0: Birthday, is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Sadako is such a wounded soul. She experienced no happiness in her life when all she wanted was a mother’s love. If she can’t be happy, then no one will. There was more explanation about Sadako’s powers and it was delivered in a patient and precise way. Pair that with the trauma she experienced in life, it made for such a bone-chilling scare.

If you’re a fan of the movies and you’re waiting for Sadako to come out of the TV set, well… the book was pretty vague about that. Like I said, you can see what’s going on if you’re watching a movie but you read this only from one POV. Again, awesome writing from the author and translators, setting up that feeling that someone might be watching you. I legit got creeped out. It’s a shocker at every turn so even if you think you know the movie, the book is yet another beast.

I do have the rest of the series and I am looking forward to read all of them this year.

Rating: 5/5. I ended up enjoying both book and movie.