I haven’t read any local chick lit in years now, so when Summit Books offered some review copies of their latest releases, I quickly jumped on the chance.

I’m no stranger to Summit Books; I’ve read them since they first came out when I was back in college, although I haven’t been able to keep track of the later releases. They’re quick, well-written reads, with contemporary characters in realistic situations. My favorites include Drama Queen by Abi Aquino (the first one I ever read!) and Have Baby, Will Date by Andrea Pasion.

I got a whole new bunch sent to me by Ro Manalo of Summit Books (thanks!), and they provided much relief in this stressful summer filled with work-related travel:  My Imaginary Ex by Mina V. Esguerra; 12 Steps to Quitting AJ by Faye Ilogon; and the two later installments of Vince’s Life by Vince O. Teves: Getting Over Andrea and The Wedding.

In My Imaginary Ex, Jasmine and Zack have been pretending to be exes since college, and have been doing it so well they have trouble convincing people that they were never together. Heck, even Jasmine and Zack themselves get a little confused sorting out  their made-up “canon” from reality!

Nearly ten years later, when Zack announces he’s getting married to the abominable Kimmy, his [real] ex-girlfriends Lena and Marjorie corner Jasmine to stage an intervention that will stop Zack from making the biggest mistake of his life. Jasmine must evaluate her feelings for Zack, sort out the real from the pretend, and make up her mind before it’s too late.

I generally enjoy the best buds theme in romances (guilty blush — I’ve had more than my fair share of them myself), and I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the dynamics between the characters, not only the chemistry between Jasmine and Zack, but also the lively banter among the girlfriends. The story builds up at a good pace, even with the multiple flashbacks spanning nearly ten years, and brings the reader to a toe-curling, romantic finish (involving some guerilla techniques, hahaha!). The humor was well-balanced, too, subtle but intelligent, and I found myself chuckling throughout the novel.

Rating: 4/5 stars

12 Steps to Quitting AJ involves on-again-off-again sweethearts Grace and AJ, who break up and make up whenever they feel like it. But after a particularly bad car fight out of town along the highway, Grace begins to think she’s had enough of the vicious cycle. It doesn’t come easy for Grace, who’s loved AJ practically since she was ten and collecting Hello Kitty stationery. A life-changing event forces Grace to make a decision, to end their relationship once and for all, or to finally pursue the happily ever after she dreams of.

This book just wasn’t as stellar for me. I wanted to like it because the premise looked promising, but I just couldn’t get into the story. The narration was rambly, the humor forced, and the protagonist difficult to like. I felt it was too contrived — the wisecracking (which rubbed me the wrong way), the cheesy lists (top breakup songs, etc.), 90s episodes that don’t quite tie into the story — to cover up the petty conflict and the weak resolution. I mean, a longtime couple would have more complex issues than an argument about Jack and Jill going down the hill (really!), and the story doesn’t really delve much deeper than that. I just feel that there should be more to it than learning to say “sorry.” Stylewise, it isn’t badly written, but I do wish it had more substance.

Rating: 2/5 stars

I read the two later installments of Vince’s Life without having read the first, which worried me a bit because I like reading series books in order. I couldn’t find the first volume at the book stores, though, so I decided to read on anyway.

The Next Chapter: Getting over Andrea shows a post-breakup Vince trying to get on with his life after Andrea migrates to the US. He lands a job at a prestigious ad agency, where he meets Cat, a girl who manages to get him out of his funk, and Vince begins to see that he can be happy again. It’s hearts and roses for Vince and Cat, until Andrea comes home and throws Vince into confusion once more.

The Wedding shows us Vince plummeting to a new low, he’s quit his glamorous ad agency job to pursue his filmmaking dreams (and he’s not quite there yet); he’s broken up with Cat; and he’s blown all his savings on an unexpected trip to the US for his friend Connie’s wedding. His first love, Andrea, is there as well. Will this reunion spell out a happy ending for Vince and Andrea, or does fate have something else in the cards for Vince?

I actually had high expectations for the series because I’ve heard people raving about Vince’s Life, and I wasn’t disappointed. The guy’s point of view is a novel approach in the local chick lit genre — a male perspective that manages to engage the female reader as well. A bit like Nick Hornby, but not as neurotic, not as whiny. I enjoyed the camaraderie between the characters, both in the ad agency and in Vince’s circle of friends, and there’s really something about Vince that has you rooting for him til the end. I enjoyed both books, especially The Wedding, and I do hope there are more installments underway.

Rating: The Next Chapter: Getting Over Andrea 3.5/5 stars; The Wedding 4/5 stars

Props to Studio Dialogo (yay Liza and Abi and their team!) for awesome design and illustrations!

Learn more about Summit Books at www.femalenetwork.com/summit-books.

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Books 66-69 of 2010

[amazonify]::omakase::300:250[/amazonify]