The romance writers’ scene is one of the most vibrant in the Philippine book industry — there’s been quite a number of titles churned out in the last few years and I can’t seem to read them fast enough.
Because this month of love is fast running out of days, here’s a romance roundup, plus a little giveaway at the end of this post!
Here are my recent picks (in no particular order), and some capsule reviews:
1) All’s Fair in Blog and War by Chrissie Peria – Winner of the 2013 Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards (yay!), this novel is about travel blogger Five, who meets the infuriating Jesse on a travel junket to Macau. They start off on the wrong foot, but romance soon becomes part of their travel plans.
I like this book because it’s very realistic — I work as a publicist and organize blogger activities quite regularly, and the characters in this book felt like people I knew, the trip felt like on I’ve been on, and the blog entries felt like ones I’ve read.
I liked the steady buildup of the love story — the chemistry between the two characters was positively buzzing between the pages.
I also enjoyed the Macau travelogue: the sights, the food, the people; and I’ve never thought of Macau to be particularly romantic, but the book made me see the country in a different light.
Rating: 4/5 stars
2) Finding X by Miles Tan – In this novel, the protagonist Carlisle finds herself rediscovering her mother’s hometown and running into a Matteo, a cute guy with a shock of blue hair. Except it wasn’t exactly an accident, and Carlisle is unaware that she is the subject of a scientific experiment in Matteo’s quest to find true love.
I’m a sucker for geeks, so I love the premise of this novel. I like how Matteo’s journal entries alternate with the narrative that shows us Carlisle’s point of view, though I’d have preferred more quantitative data. I mean, for a scientist his methodology is questionable, and I understand that hard science may not contribute much in the way of the story, but for me it would would have been the perfect touch.
In any case, this is still a cute story and a quick, enjoyable read.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
3) Cover (Story) Girl by Chris Mariano – Set in the island paradise of Boracay, the novel is told from the point of view of harried local museum worker Gio. When a Korean photoshoot takes place at the museum, Gio meets the mysterious Min Hee, who turns his life upside down with her crazy stories and wild schemes. Gio is drawn to Min Hee, but must weigh his feelings as her secrets slowly unravel.
Cover (Story) Girl bravely takes on the male narrator, and does it with aplomb. Gio’s voice just shines in this book, giving us a fully-nuanced character that genuinely reads like a guy. The fact that he’s not your typical alpha male makes him all the more endearing (and believable), and I appreciated the thoughtful introspection that reflects his personality.
Min Hee is another interesting character study. I was honestly dreading a manic pixie dream girl based on the synopsis, but the novel deftly avoids that trap by laying down little clues to her character along the way, giving a fresh spin to the secret identity plot device.
The fluidity of the narrative is a showcase of the author’s skill set, and her intimate knowledge of Boracay and its environs provides a very picturesque backdrop against which the story unfolds. This book was quite lovely, and one of the best I have ever read in Philippine romance. I look forward to reading more works by this author.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
4) Fall Like Rain by Ana Tejano – Rain is in love with her best friend Mark, and is resigned to staying in the friend zone, until she finds out he is single again. Renewing her friendship with Mark forces Rain to reexamine her feelings for him, even if it means giving up on the possibility of a relationship, once and for all.
Any girl who’s been in that dreaded grey area between love and friendship will be able to relate to this book (alas, don’t I know all too well?), which perfectly captures that tumultuous yet frustrating hot and cold limbo of a girl in love with her best friend.
I’d have wanted the pace to pick up faster, and the “other” guy to have been a more viable option for Rain to have considered, but this book certainly brought back memories. Plus, all the feels (cue the lines: “the heavens opened and the rains poured, but it had nothing against the storm that ravaged my heart as I cried all the way home.”)!
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
5) Only a Kiss by Ines Bautista-Yao – Katie and Chris have been friends forever, and with a bond that has seen them through major life events: the first kiss, the first heartbreak, high school prom, and so much more. As they grow older, friendship blossoms into love, but will it ever be the right time for Katie and Chris?
A review copy of this book was passed on to me by a friend, and it came at an opportune time, as I had just finished reading a postmodern doorstopper and was in dire need of something feel-good and straightforward.
This was quite a lovely read, sweet but not cloying, and it had me rooting for Katie and Chris the whole time! I think the author successfully framed the story and the characters in a way that left no doubt that they would eventually end up together (Like ‘Love, Rosie’ / ‘Rosie Dunne’ but before they’re decrepit :D), but it was still a pleasure to read about how it actually happens. Best OTP in the bunch! <3
Rating: 4/5 stars
6) Welcome to Envy Park by Mina Esguerra – Moira returns to Manila from a five-year stint (and a bad breakup) in Singapore. She moves into a swanky new condo, and gets to know her neighbors, including the 9th Floor hottie, Ethan, who makes a fab diversion as she starts rethinking her life plan.
I had pre-ordered this on Kobo because I was waiting for the author to return to contemporary romance (the purist in me just can’t mix romance with any other genre and her ‘Interim Goddess’ series just wasn’t for me), and it did not disappoint.
Moira is your quintessential modern heroine, smart and savvy, with an amusing habit of evaluating the pros and cons of the people around her. Moira is smack dab in her quarterlife crisis and most of the book deals with her character getting past these crossroads.
I like that this is more than a love story — Moira deals with real problems and reacts to them in a believable manner (and boy, does she have some bad days!) and I like how she is able to achieve personal growth throughout the space of the novel. Moira’s budding romance with Ethan also mirrors the cycle that she goes through, and makes her journey all the more interesting — definitely recommended for readers looking for a little more sizzle.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Here’s a post-Valentine’s treat: I’m giving a complete set of the first three Spark Books titles: Welcome to Envy Park, Never Just Friends, and The Harder We Fall (in trade paperback, and nice paper, too!), all signed by Mina Esguerra: