30 June 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Eight

This hasn't been the best month for my beloved meme. I usually feel as if I have my pick of settings, even when I'm scrambling about for just the right one--but this June has been characterised by setting scarcity. I started with a "food tour" of Batanes, a place I loved reading about although it wasn't a backdrop to a proper story . . . then showed off the beautiful volcano Mount Mayon, a great pick that unfortunately happened to be in a novel that I had decided not to throw into the giveaway pool . . . and most recently, gave everyone a peek into the bedroom of one of Nick Joaquin's more clever stories, although the setting was probably the weakest element in the whole text. (I should have gone for the story's time setting, "October in Manila!", but as usual, that didn't occur to me until almost a week after publishing the post.)

So no one is more surprised than I am that Foreign Shores: The Revisit is actually going to end on a high. In this post, I feature a setting that I should have written about weeks ago . . . 

29 June 2012


Option 18: "May Day Eve" and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

The old woman dropped the clothes she had gathered and approached and fixed her eyes on the girl. "You must take a candle," she instructed, "and go into a room that is dark and has a mirror in it and you must be alone in the room. Go up to the mirror and close your eyes and say:

Mirror, mirror,
show to me
him whose woman
I shall be.

If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry."

A silence. Then: "And what if all does
not go right?" . . .

Bwahahahahahahahahaha! Can't you hear the ominous music in that scene?

May Day Eve was one of the two Nick Joaquin short stories I recommended to my friends on the Reading for Believers blog. We read it in February 2011, which I kicked off with a Leaping into February! post that turned into a great discussion of the themes and symbols in this story.

It's the main draw and strongest link in this small collection of shorts . . . but the rest aren't bad, either!

This may be the slimmest volume in the giveaway, but it's also one of the best deals. (But of course I'd say so: I love Joaquin and am biased.)

28 June 2012


Theme Thursday 7

We've reached the last week of this special month of blogging--the last chance to look at the books I have up for grabs in my June Giveaway. If you see a book you like, then I invite you to enter and try your luck for it. =) Just enter your details in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. Note that there is also a very easy way to get an extra entry this week, so if you enter, I hope you also vote in the Westlife UK #1 Singles Smackdown, Round 4! =D

This Week's Theme:

27 June 2012


Westlife UK #1s Smackdown, Round 4!!!
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3)

This last post is bittersweet to write, coming mere days after Westlife had their last ever concert at Croke Park.

Last week's mini face-off winner is . . . Lighthouse! Is anyone else surprised? I really thought that the "early" single Bop Bop Baby would win: the title may be embarrassing, but the camp factor is priceless. (Seriously, can't you imagine rocking it out at karaoke?) But you know, Lighthouse isn't bad--and I don't mean that in the damning "faint praise" way. =) It doesn't get to be a wild card pick, though.

As I said during Round 2, I nixed any randomisation in determining the pairs because I wanted to give The 'Life the best possible Final Four from their UK #1 singles. (Not that they will ever know, but hey!) From those, I selected the following two finalists:

Flying without Wings vs. Uptown Girl

Since last week's clips were from the final tour, these week's clips are from the first tour . . . eleven years ago . . . when "the lads" (I always feel a little funny calling them that. LOL!) were younger--and when there were five of them. I wonder if you'll notice much of a difference, though. Production values and stage direction will have changed since then, of course, but Shane, Nicky, Kian and Mark have aged really well and don't look that much older. Even the fifth member (he who shall remain unnamed) isn't so jarring here, because he and Nicky have always looked a lot alike. So it's like having two Nickys on stage. (Ah, bliss!) Still, I can't help feeling nostalgic . . . Never mind that I wasn't really a Westlife fan back in 2001. =P

But now, before you cast your vote for the ultimate Westlife UK #1 Single . . .

24 June 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Seven!

For the past three years, my June Giveaway has climaxed very deliberately with Nick Joaquin, who has been my favourite Filipino author since I was a child. I was startled this month when F. Sionil Jose threatened Joaquin's place in my heart with his epic Ermita (which is Option 14), but I managed to resist that assault, and will cling stubbornly to my first love for at least one more year.

I've spent the past few days with his short stories, rereading old friends and meeting new ones for the first time. It was hard to pick just one setting for this Locus Focus. (But not as hard as it will be to write the review for all five in this particular anthology!)

Remember that you can grab the badge and write your own Locus Focus post for points . . . or for fun!. Leave the link in the combox and I'll add it to the end of this post and the beginning of next week's post. =)

22 June 2012


Option 17: Mama Mary and Her Children by James B. Reuter, SJ
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

I prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This came naturally, because in the novitiate all of us were devoted to her. We said the rosary every day, walking in bands of three around the novitiate grounds. After the rosary, we recited the litany of the Blessed Virgin. We all knew that litany by heart.

The devotion to Mary was strengthened by the novice master, and by our teachers. They pointed out that whenever men live in a barracks, as we did--all men, no women--the barracks life tended to brutalise them. You see this in the army and in prisons. They said that a touch of feminine presence would help to keep us civilised. The Virgin Mary was that feminine presence for us.

So I prayed, with all my heart, to the Virgin Mary--to send me to the Philippines . . .

One of the best loved priests in the Philippines is . . . an American! Father James B. Reuter, SJ has lived here for over seventy years, coming to teach in a Jesuit college, weathering out World War II in a Japanese prison camp, and returning to the US only for his final exams and ordination. He came back to us as soon as he could and has been here ever since. I ran into him once outside my parish church. He had never met me before but was delighted to see me.

And now the delight is mine as I announce that his first book on Mary, Mama Mary and Her Children, is now in the June Giveaway pool. But the delight doesn't end there. If the winner picks it, I will throw in the two sequels, because I'm Marian like that.

20 June 2012


Westlife UK #1 Singles Smackdown, Round 3!
(Revisit Round 1 and Round 2)

Last week's mini face-off was Safe vs. What Makes a Man . . . and it was no surprise to me that What Makes a Man emerged the winner. Here's this week's face-off to get you started . . .

Bop Bop Baby vs. Lighthouse

Let's juxtapose some more early Westlife and late Westlife. Bop Bop Baby was kind of a low for our lads, being an original song co-written by two of the members and the lowest charting single of their early career. Lighthouse is a more interesting case, having been written for them by a Novello-winning songwriter who also happened to be a member of another boyband. That didn't help it on the charts, however, as it is their lowest charting single ever. But which one was a better attempt to send up the boyband conventions?

Now that we've narrowed the field down to the Final Four--better described as the Flying without Wings Four--I think I should show off some really good clips from selected concerts. It'll make me feel a bit more depressed that Westlife won't be here this time next week . . . but I've been wallowing all month, anyway, so why should this post be any different?

You'll notice that the tone of the rest of the post is markedly different from the first part. That's because the text for the mini face-off was drafted a couple of weeks ago with the June Giveaway in mind, while the rest of this was written with nothing but the end of Westlife in mind.

Mourn with me, my friends. I'm the only one in the world who will award giveaway points while I'm at it.

Round 3
The Flying without Wings Four

19 June 2012


Giveaway Update

Of all the things to help me out of this month's blogging funk . . . I got creative, too, and turned it into a open letter. Enjoy!

Dear Entrant-Who-Shall-Remain-Unidentified,

I hope this message finds you well. Thank you for your interest in my June Giveaway. I hope you understand why I had to disqualify you.

Yes, I know how much fun it is to claim entries on a Rafflecopter giveaway. That's why I have so many on mine. There are currently eight ways to earn a total of twenty-six entries (more, if you count the one task that can be done anew daily), but only the first one is a freebie. Tell me which book you want to win. Easy, yes? You can even change your mind later on. Having done that, you can get points for joining the Word & Question game, writing a Locus Focus post, becoming a Top Commenter, voting in the Westlife UK #1 Singles smackdown (We're currently on Round 2), referring someone to the same smackdown, and answering a bonus question I threw in there on the spur of the moment. This is clearly a giveaway meant to favour those who already participate in my blog events, although I'd be just as happy to give a free book to someone lucky enough to win it with only the freebie entry.

At first, I kind of wished you knew that and didn't try to take advantage of the system. But then I realised it was a good thing you did, because it would be really awful if an honest participant lost out to someone like you.

So what did you do???

You claimed all twenty-six possible entries.

Exactly one of them--the freebie--was legitimate.

Not cool, mate.

16 June 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Six!

This month's "Foreign Shores" challenge is a bit of misnomer. June is actually the only time in the year that Locus Focus goes local (Say those last four words really fast, ten times!)--but that's just for me. Most of my readers are "foreigners" for whom Philippine settings are strange, exotic places they may never get to see.

Moreover, I am the only one "going local." I'm still inviting people to grab the badge and write up their own Locus Focus post, but I hope that anyone who does will pick places from countries foreign to him. Join up this week and leave the link in the combox, and I'll edit this post to embed it at the end and link to it again at the beginning of next week's post. =)

Today, I feature a setting from a book that is not in the June Giveaway pool. I started this novel early this month, fully intending to make it one of the prizes, but changed my mind after I was done reading. It's a good novel. I just didn't love it enough to give it one of the six new slots I have each year. Read the post and let me know if you think I made the right decision. Does the following setting sound like a place you'd like to visit in a book?

15 June 2012


Character Connection 36

Have you joined my June Giveaway yet? I think I've got some really great books to choose from! =)

The latest one has inspired this week's Character Connection post. If you'd like a chance to win it, please enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post. (You probably didn't notice, but I just wrote that in my new "English trainer" voice. My boss would be so gratified. LOL!)

14 June 2012


Option 16: Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

"I'm sorry, Mr. Gallo, but I'm afraid our roster is full. We are no longer accepting applicants at this time."

"Not accepting? Well, what about that guy? He just came in and you hired him."

"Well, Mr. Gallo, we do make exceptions from time to time for people with . . . special skills."

"I've got special skills. EXCEPTIONAL skills. I'm a GOOD writer. I can write up a fantastic portfolio for your company. I know computers. I can design a kick-ass web site. I was looking at the one you currently have and PHEW! It could use a MAJOR overh--"

"MR. GALLO! I'm SORRY. But I don't think there's a place in this company for you."

"I see . . . It's because I'm a CHICKEN, isn't it?"

So . . . chickens. =P This is totally up Shredded Cheddar's alley. You have no idea. LOL!

But don't get the wrong idea, either. Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan is a serious novel. You may laugh at someone who asks you what you would do if one day all the chickens in the world became intelligent and self-aware . . . but it's actually a reasonable question.

At least it is in a world like ours. We do have a history in which people have been systematically treated worse than some animals, as well as a current debate on exactly when life begins and personhood can be recognized. Elmer, with its parallel world in which chickens and people live, work and study side by side, is a satire we richly deserve.

It has been a while since I last wrote an Ethical Animals post . . .

13 June 2012


Westlife #1 UK Singles Smackdown, Round 2
(Revisit Round 1 to listen to the music)

How about a mini face-off, just to get the momentum going again?

Safe vs. What Makes a Man

Now that we have less than two weeks before Westlife disband forever, I find myself wondering when the writing on the wall was most obvious. Was it when they couldn't convince the recording company for whom they had been a cash cow for nine years that there should be a follow-up single to Safe . . . or was it nearly a decade earlier, when What Makes a Man became their first ever single not to reach #1 on the UK charts? (Brownie Leprechaun points to anyone who knows why the latter song makes an especially bittersweet set in their final, farewell tour!)

And before you all roll your eyes at me once more,
check out the updated Rafflecopter
on the Giveaways page! ;-)

Thanks again to everyone who voted for the sixteen singles which made Round 1: The Swear It Again Sixteen! Here are the results I owe you . . .

Swear It Again vs. My Love -- Winner: My Love

Seasons in the Sun vs. You Raise Me Up -- Winner: You Raise Me Up

I Have a Dream vs. Uptown Girl -- Winner: Uptown Girl

The Rose vs. Unbreakable -- Winner: Unbreakable

Against All Odds vs. Mandy -- Winner: Against All Odds

I Lay My Love on You vs. World of Our Own -- Winner: World of Our Own

Fool Again vs. If I Let You Go -- Winner: If I Let You Go

Flying without Wings vs. Queen of My Heart -- Winner: Flying without Wings

I happen to know that someone deliberately voted for all the songs on the left. Hardly any of his picks made it. =P I hope he doesn't feel too put out.

And now we move on . . . =)

Round 2
The Unbreakable Eight

12 June 2012


Where in the World Are Your Poems?

That's an ironic question from me, because it is all of you who should be asking where in the world my poem is!

UPDATE: It's finally here!

And I'd be able to tell you if I hadn't started a new job this week and been running around getting all my requirements ready, or sitting down and trying to commit all my new training to memory. But you'd have better luck asking me where my tax forms are than where my June poem is, although last week I didn't even remember what those tax forms looked like! =P

I'm putting up this post anyway so that you can all start linking up in the combox. Why should you be deprived of each other's poetic company just because I, your host, am at my prosaic worst this week?

Remember that if you have entered the June Giveaway, you may claim your extra W&Q entries as long as you link your poem up before the 27 June deadline!

11 June 2012


Option 15: Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and Felice Prudente Sta. Maria
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

My Lola [Grandmother] Encar, God bless her soul, never liked fast food. Its very name, she said, gave her indigestion. She was proudly of the old school. Food, she insisted, must be prepared, cooked and enjoyed with love. Otherwise, we would be no better than pigs at the trough. She firmly believed we are what we eat. So when she died at 100 this year, family members agreed that food served at her wake must not come from any fast food outlet.

There was just a little problem. Her wake was to be held in our ancestral home in Iloilo, where we now rarely visit. Faithful cooks and servants had long passed on, and those of us who survived our long-lived grandmother grew up and lived in the Big City. That meant we had no choice but to look for a local caterer--until we witnessed small miracles unfold up to the day we laid our grandmother to rest . . .

-- C. Horatius Mosquera in From Lola with Love

"Slow food" is a universal concept: no matter where you are in the world, it is what your great-grandparents would have prepared for their table, cooked using methods they would recognize. Some of the Filipino dishes are so "slow" indeed that they involve killing a live chicken (because its blood is a very tasty ingredient) or grating your own coconut to extract the freshest coconut milk (from the first squeezing) and coconut cream (from the second squeezing). Such food is so incompatible with the modern lifestyle that C. Horatius Mosquera's essay on his centenarian grandmother's wake could have easily doubled as an elegy for the food she loved. But he's probably the type who sees the native kaldero as half full.

Every essay in this anthology asks the same questions. How important are these "outdated" culinary traditions? How essential is it to preserve this particular link to our ancestors? How much of our cultural identity depends on them?

Slow Food is one of the books that makes me wish I were doing a local giveaway because it's precisely what Filipinos need to read.

10 June 2012


Twelve Things about Legion

12. Let's be fair. Legion isn't total dreck. If it had been, I would have put it on my personal blacklist and not blogged about it at all. But it does get some things right, and I want to give it a bit of credit. 

11. You won't be surprised to hear I love the setting. =P Isn't Paradise Falls a great name for the place where we make our last stand against avenging angels? (It's too bad they don't have flaming swords.)

10. I also love the sinners. That is, the characters. =P The grumpy, mismatched bunch of deadbeats and losers who were wafted by their individual sins toward the diner at the end of the world. (G.K. Chesterton would have approved, I think.) Of course they would be the logical target of divine justice . . . but also the natural magnet for Divine Mercy.

9. And where there are transgressors, there must be enforcers. One of the earliest scenes of the movie shows two jaded policemen driving through the inner city, one of them remarking that it would be better for everyone if all the criminal riffraff were consumed in fire, ending the problem of crime forever. And this should have been the opening scene inasmuch as the whole premise of this movie is that God is a fed-up Policeman.

09 June 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Five!

This Month's Challenge:
Foreign Shores!

Today's setting is from another book that has made the June Giveaway pool. My family has had a copy of it for years, so I don't know why I didn't feature it earlier. Expect the review early next week, but you can enter now with the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

I'm also pleased to announce that someone else has written a Locus Focus for this week (and claimed the giveaway points for it on the Rafflecopter). Visit Sanctus Christopher and read about The Swan Station from TV's LOST! =D

07 June 2012


Character Connection 35

This Character Connection post is in service of my June Giveaway. If you'd like to read more about the character I've chosen to feature, you can enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

My first choice, after finishing F. Sionil Jose's Ermita (Option 14 in the giveaway), was Ermi Rojo herself. I had this great idea of comparing her to Scarlett O'Hara ("Talking love and thinking money. How feminine.")--and I so would have, had I actually read Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind to give my thesis some credibility. =P What I've ended up doing is writing about one of the many men in Ermi's life--the one I (and I daresay she) like the best.

06 June 2012


Option 14: Ermita: A Filipino Novel by F. Sionil Jose
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information)

"What makes you sad? That you lost your virginity? That you are now in a bog and you cannot free yourself?"

How aptly he had put it! But it was not just the loss that crosssed her mind . . .

"My family resents what I have done," she said sadly, turning away from his gaze . . .

"This always happens. They will get used to it. Give them time, Ermi," Rolando Cruz said . . .

"You mean, people get used to the dirt after some time and they don't mind it anymore?"

"Don't think of yourself too harshly. You may just as well ask me why I come here . . . Everyone who comes here contributes to this illusion--that here is prosperity, the gracious life, good conversation . . ."

The above exchange between Ermita Rojo and Rolando Cruz takes place over dinner at Camarin, one of the city's poshest restaurants, which doubles as a "storehouse" for some the city's most beautiful prostitutes. And "Ermi" is the most beautiful--and most expensive--of them all.

But Ermita by F. Sionil Jose is not the story of a single extraordinary sex worker; it is a novel about the many different kinds of prostitutes, most of them quite prosaic, who make up modern Philippine society. You don't have to be selling sex to be a whore.

05 June 2012


Place & Question: Take Two!
(This post is up early because Westlife own Wednesday now =P)

It's Giveaway Month again, which means two things for our monthly Word & Question poetry game.

For those who have entered the giveaway, the first thing is that participation in the game and the linking up of your poem before the 27 June deadline can get you 10 extra entries.  (See the Rafflecopter at the end of the Giveaways page.)

For everyone, including those who just want to play, the second thing is that the word prompts will be replaced with place prompts. Last year, my prompts were "Paris" and "Can I have the keys?"--and they yielded my W&Q 13 poem.

If you'd like to join us this month, remember to e-mail me your prompts by 9 June. My poem will go up on 12 June, which is when you can all start linking up.

I eagerly await your emails!
Send those places--
and those questions

04 June 2012


Reading Diary: Vibora! by F. Sionil Jose

"Ricarte stayed away too long. Did he ever come back [to the Philippines]?"

"The Japanese brought him back."

"How could he have stayed away so long if he loved this country so much?"

"To be in this country, he first had to sign a pledge of allegiance [to the US government]," I repeated.

"That is only a piece of paper, Papa. Loyalty to one's ideals, to one's country is here." She gestured, her closed fist to her breast. "It is here, Papa, and nowhere else. It is not in speeches, or in documents. They mean nothing. It is in the heart where it will always live."

Something I like to do each June is read something by F. Sionil Jose: preferably a book I've never tried before, although a story I haven't revisited in years is also good. That's why I was at the bookstore late last week looking for either Sin (which would be new to me) or Gagamba (which I last read over a decade ago). Neither was available, so I walked out with Vibora! instead.

Only after I had started reading it did I realise it is the sequel to an earlier novel, Ben Singkol. So although I had bought it with the intention of including it in June Giveaway pool, I had to change my mind: I don't really want to offer the second book in a "series" when I haven't read the first.

Besides, Vibora! isn't a stand-alone story in a second, more significant sense. You'd have to know about Artemio Ricarte--and to have some strong feelings about him--to get anything out of this book.

03 June 2012


Owl Post #2

A few weeks ago (because I never write these things on time), an owl landed on my windowsill with a special delivery from a friend in the UK. This friend, who had visited me recently, had dropped her mobile phone in my car during the drive to the airport and was desperate for her sim card. But knowing what it would cost me to send it safely to her, she offered a trade: if I paid for the shipping, she'd buy me a couple of books from the Book Depository that I couldn't easily get in the Philippines. I accepted.

So I paid extra for a Philippine scops owl to carry her sim card to her and she got an English tawny owl to send the first of two orders to me.

02 June 2012


Faerie Tales for (the Day after) Friday

The day after Friday is Saturday, which is Locus Focus day on Shredded Cheddar--which is why you may be wondering what another meme is doing here. Well, it's very kindly substitute blogging for a feature that will resume next week. The theme will be Foreign Shores and every linked up post will be worth five extra entries in this month's interactive giveaway. (Yes, I wrote "giveaway." Read on . . .)

My original plan was to write more about Severino Reyes's Best of Lola Basyang (Option 13 in the June Giveaway) in a Character Connection post--but then I remembered another meme I used to love that seems better suited to showing off these short, folksy and fantastic bedtime stories for children: Friday Is for Fairy Tales.

Sadly, it looks as if Irena is no longer updating This Miss Loves to Read. But everyone loves faerie tales in the book blogosphere and I quickly found another great weekly blog event called Fairy Tale Friday, hosted jointly by Books 4 Learning and Literary Transgressions. And although they don't list "Faerie Tale Face-offs" in their list of post suggestions, I don't think they'd turn this one away. =)

01 June 2012


Option 13: The Best of Lola Basyang by Severino Reyes
(Scroll down for the Rafflecopter and read the Giveaways page for more information!)

One day, while Maria was washing clothes by the well, she heard someone calling her name. When she looked up she saw an alimango (a large crab). Maria was frightened, but the crab spoke kindly to her.

"I am your mother," said the crab. "I came to comfort you because I know how hard your life is with your stepmother." Maria was amazed. She looked around to see if anyone was watching before talking to the crab.

"My dear mother," she said. "I'm so happy that you've returned! Why did you leave me? You know that no one cared for me but you." And the young girl began to weep . . .

When I saw this illustrated anthology of Lola Basyang stories in the bookstore last month, I knew I would have to read it, to review it, and whether I ended up loving it or not, to offer it as a prize in Shredded Cheddar's annual June Giveaway. And I've just done that. =)

This anthology includes a note about the "modernization" of some of the stories, referring to the removal of lines containing "bias against gender or race." But if you think the collection has been completely bowlderized, then you'll have to think again. The very first story, Maria Alimango, a "Filipinised" retelling of Cinderella, begins when the main character's mother is still alive: she dies only after her husband has an affair with a crafty rival who convinces him to murder her! And we don't just hear about it secondhand: we get to watch the grim scene unfold and get an illustration to go with it!

Still interested?
Great! =D