Sunday, April 29, 2018

Books I read: April 2018

Next month, I will be off on another journey! My free time will be limited so I might not be able to update this blog as often or even have time to read many books. I will write about that experience here, as well. I read seven books this month. I wrote two book reviews on this blog:
Here are my other book reactions, we'll start off with the fiction first:

Bloodline: a Star Wars novel by Claudia Grey
I’m a new fan of Star Wars since The Force Awakens, and I’ve also been reading novels set in the Star Wars Universe. So far, I have read the Rogue One novelization, Guardians of the Whills (links to my reviews), and Knights of the Old Republic: Revan.

This book centers on Princess Leia Organa and her political career in an unstable Senate. The Senators are divided into two popular parties, the Populists, and the Centrists. Leia is with the Populists, who have a more democratic approach to politics, while the Centrists prefer authoritarian methods. The Centrists have many Empire sympathizers, and there are some who want the Empire back. I thought it would be a boring political thriller, unlike Luke Skywalker's adventures, but the book is quite enjoyable. Even if it's set in a fictional universe, the politics and conflicts were well-written and the characters were fleshed out.

One character I like is Ransolm Casterfo, a young Centrist Senator. He's quite vain and cares a bit too much about his clothes (the author pictured him played by Tom Hiddleston). They both work together to investigate a gang leader who may be funded by an anonymous organization. Their relationship doesn't start out well, and it gets worse when Leia finds out that Ransolm collects historical artifacts from the Empire. I thought that he would be a villain at first, but I love how his character and their friendship developed.

Leia has kept the secret that she is Darth Vader's daughter, but this fact was found out by an enemy and was used against her. The 'reveal' is one of the most dramatic scenes in the book. The book's timeline is before the movie The Force Awakens, and if you like the sequel trilogy this story will give you more understanding of the shaky galactic politics that led the First Order to rise. This made me want to check out more of Claudia Grey's books.

Labyrinth: a novel based on the Jim Henson Film by A.C.H. Smith
For those who are not aware of it, The Labyrinth was a 1986 movie starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. It was not a box-office hit but it became a cult classic. The story is about Sarah, a young girl who hates babysitting her half-brother, Toby. She wishes that he will be taken away by the Goblin King. Be careful what you wish for because Jareth the Goblin King grants her wish. Her brother gets taken away, but she wants him back. But for her to get him back, she must solve the Goblin King's Labyrinth and take Toby from his castle in thirteen hours.

She is 'spirited away' to the goblin world and she meets various friends along the way. I just watched the film recently and its one of my current favorites. It reminds me of fairy tales and stories I enjoyed as a child, like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The movie is fun itself, and a masterpiece of puppetry (the goblins were mostly puppets). Beneath the adventure story, I think it is a coming-of-age story dressed in fairy tale imagery. Most would agree that the best part of the movie is David Bowie who was just perfect for the Goblin King role.

I watched the film three times and I still couldn't get enough of it, so I read the novelization.  If you really loved a movie and can’t get enough of it, a good novelization often immerses us into that world once again, with more additional content. What surprised me about this book is there is a more sexual something between Sarah and Jareth, things that are really shouldn’t be included in the kids’ movie. And in her dance with Jareth in the illusion, he almost kissed her but she ran from him and broke the spell.

I also like Jareth in the book, and it showed different sides of him that were not in the movie. Jareth is quite vain, obsessed with youthful looks, and is concerned with his aging. There’s a sentence on how ‘people used to sacrifice children to him’, which makes him some sort of ancient being/god.

This is My Letter to the World: the Omikuji Project cycle one by Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne Valente was a huge inspiration to me when I first started writing. Her novel Deathless is still one of my favorites, and I love her striking language and beautiful imagery. She writes in a poetic language that just took my breath away. I even tried imitating her language and writing, and that is a natural part of a writer's life. We first try to be like the writers we love before evolving into our own style.

This book is composed of short stories that were originally monthly letters to her readers. Each piece is short, but not all got to me. The stories I liked best were: "Blue with Those Tears," about the people of Atlantis; "The Consultant," is about a 'fairy-tale consultant' who acts like a therapist for your fairy tale problems and needs; and "Reading Borges in Buenos Aires," which I liked because Jorge Luis Borges in one of my favorite writers.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
This book has influenced me when I was just a new Christian. This is a collection of essays that were originally Lewis's words on radio in World War 2. The book is divided into four parts: Ethics, Christian belief, Christian behavior, and Christian theology. I read this first in college and I'm reading this again many years later. I find that Lewis here had quite an outdated view of women (it's just in his turns of phrase and examples) that I think most Christians would say "what." Though, the best thing about this book is the way it argues for Christianity. His argument starts slowly, in the most basic things about right and wrong, he doesn't even start with the concept of God and religion. An essay on the sin of pride, "The Great Sin" is the one that really made an impression on me when I first read it, and it still speaks to me now even years later.

"Each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Pride is essentially competitive – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War [movie reaction]

Avengers: Infinity War, directed by the Russo Brothers, started showing here last Wednesday. My sister and I have been semi-regularly following the MCU movies since Avengers in 2012. I have written my movie reactions to previous MCU movies in this blog: Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther (which I still think is the best). The Russo Brothers also directed two Captain America movies, The Winter Soldier and Civil War. I loved both, so I also had high expectations for this one. I'm just your casual fan, I don't have any more detailed knowledge of MCU lore than the average fan of the movies.

Infinity War is the third Avengers movie, and they try to once again save the universe from a new enemy, Thanos. This movie also features characters from Guardians of the Galaxy, where Thanos was the main antagonist of the two films.

As I'm writing this, it's pretty difficult to explain it to non-fans of this franchise. If you just watch Infinity War without previous knowledge of the characters and their stories, you can get confused. Screen Junkies on Youtube posted a helpful video summarizing all the previous movies, "Every Marvel Movie Up To Infinity War - CRAM IT! (Avengers edition)." Even if I was familiar with the movies, I also had to watch that prior to this movie. The movie jumps right into the action and assumes that the viewer already knows what happened to them before.
The six Infinity Stones
The movie starts right after the end-credits scene of Thor: Ragnarok. Thanos is searching for the six Infinity Stones that have power over the universe: Power, Soul, Mind, Reality, Time, and Space. The spaceship of Asgardians led by Thor and company was attacked by Thanos who wants to get the Tesseract (Space stone). Once he completes all stones, Thanos will obtain absolute power and can destroy worlds and annihilate millions of beings with a snap of his fingers. He already has the Reality and Power stones, so he tries to find the remaining ones, some of which are in the possession of the Avengers. Loki has the Tesseract or the Space stone, Dr. Strange has the Time stone, Vision has the Mind stone, and the whereabouts of the Soul Stone is still unknown but will be shown in the movie.

Thanos sends his Black Order to obtain the stones. They are formidable and powerful, and our heroes battle them first before Thanos finally comes into the picture.

I like Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw (those flanking Loki)
This is a huge crossover film with a big ensemble cast. I watched the film curious about how they will pull that one off. We find Thor with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Ironman, Spiderman, and Dr. Strange follow the ship of Thanos's Black Order to Titan, and they also meet the Guardians there. Captain America is with his buddies from Civil War. The best thing about this movie is the interactions between the cast. The backdrop is grim yet there are lines that will still make the audience laugh. There was the banter between Dr. Strange and Iron Man, Spiderman's dorkiness, and the expected personality clash between Peter Quill and Tony Stark.

Thor, Rocket, and Groot are on another quest to try to obtain a weapon strong enough to defeat Thanos. With the Mjolnir gone in Thor's previous movie, he travels to the place where it was forged.

I think Thanos is a very different villain from the previous films. The Russo Brothers had mentioned that this movie has a focus on Thanos. Thanos really does believe that it's his way that will right the universe. He is the villain, but he also has a compassionate side (even if how twisted that side is). He has a complicated relationship with his adopted daughter Gamora, which is interesting. Gamora resents him but loves him at the same time, but she also knows that he must be stopped. While the Guardians movies were fun, they weren't my favorites. I actually like the Guardians more in Infinity War. Thanos is the first villain that I felt they had totally no chance to win.

What I love most about this movie are the stunning visuals. Most scenes are set in outer space and the fictional planets were stunning, especially the planet Volmir.

Here are some of my favorite scenes without spoiling anything:
  • I was not a fan of the romance between Peter Quill and Gamora in the Guardians movies, but I liked it here. 
  • Gamora herself. The story shows her as a child and it makes me want to cry.
  • Peter Parker saving the day with his movie-nerd knowledge. I just watched the Alien films recently and Spiderman references that many times. Peter used it (effectively) to fight one of Thanos' henchmen.
  • I won't spoil it anymore, but prepare your tissues and wipes because this movie will make you cry. People in the theater around me cried. 
  • The last act of the battle occurs in Wakanda. Natasha, Okoye, and Wanda against Proxima Midnight was everything.
The movie ends with a cliffhanger and the story will continue in the yet untitled Avengers 4 movie. We still have a year left to wait for it, meanwhile, the next Marvel films will be Ant-Man and the Wasp this August and Captain Marvel next year. 

Anyway, overall it was an enjoyable movie. So many things are going on at once, but it didn't feel like the characters were all fighting for limited screen time. It's funny, but grim and somewhat depressing at the same time. I'm still hoping that the next movie will deliver a satisfying conclusion. The only thing I can predict is that I'm still throwing my money in Marvel's direction in the years to come.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Island Dreams [movie reaction]


Last Saturday, I decided to watch the 2013 film Island Dreams in Cinematheque Iloilo. There were only four people in the audience including me. I was attracted to the film's trailer, and I did like this movie. I'm not a big fan of the romance genre, but I'll read or watch a story if it's good. It has also won a few awards: it was included in the official selection in the 39th Metro Manila Film Festival under the New Wave Category and won the Most Gender-Sensitive Film Award.

Island Dreams tells the story of Zach (Alexis Petitprez), a foreign tourist in a vacation, and Julie (Louise Delos Reyes), a girl who tries to work as a tourist guide so she can earn some money to go to the city to audition for a reality show, so she can have a chance to chase her dreams to be a singer.

Julie lives with her blind mother, who always teases her about her love life. Julie cringes at the concept of love and is very cynical about it. The story starts when Julie tries to be a tourist guide, except that she's doing it illegally because you have to be accredited by the Department of Tourism to be a guide. Her first 'client' is the aloof foreigner Zach, who at first assumes that the 'services' she offers are different.

Things get to a rocky start when an inebriated Zach tries to make advances to the naive Julie. Nothing happens, but Zach tries to make it up to Julie by hiring her again (as a tourist guide, not anything else). But things are not actually what they seem. We first see Zach as a tourist just looking for a good time, while Julie is just another girl trying to chase her dreams. The story gradually unveils their real motivations and secrets.

Zach is trying to go to a place called "True Love's Peak", but this place reminds Julie of something painful from her past. Just as soon as they start a friendship, Julie and Zach have a huge disagreement again when Julie leads him to a different place entirely! In this, we are shown the real reasons behind Julie and Zach's actions. However, I felt that the way they showed Zach's past was more convincing than the way they showed Julie's past. Zach's past was shown with flashback scenes, while Julie just had a confrontation with her mother who revealed it. It felt like 'telling' rather than 'showing' what happened. I just wished it was shown more and not just revealed in a few sentences.

However, this movie also has its share of cliches. 'The couple tries to fight but ends up with their bodies falling on each other' cliche was here. The actor playing Zach was more convincing in his dramatic scenes than the scenes that are supposed to be comedic. It's Louise who really shines here. I love how her character just carries around a pair of arnis sticks for self-defense and she did use her fighting skills to fend off some NPA guards on a remote place. I didn't really feel the 'spark' or 'chemistry' between the two actors.

This movie is okay if you love the 'beach vacation romance' genre. The last time I watched something like this was the movie Siargao (link to my review), but I liked this movie more than Siargao. That movie feels like a long love letter to Siargao, while in Island Dreams the place was not the focus. It feels like any beach town in the Philippines, it could be anywhere. I think the focus was the characters, not the setting itself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O'Layra: Princesa cang Dagat dance drama [reaction]

Last April 13, 2018, I watched the dance drama O'Layra: Princesa cang Dagat (in English, O'Layra: Princess of the Sea) live in UPV Auditorium. I saw the event advertised on Facebook and I was already interested in the poster and concept. At 150 pesos, I thought it would be a priceless experience. Their official Facebook page has more information and interviews with the key people of this production. A writer from Antique, Alex Delos Santos, posted a great review of this play. I'm writing my reaction as an ordinary viewer who just heard of the O'Layra legend.

I'm not really a theater enthusiast, but you know I love stories and mythology. That's why I keep writing about books and movies in this blog. What I like about theater plays and movies is the audience response - when you are part of the crowd, you can feel their energy and feelings about the story. In this play, the audience laughed, cheered, and expressed dismay at the sad parts of the story.

O'Layra was a famous radio show during the 1970's in the province of Antique, Panay Island, in Western Visayas. It was written and narrated by Russell Tordesillas. The story was about a tamawo (fairy/supernatural being) princess named O'Layra. Since her parents, the Emperor and Emperatris, wants descendants with souls, they send O'Layra to the world of the mortals where she can marry a human being. Since tamawo have no souls, the king and queen hopes that through O'Layra, the future generations of tamawo may have souls.

This is the stage adaptation of that popular radio show, but it's an entirely different approach. It doesn't only tell the story of O'Layra but also a creative/fictional narrative of Russell Tordesillas, the original writer and radio narrator of this story. O'Layra is not just a simple story. The radio play was inspired by these real stories and rumors were the writer himself had real encounters with the tamawo! People can still point to the exact tree where the infant O'Layra was found and she is also a part of myth and folklore in the province.

What's interesting about the play is that the writer himself is a character in the play. The real Russell Tordesillas has passed away, but Kevin Piamonte had the great idea to include him in the story. I love how the play portrayed the art of writing and creation. It had that postmodern element of blending fantasy and reality. In this play, Russell (the character) is portrayed as in love with O'Layra, but he's just a friend to her. In short, he's stuck in the friendzone with her. It seems that it is Russel who is the bida of this show.

The prominent feature of the stage design is the writer's table and radio booth where he narrates the story. The original music and songs were superb, as well as the dance choreography. The character of Russell has the most 'screen time' here and the actor was pretty good at it. He can sing, dance (quite), and his acting was also great judging by the enthusiastic audience response. The actress playing O'Layra was good as well. The characters of Prince Fitzgerald (O'Layra's love interest), Natalia (O'Layra's rival), and her human foster parents added a refreshing humor to the story. Even the nameless dancers could convey character and story through dance.

What I love best is that the play was in the Kinaray-a language of Antique. It's my first time to hear it on a stage play (out of the very few I go to) and it's just awesome to hear it. While I grew up in Iloilo City, my mother's side of the family spoke it. I learned a lot of new words in the play and had a renewed appreciation for the dialect. Overall, it was truly a priceless, one-of-a-kind experience.

O'Layra will be showing again in CAP Auditorium in San Jose, Antique on May 1. (Source)

The cast of O'Layra (photo from their Facebook page)
Writer/Director: Kevin Piamonte
Dance Choreography: Bobby Rodriguez
Musical Director/Composer: Crista Sianson-Huyong

Saturday, April 14, 2018

You are invited to the PLAI WVRLC Summer Conference! "Librarians in Action: Innovate & Collaborate"

Update: the seminar dates have changed to MAY 30-31, 2018


Invitation:
Greetings!

The Philippine Librarians Association, Inc. (PLAI-WVRLC) and Central Philippine University (CPU) through its Review and Continuing Education Consultancy Center (RCECC) in partnership with the Philippine Theological Library Association (PTLA) is holding the PLAI-WVRLC International Summer Conference with the theme “Librarians in Action: Innovate and Collaborate” from May 30-31, 2018, at Central Philippine University Educational Media Center, Lopez Jaena Street, Jaro, Iloilo City. This conference has the following objectives:

1. Upgrade librarians’ competency in the field of research, IT, collaboration and linkage building, and standards and accreditation. 
2. Provide librarians with opportunities to learn from high impact speakers from the Philippines and abroad.
3. Offer librarians the avenue to share their experiences and evaluate their competencies through the activities that this conference has to offer.

In view of this, PLAI-WVRLC is cordially inviting you to participate in this two-day event. Rates are as follows: 
P2,500.00 – PLAI Members
P3,000.00 - Non-PLAI members/Paraprofessionals/Foreign Participants
P 1,500.00 - BLIS students

Registration fee is inclusive of 4 snacks, 2 lunches, kits, and certificates. We are inviting some of the most respected personalities in the profession both locally and abroad to provide us with a truly worthwhile learning experience. For inquiries, please contact cellphone numbers: 09998814491/ 09509445394/09194506688. You may also email at cgfacevedo@gmail.com or at plaiwvrlc@gmail.com. The officers of PLAI-WVLRC do look forward to your coming to this event.

Christian George F. Acevedo
PLAI-WVLRC President

See you there!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

7 Tips to survive Comprehensive Exams for Master's degree


Last time, I wrote about "5 reasons to enroll in a Master's degree." Usually, you have to pass comprehensive exams for your graduate degree. These exams try to test your knowledge of the core subjects studied in your course. Not all programs have comprehensive exams, so be sure to check with the school or course coordinator if this is a requirement. I took my 'compre' last February, and here are my tips to do well on the exams. First, of course, if you already understood the basics of the subject and passed them, you don't have to worry much - be confident that you already know them, you just have to review.

Schedule time to study.
Often, comprehensive exams are scheduled each semester or school year. Decide when you will take the exam, so you can determine how much time you can devote to studying. Take note of the exam redo dates (in case you fail in some subjects and need to retake them).

Often, we are juggling our graduate degree with a full-time job, family, and other responsibilities. It is important to set aside time to study first before it gets taken by other priorities. You can schedule study time on weekends, before/after work, or early in the morning/late at night when no one can disturb you. It also helps to be in a quiet study area away from distractions. It can be at your local library, the public library, or one of the coworking spaces around town where you can use the space for a fee. Some who lead busy lives often take a leave from work of at least one week for focused study.

Read, read, and read.
Comprehensive exams are usually essay-type exams, where your understanding of the concepts is tested. The tried-and-tested study method is read constantly: your past lessons, important texts, and research.

Get good studying tools.
I remember that on the first subject of my comprehensive exam, my hands hurt due to too much writing and a really bad pen. So I went to the school supplies store, tried and tested several pens and chose the ones that work best and are comfortable for writing. In answering the exams, you will usually have to write a lot, and a good pen helps. Also be prepared: try and check your calculators, pencils, erasers, and correction pens if they work. These are minor things, but if you are stressed about something not working, it will affect how you answer the exam.

In the exam, I also bought clean scratch papers to write down the outline of my answers before I wrote my final answers on the exam notebook.

Study previous exams.
Don't throw away the handouts and old exam papers. Study them so you can have an idea about the main topics or how the professor gives exams.

Ask students who passed about previous exams.
You can also ask the students who have already passed about the topics in the exam or the exam style of a specific subject or professor. They can give you valuable clues and studying tips.

Consult with your professor.
Most teachers are willing to help students. Exam content and questions may change, so it doesn't hurt to ask your professor for pointers.

Practice Writing.
In answering exams, expect that you will write a lot. Most people find it difficult to write. If you hate writing, try to practice explaining through words. If the books you read have practice essay exams, you can try writing your own answers. Writing is just thinking on a piece of paper. You don't have to write flowery prose (remember, this is an exam), but being clear and concise is enough. Don't be tempted to write too much on the exam, but just enough to answer the question. Sometimes more does not mean better (except if the questions require an extensive answer). The rule of thumb is to be brief but clear.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

5 reasons to enrol in a Master's degree


I started my Master's degree in Library Science last June 2016. It has been a rewarding experience. Two years after graduating college and working, I found that I missed going to school and learning. One of the reasons I studied for my Master's is so I can apply for jobs requiring a graduate degree. I have just finished my comprehensive exams last February, and I only have Thesis Writing left.

In the Philippines, those who want to work as librarians but don't have a bachelor's degree in Library Science often opt to take MLIS or Masters in Library and Information Science so they can take the Librarian Licensure Exam and be professional librarians. In RA 9246, only BLIS or MLIS graduates can take the licensure exam. Often, higher-level or management jobs in the library (especially in Academic Libraries) require an MLIS.

Another reason why I took up MLIS is that I felt that there was something lacking in my learning during college. Now that we are at the graduate level, the discussions are centered on practical applications and experiences in the library. You are more responsible for your own learning and the requirements are more challenging than those in college.

If you're thinking of taking up MLIS or a graduate degree, here are 5 advantages:

Learning and Knowledge.
The technology and knowledge may have changed since you graduated. Being in graduate school exposes you to new trends and subjects. It encourages you to open your mind, do research, and investigate.

Continuing Professional Development.
CPD is now a law for professionals in the Philippines. We are required a certain number of CPD points to renew our licenses (45 units for librarians). Getting a Master's degree in a related field is another way of attaining self-directed learning, which can be also credited to CPD.

Career Advancement.
This is often the main reason why many choose to enrol in a Master's Degree. Having a Master's opens more opportunities and may open doors to higher-level positions (which also means higher salaries).

A wider network of professionals.
In graduate school, you also meet fellow professionals in the same field. You can share ideas, best practices, and solutions to common problems. You meet mentors who can guide you, and teachers who can help you. Since there is a small number of librarians in the country anyway, its good to widen your network in graduate school.

New friends.
Your friends in graduate school are often different than your college or school friends. In graduate school, you are all more mature and there is less drama. I think that I like my friends in graduate school best.