Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Pursuit.

An exact copy of my life is being lived a million light years away
- Eric Gamalinda, from Poem Not Written in Catalan

I am always chasing after the memory of a man long gone. Twenty years ago, he had climbed a Wall, had brought home an autumn leaf, and had told me how he wanted to step inside a forbidden city. I am always chasing. I found the city he loved, crowded and mysterious and smelling of summer. It is not yet autumn, and I am still chasing. My breath comes in short puffs as I hold on to ancient stones that snake through mountains, hills. I cannot remember the sound of his voice. I am forever chasing after him. I have not arrived.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

August 2009 Book List

While I have been religiously documenting my reading material, I haven't been as vigilant when it comes to writing down my thoughts about each one. My August list--relatively short because of my preparations for a little vacation in Beijing--now sounds like a good place to start.

1. The Red Queen's Daughter (Jacqueline Kolosov)
A friend of mine had glowing recommendations over this book. Another began foaming at the mouth at its mere mention. A bit wary over anything that would produce the second reaction, I lowered my expectations for Red Queen's Daughter. Perhaps because of that, Ms. Kolosov's fantasy take on Tudor history didn't quite win me over. Upon later reflection, however, I realized that it was also due to a rather disappointing execution of what could have been an exciting premise. The protagonist was a Mary Sue-ish character, who seemed to me sorely lacking in personality and strength. The romance was intended to be a pivotal part of the plot but I felt it was sorely underdeveloped. Suddenly, the characters were earth-shatteringly in love after pages of filtered lust/attraction. At this point, the plot careened into a mad finish. I suppose it was only the idea that the author did not choose the easier ending that saved this book for me. I have no love for Mary Seymour as a character, but I am still, in all honesty, fairly interested in what Ms. Kolosov will come up with next.

2. Agnes and the Hitman (Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer)
Sometime during the middle of August, I visited an old friend of mine. Celine is now taking care of her one-year old son Raymond and is buying and selling used books on the side. Her house is filled with boxes of pre-loved titles -- 'Tis so much joy!, claims Emily Dickinson -- which prompted me to give in to my guilty pleasures and search for titles that wouldn't be first on my must-buy list. One of them is this collaboration by romance author Ms. Crusie and action-adventure writer Bob Mayer. It's not hard to guess which author wrote which part, but they do an admirable job of bridging the gap between the genres. The result is a romantic yet action-filled romp that revolves around weddings, flamingos, and the mob.

3. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Joanne Fluke)
I've always seen these Hannah Swensen mysteries but never really took an interest in them until I saw the first book of the series in Celine's treasure trove. Celine sold it to me for a dollar, and I found a new mystery series that I could really sink my teeth into. Part of what I find charming in Chocolate Chip is how it incorporates Hannah's baking recipes in between the narrative. The dishes sound yummy, and they add a little characterization to the story as they include Hannah's thoughts about certain people. Now, in no means is this a literary trailblazer; it just means I find it a nice touch to a light and fairly straightforward murder mystery. In this book, local baker Hannah helps out her brother-in-law with a murder case, especially when the victim is holding one of her cookies. It introduces a lot of other characters around their town Lake Eden, which I strongly believe sets us up for future mysteries. One thing I wasn't too keen about was how Hannah fared better than her brother-in-law Bill, a police officer, when it came to sniffing out clues. It was still enjoyable, though, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more mysteries -- and recipes -- from Ms. Fluke.

4. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (Alison Goodman)
Echoes of Oriental legend resound in Ms. Goodman's novel, also known as The Two Pearls of Wisdom (the lovelier title, true, but after finishing the book, the first title made more sense to me). My friend told me that reading it before our Beijing trip would have gotten me in the mood to explore the city, but I'm still glad that I read it after Beijing because the trip painted a clearer visual image for the scenes in the book. Ms. Goodman pens the exciting account of Eon, a crippled twelve-year old training for the rare chance to be chosen as a Dragoneye. But Eon is really sixteen-year old Eona, and in a country where females take lesser roles (and a female apprentice is completely taboo), she has to hide her identity to survive. Eon is destined for greater things, else there will be no book, and it is through this new role at the Imperial Court do we appreciate Ms. Goodman's ability to weave a believable and triumphant tale of courage. While the novel predictably follows Joseph Campbell's monomyth, it engages us with two main struggles: first, as Eon survives the magic and politics at court and second, as Eona comes to terms with her own identity. Eon/Eona has admirable qualities but her main weakness chafes at me. For a rather smart girl, her insecurities have made her irritatingly illogical.

5. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
My thirteen-year old sister and I are fond of trading YA titles. One book that we discovered together is Jay Asher's debut novel. Thirteen Reasons Why follows how well-liked Clay receives seven tapes from Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Hannah has sent these tapes to the thirteen people who have contributed to her death, and Clay, who has been in love with Hannah, agonizes why he is included in this list. As he listens to the tapes, he begins to piece together the hardships and heartbreaks that Hannah faced throughout high school, enough to make her choose the way she did. Both Clay and Hannah's voices are genuine and their story will stay with readers even after they have closed their books. Suicide is always a hard topic to deal with (I had a cousin who killed himself when we were 19 and personally, there was a lot of anger mixed with the grief) but Mr. Asher handles it deftly and sensitively.

6. The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly)
This started out slow for me. But it has been on my to-read list for such a long time that I was determined to see it through. As a huge fan of fantasy novels and children's/YA books, I've adopted a 'seen-that, read-that' attitude when it comes to worldbuilding. I was a bit disappointed when Mr. Connolly's The Book of Lost Things seemed to wander into familiar territory and didn't look like it was going to make any huge departures. But despite that, it carried with it a sadness as it delved into family issues -- of growing up, of acceptance, of selflessness -- which I truly admired. David is barely coping with the death of his mother when his father falls in love with another woman. Not long after, David is part of a new family, one he resents. When David crosses over to another world after a WWII bomber crashes into their garden, he encounters one fantastical archetype after another, and it is after he goes further into the kingdom that the story picks up for me. Side stories of twisted fairy tales season David's journey, which of course, is a reflection of the fears and struggles of his real life. Perhaps the strongest element I encountered here is the Book of Lost Things itself, owned by the old King and which David believes holds the key to finding his way home. Anyone who's read L. Frank Baum can tell you that it's not the destination but the journey that counts, but I found something heartbreaking in the story of the old King and his precious book that made the whole read worthwhile in the end.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

May-July 2009 Book List

By the end of July, I had already read 61 books for 2009. More actually, because looking back on my list, I had forgotten to include some titles back in Feb-Mar.

1. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (edited by Jeff Vandermeer and Mark Roberts)
2. The Sugar Queen (Sarah Addison Allen)
3. General Winston's Daughter (Sharon Shinn)
4. The Observations (Jane Harris)
5. Lady of Sherwood (Jennifer Roberson)

As mentioned in my last post, I also started reading Palimpsest by Cathrynne Valiente and The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson but finished neither, for different reasons.

1. Lady of the Glen (Jennifer Roberson)
2. Criss Cross (Lynne Rae Perkins)
3. A Curse Dark as Gold (Elizabeth C. Bunce)
4. Belle (Cameron Dokey)
5. Pretty Monsters (Kelly Link)
6. The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
7. My Imaginary Ex (Mina V. Esguerra)
8. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockheart)
9. Carved in Stone (Linda Newbery)
10. The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
11. When It Happens (Susane Colasanti)
12. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Patricia McKillip)

1. Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass)
2-5. Heartquest (Ring of the Ruby Dragon, Talisman of Valdegarde, Secret Sorceress, Isle of Illusion)
6. The Ninth Stone (Kylie Fitzpatrick)
7. Devil's Cub (Georgette Heyer)
8. Ransom My Heart (Mia Thermopolis)
9. The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)
10-11. Murkmere and Ambergate (Patricia Elliot)
12. The Reluctant Heiress (Eva Ibbotson)

Just realized that I only read two male authors throughout this period, and I didn't even finish the other one. I'm not counting Mr. Vandermeer's work, though. I'm on my third book in August, and I still haven't picked up another title from a male author.

And because I can't guarantee that I'll edit this post to tell you what I think of each book, here's a list of my highly-recommended titles.

For those looking for a new perspective:
The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases
Pretty Monsters (brilliant brilliant unpredictable brilliant)
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (lovely, lyrical fantasy)

For those who want a thrilling page-turner to keep them up at night:
The Historian (I'd be first in line at the theaters if this was ever made into a film)
A Curse Dark as Gold (a fairy tale retelling in the form of gothic YA)

For those who turn to books for their romantic fix:
The Time Traveler's Wife (has universal appeal despite the deliberately messy timeline)
My Imaginary Ex (fun chick lit from a local publisher)

For those who never outgrew their childhood:
Every Soul a Star (now one of my fave YA titles)
The Mysterious Benedict Society (engaging characters tackle nail-biting mysteries)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

April 2009 Book List

Why are my posts getting later by the month? Anyway, I don't even have time to share my thoughts on these books, but I know I have to list them so I won't forget:

1. What I Did for Love (Susan Elizabeth Phillips)
2. The Changeling Sea (Patricia McKillip)
3. The Resurrection Casket
*An audio book, but since I did not attempt to multi-task as I listened to this one, I felt it had to count
4-6. Kissed by an Angel/ The Power of Love/ Soul Mates (Elizabeth Chandler)
7. Tintin and the Secret of Literature (Tom McCarthy)
8. Proust and the Squid (Maryanne Wolf)

Reading now: Palimpsest (Catherynne M. Valente), The Gargoyle (Andrew Davidson), Lady of Sherwood (Jennifer Roberson)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

March 2009 Book List

By some coincidence, a lot of the books I read last month had the word 'Rose' in the title. Here's a rundown:

1. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (Laura Willig)
Fourth of the Pink Carnation series. While I am usually drawn to the dark, cruel men of bodice-rippers, I wasn't fully able to enjoy this particular title because of the heroine. We've met Mary Allsworthy previously, and while a closer scrutiny of the earlier books gave yielded no mention that she was a vapid bachelorette, I still cannot see how she suddenly becomes the sharp-witted wonder of this fourth book. What, suddenly she's the only woman worthy of intellectual battle against Lord Vaughn? Oh, I tried to like this book for its own sake but Mary ruined it all. I'm hoping that the next book in the series isn't as character-challenged as this one felt to me.

2. Malinche (Laura Esquivel)
La Malinche played a pivotal role in Mexican history as the interpreter and mistress of Cortes. I only read up about her when I was finished with Ms. Esquivel's novel, never suspecting during the first pages that I was reading something based on historical facts. Because of her role in the conquest, her name has become synonymous to disloyalty. What Ms. Esquivel does is present La Malinche's story from her own point of view, and by reminding the reader how religion permeated every aspect of this earlier culture, she manages to build a case for La Malinche. Still with me? Good. While I applaud the effort and the method to bring that about, I have a lot of difficulty with the actual writing. I found the pace awkward at best. There is a slight imbalance for me as I end up reading a mere paragraph about a particularly horrible, historic raid while an entire chapter is devoted to Malinche and Cortes in a bathhouse. I like my historical fiction with a good dose of history (which felt sorely missing in this book as it tended to gloss over certain things -- sometimes I even thought these events happened all in her head, the way they were so quickly introduced and dropped!) or with a particularly compelling story (which, by virtue of its weird pacing, I didn't get either). I am glad that the novel prompted me to read more on the Spanish conquest, and just hope that the next novel of Ms. Esquivel that I read will be a better one.

3. Getting to Know You (David Marusek)
I think I would have liked David Marusek's collection of short stories more if I didn't get the impression that he was a little self-indulgent. It's like getting introduced to someone new at work; over the course of one day, you begin to see that there's nothing wrong with this guy, but somehow you can't shake the negative first impression you have of him. So that's what it's like for me and Mr. Marusek. Or most authors who write their own introductions to their story collections. Hahaha. Anyway, that aside, I have to give credit where it's due and Mr. Marusek certainly knows how to turn his sci-fi stories into stories I can care about. His first story, 'The Wedding Album', is filled with a unique sense of sorrow. His 'We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy' is just beautiful. His 'Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz' is my favorite, I think -- an amusing contrast in a collection that takes very human emotions and places them in a very technological (post-human?) future.

4. The Stone Rose (Jacqueline Rayner)
An audio book version, really, but I sat down and spent an afternoon listening to it, so it should count! This is originally a Doctor Who paperback that David Tennant reads with admirable skill, convincing me that I was being treated to a full-cast performance instead of just a one man show. While I had some characterization issues with it, it still proved to be a relatively fun adventure with enough twists and turns to keep me glued to my coffee shop chair.

5. Winter Rose (Patricia A. McKillip)
Patricia McKillip commands such lyrical prose that makes the Winter Rose seem like something from a fever dream. The story is simple enough -- the only heir of village's rich but eccentric family returns and suddenly the lives of Rois and her soon-to-be-married sister are thrown into a turmoil. There is a richness to the story that extends beyond the thin plot, one that is anchored firmly in the way Ms. McKillip explores her characters and their motivations. It really does feel like a fever dream: a mishmash of elements that somehow make sense under her pen.

6. The Man of My Dreams (Curtis Sittenfeld)
I'm too much of a romantic, and I suppose it shows in my choice of books. I'd rarely pick up a 'realistic' portrayal of love, opting instead for more of the escapist fare. But Curtis Stittenfeld made this read definitely worthwhile, as she chronicles Hannah's understanding of love from childhood to adulthood, picking stereotypes and turning them into somewhat believable versions of their selves: the One Who Loves You Too Much, the One Who Doesn't Love You At All, the One Who Got Away. Ms. Sittenfeld creates room for self-discovery and self-awareness through Hannah's journey, making me appreciate this novel's solid, little triumphs.

7. Silent on the Moor (Deanna Raybourn)
I'm not sure if Deanna Raybourn will have more Lady Julia Grey novels after this, but I thought that this was a great end to her mystery-romance series. I usually bemoan how stories like this have a tendency to try to be both and end up being neither, but in this case, I was willing to forgive the fact that the main mystery was too predictable if only for the way every Nicholas Brisbane loose end was neatly resolved.

8. Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Finally! I borrowed this from one of the bosses at work but only finished it while I was convalescing. The book took me from Italy to India to Indonesia, a journey worth savoring not only because of the Ms. Gilbert's intimate observations of these places but also for her realizations on discovery, acceptance, forgiveness and love. I usually just read a bit of it at a time; I don't think it's the kind of book you rush to finish. I'm glad I read it when I needed to read it.

On the shelf: Lankhmar, Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Proust and the Squid, and Kissed by an Angel (my attempt at another Twilight fix). And the Robin Hobb books which are long overdue! I hate it how hating a character can ruin a good reading stride.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

February 2009 Book List

Overall, February was a lean month, and I was mostly preoccupied with rereading Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain whenever I got the chance.

1. My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead (edited by Jeffrey Eugenides)
Touted as 'a collection of great love stories from Chekov to Munro'. As an aside, my personal favorite happens to be Kurt Vonnegut's Long Walk to Forever, which isn't in this collection. So what is? An assortment of relationships told in different genres, wrapped in different cultures. If you're looking for heady, giddy chick lit, you're better off looking elsewhere though; after reading this, I reminded myself of its stark title. I was forewarned, and I didn't pay attention. Still, I enjoyed most of the stories here, especially Mary Robison's Yours, Stuart Dybek's We Didn't, and Lorrie Moore's How to be an Other Woman.

2. Night Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko)
I was obsessed with this one. The tale is set in modern-day Russia, where vampires and wizards and other such creatures walk among us. The Light Ones work the Night Watch, the Dark Ones make up the Day Watch, and both parties try to preserve the balance between good and evil. This book is actually made up of three exhilirating stories in one, fast-paced and philosophical. I can't wait to read the other books.

3. Royal Assassin (Robin Hobb)
Second books in a trilogy tend to end with cliffhangers. This was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, making me think I'd have an easy time finishing the last of the series. Turns out I was wrong, but I'll save that complaint for another day.

4. Becoming Bindy McKenzie (Jaclyn Moriarty)
5. Feeling Sorry for Celia (Jaclyn Moriarty)
Two YA books from an Australian author. I was a big fan of her Finding Cassie Crazy, a story told in journal entries and letters, which certainly told me what to expect from these two books. I felt that Bindy was a stronger read compared to Celia (her first in this series, if I remember correctly). I felt that Bindy's strength lies in how craftily it captures its characters. What's even better is that it has a mystery lurking in the background, one that makes you go "Aaaah, that makes sense..." Inventive. Marisha Pessl, take note.

6. The Princess and the Hound (Mette Ivie Harrison)
The attempt to create another realized world reminded me of Shannon Hale's and Sharon Shinn's YA books, but somehow Mette Harrison's didn't do much for me. While I was certainly rooting for her protagonist, there was something here that made me disconnect from it. Okay, maybe disconnection is too strong a word. But in any case, I was always aware that I was READING instead of living the story and in the end, I felt neither here nor there. Is that strange?

7. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
This book took me by surprise. Highly recommended. No spoilers, no reviews, just one enthusiastic recommendation!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

January 2009 Book List

Where did all my time go? I guess I have to settle for re-posting this book list that I've been making since the start of the year. It's my way of keeping track of all the books that I've read so far, and while my thoughts here as not as extensive as I would have liked, I feel that they suffice.

1. Stick Out Your Tongue (Ma Jian)
Rich, visceral stories told in a sparse and straightforward narrative. An easy read, if by 'easy' you mean short. But the situations depicted in the book have stayed with me long after I closed the book; it's quite heavy and unsettling in that way.

2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)
Oh, where do I begin? It had a good premise but I found its narrator too self-indulgent. I found it painful to finish the story (for the most part, I wondered where the story was) when I had such dislike for the narrator. The author threw the reader a curveball eventually but while it was unexpected, I found it far-fetched. I mean, here was a first-person narrator who did nothing else in the rest of the book but catalog and judge events based on her literary knowledge, a narrator who loved dramatizing everything and she does not foreshadow this at all? Parang inutot lang nya yung twist. The best part of the whole thing, I think, was when the narrator gives a speech where she does not reference a single person (well, one, I think) and speaks for herself. I would still like to see the author's other works, though; I think there is merit to her. Just please keep me away from Blue Van Meer.

3. The Princess Diaries 10: Forever Princess (Meg Cabot)
End of the Princess Diaries series. Pretty light read, but it was evident to me that Meg Cabot's and Princess Mia's voices have matured a lot since the first book. It was satisfying enough if you're a fan of the series, but if you're just starting out, I have to warn you that not much really happens in the middle of this series. You might be in for a long 10 books.

4. Austenland (Shannon Hale)
Was only interested in reading this book because I like Shannon Hale's books a lot. This was pure indulgence. I think the author felt strongly about the topic that she was compelled to write a chick fic inspired by Pride and Prejudice (I swear, this in itself deserves a sub-genre of its own). But it's still a pretty decent romantic novel.

5. My Swordhand is Singing (Marcus Sedgwick)
After hating his Book of Dead Days and loving his The Dark Horse, I wasn't sure how I would feel about Swordhand. Very interesting take. I felt as if I was really there. Sedgwick's prose has a way of doing that to you. In the end, I wished there was more of the story so that I would feel more of the terror. I found Horse much, much better, but Swordhand's still recommended for YA fans.

6. No one belongs here more than you. (Miranda July)
Thin collection of short stories. Serviceable, with Sapphic undertones. She writes with a good voice, but none of her stories particular stood out to me.

7. The Little Book of Forensics (David Owen)
Nonfiction. Just a collection of crimes to illustrate the different evidence-gathering and crime-solving methods that forensics have employed over the years. Reading the cases is almost like watching a True Crime, only shorter.

8. Color: A National History of the Palette (Victoria Finlay)
Nonfiction. Highly recommended! I just wish that the entire book came in color so there would be more illuminating photos to accompany the already illuminating black text.

9. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England (Brock Clarke)
Still reading this one. Teenager burns down Emily Dickinson's house. Serves time. Goes back out to society. Unfortunately, someone else has started burning down houses again. Reviews said that it was a funny read; I guess I haven't really gotten to the funny part yet. :P