November 2008


Author : Lauren Weisberger
Release Date : May 27, 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN-10: 0743290119
ISBN-13: 978-0743290111
Pages: 288

Hey girls, here’s something new from that totally hip writer who gave us “The Devil Wears Prada”. Lauren Weisberger has served up another fun read for those in the mood to indulge in their occasionally bitchy, shallow selves.

Adriana, Leigh and Emmy, three staunch friends with an “approaching 30” crisis, find themselves somehow missing something in their lives. So, two of them make a pact to change their “love style”. Emmy, a monogamist, vows to get laid with as much as one guy per continent; Adrianna, an incorrigible flirt and seducer, promises to choose one man to be devotedly faithful to, with the hope of landing that elusive engagement sparkler. Leigh, having a seemingly perfect life, struggles with her discontent of it.

You’ve got to like these three—sometimes silly, vacuous, ditzy, annoying or just plain funny; but never boring. This is what I like about Weisberger. She always manages to make characters, no matter how selfish or inane, quite fun to get to know.

This may be chick-lit, queridas; but the book is not just one upbeat, funny, vacuous trip. Well….it is that; but Weisberger leaves a little meat in it and it’s this: You are who you are. You’ve just got to know you better.

The book does not come close to the “Devil Wears Prada“; but, it’s still a good one to tote around to the beach… a great chaser to that wonderfully chilled tart margarita.   Oh yeah…!

My Mark : Good — Quite Enjoyable!

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Author : Stephenie Meyer
Release Date : May 6, 2008
Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition
ISBN-10: 0316068047
ISBN-13: 978-0316068048
Pages : 624

Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series are the rage these days. I always hear requests for her books at the local bookstore which probably made a pre-X’mas killing with all four Twilight books selling like hotcakes these past few months. So, when The Host came out, I followed the gushing herd and grabbed myself a copy as well.

Okay, so I’ve immersed myself in this story and have finished, after all the hype, well, a bit unimpressed. Not because it’s a bore. Oh no, this is actually an enjoyable story, pleasant to read.  It’s just that I’m really not the target reader.

Some reviews call this Meyer’s first “adult” novel. It may be so, but that doesn’t mean that it’s mature. It’s still very much an adolescent romance-fantasy. Okay let’s stretch it to say that this is a book that people in their twenties would also like.

Interestingly enough, the story is told from the point of view of the alien named Wanderer : Earth is invaded by alien parasites, called Souls, who invade worlds by attaching themselves to whatever intelligent planetary inhabitants they find. Being thus one with the host, they assume his senses, feelings, and memories.

Wanderer, famed in her world for living in a variety of host species, is particularly chosen for the body of Melanie Stryder to access information about existing pockets of human resistance to the invasion. Little does Wanderer know that this host will present her greatest challenge. As she takes over Melanie’s body, she inherits a slew of memories and an overwhelming love for the two most important people in Melanie’s life: Jared and Jaime.

With Melanie’s indomitable spirit still very much alive, and with this compelling love they both share, Wanderer is forced to find them. In the process of doing so, Wanderer finally finds herself as well.

I can see now that Meyer’s success is in her ability to pull many an adolescent’s heartstrings. This book is really a romance wrapped in science fiction; so it hits the spot for young people’s (and those teeners at heart) romantic and escapist cravings quite well—two great formulas in one. No wonder she gets good ratings on this, too.

A thing that pleased me and I hope the author never veers from this: this book and I’ve heard, her Twilight series as well, are quite wholesome romances — I give this a PG-13. In this time where cuss words and sex are usual drivels in music and in teen lit, it’s quite refreshing to know that here’s something that didn’t need these to sell.

Since this book is for a young readership, expect the romance to be cheesy, the sci-fi background also a tad lame; but hey, if you’re in that enviable age bracket, listen to no “oldie” on this — you’ll like this book, mush and all.

My rating should be based from the viewpoint of the author’s intended market. So, if I were 17, I’d say:

My Mark : Cool! —- Two thumbs up!!

Author : Mitch Albom
Release Date : September 23, 2003
Publisher : Hyperion; 1 edition
ISBN-10: 0786868716
ISBN-13: 978-0786868711
Pages : 198

“This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” – p. 1

For “Eddie Maintenance”, life simply crept up on him. His plans to better himself often got pushed to the backburner when life’s demands frequently took first place. One day, he wakes up to realize that he is too old and too late to start pursuing dreams. Regret over wasted years becomes his guilt as years pass until his accidental death while saving a little girl from a carnival ride gone wrong.

He wakes up in heaven where he meets five people, who have, directly or indirectly, been connected to him in life, at one point or another. Each has one lesson for him that makes him gradually perceive that his seemingly purposeless life had great meaning after all.

What an insightful book for one so short and so easily read. And a comfort as well, for its message is : “No life is a waste. The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.” With these two lines, Mitch Albom succinctly expresses what this book is really all about. In essence, every life has a purpose. It is when you have understood why you have lived and know that you have actually lived with purpose, that you get to come to your own paradise.

So, now we understand. No matter what life throws our way, in the end we truly know that everything’s going to be alright after all.

The book reads like a parable and is rife with little thoughts and reflective one-liners. It’s a touching little story that can make you shed a tear or two; but, definitely worth picking up for its optimism and hope.

For this is Albom’s heaven: “Everyone has an idea of heaven as do most religions, and they should all be respected. The version represented here is only a guess, a wish, in some ways, that my uncle [Edward Beitchman]), and others like him — people who felt unimportant here on earth—realize, finally, how much they mattered and how they are loved.” I guess we can make this our own, too.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this book becomes a modern classic.

My Mark : Outstanding

A little aside: I wish authors would really take the time to check on things they write especially if they need to use words foreign to their language. In this instance, a little Filipina girl refers to a soldier as “sundalong”. The correct term should be “sundalo”. I hope the next reprints will take care of this little bit of carelessness.

Some memorable thoughts from the author :

“Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.” – p. 49

“When your time came, it came, and that was that. You might say something smart on your way out, but you might just as easily say something stupid.” – p. 13

“Love, like rain, can nourish from above, drenching couples with a soaking joy. But sometimes, under the angry heat of life, love dries on the surface and must nourish from below, tending to its roots, keeping itself alive.” – p.164

“…the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.” – p. 196

Author : Margaret Atwood
Copyright : 1985
Release Date : March 16, 1998
Publisher : Anchor; 1st Anchor Books edition
ISBN-10: 038549081X
ISBN-13: 978-0385490818
Pages: 320

My first thought after Chapter One : surreal. I thought, oh no, not one of those esoteric ones again.

This isn’t the normal type of book I’d pick up to read; but now, I understand its surprising appeal. It’s the kind that can linger in you way after you’ve finished the book and gone on to others—disturbing, thought-provoking, and very unique.

If you haven’t read a synopsis anywhere or bothered to look at the teaser at the back cover, you’d be a little lost in the beginning. The story starts out vaguely with the distracted ramblings of the narrator, Offred, as she tells of her circumstances in the present. In between, she surprises you with sudden glimpses of her past; and this is how the story falls into place — in bit by bit revelations. Persevere reading through enough flashbacks until you get the picture; and, see how Atwood gets you hooked by the middle of the book.

So what’s this all about ?

Sometime in this century , an extreme and radical theocracy violently supplants U.S. democracy and changes the structure of every societal aspect as we know it — the family unit, religion, judicial system, etc. This is the Gileadean Republic, the totalitarian response to everything plaguing the Caucasian race, most notable ones being the decline in fertility and birth rates of normal babies. This severely patriarchal society forces a new way of life, based on the Old Testament Bible, twisted to serve a ruling male elite — the Commanders, and to justify the total subjugation of women as merely breeders, domestic slaves, and pliant wives, to name a few roles.

Offred is a handmaid, a breeding vessel whose primary social function is to lie on her back, hope to be impregnated, and bear a normal healthy baby for the good of society. Failing this mission in her childbearing years, she becomes an intolerable burden to all. The story is Offred’s account of her thoughts and emotions as a handmaid in this unforgiving Giledean order.

I am a sucker for beautiful writing; so despite the surrealism, I was inevitably drawn to the author’s poetic style. I wish I, too, could string the right words together so gracefully that the resulting prose is effortlessly elegant, even when I’m being snide.

Atwood also has a distinct way of looking at things. I can’t help but give you a taste of it:

(In reference to a Bible): “ …He lets the book fall closed . It makes an exhausted sound, like a padded door shutting, by itself, at a distance : a puff of air. The sound suggests the softness of the thin oniony pages, how they would feel under the fingers. Soft and dry, like papier poudre, pink and powdery, from the time before, you’d get it in booklets for taking the shine off your nose…” — p. 85

“The interviews with people still alive then were in colour. The one I remember best was with a woman who had been the mistress of a man who had supervised one of the camps where they put the Jews, before they killed them. In ovens, my mother said;…

He was not a monster, she said…She did not believe he was a monster. He was not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait: he whistled off key, in the shower, he had a yen for truffles, he called his dog Liebchen and made it sit up for little pieces of raw steak. How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation…” — pp.136 -137

“…every spring they had a Humphrey Bogart festival, with Lauren Bacall or Katharine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds. They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then. We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.” — p. 24

If asked, would I read another Atwood novel, my answer would be a resounding “Yes”. But only after taking a deep breath while preparing myself before a dive into eccentricity. Now, I’m just making a guess here. Maybe her other novels aren’t strange; but, what I do hope is that she delivers writing of this same calibre.  It is exactly for this that A Handmaid’s Tale earns a permanent place in my shelf.

My Mark : Excellent

Author: Philippa Gregory
Release Date : February 4, 2002
Publisher :
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN-10 : 0006514642
ISBN-13 : 978-0006514640
Pages : 640

It is the time of the English Reformation — a moment in history when King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to head the Protestant Church of England. These were the tumultuous times in which we find the heroine, Alys.

The story begins with Alys fleeing from a burning abbey, her home since she was twelve. She had run away from her foster mother, Morach, and her poverty-stricken and loveless life . Morach is the village wise woman, both a healer and a secret dabbler in the dark arts. The ruin of the abbey tragically forces Alys to go back to Morach and her former life of drudgery. But as fate would have it, Alys is sent as an answer to the summons for a healer from the lord of the manor, Lord Hugh, who upon seeing her value in healing and clerkship, makes her live in his castle.

This is where Alys sees the lord’s son, Hugo, and falls obsessively in love at first sight. But Hugo is married to a spiteful, jealous Catherine. And so begins Alys’ spiritual and moral decline in her desire to win and keep Hugo’s love.

Philippa Gregory has written a very dark book. The gloom permeates the entire story in which most of the notable characters are intense sketches of avarice, selfishness, evil, and depravity. There is no respite from the heaviness; but the events will compel one to turn page after page as the suspense mounts. After all, this is a very good story.

Alys is not a historical figure or someone significant in history to be molded according to factual limitations (like some in Gregory’s work – i.e. Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, et al.). She is the author’s free creation, and therefore shaped to the writer’s unlimited fancy. It is through her, I have come to see and respect Gregory’s remarkable talent in character development.

Alys is a 16-year old who is innately passionate and self-centered, a survivor with an independent streak. With these qualities, the author sets her in a period of gender prejudice and oppression, and throws trial after trial where her character is forced to choose between an expedient but immoral action and an arduously virtuous one. Realistically enough, the character chooses the easier paths; so, with each choice, Gregory chronicles how godly innocence can degrade to vulgar debasement.

The transformation is done gradually and very subtly so that the shift is believable. If this is Philippa Gregory’s aim, then she has succeeded quite well. Moreover, she has created a character that we may not want to see in ourselves but may be lurking, untested and untried, inside many of us with great instincts for self-preservation. Perhaps, she may be challenging us to judge Alys, then to answer truthfully, “If you were in her shoes…”

For those readers who don’t like pervasive pessimistic themes, stay away from this book. This will simply depress you. But for those who don’t mind immersing in such joylessness, reading this will reward you with Gregory’s sheer talent for characterization and of course, you get to read an amazingly good story.

As for the book’s surprising conclusion, again it will be the reader’s judgment that will render it a satisfying end or not. With this note, I’d like to say that A Wise Woman would be great material for your reading circle’s next discussion.

My Mark : Outstanding

This book may not be to everyone’s taste and many may disagree with my mark. If you do so, I would appreciate your opinions.

Author : Ann Patchett
First Released : May 22, 2001 (Hardcover 1st Edition)
Released as Paperback : August 2, 2005
Publisher : Harper Perennial
ISBN-10: 0060838728
ISBN-13: 978-0060838720
Pages : 352

I have always wanted to share this book with all my blog readers.  Ann Patchett writes a moving story with a very lyrical hand.  This is a beautiful piece of literature that I feel you shouldn’t miss.

However, I can’t write a review on a book I’ve read a long time ago, unless I delve into it again.  With my growing library, I don’t think I can for the moment.  So, I’ve found a great review from The World Of Books which more or less mirrors what I think about this novel.  Do check it out!

My Mark : Excellent

Author: William Napier
Release Date: 2007
ISBN : 978-0-7528-8103-4
Pages : 306

It’s the early 5th century A.D. and the Roman Empire’s former powers are waning. Attila, reviled by the Romans and exiled by his own people for thirty years, returns to his tribe to seize the throne. His ruthless ambitions and burning vengeance has birthed an all-consuming zeal in him of conquering two vast empires, the conquests of which were promised to him in prophecy. Using his brilliant intellect and forcefully magnetic personality, he succeeds in uniting warring and disinterested factions of the Huns to move with him on two common goals : the conquest of the Roman and Chinese empires.

This is Book Two of a trilogy. Attila here is not drawn as some thoughtless homicidal bully, lording over a people by fear and cruelty alone.  He is, rather,  an enigmatic leader given the intellectual brilliance of a genius, the aural magnetism of a superstar, and the iron convictions of a zealot. Yes, he is shameless, unprincipled, and cunning; yet, he can be compassionate if perceived through a Hun’s skewed sense of justice.

My enjoyment of this book has a lot do with the author’s formal writing style. Far from being stiff and dispassionately bland, the author’s “Oxfordian English” lends to a writing that is beautifully dignified, elegant and precise, and rich with descriptive details. It is a rare talent who can think of likening a living saint’s lice to “the pearls of God” and the sizzles of spat-on fire to the fire’s cowering under the spitter’s bitterness. At rare times, though, the author tends to go a tad overboard with his descriptions; but they do bring vividness to many things.

Christopher Hart’s (William Napier is his pen name) preference of endowing his characters with some sophistry is also very much a part of his creative style.

To illustrate : Attila, true to his egotistical and megalomaniacal self, addresses his warriors :

On Morals:

“Some men worship right and wrong, or make good and evil their gods and their goals,” he said. “ I believe in life and death. The question is not “Is it right?” but “Does it make me feel more alive?” This is at the heart of everything!…Even the wheyfaced moralists in their pulpits…busy censuring every man around them, do so because it makes them feel more alive. It augments their power over others. And so the herdlike many allow them to do so and believe in them.…You are your own arbiter and none may judge your deeds but you yourself…Have you lived? That is the deathbed question. That is the only question. Had you the courage to be yourself, to fulfil your desires?”

On Vengeance:

“Vengeance is wrong ,” say the Christians…“Forgive?” he cried, his voice suddenly harsh. “ What is that to the sweet joy of vengeance? There is life! To wreak bone-crushing vengeance on one’s own ancient enemies is the sweetest, most life-giving joy. It fills you with sweet laughter, it bathes all the world in a golden light, it makes you glad to be alive. Everything we do should make us glad to be alive, make us rejoice in the life that is given us. Nor should you be anxious that your vengeance and your triumph is the ruined one’s defeat. Behold I give you a mystery. It is his triumph, too…the fulfillment of his destiny, to be crushed by a superior, god-ordained might that he could no more oppose…All men must die…He can do nothing to save himself from this punishment…so he goes to his destruction unflinching, a hero shouting defiance into the face of the storm until the end, until he is cut down like a flower by the scythe, to be sung and hymned evermore for his broken nobility. Nothing so noble as broken nobility.”

These may or may not be the author’s personal convictions but they do set a reader’s cogwheels whirring up there.

Just a teeny weeny gripe, though, with his copy editor : I swear Attila’s eyes were described as “leonine” three times – pp. 35, 38, and another page I can’t locate.

For historical readers who usually like reading books anchored in factual details, I can render no judgment on the historical merits of this novel. Being unversed in the real facts behind Attila, I can not discern where the author kept to historical truths and where he deviated to serve his fictional purposes.

On the whole, this book has been an enjoyable find. Although I made the mistake of picking this up without bothering to check if this was part of a series, it’s my good luck that this “middle child” is quite independent of its elder. Now the first and last books are a must-read for me so I can complete my reading journey in this wonderful saga.

My Mark : Outstanding