January 2009


Author      :  Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes

Copyright:   2005

Publisher :   St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Published Date :  April 5, 2005

ISBN-10: 0312934300

ISBN-13: 978-0312934309

Pages         :  344

The Story :

Annie Fortenberry’s bed and breakfast business with a bordello-inspired house is starting to be quite profitable.  That is, until a hired hand uncovers the buried remains of her husband, whose disappearance led everyone to believe that Annie was abandoned for another woman.  Annie’s life suddenly turns upside down as she becomes a murder suspect and a media curiosity.  Now, not only does Annie have to face charges, but she has to juggle preparations  for an important hush-hush wedding,  the day-to-day business management of her little B&B,  frustrations with a demented cat, and (heavens!) a poltergeist as well, and all while trying to guard her heart from ruggedly handsome Wes Bridges who unrelentingly tries to solve the mystery.

The Review :

The story can’t get any crazier than this.  Seems like two authors for one book certainly spoiled the broth.  The novel is a tacky mix of genres — murder mystery, paranormal, romance, and comedy —all expressed in chick-lit writing style.  Throw in some annoying air-headed characters like a psychic named Destiny (even the name’s so laughably cheesy); Theenie, a cowardly prude; and a senile vet named Doc (to name a few) and you come up with a weirdly concocted brew of a story which I had to swallow to its contemptible end.

There is a permeating air of nonchalance in this book,  even in its supposed serious points.  The surprise readers get on the “whodunit” issue  is just irritatingly incredulous and the motivation for murder,  downright stupid.  I mean, c’mon….

It is no wonder this book was on sale with a 50% markdown.  Serves me right for picking this up on the merits of its price tag.  But I just wanted to try a Janet  Evanovich novel.

My almost uncanny luck for picking up good books has been broken by this mistake.  A complete waste of time and immediately forgettable, this book is absolutely one for those garage sales.

My Mark :   Trash. Don’t bother.

This book is best read alone, in a cold room under a giant comforter for several hours straight.

Author :  Scott Smith

Copyright: 2006

Publisher: Vintage Books

Published Date :  February 26, 2008

ISBN-10: 0307390276

ISBN-13: 978-0307390271

Paperback:  384 pages

Two young American couples are on their summer vacation in Cancun, Mexico.  They befriend other tourists, one of who plans to make a sidetrip to look for his brother at an archeological site.  Bored by inaction, they volunteer to accompany him for the chance to trek and see the Mayan ruins and the dig.  What starts out as a fun trip transforms into a nightmare from which there seems to be no escape.

As a writer of horror and suspense,  Scott Smith does know his stuff.  He has very good techniques that build up suspense, anticipation, and shock so that you have the strong compulsion to read ’til the very end.

For me, reading this book is like riding a roller coaster.  The first 100 pages is a slow ride to the top with occasional minor jerks to keep you interested.  Once there, the action starts and you get to taste the first belly-flopping fright.  After that there is no let-up, as the ride just gets frightfully worse, without recourse to stopping and you can’t help but grip the book, page after page of unputdownable horror.

As you face each hill and think it can’t be any worse, Smith continues to up the ante until the ride coasts gently to a complete stop and the story reaches a good conclusion.

As an aside, Smith’s real forte here is the psychological aspect of the story.  He involves you in the thinking processes of four characters by getting you inside their heads, allowing you to know how they think; so that you know why they cope the way they do, and why things happen from choices dictated by their personalities.  The author lays out how their individual coping mechanisms largely determines the group’s dynamics as the characters try to solve or adjust to their situation.  This psychological angle combined with the paranormal plus Smith’s eloquent yet graphically vivid style, makes this book a winner.

You finish, shaky but elated that you’ve paid well for an exciting fright.  Indeed, you’ll be back wanting more.  So, when the next Scott Smith ride comes to town, you’ll be the first in line.

My Mark :  One hell of a ride! — Outstanding

I gleefully pounced on this book at Magrudy’s in Dubai.  Ever since I’ve read Attila : The Gathering of the Storm (my review here ), the second book in William Napier’s epic trilogy,  I knew I had to have the concluding book.

Author :  William Napier (pseudonym of Christopher Hart)

Publisher: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

Publishing Date :  May 29, 2008

ISBN-10: 075286114X
ISBN-13: 978-0752861142
Pages: 480

What a stunning spectacular conclusion this is!

This epic story takes place around the middle of  the 5th century.  The entire Roman Empire, both East and West, has never before faced such a threat to its existence of this magnitude in many centuries.  Attila and his vast eastern army of united Hunnic tribes starts attacking the Eastern frontier of Constantinople with the goal of annihilating Rome.

General Aetius, Attila’s boyhood friend and one of Rome’s last true generals, desperately tries to defend his beloved empire.  Amidst inane politicking, two weak emperors,  a corrupt debauched nobility, and apathetic allies, Aetius attempts his best to muster Rome’s defenses, the military might of which is but a shadow of its former glorious self during the days of the Republic.  With a small but still highly disciplined and skillful army, he leads the Roman war for survival against the Huns which culminates in the Catalaunian Fields (somewhere near what is known today as Chalons in Champagne, France).

Those who were disappointed by the generally philosophic nature of Book 2 (The Gathering of the Storm) will love Book 3 (The Judgement) which more than makes up for the disappointment with enough spilled guts and hard-core action.   Indeed, where the second book waxes philosophic, the third wallows in violence, blood, and gore as Napier (Hart) vividly depicts battle after glorious battle.

Readers will be mesmerized by the wealth of descriptive details of brilliant strategies, magnificent heroics, and  intense horrific carnage.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this page turner well into the night.  This is just one book you can’t put down.

I wish I read the entire trilogy, though.  To fully appreciate it, you must.

Hats off to Christopher Hart (a.k.a. William Napier).  He has clearly done top-notch work!

My Mark :  Excellent

I had a wonderful month-long vacation in Dubai for the Holidays.  I was impressed with Dubai’s stunningly modern cityscape and infrastructure and the cosmopolitan lifestyle that has made Dubai a true melting pot of  the Middle East.

Because of this, I saw a country of contradictions.  Where else can one see skimpily clad women alongside heavily veiled ones?

This juxtaposition had me intrigued.  I have often wondered then how veiled women or those who have to wear abaayas feel or think about those who never wear them.

So, I just had to buy this book which narrates the true-to-life story of a Saudi princess—a fascinating perspective as it comes from a an Arab woman of note.

Author              :  Jean Sasson

First Release   :  September 1992

Publisher (this edition)        :  Bantam Books  (1993)

No. of pages     :  303

This is the true story of Princess Sultana (fictitious name) of the royal house of  Al Sa’ud, the current ruling clan of  Saudi Arabia.  She tells of her privileged life of mind-boggling riches and of her real life as a woman pinioned by cultural fetters of gender prejudice.

Princess Sultana is a feminist, a woman who feels deeply about the indignity and the precarious  situation of women in Saudi Arabia whose laws and fanatic customs demean, denigrate, and threaten their very lives.  In the milieu of extreme patriarchy where severe punishment is meted for breaking social and religious laws, she is a rare voice, a courageous one, as she has risked her life to tell her story, anonymously, through the author, Jean Sasson.

She recounts her life—how it is like to grow up as a Saudi princess, what incidents she had witnessed and heard of— grave injustices,  appalling torture and punishment done to women, some of whose only sins were falling in love with a non-Muslim or being unfortunate enough to have been raped.

If I was hoping to find some answer to my question on how veiled women feel about thier abaayas,  I did get her opinion.  Of course, this is only one opinion. There should be several, supporting or opposing ones.  I’d love to hear about opposing ones.

Princess Sultana narrates that at the first moments of the first veiling were exciting.  Veiling signifies a child’s transition to womanhood and is practiced as soon as the child reaches menarche.

“For a moment, I felt myself a thing of beauty, a work so lovely that I must be covered to protect men from their uncontrollable desires.”– p.111

But in the next instant, she envies the freedom of those only partially veiled.  (She has to wear a full veil covering her entire face.  I’ve seen women veiled this way in Dubai and frankly, the sight of a heavily veiled woman, who looks like a walking death shroud, did creep me out a bit).

“The novelty of wearing the veil and abaaya was fleeting, though.  When we walked out…I gasped for breath and sucked furiously through the sheer black fabric.  The air tasted stale and dry as it filtered through the gauzy cloth.  I had purchased the sheerest veil available, and yet I was seeing life through a thick screen.  How could one woman see through veils made of thicker fabric?  … my heart plunged to my stomach when I realized that, from that moment, outside my own home I would not experience life as it really is in all its colour…”

“I stumbled over  several children of a bedouin woman, and looked in envy at the freedom of the veil.  Bedouin women wear veils that fell across their noses, leaving their eyes free to examine their surroundings.  Oh how I wished to be a bedouin!  I would cover my face gladly if I could only leave my eyes free to see the inifinite changes of life around me.” — p. 111

Perhaps then, veiled women do feel a certain envy toward those who never have to wear them.  The object of envy would be freedom—freedom to express one’s individuality through their own choices of make-up and fashion; freedom from restrictive clothing;  freedom to revel and have confidence in one’s own body.  These are little freedoms which most women take for granted.   I have sensed sometimes these women’s longing to have the social confidence Western and most Asian women have, an inherited assurance owing to totally different cultural views.

However, I am straying from the subject —which is a review of this book.

Princess is indeed all of these — shocking, fascinating, heart-breaking, outrageous, thought-provoking, unbelievable.  It is mind-boggling to think how ideas and acts, presumed to be medieval, be alive and and accepted in this day and age — the age of information.  The book is simply written, far from being a literary work of note in terms of writing style; but Sasson does convey the story coherently and sequentially well.

For Filipinos, it would be  of interest to know that Princess Sultana makes a lot of references to our “kabayans”, overseas workers who form a significant part of the labor force in Saudi Arabia.

This book is so interesting that it may spur one to read Jean Sasson’s other novels, all of which deal with women in the Arab world.

My Mark :  Outstanding

I picked out this book  on a whim while waiting for my flight home.  And I’m not sorry I did.   It’s a zippy, enyoyable read that just made time fly by so fast.

Author       : Sophie Kinsella

Copyright : 2008

Publisher   : Bantam Dell

Publish Date: November 2008

ISBN               : 978-0-440-29691-1

No. of pages  : 430

Lexi Smart wakes up in the hospital after a nasty accident, to a fairy-tale-come-true. Last thing she remembers, she was a struggling sales rep with the occasionally skaggy underwear and bad teeth.  This was 2004.  Now she’s in 2007 with a great set of chompers, a toned body, a designer bag, and a drop-dead gorgeous husband.  Trouble is, she has no idea how she managed to suddenly  live a dream-come-true lifestyle. Amnesia has simply wiped out three years of her life.

As Lexi tries to live this seemingly marvelous life with her memories and perspectives still stuck three years ago, we see her hilarious yet valiant struggles to regain her lost years and attempts to understand how she came to be a corporate big boss with a wardrobe of designer clothes, an enviable social circle, and a Benz to boot.  To add to her confusion, in drops a nice but glamour-shunning architect who opens her eyes to the realities of her dream life.

This is a funny, bubbly book witht the right  type of levity only a few could really evoke.  Sophie Kinsella should be one of the best chick-lit authors around.  She’s got that perfect breezy, vivacious casual writing style that injects humour in just the right places.

Unlike a lot of chick-lit characters that come across as vacuous, shallow bimbos, Lexi is a smart, fun character — a woman you’d really like to get to know. Kinsella was able to balance quirkiness and fun with some depth and strength in her heroine.

Sophie Kinsella also does have some very cute romantic ideas—i.e. sunflowers. She also has some really hysterical ones.   I especially cracked up with Mont Blanc.  If you want to know what the blazes I’m talking about, dive into your favorite reading chair with your nibbles and a spend a few hours with this book.  It’ll be fun!

My Mark :  Totally Cool!

Sophie Kinsella talks about her book, “Remember Me” :

At long last,  I’ve managed to finish the book I’ve been toting around during my vacation.  As a wonderful sequel to The Other Boleyn Girl, it centers on three particular women in King Henry VIII’s life after Anne Boleyn.

Author : Philippa Gregory

Copyright : 2006

Publisher : Touchstone

Publishing Date : December 2007

No. of Pages : 570

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-5919-1

ISBN-10: 1-4165-5919-1


The Story :

The Boleyn Inheritance is narrated alternately from the perspectives  of three women of importance in King Henry VIII’s life, namely :

Anne of Cleves.   As the fourth wife of King Henry, she is credited with being very close to his children.  As a young girl, Anne yearns to be free of a tyrannical brother and a cold-hearted mother.  She views the proposed marriage arrangement to Henry of  England as an opportune offer of escape from home.  However, an unfortunate incident where Anne angrily rejects a kiss from a disguised King Henry, before all her entourage and his retinue, earns her a growing grudge from Henry which ultimately leads to false accusations of a precontracted marriage and to a consequent annulment and dethronement.

Katherine Howard. As a very young lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne,  Katherine catches the eye of King Henry .  Very soon, she is Henry’s 5th wife and England’s next queen, a teen-aged girl married to an old man.  As fate would have it,  she falls in love with a courtier, Thomas Culpepper.  This affair and her childish dalliances with Francis Dereham prior to court life become her undoing.

Jane Rochford Boleyn. She was wife to George Boleyn and sister-in-law to Anne Boleyn.  A liar and betrayer, it was her testimony which sent her husband and his sister to their deaths in exchange for lands and a title.  She comes back to court life upon the order of her uncle-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk, to serve and advise both queens, Anne of Cleves and Katherine, and to serve as his eyes and ears.  She is party to his schemes and encourages Katherine Howard’s affair with Culpepper to get her pregnant.   The hoped-for child would then be passed off as Henry’s progeny and therefore, secure the Howard family’s power and favor with the King.  Her involvement in Norfolk’s political schemes would prove to be her downfall.

After Anne Boleyn’s execution, King Henry grows increasingly manic and dangerously suspicious of everyone.  All three women enter a court life under a miasma of suspicion, fear, and uncertainty.  This is the Boleyn inheritance – a court and a country ruled by a despot whose every whim becomes law.

Author’s Style:

Gregory’s technique of the first person narrative allows readers to get inside the heads of these three factual women, creating a very intimate understanding of who they probably were.  Her strength in character writing humanizes these otherwise one-dimensional historical personages so that we get to know what made them tick.

I cannot  say that the author stuck to all the historical facts.  However, the important ones are true to form.   As with most creative historical novels,  some details have perhaps been modified to suit the fiction.

For those who haven’t read her, expect a light writing style that makes her novels highly readable.  It is precisely this forte that takes  away the tedium of history and renders it very interesting and quite engaging .   This is an author you must try.

The Bottom Line :

Another marvelous read from the queen of Tudor fiction, Philippa Gregory.

My Mark : Outstanding