February 2009


This book has been in my local bookstore’s bestseller list for over a month now.  And here is no wonder why:

Author :  Cecelia Ahern

Published Date :  September 2008

Publisher  :  Harper Collins

No. of Pages :  489

ISBN : 978-0-06-172901-0

Synopsis :

In London, Justin Hitchcock braves a blood donation drive, despite a phobia of needles, to secure a date with the program’s hot doctor.

In Dublin, Joyce Conway nearly loses her life in a tragic accident.   She survives but suddenly acquires a vast knowledge and passion for art and architecture and a hoard of memories, belonging to someone she’s never met.

In a chance meeting at a salon, Joyce and Justin feel an inexplicable connection, despite being strangers.  Events then conspire to lead them in a merry serendipitous  chase of catching glimpses of each other, finding out who each other is, and solving the riddle of such thump-thumping of the heart for a virtual stranger.

The Review :

Cecilia Ahern is a delightful author who knows how to write a cute, adorable love story sans the mush.  Well, maybe, there’s a little of it (you gotta have a little or there wouldn’t be a romance, right?); but not much at all, which makes it quite refreshing as long as you can lose yourself in a little absurdity.

The lovely thing about this book is that love here is not confined to romance.  Although the developing romance does drive the plot, most of the book actually depicts a beautiful relationship between father and daughter.  In fact, it does occupy a sizable chunk of it.  Ahern makes good use of the romantic framework to write about the strong filial bonds between father and daughter, love between siblings, and true friendships.

I  enjoyed the nice, heart-warming dialogues between the characters, Joyce and Dad, the most.  Here’s one…

On missing her mom:

‘Do you miss her?’

‘It’s been ten years, love.’

It stings that he could be so dismissive.  I fold my arms and look away, silently fuming.

Dad leans closer and nudges me.  ‘And everyday, I miss her more than I did the day before.’ …

‘It’s like my garden, love.  Everything grows.  Including love.  And with that growing everyday how can you expect missing her to ever fade away?  Everything builds, including our ability to cope with it.   That’s how we keep going.’….

And another :

‘And I just thought you liked pottering,’ I smile.

‘Ah , there’s a lot to be said about pottering…There are lessons in pottering.’

‘Like what?’  I try not to smile.

‘Well, even a garden grows stranglers, love.  It grows them naturally, all by itself.  They creep up and choke the plants that are growing from the very same soil as they are.  We each have our demons, our self-destruct button.  Even in gardens.  Pretty as they may be.  If you don’t potter, you don’t notice them.’…

Years from now, I may not remember the romance nor the book.  But, I would probably remember that I’ve read about a wonderful father-daughter relationship  somewhere.

To Read or Not To Read? :

The novel runs on simple, contemporary writing and some funny endearing characters.  It’s a light, fast read that’s splendid for indulging in short “alone” times, or for toting around your vacation.  Also a perfect book to pick up in between heavier reads.  So, if you just want something in this range,  this book is good—not a compelling page-turner; but it’s far from boring or shallow either.

The Final Word :

Although Thanks For The Memories may have a predictable plot,  there’s a  lot of heart in this book.  A modern fairy-tale-like romance with a wide mass market appeal, this book  must have gently tugged many a reader’s heartstrings  to have made it to a leading bookstore’s list of  must-read books since January.

My Mark :  Good; Quite Enjoyable

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The small print and the number of pages in this novel promises ample time in your reading chair.  So be sure to have lots of time to kill to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Author :  Susanna Clarke

Published Date : August 1, 2006

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765356155

ISBN-13: 978-0765356154

Pages :   1,024

Synopsis :

Susanna Clarke writes of an alternate England, a place rich in history of magic and folklore.

It is the beginning of the 19th century in England, a time when magic has been relegated to pages of esoteric books,  studied by only certain gentlemen with a passion for magical theory.  It has been centuries since magicians had wielded any real power or communed with fairy folk so that magic in England has been presumed lost forever or simply non-existent.

At the height of the Napoleonic war,  Mr. Norrell, a reclusive pedantic magician, one of the only practical or practicing magicians in England, suddenly comes out of his solitary society with the goal of restoring magic in England, in his own terms.  So he applies to help the government combat Napoleon Buonaparte.  His magical talents immediately catapult him to celebrity status.  Soon however, a younger and more adventurous magician,  sort of a more freewheeling one in the person of Jonathan Strange, emerges to aid Mr. Norrell in the war.  Owing to the Mr. Norrell’s age and scholarship (he owns almost all the books of magic that can be had), Strange becomes his pupil.  Together, they become England’s most celebrated and only recognized magicians.

Their contradictory personalities and philosophies, however, guarantee a building scenario toward a clash which inevitably brings about Strange’s estrangement from his former mentor.  This division between England’s two foremost magicians lead to a cataclysmic strife in fulfillment of a prophecy for both England and the world of the fairy.

The Review:

This book, a gift from my aunt, had been sitting in my shelf for more than a year now.  Its simple cover and ordinary title just didn’t cry out to be read so that the book was often bypassed in favor of those with more interesting colors and come-ons.

Little did I know…these nondescript book covers hold pages of a marvelous literary gem that outshines many in my library.  This book is a rare delight, a captivating original for which I can find no equal.

The New York Post says of this work :  “…think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray…”    I disagree.  It is a far cry from J.K. Rowling’s and Tolkien’s work.  This book stands on its own merits and can perhaps have that exceptional position of having no other work in its genre that can be compared to it.

The book is a blend of history and fantasy, the most part being that of fantasy.  However, the reader is never sure where fiction ends and fact begins (are there even any facts?) when the author starts footnoting a word, a title, or a group of  sentences.  The footnotes, fictitious or otherwise, often refer to dated publications.  There are way over a hundred of these footnotes which pepper the entire book.  The footnotes themselves are interesting pieces of asides, ranging as short as as a one-liner to as long as a little story in itself, spanning two pages.  Susanna Clarke  used meticulous footnoting as a brilliant strategy to lend her book a conviction of credibility.

The language of writing is reminiscent of those of the nineteenth century.  Take a peek into a Jane Austen novel and you’ll know what I mean.  The style is formal and elegant yet wonderfully precise so that it showcases the author’s sharp dry wit and her command of vivid description.

“The door opened to reveal a tall, broad fellow of thirty or forty.  His face was round, white, pockmarked and bedabbled with sweat like a Chesire cheese.  All in all he bore a striking resemblance to the man in the moon who is reputed to be made of cheese.  He had shaved himself with no very high degree of skill and here and there on his white face two or three coarse black hairs appeared–rather as if a family of flies had drowned in the milk before the cheese was made and their legs were poking out of it…”

One can be enraptured by this old-fashioned intelligent writing style.  As one so enamored, I felt like I were in a feather cloud of words with all these pretty phrases falling delicately about me.   Susanna Clarke writes very consistently in this manner and even uses archaic spelling in keeping with her language.   For example, she uses “chuse” for choose, “shew” for show, “scissars” for scissors.

This is Susanna Clarke’s debut novel and it speaks for the author’s superb writing talent.  Her deadpan humor can fairly surprise a chuckle from you while her orchestrated sudden mood turns can illicit that gasp of incredulity.  At times, the narrative may sound indifferent and haughty and then dark and sinister in an instant.  How Clarke plays with her words is a marvel to witness;  and with this, she draws her characters and events so well as to leave one wanting more despite the book’s thousand pages.

To Read Or Not To Read?:

All this is not to say, however, that this book is for everyone.  The writing language may not appeal to many, the thousand or so pages may prove to be daunting,  and the footnoting may leave a tedious aftertaste with some readers.    To enjoy it, one must not mind reading a very long fantastical story written in old-fashioned English.  Rather, the reader must savor its literary style  and allow himself to be transported into its world to really appreciate this book.   For those who don’t mind these caveats,  the joy of immersing in a work of quality and originality will be reward enough.

In A Nutshell:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell deserves the heaps of glowing reviews,  and its Hugo and World Fantasy awards.  It is a phenomenal masterpiece  which seamlessly embodies social comedy, fantasy, history, Gothic horror, and a teeny tiny sprinkling of poignant romance.  A wonderful, wonderful book best enjoyed when savored, this  novel of high fantasy has surely earned an honored place in my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent; Superior

Author :  Ken Follet

First Release (Hardcover edition) :  Sept. 7, 1989

Paperback Edition :  1990

Publisher :  New American Library

Pages  :  983

I have read “Pillars of the Earth” a long time ago and have counted this as one of my all-time faves.   An epic masterpiece by Ken Follet, this book  is a total departure from his usual spy and action thrillers.   Instead, this is a hauntingly beautiful historical novel that shows Follet’s skill and maturity in his writing.

Binary Primate does a good review of this novel.  And so does 2nd Monday Dogs.  Please do check them out.

Incidentally, “Pillars of the Earth” has been adapted into a board game!  I learned it from this post by FootNotes.  This book is that good!

My Mark :  Excellent

This month, I’ll be reviewing its sequel “World Without End“.  I hope it’s as good as this one.