October 2009


Yes! I’ve done it!  Finished my first challenge and just in a few days before the deadline, October 31st.

I read a total of five books.  See my list here.   Perhaps, I shall add to the list next time around.  Because of this challenge, I’ve discovered two authors I’ve added to my roster of favorites.   I’ve rated my best reads for this challenge to be The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dalhquist and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.   These novels are so original they are just in a league of their own.

It was a great experience and a lot of fun immersing myself  in the gothic / horror genre.  Next year will certainly see me in the R.I.P. challenge again, if only to get my hands on their next beautiful logo. Tee hee! 😀

My thanks to Stainless Steel Droppings for developing and hosting this annual event.

And to all of you:

HAPPY ALL HALLOW’S EVE!

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Whew!  Finished this book in the nick of time before the end of the R.I.P. IV Challenge.  My copy is an old,  borrowed book from my Aunt Cristie with yellowed pages and the title cover almost falling apart at its seams.  It’s so old that some of you haven’t probably even been born yet when this was published.

So, this is my book for the Halloween season,  my last one for the R.I.P. IV , and my sixth novel down for the Fall Into Reading 2009 Challenge.

Author :  John G. Fuller

Copyright :  1976

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 1978  (Paperback)

Publisher :  Berkley Publishing Corporation

ISBN-10: 425-03553-0

The Story :

In December 29, 1972, Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades en route from New York to Miami.  One hundred one people died including  veteran pilots Captain Robert Loft, First Officer Albert Stockstill and Second Officer Donald Repo.  Miraculously, though, there were some survivors, among them a baby and a dog.  The cause of the crash was attributed to the failure of the flight crew to monitor the flight instruments while trying to solve the problem of an indicator landing gear light.  From a holding flight level of 2,000 feet, the plane  steadily decreased in altitude, imperceptibly until the last few seconds.

This disaster is a true documented story that happened way back in the early seventies.  Significantly, EAL Flight 401 was the first wide body plane to crash and at that time, catalogued as one of the worst airline catastrophes in the U.S.   But what really made this flight so famous were the subsequent reports of apparitions onboard other Eastern Airlines aircrafts which were fitted with good working parts salvaged from the luckless plane.  These ghost stories were well known inside the airline industry.

Flight crew members including some pilots and several passengers attest to seeing Captain Loft seated in the jumpseat a few times, simply looking straight ahead.  The ghost of Second Officer Don Repo, however, made frequent appearances to the flight crew and spoke to them to either warn of impending danger or to show damaged parts or equipment.  At one point,  he was reported to have said that he would never allow another Eastern Airlines plane to crash again.  Although he occasionally appeared in ways that were really hair-rasingly creepy (at one time appearing with only his head in a galley oven) all who encountered the ghosts agree that these spirits were benevolent and were there to protect their flights.

Intrigued with the consistency of the accounts and the fact that Eastern Airlines had resorted to concealment tactics which involved removal of many pages from the flight logbook, repeated subtle company threats and outright denials, the author did extensive research into the encounters to establish whether there really is a life after death and if we all indeed have a soul.

The Review :

The first half of the book details the crash in all its miserable, heart-wrenching detail.  It is quite a gripping account as you visualize the enormity of the catastrophe — how all lives are changed for the survivors, for all the passengers’ families and close friends, and also for the rescuers who have to face the gruesome  carnage.

The ghost stories appear on the second half .  If you’re leaning toward believing their realism, it is positively hairy to know that ghosts appear in 3-D so much so that they appear genuinely alive, like you and me.  More so, that they can chillingly appear with only a body part visible; in this case, only the flight engineer’s head looking at the stewardesses from inside an oven.  Brrrr!!!  (The uniformed man with the opaque white eyes on the front cover actually give me the creeps.)

As entertaining as these ghost stories were, and should have been the life of the book, I lost a bit of interest somewhere around the middle.   I found the number of accounts paltry.  I wish the author treated his readers to a lot more, as he had stated he had a lot of material on 401’s appartions that goaded him to delve into the question of life after death.  So, the middle of the second part does, sadly begin to nosedive a bit with the author’s lengthy account of how he went about his research.  He relates that he discovered mediums in the aviation industry to communicate with the ghosts of the flight crew, dabbled in ouija board, etc.  Although these are supposed to be fascinating in themselves,   his way of writing just didn’t quite make it so.  The ghost stories were those buoying up the flagging narrative.

His account toward the end though, was interesting; but if you didn’t quite believe it, you’d say absurd.

To Read Or Not To Read :

If you’ve even half a mind to believe in ghosts, other dimensions, and psychics, this should kick up your Halloween night, as everything is  purportedly bone-chillingly real.

Funny, The Ghost of Flight 401 is the second semi-non-fiction read I’ve proposed for Halloween. (The Historian would have been my choice though; The book is a class on its own; but I picked it up way too early for the 31st.)   I’m actually not sure whether to categorize this book as fiction or non-fiction; but I’m more inclined to say non-fiction because I do believe in souls and in the afterlife.  Last year,  I reviewed a nail-biting worry into the possibilities of the future in The Cobra Event, a fictitious story running on a lot of very true, very terrifying documented facts.

In A Nutshell:

For his conclusion, Fuller argues on the reality of the apparitions on some of these ff. points:

1.  Pilots involved are all sane, well-adjusted, down-to-earth individuals with excellent powers of observation and definitely not prone to exaggeration.

2.  “There are too many people involved in the story.  They all check out.”

3. “The descriptions given us from widely separated sources are all similar, and in many cases identical.  Most of the parties involved did not know each other, so there was no chance of collusion.”

4. “Groups of people, including passengers, claim to have seen the reappearances.  They could not all have been hallucinating.”

5.  “Why would all crew members we interviewed make this story up — IT’S NOT THAT GOOD A JOKE!

On this note,  I leave it up to you to decide whether Fuller was right or simply a kook.

But whatever you decide, just enjoy the book for what it’s worth.  Have a scary HALLOWEEN

My Mark :  Very Good!

A most appropriate read for my R.I.P. IV  Challenge and a great one for my and Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  Elizabeth Kostova

Date of First Publication :  June, 2005 (Hardcover)

Publisher of 1st Edition :  Little, Brown and Company

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 2006 (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher : Back Bay Books

ISBN:  0-316-05788-6

No. of pages : 820  (Paperback)

The Story :

A young American girl stumbles upon an unusual book in her father’s library.  Its pages are empty except for a woodcut of a menacing dragon with the title, Drakulya, on it.  Along with it is a stash of old letters written by a her father’s favorite professor, Bartholomew Rossi, who mysteriously disappeared at the time when her father was still his student.

Her discovery reveals her family’s dark and dangerous quest for the continued existence of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula.  Slowly , drawn by her father’s accounts, she joins her family’s adventure of pursuing the undead through old letters and ancient texts, from libraries , aged monasteries and closed countries of Eastern Europe.

The Review :

You’ve got to be “in love at first read” with Elizabeth Kostova’s lush, vivid, elegant prose.  Her attention to detail is a constant that keeps the ambience of the book flowing, cloaking the reader with gothic creepiness that blends surprisingly well with romantic elements,  all throughout its eight hundred and so pages.  (By romantic elements I mean the sumptuous descriptions which enamor a reader to places, culture, people, etc. )  To read Kostova’s work is  to experience a story so intimately — you “see” the colorful pageantry of Byzantine culture, “taste”  delectable Turkish food, “smell” the smell of the undead, “feel” the anguish of the tortured.

If she fails to capture your interest in her first one or two hundred pages, chances are you simply cannot love this.  It’s one of those books that will either mesmerize you with its sensual vividness and alluring writing or because of these very qualities, tire you with its ponderous pace and lengthy minutiae.

For me, however, it is exactly Kostova’s way with language and her meticulous manner that are the charms of this novel.  It makes me wish I could absorb Kostova’s prose into my very pores in the hopes I would be able to write as eloquently and as gorgeously as she can.  Aside from being able to string words  so marvelously, she can switch the narrative perspective between a number of characters so effortlessly that the reader is hardly left wondering who is telling the story at certain points.

As a gothic novel, The Historian is superb.  It’s got all those dark elements, creepy atmosphere, but tempered so that it just falls short of being a horror novel.  The story moves like a slow crescendo,  building up bit by bit to a startling peak that gently tapers out toward the end. With all that, the reader is treated also to a well-researched history of Dracula, which makes reading all the more interesting.

In A Nutshell :

A horror novel, The Historian is not.  It may raise a few hairs, make your spine tingle, give you little shivers but it stops short of being truly terrifying.  It wasn’t written to be really such.  Yes, a chiller; but one laden with a lot more history and mystery than visceral terror.

This is a thick, page-laden novel .  But length becomes no object when you have totally immersed yourself in it.

Those who take to the novel quite early are more likely to appreciate this gem.  On the whole, it is worth the time.  To echo  a fellow blogger, KyusiReader, The Historian is indeed a very, very satisfying read.

My Mark :  Excellent

Everyone knows the story of Cinderella.  But Gregory Maguire takes us a step backward to see the story behind the story.  He deromanticizes the fairy tale and creates a realism behind it, adding a new dimension to a traditional story while staying true to the original framework.

This is my fourth read for Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.  Four more to go.


Author :  Gregory Maguire

Date of First Publication :  October 6, 1999 (Hardcover)

Publisher :      William Morrow

ISBN-10: 0060392827

ISBN-13: 978-0060392826

Hardcover: 384 pages

The Story :

Margarethe and her two daughters, Iris (plain but clever) and Ruth (an ugly simpleton), flee England in the dead of night and sail for Holland.  Destitute and friendless, the family is forced to beg for their survival.  At last, a painter offers them board and lodging in exchange for housework and the permission for the plain daughter, Iris, to sit as a model for his canvas.  So for a while, the family is happily fed and secure.

A prosperous tulip merchant,  Cornelius van den Meer,  drops by at the painter’s studio one day and offers to buy the painting of Iris. However as a condition of sale,  Iris must accompany the painting to live in the great house and serve as a companion to Clara, the merchant’s extraordinarily beautiful but reclusive daughter. Margarethe sees this as an opportunity for greener pastures and loses no time insinuating herself and her other daughter in the deal.  Soon, she makes herself indispensable to the van den Meer household.

As tragedy would have it,  Cornelius’ wife and Clara’s mother, dies in childbirth.  Gritty Margarethe sees the opportunity to secure her family’s future and finds a way to marry the merchant.  Meanwhile, Clara, depressed and insecure upon her mother’s death and the marriage of her father to Margarethe, consigns herself to the kitchen, covers herself with ash and acquires a new name, Cinderella.  She declares her beauty a burden and seeks solace in the anonymity of kitchen drudgery.

But, tragedy does strike twice.  The tulip trade is disrupted; so soon,  the merchant  finds himself on the brink of poverty.   Unwilling to face hunger and indignity again, Margarethe makes a last ditch effort.  She prepares herself and her daughters for the coming ball where she, in her determination, believes plain Iris would capture the Prince’s interest with her intelligence.  Beautiful Clara, to Margarethe’s delight, refuses to go and parade herself for the Prince. Margarethe knows that Clara’s beauty would surely awe the Prince and that her marriage to him, coupled with her disdain for her stepmother, would land her family back in the poorhouse.

But unbeknown to Margarethe, Iris convinces Clara to get out of her shell and attend the party of the decade.  She secures a gown and a veil for Clara to hide under.  Clara appears at the ball, radiantly mysterious and gets the Prince’s undivided attention.  The rest is history with the glass slipper, coach, the midnight run  and all.

The Review :

Between the stark delineations of the good and the bad in any fairy tale, Maguire steps in to create a gray world — is the bad really that bad or just misunderstood?

Much like history or any story for that matter, fairy tales are told from a point of view, this being mostly from the hero’s .    Gregory Maguire is known as an author who loves to turn a fairy tale inside out with a resounding concept : “Let’s hear it from the other side”.

As with “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”, Maguire gives a voice to the villains, , telling the story from their perspective, and imbuing these much maligned characters with more humanity.  His intention is to relate how the forces of personality and circumstance that  influence  reactions and decisions,  coupled with the judgmental character of human nature, easily cast people  into roles of iniquity or seeming goodness.  Hence, there are always two sides to a coin;  and it is never two-dimensional.

In this vein, the author tackles duality in such concepts as beauty, love, compassion, greed — for instance, beauty as both blessing and curse, greed as both corruptible and necessary;  so that this is no mere fairy tale rehash but one with a purpose to provide some rumination on the abstracts of good and bad.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister” holds almost true to the Cinderella plot outline, except for the setting, Holland, and an event toward the end. It is quite entertaining how Maguire weaves a realistic background to the simple framework of the fairy tale. Told through the perspective of Iris, one of Cinderella’s or Clara’s stepsisters, we get a grip on why the Cinderella story had been spun so.

Because of the author’s inclination toward establishing the events and characters on which Cinderella’s story evolved to be what it is, readers may find half of the book a bit slow paced.

Although Maguire’s framework is commendable and his writing intentions, successful; there are nevertheless, a vagueness in Maguire’s writing here that I wish were clearer. To cite a few:   Clara (Cinderella) is somewhat a vague character and the reader may not be able to get a good understanding on what makes her tick. We are given the impression of a recluse, someone afraid of life. However, she suddenly does an about face by being very bold with the Prince, a stranger, at the ball. Also, Clara’s experience as a child at the windmill is left to imagination. What was it really? This, and some others, may irritate a reader who appreciates straightforwardness and specifics; but for those can live with conjecture, this shouldn’t be much of a bother.

In A Nutshell :

Although, not as good as his other novel, “Wicked….” , “Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister” is nevertheless, still a pleasurable read, a satisfying deconstruction and reinvention of Cinderella that would appeal to those who love stories thought “out of the box”.

My Mark  :  Very Good

I hadn’t realized until yesterday that last October 2nd, I had reached one year of blogging about books!

My 1st Bloggiversary!

I’m glad to note how far this blog has come in terms of readership.  It started out simply as a guilty exercise, a sort of purging by sharing what I’m reading to justify all those books for which I  suddenly had the compulsion to buy.   That and the fact that  I was casting around for a new hobby as well.

After a dearth of reading—I mean sparsely reading—for a number of years, I suddenly had this urge to know all about authors and the stories I’ve missed all this time.  I’ve been catching up since then.  But, I’m having the time of my life doing so!

I’ve discovered some really good authors, know whom to avoid, and actually widened my reading preferences by trying books recommended by other book-loving bloggers.

I’ve also managed to snag author William Napier‘s (Christopher Hart’s) thanks for my positive reviews on his Attila series:  The Gathering of the Storm (Book 2) and The Judgement (Book 3) . Wasn’t I flattered!

Best of all, though, I’ve come to meet other book lovers and know them bit by bit through their blogs, which I believe are as interesting as their personalities.

Writing is a chore (for me, that is).   I hadn’t flexed my pen since the formal theme days in highschool, which was an unmentionably looong time ago.  So for encouraging me to stick to this blog, thank you all very much!   I’m having so much fun!


From the spiritual, “The Shack“, to the shallow….

Author :  Christina Dodd

Date of Publication :  February 2007 (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Signet

ISBN-10: 0451220560

ISBN-13: 978-0451220561 No. of pages :  400

The Story:

Meadow  Szarvas breaks into hunky, sexy, billionaire Devlin Fitzwilliam’s home to steal a priceless painting (created by her famous grandmother)  to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), she falls, hits her head and gets caught.  Meadow tries to weasel her way out of jail by pretending to have amnesia.  Astute Devlin knows this for a lie but plays along to the tune of his own schemes.  He insists that she is his wife.   They were married in Majorca.  Does she not remember their romantic meeting?

Now Meadow is helplessly embroiled in both their lies but she must stay to find that masterpiece, for her mother’s sake.

But she is not the only one interested in such a valuable painting.   Someone else is willing to  kill to find it.  Now Meadow is danger, not only of losing her heart but also her life…

The Review :

I suspected this was a quick read and I was right.  “Tongue In Chic” is  the type of book you’d grab if you just wanted a typical romance—you know, the one where a dashing, ultra wealthy (always a romantic criterion) , handsome man falls head over heels with a ravishing, unpredictable (she can never be boring)  kind-hearted girl.  It’s the classic love-team where opposites attract.

As in all romantic novels, there must be conflict to heighten the drama; so, in this case, the amnesia and marriage lies.  In the beginning, these are interesting enough to develop the romance but later,  grow too lame and stretched out to still be believable fodder for romantic conflict.  You’d eventually think, “Why can’t they just admit the truth to each other already?”  The story starts to get silly from thereon.

As for the mystery/suspense part of the book, it does help prod the otherwise boring romantic plot along but it’s not much of a plot saver.

To Read Or Not To Read :

If you can get past the femme fatale’s eye-rolling cheesy name, Meadow (ugh!), her childish and inane impetuousness (like suddenly dropping her clothes in the middle of a garden just because it was a full moon…and that after playing so hard to get…huh?),  then by all means, read!  You may get all shivery with Dodd’s hunky delight,  a strong, capable, muscle-bound knight in shining armor worth lusting for.

While you’re at it, try figuring out why this book is titled as it is — “Tongue In Chic“.  Why?   Still beats me…

In A Nutshell :

This book is a commercial romance;  that’s why I shouldn’t expect too much.  It wasn’t all that bad— but I may be saying this just because I fell for the hero. 🙂

Grudgingly, then, I give this book:

My Mark  :   Ok (but you can chuck it after and not miss it)

After witches and black magic,  I wanted to lean towards the other end of the pole for something inspirational and good.  The Shack is my second read for my Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  William P. Young

Date of Publication :  July 1, 2007 (1st edition — paperback)

Publisher :  Windblown Media

ISBN-10: 0964729237

ISBN-13: 978-0964729230

No. of pages :  256

The Story:

Mackenzie Phillips is an average family man whose Christian faith is perhaps, like all the rest — seemingly steadfast,  until tragedy of immense proportions strikes.  Mack takes his kids, one day, on a camping trip where this life-changing event takes place.  Missy, his six-year old daughter is kidnapped and the worst is presumed.  A massive manhunt begins.  Soon evidence of Missy’s brutal murder is found through her bloody red dress on the floor of an old, ramshackle shack in the middle of the woods.  Not a trace else can be found, neither her body nor any DNA imprints from her abductor.

After four years, Mack still has no closure.  As he struggles with relationships within a family still struggling to cope in the aftermath, so does he wrestle with his relationship with God.  One day, Mack receives a note inviting him to go up to the shack.  The note is signed, “God”.

Angry, intrigued and prepared for the worst, Mack makes a trip up to the shack.  To his surprise, he does meet God…Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well.   But They are not who Mack expects.

My Review :

This is a kind of book that strikes the core of anyone who has ever been a parent. For what is a parent’s greatest fear but that of losing his beloved child? And how does one cope with a loss this staggering; more emphatically how does one come to terms with God, the only One a person is supposed to rely on when all else fails? How can one trust Him who has allowed such a horrible tragedy to happen? How can one even believe He exists?

These are the painful and complicated questions to which The Shack ambitiously tries to grapple. It does so by laying down the the framework of  Christianity, told through a beautiful story of a grieving father coaxed back toward redemption through face-to-face conversations with the Holy Trinity about questions that have plagued many a religion. Why does God allow evil? Why is there evil?  Why me?

This book answers philosophical questions with simplicity, distilling them down to their essences. It aims to cover man’s questions about existence sans religion;  although, it really pushes “Born-Again” Christian philosophies more than anything.

At the onset of Mack’s meeting with God, the author wipes out preconceived notions of God’s physical attributes giving totally different “looks” and personality to Him. God the Father is a big black woman; Jesus is an average looking Middle Eastern guy; the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. Thus the author signals us that what his God will say are probably stuff that never occurred to you or was never taught in school theology.

The Shack is really a touching book, if you allow it to be.  It is over simplistic ; but God’s lessons,  although delivered so plainly does need some time to absorb. You may have to re-read some conversations and mull over them in order to get the full import of what the author wishes us to realize.

It’s quite easy to understand the popularity of this book.  It is by no means preachy (thank goodness, as I have an aversion to those).   I think the author was careful not to make it so.  He cleverly persuades the reader to look at it his way by creating casual conversations between God and Mack.  This way, he isn’t directly telling the reader what he ought to believe. The book is popular because it is simple, fictionalized into a heart-warming story which can touch Christians of all persuasions— Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, etc.  The author’s objective, I believe, must have been to write a book that would reach a wide audience, and to be sort of a subtle “missionary” piece of work. From this perspective, I’m sure it has achieved what it was meant to do.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Whether to read this or not, I give mixed encouragement.

If you are put off by authors who humanize God, the depiction of God as a colored woman in a colorful “mumu”, baking pies while fielding answers to serious questions may not be your cup of tea.

To read this book, you must drop all prejudices and just try to get into the author’s head — really look at what he is trying to say and you may just discover some really good philosophies. They may not answer everything but what man can, anyway? William P. Young, though, makes a marvelous try.

Some Catholics may find this a bit pushy on the “Born-Again” Christian concepts; but then, most of the lessons here are pretty universal and the reader may be enriched by them:

God : “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”   — p. 185

God :  “All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice.  If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning.  This world is not a playground  where I keep all my children free from evil.  Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say.  Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t.  If I take away the consequences of people’s choices , I destroy the possibility of love.  Love that is forced is no love at all.”  — p. 190

In A Nutshell:

One important criteria I usually keep in mind when reviewing a book is how successful an author has been in accomplishing what he set out to do.   He may have characters I may not like nor identify with but if he was able to do what he aimed to do, (ex. create a character and develop him realistically),  I regard this as a success and factors heavily in my decision toward a good rating.  Why do I say this?

A number of condescending reviews have been written to complain of the naivete  of Young’s concepts, his lop-sided depiction of  God— kind, patient, forgiving, loving… (where is His other side, the side that punishes (ex. The Great Flood),  that is wrathful of  sin (ex. Sodom and Gomorrah)?)

Perhaps, they have missed the point of this book.  The author’s mission for this story is  redemption, about persuading people to turn back towards God and faith. This is what I believe Young set out to do.  Therefore,  to inspire people to do so, he wrote something simple, easy to read, with a topic close to people’s hearts, and with a God who is benevolently reaching out to them.  If this book has touched someone enough for him to discover God again, then Young is a success.  And this book has touched many.

If The Shack has made a mark on you, however small, then it is a good book to get back to from time to time, one deserving of a permanent space on your shelf.

My Mark  :  Outstanding