December 2009


Before New Year’s Eve is upon us, let me list my reads for 2010 on my On The Shelf page.  See them here.

I shall only list a few first then simply add as I go along.

As a personal challenge, I intend to stick to these reads and purchase new books sparingly.  My goal for this coming year is to make a serious dent in my TBR pile.

Now that I have made a New Year’s resolution, let me wish you all :

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This year’s Christmas was a merry one for me.  The bulk of my presents were bread making books from friends and family who are quite enthusiastic about my newfound hobby, bread making.  Of course, they are all thinking of the warm home-baked dinner rolls which I gifted them before the Holidays officially began.

To  my delight, I was able to bake really soft clover bread.  For experienced bakers, this isn’t probably anything to crow about; but for someone who has next to nil baking background and has learned about yeast and kneading this past month only from the internet, this counts as a small achievement.  🙂

My latest treasures :

Peter Reinhart’s books (those two at the top) appear to be marvelous condensed courses on advanced bread making made simpler for the home baker.  From quick browsing, I think the book touches a bit on the science behind making bread.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice in particular, had been awarded Cookbook of the Year by James Beard Foundation Book Awards and Book of the Year by The IACP Cookbook Awards.

The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum is filled with wonderfully drawn bread making procedures and techniques, fantastic for novice bread bakers like me.

Classic Breads by Manuela Caldirola , Nicoletta Negri, and Nathalie Aru boasts large mouth-watering photos of many bread types including decorative breads.  Most recipes call for fresh yeast, not readily available perhaps to the home baker but it is just probably learning how to substitute this for the more available instant variety.

Baking by James Peterson is chock full of photos of techniques and recipes with sections on bread, cookies, pies, tarts, etc.

2010 will certainly be a year of baking for me; but I hope this won’t be a year where, heaven forbid, I acquire the average baker’s waistline.  Unfortunately I love to eat what I bake.  😦

Nevertheless, I am so excited to delve well into these books.  I love my Christmas!

Peter of KyusiReader suggested that I post my best and worst books for 2009.  So, for this year’s wrap-up, here’s my list of faves and flops (in no particular order):

Most Enjoyable:

1.   Gates of Fire ————————-   Steven Pressfield

2.   The Historian ————————   Elizabeth Kostova

3.   Before The Dawn ———————  Nicholas Wade

4. Exile ———————————–  Richard North Patterson

5.   Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell —Susanna Clark

6.   Memoirs of a Geisha —————-  Arthur Golden

7.   The Book of Joe ———————  Jonathan Tropper

8. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – Gordon Dahlquist

9.   The Shack —————————–  William P. Young

10.  The Eyre Affair ———————   Jasper Fforde

11.   Remember Me? ——————–    Sophie Kinsella

12.   Good Omens ————————   Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

13.   The Last Time I Saw Mother ——-   Arlene J. Chai

Most Disappointing :

1.    Full Bloom —————————   Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes

2.    Danse Macabre ———————-   Laurell K. Hamilton

3.    Day of Confession ——————     Allan Folsom

4.    The Scot, The Witch and The Wardrobe — Annette Blair

In terms of discovering great stories and authors, I must say 2009 has been quite a profitable reading year for me with only four duds to mar the good streak.

As we approach the end of this year, let me make an assessment of my reading progress  before I turn to greet the New Year armed with another set of resolutions.

With only about forty three books reviewed,  I’ve been very slow indeed.  A lot of  books on my ON THE SHELF page are still waiting to be picked up (those not bordered in red) as my choices have diverted from the list from time to time.

This year has not seen too much reading and blogging activity on my part, with major slacking during the summer months.  I had a reading slump early this year which I attribute to distraction from other interests.

This is also a year where I’ve discovered that reading challenges actually do me good.  They goad me to stick to my reading list and finish them within the deadline.  So for 2010, I shall be joining more.

No formulated New Year resolutions yet except to exceed this year’s dismal reading record.   But the most important thing I should remember before racing toward that goal is enjoyment.  No point reading without it.  🙂

That being said, let me wish all of you :

Squeezing in another novel before the year ends…

Author :  Arlene J. Chai

Date of  First Publication :   1995 (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition :  Random House Australia Pty Ltd.

This Edition’s Publication Date :  2008

ISBN : 978-0-345-50958-1

No. of pages : 350

The Story :

Caridad gets a cryptic letter from her mother in the Philippines, asking her to come home.  Since her mother never writes,  a worried Caridad rushes home to Manila.  As soon as she arrives, her mother bluntly reveals a lifelong secret that forces Caridad to come to know herself and her family.  And as she listens to the stories reliving the painful period of the Second World War in the Philippines, she is taken into a tale of family love, strength, human frailty, hope and forgiveness.

The Review :

Arlene J. Chai is a Filipino, born and raised in Manila; thus this novel is refreshingly very Filipino.  It is set in Manila and told from the perspective of a Filipino-Chinese family.  It isn’t often that  I get to read an internationally distributed book by a Filipino author so I was pleasantly surprised to be immersed in a well written fiction in the league of many good bestsellers.

Chai writes very simply, fluidly but with enough sensuousness to create a clearly palpable Philippines in the throes of World War II.  The vivid historical details provide a great backdrop and interest to the otherwise simple plot.  But, the best feature of this book is the author’s choice of telling the story with the voices of four principal women characters.  As each narrate their own side of the story, each character infuses her own perspectives, feelings, and humanity in slow layers that deliciously build the novel’s depth and richness.

Aside from events in Manila during the war, the story also takes the readers through a bit of contemporary Philippine history with mention of tidbits from the People’s Power Revolution, the Marcos’ regime, and the Aquino assassination.

The author also treats us to a lot of insights into the Filipino’s complex family life, psyche, and culture, along with a better understanding of  the  multi-faceted Filipino society which owes its character to social class factions subdivided further along racial lines.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Filipino readers will be happy to relate to a story along familiar contexts, nuances, and events.  However, this book’s appeal  sets no racial boundaries. This is first and foremost a story about familial love and relationships which do not differ among race, social status, or creed; hence, this book’s international success.  Anyone can relate to the story; one just gets the added bonus of learning much more about Filipino life.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Christmas is almost right around the corner.  With the rush beginning to build, I felt it was good to touch base with Christmas’ origins — the story behind our gilt laden trees, the frenetic shopping, carols, and festively wrapped presents.  Should the Season start to get overwhelming, the story will be with me to sustain my perspective of joy and thanksgiving.

Author :  Angela Hunt

Publication Date :  October 25, 2006

Publisher :   Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

ISBN-10: 1414314620

ISBN-13: 978-1414314624

No. of pages:  224

The Story :

A young virgin, Mary, betrothed according to Jewish customs to a carpenter, Joseph, is blessed by the appearance of Angel Gabriel who tells her some extraordinary news.  She is chosen to bear the Messiah, the Son of God who shall be conceived by the Holy Ghost.  Mary accepts God’s will without question.  But, now she is faced with a dilemma: how to convince  Joseph and her family of this divine conception?

With understandable doubts and disappointment threatening to break his betrothal, Joseph is visited by an angel who tells him of God’s will for Mary.  Joseph embraces this revelation and takes her to wife unconditionally.  Despite the sardonic regard and the barely concealed distaste of the Jewish community for what it considers a blatant disregard of morals,  Joseph and Mary carve a life for themselves with a great and also anxious anticipation of the Miracle soon to be born to them.

As it was the time of Caesar Augustus, a Roman edict for a census was passed which forced everyone to travel to their place of birth.  Joseph had  no choice but to take Mary, who was close to her time, on a long, perilous journey to Bethlehem.

The couple arrived in Bethlehem at nightfall to find no accomodations available.   Because of the edict, every home and inn in Bethlehem were full to the rafters of travelers.   By this time, Mary was going into labor and Joseph had to find a place.  They were directed to the only space available, a holding pen for animals.  So, the couple settled there for the the Birth of the Messiah.  And the rest is Biblical history…

The Review :

Angela Hunt treats us to a more vibrant retelling of the otherwise bland Biblical rendition of the Birth of Christ.  This is a novelization of the movie of the same title by Mike Rich.

Hunt tries to recreate the Jewish lifestyle under Roman rule in the first century.  We read about the helplessness of Jews under Roman law and under their own  corrupt government, the stringent social rules governing male and female roles and behavior, the perils of travel in ancient times, and the wonderment of spiritual appearances that had to do perhaps with people’s total God-centric lives then (a life alien to most modern lifestyles).

The focus of this book is Mary and Joseph (whose contribution is often overlooked), as a couple who had to face social distancing from their community which considered an unmarried woman’s pregnancy as taboo, the gravity of which was perhaps akin to adultery.  The fact that Joseph was willing to wed Mary despite her condition only made them marginally socially tolerable to their Jewish community.

It is refreshing to know that a usually Biblically downplayed or  often ignored person such as Joseph is wonderfully characterized and given importance here.  He is depicted as a staunch, reliable, faithful, strong and patient man whose love for Mary is quite touching.  Hunt’s portrayal of Joseph will endear him to readers who will come to be more aware of the sacrifices this saint had to undergo as Jesus’ stepfather.

Hunt’s Mary is not the doormat she may be perceived to be.  Although always pure and good, she is courageous and has a stubborn streak in this book that serves her well when she needs to be firm about going away to visit her cousin Elizabeth or going through the rough journey to Bethlehem.  She is quiet and docile but  definitely not spineless, no siree!

Hunt’s writing style is simple, actually on the average, mundane level which however, makes for very fast, easy reading.  There isn’t any flair to her style but the book is still well-written and enjoyable.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Read the book, why not?  For Christians, it  will give you a better appreciation of the Christmas celebration. Although the personalities of the characters are enhanced, they all still remain true to their core characterizations in the Bible.

If you’re a non-Christian, this story will be another interesting one to add to your knowledge should you have a curiosity on the beginnings of  interesting Christmas symbols and traditions  like gift-giving, the star on the tree, the Christmas tree itself (which I think represents the triangular rays of the Star of Bethlehem shining down on Christ’s birthplace–hence the ubiquitous decorative star topper), etc.   You may or may not believe in the story; nonetheless, it is still a good story about great things starting from humble beginnings.

In A Nutshell :

The Nativity Story by Angela Hunt adds a new and delightful dimension to the famous Biblical First Christmas.  It does pique an interest in the movie as well.  But most importantly, this book will bring the essence of Christmas closer to our hearts.

As the author has succeeded in accomplishing this purpose, despite an ordinary, simplistic style, I give :

My Mark  :  Outstanding!

Author :  Allan Folsom

Date of Publication :  May 1999  (mass paperback)

Publisher :  Warner Books

ISBN-10: 0446604534

No. of pages :  667

The Story :

A Cardinal’s confession seals Father Daniel Addison’s fate as a VIP target of a conspiracy rooted in the highest echelons of the Vatican.  Before he disappears, he leaves a desperate message for his brother, Harry.  The cardinal vicar of Rome is suddenly assassinated and Father Daniel is blamed. Soon after, a bus explodes with Father Daniel onboard.

Harry Addision flies to Italy to claim his brother’s body, only to discover that his brother is alive but missing and himself, framed for the murder of an Italian policeman.  An American on the run in a foreign country, Harry relies on his wits and luck while on the trail of his brother, to unravel the horrific conspiracy he had unwittingly become the target of.

The Review :

Folsom tries to a spin a thriller of a grandiose scale and fails miserably.  The basis of his conspiracy encompasses elements too immense in scale and too opposite (i.e. China, the Vatican) to be woven together believably.  Well, at least by his attempts in this book.  The plot to get the Vatican to have a strong religious hold in China is just way too preposterous.

Even the characters behave unrealistically, by whom I mean:  the evil Cardinal who believes he is the reincarnation of Alexander the Great (Catholics do not believe in reincarnation);  a young nun who just has the temerity to face a man in a sheer nightgown; a very sick priest still able to fight from a wheelchair.  Moreover, the sex scenes seem forced into the story.  The story could actually do without them.

On the whole, though, Day of Confession isn’t a very bad read, if you like books equivalent to B movies.  As a thriller, it still fast-paced enough;  it’s just some stuff are hard to swallow.

In A Nutshell :

This is a book to skip if you have other options in line.  Day of Confession feels like a contrived piece by an author who needed to come up with something for a deadline.

If you were to look into other reviews, it seems people picked this up on the merit of Folsom’s earlier work, Day After Tomorrow, which everyone agrees was a smashing good thriller.  I’ve read Machiavelli Covenant last year (my review here) and it was rather enjoyable.  Perhaps, Day of Confession just happened to be this writer’s dud.

My Mark  :  Fair

KyusiReader posted a fun meme which I’d like to get into as well.

7 things I lve (aside from books):

Freshly Baked Bread — Nothing beats the aroma and texture of a bun straight out from the oven.  Just slather on butter and indulge.  Simply divine.

(Photo from My Recipes)

Soft, fluffy fur — Running my hands through fluff is tactile heaven.  That’s why I love my pomeranian.

My Ipod Classic —  With almost 4,000 tunes from a variety of genres, I need hefty storage.  Plus, I can’t survive gym without this baby.

Presents ! —  Shopping for and receiving as well.  So, you can guess that Christmas is my favorite time of the year.

(Photo from XmasGifts.co.za )

Budgies —- They’re cute, lovable,  great companions.   My grandmother had at least one flying around in her room all the time; so, I’ve grown up pretty much around them.

A lovely cold glass of tart margarita —- The salt and slice of lime really make a perfect visual topping to my fave cocktail.

(Photo from According To Nina)

Herbs —- I especially love the smell of basil, mint, and lemongrass.

(Photo from Delish)

Everyone is tagged.  What are your 7 favorite things?  I’d love to see your list. 

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