Sometimes, I just can’t decide what to read next.  How to make that choice?  With a time-honored answer to indecision:  Eeny, meeny, miny, moe!

The Book of Joe is what moe came up with:

Author :  Jonathan Tropper

First Edition’s Publication Date :  2004

First Edition’s Publisher :  Bantam Dell

This Edition’s Publication Date : January 25, 2005

This Edition’s Publisher :  Delta

ISBN-10: 0385338104

ISBN-13: 978-0385338103

No. of pages :  368

The Story :

How else to purge one’s self of the painful past but to write about it?  This is exactly what Joe Goffman did when he left Bush Falls seventeen years ago with the thought of never going back.  He wrote a highly successful semi-biography which trashed everyone he knew.  Although names were changed and the book was  released as fiction,  Bush Falls residents  recognized themselves and didn’t take too well to this immortalized insult. Enmity toward Joe soared along with the success of his book and peaked when it was adapted to a movie with Leonardo di Caprio as its lead.

Now a best-selling author whose success rides on his former community’s humiliation,  Joe has no choice but to return to Bush Falls  when he was told of  his  comatose and dying father.   The town gives him a “welcome home” with a public milkshake pouring incident by an angry resident, a yard littered with his books thrown out by the local book club,  and a bar brawl with an irate psychotic former athlete who didn’t take too kindly to Joe’s inferences about his dubious sexuality.  Just to name a few “welcoming” incidents  for Joe.

Amid all that, Joe discovers his family and former friends again, and realizes that he does need home and home is Bush Falls.  So after years of  denying a past of  perceived betrayal, bitterness, and emotional battering, Joe must face all these and resolve issues with others and within himself if he is to survive his homecoming.

The Review :

My eeny meeny choice proved to be a nice surprise.  I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful novel.  I laughed,  I cried  and laughed again.  With such humor and well placed cynical wit,  it’s easy to smile even while shedding a tear or two on some sentiment.

It’s funny, sad, cynical, very “now”, and quite optimistic.  It’s about family and relationships, love in tethers, and just plain life.   The Book of Joe is about looking beyond people’s faults and seeing why they are so and at the same time, looking into one’s self and discovering how your own flaws affect reactions in others.

The book, with its boyish colloquial writing, has a contemporary feel to it that renders the characters real and easy to relate to.  Although there is nothing profound nor anything really original about the novel, there is a heart-warming glow about this book  that somehow touches you at some point and and makes you glad you’ve come across this story.

As my first book by Jonathan Tropper,  The Book of Joe makes me eager to try the author’s other novels.  He  has an easy going style loaded with great one-liners and witticisms that keeps you entertained until the end.

This is the type of book, though, that just cries out for a cinematic adaptation.  My hunch proved right when my surfing came up with one in the works with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, and Brad Grey as producers.  As to when this movie will be released, I have no clue.  But I hope I will fall in love with it as I have with the book.

Mark  :  Outstanding


Advertisements

Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

Finally, my last book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I made very good time despite adding two more books to the list.  But early as it is, I’ll have to wrap up as the Holidays draw near and my chances to read more books decrease as things are starting to get hectic.

I’ve wet my feet in breadmaking and I’m experimenting on perfecting scrumptious cinnamon rolls and ensaimadas (Filipino brioche) for gift-giving.    As I’ve never baked anything except for the occasional brownies, I forsee myself ambitiously wrestling with bread recipes, baking my day away, and snatching up my book only in between rising times.  So, let’s see how many more reviews I can dish out.

This book was a great finale to the challenge, albeit  a dark and brooding one.

Author :  Tobsha Learner

Publication Date :  January 2, 2007  (Mass Market Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765350467

ISBN-13: 978-0765350466

No. of pages :  480

The Story :

Ruth bas Elazar Saul is daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Cologne and a very good midwife with very unconventional methods.  Her  advanced  midwifery skills coupled with her studies in Kabbalah, taints Ruth’s reputation with suspicions of witchcraft in an era paranoid about heretics and devil worshippers.

She becomes the unfortunate target of the malevolent obsession of a Spanish friar and head of the Inquisition to Cologne.  Solitario takes his vengeance on an unknowing Ruth simply because she is the daughter of the woman who had jilted him and shredded his pride many years back.  Ruth is tried for witchcraft; but in the process gains the interest of the cleric, Detlef  von Tennen, cousin and close aide to the Archbishop of Cologne.

Detlef falls madly in love with Ruth and does everything in his power to avert her fate.  He succeeds and both start a love affair that in its time,  was unforgivable to both Jews and Catholics alike.  Amid this difficult union, Ruth and Detlef must struggle to live in a dangerous century at war with new philosophies threatening to overthrow its established beliefs, power and social structures.

The Review :

The book opens with “a woman writhing in labor”  which gave me the correct impression that I’d have a toe curling time with this one.

Learner is  an intense,  graphic writer who writes with a sensuality that is both raw and elegant.  Her torture scenes feel  horrendously realistic ; her descriptions of everyday life and her characterizations are rich and intimate, full of vivid details of seventeenth century Cologne, its lifestyle, its predominant psyche, and its prevailing social and religious atmosphere.

This novel is first and foremost a microcosmic representation of  a Europe inexorably marching toward the Age of Enlightenment, torn at one end by traditional society clinging tenaciously and fearfully to established institutions of power, thoughts, and morals and on the other, by radical philosophies and emerging new acceptances by free thinkers or the libertines of that time.

Solitario, the Spanish  Inquisitor, is the embodiment of the 17th century Roman Catholic Church, an institution reacting dangerously to threats to  its centuries-old European dominance by the emergence of new thoughts, values, mores and the new Protestant religion.  He is obsessed about bringing onto the Inquisition table  the Jewess, Ruth, and the breakaway cleric, Detlef, both of whom represent radical opposition to the faith which have begun to erode the Church’s right to absolute power.

Stories like these make me glad I was born in the 20th century, where we have education, modern conveniences, good medical knowledge and practices, and in most parts of the world, respect and freedom for all sorts of religions and ideas.  Imagine living in fear of torture and death because your ideas are heretically opposed to the prevailing beliefs of a Church which hold both  secular and spiritual domains in its grip.

It was also interesting for me to find out that Judaism has its own brand of occultism.  It has its own demons, grimoire, incantations, spells, and talismans.  The Kabbalah is practiced by a certain Jewish sect which does not find ready acceptance in the general Jewish populace; but nevertheless is a recognized albeit esoteric branch of the Jewish religion.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I have read reviews that slam this book for its love angle and gratuitous sex (which I didn’t find unwarranted at all).  The romance here is simply a support angle to the overall story of the book and is not the author’s point at all.  So if you are looking for a nice historical romance,  pass this up; this novel would be way out in left field.

However,  if you just want a well written story with a good historical background, The Witch of Cologne will be just the thing.  Although, be prepared for a very dark and somber tone (well matched with the era) throughout its entirety and for a substantial amount of graphic elements assiduously detailed in this book.

In A Nutshell :

Learner’s unconventional writing style marries quite well with her  objective of presenting a glimpse of medieval Europe in the cusp of social change, a dark and fearful transition for many,  when institutions of power, both political and religious, clawed desperately to maintain the status quo.  The story poses intelligent questions, some of which must have influenced how modern Europe evolved.

Don’t let the suggestive cover fool you into thinking this book is a shallow, sleazy read.  The book has the complexity and depth that makes it interesting and well worth your while — a perfect example  to heed the the adage:   “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

My Mark  :  Outstanding



After two books on the supernatural in succession, I had the taste for something more grounded, more real.  Ironically, Exile was in my list for the Fall To Reading Challenge.  It’s a novel that can’t be anything but so painfully present— a fictitious story but one wholly based on current world events, dealing  in particular with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Author :  Richard North Patterson

Publication Date :  January 9, 2007  (Hardcover – 1st edition)

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0805079475

ISBN-13: 978-0805079470

No. of pages :  576

The Story:

The hopes for a beginning toward peace between Israel and its Palestinian inhabitants are dashed when Jewish Prime Minister Amos Ben-Aron is assassinated by a Palestinian suicide bomber on American soil.

A brilliant Jewish lawyer and  promising politician,  David,  witnesses the horrifying murder of the man whom he admires and believes to be the catalyst for peace in the Middle East.  Suddenly he gets a call from a woman whom he had allowed himself to forget.  Hana Arif, the Palestinian law student he had been helplessly in love with  thirteen years ago,  suddenly calls and says she has been accused of being instrumental to the crime.   Would David help her?

Against the certainty of becoming a pariah in his Jewish community, of irredeemably breaking his engagement with his Jewish fiance,  and of wiping out the brilliant political career path he had been so ambitious of, David with his ideals and buried passion, takes up the cudgels of a seemingly impossible case to exonerate Hana.

The case impels him to take a closer look at his culture and at the long-standing enmity between Palestinians and Jews, by going through their histories and understanding both sides’ perspectives.  David follows a dangerous trail for information which takes him to Israel, the West Bank,  and Lebanon as he chases the elusive truth to save his client.

The Review :

I am writing this review just after I have turned the last page of this book.  I’ve been so riveted by it, turning page after page well into the night, as I came to understand much more about the volatile Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

Patterson has written a rare combination of a page-turner and an educational read which explains the present complex issues in the Middle East conflict.   Although couched in fiction, this book is a definite eye-opener  to those who do not understand or had been indifferent to the crisis that presently is, I believe, the greatest and most urgent threat to world peace.

Exile is the type of fiction novel that through its entertainment value, compels you to know more beyond it.  I am inspired to research more on the subject of the ongoing war between the Jews, Palestinians, and the Arab world at large.  It is scary in its magnitude of hatred and seemingly hopeless for its dearth of solution as each side believes so absolutely in the right of its cause.   Basically a war of land rights and sovereignty,  it draws its complexities from bringing  religion, racial history and culture, internal factions, and international politics into the fray, a tangle of elements that cannot be extricated singly to make solutions.

Patterson’s courtroom scenes are energetic,  intense, and a good read.  There is a lot going for this book as a suspense-crime-courtroom-thriller.  But the true merit of this book comes from the extensively researched issues backgounding this novel and the humane and impartial way the author represents the conflict for both sides that one cannot help but be emotionally moved at the plight of both Palestinians and Jews.

The novel never takes sides.  It simply presents the conflict from both perspectives and leaves it up to you to decide who is right.  Since it is impossible for one to make such an opinion with this book alone, Exile goads you to delve and learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an open  and unbiased  mind.  Current events will never seem so one-dimensional and so distant after this.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Indeed, an important read!  To those, like me, who have been partially oblivious to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, this book should constitute the top of your TBR pile.  This novel is a good starter to point our way toward informing ourselves of a current volatile dilemma facing the world today.   Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist…whatever your leanings, we still cannot ignore that we are all inextricably connected and therefore will be involved, one way or another,  in this war.

It’s a thick novel but once you’re in it, you’d never feel its length.  In fact, you may end up wanting to know much more.

In A Nutshell:

Exile has successfully given an impartial yet emotional account of the Mid-East crisis.  It is not a finger-pointer ; no side is singled out to blame for starting this whole mess.  As it is, it is everyone and no one and but really the sordid side of human nature that has foisted this problem on us all.  As the author aptly writes:

“…The Promised Land, which many of each side believed was promised to them alone, might be consumed not merely by hatred and violence but also by the most banal of human faults—a failure to imagine the life of another.  The only common denominator of occupation was that it degraded everyone.” —- p. 401

“You know what amazes me, Zev?  it’s that so many Jews and Palestinians don’t give a damn about one another’s stories.  Too many Palestinians don’t grasp why three thousand years of death and persecution make Jews want their own homeland, or how suicide bombings alienate Jews and extend the occupation.   Too many Jews refuse to acknowledge their role in the misery of Palestinians since 1948, or that the daily toll of occupation helps fuel more hatred and violence.  So both become cliches:  Jews are victims and oppressors; Palestinians are victims and terrorists.  And the cycle of death rolls on… In three short weeks I’ve seen all kinds of suffering, from the families in Haifa to the misery of Hana’s parents.   But they live in different worlds…” — p.  407

Please pick up this book and be aware.  It’s a superb read, a must-read,  and will be well worth your time.

My Mark :  Excellent! +++

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.

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

Author : Alice Hoffman

An 8-year old girl, in a fit of bratty fury, wishes never to see her mother again.  As ugly coincidence would have it, her mother dies in a car accident that very night, and changes this little girl forever.

The entire book speaks of the girl in the first person; so, no name is referenced to her.  For that, I shall assume her name to be also that of the author’s : Alice.

After the tragedy, Alice, being the self-centered person that she is, begins an emotionally self-destructive life based on guilt over what she wished.   She retreats inward, builds a wall against herself, and becomes the Ice Queen — emotionally frigid,  out of touch with her feelings —  quite a depressing character actually.

Indeed the book is dark and gives me a sense of constantly being right smack in a gloomy winter.   But the book is beautiful and the writing, superb. Despite the sense of being enveloped in a cloudy gray, I needed to read and read ’til the end.  I needed to know how Alice gets her redemption and if she ever does get it.

Back to the story…. Alice is struck by lightning and loses her ability to see the color red.  This inability starts to give her a peek of how much she has lost out on life by taking a lot of things for granted.

Like a clam in its shell, she slowly opens herself to relationships with other people.  She accepts her brother’s attempts to reach out to her, makes a new friend, hooks up with a fellow lightning survivor , Lazarus Jones, whose touch can scorch and whose breath can burn (literally).  (Alice Hoffman has a tendency toward the surreal or the fantastical.  But this is what makes her stories so interesting. )

She slowly thaws her own emotional prison and is redeemed by the final realization that life is precious, life is worth living, and people give meaning to life.  Her guilt is overcome with the new sense of knowledge that her mother’s death was never her fault.

In the end, the book’s central message is summed up when Alice says, ” This is what I know, the one and only thing.  The best way to die is while you’re living…”

Alice Hoffman has written a gem of a book.  If you’ve never read her work, this would be a good first start.

My Mark : Excellent