The little blurb promising a creative and unusual “alien” mystery thriller just leaped out at me from the back cover and compelled me to snatch this one up from a book sale.

Author :  Frank M. Robinson

Date of First Publication : April 1999 (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Forge


Date of Publication for This Edition :  April 2000 (Mass Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN: 0-812-54164-2

No. of Pages :  347

The Story :

Suppose there were a society of aliens whose existence we know nothing about, living among us for over 35,000 years?  What if they look like us, talk like us, and have imbibed all cultural nuances to seem human?  What if they were your best friend, your nice next-door neighbour,  or your teacher at school?

This isn’t your average  UFO invasion/ body-snatcher story.  The creatively original concept here is that the aliens in our midst are hominids but not homo sapiens; rather they are a different species, who almost lost the fight for survival some 35,000 years ago and have learned to assimilate with the dominant species, us, in order to survive, albeit in small clusters, waiting for the time when they, too, shall have dominion over the earth.

Participating in an autopsy of a sixty- plus- year-old male who died in accident,  Dr. Larry Shea makes this exciting but unfortunate discovery.  The victim possess muscles, bones, and inner organs which were as healthy and strong as a those of a thirty year old.  Measurements of the cranium, heart, etc. are also significantly different from humans, so that  he concludes that the man was not a man after all — not within the biological parameters of homo sapiens.  Dr. Shea prepares to share his discovery with his friends in the Suicide Club, an organization among a group of professionals whose  ties go back to their younger, reckless days.  But, he is murdered before he is able to do so.

Artie and Mitch, two friends from the club, decide to investigate his mysterious death.  Soon, they discover the bizarre and terrifying reason and become the next targets while other members are picked off, one by one, as well.  The killer must be part of the club and they must find him before they become victims, themselves.

The Review :

With the aliens assuming an anthropological nature,  Frank Robinson does  a refreshingly clever and original take on the tired and hackneyed aliens theme with “Waiting“.   This time the aliens are of our earth, just a different branch of the homo genus.

With this unique concept, Robinson blends in a whodunit theme and crafts this sci-fi mystery thriller with a deft hand.   He opens the book with a strange murder and proceeds to compel our reading through skillful manipulation of plot events so that,  as one with the main character, Artie, the reader isn’t quite sure whom to trust as well.

Frank Robinson writes like a typical man would — straightforward and decisive.  His characters seem pretty much like his writing, too — not given to much sentimentality and exuding a no-nonsense quality that would appeal to a lot of male readers.

There is a very strong environmental message in this book, being that man and his activities are the prime factors  for various ecological collapses.  Furthermore,  nature has its own way of addressing its own survival and so as prime factors of destruction, it may well serve us to take serious heed.

Robinson concludes the novel with a good twist to render this book, a very enjoyable read.

My Mark  :  Very Good



Advertisements

Geisha Of Gion” just whetted my appetite for more books on the geiko world. Luckily, I had this book to momentarily satisfy my craving.

Author:  Arthur Golden

First Published:  1997  (Hardcover)

Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf Inc.


This Edition Published:  1999 ( Mass Paperback)

Publisher:  Vintage Books

No. Pages:  502

The Story :

In the poor village of Yoroida, a little girl with startling blue-gray eyes, is plucked from her parents and sold to an okiya, a geisha house, in Gion.  Chiyo’s eyes are a rarity in Japan, so her potential as a stunning geisha earns the greedy regard of Mother, the okiya’s proprietress and the spiteful jealousy of the house’s star geisha, Hatsumomo.  Together, they bear down on Chiyo’s confusion and homesickness which drive her to escape the okiya’s oppressive life.  Her attempt, however, fails with a fall from a roof  and a broken arm.  For this she becomes a disappointment and a bad investment and so doomed by the okiya to be an abused, overworked maid instead.

Chiyo pours out her misery one day, as life seems to stretch out bleakly before her.  A kind, well-dressed stranger, in the company of a geisha, spies her and gives her comfort with his handkerchief and a coin for a snowcone.  This innocent encounter marks a turning point in Chiyo’s life.  His kindness sparks a childish crush so that Chiyo begins to perceive a clear goal for life —  becoming a geisha, this being the only possible way she sees for someone of her station to meet him again.

As luck would have it,  another of Gion’s star geishas, Mameha,  seems enthralled by Chiyo’s eyes so that she negotiates with Mother to bring Chiyo under her tutelage.  With Mameha’s lessons,  Chiyo transforms into Sayuri and becomes the most sought- after maiko (apprentice geisha) and inevitably comes into contact with the kind stranger known as the Chairman.  Sayuri, by now has fallen in love with him.  However, the Chairman’s business partner, Nobu, becomes attracted to her instead.

What follows is a beautiful story of suppressed passion and love that spans time and circumstance.

The Review :

Few books have thoroughly captivated me as much as “Memoirs of A Geisha“.  The first few chapters hint at serving one with a sumptuous literary feast of exquisite prose, mesmerizing details of the exotic and secretive “flower and willow” world, and an uncommon emotional depth, all of which seem to flow so effortlessly from Golden’s pen.

Golden’s writing has a very lyrical quality to it and the book is rife with creatively crafted descriptions and charming little asides from the main character’s point of view.  It is quite astonishing how Arthur Golden,  being a man, could write so intimately and convincingly about a young  girl’s psyche.

The novel is full of analogies, metaphors, and descriptive phraseologies; yet, strangely, it isn’t burdened by them.  On the contrary, words flow so naturally and combine so beautifully to paint a lovely, poignant story that has touched the hearts of readers everywhere; hence, its international bestseller status.

Aside from a romantic, sensitively written story, one experiences the obsequious, community-dependent, perfection-driven, and heavily nuanced geisha culture whose exotically mysterious nature provides the book with a wonderfully different romantic flavor.


As An Aside :

Indeed, geisha depiction here is quite different from what Mineko Iwasaki (Japan’s foremost geisha in the 70’s) wanted to  project in her memoirs, Geisha of Gion“.   After she was thanked by Golden as his major source, Mineko was believed to be the real-life basis of Golden’s character, Sayuri; hence, the reported falling out between these two authors.

Golden renders the geisha more  as a courtesan, whose sole purpose is to entertain men — entertainment, here,  meaning one catering to all:  from the highest  artistic forms  down to more baser  pleasures.  Mineko Iwasaki, on the other hand, insists that real geishas are artists, trained in artistic customary perfection from a very young age, to carry on the tradition in Japanese entertainment.

Perhaps, both are right.  I’m surmising that there must be social hierarchies in the geisha community, with the existence of high-class and low-class geishas.  Mineko Iwasaki was perhaps telling her story from her viewpoint atop the community’s pinnacle while Golden was trying to tell his from the viewpoint of those at the base.

However it is,  Japanese culture has never been more interesting after these two books, and I hope to lay my hands on more on the same subject.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Memoirs of A Geisha” is certainly a must-read not just for lovers of romance, but also for those who want a well written story that informs as well as pleasures the reader with its intelligence, sensitivity, and femininely graceful style.

Conclusion :

This is a book worth keeping on your shelf to be re-read as a treat,  years after you’ve done with it.  Its tale is as timeless as enduring love.

My Mark :  Excellent

 

 


Since I’ve been on a voracious path of discovering authors,  Lisa Jackson has been on my list of authors to try.  Her name just  kept popping at me on bookstore shelves;  so finally,  I relented and included her in my growing books-to-read pile.

Author: Lisa Jackson
First Published : 1998
Publisher : Zebra Books
ISBN : 0-8217-7944-3
No. of pages : 451

Synopsis :

Mary Theresa – Marquise – a spoiled, egotistical, only slightly famous actress, suddenly disappears. Maggie McCrae, her identical twin but her total personal opposite, receives a telepathic message from her missing sister, begging for help and warning about Thane Walker.

Thane Walker is one hunky, ruggedly sexy, manly man that Marquise and Maggie have had the hots for, since their teens. The more flamboyant, daring Marquise, predictably,  had snagged the man and had left her twin’s heart in smithereens.

Now, Thane suddenly appears again in Maggie’s life and insists on helping her find Marquise, his ex-wife. Maggie desperately needs to find her twin, who could be in mortal danger. Should Maggie trust the man who had broken her heart?

Finding Marquise will open Maggie up to old hurts and will reveal new secrets about her twin that she’s never known. On top of this she has Thane Walker to deal with…

The Review :

And so goes this suspense-romance that actually reads like a B-movie. And so like one, don’t expect writing that takes pains to develop its characters or convey some dawning life realizations.

The author aims to titillate and she does a very good job with this delectable confection of a romance wrapped in a whodunit-mystery-thriller— the kind of guilty pleasure you don’t want your book-snobbish friends to know you indulge in. 😉

A great companion for the coming summer margaritas and bikinis, Lisa Jackson is another author I wouldn’t mind picking up now and then.

My Mark :  Good; Enjoyable

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.

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