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)

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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

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

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

Author :  Cecelia Ahern

Published Date :  September 2008

Publisher  :  Harper Collins

No. of Pages :  489

ISBN : 978-0-06-172901-0

Synopsis :

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

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

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

The Review :

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

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

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

On missing her mom:

‘Do you miss her?’

‘It’s been ten years, love.’

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

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

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

And another :

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

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

‘Like what?’  I try not to smile.

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

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

To Read or Not To Read? :

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

The Final Word :

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

My Mark :  Good; Quite Enjoyable

 

Author : Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

First Release Date : March 12, 1988

Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition

Paperback Release Date : October 30, 2007

Publisher: Vintage Books

ISBN-10: 0307387143

ISBN-13: 978-0307387141

Pages : 368 pages

 

 

 

As you start reading through the first few pages, you know you are in the hands of a master writer. This is a beautiful old-fashioned love story, the kind with a rare level of passion, perhaps almost incomprehensible to today’s egocentric driven modern culture.

 

It is a story of a love that spans almost a lifetime in the strange but persevering character of Florentino Ariza, who as a youth, is struck by love when he spies the enigmatic Fermina Daza. He woos her, wins her for a time, but as fate and youthful caprice would have it, loses to her to a marriage with a more worldly and accomplished Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Despite his personal devastation, Florentino continues to love Fermina with a constant yearning for 51 years and through 622 affairs, which teaches him that there is not just one way to love nor only one person you can love; but there can only be that one true love. Florentino Ariza’s incredible depth for passion and obsession drives him to live for this woman and experience a love that endures the test of time.

 

But the story is not just all about Florentino Ariza’s invariable fervor, which is central to the plot. There is also the sub-story of Fermina’s and her husband, Juvenal Urbino’s love that started out simply as affection and which, through the years of marriage, grew as deep as in any blessed union.

 

There are many other little “loves” in this book that makes for a very romantic epic but one refreshingly devoid of mush. It owes its flavor to Marquez’s formal lyrical style which charms the reader to breathe in his moving, romantic prose. This is the type of book that you may want to go back to, after a while — for a little paragraph here and there, just to find the pleasure once more of absorbing exquisite phraseologies, the style of which I find quite unique to the author.

 

 

For incurable romantics, this is a perfect book for the heart. This is the stuff of nobility, where love is tenacious and its hope, eternal. I have yet to read a romantic masterpiece that can rival this one. It is written with such rich language and with such powerful evocative feelings that you will have missed something if you haven’t yet picked up this book. It’s just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

 

 

My Mark : Excellent

 

Note: I just wanted to point out that personally,  I found the affair between a minor and an aged Florentino quite disturbing and offending.  This is  the only part I wish the author did not let his character stoop to.  But perhaps, he wanted Florentino to have tried all sorts of love —  even those that have no prejudice toward age. This, however, does not change my overall opinion of the book which is to say, that this book is a GEM!

Author : Stephenie Meyer
Release Date : May 6, 2008
Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition
ISBN-10: 0316068047
ISBN-13: 978-0316068048
Pages : 624

Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series are the rage these days. I always hear requests for her books at the local bookstore which probably made a pre-X’mas killing with all four Twilight books selling like hotcakes these past few months. So, when The Host came out, I followed the gushing herd and grabbed myself a copy as well.

Okay, so I’ve immersed myself in this story and have finished, after all the hype, well, a bit unimpressed. Not because it’s a bore. Oh no, this is actually an enjoyable story, pleasant to read.  It’s just that I’m really not the target reader.

Some reviews call this Meyer’s first “adult” novel. It may be so, but that doesn’t mean that it’s mature. It’s still very much an adolescent romance-fantasy. Okay let’s stretch it to say that this is a book that people in their twenties would also like.

Interestingly enough, the story is told from the point of view of the alien named Wanderer : Earth is invaded by alien parasites, called Souls, who invade worlds by attaching themselves to whatever intelligent planetary inhabitants they find. Being thus one with the host, they assume his senses, feelings, and memories.

Wanderer, famed in her world for living in a variety of host species, is particularly chosen for the body of Melanie Stryder to access information about existing pockets of human resistance to the invasion. Little does Wanderer know that this host will present her greatest challenge. As she takes over Melanie’s body, she inherits a slew of memories and an overwhelming love for the two most important people in Melanie’s life: Jared and Jaime.

With Melanie’s indomitable spirit still very much alive, and with this compelling love they both share, Wanderer is forced to find them. In the process of doing so, Wanderer finally finds herself as well.

I can see now that Meyer’s success is in her ability to pull many an adolescent’s heartstrings. This book is really a romance wrapped in science fiction; so it hits the spot for young people’s (and those teeners at heart) romantic and escapist cravings quite well—two great formulas in one. No wonder she gets good ratings on this, too.

A thing that pleased me and I hope the author never veers from this: this book and I’ve heard, her Twilight series as well, are quite wholesome romances — I give this a PG-13. In this time where cuss words and sex are usual drivels in music and in teen lit, it’s quite refreshing to know that here’s something that didn’t need these to sell.

Since this book is for a young readership, expect the romance to be cheesy, the sci-fi background also a tad lame; but hey, if you’re in that enviable age bracket, listen to no “oldie” on this — you’ll like this book, mush and all.

My rating should be based from the viewpoint of the author’s intended market. So, if I were 17, I’d say:

My Mark : Cool! —- Two thumbs up!!