Wednesday, February 11, 2015

There's no such thing as . . .


. . . too many books!

Last night, it dawned on me. I just have a lot of books scattered around in my room. The above photo doesn't even do justice to the sheer number. My guess is that it just shows a fourth of what I have.

What I have is a happy mess. And what I need are more bookshelves. Like now. With the way things are, the bed in my room just seems an afterthought. It's no longer a bedroom. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What I'm reading in this month of love


I'm excited over my reading list for February, even though I'm the last person you'd expect to read a hardcore romantic novel. I can barely count with one hand all the love stories that I actually enjoyed. Well, top of mind are Erich Segal's Love Story and Jose Saramago's Baltasar and Blimunda.

Now I don't usually post monthly reading plans, but indulge me on this one, dear reader. For February, I've selected 5 books whose themes rely heavily on love or romance. They may not be romantically sappy, but they're perfect for the month of love, I think.

Henry Fielding's Tom Jones has always been part of my to-be-read pile. It's a doorstop, so I guess I'll read a few chapters at a time. Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree is romantic suspense. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's Dash & Lily's Book of Dares is young adult romance.

I don't know what to expect with Jorge Amado's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands though. Same with Tony Perez's Cubao Midnight Express, which is the book club's selection for the month. Hopefully, these two books will be a pleasant surprise.

How about you, dear reader? What books are you reading for the month of love?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Très funny

Oy, this book! I laughed myself silly. No wonder that everyone in the country wants to have a copy. Actually, the demand for this book is so huge that it sold its initial print run in just a few days.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago's funny book, Stupid Is Forever, is simply a compilation of all the anecdotes, pick-up lines, and jokes that made her a darling of the Filipinos. Who would've thought that senators would have a sense of humor?

Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:
  • “Miss, kutsara ka ba? Kasi papalapit ka pa lang, napanganga na ako.”
  •  “Mag-exchange gift tayo? Akin ka at sa iyo naman ako.”
  • “Ang sabi nila, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ Kung guwapo o maganda ang doctor, ayoko na ng apple.”
  • “Good news: Wala ka nang pimples! Bad news: Dahil wala nang space.”
  • “Question: What is the plural form of iced tea? Answer: Bottomless iced tea.”
  • “Hindi lahat ng sweet ay loyal sa ’yo. Tandaan, sweet nga ang candy, pero nakabalot naman sa plastic.”
  • “Mention – Ang laki ng bahay nila, parang mention.”
  • “A smart wife is one who makes sure she spends so much that her husband can’t afford another woman.”
  • “If you are in a relationship, stop trying to figure out who wears the pants between the two of you. Relationships work best when both of you are not wearing pants.”
  • “Marriage is not a word. It is a sentence – a life sentence.”
  • “Hindi naman ako mataba eh. In fact, I’m so sexy that it overflows.”
Yes, some of these jokes aren't original, but the senator doesn't hide this fact. I guess what's funny is when she gives these jokes her acerbic spin and witty delivery. I read these funny bits on the bus, and I have to tell you that I it was a pain to keep myself from laughing out loud.

Is stupid really forever?
The author thinks so, especially after looking at other politicians.
What didn't work for me was the inclusion of some of her speeches which she delivered to school during their graduation and other special events. Somehow, these speeches dampened the humorous tone of the book. Thankfully, these ran for just a few pages.

I love Stupid Is Forever. It's the kind of book that you pass on to your friends. It's the book you read after a stressful day at work. It's your proof that maybe you're misunderstood because the people around you are, well, stupid.

Read this book if:
  1. You could use a good laugh.
  2. You know that some politicians are not the smartest people on the planet.
  3. You do believe that stupidity can't be cured.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not so fun anymore

My third read for the year left me wanting. Trese Volume 6, the Philippine graphic novel by Budgette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo arrived with much anticipation. I kept hearing that bookstores have run out of stock. So when I saw several copies in an out-of-the-way bookstore, I didn't think twice about getting it.

Yes, every time there's a new Trese volume, it's a major publishing event here in the Philippines. There hasn't been a local graphic novel that has sparked the interest and captured the imagination lately. Who wouldn't love a graphic novel that delves heavily in Philippine mythology and has elements of horror, action, and mystery?

Think Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. Trese, a detective who comes from a very mysterious family, specializes in solving crimes of supernatural origins. All the tropes of a police procedural are here: Trese's close relationship with the local police force, the noir atmosphere, the couple of sidekicks who inject humor, red herrings, smoking guns.

Read this in the dead of night hoping it would be scary.
Huge disappoint, that was.
Yet somehow, when I read this latest installment, I didn't feel the same sense of wonder that I did when I finished the first three volumes. Gone were the horror, the fascination with seeing local monsters on the page, and the thrill of having discovered the perpetrators. The overall effect was just cheesy, to say the least.

And the characters . . . Trese still is the same Trese when you met her in the first volume. The Kambal, Trese's sidekicks, are still goofballs. The villains are cookie cutter creations that show no other emotions except the desire to wreak havoc in the city. Everything feels superfluous. I would've been happier rereading the early installments.

Baldisimo's illustrations are still superb though. I would've wanted Tan to make full use of the panels in developing the narrative. However, the dialogue felt "talky," as if the author felt the need to explain everything and not let the panels tell the story. The conversations also seemed unnatural and formal-ish. Trese is the kind of work that needs street-smart language, which unfortunately was severely lacking in this volume.

One good thing to come out of the sixth volume is that we do discover more details about Trese's family (her father and her siblings) and several other supernatural characters that are allied to Trese and her family. But this aspect still feels derivative. I kept expecting someone to just blurt out, "Avengers, assemble!"

I'm not so sure if I'd read the succeeding installments anymore. I've friends who are huge fans of the Trese series, and I hope that they persevere. Who knows, maybe the 7th, 8th, and nth volumes would be better.

Read this book if:
  1. You're curious about Philippine mythology.
  2. You like police procedurals, murder mysteries, noir, and crime fiction.
  3. You're a completist.

Friday, January 9, 2015

And so the killing ends

Don't you just hate it when a book series with characters whom you've grown attached to finally ends? That's how it is when I turned the final page of the 3rd book of Barry Lyga's fantastic trilogy I Hunt Killers. The final installment, Blood of My Blood, is my 2nd read for 2015. And boy did it deliver.

For some reason, I can't help but think of the trilogy's protagonist as a uber handsome teenager with all the angst and grit that goes with being the son of America's most dangerous serial killer. I grew to love Jasper Dent. He's very grounded. Lyga makes the Jazz's character very realistic that you keep on going back to the time when you were at that age and had the same issues.

The I Hunt Killers trilogy is basically a cat-and-mouse story. Would Jazz finally be able to help the authorities catch his evasive serial killer of a father, Billy Dent, who's murderous spree spans several years? Would Jazz be the one himself to kill his father? What about Jazz's mother? Is she somehow involved in all this gore?

Blood of My Blood tied everything together and gave a truly satisfying ending to the nail-biting story. Yes, there were even a couple of mind-blowing twists to what the reader may have believed from the start. And I'm thankful that Lyga didn't proceed with the idea that Billy Dent may not be the father of Jazz after all. Having that premise would just mess up the notion that it's impossible to escape the things that your family imposes on you, genetic or otherwise.

Read this one during the first day of the year,
literally while the fireworks were still ongoing after 12 mn.
That's my just-got-out-of-bed look.
However, I would have liked to have read more of Jazz's best friend, Howie, in the final installment. That's one quirky character. I loved that teenage hemophiliac. Unfortunately, his character becomes a minor one. Blood of My Blood, after all, is the book that needs to have all the Dent family at center stage.

I highly recommend the series to people who are into thrillers. Looking back though, the series isn't just about that. It's a coming-of-age tale too. In Blood of My Blood, Jazz confronts his family, really see the evil that they have done, and learns that he does have free will. His name will forever be tied with his family, but that is not all that defines him. You really can't choose your family, but you can choose to go a different way.

Read this book if:
  1. You've seen The Silence of the Lambs at least 7 times.
  2. You've wanted to kill a family member at some point.
  3. You love thrillers.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Life in miniatures

My first read for 2015 arrived with a lot of hype riding on it. Unfortunately, Jessie Burton's debut novel, The Miniaturist, doesn't live up to it. It's entertaining, yes, but I got a feeling of want after turning the last page. And my immediate reaction was, "That's it?"

Burton's novel concerns itself with one Petronella Oortman, a 17-year-old who arrives in Amsterdan to join her husband, the wealthy Johannes Brandt, after their arranged marriage. Johannes doesn't have that much time for Nella, being a busy merchant trader that he is, and leaves her to the company of her spinster-ish sister, Marin Brandt.

Nella and Marin don't hit it off. Ah, the usual in-law rivalry. So what is Nella to do to while away her days of ennui? Apparently, nothing. Just go through with being a trophy wife. But then Johannes gifts her with a cabinet-sized replica of the Brandt home. Nella decides to hire the services of a mysterious miniaturist, who has an uncanny ability to produce miniatures that mimic what is happening in real-time in the Brandt household.

My first read for 2015
Who is this miniaturist? How come he or she somehow predicts events through the miniatures that he or she creates? When one of their dogs gets killed, for example, the replica has a blood stain on it. And what the hell's the matter with Johannes and his non-ability to consummate the marriage? And how about Marin? Why is she so bitchy all the time?

The Miniaturist does provide answers to these questions. But the way it does so has the feel of lazy storytelling. The miniaturist turns out to be a woman, who has the supernatural ability to "see." Sounds simplistic? It is. Oh, and Johannes turns out to be gay, which explains his inability to keep it "up" even when Nella attempts to cop a feel. Marin turns out to have been involved with a man who seems to be Johannes's nemesis in the heavily enterprising world of 17th century Amsterdam.

The clichés continue to pile up on top. Marin becomes pregnant with their black servant. When Johannes find himself imprison for the crime of sodomy, it is Nella who takes over the business. Somehow, we're made to believe that Nella acquires her business acumen overnight. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why Nella feels to have this deep connection with her husband even when they've hardly spent any time together. It's a mystery.

The Miniaturist could've been a beguiling piece of historical fiction. All the elements are there—manipulative in-laws, nosey househelp, devious businessmen and their wives, and nail-biting courtroom drama. But Burton just skims over these aspects. What you get is just a watered-down atmosphere of Amsterdam in the 1600s, which just feels damp and cold all the time.

Read this book if:
  1. You find doll houses creepy.
  2. You're into historical fiction.
  3. You're curious about the hype.

Friday, January 2, 2015

My 11 favorite reads of 2014

Quantity-wise, 2014 hasn't been a good reading year for me. I've read just a little over 30! And to think that I usually average around 100 books in a year. Something must have happened. And that something is TV. I've been watching TV a lot these days. It has become my "go to" for stories. And TV has been coming up with a lot of interesting shows lately, yes?

Nevertheless, I did read some good books this year, and I've listed my 11 favorite reads below. Now why an uneven 11? Originally, I had a list of 10 books, which I compiled mid-December. I figured I'm never going to get any reading done during the holidays, with the numerous parties. It's gotten so ridiculous lately, that I sometimes say no to a few of them because of scheduling conflicts.

Also, I thought that I would just use the free time I to catch up on sleep. I've only been getting 5 hours max of sleep leading to the holidays because of work and personal stuff. But in the last week, I chanced upon this young adult novel at a bookstore while waiting for a friend. So I bought it, went to a café, and before I knew it, I was halfway through!

10 of 11 of my favorites for 2014
Anyway, here are my 10 favorite reads for this year, in random order.
  • Lexicon by Max Barry – The science fiction buzz book of 2013. Yes, the hype is warranted! Quite an exhilarating read.
  • Wasted by Gerry Alanguilan – A locally published graphic novel about a man thwarted by love. Violent and extremely graphic. Loved it.
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – Such a heartbreaking read, this one is. Made me teary eyed.
  • Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler – A memoir about a boy coming to terms with his sexuality, while living with his religious parents.
  • Dolly by Susan Hill – Not as scary as The Woman in Black, but still creepy and atmospheric. Hill rules the ghost story genre!
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – The first book in the Southern Reach trilogy. Made me curious about the other 2 books.
  • The Children Act by Ian McEwan – I'll read anything by McEwan. I've always admired how controlled McEwan's writing is.
  • Tree by F. Sionil Jose – The 2nd book of the Rosales Saga. I loved its episodic chapters and its symbolism.
  • The Bees by Laline Paull – This spoke to the biologist in me. Paull's debut fiction rocked my geeky brain.
  • Saga Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Stapes – Still the best ongoing graphic novel series out there. Couldn't quit it.
My favorite read for 2014
And my favorite read for 2014 is this—Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. It's a deeply moving coming-of-age story about 2 boys. I turned the final page, went online, and then immediately recommended it to everyone. It deals with finding love, getting to know what you really want, and coming to terms with family. I highly recommend it!

So how about you, dear reader? How was your 2014, reading-wise?