Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year that was in reading

Today being the last day of 2013, it's but fitting to write about what the year was in terms of being a bibliophile. I was able to read 62 books in 2013. Not bad, yes? Not bad at all. I wish that number could've been higher though.

So here are the books that I read this year, which I've listed based on the order I read them.

(1) The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
(2) Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
(3) Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
(4) Steps by Jerzy Kosinski
(5) The Magic Circle by Gilda Cordero-Fernando
(6) Bad Kings by Gilda Cordero-Fernando
(7) Old Man's War by John Scalzi
(8) Redshirts by John Scalzi
(9) Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
(10) 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

(11) BØDY by Asa Nonami
(12) The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J. W. Ironmonger
(13) The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
(14) Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare and Kate Brown
(15) Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
(16) Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
(17) Wonder by R. J. Palacio
(18) Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne
(19) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
(20) Inferno by Dan Brown

(21) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
(22) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
(23) Salingkit by Cyan Abad-Jugo
(24) Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield
(25) The Stranger by Albert Camus
(26) Are We There Yet? by David Levithan
(27) Wide Awake by David Levithan
(28) Hysteria by Megan Miranda
(29) The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
(30) I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

(31) The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
(32) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
(33) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
(34) The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
(35) Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
(36) Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan
(37) Game by Barry Lyga
(38) Among Others by Jo Walton
(39) Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

(40) The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
(41) Locke & Key 1: Welcome to Lovecraft
by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
(42) Locke & Key 2: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
(43) Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
(44) The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
(45) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
(46) Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
(47) When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
(48) Night Shift by Stephen King
(49) The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman
(50) The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

(51) Chew Vol. 1: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory
(52) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
(53) Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
(54) Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
(55) Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
(56) Chew Vol. 2: International Flavor
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
(57) The Dinner by Herman Koch
(58) The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
(59) Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
(60) HHhH by Laurent Binet

(61) Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 2
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
(62) Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady
by Carlo Vergara and Elmer Cantada

More than anything, I'm surprised with the number of graphic novels I've read 
this year—11 out of 62! That's 18% of the books I finished. I have now truly 
appreciated the genre. (Now if only there were not so damn expensive!) And 
everyone should read Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's Saga.

I also wished that I've read more nonfiction books and classics. Most of the 

books I finished this year were novels. Anyway, I'm glad that the novels were a 
good mix—literary fiction, science fiction, young adult, middle grade, classics, 
LGBT, etc.

And I discovered a lot of great authors and debut fiction this year. J. W. 

Ironmonger's The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder is great cerebral (pun 
intended) fun! Laurent Binet's debut, HHhH, is probably the best historical 
novel published recently.

In 2013, I began my love affair with David Levithan and John Scalzi. 

Levithan writes the most inspiring LGBT books for young adults, which 
everyone can read. Scalzi, a SF writer, won the Hugo this year for Redshirts
which I think is truly deserved.

There's always next year to read more books, yes? And the year after that. 

Bring on 2014!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Of collaborators and resistance fighters

I guess I spoke too soon when I posted my 10 favorite reads for 2013 in the previous post. I never knew that I'd be making a late addition to it, and it's this debut novel by Laurent Binet—HHhH. Somehow, I'm glad that this would probably be the last book that I'll be reading for the year, for HHhH is one truly glorious read.

HHhH is Laurent Binet's debut novel, but it doesn't feel like it. This historical novel really makes other books in the genre feel like they've been written by history undergraduates who are just too lazy with their research. If there's anything that Binet pulls off in this novel, these are the meticulous details that make HHhH very richly textured.

HHhH stands for "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" or Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." Now, Heydrich: If there's one man more feared that Hitler during WW2, it was this blond who was responsible for carrying out the Jewish solution, the systematic killing of Jews. I can't imagine how one person can think of all those gruesome ways just to exterminate a group of people. But Heydrich was able to do it, until he died of an infection after an assassination attempt.

So HHhH is about how two exiled operatives living in London were able to change the course of this dark period in our history. And these two are Josef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš, a Slovak and a Czech, resistance fighters extraordinare. I have much admiration for these men after reading the novel. I wouldn't have the courage to go into enemy territory and plot to kill a person so close to Hitler. You know that if you've been tasked to do this mission, there really is no coming back.

Most of the chapters of the novel focus on Reinhard Heydrich though. It provides details from his youth up to his quick rise leading to Hitler's cabinet. The Blond Beast, everyone called Heydrich, for he really had those "prized" Aryan features—he was tall, had blue eyes, and striking blond hair. But what makes Heydrich truly Hitler's soldier is that he shared the Führer's plan—to rid all of Europe of Jews.

The novel's very postmodern in its narrative. Oftentimes, the narrator strikes a conversation with the readers, telling us how such and such detail were arrived at. And the narrator can be funny too, especially when he mentions how certain dialogues by famous men in history can never be truly confirmed. When the narrative makes way for conversation, the narrator is quick to point out this caveat. In a way, this technique seems to be quite endearing, as if the author makes fun of himself or at least criticizes the way he presents his story.

Because HHhH is about an assassination, it reads like a thriller and adventure story. How can it not be, no? At the part where the actual assassination is described, the reader is left breathless. And during the hair-rising climax when the resistance fighters were trapped in a church surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers, you can't help but root for them, even though you know that that's one situation where it's impossible to get out of.

I just wish that there were many historical novels written this way. History is exciting. We shouldn't be forced to read boring texts about events that influenced how we are now. I think this is why I loved HHhH so much. It shows us that history was made by people, and that these people thought of us when they risked their lives or did remarkable things.

Read this book if:
  1. You love historical fiction.
  2. You want to give postmodern novels a try.
  3. You are, like I am, fascinated by all things related to WW2

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My 10 favorite reads of 2013

The year's favorite reads
(Click to enlarge)
Yes, I know that there are still a few more days till 2014. But with the way things are going, I'm never gonna get any reading done. I'll just be eating. And eating some more.

So 2013 isn't so bad in terms of reading. I finished 60 books, and like every year, I made it a point to have a diverse reading list. This year, there are fiction and nonfiction books, classics and contemporary books, young adult novels and books for children, a few LGBT works, and lots of graphic novels. I had lots of love for the graphic novel format this year.

I have to mention that I don't usually include the classics in my list. Instead, I focus on current (or current-ish) publications. Crime and Punishment is a favorite, and I doubt if there are people who would actually disagree with me on how beautiful that novel by Dostoevsky is. In a way, my annual list of favorite books somehow is a recommendation list of sorts. Besides, I always feel iffy recommending classics. They don't need anyone's good word.

Here are my favorite books for 2013: 2 graphic novel volumes, 1 middle grade novel, 2 young adult books, 2 thrillers, 1 science fiction work, 1 short story collection, and 1 novel in the literary fiction category. Oh, I present them in random order.
  1. Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples – Weird! Interplanetary wars! Romeo and Juliet in space!
  2. Chew Volume 1: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory – Gross! Violent! Fun! Appetizing!
  3. Wonder by R. J. Palacio – Kindness! Beautiful on the inside! No to bullying!
  4. Redshirts by John Scalzi – Dispensable characters, not! The Hugo Award! TV episodes!
  5. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – That twist! Like Hitchcock! Japanese crime!
  6. Bødy by Asa Nonami - Human body part fetish! Kinky! Short stories!
  7. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – Romantic! Break-ups! No hate!
  8. The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J. W. Ironmonger – Erudite! The Catalogue! Memories!
  9. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer – Pies! Diners! Bittersweet! Hopeful!
  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A sick mind! A-cuckoo! That narrator!
And I realized just now that I made an entry for each book above! Woot woot! You can check these out by clicking on the titles, in case you're curious about my remarks with exclamation points. 

So which of these 10 books is my single favorite read of 2013? That, my dear readers, is for another blog post. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Such pretty, pretty, pretty colors

There's a particular scene in the movie "You've Got Mail" when Meg Ryan helps out a book store clerk and a customer look for Noel Streatfeild's books. When I saw that movie years ago, I immediately got curious about these classic children's books and decided that I would read them.

And like Meg Ryan's character, my favorite is Ballet Shoes. It was published in 1936, and yet it's still as entertaining as ever. Very, very wholesome fun. It provides a much needed diversion after I've been re-reading the violent The Godfather these past few days.

The other books are quite good too. I'm still looking for Tennis Shoes though. I hope they have it in bookstores soon. The Shoes series are wonderful. If I had kids, these are the books that I would read to them every night.

Oh, by the way, Noel Streatfeild is a woman.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What I'm reading in the last month of the year

Is it really the last month of the year? Ack! Where the hell did the time go?

Anyway, for December, I got inspired from the book club's theme for our annual Christmas party, which is Mario Puzo's The Godfather. The novel is actually one of my favorite books, as I fell in love with all the members of the Corleone family: brash Sonny, wimpy Fredo, smart Mike, and, of course, the godfather himself, Don Vito Corleone. I think there was a time when I wanted to join the mafia. They're so filthy rich, and so fashionable, and so kick ass (literally and figuratively).

But I know I'm romanticizing the mafiosi when I said that I want to be one of them. I can never be part of that. They may be rich but they get there by dirty deals, sometimes at the expense of human life. They may have all the money in the world, but all the world's governments are after them. They may be very influential, but the influence they exert is brought about by fear. They command loyalty, but only if it comes with a price.

That's why I recommend 2 books about the mafia in the modern world. These books are eye-openers, showing the reader just how brutal the underworld is. In Misha Glenny's McMafia, we get to read about the criminal underworld of today and how it plays a dirty role in global economics. It's not just about Italians this time; we now have Eastern Europeans and other nationalities who control prostitution, drug trade, and illegal arms. It's quite a scary read though, but the book's something that I would call "essential reading" for people who want to be in the know.

Another great read about the criminal underworld, which takes us back to Italy, is Roberto Saviano's criticall acclaimed work of nonfiction, Gomorrah. It focuses on a specific organization, the Camorra, a ruthless and powerful group. The book's an exposé of sorts about the shady business dealings of the Camorra, which resulted in several death threats to Saviano. Read it, read it, read it!

So December is totally mafia reading. And I leave you with my favorite line from "The Godfather" movie: Leave the gun, take the cannoli. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

I wish every day were Saturday

While I wasn't able to spend the full day last Saturday at the 3rd annual Philippine ReaderCon, I did manage to catch the late afternoon sessions, which were all about book clubs. It's the 1st time that I didn't play an active role at the ReaderCon. During the 1st year, I moderated one of the sessions on book clubs here in the country. Then last year, I headed the Registration Committee. This year though, there were just too many things on my plate.

Anyway, this year, I did make it in time for the book club's discussion of Neil Gaiman's Season of Mists, which is the 4th volume of the acclaimed Sandman series. There weren't that many participants this year as compared with the almost fully packed room last year, when we talked about Rafe Bartholomew's nonfiction book about basketball in the Philippines, Pacific Rims. It was still a lovely way to spend the Saturday afternoon though.

Also, there were still several booths set up by the book clubs featuring the wide array of books that they're recommending to readers. I did the usual rounds, picking up several of the lists and bookmarks along the way. Unfortunately, the bookmarks being given away by my book club ran out! Nevertheless, I ended up with lots and lots of bookmarks in my tote.

I also purchased a few books. I bought my very first Filipino chick lit novel, Mina V. Esguerra's My Imaginary Ex. Mina was actually there in her romance class booth, and I asked her which among her novels is a good place to start. But the ones that I was truly excited about is the series of comic books about crime-fighting call center agents, which were appropriately titled Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents. The first 4 issues are just so hilarious!

My ReaderCon loot
Bookmarks and reco lists! Woot woot!
Of course, the book club still didn't want to call it a day, even though the ReaderCon ended at around 5 pm. We ended up having dinner at a newly opened strip mall nearby. R.'s birthday was just next day, so I thought it would be the perfect time to surprise him with a simple birthday cake. It was a 5-layer chocolate cake! It was a very fun Saturday indeed.

So: ReaderCon, Sandman, bookmarks, new books, dinner with the book club, and a birthday cake. It was a great Saturday indeed.

R. was completely surprised with his birthday cake.
I'm giddily clapping as well. :-)
(Photo credit: Jan Ruiz)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


And I've finally read my first Lessing! Yes, it's taken me this long to read one of her novels. I was originally gunning for The Golden Notebook, but when I looked at how thick it is, I died. Twice. The Fifth Child, running no longer than 150 pages, was perfect.

What a beautifully creepy novel The Fifth Child is. The story is pretty much straightforward. A young couple, Harriet and David, decide to move to a house of hotel proportions and have one child after another. Harriet and David have never been financially stable and have relied on David's well-to-do father for support. Things seem to go well with the family until the fifth child, Ben, was born.

All right, maybe the problem didn't start at Ben's birth but during the time Harriet was still carrying him in her womb. Ben was a difficult baby. Harriet often had to take sedatives just to keep Ben quiet inside her. Ben does appear to be an unusually strong baby. When Ben was born, nothing could have prepared the family of the sight of Ben. Besides being unusually strong for his age, Ben seems to resemble a Neanderthal, a monster in his parents and siblings' eyes.

If the other 4 siblings grew up with the attention (if not the love) of their parents, Ben didn't. Everyone seems to be afraid of him. Who wouldn't? When a cat and a dog die from strangulation, everyone thinks that it was Ben. And this thinking seems to be rightly so. Ben appears to act based on very primal instincts: eating ravenously, hurting people who view him with revulsion, and basically not communicating with any of his family. Eventually, the family decide to put Ben to an institution, even though Harriet has always been dead set against it.

Harriet does get Ben back after making an unscheduled visit and discovering that he has been drugged, fitted in a straightjacket, and covered in his own excrement the whole time he was at the institution. Harriet really tries to love Ben as much as she does her other children. But Ben's monstrous appearance and his wild disposition prevent her from doing so. She had to resort to having the teenaged gardener, whom Ben seems to like, watch over her son. It becomes inevitable that Ben becomes part of the gang of teenagers who terrorize parts of England.

Lessing shows us how one child can tear a family apart. The rest of Ben's siblings all leave for boarding school, as if wanting to put as much distance between themselves and their youngest. Harriet and David's marriage is never the same when they had Ben. Their house, which seemed to be their one prized possession, is eventually sold. And Ben only considers his friends as his true family.

I loved The Fifth Child. It's a horror novel that works on so many levels. On one level we see the family dynamic when one aberrant person joins the group. On another level we read about the horrors that Ben was capable of when he was growing up. And yet on another level we imagine the terror that could still happen, terrors brought about by Ben and his loutish friends. It's also a heartbreaking novel of loss, frustration, and what could have been. Somehow, I felt bad for the couple. I can't  help but imagine how everything would've turned out for them if Ben hadn't been born.

Read this book if:
  1. You'll read anything that's won the Nobel.
  2. You like your horror "literary."
  3. You're the black sheep of the family.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Still here

Sorry, I've been really swamped the past few days. For the meantime, let's have something from George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. I give you a picture of Jon Snow with his new "direwolf."