{Book Review} The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?*

I never realized how much of a nerd I really am until this book. You see, I’m not a very good student. I do better at standardized tests than my grades would suggest, but when you put me in a classroom for prolonged periods of time, the grades I churn out give a convincing argument that I’m a pretty average student (I was better in high school, but everyone knows that college is a different ball game altogether), so it came as a bit of a surprise that I really liked this book. It’s like a novel-length solution with pretty solid mathematical proof (I wouldn’t know, I just took Watney’s word for it that his calculations were right, haha) for the problem of how anyone can survive on Mars. Okay, Mark Watney’s obviously not anyone, as he’s a botanist and mechanical engineer on top of being a trained astronaut. He’s way ahead of majority of Earth’s population in terms of chances of survival, but you know what I mean. There is a lot of technical stuff thrown around, from the way the NASA machines work to how they get messed up (which happens several times in the book – who knew life on Mars was hard?!?). It sounds boring and cerebral, but somehow I, the person who never waxed poetic about technical subjects in college, enjoyed it. I think it really says something about a character’s likability if you’re willing to read through how oxygenators and water reclaimers work just to see if he survives at the end. It really helped that Watney is a very good-natured, funny, optimistic kind of guy, because I really wasn’t under the impression that I’d laugh at all while reading this. I totally get how his journal style sometimes can make people feel like he isn’t taking anything seriously, but I liked how it wasn’t all bleak and serious like most sci-fi books are. Maybe it’s because Watney’s log entries exhibit my type of humor, but it definitely made reading the technical parts easier.

TL;DR lots of technobabble but hero’s pretty cool so I really liked it.

I have no idea how this will be translated to the big screen, but I’m ready to see it!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Hardcover, 369 pages
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown
Published: September 23, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Science Fiction

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{Book Review} The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.*

It wasn’t easy for me to read this. Harry, the protagonist, would often tell tales of his travels in his various lives, and insert historical happenings here and there that I found tedious to read. Just when something exciting was happening, the next chapter would be a flashback to something he experienced while in Argentina or wherever, and this happened often enough that I had to pretty much force myself to just continue reading. To put matters in perspective, I took almost three and a half weeks to read the first half, and just a little under three days to finish the rest. I figured that perhaps it was hard for me to read about the 20th century because I wasn’t used to it, seeing as the historical fiction I usually read was around 18th-19th, and the 20th felt too recent and depressing with all its wars. Nevertheless, I think I would have appreciated that historical aspect more if the pacing wasn’t too slow for my liking. I’m really glad I stuck with the story though, because in retrospect, the idea of the kalachakra/ouroboran, people that ‘resurrect’ after death in the same time and place they were born, and the various implications of what their actions can do in the ripples of time and how they get killed turned out to be very interesting. Without revealing things too much, both hero and villain were kalachakra, so you can just imagine them battling with all their wits throughout whole lifetimes, only to resume it when they are born again and start over from wherever and whenever they came from. A kalachakra’s date and place of birth, along with his/her parents, are vital information because this is the only way they can be completely killed, so you can just imagine the lengths each side will go through to find out each other’s origins first. I wasn’t a big fan of all the flashbacks, but as you can see, I found the main story line exciting, and by the time it was clear who the villain was (you’ll only find out around the second half of the book – told ya it took too long to get things going here), I couldn’t get myself to stop reading anymore. In the end, I decided that the entertainment I got from the main story outweighed my dissatisfaction with how my relationship with this book began, hence the stars.

This book is part historical, part sci-fi, part travelogue/biography, so if you have an interest in these things, read this by all means! It’ll be worth it in the end.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3.5/5
Hardcover, 432 pages
Author: Claire North
Publisher: Redhook
Published: January 1, 2014
Language: English
Genre: Science Fiction, Historical

{Book Review} Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hairactually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?*

This is another episode of me putting aside all other reading commitments in answer to a challenge to read and review another highly recommended book (*shakes fist at Maria* honestly, woman, the things you make us do). I wanted so badly to go write a review for another book but unfortunately this has to take precedence, because I don’t often get competitive and it’s a moment to be treasured. Anyway.

The world Laini Taylor created was beautiful, and my imagination ran wild with envisioning the creatures and the characters, as well as the places described. One of my bookish friends said I would want to go to Prague after reading this, and she was right. One of the reasons I couldn’t finish reading this book in one sitting as I planned was because I constantly had to stop and look pictures of Prague. Sometimes I would stop and bring out my sketchbook (number two, if you must know, and unfortunately still not art student material) and try drawing Madrigal or Akiva or some other chimaera, because all of the scenes with Karou drawing in it made me want to try it too. I loved imagining everything in my head, and certain aspects of the book brought out that childlike wonder.

The writing was also exquisite. I loved all the cosmic adjectives and the author’s pretty ways of describing things, and while some were pretty wordy (or was I the only one constantly checking the dictionary just to see if I deducted the meaning right?), it didn’t feel contrived or affected at all. The flow of words was natural, and reading it was like a dream, so there’s definitely no problem on that front…

…but. See, this is why I am always weary of paying attention to hyped anythings – it’s hard not to have expectations. While said expectations have been met in the aforementioned aspects, I thought there was something missing that prevented me from really enjoying this book. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste, because a lot of people like this book, and I could see why, and it’s just that it’s not for me. There were some parts that reminded me too much of other books I didn’t enjoy, books that also had hints of too beautiful men and instant attraction that didn’t make me as invested in the relationship. Something felt a little off. Then there was this bunch of chapters in the second half that detailed a flashback that at that moment I didn’t really want to read about – I just wanted to get to the main storyline to see what would happen, so I found myself getting more and more impatient with each flashback chapter. It was at this point that I gradually lost interest, which was a shame, because the last few chapters were great, and if only that flashback was a little shorter, I would have enjoyed the book as a whole more.

Still, I’m burning to know what happens in the next book. I could finally see characters that I liked, and wanted to know more, before that pretty abrupt ending. This one felt too much like an exposition for its sequel, so maayybbeeee I’ll like the second more than this. Not sure if I’ll get to read it though, with all the other books from my to-read pile calling out my name, but that’s a door I won’t close.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Hardcover, 418 pages
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: September 27, 2011
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Reviews elsewhere

{Book Review} A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped. *

I started reading this with just a fair amount of interest, and I wasn’t as invested at the beginning because I found it quite slow, so it was always in the back burner for a while until I finished the other books I was reading at the time, but as I journeyed with Kell and Lila throughout the book, my imagination pretty much exploded trying to imagine all the other Londons, and I had so much fun trying to see everything in my head. I reasoned that I didn’t want to rush it, because I wanted to absorb as much of the worlds as I could, and I figured reading by parts would be the best course of action I could take (yes, I like planning things way too much). That plan turned out pretty well until more than halfway through the book, when I was just, sod it, I’m going to finish the entire thing. Goodbye, schedule for the rest of the day.

The worldbuilding was fantastic. It was like I could imagine what all the Londons looked like, but I still wanted so much to have been there myself, journeying with the characters even though I would have been as much of a liability as a sack of bones. All of the Londons, even White London, were vivid and real to me, and imagining worlds as different as they are but with the same geography made is somehow both easier and more confusing, but that’s okay, because it made me think about the book even while I was doing other things (maybe not such a good thing if you’re busy, but it’s my summer vacation, so it is for me). It came to the point where I wished so much that I am a really good artist so I can put onto paper the Londons as I imagine them to look like.

I also found the characters great. It wasn’t love at first sight for me, because I only started actively rooting for them when the masquerade started and things finally started getting exciting, but I liked them just the same. I wish I got to see Rhy more, because Kell’s really biased and I wanted to form my own opinion of him. The interactions with Lila was a promising start, and perhaps there will be more ways I could get to know him in the sequel, so yay! Also, *spoiler alert* some of the supporting characters die, so best not get too attached. I was so upset about a couple of the deaths, even though I don’t even know them that well, but I guess it just has to be done. This is a war, after all, albeit a really small-scale one that the masses of Grey, Red, and White London know nothing about, but it’s the beginning of one, so I’m sure the dying won’t stop anytime soon.*end of spoiler alert*

This is the kind of book that made me so eager to see what’s next that I was already reading the next page before I realized that I haven’t even finished reading this description paragraph thing a page before, so then I have to read everything again, and then I get ahead of myself. I blame that as the main reason why I couldn’t finish the book sooner, but really, it’s just an excuse to keep reading before it actually ends. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy, adventure, and a dash of steampunk. 

Favorite quotes

Purity without balance is its own corruption.

‘I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.’

‘Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,’ she continued, ‘or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing.’

Delilah Bard looked like a king. No, she thought, straightening. She looked like a conqueror.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

400 pages
Author: V.E. Schwab
Original Language: English
Published: February 24, 2015
Genre: Fantasy

{Book Review} Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel — known as Pi — has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions — Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.

As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea — catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun — all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado’s death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on.

As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material — any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and centre from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.

From the Trade Paperback edition.*

Let it be known that I love tigers. In fact, tigers are my favorite animals. I have stuffed toy collections of them, and up until high school, I slept with them all around me in the belief that they will scare away whatever evil being that plans to visit me in the night. To be honest, that was the thing that drew me to this book, above all. It all began when I was 11, and my class had a field trip to Subic. My friends and I dared to take a picture with a tiger cub named Eo (the size of which was too big for a cub, in my opinion), and I was the one who fed it. Its paws were heavy and resting on my arms, and I fell in love. Lookie, a picture!

I'm in love with the tiger, but I think the tiger's in love with my hand.

I’m in love with the tiger, but I think the tiger’s in love with my hand. On another note… well, this is embarrassing. (By “this,” I meant my face, haha!)

This book, however, is not just about tigers. Tigers are only part of the equation, and trust me, this book is beyond the sum of its parts. Pi, contrary to what I originally thought as the tiger’s name, was actually the interesting nickname of an Indian boy who happened to be shipwrecked with a tiger and some other animals to begin with. It was a ridiculous and at the same time incredible situation. The book is separated into three parts, and the tell-tale tiger on several book covers does not get much exposure (literally and figuratively) until the second part. You would have to endure Pi’s musings on his name, religion, and zookeeping, among others. Thankfully, they weren’t too dragging for me so it was okay, but then I was also reading Les Miserables alongside it, whose meanderings are even longer than those of this book (but that is for another entry). Try to bear with it if you aren’t fond of draggy bits, because after that, things get more interesting.

The whole reading experience could be likened to a sojourn into the ocean. A fun thing to do, theoretically, but no matter how much you prepare for it, you’re not really ready. You get used to it, and you calm down. Life goes on, but then you catch sight of land, and you try to go there, and you feel safe. A few feet from shore, however, a huge wave comes up from behind you and lashes down. Couple that with the vertigo of walking on a steady surface, and you get the unpredictable nature of this book. I mean, I was calmly reading it and feeling enlightened and pretty much basking in the glory of so much wisdom when suddenly, something happens and you see the book in a whole new light. Everything changes. Drastically. You are then left to choose what to believe. You can choose to read it like the atheists. Pi believed that “like [him], they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.” Or you can read it like the agnostics, who will find the logical explanation and miss the better story. After all this, in the end, you will realize that Life of Pi’s not just about a journey with a tiger. It says as much about you as it does with Pi Patel, and possibly even more, if you think about it. It is a very unique experience, and more than you can possibly expect for less than 400 pages.

The thing is, better story or not, you cannot deny each version’s individual beauty and wisdom, parallels though they may be. That is what I love about this book. On the one hand, you have a story that is fantastical and memorable, heartwarming and brought on by faith. On the other, you have a story rife with symbolism and the brutal honesty of reality. You don’t lose anything whether you believe in one story or the other. It’s a win-win situation.

This is the first book I finished and my first 5-star rating for this year. I’m very excited to see the movie version. Before I do so, I have to say this: Read this book. Deciding whether to let go and believe, or listening to what makes actual sense, will probably prove to be a challenge (like it was for me), but it will be worth it. You will know how you see the world and you will understand why people need faith. And that, in itself, is a beautiful and rewarding experience.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5

356 pages
Author: Yann Martel
Original Language: English
Published: 2001
Genre: Literary, Philosophy, Cultural

{Book Review} After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After DarkA short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

After Dark moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency—the interplay between self-expression and empathy, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami’s trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery.*

It was the last week of 2012 before I realized that I had blog challenges for myself. While I have given up the 2012 Debut Author Challenge for naught, I remembered that my personal challenge to finally read a Haruki Murakami book once and for all still has hope. I happened to have a copy of After Dark ready, and because I was sick for a couple of days, I had all the time in the world to devour all 191 pages of it.

Managed to cram a review in before 2012 ends! Which is in, like, 9 hours. (Philippine time, GMT +8)

 

So how was my Murakami experience? The first and only word that brands itself in my mind at the moment is surreal. This is a story set after hours – after the sun has set and dissolving as the sun’s rays penetrate the horizon. Unlike what you would expect for a book set in this time frame, though, the pace is rather slow. Murakami has a way of weaving strange curiosities into his writing, making you feel like an entity that is invisible, and everywhere all at the same time. I don’t know if this was brought on by being in my sickbed, but reading the whole thing felt like a dream. Details and such just floated beyond me, and what remained was an odd mixture of desolation and a burning desire to understand what was going on. I felt like I belonged to the world of Mari and Takahashi and the other characters, people who seemed so mysterious and fascinating in the veil of night, wandering as everything is cloaked in impenetrable darkness dusted with the light of the moon.*

One of my favorite quotes from this book was by Mari Asai:

“You know what I think?” she says. “That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed ’em to the fire, they’re all just paper.”

There’s a darkly whimsical element in the book that kept me curious all throughout. This wasn’t even a plot-driven kind of book, but because of Murakami’s skill, I enjoyed it in all its passiveness and floaty quality. Honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it. I still couldn’t understand the deal with Mari’s sister, Eri, and her peculiar sojourn into the television set, among other things. However, I’m choosing to just go with the flow and accept my inability to understand, so that I can appreciate the way it was written, and because it is beautiful.

*Aaaand here was my attempt to sound poetic. Forgive me. I had Moonlight Sonata playing in the background and I somehow got into the zone.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

191 pages
Author: Haruki Murakami
Original Language: Japanese
Published: 2000
Genre: Fantasy, Magic Realism

{Book Review} Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)

In which a witch bewitched the hatter’s daughter – and then some….

Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did – especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.

As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father’s hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery.

Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie bargained for….*

I was very excited to read this book. I absolutely loved the film version by Hayao Miyazaki, and the gorgeous soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi. I think I’ve played the main theme a couple hundred times already since I watched the film earlier this year, because if there’s something I’m a sucker for more than beautiful writing, its beautiful music (I’m actually writing this with it playing on repeat in the background, teehee). I really can’t get enough of the music. Despite my excitement, for some reason, I kept putting off reading the book – even though I got my copy in May – until this month. I think I saved this because of the holidays, which would give off the magical atmosphere I would very much prefer in reading a book like this.

Howl’s Moving Castle stirred somewhat lukewarm feelings within me at first, because I was expecting it to have the same effect on me as the film had. The film version was more exciting and dramatic, definitely, but then I realized that it wouldn’t be fair to judge a book by its movie. I’m very okay with judging a film by its book, but vice versa? It just feels weird, so I decided to try reading Howl’s Moving Castle with a mind that wasn’t familiar with it. It worked. I enjoyed reading about Howl and Sophie, and I felt like a child again. Gosh, how I missed reading fantasy that didn’t have such convoluted plots!

I really loved the characters. I am absolutely amused by Howl, the entertainment factor of which helped me in rating this book. He is so vain and conscious of his appearance that I sometimes want to throw a fit and make green slime myself (because no one, and I mean NO ONE, should take that long in the bathroom EVERY DAY sheesh) but also very scatter-brained everywhere else, so the results are just hilarious. I keep imagining the events in the book transpire with the film characters* and I am all laughey-dovey for hours. Well okay, minutes, but you know. He started to grow on me somewhat because of those moments. Also, let me just mention how I admire Sophie very much. For someone in a granny’s body, she is everywhere! I would like to be like her, (still) sassy and full of energy when I am ninety, if ever I do reach that age. I also love how determined she is when she is set to do something. She’s like, “Oh, I’m an eldest kid so I can’t be exciting? Qurl, Imma find my fortune and prove y’all wrong. I’m sorry, being ninety all of a sudden just ain’t enough, so lemme see if I can poke the Wizard Howl’s eye or summat.” That’s the impression her character made on me. So sassy. I love it. (For some reason, I remembered McGonagall, and by association, Dame Maggie Smith. She would make a perfect Sophie, I’d say!)

She’ll be all, “Green slime? Meh.”

Overall, I really liked this book. Despite Howl’s vanity and Sophie’s stubbornness, I found myself rooting for them until the very end. It was a very cute story, whimsical in a way that makes you remember all those fairy tales you used to read as a little child. It’s got a very simple plot, but it has its very own charm, which is why I have no doubt many readers will enjoy this. This is the first novel I’ve read by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve read a short story of hers in Firebirds, and I enjoyed her writing even then, so I wouldn’t say no to reading more of her works.

*okay, maybe I failed in the complete separation of film and book part, but hey, I still liked the book!

PS
Now I want to watch the film again. Or any Studio Ghibli film, for that matter. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

429 pages
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Original Language: English
Published: 1986
Genre: Fantasy

{Book Review} The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

The Last Unicorn is one of the true classics of fantasy, ranking with Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Beagle writes a shimmering prose-poetry, the voice of fairy tales and childhood:

 The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.

The unicorn discovers that she is the last unicorn in the world, and sets off to find the others. She meets Schmendrick the Magician–whose magic seldom works, and never as he intended–when he rescues her from Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, where only some of the mythical beasts displayed are illusions. They are joined by Molly Grue, who believes in legends despite her experiences with a Robin Hood wannabe and his unmerry men. Ahead wait King Haggard and his Red Bull, who banished unicorns from the land.

This is a book no fantasy reader should miss; Beagle argues brilliantly the need for magic in our lives and the folly of forgetting to dream. –Nona Vero*

My love affair with this book was just way I liked it – slow-burning and unexpected. I started out feeling fairly lukewarm about the story, as it was very simple, but like a seed you didn’t know was there, days went by before I realized that it has grown on me. I am not sure if it is because of Prince Lir’s growth from shallow young ‘un to lovesick hero, or Lady Amalthea’s painful beauty, or Molly Grue’s cream puff (solid on the outside but softie on the inside) persona, or Schmendrick’s quest of true magic, but when I closed the book, I had a big smile plastered on my face for the rest of the day.

As I said, the plot is simple. The titular character is the last of her kind, on a quest to find the other members of her species, meeting interesting characters along the way – nothing really new. What really endeared the story to me were the emotions of the characters, and how they matured towards the ends of their respective journeys. The character most apparent in this change was Prince Lir, who was really shallow and annoying at the beginning, but developed into a strong and brave hero who is not afraid of showing how he feels, and fighting for it. Normally, I would have found his lines cheesy (they really were), but they came from such an unlikely character (at first, anyway), geared towards another unlikely character that you can’t help but understand why he does what he does, and says what he says, for that matter. 

Speaking of feelings, I feel the romance part of the story is a bit iffy. I have no problems with the characters, but I just find it weird that something as powerful and magical as a unicorn turned out to be mostly helpless. Maybe that was the whole point, because she’s the last of her kind? But that’s just me. Anyway, it’s a tiny thing compared to the rest of the book, so I hope you don’t decide against reading this just because  of a slight nuance I had. It’s really nothing compared to how beautiful the book turned out to be.

Just in case I haven’t made this clear enough times in the past, I am going to reiterate this once more: I am a sucker for gorgeous prose. I really am. Figures of speech used right, in all its glory, is enchanting. The language in this book is so lyrical and poetic, with metaphors that are so dreamy yet feel so right that my imagination never ran out of things to marvel at. However, it is important to note that Peter Beagle did not overdo this, as some writers often do. His writing does not feel pretentious and forced. The mythical creature that is the focus of this novel could actually be compared to his writing. Unicorns are known for being pure, and the is The Last Unicorn in essence. It felt so innocent, and clean, and effortless, that it made me remember my childhood, particularly when and why I fell in love with this genre.  

Do not be fooled into thinking that it is an ordinary children’s fairy tale because of its whimsical title (like I did). I was surprised with how much I ended up liking it. Now I find no trouble at all believing the big-time fantasy authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Ursula Le Guin when they say that this is a must-read. It is simply magical.

My favorite quotes: 

“You have all the power you need, if you dare to look for it.”

The magician stood erect, menacing the attackers with demons, metamorphoses, paralyzing ailments, and secret judo holds. Molly picked up a rock.

“It must be that great power cannot give me whatever it is that I really want.”

“You can strike your own time, and strike the count anywhere. When you understand that – then anytime at all will be the right time for you.”

“I love whom I love,” Prince Lir repeated firmly. “You have no power over anything that matters.”

But the true secret of being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. […] The happy ending cannot come in the middle of a story.

“I did not know that I was empty, to be so full.”

PS

I just found out that there is an animated movie version of this book! How cool is that? And.. oh my. It features the voices of Jeff Bridges,  Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee! I NEED TO WATCH THIS.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5

296 pages
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Original Language: English
Published: 1961
Genre: Fantasy, Classic

{Book Review} The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.” His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.*

Ooh, the book that stirred up quite a frenzy when it was originally published, and still causes some controversy now. Whenever people see me reading this book, they wonder whether it’s required reading for some class or other, but I got really curious because it’s one of those books that excite such strong opinions and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Keep reading to see what I think.

When I began reading The Catcher in the Rye, I thought Holden Caulfield was, pardon the word, an ass. I could not think of a better term to describe him without using worse words, because he really is an ass. Being the sunshine-y, vomiting rainbows kind of person, I could not stand a character who is such a darned pessimist, grumbling about every tiny thing like it’s the end of the world. Holden’s the type of guy who sees the glass not only as half-empty, but really helluva phony that it’s depressing. It would be totally like him to come to the really witty conclusion that all the water in the world is phony if you just leave it in a glass with air taking up half the space, thinking it’s important and all. Sort of like that. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think they’re so cool that everything they do is justified. Holden blames everybody for his mistakes, and holds minimal to zilch remorse at the thought of getting kicked out of school. The book seemed like an endless diatribe that doesn’t do anybody, even him, any good. Some parts made me think about life and all (oh my gosh. I am starting to sound like him. Help.), but most of the time I didn’t even think. I just zoned out, filtered away all the cussing and stuff, much like when somebody yells at you, making me read the passages like an automaton. 

Aaaaand he repeats phrases all the time! I’m not even going to type those phrases here, since I’m quite sick of reading those and I don’t want to exert myself and remember. I mean, it’s okay to repeat phrases (I do that all the time), but please, not every other sentence or something. By the end of the first twenty pages, I was wondering how his brain could stand spouting the same things over and over and over and over again. I could not give a Slitheen‘s fart about his rants, which make up about 90% of the book. The best job for him would totally be as a dartboard or something for target practice. I already set my mind to giving this book 1 star.

But then…

Maybe that was the point. Holden was supposed to be an angsty, rebellious teenager in the first place. I admit, I still think it’s a wee bit overdone, but I think J.D. Salinger is brilliant. It’s perfectly normal to hate a book character, especially a whiny one, but if it’s because the characterization is perfect, then you can’t help but concede that the writing is really good. There are a lot of books that receive a lot of hate because the characterization sucks (I’m looking at you, Twilight), but for sure that’s not the reason why The Catcher in the Rye is controversial. Yeah, Holden starts hating on everyone the instant he sees them, but for a few parts of the novel, you can see the layers of him that have more depth in it. His affection for his sister, Phoebe, was what made an impact on me most of all. I really didn’t expect him to take break from complaining about silly stuff all day. It’s like his whiny exterior melts off into a ball of marshmallow-like stuff the moment he thinks of his sister. So maybe Phoebe is the only (living) person he cares about other than himself, but it’s enough to make him human. That, and sometimes I find him funny. I will never forget this quote:

“You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won’t wake up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she’ll hear you.” <—-LOOOOL WINNER because my parents are EXACTLY like that

because I didn’t expected that and I probably read it at a time when I was on a sugar high, so it won Holden some plus points for me. I laugh easily like that.

I still don’t like Holden, and I probably never will, but I now see why a lot of people like this book. At some parts, I found myself relating to his thoughts and realizations (right before he jumps into an entirely different topic, anyway) and you could see that he is just a kid trying to make sense out of life. I do not approve of his way of coping with things, but I could sympathize with his confusion. It’s a dead giveaway even from the way he speaks. He is desperately trying to make a path for himself in the world, and still failing at it. He’s actually a big softie, though he will never admit it, what with being unable to defend himself, and his regard for vulnerable people, like James Castle and Ernest Morrow’s mother. Holden is probably moaning about everything as a way of estranging himself from the world, maybe to protect himself from its “phoniness” through the only way he knows how. He feels alone in the myriad of things that are constantly changing in his life: his brother Allie’s death, moving from school to school, etc., which could explain his dream of being a “catcher in the rye”. He is projecting, wanting to protect the kids from falling off of cliffs when all he really wants to do is project himself. I am coming to these realizations as I type this, and I have to concede that this book really is beautiful after all.

I am giving this 3 stars instead of the 1 star I originally planned because J.D. Salinger is a genius and he deserves those 2 extra stars. I couldn’t get invested in his characters, but I surely could get invested in his writing.

Even if I really hate Holden.

If you want to know the truth.

PS

I just realized how much I love dissecting characters. This is awesome.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Author: J.D. Salinger
Original Language: English
Published: 1951
Genre: Coming of Age, Classic

{Book Review} Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to the laws of attraction, there are no rules–and the battle between the sexes is about to make two lawyers hot under the collar. Original.

Lately I’ve been really in the mood to read a lot of chick lit. Even though I’m still in the middle of 1984 by George Orwell and Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, I wanted to read something light and funny like I’ve Got Your Number. Plus, this book came to my possession after a friend gave me an ebook collection as a gift. All I had to do was transfer a copy to my phone and voila! I could go anywhere and have a book in my pocket. I have been looking for recommendations from Goodreads as well, and most of my friends have been marking Practice Makes Perfect as a to-read book. I have heard of Julie James, but I never got around to reading her books, and I suppose now is a good time to start as any. Anyhoo. On with the review.


Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson have hated each other almost a decade. Payton, a die-hard feminist, believes that J.D. is a spoiled rich kid who succeeds in his field because of old money and most particularly, his gender. J.D., on the other hand, believes that Payton gets ahead because she is a woman and several men-dominated industries are trying to add diversity by hiring more women. Always competing against each other, Payton and J.D.’s eight-year-long conflict escalates to war after their law firm announced that only one of them could be a partner. Suddenly, it is only one or the other. Who would it be?

This story is narrated in a he said, she said fashion, which is really appropriate since the readers can see from the man’s point of view as well, unlike the usual heroine perspective. From this viewpoint, we can see how wrong they could be in their assumptions as well as sense something more than hate brewing under the surface.

J.D. and Payton’s is a classic love-hate relationship, which is refreshing for me since I haven’t read really intense love-hate stories in a while. Both of them are sure they couldn’t hate the other any more than they already do, and as it turns out, they  really couldn’t… in a good way. You could really see their expertise in being lawyers. There were a lot of technical terms in their conversations that made me revel in how good Julie James was in researching what they did.. but then I found out she actually took up law! There goes why her other books involve justice and the law, which I find really cool. Just the Sexiest Man Alive, Something Like You, A Lot Like Love, and About That Night definitely go to my to-read list now. Besides, they all have such nice reader ratings in Goodreads.

I really liked how, as the book progresses, J.D. and Payton realize that all of their hating to a passion for the past eight years was actually because of another kind of passion. You know. And I absolutely love how they realize it, and how, despite hating each other’s guts, they begrudgingly admit the other’s best qualities with a reluctant sort of respect.  As the decision of who makes partner edges nearer, our hero and heroine, and the reader in turn, realizes that they are both well-matched and very much crazy about the other, which makes the ending very sweet indeed. (I hope I’m not spoiling anything by saying that. You know it does end happily, right?)

I found this a really entertaining book, and I still couldn’t believe I managed to finish this in six hours (from an hour before midnight till the wee hours of the morning, plus an hour during normal waking hours). It’s that addicting. So sue me for loving this book (pun intended). I recommend it for anyone who reads chick lit and contemporary romance, really. You can never go wrong with good ol’ love-hate chick lit.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Author: Julie James
Original Language: English
Published: 3 March 2009 by Berkley Sensation
Genre: Chick Lit, Romance