Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Books of 2011


The following is a very eclectic end of the year list. I've covered quite a number of genres - an Austen classic, a non-fiction novel, a thriller, a Man Booker prize winner, a book of interrelated short stories, a modern fantasy novel that's the first in a series, a dystopian novel, a post 9-11 novel, a mystery set in the Tudor area and a Pulitzer prize winner.  Funnily enough in 2009 my top ten consisted of only women authors. This year I see that I have eight  male writers and only two females.

Here's my final list in random order:



In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
This was the last book I finished in 2011. It's simply fascinating. It covers the years spent by the American ambassador and his family in Berlin during the years 1933-1937. If you want to know what it was like to live in this city during these nightmare years then this is the book to read. It's also a book where the saying 'one book leads to another' is so true. You'll want to read more on the years of the Third Reich and see movies about it as well. I finally saw the German film Sophie Scholl the other day because of this book and I'm looking forward to reading journalist William Shirer's memoirs.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
This book for me is a pure work of art. It's beautifully written. A novel about memories, love, loss, loneliness, longing and managing to go on living after the one we love is gone. Heartbreaking and touching.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Rachman's debut novel transported me to a newspaper office in modern day Rome. Each chapter reads like a short story with each one focusing on a particular character. The dialogue is witty and sometimes funny and the scenarios are engaging with some unexpected twists. The book covers a wide array of themes such as life, death, love, ambition, loneliness. It's difficult to say which chapter I liked more because each one was riveting in its own way.




Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
How can I not have this book on the list when I was completely captivated by the TV show and book? It's just magnificent stuff. The book transports readers to a world of magic, romance, adventure, ambition, love, murder, betrayal and revenge. The characters are fantastic and unforgettable. I'm now reading the second book in the series.





Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was a reread for me. I first read the book in 2005 and I had a lukewarm response to it then. I think it helped that I knew the ending this time so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. The author in a Time magazine interview, admits that: ” … in a funny sort of way, I almost wanted the mystery aspect to be taken away so that people could concentrate on other aspects of the book.” This proved to be true for me.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This will never be one of my favorite books however the Man Booker winner of 2011 was beautifully written. Plus it is probably the most discussed novel of the year. My review alone has generated over 8000 hits and over 70 comments.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
I know many people were not thrilled that this was on the Booker shortlist but it's actually a very good book. On the surface it appears to be just a simple and predictable thriller that involves an expatriate in Moscow but it's not. It has a lot of depth and complexity underneath. It's about a man's moral compass that slowly spirals out of control.





Persuasion by Jane Austen
I had always loved the story of Persuasion but had never read the novel. I finally had to read it for my book club in 2011 and not surprisingly it was a beautifully written book however I did wonder beforehand what we would actually have to talk about. We ended up having a wonderful discussion that covered so many different points not only from the book but about society and women's roles then and now.





A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Pulitzer Prize winner of the year is one of the most innovative novels I've read. It's probably the only one with a whole chapter in Powerpoint. The book is made up of chapters that can stand alone as short stories and the narratives go back and forth in time mainly following the lives of Bennie and Sasha and the people that surround them. Bennie is a record producer and Sasha is his assistant. Viewpoints switch from first to third and even second person. This was a pretty cool book.

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
Another series I got hooked on this year were the Mathew Shardlake mysteries. I read three of them. They are all brilliantly plotted by Sansom who holds a PhD in History. The books are amazingly rich in historical flavor up to the miscroscopic details. Set in London during the Tudor era, Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback attorney who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose minus the Latin.




So there it is, the top ten of 2011. Mind you, ten out of only forty-two books read.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books Read in 2011

There are only forty-two books on this list (not including children's books or short stories unless I read the entire collection). Of course, I had a very good excuse - I had a baby last February. I had hoped to read more but this was all I could manage. I also didn't review every book that came my way. Recently, I've decided to just write about books I care about. I'll be back with my top ten in a few days. For now, here's the list of the books I read in 2011. Can you guess which ones will make my top list?
  1. The City and The City by China Mieville
  2. The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
  3. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent 
  4. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers (reread)
  5. Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (reread)
  6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  7. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  8. The Imperfectionists  by Tom Rachman
  9. Dissolution  by C.J. Sansom
  10. Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
  11. The Great House  by Nicole Krauss
  12. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (Book 1)
  13. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  14. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close  by Jonathan Safran Foer
  15. The History of Love  by Nicole Krauss
  16. Sovereign  by C.J.Sansom
  17. The Blue Castle - by L.M. Montgomery
  18. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  19. Book Lust by Nancy Pearl
  20. The Keep by Jennifer Egan
  21. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  22. A Load of Bull by Tim Parfitt
  23. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
  24. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  25. Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
  26. The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart
  27. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  28. The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell (reread)
  29. Nocturnes  by Kazuo Ishiguro
  30. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  31. Before Ever After  by Samantha Sotto
  32. Florence and Giles by John Harding
  33. Galadria by Miguel Lopez de Leon
  34. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  35. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  36. The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
  37. East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
  38. IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (Book 1 and 2)
  39. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  40. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
  41. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
  42. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Christmas Greetings


    Merry Christmas!

    Hope you are all getting cozy with your loved ones today. My shopping is done, a cake is in the oven and we're busy preparing for Christmas dinner with the family. I'll be back before the end of the year with my best books of 2011. Happy Holidays!


    *I found the homemade card above at Milliesmarvels.


    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    A Day in Books

    This little meme comes courtesy of Cornflower Books. You have to finish the sentences with books you read this year.

    I began the day with Strong Poison
    On my way to work I saw The Blue Castle
    and walked by The Great House
    to avoid The Heretic's Daughter
    but I made sure to stop at The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    In the office, my boss said "Never Let Me Go."
    and sent me to research The History of Love
    At lunch with Florence and Giles
    I noticed Snowdrops
    under The Big Clock
    then went back to my desk In the Garden of Beasts
    Later, on the journey home, I bought Dark Fire
    because I have A Visit from the Goon Squad
    then settling down for the evening, I picked up A Clash of Kings
    and studied Nocturnes
    before saying goodnight to Bossypants

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    2011: End Of The Year Book Survey



    I came across this meme at Literary Musings. Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner has created an end of 2011 survey to reflect on this year's best and worst reads.

    1. Best Book You Read In 2011?
    • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was a reread for me. I first read the book in 2005 and I had a lukewarm response to it then. I think it helped that I knew the ending this time so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. The author in a Time magazine interview, admits that: ” … in a funny sort of way, I almost wanted the mystery aspect to be taken away so that people could concentrate on other aspects of the book.” This proved to be true for me.


      2. Most Disappointing Book?
      • Hands down it's 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I usually love reading Murakami and in fact I've listed two of his novels in My Reader's Table however I read Book 1 and Book 2 of this and I'm so disappointed that I refuse to read Book 3. It started off well but then went off on several bizarre tangents. This was just too weird for me. I can suspend disbelief quite easily but little people coming out of goats just takes the cake! 

        3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?
        • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. I bought this for my son's 6th birthday and we enjoyed reading it together. It has beautiful drawings and is actually a homage to Georges Melies one of the forefathers of the movies. We can't wait to see the film directed by Martin Scorsese. The trailer looks incredible!

          4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?
          • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I loved this for its sheer beauty. This is a book about memories, love, loss, loneliness, longing and managing to go on living after the one we love is gone. Heartbreaking and touching. 

            5. Best series you discovered in 2011?
            • Besides The Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin (more on this below), its got to be the Mathew Shardlake mysteries by C.J. Sansom. I read the first three books this year. Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback solicitor during the Tudor era who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose minus the Latin. The books are in chronological order so it's best if you read them starting with the first book Dissolution and move on from there. 

            6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?
            •  Tom Rachman. I truly enjoyed reading his witty and also tragic novel, The Imperfectionists.
            • China Meiville. I've only read The City and the City but I intend to try some of his other books in the future.
            • George R.R. Martin. Reading and watching The Game of Thrones was so much fun.

            7. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?
            • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. I know many people were not thrilled that this was on the Booker shortlist but it's actually a very good book. On the surface it appears to be just a simple and predictable thriller but it's not. It has a lot of depth and complexity underneath. It's about a man's moral compass that slowly spirals out of control. 

            8. Book you most anticipated in 2011?
            • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami much to my disappointment (see above). I'm also looking forward to reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  

            9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?


            • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. I picked up this book because of the beautiful cover and it turned out to be quite a riveting and clever book. 

            10. Most memorable character in 2011?
            • Too many to name but here are a few - Oskar from Extremely Loud, Arya from The Game of Thrones, Tommy from Never Let Me Go.

            11. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?
            • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 
            12. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?
            • In the Garden of Beasts by the master of the non-fiction narrative, Erik Larson. I'm reading this right now and so far I've learned so much about what really happened in Berlin from 1933-1938. 

            13. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read?
            • Persuasion by Jane Austen. I had to read it for my book club and not surprisingly it was a beautiful read however I did wonder beforehand what we would actually have to talk about. We ended up having a wonderful discussion that covered so many different points not only from the book but about society and women's roles then and now.

            14. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011?
            • There wasn't a quote or passage that really stood out for me this year so I'm going to choose - "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." from The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin just because I loved the series and the first book and now I've started reading Book 2, The Clash of Kings and so far so good. 

            15. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012?
            • Probably one of my best comfort reads, the Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers beginning with Strong Poison

            16. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
            • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. After reading this, I was dying to talk to someone about it so I posted my review here.I guess a lot of readers felt the same way because since then (August 31st) this post has generated over 6000 hits and over 70 comments. Amazing I know! 

            Friday, November 25, 2011

            The Best of Youth



            If you've seen the movie The Best of Youth then the picture above will mean something to you. And if you haven't then I urge you to see it. It won't be easy but do try to track this film down and watch it with someone you love. It's one of the most wonderful movies I've ever seen. In fact, it's more than a movie. It's an experience. I decided to write a post about it because this film deserves a wider audience.




            Oh, if we only knew the treasures we have unopened in our own homes! Just like books, there are DVD movies I've bought that I fully intended to watch but somehow they end up sitting on the shelf gathering dust. The Best of Youth or La meglio gioventù (Italy, 2003) is one such film. It has sat unwatched for six years. I was holidaying in Spain when it was being shown in a few movie theaters. Reviews were stellar so when I came across the DVD a year or so later, I didn't hesitate to buy it. Mind you this is a 4-disc set because it's a six and a half hour long film. A daunting length I know so I put it aside and quickly forgot about it.

            Did I mention that I recently started a Movie Club? We've covered two excellent films so far that have provoked a lot of discussion. The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina, 2010) and Caché (France, 2005). We assign one film a month and people see it on their own. We then meet over lunch or dinner to discuss. So far so good. So in an effort to find more films, I thought I'd finally watch The Best of Youth. Last Sunday night, my husband and I decided to watch a DVD and I popped this in. The fact that it was more than six hours long made me say, 'if we don't like it we can stop and watch something else."  But in just a few minutes we were engaged, then riveted and then the first of four discs ended. The next day was Monday and in spite of our busy day we found that the characters had somehow flitted in and out of our thoughts. So that night we happily sat down and watched disc 2 and by the end we were in love with the characters.

            The story itself seems so simple. It follows the lives of two brothers and their families from 1966 to the present day. Forty years of their lives with key historical Italian events in the background. I admit that it's not a plot that makes me want to run out and see the film and that's probably another reason why it sat on the shelf for so long. It's brilliant because of the wonderful script, casting and direction. Director  Marco Tullio Giordana films in such a way that makes the viewer a part of the whole sweeping saga. When things happened to them, I honestly felt like it was happening to me and my own.

            The Best of Youth is beautiful, warm and humane and I grew to really love the Carati family especially Matteo and Nicola. It's about life, love, family and friendship. There is just so much depth, honesty and wisdom in this film that I don't think I can write a review that it deserves. We cried, smiled and laughed several times and by the end my husband and I would have gladly sat for another six hours. The casting was fantastic especially those of Luigi Lo Cascio and Alessio Boni. Both are Italian actors that I've never heard of but I'll definitely try to look up their other movies now.

            If you are lucky enough to find a copy of The Best of Youth then do watch it please. You'll never forget it unless you have a heart of stone.

            Friday, November 11, 2011

            Never Let Me Go -the Second Time Around


            I reread the brilliant Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and absolutely loved it the second time around. (spoilers) I think it helped that I knew the ending this time. I wasn't hoping that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy would somehow run away and escape. I wasn't distressed by their passive acceptance of it all. I knew there wasn't any hope so I could just concentrate on the characters and their story. I think the main question it raises is what would have been preferable - growing up in Hailsham and  'not knowing' or 'half knowing' their fate or growing up in another donor school where their existence and education may have been bleaker but at least they would have known the truth about their purpose. I still don't know the right answer so I'm sure this would make an interesting discussion point in our book club later this month. Readers, I would love to know your thoughts on this if you have read the book.

            The first time I read Never Let Me Go, I remember not being particularly charmed by any of the characters. I didn't dislike them but I didn't love them. However, in spite of that I rooted for them every step of the way. The second time around I really grew to care about Kathy, Ruth and Tommy and their plight. It's interesting how different readings can produce distinct reactions.

            I remember watching the film and hoping Hollywood would weave its magic spell and churn out a happy ending. I think it's just a testament to our humanity that in spite of it all we hope for the best. For once, I didn't want the film to be like the book. But no, there were no surprises and no one lives happily ever after. I felt the depressing feeling that doesn't come often when watching a film. Only one other film comes to mind that brings about such a heavy heart and that is Breaking The Waves. You'll understand exactly what I mean if you've seen that movie.


            Never Let Me Go stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield plus a fantastic supporting cast. I must say that everyone gave an excellent performance especially Andrew Garfield who I only later found out played Eduardo in The Social Network. Two roles that couldn't be more different. Some things were left out but all in all I thought it was a worthy adaptation by Alex Garland. In hindsight, looking at the poster for the film above, I realize how fitting that photo actually is. I think it perfectly captures the feeling of hopelessness. The feeling of just wanting to be free, to escape against all odds. It's a heartbreaking poster because I know their story.

            Monday, October 24, 2011

            Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier


            Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. This week the focus will be on  Don't Look Now, another book by du Maurier that I read last year as part of the NYRB Reading Week.

            From a blog post dated November 9,, 2010:

            I'm not a fan of short stories and that's probably why I've been avoiding Daphne du Maurier's short story collections. However, I must say that I'm quickly being converted. Don't Look Now is probably the first short story collection that I've read straight through. This is an excellent book of just nine stories dealing with the creepy, the sinister and the macabre.

            I was already familiar with the first and title story, Don't Look Now, having seen the spine-tingling film from the 70s starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. A couple getting over the death of their daughter are on holiday in Venice and encounter two elderly women with psychic powers. This was my favorite story from the entire book and it makes me want to see the film again which was, in hindsight actually very true to the story and excellently done. This story is a masterpiece that will haunt you for a long time.

            My next favorite was Monte Verita, an atmospheric and  very long short story about two men in love with a woman who escapes to a monastery that seems more otherworldly than real.

            The Blue Lenses was a creepy and at times darkly humorous story about a woman who undergoes an eye operation only to wake up seeing the humans around her with animal heads. The animals depict the true natures of the persons they inhabit. A snake head for example for a sneaky and two-faced nurse who's having an affair with the patient's husband.

            The Birds was made into a Hitchcock film in the 60s but this story is completely different from the movie. It's darker and completely chilling.

            La Sainte-Verge is about a sailor's wife who loves her husband blindly and so obsessively that as she kneels in church and prays for her loved one's safe return she literally sees what she believes.

            There are four other stories in this book that are worth reading. Each one is a page-turner and so different from the last. This is a  great collection that's worth having on your shelf because you'll definitely be rereading your favorites through the years. As usual, Du Maurier's writing is perfect. Her stories are original and well-crafted as well as vividly atmospheric. Plus to top it off, this wonderful NYRB edition includes an insightful introduction by the writer Patrick McGrath. 

            Wednesday, October 19, 2011

            More Thoughts on The Sense of an Ending


            The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes received the Man Booker Prize yesterday. I think the award is deserved. I reviewed the book back in August and since then my post has received about 1,000 hits. Surprising I know. I think it's because this is a book that begs to be discussed and analyzed. Here's the link to my review. If you've read the book then do read the comments section because it's interesting to see how readers had different interpretations. Reading my review, I see that I had several questions at the time that were nagging at me  - Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony? What did Veronica mean by 'blood money?' What did the carer mean by 'especially now?' Why did Barnes leave so many questions unanswered?

            I still don't have the answers to these questions but since reading the book I saw for the second time the brilliant movie Caché (Hidden). It's a French-Austrian film written and directed by Michael Haneke. It has nothing whatsoever in common with The Sense of an Ending except for having unanswered questions in the end. After seeing the movie, I read an interview with Michael Haneke who said that if you  'come out wanting to know who (the culprit is), you didn't understand the film. To ask this question is to avoid asking the real question the film raises. Films that are entertainment give simple answers but I think that's ultimately more cynical, as it denies the viewer room to think. If there are more answers at the end, then surely it is a richer experience.'

            After seeing that movie, I thought again of The Sense of an Ending and realized that Haneke's words could be applied to Barnes' book. It was Barnes intention not to give all the answers but to actually leave more questions. However, I was asking all the wrong questions. Maybe the right ones are - What is memory? Do we accurately remember events in our past? Could we unintentionally have blocked out some memories?

            Monday, October 17, 2011

            The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier


            Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. This week the focus will be on The House on the Strand, a book I read last year and even included in my  best of 2010 list. Below is an excerpt from my review.

            From a blog post dated April 29, 2010:

            Reading The House on the Strand reminded me why I love Daphne Du Maurier's writing so much. She's a wonderfully atmospheric author who can easily transport her reader to any time and place and the best example of this is probably her masterpiece, Rebecca, one of my favourite novels. Many of her books are set in Cornwall which for years has been on my list of places to visit one day. Maybe it's because of Daphne's descriptions of its beautiful, romantic and sometimes moody scenery. 

            The House on the Strand is another one of du Maurier's novels that's set in her beloved Cornwall. It's a time travel story about Dick Young, who's staying at the home of his scientist friend, Magnus. In fact, the house mentioned in the title is Kilmarth which was Daphne's home during the last decades of her life. It served as the inspiration for this novel because it was the home of Roger Kylman, a medieval steward in 1327. At the opening of the book, Dick has just tried an experimental drug invented by Magnus which allows its user to mentally travel back to fourteenth century Cornwall. 

            The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. (page 1)

            However, there's one catch in this particular time travel story - Dick is only a witness and is unable to be seen, heard or touched by the people he observes which include a steward called Roger and a captivating lady known as Isolda Carminowe. As Dick quickly becomes fascinated by their lives, he starts to withdraw from the modern world and his family and retreats more and more into the past. His time travel visits soon become an addiction that begin to affect not only his sanity but his physical condition. 

            This is a strange story but completely engrossing. I could understand Dick's fascination with the people he observed in his travels and the pull it had on his life and thus his addiction to the drug. The physical effects he experienced were believable - the loss of the sense of touch, enhanced sight, nausea and vertigo. Of course, the fact that both Magnus and Dick hallucinate about the same people and time period was pure fantasy but somehow du Maurier makes it all work and as a reader, it was easy to suspend disbelief and glide along with the story.

            Saturday, October 15, 2011

            Happy Birthday Blog!


            It's been such a busy week for me filled with Halloween activities and school events that I didn't even realize I celebrated my second blog birthday last October 13. So belated Happy Birthday dear blog! Thank you to all you readers and followers who drop by and read what I have to say.  Book blogging has been such a rewarding experience for me so here's to another year of reading and writing about wonderful books. Cheers!

            Monday, October 10, 2011

            Galadria by Miguel Lopez de Leon


            Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage by Miguel Lopez de Leon turned out to be such a fun book! I'd never heard of it until a mom at my son's soccer class lent me a copy. In fact I was surprised that it was unknown to me since the author is Filipino and he recently just released his book last May in the United States. There hasn't been any mention of him at all in any of the book blogs I follow, local or otherwise. However, a quick google revealed some newspaper articles and a website. He even had several book launches in town just recently. I do suppose there is something lacking in the marketing of this novel and I wish it would get more buzz because it really is such a treat.

            The book is for readers eight and up however if you're a child at heart then you will love this. It's been compared to Harry Potter although I think it's less scary. It's also light and funny and peopled with a cast of characters so charming and quirky that I can't quite forget them. Peter Huddleston leads a dull life in his hometown with his father and step-mother. His house is filled with bland beige furniture and his step-mother's cuisine can only be described as boring. When his long lost Aunt Gillian suddenly invites him to spend the summer at her 3000 room mansion, Peter can't help but be excited. There he meets a staff of loveable servants and learns from his aunt about his family legacy. To truly be the heir to the land of Galadria, Peter must pass four rites of passage.

            I was hooked from page one. This is such an imaginative, fun and light-hearted novel filled with lots of adorable little details. For example, Peter has a box of chocolates called Creamers each with a different topping giving him a short-lived power to help him in his tasks. Will Peter be able to guess what each chocolate piece can give him? You'll just have to read the book to find out. The good news is this is only the first book in the series and the second one will be coming soon. I can't wait!

            Friday, October 7, 2011

            Bossypants by Tina Fey


            "I hope that's not really the cover. That's really going to hurt sales." (Don Fey, Father of Tina Fey)

            One of the things I love about being in a book club is that it takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to read books I wouldn't normally pick up such as Bossypants by Tina Fey. Although I do like Tina Fey, I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan. I only know her from the Weekend Update at SNL and the Sarah Palin spoofs and oh yes, I did enjoy the movie Mean Girls which she wrote. I certainly wasn't expecting much from Bossypants but I surprisingly enjoyed reading it and laughed out loud several times. It's a mix of autobiography, life lessons, work lessons and funny anecdotes from her life and career.

            One of the funniest parts in the book is Tina Fey's A Mother's Prayer which she wrote for her daughter. Although its been in quite a number of mommy sites (including my fellow book clubber Nona's blog), I have yet to see it on a book blog so here it is in case you missed it.

            First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

            May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the the Beauty.

            When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with Beer.

            Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the nearby subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock N’ Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

            Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes and not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

            May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

            Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. 

             Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, for Childhood is short — a Tiger flower blooming magenta for one day –and Adulthood is long and Dry-Humping in Cars will wait.

            O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers
            And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

            And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, for I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

            And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 a.m., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “my mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

            Amen.

            Monday, October 3, 2011

            Discovering Daphne in Pictures


            Some of you may already know that Simon at Savidge Reads and Polly at Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this October, a whole month dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. How can I not participate in this wonderful event when Daphne is one of my favorite authors? That said, there are still a few of her novels that I have yet to read so I hope to read at least one of them this month. I would also love to reread Rebecca sometime soon. So to help participate in this event, I plan to repost excerpts from some of my previous posts about her books.

            From a blog post dated April 29, 2010:
            Daphne du Maurier is certainly one case where the author's life is just as fascinating as her books. On the surface, Daphne can be said to have led a charmed life. She was born in 1907 into a lively and artistic family. Her father was the actor/manager Sir Gerald du Maurier who also wrote the classic novel, Trilby. Her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actress. Daphne grew up in a large and happy London household where friends such as J.M.Barrie and Edgar Wallace visited often. She was only a teenager when her uncle, a magazine editor, published one of her stories and got her a literary agent.  In 1932 Daphne married Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Browning II, who was knighted for his service in World War II. They were married for thirty-three years and had three children. They lived in a fabulous house in Cornwall called Menabilly which was the inspiration for the Manderley house in Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier was made a dame in 1969 for her literary distinction. She died in 1989.

            Though it does seem like she led a charmed life there is evidence that Daphne had an unhappy marriage where both parties were unfaithful. In 1947 Daphne fell in love with Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, who remained her lifelong friend, She also had an affair with the actress Gertrude Lawrence. Her bisexuality was only disclosed after her death and is portrayed in the BBC film, Daphne. Interestingly enough, it was also recently revealed that she has a moratorium on her adolescent diaries. They can only be opened fifty years after her death. There's speculation that the diaries expose a young adolescent affair with a married man or maybe not. Kits, Daphne's son, believes that it's just filled with mundane stuff. "I think it's a tease," he said. "She loved mystery." You can read more about this at a Times Online article here.

            For those interested, I also found a interesting article about how she wrote Rebecca (link here)  at the Telegraph website. Below are some pictures of Daphne du Maurier.

            Daphne at the staircase at her beloved home, Menabilly which was the basis for the Manderley house in Rebecca


            Daphne with her son Kits


            Daphne with her husband and three children

            Daphne writing at her desk in 1944 at Menabilly, the house in Cornwall which was made famous by her 1938 masterpiece Rebecca

            Monday, September 26, 2011

            Florence & Giles by John Harding


            I decided to read Florence & Giles by John Harding for the  R.I.P. VI Challenge because it's described as a retelling of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The latter is one of the scariest stories I know and it was also filmed as The Innocents (1961) one of the creepiest films I've ever seen.

            In 1891, in a crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. She learns to read on her own and narrates her story in a unique language of her own invention. After the sudden drowning of the children's first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives. Florence is convinced that the new governess is the spirit of the first governess and means to kidnap her younger brother Giles. She must find a way to foil Miss Taylor's plans before it's too late.

            I found Florence's narration and her invented language extremely engaging. The first governess was “tragicked in a boating accident", a house is "uncomfortabled and shabbied", "the floors are left unbroomed, for unfootfalled as they are, what would be the point?" When she moves a book in the library it releases "a sneezery of dust."  You can see how the language takes some getting used to at first but it didn't take long to win me over.

            The plot was creepy indeed and there were several scary scenes. Miss Taylor is able to malevolently appear in every mirror in the mansion, just behind Florence's own reflection. One night Florence catches Miss Taylor leaning over her brother and saying "ah my dear, I could just eat you." I actually had a nightmare involving the governess, Miss Taylor. Yes, it's true, this book is that spooky. My only complaint is with the ending which I thought was rushed and too open-ended. So it's definitely not a perfect book but if you're in the mood for a chilling read this Halloween then I definitely recommend Florence & Giles.

            Giveaway Winner


            Congratulations to Cassandra of Indie Reader Houston. You've just won a copy of Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto.

            Wednesday, September 21, 2011

            Persuasion by Jane Austen



            Persuasion by Jane Austen was my book club read for September and by coincidence Rachel at  Book Snob is currently hosting a read-a-long. It was actually my first time reading Persuasion though I'm familiar with the story because of the BBC adaptation. It is a lovely book. I'm glad I finally read it and that I got to experience Anne's emotions together with her. The regret of a lost love, the 'what ifs?' The return of that person and 'oh, does he still feel the same?' or 'oh no he doesn't.' The excitement of just being in the same room with him. The slight jealousy and wondering if he now loves another. The 'butterflies in your stomach' feeling of walking beside him but not knowing what he is thinking. And yes, the letter! The beautiful letter that can make even a reader blush. The thrill of finally knowing you are loved by the person you love. Persuasion is wonderful and very different from Austen's other books. It has so much depth, emotion and wisdom. In the end, there is no regret for the past but only joy for the present.

            My book club loved the book and we surprisingly had quite a lot to discuss. In fact too much to write about here. Whilst discussing and remembering Jane Austen's other works, I was reminded of the film Sense & Sensibility and Emma Thompson's acceptance speech for the Golden Globe award for best adapted screenplay. It was delightful to see this again. How would Jane Austen herself have accepted the award? Click on play to find out.


            Thursday, September 15, 2011

            An Interview with Samantha Sotto



            Samantha Sotto is the internationally published Filipina author of the recently released book, Before Ever After. It's the story of Shelley who lost her husband Max three years ago to a terrorist bomb. She is still in the throes of grief when Paolo, a man who looks like Max knocks on her door. Paolo claims to be Max's grandson and he goes on to show the disbelieving Shelley pictures of a man who may be Max living on Boracay island. Can Max live forever? Shelley and Paolo fly to the Philippines to find out and along the way Shelley relates the story of how she met Max in an alternative tour group in Europe. She recalls Max's stories of Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, Swiss hideaways and Roman boathouses. But were these just stories or was Max recounting his own life?

            I read this book in just two days. I was quite impressed with the scope of Samantha Sotto's imagination and all the little historical anecdotes she dropped here and there. Before Ever After is also filled with many nuggets of wisdom about grief, loneliness, love, life and death. But ultimately it is about love in all its myriad forms - the love of a widow for her dead husband, the love of an elderly couple, the love of a grandson for his grandfather, the love of a young husband for his dying wife and the love of a father for his children. Before Ever After is not just one story, it's several stories in one book.

            I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview the author though she's been quite busy zipping in and out of the Philippines to promote her book. She's also agreed to be a guest at my book club meeting in December. Based on our email exchanges, Samantha Sotto appears to be just as charming as her book.


            How did the story come about? Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write Before Ever After?
            Before Ever After was a product of necessity. I had three hours to kill at Starbucks while my son was in school. Compared to shelling out P100 an hour for Wifi or making the one and a half hour trip back home, writing the book was the most wallet-friendly way to spend my time.  

            Did you always want to be a writer?
            Not really. I dabbled in writing when I was features editor of my college paper but I never thought of pursuing it as a career. I didn't enjoy the part where I needed to churn out columns and articles to meet a deadline.

            Being a mom myself, I know how many daily distractions there can be even when the kids are busy at school or doing other activities. How were you able to concentrate and write in such a public place such as Starbucks?
            Writing the book was like taking a three hour European vacation everyday. The minute I opened my laptop, I was transported into Max's van. I was barely aware of the people around me in the cafe - except when they asked me to watch their things when they went to the restroom.

            Your descriptions of the supporting characters in the tour group were so realistic. Did you draw from a tour group you've known in real life?
            I wish I did! It would be wonderful to travel with a group like that. They are my ideal traveling companions. 

            Your novel seems perfect for adaptation. Is there a movie in the works? Who would you like to see play the parts of Max and Shelley?
            To be honest, I really don't think it would translate well as a movie. There are so many "mini" stories in the book that I can't imagine how it could work as a film. An HBO miniseries, however, is another story
            (Paging the universe...). As much as I'd  love to share who I imagined as the characters in the book, I can't. I prefer readers to cast the story on their own. It's more fun that way.

            Your book has been compared to The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (a book I actually didn't like). I enjoyed your novel more and I think the flashback scenes flow much better than the confusing ones in Niffenegger's book. I also think your book is definitely funnier! Did that book inspire you?
            I'm glad you enjoyed the book! Thank you. I'm a sucker for unusual and high concept books like The Time Traveler's Wife. I liked that book a lot. The ending resonated with me. In terms of inspiration though, I would say that Doctor Who was a much bigger influence. I love how the show balances humor and darkness.

            There are indeed funny parts in your novel. Is it difficult to write comedic situations? 
            I like writing humor more than I like writing dramatic scenes. I actually started writing Before Ever After with the intention of writing a straight out comedy. The story, however, had other plans. I just slipped in funny scenes when it wasn't looking.

            What are your favorite novels?
            Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is my all time favorite. I also love Memoirs of a Geisha, the Harry Potter series, the Belgariad series (by David Eddings), Anne Rice's vampire series, Flowers for Algernon, Wuthering Heights, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot books -- the list goes on.  The book that has provided me with my guiding principle in life is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. It's become a rule in my family - you can't say no to something you haven't tried before. That rule applies to everything from broccoli to surfing.

            Do you think book blogging is relevant to the publishing industry? Do you ever read what people thought of your book or is it something you avoid?
            Book blogging is extremely important. I cant' think of a better way to get the pulse of readers or to interact with them. All that's missing are the cappuccinos.As for book reviews - I used to read everything, but now I'm more selective. I read the constructive ones and try to learn from them. I think of it as free advice.

            A little bird told me that you are already working on your next novel. Can you give us a hint of what's to come? 
            Let's just say that I've been eating a lot of poffertjes lately - all in the name of research. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

            Just wondering - in the book Max loves to cook baked eggs and cheese. Is this one of your favorite dishes?  
            It is! My hubby is great in the kitchen and indulges my cravings. It's a calorie grenade but soooo worth it.

            Thanks so much for your time Samantha. Now I'd like to give away a signed copy of Before Ever After to one lucky reader of my blog anywhere in the world. Please leave a comment below with a link to your blog or email address and I'll be picking a winner in a week's time. Good luck!

            Monday, September 12, 2011

            R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VI Challenge


            The ber- months have begun as we say in the Philippines, which means we're getting slightly cooler weather, and we're gearing up for Halloween and then Christmas. It's getting cozy enough to take part in some reading challenges. I thought it would be the perfect time to join the  R.I.P. VI challenge. In my almost two years of blogging, I've never taken part but I'm definitely in the mood right now for reading more mystery, gothic, suspense and yes, even horror novels just to get into a Halloweenish mood. R.I.P. VI officially runs from September 1st through October 31st.


            I'm not sure how many books I'll be reading for the challenge but I'm going to try to complete the Peril the First level which means completing four or more books of any length, that you feel fit R.I.P. literature. Right now I've started reading Florence and Giles by John Harding and so far it's riveting.

            Here are some other ideas I have. Have you read any of these? Are they any good?

            Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
            The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
            Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
            Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
            Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
            The Observations by Jane Harris
            The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks

            Are you also taking part in the challenge? If you have other recommendations for novels in the mystery, suspense, gothic, supernatural, thriller, dark fantasy and horror genre then I'd love to hear what they are so please leave a comment below. Thanks!

            Wednesday, September 7, 2011

            Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro


            I'm not a big fan of short stories but I'm a big fan of Ishiguro. After recently having an enlightening text conversation with a friend about Never Let Me Go (see here), I decided to read Nocturnes, Ishiguro's latest release which is a collection of five short stories about music, musicians and the close of the day.

            Each story is told in the first person by either a musician or a music lover. The settings are Venice, London, the English countryside, Los Angeles and then back to Venice. There is a recurring theme among all the stories - love and the passage of time. If you look up the exact English definition of nocturne, it means 'an instrumental composition of a pensive, dreamy mood, especially one for the piano.' Dreamy and pensive are exactly the words I would use to describe these stories. Although all the stories were quiet and understated they were rather engrossing.

            I usually just dip into short story books but I read Nocturnes from cover to cover in just a few days. It has Ishiguro's usual sensitive, beautiful and yet self-contained writing style. I suppose he also drew on his experiences being a musician himself and a former chorister. What makes this book special is the writing. It's not surprising that soon after this I decided to read another Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills.

            Tuesday, September 6, 2011

            My Man Booker Shortlist Predictions

            I thought I'd join in the fun and predict the Man Booker Shortlist which will be announced today. I was eager to read as much of the longlist as possible but truth be told, I've only read two of the 13 books. However, they were two very good books - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. It would be wonderful if they both made the shortlist.

            Though The Sense of an Ending left me somewhat unsatisfied, it's without a doubt an excellent book which will stand the test of time. With regards to Snowdrops, it surprised me that not many book bloggers rated it very highly but I truly enjoyed reading it. If I had to choose just one, then right now I'm rooting for Miller's riveting noir novel. I also tried Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers but I abandoned them early on because they failed to captivate me. So my shortlist consists of the two books I've read and the four I'd like to read after trying out samples on my Kindle and based on reviews I've read.


            My Shortlist:
            The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (my review)
            Snowdrops by A.D. Miller (my review)
            The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
            On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
            Derby Day by D.J. Taylor
            Far To Go by Alison Pick

            Do check out other shortlist predictions at:
            Kevin From Canada
            Farm Lane Books
            Savidge Reads

            Friday, September 2, 2011

            The Moomins


            "The Moomins? What's that?" friends ask when I mention these books. I've been recommending the Moomin books to everyone and interestingly enough no one seems to have heard of them. To be honest, I wasn't familiar with them either until recently. I kept coming across the Moomins' books by Tove Jansson while researching for appropriate books for my almost 6-year-old son so when I saw them at my local bookshop, Fully Booked, I just couldn't resist.

            The Moomins are happy and whimsical characters in a series of books and comic strips written by Swedish-Finnish author, Tove Jansson. They were originally published in Swedish in Finland. They are a family of trolls but far from appearing scary, they are white and roundish with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotamuses. They are carefree and adventurous and live in a house in Moominvalley in the forests in Finland. Fun and delightful things seem to always happen to the Moomins and their friends.

            The Moomins are characters that are so well loved by those that were lucky enough to read them as a child. Many fans claim that they've never forgotten these books. The Moomins have stayed with them through the years and they've been an integral part in shaping how they see the world and certain things such as family, friendship and even hospitality. Yes, the Moomins are hospitable creatures and welcome just about anyone into their home.
            "Moomintroll’s mother and father always welcomed all their friends in the same quiet way, just adding another bed and putting another leaf in the dining-room table. And so Moominhouse was rather full — a place where everyone did what they liked and seldom worried about to-morrow. Very often unexpected and disturbing things used to happen, but nobody ever had time to be bored, and that is always a good thing."
            Right now we are reading a chapter every night of Finn Family Moomintroll and I can happily report that our whole family is completely charmed by the Moomins. They are simply adorable!


            Some lovely quotations from the Moomin books:

            It looks rather ordinary," said the Snork. "Unless you consider that a top hat is always somewhat extraordinary, of course.
            At times he thought he could clearly see the trail that Snufkin had made on the sodden ground. The tracks skipped and danced here and there, and were difficult to follow. On occasion they took great leaps and even crossed paths. "He must have been feeling quite happy," thought Moomintroll. "I believe that right here he has even done a somersault."

            "What is it?" said Moomintroll. Discoveries were his very favourite thing (after mysterious paths, swimming and secrets, that is).
            "I think I'm beginning to understand now," said Moomintroll slowly. "You aren't a collector any longer, are you? Now you are just an owner. That's nowhere near as much fun." "No," said the Hemulen thoroughly dejected. "It is most decidedly nowhere near as much fun." 
            Moomintroll closed his eyes and surmised, "How different we all are, really."

            Wednesday, August 31, 2011

            The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes



            The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a difficult book to review. Although I enjoyed reading it, I still feel somewhat in the dark about certain aspects of it. It has an apt title because for days, I was trying to make sense of not only the ending but the whole book. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the readers of my blog emailed me just to discuss it. Thank you Robert for your insights. I'm also enjoying the conversation going on at the comment section of Kevin from Canada's blog. Please do check it out if you've read the book. This is a novel that begs to be discussed.

            Tony Webster is in his mid-sixties when he receives a letter from a lawyer with an unusual bequest from the mother of Veronica, an ex-girlfriend of his from 40 years before. He is left some money and the diary of his old school chum Adrian. Veronica makes it impossible for Tony to acquire the diary so what follows is Tony's recollection of that period of his life. Why did Adrian commit suicide shortly after hooking up with Veronica? Does Tony remember things accurately or has the passage of time blurred the truth?

            After finishing The Sense of an Ending I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. After discussing it with others, I was able to understand it more. However, the more I analyzed it, the less I liked it. Although it is very well-written, I thought it was ultimately an unsatisfactory and frustrating read.

            (Spoilers) The essence of the novel is how a flippant action can have severe repercussions. In this case, Tony's action of writing that letter to Adrian and Veronica wherein he condemns their relationship and predicts a lifetime of unhappiness for them. By some twist of fate, many of Tony's youthful conjectures came true. Tony at first recalled the letter as being brief and trivial. Later, Barnes brilliantly conveys the remorse Tony feels when confronted with a copy of the letter and how long, angry and vindictive it actually was. Nevertheless, I don't think Tony is to blame for what happened to Adrian and Veronica's family. He was a young man who was obviously hurt when he wrote the letter. Looking back, it's easy to lay the blame on him. But how many flippant actions have we ourselves done in the past? How do we know what effects they could have had?

            I suppose it was Barnes' intention to deliberately leave the ending open to interpretation. However, I wasn't very happy with the double twist in the end. I think I would have liked this book more if the child turned out to be Veronica's and not her mother's. I still can't understand why Veronica felt so angry at Tony and why she blames him for something that happened 40 years ago. Somehow, if the child had been hers, it would have all made sense. Instead we are left wondering why Veronica still feels so bitter about it all. 

            While The Sense of an Ending is a good book and I'm glad I read it, it's not a great one because at least for me it left more questions than answers. Given the competition, I think it does deserve to be on the Man Booker shortlist but I'm not sure it deserves the prize. It would definitely make an excellent book club choice because it will generate a lot of discussion and divide readers. And if generating discussion is an important point for the Man Booker judges then I can see this novel being the winner.

            If you have read the book, then can you please answer the following questions? From what I understood from the last few pages, Tony may have had the answers to these questions but chose not to share them with us.


            Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony? 

            What did Veronica mean by 'blood money'? 

            What did the carer mean by 'especially now?'

            One reader commented that we, as readers, are not meant to know everything since we are seeing it all from Tony's point of view. He is left in the dark about a few things in the end. However, I think Tony should have pursued Veronica and her brother for more answers. It was frustrating that Tony, who in the book appeared to be of a curious nature, was happy to end his novel with too many open ended questions. 

            UPDATE: The Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker Prize for 2011. Read my latest thoughts on the book here.
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