Monday, January 26, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

by Richard Flanagan

Perhaps I should disclose at the outset that over the years that I’ve been reading, I’ve developed this little inner button that goes on whenever I’m about to read an award-winner. It makes me predisposed to like a book because it wouldn’t have received accolades if it were no good, yes?

That’s what happened when I got myself a copy of the 2014 Man Booker prize winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. That little button blinked like mad, and with good reason – Flanagan (and all the other shortlisted titles) trumped my bet for the Booker, David Mitchell’s latest novel, The Bone Clocks. So I knew, at the back of my mind, that I would be in for a real treat. Should be.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North did not disappoint.


The book is both a war memorial and a love story, but I’m inclined to say that it’s more of the former. As Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans, now a famed war veteran, writes the foreword for a book about the atrocities that transpired at what is now known as the Death Railway during the Second World War, he recalls his own painful experiences as the commanding officer of a battalion of Australian prisoners of war (POWs) who labored in “the Line” under the Japanese Imperial command. His memories narrate for us the struggles they endured in the Siam-Burmese jungle where the railroad was to be constructed, how his men succumbed to various diseases that ate at their bodies and minds, and how the Japanese officers accepted no excuses that would exempt dying men from labor, among many others.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Speak

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is one of my “dare books”* at the book club in January of last year – it was one of my good friend’s worst least favorite books for the year and I (un)fortunately drew it as one of the books I was supposed to finish reading within the year. But even before I got dared to read it, I already have a copy of the book, having bought it for a discounted price at a local bookstore some months before. For whatever reason, though, I couldn’t muster the inspiration to read it. Until the dare happened.


Before she could even begin her freshman year in high school, Melinda Sordino had already ostracized herself: she busted an end-of-summer party to which she and her best friend were invited by calling in the cops. As a result, people shot her dagger looks wherever she passed them in the halls, and she doesn’t parry them; instead, she maintains her silence. She ignores the negative talk and withdraws deep inside herself, where she keeps secret something that she could never, ever have the courage to disclose to anyone – the reason why she called the police on that fateful summer party.

*

When I first asked some friends about Speak, they mentioned that it was a highly spoilery book. If you didn’t know it yet, I hate spoilers. They diminish my reading pleasure because I already know, in the back of my mind, the reason behind things, the moving force behind the characters’ actions (or omissions). Years would pass before I would read the book, though, and sometime during the interim, I discovered – inadvertently – the major, major spoiler about Speak. In hindsight, perhaps that was why I put off reading it for the longest time. (Also, someone told me it was adapted into a movie [?] and the lead character was portrayed by Kristen Stewart. Haha.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Navigating Early

by Clare Vanderpool

Navigating Early is such a warm and touching story, it’s impossible for it not to stay with you for a long time after you’ve read it. It’s mainly about friendship, but it’s also about love, family, loss, and acceptance. Set in post-World War II United States, it illustrates how in life, there are no coincidences – “just miracles by the boatloads.” Navigating Early is the first book I’ve read for the new year, and nothing could be more perfect to start off the reading year than a wonderful book such as this.


Jack Baker is a lost boy: his mother has just died, and his father, a naval officer who came home from his tour of duty to bury her and put the family's affairs to order, has decided to uproot his only son from their flat little world in Kansas and put him in an exclusive boarding school in coastal Maine. To say that Jack is a displaced, floundering boy would be an understatement. He’s the newcomer in school, his father is a thousand miles away, and only the fading memory of his mother gave him strength to go on.

And then he meets Early Auden, that strangest of boys who keeps to himself all the time, who reads numbers like a story and insists that the number pi never ends, and who listens only to Billie Holiday when it rains. They inadvertently form a bond that takes them on a journey on the Great Appalachian Trail to find Pi, who went missing, and the Great Bear. In the process, they find and discover many other things that will teach them the greatest lessons in their lives – they find themselves, among others.

*

I related very well to what Jack was going through, with the loss of his mother at an early age. Losing a parent is one of the most heartbreaking things a teenager could possibly go through. His father, a soldier, was a stranger to him; he was distant and seemingly unfeeling towards his only son. So I sympathized with Jack and his plight, his displacement, and how he attempted to cope.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reading List 2015: January


... Because I love picking books to read for the month! :)



But before my reading list for the first month of 2015, here's a recap of my December reading:

  • Twelfth Night: or, What You Will by William Shakespeare - My very first Shakespeare play. Not too bloody. Heh. 4/5
  • Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman - Volume 6 of the Sandman series. Just as awesome as the previous ones. 5/5
  • Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman - Supposedly a retelling but I didn't find anything really new. 4/5
  • The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman - The retelling of the year. 5/5

I know, I did promise to read the entire Sandman series before the year is over, but at some point while reading Brief Lives, the seventh installment, I felt that I needed to cleanse my palate. I will still read the rest of the series this year, and this time, it will serve as the ice-breaker when I've had too much literary stuff between my ears.

Now, for my January reading list:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Best Reads for 2014 + 2015 Reading Plans and Blogging Goals

Hello and welcome to my first post for the year! :)

image from We Heart It

Like so many other readers, I have come up with my short list of best reads for 2014 - I had to limit the list to just 5 titles because if I didn't, I would end up merely listing down half of the books I finished reading last year. Yes, I did read a lot of very good books last year, and it was difficult narrowing them down. But I did it, and here they are, without further ado:
1. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - 6/5 stars. Enough said.
2. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell - Not his best, but I love it nonetheless.
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski - What a good mindfuck.
4. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - What is the meaning of life?
5. The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman - Found the retelling to rival my favorite Snow, Glass, Apples also by Neil Gaiman.

I must also mention China Mieville's The City and The City and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities by way of runners-up. They are also two of the best books I've read last year, and incidentally, they are both our book club's books for the month. What can I say, we read the most awesome books. ;)


2015 Reading Plans

Sometime during the middle of last year, I made a list of books (on Max, my iPhone) that I promised myself I’d read within the year; I called the books my “Must-reads for 2014.” In order to ensure self-compliance, I assigned each title to a particular reading month, taking into consideration the length of the book vis-à-vis the book club’s book for the month, which is mandatory reading. After
finishing each book, I would update the list with my personal rating.

While the list contained only 18 books, which included my Dare Reads for the book club (Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson), I wasn’t able to finish reading all of it. As of this writing, this is how the list looks like (I have deleted the months I assigned to each book
when I realized how futile my exercise already was):

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Reading Year That Was 2014

It's the last day of the year, and I'm rushing this post because I feel a teeny-weeny guilty that I wasn't able to write anything between this and the last post, i.e., my Required Reading for December, and because I will be quite busy with our New Year's eve feast (what we call media noche where I'm from) later. December is always a hectic month for me, with all the Christmas goings-on and parties, family birthdays and gatherings, and so much more in between. So while I had intended to catch up on my note-taking for the last few books that I've read for the year, real life caught up with me instead. But I will still gather my wits together and write something later, because I read a lot of really good books this year that deserve to be reviewed.

By way of a year-end post, allow me to make use of this Goodreads feature that conveniently summarizes my reading year. According to Goodreads, I read a total of 36 books this year. Yes, I know it's a very small quantity compared to those of other equally voracious readers, but I don't mind. Majority of the 36 books are actually five- and four-starrers, which means I was able to read fantastic and awesome books this year. To my mind, the quality of the books I've read totally makes up for  poor quantity. I'm sure you'll agree, yes?

My 36 Books for 2014

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