Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A tale of love and longing

Review on The Woman In Black
by Susan Hill

The story is related in a flashback from Arthur Kipps' memory, then a young lawyer in London. Their law office was the executor of the estates of Mrs. Alice Drablow who lived and died in a suburbs outside London. Kipps had to attend the funeral and then sort out the papers of Mrs. Drablow in her house called Eel Marsh, located in the village called Crythin. The names of these sites and places already evoke dreary and melancholic atmosphere. In the performance of his work, Mr. Kipps experienced the haunting of a woman he had no idea why her alleged presence exudes so much evil, hatred, sadness and other feelings. Ok, i better stop here or else i will spoil it :-) While reading this story, the tone and atmosphere took me back to my reading experience with The Woman in White, because both have gothic flavor and mystery but the one in Black is a ghost story while the other is a gothic mystery. Susan Hill, succeeded in setting the ghostly tone and the main character's rationalization on his experience were what others do when confronted with such phenomenon. I was quite delighted with the role of Spider in the story, this character showed a person's need for human contact and find attachment to the only living entity closer to him.

I was reading this book at night, lights out, and i used my iPad...oh! I didn't drift to sleep right away after i finish the book. Hmmm, I'm eager to watch the movie version of this book, with Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps.

I have titled this blog as "A Tale of love and longing" because these two were the  most dominant emotions that drive this whole story.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Last Ember

A modern day Indiana Jones..

This is an archaeological adventure of Jonathan Marcus, an American lawyer who was once a Rome Prize scholar but lost his dream of pursuing his interest in archaeology due to an accident. He later was lured back to Rome as a lawyer but got embroiled in the search of the Menorah, the one which was supposedly secreted safely by Josephus Flavious. I had a crash course on antiquity terminologies and got lost in the underbelly of Rome and Temple Mount. I tried my best to refresh my memory of the tunnel under the Dome of the Rock when i visited Jerusalem. The book is an exciting and fast paced read, however, the location of the most coveted artifact almost went anti-climactic due to several layers of riddles piled one after the other, i was afraid it will end up buried underneath rubbles and will remain lost forever. I was glad Levin was able to pull it off and had an exciting ending. It was a good book debut, the research is quite good and it was wonderful to be transported back to the past with Levin's excellent historical background and trivia.

No Time Left

This is a freebie book on my ipad
I've read almost all of David Baldacci's books since his Absolute Power debut book. I am a fan and have my copy of his book True Blue autographed for me. He writes political thrillers that mostly surround the White  House, some US senators and political figures, he never disappoints.

This is my first time reading a short story by him, about a hired killer's life with a time travel twist at the end. Tight and well written, i like how the phrase "life has come full circle" in this short story.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Death by Garrote: Looking Back 3 by Ambeth R. Ocampo

            I picked up the book with crime, death and perhaps mystery, in mind. There was no synopsis or blurb that I could refer to except Ms. Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil’s statement about the author. Alas! My expectation was generally wrong, but it is nice to be pleasantly surprised.
            This is a collection of tidbits of Philippine history, culture, food, our pecularity, etc. by a Filipino historian. I've met the author in a heritage topic meeting years ago in Cebu. I appreciated the different articles rolled into one book, learned more details about certain part history or our heroes, than the broadstrokes of the textbooks in highschool and college. I've always like Ocampo's style of writing, I read some of his articles in the newspaper;  very crisp, it provides intimacy in knowledge of a moment in our history. I was reminded of my history professor at St. Theresa's College, made me feel like I was there, with a dash of humour and wit. History told not in a boring tone.

            Everyone loves reading peculiar happenings that escaped the popular Press’ attention, and this book really gave you that, even the detailed menu of Aguinaldo’s breakfast! There was that elaborate and grand banquets that Captain Joaquin Arnedo of Sulipan, Pampanga prepared for his illustrious visitors in the late 19th century! Did they really throw all those expensive china wares to the river after using it once?!  But one article really got me laughing out loud, the “Marcos’ Karate Chop” The incident was an attempt of perception management, trying to make Marcos looked good by allegedly saving the Pope from the assassination attempt! The author and i were thinking the same thing... the war medals!

            But where is Death by Garrote, the title? One article discussed how is death by garrote being executed. Contrary to my perception death by garrotte provided instantaneous death not a slow painful one. The executioner’s payment was also mentioned, they were paid per execution aside from their regular monthly salary. It is a profession or shall I say career?  There is another book I’m very interested to read “The Hangman’s Daughter” by Oliver Pozsch, about hangman as a profession. The second article abut garrote really touched me, because it tells about how the Gomburza faced garrotte, so different from what I thought. They were, after all human.

            I already bought Looking Back 1 and 2,  my husband, a history buff was reading it out loud and laughing as loudly, I had to stop him, else he will spoil my enjoyment of those two books!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin

This is a collection of 9 short stories about religious beliefs, magical realism, love, mystery, festivities, love of country and coming of age.  I have read already one of the stories in the book but it was so long ago, I have forgotten the detail and but never forgot the feelings May Day Eve has evoked in me. Hence, I took the name MayDayEve for my account. Reading his book was really like a first time for me, I had a difficult start of getting into the language and the ambience of the book. I think my mind is accustomed to the foreign writer’s tone or Nick Joaquin was entirely creating a whole different tone.

The first book was Candido’s Apocalypse, a coming of age story, mixed with magical realism and illustrating the teen-angst.  This is about Bobby, a teen ager, who suddenly saw the world become one big burlesque house and everybody going for lost. In way, I could say Bobby’s split-personality has just surface and he adopted the name Candido, the name he saw in the almanac for him. From Bobby/Candido’s eyes everyone is naked. Just imagine looking at your parents naked! The  absence of clothes in a person also made him think  of its role in the society, aside from satisfying the basic need, it gives a false sense of security in the outside while inside it does not change how one feel as a person. The word Apocalypse, from the greek word ‘apokalypsis” meaning lifting of the veil or revelation, in an era full of falsehood and misconception. Before the freak incident of Bobby’s seeing people naked, he used to feel superior and judgemental about people, about them being over-reacting, after that incident he now longed to be around people. It was revealed to him that people wear masks through their clothes and that he has to live with it.

Dona Jeronima is about  love and false love and about a man who was looking for himself, not just his identity. This is about an ambitious religious man, a bishop who got stranded in an island on his way to Spain. His isolation in the island made him reconcile with his religious purposes and conviction, when he was discovered and returned to civilization, he was a changed man no longer the ambitious and fiery religious personality. But even then, his past came back to him in the form of Dona Jeronima who was the love of his youth. Dona Jeronima wanted to claim him as hers based on his solemn oath, an oath he made before he became a priest. But Dona Jeronima’s realization about her feelings was really bared down to the basic emotion, what she felt was not love but truly a love of herself,  she “loved” the bishop because he mirrored what she sees in herself. Nick Joaquin’s astute dissection of love and false love was really captured in the words of Jeronima, “For what were you to me but comb and brush and mirror, the tools of my vanity? Being young, I love the laughter you stirred in me. Being fair, I loved the admiration you mirrored for me. Being proud, I loved the power you revealed in me. And being woman, I love the pleasure you gave me.”

The Legend of the Dying Wanton is about soul redemption and the layers of  pretences or masks we put up for the world to see and even for our gods to see, it is also about how our thoughts, actions and religious practices do not see ‘eye to eye” with each other. They simply do not match. The wanton being referred to in this story is Currito Lopez, a drunkard, often seen howling drunk in the neighbourhood and who lived a wasted life, but he often go to mass, pray to God and to the Virgin Mary. In the eyes of his neighbours, he was a wanton, yet he was often seen by Dona Ana (a devotee) secretly kneeling on the altar praying. In the eyes of Dona Ana, this was the real Currito. On their way to a mission, they were shipwrecked and the natives tried to kill all the Spanish in the boat, Currito lay dying for 13 days in a shore, and he recalled his past life and how shallow was his belief and his actions, “he dramatized himself as a weary wanton, a mystic tenorio, torn between vice and piety, and weeping for heaven even while laughing among whores.” I remember an article I read about the confusion of one foreign naval officer who docked in another country, he hired a prostitute that Saturday night, in the morning he was jolted from bed when the prostitute hurriedly collect her clothes and asked for the payment. He asked, “What’s the hurry?” while the bell from a church was ringing. The prostitute was in a rush, because she has to attend mass, it is Sunday morning, of course. Ahh, our simple way of understanding that by following all the religious practices will save us from eternal damnation, indeed “weeping for heaven while laughing among the whores” like Currito.

This is how I got my name,“May Day Eve”.  This 14 paged story was pieced together through 3 generations. It happened to Agueda and Badoy Montiya in the 1847, and Agueda related it to her daughter, then the daughter related it to her son, the last part was Don Badoy Montiya telling the story of one May day eve in 1847 to her grandson.  
“May day eve was a night of divination, a night of lovers, and those who cared might peer in a mirror and would there behold the face of whoever it was they were fated to marry.” When the clock strikes midnight one must carry a candle and face a mirror in a big darkened room and say,

            Mirror, mirror
            Show to me
            Him whose woman
            I will be

When Agueda did it, Badoy Montiya suddenly appeared in the mirror, he was drunk returning from merry making with his friends. Agueda told her daughter that on that may day eve,  she saw the devil in the mirror! While many years have passed Don Badoy Montiya was already widowed, he caught his grandson facing the mirror on  May day eve and told him not to do it for he will see the witch, like what happened to him. The grandson said that her mother once told her that his Grandma once saw the devil in that mirror, too. The story is beautifully arranged in such a way that revelations unfold as surprises and we get the whole story of what happened in that May day eve after three generations.   Though this story talks about divination, it is a story of a love that had gone bad, a failed relationship because the hearts forget, the heart was distracted. Sad. But you know, in 1987, on the same day, i tried what Agueda did, alas! No one appeared.. i thought i was doomed to spinsterhood! 

Summer Solstice features the feast of St. John and the cult of Tadtarin. On the first night a young girl heads the procession, on the 2nd night a mature woman and on the 3rd a very old woman who dies and comes to life again. Everyone dances in the procession, all women. This tells about a woman’s desire not just to be loved but to be adored. I wonder if Tadtarin is still practiced in our country? This is quite interesting.

Guardia De Honor deals with time travel that happened during the Guardia de Honor of the Virgin wherein ladies will march with others wearing their cherished jewelry. That day Natalia Godoy witnessed the present and the future co-existing. She and her descendant met and both were given a glimpse of the future and the consequences of their acts. However, with that revelation, she was also able to change the course of her life. Joaquin showed that although the present and future co-existed, it was unfolding and there was still a chance to change it. Time travel or concepts of time flow really interests me, this opens up to a lot of “what ifs” in life. 

The Mass of St. Sylvester is about quest for immortality.  St. Sylvester’s Feast was on the last day of the year. It was believed that whoever witnessed the mass will live to see more than a thousand new years! One did, Mateo the Maestro, and he was turned to stone, he did live to see more than a thousand new years for it is only during new years that he become alive. So, beware of what you were wishing for, it might be given to you!

A navel is a scar indicating one’s connection to life’s beginning, a scar symbolizes a past. Connie De Vidal claimed she had 2 navels, although this unusual mark has never been explored in the story. The story centered on the two characters, Dr. Monson who was exiled from the Philippines, leaving his beloved city Manila to live in Hongkong to escape imprisonment by the Americans, and Paco a half-Filipino musician in Hongkong.  To me, the navel is a symbolism, Manila is to Dr. Monson what is Connie de Vidal to Paco both were drawn to it with a mixture of pain and happiness. A connection that they can never escape.

The first time I heard about The Order of Melchizedek was way back in 1997 when our former Chairman Melchizedek Maquiso visited Kiribati and later we were told he met a group from the Order of Melchizedek there. This story is like the coming-of-age of one’s religious beliefs, Guia the youngest among 3 Estiva siblings went through a lot of experiences looking for her identity and found the Salem group which was indeed the Order of Melchizedek. To Guia, it is a way of life, believing in the coming of a new Christ one which is not obsolete to the modern world. The story started as an interesting mystery and later divert to Guia’s life and Sid’s quest to discover the Order. The ending was something not forthcoming. But it is neither an exciting one. 

Nick Joaquin’s writing style reminds me of Jose Saramago. Leaving the convention of period and ordinary sentences, without one noticing it, Joaquin writes in one sentence paragraphs in some of the stories, but he gets away with it, as a reader I do not feel out of breath finishing the whole paragraph. Wonderful! Also, I admire how he is able to explore many major ideas in the story without blowing the whole into incoherence. I do not assume to understand all the underlying meanings in his stories. I’m sure I missed a lot of it. But I love the smooth language, the beautiful prose and the exposure it gave me to a lot practices and beliefs that are lost in this generation.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Memorable Reads in 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

It is sad to know finishing this book means also parting with the Millennium Trilogy story. There won't be another book by Larsson, although they had that rumor of an unfinished book that is also one of the subjects of contention between his family and his friend. It was a wonderful reading experience with a story that approaches the end not on one angle but on different sides and everything happening at an exciting pace. I was so excited on the part of the courtroom drama, my legal background found their court procedures quite liberal compared to ours and the american legal procedure. But they are so stringent on the civil rights especially on the Right to Free Speech and throughout the 3 books this is one consistent subsumed backdrop. Hornets Nest digs deeper on the system of giving political asylum in Sweden and the handling of juveniles by the government, although Lisbeth's situation illustrated a failed management of a minor due to personalities, i appreciated that their government have that measure for the youth.  The law,  social,  enforcement and the media background were quite substantive and weren't just skimming the surface as thin backdrop.

The three sides that i meant were the police which was already on to the existence of Lisbeth's father, then the Millennium group of Mikhael, and Lisbeth's; the way the three sides of the story converged in the end was very climactic.  I'm going to miss Lisbeth's character, but i will just see her come alive in movies.

Leonardo's Swans  by Karen Essex

Essex weaved an intriguing historical fiction set in renaissance Italy regarding the lives of the D'Este sisters. She threaded love, power, politics and arts seamlessly. The story developed a realistic ambivalent relationship of Isabella and Beatrice D'Este amidst the power struggle existing in europe. It is amazing how fragile the alliances forged between ruling families despite the blood relations. Marriages during those times, were foremost for political alliances, wealth is secondary and love was never in the picture. If it happens - it is accidental. The D'Este sisters' lives took a different turn when they got married, Isabella the intelligent, beautiful one married someone else a month earlier than the offer of the future Duke of Milan, Federico Sporza, to the D'Este family, hence he married the younger, not so good looking Beatrice. The latter took a prominent position beside the rising power of her husband while Isabel lead a quieter life with his military husband. This lead to a competition between the two sisters and one arena the fought quietly at was the arts. Both wanted to be immortalized by paintings. Leonardo Da Vinci was under commission by the Duke of Milan, and the scheming started.  For the sisters, being painted by Leonardo meant not just the immortalization of the model's beauty but also the love of the Duke of Milan. While the political tides were changing in Italy, it also showed  a different side of a life of an artist, a master like Leonardo who depend on his sponsors for his art.. artistic talent at that time, although greatly appreciated, it is regarded in a different way as a means to live.

The story did not have an impressive or exciting ending, but it was fitting for the whole plot. However, the way the story unfolds can really hold your attention. Im looking forward to reading some of her books like Kleopatra and Stealing Athena.

The Knife of Never Letting Go  by Patrick Ness

This is a coming of age story in a dystopian setting. I was like panting while reading it, it's fast pace and it explored a different world about a place where everyone can hear what everyone is thinking. It's amazing how the author explores this possibility and how society is coping with it. Im reminded about Jose Saramago's Blindness, this also tackles the absence of sight, while Ness featured the imaginary world of everyone hearing their thoughts...the story was heart wrenching though. I will read the 2nd book of this trilogy - Chaos Walking. Highly recommended!

The Woman In White  by Wilkie Collins

At last i've finished this wonderful gothic mystery. Collins was able to hold my interest till the last page! I was chasing the mystery of the woman in white till the last chapters. Her mystery really binds the story. I admire the detailed expression of emotions, tenderness, frustrations that the author displayed, it really tugs the heart. On the other hand, the contests of wills, intellect and cunning kept my interest all throughout. Count Fosco is such a study! Marian is a strong and wise woman. Superb writing, sensitive language and great detective story in the 19th century!

Einstein's Dream by Alan Lightman

I finished reading Einstein's Dream by Alan Lightman. A fiction about Einstein's concept of time, i could say it is more of Einstein's imagination of time. Very thought provoking, the different concepts of time in one's life as presented in the book made me cherish my past and present. One is challenged to think what if a lifetime is only a day? Or a world of immortality. Or one lifetime but happening in 3 dimensions, each happening parallel with each other, quite confusing how to take it in. Then consider a place where time stands still or living in a world where you constantly have to dodge houses and buildings passing by, world fixated by speed and motion. I love those different windows of ideas presented by Alan Lightman, it challenge your imagination beyond the ticking of your clock :-)

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

The story reeled me in from the first sentence. It was lyrical, dark, haunting and so intriguing. Goolrick described very deep emotions felt by the main characters. A woman accepted an invitation to be the "mail order bride" of a man living in a remote area. The description of the place blends with the emotions being displayed by the characters. Im reminded of the phrase "it is the nature of a snake/animal"..referring to one that bites and cannot help it. What the wife did and what the husband did - loving her despite what happened, is captured in that phrase. I was rushing to finish it to find out what happens, sad but beautifully written. I love the ending.

Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock

 It took me a year before i get read this graphic and artsy book, but only a few minutes to finish it. It is pure talent to be able to tell a story using correspondence in postcards and letters. I find it delightful since i'm a letter writer and a postcard collector, yes i got thousands of it in my shelves from all over the world. However,the story left me hanging. I finished the book not sure how to interpret the ending and i felt disappointed at my inability until i realized that there are still book 2 and 3 :-). Well, now is the time to hunt for those..*smiles*

1984  by George Orwell

This popular book is about negative utopia, while reading this i felt so much despair and hopelessness absorbing the life of an outer Party member named Winston Smith. Oceania is a world in despair based on the assumption that human can be robbed of its own humanity, the feeling of love, integrity, etc. But remember this is Orwell writing in 1949 about what 1984 would be like. Well, the year had come and gone, did he attempt to be prophetic? or just giving us a warning. I believe both. But not in its entirety prophetic, only in some aspects that is happening today without us perceiving it.I struggled for weeks to finish this, but this book is something you don't just eat like french fries :-) or your mac and cheese (though i admit i had several mac and cheese books in between chapters). I appreciated how profound the message was in the book.

The Girl In Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

It was divided in different short stories each revolved around the painting of a girl in hyacinth blue. It was done in reverse chronology tracing it down to the time when it was painted. I read a similar way of story telling by Geraldine Brooks on her People of the Book which i really appreciate. I love this kind of story behind a painting, it is not just the visual display that is tackled but how that certain object of art touched, influenced the lives of it's possessor and what's the story behind the person/s in the painting? Isn't it interesting to know about the model in the painting.   The settings are also familiar Delft, Amsterdam, Den Hague, Utrech, etc ive been to these places and the museums too! Ive seen a Vermeer in one of the museums i visited there, i think it was the View of Delft. Such wonderful memories!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Reader's world of so many "challenges"

This is my third year of keeping track of what i read in a year. But since joining i am able to do it without much hassle, the virtual library is so convenient when setting what  book i just read. One thing i like, was also joining the different challenges. I have signed up to 3 challenges in different shelfari groups. The Quantity Challenge in the Filipino Flipping Pages (FFP) group, aiming to hit 75 books read by end of 2010. In 2008 i read around 48 books, i finished 63 books in 2009. The Quantity challenge is one way of trimming down my towering TBR pile (it is now leaning precariously :-) and making me feel less guilty about the number of books on my shelf not yet read. To date I am on my 40th book, more than halfway with my goal.  The second challenge that i took was the one from Paging All Bookworms Challenge, this time it's not the number of books but just an accounting of how many pages one has read so far. Although in this case i didn't set a certain number of pages read for 2010. I am just competing with myself in this challenge. However, it is nice to know at the end of the year how many pages you have devoured :-) i can see myself  setting up a certain number of pages read for 2011 after a 2010 benchmark. The one delightful challenge that i joined was A-Z Reading Challenge, initiated by IslandHopper. This challenge makes me vary my readings for this year and discover new authors. By new, i mean authors whose books i haven't read yet. The goal is to read 26 authors with surnames from A-Z from January 1-December 31, 2010. With the huge number of books lurking in my library, i was able to set-up my A-Z authors, except that i am still looking for my X! As of this writing, i am down to 8 books! I am doing well so far and having fun reading new authors.

My reading mood is really to read what grabs my fancy, but i like putting a little management on my chaotic readings and setting an objective. After all, as some readers lament.."so many books, so little time to read", so this will also maximize my leisure time for reading.

But the real challenge is to read all the books in my library! Hmm...i kept saying "I should stop buying books"..i wonder when will i listen to myself?