Of closures and lack thereof: A Book Review on Gone Girl

I like books that have concrete endings. It bothers me when a book is open-ended. I must say, though, that those with vague endings are the ones that really get me to thinking for quite a while. A few months ago, I read Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” It seemed to have a closure but not quite. It is an intense, multi-layered novel that left me wondering what happened beyond that last page.

The Story

“Gone Girl” paints the picture of a miserable marriage that turned into a vicious vendetta. Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years. On their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing. Amy is much loved by the people around her. She was the inspiration behind the Amazing Amy book series written by her parents. She was a poster child and trophy wife, so to speak. Just like in any crime investigation, the husband is the first suspect when the wife disappears.

gonegirl

Nick is unable to prove his innocence in the first half of the book. He narrates his side of the story in the first chapter then Amy gives her side via journal entries on the next. The back-and-forth narration continues until the big twist happens halfway through the novel. Nick’s poker face before the media, suspicious spending of her trust fund, increased life insurance policy of his wife, and hidden affair put him in a bad light. His guilt becomes so undeniable with mounting evidences sealing his fate slowly but surely.

Amy, on the other hand, is secretly watching all the media mayhem from an isolated motel. She has successfully faked her death and framed her cheating husband. In an unfortunate turn of events, Amy’s newfound friends stole all her cash and left her with nothing. She then sought the help of an old flame who almost worships her. He becomes overly protective to the point of locking her in. The posh mansion becomes a prison that Amy escapes by murdering his poor knight and shining armor. Amy is a crafty liar who leaves no loose ends to prove her guilt.

The story ends with Nick and Amy getting back together in their dysfunctional marriage where each one of them is treading on treacherous ground, moving chess pieces, pulling the strings, until their marriage reaches its inevitable end whatever that may be.

Review

Gillian Flynn created a web of lies and deceit in this novel. Nick excels in lies of omission while Amy puts grandeur and perfection in lying. It’s a story that involves layers of hidden agendas, intricate treachery, and misleading clues.

As a reader, it kept me guessing to the very end. Nick shows innocence and guilt throughout the novel. Meanwhile, Amy’s dark side will catch you by surprise. Her careful planning and perfect execution is both admirable and appalling. From the outside looking in, you will see the daily woes of married life. The lack of communication, boredom, and unmet expectations can slowly erode a once happily-ever-after marriage.

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn

It is a noir mystery novel on steroids with fingerprints everywhere but pointing nowhere. My search for truth has never been more complex and challenging with this book. In the end, it is a very satisfying yet cumbersome read. Knowing that Nick and Amy are back together didn’t settle nicely with me. If you have a philandering husband and a psycho wife, would you want to be in that marriage? Yet, irony of ironies, they complemented each other and brought out the best and worst in themselves when they’re together.

Amy had these to say about their marriage:

“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”

“All this time I’d thought we were strangers, and it turned out we knew each other intuitively, in our bones, in our blood. It was kind of romantic. Catastrophically romantic.”

Though I think Nick said it best:

“Yes, I am finally a match for Amy. The other morning I woke up next to her, and I studied the back of her skull. I tried to read her thoughts. For once I didn’t feel like I was staring into the sun. I’m rising to my wife’s level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I’m the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It’s a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can’t imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist.

We are one long frightening climax.”

I would’ve preferred that they either parted ways or genuinely reconciled. I like that kind of closure. Gillian Flynn refused to give me that. Instead, she masterfully allowed me to wander and wonder how Nick and Amy’s marriage will thrive or survive. Oh and there’s a baby on the way, which can either be their saving grace or the loose wire that burns them altogether. So yes, it’s worth reading and watching on October 2014 when it hits the big screen. :)

Sacrifice and Redemption: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is the only author who shames me every time I read his novels. My daily complaints become irrelevant compared to what Afghan people have gone through. So if you need a good jolt of reality, read any of his three novels. “And the Mountains Echoed” is his latest addition to his two previous bestsellers “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”  All three were inspired by the history, culture, and life in Afghanistan.

And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed

Summary

The novel starts with siblings Abdullah and Pari travelling to Kabul with their father. They thought they were there to simply visit their uncle Nabi, a chauffeur to a wealthy man named Suleiman Wahdati. It turned out that the Wahdatis are unable to bear children and Pari is the solution to that problem. The siblings were separated and this event branched out to different story lines involving the characters in the novel.

Afghan refugee children

Afghan refugee children

As the story moves along, you will find yourself caught in a web of relationships—a sibling rivalry between two sisters, one being more beautiful than the other; a homosexual tension between an employer and his employee; an unstable mother-daughter relationship; a strained friendship between an Afghan expat and a girl refugee; and an unlikely friendship between a landlord’s son and a peasant.

The novel comes full circle with the reunion of Abdullah and Pari but not in the way that most readers want or expect but it is closest to what happens in real life.

Review

At the core of this novel is the sacrifice that family members are willing to make for the sake of their loved ones. The growth of the characters in this multi-generational novel is what makes it more engaging. The tension between their past and present pulls the reader deeper to their journey of self-discovery and individual redemption.

I would’ve preferred a parallel growth in the lives of Abdullah and Pari in the course of the novel instead of having it summarized in the end. Pari’s life was given more focus than Abdullah’s although both were characters were equally significant in the story. Other than that, it is a masterpiece that rips your heart and pierces your soul. “And the Mountains Echoed” is a novel that beautifully juxtaposes loyalty and betrayal, morality and corruption, kindness and cruelty, hope and despair.

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini depicts human suffering and triumph so eloquently and painfully that it made me want to reach out to the characters and hold their hands throughout the entire novel. He is a master storyteller who knows how to blend reality and fiction in a way that awakens empathy on his readers. He removes you from your selfish little world by taking you to a place beyond your reach but nonetheless ever so real.

Blending the old and new: Inferno by Dan Brown

I love books that are full of intrigue, mystery, and suspense. Dan Brown is one of those authors who do this in the most clever way. Despite the letdown of “The Lost Symbol” (for me, at least), I still eagerly anticipated the release of Inferno a couple of weeks ago. So if there’s anything you need to know about this book, it’s this: Dan Brown redeemed himself a million times with this new book and every single page is worth devouring. :) Although certain allusions in the book sparked outrage among a lot of Filipinos, I think it’s important that one reads “Inferno” entirely in order to make an objective opinion. I will deal with that later on. Allow me first to give you a glimpse of Robert Langdon’s latest adventure while trying my best not to give any spoilers. :)

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown

Amnesia in the midst of global crisis

Robert Langdon, famous American art historian and symbologist, woke up in Florence suffering from amnesia. He had no recollection of what happened to him the past couple of days. He was told by his doctor Sienna Brooks that he was shot in the head. As if this disorientation was not enough, Langdon found himself running for his life with a hired assassin trailing him eager to finish the job. The cat and mouse chase was further complicated with Langdon’s urgent mission which he could not remember. Brooks showed him a device which turned out to be a map that led to more disturbing clues. All of the symbols and road maps were patterned after Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.”

Map of Dante's Inferno

Map of Dante’s Inferno

Later on, Langdon discovered that he was sent to discover where a certain biological weapon was hidden which when unleashed could result in a global catastrophe. The exquisite beauty of Florence and Venice coupled with the magnificence of Istanbul made searching for answers more breathtaking and enigmatic in Dan Brown’s new book.

Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul

Review

“Inferno” is the perfect blend of literature, art, and history made believable in fiction form. The timeless poetry of Dante was forged so well with the modern times which resulted in a haunting yet satisfying reading experience. Something that I missed in “The Lost Symbol” which I found again in “Inferno” was the unpredictability and edge-of-your-seat plots that truly captured my attention. Compared to his previous book which for me was just a bunch of compounded symbols waiting to be translated, “Inferno” has more depth and soul to it. It is more socially relevant, too, as it dealt with issues such as over population and shortage of resources.

I particularly like the intriguing premise of Langdon’s amnesia and his recurring visions. His supporting cast surprised me and made me gasp repeatedly. You know how it is when your mind just screams “What the?!?!” I experienced that many times and it is very gratifying for a reader like me! :) This book is very much reminiscent of “Angels and Demons” in terms of technique except that this one is better. Dan Brown used the right amount of intrigue to reel you in, the perfect dose of suspense to keep you hooked, and just the ample amount of pressure to urge you to finish it. :)

Dan Brown

Dan Brown

The Gates of Hell

Yes, the Philippines was mentioned in “Inferno” and the phrase “gates of hell” was stated in relation to it. However, you have to read the context when it was actually said by the character. Sienna Brooks, the female doctor I mentioned earlier, went on a humanitarian missions trip to the Philippines. She went to Manila where the city was accurately described by Dan Brown. She got overwhelmed by the number of people in the city particularly the poor and the hungry she was trying to help. She had a panic attack and ran as far as she could. Brooks ended up in a place, which we would most likely call as a “squatter’s area.” She was horrified to see the overlapping shanties, the poor living conditions, and the pungent smell of human excrement all over the place made her think, “I have entered the gates of hell.”

That being said, the allusion is but a mere reaction to what she saw which was seemingly a god-forsaken place. The conditions were so awful it seemed like she saw hell. The author did not refer to the entire country as the “gates of hell” per se. So chill, fellow countrymen. :) I suggest that you read the book in its entirety before passing judgment. It is too great a book to pass up just because opted you to listen to hearsay.

With that, I quote Dante and invite you to open the pages of “Inferno.” :)

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Pages turned in 2012

Despite being the year with the least books read, 2012 has been a great book year for me. I loved almost every book I read and I’m really hoping that this year will be just as amazing. Although I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I will post around five more books before the end of the year, I miserably failed to do so. :( I’ve been busy putting on different hats especially in the last quarter of 2012. The hands-on mommy hat and the homemaking hat took most of my time. Reading took a back seat toward the end of the year but the great thing about books is that they’re the most patient friends. They don’t complain when they get neglected. They understand when you need to prioritize other things. They don’t need to talk because they can read between the lines. More importantly, when you go back to them they welcome you with open arms and a great story at hand. :)

Having said that, allow me to introduce you to my awesome BFs (book friends) last year. :)

Top picks for 2012

Top picks for 2012!

I’ve read a total of 19 books last year but I think “1Q84″ and “Clash of Kings” should count for three books because they’re over a thousand pages! Haha! Long novels are challenging to read but they are usually the ones that take you to places you never thought possible. :)

More great books!!!

Great reads from amazing authors!

I have to mention that reading Andy Stanley’s “The Grace of God” is one of the best reading decisions I made last year. Learning about God’s grace in its purest and simplest form is very enlightening. You don’t have to believe in God to read this. Just knowing about how grace is shown and experienced will more than compensate the curiosity of any searching soul. :)

“When the Elephants Dance” is like a breath of fresh air. Reading a Filipino author after being so used to foreign authors made me appreciate our culture all the more. It inspired me to read more Filipino authors this year! It’s a different reading experience when you know exactly where the places are and what the local nuances mean. :)

I fell in love with John Green's books <3

I fell in love with John Green :)

John Green knows exactly how a teenager’s mind is wired. His books portray teen protagonists that mirror what almost every young adult experiences. I’m a young mom, eons away from my teenage years, but his books cross different ages and it speaks uniquely to anyone who picks up his books.

Can't get enough of Dystopian novels!

Dystopian novels are too good to resist! :)

I’m a dystopian addict. I love how authors can come up with different dystopian plots and how the books I’ve read last year took it a notch higher than the previous ones I’ve read. These are not “Hunger Games” wannabees, mind you. They are compelling, intriguing, and riveting in their own unique way. :)

Some light reads from bestselling authors :)

Some light reads from bestselling authors :)

Of course, my year wouldn’t be complete without reading the latest books from mainstream bestselling authors. I’m the kind of reader who needs a break from emotionally heavy books that made me hyper focused for days. Thus, I pick up a light read in between. Sophie Kinsella never fails to crack me up! Haha! I have to say that Mitch Albom did a good job with “The Time Keeper.” It’s a lot better than his recent books and it hits closer to home. :)

There you have it! My 2012 reading companions in a nutshell :) What does your list look like? :)

Revisiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books

After more than a decade of waiting, my reader radar sounded its deafening alarm, alerting me that Carlos Ruiz Zafón finally released “Prisoner of Heaven,” the sequel to his epic book “Shadow of the Wind!” So I did what every eager beaver bookworm does, I went to the nearest bookshop and grabbed a copy of “Prisoner of Heaven.” I feel like I’m the 10-year-old Daniel Sempere, the protagonist in “Shadow of the Wind,” holding one precious book from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This time, I’m holding its sequel! I read the book in roughly five hours but divided into two days (had to squeeze it in between my mommy duties). I was actually surprised that the book was only 278 pages long!

Before I move on with my review, let me just say that if you haven’t read “Shadow of the Wind” then you’re missing out on one of the best modern literary books of all time. Zafón has probably mastered the art of Gothic fiction. His three books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series—The Angel’s Game, Shadow of the Wind, and Prisoner of Heaven—are all filled with mystery, intrigue, noir, and unbridled romance.

The Story

“Prisoner of Heaven” follows the life of Daniel Sempere who is now married to Beatriz. He continues to manage the Sempere & Sons bookstore with his father and his close friend Fermin Romero de Torres. It was Christmas time and sales were not picking up in the Sempere bookshop. The seemingly uneventful season became alive when a grim-looking stranger appeared at the store. He bought the most expensive book and left it for Fermin with a strange dedication:

For Fermin Romero de Torres,

who came back from among the dead

and holds the key to the future.

This ominous visit led to a series of discoveries about Fermin’s life at the Montjuïc prison. Zafón’s description of this Spanish version of Alcatraz somewhat reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s “The Pit” in Dark Knight Rises. In this isolated no-escape prison, Fermin’s story intersected with the lives of two mysterious prisoners—the prolific writer David Martin and the guile Sebastian Salgado. He also came face to face with the vile prison governor Mauricio Valls and was even used against his will to extract information from the two inmates. The sinister events at Montjuïc prison later on unveiled the story behind the death of Daniel’s mother Isabella.

The novel ends with a cliff hanger that begs for the fourth and final installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

Review

You might probably be wondering what it is about Zafón’s novel that’s worth reading. For me, his pervasive storyline that highlights the significance books and the relevance of writers to society is what made me swoon over his books. I believe every bibliophile should read one of his novels!

Now back to my two cents worth. Filled with secrets from the dark alleys of Barcelona, “The Prisoner of Heaven” is a novel of truth and deception, love and lies, corruption and integrity, survival and demise. It’s like peeling off an old wallpaper to find out the original painting behind it and discovering that there’s so much more to the image you exposed.

There are certain authors that have a distinct voice and Zafón is one of them. As I was reading this novel, I knew that I was reading raw Zafón. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to read his novels in Spanish! His narration and descriptions reminded me so much of “Shadow of the Wind” and “The Angel’s Game.” The way he romanticized the landscape of Barcelona while juxtaposing its lurking darkness was enthralling. The riveting suspense was addicting to the point where you’d feel the urge to eat all the remaining pages of the novel.

The ending was a total prequel to the final installment in the series. My head was screaming for a closure but then that’s what penultimate novels are supposed to do. I don’t know how long I’ll wait again for the sequel but I’m sure it’s worth the last trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Angelology: The Rise of Fallen Angels

“Angelology” is a novel of cosmic conflicts and earthly battles. Filled with historical, biblical, and mythological references, author Danielle Trussoni weaved an intriguing story of a young nun named Evangeline and her journey to unveiling the world of Nephilims—the hybrid offspring of humans and fallen angels.

A tranquil life threatened

Entrusted by her father to the Franciscan Order of Perpetual Adoration at a very young age, all that Evangeline knew about the world were confined in the walls of St. Rose Convent. Her mundane life was shaken when she received a request from art historian Verlaine to do research in the convent’s archives. It was through that inquiry that she discovered a correspondence between the famous philanthropist Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller and their former mother superior, Mother Innocenta.

As Evangeline discovered more letters, Verlaine found himself running for his life. Apparently, the person who commissioned him for the research was a Nephilim who came from the oldest and strongest family of their kind. Meanwhile, Evangeline’s unyielding curiosity led her to a series of conversations with an old nun, Sister Celestine, who took her deeply to the world of Angelology.

The past revisited

The novel took a different turn with the flashback story of Sister Celestine and her friend Gabriella Levi-Franche. The story of these two characters provided the indispensable background needed for the plot to move forward.

Albeit long, I found this part very engaging. As a reader, I felt the dedication and passion of the characters come to life in the perilous events that transpired in these chapters. The training of these two previous students under the Angelological Society and the dangers they faced along the way were filled with riveting and disturbing events that build up one after the other. This was also the part where the myth of Orpheus, the dangerous terrain of Bulgaria, the biblical nuances of Angelology, and the interplay of deception with Nephilims all merged to form the solid connection that completed the missing piece in the life Evangeline.

Facing divine enemies

The battle continued as Evangeline finally discovered her role in this centuries-old feud between humans and Nephilims. Alongside Verlaine, Evangeline came into contact with the members of the still-standing Angelological Society and a very significant relative.

Fast-paced action, relentless search for artifacts, and spontaneous confrontations with the Nephilim army packed the latter chapters of the novel. This masterpiece ended with a sequel-worthy scene that leaves the reader craving for more.

A new approach to the supernatural realm

“Angelology” is not your typical thriller. It’s theology, mythology, and mysticism all woven into a fictional story that produced an exceptional plot.

However, Evangeline as a protagonist only found her significant place in the novel when it was about to end. The character of Gabriella was even stronger and more influential in the entire course of the narrative.

Danielle Trussoni is a great storyteller. She knows how to keep her readers seeking for answers as the novel progressed. She developed the story intricately but not to the point of confusion. She made the facts work so well with fiction that it almost felt real to a certain extent. This book truly satisfied my literary appetite for a good mystery-thriller novel.

I picked up this book last year and my long wait is finally over now that the publisher announced that the sequel “Angelopolis” will be released on January 2013! Plus, Will Smith’s production company Overbrook and Sony Pictures will be working on the film version of “Angelology”! Can’t wait for both! :)

This book is FRAGILE: Handle with Care

What will you do if your child is so fragile she can break her bones while she’s sleeping? How will you take care of your little one who can suffer fractures due to a mere sneeze? These are the everyday dilemmas that Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe face about their daughter Willow. In “Handle with Care,” Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors, took me once again into a journey involving sensitive and moral issues that can make or break a family.

After reading this book, I had to pause and psych myself to detach my emotions from the characters I’ve grown to love. It had that rare grip on me as a reader. I have to agree with Stephen King on this. This is Picoult’s best novel by far since “My Sister’s Keeper.” Here’s what he has to say:

“You men out there who think Ms. Picoult is a chick thing need to get with the program. Her books are an everyone thing, and the current offering — about a little girl whose bones are so brittle that they break almost at a puff of wind — is her best since My Sister’s Keeper. It’s a legal/medical thriller, but at bottom it’s a story about the American heart of darkness: a small-town marriage under stress. Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance and never descends into soap opera.”

—Stephen King

The Story

Willow was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or the brittle bone disease. Despite being extremely fragile, Willow was a genius. She loves blurting out trivia every now and then. She reads during her recovery period after a bone break. Her personality more than compensates for her sickness.

To give you an idea on how fragile Willow is, here’s an excerpt from Charlotte’s narration:

Your first seven breaks happened before you entered this world. The next four happened minutes after you were born, as a nurse lifted you out of me. Another nine, when you were being resuscitated in the hospital, after you coded. The tenth: when you were lying across my lap and suddenly I heard a pop. Eleven was when you rolled over and your arm hit the edge of the crib. Twelve and thirteen where femur fractures; fourteen a tibia; fifteen a compression fracture of the spine…twenty-three happened in your sleep; twenty-four and twenty-five were a fall forward in the snow that snapped both forearms at once…twenty-eight happened during a sneeze; twenty-nine and thirty were ribs you broke on the edge of the kitchen table.

(quote shortened)

Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe were the most dutiful parents Willow could ever have. Charlotte had to give up being a pastry chef just to take care of her while Sean had to work double shifts as a police officer to pay for their insurmountable medical bills. Aside from her parents, Willow had a stepsister Amanda, who despite being helpful, had secret struggles of her own.

Their trip to Disney World was the turning point of the story. Willow slipped inside an ice-cream parlor and broke both her femurs severely which could lead to internal bleeding. The family didn’t even make it inside Disney World, they all went to the hospital to rush Willow. Upon arriving at the emergency room, Charlotte asked Amelia if she brought the letter. Whenever the O’ Keefes go out they bring the letter from Willow’s doctor saying that she had OI. Unfortunately, Amelia forgot. She got overwhelmed with excitement that she forgot to get the letter Charlotte asked for. This mistake led to the arrest of their parents for being suspects of child abuse.

A lot of people are not aware of OI which is the very reason why they had to bring the letter all the time. Willow’s doctor could not be reached by the hospital and so the social welfare had no choice but to put Amelia in protective custody and Willow in hospital arrest while their parents were in jail. They were eventually released and the family went home but Willow was placed in a spica cast for four months which made it impossible for her to move on her own.

Coming back from Florida, Charlotte consulted a law firm so they could sue the people who harassed them and took their kids in custody. Basically, all she wanted was to be paid financially for the damages they incurred during their stay there not to mention the embarrassment they experienced. After much interrogation, the lawyer said they have no case against the people in Disney World or the hospital. However, they can have another case that can give them huge financial gain. They can file for a wrongful birth lawsuit.

A wrongful birth lawsuit implies that if the mother had known during her pregnancy that her child was going to be significantly impaired, she would have chosen to abort the fetus. It’s a medical malpractice suit that can be filed against the ob-gyn for failing to disclose the condition of the child. Winning this whopping $8-million lawsuit would mean a lifetime of comfortable living for Willow. This would’ve been easy for Charlotte if this did not entail two things: declaring publicly that she would’ve aborted Willow had she known her condition AND suing her ob-gyn who was her best friend.

Review

This novel is a web of questionable medical ethics, conflict of interests, moral obligations, unspoken truths, and dubious motives held together by a mother’s unwavering love for her child. Every part of this novel is believable. I understand how enticing it is to have the future of your child secure and I also know how gut wrenching it is to lie in front of your own child. You’ll discover in this novel how this situation affected all the members of the O’ Keefe family as it was told by each member of the family including Piper, Charlotte’s best friend. Big decisions such as this can make or break a marriage, a friendship, and an entire family.

I love the way Jodi Picoult made the tension so gripping and the emotions of the characters so riveting without coming across as sappy. I wanted to jump inside the pages of the book and scream at Charlotte. I wanted to shield Willow from all the pain. I wanted to tell Sean to control his wife. I wanted to tell Piper to just loan Charlotte money. A good novel makes you want to meddle with the story and be involved in the conflicts set before you.

This book has its shortcomings, too. The recipes in some of Charlotte’s chapters were distracting for me. Although I understand that she’s a pastry chef, I was more eager to move on with the story instead of reading recipes. However, I know that readers who love to cook will love those parts. I had mixed emotions about the ending. It got me thinking for a while and so many questions lingered in my head.

Overall, this is a book that has the right amount of everything. Picoult knows when to pull back when the plot thickens too much. She can put your emotions in a situation that you find yourself becoming so fragile like Willow who can break at any given time. It’s too good to put down once you started it. So if you’re looking for a book that will shake you to the core, then open your doors to the O’ Keefe family…but you have to handle them with care.

NEW: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I’m really excited about this! I must confess first that I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter novels. I mean, I plan to at some point in my reading life. Haha! What I’ve always wanted was to read a J.K. Rowling novel for adults and tadaaaaa!!!! She finally wrote one for fiction fanatics like me!!! YAY! :D

Here’s the press release of Little Brown for her new book:

Little, Brown Book Group announces that the new novel for adults by J.K. Rowling is entitled The Casual Vacancy.  The book will be published worldwide in the English language in hardback, ebook, unabridged audio download and on CD on Thursday 27th September 2012.

The Casual Vacancy

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

The Casual Vacancy 
480 pages (approximately)
ISBN  9781408704202   (hardback) price £20.00
ISBN  9781405519229   (ebook) price £11.99
ISBN  9781405519212   (audio download) £20.00
ISBN  9781405519205   (CD) price £30.00

Prices in other territories will be announced separately.

Photo credits: © Wall to Wall Media Ltd. Photographer: Andrew Montgomery.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: The Harry Potter series is in my reading list this year. This is because I vowed not to read it until the 7th book is released and the final movie is shown. :)

In the middle of ALEPH

Paulo Coelho is one of the few authors that can be both mainstream and niche. His bestselling book the “Alchemist” appealed to a lot of readers (myself included). His niche market involves readers who are particular with mystical undertones in fiction. My favorite Coelho books though have nothing to do with the novels with the spiritual aspect. Among all his novels, “Veronika Decides to Die” and “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” were my all-time favorites. I must admit, I still read every new book he releases hoping to catch another exceptional fiction from him.

The Story

Aleph is the autobiographical fiction of Paulo Coelho. In an interview with The New York Times, Coelho disclosed that this novel is 100% autobiographical, depicting his own spiritual journey. The protagonist in this story is Paulo, a 59-year-old successful writer who was having a spiritual crisis. He complained about this to his spiritual mentor “J.” He was then advised to take risks and move out of his comfort zone. Following his mentor’s lead, he drove his agent crazy when he agreed on several book signings that will take him to different countries in two weeks. The final leg of the trip was crossing Russia via the Trans-Siberian railway.

This is where we meet Hilal, a 21-year-old violin prodigy who insisted on joining Paulo wherever he went. In the Trans-Siberian railway we are also introduced to the Aleph, the point where time and space converge. It is where you see everything happening at the same with complete clarity. Paulo and Hilal experienced aleph together. This event made Hilal all the more persistent never to leave Paulo’s side. She was very vocal in expressing that Paulo is the only one who could offer her the salvation and the love she longed for. As the trip progressed, the significance of Hilal in Paulo’s past life was revealed.

The novel will take the reader to Paulo’s spiritual journey—his healing and recovery; his redemption and forgiveness; his discovery and new beginning.

Review

This may not be the best Paulo Coelho novel you’ll ever read but it’s probably the boldest. Coelho said in an interview that everything that’s plausible in that novel happened to him. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out which is fiction and non-fiction in the novel. Hilal’s role in Paulo’s past and present is the saving grace of the novel. It was the only part where I was totally engaged—the flashbacks and all showed that Coelho still has it and it makes me wonder why he veers away from writing brilliant fiction. The ultimate downside of this novel was the overload of mystical sayings and clichés. Following Paulo’s journey was tedious. I had to stop halfway through the novel because nothing was happening. I felt like I was reading an anthology of quotes at some point. Nonetheless, I’m not losing hope that Paulo Coelho can still create one great fiction story. If your work has sold than 130 million copies and has been translated into 72 languages, you’ve got to be a great writer. I know Paulo Coelho is and I look forward to saying that with complete confidence again. :)

Unlocked: Faith in Fiction

Karen Kingsbury specializes in life-changing fiction. She is known as America’s favorite inspirational novelist. I’ve been seeing her books in different bookshops and every time I pass by them my reader conscience nags me to pick up one. Giving in to my fiction weakness, I decided to enter into the world of Holden Harris in “Unlocked”.

Locked in his own world

Holden Harris was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. He spent the next 15 years of his life locked in a world that only he could understand. Holden went to a high school that offered classes for students with special needs. With his noticeable quirks and odd movements, it was no surprise that Holden was a common victim of bullying. This did not stop him from going to school and trying to live his “normal” life.

Holden’s condition took a toll on his parents’ marriage as well. His dad had to spend months away from them—fishing—so he could provide for his therapy and other needs. His mom spent each day hoping that at some point, in the midst of his routine he would make eye contact or reconnect with her in some miraculous way. Little did they know that a miracle was about to happen.

The key

During the rehearsal of their high school play “Beauty and the Beast”, Holden stopped and listened to the music. His classmates went ahead of him while he stayed at the entrance of the theatre mesmerized by the song. Lead actress and head cheerleader Lauren Reynolds noticed him and saw how Holden was connecting to the music. In good faith, she asked his teacher to allow him to watch their rehearsal but she didn’t tell her that she felt unexplainably drawn to him. Days went by and Holden started to show more response to Lauren. Her mom even saw significant improvements in his behavior.

As Lauren knew more about Holden, she also knew more about herself. One day as she was rummaging through some stuff she saw a scrapbook of their family. In there she saw a boy who looked very familiar—Holden. They had pictures playing, laughing, and having a great time with their family. This was the time before Holden had autism. She eventually found out that her parents were best friends with Holden’s. Sadly, his condition severed the ties between their families.

Breakthrough after breakthrough happened as Holden got more immersed in the play. The music and his friendship with Lauren unlocked him from the world that took him away from his family. It was Holden’s sickness that created a chasm between his parents and Lauren’s; but it was also his condition that moved them to bridge the silence and indifference they built over the years.

Faith in fiction

Seeing the world through Holden’s eyes was seeing faith in a whole different level. Holden would pray for almost everyone even those who bullied him. He saw the good in people. He didn’t judge them. He had pure childlike faith that nobody saw. Seeing his mom’s faith moved me to tears. Being a mom myself, I couldn’t imagine losing that connection with my son. Holden’s mom patiently waited and hoped that one day God would bring Holden back—the son she could hug and talk to without fearing that he might move back or pull away. Lauren’s faith in Holden was unwavering. She believed in him when everybody else doubted him. She saw light coming from Holden’s locked world and knew that there was so much more to discover inside of it.

Now I know why Karen Kingsbury is America’s favorite inspirational author. She creates stories that uplift the spirit of her readers. She is not talking religion but reality. She shows that despite the frailty of the human spirit, it still triumphs in the midst of difficulty. I haven’t felt refreshed in a long while after reading a novel. “Unlocked” gave me that experience again. Reading faith in fiction is like bathing in renewed hope and wanting to stay there for a long time. :)

Murakami, We Meet Again

I think Haruki Murakami and I got off on the wrong foot when I read him for the first time. I thought that there was nothing spectacular about the debut Murakami novel I read. Some of my friends like his writing and even encouraged me to try his other novels. Well I guess writing is a hit-and-miss process. Your debut novel may reach number one in the New York Times’ bestsellers list but that doesn’t guarantee that your next book will be received the same way. Consistency is probably difficult to achieve for any writer.

I decided to give Murakami another try by reading his nearly 1,000-page novel “1Q84”. It consists of three parts; each was a separate book released in Japan. When it was translated to English in 2011, the three novels were put together in one hefty book. When I started reading it I wasn’t sure if Murakami’s intent was to create a sci-fi novel or simply integrate Magic Realism in the story. As the story progressed I realized that he was trying to create a very ambitious and complex love story, transcending all norms and realities.

Two Lives

The novel was told in the point of view of the main characters—Tengo and Aomame. In the last part of the book, a third point of view was introduced in the person of Ushikawa. Tengo taught math in a prep school. He also screened novels for an award-giving body while trying to write his own masterpiece. Aomame, on the other hand, was a fitness instructor and physical therapist, working with high-profile clients. They both looked like seemingly ordinary professionals but each of them had covert jobs on the side.

Each chapter was told alternately in Tengo and Aomame’s voice. The first chapter began with Aomame being stuck in a cab in the middle of heavy traffic. The driver told her to take the staircase behind one of the billboards in the expressway so she could get pass the road congestion. Soon after, she reached the hotel where she was scheduled to kill a man. Aomame was a hired assassin, killing men who brutally abused women. She worked for a Dowager who kept a safe house for abused women. After the first incident, Aomame started to notice things that were different from what she used to see. She noticed that the policemen had different uniforms and guns whereas she distinctly remembered that it was never changed. She researched certain events and read some that she never heard of but were apparently big news. At this point, she started to speculate that she might be in a parallel universe. She was certain that it was not the 1984 she knew she was in. To temporarily reconcile these events, she called that year 1Q84—Q for question mark—because she was not sure what year she was in. There was also one major difference in her world and this world—1Q84 had two moons.

Meanwhile, Tengo was commissioned to rewrite a novel that was submitted to their screening committee. When Tengo first read the “Air Chrysalis” he was immediately captivated by its story despite its horrific grammar and style. The novel was about the sinister “little people” making air chrysalis with another version of you.

There was something powerful about the story that he actually lobbied for it to receive the literary prize. That of course was not possible because of the pathetic prose of the 17-year-old author Fuka-Eri. Thus, Tengo was offered by his editor Komatsu to “ghost” rewrite it. Much to his surprise, Fuka-Eri gave him all the leeway he needed to improve the story.  Then, they submitted it to a publishing company who immediately agreed to distribute the novel from this new literary sensation Fuka-Eri. However, a scam like this would never go unnoticed. Things began to become complicated as the success of the book reached its peak. In the midst of all these, Tengo also started to notice something strikingly different in his world—it had two moons.

Where Two Roads Meet

As you read along “1Q84”, you will be taken to the parallel lives of these two characters, wondering what’s their connection to each other and when will they ever meet. At some point in the novel, Tengo and Aomame’s worlds gravitate toward each other. Tengo discovered that Fuka-Eri escaped from a cult community called Sakigake. She was also dyslexic and she didn’t actually write the novel. She dictated it to her guardian’s daughter. Fuka-Eri’s father was close to her guardian Professor Ebisuno and ever since her father established that commune Ebisuno didn’t hear from her father anymore until the day Fuka-Eri appeared at his doorstep. The professor used the publication of the book to stir the hornet’s nest and allow the media to investigate on the literary prodigy’s family, which would inevitably lead him to the whereabouts of Fuka-Eri’s parents. The Sakigake found out about “Air Chrysalis” and was bothered by the truth in that novel. Fuka-Eri also admitted to Tengo that the “little people” were real.

On the other hand, Aomame was commissioned to kill the leader of the Sakigake group who was responsible for the rape and abuse of the newest addition to the Dowager’s safe house—a 10-year-old girl named Tsubasa. When Aomame met the leader who was supposed to be scheduled for a physical therapy session, she found out that he knew that she was there to kill him. He had the power of telekinesis and most of all he was the mouthpiece of the “little people”. They had placed him in so much pain and he wanted to die. Aomame thought that leaving him alive to suffer would be much better than killing him but the leader negotiated that in exchange for her going on as planned, he would protect the man she loved the most, Tengo. Aomame was surprised that he knew about him. Aomame had loved Tengo since the time she tightly held his hand in a classroom. They were classmates 20 years ago. That encounter left an indelible mark in her heart and Tengo’s. Neither forgot that incident—that lasting innocent expression of love in holding each other’s hands. Fearing for Tengo’s life, Aomame proceeded to kill the leader despite the implied retaliation of the “little people”.

The plot thickened as the Sakigake hired a cunning investigator named Ushikawa. His misshapen head and repulsive looks were part of his entire ensemble. He was a master of deductive reasoning which made him more valuable than other investigators. Ushikawa stalked Tengo to find out more about “Air Chrysalis”. He was also tasked to find where the leader’s assassin was. When he found out that Tengo and Aomame were classmates, he used Tengo as his primary lead to find Aomame. Both of them knew that they were in danger. They were both looking for each other, wanting to save each other. The novel ended with Tengo and Aomame finding each other in the world with two moons and finding their way to their own world where 1Q84 exists no more.

Love it or Hate it

Appreciation for “1Q84” can go both ways—you either love it or hate it. The thing I like most about this novel is the character development of Tengo and Aomame. They grew on me like good friends whom I wanted to help. Their lives were rich with back stories and inner conflicts that demand resolution. The thing I didn’t like about it is the fact that there were so many loose ends in the story. I want to know more about the little people, air chrysalis, Sakigake, and even the annoying NHK cable collector who appears repeatedly in the novel. I wished Murakami didn’t end it the way he did, it was too easy after making the search too difficult. There were unnecessary portions that were irrelevant to the story in my opinion. I think it would’ve been better if it was also released here by parts because each part is independently unique and compelling. Reading the entire three books in one go can be really tiring and dragging. However, I must say that this might be the Murakami that my friends love and rave about. His distinct style and raw voice merged with this pseudo-fantasy and quasi-cult story resulted in a literary epic that only Haruki Murakami can deliver.

Playing the “Game of Thrones”

game of thrones george rr martin

Epic read. “A Game of Thrones” is one of the few novels that wore me out (in a good way) after reading it. The gripping plot, the evolving characters, the overlapping deception, and the picturesque narrative of George R. R. Martin took me to a series of emotional highs and lows. Martin led me deeply to the land of kings and queens, lords and ladies, heirs and usurpers, even traitors and allies.

I didn’t watch the HBO series because I don’t want to miss the opportunity of conjuring my own images of the kingdoms and the characters depicted by the author. Actually, it was only when I finished the novel that I searched for the pictures of the actors and actresses in the series. Some actually fit the character I had in mind like Ned Stark, Daenerys, Drogo, and Cersei Lannister.

It’s hard to do a review when there’s so much to tell. I’ll probably do this the character sketching way. :) All the characters playing in the game of thrones have one thing in common. They all gambled. They all risked something valuable to them. Some of them won, others lost. Not all of the characters wanted the throne but all of them swore allegiance to someone.

Ned Stark

Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell is the epitome of honor and loyalty. He became the right hand of King Robert Baratheon and stood by his side to the very end. His devotion to his family is poignant. He tried to protect them as much as he can even if it meant having to do something against his will. He is husband to strong-willed Catelyn Stark and father to Jon, Robb, Bran, Rickon, Sansa and Arya. Each of his children stood out in the novel. I love the feistiness of Arya, the faithfulness of Jon, the determination of Bran, and the coming of age of Robb. Sansa’s blind naiveté is intolerably annoying while Rickon’s innocence is heart-melting.

Cersei Lannister

Queen Cersei Lannister is married to King Robert. She is a blatant schemer and a very effective antagonist. She is twin to Jaime Lannister with whom she is having an incestuous affair. Her son Joffrey is the heir to the throne. He is a brat prince who knows nothing but make decisions to bloat his ego. Her other children are Myrcella and Tomnen, both of whom played minor parts in the story.

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen, also known as Dany, is the last surviving member of the Targaryen dynasty. For the longest time, she has been used as a ploy by his brother Viserys to bring about his revenge to King Robert, who usurped the Iron Throne from them. I fell in love with Dany’s character. There’s strength in her vulnerability and tenacity in her distress. She married Khal Drogo, the chieftain of the Dothraki. Dany loved him with reckless abandon to the point of crossing realms that she shouldn’t cross for her beloved’s sake. The growth of her character was significant in every turn of the story.

Cersei aptly said, “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” Characters were pushed to both sides in this game. No one stayed in the middle ground. As a reader, I’ve won and lost as I took sides with some of the characters. It was an intense game to play and the element of surprise never ends. I’ll probably take a “breather book” before I continue with “A Clash of Kings”. It’s a hefty 800-page novel but I’m most definitely sure that it will be as epic as “A Game of Thrones”. :)