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! 😀

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. 🙂

Advertisements

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”

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”. 🙂

An Unconventional Love Story: Before Ever After

It’s been a while since I’ve been so engrossed in a novel. When I started reading Samantha Sotto’s “Before Ever After”, I couldn’t help but go on and continue flipping the pages until I reached the ending. At first, I thought it was one of those typical love stories, judging from the book’s dainty cover. But it was far from typical; it was imaginative, brilliant and written with a good dose of wit and humor. I’m glad that Samantha Sotto swept me off my bookish feet and carried me into the world of Max and Shelley.

The Background

It’s been three years since Shelley’s husband died. Max died in a terrorist bombing in Madrid, leaving Shelley a young widow with a fragmented future. Shelley’s recovery had been slow but steady until an unexpected visit turned her world upside down. One mundane morning, a visitor who looks like Max appeared on her doorstep claiming to be Max’s grandson. It would’ve been okay if Paolo was not 32 years old—the same age as Max. This disclosure made Shelley question everything she knew and believed about her own husband.

The Journey Begins

Paolo began telling Shelley how much he loved his Nono, his term of endearment to his grandfather Max. So when he saw Max’s photo in a website, he knew that he had to look for him to find the answers he needed. He prodded Shelley to look at the site for herself, and when she did she knew that she had to pack her bags and leave for Boracay, Philippines where her supposedly dead husband was living.

During the flight from London to Manila, Paolo and Shelley started sharing stories about Max. Shelley recalled the backpacking Euro trip she joined in where she met the eccentric charming tour guide, Max. It was in this trip where Max and Shelley found each other in the midst of the historic places of Austria, Slovenia, and other cobble-stoned pavements. Shelley revisited the stories that Max related in each mysterious tourist spot, realizing through Paolo’s affirmations that Max was actually part of the story. He was not merely a storyteller; he was the protagonist in the pages of history he was retelling.

The Journey Ends

Shelley continued her quest for answers and in the process discovered truths that are too difficult to comprehend yet too real to deny. The novel ends in a way that will surprise readers. It’s not the conventional ending that the already captivated audience would’ve wanted (count me in, too). But I guess that’s the beauty of it. With its unpredictability comes the preservation of the magic that the story created even if you already turned the last page. 🙂

Never Let Me Go: Beautifully Disturbing

It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving spoilers. It’s a story filled with intriguing clues that lead to one discovery after another. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “Never Let Me Go” is beautifully disturbing. Set in England around the late 1990s, the novel takes place in Hailsham—a special boarding school where students are raised for a sickening reason.

Kathy H. is the voice of the novel. It is from her memories and point of view that the plot develops. The way she tells her story keeps you wanting for more. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the rare authors who know the craft of leaving inconclusive details without pissing off the reader. He gives you an insatiable discontent for the unknown, which can only be satisfied as you keep turning the page. From the very first chapter, Kathy’s job as a “carer” is not described at length, which begs the question “What does a carer really do and who do they care for?” Donors and donations were also mentioned in casual terms as if implying that the reader ought to know what those taboo words mean.

As Kathy drives along a familiar road, she starts to narrate her life at Hailsham and the story of two significant people who became her closest friends—Ruth and Tommy. Kathy describes in detail the almost impeccable education system they receive from Hailsham. They were even substantially provided for their needs and even wants. But since nobody lives in a perfect world, certain clues emerge here and there implying that there is something terribly wrong in this boarding school. At one point, a teacher resigns for reasons that the so-called principal cannot disclose; a certain character called “madame” gets the best art work of the students; and “donations” are mentioned in crucial moments in the story. Slowly, the innocence of these students is shattered as they gradually discover why they’re there in the first place.

SPOILER ALERT (do not proceed if you don’t want to miss the novel’s turning point)

Here’s the spoiler I’m not supposed to say but I can’t help but divulge. Kathy, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy, are all created to be organ donors. They are raised well so that when the time comes that they have to give their donations they are perfectly fit to do so. Not only are they organ donors, they are also clones. Sickening, right? You raise a human person—not a machine—then end his life regardless if he wants to or not. Even if he is a clone, that person has life and he has the right to decide what he wants to do with it.

My heart went wild as I was reading this. I felt pity for the characters, I felt rage for the cruel people behind this sinister project, I felt sorrow for the lives that were lost and the hearts that were broken. Although this novel is fictional, it shows the reality that men are capable of the most depraved things when push comes to shove. Never is deception portrayed ever so delicately yet menacingly the way Kazuo Ishiguro did in this masterpiece. This is one novel worth shelf keeping. 🙂