Pages turned in 2013

My reading year was composed of an interesting mix of sequels, new releases, and classic reads. Some moved me to tears while others got me smiling for quite a while. I fell in love with many characters and I also wanted to strangle some of them. Haha! I didn’t reach my reading target for last year but I read 3 more books compared to 2012. Here are my 2013 reading escapades:

THE SEQUELS:

Mark of Athena and House of Hades by Rick Riordan

I intentionally held off reading “Mark of Athena” so that when “House of Hades” was released I wouldn’t have to wait so long. More than getting a refresher on Greek and Roman mythology, what I love about Rick Riordan’s novels are his characters: Leo and his awkward humor, Athena and her quick wit, Piper and her amazing charmspeak, and the heroics of Percy and Jason. And then there’s the array of quirky but lovable creatures like Coach Hedge, Tyson, Calypso, and Bob. 🙂

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I can’t believe it ended that way. I was too shocked to be sad. But I like that this dystopian novel is closer to home, meaning the cities are real and existing. There were parts that were a bit confusing so I had to slow down my reading but it all made sense in the end. I look forward to watching “Divergent” this year!

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Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni

Another cliff hanger though not as good as the first one. I expected more from Evangeline in terms of character development. I hope Trussoni redeems herself on the third book. I mean it’s still entertaining but not that engaging.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I was pleasantly surprised that this book is a good one! I didn’t get to watch the movie but curiosity really pushed me to reading the first instalment of the Mortal Instruments series. I definitely look forward to finishing the next two! That plot twist in the end caught me by surprise. I like the fact that it’s unpredictable to the very end.

THE BESTSELLERS:

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaleed Hosseini and Inferno by Dan Brown

These two were so good that I made a thorough review on them. 🙂 You can read them here and here. 🙂

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This creepy but crazy good novel gave the mystery genre the overdue spotlight it needs. You can read my review here. 🙂

bestsellers

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weiserberg

It’s not as vengeful as the title implies. It’s your typical chic lit though it fails to come through as a worthy sequel to the “Devil Wears Prada” and its blockbuster movie. Ten years of waiting should’ve been 15 if the result will be a better sequel. Picture Meryl Streep getting a few minutes of screen time and it’s all Anne Hathaway throughout the movie. It’s that unbalanced.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the queen of tension and gray areas. She is so good at putting readers in a position where they will question their morals, loyalty, and beliefs. This novel does exactly the same thing. It’s the story of Jacob, an 18-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome being accused of murder. Picoult will keep you guessing that by the time you’re done with the novel you’ll still find yourself mulling over a handful of questions.

Bloodline by James Rollins and Judas Strain by James Rollins

James Rollins is my go-to guy for page-turning thrillers. He is my comfort author, so to speak. That is not to say that his books are an easy read. Despite the many details in his novels, he keeps you engaged and glued in. Bloodline by far is his best novel I’ve read to date. Judas Strain is good, too! I like that he researches a lot and takes his time to explain fact from fiction.

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THE LITERARY:

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

After reading this, all I could think of was “What happened to Lettie Hempstock???” I’ve fallen in love with her character. She’s a brave young girl who would do anything to save a friend. I think everybody needs a friend like her. See? I’m still attached!

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Highly recommended by a good friend, I now understand why he was raving about this book. I have yet to write a full review about it because it’s just too good not to dissect. Haha! It’s more than just a magician’s tale. It’s a historical fantasy infused with suspense and mystery.  Marco and Celia are pitted against each other by two powerful magicians. It gets more dangerous when they discover that they are drawn together by some strong force which can destroy one of them. It’s probably the best debut novel I’ve read to date.

literary

Every day by David Leviathan

This novel gives a new twist to fantasy by making it as real as it gets. A is the protagonist who wakes up in different bodies every single day. He can’t control it. Sometimes he wakes up to a male body and other times he ends up being in a female body. Things get complicated when he fell in love and tried to explain his unpredictable situation. A is one of the characters I admire deeply. He made sacrifices despite his transient state. It’s the novel that truly captures the statement “carpe diem.”

THE RANDOM GEMS:

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

This true story is about the journey of 4-year-old Colton to heaven and back. Narrated by his father Todd, this book details the honest, straight forward account of Colton’s experience in heaven. Colton revealed specific information that he could not have possibly known. It’s a book that gives hope to people who are wondering if there’s more to life here on earth. Set to be shown on the big screen, I’m excited to see who will play the adorable Colton! I still plan on doing a more thorough review of this one. 🙂

randomgems

Hacked Off (author to follow) and Miracle Child by James Wilcox

I do book reviews for Reader’s Favorite. I get the privilege of reading newly released titles and soon-to-be published ones. As reviewers, we are also allowed to send a message directly to the author! Two good books I reviewed are “Hacked Off” (I forgot the author’s name!!!!) and “Miracle Child” by James Wilcox. One of my comments on “Hacked Off” was an improvement on the title because it was a dead giveaway on what the book is all about. It already has a few reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble when I picked it up. I can’t find it now when I was trying to look for the author. I’m assuming they probably changed the title. “Hacked Off” is the story of a girl hacker along the lines of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.” It’s a page-turner with smooth plot development. I am actually looking forward to a sequel! Meanwhile, “Miracle Child” hits close to home because my son also went through a lot from his premature birth to hernia operation and everything else in between. Wilcox’s son faced a lot health challenges from the time he was born. Some of which were life-threatening. It’s a great story of how trials brought families and communities together to save the life of a brave little child.

Now What? By Gary Chapman

This short book is about how married couple can adjust to life after the baby. Although I read it when my son was around 26 months already, it still helped me get my priorities straight. Marriage usually takes a back seat when the baby comes. This book is a great reminder on how this can be avoided and how you can prioritize your spouse despite the demanding toddler in the background. 🙂

THE CLASSICS:

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Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son by Lois Lowry

“The Giver” is one of my favorite books of all time. Last year I finally had the chance to finish the rest of the quartet! 🙂 Lois Lowry created a dystopian world with touches of fantasy and mystery. He masterfully created characters that grew in the story as the series developed.

In “The Giver” you’ll meet Jonas who meets the Giver and was passed on memories that moved him to leave the utopian community he grew up in. In “Gathering Blue” you’ll meet the lovely Kira who not only weaves beautiful tapestry but also foresees the future through it. Despite the beautiful colors she’s able to make, she doesn’t have blue. Her friend Matty helped her gather blue from a valley. Matty returns with somebody that alters Kira’s life for good. Matty becomes the lead character in “Messenger.” From being an out of control little boy in the previous book, Matty becomes a responsible young man who breathes new life to the Village he moved into.

The quartet comes full circle with “Son.” Claire is the mother of Gabriel, the baby that Jonas brought with him when he left their community. The book is divided into three parts: Before (The Giver timeline), Between (Claire’s life), and Beyond (Claire’s travel to the Village where she sees Gabe all grown up.) The conclusion to the quartet is about redemption and new beginnings. Lowry masterfully created a world where love and courage cannot be undermined. His characters and their story lines were seamlessly weaved together. Their connections are strengthened over time. It’s the most beautiful and poignant series I’ve ever read.

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There you have it—my 2013 in books. 🙂 I look forward to reaching my 100-book target this year. It seems impossible but we’ll see! Cheers to more pages turned this 2014! 🙂

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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.

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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. 🙂

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! 🙂