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? 🙂

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Divergent: A Different Dystopia

Dystopian novels depict a repressed society controlled by a select group, masking itself as an ideal society. The thing that fascinates me about dystopian novels is the tenacity of man’s free will that cannot be subjugated by anyone. Authors have taken different angles in tackling dystopian societies. To date, “The Giver” remains to be my all-time favorite. However, I must say that “The Hunger Games” trilogy took the dystopian genre to a whole new level.

As I read Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” early this year, I realized that a writer’s skill is not limited by the topic she writes about. True, “Divergent” may be from the same tree but it’s unique and exhilarating in its own way.

Synopsis

Set in dystopian Chicago, Beatrice Prior lives in a society divided into 5 factions— Abnegation (the selfless; where she and her family belong), Amity (the peaceful), Dauntless (the brave), Candor (the honest), and Erudite (the intelligent). At the age of 16, they are made to take aptitude tests to determine which faction they belong to. During the annual Choosing Ceremony they can decide between staying with their family or choosing another faction where they will live for the rest of their lives.

When Beatrice took her test she had an inconclusive result. This made her evaluator worry. She was advised not tell anyone what her result was. When it was time for her to choose which faction she wanted to join, much to her parents surprise she chose Dauntless over Abnegation. During her stay in Dauntless she changed her name to Tris to embrace the new identity of belonging to another faction. Tris faced rigorous and death-defying training. After all, when your faction means bravery you should be able to face anything.  She tried to blend in the background but her ability to get past simulation tests gained her the spotlight all the more. Her budding romance with her elusive trainer named Four also added to her troubles.

Tensions arise when Tris finds herself in a situation that endangered the life of the people she loves. The turn of events will catch you by surprise as Tris struggled with her own identity in a world where trust seems to be as elusive as freedom.

Review

What I love about “Divergent” is that the characters were given a choice from the very beginning. Yes, they were trapped but they get to choose where they’ll be trapped for the rest of their lives. Early on, there’s a nagging variable presented to the reader—divergent. Wanting to know what that means along with its implications drew me deeper (and faster—because I literally read it fast!) to the dystopian world of Beatrice.

There are also very little clues as to where the turn of events will be as you read the novel. Unlike in “Hunger Games” when Katniss volunteered, I knew for sure that this was a fight for survival. With “Divergent” the reader is kept speculating on what the twist will be. I love the character of Tris and her deep sense of loyalty even if it meant putting her life on the line. You may find it ironic that I lauded her loyalty when she changed her faction. You have to read it to see how this one plays out in the novel. Four’s mysterious character got me glued to the pages as well.

The idea of cultivating your strongest virtue for the rest of your life appealed to me because I’ve always believed in leveraging on your strengths more instead of wasting your time trying to improve your weaknesses. In the novel, if you’re smart you go to the Erudite faction where you’ll be a genius by the time you die (well at least that’s my guess). But the curse in this kind of dystopian society is when a person crosses the line from being the best in his/her faction to becoming the worst of its kind.

The Amazing Author

Veronica Roth is 23 years old. Yes, you read it right she’s only 23!!! What was I doing when I was 23?! Haha! Anyway, “Divergent” is her debut novel and the sequel “Insurgent” will be released anytime this month. Yay! I’m excited to see how this trilogy turns out! I don’t expect it to reach the same heights as “Hunger Games” but I hope each book gets even better. I love the book and the concept of the trilogy for what it is. I admire Roth for her engaging prose and her dauntless leap to take on such erudite task of publishing a debut trilogy.

Pages turned in 2011

I started looking at my book pile around June of last year. For the first half of the year, reading took a back seat as I spent most of my time taking care of my newborn baby. 🙂 Being a mom rearranged my priorities, schedule, and yes, even my leisure time. I took a break from my recluse reading routine and shifted to interactive mode by reading board books to my baby! It’s unbelievably fun and I really enjoy reading to my little man. 🙂 When he became more manageable—specifically his sleeping habits—I began flipping through my books again.

So here are the books I managed to squeeze into my wifey-mommy schedule last year 🙂

*Note: Those with review links (and pending reviews) are the books that really wowed me as a reader. 🙂 I highly recommend them. For the rest of the books, I’ll just share my thoughts/praise/critique on them. I really liked some of the books while the others merely stained my eyes. 😛

1. Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

2. The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – This is the sequel to “The Strain”. It’s vampire-meets-science-meets-pandemic. I had high expectations on this one but it sort of fell flat on my reader radar. I hope that the last part of the trilogy will redeem the series.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (click here to read my review)

4. Lost Hero by Rick Riordan – This is book one of the Heroes of Olympus series—a spin-off from Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It started quite slow for me but when it picked up midway through I couldn’t put it down anymore. 🙂

5-7 Shiver, Linger, and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (click here to read my review)

8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – I wanted to read more classics and I picked this one last year because I already forgot its magical story. I enjoyed my journey with Dorothy and wished that I had my own silver shoes, too. 🙂

9. Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto (click here to read my review)

10. The Rising by Tim Lahaye – This is the first in the trilogy from the “Left Behind” prequel. It’s about how the Antichrist came to be—from conception to adulthood. It’s disturbing to read how as a kid the Antichrist manipulated his parents, teachers, and classmates. It’s a must read for “Left Behind” followers. 🙂

11. Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg (click here to read my review)

12. Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (click here to read my review)

13. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (click here to read my review)

14. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (review to follow) – One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read so far. Amazing story! I have more to say on my review. 🙂

15. Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (review to follow) – Unique and intriguing, this book will not give you peace until you finish it. 🙂 More tidbits in my review.

16. Curse of the Spellmans by Liza Lutz – The Spellman series is wit and humor combined. I didn’t realize that fiction can really be entertaining without being trashy. Haha! The Spellmans is a family of private investigators. Imagine your parents doing a background check on the guys/girls you date or doing a surveillance on you. Now, that’s wicked funny. 🙂 This is her second book. I suggest your read “Spellman Files” (1st book) to be familiar with the quirky characters. When I want to relax, I pick up Liza Lutz’s books to enjoy a good mystery with a good laugh.

17. The Devil Colony by James Rollins – This James Rollins thriller is about the Native American Indians and their secret technology that has immense consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. Rollins has written better novels than this one but this is nonetheless interesting still.

18. The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks – I haven’t read any Nicholas Sparks novel for the longest time. When he came here to visit I decided to read his latest book. I must say, this novel is a far cry from his previous novels. I mean this in a good way. His writing improved a lot, the characters have more depth, and the plot is not linear anymore. There are back stories behind the lives of the characters that blend into one as the book ended. Yes, it’s a tragedy again (but a good one) from the king of great love and broken hearts. 🙂

19. The Skeleton Key by James Rollins – This is a prequel to the “The Devil Colony”. This 100-plus page short story is a lot better than the novel. Everything about it was gripping and intense—the main things you look for in a thriller.

20. Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury (review to follow) – It’s my first time to read Karen Kingsbury and boy is she good! 🙂 It’s like reading Jodi Picoult only this time it’s Christian fiction. The story is about how music unlocked an autistic boy from his own world. I’m excited to write more about this in detail! 🙂

I can’t believe this is my first book blog for the year and January is almost over! Blogging fail! Oh well, at least I finished one! Haha! Here’s to more page turning this 2012! Cheers, bibliophiles! 🙂

Son of Neptune: Percy Goes Roman

I’m a Rick Riordan fan. He is simply a great storyteller. The “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series was one of the best series I’ve ever read. When he started the “Heroes of Olympus” series, a spin-off from the Percy Jackson series, my book nerves went wild again! When I read “The Lost Hero”, I realized that the world of mythology is endless. You can come up with stories and plots without being redundant. So when the “Son of Neptune” came out early this month, I knew that I’ll be off to a great adventure again. 🙂

Prophecy of Seven

This new series is anchored on the Prophecy of Seven: Seven half-bloods shall answer the call/To storm or fire the world must fall/An oath to keep with a final breath,/And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. The seven demigods will have to work with the gods to defeat the earth goddess Gaea, who vows to destroy the gods; and close the Doors of Death. The demigods who will fulfil this prophecy will be a mix of Greek and Roman half-bloods. The first three were introduced in “The Lost Hero”.

The Swap

Another vital background one needs to know is Juno’s (Hera) major role in this story. Juno wants to unite Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter in order to defeat Gaea. In order to do that, she needed to take Jason from the Roman camp and Percy from the Greek camp and send them to their respective counterparts to earn each camp’s trust and reconcile them. The Roman and Greek demigods have been at war with each other for the longest time. However, they need to work together to prevent the destruction of the gods and the mortal world.

Percy Jackson is back!

I’ve grown to love the character of Percy Jackson. Reading about his adventures again made me feel like being reunited with a good buddy. 🙂 Just like Jason Grace in the first book, Percy Jackson also lost his memory. The book starts with Percy battling monsters who refuse to die then carrying a heavy old lady who happens to be the goddess Juno (Hera) then eventually seeking refuge at Camp Jupiter—a Roman half-blood camp. Percy was welcomed by Hazel, daughter of Pluto (Hades) and Frank, son of Mars (Ares). Both of whom became his best friends as the story progressed.

Percy joins the underdog 5th cohort of Hazel and Frank and leads them to victory in the capture-the-flag war game. He surprised the camp with his unconventional warfare skills (mainly because it’s Greek) and gained their respect as the son of Neptune (Poseidon). Mars appears after the game and claims Frank as his son. He also gives a quest that requires Frank to go to Alaska—the land beyond the gods, free Thanatos (Death), and go back to the camp before the Feast of Fortuna. Souls are escaping from the Underworld and death is losing its hold on mortals and monsters since Thanatos is held captive. Frank chose Percy and Hazel to join him in the quest and together they went to Alaska to face the giants  awaiting them.

Hands down, yet again

Rick Riordan wrote another gripping page-turner with “Son of Neptune”. Filled with facts on Greek and Roman mythology, Riordan’s natural knack for witty humor made the story all the more engaging. He revealed the different facets of each of the characters at the most opportune time. Being the daughter of Pluto, Hazel’s life and power are filled with darkness and mystery. Being the first Asian character in Riordan’s novels, Frank’s life revealed bits and pieces of Eastern culture and tradition. Discovering his gift is one of the highlights of the novel. Being the ever famous son of Neptune, Percy showed once again his obstinate loyalty even to this new camp. He always used his powers to the advantage of his friends. The comeback of other familiar characters is like seeing your childhood friends in action again. 🙂

With the involvement of the Amazons, animated harpies, blue-skinned giants, grain spirits, and ghost armies, the “Son of Neptune” will continue to keep your interest, pique your curiosity, and challenge your knowledge on mythology to the very end. 🙂

Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy

Maggie Stiefvater created a world of wolves that draws readers deep into the lives of the wild and the resilient bond that tie them together.

The trilogy starts with “Shiver” where we are introduced to the character of Grace Brisbane and Sam Roth. Grace was attacked by a pack of wolves when she was a child. She was saved right on time before the wolves can do further damage to her. She distinctly remembered seeing a wolf with golden-yellow eyes who snarled at the pack to back off. Since then, she has been watching the wolf that saved her from her bedside window. For years, she tried to communicate and draw near to her wolf but she can only go so far.

Little did she know that the wolf that rescued her is also human and he is Sam Roth. On one hunting spree, Sam was shot and he turned human. The house closest to where he was shot was Grace’s house. Upon seeing him and looking at his eyes, Grace knew that Sam was the wolf who saved her. It was then revealed how wolves turn into humans during summer and they turn back to being wolves when winter breaks. The cold weather triggers the change. The struggle to keep Sam human to be with her and the unrelenting love of the two characters consumed most of the story.

I must admit, when I was reading half way through the novel my mind was screaming “Twilight!!!” The love story between Grace and Sam is sooooo “Twilight”!  The stubbornness of youth mixed with their impulsive love is like reading Bella and Edward all over again. But this time, it’s the wolf version. I was at the brink of giving up when the novel amazingly started to pick up! By the time I was down to the last 70 pages, I was so eager to know what will happen—if the cure for Sam will work or not. So there, the ending saved the novel. The science behind the paranormal gave a new twist to this growing genre. The end was so good that I decided to immediately read the sequel, “Linger”.

In “Linger”, a cruel reversal of fates happened. Grace is starting to show signs of being a wolf through the deterioration of her health. While Sam is struggling to find out how he can help her. An interesting character also enters in this novel, Cole, front man of the famous band Narkotika. Cole is a new wolf trying to find his way in this new world of wolves. Linger begins with a gripping plot and ends with unexpected changes in the characters. For me, this sequel saved the trilogy. It kept my interest (and perhaps the interest of the other readers) and compelled me to open the pages of “Forever”.

“Forever” is the final part of the Wolves of Mercy trilogy. In this novel, lives are threatened, a complete annihilation of wolves is at bay, and humans are showing no mercy. As I was reading the book, the image of the dogs in the movie “Eight Below” came to mind. The way the wolves communicated with each other to save the pack felt so real and believable.  I love the way the story ended, the maturity of each character along the way, and the unconventional resolution of conflicts. It took a few days before I was able to part with the characters of Sam and Grace. After reading the trilogy for 4 days, it felt like I was living in Mercy Falls, too, and they were my friends. It also made me want to have a wolf as a pet. Well, come to think of it, I already have my own wolf (canis lupus) all these years. Now, that’s interesting. 🙂