Favorite Books as Gifts

The other weekend was the first Filipino Book Bloggers meet-up for the year 2011, which was also the first Flips Flipping Pages meet-up for the year, and the first one I attended with them. It’s always fun to spend time with fellow book-lovers discussing books and I liked that we discussed our best and worst reads for 2010. It just goes to show how different everyone’s choices are.

Anyway, there was a book swap after the discussion, and we were advised to bring our best or worst book for swapping with other people. Since my worst book is an electronic copy, I decided to bring a brand new copy of my best book (one of them, anyway — Feed by Mira Grant) so other people can read it. I figure if a blogger gets it, then a book about blogging (and zombies) should be in good hands, right?

I realized then that I’ve been giving books as gifts ever since I can remember. I don’t always receive books as gifts (with the exception of last Christmas and my 18th birthday — bags of books there), but I know that I always go to books whenever I’m giving gifts way back. I think that was before I really knew about the concept of gift certificates (sorry, I was way younger then and I never thought of GCs), and I always found it difficult to get clothes for someone else. If the recipient of the gift isn’t a reader, then I would resolve to getting her* pillows, stuffed toys or candles.

I find it kind of funny that I tend to give specific books as gifts, especially for people who don’t have wish lists. You know how when you spot a copy of one of your favorite books in the store, and for some reason you want to buy another copy even if you already have a copy (or multiple copies of it). It’s like, you want to buy that copy and give it to someone who you know will appreciate the book in the same way as you did. Like you’re saving the book or something. That’s how I feel, anyway. :D It’s almost like getting a pet for someone who you know will take care of that pet the way you would. Did that make sense?

I’ve been keeping count of the books that I loved and gifted/gave away to other people. So far, they are:

  • Feed by Mira Grant – 3 copies bought (1 gift and 2 for give away)
  • Paper Towns by John Green – 2 copies bought (1 gift and 1 for give away)
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen – 1 copy as gift
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – 2 copies bought for give away
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – 1 copy as gift
  • Naermyth by Karen Francisco – 3 copies bought (1 gift, 2 give away)
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – 1 copy bought for give away
  • Tall Story by Candy Gourlay – 1 copy as gift
  • Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti – 1 copy as gift

Most of those books are my favorites, or if they aren’t in my list, they’re books with good reviews. I find it funny that I have bought so many copies of Feed and Naermyth and Paper Towns – promoting much?

What about you? Do you have specific books that you give as a default gift? How many copies of your favorite books have you bought as gifts for friends or for giveaway?

* I say “her” because it’s very hard to shop for some guy friends who are not readers. It’s not like you can give them something generic like bathroom faucets or something. Anyone who agree with this, say aye!

Zombicorns

Zombicorns by John Green
Project for Awesome contribution, 72 pages

There are a few authors who can do nothing wrong as far as I am concerned, and John Green is one of them. I’ve been seeing him tweet about a novella he was writing, but I never thought it would be released, and never thought what it was about. And then Aaron tweets about it, and I jumped in my seat. A zombie novella by John Green? And the title — does this mean there are unicorns? It was like a dream come true!

Zombicorns tells the account of Mia, a zombie apocalypse survivor in search of meaning in a bleak world. Technology and reliable document management solutions has fallen because of the rise of the zombies, so Mia’s only hope of getting her message across was this account of her life in the apocalypse. It’s a first person account that has the same kind of snark and unique to Green’s characters, despite the lack of geekiness in Mia. The circumstances that brought about the apocalypse in Zombicorns was funny and unexpected, and these zombies are the most unusual I’ve read so far. Not that I’m complaining — anything is possible in an apocalyptic novel, IMHO.

The best thing about this novella is how deep it goes. True to the John Green signature, this novel is funny and still it manages to capture human emotion in the unique way he does. The seriousness of Mia’s questions about life almost took me by surprise, but in a good way. It goes to show how good John Green is with the things he decides to write about. I didn’t even notice the lack of editing for Zombicorns — it’s even better than any of my drafts. (But hello — this is John Green we are talking about. I am not worthy to compare!)

I may be biased to say that this is a good read because I love the author, but it is a good one. If you can’t find any of his books yet, this may be a good one to start with. After all, it’s free. What’s there to lose, right? :)

Let me retract what I said on the first paragraph, though: there really are no unicorns in this story. This just means I have yet to read about actual zombie unicorns. Darn it.

Rating:

My copy: PDF, free download

Cover: from PDF

Other reviews:
Goodreads

Ang Mga Kaibigan Ni Mama Susan

Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong
(Visprint, 127 pages)

I’ve been reading Bob Ong’s books since college, ever since a friend brought her copy of his first book, A B N K K B S N P L A Ko (That reads as Aba Nakakabasa Na Pala Ako – literal translation: Wow, I Can Read Now). Bob Ong is one of the popular Filipino writers, who, until now, I am not sure if he is really one person or many contributing to one book. I’ve read almost all of his books ever since then, always looking forward to his funny words of wisdom that pokes and reflects on modern Filipino culture. I remember resorting to his books whenever I needed a pick-me-up, and since then, he’s become one of those authors that I buy even if he isn’t really a favorite. Perhaps this is an addiction?

So when I saw Bob Ong’s latest book in Fully Booked, Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan (Translation: Mama Susan’s Friends), I didn’t think twice in getting it. I wasn’t even sure what it was about — I just knew it was Bob Ong, and whatever it is, I would probably like it. Even if I did not, it’s still local fiction, so I figure it’s still a win, right?

Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan brings us back to the days of school journals. Everyone must have had a teacher who made them do a journal for school — a small notebook with a recollection of what happened for a certain period of time to be read and graded by a teacher. I don’t really know the purpose of why our teachers made us do this except maybe for my college Literature professor. That wasn’t a particularly hard assignment for me, anyway, as I’ve always been journaling on my own — it was all a matter of filtering what you write for school, you see.

I didn’t know what the book was about when I got it. It wasn’t until I got back to the office to read about the book when I finally saw this trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

The trailer is in Filipino, but you don’t really need to understand it to figure out that this book is horror, especially when you get to the last part of the trailer. That stopped me from reading the book immediately. I was never a fan of horror, and I really go out of my way to avoid anything scary. I’m not a screamer, and I’m usually calm in reading or watching or listening to scary stories but my imagination wrecks havoc in me after.

So when I decided to read the book, I told myself I need to finish it in broad daylight. And so I did. In Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan, we meet Galo, who first started writing on a journal for an assignment and ended up keeping it because he did not want to waste his notebook. He chronicles his life in Manila where he lives with his relatives who never made living with them easy for him. He gets fed up with them and leaves to go back to the province to stay with his grandmother who raised him before he left for Manila. Things changed drastically from what he remembers in the province. Instead of finding the town to be just less noisier than Manila but still with improvements from his last visit, he finds that the town went backwards and were rejecting technology (no heated mattress pads, for example). His grandmother’s house grows increasingly creepier with the presence of different statues of saints and the weekly gatherings of her grandmother’s friends in her house. As weirder things start to happen, Galo tries to escape, but finds that there may be powers stronger than he is that are keeping him from doing so.

Talk about creepy. I read this in one bright and sunny afternoon but I couldn’t shake off the creeps especially in the last pages. I think one thing that made it really scary is the fact that it is a journal, and it’s a first person account. I liked how Bob Ong’s words flowed naturally and Galo’s voice rang clear all through out. I found that it wasn’t much different from the voices of his other characters from his previous books but there’s this distinct Bob Ong feel to it that is familiar. There’s also the fun references to some of the things I grew up with as a kid.

While I enjoyed reading it because of Bob Ong, I can’t say I liked it because like I said, I don’t like horror. The story is interesting and the last pages are truly creepy, but as a whole, it’s not my book. My rating isn’t really based on how much the book lacked but really more of a genre preference. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll probably enjoy this, but if you’re a big chicken like me…skip. For your peace of mind, skip it.

To further prove my point: after I finished reading this book, I woke up in the middle of the night from my sleep needing to go to the rest room. I almost decided not to go because it would mean standing up and going there alone, and who knows what I will find when I open my bedroom door? I keep on remembering the face in the trailer and freaked out at the thought of seeing that in the dark corners of our apartment. I got up eventually because I couldn’t hold it in any longer. But I left all doors and lights open, and ran back to the bedroom right after doing my business, all the while my mind remembering the last words of the book in absolute clarity.

Hmph. Big chicken, I am.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
1 of 20 Filipino books in 2011

My copy: Paperback, from Fully Booked

Cover: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
taking a break
Simply, Human

The Chronicles of Narnia # 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia # 5
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 320
My copy: paperback, bought from Scholastic Book Fair

The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries. King Caspian has built it for his first voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne. The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, their cousin Eustace, and Caspian to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan’s country at the End of the World.

* * *

There are a lot of firsts in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the 5th book in the chronology of The Chronicles of Narnia (hm sounds redundant) and the 3rd book I have read in the series. This is the first time Peter and Susan are not a part of the story, the first time Caspian and his crew have set out to sea to look for the seven lords that his uncle Miraz sent away when he stole the throne,  the first time they ventured out to the far east and the first time we meet the bully Eustace Scrubb. Finally, this is also the first time I read a Narnia book without watching the movie first. I had planned to watch the movie version of this last year but I didn’t catch it in time before the cinemas were filled with our local film festival, and then the movie never came back. Nevertheless, I figured it’s time to read a Narnia book first before I go see the movie and see what difference it would make this time around.

I mentioned in a comment in a previous review that I feel like I appreciate The Chronicles of Narnia more now that I’m reading them as an adult compared to reading them as a child. I think if I read these books as a child, I would probably have skimmed some parts that I couldn’t understand. Now that I am reading them as an adult (or a young adult, if you may), I guess I understand the books better because I have better comprehension, and I have more experiences that could connect to the spiritual themes of the books.

This observation still rang true as I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If I were younger, I would have disliked Eustace so much more but at my age, I just felt kind of sorry for him because he didn’t know the magic of Narnia until he really got to experience it himself. As always, I liked how many times Aslan showed up (which felt more than the times he did in Prince Caspian), and for this book Lewis showed the Aslan who always takes care of his people. Not that he doesn’t show that in the previous books, but here we see Aslan save them in different instances.

I also really liked what Aslan told Edmund and Lucy in the end. Slight spoiler warning starts here. To know him by his other name in their world reminds me of how one grows spiritually. I got most of my spiritual nourishment from my Catholic community, but at some point, I felt the need to leave because I needed to know God in the world outside of it. It was easy to believe if you’re always immersed in that world, but I believe it takes a lot of maturity to believe in the midst of the humdrum of life, and I think that’s what Aslan wanted Lucy and Edmund to learn. End spoiler warning.

However, I think that compared to the first two books I’ve read in this series, I would have enjoyed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader more if I read it as a kid. It’s not one continuous story. There is a goal, yes, but the book is written in chunks — one adventure after the next, all leading to their final goal in the end, but not necessarily required to get to that goal. This is the type of book that I can put down after reading one adventure and go back to it without feeling too lost upon resuming. A friend and hardcore Lewis fan told me that this seemed to be the book were Lewis had most fun with Narnia, almost like he wrote it in parts just to explain the unexplored regions in the Eastern Islands, and then decided to put it all in one book since all of they were all in the Dawn Treader. I guess it’s just the writer in me that wishes for this book to have a more structured plot. I liked the explorations and little adventures in the book, but I think this one didn’t really have a real climax. Case in point: I found myself a scratching my head a bit at the part of the Dragon Island and then wishing that part happened somewhere in the end, to build things up a bit.

But that’s just me. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is just a bit more exciting than Prince Caspian, but not really as magical or charming as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable book, and a good installment to The Chronicles of Narnia. Up next, The Silver Chair! :)

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Show it Who is Boss!)

Cover: Goodreads
Blurb: Back of book

Other reviews:
Bookie Woogie

Reviews of Other Narnia Books:
#2: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
#4: Prince Caspian

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher:
Knopf

Number of pages: 288
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.

* * *

There are books that grab you by the collar from the very start and force you to pay attention to what you are reading. These books are typically the explosive, action-packed ones, ones that plunge you right into the action, leaving you breathless from the start all the way up to the last page. However, there are books that start off quiet, with barely a bang. You’re not quite sure what would happen with these books, but you allow yourself to be carried gently with the languid flow of the story. You think it wouldn’t really grip you so much as those action-packed books that you can put it down every now and then, reading at your own pace.

And then it proves you wrong. Somewhere in the story, the book grabs you by the hand and pulls you in, refusing to let go unless you get to the very last page, and you’re left even more breathless, wondering what just happened in the past pages and chapters.

That, my friends, is the kind of book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is.

I’ve been seeing this book for a long time now, but I never thought of picking it up because I often confuse it with other books written by Japanese authors that I am not sure if I want to read. Even my friends reading it in my book club didn’t make me read it because by then, I was more into reading YA books, and I never thought it would be something I’d like to read, anyway. When I ran across its ebook on sale on Kindle, I finally surrendered and purchased it. If my other friends liked it, I probably would, too, right?

Never Let Me Go tells the story of friends Kathy H, Tommy D and Ruth, who all met and grew up in Hailsham, a private boarding school somewhere in England. Kathy, now 31 years old, narrates her memories of her life as a child and early teen there, the next years as she, Tommy and Ruth moved to the Cottages after their time in Hailsham and finally her years as a carer where she crosses paths with Tommy and Ruth again. The book is really a collection of Kathy’s memories, told almost out of chronological order but in a way of significance, all leading to the readers wondering who Kathy is, why there were in Hailsham and what they are up to in present time.

To say anything more would be a spoiler, so I will leave you at that. I was partially spoiled already as I read the book because of some reviews that I read even if it was clearly marked with a spoiler. However, that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of reading this wonderful piece of work. As I mentioned above, Never Let Me Go is a book that starts off very quiet, with hardly any bang. In fact, there isn’t really much excitement in the book, yet I never found it boring. Kathy’s voice rang clear all throughout the book. It almost felt like I was sitting with her in a shop and she was just telling me her life story, or perhaps I was sitting at the passenger seat of her car as she regaled to me their little misadventures in Hailsham.

Even if it was told in Kathy’s point of view, the other characters’ voices were distinct, too. Kathy tells her stories about her friends with little bias to herself, which allows us to see and forgive them for their own faults towards the heroine. For example, every time I would feel annoyed at Ruth for being so dominating, Kathy would say something to make me understand her in a way, or would convince me that somehow Kathy was also at fault. Perhaps it was written that way because these are Kathy’s recollections and at her age, she definitely knew better than she knew then. Tommy and Ruth felt as real as Kathy was, and I truly felt their importance in Kathy’s life.

The strength of the characters didn’t really water down the plot, so there is still much satisfaction as the secrets behind their existence and Hailsham were revealed. As these are Kathy’s memories, they tend to jump from one scene to another before going back to the original intent. It may take a bit to get used to that kind of narration and it may turn some people off. However, that is almost the same way as some Sarah Dessen novels are, so I’m fairly used to that. Everything is revealed gradually and there seemed to be a quiet acceptance to everything that’s happening that even I am convinced that it’s really just the way it is and there is no way out.

Perhaps that is the most striking thing about Never Let Me Go. Kathy tells her story as if there was no other alternative, that it is really the only way for her and her friends. There is a quiet resignation in Kathy that she was destined to do what she was made to do, that there was no other choice but that. It makes me wonder what I would have done if I grew up in Hailsham and I knew what I know as I read this book — would I accept my fate as Kathy did or will I rebel? Or what if I was a guardian — how can I face those kids everyday for the first thirteen years or so of their life knowing what awaits them sometime in their life? Can my conscience take it, even if it is all in the name of science and the progress of humanity?

A movie version of this book starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightley came out last year (in all other parts of the world, that is. It hasn’t been shown here yet). If you’re planning to read this, DO NOT watch the movie trailer if you don’t want to be spoiled. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so I don’t know the difference, but it is always wiser to read the book first before watching the movie. Even if you’re not much of a reader, Never Let Me Go is too good of a book to pass up for the movie version. Make it one of the few books that you’d read in your life, if you must.

Never Let Me Go is one book that truly did not let me go (no pun intended). It reeled me in with its simplicity and refused to let me move on long after I finished with the last page. Beautiful and haunting, this is definitely one of my best reads for this year.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
2 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Will-Power? What Will-Power?)

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Perpetual Page-Turner