Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Publisher: Random House
Number of pages: 509
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

* * *

If you asked me a year ago if I knew who David Mitchell was and if I have plans of reading any of his books ever, I probably would just give you a blank stare and then shake my head. I had no idea who he was, and his books weren’t really my type of books. So when my friend Monique reviewed Cloud Atlas early this year, I liked the review but I didn’t think that I’d go and get it because it felt like a “serious” book and I was still attached to my YA.

Then…I don’t know, peer pressure? Word of mouth? Hype? I see more and more of David Mitchell’s name on Goodreads, and more and more people raving about him and so I wonder — what’s the deal with him? Is he really that amazing? Will I like him too? Curiosity won me over, so I decided to finally try a Mitchell book. Since Cloud Atlas seemed to be the most popular, and the fact that its movie is coming soon, some book club friends and I set up a reading buddy session with the fans eagerly eavesdropping on our mini-discussion.

Cloud Atlas contains six stories that span across different eras and set in different places all over the world with completely different characters and story lines. At first it seems that each story is independent from one another, until after I finished the first chapter and I was all, “Huh?”. As it turns out, the six stories were structured in a way that each is connected to the other despite the differences in settings, characters and genre. Yes, genre. Curious yet?

We start with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, a journal of an American notary from Chatham Islands back to California set in 1850. From Adam we meet Robert Forbisher in Letters From Zedelghem, who writes to his friend Rufus Sixsmith about his time as an amanuensis to an old and blind musical genius, Vyvyan Ayrs, who can’t distinguish a piano hinge in his condition, but can talk and make good music despite it. Decades later, in Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, there’s Rufus Sixsmith again, and he meets journalist Luisa Rey who attempts to blow a conspiracy wide open. After we are left hanging with Luisa Rey, in comes the British Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who gets in all sorts of scrapes which he thinks could form a movie on his life entitled The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, if he can get out of it alive. Even more years later, in An Orison of Sonmi~451, we are transported into a dystopian world set in a new Korea called Nea So Copros, and clones called fabricants are employed to do all sorts of dirty work for everyone. Sonmi~451 is a clone who is up for execution and she is given the chance to tell her stor before she goes to the Litehouse. Finally, set into the very distant future, there’s Zachry and the story of his tribe in Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Everythin’ After. From there, the story goes back to Sonmi~451, Tim Cavendish, Luisa Rey, Robert Forbisher and finally back to Adam Ewing.

Here’s the thing about Cloud Atlas that made me realize that I will like it: it’s like a novel of spin-offs stories. And I like spin-offs. I liked how Mitchell surprised me in every story, and I wasn’t sure what to expect every time a chapter ends (and more often than not, I’m left wanting more with every chapter because it just ends). I liked how he stretched my imagination with every story, I liked the way he writes and how the novel switches from one genre to another seamlessly. By the third story, I knew I would like the book — the question is how much I would really like it. As I read the last few chapters, I thought this would just be a four-star book…and then I got to the end. You know how you don’t want the book to end, but you want to keep on reading because you want to know what happens? Then when you get to the very final line, the chills just come? And they were awesome chills? Really awesome chills? And then you want to read the book all over again? That’s what Cloud Atlas did to me.

I know this review is being a bit vague, but this book is not the kind of book that you’d want to be spoiled when you read it. The structure may seem like a gimmick, but I think for this story, it’s an effective way to tell the story and make connections. As a whole, I think Cloud Atlas is a book that deals with connectedness. Each character’s story can stand on their own and can be taken as it is, but once you start putting them together, we see that their stories become richer, more meaningful in several ways. It’s just like how each of us has our own story and we can live with just that…but once our lives cross with one another and our stories touch…everything changes.

To summarize: I loved Cloud Atlas. I loved it, I loved it. And from how my friends have raved about Mitchell’s other books, I am now looking forward to reading the rest of his works. Especially if his other characters make a cameo in his other novels! :) I think that’s the best part of this Cloud Atlas reading experience: discovering a new author whose works will make you just want to read more and more and more.

Oh, and I am definitely looking forward to the movie. Have you seen the five-minute trailer?

YouTube Preview Image

Awesome, awesome chills. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: September

Other reviews:
marginalia
Book Rhapsody
A Thought On Each Page

The Casual Vacancy is out!

Too many events happening in September, and look, I’m lagging behind reading and blogging! Eep!

I know I owe you guys some reviews (as always), but let me take a quick commercial to say that JK Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy is out!

The Casual Vacancy

 I’m a Harry Potter fan (not as big as a fan as my other friends, but still, a fan), so when I heard that J.K. Rowling is releasing a new book, I immediately added it to my wish list. It’s a lot different from Harry Potter, though — it’s her first adult book, and …I don’t think there’s magic in this. :O However, since it is written by the J.K. Rowling, I have to admit that I am still curious. Here’s the book summary:

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the 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?

The Casual Vacancy is already out in bookstores in the Philippines as of 3:00pm today! While I am curious, I didn’t reserve a copy because of lack of funds, too many books on my TBR, and I’m not quite sure if I will read it just yet. I’m really planning to wait for reviews first before jumping in. ^^;

So, how about you – did you get a copy? Did you drop everything else to read it? What do you think of it so far?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section of this post! :)

Voices in the Theater

Voices in the Theater

Voices in the Theater by A.S. Santos
Student Paranormal Research Group # 1
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 170
My copy: ebook review copy from publisher

Samantha Davidson has a secret: she can hear other people’s thoughts. Not everyone’s and not all the time, but it’s enough to convince her she can’t really trust anyone. Now, transplanted to a strange country, estranged from her family and peers, she begins to hear the voices of those no longer living or earthbound. Will she heed them as they lead her to a dark, forgotten corner of her past? Or will she surrender to the love and light offered by newfound friends, and learn to listen to the one voice she has long suppressed—her own?

Voices in the Theater is the first installment of A.S. Santos’ three-book Young Adult Paranormal Romance. Follow Sam and her friends in the Student Paranormal Research Group as they encounter bizarre and often dangerous supernatural occurrences, battle demons both spiritual and psychological, and navigate adolescence and young love.

* * *

When was the last time I read a paranormal YA novel? I cannot remember anymore. That was my main hesitation when I was offered a review copy of Voices in the Theater by A.S. Santos. Other than being categorized as paranormal, the story seemed more on the horror side and I also don’t do horror stories. So what made me read this, then? A friend telling me she thinks there’s a fit. I honestly doubted it, then, but I was craving for more local fiction so I said yes. When I found myself suddenly in a place where I can’t open my paperback and just start reading, I found myself starting this book, since it was the only new one in my phone’s e-reader.

I was wary about it, being paranormal and having that horror factor and all, but you know what got me really interested? Early in the book, I had a feeling the setting was familiar, and then 11% into it, it was confirmed:

De La Salle University: the place where I felt like a freak…

It’s not the freak part that got me, but the school — this book is set in my alma mater! :D How exciting is that? Talk about anchoring it in real life things.

Voices in the Theater is the first book in A.S. Santos’ Student Paranormal Research Group series. We meet Samantha Davidson, a Filipina-American who has a special ability: she can hear people’s thoughts. After her grandmother died, she and her family moved to the Philippines and she tried to live a normal life, except she joined the new org in school that dabbled in the paranormal. For their first project, they investigate on the rumored haunting in the school’s theater, where Sam hears not just the voices of the dead, but other spirits, too. With these hauntings confirmed, Sam realizes that there was more to it, and there could be someone close to her that these spirits are targeting. Sam has to act fast, but she realizes that there are many supernatural powers at play that knows her past, and she’s not sure if she can summon enough faith to do what she needs to do.

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. Well, being set in DLSU is already a big thing for me, so I knew I would like it, but I was really surprised at how much I really liked this! Voices in the Theater reminded me of those ghost stories that my college friends and I talked about around school, the Ghost Hunters TV show with the scientific paraphernalia, that old Spirits TV show where the characters had some kind of supernatural powers, and even a bit of my favorite Peretti novels with the angels and demons talk. I know this is a lot, but they just worked together really well and I didn’t feel the least bit bored with the story. The book kept me at the edge of my seat, and there were several times that I had to stop myself from reading because I was seriously getting creeped out. But I still wanted to read because I wanted to know what happens next.

Like I said, my enjoyment factor was upped because of the familiarity, and I was really thrilled when I read my old college org there, too! I liked how Voices in the Theater didn’t just deal with the paranormal but also touched a bit on faith, and what role it plays in spiritual warfare. And it’s really that — the meat of this book is spiritual warfare. I wished there was a bit more praying in the characters, but it might be asking too much. But I was glad there were praying characters there.

The only thing that I probably didn’t like was the romance aspect. It might just be me, but I was almost begging the book to not have that paranormal romance aspect because…well, because I didn’t like it. I even formed my own OTP among the characters (SAM + MIGS FOREVER!). Haha. But seriously, I could do without that romance. Please don’t let it go that way? At least it was tastefully written  and there’s some sort of healthy realism to it. It didn’t have that insta-love/I can’t live without you type of romance that I’ve grown to really dislike. Female heroine with sense FTW!

But overall, I thought Voices in the Theater by A.S. Santos was a really, really good book. Plus points to the ending, where I can really visualize where the final scene was happening. :D And more plus points because there was a certain part of the book that reminded me of the feeling I had right after I finished reading Mina V. Esguerra’s Interim Goddess of Love. I can’t describe it exactly, but it’s the kind of feeling that makes you want to start telling others about the book you just read. Because I am definitely recommending this book to anyone who’s looking for good Filipino paranormal YA (and to anyone who studied in DLSU!).

I can’t wait to read the next installment in the Student Paranormal Research Group series (what a mouthful!). :) Please come out soon! Thanks to the publisher for the review copy!

Rating:

 

Woman in a Frame

Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera FalguiWoman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera-Falgui
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 107
My copy: ebook review copy from publisher

In a darkened hall in a plain white box of a building was a portrait of a woman, a girl, really—an old-fashioned girl in a modern frame, leaning against the wall. Other paintings similarly arrayed surrounded her, waiting to take their places in the gallery.

Voices echoed in the room, a young man’s jeering and a young woman’s more tentative tones. Cool hands with long, delicate fingers lifted the portrait.

Perhaps what drew the young woman to this painting was the incongruity of a girl, grave and formal, set within the vibrant, flowing curves of the carved art nouveau frame. Perhaps it was the sense of kinship she felt. For the young woman, Ning, was the daughter of an artist, dreaming of becoming an artist. She knew nothing of the girl in the portrait, only that the intensity captured in the glimmer of its brush-stroked eyes reflected her own.

So begins Ning’s journey to her country’s colonial past to uncover the story behind the portrait—the story of Marcela.

It is 1896, and Marcela, of the renowned Simbulan artist family from Pino, Laguna, has fallen in love with Julio Benitez, a Spanish peninsular just come from Europe to woo the town’s belle: Raquel Riola, mestiza heiress. Torn between loyalties to family and nation, desire and social expectations, childhood and maturity, Marcela must learn to navigate dreams and deceptions to free her silenced love and stifled craft.

* * *

I’m not a huge fan of historical novels, really. I tend to stay away from them because they’re just not my type. Of course, there were some that I enjoyed, namely Jennifer Donnelly’s books, The Guernsey Literary …,and yeah, even Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, which I really attribute to the fact that these books had personal significance for me (A Northern Light had things about words, Revolution because of Paris, Guernsey because of the recommendations, and Noli Me Tangere because it was a Filipino historical novel), but other than that, I had no reasons to pick them up. They’re almost like classics to me — hard to get into, and really not my cup of tea. But I can make exceptions, especially since I did say I want to read more Filipino fiction, so when the publisher offered a review copy of Raissa Rivera-Falgui’s Woman in a Frame to me, I decided to give it a try.

Woman in a Frameintroduces Ning, short for Sining, who is a daughter of an artist and dreams of becoming an artist herself. Thanks to her deceased father’s connections, she was able to attend a summer art program where she stumbles upon a very curious painting of a woman who feels very familiar to her. Curious, Ning searches for the artist and the story behind the painting. In 1896, Marcela, a young artist from the Simbulan artist family joins her father to paint the town’s darling, Raquel Riola. Raquel is set to marry Julio Benitez, a Spanish peninsular from Europe. Marcela develops a friendship with Raquel, but also falls in love with Julio. She is faced with choosing between her family, new friend and her love, the social differences between her and Julio and a possible involvement in a brewing revolution against the government.

I liked Woman in a Frame. I wasn’t expecting it especially since I wasn’t really captured in the first chapter, but as I read on, I fell in love with Marcela and the Simbulan family and their life in 1896. I can imagine the afternoons where Marcela and her father would be at the Riola mansion to do their job, and how a Filipina and a half-Spanish girl would walk in the afternoons and chatter over things despite their differences. I’m not an artsy person, but I can vividly imagine the kind of art that the Simbulan family makes, and how it could become their living. I liked Marcela as a character, and her loyalty to her family and her friendship, and how she dealt with her affection for Julio. It was quite refreshing — she’s far from timid and shy Maria Clara, but more of a Sinang from Noli Me Tangere, especially with what she did in the end.

I think it was the freshness of Noli in my mind that helped me visualize the setting and in the novel, so it almost felt I was just focusing on another character in Noli when I was reading Woman in a Frame. A spin-off, if you may. There were the friars and the brewing revolution, but it didn’t take over the story and turn Marcela into a young Katipunera as I almost expected it to be. I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way, because I didn’t know if I’d like that turn! I liked the bittersweet feeling of the first love, and how it all unfolded in the end. The synopsis had that Filipino soap opera feel when you think about it, but it had a pretty interesting turn of events that wasn’t dramatic at all.

My only wish is that there was more Ning in the story! The story reminded me a lot of the dual narrative in Revolution but it lacked what that novel had — the dual narrative. I enjoyed the Marcela story, but I wished that we got to see Ning more since this was also her story. Okay, fine, it was more of Marcela’s story, but I just really wished we had more of present time and Ning, and not just some sort of info dump at the end tying up the connections between her and Marcela.

I still liked Woman in a Frame  despite that little nitpick, though! I think historical fiction fans will like it, and it’s a quick enough read and get lost in in a day. It also gives readers a good insight on Filipino artists and how regular people were a part of the revolution. And…yeah, the romance factor is pretty satisfying, too. :) Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera-Falgui is available in ebook format from Flipreads store, AmazonKobo and iTunes. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy! :)

Rating:

Wander Girl

Wander Girl by Tweet Sering Wander Girl by Tweet Sering
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 116
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Twenty-something Hilda Gallares is having a hard time navigating life after college. She’s stuck in a bad relationship and a dead-end job in her family’s travel business. Obviously, this is not the life of travel, excitement, and sweep-you-off-your-feet romance that Hilda had always dreamed of.

But after a pregnancy scare where she imagines the kind of life she might be living before she’s even really LIVED, Hilda finally starts a journey to search for her ideal job, her ideal self, and her ideal man. Will she finally try her hand at being a writer, or will she slug it out as a clerk at the travel agency? And will it be the passionate French backpacker she met at Sagada or the earnest Brit she met at the bar? But more importantly, will Hilda’s wandering lead her where she really wants to be?

* * *

I read and enjoyed Tweet Sering’s non-fiction essay anthology, Astigirl, early this year, so I was on the lookout for the ebook release of her novel, Wander Girl. I believe this book has been published in print before but is now unavailable, so the ebook version was the best thing to come along, especially since I felt like I would like Tweet’s other writings.

And you know what, I was right.

Hilda Gallares is also stuck in her own rut right after graduating college. Stuck in a dead-end job and a seemingly dead-end relationship, she knows that her life is not the one she had dreamed of back in college. After a pregnancy scare, Hilda sets off and tries to find herself, her dream job and her ideal man…but the question is, is she doing it right? And will her wander girl tendencies lead her to where she really wants to be?

I read Wander Girl overnight, and I can’t really remember the circumstances that led me to reading it that fast, except maybe that I was in some kind of personal rut. I figured I needed to do my own soul searching and also escape (it’s a paradox, but I think some of you will get it), so what better way to do that than to look for good local chick lit, right? Chick lit is about a woman finding herself, right? The book is written in a book format — meaning we are reading a book written by Hilda herself, not just the Wander Girl novel. I don’t know about others, but this made me enjoy the book immensely because it feels like I am actually reading something a fictional character wrote. Here we get a glimpse of Hilda’s family and her friends, which sets up the entire stage for her story to unfold.

I liked Hilda from the start, but I honestly don’t think I see myself in her. Okay, I see a bit of myself, but I think Hilda is just a little wilder than I am, which is saying a lot, since Hilda never really considered herself wild. But I liked her, she’s such a likable character. Her friends and family are definite characters too that I just really liked reading about them. Also, everything Hilda goes through is so fitting for those who are experiencing quarter-life crisis. While the experiences may not be similar, I thought Tweet Sering captured the despair and the feeling of wanting to do something meaningful in one’s life perfectly. I could change a few details in Hilda’s story and it could be my story just as easily.

I also liked how Filipino this book was, not just with the injection of Filipino words and expressions (a glossary is provided in the ebook copy), but with the values and themes it discussed: leaving home to live alone (not really something people would do here), family matters and even religion. I especially liked how religion and settling down factored in the story, and laughed so much at that particular scene where Hilda just breaks down and acknowledges this. You’ll have to read it to believe it. Hee. All the laughter!

I really, really enjoyed Wander Girland in a way, it gave me hope for my quarter-life woes. Like I said, there’s nothing like theright chick lit to cure me of some QLC. I especially liked this final quote (not spoilery, don’t worry!):

Because the best thing about wandering off, I have found, is coming home.

I don’t think I’m really wandering off, but I can say that I’m my own wander girl in a different sense. I think we all are. :)

I don’t know if Tweet Sering is writing another novel, but if she is, I will definitely read it when it comes out. If I may request — a spin-off for Hannah, the youngest Gallares sister? I feel like she needs a story of her own. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
marginalia