84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
Number of pages: 97
My copy: borrowed paperback, TFG’s traveling book

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

* * *

Here’s a little fact: I love snail mail. I love letters, specifically. I think it started when our third grade teacher taught us about letter writing, and we had to pick pen pals within the class. I loved getting letters in the mail, but since my classmates and I live close to each other, it’s not really that practical to be pen pals with them. When I was in sixth grade, though, my best friend from elementary school moved to the United States. We didn’t have much contact when she left, until I happened to get her mailing address from a common friend and I sent her my first snail mail letter. This had us sending letters back and forth for the next two years, until email came and we switched to that.

Reading 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is almost like a trip back to memory lane on those days when I would spend so much time writing letters to my best friend who lived in the other side of the world. This thin volume is a collection of letters from Helene Hanff, a screenwriter in New York search of second hand books to a bookstore in 84, Charing Cross Road in London. This sparked the friendship between Helene and the staff of the bookstore, one that consisted of letters, books and gifts and spanned for decades.

84, Charing Cross Road is a little gem of a book for book lovers, and it’s most appropriate that the copy I read is a shared copy from our book club. We call it our own traveling book, and it’s gone through several readers before it landed in my hands. It’s a quick and funny read, and I finished it in a few hours — smiling, laughing, and then sighing at the end. Helene’s letters were witty and sarcastic most of the time, and Frank Doel of the book shop were always formal and proper, yet still filled with warmth. Pretty soon, the rest of the staff were writing letters to Helene, too. I find myself checking the dates in the letters every now and then, and I can’t imagine the time that pass before the letters get to the recipients. My own mail takes two to three weeks before it arrives, but some of them span months in the book. I guess it meant that they were more patient back then, whereas I get so miffed sometimes when I don’t get a reply to my email or my text message within the day. But true friendship transcends time and distance, right?

This book is very reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with the letters shared between book lovers. I love that 84, Charing Cross Road has that same warmth I got from the other book, even if the ending was slightly different. But I liked the latter more because it’s a true story. I think that’s the reason why I added one more star in my rating — there’s something about knowing how all of this is real that makes it even more charming. It’s too bad that the actual bookstore doesn’t exist anymore, but I would love to see where the building stood and imagine what the people inside were doing, and how excited they were every time they received Helene’s letters and packages. And maybe, even do what Helene asked her friend to do:

If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll stock up on my stationery so I can go write some letters again. Anyone want one? :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
It’s a Wonderful Book World
Angieville

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

Iscariot by Tosca Lee Iscariot by Tosca Lee
Publisher: Howard Books
Number of pages: 352
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins the Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas’s vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems, in the end, to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Iscariot is the story of Judas, from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus that forces us to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

* * *

Ever since Tosca announced that she was writing this book in 2010, I have been eagerly waiting for this to come out. I loved her first two books, Demon and Havah: The Story of Eve, and a novel about Judas Iscariot is something that I know only Tosca can write with the same heart-wrenching clarity and sensitivity that she did in her first two books. When it came up available in Netgalley, I immediately got it and saved it in my Kindle. Of course, it took me ages to finally start it, until I decided that it would be my Holy Week read.

Judas Iscariot. The traitor. The betrayer. It’s so easy to hate him, and blame him, because if he didn’t sell Jesus for 30 silver coins, then maybe Jesus wouldn’t have died. It was simple, right? But have we ever wondered that even if Judas hadn’t done what he did, would Jesus still have died? After all, it was salvation history, and it was God the Father’s will for the Son of Man. Would someone else have betrayed him? And we always associate Judas with something evil, but if he was evil, why would he even be a part of Jesus’ closest circle? Why would Jesus even call Judas friend? 

Iscariot doesn’t attempt to answer this, but instead presents what we know of Jesus’ time in an even more clarity. Tosca brings us to the heart of that time — the social and political unrest of the Jews against the Romans, the religious customs of the Jewish and how important it is to them, and how the Pharisees just seem to be everywhere. And then there’s Jesus, who shocks everyone and speaks of a radical faith, heals people, drives out demons and resurrects the dead. We see all this in the eyes of Judas bar Simon, who came from a tumultuous childhood and is desperately wishing for a messiah. When his paths cross with Jesus the Nazarene of questionable birth and he follows him together with eleven other men, he wonders if he is the one. He wonders, and dares to hope, torn between love for his master and wanting a specific vision for the people. In Iscariot, we see Jesus through human eyes — through doubting, human eyes and a heart that is so scared to hope — and it brings the readers this question: if I were Judas at that time, would I have done the same thing if I thought it was the right thing?

What an unsettling novel. It’s kind of hard to explain what effect this novel had on me. It reminds me of the Gospel during the Palm Sunday mass — you know, the one where the priest is Jesus and the mass goers are the people and we all had speaking parts in the Gospel? My heart clenched like crazy when I had to say, “Crucify him!” The second time I had to say it, my eyes burned with tears, because I knew that at several points in my life, I had crucified Christ because of my sins. And I keep on doing it whenever I fail to be loving, when I fall into sin. In Iscariot, we see Judas and the apostles in all their humanity, and how they tried to follow Jesus even if they do not understand him. Tosca weaves a story of how everything must have been like for Judas as he fights against himself in hoping that this charismatic Nazarene could be the savior of all — and how he tries to act as a good friend when he realizes that maybe his master may not be what he expected him to be. Tosca’s writing was rich and colorful, and it puts all those miracles and stories in the Gospels in a more concrete way, so much that it felt like I was also there. Here’s a favorite part, when Jesus calmed the storm:

In a flash of lightning, I saw the sandaled feet of Jesus, flagging against the floor of the boat, loosely in the water, like the body of a dead man, floating. Had he drowned, then, there beneath the stern? Had he departed from us silently, without even a word of farewell? Soon we would all be fortunate to float like that on any water here.

I told myself to let go, to lunge forward and seize him by the legs. Then the boat jinked sideways, throwing us all backward. For a horrifying instant, I thought we would capsize. I opened my mouth to cry out to him, only to be slapped in the face with a crashing wave that slapped my ears and sent my head ringing.

It was John who fell down over us, grabbing me by the arm when I nearly fell over the side. “Master! Save us!”

It was a horrid sound, that scream. I would remember it for the rest of my life.

I covered my face, trying to shield my eyes. Against the dark, I saw him, the pale of his tunic in the sluicing blackness, rising up. In my deafness, I heard him when I should not have against the screeching gale:

Be still.

The words had not been shouted to the furious wind or issued to the sky, but spoken as through directly to my heart.

I’m not very good with history or theology, so I can’t speak if this book is super accurate, but for a piece of historical “fiction”, this definitely made me think. It made me feel sympathetic at the least, and it made me see Jesus in a different light. It made me see my Savior’s passion and death in a different perspective. It made me see my own humanity, and the depth of Jesus’ love even for those who He knew would betray Him.

And aren’t we all that, anyway? Haven’t be betrayed him at some point in our life? And won’t we betray him in the future, because we are human and we are weak? And Jesus knows that…still, He loves us without a doubt.

I finished reading Iscariot before 3:00pm on Good Friday, and I was a little overwhelmed with the time and how it ended. I knew how it would end, and yet…it left me somber. It left me sad. Would there have been redemption for Judas, if he had just waited? Could he have become someone like Peter, who denied Jesus but accepted mercy which led him to become the great church leader that he is? If he had just waited until Sunday, would he have believed that Jesus was indeed the person he had been waiting for his entire life?

We would never know.

I admit that I may be just a little biased because I love everything that Tosca has written, but if you would read any of her work, I think Iscariot: A Novel of Judas is the best place to start. It’s not the easiest thing to read, but it’s one that will leave you longing for your Savior.

Book trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
DWD Reviews
Backing Books

Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Publisher: Walker
Number of pages: 352
My copy: Paperback, bought from National Bookstore

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, it is my pleasure and honour to present to you:

THE PI PATEL, INDO-CANADIAN, TRANS-PACIFIC, FLOATING CIRCUUUSSSSS!!!

Take one sixteen-year-old boy and cast him away at sea in a lifeboat with a large (and seasick) Royal Bengal tiger. Imagine the scene 227 days later.

Now read Life of Pi and change your imagination.

* * *

I’ve had Life of Pi by Yann Martel on my radar since my senior year in college, but I never got it because I couldn’t really afford it on my allowance back then. Later, much later, there were many, many times I could have bought it but I prioritized other books so I didn’t get it even then. One time, during a book club meet-up, some friends were talking about this book so I asked them if they think it was something I would like. I remember someone telling me that I might be bored with it, so I decided to just borrow instead of buy. But alas, I never got to borrow it even after. It still wasn’t in my priority list, up until late last year, when my friends were talking about the books that will soon become movies. I figured, since I was starting to explore outside of the genres I usually read, that maybe it’s finally time to read it.

That, and there was the tiger.

rylietiger

My laptop’s wallpaper after watching Life of Pi. :)

I love tigers. Tigers are some of my favorite animals. If I could own a tiger for a pet, I would do that in a heartbeat. Tiger photos are an automatic reblog in my Tumblr, and I swear, I could stare at them for hours on end. So a big part of my wanting to read and watch Life of Piwas because of the tiger in the story.

Piscine Molitor Patel — Pi, for short — is a teenage boy whose family owned a zoo in Pondicherry, India. Pi has lived an interesting life, one that made the author seek him out so he can write his book, intrigued by the idea that Pi’s story can make him believe in God. Life of Piis really, well, Pi’s life, as he grew up surrounded by animals, his quest for (three) religions, growing with his belief and of course, his 227-days in the middle of the ocean after the ship carrying them to Canada sunk, leaving him on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, which probably helped me appreciate it. I just knew about the shipwreck and the tiger, but I didn’t know what was supposed to happen around it. I liked Pi’s voice, his boyishness that was slightly tinged with pain of recollection, since the story was being told from the point of view of the older Pi. I liked the lush atmosphere of Pi’s life in the zoo, and all the animal behavior lessons that he shared. It reminded me a bit of all the animal lessons in Animorphs by K.A. Applegate, my favorite scifi series growing up. This made me want to go visit a zoo and observe the animals for myself.

I also really liked Pi’s journey into religion. Or religions, rather. I think this is a part that people either really get or don’t get in the book. I don’t claim to get it all completely, but I appreciated Pi’s attempts to find God, even if it meant going to the other religions. It was more of a spiritual journey rather than religious, really, and there were several things that he learned from all three religions that I felt applied to life in general. I liked how Pi learned about God willingly, and I am pretty sure his earlier spiritual journey helped him in his predicament later on.

I realized while watching the movie that being stuck in the middle of the ocean with no sign of help or no land is now my worst nightmare. When I am island hopping on vacations, I am always the one wearing a life vest, because I am not the strongest swimmer. In the book, I cannot envision how the ocean can be merciless because I kept on thinking of it as a calm ocean since they were in the Pacific, right? Then I watched the movie and oh my Lord, I never want to be in that situation ever. Especially with a bengal tiger, even if I love that animal.

I found Pi’s adventures in the middle of the ocean very interesting and I was really, really rooting for him to live. Or rather, I am really, really hoping Richard Parker the tiger would live in the end. I can just imagine the tiger in the story, and the visuals in the movie (even if the tiger is completely computer generated) helped me love Richard Parker more. Pi’s adventures in the ocean had the most meat in it, I think, and there were so many, many things that got me even if I wouldn’t even dare to be stuck in the middle of the ocean like him. Some of my favorite passages:

It begins in your mind, always. One moment, you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy…
So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.
(p. 161, 162)

Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed…The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving. (p. 209)

It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. (p. 285)

The ending left me…reeling. A friend told me about the twist in the story, but I wanted to be surprised and boy was I surprised. I couldn’t wrap my head around it for a while, and I had my first case of a book hangover for the year, which was extended right after watching the movie.

I’m really glad I started the year with this one. Life of Piby Yann Martel is a beautiful book. It’s not often a book leaves me with a delicious hangover that leaves me thinking and talking about the book after I was done. While it didn’t exactly make me believe in God more than I already do, I think this is a book that speaks of hope and belief even in the most impossible situations. :)

I meant to rate this four stars, but I am giving one full star for Richard Parker the tiger. Just because. :3

Rating:

Required Reading: January

Other reviews:
Code Name: Blue
It’s a Wonderful Book World
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

Mythspace Lift Off

Mythspace Lift OffMythspace Lift Off by Paolo Chikiamco, illustrated by various artists
Mythspace # 0
Rocket Kapre

Kapre. Nuno. Manananggal.

They are monsters of the past, remnants of primitive fantasies.

UFOs. Aliens. Extraterrestrials.

They are hallucinations, creations of modern science fiction.

Or are they?

Evidence unearth is debunked…or disappears. Witnesses who speak are ridiculed…or silenced.

We are alone, say our leaders.

There are no Manananggal that consume our children. There are no Kapres who watch in the night.

There are no aliens that abduct our neighbors. There are no UFOs with dazzling lights.

We were never alone.

These are not your Lola’s monsters.

These are not your children’s aliens.

They are one and the same. They are here.

You know how I said that I probably would not drop by Komikon if the Trese 5 release wasn’t announced? I take it back — I realize that I would have probably gone there anyway, just to support Paolo‘s newest release, Mythspace. It’s not that I did not know about his newest project. I heard of it, but I was too busy in the past weeks before Komikon to check the Mythspace Monday posts he had up on his blog leading to the release. In a way that is a blessing in disguise, because now that I’ve read the sampler they released last Komikon, I’m catching up on the posts which I hope will tide me over until Mythspace fully launches.

What is Mythspace, anyway? Pao talks about it in detail in this post, but if you want the quick, one-line summary: Mythspace is what happens when Philippine folklore meets science fiction, specifically aliens. This new series plays on the idea that the creatures we know from folk tales and movies not simply monsters from our grandparents’ stories, but you know, creatures from outer space. Sounds crazy, yes?

But you know what? It actually works.

Mythspace #0 is the preview issue for the science fiction anthology. Here we can read a bit of two stories from the anthology, as well as preview of the art from the different illustrators: Koi Carreon, Borg Sinaban, Jules Gregorio, Mico Dimagiba, Cristina Rose Chua, Paul Quiroga. I’m not a good judge of art, but I liked that each story seemed to have its own personality because of the artist. I also liked reading the previews for the two longest stories there, with Liftoff having that mystery-in-space type of story with a somewhat angst-ridden hero, and Unfurling of Wings reminding me so much of the chimaera world in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. There’s also a bit of information on the aliens we will meet in the issues. My favorites are the Kapre and the Manananggal – somehow, these versions are less scary than what I heard from stories growing up.

Overall, I loved this preview. The booklet is short, so everything ends before you feel like you really know things, but it’s a good thing because I am totally looking forward to the release of the first installment of the anthology in 2013. Now I’m pretty sure that the world will not (and cannot!) end on December 2012 — after all, we still need to have the rest of the Mythspace anthology in our grubby little hands. :)

Rating:

My copy: signed, bought from Komikon

Other reviews:
Jumper Cable
Hawkers Magazine
Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents

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