Required Reading: May 2014 + April Recap

Why is it already May? Why is it already the fifth month of the year? Why.

April was interesting, because there were so many holidays and I had a lot of reading done. I actually spent a lot of quality time with Hannah the Kindle that I felt like my print books were all screaming out at me to read them, read them! But fear not, I did make a dent in my print TBR. (Of course, I didn’t blog that much again, but why are we even surprised about that?)

Here are the books I finished for April:

  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr (3/5) – Mystery, murder, and psychology. This reminds me of Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH Batacan, but set in historical New York. It was fun, but after some time I got a little impatient to get to the end. I love the psychology there, though. It reminded me of those days when I wanted to study Psych in college. Also reminded me of Criminal Minds. :D
  • The Best Man by Kristan Higgins (4/5) – Love love love Kristan Higgins. I enjoyed this one so much. :D
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (4/5) – So much beautiful writing, but quite sad. But really so beautiful.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (4/5) – I picked this randomly on my shelf and finished it within three days. I was surprised at how readable this is, and how much I loved the Aglionby boys and Blue. I liked this so much that I immediately started reading the next one.
  • The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) by Pope Francis (5/5) – Read this during the Holy Week, and I loved it. Simple language, deep stuff, and a lot of light. This made me want to read all the previous encyclicals by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II. :)
  • Blast From Two Pasts by Kristel Villar (3/5) – #romanceclass’s latest! I read this in a day and enjoyed the light romance between Cara and Lucas. The fulfillment of childhood crushes, hihi.
  • The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins (3/5) – My second Kristan Higgins in a month, and the second in the Blue Heron series (first book being The Best Man). I liked this, except not so much as the first book, or the other Higgins books I read. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel this as much as I did the others. Too bad, because the lead interest is British.
  • If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (2/5) – Our book club’s book of the month, and it was an interesting read. And confusing, too, because by the middle of it, I was tempted to trash it. Funny how I finished reading it about ten minutes into the discussion. Haha. The discussion proper was fun, though. :D

See, that’s 8 books. That’s a lot. I am currently 12 books ahead of my reading goal this year, and I’m tempted to up it to 75 again, but I realized that if I do that, I will probably slow down and try to catch up with the rest by the end of the year. So…no. Maybe I’ll go reach 52 first. :D

Required Reading: May 2014

For this month, I realized that I might have made a mistake with some reading plans. I called for a buddy read for a classic, forgetting that our book of the month for May is a difficult book. But oh well. No turning back, I guess. To counter that, I picked two YA titles off my shelf, just so I won’t get lost in the stream of consciousness in one of the books I will be reading. :D

That is, you know, if I don’t become terribly busy with other life stuff this month.


  • Something new and borrowed: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – borrowed from Kai. She had a WTF moment after reading this, and I told her that it wasn’t surprising because that’s E. Lockhart, and her books are really smart. And also because of her WTF moment, I borrowed the book. :D
  • Something old and bought: Dust City by Robert Paul Weston I bought this book on a whim in 2010. That’s four years ago. It’s been on my shelf since then, and I wanted to read something that I bought from years ago, and this jumped out at me.
  • Something even older, and free: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – I said I’d read an Austen every year, but I didn’t read any last year, so now I’m picking it up again. This is a buddy read with some book club friends, which we started before April ended. I am surprised at how readable this is — see how far along I am in the dots? I wonder if this is really just more readable, or maybe I’ve adjusted with reading Austen? But anyway, I like this so far, and I can’t wait to read more. :)
  • Something even older, and free (also, difficult): To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – Well several lists said this is a difficult book. Our book club’s book of the month, and I have no idea how I will go about in reading this. But I will try, and if/when I finish this, I will consider it as 2014’s major reading achievement. ;)

There you go. I have a trip coming up this month, and possible job changes so I won’t pressure myself to read all this (except maybe To The Lighthouse). Then again, my upcoming trip has long bus rides there, so yeah, more reading time (as long as I don’t fall asleep).

Oh, and April is also our book club’s 4th year of existence. We started the month with a (wickedly fun — although some might say it’s just wicked :D) April Fools’ Joke, and ended it with a discussion + Amazing Race. Fun times. :)

#TFGat4 (Photo from Ella)

#TFGat4 (Photo from Ella)

See those lovelies? I missed them a lot. :)

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:

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Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
DWD Reviews
Backing Books

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Little Brown
Number of pages: 909 pages
My copy: mass market paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe – in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

* * *

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is our book for our November discussion for the book club. It was my only choice among the three books that we voted for last July because our theme for November was horror and I’m not a horror fan, so I go for the least horrific. :P I’ve heard good things about this book from some blogger friends, plus our moderator, Monique, liked this one too, so I figured I will probably like it too.

The Historian is the story of an unnamed narrator and her family’s past. What starts as a simple book and some letters found in her father’s study turned out to contain a story bigger than she expected, even bigger than her father and her dead mother that spans across the centuries. The book is more of a collection of her recollection of her own research and her father’s research and travels about Vlad the Impaler and the danger that they encountered as they pried deeper into the life of the fifteenth century Wallachian ruler.

I started this book a little apprehensive, because like I said, I’m not a horror person. I don’t like scaring myself, so I was kind of careful when I started reading it. My friends assured me that it wasn’t that scary, but there were several times when I felt jumpy while I was reading this, especially when it was raining and when I was alone at home. I found the first part of the book quite engaging, where I was passed from the main narrator’s point of view to her father’s and back. I liked how the mystery presented itself, and how I got invested in the main characters in this first part. I liked the dangerous — and a little scary — tone around the first part, where they just don’t know what’s going on and how they do not know just how big the thing they’re poking is.

That was the first part. The second part was still quite interesting, but then somewhere in the middle, it started to lag. I don’t read much historical fiction, or anything that had too many historical documents for that matter. Somewhere in the second part, I was amazed at the setting but everything else was bogged down by the fact that the characters kept stumbling upon different documents, countless books and letters about Vlad the Impaler. I get it, okay. They are historians, yes, so these documents were a necessary part of the story, but man, they were tedious. I didn’t want to skim through it because I might miss something else, but I admit that I slowed down my reading at this part.

Come part three. Part 3 was a little bit more exciting, especially since it felt like they were getting closer and closer to uncovering the mystery. I got a little bit annoyed when they opened yet another book and read yet another letter, but when you’re that close to the end of a book, giving up is not an option. At least, not for me. And when the final reveal comes…I was all…huh.

I won’t spoil it for you, but at the end of the book, I had to clarify with some friends if I understood what I read, and they said I got it right. And after 900 pages, all I could think of was: That’s it?

Overall, I have a bit of mixed feelings with The Historian. Perhaps I was expecting more, and I was shelving it together with some of the adventure/mystery/horror books that I have read before and forgot that the book is really more of a travelogue and historical account more than it was supposed to be horror. I liked the writing and the level of detail that this book possessed, and it made me want to go backpacking around Eastern Europe (and generally all over Europe again — I totally drooled at the part where they were in France with the descriptions of food) to see the places the characters went to in the book. As far as the story goes, however, I thought the big reveal fell a little flat, and I was really expecting a big one after all the things the characters went / read through.

I didn’t really dislike The Historian, but I didn’t like it too much, either. It was a little bit more than just okay, though, because like I said, I enjoyed the travel part and the writing and maybe just a little bit of the research, until I felt like starting a drinking game for every document / letter / book that they read. I don’t regret that I read it, but I don’t think I’ll find it particularly memorable later on, either. Maybe I’m just not much of a history buff to be really in love with this, and I think my aversion to vampire stories made me a bit more disinterested after some point. The only real memorable part of The Historian as far as I’m concerned was the book club discussion, which was a fun time to discuss with good friends what we think of this chunkster. :)


Required Reading: November

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody

Required Reading: November

Where did October go? I seriously do not know. I knew it was just crazy (but good!), and now it is November and I am still going crazy. I had planned to blog several times here, really, but gah, all I want to do when I go home after work is sleep. Sleep. Sleep. And I think I will still be busy until 2012 ends. :( I feel like I’m going to crash at any time and like I would need a Nolan N90 helmet to stop me from getting too burned out. Gah.

But I will still try to read, I promise. I always do. I think it’s one of the things that keep me sane. :o

I realized that I didn’t have a Required Reading post last November because I was too busy with NaNoWriMo. I almost didn’t want to have a post for this year because I am still busy, but I realized — what the heck. It’s not like there are brand new books on my list anyway. And nothing’s stopping me from trying, right?

But first, October!

  • The Viewless Dark by Eliza Victoria (4/5) – Totally creeped me out. I liked it! I have a bunch of Eliza’s book pending for review. One day I will write about all of them!

I’m still in the middle of The Historian and Isle of Blood, and honestly I don’t know when I will be able to read them, but I am easing pressure on myself. Because it’s never fun to be pressured, yes?

Required Reading: November

On to this crazy, crazy month!

November Books

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova — still ongoing, and I’m halfway through! :) I can definitely finish this before the discussion.
  • The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka by Roald Dahl – this is for our December discussion, and I kind of want to get tot his earlier than usual so I won’t cram. We will be discussing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , but since I saw this book has both Charlie stories in, I decided to get this one instead. This should be an easy read, right?
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – only because November plays a big part in this novel. I have no idea if I will be able to crack into this, though.

Here’s to trying this November. It will be crazy, but I will definitely try. :)

Required Reading: October

Just like that, we’re in the final quarter of the year. How about that!

September wasn’t a bad reading month, but a lot of things happened in my personal life which also kind of affected my reading, but not in a bad way. And there were also many changes that happened in our book club which kind of took me by surprise, but I think things have settled down now, and I hope things can only get better after this!

But interestingly, I managed to finish 3 out of the 4 books I listed for September’s Required Reading. I think I also managed to blog a bit more in September, although I am still very far from getting my blogging backlog cleared. Oh well. If this keeps up, I will probably end up working on that backlog until December. But anyway. Here’s how September went:

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (3/5) – I enjoyed this a bit more than I expected, and the book discussion helped me appreciate the book more.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (5/5) – Oh my stars. I loved this one. I wrote more in my review, so all I’m going to say now is that I am looking forward to reading everything else that Mitchell wrote. And watch the movie.
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (4/5) – It’s been a while since I read fun YA fantasy, and this one was not just fun, but also quite deep. I liked how whimsical and smart it is and it’s made its way to my best of 2012 reads. :) I can’t wait for the next book.

So, October!

Required Reading: October

So, my October choices have me just a bit nervous because I’m not a fan of this genre, but of course, I have to let myself experience the chills every year, right? Right? So bring on the horror, yes?

  • The Viewless Dark by Eliza Victoria – thanks to Flipside for the review copy of the ebook. :) I’ve read some of Eliza’s short stories and I really liked them (review coming…sometime), and I’m looking forward to this one a lot. :)
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – This is really supposed to be our book of the month for our book club for November, but seeing its length, I thought I’d start it early. It’s a good thing I’ve read October’s book of the month already. :D Monique says this isn’t really horror anyway, but knowing my weak nerves…yeah. I will probably get creeped out. :D
  • The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey – I have been so excited to read this book since I finished The Curse of the Wendigo last year, but I had to hold off because this is the perfect Halloween read! I’m buddying up with some TFG friends for the last week of October to read this. Snap to! :)

I’ve also got two classics up for this month – Little Women and a reread of Pride and Prejudice, so it’s going to be a busy reading month for me. I just hope I get out of this slump. :D And you know, blog more.

Happy October, everyone!