Required Reading: February 2014 + January Recap

Hello, and happy February! How was your January? I hope it was filled with joy and lots of good books. :)

Before I go to the books I read in January, and the books I will read for February, let me talk about some things first. You know, for a change, to shake things up. :D

First off: the Bloggy Birthday Giveaway Winner!

I meant to announce this earlier, but life and work got in the way. Eeps, sorry about that! But thank you to everyone who greeted and left recommendations in my blog’s birthday post. You just made my wish list longer! :) Here are the recommendations:

  • From Goldie: I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman, Airport by Arthur Hailey, Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella, and The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • From Maria: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
  • From Louize: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • From Bennard: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  • From Monique: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • From Lynai: Hinds’ Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard
  • From Tin: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • From Chris: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  • From Kat: The Devil and Miss Prym by Paolo Coelho

Thanks so much for the recommendations! :) I will find a way to read all of sometime (probably not this year, but I will find a way :P). Thank you so much for the well-wishes for the blog, too.

And now the winner, thanks to random.org:

Chris

Yay, congrats, Chris! I will send you an email about this soon (and figure out what will go in the package :D).

Second: First Book Club Discussion for 2014 + Book Club Feature

Our book club had our first discussion for the year last January 18. We talked about The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and we dared each other to read books. It was a fun afternoon, as always, except that my immune system gave in the middle of the discussion, so I started to get sick by the end of it. Massive headache, followed by my voice going away, perhaps as a sign not to speak! ^^;

TFG's F2F25 - Photo c/o Joy

TFG’s F2F25 – Photo c/o Joy

Thanks to everyone who attended, and thanks to The Appraisery in Cubao X for the venue! :)

Speaking of the book club, we were featured in Wanderrgirl! :)

TFG at Wanderrgirl

TFG at Wanderrgirl (And that photo there is so family-ish)

My friend Isa asked if I could write about the book club for Wanderrgirl last December, so of course I said yes. :) It was an absolute surprise to see it posted yesterday. Click here to read the entire post (and yes, I may have gone a bit sappy there :’) )!

Third: January Required Reading Recap

I did say that I read more in January, and true enough, I finished 8 books. 10, if you count the rereads. Of course, two of them were pretty short, but still. :) I was quite surprised that I finished two nonfiction books, too. And wrote a bit more reviews than I did in the past months. :D

  • History in English Words by Owen Barfield (3/5) – My first Barfield was an interesting reading experience. I promised I’d write a review, so I’ll save all other thoughts for that. :)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (5/5) – just as lovely as the first time.
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (4/5) – So, so powerful. This made me laugh, nod, and cry at so many parts.
  • The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr (4/5) – I really missed reading contemporary YA, and I’m so glad I had Sara Zarr to fall back on. Really liked this one. :)
  • Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews (3/5) – A fun romp back into Kate Daniels’ world. :)

I’ve managed to get ahead with my quantity reading goal, so I can sort of rest easy for a while. I think. :D

Fourth: February Required Reading

February 2014 Required Reading

And now we go to my February reading list! I used to always go for the love theme for February, but this year I sort of decided not to go too much into it. Oh, there’s still love in some of the books I will read, but I won’t go all sappy and read too many romance novels this time around. Like I said, just to shake things up a little. :)

feb2014books

  • The Zigzag Effect by Lili Wilkinson – I’ve tried to read this before in previous challenges but I never picked it up because I lagged behind from the other books. Oops. :D
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver – Our book club is reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love this month, but since I’ve already read that, I thought of picking up this book instead.
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – And there’s my “love” book for February. I’ve heard rave reviews about this book from book club friends, so I’m pretty sure I will be in for a treat.

And there you go. This is quite a long post! I hope you all have a delightful, love-filled February. :)

Tigana

tiganaTigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Number of pages: 692
My copy: Kindle edition

Eight of the nine provinces of the Peninsula of the Palm, on a world with two moons, have fallen to the warrior sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Brandin’s younger son is slain in a battle with the principality of Tigana, which the grief-stricken sorcerer then destroys. After sweeping down and destroying the remnants of their army, burning their books and destroying their architecture and statuary, he makes it so that no one not born in that province can even hear its name. Years later, a small band of survivors, led by Alessan, last prince of Tigana’s royal house, wages psychological warfare, planting seeds for the overthrow of the two tyrants. At the center of these activities are Devin, a gifted young singer; Catriana, a young woman pursued by suspicions of her family’s guilt; and Duke Sandre d’Astibar, a wily resistance leader thought dead. Meanwhile, at Brandin’s court, Dianora, his favorite concubine and–unknown to anyone, another survivor of Tigana–struggles between her growing love for the often gentle tyrant and her desire for vengeance. Gradually the scene is set for both conquerors to destroy each other and free a land.

* * *

I don’t read a lot of high fantasy novels because I’m more of a contemporary romance kind of person. And because of that, it takes me a while to really get into a world, especially one that required maps and had different names of people with powers and such. I noticed that a lot of high fantasy novels often had a lot of characters, too — with odd names to boot — so sometimes I feel like I need to get into a different kind of mindset before I take on a high fantasy novel.

Hah, I feel like I sounded like such a wuss there, especially since two of my closest friends in the book club are fans of high fantasy novels. So when they moderated the high fantasy discussion for our book club in 2013, I can’t not be too whiny about it. Especially since the book was about 800+ long. But I’ve finished Les Misérables this year, and while it’s not a high fantasy novel, it had a lot of characters. This shouldn’t be that hard, right? *cracks knuckles*

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is a standalone high fantasy novel set in a place called Peninsula of the Palm. Two people rule eight of the nine provinces in the Palm — Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Sometime in the past, Brandin’s younger son is slain in Tigana, and in his grief and anger, he flattened Tigana and cursed everyone to forget that it ever existed, except for those who came from Tigana itself. Some years later, some survivors banded together in hopes of destroying Brandin to get Tigana back, and also to overthrow the other tyrant in the Palm. What follows is a long story of magic, psychological warfare, political intrigue, hidden identities and a story layered with so many complexities that it’s hard to pick just what side you want to win at the end.

First off: Tigana was an easy to read book. Far from, say, Tolkien’s LotR, Tigana had such an accessible language that it wasn’t so hard to get reading. It helped that our moderators provided a guide to their naming conventions and who owns what province because it helped adjusting to the novel a lot easier and listing the characters in the head easier, too. And speaking of characters, I really liked Devin from the start — he seemed like a very interesting character, and I knew, even if I have essentially no idea what was going to happen in the novel (I didn’t read the back cover blurb before I started reading) that he was in for an interesting ride. I liked how he changed from a simple musician to something else, and how he had learned to accept the discovery of his roots and defend it. The other band of people surrounding Devin were so fun to read, too — they played off each other’s characters perfectly, and I liked how they all formed a tight-knit group that were there for each other throughout the story.

But I’m making it sound like it’s all light and fluffy. Truth is, it wasn’t. Tigana is a book filled with so many twists and turns for the characters to get to a certain goal. The interesting part of this is we don’t see just one particular point of view, but several. In Tigana, we also sort of get into the mind of Brandin and Alberico, and the things that surround them. We see their motivations, and how they changed from being this person to another, to the point that it was really kind of hard to choose which side to pick at the end. This gives another layer of depth to the novel, and somehow make it a little more realistic as far as how it parallels real life. Nothing is ever black and white, and even people we have pegged to be a certain kind of person. In a way, I wished there was some sort of happy ending for everyone…but then, you can’t always get what you want.

In the end, Tigana brings about a pretty satisfying ending…and then GGK suddenly brings another thing into the mix, and then it’s over. This is the first time in the longest time that I wished there was a sequel to a novel, and a high fantasy one at that, that I would totally read. I mean, that ending! How can I not want to know what happens next?

Overall, Tigana was a really great read. I think there were just some parts that seemed unnecessarily long, but like what I said in Les Mis, those parts make up for the novel’s background and gives it a richer texture, and I think that’s what makes chunkster novels different from the usual 300-400-page books. While I still think that I’m a contemporary girl at heart, I wouldn’t mind reading more high fantasy + chunkster novels if they’re as good as Tigana.

Number of dog-eared page(s): 21

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

The beauty we find is shaped, at least in part, by what we know the morning will bring.

He could guess, analyze, play out scenarios in his mind, but he would never know. It was a night-time truth that became a queer, private sorrow for him amid all that came after. A symbol, a displacement of regret. A reminder of what it was to be mortal and so doomed to tread one road only and that one only once, until Morian called the soul away and Eanna’s lights were lost. We can never truly know the path we have not walked.

“My third glass of a night is blue,” Alessan said. “The third glass I drink is always of blue wine. In memory of something lost. Lest on any single night I forget what it is I am alive to do.”

But time was not rewound, neither in the heart nor in the world as they knew it. It moved on, and things changed, for better or for worse; seasons changed, the hours of sunlit day went by, darkness fell and lingered and gave way to light at dawn, years spun after each other one by one, people were born, and lived by the Triad’s grace, and they died.

Words were power, words tried to change you, to shape bridges of longing that no one could ever really cross.

In this world, where we find ourselves, we need compassion more than anything, I think, or we are all alone.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Rabbitin
Angieville

Lolita

lolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 376
My copy: Kindle edition

Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

* * *

There are some books that I told myself I would never read. I would never put them in an actual list, really, but I know that these are the books that I would ignore in a bookstore, books that I wouldn’t even think of buying. Reasons behind this may vary, but you know how we readers have preferences depending on the books we enjoy, or the time we have or the things we value, and all that.

I said that about Les Miserables late last year. I’d never read it because it’s just too thick, and I simply have no time. Then I read it and finished it in 45 days.

I said the same thing for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I didn’t think I would read it, because frankly, I found the topic icky. I mean, a grown man supposedly “in love” with a child? I squirm at the thought — just as how I squirmed and looked away when I watched those crime shows (based on a true story or not) that involved someone who sexually abuses a child. It’s just not something I would even want to read, quite honestly.

And then, Lolita won in our book club’s polls for our September discussion. I guess in a way it was my fault for suggesting banned books as a topic for September, and this one made it to the final list. Lolita was far more popular than the two other books in the list, so it was kind of a shoo-in to win. I remember thinking (and saying this to one of the discussion moderators): Perhaps it’s time for me to read this. Year of the Brave, you say?

I won’t talk about the plot anymore because this is a pretty popular novel, with its controversial themes and gorgeous prose, as they say. I knew I was a apprehensive when I started reading hits. No, not because I can relate to any of it (thank God I don’t), but because I was wary of how it would go with me. Lolita is readable overall, because its prose isn’t hard to read, nor it is boring. It’s very well-written, actually, and it’s commendable especially since Nabokov’s first language is Russian. Humbert Humbert comes off as an unreliable narrator from the start, and Lolita is his account of what happened with her and to some events that led him to make that statement. I got confused about that, honestly — why “statement”? I figure he did something wrong there, but what? Did he kill someone? Who? Did he kill Lolita? (No, this isn’t a spoiler)

Let me go back to the prose. It was gorgeous, and surprisingly, it isn’t explicit. I mean, sometimes I have to go back to some passages to understand what Nabokov was writing about and then I’ll realize what happened there. Huh. And then I read on, and I go all, “Huh” again. I mean that in a good way, really.

Here’s the thing: I sort of predicted from the start that I would probably not rate Lolita higher than three stars, given that this isn’t really the kind of book I would read. I think even my friends expected that. But when I got to the end while I waited in line at the bank to pay some bills…I don’t know, I knew I couldn’t rate it that. I can’t explain it in full, but there was something in that ending that just made me change my mind. Is it the writing? Probably. Is it how Nabokov somehow made Humbert Humbert seemed deserving of sympathy? Maybe. I don’t know, really. It’s been a little over a month since I finished this book, but I still can’t answer that. All I know is I found myself thinking at the ending. It doesn’t make everything that he did or whatever happened in the story less icky because it is icky, period. But somehow, there was something in the ending that made me change my mind about rating this novel.

Lolita is controversial, I have to agree. But I also agree that this is just one of those books that a reader has to read in their lifetime. I’m glad my book club made me read this.

Number of dog-ears: 15

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.

My heart was a hysterical, unreliable organ.

And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope with my tears.

Rating:

Required Reading: September

Other reviews:

Required Reading 2013: September (and then some)

Hello folks, look at that – it’s September! In the Philippines, Christmas preparations start as early as today so I will go ahead and say: Merry Christmas! :P

On another note, August has come and gone, and I read a lot of books this month (compared to last month, anyway) because there were several long weekends in the month. :) I wasn’t able to finish all August books, though, because I got distracted by other shiny little books along the way. Still, no regrets. :D

  • Tall Story by Candy Gourlay (4/5) – the reread was as charming as the first time. We had our discussion yesterday and it was filled with warmth, especially with all the sibling stories we shared. :)
  • No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July (3/5) – I didn’t like some of the stories, but there were others that were really good ones. Here’s to trying to find time to blog about it soon.

I didn’t touch Jasper Fforde’s book at all, or even made really good progress with A Clash of Kings. Well. But I’m not hurrying anything, so…let’s go to September. :D

Required Reading: September

No particular theme this month, except for that spillover from July. I’ve tried to balance out the serious and lighter books but I don’t even know if I will be able to read them all. Heh. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to try. :D

September 2013 books

  1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – our book club’s book of the month. I hope I’m ready for this. XD
  2. A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin – it is my hope to finish this soon, except that I’m still at page 250ish. Not that it’s boring — it’s not. I’m just not in the mood for it for some reason. Oh well, I must soldier on!
  3. The Zigzag Effect by Lili Wilkinson – something light to offset the first two. :)
  4. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente – just because the main character’s name is September. :)

Now we go to the “and then some” part of the post. I haven’t really been blogging, obviously, and I think I found out why: I’m not too interested in it anymore. This doesn’t mean I will stop blogging, though — I think maybe I just need a little change. I think I may have outgrown the “One More Page” aspect of this blog.

SO…I am going to apologize in advance if I don’t really blog yet anytime soon, but trust me, I’ve got something going on for this blog. It may include a blog facelift of sorts and even a name change, something to reflect my new reading habits, among other things. :) This won’t take too long, I hope! (Maybe by mid September? :D)

Have a happy reading month, you guys. :)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Publisher: Picador
Number of pages:  636
My copy: paperback, bought from Avalon.ph

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.

* * *

I have a feeling I will be a part of the unpopular opinion for this book. We picked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon for our book discussion last June, and I was  looking forward to it because it seemed like it had an interesting premise. But wait, let me be honest. The only thing I knew about this book before then was that it was a book about comic books. I don’t collect comic books but I read them every now and then, so I figure this should be something I would really enjoy, right?

Joe Kavalier is a young Jewish artist who was given a chance to go to the United States and escape his Nazi-invaded hometown. But because things were always unpredictable back then, Joe couldn’t get to the US in the conventional way. He sought help from a friend, who taught him the art of escaping ala-Houdini, and Joe makes it to his cousin, Sammy Clay’s place in Brooklyn safely. Sammy is a guy looking for a partner he can create stories with — heroes and stories, in the form of a comic book, which was a novelty thing in America in that time. Sammy teams up with Joe and creates a band of superheroes, where they put their dreams and fears, with Joe maybe having more at stake in the stories than his cousin has.

So this book was an utter challenge to read. Perhaps the book came at a particularly slump-y month in reading, and it was 600+ pages thick…but really. Talk about really slogging through the book. It was the first time I actually went to a discussion without finishing the book. (I finished it the following day, though :D) I was curious enough with the story to keep on reading, but the writing made it a little difficult to just keep on reading. The writing reminded me a little of that one Biology class in college where if I lose just a few seconds of focus from what our professor is saying, I lose everything completely. There’s a word in one of the reviews of this books in Goodreads that’s pretty much the right word to describe it: bloated. There’s so much being said about so many things, but it doesn’t really add anything to the reading experience as far as I’m concerned. The only thing that really kept me from skimming parts of the book is the thought that maybe there’s something in this part that I will need to know in the later parts. I had the same mindset in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, too, but I remember being a little more satisfied when things started to come together for JS&MN.

Then again, I probably shouldn’t compare a fantasy novel to a historical novel.

There were some parts that I really liked, though, and I felt somewhat invested in the characters (I really liked Luna Moth :D). My heart went out for Joe especially, after that thing happened to him that made him almost lose it. And there was that scene with the dogs, too! (Oh those dogs!) I liked how the story stressed a lot on just how it is to be in a “free” country while war is happening in other parts of the world. There were good points in the novel, and I really appreciate it, but I’m afraid some of it may have gotten lost in all the layers of text that I had to wade through.

That being said, even if I didn’t really like this book so much, I can still see why it’s an award-winning novel. Joe and Sam’s story is a story of love at its core, all wrapped in the complications of life, war and comic books. The comic book angle is one of the brilliant parts of it, IMO. Like I said, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is still a pretty good book, really…but perhaps it’s just one of those books that’s not really for me.

Rating:

Required Reading: June

Other reviews:
marginalia
Book Rhapsody
In Lesbians with Books