Wednesday, August 22, 2012

State of War by Ninotchka Rosca

State of War (Philippine Edition)
This is a book not to be taken lightly. This is a book that requires a steady head and deep thinking. This is a dangerous book.

It deals with the history of the Filipino people, from pre-Spanish (with the priestesses babaylan who wore gold trinkets & traded with the Chinese) to Spanish (with the friars and other foreigners, such as Germans, who come to this godforsaken land to grab something that is not theirs) to American (with Hey, Joe! and chocolates aplenty) to the current (with the beautiful wife of the Commander-President who wears the shirts of butterfly sleeves).

It also looks into the inner workings of society that is kept from the newspapers – it talks about rebellions, refugees, whores, politics, prophecies, poverty, religion, stupidity, rape, torture, death. It’s a neat view into the progressions of Philippine society from its very roots, and from all levels. (Note: Its setting is concentrated in the Luzon/Manila area, although I'd hazard a guess that K---- is located in The Visayas.)

This book, on the one hand, is beautiful. Its words are like waves crashing, plying the sand, creating beautiful music to the tune of silver bells. Its words are like the rugged drumbeats, playing its sound on rhythmic body movements. Its words are like whispers between lovers after their coupling, holding hands while looking at a future together. The storytelling is seemingly messed up, but calculated to be so. Each event, each leaf, each breath of air is so important to the overall development of the story. It’s breathtaking, just looking at the intricate web formed by the masterful hand of Rosca.

(I am somewhat reminded of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, although I think Rosca’s prose is a little more poignant. Reviewers mention that her work has the tones of Franz Kafka, but as I’ve only read The Metamorphosis, I feel I cannot be a good judge for this.)

This book, on the other hand, is horrendously ugly. It zooms into the sides of us we don’t wish to see. It zooms into the irk and evil in hearts of pristine-looking people. It zooms into the dirt and grime in your hair, on your cheeks, on your skin. It talks about the history of a people who seem to be trying to prove something, while not moving an inch at all. It’s horrifying, just looking at the web of violence within and without, the violence done with, by and for the people.

This is a great book for reminiscing, although try not to turn your head on the parts that could pain your soul (as there are many). If you are up for the challenge, come, let’s go hand-in-hand with Adrian, Eliza and Anna, as they look back into their pasts and dance their lives away in the present. The future can wait, at least until after the Festival.

State of War by Ninotchka Rosca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Beautiful and Damned
This review may contain spoilers. Caveat emptor.

What a lovely little novel this is, one beautifully dripping with sarcasm. (Oh, Fitzgerald.)

This book is simply about what the title states: it's about the beautiful and damned. It deals with the lives of two persons who make it a point to live as gorgeously as possible, with damning consequences.

(This book rather reminds me of Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair. The two ladies (Becky and Gloria) seem to live the same life, although the cunning Becky cannot compare to the lovely Gloria. Becky's more proactive, too. (highlight for spoilers))

The storytelling is incredibly sarcastic. It tickles my bones and touches my heart with its sadness all at once. (I suppose that's how it is, as there's comedy in tragedy.) What's interesting about the sarcasm and irony here is the fact that, I believe, this is STILL applicable of modern times. (As it is just like the railroads to come out with new schedules containing new mistakes, instead of the old ones that the commuters had grown used to.)

While it follows the lives of the angelic Gloria and the handsome Anthony, this story is also briefly about the people they meet, the people whose lives they touch. It would be funny to say that they are all in the same boat, but while this is true, the couple definitely outshines the rest in living as they do. (And they all do live quite fashionably and lavishly.)

Upon getting deep into this book, I got this feeling as if I definitely know where all this was headed. The placement of too much trust in "friends", the refusal to take on any job lower than being a diplomat or an accomplished author, the unending parties and overflowing wine, the arrogance without conceit and beauty with pride. There was something wrong with the picture, but the entire scene held on anyway. You caught your breath, seeing Gloria in a new dress, while waiting for Anthony to come home from peddling Heart Talks. You smiled at Dick's latest book, while listening with awe to the quiet but intelligent Maury. You looked over the brim of your wineglass to see Geraldine give her chaste kisses, and you chuckle at Bloekman's stare at the hostess. You hear the quiet sobs of Dorothy as you look over Muriel's sway of the hips. This house of cards will fall, this ticking bomb will go off, this wisp of smoke will vanish into thin air... But, for the moment, it doesn't.

There are so many issues here. You smell the stench of war, you see the lure of moving pictures, you hear the disdain for philantropists, you taste the bitterness of tired love, you feel the howl of wind in a house too expensive to be kept. There's a funny little Japanese here, who seems to be a spy for the enemy. There's a little southern girl here, whose reputation was compromised by sullied lips. There's a knowledgable attorney here, who worked for the cause of the undeserving. There's a worried-but-not-worried little lady here, who is excited about the baby but who could really not care less about motherhood. So many stories revolving around two persons without a care.

This is an enjoyable book. I particularly liked the intelligent (and sarcastic, of course) snippets here (and therefore adore Maury). The ending was surprising and, well, quite expected. The spiral of degradation was imminent, but the journey towards that was pleasant, albeit fraught with notices for unpaid rent.

This is probably a book not be taken too seriously, unless you can get used to the words I don't care. There are thoughts here that lie beneath the book's surface that are definitely worth reading. All in all, it's an interesting journey with an interesting ending. Great read.

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Monday, August 13, 2012

The Woman by David Bishop

The Woman
This novel is about a woman who only wanted to retire from the cares of the world, but was pushed to action and danger by a singular event that happened to the only friend she had left in the world, or so she thought.


Linda Darby just wished to retreat from everyday nuances after her divorce. All she wanted was to recuperate from her pain, enjoy her day trading, and live enjoyably as a single woman with nice beachfront property. Little does she know that in just one day, her life changes from a seemingly peaceful one to one fraught with danger, all because of a rich and powerful man who wants to tie up loose ends. It helps, I guess, that she has a lone ranger on her side... Or is he working for something - someone - else? (Not important.)

This story is intelligent, action-packed and very thrilling.

It's intelligent, since Linda isn't one to swoon due to a crisis. She's a mature woman who knows what she needs and what she wants, who plays on her strengths and acts accordingly, and who is not afraid to be afraid (because there's such a thing as good fear and bad fear). She knows she's in a frightening predicament, but uses her level-headedness to do what she thinks is best.

It's action-packed, because it involves a mystery, murders, car chases, and surveillance. The lone stranger who ends up stalking her (for good or for bad, it's difficult to say) definitely makes sure that things are complicated and surprisingly easy.

It's thrilling, because you're not quite sure what happens next. Step by step, a plan is formed, but, as one of the characters here observes, one should be quick to improvise if necessary.

You've got a string of murders happening in a quiet town, an underground kingpin who only does what he thinks is best for his country, and a woman who only wants to be left alone. Well, that's what she thinks she wants anyway.

The book's really quite enjoyable, although I had to fast-track the monologue regarding American politics. (It's actually very interesting, but I felt it was a little too much for the book itself.) I was also getting rather frustrated at Webster near the end of the book, because I was looking forward to an interesting plot twist somewhere, but it never came. The pages before the ending were rather simple for me, although the ending itself rather surprised me. In case you were wondering, there's sex here, but only a glimpse of a sex scene.

Quite exciting, but I felt felt this book could've packed a better punch. It's quite a page-turner though, and features a smart, strong woman (and interesting men). It's also enjoyable and hard to put down. A good read, overall.

The Woman by David Bishop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lords of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg

Lords of Dyscrasia
"Just be mindful to sacrifice your dark emotions whence you arrive. Your soul will pale. The hue of your memories will desaturate. You will be cleansed. Protected."

This is a story of a man who worked to free himself from a lineage of bondage. He starts with simply denying the Rite of Inheritance of his forefathers, and soon finds himself undead and clothed in the skin of his enemies.

For this is the land of the Lords of Dyscrasia, a land where blood and ichor color the landscape.

Reanimation, specters and murderers are ever-present here, as are the traces of insectan elders and terrible harpies. They battle for the supremacy of their masters, fueled by contempt and guilty memories. They fill your senses with sanguine touches, and they haunt your soul with unforgiving murmurs.

I would definitely say that this is unique. I haven't read a lot of this genre, of speculative/horror/gore, but I must say that I had quite an enjoyable ramble as I walked through a world where I could sink my feet in bloodied pools or rotten corpses.

While this is not a book for the sick of heart, it is a fairly great story told by quite a technical hand. You have to be rather good at context clues (but it wouldn't be a problem if you're paying enough attention), but the details are consistent, surprising, shocking. I had some problems with the storytelling (rather confusing at times), but I'm sure that some details may be bypassed while still enjoying the story. The unraveling of the plot itself, however, was pretty good. The little details were significant too, which surprised me as I went along.

(Oh, and just to add: I absolutely loved Dey's parts. I liked this young artist of a man, with his sketches and searches for pigment. Bonus points for Dey!)

If you have no qualms reading dark fantasy (and feeling as if you've bathed in blood), pick up this book and enjoy. Come, the Lords of Dyscrasia are beckoning, calling you to claim your nightmares.

[ Note: I think this is more of a 3.5-3.75 for me, really... So I'll peg this at 4, to be generous ;) ]

Lords of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel

The Pied Piper of the Undead
Wow. How can a book of few pages sweep me off my feet so fast? Amazing, this novelette.

I like how simple the book is (although it is also very complex). I like how realistically fantastic and fantastically real it feels. I like how the character, the story and the setting has been placed in such a simple way, it’s almost too easy, it’s almost unbelievable (though also very believable at the same time). I like how easy it was for the storyteller to dip his hand into Peter’s past and shove it (or gently present it, when necessary) towards the reader’s silver plate. I like the ironies, the reminisces, the relationships, the parallelisms.

Of course, there are a number of unanswered questions here, but they are quite easy to brush aside when you catch Peter crying all of a sudden after playing a videogame, as you both listen to the undead howls in the night.

The title is apt (although at first I’ve been rather impatient to know why, the reason came soon enough), the story intense, the overall feel of the book great. Undoubtedly, there are some gross parts, but hey – it’s a book with zombies, for crying out loud. Nice take on the zombie apocalypse theme. Quite a “coming-of-age” story too, now that I think about it. Awesome read.

(I want to give it a 5, but I feel it’s more of a 4.8-4.9 for me. I’m leaving this at 4, then.)

The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Clockwork Blue by Gloria Harchar

Clockwork Blue (The Lumière Chronicles)
I picked this book up because I was attracted by its steampunk lure. Little did I know that the steampunk essense is only some 10% of the book. The rest is of fantasy, drama, sex and colors.

This book starts with pixies. Pixies, of all things. Little flying creatures who possess the power to balance and unbalance things in this world. One wrong step, and they've brought on world war, have allowed freakish things into our dreams, and have let loose some of the greatest evils on Earth.

Oh, and let's not forget that they're about as small as your thumb.

Interestingly enough, this novel isn't necessarily about the pixies. It's about a lady who can see them, and who, by some odd luck, is to be manipulated helped by these creatures into changing the course of history.

But I digress. Nicola, in all her tomboyish ways, doesn't seem to fit the part. It helps that her adversary's the Black Falcon, known for his malice and lies. So we got an unladylike lady who's up against a dark, handsome, "dangerous" man, and she's the key to changing the world for the better.


The storytelling's decent, although I at first felt confused about the part the pixies play in this mix. (It gets clearer as you go along, I suppose.) I myself sometimes get surprised when a pixie suddenly lands on Nicola's saucy nose.

The characterization is actually pretty good. I liked how human the players were here - they showed sensitivity, strength, loneliness, atonement. I like how a kind of psychology is described here, and how misunderstandings and reputation were handled quite well. Very nice.

The plot - interesting. The premise is quickly given out, really, but the turnout of events was easily played. Some expected turns and unlooked-for twists.

Nice ending. I think it would be lovely to know what has happened to this bunch after the Finale.

There are sex scenes in this book. I love how old English words were used here (addlepated, hoyden, etc). I enjoyed the history lesson, as well as a nice remembrance of the Industrial Revolution. The mechanical aspect here is not very detailed, but it happens. I kept muttering "tsundere" under bated breath.

Overall: An interesting look at industrial England, with a quirky little romance in the middle of it. A quick, cute read, all in all.

Clockwork Blue by Gloria Harchar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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