Some quickie reviews

Posted by Marie on Sunday, December 06, 2009 in , , , , ,
The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald
Fiction, General; ISBN 0395869463; Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.
Florence Green is a widow who, to the surprise of everyone, invested the little inheritance that she has to buying a centuries-old house and turning it into a bookshop, the only one for miles around.

This is, in its most basic, a poignant David-vs-Goliath story. I ached for Florence Green. She is a good soul, much too good for the small-town pettiness of the appropriately-named Hardborough. Textwise, the prose runs smoothly. I like that it is being gloriously short (a rarity, I'm sure). A good read altogether - perfect for that relaxing weekend afternoon. Best read with a pot of perfectly brewed English tea. Five stars.

The Queen Jade - Yxta Maya Murray
Fiction, Adventure; ISBN 0060582642; Harper Collins, 2005.
Lola Sanchez frantically searches for her archeologist mother in Guatemala when she disappeared during the onslaught of a fearsome hurricane. What she finds there was beyond her wildest expectations - legends, lost temples, mazes in the thickest jungles, ancient books, romances, quicksands, artifacts, jewels, traitorous guides, and many more.

If you like Indiana Jones, or better yet, Romancing the Stones, you'll like The Queen Jade. The characters are over-the-top, the plot is mostly implausible - sounds like a good junk-food type of fun to me. Best read with a bag of MSG-laden barbecue-flavored nacho chips. Three stars.

The PreHistory of The Far Side - Gary Larson
Non-fiction, Memoir; ISBN 0836218515; Andrews & McMeel, 1989.
Let's be clear about this: this is not one of the usual The Far Side cartoon compilation. This is a memoir (if you're polite) or a compilation of ramblings (if you're not) of its bizarre cartoonist, Greg Larson. It discusses the origin & evolution of the cartoons, as well as the Larson's creative process. It still have lots of past Far Side cartoons though; Larson had three sections for those he thought are flawed, those that had been controversial, and finally, those that are his personal favorites.

While I'm not a fanatic, I do like The Far Side, for all its crazy and often dark twists from reality. And it is interesting to know that behind that one-panel comic lies the mind of an talented but ordinary man.... nah, Greg Larson is, of course, demented as his creations show him to be. Best read while taking some good ol' tequila kicks. Five stars.

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At Seventeen

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 in ,

I learned the truth at seventeen.

That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth.

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say, "come dance with me"
And murmur vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen.

A brown eyed girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I never could pronounce said
Pity, please, the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve
The rich-relationed home-town queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company and haven for the elderly.

Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality
And dubious integrity
Their small town eyes will gape at you in
Dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen.

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me.

We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, "come dance with me"
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen.

Lyrics: Janis Ian; Artwork: Eliza Leahy

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FFP Christmas Exchange Gift Partners

Posted by Marie on Monday, November 16, 2009 in , ,
Note: I would've liked to post this info in my book club's forum but Shelfari, for all its nifty gadgets, don't even have the ability to put images & links in the post. Sheesh!

Selection process consists of going to the Random.org site and using their list randomizer program. If you doubt the randomness of their program, I suggest reading their FAQ and explanation of the science of random generation. I personally like the site because the creator (a Dr. Mads Haahr from Trinity College in Dublin) had, at one time, used a cheapo transistor radio and lots of whiskey for generating randomness. The current system phased out the whiskey bottles (reluctantly, I would think) but still have that lovely spirit of cheapness by using a probably old IBM machine with a Pentium III processor. He still uses that cheapo transistor radio though. Combined with the info that his favorite authors are Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Carroll and Harlan Ellison, I think Dr. Haahr is wonderful.

Okay, back to the exchange gift thing. Here's a screencap of the generated list.
I tried to do it exactly at 12 Noon PST but I think I'm off by a few seconds.

Here's the resulting partners:
Mommy/Daddy - Baby (I know, I know, the labels are sorta embarrassing..)
1. Peter - 8. Blooey
2. Maydayeve - 18. Hannah
3. Cecille -7. Maydiwayatangnawawala
4. Marie -2. Maydayeve
5. Czar -1. Peter
6. Fantaghiro23 -3. Cecille
7. Maydiwayatangnawawala -5. Czar
8. Blooey -14. Sana
9. Islandhopper -12. Kwesifriends
10. Welski -15. Aka Shy
11. Dyoklako -19. Geze
12. Kwesifriends -10. Welski
13. Joel G. -22. Oel
14. Sana -4. Marie
15. Aka Shy -9. Islandhopper
16. Skirmish -21. Ceejay
17. Jan -6. Fantaghiro23
18. Hannah -11. Dyoklako
19. Geze -20. Iyadls
20. Iyadls -16. Skirmish
21. Ceejay -13. Joel G.
22. Oel -17. Jan

Protests? Violent reactions? Make three copies of your formal complaint in the form of a 1000-page essay, have it notarized, and send it to the Comelec. :)

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My Thoughts on a Sunday at Quarter to Midnight

Posted by Marie on Monday, November 09, 2009 in ,
During a Friday night-out, a friend told me that if I were to make a essay, it would be in bullet-point. I agreed with him; I could've also added it will also be in power-point, and with charts.

That same night, I had been in a car crash. It was one of the worst night of my life because I had never felt so useless. I will never allow anyone to bring me home again.

I am so sorry.

Just a few years ago, I liked being awake at midnight. I had felt invincible then - no amount of sleep deprivation can topple me.

I don't want to be awake during midnight nowadays, not because my body can't handle the loss of sleep. I hate midnight because it's then that melancholia tend to creep up, threatening to smother me. And often, it succeeds.

That last one sound hokey, even if it's true. I roll my eyes at myself.

I am a fraud. I am skeptical of the sanity of people who listen to my ramblings. I applaud people who are skeptical to the saneness of my ramblings.

When I was in elementary, I won a few awards in essay-writing. During the second to the last contest - the regional level - I lost. I asked one of the coaches from other schools why. She told me that I paint detailed picturesque essays, the sort that makes one imagine the scenes vividly in her mind's eye, which will then coaxes a smile or two. But there is nothing beyond the nice pictures. My pieces don't have depth, they have no soul. I don't inject myself in them. She asked me what am I afraid of.

I still don't know the answer to her question.

I need to sleep (even if I had escaped and slept most of this weekend away). I am glad to go back to my cubicle tomorrow. I don't want to think dangerous thoughts anymore.

Image is Melancholic Tulip, NY by Andre Kertesz

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Volunteers needed desperately!

Posted by Marie on Friday, October 23, 2009 in , ,
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is in dire need of volunteers assistance in repacking relief goods at the DSWD National Relief Operations Center.

I knew about this a week ago when they sent a memo to our office asking for help - I just didn't realized how badly until a friend posted a blog in Facebook, reporting that the relief goods in their warehouse are spoiling.

Photo is from Jenni Epperson's blog

They also need volunteer counselors who are capable of conducting trauma counseling to the typhoon victims.

The DSWD have an online volunteer registry if want read more information on volunteering with them. Here's the contact info from their homepage:

"If you are interested to render volunteer work to do repacking of good and/or provide stress debriefing session, please click here and register online, or call DSWD - SWIDB at telephone number (02) 951-28-05. You may also call or text Dir. Ma. Suzette M. Agcaoili at 0928-505-9108 / 0928-479-3523 or Mr. Tony Binalla at 0921-219-3646."

You really don't need to register first before volunteering. You can just call them up to get your schedule and which DSWD location you'll be assigned and that's it. You can also call Ms. Nolee Macabagdal at 951-2805 and 931-8101 loc 405.

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Tell me what you think...

Posted by Marie on Thursday, October 22, 2009 in , ,
.. of my new layout. I was annoyed at how much tinkering I need to do with images in the former one, not to mention that I'm forced to make it small enough to fit the narrow window. That means no travel blogs (all those photos!), posts look longer, and few cute kitten pics (heheheh). This new layout is slightly larger, not to mention way more dramatic. Nice no?

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Off to a great start

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 in , , ,
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins Science Fiction, YA; ISBN 0-439-02348-3; Scholastic Press, 2008.

Dystopian societies are not new in the world of science fiction, and neither are gladiatorial games. These two succinctly describe Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the first book of a trilogy that describes the future nation of Panem, a nation comprised of a capitol city surrounded by twelve outlying districts. To keep the people of these districts subservient and frightened, the Capitol yearly hold The Hunger Games, where twenty-four children from the districts are forced to fight each other to the death. Enter our heroine Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year old girl from District 12. Life had made her into a survivor – but can she survive the arena of the Hunger Games?

I got my copy of the book one night when two nice people from Scholastic came to meet a few book bloggers. I must admit I wasn’t impressed the first time I read the blurb. The plot is a mixture of different science fiction, historical and fantasy novels and movies (let me just enumerate those that I know: The Running Man, Spartacus, Gladiator and the most comparable of them all, the Japanese movie and book, Battle Royale), not to mention that it borrowed heavily from usual Greek mythology sources (the Minotaur tale, to be exact) and those popular reality shows (umm, Survivor & Big Brother, anyone?).

I was therefore surprised when I found myself hooked after just reading the first chapter. It is one of those books that you can’t put down – to use that old and tired phrase, this one is a page turner. It struck me that for a dystopian novel, The Hunger Games is surprisingly full of hope. This lack of cynicism is probably what had appealed to me. Katniss is a survivor yes, but she is also a symbol of human decency and compassion even in the face of moral and societal degradation. Suzanne Collins made her characters unforgettable. I’m also pleased with the way romance had been handled. To intermesh it to the basic survival of our heroes is one clever plot trick.

I’m annoyed at how the marketing people overly do the hype for the trilogy, even when the last one is still non-existent. Ms. Collins doesn’t need the extra pressure right now, and I just hope this clamor will not affect the quality of the last book. I like Katniss of course, but I hope that other characters would be fleshed out by the second and third book (would love to know more about Peeta and Haymitch). So until I read the next two installments, I consider this review incomplete.

5 out of 5 stars

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Another year, another MIBF

Posted by Marie on Sunday, September 20, 2009 in , ,
The 30th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) is going to end today. I went there yesterday and came home with an empty wallet but a satisfying haul. I wish I can go there today - I’m sure the booths are going to do an all-or-nothing book sale war - but I’m not sure my woeful finances can handles any more additional pressure. Sigh. But anyway, here is my opinionated thought on the week-long book orgy.With Powerbooks out of the scene and with National Book Store being the only major book store chain to have a booth, the MIBF this year had inadvertently made smaller book stores and local publishers shine more brightly this year. I wasn’t surprised when I heard some grumbles from other shoppers that book buying at the MIBF is harder this year. I quite disagree with them. One of the reasons I love going to the MIBF is because it is the only chance one can see local publishers and smaller book sellers in one place. Not only that. MIBF is one of the few times when these exhibitors sell publications that one might not be able to see the light of day in book stores and/or without going to their respective offices. And oftentimes at bargain prices, to boot!

I would give the best seller prize for this year to Bookmark. They gave the best bargain of the entire fair when they sold some of those beautiful hardbound Lacson-Locsin translations of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo at 200 pesos a copy. I managed to get a Fili but cried a little when I wasn’t able to get a Noli (sob!). Another best seller from Bookmark was some 10 pesos per pack old Philippines photos and scenes as well as the cheap (below 50 pesos) children’s books. Next on the list is, of course, National Book Store. A bargain hunter will always adore a bookseller when it offers at least a 20% discount on ANY book in its store. Their sale during the MIBF (and during the whole month of September, actually) is thus always a goldmine for graphic novel enthusiasts who go gaga over the availability of good selections at bargain prices. I particularly like it that they had offered Oxford World’s Classics at 99 pesos a pop (and with 20% off, that means it's actually just 80 pesos). I bought a complete set of Jane Austen’s work – well almost, since there weren't any copies of Pride and Prejudice in NBS, or strangely enough, in the entire book fair itself. A Different Bookstore also had a good bargain deal but they should’ve paced the restocking of their inventory a little better – many good titles had been sold out during the first few days of the fair and the remaining ones are a bit unappetizing.

There is a tie for the most fun exhibit in the fair between Lampara Books and Diwa Learning System. The prettiest inventory is that of Ayala Foundation; I’ll also give it the gosh-I-wish-I-can-afford-that! prize. The most disappointing sale is that of Anvil Publication – the have great books but sad, unappetizing bargain bins. The most underrated and hope-they-have-a-better-setup-next-year prize is given to National Historical Institute (NHI) – great selection, great bargain, bad booth setup. The hippest inventory is that of Visprint Publishing (love the Bob Ong T-shirt btw), plus we saw Carlo Vergara for the nth time. I’m not much into Christian literature but the OMF Literature booth was jam-packed. UP Press had the best bargain among the few university and organization exhibits in the fair.

Well, that’s it for the 30th MIBF. It had I been a great experience yet again. I hope to see more exhibits in 2010!

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Last public interview of Cory Aquino

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, August 04, 2009 in ,
With Jessica Soho, from GMATV's blog on Cory Aquino's death. You can read the transcript here.

"Ako’y nagpapasalamat sa Panginoong Diyos na ginawa niya akong isang Pilipino"

-- Cory Aquino, September 2008

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diet book

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, August 04, 2009 in , , ,
Dr. Kushner's Personality Type Diet – Robert Kushner
Non-fiction, Diet; ISBN 0312325827; St. Martin's Griffin, USA: 2004.

I found this among my book/TBR piles and read it for my book club's August meet (the topic will be about Health, Fitness and Well-being). I've looked around the web and was a bit surprised that this diet garnered positive reviews from established diet and health sites and was even discussed in peer-reviewed journals.

Despite the hokey title, I found it fun, simple and common-sensical (is that a word?). Plus it has this quiz in chapter two that you answer and then boom, you get to know what your diet, exercise and coping personalities are - it reminded me of those fun quizzes in facebook.

Based on this 66-question quiz, I learned that I'm a "Healthy Portioner" (aka the takaw tingin, who piles too much food on her plate during buffets). But my main problem is that I don't do exercise; in fact I'm both an "All-or-Nothing Doer" (aka the weekend warrior, who's only active in spurts/during the weekdays) and a "No-Time-to-Exercise Protestor" (unless I can exercise while sleeping, of course). It also seems that I'm also suffering from low self-esteem ( "Low-Self-Esteem Sufferer"), not to mention that my life is too fast-paced ("Fast Pacer") and that I have unreasonable expectations ("Overreaching Achiever"). Never realized that I have a lot of issues, so thank you very much Dr. Kushner.

The strength of this book isn't from that gimmicky personality type thing - its the chapters on how to read the ingredient and nutrition labels on the back of products, as well as the few recipes given. They are decent and practical, although the ingredients in the recipes are understandably US-oriented.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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poe and the black cat

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 in , ,
My cat, Shadow, hates Edgar Allan Poe. Of all the books lying around my apartment, it's the one she decided to punch holes into - much to my despair because I like the title of this particular anthology: "Selected Prose and Poetry of Poe" (nice alliteration, don't you think?).

She probably thought I'll get an idea or two of cat-torture from the book. Sheesh, if I were that cruel, I would've named her "Pluto". *rolling my eyes*

By the way, she does have this strange white patch on her chest... hmm, doesn't bode well for me, no? :P

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hard sf, anyone?

Posted by Marie on Monday, June 22, 2009 in , ,
The Compleat McAndrew – Charles Sheffield
Fiction, Science Fiction; ISBN 0-671-57857-X; Baen, New York: 2000.

This is an anthology of hard science fiction (sf) stories. Hard science fiction is defined in Wikipedia as "characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both". Charles Sheffield's definition of what isn't hard sf is better: "if you take the science and scientific speculation away from a story, and not do it serious injury, then it was not hard sf to begin with". What I like about this definition are two things - first is the stressing of the importance of the scientific mumbo-jumbo in the story, and second is that it isn't all truly grounded to reality, it may even be all just speculation, but the important thing is that it is believable and consistent to the current scientific knowledge of that time.

The book is a compilation of (mis)adventures of a physicist, Arthur Morton McAndrew and his long-suffering companion, the spaceship captain Jeanie Roker. If that sounds fun, I assure you that it is, unless you're a novice hard sf fan (I'm not even talking about those who aren't sf reader). Even the author (a true-to-life mathematician and physicist) had unapologetically stated in the Appendix that the stories the hardest sf that he had ever wrote. That is what makes the book both appealing and unappealing; people would either like it or hate it - no fence sitting.

I liked the stories but I have to admit that it has flaws. Hard sf books may ground themselves to real science, but they are still work of fictions - hence they still need to appeal to readers. I think Sheffield knows this, which is why his better stories are his later ones (they were written when he had quit his scientific profession and wholeheartedly became a writer); unfortunately, this realization had been a bit too late. I also noticed that he was often deliberately ambiguous and obfuscating, which I did not like, considering there are other sf authors that didn't need to trick the reader to force them to his viewpoint.

Finally, although his scientific grounding may be neat, some of his story development were illogical and a few characterization illogical - perhaps so that his characters will do or be in a more fantastic (hence interesting) position in otherwise boring and mostly procedural stories.

But still, all in all, I did like them, even if they are not representative of the hard sf genre. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

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heart, family, food

Posted by Marie on Friday, June 19, 2009 in , , , ,
Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions – Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio & Felice Prudente Sta. Maria (editors)
Non-fiction, Food & culture, Filipiniana; ISBN 971-1594-9; Anvil, Manila: 2005.

The slow food movement was first established in Italy as a reaction to the burgeoning rise of fast foods in the 80s. According to the wikipedia, the movement aims to "preserve the cultural cuisine and the associated food plants and seeds, domestic animals, and farming within an ecoregion." It had spread to the Philippines with the help of the esteemed Doreen G. Fernandez, who had sadly died before the first official Manila Convivium (a sosy term for Slow Food organization's local branch) had been established. The book was written to convey to people the need to preserve our traditional culinary culture and heritage - regional dishes fills one with pride and homesickness, heirloom recipes, no-shortcut cooking, and food prepared from scratch and only with the finest ingredients. The book has three parts: the first part, "No Shortcuts" comprise of essays on heirloom recipes and familial culinary heritages; the second is called "True to Traditions" and is about regional customs and food; finally the third part is "Tastes of Times", about seasonal food and the changing food traditions of the old amidst this new era.

In between a hot cup of fruit-infused tea & a bottle of Bugnay wine

I bought the book (fittingly) in the culturally significant Vigan, in between getting myself a taste of their famous empanadas and rushing to join my group in Cafe Leonora. I've read most of the first part in the back of a van in the last leg of our Ilocos trip - thus making me regret not buying some tinubog or sukang Ilocos. In fact, before this book I was blissfully unaware of the culinary heritage that surrounded me all my life. Now, I like to think of myself as a semi-Bulakena and semi-Manilenya, plus some liberal dash of Bisaya (courtesy of my Cebuano dad and Ilonga mom) in the mix.

My favorite part of the book is the second one. It made me conscious of those that I had been taking for granted - for example, those bite-size puto that I love to buy from the lola in the Karuhatan market before traveling back to Makati is actually known as putong Polo (Polo being the former name of my hometown of Valenzuela). An essay on Ilonggo food made me remember my first trip to Iloilo with my mom - one of my best memories was of batchoy, when she brought me to La Paz market for my first taste of the soup (I can honestly say that I haven't found any batchoy within the Metro that can compare with that bowlful). And my favorite essay is on Pangalay food (hmm, shouldn't this be spelled as "Pang-alay"?), because that is MY family's tradition: to make a kakanin dish or two on All Saint's Day as a pang-alay to our dead relatives. It may be the biko of the essay, it can also be palitaw, kalamay, or this ube-colored malagkit that I can't, for the life of me, remember the name, basta I usually get conscripted to be the stirrer (an unwelcome and boring chore for a kid because of the very thick consistency of the kakanin). The cooking takes up the rest of the day. At around 6 o' clock in the evening, after lighting the first two or three candles in the front porch (when one is spent it will be replaced, up until bed time), extra dishes with the kakanins will be placed in the middle of the dining table for the relatives that will be visiting the living for that special day. Spooky? I didn't think so then, and even 'til now.

The third part isn't really that much of our tradition, considering our family don't bake. But considering our proximity to Bulacan, I love hot chocolates and sapin-sapin. And this part had a recipe for Kalamansi cake, a dessert that I fell in love when I went to Baguio last week.

So anyway, I think I'll give this one a 4 and 1/2. It's a great book; it's just that this edition isn't that great (as with any Anvil newsprint editions), with the very thin newsprint paper and the unwieldy textbook size. I guess they'll be reprinting this one into a better (but pricier) edition soon.

4 and 1/2 out of 5

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Posted by Marie on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 in ,
xkcd is the best webcomic in the whole world wide web.

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food trip

Posted by Marie on Monday, June 15, 2009 in ,
For you books AND food (who isn't both?) lovers out there, here's something to do on June 20:

Here's the link for those who are lazy to write: http://tinyurl.com/mr2hqu.

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blatant stupidity

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, May 12, 2009 in , ,
What do you know, every one is wrong.

Novels and reading books are certainly NOT EDUCATIONAL.

Philstar Article: Pinoy book lovers criticize new Customs policy

So boys and girls, the next time your teacher is making you read a novel for a book report, or maybe she's requiring you to read Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo for Filipino, just tell her she's wrong, 'cause Usec. Sales says so.


Here's a better idea. If your free this Sunday, May 24, why not come to the Baywalk area for the BOOKBIGAYAN 2009:

Sunday, May 24, 2009
Baywalk Roxas blvd across Malate Church
3pm til sunset

We're giving them away for free!

Rock Ed invites you to bring used/old books to give away. We will invite people to just come and browse through our donated books and they are free to take books, maximum of 5 per person. But give anyway! Books left behind will be added to our public school book donation delivery before the school year starts.

Rock Ed Philippines is not happy about the taxes imposed on books. If you feel the same way, please join us.

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A low blow on Pinoy bookworms

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, May 06, 2009 in ,
Local netcitizens, especially the book lovers out there, are all agog on what is now called the "The Great Book Blockade of 2009".

Here are some articles about it:
Btw, here are the links to all those laws and agreements mentioned:

And I just have to quote this (Text enclosed in [] and starts with MY NOTE are my insertions. Bold highlights are all mine.):


Conditionally-Free Importations. — The following articles shall be exempt from the payment of import duties upon compliance with the formalities prescribed in, or with, the regulations which shall be promulgated by the Commissioner of Customs with the approval of the Secretary of Finance... [MY NOTE: Three other provisions then follows]:

[MY NOTE: It then list specific items that can fall on this section. The one we are interested in is Subsection (s) of Section 105 which had been amended in 1973]

Section 1. Subsection (s) of Section 105 of Republic Act Numbered nineteen hundred thirty-seven, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

"s. Economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical, and cultural books and/or publications: Provided, That those which may have already been imported but pending release by the Bureau of Customs at the effectivity of this Decree may still enjoy the privilege herein provided upon certification by the Department of Education and Culture that such imported books and/or publications are for economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical or cultural purposes or that the same are educational, scientific or cultural materials covered by the International Agreement on Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials signed by the President of the Philippine on August 2, 1952, or other agreements binding upon the Philippines.

"Educational, scientific and cultural materials covered by international agreements or commitments binding upon the Philippine Government so certified by the Department of Educational and Culture.

"Bibles, missals, prayer books, Koran, ahadith and other religious books of similar nature and extracts therefrom, hymnal and hymns from religious uses."

It might be how I'm reading it but I still can't find the specific provision for 5% or even the 1% duty they are imposing in the above section. In fact the way I'm reading it (and I might be wrong) books (provided they are "economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical, and cultural books" and also included books specified in Annex A of the Florence Agreement) should be excepted from any duty. In Kenneth Yu's interview of Undersecretary Sales, she had mentioned that the 1% is "for, to use her words, "control/monitoring" of the imported books coming in".

My opinion?

It all comes down to their (Department of Customs or Finance?) implementation of their interpretation of Section 105 of the Tariffs and Customs Code versus the current implementation of Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials.

I'm interested in what the National Book Development Board will do. I rather wait for every possible stake holder's response before posting anything further.

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Literate Good Citizen?

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 in , ,
I got this idea from Fantaghiro's post. It sounded cute so I gave it a shot.

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Even if I'm a bit disappointed (I was expecting at least bookworm level), I had to admit that the result did reflect my reading habits. It seems that I'm more of a book collector nowadays than a book reader. Awww.

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It is exhausing really

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 in ,
One of my New Year resolution is to make a database of the piles and piles of books that I own. It's not so much that I don't like organizing things but for an supposedly IT techie, I hate encoding stuff, even for personal reason. And it's not helping that these piles strangely grow on their own in places where I live - namely my apartment, my cubicle, and my room in my parent's house at the suburbs.

It was the Earth Hour 2009 last March 28, that spurred me to action. Aside from watching the short but nice concert, we (well at least I) bought some books from Booksale, including a highly wanted Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Went home tired and sleepy. The next day I tried to go out of the bed - only to find out that the floor had been suddenly flooded with books that toppled the night before. Sighhh.

Jailed by books wanting to be databased. Behind me is the kitchen sink.

So anyway, I found out that I buy a disproportionate number of science-fiction and fantasy. Not surprising, since it is an incurable habit of mine to escape from reality at least once a day (not including sleep, of course). Next on the list is science non-fiction. How nerdy of me. I'm surprised that I don't own that much romance though; must be because most of them are with my mom. Other tall piles are crafts and sewing how-tos (I do some knittings, crochetings, cross-stitching and paper crafts), historical fiction and non-fiction, classics (surprise, surprise) and adventure fiction.

Lesson learned? I really need to cut down on those sci-fi and fantasies.

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Posted by Marie on Friday, March 27, 2009 in ,
On Seeing the Body of a Man Lying among the Stones on the Island of Samine in Sanuki Province
Kakinomoto Hitomaro

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

O the precious land of Sanuki,
Resting where the seaweed glows
like gems!
Perhaps for its precious nature
I never tire in my gazing on it,
Perhaps for its holy name
It is the most divine of sights.
It will flourish and endure
Together with the heavens and earth,
With the shining sun and moon,
For through successive ages it has
come down
That the landface is the face of a god.

Having rushed our ship upon the breakers
From the port of Naka,
We came rowing steadily until the wind
That rises with the tides
Stormed down from the dwelling of
the clouds -
Looking back upon the open sea
I saw waves gather in their mounting
And looking off beyond the prow
I saw the white waves dashing on
the surf.

In awe of the terrible sea,
Where whales are hunted down as prey,
We clutched the steering oar,
Straining the plunging ship upon its
And though here and there
We saw the scattered island coasts
To dash upon for safety,
We sought haven on rugged Samine,
The isle so beautiful in name.
Erecting a little shelter, we looked about,
And then we saw you:
Pillowed upon your shaking beach,
Using those wave-beaten rocks
As if the coast were spread out for
your bedding;
On such a rugged place
You have laid yourself to rest.

If but I knew your home,
I would go tell them where you sleep;
If your wife but knew this place,
She would come here searching for you,
But knowing nothing of the way -
The way straight as a jeweled spear -
How must she be waiting,
How anxiously now longing for you,
She do dear who was your wife.

If your wife were here,
She would be out gathering your food,
She would pick the greens
From the hill slopes of Samine -
But is their season not now past?

So you now rest your head,
Pillowed on the rocky spread-out bedding
Of this rugged shore,
While the furious, wind-driven surf
Pounds ever in form off the sea.

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Gnod is good

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
Literature-map: when you don't know what to look for

Have you ever had a favorite author and want to read more but don't know which one are of the same milieu? Did you ever want to read something familiar but different at the same time? Did you ever have a book that you want to know if you'll like but without reading a single page?

The answer to your problem is http://www.literature-map.com. The premise is that the closer a writer is to the one you specified, the more likely you'll enjoy reading his work. The engine that runs this is called Gnod and was made by a German, Marek Gibney. He describes it as:
"Gnod is my experiment in the field of artificial intelligence. Its a self-adapting system, living on this server and 'talking' to everyone who comes along. Gnods intention is to learn about the outer world and to learn 'understanding' its visitors. This enables gnod to share all its wisdom with you in an intuitive and efficient way. You might call it a search-engine to find things you don't know about."

To see similar nifty searches on movies, music and other people, just go to http://gnod.net.

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Layered creepiness

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
Dark Water – Koji Suzuki
Fiction, Horror; ISBN 10932234-10-1; Vertical, New York: 2004 (originally published in Japan as Honogurai mizu no soko kara, Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo: 1996).

Water as the harbinger of both life and death – that is the most obvious theme of this anthology of horror stories. In “Floating Water” (of which the movie Dark Water is based) a mother and daughter were beset by a specter of a lonely drowned little girl; “Solitary Isle” tells of a creature lurking in a seemingly pristine island; “The Hold” is a chilling tale of revenge served by a dead wife to her fisherman husband; “Dream Cruise” is a tale of a yacht crew being held hostage by a ghost; “Adrift” is a mind-bending story of a ghost ship; “Watercolors” is about the strange happenings in the toilet of an abandoned discotheque; “Forest under the Sea” is about an explorer that had discovered a mysterious cave that flows beside and under a river; and finally, the “Prologue” and “Epilogue” is cumulatively a story that ties in with the aftermath of what happened in “Forest under the Sea”.

Beneath the apparent premise, there are more subtle ones. All of the stories tackle the familial: of the complicated (regenerative and destructive) relationship of parents to children and vise versa, of the different and similarities despite generation gaps, of what it takes to be a family or be included in one in modern Japan (revolving around the Tokyo Prefecture; this specific placing is important to the third theme of the anthology which is the moral and physical decay of the city vis a vis with the cleansing power of nature). This inter-meshing of different layers within seemingly simple stories is what made the book profoundly mesmerizing and ultimately enjoyable.

This was the book I chose for the March reading discussion, where my book club talked about Japanese literature. I’m glad that I picked this as my book, since it made me think about what makes a Japanese story or novel, well, Japanese. Horror is certainly an intriguing genre, as almost everyone I know is exposed to the Western side of the idea: from Stephen King, Anne Rice, or the more classical Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few. But it seems that the Japanese had been dealing with the unknown and the paranormal for centuries, and it shows. To accept supernatural beings as casually as meeting another person, without reaching to far-fetched logical explanations, and even to accept premonitions and gut feelings (familiar to us as paramdam and kutob) is not just Japanese but is also inherently Asian.

But to tell you the truth, Dark Water doesn't belong to the horror genre at all. The horror is in the people of the story, rather than on any supernatural being. The anthology gives the reader glimpses of the darkness inherent in the human being, and that is what ultimately gives this book its eeriness. Many horror fans would be turned off by this; it might be boring to those who are expecting the usual fare from this author (considering that many of the now-famous Japanese horror flicks – The Ring is the best example – are based on his stories, I wouldn’t be surprised at that too). Personally, it is refreshing to read something creepy without the blood, gore and all the mess. And I do hope I won't be the only one.

5 out of 5

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A good cliché

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
The Named – Marianne Curley
Fiction, Fantasy, YA; ISBN 1-58234-913-4; Bloomsbury, 2002.

For once, the review blurb at the back had been accurate. It is from Kirkus Review (I don’t know this publication though) and it says:

“Swashbuckling time-travel plus soap-opera relationships make for a page-turning start to a promised trilogy… An ongoing guilty pleasure.”

Yup, that sums up what I think of this book so neatly that I just stop right here… but then, I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing another person’s review.

In my own words, I just will describe The Named as a decent read. Not a must-read but it is a good book that can be absorbed as an in-between. It has all the right ingredients for a fantasy adventure YA book – exciting action, good nicely-plotted fantasy story, characters that aren’t annoying (only slightly so), even a hint of budding romance (but not so much). By the end of the book, I’m searching Bookmooch to see if there are copies of the second and third book out there. Yet I’m still giving this one an imperfect score.

The problem is that the story is predictable and the book is rife with fantasy clichés (for more information, I suggest The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones' very excellent 'travel guide'). Time travel, hidden worlds, nine chosen ones as destined saviors – yes, all the familiar and comfortable fare. Even the six of the nine chosen saviors (gods, nine is so Lord of the Rings) is formulaic – the rugged handsome young leader, the Elvin-like almost-immortal guide/mage, the angst-ridden haunted warrior, the jokester, the doubter, and right down to the pure-of-soul female cleric-err, healer. As in any typical fantasy yarn, most of the characters are underdeveloped, to make way for the adventure-driven plot. Despite this, the book isn’t that bad – it’s just that a true-blue fantasy reader might find herself a little restless, that’s all.

4 out of 5

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A deliberate hit

Posted by Marie on Friday, March 20, 2009 in , , , ,
Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare (Book 1) – Darren Shan
Fiction, Horror, Children; ISBN 0-316-90571-2; Little Brown, 2000.

Most boys of any age like the icky the bloody, and the gross – and Darren Shan would know that all too well, or he wouldn’t had wrote this long novel of 13 parts.

Now you might think that I didn’t like the book; I did. The book was fun and simple (too simple in the first few chapters that it almost had that talking-down tone that many children’s book fall on all too often). Despite the easy wording, the action was fast-paced, the characterizations are satisfying, and the macabre (but not too much) details are mesmerizing. The protagonist, Darren Shan is a boy that any kid of the same age can very well relate to and sympathize with.

This is just the prep of the long “Saga of Darren Shan”, and it shows. I have nothing against multi-book serials; just as long as each part is satisfying by itself – needless to say, this one failed me. The bare story should had been fleshed out, or better yet, the first three books should had been combined (of course, the publishers won’t do that; any savvy book marketer would be horrified to waste profit).

I did hear that the saga gets better along the way. I don’t doubt that – I’m sure I’m going to enjoy books 2 to 13 too. But everything had the aura of being too calculated, like anything less than fun is going to be harmful to the revenues. This is, after all, a budding franchise which, by the looks of the things – including the upcoming movie and the increasing number of fans, both young and old – wouldn’t be waning any time soon.

3 out of 5 stars

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Where will you be on March 28 at 8:30pm?

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in ,


At 8:30 PM on 28 March 2009, cities and towns all over the world will switch off their lights for one hour—EARTH HOUR—sending a powerful global message that it is possible to take action on global warming.

You can help and participate in this global call to action on global warming by switching off your lights during Earth Hour, and do more by getting more and more people to make a difference on climate change.

For Local Government Units:

• Switch off lights in major thoroughfares and landmarks in your areas of jurisdiction during Earth Hour, if and when possible.

• Mobilize your communities to switch off their lights in their households.

• Mobilize stakeholders in organizing Earth Hour events in your city or community.

For Businesses:

• Switch off your corporate signages and/or majority or all of the lights at your headquarters and facilities during Earth Hour.

• Encourage your employees to switch off lights in their households during Earth Hour.

• Place standard Earth Hour banners/streamers in your building facade and facilities that are seen or accessed by the public as part of awareness building.

• Use your communication channels to promote Earth Hour.

For the Church/NGOs/Civil Society/Academe:

• Encourage your networks and communities to switch off the lights in their households during Earth Hour.

• Mobilize your networks and communities to participate at the Earth Hour Countdown Event to be held at the SM Mall of Asia on March 28, 2009, from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

• Organize your own Earth Hour event in your community or locality to widen the reach of the campaign, and relate this event with your own environmental programs and other advocacies.

• Use various communication channels to promote Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is a major call to action for every individual, community, business, and government to act and ensure a sustainable future. Join us as we unite with the world in taking a stand on global warming.

For more information, please visit http://www.earthhour.org.

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A children's story from a sadly bygone era

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in , , ,
The Otterbury Incident – C. Day Lewis, Illustrations by Edward Ardizzone
Fiction, Children's ; No ISBN; Puffin Books edition, 1961 (first published in 1948).

I’ve done it again. I’ve placed a book in my Bookmooch inventory that I now want to keep for myself. *Sigh*

When I saw this book in Booksale, I was intrigued by the cover – that is unusual because I usually decide chiefly from the back blurb (which this book doesn’t have). It does have some sort of front description though:

“This is a really super story – I should know, I wrote it.”

So says George, the smug narrator. Of which the editor added:

“P.S. George is right, although he sound a bit too pleased with himself – it’s a very good story and we think everyone between 9 and 12 will enjoy it – girls as well as boys”.

I’m not sure if that is accurate though, unless the editor meant girls that are slightly tomboyish (although one have to admit that most real girls are tomboyish). It is an action-filled novella after all, full of heroic battles, mortal combats by water-pistols or wooden swords, some Sherlock Holmesian sleuthing, funny stuff, crime-fighting commandos, and other jolly good deeds.

Oh, I had just to mention the writing. For example: “The Abbey tower rode the morning mists like a galleon’s poop.” Yup, that sounds like a cheeky 12-year old English boy to me.

Despite the details that set the book in England of World War II, the story doesn’t talk directly about that war, which makes one even more sensitized to the situation. The War is something that the children accept all too tacitly for comfort, such as it is natural to have older brothers in RAF and to have food rationed out, or to even have bombs occasionally fall from the sky. And this is one of the reasons why I liked it – of course, it is tragic but look at this quiet insignificant village – despite the hardship, lives bloom, and boys will still be (adorable, pesky little) boys.

5 out of 5 stars

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Deliciously good fantasy

Posted by Marie on Friday, February 27, 2009 in , , , ,
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adults / Children; ISBN 0-380-80734-3; HarperTrophy, 2003.

Let’s face it. Neil Gaiman is a darn good storyteller and the people to complain that his awards were the results of just being popular clearly don’t know what they are talking about. But I have to be honest here – despite being a fan, I only know him for his graphic novels, with the large bulk from his multi-awarded Sandman series, and a smattering of his Marvel projects. This is my first time reading a pure text-based Gaiman work.

And I simply loved it. While it is obviously a children’s book, anyone who can read and love fantasy and all its trappings – quirky characters, wonderland settings and curveball-kind of plot turns – would surely be swept away. It is deliciously creepy to adults, and I imagine it to be scarier to the kids. But it never patronizes the young readers, like many YA and children’s books tend to do. It also doesn’t insult their intelligence and capability to handle strange and/or frightening story twists.

Many of the acclaims and blurb compared Coraline to the Narnia series and Alice in the Wonderland, of which Gaiman obviously borrowed heavily from (Hidden doors? Passageway to another world? Talking cat? A lost girl?). If the story isn't original, what made it a good read then? Well, to answer myself, Gaiman's cleverness springs from hpw he weaves these familiar threads into something that looks inventively new, even if it’s really is not. He is simply a very decent writer who knows how to control and discipline his work into a finely-tuned novel.

I really shouldn’t end this review without saying anything about Dave McKean. McKean and Gaiman had been working together since the Sandman days, and the comfortable relationship between the two shows in their output. While I don’t know the first thing about giving critiques on illustrations, I do like McKean’s quirky and messy style, which compliments Gaiman’s weird story.

Give this book all the stars that you can dole out – it deserves every last one.

Should be given more than 5 out of 5

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Wasting a perfectly good tree

Posted by Marie on Friday, February 27, 2009 in , ,

A Soldier’s Christmas – Rachel Lee, Merline Lovelace,Catherine Mann
Fiction, Romance, Anthology;
ISBN 0-373-77014-6; HQN, 2004.

When I picked up this book, I though, hmm, soldiers and Christmas – might be a nice light romance fluff, something palate-cleansing before reading another “heavier” book. Boy, I was wrong. Such an uninspired nonsense. What a propagandist slop. It heavily doles out sermons of the truth, justice and the American way that even the most patriotic American housewife would roll her eyes and/or give a snicker or two. If you’re not with the good guys (i.e. US armed forces and everyone that are 100% rooting for them), you’re probably a bad guy (i.e. the “terrorists” or “rebels”, terms that the book dispense liberally but is unsurprisingly and conveniently vaguely defined).

This might be my worst book of the year. Better steer away from this one.

1/2 out of 5 stars

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Simple but fun

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, February 11, 2009 in , ,
Confessions of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella
Fiction, Chicklit; ISBN 0-385-33548-2; Delta Paperbacks, 2001.

This is my first chicklit. While I try to discard expectations, I do have high hopes for this one as it was highly recommended by friends. And it was indeed such an enjoyable read!

So okay, confession time. I'm a boring shopper. I don't know why some people enjoy it so much or why they get the most expensive labels. I buy what I need, of course, and do the occasional splurging (on books most of the time) but I don't dent even a fraction of my Visa credit limit. Which is why I can't relate with Becky Bloomwood's financial woes or with her greatest shopping triumphs. You're probably asking: if that's the case, why did I still thought that it was a fun read?

My answer is that Sophie Kinsella is a surprisingly decent writer. Never mind the shallow plot (the stuff of many romantic comedy movies); the real engine of the book are the characters. This is a book where most of the secondary characters are interesting (my favorite ones are Becky's parents and neighbors). And even if I can't connect with her shopaholic side, I can relate to her career and image dilemmas. I know how it feels when people and circumstances force you into a pundit role and the only way to get out is to look knowledgeable and say what they want to you to say, even if no one really understands. Or when the friends you knew since forever 'grows up' and change, leaving you behind with your futile dreams. Or even when colleagues, co-workers and bosses don't take you seriously simply because you don't fit the image in their mind. Sigh.

Aside from the great characterization, the humor is fantastic. The story is episodic and many events aren't that important to the sliver of a book plot (not that the readers mind though).

I don't fancy the first part of the book that much (I wasn't interested in all that shopping). For most part of the book, Becky is whiny and annoying with her carelessness, cowardice and selfishness. But she is still entertaining, I'll give you that.

So anyway, the book is a good read despite the flaws, and highly suggested if you want to try the genre.

Four out of Five Stars

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Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Posted by Marie on Sunday, January 04, 2009 in , , ,
Jack of Shadows - Roger Zelazny ISBN: 0-802-75535-6; Science Fiction/Fantasy; Signet, 1971.

As a bibliophile, I thought I have the ability to judge the enjoyability of reading a particular book from only its cover and the back cover blurb, especially if it is a science fiction or fantasy novel. Well, this book (which I rescued from the garbage bin via Freecycle) had blown that self-image to smithereens.

The book tells of a world that had stopped rotating on its axis. The half of the planet bathed in light lives in a world of science and technology similar to ours, while the dark half lives in a world where magic rules. The titular character is a darksider, whose other alias, Shadowjack the Thief, bears testament to his magical ability (i.e. he draws his power from shadows) as well as his profession (a compulsive thief). The story tells of his death and resurrection, his quest for vengeance from those that did him wrong, his exile from the dark into the lightside, and his search for the powerful Key that was Lost, Kolwynia. After obtaining the Key, he eventually rose to power and ruled all of the darkside. But his actions, especially against the other darkside lords, had doomed the world, and thus he have to find a way to save the planet.

The mark of a true speculative fiction writer is the ability to paint alien landscapes, fantastical worlds and unusual characters in such way that readers will be helplessly hooked in this strange new world. Thus, mark of a brilliant speculative fiction writer is doing the latter without falling prey to predictability and clichés. While I recognize that Roger Zelazny is one of the best-known speculative fiction writers, I had made the gross mistake of labeling him as a fluff writer, his novels as fun but cheap, dime-store stock. I was wrong, and "Jack of Shadows" had forcibly put me in place.

The story is a novella and many would complain that it is too densely packed and the ending is too open-ended. While I do not think that the story is too rushed, I would have loved it to be longer, or better yet, have a sequel, just for the pleasure of reading more about Jack and his world. While Jack is complex character, the secondary ones could have been better if they were more fleshed out. The best aspect of the story, aside from Jack himself, is the characterization of the world - a hybrid of both typical science fiction and fantasy settings, vaguely formulaic but somehow, in its totality, it is not.

All in all, while I would recommend "Jack of Shadows" to other science fiction and fantasy readers, I would not suggest it to those new to the genre (who would be lost to the fast-paced and unpredictable plot), nor to those that require their science fiction to be more "science-y". I give this a five out of five stars.

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