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More Minds - Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , ,
More Minds - Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman; ISBN: 0-590-39469-X; Fantasy, Young Adults; Scholastics, 1998.

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on January 25, 2009.) 
 
Reading this book is like watching a full-length kiddie movie, the kind shown on Disney or Cartoon Network. And it is fun, if a bit surreal. What impressed me is that the premise of everybody having a too tremendous power – being able to change reality to suit themselves –is shown as not being the deux ex machina readers expect it to be (well, most of the time anyway). Unfortunately, the reason why the story was enjoyable, its bizarreness, is also its weakness; the story became too confusing, with incoherent storyline shortcuts done to quickly wrap up the plot. In short, it reads like it had been severely edited to keep it short, presumably not to tax out the attention span its target readers – children. It’s either that or they are planning to make a sequel. Either way, it is a good way to spoil a decent fantasy. Way to go Scholastic. Coupled with slightly unappealing lead characters, I give this a 4 out of 5.

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Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , ,
Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on February 3, 2009.)

Once upon a time, there was a prince who lived in an isolated forest/mountain kingdom. His mother had recently died thus making the king very sad and at the same time very protective of his only family. But the prince chafed and the king reluctantly allowed him for a solo trek through the realm. But whether through chance or fate, the prince had instead met a dying dragon - a dying mother dragon, with one of her dragonlet still breathing...


Well, not really. While the premise sounds like a typical high-fantasy dish, let me assure you it is not. The "kingdom" is an American forest park - think Yellowstone - in a modern world very similar to ours. The "prince" is Jake Mendoza, the teenage son of the Park Director. And while dragons are real, they are more or less treated ordinarily, an endangered species yes, but nothing that biologists and the rest of the scientific community couldn't explain.

Now if you think that is all there is to this story, then you don't know how adept Robin McKinley is in writing fantasy.

The fantastic and the mundane, the magical and the normal intertwine in this wonderful story. The story of a boy and his extraordinary "pet" may had been the stuff of many children's book and movies ("Free Willy" was the first thing that came to mind, then Naomi Novik's equally wonderful "Temeraire" series was the better second) but Ms. McKinley placed a fresh new twist to it. By making dragons commonplace and familiar in Jake's world, she had instead (and perhaps deliberately) emphasized their uniqueness to us readers who are bereft of dragons in OUR world.

The most contentious of the tools that Ms. McKinley used was the one many other readers claim made the book horrible - her use of the first-person narrative form. The assumption was that Jake was forced to write about his experiences with the dragons a few years back and that any way of writing his memoir will do, despite his lousy (to put it mildly) writing style. And yes, there are times that I can't blame them since Ms. McKinley might have put the laid-back tone a little too far sometimes. For example, I can't believe that a 22-year old guy (at the time of the supposed writing), someone who had supposedly aced all his high school aptitude exam, use the word "amazinger" in any way possible. Not to mention wasting a few pages botching up his explanation of how "dragon telepathy/language" works (don't ask, I don't understand it myself).

Yet it was strange that many people can't get past the writing to see the gem that is the story itself (just goes to show some people can be quite anal-retentive about what they think should constitute good writing *shrug*). Despite taking me aback for a few pages at the start, I do think the relaxed tone of the first-person narrative/memoir was quite charming. And this may be because Jake is one of the most charming hero I've read in a while. In fact, all of the characters are very believable, including the dragons themselves.

All in all, I've finished the book with a warm fuzzy feeling and a general goodwill of all creatures on earth - dragons or no dragons. Five Stars.

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Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , , , ,
Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix - Charles R. Cross; ISBN 1-4013-0028; Non-Fiction, Biography; Hyperion, 2005.

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on January 27, 2009.)

If you're a Jimi Hendrix fan, do not to read this review.

Okay, consider yourself warned.

At the end of three weeks (a long read by my standards), I have to make an effort to finish reading this book. It was difficult to maintain interest in that seriously stupid guy that was Jimi Hendrix. Deliberately wasted talent, deliberately wasted opportunity, deliberately wasted life.

I would had still found the book fascinating despite having an unpleasant anti-hero as a subject (I like reading about the music of the 60s and the 70s, and the evolution of the genre that we call Rock) if only Mr. Cross doesn't have a limitless supply of excuses for Hendrix's failings. As an example, Mr. Cross reluctantly reveals about Hendrix's tendency to use violence towards his girlfriends - but, he hastens to explain, that was just the alcohol speaking and he's really actually quite gentle. But when one reads these sort of instances again and again and again, Mr. Cross's protestations becomes, not just ridiculous, but insulting to the readers' intelligence.

To Mr. Cross defense, one can argue that he have to contend not just with the entire Hendrix clan, but the hundreds of fellow musicians, friends and fans who zealously guard Jimi Hendrix's memory. He then has no choice but to tiptoe around; give the truth, of course, but provide exhaustive explanations, using carefully chosen and sometimes blandly neutral words. The general tone, therefore, comes across as ludicrously apologetic.

Not everything is bad though. Mr. Cross is at his best when writing about Jimi Hendrix and his band's (whether the Experience or the Band of Gypsys) professional life. The (r)evolution comes alive that you can almost see and hear it - the early forays of Rhythm and Blues musicians to Rock, the London Mod culture, the parallel hippie and psychedelic culture in the US. It is fascinating to read about Jimi's interaction with his fellow musicians, especially my favorite ones. My favorite part of the book was on the Monterey Pop Festival, attended by the "British delegation" consisting of The Experience and The Who, who totally owned The Experience that Jimi Hendrix was forced to do show gimmicks just to keep up with Townshend's gang.

Finally, the reason why I gave a good 4 instead of a mediocre 3 was that I'm eternally grateful to Mr. Cross for giving me Jimi Hendrix the Blues man, rather than just the rock star. I admit that I am part of the crowd that knows him by his four hits (Voodoo Child, Hey Joe, All Along the Watchtower and Foxy Lady) - now I love him for his less famous songs, such as Gypsy Eyes (which I thought was an Eric Clapton original; just goes to show that even the greatest guitarists are not immune to the temptation to steal 'n own); Castle Made of Sand (sad and hauntingly beautiful lyrics); Angel (if there is any theme song of Jimi Hendrix's life, this one is it); Red House (one of his hits but is more bluesy than most); and many, many more.

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MIBF 2012 Loot

Posted by Marie on Sunday, September 16, 2012 in , , , , ,
My visit to this year's Manila International Book Fair is a restrained affair compared to the last few years.

My overall loot is just five titles
I bought locally published books for this year's haul. This was purely coincidental, as all five titles are tangential buys. The only book I had in my to-buy list is Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (for my book club's online discussion; I didn't find a copy though).

My first buys were from the UP Press:

Presenting America, Encountering the Philippines is a compilation of Fulbright lectures from American literature scholar Gerald Burns, on different literary and cultural topics relating to the Philippines, the US, or both. First impression is that it's like a more academic Pacific Rims, one that will probably give me nosebleeds. Target reading schedule: This year, after or while Howl's Moving Castle. Would be a nice complementary read before or while tackling Noli Me Tangere  for the December's discussion.

Memo Mulang Gimokudan: Aklat ng Tulang Tuluyan is a prose-poem collection from National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario (or if you prefer his pen name, Rio Alma). I bought this because of the beautiful language. Target reading schedule: None. One must digest this unrushed. Best read during quiet times, and while in transit (will be placing this in my backpack, until well worn).

From Anvil:

Sarap Pinoy: Mga Lutuing Pilipino by The Maya Kitchen Culinary Arts Center is a promising addition to my cook books. What I like about the recipes is that they are straightforward (no strange ingredients, no cuisine fusion of any kind). Plus, every entry has notes on the different regional/cultural takes of the same recipe. I found the addendum very useful, especially if I'm going to cook for visitors. Best of all, I love it that the book is in Filipino (I don't know if it's just me, but I find most Filipino recipes written in English confusing and awkward). Target reading schedule: None. I'll read as I cook along, and I intend to cook every recipe in the book.

From Tahanan books:

Three copies of the Super Boboy Adventures booklet for my three nephews. I bought them a copy each last year but they misplaced it somewhere. Too bad the sequels aren't available too.

Inside Manila with Kids: A Travel Companion for Parents by Didith Tan Rodrigo and illustrated by Robert Aguinaldo seems to be a nice little travelogue. I bought it to see if I can compare it with another Metro Manila travelogue I reviewed last year. It seems to be a good Christmas gift to expats or balikbayans who are planning to travel to the Philippines. Target reading schedule: Maybe next year. I'm assuming that the book will prompt me to visit the places listed in the book, and I'm anticipating that I'll have more free time next year.

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An unsent letter found partially burned in a fireplace: an epistolary fanfiction

Posted by Marie on Friday, July 13, 2012 in , , , ,
 Dear Mr Stevens,

        I will finally be leaving Darlington Hall tomorrow for a new life with Mr. Benn, and I should be resting for the long drive ahead. But instead I had lain awake for most of the night, thinking of ways to tell you things I wanted to say a long time ago. These things are, most definitely, not proper talk between professionals (as you call ourselves), and this letter might cause you some embarrassment or discomfort. For that, I truly offer my deepest apologies.

        I would admit that my first impression of you was not a positive one. To be frank, I found you obnoxious, snobbish, and overbearing, with a tendency to find fault in everything. I was certain that you were an automaton, like the ones found in those Verne novels, with a heart made of cold steel. I do apologize for any hurt this memory will cause you, but it was on your father’s deathbed that I had a glimpse of something curiously different. It was just fleeting, but I sensed then your vulnerability. That deep inside that shell of nonchalant professionalism, is a man, breathing, very much alive, and capable of feeling.

        Those times we were together – simple walks, chores done in silence – meant so much to me. I led a lonely life, and I believed that I found a kindred spirit in you. I will especially miss our daily meetings over cocoa. After talking about work, we’d find ourselves laughing over some silly things (which you’re probably be insisting right now only came from me), or some trivial events of the day. I wonder, did you ever realize that you unconsciously hum so softly during those rare times that you switched on the radio for a little nightcap music? I did, and I remember. What I can’t remember was when it started to shift into something else. I was surprised that you became suddenly so aloof. But then I'd catch you looking at me when you thought I wasn’t looking; or how you’d be so sullen every time I came back from my day off.  You confuse me, so very much. I wanted you to tell me what you were feeling, I hinted so many times, but you refused me. Was all of it simply a figment of my imagination? But I saw you. I sensed you. Why do you always have to pretend?

        Have you realized that you ruined me for other men? You kept breaking my heart into millions of pieces over and over again, and I loathe you for that. You made me happy every time we are together, no matter how short or insignificant to you it may be. Then, the same night, every night, I silently cry because you did not sense my feelings, or had never bothered acknowledging it. I realize now that you don’t see me the way I see you. You called me temperamental, defiant, and impossible. I am all that because, incomprehensibly, I want you, I want to share your life, your burden. But you refused to. I thought I was coaxing you out of your shell, to see that there is life outside Darlington Hall. I was wrong. I see now that there is no shell. Your soul is embedded in every brick and mortar. You ARE Darlington Hall.

        I'm tired of the heart ache. I'm tired of the tears. I am leaving. And I will be happy without you, you’ll see.

                                              Yours,
                                              Emma Kenton

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My summary of The Count of Monte Cristo: An Allegory

Posted by Marie on Thursday, June 28, 2012
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
Fiction, Adventure; ISBN 0-553-21350-4; Bantam Classic, 1844.

The story is about a young Idealist who had been killed by the stalwarts of Society: Government, Finance/Industry, Military, and the Common People. (The fourth one, the Common People, didn't actually participated in the slaying of the Idealist, but then again, he did turn a blind eye on the entire thing so I guess he's guilty too.)

So down he went, the Idealist, into each circle of Dante's Inferno. Somewhere along the way, he met an old Rationalist, who arranged the means by which the Idealist came back to life. But the Idealist came back a twisted creature, an undead. He renamed himself Nihilist (and the Divine Providence), and swore revenge on the old stalwarts. So after much maneuvering, he tortured and killed his enemies by destroying what they treasure the most: the Military, by taking away his Honor; the Government, by taking away his Family; and Finance/Industry, by taking away his Money. (The fourth one, the Common People, had been screwed from the start by the Government, Military, and Finance/Industry, so there's nothing much to take away from him. Eventually he gets killed by his friend, the Common Criminal). Nihilist had also killed some innocent bystanders - Love, Trust, Free Will, and Youth - although he claims these were purely accidental (as the Divine Providence, he cannot make mistakes, right?).

In the end, everyone died or is left suffering. That is, all except Nihilist and his teenage love slave. Rich and contented, they sailed away into the sunset.

The End.

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