Monday, December 9, 2019

A beautiful, life-affirming novel about a remarkably loving man who creates for himself and others second chances at happiness. -Goodreads
Elizabeth Berg put together [probably] the most unlikely people together in this story… and they turned out to be very charming.

Arthur is an octogenarian and a widower, whose everyday highlight is visiting his dead wife at the local cemetery. Meanwhile, Maddy is a bullied teenager, who lost her mother very early after she was born, leaving her to his distant and unaffectionate father. And Lucille is Arthur’s neighbor, who waited all her life for true love to happen.

At the center of this heartwarming story is a makeshift family. They’ve built a home abound with kindness and rooms for consideration. A simple structure, really, allowing them to forget the troubles and awful of the outside world, and focus on seeing the good in people. Unlikely people, yes, but home nonetheless.

I love Berg’s take on people. I love her characters, including their flaws. I’m glad she gave her characters another motivation in life. I’m glad to have met Arthur and wishing there’d be more like him in the world. I’m happy knowing that his kindness survived him and will continue effecting.

This is Book #1 of the Mason series.

About the book:
Title: The Story of Arthur Truluv
Author: Elizabeth Berg
Publication: November 21, 2017, by Random House
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★


Monday, December 2, 2019

   David was conquered by grief and jealousy due to his mother’s death and of his father’s newfound family- Rose and Georgie. It proves that anguish and loneliness can sometimes poison even a child’s heart. Later, he can hear the books whisper to him, then soon, seizures began to attack him which baffled the doctors of its cause. But The Crooked Man can bring back everything he had lost… for a bargain.
. . . For a lifetime was but a moment in that place, and each man dreams his own heaven.
And in the darkness, David closed his eyes, as all that was lost was found again.”
I love the poetic tone of the story. It pulled me in and kept me reading despite the sad things happening along the way. It's interesting when twists were added to fairytales we grew up with. This is a dark tale of one boy's inner turmoil and descent to despondency. Also, a message of how powerful stories can be in children's lives. I adore John Connolly for this brilliant book!

Book details:
Title: The Book of Lost Things
Author: John Connolly
Publication: October 16, 2007, Washington Square Press
Genre: Young Adult Fiction/ Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★


Monday, November 18, 2019

My spawn at 12.
My family has a standing Yuletide tradition to [either] listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks, or watch the movies, each day leading to New Year’s Eve. However, there are also other books we shared together over the years since my daughter started reading at three. It was always tricky choosing because it involved plenty of compromise and message consideration, due to her age. It took some preparations too since we want to anticipate her many questions during the actual reading.

Here, I compiled only the book series we mostly adored. Some of these were books my husband and I read when we were young and shared with our daughter, others, we chose together.

(1) Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne (Illustrator: Ernest Howard Shepard) 

Pooh is described as “the bear of very little brain” or “the best bear in all the world”. I believe we all prefer the latter. This little old bear really knows how to worm into everyone’s heart. The diversity of the characters from the 100-Acre Wood is reflective enough to transcend heartening lessons every time. Parents like me are able to explain plainly to a three-year-old child because of Milne’s use of naivety and simple child-like language and logic to push the message across.

(2) Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park (Illustrator: Denise Brunkus)

The first book is Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, detailing Junie’s first school bus ride to school, which we chose purposely to encourage our little girl (then) to go to kindergarten. This series is goofy-fun and filled with common childish behaviors. Very young readers can easily learn golden lessons behind Junie’s mishaps and misbehaviors.

(3) Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (Illustrators: Salvatore Murdocca; Okama)

Siblings Annie and Jack discovered that a treehouse in the woods near their house can transport them to historical places and times. We simply love these siblings -their constant encouragements, on being brave, accountability for each other and for their choices. Replete with historical details, scientific facts, and life lessons, children will undoubtedly learn cool stuff from this series. My daughter still collects them up until now.

(4) Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey 

“Who would let their child read a banned book?” I WOULD! George and Harold are rebellious enough to pull pranks on anyone in the school including their very own strict principal. This series is banned from school libraries because adults believe that it encourages kids to be rebels, to question authority. Parents need to know that behind all the potty humor it also encourages them to be critical thinkers. We usually asked our daughter what she thought about the book aside from being funny and identify which she thought was wrong. What we learned was that every kid needs a hero, even the most recalcitrant and unrepentant ones. Parents can both leave their kids with their own choices and create their own hero or parents can help them find an ideal one. These series may not be a model blueprint but they’ll know which kind they are supposed to stay away from.

(5) Jigsaw Jones Mysteries by James Preller (Illustrator: R.W. Alley). 

Very much like our beloved HP books, this series is about friendship, family, school, inclusion, and mystery. The books are noir-esque, witty and exciting to read. By the time we get to the middle page, we each have our own inferences and dispute behind it. It really heightens the reading experience exponentially and enhances the kid’s deduction skills, too.

(6) The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole (Illustrator: Bruce Degen). 

This series is a great way for early readers to learn more about scientific stuff. Ms. Frizzle takes her students to incredible field trips, learning from inside a magical bus that can pretty much do anything. This is a good series to hook kids and love science. The series is not exactly for read-aloud. It is more advisable that parents and kids read the books separately and discuss or compare notes later.

(7) Wayside School by Louis Sachar (Illustrator: Adam McCauley). 

We love all the zany, odd people in this series. The school is 30-floors high, each classroom built on top of each other, and a lot more crazies happen on the 13th floor. These books are attention-grabbers, so be absolutely prepared for longer reading sessions, rereads, and terrible giggling even after lights out. And these are the only books I know where the author wrote himself into his own books and shared with all the wackiness.

These books were written several decades apart. Most people know about the movies, but hardly know that there are four more books after A Wrinkle in Time. I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time in my old grade school library, a long way back. And like the first few books I had, I had my elder brother scout for the rest of the books from Recto, a street in Manila where you can find all kinds of second-hand books. The quintet is classified under coming-of-age fiction, which means children come to certain awakenings, and may need closer attention when they raise some questions or concerns. It does not only give children perspectives but also questions them and challenges them to make tough choices.

My husband and I discovered the first book in different fashions. His was more interesting, I admit. Way back in grade school, he needed to make his first book report (a book of his own choice) and found an old Puffin copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the church library. I’ve always argued that this series should be classified under Christian fantasy, and it’s good to know, that a long time ago, an old church librarian thought the same too. By this time, we know how magical these stories are and the virtues they possess. We all know how four ordinary kids had the journey of a lifetime -filled with secrets, valiance, betrayal, unconditional love- and lived to tell all about it. Exactly the kind of journey parents would like to share with their kid/s.

This is my all-time favorite children's fantasy. It has everything a child can conceive in a series –myths, Arthurian, old magic, time travel, and the Holy Grail. I have no qualms recommending this to any parent with middle-grade kids. The language alone employed by Cooper is a good foothold and unsoiled; it is very savory for any age. This is replete of life lessons –accountability, priorities, sacrifices, and conquering challenges- that parents can discuss in detail with their kids and exercise their problem-solving skills. We took turns reading chapters every night. Those were absolutely wonderful nights.

(11) Inkworld by Cornelia Funke (Translator: Anthea Bell)

This is also a very rich fantasy series, wherein book characters can come to life and real people are sucked into books. Familial love resonates throughout the series and it’s very compelling. My daughter was about ten-years-old when we started reading this series. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone younger because there are some graphic details of violence and disagreeable language. However, this series is an agreeable challenge for pre-teens. Some more delicate readers/parents might disagree with me though.

(12) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Illustrator: Brett Helquist)

These are the thirteen unpleasant tales of the unlucky Baudelaire orphans. Certainly, there is violence here, as there is a sinister villain vent on harming the kids and their protectors. However, Daniel Handler is a master story-teller and can blow over such events with good humor. And with his fine writing, he has a clever way of explaining words in context. This is altogether mysterious, adventurous, and grimly engaging. Parents might want to give their kids a taste of The Bad Beginning first, and then ask them how they feel about dark humor before introducing the next book.

(13) Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch (Illustrator: Gilbert Ford)

The key element to these books is the mystery. Parents with mystery-hungry kids will enjoy secret codes and anagrams. We love the family set-ups the author cleverly introduced here. It gives children an opportunity to learn and appreciate different family structures. And, if both parents and kids are [just] a bit curious about Synesthesia, they definitely need to meet Max-Ernest. Or, if in need of first-hand knowledge on survival skills, well then, Cass could be their next best friend. OR, if kids just need some silly reads to blow off some steam, this series is a clear choice.

This is such a fun, fun read. Talk about not-so-little geniuses on adventures. It is smart, mysterious, and adventurous. All the characters are amusingly odd and very engaging. Kids will love the puzzle-solving parts of the stories, including all the twists and turns. By the time we read this, our daughter is already twelve-years of age. So we read the books separately, and then greedily discussed them right after.

When our daughter asked us if she could read the series, we approved but with some apprehensions. We were preparing ourselves for probable questions about Christianity and the human soul, actually. After reading The Amber Glass, she broke into our room crying, accusing us of not warning her about the ending, which was bittersweet, if not heartbreaking. Not every book has an “and-they-lived-happily-ever-after” kind of ending. It involved some really tough lessons and my husband and I agreed that she’s ready enough to learn about them. Parents who want some level-up challenges for their pre-teens can definitely recommend this one. It is an engaging alternative world fantasy with gripping adventures and mystical elements that will allow kids’ imagination to soar high.

In our experience, shared reading is a good bonding motivation for parents and kids. It encourages discussion, allowing everyone to openly share their feelings and thoughts. Problems are easily resolved and secrets don’t hang back because kids are accustomed to discussing them with their parents. Reading with parents also builds their confidence. So next time you read with your kids, make sure it’s not just to lull them to sleep, take it as an opportunity to engage.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

January 27, 2019

About the book:


As the last Oranyn, Elia Egerton was smuggled from another world to be hid on Earth from those who would have her dead. She is the only one who can bring the cores together and awaken the Seven Elysares, the only one who can stop Astrofyr’s sun from collapsing.

Living on Earth for the past decade, Elia has put that all behind her. She has found a family she cares about and a place she can belong, but all that is about to change. When a creature of the Avisadis attacks, Elia is left for dead.

Now, together with an insistent healer, a forgotten ruler, and a mysterious map-keeper, Elia must return to her ancestral home and embark on a journey of terrible ordeals to end a brewing war that threatens the ones she loves.

About the Author:

Xavi Lang was born in Zamboanga City, Philippines and grew up in Mandaluyong City. Reading classic novels, middle grade fiction series and comic books at an early age strengthened her love for books and for writing poems and stories. She graduated B.S. Nursing from Jose Rizal University and passed her board exam in 2009. Aside from being a registered nurse, Xavi was also a commercial and magazine model, a Miss Mandaluyong winner, an indie-film actress, and a copywriter for a BPO company. She immigrated to Canada in 2012 and currently works as a nurse educator but becoming a fantasy author is her ultimate dream job. With no formal training in creative writing, Xavi attended writing workshops across the Greater Toronto Area and worked on her first fantasy novel, The Oranyn. She now resides in Toronto, Canada with her husband and their son.

*Content sent by the author for this blog's publication. This is a free ad.

Wednesday Spotlight | THE ORANYN by Xavi Lang

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hi there. If you are like me, who loves reading along with an audio version, then there is a good chance that you are also keeping a good watch on some favorite narrators. If not, hopefully, this post will change your views on audiobooks. I have a list, which I narrowed down to seven, because (truthfully) I think it’s ridiculous to write more than 5,000 words in a single blog post.

(7) Kirby Heyborne is the reason I got through Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After, Chapter 6 of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, satisfied. It was really a difficult chapter given how it was written in a corrupted form of English. So, when I started rereading sentences three times before grasping, I decided to switch to the audio version of the book. Heyborne did such a good job I was able to finish the rest of the 528 pages without any back reading and loved it.

Kirby Heyborne is an actor, musician, singer-songwriter, and comedian. He is also known for narrating Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs,  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

(6) Susan Duerden was someone I had to hunt for. Allow me to elaborate.

A good friend of mine and co-TFG member (also an author), Tina Matanguihan, recommended the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. Most people believe that it’s a hard series to dive into because aside from the fact that it is under alternative history fiction, it literally involves diving inside books. Well, they aren’t wrong, there is plenty to take in –Jurisfiction, grammasites, Chronoguards, etc. There are various audio versions; hence, I hunted through Audible for someone I can relax with. It was Susan Duerden who made everything easy for me and turned this series into one of my favorites.

Susan Duerden likewise narrated the Maggie Hope Mysteries by Susan Elia Macneal, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and co-narrated the 2012 Audible edition of Dracula with other narrators, including Alan Cumming.

(5) Wil Wheaton is well known for his role as Wesley Crusher for Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I think I like him better playing as himself in The Big Bang Theory. And I like him best in narrating Ready Player One and Armada. I am not a gamer and the jargon Ernest Cline employed took some time to get used to. Wheaton made these books alive and exciting for me. I saw what he saw and believed it.

Wil Wheaton also narrated books by John Scalzi, David Kushner, and Cory Doctorow among others.

(4) Neil Gaiman reading his own books is always a treat. He is obviously one of my favorite authors. The first time I heard him read Instructions and The Day The Saucers Came I knew I want more of that as much as I want to collect all of his books.

I recently read Gaiman’s Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. My favorite was Black Dog because he really channeled Shadow Moon superbly.

(3) Stephen Fry is my preferred reader of the Harry Potter books, which sounded pretty biased, and I am. I love how more lifelike and mysterious Fry’s narrations are. Not only does he inhabit the main characters vividly well, but so with the secondary characters. And I think I hated Voldemort all the more because of him.

I know I’m going to get a lot of hot daggers from American readers out there for saying all these, (erhm) which is definitely reasonable.

Stephen Fry is also a brilliant actor and writer. He likewise read Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, released in 2017.

(2) Juliet Stevenson, for me, is the goddess of all audiobook narration. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is not exactly my cup of tea, but I read somewhere that the reader should savor the language to enjoy it. And so I had my friend Angus Miranda lend me an audiobook copy. I fell in love with Stevenson instantly. She was articulate and mesmerizing. Her soft compassionate voice lifted Woolf’s writing on a different level and saw it for what it truly is – an exemplary work of art.

Juliet Stevenson, CBE is an award-winning actor, both on stage and screen. She was best known for her leading role in Truly, Madly, Deeply. Aside from Virginia Woolf’s books, she read other classics written by George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, etc.

(1) Lenny Henry is Anansi. For me, there is no other. His narration of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is right up there, and nothing is topping it thus far. He is one of the most distinct narrating voices in the field and he gave Anansi the perfect Caribbean voice and shadowy character required for the part. Henry’s was an unquestionably first-rate performance, one that made a great book even better.

Lenny Henry also narrated White Teeth by Zadie Smith and My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal.

Try reading along with an audiobook, or, listen while waiting for your bus, or, on your long drive home. For some it can be an acquired taste, for others, it’s an instant addiction. Make your own list of favorite narrators too, let me know.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Faerie, a vast land beyond the small village of Wall, where all manner of beings and creatures exist. Tristan Thorn, an enthusiastic young man, set out on a journey through this enchanted land to find the fallen star that will bring him his heart’s desire. Little did he know that his fated journey was exactly just that and perhaps more.

Gaiman did a fantastic job in creating a very charming adult fairy tale. A delicious plot that will draw you into a mystic fairyland and expand your imagination - of witches, and far-off kingdoms, and magic. His words are pure and simple, and yet they are timeless and unbounded. He made his characters significant in a way that you can vividly picture them in your head. I was amazed by how he mingled the sub-plots and fused them all together in the end. The story is a good illustration how the hands of Fate works. A wonderful story!

I just wish he did tell what happened to the little hairy man.

Book detail:
Title:  Stardust
Author:  Neil Gaiman
Published: HarperCollins, December 23, 2008
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

Monday, September 2, 2019

Micropots, are you one of them?
September 10, 2019,
Blackstone Publishing
Master storyteller Orson Scott Card delivers a touching and funny, compelling and smart novel about growing up, harnessing your potential, and finding your place in the world, no matter how old you are. - Goodreads

Orson Scott Card is a staple name in the Science Fiction and Fantasy arena. He is a diverse writer who captured both the adult and younger audience.

I’m not here to review OSC as a writer. I’m stating all this because he is more than justified in writing LOST AND FOUND. I understand that it’s not an Ender’s book –no space battles, no aliens. And I totally get why he low-keyed the characters as micropots (people with micropowers). He literally dragged us away from admiring superheroes into looking deeper at the most probable, odds-on, overlooked human gifts.

Ezekiel had been ostracized as a thief since grade school because of his gift to recognize lost things and the compulsion to return them to the owners without a credible reason. And he has a standing mistrust of the Police Force after his many heated brushes with them. But his trudge on anti-social life was halted when Beth decided to walk with him to and from school every day and when a desperate (but broad-minded) detective asked his help to find a missing girl.
“It means that I trust you and you can trust me. It means that if something goes wrong for you I help as much as I can. It means that if you’re not where you’re expected, I look for you. It means that if good stuff happens I’m happy for you. It means that no matter what you say to me I still care about you. It means that when nobody else will tell you shit that you have to know, even if you’ll hate hearing it, I’m the one to say it."
I love the snarky dialogues Card employed. It helps in many ways to soften the hard subjects of the story (kidnapping, white slavery, death, etc.) And the pacing of the story was apposite, it enables to both pad out the characters and ties concepts together. The whole book is replete of wisdom in understanding family, people, and what works from what doesn’t. It simply says that everybody may look ordinary or nonspecial until they are not. The last 15% of the book sort of slowed down for me (maybe there’s a sequel in the works) and there are some descriptive terms I may not agree with, but overall this book is legitimately remarkable.

Book details:
Title: Lost and Found
Publication: September 10, 2019, by Blackstone Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★

*Thank you, Blackstone and Edelweiss for the DRC in exchange for this unbiased review.

Book Review | LOST AND FOUND by Orson Scott Card

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

January 15, 2019
Random House
Apocalyptic novels are not among my picks for casual reading, because they usually employ chaos and human degradation. They simply hollow me out for days after reading. Death with Interruptions by José Saramago is one among the few that I really like because of its atypicality.

THE DREAMERS may be one of those atypicals too. In the small town of Santa Lora California, a sleeping virus had spread. There were no symptoms. Patients simply went to sleep and cannot be awakened.
“ much quieter that ending would be, a whole world drowned in sleep, than all the other ways we have to fail.”
The first victim was a student from a local college. Karen staggered into her dorm room, after a decent night of partying and drinking, fell asleep, and cannot be woken the following day. Initially, Karen’s dorm floor was quarantined. Over the following weeks, though, the sleeping virus spread and a cordon sanitaire were pitched around the small town. No one can get in or out. Military Humvees patrol the streets, while helicopters scan from the air. The whole town went into a meek, mutual panic. Each day, more people are sporting facemasks and latex gloves. But the doctors were baffled by the cause and how exactly the virus is spreading. Only one thing was determined, these sleepers have intense brain activity. They are all dreaming deeply.
“This is how the sickness travels best: through the same channels as do fondness and friendship and love.”
Walker’s narrative is both spellbinding and evocative. She paraded this host of people in different states and examined each one from within. There is no hysteria or visible menace, instead, we are asked to quietly recognize humanity amidst loss and fear of the unknown and to be in awe of how a spark of life can strive despite the odds.

If you are into audiobooks, Cassandra Campbell recorded a very convincing narrative.

Book details:
Title: The Dreamers
Publication: January 15, 2019, by Random House
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

* I won this book from Goodreads Giveaway.

Book Review | THE DREAMERS by Karen Thompson Walker

Monday, June 10, 2019

Piscine Molitor Patel was a 16 years old castaway from India who survived the Pacific in 227 days with an adult Bengal Tiger for a boat mate. -That is the easiest synopsis I can come up with. What transpired between the pages cannot be simply put into words, nor can the mind readily assimilate.

The LIFE OF PI is a book you have to really spend time to read. It may take some time for the reader to get through at first, but as they say “patience is a virtue”; and its interpretation alone is rewarding.

While reading, I was rooting for Pi for being brave and resourceful. And yet, angry at him for his lack of basic sailing knowledge. But deep down inside, I was anxious for Pi’s psychological battle- his fight for HOPE.

I was deeply moved by the ordeal Pi went through. Moreover, with his willpower to move on. I learned a lot from reading his story and did some reflection as well. Like the overwhelming vastness of the ocean, life is just as huge, and its struggles come in waves. Paddling can wear us down. The heat can leave us thirsty, hungry, and delusional. We entertain dreams and fiction rather than face reality. Yet with Hope, we may get us to our projection. It can be our sail, our paddle, and our anchor. We just have to believe.
If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?

Book Details:
Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Publication: August 29, 2006, by Seal Books
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martell

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Princeton. Good Friday, 1999. On the eve of graduation, two friends are a hairsbreadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Renaissance text that has baffled scholars for centuries. Famous for its hypnotic power over those who study it, the five-hundred-year-old Hypnerotomachia may finally reveal its secrets—to Tom Sullivan, whose father was obsessed with the book, and Paul Harris, whose future depends on it.

As the deadline looms, research has stalled—until a vital clue is unearthed: a long-lost diary that may prove to be the key to deciphering the ancient text. But when a longtime student of the book is murdered just hours later, a chilling cycle of deaths and revelations begins—one that will force Tom and Paul into a fiery drama, spun from a book whose power and meaning have long been misunderstood.

Four Princeton boys on their Senior year are struggling with their thesis, love life, and their future. But THE RULE OF FOUR is not exactly about them. It’s about Hypnerotomachia Poliphili -Poliphili’s Struggle for Love in a Dream- a book that is more than a book. Although it was published around 1499, it was only a decade after that the true author of the book was accidentally discovered by a Renaissance scholar. “Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia tremendously” was revealed by stringing together the first letter of each chapter. Thus, naming the true author, Polian Frater Franciscus Columna Peramavit, a Roman scion. Yet, naming the author is barely scraping the surface, there are riddles to solve to unlock the secrets hidden in the book. Is the “Rule of Four” the key?

I don’t know which struck me more, Dr. Sullivan’s “The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong”; or Agostino Carracci’s “Love conquers all”. Both describe the story of how the main characters struggle to fight off strong influences and their deep love for uncovering the secrets of the book. This one was a (very) slow read for me, like the Hypnerotomachia itself is slower than a tortoise crawl. Those who don’t have the patience might already drop the book on the first chapter, which is a mistake. You’ll learn from it, more than you’ll learn from the Da Vinci Code.

A book more than a book…

I have to say I like it more than I expected.

Book Details:
Author: Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Publication: The Dial Press; May 11, 2004
Genre: Mystery
Rating: ★★★

THE RULE OF FOUR by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason