Tuesday, August 25, 2009

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Publisher: First Vintage International
Publication Date: April, 2008
Pages: 256
Ratings: 4 out of 5

Summary: After Dark is a novel that takes place in a single night at a city. Three different story arcs are omnisciently narrated yet they are linked together. At the center of the story is nineteen year old Mari who decides to spend the night alone in a city instead of going home. There’s also Mari’s older sister, the beautiful Eri, who suffers from a tragic fate. Finally, there’s Shirakawa who hides a sinister side from his work and family life.

Review: Strange things happen…after dark.

After Dark was the first Japanese literature book I’ve read, and one of the two I had chosen for the Japanese Literature Challenge 3. The book blurb really didn’t say much. I felt like I was buying Chris Cleave’s Little Bee all over again. Yes, I was a little apprehensive since I was taking a risk of buying and reading a book that was out of my comfort level. But hey, wasn’t that part of the challenge?

Surprises of surprises, I loved this book! I finished it in one day. It was that good! The book had a way of pulling and holding my attention. Even after the book was finished, and I was done with reading, I felt like I wanted more. The ending was a little ambiguous, but that’s literature fiction for you.

And the writing! Oh, the writing! I absolutely loved how Murakami used simple words and brought the story to life through personification. It was remarkable! I even have a favorite quote in the book, and that’s the character Takahashi’s motto which was, “Walk slowly. Drink lots of water,” That’s the same meaning of the cliché, “Take it one day at a time.”

The main character in this story was Mari. At first, I didn’t know what to make of her. In other words, I didn’t know if I was going to like her since she seemed so cold and unfeeling. In fact, she wasn’t. She helped a total stranger who was in need, and she showed how much she really loved her sister Eri. I would say that Mari’s more guarded because perhaps she had such cold parents who didn’t pay much attention to her, and she had a sibling rivalry with Eri.

Sometimes I thought the book was a little creepy especially when I was reading the parts on Eri because it seemed like Murakami wanted readers to believe what was happening in the story was real, but later it seemed like a dream. Or was it? It was hard to distinguish, and it wasn’t revealed what really happened to Eri until towards the ending. The mood can be dark at times, but there’s humor sprinkled here and there.

Honestly, I would have given it my highest rating, but I was hoping for a happier ending. I wanted to see if Takahashi and Mari were going to get together. Or if Mr. Shirakawa’s secret was going to be discovered. What was going to happen to Eri? Still, even if the ending was left to interpret for my imagination, I believed that After Dark was worth it. I really enjoyed it. If there was someone who will ask me if there will there be another Murakami book added to my shelf in the future? I’d tell them, “Yes! Absolutely!”

Recommendation: I think this is a nice starter if you’ve never read any Japanese literature or if you’d like to try to read something new. I don’t think I would recommend it though if you’re looking for something light and heart-warming. It’s just not that type of book. This is still a good story even though it is depressing and eerie at the same time.

This is the cover of the first US edition of After Dark. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Another Challenge Bites the Dust

Yippeee! I didn't think I was going to finish the Classics Challenge this weekend but I did! After I joined this challenge, I thought I was going to regret being ambitious by choosing seven books. Actually, I almost did since there were books that were a little difficult to continue. I kept going though because the stories got better.

I was surprised at how much fun I had. Now that I'm done, I also have a new appreciation for these classics. To read my musings about this challenge, check out what I had to say here. To see the reviews of what I read in this challenge, go to my Classics Challenge 2009 page. I had to categorize the challenges I joined in different pages in order to keep track of how much progress I'm making in each challenge. Also, I'm kinda anal. Okay, I am anal.

Now it's time to turn my attention to the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 where I originally had one book to read, but I decided to have two instead. My copy of First Snow in Fuji hadn't arrived in the mail yet so I will start on After Dark. I'm so excited to read this book and tell you guys all about it so check back here for my review.

A Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Pub. Date: January 2006
ISBN-13: 9780800794057
Pages: 272
Rank: 5 out of 5
Summary: A Hiding Place is a true story of the Ten Booms who helped saved the Jews by helping them escape and hiding them during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland.

Review: I absolutely loved this book! Though Ten Boom’s writing style was first person narrative, it made me feel like I was sitting in front of her having coffee by the fireplace, listening to her wonderful tale. Her descriptions just drew me in, and I felt like I was right there in 1940’s Holland.

I flew through this book. I just marveled at the simplicity of her life before Holland was invaded by Nazi Germany. Towards the middle of the book, I felt so tense because I already knew something terrible was going to happen when Corrie and her family started hiding the Jews, but I kept reading.

What truly amazed me was Corrie’s and her sister Betsie’s undying faith, and their ability to forgive and to love their enemies no matter how things went from bad to worse. They remained spiritually strong and so was their belief in God even after they starved and suffered in the concentration camp in Germany.

The Hiding Place is a remarkable story of courage, strength, forgiveness, and hope. It will be forever in my collection. It is definitely one of the best books I have ever read.

Recommendation: This is a great book to read if you are looking for a World War II story or if you are looking for something inspiring.

When Judging A Book By Its Cover

Growing up in a multi-cultural background (Filipino, American, Irish, Italian), one of the first things I learned was to be open-minded and learn to accept people by who they are and their appearance. Part of my childhood was in the American South, and I've learned very quickly that it's easy to be judged by how I look since I have light brown skin.

I admit that sometimes I do judge people by their appearance, even though I try not to. When it comes to books, I am very guilty of such. Yesterday, I went to the bookstore and found a copy of After Dark by Haruki Murakami. I was very intrigued by the cover where there was a picture of an attractive Japanese girl. The colors of her make-up and her flawless face blended well against the dark background.

After Dark was one of the books listed in the Japanese Literature Challenge. I wasn't going to buy this book since I had already chosen (and bought!) First Snow in Fuji by Yasunari Kawabata. Since I liked the story synopsis and heard good reviews about After Dark, I bought it. I was thinking about adding another book to read for the challenge, so why not After Dark? However, I do think that the cover had a lot to do with my decision. I don't think I would have picked it up if I didn't think if it was so pretty.

This isn't the first time I picked up a book based on its beautiful cover. Check out the cover of April and Oliver by Tess Callahan. I love how those different shades of blue and gray blended together.

So how about you? Do you sometimes buy a book because of its cover?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Pub. Date: August 2004
First Publication Date: 1859
ISBN-13: 9781593081386
Pages: 404
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary: A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It is the story of the French peasants who suffered under the French aristocrats. England provided as a refuge for the oppressed French yet the social injustices towards the poor in England were no different. In the French Revolution, the aristocrats were brutalized by the revolutionaries who made them pay heavily for their lives.

Review: What an excellent book! After reading, I was really surprised how this became one of my favorite books. However, it didn’t seem that way in the beginning. It started out slow, and I felt that Charles Dickens can be overly descriptive in his scenes. This was his way of laying the groundwork of the story. It worked for me (and the story, of course) because I was hooked.
The book was divided into three parts. In part one, the characters were introduced, and the setting was before the French Revolution. In part two, more characters came into play and events slowly led towards the revolution. Finally, part three was set during the French Revolution, and I thought this was the most exciting and suspenseful part of the book.

The story was more than just about the madness that led to the chaotic French Revolution. As I read on, I discovered that it was also about second chances. One of the characters who experienced this was Dr. Manette. He was released after being in jail for eighteen years. He was traumatized so severely that his mental state deteriorated. With the love and support he received from his daughter Lucie, he slowly recovered.

Charles Darnay started over with his life by denouncing his French aristocratic family. Like Dr. Manette, he moved England to leave his past behind.

I also came to love all the characters in this book, but I was mostly impressed with Sydney Carton. He became my favorite. He wasn’t perfect, but he, nonetheless, had a good heart. His love for Lucie was rivaled by Charles, the virtuous gentleman. Ah, to love someone you can’t have! I really felt for Sydney. That’s probably why I had a soft spot for him.

The description of how the poor and the prisoners were brutalized was gruesome. Honestly, I had second thoughts about continuing, but my curiosity got the best of me. I thought that perhaps Dickens felt that he had to write these horrific descriptions because he wanted the readers to understand why the revolutionaries were so angry and vengeful towards the aristocrats.

Even though some parts were gross, I got past it because the story was getting better, and I was eager to see how the ending was going to be. Still, I shivered when I read that women, men, young or old, peasant or not were “all red wine for La Guillotine….Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death; the last much easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”

The ending was astonishing. I shouldn’t have been surprised because there had been some foreshadowing. I was equally shocked as the story revealed how and why Dr. Manette was jailed, why Charles Darnay never hesitated to denounce his family, and how Madame Defarge became such a vindictive, evil character. I was really sad at the ending. Yet, it had so many twists that I wasn’t disappointed with the whole book. There’s no doubt in my mind why this was one of the best classics ever written.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a serious book with powerful themes, this is it. Be prepared though because some descriptions can be disturbing.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Ah! Friday, you're finally here.
Today I joined the Friday Feud from Cathy's Kittling: Books for the first time. Friday Feud is a weekly meme. Today's question was: Name an award you would like to win.

I would like to win the Discover Award for new writers. Although it might be years before I could actually write a book, I can only dream at this point. I've often come across a book where it would leave breathless, and I would say to myself, "Boy, I wish I can write a good story like that!" I hope that one day a reader would express that same sentiment about my work.

Okay. Now that I'm done daydreaming, I guess I better pick up that pen and start writing.

My pen and writing journal

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Interview with Dr. Preetham Grandhi

Last month I just finished reading A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi. A Circle of Souls is a psychological thriller where a child is brutally murdered in the sleepy town of Newbury, Connecticut.

A little bit about the author: Preetham Grandhi is a child psychiatrist who resides in Westchester County, New York. A Circle of Souls is his debut novel. The book has received great reviews so congratulations on his success.

As busy as his schedule is, Dr. Grandhi was generous enough to allow me to interview him. This was my first time interviewing an author so this was such an honor. So here's the question and answer session between me and Dr. Grandhi.

1. What inspired you to write A Circle of Souls?
It was a few months post 9/11, and I was looking at the biographies of the people who had lost their lives. I began to wonder if there was a larger meaning to their lives. All of a sudden, a story flashed into my mind, and I quickly wrote it on a piece of paper. I knew then that I needed to write a story that was larger than life. It needed to communicate the essence that there is a bigger purpose and meaning to our passage on earth. I knew that in order to capture and convey such a message, the book needed to be captivating, interesting, and thrilling. I realized that a story based on the work I do would be the right place to begin.

I am a child psychiatrist and had just started a new job. During my fellowship, I worked with children with numerous psychosocial issues and had many life stories to tell. It was at that moment that I decided I could write a book that would capture all these thoughts. That was how A Circle of Souls was born.This book will keep you on the edge until the very end and will leave you thinking about the larger sense of individual purpose and destiny.

2. Do you think you will write another book that is in the similar nature as A Circle of Souls, or would you like to do something different?

I do have ideas for books with Peter, (the main character) that I hope to write soon after I have this one up and running on it's own.

3. I believed that Naya was one of the most interesting characters int he book. Would you like to meet someone as special as she is? How would you handle her case?

Naya is one of those characters that is completely fictional compared to some of the other characters. I think every child I work with is as special as she is and I treat all of them with the same respect and care.
4. How did you come to choose your specialty?

I believe it was destiny. I don't know why, but it was meant to be.

5. Dr. Grandhi, I know you must be busy as a physician. How did you find the time to write A Circle of Souls? What's your writing schedule like?

It is very difficult to write a book when one has a full time, tiresome job. The irony is without my job there is no book. But I came up with ideas as I drove to and from work and put them on paper when I got a chance. Now it gets only harder as promoting this book is by itself a full time job.

6. Did you always want to write a book? Or was that something you decided later?

I never dreamt I would write a book. I always wanted to make movies. Maybe I will make this a movie one day.

7. What is your advice to writers who are trying to get published?

It's a lot of hard work and a lot of luck. Just do your part and hope that destiny takes care of the other half.

Many thanks to Dr. Preetham Grandhi for devoting his time to answer these questions. For more information on A Circle of Souls and Dr. Preetham Grandhi, check out A Circle of Souls website. The book is also available in Amazon and in Barnes and Noble.

The Japanese Literature Challenge 3

One reading challenge done. One reading challenge to start.

I know I'm crazy to join another challenge, but I decided that this was just too good to pass! Belezza of Dolce Belezza is hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge 3. The requirement to this challenge is to read one work of Japanese origin. How could I pass that up?

The time frame of this challenge is from July 31, 2009 to January 30, 2010.

Belezza also set up a site for readers to do their reviews and provided the challengers a reading list of Japanese Literature to choose from.

Need more information? Check it out!

In the past I have read and enjoyed Japanese manga. I thought joining this challenge would help me broaden my reading horizons, if there is such a thing. I've always been fascinated by Japanese culture so I think reading a Japanese literature would be wonderful. I think this is going to be fun, and I'm really excited to join.

As for my reading list challenge, I'm going to choose First Snow on Fuji by Yasunari Kawabata. It's a book of short stories. I'm thinking about choosing one more but we'll see. Schedule is tight these days.

So if you are a fan of Japanese literature or if you just want to try something new, come and join the challenge!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: January 2005
First Publication Date: 1943
ISBN-13: 9780060736262
Pages: 528
Ratings: 4 out of 5

Summary: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie Nolan, a thirteen year old growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the century. It is also the story of her family struggling to get out of poverty.

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the books I chose to read in the Classical Challenge this year. The main character was Francie Nolan who dreamed of having a better life. As the oldest of the three children, she continued to study and work hard so she can become the first one in her family to go to college.

At first, I really didn’t know where the book was going. The beginning was fine, but towards the middle, my interest started to wane. Things began to pick up after a death in the family. The tragedy made the Nolan family closer, and it also made me feel closer to the characters. The author also included some humor towards the end, and the ending was really great. I felt that the author kind of let loose by then because the majority of the book was very serious.

Probably one of the most admirable characters in the book was Katie Nolan. As a wife of an alcoholic, she had to be the strength of the family. I really liked the part where Francie and Katie became close even after their misunderstandings.

Even though it took me awhile to warm up to this book, I consider this as a great read.

Recommendation: I recommend this if you like...
1. A coming of age story
2. A story of triumph even after heartaches and hardships
3. Historical fiction

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Author Interview

Dr. Preetham Grandhi, author of A Circle of Souls, has agreed to do an interview. I contacted Dr. Grandhi a few weeks ago and asked for an interview after I reviewed his book. I was surprised he said okay, and he was just so nice about it. I'm pretty excited about the interview since it's my first time doing one.

So... stay tuned for the interview.

One Down, Two to Go

Yippee! I finished the War Through the Generations Challenge! Now I only have two more challenges to do - the Classical Challenge and the One Hundred Plus Books to Read Challenge. I really should have finished the Classical Challenge first since the deadline is in October, but the WWII books were just so much interesting. I actually started on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but it's kind of dragging. I doubt that I will ever finish the One Hundred Books to Read Challenge because of my work schedule, but it doesn't really matter since I still have fun reading books. I started late in the challenge but it would have been a different story if I didn't. I would hate to come to a point where I would be miserable trying to complete an X amount of books in an X amount of time. Reading wouldn't be as fun anymore, and I read for fun and for relaxation...not to add more stress in my life.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Pub. Date: May 2009
ISBN-13: 9781400067114
Pages: 314
Ratings: 4 out of 5

Summary: 1937. Pearl and May Chin are sisters who live in Shanghai, China. They lived the modern, glamorous lives of beautiful girls - models who pose for pictures. Their happy lives are threatened after their father forced them into arranged marriages after he came into financial ruin. Things go from bad to worse when the Japanese invade China. After a horrifying tragedy, the sisters survive, and they go to Angel Island where they are detained to go to America to join their husbands. Once they reach America, they face even more challenges and discrimination.
The storyline spans from the 1930’s Shanghai to 1950’s Los Angeles, going from World War II to the Communism that lead to paranoia and frenzy which gripped America during the early years of the Cold War.

Review: This was probably one of the saddest books I have ever read. The storyline had one adversity after another, and after awhile I wondered: Will Pearl and May ever find any happiness?

Pearl is older than May. She is May's protector and will do anything for her younger sister. She is the narrator of the story and she bears all the weight of the responsibility of the older sister. In the beginning, she starts out as a strong, wise character, but that changes after Japan invaded China. Although she survives from a terrible fate, Pearl becomes traumatized from the memories of the war and stops living. She spirals into depression even though she has a daughter and eventually comes to love her husband, Sam.
May, on the other hand, has her share of tragedy. At the beginning of the story, she is considered to be naïve and sheltered by her sister and her parents. She survives the war with her sister. Yet, unlike Pearl who clings to the past even after they have a chance to start over in America, May embraces her new life. She shows strength and perseverance which thrills and delights me. I think she is misunderstood by her sister and sometimes by me. Surprisingly, I came to like her just as I like Pearl.

What I really liked about this book is how Ms. See shows the loving relationship between Pearl and May. They love each other and will do anything for each other. They are friends as well as rivals. I think those who have siblings can somewhat relate to their close relationship. I have an older sister myself and our bond is somewhat similar to Pearl and May’s.

The ending was abrupt, at least to me. My reaction was like: Was that it? I also felt that another tragedy was too much for Pearl. It made me wonder if the author liked Pearl at all, but that’s just me.

Recommendation: I strongly recommend this book especially to all historical fiction lovers.