J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book Blog is hosting the 100+ Books Reading Challenge. Here are the rules:

1. You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2. This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

4. All books count: children’s, YA, adults, fiction, non-fiction, how-tos, etc.

No blog? No problem! Just join the Yahoo Group.

Interested? Then what are you waiting for? Sign up here!

Books I've Read

I started late in the Challenge so I'm just going to list the books I have read since the beginning of the year. I've posted links to some of the reviews I've done since I've only started blogging this April.

January, 2009
1. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
2. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
3. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

February, 2009
4. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
5. High Five by Janet Evanovich
6. Lean Mean Thirteen by Jane Evanovich
7. The Secret Life of the Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
8. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

March, 2009
9. To the Nines by Janet Evanovich
10. A History Buff's Guide to World War II by Thomas R. Flagel

April, 2009
11. A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of Europe by Brenda Ralph Lewis
12. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
13. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
14. A Lion in the White House by Aida D.Donald
15. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
16. Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
17.The Rose of Sebastopol by Katherine McMahon
18.World War I by H. P. Willmott

May, 2009
19. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
20. Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
21. Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
22. 36 Hour Day by Nancy L. Mace, M.A. and Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.
23. The Help by Kathyrn Stockett
24. The Novel Writer's Toolkit by Bob Mayer
25. Writing the Short Story by Jack M. Bickham
26. Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb
27. How to Write a Short Story by John Vorwald and Ethan Wolff

June, 2009
28. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (audio CD version)
29. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
30. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
31. City of Thieves by David Benioff
32. April and Oliver by Tess Callahan
33. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith
34. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

July, 2009
35. A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi
36. Get into Graduate School from Kaplan Publishing
37. A Dark History: The Popes by Brenda Ralph Lewis
38. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

August, 2009
39. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
40. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
41. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

September, 2009
42. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
43. Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
44. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
45 World War II by H.P. Wilmott and et al.
46. Fiction Gallery from Gotham Writer's Workshop
48. Something Blue by Emily Giffin
49. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
50.Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich

October, 2009
51. First Snow on Fuji by Yasunari Kawabata
52. Time to Write by Kelly L. Stone
53. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
54. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
55. Dracula by Bram Stoker

November, 2009
56. Fatal by Michael Palmer

December, 2009
57. Sisters by Hulton Getty

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, and it 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

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.

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 went to live in 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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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

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 showed 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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Dark History: The Popes by Brenda Ralph Lewis

Publisher: Metro Books
Pub. Date: March 2009
ISBN-13: 9781435102101
Pages: 256
Ratings: 5 out of 5

Summary: The pope is considered to be the sucessor of Saint Peter and the leader of the Catholic Church. Throughout the centuries, there have been good popes...and unfortunately some bad ones too. In this book, Brenda Ralph Lewis tells us the some the pontiffs' immoral and scandalous deeds from bribery, nepotism, sexual affairs, and even mass murders.
Review: Just when I thought Ms. Lewis was through amazing me with her other book A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of Europe, here's another book that trumped it. In A Dark History: The Popes, readers are introduced to the most shocking and controversial stories of the papal history.

Just to name a few, readers are introduced to John XII (955 - 964) who ran a brothel in the Vatican. It was said that he drank toasts to the Devil when drunk. If you think that's not shocking enough, how about Alexander VI, (1492 - 1503) who had eight children with his mistresses?(Yes, you read right...mistresses as in plural.) Just as Hitler was responisble for killing six million Jews during WWII, Innocent III was responsible for killing a million Cathars whom he believed were heretics. I guess he's not so innocent after all.

Readers will also be interested in the chapter called The Galileo Affair. Galileo defied the church teachings by saying that the earth orbited around the sun and not the other way around. He was accused of heresy and therefore was found guilty during his Inquisition. He was almost 70 years old.

This book also has plenty of illustrations and pictures. Some pictures were gruesome enough to make my skin crawl. This book was also well-researched. I learned so much. I believed that Ms. Lewis outdid herself.

Recommendation: If you're in the mood to get creeeped out or just reading some weird history, you will not be disappointed if you get this book.

A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi

Publisher: Cedar Fort
Publishing Date: June 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1599552354
Pages: 352
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: In Newbury, Connecticut, ten year old Janet Troy is murdered. Leia Bines, an FBI agent, is called in to help the local detectives to solve the case. In the same town, Dr. Peter Gram, a child psychiatrist, admits Naya into the hospital after a near fatal incident. Naya is also having some disturbing nightmares that involves Janet. Leia and Peter are forced to work together. Will they find the murderer before he claims his next victim?

Review: A Circle of Souls is Dr. Preetham Grandi's debut novel, and it's such a priviledge to read it. The book is a real page turner that has kept me at the edge of my seat. If I didn't have any commitments that afternoon, I think I would have finished the book in one day. The pacing is fast as if the author isn't likely to waste time. The book takes the reader for a thrilling ride.

The book also explores the subject of the paranormal. Naya is a gifted child who is able to talk to the dead. Through her drawings she is able to express the dreams she has about Janet. Her drawings also become the only clues to what really happened to Janet. Having very little leads, Leia has no choice but to go with Naya's drawings.

The character I liked best aside from Naya, who I thought was interesting, was Peter. He was a workaholic doctor who genuinely cared for the well-being of his young patients. His ability to be culturally sensitive of Naya, who's from India, made me like him even more.

I think that the only issue I had about this book was that how quickly I suspected who the murderer was...and even though the author tried to lead me on to different direction, I still wasn't surprised who the killer was.

Still, I thought it was a very good debut novel. Great read and awesome plot.

Recommendation: Wonderful book! If you like psychological, mystery thrillers and some mysticism, then this book is for you.

Additional note: I want to thank Dr. Preetham Grandhi for sending me the advanced reader copy so that I had the chance to enjoy this fascinating story. I look forward for more of his work.