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Book Review: The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

A Perfect Circle

His is a pen of fire with heart’s blood as his only ink.
     -The Dante Club

I rarely give a 5 whenever I evaluate a book, but this thriller deserves all the kudos it can get. The novel is very well-thought out; it certainly reflects how well Matthew Pearl knows his Dante. The plot is quite impeccable; the suspect was really unexpected! When I found out about it, I was very shocked as to why it was that person responsible for all the murders. Though the killer’s reasons are valid and interesting (interesting because the killer’s motivations are very much rooted to the literary context of the novel), they also came off as psychological, and therefore, ordinary. I compare the prose to a picturesque view: the beauty of the way the book was written is something to be deeply appreciated, like a grand view of the sea that needs ample time for someone to able to take it all in. It was slow-paced, yes, but the slowness makes the gradual unfolding of events all the more sweeter to discover. Pearl threw a couple of verses from the Inferno itself, and the Dante Club’s usage of such verses solidified the connection of Dante’s celebrated work with the lives of the members of the Dante Club. In fact, what I like most about the book is that Pearl put meat and bones to the prominent literary personages that are now commonly just referred to as names, personages that have been put on a pedestal to be revered and venerated, but not really known intimately. The book was gripping because I was immensely fascinated in reading about the thoughts and actions of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, J. T. Fields, and James Lowell, however fictional they may be. Such prominent literary figures were the main cast of the novel, and it was just very amusing to see them live their ordinary lives a century ago. Reading about them working, talking as friends, calling for a horsecar, and even just walking around Cambridge somehow breathed life into these literary figures that were only just normally studied in English class. Pearl was able to put them down from the pedestal. In The Dante Club, he not only showed the greatness of Dante, the twisted plot inspired by Dante’s Inferno, but above all, he showed the readers that the prominent members of the Dante Club were really just like the rest of us: ordinary people engaged in mundane things such as family and career. Pearl was able to expertly tie up a ribbon of historical fiction and a brilliant plot. Throughout the novel, I could see how much the historical context of the story influenced the movement of the plot. I give this book a standing ovation because it draws a perfect circle of suspense, gore, history, literature, and greatness.

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Book Review: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Life in Death

What simply makes Tuesdays with Morrie a winner is the fact that it’s nonfiction, that it happened in real life. When I was reading about Mitch Albom’s conversations with his former professor, Morrie, I ultimately thought about how these actual tête-à-têtes occurred in real life. This makes the whole plot all the more magical, because usually, when a tearjerker comes out in the market, I always think of cheesy writing styles and melodramatic scenes that seem exaggerated and not too different from any average soap opera. And although some scenes are melodramatic, they are only rightly so, for in truth, death is a tragic affair. Albom was able to capture Morrie’s courage and strength as his body deteriorated gradually. Tuesdays with Morrie does not intend to be dramatic, it just is. And that sets it apart from all the tearjerkers that Nicholas Sparks and Judith McNaught have to offer. Reading this book made me rethink about my priorities, and hours after closing the book for the final time, I was still pondering about its theme. Certainly, it left a deep imprint on me, as it showed how a person’s life is not measured by his age, but by the number of things he has fulfilled and done in such a transitory world. Morrie’s life, and death, showed us one thing: how a person could have a lifetime in such a short while.

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Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Curiosity Saves the Cat

I opened this book with doubt and reluctance, for I am naturally not a fan of tender stories that tug at your heartstrings with their dramatic flair and saccharine verbiage. But The Curious Incident of the Dog gives you none of that, and this quality of the book- that light, funny, and innocent atmosphere- makes the story of Christopher even more heart-rending. The point of view of the story makes the book uniquely special. It is chronicled and narrated by Christopher, an autistic teenager who is intent on finding out the murderer of his neighbor’s dog. The story was narrated cleanly and simply, which adds to the fact that all Christopher writes is the truth. All that is deemed to be chronicled are only those that he observed with his very eyes, and those that he felt and learned. The objectivity of the way Christopher feels and thinks provokes such emotion in me because I could see how different he is from normal people. The book opened me to the idea of what sets autistic people from the rest of the world. The author was able to show that Christopher does not have a different world, but a different way of seeing the world. The world for him should be a fruit of logic and objectivity. This accounts for the fact that throughout the novel, there are bits and pieces of trivia, as Christopher is fond of showing people that life is like a math equation. The readers are not let in on his world, because he has no separate, delusional world, but he lets readers people to see with new eyes, with his eyes. Surprisingly, as his curiosity compels him to find out who killed the dog and make the pieces fit, he realizes the cold brutality of  his discovery, not just about Mrs.  Shear’s pet, but also about his own life. Uncovering the truth though, is only half of the whole experience. It is actually about how Christopher, an autistic child, reacts to and faces the truths laid bare before him that make this novel a staple in every bookworm’s personal collection.

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Book Review: The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella

The Shopaholic series: the New Fashionista Bible

If I were to choose among my pile of chick literature for my favorite, I would say that the Shopaholic series tops the list. Rebecca Bloomwood, the series’ main protagonist, takes you to a never-ending ride of shopping trips and funny escapades that her spendthrift ways bring about. The books are as shallow as any chick literature would be, but the type of superficiality that Kinsella’s books offer differ from the usual nonsense blabbering of other chick literature protagonists. Confessions of a Shopaholic gives you a never-ending ride of shopping galore, with Rebecca’s sweet and exciting romance with Luke Brandon, the multimillionaire PR representative, as a bonus. The second installment, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, portrays Rebecca as an even more avid shopper as she goes to New York for the first time. I have read four out of the five installments, and my favorite would have to be the third one so far. Shopaholic Ties the Knot is beautiful because we see a more mature (but definitely still an extravagant) Rebecca as her once-budding romance with Luke becomes permanent and even more enchanting. This kind of chick literature is a good break from the classics and other heavy reading, so it is perfect for the summer or for escaping the tiring demands of work. But its shallowness is not so that it will make you cringe at every page. The superficiality is served through witty writing that British authors are so famous for, and Kinsella does not exaggerate or fail in her insertion of humor throughout the stories.

The Shopaholic series is something I always recommend to my friends because it is a light read, yet it does not go overboard in its superficiality. Though Rebecca’s spending habits and her tendency to avoid and ignore her monthly bills might be a little too much, and irksome at its worst, there is still that sensible touch to the whole series that prevents me from dismissing it as a mere novel-version of Vogue. Personally, ever since I have read the book, I have developed a renewed sense of fashion style. Reading about Rebecca’s fashion predicaments, the constant name-dropping of high-end fashion labels, and the vivid depiction of shopaholic must-haves that Rebecca espouses indirectly made me aware of fashion what-nots and know-hows. Such examples would be the Hermés scarf that Luke gave her in Confessions of a Shopaholic or the Angel bag that she “just had to buy??? in the third installment. So, if you want some delightful chick literature to read, then the Shopaholic series is the way to go. Not only does Rebecca take you to a different level of fashion and sensibility as she traverses modern-day life with style and sophistication, but the series actually makes you realize the difference between an outfit from the ordinary jeans-and-shirt get-up.

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Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Life As She Sees It: Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha

Arthur Golden’s debut novel is a fictional account of a geisha’s life. It narrates the story of Chiyo, who, as a child, was sold into slavery together with her sister. Chiyo eventually becomes Sayuri, as she is taken in and trained to become a geisha, while her sister is taken into a whorehouse and becomes separated from her sister permanently. I read this many years ago, and Golden’s skillful display of his exceptional knowledge in geisha culture and lifestyle woven with his main protagonist’s own voice narrating the accounts of her personal life cemented this book on my favorites’ list. The smooth prose adds depth to the rich narration and the poignant life story of Sayuri. The bittersweet memories of her life and the gripping prose style with which Golden wrote the novel combine into one absorbing and elegant must-read. If you have seen the movie, then there is all the more reason to peruse the book, in order for you to realize just how much the film failed to give justice to the novel’s beauty. Sayuri’s rivalry with Hatsumomo and her love affair with the hairman are just some of the delectable highlights of the novel, which is rich with facts about Japanese culture and art. The history and culture of a geisha in Sayuri’s time provides a rich social landscape apart from Sayuri’s personal story, so that when you read the book, not only do you witness the ups and downs of Sayuri’s life, but also a slice of Japanese history, and the culture that makes it worthy of remembrance.

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Book Review: Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

More Than Eleven Minutes of Sense and Sensuality

The novel is far from the contemplative atmosphere of By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and the bestseller The Alchemist, but the beauty of the book is derived from the strong yet tender, and poignant life of Maria, who was tricked into leaving her hometown in Brazil to become a prostitute in Switzerland. The book borders on the erotic, what with Maria’s love for masochism, and the hints of pessimism as Maria’s life as a prostitute unfolds. Like all the other literary works of Paulo Coelho, this book tackles another road to self-discovery– sexuality. However, the book delves on the matter of sex in the context of love, which makes this book different from the soft porn usually found in romance novels. The idea of sacred sex is treated with renewed freshness. The sensual subject matter of the book, and the way Coelho dealt with this sensuality through his writing style, even give Maria’s story a peculiar charm that entices you to keep on reading until the end. Maria’s life as a disillusioned prostitute takes a wild turn when she meets a painter whom she falls in love with. Upon meeting him, her life has inevitably changed from one that is headed towards self-destruction to a life that hopes for a bright future. Towards the end of the story, she is compelled to choose between the life in Brazil she has always dreamed of returning to, or to a new and yet-unknown life that she could have with the person she undeniably loves. If you are a fan of Coelho, then this book demands to be read. It veers away from the writer’s usual overly optimistic book-forms of Hallmark cards. The dark subject matter and the different approach that Coelho takes on this novel are two main things that make this book a definite must-have for bookworms who want an alternative from all the chick literature or the heavy readings.

The novel is far from the contemplative atmosphere of By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and the bestseller The Alchemist, but the beauty of the book is derived from the strong yet tender, and poignant life of Maria, who was tricked into leaving her hometown in

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Book Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

A Horror and Mystery Novel Rolled into One

This novel is mainly for those bookworms who are allured by the enticing richness of reading histories. What makes this book unique is it actually gives an account of how the Dracula evolved into how it is seen today. The historical fiction narrates the beginning of ruthless Vlad the Impaler, who impaled hundreds of people during his reign in Wallachia, and down to how Bram Stoker romanticized the image of the vampire for commercial appeal. On top of all these interesting little stories is one main plot of cat-and-mouse as Paul and Helen travel from Istanbul to Budapest as they try to solve the mystery of the old, vellum-bound book with a dragon carved at the cover’s center. Personally, I loved the interesting mix of history and adventure in the novel. There were moments when I would get all hyped because of the thinking that the letters and the riddles evoke. On the other hand, seeing the other side of the concept of the Dracula is a refreshing alternative from all the sensationalized appeal it got from Hollywood movies. The constant flight from one place to another while the protagonists deal with the elusive traces of Dracula is set against an atmosphere of eerie mystique, giving the plot just the right amount of ghostly spooks. The culmination and resolution of the plot at the end is one of suspense because apart from the truth, it is then that Paul and Helen finally discover what they have long been searching for. This book needs a lot of attention, so this is the perfect companion during a long flight or when you are stuck at home. But for those of you who want to see the other side of Dracula or to simply experience one hell of a ride, then The Historian beats all other lengthy reads!

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Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Truth! Justice! and the American Way!

One question immediately comes to mind when people see a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: is a book almost 700 pages long worth the time? And I can think of only one reply: definitely.

There are some writers who try so hard to use highfaluting verbiage to the point that the prose only ends up sounding crude or contrived. Michael Chabon is not one of them. On the other hand, his labyrinthine sentences shine with such clarity and skill that upon reading the first paragraph, I instantly thought, ‘who is this writer?’ He is able to produce cadence with complex sentences and bring together random words into impressive similes and metaphors. His imagery is vivid, his description, detailed. One example of such excellent skill is the line “[g]ray light was smeared across the sky like ointment on a bandage.???

The plot is nonetheless a joyride of Sammy’s and Joe’s exciting travails on the ups and downs of their lives –from starting out small to making it big to confronting their own personal demons – theirs is a story replete with adventures and life lessons. Another lasting impression was Joe’s talent in liberation, which becomes intricately woven into the man’s life as he tries to overcome the pain that fate has in store for him. This very act of liberation fascinated me, because it went beyond the physical level of being able to escape from bonds and chains.

Don’t let the book’s thickness prevent you from reading it. Believe me, if you haven’t read this yet, you’re missing 700 pages of your life. This masterpiece talks about almost all aspects of life –success, fear, sexuality, guilt, joy– and therefore, of life itself. The thickness of the book actually produced a more profound impact on me, like a friend you have gotten to know so well. Suffice it to say that when I closed the book for the final time, I felt a bittersweet sadness welling inside me, an amalgamation of joy upon going through such a marvel and sadness upon reaching its end.

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