My memorable books of 2011

My memorable books of 2011. Some things to take note of:

  1. These are books I read in 2011 – not necessarily published in 2011 but something I read this year.
  2. The books may or may not be any good but were nevertheless memorable for one reason or another.

The List:

1. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Why it was memorable:

I’m not much of a baseball fan – everything I “know” about baseball comes from watching countless baseball movies growing up, from Angels in the Outfield to Little Big League to Major League. However, I am a big fan of come-from-behind stories, of people who get things done when no one says they can. Moneyball’s human interest angle – chronicling Billy Beane’s rise and fall as a pro baseball player, his transition to the back office, and finally to the “broken” players he must somehow mold into a winning Oakland Athletics – is the glue that holds the book together. Lewis lost me during the all-statistics chapters but got me back when he talked about how a player ended up with the A’s.

2. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Why it was memorable:

This is the book that sparked countless debates spread over hundreds of web pages consisting of thousands of comments on what “proper parenting” really means. While I don’t think I’ll ever employ the “extreme” methods Mrs. Chua used on her daughters – threatening to burn Sophia’s stuffed animals if she didn’t get her piano piece right was really too much – she did say some things that stuck with me and got me thinking.

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences… Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something – whether it’s math, piano, pitching, or ballet – he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This is turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

That excerpt above is my favorite part of the book because it’s so goddamned true. Science was my favorite subject growing up not just becauseย  it was science, but also because I was naturally good at it. I took up Biology in college because I was good at it. Being good at something made me happy, and being happy made me continue doing it.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my other endeavors, such as piano, guitar, ballet, and writing. Being the ambitious and supremely self-confident child that I was (ha!), I expected that I would take to other things the same way I did to science: naturally and quickly. What a wake-up call it was to read my attempts at fiction and think “This sucks. This really, really sucks.” Unused to failing, I saw these as signs that I should give up and move on to something else. It took several years before I wised up and committed myself to learning, reading, and practicing until I finally got it right (starting with writing!). I don’t believe in regretting anything or speculating, but when I was reading the excerpt, I couldn’t help but think of what could have happened if my parents weren’t so lenient with me quitting whatever lessons I signed up for just three months earlier.

3. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Why it was memorable:

As the book I most looked forward to getting my grubby hands on this 2011, including The Son of Neptune in this list was a no-brainer. It definitely wasn’t perfect (Nico and Rachel get shafted again) but I appreciated seeing Percy again, especially Veteran Soldier Percy. I’m just hoping that Nico and Rachel get bigger parts in The Mark of Athena.

4. Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz

Why it was memorable:

Such a fitting end to the long-running Alex Rider series. GAH. This was the best book of the series and, despite the ending, one of my favorites as well. The only things I could wish for is THAT THING to not have happened and an epilogue where we see Alex finally relaxed and safe.

5. Three books of the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn

Why they’re memorable:

No, I’m not cheating by lumping the three together. It just makes things easier ๐Ÿ˜› The three of the eight books in the series are:

Confession time: I have a serious soft spot for romance novels, especially Regency romances. What I loved about these three books is the light and funny writing style. There’s the necessary drama of course, but it’s not heavy-handed. My favorite romance novel of all-time is still Until You by Judith McNaught but Romancing Mister Bridgerton and Colin Bridgerton are giving it a run for its money. Unfortunately, the Lady Whistledown plot line went on a bit too long to finally topple Until You from the top spot.

Of the five other books in the series, I’ve read When He Was Wicked and am currently reading The Duke and I. I tried To Sir Phillip, With Love and I couldn’t get past the first chapter. I don’t find Gregory or Hyacinth all that interesting so there’s no incentive to read their stories. Ah well. Maybe one of these days.

This year saw the release of Just Like Heaven, the first book in Julia Quinn’s Smythe-Smith series. While I liked the premise, Marcus is sick for more than half the book (if it isn’t the case, then it certainly felt that way) so the conclusion was very rushed. Sigh.

Honorable mentions for the list (not listed because of a lack of time):

  • Insight Guides Hong Kong Step-by-Step – my main reference for our Hong Kong trip
  • Trese Volume 4: Last Seen After Midnight by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo – AWESOMESAUCE.
  • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo – bought for $0.99 as a Kindle Daily Deal, was the best $0.99 I ever spent. The wonderful drawings by Yoko Tanaka are a major incentive to get a physical copy.

How about you? Any memorable books from 2011?

Book and movie review: “I am Number Four” by Pittacus Lore

I’ve wanted to read I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore ever since the movie came out (starring Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron) but never had the chance to because of a lack of time. Finally read the book while doing work in the lab that needed lots of downtime between runs ๐Ÿ˜›

Synopsis:

Number Four AKA John Smith is a member of the Garde from the planet Lorien, sent to Earth (with eight other children) to hide from the Mogadorians, the evil species that attacked Lorien and decimated it. The nine children were supposed to grow up, discover their powers (called Legacies), train with the help of their Cepan guardians, and eventually fight the Mogadorians and save Lorien. Unfortunately, the Mogs found them first and started killing them off. The children are protected by a Loric charm so that they can only be killed in order. The first three are dead. Now they’re hunting Number Four.

John and Henri (his Cepan) move from Florida to Paradise, Ohio after Number Three is killed. John meets Sarah Hart, his love interest for the rest of the book. There’s also Sam Goode, a dorky kid who believes that his dad was abducted by extra-terrestrials. Mark James is Sarah’s asshole quarterback ex-boyfriend, who picks on John starting Day 1. Bernie Kosar is Four’s adopted beagle.

The review (spoilers ahead!):

Continue reading “Book and movie review: “I am Number Four” by Pittacus Lore”

Book review: “Heat Rises” by Richard Castle

Let me start this off by saying that I have not seen a single episode of Castle. Tragic, isn’t it? And this is coming from someone who loved Nathan Fillion in Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog. The only things I know about Castle is that it’s about a writer (Richard Castle, played by Nathan Fillion) who rides along with an NYPD homicide detective (Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic) in order to conduct research for his new book.

I have to give ABC serious props for the brilliant idea of co-branding an entire line of crime fiction books to tie-in with Castle. After all, fans of the show keep hearing about the novels that “Richard Castle” writes, so why not give them the real thing? There are two levels of enjoyment in books: the first is as a regular crime fiction reader and the second, deeper level is as a Castle fan who’ll enjoy the little meta moments sprinkled throughout the books. The best thing about the books is that they rise above being mere gimmicks and merchandise to become truly good and fun reads on their own. No, ABC has not yet revealed who the real writer behind “Richard Castle” is.

Heat Rises is the third book in the Nikki Heat series (after Heat Wave and Naked Heat) penned by Richard Castle. The blurb:

Fast-paced and full of intrigue, Heat Rises pairs the tough and sexy NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat with hotshot reporter Jameson Rook in New York Times bestselling author Richard Castle’s most thrilling mystery yet.

The bizarre murder of a parish priest at a New York bondage club opens Nikki Heat’s most thrilling and dangerous case so far, pitting her against New York’s most vicious drug lord, an arrogant CIA contractor, and a shadowy death squad out to gun her down. And that is just the tip of an iceberg that leads to a dark conspiracy reaching all the way to the highest level of the NYPD. But when she gets too close to the truth, Nikki finds herself disgraced, stripped of her badge, and out on her own as a target for killers, with nobody she can trust. Except maybe the one man in her life who’s not a cop: reporter Jameson Rook.

In the midst of New York’s coldest winter in a hundred years, there’s one thing Nikki is determined to prove:ย  Heat Rises.

This book in a word? Entertaining. Yes it’s a crime-mystery novel that doesn’t make light of its subject matter, but the interplay between Rook, Heat, Raley, and Ochoa is so natural and the quips flow just as effortlessly. Even if it’s just Heat and Rook enjoying a night in or Rook attempting to tail a suspect, the little spots of humor in the situation don’t fail. Castle also did a great job in setting up a potential plotline for Nikki Heat 4 (all those unanswered questions!).

The main weakness of Heat Rises is that the Big Bad and the Big Bad’s lackeys aren’t that well-hidden. I already had my suspicions maybe two-thirds into the book and was proven right by the reveal at the end.

The 2nd level of analysis exposes quite a few wink wink nudge nudge moments designed to appeal to fans of the TV show. First, it’s very interesting to read Castle’s book while knowing what he’s experienced prior and during the course of writing it. The depth of his feelings for Beckett come out in the guise of Rook’s feelings for Heat. Castle’s writing of the relationship between Rook and Heat is his way of letting Beckett know that they can work and not just in fiction.

And then there are the meta moments. Oh, the meta moments. This is my favorite from the entire series so far:

Phil Podemski to Jameson Rook [on setting up Rook as a male stripper]: “Sure, guess I could give you a bullwhip and a fedora. We’d market you as Indiana Bones. Or maybe go sci-fi. You sorta look like that guy who roamed outer space everybody’s so crazy about.”

Jameson Rook: “Malcolm Reynolds?”

๐Ÿ˜›

Then there’s also Richard Castle’s acknowledgements: “To Nathan, Stana, Seamus, Jon, Ruben, Molly, Susan, and Tamala – you remain the embodiment of dreams that come true relentlessly and tirelessly. You always bring the heat.” ๐Ÿ˜›

All in all, I don’t regret a single minute of the time I spent reading Heat Rises. It was a welcome respite from working on my thesis and something that kept me sane. I highly recommend it for Castle fans and non-fans alike ๐Ÿ™‚

Rating: 4/5

Details:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401324436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401324438

Book review: “The Son of Neptune” by Rick Riordan (spoiler alert!)

The Son of Neptune is the second book in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, released here in the Philippines with relatively little fanfare last October 4, 2011.

Camp Jupiter finds itself reluctantly welcoming in Percy Jackson, a 16-year-old amnesiac demigod under Juno’s protection. He’s trained though, in a style that no one’s ever seen before. He meets Hazel and Frank and joins them in the Fifth Cohort AKA the “loser cohort”. They’re sent on a quest to release Thanatos, or Death. Freeing him is a must, as with him chained, no one stays dead, including the monsters that keep on coming back instead of staying dead. And guess who now controls the Doors of Death? Yep, Gaea. The three of them travel to Alaska, the land beyond the gods, to free Thanatos, retrieve the Roman eagle standard, and maybe save the world along the way.

The book is okay overall though I’m not certain I’m going to buy a physical copy anytime soon (I read the Kindle version).

RANKING: 3.5/5 (serviceable but not as good as TLH)

The good:

I liked how he described Camp Jupiter. I’m not that familiar with Roman mythology and history compared to Greek so I appreciated the background information.

The action in SON comes hard and fast, with the book taking place over only a week. Percy is the veteran this time around and it shows. Even with his memory gone, he’s every inch a leader and a warrior. Hazel and Frank are decent characters and get to do some cool things too.

I love Iris and her R.O.F.L.! It was good to see minor gods getting more attention.

The not-so-good (SPOILER WARNING!): Continue reading “Book review: “The Son of Neptune” by Rick Riordan (spoiler alert!)”

Book review: the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz

The 10th anniversary UK covers for the first eight books

Finally closing the last chapter of the nine-book “Alex Rider” series by Anthony Horowitz felt like the end of a long, breakneck, and emotionally charged ride. The first eight books were read at a rate of around one book every 4-5 days but Book 9 took much longer because I didn’t want to end Alex’ adventures just yet.

Meet Alex Rider – a 14-year-old British orphan living with his overseas banker uncle Ian Rider and American housekeeper Jack Starbright in a nice house in Chelsea. He goes to Brookland Comprehensive. He’s intelligent, charming, and popular with his classmates. He’s captain of the football team and wants to be a pro footballer when he grows up. He knows karate, speaks fluent French, German, and Spanish plus a little Italian, and likes extreme sports like scuba diving, rock climbing, rappelling, surfing, and snowboarding. He’s pretty run-of-the-mill.

His world comes crashing down soon after his 14th birthday when Ian dies in a “car accident” because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. Unsatisfied with the official story, Alex investigates his uncle’s death and finds out more than he could have imagined: his uncle was an operative for MI6 – a spy – and killed during his last mission by hardened assassin Yassen Gregorovitch. Ian’s “work trips” abroad where he came home injured? Missions. Ian and Alex’s vacations abroad (where Ian forced Alex to speak like a local), karate lessons, and extreme sports? Training for Alex. MI6 forcibly recruits Alex by threatening to deport Jack if he refuses because his unique combination of skill and youth makes him the perfect candidate to take over Ian’s unfinished business: investigating businessman Herod Sayle and his “generous” gift of a revolutionary Stormbreaker computer for every classroom in Britain. Thus begins next two years of Alex Rider’s life, where he faces off with a Portuguese man-o-war, snowboards down a mountain on an ironing board, escapes a great white shark, has tea with a mad pop star, trains in a special school for assassins, goes into outer space, stops a tsunami, blows up a dam, and experiences his greatest tragedy.

The Alex Rider canon is composed of nine books (with the first book published in 2000 and the last just this April 2011) and three short stories that take place between the novels. The in-universe timeline:

Bonus content:

Oh Alex Pettyfer, you were so much more attractive when you were 15.

The combination of good books and Alex Pettyfer (who played Alex in the 2006 Stormbreaker movie) turned me into an Alex Rider fangirl. The books may be considered standard escapist spy fare, but Anthony Horowitz somehow makes it thrilling and heartbreaking. Alex Rider is no James Bond. He never asked for any of this. He never imagined that his uncle had an ulterior motive for their foreign trips and extreme sports. His own government blackmails him into service. He never wanted to be the one to save the world. But save the world he must, because no one else can do what he can. These similarities led me to compare Alex with another British teenage savior-of-the-known-(wizarding) world, Harry Potter. Both orphans. Both had the weight of the world thrust upon their shoulders, whether they asked for it or not. Both aged by all that they had seen and experienced. Both were manipulated by adults to serve the “greater good”. But while Harry had Hermione (and sometimes Ron) by his side, Alex had no one. While Harry had the time to learn and train and recover over seven years, Alex completed seven missions in one year. And Alex’s greatest triumph – finally being free of MI6 – came at the cost of his greatest tragedy.

The Alex Rider series also has the honor of having my most disliked book villain – MI6 Director Alan Blunt. Yes, I dislike him even more than Voldemort and Ginny Weasley. His Machiavellian outlook results in the ruthless and unfeeling manipulation and abuse of Alex Rider, all done in the name of “queen and country”.

However, this doesn’t mean that the series is perfect. Far from it actually, as there are several things that detract from the reading experience.

You don’t need to start with Stormbreaker to understand the overall story arc, as Horowitz includes copious amounts of information on what happened in the preceding books. Unfortunately, the information is given using a lot of exposition. While this will help those who read the books out-of-order, it is annoying and repetitive to those who started with Stormbreaker.

Another thing is that some of the books are “throwaway books” – fillers that are of minimal relevance to the overall plot. Point Blanc, Skeleton Key, Ark Angel, and Crocodile Tears could have been culled out and their (very few) important contributions farmed out to the other novels. Scorpia, Snakehead, and Scorpia Rising are where most of the action take place. I only wish that Scorpia Rising had an epilogue, just so I could see Alex finally happy.

Yes, I teared up at the end.

The third thing that detracts from the series is the very fast-paced timeline. Again, Alex was 14 for books 1-7. While the series isn’t supposed to be realistic, it didn’t have to throw realism out the window after repeatedly stomping on it. Two or three adventures per year gives enough time for character development while keeping up the action.

The fourth would be Horowitz’ consistent use of the cliche moment where the villain conveniently explains his dastardly plot before leaving Alex in an “inescapable” trap that Alex inevitably escapes from. This ties in with the first complaint on extensive exposition – there are long stretches of telling instead of showing.

And lastly – and this is an admitted nitpick – the technology name-dropping. If you’re going to name-drop specific pieces of technology then you’d better make sure that your in-universe timeline matches. Stormbreaker was published in 2000 so Alex was given a GameBoy Color. Fast-forward to 2011 and Scorpia Rising – Alex’s arsenal now includes a DSi and an iPhone and he rejects a suspicious character’s invitation to become Facebook friends. No problem there, except that only two years have passed in AR-verse.

Rating:

The series as a whole: 4/5

Stormbreaker – 3.5/5

Point Blanc – 2/5

Skeleton Key – 2.5/5

Eagle Strike – 3.75/5 (was going to get 3.5 but the ending with Yassen gave it an edge)

Scorpia – 4/5

Ark Angel – 2.5/5 (supposed to get 2 but this book introduces Tamara Knight and I like her so it gets an extra 0.5)

Snakehead – 4/5

Crocodile Tears – 3 (Tom Harris!)

Scorpia Rising – 4.5/5

And a little bonus – deleted scenes from the Stormbreaker movie ๐Ÿ˜€ย  Too bad it didn’t do as well as they expected. In my opinion, Horowitz made a mistake (he wrote the script) when he made it “kiddie”. Alex Rider has his share of grittiness that was nowhere to be found in the film. Ian not hearing the helicopter because the radio was too loud. The secret entrance to MI6 HQ is in a photo booth. I hated Missi Pyle’s awful accent. Sabina was bland(er). The only ones who made the movie worth watching were Alex Pettyfer, Alicia Silverstone (she was spot-on as Jack, even though she was blonde), and Ewan McGregor as Ian (because Ewan McGregor is always awesome).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY0NGKn2fyY&feature=related]

Book review: “The Warlock” by Michael Scott

Photobucket“The Warlock” is the 5th book in Michael Scott‘s bestselling series “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel“. The Amazon product description reads:

“In the fifth installment of this bestselling series, the twins of prophesy have been divided, and the end is finally beginning.

With Scatty, Joan of Arc, Saint Germain, Palamedes, and Shakespeare all in Danu Talis, Sophie is on her own with the ever-weakening Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel. She must depend on Niten to help her find an immortal to teach her Earth Magic. The surprise is that she will find her teacher in the most ordinary of places. “

I read the last book (“The Necromancer”) at the start of the year so I started off sketchy on the details of what happened but Mr. Scott includes a lot of “Previously, on the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” backstory through the opening diary entry and lots of exposition throughout the story. Unfortunately, the exposition is both a boon and a bane as while useful, I found myself bored whenever the information was repeated.

There are quite a few twists in this book, especially where the Newmans are concerned. As to whether the twists are good or just annoying is up in the air – I’ll decide once “The Enchantress” comes out but right now, they’re bordering on annoying.

The book is fast-paced as always, necessary because the in-universe time span between “The Alchemyst” and this one is only one week. While this makes for rapid page-turning, character development suffers as a result. I love Josh so I still find it hard to believe that Josh turned into a wussy, easily brainwashed asshole in the span of what, four to five days? Exposure to Clarent and Virginia Dare are not good enough reasons. At this point, the characters that redeem the book are Scatty, Niten, and Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s shaping up to be my favorite character in the series because of the growth he experiences.

What cannot be faulted is Mr. Scott’s mythology-building. While he didn’t create any of the mythological creatures or immortal personalities, he has this way of weaving them into his narrative that makes their presence work. We get the information needed to understand who they are and their motivations but there are no cheap *hint hint wink wink* in-jokes.

Overall, I’m giving “The Warlock” 3/5 stars. A good page-turner with excellent mythology-building but ultimately somewhat thin and lacking. Hopefully “The Enchantress” will serve as a good closer for the series.