Unfinished business

I wrote a book report on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe back in high school. I can’t say I remember much about the story, but what I do remember how much I liked reading it. I think it was the first book I finished willingly and without difficulty – or in other words, it was the first book I enjoyed. I never got around to reading the entire series, however. And since I started getting into novels, I’ve always had this on my want list.

I finally found a nice hardcover box set of The Chronicles of Narnia yesterday and my sister got it for me as an early birthday present. So yeah, I’m one happy bibliophile.

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Here’s the box set in all its glory. Narnia is quite common around here but the other box sets I’ve seen were all paperbacks. I also found a hardcover compilation with all seven volumes in it but it was too bulky. I like that this set has individual hardcovers for all seven books.

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The art on the dust jackets are by Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner. The books also contain the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing those.

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And here they are without the dust jackets. I really like the overall design and color of each book. The black spines with silver lettering add a nice touch, too.

C.S. Lewis’ work was one of the reasons I got into novels and getting reacquainted with his writing is something I’ll surely enjoy. I can’t wait to tear through this series.

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A year in books

It’s hard to believe I only started reading novels as a hobby two years ago. I wasn’t much of a book lover when I was still studying and the only novels I read back then were those that were required for English class. I didn’t even finish most of the books that were assigned to us and I was happy enough to get all the details I needed from online summaries (yes, I have a shameful past). It’s not that I hated reading, but anything that was required for school simply lost its charm. Luckily, however, I picked up the habit a few years down the road, and here I am tearing through as much fiction as I can.

I finished 10 novels in 2014 – a big improvement considering I spent several years prior with an annual book count of zero. When the year ended, I was determined to read more. I felt that although  I had read so much, there are still so many stories to enjoy; so many treasures waiting to be discovered.

These days I often find myself standing in the middle of bookstores wondering if I’ll have enough time to read every book I want to read. There are just so many stories! And I want to read as many of them as I can. So for this year, I set out to finish one novel for each month, and I’m happy to say I was able to accomplish my goal. Here’s a look at the twelve books that made my 2015 amazing.

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Book #1 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I had a lot of fun with this one, and I imagine anyone who was ever a boy would, too. Tom Sawyer is a classic tale about a boy who did everything a juvenile male would; from escaping chores and corporal punishment, to roughhousing, to flirting with schoolgirls and getting into all sorts of trouble. Twain’s work is the embodiment of “boys being boys.”

Book #2 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Do not let the bad film adaptations dissuade you from picking up this novel. Shelley’s masterpiece, hailed as one of the cornerstones of science fiction, makes for an entertaining read. This cleverly written novel cautions against the sin of hubris and the dangers of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Read: Beyond pitchforks and torches

Book #3 – The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is why I don’t let classifications such as “children’s literature” deter me from picking up books. This illustrated novel is like a silent film on paper. Selznick’s illustrations give life to the story and make for a truly unique reading experience. The story is brilliantly conceptualized and will surely delight you from beginning ‘til end.

Interesting fact: The invention of Hugo Cabret is the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, an award reserved only for picture books.

Book #4 – The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Gangsters, drugs, prostitutes and three unlikely heroes crammed inside a walled city. This fast-paced dystopian fiction will have you turning pages as you follow the protagonists in their struggle to survive Hak Nam and escape the city of criminals before it’s too late.

Book #5 – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Set against the backdrop of 19th century New York, Wecker’s historical fiction is an epic tale that spans a thousand years. This is fantasy done right. I really liked how the author created very human relationships between two magical beings and the people around them. What’s even more amazing is the fact that this is only her first novel. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Wecker’s future works.

Read more about the book and its author here.

Book #6 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

The king of horror stories. Mystery, suspense, adventure and a diabolical villain combine for a thrilling read. As with Frankenstein, no movie adaptation can ever do justice to this classic. Don’t make the mistake of lumping this book together with all the other vampire stories. The amount of creativity and originality that went into this novel is simply mind-blowing, especially if you consider the fact that it was first published in 1897. This book started it all. Literally.

Book #7 – Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Probably the most grueling book I’ve read so far. This is another historical fiction novel that draws on the real-life account of Charles Jamrach, a famous 19th century wildlife dealer, saving a boy from the jaws of an escaped Bengal tiger. The novel crafts a story of survival that revolves around Jaffy Brown, the boy Jamrach saved, who unfortunately gets involved in a failed expedition to capture a dragon.

Book #8 – Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola

This dark fantasy/horror novel from the creator of Hellboy is both thrilling and enchanting. Mignola’s illustrations add to the eerie atmosphere of the book, and you’re sure to find yourself highly engrossed with each chapter. If you like stories of the supernatural, this book is definitely for you.

Read: The Mignola novels

Book #9 – The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The book is about a dystopian world where much of the human population has been wiped out by a fungus that hijacks the brain and turns its victims to flesh eaters – but this isn’t your typical zombie apocalypse. Carey’s work is emotionally charged as it depicts the struggles of the five protagonists to keep, and in some cases, find their humanity amid all the hardships and tough choices they face along the way. I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.

Book #10 – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This wasn’t the simple, happy family story I expected, and I’m glad for it. Alcott’s novel is more than the story of four daughters growing up. In its own way, it perfectly depicts life and all its twists and turns. This coming of age book is a reminder that not all things turn out the way you expect them to. That, in fact, very few things do. But while you may not get what you initially wanted, there could be other happy endings in store for you. This is one book that I’m excited to read again when I get older.

Read: Meet the Marches

Book #11 – The Number 7 by Jessica Lidh

This book caught me by surprise. The early chapters gave me what I would expect from young adult novels, but as the ending drew near, the story progressed to something much deeper. The closing chapters made me wish I could read more about the Magnusson family, but at the same time the length of the entire novel felt just right. Teenage problems and a mystery rooted in the protagonist’s family history make this an entertaining read.

Book #12 – Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Who wouldn’t want to read about a magical circus? Reading this novel was a complete joy from start to finish. It’s one of those books that, if you didn’t run out of pages, you’d just keep on reading. Finishing it almost felt like being in a real circus and not wanting to leave even when the show’s over.

And there you have it; 12 books in 12 months! As great as this year was, I’m hoping to read much, much more in 2016. There are so many classics that I have yet to get acquainted with and even more new authors who are putting out brilliant stories on the shelves. It’s definitely a good time to be a bibliophile.

 

Author’s note: Since this is a year-end post, I’d like to take the opportunity to send a big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to check out my blog. I’m quite new at this and having people take interest in the things I share is such a treat. Always feel free to reach out – I enjoy and appreciate all the comments and exchanges. Have a happy new year, and may your 2016 be filled with adventure and wonder!

Holiday pick: Emily Brontë’s lone novel

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A leather-bound copy of Wuthering Heights. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski, book design by Patrice Kaplan.

So this is what I decided to read for the holidays. I’ve been wanting to read novels from the Brontë sisters since I haven’t heard anything about their works and I find it a real treat to go into a novel blind, not having any notion of what it’s about or what to expect. I’m also very interested to see how one sister’s writing style differed from the others, so I was really excited to start reading this one.

Unfortunately, the only thing Christmassy about Wuthering Heights is that you’d probably enjoy it best during a snowstorm. (At least I would imagine so; we never get any snow here and it’s been all sunshine for days now.) This is one dark and gloomy book, but don’t get me wrong – I am enjoying it immensely.

You know how some neighborhoods have that one weird family that everyone wants to avoid? And everyone has some story or speculation explaining why they’re like that? That’s precisely what this book is. I like how the novel opened with Mr. Lockwood’s first encounter with the strange characters living in Wuthering Heights. I found myself quite confused, just as the protagonist was, by their unnatural, almost uncivilized mannerisms and queer interactions. Lockwood would later find someone who could shed light on the grim events that had transpired on the premises in decades past, and the story just gets more and more addictive from there. Every chapter reveals a part of the family’s dark history that aids you in understanding how their relationships deteriorated over time; and the more you find out, the more you want to know.  Stories about old secrets of old families are always fascinating, especially if they’re weird. So although I’m only nine chapters in, I can already tell this will be a very good read.

Meet the Marches

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A leather-bound copy of Little Women, which includes the follow-up volume, Good Wives. Cover art by Jessica Hische, cover design by Jo Obarowski and book design by Patrice Kaplan.

I’m taking a break from all the horror and dystopian fiction I’ve been reading with this classic from Louisa May Alcott. I’ve only read the first 10 chapters but what a pleasant read it has been so far. There is something so delightful about tales that remind us of simpler times – back when you and your siblings were all staying under one roof with nothing to do other than think of silly ways to keep yourselves from getting bored. Back then, your imagination gave life to the most mundane objects. Your biggest problem was to fit in with the other kids and being scolded in front of the class felt like the end of the world. We’ve all been there, and that’s what makes the book so charming.

It’s easy to see why Little Women is a classic: it appeals to everyone, and everywhen. Any child who reads it could definitely relate with the March sisters; their squabbles, their unbreakable bond and their deference to their “Marmee.” Adults, meanwhile, can appreciate the book’s myriad of lessons even more, having lived long enough to know their truths. Reading the novel feels almost like you’re getting a lecture from your parents all over again, and you can’t help but get a bit nostalgic as you go through each chapter. At the center of it all is family, and Alcott definitely went straight for the heart with her masterpiece.

Halloween in June

I’ve been picking up a lot of horror books lately – both graphic novels and classics. Here are some of the titles I read last month.

Archie Horror

You read that right. Archie as in Archie Andrews. As in Betty and Veronica. As in Jughead, Reggie, Moose, Midge and the rest of the Riverdale crew. Some very creative minds at Archie Comics got together and launched the imprint Archie Horror. Its first title, Afterlife with Archie, debuted in 2013 with Escape from Riverdale, a five-issue story arc. In the series, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla gives the childhood favorite a fresh take as they pit Archie and the gang against flesh-eating zombies – And it’s brilliant.

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The first four issues of Afterlife with Archie in over-sized magazine format.

Also released under the Archie Horror franchise is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Written also by Aguirre-Sacasa, and this time with artists Robert Hack and Jack Morelli, the series gives another childhood icon a dark makeover. How dark? Witch covens and devil worship…But with teenage/high school issues. Unfortunately the series was delayed a few months so it’s only on the third issue of its first story arc. Each issue, however, has so far delivered solid content, art and story-wise. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

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The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, issues 1-3.

Dracula

And here’s my sixth novel for the year. I tell you, no movie can ever capture how good this book is. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has so many things going for it – mystery, adventure, dark fantasy.

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A leather-bound copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Cover art by Jessica Hische.

This is horror done right. I like it when the author throws a veil over the monster; You can guess what it is through the silhouette but you won’t know what it really is until the veil comes off. And that’s what’s so good about this book. You get bits and pieces at first and then Stoker reveals the true nature of Count Dracula at just the right moment. Things only get interesting from there and before you know it, you’ve been taken for a ride. Truly a must-read for horror fans.

Beyond pitchforks and torches

I’ve been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember. As a kid I liked wrapping myself up in a blanket while watching scary movies – lights out, of course. And if it started raining hard, all the better.  It’s not that I wasn’t scared. That’s the thing: I was very easy to scare. I dreaded being the last one downstairs at night because that meant I had to switch off the lights and run upstairs to my room before any monster shows up.

But that’s the fun part about getting scared: you always get a rush out of it. So every time I get my hands on anything horror, I get excited. Even more so when I picked up this novel. And why not? Frankenstein’s monster is one of the most iconic antagonists in fiction. Everyone knows about the stitched-up abomination with metahuman strength and intimidating stature. But before I read the book, most of what I knew about the creature came from those movies which always culminated in a classic pitchforks-and-torches scene. And then there’s Lurch from the Adams Family, though you’d probably want to tip your hat to the gentleman rather than run away from him.

I found it curious that in most other media, Frankenstein’s monster is always portrayed as the tall, slow-talking man with deep-set eyes, a flat head and zombie-like complexion. Nothing interesting, really. Yet here we are, still talking about Mary Shelley’s masterpiece two centuries later.

I suspected there’s more to the story than angry mobs and a one-dimensional fiend, and that added to my excitement about reading the novel. I wanted to find out just how diabolical the monster really was. I wanted to know how this bane of society earned its place among the greatest monsters of all time.

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A leather-bound copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Cover art by Jessica Hische.

And what a worthy creation this book is. I was hooked as early as the opening chapter.  I liked how Shelley told the tale through Victor Frankenstein’s letters. The eerie atmosphere was set up brilliantly with the protagonist’s tone of desperation and regret. More than a horror novel, Frankenstein also has that feel of mystery to it.

I can only imagine how it was for those who read the book back when it was first published. It must have been such a treat to read it with no preconceived notion of what it’s about; of what the monster was. Or perhaps to have read the book without even the slightest notion that there was going to be a monster in the story at all. To wonder why the letters were written with such distress and urgency, and to finally find out what monstrosity Victor Frankenstein had created.

And that’s just the beginning. Throughout the story you get to see the creature evolve from an innocent, even benevolent being, to the most horrible adversary you could ever face – vindictive, hateful, diabolically brilliant, nigh-indestructible. It really is no surprise that this story continues to persist even in other forms of media, from TV shows, to movies, to comic books. But what they say is true: the original is always the best.

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Classics Illustrated #26.

Here’s a vintage comic book which I picked up soon after I finished the novel. Although I like the poster-esque cover art, it is a good example of how the book has been misinterpreted and misrepresented in other media.

The cover depicts the monster frightened, fleeing from a man on a sled. In the story, that man is no other than Frankenstein, out to destroy his creation. But the monster was far from frightened. The chase was a sadistic machination of the monster himself in order to torture his maker. He eluded him, staying just beyond his grasp so as to frustrate and ultimately break him. To make him feel powerless. To make him feel utterly helpless for being unable to avenge the death and destruction brought about by his own creation. But on this cover, it seems the monster is at a disadvantage.

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To the creators’ credit, the comic book did attempt to cram all the important details of the novel into its 30-something pages. But as you would expect, it is painfully stripped down. In the photo above, you see one of my favorite scenes depicted where Frankenstein and the monster hold a conversation, almost a debate, in a cave far up the mountains. But alas, the dialogue fell flat in this interpretation. (Though I find it funny how the monster invited Frankenstein to his cave and the brilliant scientist just went along, safety and reason be damned.)

This is precisely why we shouldn’t be satisfied with just reading or watching simplified adaptations of novels. You will almost certainly lose out on the best parts. At its core, Frankenstein urges us to examine the dangers of knowledge for knowledge’s sake and cautions us against the sin of hubris. Do not be dissuaded by what you see in the movies. It is a brilliantly written book, entertaining and engaging through and through.