All My Lonely Islands by VJ Campilan: Book Review

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Synopsis from Goodreads: One crisp March evening, Crisanta and Ferdinand arrive on the remote Batanes islands for a mission: locate Graciella, whose son, Stevan, they saw die in a tragic accident a decade ago. But they need to confess something to her: Stevan’s death is not all what it seems. Oppressed by a decade of painful memories, Crisanta and Ferdinand must race against time—from the wild swamplands of the Sundarban forest in Bangladesh to the back alleys of Manila to the savage cliffs of Batanes—to offer Graciella the truth that they themselves cannot bear to face.

Publisher: Anvil Publishing

Date Published:  2017

Date Read: February 2017

Number of Pages: 204

Setting: Batanes, Philippines / Dhaka, Bangladesh

Get your copy here.

Source: Sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review

Exceptional writing style, truly worthy of its praise.

This book won the Grand Prize for the Novel 2015 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for a reason. It is without a doubt truly worthy of that prestigious award. Now how to give the justice it deserves? I have zero idea, but I’m trying anyway. I have to point out first that this book is very well-written in all sense of the word. The words used in each sentences were carefully crafted so as to give life to the story. And though it was fairly a short read, it was a book that you need to savor. It is the book that you don’t rush finishing, but still ultimately look forward for an unadulterated time to be alone with it. It has this melancholic vibe to it that one can’t simply shake off. A book that will give you that sense of foreboding and as the story peaks up, you’re hanging on to every sentence leading to the inevitable end.

I truly adored how the story was written, it was a recollection of Crisanta’s life  from childhood up to her teenage years in Dhaka, Bangladesh and all the events that transpired between then and the present times. How the main character was able to reconcile the demons of her past with her present self. And can we also talk about how the narration was so vivid and beautiful it is as if you are truly there in the story. Batanes, Dhaka and Sundarban were all described with such eloquence and impressive imagery. The author painted these places in such a beautiful light, without sugarcoating it. It was presented in the most realistic way possible and I think that contributed to the overall beauty of the book. All My Lonely Islands also highlighted a lot of Filipino cultures and traditions though most of the book transpired in Dhaka Bangladesh. A book I will definitely recommend to those who would want to know  more about the Philippines and its haunting beauty.

Each character was unique – flawed, yes, but forgivable. Take for an instance Ferdinand, this troubled boy who didn’t have an easier life and was always living up to what people purports him to be. Oh that part when his parents found out that he was in trouble, the relief on their faces – because he was something they could define. Good god, that was a great explanation. I don’t want to reveal much of it, I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone anyway. I loved Ferdinand’s character, this may not be the same to others. But his character was the one who improved a whole lot. Crisanta’s character on the other hand was pretty consistent one, her character was the perfect depiction of every Filipino teenager, or every teenager for that matter. I was able to relate to her in more ways than one. And Stevan, how do I even start with Stevan? I wish there was more of Stevan. He was the character I wanted to know more of. He seems to be that boy who was also trying hard to survive each of his grueling days in high school, just as much as everyone else. Every character in this book was well thought out adding color to the story.

The subtle hints provided by the author in each chapter was enough to keep you going, enough to keep you interested. It wasn’t revealing everything at the first instance, there was the element of surprise and coherence. Every event was connected to the other. The side stories are also exceptional, like the one about Pobrito, man, that hit me hard. It was heartbreaking, ugly, depressing and yet I was so drawn to it, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Who would have thought that this was only the first book of the author? It seems to me that she had been writing all her life to come up with something that’ll hit you hard, of something that is so thought-provoking you couldn’t help but pause and ponder on the words you just read. And if being a Filipino is the only association I can have with this author, then I am damn proud to be a Filipino. Filipino talents are indeed world class, this book is the proof of it. This book struck a special cord in my heart, I’m confident to tell (yes even just two months in the year) that this book will be included in my Top 17 Books of 2017. This book deserves to be read even once in one’s lifetime. Honestly the blurb didn’t give the book much justice. If I passed by this one in a bookstore and read that blurb, I would be curious, but not enough to be inclined to read it right away. I just wish there was more to the blurb, it wasn’t able to fully grasp the whole beauty of the book. This is the only issue I have with this book, but hey this is what reviews are for. So I’m really trying my best to persuade you guys to not just depend on blurbs. Take a chance on a book, take a chance on this one!

That ending was exactly what the book needed – it was a closure. I felt more satisfied than ever, I appreciated that it took its sweet time. Not one thing was forced, it is as if everything happened at its own pace, at its own perfect time. Everything culminated and unfolded into this simple yet profound tale. Im glad I have read this one, made me value life more.

Rating: rating_5stars

“You’re trying to look for rock bottom, to that part of yourself that could no longer feel pain. But there is no such thing as rock bottom. As long as there is left to destroy in you, you’d do it. We always feel the need to sink ourselves because we keep being intolerable, because if we’re suffering then maybe people would give us a break for all the shameful things we do. You think you could impose your own penance, but it never goes away, does it? That kind of deadening that’s worse than actual dying.”

― V.J. CampilanAll My Lonely Islands

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All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai: ARC Review

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Synopsis from Goodreads: You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

All Our Wrong Todays is about the versions of ourselves that we shed and grow into over time. It is a story of friendship and family, of unexpected journeys and alternate paths, and of love in its multitude of forms. Filled with humor and heart, and saturated with insight and intelligence and a mind-bending talent for invention, this novel signals the arrival of a major talent.

Publisher: Dutton Books

Date of Publication: February 7, 2017

Date Read: February 2017

No. of Pages: 384 pages

Setting: Toronto, Canada

Source: The publisher provided me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW

Alternate universe can’t get any better than this!

I would just like to thank the heavens for the existence of this book. This book is just ridiculously good, I wonder if it is even legal. Elan Mastai sure knows how to tickle his readers’ minds through his elaborate and eloquent play on words. His writing style is something I could not get enough of. I was always in awe how he constructs a sentence. Pure genius if you ask me. And the storyline, it was original and a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t forcing its readers to like it. It was like second nature, you will inevitably and irrevocably fall in love with it. It wasn’t over doing stuff, it was as smooth as it can be. It was as awesome and entertaining without trying hard. I mean, it is true, beautiful things never seek attention. It was just brilliant and it didn’t even have to try so hard.

As an established fact, I am not a huge SciFi fan. I was kind of hesitant to accept this one for review since I don’t think I could give it any justice much less fully grasp what the story was about. I find it hard to read through SciFi and I wouldn’t deny it, but this book right here is a pure delight. Made me want to reconsider my stance on science fiction, I mean if all scifi books will be as good as this then I will make it my life’s mission to read every one of it.

Elan Mastai built a world so utterly amazing. You have to give it to him for thinking outside the box with this one. What’s even cooler is, parallel universe has always been a fascination of mine. I always wonder what if we do have a parallel world where everything is right and perfect. This book fulfilled my fascination, even exceeded it. Only a pure genius could come up with something so complex yet so enjoyable to read. Jonathan Tropper blurbed it like this: “A Novel about time travel has no right to be this engaging. A novel this engaging has no right to be this smart. A novel this smart has no right to be this funny, or insightful, or immersive. This novel has no right to exist.” And that my friends is the most accurate thing to say about this book. I agree 100% with Jonathan Tropper.

Tom Barren’s voice sounded familiar and somewhat comforting, maybe because its readers can somehow see themselves in him. Not in its full sense though, but at least remotely. It wasn’t trying to impress, if for anything it wasn’t trying at all, it was that effective. The narration was witty yet you couldn’t miss the underlying tone to it. The words used were deliberately chosen, it was consistent and enjoyable to read. Imagine being in a Jesse Eisenberg movie. He was definitely the only person I pictured as Tom Barren. Now go back to thinking about his movies, notice that he has this way of narrating things, almost sounding bored yet effective. I couldn’t quite explain it, but I do hope you get the idea.  This book is just begging to be made into a movie, and I will be the first in line to watch it! The mixture of time-travel, post apocalypse, love story, self discovery along with technical terms and all that jazz, completely won me over. Hats off. Did I mention this book was pure genius?

I highly, highly, highly, and I mean HIGHLY recommend this book. It was well though-out, thought provoking, funny, witty, writing style was flawless and I tell you, reading it will give you a different sense of adventure. It wasn’t just a book made to entertain, but it was written to show a reflection of one’s self. A perfect depiction of how it feels to be trapped in your own body when it feels like you should be living a different life. This book was a metaphor at best and it would be such shame if you won’t give yourself the satisfaction of knowing this book.

Rating: rating_5stars

“You love someone for fifty years and then they die. People talk about grief as emptiness, but it’s not empty. It’s full. Heavy. Not an absence to fill. A weight to pull. Your skin caught on hooks chained to rough boulders made of all the futures you thought you would have.”
Elan Mastai, All Our Wrong Todays

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Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner: ARC Book Review

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Synopsis from GoodreadsLisa Gardner’s next thriller following her runaway New York Times bestseller Find Her takes her wildly popular brand of suspense to new heights.

Is he a hero?

Eight years ago, Sharlah May Nash’s older brother beat their drunken father to death with a baseball bat in order to save both of their lives. Now thirteen years old, Sharlah has finally moved on. About to be adopted by retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner, Rainie Conner, Sharlah loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters.

Is he a killer?

Then the call comes in. A double murder at a local gas station, followed by reports of an armed suspect shooting his way through the wilds of Oregon. As Quincy and Rainie race to assist, they are forced to confront mounting evidence: The shooter may very well be Sharlah’s older brother, Telly Ray Nash, and it appears his killing spree has only just begun.

All she knows for sure: He’s back.

As the clock winds down on a massive hunt for Telly, Quincy and Rainie must answer two critical questions: Why after eight years has this young man started killing again? And what does this mean for Sharlah? Once upon a time, Sharlah’s big brother saved her life. Now, she has two questions of her own: Is her brother a hero or a killer? And how much will it cost her new family before they learn the final, shattering truth? Because as Sharlah knows all too well, the biggest danger is the one standing right behind you.

Publisher: Dutton Books

Publication Date: January 31, 2017

Date Read: January 31, 2017

Pages: 421

Source: ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

REVIEW

 

A crime thriller with a HEART!

Thriller is another genre that I have barely scratched the surface of. I am not by any stretch of imagination a connoisseur in the subject, but that doesn’t necessarily make my opinion invalid right? I know a good book when I read one, at least I could take pride in that. Anyway, Dutton Books asked me if I would love to review Lisa Gardner’s new thriller. I have never read anything by her (I know! Have I been living under a rock?) and so when an opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it. Let’s just say, Lisa Gardner is now included in my Autobuy Authors List. 

Right Behind You took the words clever and gripping into a whole new level. I finished the book in two and half days, which seldom happens nowadays (insert life and work here), so I guess that must have at least amounted to something. Right Behind You is a satisfying and joyful thriller ride. You have to give it to Lisa Gardner to capture her readers’ attention and be able to sustain the momentum until the very last page. It was impossible to put down, I was reading through traffic, inside the elevator, whilst cooking, literally every chance I get. It was in the way the story was narrated that captivated me. It shifts to first person narration to third person without losing its magic, if for anything, it added to the texture and flavor of the book. And there is always beauty in anticipating the twist, in solving the puzzle along with the characters in the book. It is as if you are there with them. The characters are distinct. Especially Telly Ray Nash and Sharlah, these two though flawed had redeeming qualities of their own, they are enigmatic yet somehow you will be able to relate to them. Telly Ray Nash’s character was something consistent and not at the same time, I don’t know how to put it but when you are reading his character, you will develop some sense of faith in him. Even if the first chapters presented him in a bad light you just can’t help but to somehow root for him. The characters’ connection to each other made the story cohesive, not one character who is dispensable, every single one played an important role. And yes, even the dogs!! Ahhh I love love love how the dogs are incorporated in this book! Luka and MollyWog! Ahhh those two made this book even more enjoyable to read! Lisa Gardner’s writing was clean and polished, she was able to draw out the proper emotions and set the proper mood, and not many authors can do that. It is literally the book that will have you zoned out while reading it. Nothing matters in the world but the story in the book, and that is something truly noteworthy.

Right Behind You isn’t just about the revelation of who did what, it was more than what it conveys. It is a mystery thriller with a HEART. And I wouldn’t lie, I really teared up at some parts. I’m not even sure what really won me over, is it because of the depth of the story or the way it was cleverly written. All I know is, this definitely wouldn’t be the last Lisa Gardner book that I will read. It was well-thought out. It was about a book tackling abuse, violence and (gruesome) murders. Each chapter will leave you with immense need to know what’s going to unfold next, and as cliche as it may sound I had to hold my breath at some chapters, that’s how gripping and intense it was. The only thing that prevented me from giving it full five star rating was some parts have become repetitive to a fault, especially the one explaining about Telly Ray Nash’s condition or mental state also what happened eight years ago. Other than that, I really enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves crime thrillers.

 

Rating: rating_4stars

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Among The Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor | Poetic Book Tours

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Synopsis from GoodreadsAmong the Lost, set in the modern American rust belt, is a meditation drawn from Dante’s Purgatorio. To Dante, Purgatory was the mountain where souls not damned went after death to cleanse themselves of sin in preparation for entering Paradise. What, Steinzor asks, are we preparing ourselves for, having lost the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, in the course of our daily urban existence? And whatever that is, how do we go about preparing for it?

Publisher: Fomite Press

Date Published: November 2016

Date Read: January 2017

Source: Poetic Book Tours

 

REVIEW

 

As part of Poetic Book Tours I was asked by Serena if I would be willing to join in reading and reviewing Among The Lost, I have always been a fan of Dante’s Circles of Hell, and after learning that Among The Lost is inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio, I knew then I have to be a part of this Book Tour or I will probably regret it. Seth Steinzor’s poetry is rich and on point. Often times there’s no beating around the bush, he writes what needs to be said, with such gusto and precision that you can help but pause and ponder on the truth it was revealing. And the truth was, our existence had been tainted with mostly horrible and unimaginable things. The book was divided into different Canto, where our narrator encounters different scenario and different people with varied dilemma or varied traits. It was heavily political and realistic at the same time, which at times hard to get into but once you get the hang of it, it will be something you truly appreciate. Among the Lost used modern setting to juxtapose those of ancient times, which was truly remarkable. Seth Steinzor “modernized” a classic many of us loved. He concoct his poetry into something relevant and timely, something one could identify with.

I have not read the first book, so I had no way of comparing them. This poetry book may not be for everyone, at times I get confused on certain references, thus making it hard for me to completely grasp what was being conveyed. In the same vein I could not fully recommend this one to those people who are just beginning to appreciate poetry as this one may not be as engaging, but then it is something worth a try, especially to the ones who wanted to read more in depth portrayal of government and the society. But one thing I have to say – Seth Steinzor’s writing style is truly magnificent. He had a way with words that made the book more appealing and it was a bonus that this book was told in story form following the journey of the narrator from one specific stage or path onto another.

I specifically liked this excerpt from his poem Canto VI: In the Clouds

Telling you of this brings it back to me as

if I were standing there! – and after

not too many heartbeats thinking this:

The sight of these two mammals enjoying so

fully the little they have in common should shame you to

weeping, America! How hard can it

be to care for one another? Your rich

begrudge your poor their mite. Your poor

begrudge each other. The ones in the middle fear

the ones below them, bend the knee to the

 

moneyed, and keep an eye on their neigbors. The space a

dollar takes is more than you would

spare the creatures around you. You’re free with this:

you shit your nest and everywhere else. You

stomp around the world with an anxious smile and a

big knife, taking whatever you

want, and whoever gets in your way had better

look to god for help. You wonder

why they hate you, who cried your name with longing…

About the Author:

Seth Steinzor protested the Vietnam War during his high school years near Buffalo, New York, and his years at Middlebury College, advocated Native American causes after law school, and has made a career as a civil rights attorney, criminal prosecutor, and welfare attorney for the State of Vermont. Throughout he has written poetry. In early 1980s Boston he edited a small literary journal. His first, highly praised book, To Join the Lost, was published in 2010.

Available on Amazon.

Rating: rating_3stars

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