Book Review

Book Review: The Dark Arena by Mario Puzo

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Sometimes I wanna fight like hell against everything around me, but I don’t know what to fight. It seems like I can’t get out of a straight line to a trap.

The Dark Arena is the first novel by the renowned crime novelist Mario Puzo published in 1955. Set in post World War II Germany, the book is told in the third person narrative and evolves around the life of Walter Mosca, an American G.I. who fell in love with a German girl.

The novel started at the end of the World War II where we find our protagonist, Walter on his way back home to America. Once home, he’s gone restless and thought that he would rather be back in Germany where all the ruins, faces and memories from the now-over war is everywhere. Soon, he decided to go back in Germany and once he reached Bremen, he went and look for Hella, a girl he met during the war and the reason he is back in the land of the enemy.

Together, Hella and Walter tried to live a harmonious life as a couple in a society where a relationship like theirs is considered a taboo. They made each day count, all along waiting for the wedding ban for American-German couple to be lifted. Though the book ended tragically, Walter and Hella’s union gave birth to a wonderful son.

The book speaks with a grim tone, someone who have gone through a war just like Walter could only have. It depicts the distorted view the world had during the war and how people struggle to move on with their lives even after the war is over.

I’ve always been drawn to books/stories related to the World War II because I find the emotions, insights and overall theme to have a deep and profound meaning. With this book, there are varying emotions thrown in but the story lacked in depth. The only thing I liked about it is the fact that Puzo was able to conjure up a character so cruel that you’d think how brave it was for a writer to come up with such an idea – to offer an awfully detestable main character to the readers.

I found it boring as the events in the book didn’t get me going and there’s not much to look forward to. I kept on waiting on every chapter for a cliffhanger, or something that would spice up the story but there were none. I’d give it a poor 2 out of 5 stars for I find the plot quite shallow and a bit meaningless. I love Mario Puzo for the brilliant job he’s done with The Godfather, but this novel was a “meh”.  I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone I know. If you want to experience the real Mario Puzo greatness, go grab a copy of The Godfather.

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Book Review

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.

The Martian is a science fiction novel written by American novelist Andy Weir that was published in 2011. The book follows the adventure of a stranded astronaut in Mars in the year 2035 and how he managed to survive 549 sols (Martian day) alone.

Mark Watney is part of NASA’s crewed mission named Ares 3 that sends astronauts to Mars for exploration. Ares 3’s mission failed when on Sol 6, their landing area, Acidalia Planitia was hit by a dust storm which resulted to their evacuation. In this evacuation, only five out of the original six crews of Ares 3 were able to successfully board and launch the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) into space leaving behind one crew member -Mark Watney. This was brought about by Watney’s injury that left him unconscious which then led his crew members to believe him dead.

Watney then woke up to the realization that he is stranded in Mars ALONE and that he is fucked up! He spent the next days -err, sols coming up with various plans on how he will survive life on Mars. Along the way, he came up with solutions such as planting crops (from their mission’s stock) to feed him and fixing communication devices so he can talk to Earth. NASA on the other hand, later on found out that Watney is still alive in Mars and so this started their mission to bring him home alive. Through the combined efforts of the geniuses from NASA and resourcefulness of Watney, he was able to get home after 549 challenging, life-threatening solar days in Mars.

The book was largely written in the form of Watney’s Log or journal entries in Mars and through a third person narrative for Earth-related scenarios. It’s quite a book for geeks as contents of it could get way too “technical” with all the terms the author used to describe how Watney performed certain experiments to stay alive. A good example of this was when he decided to produce water in Mars for his crops. PRODUCE. WATER. IN. MARS!

I liked it for its wit and humor and how it was able to engage me still, in spite of all the technical/scientific phrases used to almost distract me. I like books with a fast-pace storytelling, and though The Martian seemed to stumble over Watney’s experiments here and there, I thought that his story is quite on the fast side in general.  What I didn’t like though, is how it got to a point where the cycle of Watney finding out something’s wrong and fixing it in the end became too repetitive. I also didn’t like how on some parts of it, I felt like I was reading the journal of a nerd, bragging about his latest science project while trying to sound funny.

I’d rate this book 4 out of 5 stars for I felt that it was a very well thought-out book. I like how the story is firm to the plot and no other distracting thoughts or events were strewn to it. I thought it is quite an educational read in some ways for people like me that have forgotten all about their Chemistry and Physics background (if there are any).

Book · Book Review

Book Review: Silence by Shūsaku Endō

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“It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”

Silence is a historical fiction novel written by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō published in 1966. Set in 17th century Japan, it follows the story of missionaries from Portugal and the suffering they have both experienced and witnessed in the hands of Japanese officials. The first part was written in the form of letter correspondence from the protagonist and later on in the third person narrative.

Christianity was not something openly embraced by Japanese in 1630s. In spite of this adversity, a number of missionaries from Portugal still come to Japan to strengthen the Christian faith among the believers. A Portuguese Jesuit named Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues and his companion Fr. Francisco Garrpe sailed to Japan to fulfill this mission and to confirm the news that their mentor, a Jesuit priest in Japan named Christovao Ferreira has apostatized.

Upon reaching Japan, they have witnessed how discreet Japanese Christians are in their faith and worshiping God. They had to hide any sign that could give them away as practicing Christians to government officials and civilians alike. Rodrigues witnessed  brutality and torture of all sorts done to groups of Christian peasants that were caught practicing the religion. These tortures have all led to their eventual deaths. He himself was starved and imprisoned, while his companion Garrpe died of drowning trying to save Christians that were wrapped in woven mats then thrown in to the ocean to die. In all these hardships, he had often wondered and questioned why is God silent? Why did he remained silent in all of this?

Rodrigues later met his mentor Ferreira who had confirmed he’d apostatized and is now living under a Japanese name. He convinced Rodrigues to apostatized so these peasants’ sufferings will end. It was also implicated by his captors that because of Rodrigues, people are suffering and dying, so he better renounce his faith, else, these sufferings will continue.

This book is a story of one’s faith and how will it endure physical torture and humiliation. When faced with life-threatening situation, how will your faith affect your actions? I liked how it showed stories of sacrifices that were truly inspiring and insights from Rodrigues that speaks to my heart, and more importantly, to me as a Christian. This book gave me a sense of admiration for one’s faith and its ability to endure hardship.

I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars rating for its “straight to the point” storytelling and thorough narrative. In summary, this book was not a “heavy” read for it conveys the message in one go. You won’t find conflicting events in the plot or in the build-up of characters, and so this was an easy read for me.

I liked how at the end of the book, Rodrigues had contemplated his anguish over God’s silence and have made him realized that God was not silent, He suffered with him. He is not alone for God was with him. It’s a message enough to inspire all of us Christians (and non-Christians), that in the midst of all our sufferings, God is always with us.

May we all find the courage we found in Rodrigues, to preach the word of God even if He may have been silent.

Book · Book Review

SG Book Buffet 2017

If you’re a book worm and is staying in Singapore, you’re sure familiar with SG Book Deals and their annual warehouse sale. Every year, they have this promotion they call “Book Box Sale” or ” Book Buffet” – they hand you a carton box, you fill it with books and pay S$50.00. This for me, is a deal I should not miss!

And so, on a gloomy Saturday morning, off I go and head on to their warehouse located in Ang Mo Kio. I wasn’t able to take a lot of photos as I right away plunged in to the sea of books laid before me.

Their warehouse is at the 3rd floor of Pansing Distribution around Ang Mo Kio Industrial Park 1. Upon entering the building, I can smell the scent of new books, I followed this addicting scent and these signs and there I found it.

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This was me mid-fight! Haha! My box was almost full by this time and I couldn’t be any happier!

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I was able to fit in 27 books in my box. I could’ve squeeze in a few more but I don’t see any titles I’m genuinely interested to, so I decided to check-out already.

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My SG Book Buffet 2017 consist of:

  • One More Thing by B.J. Novak
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  • Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter
  • The Dark Arena by Mario Puzo
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  • Going La La by Alexandra Potter
  • My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  • Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
  • The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
  • First Comes Love by Emily Griffin
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
  • Hannibal by Thomas Haris
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
  • Hector and The Search For Happiness by Francois Lelord
  • Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
  • Love Letters To The Dead by Ava Dellaira
  • Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  • The View From Cheap Seats – Neil Gaiman
  • Mercy by Jodi Picoult

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And since I’m resurrecting my blog starting this month, I vow to religiously read all of these books and write a review, every single one of them. I solemnly swear I will do this, cross my heart! Punch me in the neck if I seemed to slack off. Ktnxbye!

Book · Book Review

Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Normality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people-and especially doctors- had doubts about normality. They weren’t sure normality was up the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.

Middlesex is a coming of age novel written by American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003. Set in Detroit between the years 1960’s-70’s (with a few flashbacks from earlier years) this was written in a first person point of view in the voice of Callie, which will later on be Cal Stephanides.

The book is about Calliope Stephanides and how he’s come to the realization of his gender identity. Cal is the second child of an American family with roots from Greek immigrants. He was born with a genitalia of a girl -physically, she was endowed with the female sexual parts but on a closer look inside, there’s a male part in it. I wouldn’t go about the details of his anatomy but to put it simply, he was born and raised as a girl but is biologically a boy. He and his Mom started having doubts during his puberty when all his friends are getting their periods and started wearing bras. Cal waited but his period didn’t come and his breasts remained non-existent. It was later on when they consulted a Gender Identity Specialist (Sexologist) when they found about his condition. The doctor suggested corrective procedure to make him the girl he was born to be, but Cal felt that he is a boy more than a girl so the “procedure” was not pushed through.

It was mentioned several times in the book that Cal’s story wouldn’t be complete without the story of his grandparents and how they immigrated to America. A great part of this book encompasses the history of Cal’s grandparents, from the early 1920’s when they got their first American jobs up to the 1950’s when Cal’s parents got together up until Cal’s time. All throughout the book, his grandparents are always present.

It’s a story mainly of family and identity. It tells the history of one’s family and their fears and dreams. It tells how gender is not a definition of one’s identity. How we should all accept what we truly feel is real and tell the world about it.

In general, I liked how the book have pictured the life and love of a typical family with all the essential roles played by a loving mother, a reserved father, a bullying brother and an aging grandmother. I loved how Cal embraced his identity with open arms. I didn’t like the fact that the book was supposed to be about the story of Cal but a good 60 percent of the book’s content is about his grandparents’ history from Smyrna to Detroit. I was expecting more from Cal and his many explorations and discoveries within himself. I thought the author could’ve delved more in to that, seeing that the book was about Cal and him, being an intersex.

With this, I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend this to a patient reader for parts of it could get a bit “elaborate” and though this didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I’d still read another Jeffrey Eugenides book. His writing style suits me, elaborate but engaging.

Footnote: I used the pronoun “his” throughout this entry as I feel that Callie/Cal is essentially a boy. 

Book Review

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Love was a rare thing, easily confused with a million other things, and if anybody knew this to be true it was him.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is the first novel written by Dominican American author Junot Diaz which tells the story of Oscar De Leon, a Dominican boy living in New Jersey and the curse or “fuKu” that he believes have plagued his family over the years.

Oscar is an overweight boy who seemed to have no luck with love/dating or in the “Girls Department”  as some would call it. Due to this predicament, he’s learned to focus his energy on anything geeky and became a true blue fanboy of anything science fiction. His adult life prove to be no difference from that of his adolescent years – no luck with girls, stuck with his comic books. There were a few girls he fell in love with, hang out with, maybe even dated, but the love he felt for them wasn’t reciprocated and have all ended tragically. One in particular have led him to life-threatening decisions and Oscar being a sucker-for-love kind of guy may have done things that could endanger/cost his life.

Thru the alternating views narrated by various characters, this book tells how both Oscar’s mother, and grandfather have suffered under the dictatorship of the then Dominican Republic leader, Rafael Trujillo. The book’s theme varies between the political history of Dominican Republic, the teen-aged, comic book-addicted life of Oscar and the sufferings that Oscar’s grandfather have gone through in the hands of Trujillo’s men. The latter which Oscar believes is the start of the fuku curse that have tormented his family over the years.

While this is a story of a boy trying to fit in with life and society’s changing times, it also tells the power of a greedy politician over the regular civilians. It showed us how it didn’t matter if you’re in Dominican Republic or anywhere else in the world, for people in power have all too often used and overused their position to reign over “smaller” people. It’s easy to say that it is also a story of power and influence, and how it could destroy a life or nation if mishandling happens.

I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars rating. I love how the characters are build from chapter to chapter. How they were introduced retrospectively and  how they all contribute to the story of Oscar’s brief and indeed wondrous life.

Philippines · Travel

It’s Bora Beach!

When people hear that I am from the Philippines, one of the many things they’d usually ask me is if it’s really nice in Boracay. Is the sand really white in there and is it really a paradise on Earth? I’d feel bad every time I had to tell them “no, I haven’t been to Bora, sorry I really can’t tell.”

Well now, that’s about to change! Summer this year, I and my family went on a 3-day tour to this paradise-like island that is Boracay.

Our flight to the island is via Caticlan Aiport, we booked via PAL since they offer flights from Clark (we’re from Pampanga) and that’s convenient enough for us.

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From the two airports near Boracay Island, Caticlan is much more advisable since the jetty port (that is the gateway to the island) is just minutes away from the airport. If you book flights to Kalibo on the other hand, an advantage is that it’s much cheaper compared to Caticlan but a bit “hassle” since the travel from Kalibo airport to the jetty port might takes hours. So in that matter, you just have to figure whatever floats your boat.

Upon arrival at Caticlan, you will have to get to the port terminal where you will purchase tickets for the ferry that will take you to Boracay Island.

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After you get your ticket, you will go straight to the jetty port where you will be guided on the boat you were to take. This is how it looks at the jetty port.

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This here is the “bangka” that’s operated by, maybe three to four men, runs on gasoline (I guess?!) and can accommodate 10-15 persons.

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Here’s how it looks inside. And yes, you have to wear the life jacket, because S-A-F-E-T-Y! Life is short, wear the damn jacket! HAHAHA! Fifteen minutes lang naman, what is fifteen minutes of your life, diba?

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This is the Cagban Jetty Port, once you reached this point, you can already feel the “island vibe”. W E L C O M E !!

Most of the tourists at Boracay travel by tricycle. There are e-tricycles (TWO THUMBS UP!) and of course, the traditional ones. They have all sorts, shapes, sizes and colors of tricycle in the island and are everywhere, so in terms of moving around, it’s really not a worry.

With our case, since we were touring with our parents, we decided to arrange for an “airport transfer” option from the resort we booked in. We didn’t want our parents going through all the trouble of getting in the “tryk”, sitting/cramped in it, all the while being cooked by the hot, hot sun. We, youngsters wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t mind it but given their old age, I guess they deserve some comfort.

So here we are, sitting pretty at our service van on the way to the resort.

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We stayed at Alta Vista de Boracay which is located on the “mountainous” side of the island. It’s quite far from the main beach but their service, facilities and amenities are commendable enough, so that’s how they make up for it.

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Boracay Island is mainly divided in to Stations 1, 2 and 3. Our resort was located after Station 1 and it’s a 20 minute-ride to D’Mall which is located in Station 2. From the Cagban Jetty Port, you will reach Stations 3, 2 and 1 respectively so like, our resort is already considered “far” from the main beach. :/

Alta Vista provides shuttle service to and from D’Mall. OK, I took a photo of the shuttle schedule because WHY THE HELL NOT?!

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For our first day, after we had settled everything at our villa, we decided to discover the island right away! We only have four days to appreciate Boracay and off we go to Station 2 to see the famed beach.

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I’ve heard a lot of people telling me that Boracay had already lost its “glory” over the years. What with all the number of tourists flocking to the island, it’s only a matter of time (add in the negligence of some of these tourists) before destruction meets this island.  In spite of all these negative remarks, I still appreciated Bora. I guess I can say the same with the parents, if you can see their faces here. Well, my Tatay’s face is always awkward in photos, but really, he’s having a good time here! Cheers!

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Station 2 is the most crowded area in the island because D’Mall is located here and bars after bars are lined by the beachfront. Youngsters mostly enjoy this ambiance and they make up the most number/groups among Bora’s visitors, hence, the crowding issue.

We ended the day by having a light dinner around the area, mainly lounging at our villa and calling it a day afterwards. Again, since we were with the parentals (and we’re not party animals!), we did not explore Boracay’s famed night life.

The next day (considered last day for exploring), we went to Puka Beach in the morning since Alta Vista also have shuttle service to the said beach and boy, was it breathtaking!

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After Puka Beach, we went to D’Mall for lunch then went to Station 1 afterwards to while the time away. D’Mall is at Station 2, it’s a 10 minute-walk to Station 1 but you wouldn’t notice the distance you have walked on because there are scenery, stores and other commotions happening left and right -that’s Boracay for you! 😉

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From the photos (below) you will see some green-colored moss being washed in to the beach. Nonetheless, I still loved the view with or without the moss. I just wished people would take more care when visiting this island to preserve its beauty and wonder.

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This here is Station 1 where you will find the fine, white sand. Some stores from the D’Mall sells small jars of this sand as souvenir. Can’t blame them though, but if you want to bring some of it home, you can take some for yourself (no need to spend pa).

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After spending the afternoon at Station 1 (White Beach), we went back to D’Mall to buy souvenirs then went back to the resort.

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Of course, your trip to Boracay won’t be complete without the obligatory pose with one of these sand sculptures.

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The next day was our flight back to Clark and that summed up our short but sweet escape to the beautiful island of Boracay.

To sum up our three day-tour, it’s simply “bitin” (not enough time) to put it. We could’ve easily spent three to four more days in the island but because we were only given limited time to visit the Philippines, our time at Boracay was also that short.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed it. I love how laid-back the general vibe of the whole place is. Though yup, it’s crowded (and I don’t like crowds!), the beautiful, beautiful beaches make it all worth it. If given the chance to come back, maybe I’d choose to go during “lean” season to avoid the crowd.

Also, the choice of resort/hotel is a big advantage especially if you wanna make the most out of the trip. With our case, though the resort was a 20 minute-ride from the main attractions, it was fitting in a way because we also want peace and quiet when the day was over.

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If you are visiting the island, you have to prepare yourself to the scorching heat of the sun especially if you are not from the Philippines or any tropical countries where the weathers are 1.) hot and 2.) super hot!  Also, food is quite expensive as well as some products that are sold from various stores. Souvenir prices are reasonable enough on the other hand, but you can always haggle. 🙂

Boracay may have lost its original beauty over the years and have faced (still facing) competition against all the other (newly discovered) summer destinations in the country, but its glory is not lost. Foreigners and locals alike are still drawn to it, I can see. Maybe, by doing our part in keeping it clean and orderly, it might bring back the beauty it has lost. Boracay has given us wonderful memories/experience (and to us, Filipinos -something to be proud of) let’s all do the same and take good care of her. Not only to Bora but all the other beaches and natural resources in and out of our country.