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Judging A Book Without A Cover: The Top 3 Sites To Get Free Books And Ebooks From The Biggest Publishers And Authors

The idea of being a “professional reader” titillates me. What dilettante reader or writer, novice literary blogger, or amateur book reviewer wouldn’t be titillated by the idea of it? For someone so passionate about books and reading, I was ecstatic after learning over a few months ago that there were sites that gave away free advanced reading copies of soon to be released books and e-books by the biggest publishers and authors in the world.

While there are sites that give away free ebooks and PDF documents like Free-eBooks.netFreeBookSpotPlanet PDF (one of my favorite sites for downloading the classics; just use your Kindle device and download your Dostoyevsky, Dickens, or Proust to your blessed, little, eager heart’s delight!), and Project Gutenberg — and these are all great sites from which you can download ebooks and books in different formats — this post is not about the average free book sites where one could just download books immediately, like what the rest of the highly cerebral, humanoid, greedy, book-hoarding species do (including myself, admittedly — the greedy, book-hoarding part, I mean).

No. This post is about the Top Three sites from which the serious book/literary blogger can get his greedy, book-hoarding hands on the latest, and most of the time, unpublished, yet to be released books from the small publishers and middlingly successful, mostly underrated, authors to the big publishers and bestselling, sometimes overrated, authors. Of course, this goes without saying that there is a catch: you have to have at least a decent blog, and at least a respectable amount of followers and blog posts. Since you’re reading this WordPress blog, I’ll assume that you have “just another WordPress (or any other) blog,” too.

APPLICATION PROCESS AND PROFESSIONAL COURTESY

1. You have to fill out an online form (safe to say, the general procedure these days) wherein you will be asked to talk about yourself and write down the link to your blog with a verification through your email (in order to keep those sneaky, scheming, little book and e-book vultures at bay).

2. Know how to use the Internet and navigate your way into the website, request for the books you’d like to read and have by choosing either “blogger” or “reviewer” from the list of accepted professions, and wait for the confirmation, or in most cases (from the bigwigs), the declination.

3. Have one of the major e-readers available today: Kindle readers, Sony readers, Nook, etc. If you don’t have an e-reader, in which case one is disposed to ask: “What kind of a self-respecting book blogger doesn’t have an e-reader these days?”, you can still download the e-books through Adobe Digital Editions in your computer.

4. Try your best to read the books you requested, and then write an honest review on your blog. The publishers and authors who approve your request do not expect you to write a good review just because you got the book for free. In fact, if you wish not to review their book for some reason, just have the courtesy to explain to them why you can’t read the book or why you can’t write a review. They leave their publicity team’s email addresses so you can contact them should you wish to interview the author; to inform them that you have already posted a review; or that you have declined to review their book.

5. Don’t forget to mention that you received the books for free because I think I read somewhere before that when one receives a free product and chooses to review it, one has to mention it in one’s review.

THE TOP THREE 

1. Blogging For Books  by WalterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group

Blogging_For_Books_2501

For all you Christian bloggers out there, here’s a site that is just what you need. The WalterBrook Publishing Group is a Christian publishing group and an evangelical division of the largest publisher in the world, Random House, Inc.. Blogging for Books is the website specifically tailored for Christian, Bible-thumping, Jesus-loving bloggers, no pun intended, who would like to request a book and review them.

Unlike the two next sites included in this post, Blogging for Books is the only site among the these Top  Three that offers printed versions of the copy requested by the blogger, provided the blogger gets a minimum review ranking of 25 for their reviews by the readers (here’s for more details), and that the blogger is from the United States. Bloggers from outside the US will only get an e-book version of the book requested.

Also, unlike the next two sites, Blogging for Books is the only one among the three that gives away only one book at a time. The other two sites approve multiple requests at a time. It is also the only site that requires you to have an account with another site, Edelweiss, which also happens to be among the Top Three sites I am endorsing here. Currently, I have been auto-approved by Blogging for Books for five titles from which I can choose one for review. I still have yet to pick one.

2. Edelweiss

Edelweiss Books

Edelweiss is a site that offers a wide range of free titles from small to large publishers. These titles only come in advanced (e-book) reading copies, though, and some of the copies that you will receive will be the unedited, uncorrected versions, which you could compare against the finished product once it is published. Some titles, just like Blogging for Books and NetGalley, which is the last site I shall mention here, have already been pre-approved by publishers for bloggers who have passed their qualifications.

The big difference, though, between Edelweiss and NetGalley and Blogging for Books is that Edelweiss is the only site among the Top Three that actually offers Digital Advanced Audio Copies. I didn’t know about digital advanced audio copies until I found this site. It makes complete sense, though. There are audiobooks out there, so why not have advanced audio copies of those, right? So, if you’re one of those who love to listen to audiobooks, albeit unedited, you just might find the titles that suit your taste here on Edelweiss. Two of the titles I have been approved are digital audio copies, 24 of which are advanced reading copies.

3. NetGalley

Print

Among the Top Three, NetGalley is my favorite site because of it’s easy-to-use, simple, and navigable website, not to mention the thousands of titles from the largest university and commercial presses and New York Times bestselling authors who have signed up with it, compared with the slightly less number of titles from Blogging for Books and Edelweiss. Currently, I have 360 books approved from the publishers of this site. I know that’s an obscene amount of ebooks to review, and even more obscene amount of books to have been requested by a single individual, but in my defense, I shall try to read and review them all within 3 years (excuses, excuses). On a lighter note, I’d like to proudly point out that the largest university press in the world, THE Oxford UniversityPress, has approved some of my requests. Well, it may have declined most of my requests, but at least it has approved at least a couple of them, and that makes my day everytime I think about it. These English gents from Oxford (including those from Random House) are just a bit wee hard hard to please, but when they approve you, you’d definitely feel validated and feel like a rock star blogger — makes you kind of forget all the rejection letters you got combined (including the kind of rejection you got from the girl or guy who dumped you, or THE ONE who jilted you at the altar).

READING AND REVIEW SYSTEM AND ADVANCED APOLOGIES

I have already made a list of the ebooks I shall read first among the ones that I received from NetGalley and Edelweiss by following a simple system: those ebooks whose advanced reading copies and final versions that came with the real ebook/printed book covers with them will be the ones I shall read and review first. The ones with the unedited versions without their proper book covers (and just don’t look good at all in my Kindle next to the other books with the colorful, yet to be finalized, book covers) will be read and reviewed last.

Unfortunately, therefore, some of the titles might not even make it to my to-read list if the advanced reading copies are just too dreadfully edited or formatted for reading; and I’m telling you, there are some of those I received whose formatting just seem to have been whipped up overnight, and not, at the very least, even second-rate, second draft-material at all. Still, lest I be painted a book-whoring ingrate, I’d like to say that I am happy to have received those books and that I truly appreciate them. Maybe the least I can do for these books I won’t review is to mention them in my upcoming posts as a series called “The Books I Won’t Be Able To Review, or in a series of posts called something like “How Can I Judge A Book Without A Cover?” and then include a brief synopsis about them. Win-win, yes?

You see, if I were still an amateur reader, I would consider reading dreadfully edited or formatted advanced reading copies first. Alas, I am what NetGalley refers to as a “professional reader” now, and with that comes the discriminating taste, eagle eyes, and the proud sensibilities of a professional book reviewer and critic, albeit a slightly amateurish one. I may not be as good a “professional reader and reviewer” as critics and authors John Updike and James Wood are, but I do take those hats seriously and I expect at the very least a readable and presentable advanced reading copies (ARC).

If I am to be a better professional reader and reviewer, which I intend to be, I should be able to choose which books to read, review, and recommend; and with the Top Three sites above, despite the failings of its publishers to give away well-formatted and well-edited advanced reading copies sometimes, I know I might, over the long haul, be able to improve my reading habits, sharpen my critical abilities, and develop my rather wide range of interests and extreme personal tastes in literature through their wonderful books (that I am truly thankful for).

It is thus my fervent, fervent wish that whoever is reading this will be able to do the things I hope to accomplish and have already accomplished through these three great sites, too.

7 Fun Facts About Me + My Nomination For Very Inspiring Blogger Award Makes Me Keep At It

very-inspiring-blogger-award11 (1)After not having blogged for over a month due to my right hand injury (I’m better now, thank you), and my father’s recent colon cancer operation (he’s better now, too, thank God), I was happy to find out that Ms. Lee Paige of Life Accordinglee, a fellow blogger and aspiring author, nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. If I could nominate her back for this award, I would. But one of the unwritten rules, I believe, of this award is that it does not allow one to nominate the one who nominated you.

Still, after having been on a blogging and writing hiatus for over a month, I am quite honored and flattered to have been nominated by someone as inspiring and as serious a blogger and writer as Ms. Paige. Just when I thought I was about to lose my blogging and writing momentum after a series of unfortunate writing setbacks — major of which were my dad’s diagnosis with stage 2B colon cancer and my right hand freak accident injury — the latter having almost extinguished my passion for writing altogether (for fear I might not be able to write properly again because I am unfortunately just right-handed, not ambidextrous), I receive this recognition and honor.

The slogan-theme of the award is “Keeping The Blogosphere A Beautiful Place.” This nomination, to me, is, I would like to think, validation enough that I am somehow doing something write, er, right, with my life and with this blog. When I started The Bibliophile Chronicles, all I wanted was a place for me to share my thoughts on literature, authors, books, and to share some of the happenings in my life in relation to my passion for reading and writing. But if fellow bloggers and writers such as Ms. Paige thinks that I am also keeping the blogosphere a beautiful place, then that is indeed a wonderful and unexpected bonus and accolade. So, with all my heart, thank you, Ms. Paige, for the nomination.

NOMINATION MECHANICS

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award comes with a few rules. Here they are:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your website.
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented you with the award.
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

7 THINGS ABOUT MYSELF I MAY HAVE FAILED TO MENTION BEFORE

1. I think I may have been an English lord in my past life. That said, I am a royalist and an Anglophile. And after having met a royal Muslim princess and a Filipina socialite who became an English lady after marrying an English lord, I am all the more convinced now not only of my English heritage, but of my being an English lord trapped in a bipolar Filipino man‘s body. Ah, the idea of addressing someone as Your Royal Highness and Lady Minda or being addressed as Lord Francis by someone else if just utterly delicious; it’s like eating Christmas!

2. I have been sporting a posh British accent whenever I talk to Europeans or any British person since I was in high school. Blame it on BBC and my English heritage. I have been asked by all British and European people I have met why I have a posh, aristocratic, upper class British accent, and I just tell them with my clipped, nasal, and patrician voice that I was born in London and have lived with my grandmother Her Majesty The Queen since Day 1, jokingly, of course.

3. I am obsessive-compulsive. I write, read, and think obsessively and compulsively every minute of everyday that I honestly don’t know what to focus on and do first most of the time. This is the reason why I always bring with me everywhere I go a pen, a paper, books, my journal, and my fleeting and racing thoughts. Sometimes I wonder how I am still sane all these years. Moreover, I wonder why the people around me, especially my staff, family, and friends, still remain sane after all the craziness they have to up with because of my genius, or is it delusions? Okay, genius it is.

4. I love making up new words. Who says Webster is the only guy who can come up with new vocab? In my previous posts and in a chapter of my as yet unpublished memoirs and novel, I came up with words such as historize, diarize, teachified, francified, and bipolarize, and have used them quite successfully, if I may so myself. I am waiting for the day people will refer to me as the literary genius who coined such beautiful words. You’ll have to buy copies of my memoirs and novel to learn more new words I made up myself.

5. When I was in Europe on a vacation two months ago for over three weeks, I was hoping I could start writing short stories to anthologize in a book. Alas, I ended up with nothing. I caught the flu when I was in Salzburg, Austria because instead of bundling up properly and wearing something appropriate and wise for a minus five-degree Celsius climate, I thought I would Superman it up by just wearing a thin blue jacket as thin and as uncomfortable as the leotards of Superman himself when I was out riding a horse-driven carriage for a sightseeing trip. Turns out I didn’t have any healing superpowers, after all; my only superpowers are delusions of grandeur and stupidity.

6. I see everything from a writer’s perspective since I started blogging. Everytime something, anything happens — good or bad — I always see something in it that inspires me to write about. Even after having told myself that I might not be able to write anymore because of my bloody, inconvenient right hand injury, at the back of my mind I was still thinking that I could write about this after I get better or after it still doesn’t get any better. When you start writing, you begin to see every experience as an inspiration for writing, you see every minute detail as a possible theme or topic, and you see everything with a writer’s hope for a better future or a writer’s despair for a bleak future.

7. I write because I don’t want to forget. My ambition of being a memoirist and being a damn good novelist started from being a diarist. At the end of each day, I write in my different notebooks and journals, including this iPhone application called One Day, all my thoughts, feelings, opinions, fears, and dreams because I don’t want to forget anything. I didn’t say I want to remember everything because, you see, being bipolar and obsessive-compulsive, I tend to forget most things. It’s not early senility, just memory loss caused by manic, racing thoughts. With all the things running through my mind every millisecond, and with all the things that compete to take up space in my ever-working brain and imagination, it is easy for me to get distracted. I can’t afford to forget those surges of inspiration and brilliance, because in my world, genius, creativity, and delusions are all one and the same.

15 BLOGGERS WHO INSPIRE AND KEEP THE BLOGOSPHERE A BEAUTIFUL PLACE

1. Mr. Charles Edward Yallowitz of Legends of Windemere

2. Ms. Sandy Sue of A Mind Divided

3. Ms. Angelic of Why I Can’t Stop Reading

4. Ms. Melinda of The Book Musings

5. Mr. Tony Roberts of A Way With Words

6. Ms. Rowena of Les Reveries De Rowena

7. Anonymous of The Child, Animal, Poet, And Saint

8. Ms. Sarah Cradit of And Then There Was Sarah

9. Anonymous of Cross(stitch) Your Heart

10. Mr. Meyer Lane of Meyer Lane’s Short Attention Span Press

11. Anonymous of writeonthebeach

12. Mr. Michael Pignatella of Portable Magic

13. Ms. Lisa Orchard of Lisa Orchard

14. Mr. Seumas Gallacher of Seumas Gallacher

15. Mr. Billy Ray Chitwood of thefinalcurtain1

The Perks Of Being A Literary Blogger: 207 FREE Books Approved For My Review By NetGalley Publishers And Authors (And Counting)

injThe problem is I am just using my left hand now. Therefore, this post will be just a short, four-paragraph post. You see, I had a right hand injury, particularly my right index finger, and I am now wearing a bandage and a cast in my right arm. It’s hard to write and type away in my computer with just my left hand which is why I’d like to inform you that I couldn’t blog as much as I’d like to for two more weeks. I shall tell the whole story after April 3, the day the doctors will remove this inconvenient dressing in my arm, along with some updates about my Dad’s condition (for those who prayed for him and left some comments) which I posted prior to this post.

Still, I haven’t forgotten my obligation to you, my dear readers of this blog The Bibliophile Chronicles, to provide you soon with tons of literary content (I hope quality content, too). I have now, at the moment, been approved by some of NetGalley‘s (will tell you what NetGalley is all about in a succeeding post next time) registered publishers and authors to read and review some of their most popular, and some yet unpublished, latest titles. Now, from the hundreds of books I requested to review, 207 books have already been approved for me to review, to be exact (and counting) — delivered straight to my Iphone’s Kindle.

And the best part is: I got them all for free! The prices of the free books I received must have a total amount of, give or take, $1,000 already. Indeed, being a professional literary blogger, and being what NetGalley calls a professional reader have their charming perks. (Thank you for the books, guys!) Of course, there were some rejections, those books the authors and publishers didn’t approve for me to review, but that’s part of life. You win some; you lose some. C’est la vie.

Life goes on; this blog goes on.

So, my dear friends and readers, please be patient, and please watch out for my next posts this coming April. I can hardly wait to share with you some of my latest book finds, reviews and recommendations, and some of my latest literary milestones. With this bandage and cast getting in the way of my blogging and writing this March, I will most definitely make up for my lack of posts these past few weeks with a large number of consecutive literary-slash-semi-personal thoughts very soon. Until then. God bless.

Book Review No. 5: The Filthy Rich Handbook (How The Other .0001% Lives) by Christopher Tennant

Filthy HandbookThe Filthy Rich Handbook By Christopher Tennant (247 pages Workman Publishing: $11.95)

I ordered this book from Amazon years ago because the title intrigued me. I have always had this dream of becoming a billionaire someday through our family’s various businesses. Obviously, this is one delusion of grandeur I refuse to shake off. Despite my family’s considerable fortune, I still have a lot of things I wish to acquire: a castle in Ireland, a 740 Park Avenue apartment, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Maybachs, a dozen Aston Martins, a Boeing 747, a 250-foot megayacht, an army of English butlers and majordomos to run various summer cottages in Newport, Paris and Palm Beach, a European aristocratic title, and the friendship of Serene Highnesses and of the British Royal Family.

But instead, for now, I have to make do with what I have. Don’t get me wrong. I am really happy and content with what I have. The things I want are different from the things that I need, and I have way more than what I need. But sometimes you just can’t help but feel a little  envious when you see someone have something you still can’t afford to buy at the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can afford to buy and sell someone like Kate Upton many times over and not even bat an eyelash?

Well, unless you are a billionaire or mega-multihundred millionaire, having a net worth below the neighborhood of $10, 000, 000 still won’t buy you the luxuries only the richest of the rich can afford — and Kate Upton. Or Chris Evans. These days, who knows what someone prefers.

Whether you’re looking for inspiration for that rich guy you wish to include as one of the characters in your novel, or doing some research about how the 1% of the richest 1% people live, or an arriviste who wants to be accepted by the establishment of the botoxed High Society and Ruling Classes, or in need of a crash course on how the ultra-rich talk the talk and walk the walk, or a social anthropologist or a social psychologist taking notes and chronicling how lazy leisure class lives, or just truly enjoy reading stuff about the ultra-rich, this reference book by Tennant has it all covered.

Here you’ll read about the Old Guard, the parvenus, Brahmans, the upstarts,  and the things they have in common, the fabulous places they summer at, the clubs they belong to, the servants who wait on them, the multimillion dollar palatial residences they live in, the parties they give and attend, and anything and everything about the oh so filthy rich.

Tennant shows chapter by chapter things like “Old Money [Country] Clubs” and “New Money [Country] Clubs,” which tycoon paid millions to which superstar singer for his daughter’s party, and which friends to avoid and be proud of. Funnily, He says Princess Diana is one of those people everyone should want to be friends with (sadly, this isn’t possible anymore), and that Imelda Marcos, the infamous former First Lady and wife of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is one of those people everyone should never admit to having been friends with (this is still possible). I found the latter so hilarious, yet a little offended, too, because the Marcoses are related to one of my dearest friends, Mary Anne Vargas, a Manila socialite and philanthropist who loves the charismatic and regal former First Lady.

Mary Anne regaled me many times with anecdotes of the former First Lady’s eccentricities and charms. One time she said Mrs. Marcos was singing endlessly during one of her birthday parties in a yacht until the wee hours of the morning. She said everyone were already getting sleepy and wanted to go home, but everybody didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Marcos that they wanted to go home. Now, I wonder what Mary Anne will say about this when she finds out her cousin Imelda was mentioned in this book as a shoe fetishist who should be blackballed from the charity and social circuits. The Heiress

In this book, I think you will also find, like I did, the caricatures of the filthy rich people so charming and funny, along with pictures of random people where he illustrates what kind of clothes the filthy rich wear and what gadgets and different kinds of looks they sport. What also impressed upon me was his emphasis on the difference between the new rich and the old rich — the arrivistes and the blue bloods. I think this would generally help the uninitiated determine which ones are new and and which ones are old. One tip: the accent and how they pronounce Gstaad and the Carribean. Trust me, in every country, especially here in the Philippines, it’s easy to spot the parvenus from the pedigreed.

I hate talking about money and the describing wealth as it is crass and tacky to do that, but since this book is all about money and wealth, perhaps you’d be kind enough to make this an exception. Let me give you an example of the difference between the parvenu and the pedigreed. Well, I’d like to think of myself as a man of impeccable pedigree. Or maybe this is another of my delusions of grandeur I refuse to shake off, too.

One time a friend thought it funny to point out how one of our new rich friends was richer than me. To which I said jokingly with my quasi-British accent, “He may have the brass, but I have the class. You can never buy breeding and impeccable taste. He can hire someone to make it look like he has taste, but he can never acquire the breeding that only well-born people like me are born with. Unless he marries into our family, he can never have my name or my family’s illustrious background. He can show the world how rich he is with absurd and vulgar displays of wealth, whereas I have got nothing to prove.”

He laughed and replied, “Touche. Sometimes you can be such a snob.”

Part-satire, part-parody, and all the way true-to-life, Tennant’s well-researched book is one of those I would be happy to recommend to everybody even for just a good laugh. It’s got everything you need, and a veritable guide to anything and everything filthy rich. If you’re filthy rich enough, or with a stroke of luck you’ll strike it rich, or just want to know how and where to spend your money, or just curious as to how Bill Gates and the rest of the Forbes 400 Richest live, Tennant’s The Filthy Rich Handbook is all the book you’ll ever need. This is one mean Rolodex of watering holes, country clubs, vacation spots,  tag prices for celebrity entertainers, and big bad toys that you should definitely have!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Review No. 4: The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett

The Uncoomon ReaderTHE STORY

The author of the Tony Award winner The History Boys, Bennett is one of the most prolific writers of England. With his novella The Uncommon Reader, he writes about how the Queen, the protagonist of the story, develops an obsession with reading when one Wednesday her playful dogs (corgis) lead her to a traveling library driven by Mr. Hutchings. Inside she meets Norman, a young palace kitchen staff who loves reading, and promotes him as her amanuensis to help her with her reading list. After being engrossed by the novels of Nancy Mitford, Her Majesty subsequently finds herself feverishly reading works by a wide array authors from Jean Genet to Marcel Proust. Consequently, the Queen begins to acquire a new perspective on everything, much to the consternation of her equerries and private Secretary, Sir Kevin. The Queen, after showing signs of no stopping with her uncharacteristic and sudden growing passion for books and for writing down notes, has had her advisers terrified lest she might be suffering from Alzheimer’s.

REVIEW

In my life there are two things that give me, of equal measure, the greatest pleasure: reading and writing. And nothing gives me even greater pleasure than reading about books that talk about the love of books, and then being able writing about it. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (First American Edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) is one such book–a book that celebrates books, writing, readers, and writers. In this book, Bennett’s protagonist, the Queen of England, becomes a passionate reader–a woman whose unique position in life does not afford her to have interests, but only to take an interest in things.

In the book, Bennett (the fictitious omniscient narrator of the book) explains that in royal circles reading is frowned upon because reading is seen as privately selfish, indulgent, and requires exclusive attention; that when one is royal, one has a duty to be selfless, patriotic, and accessible; and that there is no room for books, and most certainly, no room for a room–the library, study, or one’s own nook–where one can curl up and read.

One could detect a play on words in the novella’s title immediately. The Queen, if one is familiar with the British aristocracy, is not a commoner. After all, she is THE Queen–it couldn’t get more uncommon than that. The irony, however, lies in the fact that despite being a patroness of the Library of London and having hundreds of thousands of books in her own palaces and castles, the Queen’s obsession with reading began with a mobile library.

Queen Elizabeth II reading a speech for her subjects

Queen Elizabeth II reading a speech for her subjects

The book may be short, but the good thing about it is that it has a long list of references to extraordinary authors. For someone who hates being left out or being ignorant about books and authors that one ought to know, this book really makes you want to read about these other authors, too. The protagonist asks and talks about authors and writers such as Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, even Harry Potter (which she doesn’t like, of coure). 

In The Uncommon Reader, Bennett amplifies and solidifies my sentiments–that reading is shared, anonymous, and common yet private, elitist, and exclusive at the same time. In essence, what the book is trying to say is that reading, no matter how high or low one’s station in life is, is one activity everybody could share and enjoy. Bennett proves in this book that the Queen of England is also just like the rest of the world.

He paints the most eminent individual in all of England as a person who makes mistakes and feels jealous of movie stars like Lauren Bacall whom she thinks have lead a more colorful life than hers; as a person who thinks back on the past and sighs for not having met some people, especially authors, when she could have; as a person who is fallible, capable of envy, plagued with insecurities and regrets. too. He shows how the Queen, despite her old age, is not impervious to criticism from her own staff, and has also yet so much to learn about others through the life and experiences of the characters and the people in the books she reads. For someone who has lived a life on the grandest scale possible, Bennett effortlessly shows the unseen maternal and human side of his protagonist, the aging monarch–mostly ignorant of a life outside her own and entertaining thoughts of a life of ordinariness, anonymity.

A life outside the clutches of duty, responsibility, and royalty.

There is nothing common about The Uncommon Reader. For a royalist, a monarchist, a bibliophile, a writer, and an obsessive reader like myself, this book truly exceeds my expectations. Bennett’s characters couldn’t get any more human than in this book. My delusion of grandeur about being a British lord is now satisfied. Commoner though I am (well, everyone who doesn’t have a noble title is common), at least now, I can say that I have many things in common with the Queen of England,  the grandmama I never had, however fictitious my source of pride is.

Filled with charming, believable, and eccentric characters, and with a wonderful twist at the end, The Uncommon Reader is nothing short of beautiful. Whether you are common or uncommon, this book will surely delight you. Bennett’s a writer whose prose style is tantalizingly perfect. He is a consummate master of letters, and his deadpan, sly, and self-deprecating sense of humor translates gloriously on every page. They say reading is bliss. This book is just that–a truly blissful read.

Rating:

5 of 5 stars

Book Review No. 3: Love Story by Erich Segal

 

love-story

INTRODUCTION

Love Story, this 133-page short novel by Erich Segal, was recommended to me by my good friend Anton, when we were talking about some of our favorite books and authors over a few bottles of beer. Eventually, we found ourselves talking about relationships, and asked him about his girlfriend. He said they were okay, but still teased him about, like I always do my straight, male friends, how he and the rest of the heterosexual species of metrosexual, misogynistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, egotistic, sadist, and heartless bastards (I’m kidding) have no romantic bone in their bodies. To which he retorted, “No, I’m actually a romantic. In fact, I have read this book called Love Story. I can’t quite remember the name of the author, but I think, if memory serves me right, his name was Erich Segal. It’s good. Quite a love story, really. Very romantic.”  He told me the synopsis, and told him that I’d look it up and that I’d never pegged him for a romantic. A few days later, I got a copy of the book and read it in just half a day.

REVIEW

Love Story is a love story based on the premise that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It’s about the short-lived romance between two people who come from different worlds and who are almost opposite in every way. Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard student who has set his eyes on becoming a lawyer, is the  scion of a very old rich WASP family, while Jenny Cavilleri, a Radcliffe music student, is the daughter of humble baker and single father.

Surprisingly, Erich Segal chose to start the story with a tragedy. The narrator of the story, Oliver, began by eulogizing 25-year old Jenny and then proceeded immediately by telling how his love affair with the beautiful and intelligent girl at the Radcliffe library began. With the title, one would expect a happy ending, but this is not the case. Perhaps, the author didn’t want to disillusion the reader with a Cinderella type of ending like all love stories do. Still, this didn’t bother me. It actually made me even more curious so it continued to engage me. and turn one page to the next. It wasn’t also painful to read because of the choice of simple and unapologetic prose of the author. The progression of the story is fast but easy to follow, and the characters’ dialogues and diction reveals the kind of person they really are, what they were thinking, feeling, and hiding.

When Oliver and Jenny first met at the library, it becomes easy to fall in love with the two characters because they seem both charming, smart, and likable. When Oliver tries to borrow a book at the Radcliffe library from Jenny who happens to be the girl working that day, they got into an argument. Jenny, the smart-mouthed intellectual, talked down at Oliver, a guy who got into the habit of studying at the Radcliffe library, about the ethics of of borrowing books from a small school. “Listen, Harvard is allowed to use the Radcliffe library.” said Oliver. I’m not talking legality, Preppie. I’m talking ethics. You guys have 5 million books. We have a lousy thousand,” replied Jenny.

All throughout the book, you see the two main characters go on and on with their verbal arguments where the guy sometimes calls the girl a bitch sometimes and the girl constantly calls the guy a preppie, a term that to her means a stupid, rich guy who went to prep school. Although these terms may have offended each other when they first met, they somehow become terms of endearment for each other.

Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett IV and Ali McGraw as Jenny Cavilleri in the film adaptation of the book with the same title

Ryan O’Neal as Oliver Barrett IV and Ali McGraw as Jenny Cavilleri in the film adaptation of the book with the same title

Love Story is not your average love story where a poor girl meets a rich boy, get married, and live happily ever after. Far from it. The title is both an irony and an aphorism. Ironic because people have this notion that love stories are supposed to be this fairy tale and that works of fiction must, especially of the romance genre, must be these romantic comedies. But, it is not. In fact, Oliver, the privileged guy who was born in the country with an ancestral manor, and addressed as “Master Oliver” by the servants, married Jenny against the wishes of his overachieving and emotionally distant father, renounced his inheritance, and put himself through Law School with the help of his young wife; and, aphoristic because a love story in real life doesn’t always have a happy ending, lovers are bound to be fraught with objections from friends and family, and someone would inevitably have to die before the other, if not both at the same time. It reflects the truth that when you love, you also risk getting hurt.

I think, in the end, what makes this book a page-turner is the honesty, sincerity, and the heart and soul of the characters — they were, in truth, even more pleasantly real than us real human beings. The prose of the author was simplistic yet powerful, and he triumphantly and universally mirrored both romantic idealism and romantic realism. This book not only celebrates the differences between two people, but more importantly, it celebrates love, life, and the meaning of true love — never having to say you’re sorry. Moving, touching, sad, funny, and yes, truly romantic, this beautifully written love story, albeit the characters’ unorthodox choice of “sweet and loving words” defies how a real enduring, love story should be. After more than 35 years, a film made out of this book with the same title, and 21 million copies sold later, Love Story still continues to make hopeless romantics, singles, couples, readers (and film viewers) and people from all corners of the globe smile, laugh, and unabashedly cry. I’m warning you now. If you read this book, prepare a box of Kleenex — and to helplessly shed a tear or two.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

 

 

Book Review No. 2: Empress Bianca by Lady Colin Campbell

PLOTEmpress Bianca

Bianca Barrett, the protagonist and daughter of a Welsh Surveyor and his Palestinian wife, becomes an “ambitious and mercenary” social climber and double murderess. Charming and well educated, Bianca marries four times and advances in wealth and social influence. With Bernardo, her first husband, Bianca has three children; they lose their son in a tragic car accident. After a divorce, she marries the rich Fredie whose family owns the Piedraplata commercial empire. Before it comes to a divorce, the second husband is shot and killed by a hitman who makes it look like a suicide. The killing is arranged by her lover, Phillipe Mahfud, and Bianca becomes the financial beneficiary. After a brief marriage to husband number three, – she had married him only to make Mahfud jealous-, she lastly marries Mahfud, a superrich Iraqi businessman and banker. When their relationship sours, the banker dies with his nurse in a mysterious fire in his apartment in the tax haven of Andorra. Bianca’s lawyers pay off the police and investigators, and the only justice that remains is in the court of public opinion.

*******

REVIEW:

Guilty or not guilty? Murder. A Beautiful Socialite Wife. Two Dead Rich Husbands. Billion-Dollar Fortune. Who could resist such a scrumptious story? I know I can’t. A roman a clef about the life of one of the richest women in the world, Empress Bianca is a novel that was banned for publication because of billionairess Lily Safra, the real woman the main character was based on, used all her resources and conceivable powers and stopped the novel from being printed and circulated for public consumption, more specifically, for the consumption of the international creme dela creme–the rarified social and economic circles of fund-raising socialites, and empire-building billionaires in which Lily moves.

To better understand why the book was so controversial, an excerpt from Wikipedia reads, in part: “Empress Bianca, the first novel by Lady Colin Campbell, was initially published in June, 2005. One month later, Arcadia Books, the British publisher, withdrew the book and pulped all unsold copies in reaction to a legal threat intiated on behalf of Lily Safra under her interpretation that the book was a defamatory roman a clef. After some changes the book was republished in the United States in 2008 by Dynasty Press.”

After reading the novel, I decided to get a copy of the autobiography of Mrs. Safra, Gilded Lily by Isabel Vincent. I must say that I am convinced that Bianca is Lily under the facade of fiction. But you’ll have to read both books to see what I mean. Well, fiction or nonfiction, as the case may well be, Empress Bianca is a novel that portrays the life of the fashionable set through the lucid prose of Lady Colin — the characters are relatable,  story wonderfully crafted and told. In fact, there is one character I could especially relate to — Bianca’s second husband, Ferdinand Piedraplata. He’s manic-depressive like me. It’s one of those characters with whom you can identify yourself with because you are him. It was as if Lady Colin was describing me and telling my story (well, except for the dead and supper rich part).

If you are someone who likes to read social headlines or wants to know what goes in and out of the world of social-climbing murderesses, Type A bankers, and mercurial entrepreneurs, you will love this book. Alluring, charming, and scathing, Empress Bianca incredibly captures the world of a woman who has risen from a middle-class background to the uppermost echelons of international society by marrying two fabulously wealthy men, and quite possibly, by killing them, too. She might have never been tried for the controversial deaths (or murders) of her husbands, but that does make her any less innocent? A tale of intrigue, mystery, and crime of epic proportions, Empress Bianca is an “unputdownable” pageturner that will leave you wanting for a sequel.

Is she truly guilty or is as innocent as she claims to be? You decide. Get a copy.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

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