Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One Year, 25 Books Overture: Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Madame Olenska?

This might as well have been Edith Wharton's alternative title for "The Age Of Innocence" because the whole book revolves around the presence and affairs of the beautiful Countess Ellen Minggot Olenska.

Newland Archer is a man in full during New York’s Guilded Age (ca. 1870 - 1900), he works as a lawyer in a reputable firm and is engaged to May Welland, New York’s foremost debutante. Madame Olenska is May's first cousin and as custom has it in the upper class, when one marries, the person is really married to the entire clan and not merely the one vows are given to. Enter Madame Olenska who comes to New York with quite a baggage and they are: a topsy-turvy breakup with her philandering, aristocrat husband in Europe, an upbringing by a Bohemian aunt and worse, a great sense of independence and unconscious disregard for the proclivities of New York’s society. Newland Archer is the one compelled by the Welland and Minggot families to help Madame Olenska’s predicament and despite the reserve and stoicism of a polite gentleman in this era, Newland falls in love with Countess Olenska.

Upon reading the first chapter, one can already figure out how this pans out but you want to stay on reading for the nuances and how you believe the characters should deal with conflict such as these.

There is beautiful language and cadence of storytelling in this book, it is urbane, sentimental and even though one feels as though they are listening to gossip as the words unravel, it is somehow classy. The reader would sympathize with the characters on all sides of the argument because Edith Wharton wrote this with clarity.  There is the very conventional and obedient May Welland, the free-spirited Madame Olenska who also wants to conform for the sake of her love and Newland Archer who is wrenched between duty and desire. There is too in the end, pity for all characters in the book despite their affluence because they are after all prisoners of the society which they built and the rules which they have not written but adhere to. 

It would do one a bit of good to read this classic. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

One Year, 25 Books: Blindness by: José Saramago

“Blindness" is one of the most intriguing books one will ever read as its premise will never leave you. Imagine a world with pandemic blindness, with that, imagine all the fear, widespread panic and then envision the degradation that would follow. This book is part science fiction, part parabolic and all original. Indeed very worthy of the Nobel prize it gained for Literature in 1995.


"White Blindness” (rather than “dark” blindness) is the illness that sweeps the city in this story. It begins with one man who is driving a car, then it afflicts the bloke that helps him, then on to the ophthalmologist who attempts to treat him, and on to other patients present in the clinic during the first blind man’s visit, and further still, on to people who come in contact with all the preceding characters then eventually to everyone in the city and perhaps the world.

Entropy. The first set of people to be afflicted are interned in an empty mental hospital and at the start, government, society, and the diseased try to keep the peace, order and reason, however, due to lack of information on the ailment, its mode of contamination, incubation period and other queries,  the ones afflicted are neglected, threatened and even abandoned. With the arrival of the succeeding packs of newly blinded people, disintegration takes residence in the wards and a “Lord of the Flies” scenario occurs. A group of thugs in one ward decides to go feudal on the food and supplies for everybody in the hospital until they get their retribution.

Meanwhile in the world outside, it appears that blindness has set upon all humans of all the social strata; pet animals are roaming about left to fend for themselves and have reverted back to their wild instincts. Chaos defines the place and groups grapple together in packs to find food and shelter day by day, night after night wherever possible with their world narrowing down to holding out for survival. If we pan out circumspectly, we can study the behavior of how our specie might be able to survive in such a drastic and horrifying scenario, yet our depravity will always get in the way with our hope and potentials as people.

One woman lives to see all of this and she is spared of the illness, the reason behind her immunity is as mysterious as how the blindness came about in the first place. Though the tale is not told in her perspective, we see her dilemma of being fortunate enough not to go blind but conversely she witnesses the erosion of the world she lives in and the people around her. Was her sight worth having?

The plot though begs the question as to why couldn’t people who were blind prior to the epidemic, having already mastered their surroundings without sight not step up to the plate to some degree? Couldn’t they have helped guide and teach the ones afflicted how to adapt to their new condition? However, to be finicky is to take the essence away from the story. Give this one a tumble, it’s quite thought-provoking and will leave you thinking about it days after you finish it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

One Year, 25 Books Overture: A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

Reading “A Natural History of the Senses” is like diving into a Niagara Falls of information about our constitution as human beings. In the book, Diane Ackerman delivers an expository of each of our senses that is vastly interesting, outlining the macro and microcosm of it all.  The author divided the book into major chapters (Smell, Touch, Hearing, Vision, Taste Synesthesia) with subchapters for compartmentalization. Upon reading, it was as though Sir David Attenborough’s voice was narrating in the background like in a documentary as it had that feel to it.


The chapter on “smell” discussed about how the stimulation of the olfactory nerves affect our appetite for food, life, bodily drives and memories. Ackerman for example is reminded of her childhood as we would be when we smell something familiar. I for one am endeared to the smell of smoke coming from the fire of dried leaves, papers and kindling because it reminds me of the rubbish we burned from what was swept at our yard in the Philippines (sans plastic). The memory of my mother and I watching the smoke rise higher in the afternoons is invoked and I remember them with clarity every time I get a whiff of that brand of smoke.

The chapter also tells of a Russian perfumer responsible for many high fashion fragrances and how she is paid exorbitantly to be “The Nose” for a famous atelier of perfumes in New York. She is able to draw scents harmoniously from numerous elements around the globe i.e., trees, flowers, fruits and is able mix and match them so a chemist can put it all together and concoct a scent that you or I might already be wearing at this very moment. Take note as she casually exposes the formula for the celebrated eau de toilette Chanel No. 5 which contains Gardenia, ha! no wonder I never took to it, I have bad recollections with Gardenias. 

Newsflash. Remember in the last decade or so when pheromones in perfumes were the fad?  (even now really), well, our good author debunks the notion that if a bodily fluid were incorporated in a scent, it would be  efficacious in making one attractive to the opposite sex. In the case of a woman, Ackerman argues, males from all manner of species would be trailing after her with something crazy in mind if this were so and I concur. Astonished was I to find too that sometimes, minute amounts of excrement from the anal sac of choice animals are mixed in our perfumes or colognes for an optimum whiff of musk. Nice.

The discourse above is an example on how the rest of the book goes. The other chapters on sight, hearing, taste, touch and that hyperdrive sense “synesthesia” are infused with this kind of exposition also.  Science, anatomy, physiology, the cosmos, history and some mysticism and poetry are mixed in. Ackerman is a very palpable believer of evolution yet there are acknowledgements of a Creator and of creation, she flip-flops this way throughout perhaps because she attempts to be all-encompassing and is accepting. The Chicago Tribune  parallels this book primarily with amorousness; as a naturalist, Ackerman does foray into sensuality as it relates  with our senses but not as a rule. She can be just as effusive with savagery as she is with sensuality, take as an example the recipe for Roasted Goose from the Dark Ages found in the chapter for Taste. Egad!

Ironically, the person known in history that is a frequent point of reference here is one who has lost her sight, hearing and ability to speak, Helen Keller. Though unable to see she can describe what she “sees" eloquently and though unable to hear or speak, she can convey most effectively. I understand Helen Keller to be a woman of faith and I would venture to say that her optimism is a testament that even if physical senses are infirmed, imagination and intuition can make up for it, a case for the human being’s sense of hope

This is quite the requested book, it was a bestseller and it initially came out in 1990, it is both subjective and objective and is a veritable education bonanza.  


One Year, 25 Books Overture: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief is about a girl named Liesel Meminger in Nazi Germany after she was dispatched to her foster parents named Hans and Rosa Huberman who turn out to be cool. After witnessing her little brother die en route to the destination of her new life, the book follows
Liesel's journey from mistrust to becoming acclimated with her new environment. It would otherwise be rosy for Liesel except that she is in a time in history where an evil-fueled despot has risen in Germany who is bent on annihilating Jews and conquering the rest of Europe with this mindset. Since this is an unacceptable proposition for the rest of the world indeed (except Italy and Japan), Germany will just have to make do with the full assault of the allied countries against her and that is the backdrop of our book. 

Foster parents Hans and Rosa and now
Liesel live in Himmel St. (German for Heaven), Liesel makes friends with kids in the neighborhood, some adults, even the Mayor’s wife who lives at the villa on the hill, but not with the Nazi woman store owner. In my head her visage is like that of Frau's in the Austin Powers movies but without the humor. The Huberman household gives shelter to a Jew who they all protect and fall in love with and because of this, we surmise that not all Germans were willing SS members or Furor fanatics during WWII. It is this theme of hope and caritas that makes this book a gem. That, the writing and the viewpoint from whom the whole story is told. Death (himself) tells the story of the book thief and it would be apropos as this is one of the periods in history wherein he would be the busiest too, taking lives here and there and all over. Death here in this book is verbose and takes on a personality if you please.

Liesel stole books for a few reasons. At first it was by accident and complacency really, the second out of passive protest from the periodic book-burnings headed by the Nazis and the succeeding ones were because of repressed anger under the tedium of being subjugated in a hell created by a demented man and his cohorts. A moral question, since the owner of the books Liesel mostly steals from knew and accorded the act, is it still stealing? In the book, a justification for Liesel’s thefts is made with the explanation that she did not steal with greed, for example, she reads the stolen books repeatedly before she takes another one. This reminds me of that argument by a son stealing from her mother’s purse and declaring, he wasn’t stealing but merely borrowing without consent. Haha.

Not at bad read this, and it can be lighthearted even in its dark setting.

Monday, June 13, 2016

One Year, 25 Books: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Captain Nemo sailed away...

First off: A league equals 3 nautical miles.

I have wasted precious time by not reading this quite sooner. I did remember that "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea," the movie, was a bit alarming and unappealing to me as a wee girl because of the visions imprinted in my mind of those giant squids and the behemoths under the ocean, I thought, what a fright to be close to it with just the glass to separate man and beast, what if it broke? But this is quite a must read. Very educational although some events written here are inconceivable. That said, the voyages of the Nautilus, that fantastic submarine with Captain Nemo at the helm is a treat of a lifetime for our adventurous inner teenager.


Professor Pierre Aronnax, a curious, well mannered and enterprising biologist who heads the Les Jardin de Plantes in the Museum of Natural History in Paris is commissioned to investigate a sea creature being hunted in many oceans known as the "Narwhal.” Tales of this “beast" became taller and taller as men related it to the next one and so on; though it was discovered early on that this behemoth is none other than the formidable and wonderful submarine itself, the "Nautilus."

Prof. Aronnax with his companions Conseil, his assistant and Ned Land, a blood-thirsty harpooner first embark at the ship called the Abraham Lincoln for the hunt of the famed Narwhal. A battle takes place between the Lincoln and the "Narwhal" wherein the former gets discomfited and the three men find themselves captured by Captain Nemo inside what they have known to be a monster whale but was in fact, a submarine. Seen as enemy combatants at first, they were informed that they could choose to be executed or be treated as guests inside the vessel where they will explore the depths of the ocean, learn about marine wildlife but with the caveat of never going back to live in terra firma. For the moment, the men chose to stay. 

Their expedition takes them to very many parts of the earth’s hydrographic realm such as the Asiatic seas, the Artic and  Antarctic, Vigo Bay in Spain where treasures are found in sunken galleons, the Sagrasso Sea where there’s a higher concentration of salt compared to the other seas, the Red Sea, the same one which Moses parted, the Atlantic where they trace that mythical fallen continent Atlantis. On to spend harrowing days at the South Pole, interesting events at the Indian Ocean and even on the shores of Papua, New Guinea.  Indeed it’s quite the voyage around the world, underwater. The marine species are very vividly described here, like the zoophytes, various fishes, mollusks, crustaceans and cetaceans/whales,  all manner of corals, fucus or that seaweed with thick leathery stalks and the episode with "Bouguer’s Cuttlefish” is the one that gave me nightmares as a child though today, the case isn’t the same. Only this, I will not look at the cuttlefish the same way again. 

Transparent in this book is Verne’s fascination with the various phenomena of the sea, like  the phosphorescence,  a.k.a. St. Elmo’s fire wherein a bright translucent plasma is created by a discharge from a pointed object in a strong electrical field in the atmosphere caused by thunder and lightning storms. Navigational and nautical terms too are abundant, the Nautilus sub which was a very modern and self-sustaining vessel harnessing energy from the electrolytes of the sea has made me wonder if Verne may not have been a time traveler himself, being privy to something very advanced for the time frame when he wrote this book. I have read that many submarine makers have gleaned from and took notes from this book when making new ones in these modern times, fictitious it may be.

Just read the book why don’t you? Your sense of adventure will be awakened, encourage your children, loved ones to read it and their imagination will delve into the ocean depths. Because of it, now more than ever I have the desire to be friends with the sea, something I both fear and am awed by. 

Last, allusions overflow about this mysterious underwater genius named Captain Nemo, from anime/manga, Disney movies, TV shows, rock bands and that Sarah Brightman song and that is telltale of the mystique of this book. There is more from Jules Verne about Capt. Nemo in "The Mysterious Island," and I'm looking forward to that. El Capitan himself is left as a conundrum even after the book ends, much like his fate. Was he a madman? An executioner or a brilliant scientist that the world needed? We shall see, in my view there can never be enough spinoffs about him and I wished, this book didn't end. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

One-Yr Book Challenge: The Sisters Brothers

Patrick DeWitt is a relatively new author we could be curious about. “The Sisters Brothers” I believe is his first or second and already one can see the direction the writer is going just with the pun-filled title alone. “The Sisters Brothers” was in the NYT best list, was shortlisted at the Man Booker Prize and won the Governor General’s Award. The book trails the mishaps and spirit of independence of two guns for hire in the once lawless west and what a trip it is. 

Book Review:
Charlie and Eli Sisters are guns for hire in the old west, Oregon to be exact. They are under the employ of an old western gangster known only as “The Commodore.” Their job was to track down a man in San Fransisco named Kermit Warm and kill him, simple as that. During the trek however, the one brother Eli begins to grow somewhat of a conscience and starts questioning his life’s path. Charlie on the other hand, the hot-headed one is hell bent on his task and because Eli is bound to a protective bond for his brother, he strings along. Waggish characters appear all over the story like a soothsayer in a cabin, the sweet bookkeeper dying of the consumption and a special mention to Eli’s ride named Tub, a bilious horse with a bad right eye whose head is bent to the side in order to see what's ahead. I can already see how a horse chase scene would pan out. It’s moments in the book like these where I laughed like I did in “O’ Brother Where Art Thou.”

Unexpected events follow when the Sisters meet their target and the whole affair does not proceed as planned. Alchemy comes into play when instead of an assassination, a collaboration in the search for gold ensues. Mr. Warm has found a formula that is able to visualize gold in the river at a particular time during dusk, why, it is the age of the California gold rush after all.

The dialogue is only a tobacco short of a slapstick comedy and if you read it like how they used to speak in the old west you’ll get the whole experience. While you’re at it, go ahead and pretend spit in a spittoon. There is good continuity and the book’s ending turn symbolic in the vicinity of western tales with a figurative mellow ride towards the sunset for a conclusion. I am not a man but even I can appreciate that. 

Your call if you're inclined to read it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The One-Yr, 25 Books Overture: Love In the Time of Cholera

*not my book cover

I am having difficulty writing about this book because I did not have a religious experience with this one the way everyone undoubtedly had. As I recoil for the impact of lynching from all the devotees, I will concede that stories of undying love and waiting a lifetime for your forever one is heroic.

Book Review:

A young Florintino Ariza falls in love for eternity with a young Fermina Daza. They are living in a thick Catholic Latin American country at a time when if one wanted to be suitable, the person would court through letters and through proper channels i.e., a chaperone. Yet despite the odds Fermina and Florintino Ariza fall in love. Ariza at this point hasn’t had much luck as he is the illegitimate son of a man whose family owns the river transport of their city. Nameless and penniless, his love is unrequited not by Fermina but by her father and the society and customs they are imprisoned in. Upon discovery of their non-tactile love affair, the nuns in Fermina’s convent school and her father vehemently rejects any possibility of their union and orders them to cease and desist. After her defiance, Fermina was forced by her father to take an arduous and long trip far from the city in the hopes that she will forget Ariza.

Upon returning, a changed and hard-bitten Fermina finds that her love has been washed out for Ariza and she refuses him flatly this time around. Fermina then meets her husband, Juvnenal Urbino, a man of good standing, a physician in fact and she decides to marry him. Urbino is the dashing sort, popular, rich, highly educated, the works, sort of the antithesis of Ariza. One can't really refer to him as "the villain" as he too has a good heart and even befriends Ariza, unaware of his history with his wife.

For over half a century the scenes in the book volleys between Ariza’s barren existence interrupted only by his dalliances with widows or harlots, Dr. Urbino's life in the community and with his wife and Fermina’s seemingly blissful family life. Ariza's and Fermina's situation changes after Urbino dies and they become reacquainted and pick up where they left off.

Ariza is impractical and a very melodramatic lover to Fermina to the point of being fantastical, example, upon receiving his very first letter from her, he reads it over and over again as he eats rose petals mindlessly the entire day. He writes poetry endlessly and everything he does or plans is in the light of Fermina, even as she actively lives her life as a wife to another man and a mother to that man’s kids for more than half a century. While many will see this as exponentially romantic I see pathos, falling in love is beautiful, but not to this chimerical extent. I will concede, the violin playing at the catacombs at night for Fermina is dreamy; and the night where he supposedly plays for her one last time prior to departing after her wedding to Urbino broke me to tears. But with him coming back home so soon only to hit the streets like a stray dog in heat, the chivalry fades. Of course this is supposed to be justified because he keeps his heart “a virgin” for her, but syphilis or gonorrhea be danged (which is inferred he contracts), the book explodes in chapters of these backdoor liaisons.

The redeeming character in this story is that of Fermina Daza, in the case of the nuns and her father where everyone else is obtuse, she isn’t. Amidst victimization she does not buckle. She survives a heartbreak and uses all her talents to her advantage, her realism is a sort of a light in her imperceptive world. That's my girl. As for cholera, yeah, there was an outbreak of the disease in the country the story was set in but none of the major characters die from it. Why was it called that you’ll ask? I guess because it’s more convenient than calling it, “The Importunate Nerd, A Dashing Doctor and the Girl They Both Get Anyway, But Not At The Same Time.”

Devotees, that’s just my 2 cents OK? peace. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

One-Yr, 25 Books Overture: Cooking with Fernet Branca

I read this book because it’s by James Hamilton-Paterson, the British author who wrote “America’s Boy,” an extensively researched book about Ferdinand Marcos and “Playing with Water” one about how the author imbibed the salt life in the Philippines. Some of his previous works have been given awards like "Gerontious" (which I haven’t read) and I will say Hamilton-Paterson has quite the alacrity in his descriptive narratives.

Book Review:

Gerald Samper is a reclusive ghost writer for sports stars who lives in the hills of Tuscany and as he builds his cottage, an Eastern European female neighbor comes along to make his life interesting, to say the least. Marta is the neighbor’s name, physically described as a frumpy woman with frizzy hair, she writes musical scores for films in Voynovia (is this a real country?) and she annoys the Dickens out of Gerald. The neighbors’ relationship is one of like and dislike, dislike when they are not in front of each other and conversely there is politeness face to face because Europeans have to be egalitarian after all.

Comedy is found in the situations and circumstances throughout the book as well as in the internal dialogue in Gerald’s head and in the letters Marta sends to her sister Marja which is full of drivel about Gerald.  With wine being a social lubricant, the use of this cheap concoction named “Fernet Branca” is the common denominator for their meetings as well as in Gerald’s recipes. Gerald who also happens to be a chef of exotic foods (i.e., Otter with Lobster Sauce), posts the ingredients and the processes of the dishes as intermissions. Check out the conspicuous Liver Ice Cream with Fernet Branca that Gerald makes for Marta in an effort to redirect her away; here I thought that the Rhubarb or Mushroom Ice Cream that the American Iron Chefs make on TV are a far stretch. How about having a slice of his Alien Pie which requires cat in the recipe? (Shucks man, you’re nasty even for someone who eats Balut!).

To continue, Marta, for her good fortunes is in Italy because she was hired by a foremost Italian filmmaker who is part Sergio Leone - part Federico Fellini to write a score for his new film. Marta, not as creative as one would have her, plagiarizes Gerald’s renditions of Puccini’s Arias while working on his house and applies his singing to her score, though in an abstract way. Other hilarious bits found are in Marta's broken English which reads like they were extracted from Google's language translations such as, "I love you British Queens and Kings tradition..." Or "I want to learn you all of Voynovia, the fooding number one of all." LOL!.

The author’s tone in the narrative is cynical and incredulous of people and the continuity is effective. This is the part that will make one read through the book even if you have no interest in outrageous cuisine or fractious interpersonal relationships between humans. “Cooking with Fernet Branca” has spawned 2 more books, namely "Amazing Disgrace" and "Rancid Pansies" at the behest of the publishers because it did garner a following from people who found it quirky and entertaining. Your call if you want to read it. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The One-Year Twenty-Five Books Overture: The Harry Quebert Affair

This book was given to me by a sweetie of an aid worker for "All Hands" prior to her leaving my island town. It reminded me of the Millennium Trilogy because it was about investigation and crime. It was 658-pages thick and written by a European named Joël Dicker. Though the writing style is not as deep as Steig Larsson’s, I will not take it against the writer as it might be worth it's weight in gold in the original language. The woman that gave this to me was reassuring and said this is a "can’t-put-down-book" and may I say, she was right. It was one of those wherein you wanted to get to the bottom of it all fast as possible - two days and a half fast in my case, with the complimentary dark circles around my eyes from foregoing sleep. If you do start it you will have the same experience as I had, having unbridled curiosity.

Book Review:

Marcus Goldman, a newly crowned best-selling author is suffering writer’s block with his second book. His mentor named Harry Quebert, already a celebrated and established author for decades is arrested for the murder of a fifteen-year-old girl who disappeared 30 years prior. Marcus takes on the burden of clearing the name of his friend and teacher but this is not easy.

Marcus sets out to investigate already with the premise that his friend is definitely innocent but as it turns out, Harry Quebert had an affair with the 15-year old victim (Nola Kellergan) when he was in his mid-thirties. In a recessed town in New Hampshire called Somerset, readers are taken far back three decades ago for a closer look at the citizens of said town as well as the events and the mood during the disappearance.  All of the characters featured save those who had not been in the town when Nola went missing are suspects. The twists and turns will lead the reader to think of every character being focused on as the perpetrator and this is what will prevent you from taking a break from reading. It was notable that the encounters between Quebert and Nola are not elucidated because the whole thing might become dodgy. 

Naturally when it all comes down, the culprit(s) is one who you thought of at first but because of some deception in the story’s presentation, you rule the character(s) out. I will not write about the plot extensively because it is worth a read and one where you'd like to solve the case yourself.

The book is sensational, suspenseful, delves into complex characterization; it also has psychiatry, emotionalism, corruption of power and even plagiarism.

In my view it was riveting, quite the success in Europe from what I read but this was not the case in the US, one of those "lost in translation" kind of things again, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Night Manager, Espionage Du Jour

photo from BBC

Allow me please to take a moment to write about “The Night Manager.” That John Le Carré espionage novel turned into a BBC TV series starring Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor) and Hugh Laurie (House). It is a stunner. I have not read the book yet but I like it already because of the show. My most memorable of the Le Carrés are The Spy Who Came Out From the Cold, The George Smiley Series, The Tailor from Panama and the Russia House I remember for being tedious. Though Le Carré's books are not suspenseful in a bloody, action sense, I always insist on finishing them because I imagine his views on covert operations are closer to reality, it has more leg work, interrogation and drawn out cloak and dagger exchanges versus high octane chases and commotion. 

The suspense in Le Carré’s novels I believe are in human flaws, mishaps in timing and the deep malevolence of the villain and if one becomes gripped at the start, the entire package of the book from the characters, the plot, subplots and other nuances will be embedded in your memory.

The Night Manager:

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is a night manager at a reputable hotel in Cairo, Egypt during the height of the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Mubarak. He is charming and people are drawn to him, especially women. A mysterious woman named Sophia who is the mistress of a known Egyptian baddie approaches him at the front desk and gives him a copy of a transaction of an arms deal with instructions that should anything happen to her, this information must be given to a friend of Jonathan Pine's at the British Embassy. Pine reads the document and realizes that the man supplying the arms is a famous British philanthropist/businessman named Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Pine shows this information to his friend at the embassy who then submits it to MI6 but instead of an investigation or arrest, Roper is warned of the leak from the inside. This results in the brutal murder of Sophia as the paper trail leads to her and Pine is affected by this. Sophia’s death makes a painful impression on Pine that he seeks solace at the Swiss alps in an exclusive hotel lodge and stays there to hide.

Four years has past and who should enter the Swiss lodge but none other than the evil man himself in the flesh, Richard Roper with his entourage. Pine’s righteous indignation for the man is rekindled and he gets re-acquainted with the head of an obscure MI6 division, Angela Burr, who attempted to help the Cairo situation back then. Angela Burr (played by Olivia Coleman), has a vendetta with Roper. Burr recruits Pine to help her take down “the worst man on Earth,” and allows him to infiltrate Roper's inner circle. Pine builds another identity, that of a lowlife criminal on the run, one who is close in character as possible to Roper and the gambit pays off when he is then taken in by the villain himself. While inside the core group, Pine wins the affections of Roper’s kid, girlfriend and even the henchmen. And since he has to leak information to his handlers in London and not to mention he does not keep his hands to himself as regards Roper’s gorgeous girlfriend, it is here where most of the sweating of one's palms begin.

The TV show is very sophisticated, it has posh elements and locations like Mallorca, London, Istanbul; it has high fashion wardrobe, champagne, luxury and everything else that blood money has to offer coming from the arms trade. The actors are superb and they include, Tom Hiddleston who is able to carry it through mainly because of his perfect visage, hey, it really works. Hugh Laurie who plays Roper is urbane and pragmatic as someone who doesn’t think twice about mixing Sarin gas and children, perhaps the pathology lies in not having a line and Laurie's performance makes the mark. Olivia Coleman is a watchable dramatic actor always and so is Tom Hollander as Corky, the cynical assistant who is threatened by Pine's existence.  But the Easter Egg here in my view is the actress that plays Roper’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Debiki; a newbie from Australia who I know will go high towards the stratosphere in movies, not because she is 6 feet and 2-inches bare feet, but for of the soul she bares as a performer; with her the adage in acting that goes, “There are no small parts…” is fulfilled. Move over, way over there Charlize Theron.  

The spy drama has 6 episodes in the first series and the suspense lies in whether Pine's cover will be blown and that indeed captures you. The initial series has now concluded at the BBC, already people are thirsting for the second installment and who can blame them?

Monday, March 28, 2016

The One Year, Twenty-Five Books Overture: The Elegance of The Hedgehog

This book was written by Muriel Barbary, a Moroccan-French author who also wrote "The Gourmet" which though I believe is a separate story, has an element of connection to this book. This was originally written in French and the translation by one Alison Anderson I feel has captured Barbary’s intentions of levity. I had just completed a period classic by Elizabeth Gaskell’s named “Cranford" prior to reading this and I wanted to read something contemporary and witty. Well, cometh the hour, cometh the book.

Book Review:

Renée, our heroine is in her 50’s, a bit on the frumpy side and is a closet intellectual. She is also the concierge at 7 Rue de Granelle to eight families in this posh residence building of spoilt bourgeois families. Renée thinks that her acumen in the realm of philosophy and literature are best kept a secret so as not to disrupt her clients’ proclivities and not to mention, her employment. In truth, Renée disdains her employers for their pretentious altruism and what I call "cocktail party intellectualism,” which is to say, one will indulge in intellectual pursuits simply for the benefit of sounding astute in gatherings and nothing more. Renèe has to keep this facade of being the stereotypical help by turning her TV volume up in her place at the basement area, when in fact she is listening to opera and reading her books. Hilarity is found in how she describes the people in the residences and how in their snobbery they become daft.

The other major character is Paloma, a daughter of a French minister living in one of the apartments in the building. She is twelve years old, an introvert and is quite prodigious for her age, she studies the other characters' psyche, loves Japanese culture, Manga and absorbs many of the things in her environment. Like Renée, Paloma is not taken seriously and postulates that she shouldn’t disturb all the conventions of everyone around her on what a twelve-year old should be. Paloma’s journal entries reveal her thoughts and her genius in the book. Paloma has a dark secret she is keeping though, and that is to commit suicide sometime in June. She has laid out this plan in her head as she believes that nothing is worth living for. Her burden in life is not one of emotionalism necessarily as it is of exasperation for the humans around her. She is vastly misunderstood and does not have the inclination to implore anyone to make them see her point. Nothing is left for her to figure out, therefore she has to check out. This reminds me of Alexander the Great who supposedly wept to his mother at twenty nine because he had already conquered all of the known world at that time and there was nothing left to embark on, (first world problems).

The viewpoints of both protagonists are presented interchangeably with Renée’s written in the third person and Paloma as I mentioned in journal form. Most of the people of 7 Rue de Grenelle are self absorbed and oblivious to anything other than their own follies. They are not aware of the value of the people who work for them, not their own loved ones and let alone the tramps on the street across their building. This sort of routine continues until the advent of Mr. Kakuro Ozo, a wealthy Japanese businessman who moves into the building. Mr. Ozo initially suspects that his concierge is not who she seems when on their first meeting Renée quotes the first line of "Anna Karenina" and the former finishes that sentence. I really like code-speak among kindred spirits, don't you? So, he invites Renée for dinners to discuss their passions i.e., literature, opera, culture and even cuisine and her life livens up.
Mr. Ozo, Renée and Paloma it turns out are like-minded in being erudite and fun-loving but has to keep it under wraps.
Themes on philosophy and human behavior are all over in this book and the presentation is not didactic which makes the discourses engaging. I liked how the book held my attention despite the absence of action or sensationalism in that sense. At the world's stage, the book held it’s place at no. 1 in France for 102 weeks and has won 3 distinguished awards. It was made into a film which I am scrambling everywhere to find because I am curious as to how it appears onscreen. Other works of Muriel Barbary include “Une Gourmandise" (The Gourmet) and the latest from 2015 titled “La Vie des Elfes";  if those books are anything like The Elegance of The Hedgehog, I pray I find them for I wish to be entertained once again by her storytelling. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The One-Year Twenty-Five Book Overture

The ante is up for me, I am challenging myself to read 25 books (hopefully more?) this year. I also intend to give my 2 cents about the respective books I read and hope that you might be able to glean a thing or two with the reviews.

There is no preset list, I will just have to add and update the list as I go along because that’s how I roll, and so far I have finished the following:


1. (January) The Elegance of a Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
2. (February, March) War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
3. (March) The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dickson
4. (March) Cooking with Fernet Branca, James Hamilton Paterson
5. (April) Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
6. (April) The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt
7. (May) The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
8. (May) The Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman
9. (May, June) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne  
10. (June) Blindness, José Saramago
11. (July) Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
12. (July) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Annie Barrows, Mary Anne Shaffer
13. (August) Balzac and the Little Seamstress, Dai Sijie
14. (August, September) Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
15. (September) The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, Jonas Johansson
16. (September) The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
17. (October) The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens
18. (October) Cousin Bette, Honoré de Balzac 
19. (October, November) Persuasion, Jane Austen  
20. (November, December) Little Bee or The Other Hand (UK), Chris Cleave
21. (December) Romola, George Eliot
22. (December) A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
23. (December) Sign of the Four, Arthur Conan Doyle
24. (December) A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conon Doyle     
The piece on War and Peace is in the previous entry. I will submit the reviews for the other books in the succeeding blog posts. So, let's go!