It by Stephen King – Book Review

Freshman year was one of the most memorable school years of my high school life. That was the year my best friend Josh introduced me to Stephen King. He made me a fan. He led me toward falling in love with reading. I remember looking forward to recess and lunch time each day because it was during these times when Josh would talk about the latest Stephen King book he was reading. He discussed the horrors of Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining. But most fall, he talked about It, and how terrifying and wonderful the novel was.

“We all float down here!” – Stephen King, It

He spent a long time talking about It, probably because of how lengthy the book was. My paperback copy is 1,090 pages long. I listened to him narrate the novel over the course of a month or two. Josh was a great storyteller, and he got me hooked on Bill, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Mike, Richie, Stan, and their Derry adventures with Pennywise the Clown long before I bought a copy of the novel.

I had a couple of false starts reading It, partly because I felt the book wasn’t living up to the way Josh narrated it, at least at the start. Mostly it was because I was lazy. I thought I already knew the story from start to finish, as if I listened to the audio book version of It—but I didn’t. I knew Josh’s version of the story, which was great. Now, I have my own version of the story, and that’s even better.

“Your hair is winter fire
January embers
My heart burns there, too.” – Stephen King, It

It tells the story of seven friends who grew up in the small city of Derry. These friends would have had pretty normal childhoods, except that their hometown was haunted.

Correction: It was haunting. It was hunting. It was hurting. It was killing the people of Derry. They defeated It when they were kids, almost killed It. But now the monster has resurfaced and is out for revenge.

Sounds pretty simple, but there is so much story and depth in this massive novel. Most of it is set in 1958, when Bill, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Mike, Richie, and Stan were kids.

That year was an eventful one. It was when these seven losers and outcasts, became friends, partly because of their shared experiences of being constantly lonely and bullied.

It was also because they all survived their encounters with It, also known as Pennywise the Clown. Together, they managed to defeat It that same year.

“We lie best when we lie to ourselves.” – Stephen King, It

I love how Stephen King shifted between the points of view of all seven protagonists as kids and as adults. King even gave the points of view of antagonists, side characters, and even seemingly inconsequential characters who die or leave the story after several pages. No character is the same, and I found myself relating to many of them in different ways.

This novel focuses on the power of childhood imagination. Children are able to survive the terrors of It because they had the power to imagine, accept the reality of even the most monstrous and terrible horrors.

“Come on back and we’ll see if you remember the simplest thing of all – how it is to be children, secure in belief and thus afraid of the dark.” – Stephen King, It

As children, we believe Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy in the same way we believe in the monsters lurking inside our closets and under our beds. As children, we aren’t afraid to let others know that we are afraid of the dark.

Adults forget or refuse to believe in imaginary beings from nightmares and fair tales. When they come face to face with impossible, they just can’t face the reality of it.

“What can be done when you’re eleven can often never be done again.” – Stephen King, It

The problem our seven protagonists face is whether or not they can kill, much less defeat it again, now that they are adults themselves. Fortunately, there are adults who still retain the wonders of childhood. There are still adults who believe in fairies; who believe they can fly. In a sense, King’s story is in some ways a much darker version of Peter Pan.

Stephen King’s It is a terrifying read. I imagine it would have been even more scary to read it as a teenager, but the impact of this story does not diminish with age or time. I think this is one of King’s best novels, and I am placing it among my favorites together with Carrie, The Shining, 11/22/63, and The Dome.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5
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You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day – Book Review

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
Author: Felicia Day
Release Date: August 11th 2015
Publisher: Touchstone

Serendipitously Meeting Felicia Day Online and at the Bookstore

I know about Felicia Day from the Internet. I was watching some episodes of TableTop on YouTube, when I clicked on a link to Geek & Sundry, then a link to Felicia Day, then a link to The Guild. I watched the very first episode of The Guild, and it was amazing.

My inability to focus on one interesting thing at a time, led to my only watching that one episode so far. But I never forgot how amazing Felicia Day was, and I wanted to read her book very badly.

I did a double take (even a triple take) when I saw a hardback of Felicia Day’s memoir displayed in Fully Booked, Ayala Center Cebu. I actually stared at the book for a couple of seconds focusing and refocusing my eyes until I couldn’t deny it any longer: Holy. Crap. It’s Felicia Day’s memoir!

Very sure the middle-aged man browsing the display of memoirs would grab the only copy of Felicia’s book, I broke out of my trance and ran towards the book display. I gave him a slight nudge, rushed a “Sorry! Excuse me!” I grabbed the book then ran away. Poor guy probably thought I was crazy.

Why Felicia Day’s Story Inspires Me

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is such an inspiring read. It’s also filled with so much quotable quotes, I had difficulty choosing which of them to include in this book review.

Felicia Day’s memoir makes me feel good to be myself: a quirky, weird, and introverted geek. Moreover, she was 28-year-old—the same age I am now—when she went through one of the biggest life-changing moments in her life.

Once you tell people exactly what you will and won’t do, it’s amazing how they’ll adjust. Or they won’t. And then an opportunity or relationship goes away. And that’s okay. – Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

I spent most of my childhood as a misfit. I had few friends, and didn’t fit in with what was normal among my peers. I was still an outcast when I entered the workforce. I tried my best to fit in, but the more I tried the more I failed.

That was depressing for me. My love for reading, playing video games, binge-watching TV series and movies, and liking geeky things were weird to my family and most of my friends.

Even my early attempts at trying to enter the world of geeks was awkward for me. Geeky friends were reluctant to welcome me to their Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering gatherings. Though that’s probably just my natural pessimism and hyperthyroidism talking.

Or maybe I’m just not geeky enough?

But the heart of my story is that the world opened up for me once I decided to embrace who I am—unapologetically…My weirdness turned into my greatest strength in life. – Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

Why do I always feel like I have to change myself for others, when I should be happy just being myself? Actually, I often get “advice” from friends, colleagues, bosses, family members, etc. about how I should change and improve myself. They tell me to be a different person—often to be more like them.

I love it when people tell me I’m doing the wrong thing, or that something isn’t possible, or just straight dismiss me. That lights my fire in a perverse way, like a two-year old who deliberately touches the hot stove after you tell them not to. – Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

On the flip side. Things are much better now.

I have more friends who I get along with, many of them who like me for who I am. I’ve also recently joined a game night hosted by the Cebu Board Gaming Society, and had a blast! I’m starting to redecorate my bedroom and fill it with things I really like. More on this soon. I’m also buying more board games, card games, and such.

You’re never weird when you’re surrounded by people who are weird like you. – Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

Reading about all the challenges and struggles Felicia Day went through to achieve success at doing what she loves really touched me. Here is someone I can relate to: someone who also often feels alone and misunderstood. Someone who is brave enough to stand her ground and remain the quirky, amazing person she is.

I aspire to be true to who I am in the same way she remains true to herself.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

The Allow of Law by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review

Title: The Alloy of Law
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Release Date: November 8th 2011
Publisher: Tor Books
Series: Mistborn #4

I wanted to move away from static places, where millennia would pass and technology would never change. The plan then was for a second epic trilogy set in an urban era, and a third trilogy set in a futuristic era—with Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy being the common threads that tied them together.

These were the words of Brandon Sanderson in his acknowledgements to The Allow of Law, a prequel to his steampunk-era trilogy of Mistborn novels. If this novel is a taste of what’s to come in the next Mistborn trilogy, I am confident in Sanderson’s ability to set his fantasy novels in steampunk, urban, and futuristic times.

Perhaps we’ll see Mistborn robots and cyborgs, or maybe a Magneto-like character with control over metals. But how will that affect the line between fantasy and science-fiction?

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

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The Alloy of Law is lighthearted, action-packed addition to the Mistborn series. I recommend that you read the first Mistborn trilogy before reading this novel, as the latter glosses over much of the exposition on the workings of Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy. There are also references to past books that may confuse new readers.

What works best in this novel is the comedic banter between lead characters Wax and Wayne (even their names sound funny when said together). Their friendship reminds me a lot of the camaraderie between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Also welcome is the star-crossed attraction between Wax and Lady Marasi.

“That hat looks ridiculous.”
“Fortunately, I can change hats,” Wayne said, “while you, sir, are stuck with that face.” – Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law

The huge dose of humor in this novel is a welcome break from the doom and gloom seriousness of the last one. But I can already see undertones of a much deeper story that will surely develop in the upcoming trilogy.

The Alloy of Law features a different kind of action compared to the first trilogy. At first, I found myself nostalgic for the swords, knives, staves, shields, and horseshoes. But I found myself getting used to all the guns and brawling after a couple of battle scenes.

I think Brandon Sanderson has much room to explore regarding how his magic system can work with gunpowder weapons—perhaps including the ability to influence the movement of bullets mid-flight—and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with in future novels.

The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones. – Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law

Miles is a very powerful antagonist, but I would have preferred an opponent who isn’t invulnerable. His healing powers reminded me too much of Wolverine, who I think is one of the most overrated and overpowered X-Men. I would have preferred a battle among equals rather than an underdog outsmarting his opponent and winning in the end.

Nevertheless, I think this novel is a fine addition to the Mistborn series, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next one.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 out of 5 beans

4 Beans

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – Book Review

Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Release Date: July 8th 2014
Publisher: Harper
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1

Here’s an strong recommendation, from one reader to another, read completely the lengthy Goodreads synopsis of The Queen of The Tearling by Erika Johansen before you begin reading the book itself.

It explains a lot about the story’s setting and core elements, which I had only the vaguest understanding of throughout reading the novel. Some early reviewers who didn’t have the benefit of this synopsis complained about the book’s unclear setting and abundance of superfluous details. With the synopsis, the setting is clear enough, the details welcome additions (instead of failures to clarify the setting).

Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book. – Erika Johansen – Queen of the Tearling

Early on, the book was promoted as the next The Hunger Games or The Game of Thrones. Though The Queen of the Tearling is vastly different from either fiction series, I enjoyed reading it. I read an e-book version. Later on, I was surprised to discover the novel’s print version was over 700 pages long.

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The Queen of the Tearling is not your typical fantasy novel. It does not have as much political intrigue as The Game of Thrones, as much action as The Hunger Games, nor as much romance or magic as The Throne of Glass—though it does have a sprinkle of everything. What it does have is a solid coming of age story.

Kelsea Raleigh must quickly learn how to become queen despite knowing so little of her past, her kingdom, and the magical powers of the Sapphire that is her birthright. Kelsea is a pillar of righteousness, representative of an ideal queen. She immediately asserts herself as an enemy of corrupt nobles and a champion of the poor. But is this really a good thing?

The mark of the true hero is that the most heroic of his deeds is done in secret. We never hear of it. And yet somehow, my friends, we know. —Father Tyler’s Collected Sermons, FROM THE ARVATH ARCHIVE Erika Johansen, Queen of the Tearling

By openly challenging her uncle, she risks assassination. By stopping the shipment of human slaves to the Red Queen of Mortmesne, Kelsea puts her whole kingdom in peril. She keeps making all these righteous yet rash decisions seemingly without considering the dire consequences of her actions. I look forward to reading how she will deal with the insurmountable challenges that she will soon face in the novel’s sequel.

Kelsea may seem annoyingly naïve at first, but I am quite fond of her being a genuinely good person. She is also very normal—not an extremely beautiful lady, shrewd politician, skilled warrior, or powerful mage. In fact, it is her being genuine and ordinary that make such an interesting character.

We don’t always choose, Majesty. We simply make the best choices we can once the deed is done. – Erika Johansen, Queen of the Tearling

My biggest issue with The Queen of the Tearling is how I still ended up lost and confused after reading the novel, despite the aid of the long synopsis. There are just too many mysteries and secrets that remain after the first book in this trilogy. However, I do look forward to reading the remaining two books, partly because Emma Watson has signed-on to play Kelsea in an upcoming movie adaptation of the trilogy.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 out of 5 beans

4 Beans

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – Book Review

Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Release Date: September 1st 2009
Publisher: Night Shade Books

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is a world-building masterclass. Imagine a post-apocalyptic Bangkok under imminent threat of being swallowed by the sea, in a world devastated by global warming. Its only defense a sea wall that must be protected at all costs.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.”  – Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

Picture a world where so many species of plants and animals are extinct that calories have become the number one source of income and power for governments and corporations; Where new species of farm crops and fruits have to be genetically engineered repeatedly every time a new strain of blight taints the food, making it deadly for human consumption.

Here is a world where bio-engineered animals like megodonts (similar to mammoths; used to power machinery) and cheshires (feral cats with camouflage capabilities that scavenge on human remains) have become a normal part of human life. Here is the world where genetically engineered humans (e.g. windups) like Emiko exist.

“We rest in the hands of a fickle god. He plays on our behalf only for entertainment, and he will close his eyes and sleep if we fail to engage his intellect.” – Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

Thailand, a country known for weathering constant political upheavals and natural disasters, is a perfect setting for this science-fiction novel. As the story progresses we see, the tensions between government, corporate, religious, environmental, and other factions constantly vying for power and supremacy.

We see how Thailand’s constitutional monarchy barely resists the influence and dominance of the farang (a Thai word meaning “a person of white race”), while the outside world continues pressuring the Thais to open trade routes and share biological research.

We see the people living and making a living in Bangkok struggle to survive, to find meaning in their lives, when a single spark could result in many lives lost, perhaps an entire nation destroyed.

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I love this book cover! I would buy the book, just for the cover. Source: 1

At the center of everything is Emiko, a windup girl. Once a respected Japanese courtesan, she now works at a Thai brothel, where she is mocked and ridiculed for her stutter-stop body movements, her always-submissive biological engineering. As Emiko continues to struggle against her design and dream of freedom, the tension within her winds up to scathing proportions.

“She is an animal. Servile as a dog. And yet if he is careful to make no demands, to leave the air between them open, another version of the windup girl emerges. As precious and rare as a living bo tree. Her soul, emerging from within the strangling strands of her engineered DNA.” – Paolo Baciaglupi, The Windup Girl 

Until everything comes to a head, and all chaos breaks loose.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is three-fourths build-up, and one-fourth explosion. I admit, I got bored somewhere in the middle. But it is all worth it in the end. Everything just falls into place. It is the kind of story I want to read again immediately after the first time because I feel like I can appreciate it much better the second time around.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 out of 5 Beans

4 Beans

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer – Book Review

Title: Annihilation
Author: Jeff Vandermeer
Cover Artist: Abby Kagan
Release Date: February 4th 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG) Originals
Series: Southern Reach # 1

Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, as told through the lens of a female biologist protagonist, is one of the most beautifully nightmarish books I’ve ever read.

The devil is in the details in book one of the Southern Reach Trilogy, and what better way to discover the flora and fauna of a mysterious land than from the observations of an expert in this field of study. At first, things go more or less according to plan. The biologist spends most of her time jotting down notes in her journal and collecting biological specimens for study.

“I leaned in closer, like a fool, like someone who had not had months of survival training or ever studied biology. Someone tricked into thinking that words should be read.” – Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation

When the protagonist herself begins to doubt her understanding of Area X: of the monstrous groaning every dusk; of the creature slithering through the reeds at night; of the mysterious tower burrowing inexplicably underground, of the living words on the wall formed by some unknown moss or fungus, her building terror is palpable.

Adding paranoia to what the video above describes as a “the more they learn, the less they really know” situation is the biologist’s distrusting her companions. She believes someone in the group is hiding the truth, and this deception may have dangerous, even fatal consequences for the group. Unfortunately, she isn’t as paranoid as she thinks. Some truths, more half-truths, and even more questions with no answers—a barrage of inexplicable phenomena begins overwhelming her.

“The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.” – Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation

By the second half of the novel, the biologist’s narrative turns so bizarre and otherworldly. I felt like I was immersing myself in her living nightmare, and could feel her losing grip on reality. There were whole sections of text where I had absolutely no idea what was happening anymore, even after several rereads. I didn’t know whether to stop and try making sense of things, or just move on and finish the novel. Unfortunately, the biologist had no time to stop and reflect on her situation.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer has readers divided. Some readers praise the novel for immersing them in this nightmarish, detached, psychological reading experience, while others dismiss it for being deceptively deceiving and alienating gobbledygook.

“Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective—even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.” – Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation

I agree with the first group of readers and look forward to reading the whole Southern Reach Trilogy. But readers who belong to the second group might want to avoid the second and third novels as they are much thicker and presumably even weirder than the first. Cheers to the new weird in science fiction!

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 out of 5 beans

Dune by Frank Herbert – Book Review

Title: Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
Release Year: June 1, 2006 (first published in 1965)
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Series: Dune Chronicles # 1

When I first watched the three-part Frank Herbert’s Dune (2010) miniseries on television, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The miniseries is different from the 1984 full-length film directed by David Lynch. The video posted above is an extended introduction to the 1984 film, as narrated by Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen). I’m not sure if I watched Lynch’s film as well, but I have a feeling scenes from the miniseries and the film are just jumbled up in my head.

Anyway, the sand worms in the live-action adaptations of the novel just blew me away, and I really wanted those blue eyes. There was so much action and adventure. For me, watching Dune was also a significant aha moment when I realized how much I enjoyed science-fiction.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

Reading Dune was a very different yet equally amazing experience. The action was still there, but there was more politics. More schemes, behind schemes, behind other schemes. And betrayal, after betrayal, after betrayal. If found the movie versus book experience very similar to that of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, where the book is filled with depth and lore that was slightly watered down and action-hyped for the movie-going public.

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

The seeming omniscience of Paul Atredis, especially when he becomes Muad’Dib was something that really bothered me throughout the novel. It’s not that he kind of knows whats about to happen, but it’s vague. It’s also not that he sees branching paths of possibility, but has to choose one of them. It’s that he knows exactly what is going to happen, he doesn’t want it to happen, he knows how it will happen, but he does nothing to prevent it from happening.

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

I mean, what a loser! Why in the world am I reading about your internal struggles, when you don’t plan to anything about it anyway? But I appreciated the tension within him. That he was a human being who had the god-like ability to see the future. That he was a man who possessed powers stronger than any female Bene Gesserit witch in history. That he was bred to fulfill a prophesy against his knowledge and will. His internal struggles alone is a great story in itself.

This novel is a complex mix of many themes: government politics, gender politics, colonialism, myth-making, religion, the nature of power, and the power of nature. It delves into the power of prophets and religious figures, who can inspire followers to do great and seemingly impossible feats.  Paul Atredis as Muad’Dib is clearly the ‘Holy Man’ in Frank Herbert’s novel, and it is this future bloody Jihad he sees himself leading that Paul greatly fears.

“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

I find Dune a massively enriching and gratifying sci-fi novel, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone interested in reading the best of science fiction literature, then and now.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

 

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5