Between the Covers: Stories from My Bookcase

Monday, August 10, 2015

Her Sister's Shadow by Katharine Britton

This is the first Katharine Britton title I've ever read and on Goodreads, I gave it 4 stars. 

Her Sister's Shadow is the story of two estranged sisters - Lilli an artist based in London, and Bea, who still lived in their family home in Whitehead, Massachusetts. 

Her Sister's Shadow

It started off a little too slow for me. It took 6 chapters before the author talked about the death of their youngest sister but you already kinda know that's what was going to happen - but you kept waiting how it would. 

The sisters were estranged for 40 years. Yes, they talked occasionally, but they managed NOT to have a real relationship. I just couldn't imagine how they could let that happen to them for so long. And they had one more sister! I wonder why she didn't make them kiss and make up. I mean, if you were their sister, wouldn't you do what it takes to get them to resolve things?

I understand giving people space and time - but 40 years? Really?

Lilli left home and stayed away for so long because, in her mind, she wanted to step away from her eldest sister's shadow. Well, she found out, when they were so old and gray, that it wasn't her sister's shadow she needed to get away from - it was her own. 

She was so full of anger, and perhaps some guilt too, that she kept herself from being happy. She looked at her eldest sister, she who always seemed to have it all together, and resented her. She felt that she was being controlled. And then betrayed. 

But all along, she was really just being too selfish. Not everything was about her, and she didn't always have all the facts. She made up her mind anyway. And she kept her distance from her home. 

Oh how I love their home! The author described it very beautifully. It seemed like a wonderful place to grow up in. I felt so sad that Lilli had wanted to stay so far from it, and how quick she was to decide it had to be sold. To have a home like that!

In their family, the responsibility to keep the home and preserve the memories went to the eldest sister. Traditionally, that role goes to the youngest Filipina sibling. Normally, it is the bunso that gets left at home - because everyone else comes of age and marries earlier. Not so with the Niles sisters. 

In a way, I feel bad for Bea. She only meant well. Perhaps, she was too strong-willed. She also could have said something. She could have taken the first step so Lilli would come around. But I felt worse about Lilli. She grew old, but she didn't change much. Well, we all have a bit of Lilli in us - that bit that refuses to understand other people's perspectives. The lesson there for me is to learn genuine empathy, and to be open to understanding where others are coming from. And that some secrets shouldn't be kept so, at least not for long. 

I didn't grow up with sisters but I had cousins. They don't always get along with each other, but I don't think they can go a whole year not seeing each other. What about you?
Do you have sisters? Can you imagine 40 years of not being in good terms?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Newbery Honor 2008)

One rainy day, while having my hair done, I had the pleasure of reading a Newbery Honor book - Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson. 

Hope is the thing with feathers... 

Frannie learned a new poem in school and it had got her thinking. What does it mean? I was stuck on that for awhile too - what does it mean?

This short story is set in 1971. There was a new boy in Frannie's 6th grade class and he was white. The kids took to calling him Jesus Boy and he has longer hair than the other boys. 

The school bully decided to pick on him, of course, but Jesus was not one to just let himself be bullied. 

You can tell that Frannie was torn about doing the right thing and making it easier for the new guy. She was after all, the new girl once too. She knew it was right to invite him to sit at lunch together - or during break. But she couldn't do it. Well, at least not right away. I don't remember the way I think when I was that young. Do kids really hesitate to approach the new boy or girl? Aren't kids normally curious?

Anyway. Frannie knew how to do hand signs because that's how she communicated with her older brother Sean. It looks like he is a handsome, and is really good at basketball. Girls always had smiles for him, but when they realize he couldn't hear them, they tend to walk away. Frannie hates that. She thinks they are stupid girls. But she knows it's just because they didn't know her brother the way she does. 

At a very young age, Frannie understood that we tend to look at people who are different from us a certain way - but that's just because we don't understand everything about them. She had a conversation with her brother about bridges across two worlds. A bridge from the African American side of the tracks to the other. A bridge between the hearing and non-hearing world. 

At first Frannie couldn't get that Sean sees her as already living in both worlds - the hearing, and the non-hearing world. Sean didn't want to be confined to just his side. He wants to be able to live the normal life too. 

Their mother got pregnant, and this worried them a lot. She had had miscarriages before, and those experiences took her away from her living kids because of how sad she was. But this time was different. Mom was getting better and the baby was thriving. Frannie learned that there is hope. 

Hope is the thing with feathers... It always comes. It flies around. Up and down. All it needs is the right timing, an upwind. And it soars again. Hope is like that. It is never truly lost. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cancer is a Bitch by Gail Konop Baker

Cancer is such a bitch isn't it? This novel by Gail Konop Baker says just that. It shows us what goes on in a mother's mind as she struggles through the discovery of lumps in her breasts, a diagnosis, and the subsequent recovery. 

It isn't always easy - what do you say in front of a person with cancer? What do you say to her family? It doesn't matter what we say - unless it's about a cure. So I guess we shouldn't worry and just be there for them. 

In one of the chapters, the couple goes to a dinner party and she notices how different some people treat her now - after the diagnosis. And it can get overwhelming. She welcomed this one person who didn't know yet because he treated her exactly like he used to. And I guess that is important too. Although we make them feel special, or let them know that we care about them - it's also important that they feel normal. Some kind of normal. 

I have mixed feelings about this book. I tend to agree to other reviews that say it is more about the woman's midlife crisis, more than it was about the cancer. While I was reading, I kept thinking about the 5 year old girl from the book Notes Left Behind, another family's journey with childhood cancer. No two stories are alike, of course, and one's experience isn't more valid than another's. So it's not that I want to compare the two stories - but I can't help but recall Notes Left Behind because it so touched my heart. 

I really don't think there is any family out there that is completely untouched by Cancer. Somehow, each one of us is related to or knows someone who has been affected by any of its form. What else is similar among these experiences? That feeling that life is suspended - until recovery, or death. But that shouldn't be the case, no? No one means for it to be that way, it just happens. 

I guess when you set out to read a book that deals with a life-threatening illness, you expect to come out learning a lesson or two. About how we should live the life we are meant to live now, instead of waiting. And how our choices determine our future, but that ultimately, we aren't in control of everything. In it's own way, this book tells you that, and a bit more. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline

Thank you, Lisa, for saving me. I had been in a reading rut and you just rescued me. 

Rose McKenna went from stay-at-home Mom, to volunteer Mom, and then Hero Mom. But very quickly, she also found herself in the middle of a controversy - and it was her family versus the whole town. 

This latest novel from Lisa Scottoline isn't the gripping legal thriller like all her other novels that we've read so far. It took awhile for the story to warm up to me, but it eventually did. It wasn't as page-a-turner as Daddy's Girl was, but it doesn't mean that it's not worth your time. 

Central to the story was social media and how quick we are to judge someone without listening to their side of the story. A few months back, I had it in my head to write a post with this title: I am scared of Social Media. I couldn't articulate it well so I didn't get around to writing that article, but I thought of it after we figured in a car accident. While I was sitting in the driver's seat, collecting my wits, I was also thinking about what the people passing by must think about me. After all, my car was upright and we were not injured. While the delivery van that slammed into me was on its side, with the driver bleeding with wounds on his arm. To an outsider, it would have been so easy to judge that it was my fault and that we caused the accident. But it really wasn't. And there was my hubby and his ill-temper raising his voice at the other driver and his companions. Remember Amalayer? I didn't watch her video and only learned the full story when they featured her on MMK. That's how harsh social media could be. 

Another thread that got me hooked on this novel was how Rose's predicament was related to the problem of peanut allergies. No, her daughter wasn't allergic to peanuts. 

Have you heard of anyone in the Philippines being allergic to peanuts? I don't know anyone who is. And I'm pretty sure we don't have training that tells teachers to have kids with such allergies eat away from the general population. It sounds like a really challenging situation to have to deal with. Like we saw in the movie Horrible Bosses, simply touching an empty zipLock container of Peanut Butter Sandwich may cause a lethal allergy attack. 

I've seen those on chocolate labels and labels of other food products, something that goes along these lines: "produced on equipment used to manufacture nut products." I never used to pay attention to them, but reading Save Me, I realize that those labels are life savers. And if companies fail to disclose that information, they could cause many deaths. 

But Rose's near encounter with death, or the death of her daughter, wasn't because of peanuts. It was because of an explosion that causes a fire in the school cafeteria. Now that's all I'm  going to say about it. You'd have to read the book to know more. :) 

Monday, May 4, 2015

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I’d been seeing Nick Hornby’s books before and I’ve always known that High Fidelity was what the John Cusack movie was based on. I don’t know why I never got around to reading it. And when I did read it, I have mixed feelings about it.


Rob Flemming owns a record store. Is that what he’s wanted to do all his life? It was hard to tell. It’s actually hard to tell if he knew. In fact, it doesn’t seem like he knows much about what he wants out of life. Reviews of this book have him described as a spectator on the sidelines, Laura (the girlfriend that recently dumped him) says that he’s not living his life, and that he’s forever waiting for what’s going to happen. He cannot commit to anything or anyone because his afraid to miss what else might come along. Do you know anybody like that?

Typical guy, huh?

I think I didn’t take to this book right away because Rob was really a loser. And not an endearing loser at that. He was a snob who judged people based on their record collection. OMG. What would he think of me? I don’t have a proper record collection, and I don’t really have a top 5 of anything. Really. I thought of myself as a music lover (a long time ago) and I still do love music, I’m just not into remembering everything all the time and not into making lists (did I just justify myself there?). That’s how crappy Rob made me feel. Hah!

Oh well. Watching the movie was better. I’m not saying that I liked the movie version over the book lest book lovers the world over wage war against me. It was a better experience for me though because I’d already known the characters, and I like John and Joan Cusack. I also liked that Jack Black played Barry, Rob’s annoying staff at the Championship Vinyl.

It was a sign of how much Laura understood and loved Rob that she was able to do something for him that Rob really liked – deep down inside him. He would probably never have realized it for himself, or if he did, he might not have done anything about it. Bringing back the Gaucho for Rob to DJ was a great idea. Owning a record store turns out be one of the top 5 jobs ever. He was living a life he wanted after all, he just had to realize it.

Now let’s look at my life. I’m a senior manager at a BPO. Was this was I thought what I’d end up doing? Definitely not. I used to want to be a rebel. To go up the mountains, take arms, and fight for liberation. Things changed. I got involved in the Children’s Rights movement and I thought that that was going to be my life’s work. Things changed again. And ten years later, here I am somewhat successful in a career path I never thought I’d take. Am I happy? I’d have to say yes. Would I rather do something else? A month and a half ago I’d have said YES! In fact I was on my way to discover for myself what that something else was going to be. But things changed up at work and I’m busy again and liking what I’m doing. So I guess I’m staying put for now.

All that’s left is to have a Gaucho revival for me.  I need an event or an activity that would make me feel that all those years haven’t been wasted. That I am making a contribution to the world. Now what could that event be? But seriously, even without one, I think I’m good. I have no doubt that what I do daily actually impacts other people’s lives in a big way. Or something. Hah!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Paano Ba ‘To?! by Bianca Gonzalez

What do I not love about this book? Maybe it’s the fact that we are nearly the same age (I’m likely two to three years older than her), or that we were both December 2014 brides, or it could be because I watch her so much on TV, but I found her words relatable. Her intended audience seem to be the younger girls – late teens, early twenties – but that doesn’t stop me from smiling and recounting my own experiences as I flip through the pages.


The book has eight chapters: Family, Friendship, Love, Career & Money, Failures, Fashion & Beauty, Purpose, Self. Each chapter starts off with a Q n A, and then followed by Real Stories. Then there will be something from a celebrity/ies, before closing with 10 Things from Bianca that’s specific to the topic. At the end of each chapter is a page where the reader can become part of the book: there is a prompt and ample to space to write. I think I love that about the book – along with the sticker sheets. Soon, I will be using those prompts for blog posts over at Verabear.Net. Watch out for that. Smile

Each chapter, and all over the inside front and back covers, you can find quotes and hugot lines. Kudos to the author for getting calligraphy artist Abbey Sy to work with her. Apart from the wonderful type found all over the book, the doodles (I assumed they are the author’s own) all over encouraged me to write on the book too. Maybe it’s because of all the marginalia from the book I read before this one (Ex Libris), but it just felt right to react real-time by writing down my thoughts on the white space around the text.

Marginalia and doodles - Paano ba to

There is not much more to say, in terms of a review, other than to recommend it for others to read. I think that there is so much we can already learn from other people’s experiences and if it saves us from having to make the same mistakes – then that’s the real bonus.

One more reason to recommend this book to young women is that she sounds and feels genuine. Authentic. She owes up to the celebrity status, but she also uses that status to spread good. She does not try to convince us that she was perfect as she was growing up, and definitely didn’t try to come off as if she knew exactly what she was doing. That’s what makes her credible. She experienced life the way many of us did/do. Throughout the book there is also the sense of gratefulness – she acknowledges that she has been given a lot of opportunities and that what she has achieved now is a combination of her hard work, and the help of others around her.

I really like her, I like her example. And I would love for my nieces to get to know her thru this book, and maybe have her as one of their life pegs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with absolutely everything that’s mentioned in the book, but I support the overall message that it tries to convey.

I do hope she writes another book, although I’d imagine I’d get bored if it would be exactly the same. As a follow up project she should release the type art that served as dividers for the book. I actually want to tear them off now and hang them in frames. (I just looked at the new Get To Work Book by Elise Blaha and her calendar page illustrated text are perforated so you can easily detach and hang as art print! That's exactly what they could have done with the lovely type pages on this one.)

Type/Quote - Paano ba to

Congratulations to Bianca Gonzalez-Intal on the success of her first book. I believe it’s been reprinted. In fact, I’m really happy about the local publishing industry as a whole. There’s been a number of books released recently that out sold really quickly. And it’s nice to see people at work toting a familiar book and reading during breaks. I have at least two more locally published books on my list to read. Make Your Nanay Proud was something I really enjoyed flipping thru earlier this year. Truly inspiring.
Are you reading Paano Ba ‘To?! Share your thoughts!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Where do you find the time to read?

If it isn't obvious yet, I am a reader. :) Even at my busiest time, there is always space for books. However, this is not to say that I have read every book I own, or every book I wanted to read. 

And I know that there are many of you out there, who are just like me who often say: 

So many good books. So little time.

And when people are new to the fact that I read a lot, this question is sure to be asked:

Where do you find time to read?

Some just flat out declare: 

I'd love to read, but I just don't have the time.

Here's the truth. I don't often have the time either. In fact, I didn't get to read much last year. 

Was I busy? Stressed at work? Preparing for a big life event?

No. Not really. And, Yes. 

My days were full, so I guess I was busy in a way, but it doesn't feel like I was too busy I couldn't pick up a paperback. In fact, I picked up a new game - FarmVille 2 on the iPhone. I also spent lots of time with my Loom Bands. 

There were days when work was stressful, but it's a far cry from three or so years ago when I was spending long hours at work. Last year was actually the first time things got lite. So no, I can't blame work for not having had time to read. 

Yes, I got married last year!
 But no, the wedding preparations didn't make me too busy that there was no time for an ebook or no space for a book in my bag. 

Fact is, I tried to read more and just couldn't.  There is no other way for me to explain this. Many times I'd pick up a book and I'd read a few lines, a few pages, but I get nothing. No reaction. Nothing clicks. So I put it down and try again another day. Or I try another book. And so on. 

It was frustrating, but it taught me something: You have to be ready to read. It's not enough to just want to read. For me, it wasn't about not having time to read. It was as if there was a barrier to reading. 

So what is one to do?

MAKE time to READ

Does it sound like I'm contradicting myself? This is for those of you who feel that the barrier to reading is time. Schedule reading into your daily activities. It could be 15 to 30 minutes after each meal. Or it could also be part of your night-time routine when you wind down for bed. Get in 5 pages before breakfast. Pick a schedule and stick to it. 

For those really, really busy with WORK, errands, and house chores, this means always toting a book along with you so you can use the pockets of time when you do nothing but wait
  1. Read a few pages at the waiting area at your doctor's appointment, or anywhere you need to wait in line. 
  2. Scan a few lines while your food cooks
  3. A chapter or two during your commute to and from work 
  4. Read while the little one watches Hi-5 or is busy building a tower, or setting up a road rally. 
  5. While the husband is out shopping, I read in the car, or at a cafe. He doesn't need fashion advise from me (be sure to regulate the cash he has on hand!)
If you find yourself mindlessly clicking thru online articles, one after the other, evaluate whether you'd rather finish your book instead. You have time.

Don't force it 

If it doesn't spark your interest after a few pages. Let it go. It doesn't mean it's a bad book, or that you don't have to ever read it again, it just means that now's not the time for you to read it. 

That's how it was when I read Wicked, which turned out to be one of my favorites. Same thing with Revolutionary Road. And again last month while reading Love Walked In

So if you and your book don't click, just move on to the next one. Don't force it. That's why it's also important to -

Have more than one book accessible to you

If it's still reading time when you realize that book 1 isn't your thing, pick up another book. Or open your reading app and start actually reading one of your ebooks. 

If you are a true bookworm, even if you're more of the old-school reader like me who prefers the touch of the page and the smell of books old and new, you already have a growing digital book collection. Now's the time to open that Kindle app and get reading. 

Setup your reading space

I read while sitting upright, but I can be just as comfortable lying down. Find your own spot where there isn't a lot of distraction. 

While vacationing for the first time with my husband's family last year, my spot turned out to be a lounge chair at the second-floor balcony. At home, I can sit anywhere. I also find that I really like reading at the driver's seat - while parked of course. 

Challenge yourself

Goodreads has really helped jump-start my reading year 2015. In January, I decided to read along with the monthly book discussions with The Filipino Group. We are reading High Fidelity all through April.  

I also set a goal of reading 15 books this year as my 2015 Reading Challenge. Since I didn't read much last year, I figured 15 is achievable. I hope to read more though. You can check the widget on my sidebar to know how I'm keeping up. :)

So I hope I've helped convince you that you can read more, NOW. Do you have other tips to cultivate a reading lifestyle?