The Great Five from Libromance: Best Fiction Books of 2017

Book Reviews, Fiction, Sunday Spotlight

Running a book blog is lots of hard (but pleasurable!) work and one of the things I’m always excited for are end of the year lists, best picks and titles deemed noteworthy usually announced around this time.

I’ve seen a lot of best of the year book lists and here are some of my favorites:

Out of all these lists though, I’m particularly partial to The New York Times best of the year book list, which usually consists of fiction and nonfiction books. Selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review, it is something I look forward to every year.

So when it was finally released on November 30th, I was thrilled to see all five of their listed fiction books as titles I read and reviewed this year on the blog! Five-starred and highly rated, these books are the kind I hope to read for the rest of my life, stories that move and shake and empathize and challenge. I cried throughout most of them, and I’ve probably listed them on numerous lists prior to this post. They are the kind of stories I love reading and I hope to write in the same vein someday.

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The Great Five

Here are *the great five* of 2017, along with excerpts from my book reviews this year:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Reading Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing was like having a deep, deep breath lodged in the cavity of my chest, something I held on to for its entirety. Ward’s newest novel isn’t for the faint of heart either, but for someone who’s strong of will, someone who can understand the gravity of what it means to be healed, and what it means to need healing, specially at a time when the world just feels too heavy. Read the full review here.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The book follows the lives of reluctant lovers (at first), Nadia and Saeed in the process of living, of leaving. Saeed is very much the son of his parents, timid and reserved, while Nadia is out on her own, having left the roof of her parents’ house as soon as she was able to. She dons black robes for protection, as she rides her motorcycle through the city of an unspecified country. It is a love story as much as it is a story of migration and transitions. Instead of focusing on the journey out, what Hamid focused on was how wars move and change people. Read the full review here.

Autumn by Ali Smith

This is a novel set in the UK, not a love story but a story about love in many forms. There’s Elisabeth and her mom, living alongside their neighbor, Mr. Daniel Gluck, and the world around them revolving in varying degrees of discovery and reconciliation. Theirs (the main characters’)  was no ordinary friendship, no feudal relationship. They talked about arts, books, ways of looking at the world. The ever-present question, always Gluck’s greeting to the young one was: What you reading? Read the full review here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This endless work and suffering is what bookends the story, manifested in different characters. Lee portrays all kinds of women in Pachinko, as she lays out layers of complexities. With each generation, she highlights the struggles of Korean women within their respective socio-economic contexts: women who aren’t allowed to work because of their husband’s beliefs, women who are imprisoned in their marriages because of economic and social reasons, women who are fiercely independent, women who long to come home to Korea, women who long to move to America, broken women, heavy-hearted women, happy women, but always, suffering women. Read the full review here.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

This book is something I dove right into where men are actually fearful of women. Where young boys are told to be careful while walking by themselves. Where men cry oppression for themselves because in Alderman’s book, women, specially young girls have the upper hand. Many of Alderman’s main characters are young women, specially those who have risen out of difficulties in their life. Out of anger, out of grief, they were able to summon the power within themselves, which came in the form of jolts of electricity emanating from fingertips. Read the full review here.

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Have you read any of these books? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Who Run the World? Girls! With Naomi Alderman (A Book Review of “The Power”)

Book Reviews, Fiction

“I was attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.”
Octavia Butler

I remember reading Octavia Butler’s book once, the first time I’ve ever been drawn to science fiction. It was crossing a realm of spirituality that I never knew could exist in science fiction, because I’ve long dismissed the genre as something that young men only enjoyed. That was an embarrassing mistake.

These days, I seem to gravitate towards certain kinds of literature, always on the lookout for the next best read. After reading Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, I wanted more. I started reading this book soon after, and ended with the most appropriate title I could have ever picked up — Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy (review coming soon). I was on a feminist science fiction kick, and I didn’t even realize it!

The Power (Indiebound) by Naomi Alderman cements this period for me, as I dove right into a world where men are actually fearful of women. Where young boys are told to be careful while walking by themselves. Where men cry oppression for themselves because in Alderman’s book, women, specially young girls have the upper hand.

Scientists are confounded. Government officials are panic-stricken. Mothers become fearful, unsure of what’s happening at first.

And then it becomes apparent: it is only young girls who are gifted with skein, electricity humming and coursing through their bodies. Chaos ensues, as everything gets upended.

Many of Alderman’s main characters are young women, specially those who have risen out of difficulties in their life. Out of anger, out of grief, they were able to summon the power within themselves, which came in the form of jolts of electricity emanating from fingertips.

There’s a girl who calls herself Eve, (called Allie before the power) who listens to a voice she hears in her mind for the next steps, the back and forth conversation which has proved to save her life more than once. After repeated assaults by her guardian, she runs off to a convent and finds herself cared for by nuns, along with other girls who have run away themselves. This is where Eve finds footing to fulfill a prophecy, of being the chosen leader by the Goddess.

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A Lifetime of Looking, with Lisa Ko (A Book Review of “The Leavers”)

Book Reviews, Fiction

Days after reading Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (Amazon | Indiebound), one question lingered in my mind: can we really spare our loved ones the most gory, painful thing in our lives in order to save them–whatever “saving” looks like?

The story is written in the same format Arundhati Roy’s latest book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, where you find out more and more about the characters, the bulk of the story and really, the depth of the plot as you go on. But I guess that’s a major driving point in the book, the search for elusive truth. As with our lives, tbqh.

The Leavers is a book about a Chinese immigrant family in New York, a mother and her son, as they struggle to make a new life for themselves away from home. And almost like every immigrant family I know, both Pei-lan/Polly and Deming/Daniel go through the process of navigating cultural shifts and managing personal transformations.

From learning how to survive as an immigrant (all the bureaucracy, whether above ground or not), the tenderness between mother and son grows with each new discovery. Each day that they are together, specially when Polly has the rare day off, the duo ventures out into the new world they’ve made for themselves.

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Amidst reveling in the simultaneous grandeur and details of the Big Apple, poverty, the struggle to assimilate and immigration woes descend upon the family. And it only gets worse.

Deviant Lives, with Carmen Maria Machado (A Book Review of ‘Her Body and Other Parties’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love, Writing

I picked up Carmen Maria Machado’s book of short stories Her Body and Other Parties (Amazon | Indiebound) after seeing it on the National Book Awards shortlist for fiction. The title first drew me. I looked up to see who Machado was and found she’s a queer Latinx (yes!), which made me want to read her work even more. And whoa. As soon as I finished one story, I knew I was in for a wild, beautiful ride.

The first story on the book called The Ribbon was my first introduction to Machado. Hers is a concise but weighty voice, one that told the story but kept important details hidden. It was both what she is and what she isn’t saying that drew me even closer to the text, a kind of magnetic pull impossible to resist.

I think it’s also in the way she writes about women in the book, filled with audacious desire and a wonderfully overwhelming presence that had me enthralled. They were eerie in their brilliance, as if something hummed underneath the story line.

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Sunshine Like a Stick of Butter, with Rachel Khong (A Book Review of ‘Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

It was just few years ago when my grandmother, who I was named after, started leaving plates of food on the table. For my grandfather, she says. At that time my gramps, a notorious womanizer, has been dead for at least 10 years. She then started accusing household help of stealing items she’s kept away, or for sneaking out when she’s sent them to run errands for her.

I was about 7,000 miles away from her when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She passed soon shortly after that.

Grandma was on my mind when I first started reading Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound), a story about a year-long care-giving of a daughter for her ailing father suffering from the same sickness.

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After her mom suggested she move back for a year to help care for her father, Ruth slowly establishes a life back at their home in southern California. In the midst of reacquainting herself with her father’s new ways (a sour temperament, always holed up in his home office), she also recounts moments from her last failed relationship.

Ruth cooks for his father, studies and avoids what could exacerbate his symptoms, is diligent in ensuring he takes what he needs. But it isn’t so simple, she finds out. It started with him forgetting his wallet, then forgetting to turn the faucet off until it got to a point where he would show up to teach a class at the university on the wrong day.

In one of many attempts of trying to regain “normalcy” in his life, Ruth and some of his father’s mentees and colleagues employ an elaborate set-up. As agreed upon by everyone, they would pretend that he is back in the university teaching, as the “students” pretend to move the class from one place on campus to restaurants across town to avoid being caught. His father seems to be his old self back.

#FinestFiction Wrap-Up: Who Will Win This Year’s Man Booker Prize?

Sunday Spotlight

For the past two months, I’ve incorporated titles long-listed for the Man Booker Prize on my reading list. I tried to read every single book religiously and although the outcome is far from perfect, I’m happy to say that I met about 80% of my goal.

My #FinestFiction reading challenge was a challenge in pushing through with genres I’m not used to, and a commitment to expand my reading with work that I wouldn’t have read otherwise.

There were books that I absolutely loved. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is one, and so is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. And then there were books that I started but never finished like Solar Bones by Mike McCormack and The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. There were also books that I didn’t care for that I ended up loving, like Ali Smith’s Autumn and Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1: A Novel.

I had a lot of fun as I made my way through each book, and I think I’m going to do it again next year. There’s nothing like reading out of your usual picks, out of your comfort zone to push you into learning more about the world, a process that ends up with you learning more about yourself.

The short list was announced back in September and I was a little shocked that the titles I was anticipating to be on the list weren’t (!) — I thought Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was going to be a shoo-in! Nevertheless, I’m quite happy *with* some of the titles that made it.

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley (read my book review)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (read my book review)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
4 3 2 1: A Novel by Paul Auster (book review out soon!)
History of Wolves: A Novel by Emily Fridlund
Autumn: A Novel by Ali Smith (read my book review)

At first I was rooting for Hamid, and then Smith, and then Auster, and then Mozley. Right now, I can’t really make up my mind because any of these four are plausible winners. At this point, I’d be happy for any of these titles to win the prize.

Who are you rooting for?
Sign up below to win a copy of the winning title! 

The Way We See Things, with Fiona Mozley (A Book Review of ‘Elmet’)

Book Reviews, fiction

Count Elmet (Amazon) by Fiona Mozley as an unexpectedly beautiful read, a tender tome of family and loyalty.

As with the other titles on the Man Book Prize, I wouldn’t have explored this book if it weren’t for my #FinestFiction reading challenge. This felt a little like reading Autumn by Ali Smith, to go beyond the first few pages for a book filled with luminosity, to find ways to just stay with it. And I’m glad that I stayed with it; otherwise, I wouldn’t have met the intense family of three.

Right from the start, what slowly pulled me in was the narrator. There are two narratives in the story, one told in the present, a person on the run, while the other weaves a fabric, draws the roots. The narrator of both stories is  lonesome boy named Daniel, the son of Daddy and sister of Cathy, quiet in his ways, different from other kids like his sister.

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The family lived in the outskirts of town atop a hill, away from everybody else in their village. Daddy provided for the family by performing odd jobs for different people, at times marred by violence, with prize fights every now and then. He always won. People put bets on him, and many more made money out of his victories. At the end of the day, there’s Cathy, Daddy and Daniel.

Living outside the realms of what “normal” is, him and Cathy were often bullied by other children. On one occasion where Cathy fought back, she was reprimanded and got in trouble instead of the boys who mocked and bothered them. Daddy was somber when he was told.

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#GetLit: Kazuo Ishiguro & #FilBookFest

#GetLit

Me and my boots at the Color Factory in San Francisco, CA 

My current mood is perfectly depicted in the photo above. The world is wearing me out, tbvfh. In the past week, almost 60 people were killed as a gunman peppered attendees of a country music festival with bullets. Hundred were injured. In the past weeks, hurricanes ravaged Texas and Puerto Rico, while earthquakes killed many in Mexico.

To make matters worse, the presidency has proven itself to be even worse than anticipated, with Trump mouthing off the most ridiculous things to have ever been uttered by anyone, ever. There’s blatant corruption, no sign of compassion or empathy but rather strong displays of bigotry, misogyny and racism. It seems like we’re regressing further into the abyss, with the rollback of DACA, numerous attempts of overturning Obamacare, the reinstatement of the Muslim Ban, a tax proposal which prioritizes the wealthiest and so many more.

And so I hide. I hide in my books, in the small (yet grand in many ways) comforts of arts and music, in the day-to-day moments of wonder I’ve been able to grasp. I find hope in literature, as a means to ground myself in the lessons of the past, what we’re dealing in the future, and what the future could look like as we shape it. I feel a certain type of restlessness, so I wander, reveling in new places and new faces. At the same time, I also turn inwards, finding solitude more and more nourishing.

It may just be a change of season, the wind blowing in a different direction. A few days ago, I woke up to news of British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

I thought of Haruki Murakami right away, the other famed Japanese novelist, whose books I never really liked. I’ve never read any of Ishiguro’s work before so I can’t say I’m familiar with his work, but pieces like this — first reviews of every Ishiguro novel — certainly help. And as if I needed another nod to make my way to Green Apple Books this weekend for copies of Ishiguro’s books, I came across this:

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Oh, Pico.

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In other news, I’ve been slowly cranking out book reviews so if you’re looking for your next best read, here are some links to help you out:

Loving in Ireland, with John Boyne (A Book Review of The Heart’s Invisible Furies)

On Separation, Family and Revolution, with Derek Palacio (A Book Review of The Mortifications)

This Body Is, with Roxane Gay (A Book Review of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body)

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Five Books You Should Read This Year

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Lastly, the Filipino Book Festival is happening this weekend in San Francisco — let me know if you will be too, let’s link up! In the meantime, happy reading!

Five Books You Have to Read This Year

Sunday Spotlight

It’s about to be sweater weather. Cuffing season. Time to layer up as the year comes to an end and breeze through the chills with a warm cup of cocoa and the next best thing: a real good book.

The second year of Libromance has been busier, with more titles and more features, a reading challenge and more on the way. It’s been an exhilarating ride with new releases too, as I widen my own repertoire of books to be read from outside the U.S.

I am particularly in awe of books by women that have made it to my reading list, and what better way is there to end the year than by reading them? From lists I’ve made last year which included best-of’s, most of those listed were by men. Quite overwhelmingly. Whitehead, Nguyen, De Botton. There are days when I do question my own taste, but I can’t really help but be drawn to work that moves me, regardless of who the writer is.

This time around though, I’ve been engaged with the work of several women who have made me cry, questioned my beliefs, had me heaving with fury at midnight. From tales about love, family and friendship, these books are guaranteed to stay with you for awhile after you’ve read them, even throughout your whole lifetime, as they do with me.

Here are five books I recommend reading by the year ends:

9781501126062Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Why this book: If you’re looking for a book about family and all of its tender and brutal complications, this is for you. Set in Mississippi, Ward’s book also deals with being haunted by the past and the present, from poverty to drugs to love.

35711376Elmet by Fiona Mozley (book review out next week!)

Why this book: I’m not really into gothic literature but this won me over. A tale of a small family — Daniel, Cathy and Dad — somewhere in the outskirts of a small town in Ireland, this book looks at the intricacies of living outside the norm, and the depths of what people will do for family.

9781101870730Autumn by Ali Smith

Why this book: Ali Smith was an unknown figure to me before I embarked on my #FinestFiction reading challenge, but I feel like a whole new world has just opened up. This book is about an unlikely friendship and how to view the world upside down.

y648Hunger: A Memoir of my Body by Roxane Gay (book review out this week!)

Why this book: Because Gay writes truthfully, painfully, beautifully. This book is Gay’s memoir about her trauma and how she’s learned how to cope with it. It is about one person’s experience with food, family, desire and intimacy.

61s1ostd2bgl-_sx346_bo1204203200_The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Why this book: This is a searing but also complicated story of India — complete with culture, societal and political upheavals. This is the story of outlaws and misfits. Of women conquering the world’s demands on them, the most awaited from Roy since The God of Small Things.

Have you read or read any of these books? Are you planning to read any or all of them? Let me know in the comments below!

#GetLit: On Dreaming & DACA

#GetLit

I stand for the Dreamers. 

Back in 2010, I stood in the humid heat of Washington, D.C. as I got ready to lobby for the first time ever. As a young immigrant myself, I couldn’t imagine what those like myself had to go through, on top of being undocumented.

Life for newly immigrated folks is never easy. It is even harder when you don’t have the ability to go to school or get a job because of your immigration status. That day, I resolved to fight for immigrant youth even harder, specially my undocumented familia.

Back then, it was the DREAM Act: Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors which aimed to provide qualifying undocumented minors conditional residency and after awhile, permanent residency. This bill first proposed in 2001 would have enabled undocumented youth who entered the country before 2007 to be eligible to go to school, qualify for scholarships and grants, and have employment opportunities.

But since we’re living in a fascist, racist, white supremacist, xenophobic, transphobic and toxic place of a state, all of that was wiped out with an announcement from Jeff Sessions on September 5th on Trump’s orders.

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Source: The Nation

So what’s next?

It feels like every day is an entirely different struggle, Trump dropping the next bomb to distract and divide us all in different issue groups.

In the meantime, I’m grateful and beyond empowered to support the #DefendDACA movement across the nation. Here are some resources to know and have while this is happening.

At the end of the day, I will #DefendDACA until the DREAM Act — which includes a path to citizenship — is duly approved by Congress. I’m just hoping that that actually comes to fruition, in spite of a regressive and reactionary-controlled Congress.

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In other news, I published my book review for Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado this week! Check out my highlights from this trove of Filipino spoken word poems:

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If you’re looking for literary resources and books on immigrants and refugees,
here are a few from the blog:

Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West 
Mia Alvar’s In the Country: Short Stories
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer 
Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds