Vivaldi’s Virgins

Antonio Vivaldi, also known as “the Red Priest,” is regarded as one of the most greatest Baroque composer, and is widely popular even to this day. He has over 500 concertos to his name, the most famous of which are the four violin concertos, “The Four Seasons.”

Vivaldi has always been one of my favorite classical composers, so the book Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick caught my eye at the NBS book bazaar a couple of years ago. I finally got to read it last month, because I badly needed a Q for the A-Z Challenge.

Continue reading “Vivaldi’s Virgins”

The Blood Stone

I spotted Jamila Gavin’s The Blood Stone in a bargain bin some months back; the squarish shape of the book caught my eye. Then I read the back of the book and I was even more intrigued — it promised “a dazzling whirlwind of a journey, over seas and across the desert, into the very heart of danger,” and the clincher — it starts out in Venice, one of my all-time favorite settings for a novel (yes, I judge the book by the setting)! At P40 (less than $1), I couldn’t pass.

I went on a daytrip out of town for work, and the first book I grabbed off the shelf happened to be this one, and I ended up finishing the novel even before I made it back to the city.

Continue reading “The Blood Stone”

World War II Challenge Wrap-Up


I successfully finished the War through the Generations World War II reading challenge this December, but I haven’t been able to blog properly in the last ten days or so, with the holiday rush. Hopefully this entry still makes it.

For 2009, I’ve read:

1) The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

2) Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

3) Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

4) Night by Elie Wiesel

5) Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

6) Maus by Art Spiegelman

This month, I finished Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli, and A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

Continue reading “World War II Challenge Wrap-Up”

The Lionboy series by Zizou Corder (Conclusion)

Books 4 and 5 for 2009
Lionboy: The Chase
Lionboy: The Truth

My first read for 2009 was the first book of the Lionboy series, which I deemed average, as it started out slow and took a while to pick up.

But getting through the first book was worth it, as the next books in the series prove why Lionboy holds up admirably as a fantasy series.

The series is quite inventive – a boy who can speak Cat; a world with no petroleum; a money-grubbing pharmaceutical giant that creates illnesses to generate a demand for its products; a pack of lions who want to go home – and the whole bliddy circus!

I think the mother-daughter team behind Zizou Corder really got into their groove with the next two books, which had me swiftly turning pages to the end. The story’s framework falls into place, and the story flows more fluidly.

I like the character development in the books, both for the human characters and the animals. Charlie Ashanti, the protagonist, grows on you, with his spunk, intelligence, and Dickensian goodness that shines through without appearing clichéd or contrived.

The rest of the humans make a delightful supporting cast – the misguided (and unlucky) Rafi; Charlie’s unconventional but loving parents Aneba and Magdalen; the half-crazed lion trainer Maccomo; the jolly adventurer King Boris and the loyal (and I suspect dreamy!) Claudio – but it is the animals who steal the show.

I have to say it again, I’m not a fan of talking animals, because they’re normally just two things – twee and cutesy, or excessively symbolic, but the main animal characters in Lionboy stand out because of the right mix of animal-ness and personification. It was also particularly enjoyable for me because of the instrumental roles that felines play in the series, although those who are freaked out by cats (I can think of certain people) would likely cringe while reading this book.

Of the lions, my favorites are Primo the smilodon, who evokes the raw earthiness of a prehistoric animal; and the feisty Elsina. Sergei the cat makes a wonderful wisecracking sidekick, while Ninu the chameleon was a stroke of genius.

Another thing I like about the book: the vivid descriptions. They live in a world similar to ours but gone off on a tangent, and it is successfully established in the little details incorporated into the story rather than handed out in tidy exposition. The adventure is also more exciting because the highly imaginative settings were truly fleshed out: the Circe, the floating circus, because it was wild and raucous as a circus should be; Venice, (I love books set in Venice – there’s just something magical and madly romantic about the place); the exotic Essaouira; and even the Corporacy communities – you could just feel what it’s like to live there.

Fred Van Deelen’s whimsical maps and illustrations also serve as the perfect complement to the vivid descriptions. There are score sheets interspersed with the text, too — the series has a soundtrack by Robert Lockhart, I hope I can find it on the Internet.

As the series progresses, it delves more and more into themes of environmentalism and stewardship, genetics, and even discrimination, and it’s admirable how it’s presented in a way a young reader would understand, without any preachy-ness to it, because they’re all incorporated into the story.

And one last highlight: the book is so bliddy British! I generally like British authors more than American ones (especially in fantasy, and in chicklit) because they write better, and the humor is just so spot on. And yes, you can read this book with an accent, and have loads of fun with the Britspeak, particular when Sergei or Rafi are speaking.

Yep, I’ve definitely had my kip.

My copy: Lionboy: The Chase, large paperback from the NBS bargain bin, about P99; Lionboy: The Truth, paperback, also from the NBS bargain bin, P30. See, impulse buys can pay off, and it feels much better when a bargain book turns out to be a great read! :)

My rating: Lionboy: The Chase, 4/5 stars; Lionboy: The Truth, 4/5 stars.
Lionboy series: 4/5 stars.

Photos from fantastic fiction UK

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

The Thief Lord opens in a detective’s office in Venice, where the horrible Hartliebs are engaging the services of private detective Victor Getz to find their two runaway nephews Bo and Prosper. The Hartliebs want to adopt Bo and send Prosper off to boarding school, but the brothers do not want to be separated so they run off to Venice.

In Venice, Bo and Prosper hook up with a feisty runaway girl named hornet, the hulky Mosca, the mischievous spiky-haired pickpocket Riccio, and Scipio, the Thief Lord, who takes care of all of them inside an abandoned old theater.

The plot thickens when a crooked antique dealer enlists the gang for a special mission, and Victor Getz is hot on their heels.

I’ve never read Cornelia Funke before, but I’d have to say that The Thief Lord is one of the best children’s books I have read. Since Cornelia Funke is German, it’s translated into English by Oliver Latsch, but I think it was an excellent translation because nothing seems to be awkward or vague.

It’s such a charming book with such endearing characters you can’t help but like it. It’s very Dickensian, sort of like Oliver Twist, with a bit of magic thrown in, and a whole lot funnier.

The book brings out the sights and sounds of Venice, and the description is so vivid that you can actually imagine you’re right there with the characters.

As books go, it’s not pretentious or ambitious, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s got a very classic feel to it, like it makes you feel good just reading it. You know, the sort of book that makes you want to live, because there’s such goodness in the world (haha, now where did that come from?) Just a beautifully written and exciting feel-good story.

Saw the movie recently and it’s an excellent adaptation, with unknown actors and excellent Venice scenery!

My copy: trade paperback upgraded into a hardcover with dustjacket, bought at Books for Less

My rating: 5/5 stars