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The Assassins' Gate : America in Iraq

The Assassins\' Gate : America in IraqAs the death toll mounts in the Iraq War, Americans are agonizing over how the mess started and what to do now. George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, joins the debate with his thoughtful book The Assassins' Gate. Packer describes himself as an ambivalent pro-war liberal "who supported a war [in Iraq] by about the same margin that the voting public had supported Al Gore." He never believed the argument that Iraq should be invaded because of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he saw the war as a way to get rid of Saddam Hussein and build democracy in Iraq, in the vein of the U.S. interventions in Haiti and Bosnia.

How did such lofty aims get so derailed? How did the U.S. get stuck in a quagmire in the Middle East? Packer traces the roots of the war back to a historic shift in U.S. policy that President Bush made immediately after 9/11. No longer would the U.S. be hamstrung by multilateralism or working through the UN. It would act unilaterally around the world--forging temporary coalitions with other nations where suitable--and defend its status as the sole superpower. But when it came to Iraq, even Bush administration officials were deeply divided. Packer takes readers inside the vicious bureaucratic warfare between the Pentagon and State Department that turned U.S. policy on Iraq into an incoherent mess. We see the consequences in the second half of The Assassins' Gate, which takes the reader to Iraq after the bombs have stopped dropping. Packer writes vividly about how the country deteriorated into chaos, with U.S. authorities in Iraq operating in crisis mode. The book fails to capture much of the debate about the war among Iraqis themselves--instead relying mostly on the views of one prominent Iraqi exile--but it is an insightful contribution to the debate about the decisions--and blunders--behind the war. --Alex Roslin

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Marley & Me : Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog

Marley & Me : Life and Love with the World\'s Worst DogLabrador retrievers are generally considered even-tempered, calm and reliable;and then there's Marley, the subject of this delightful tribute to one Lab who doesn't fit the mold. Grogan, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his wife, Jenny, were newly married and living in West Palm Beach when they decided that owning a dog would give them a foretaste of the parenthood they anticipated. Marley was a sweet, affectionate puppy who grew into a lovably naughty, hyperactive dog. With a light touch, the author details how Marley was kicked out of obedience school after humiliating his instructor (whom Grogan calls Miss Dominatrix) and swallowed an 18-karat solid gold necklace (Grogan describes his gross but hilarious "recovery operation"). With the arrival of children in the family, Marley became so incorrigible that Jenny, stressed out by a new baby, ordered her husband to get rid of him; she eventually recovered her equilibrium and relented. Grogan's chronicle of the adventures parents and children (eventually three) enjoyed with the overly energetic but endearing dog is delivered with great humor. Dog lovers will love this account of Grogan's much loved canine.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12)

The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12)Q: Your Wikipedia (online encyclopedia) entry defines you as author, screenwriter, and accordionist. Is that how you would describe yourself?
A: I find that nothing makes people back away faster at a social gathering than "accordionist." Except perhaps "screenwriter." And, even "author" always makes people nervous, so I usually say "writer."

Q: How long have you been writing?
A: All my life really, since I was able to write all I wanted to do was write. I think largely I ended up becoming a writer because I could think of nothing else that I was good at--at all. As a kid, I always wanted to be a writer, and I had no backup plan whatsoever as an adult.

Q: Are the Baudelaire children ever going to be happy?
A: Well, they are happy on a regular basis, just not for very long. Um, are they ever going to be happy permanently? I don't know any permanently happy people, thank goodness.

Q: Okay, then is the series going to end on a happy note?
A: Well, I always remind readers of the Snicket books that happy is a comparative term, so the end will be happier than some people would think, but less happy than others.

Q: When can fans expect the final book?
A: I believe the thirteenth volume will be released in the fall of 2006, although something terrible could happen to the author at any moment and then the books would not be released at all.

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The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first CenturyThomas L. Friedman is not so much a futurist, which he is sometimes called, as a presentist. His aim, in his new book, The World Is Flat, as in his earlier, influential Lexus and the Olive Tree, is not to give you a speculative preview of the wonders that are sure to come in your lifetime, but rather to get you caught up on the wonders that are already here. The world isn't going to be flat, it is flat, which gives Friedman's breathless narrative much of its urgency, and which also saves it from the Epcot-style polyester sheen that futurists--the optimistic ones at least--are inevitably prey to.

What Friedman means by "flat" is "connected": the lowering of trade and political barriers and the exponential technical advances of the digital revolution have made it possible to do business, or almost anything else, instantaneously with billions of other people across the planet. This in itself should not be news to anyone. But the news that Friedman has to deliver is that just when we stopped paying attention to these developments--when the dot-com bust turned interest away from the business and technology pages and when 9/11 and the Iraq War turned all eyes toward the Middle East--is when they actually began to accelerate. Globalization 3.0, as he calls it, is driven not by major corporations or giant trade organizations like the World Bank, but by individuals: desktop freelancers and innovative startups all over the world (but especially in India and China) who can compete--and win--not just for low-wage manufacturing and information labor but, increasingly, for the highest-end research and design work as well. (He doesn't forget the "mutant supply chains" like Al-Qaeda that let the small act big in more destructive ways.) Friedman tells his eye-opening story with the catchy slogans and globe-hopping anecdotes that readers of his earlier books and his New York Times columns will know well, and also with a stern sort of optimism. He wants to tell you how exciting this new world is, but he also wants you to know you're going to be trampled if you don't keep up with it. His book is an excellent place to begin. --Tom Nissley

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)The long-awaited, eagerly anticipated, arguably over-hyped Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has arrived, and the question on the minds of kids, adults, fans, and skeptics alike is, "Is it worth the hype?" The answer, luckily, is simple: yep. A magnificent spectacle more than worth the price of admission, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will blow you away. However, given that so much has gone into protecting the secrets of the book (including armored trucks and injunctions), don't expect any spoilers in this review. It's much more fun not knowing what's coming--and in the case of Rowling's delicious sixth book, you don't want to know. Just sit tight, despite the earth-shattering revelations that will have your head in your hands as you hope the words will rearrange themselves into a different story. But take one warning to heart: do not open Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until you have first found a secluded spot, safe from curious eyes, where you can tuck in for a good long read. Because once you start, you won't stop until you reach the very last page.

A darker book than any in the series thus far with a level of sophistication belying its genre, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince moves the series into murkier waters and marks the arrival of Rowling onto the adult literary scene. While she has long been praised for her cleverness and wit, the strength of Book 6 lies in her subtle development of key characters, as well as her carefully nuanced depiction of a community at war. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, no one and nothing is safe, including preconceived notions of good and evil and of right and wrong. With each book in her increasingly remarkable series, fans have nervously watched J.K. Rowling raise the stakes; gone are the simple delights of butterbeer and enchanted candy, and days when the worst ailment could be cured by a bite of chocolate. A series that began as a colorful lark full of magic and discovery has become a dark and deadly war zone. But this should not come as a shock to loyal readers. Rowling readied fans with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by killing off popular characters and engaging the young students in battle. Still, there is an unexpected bleakness from the start of Book 6 that casts a mean shadow over Quidditch games, silly flirtations, and mountains of homework. Ready or not, the tremendous ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will leave stunned fans wondering what great and terrible events await in Book 7 if this sinister darkness is meant to light the way. --Daphne Durham

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Eldest (Inheritance, Book 2)

Eldest (Inheritance, Book 2)Surpassing its popular prequel Eragon, this second volume in the Inheritance trilogy shows growing maturity and skill on the part of its very young author, who was only seventeen when the first volume was published in 2003. The story is solidly in the tradition (some might say derivative) of the classic heroic quest fantasy, with the predictable cast of dwarves, elves, and dragons--but also including some imaginatively creepy creatures of evil.

The land of Alagaesia is suffering under the Empire of the wicked Galbatorix, and Eragon and his dragon Saphira, last of the Riders, are the only hope. But Eragon is young and has much to learn, and so he is sent off to the elven forest city of Ellesmera, where he and Saphira are tutored in magic, battle skills, and the ancient language by the wise former Rider Oromis and his elderly dragon Glaedr. Meanwhile, back at Carvahall, Eragon's home, his cousin Roran is the target of a siege by the hideous Ra'zac, and he must lead the villagers on a desperate escape over the mountains. The two narratives move toward a massive battle with the forces of Galbatorix, where Eragon learns a shocking secret about his parentage and commits himself to saving his people.

The sheer size of the novel, as well as its many characters, places with difficult names, and its use of imaginary languages make this a challenging read, even for experienced fantasy readers. It is essential to have the plot threads of the first volume well in mind before beginning--the publisher has provided not only a map, but a helpful synopsis of the first book and a much-needed Language Guide. But no obstacles will deter the many fans of Eragon from diving headfirst into this highly-awaited fantasy. (Ages 12 and up) --Patty Campbell

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Inkheart

InkheartMeggie’s father, Mo, has an wonderful and sometimes terrible ability. When he reads aloud from books, he brings the characters to life--literally. Mo discovered his power when Maggie was just a baby. He read so lyrically from the the book Inkheart, that several of the book’s wicked characters ended up blinking and cursing on his cottage floor. Then Mo discovered something even worse--when he read Capricorn and his henchmen out of Inkheart, he accidentally read Meggie’s mother in.

Meggie, now a young lady, knows nothing of her father's bizarre and powerful talent, only that Mo still refuses to read to her. Capricorn, a being so evil he would "feed a bird to a cat on purpose, just to watch it being torn apart," has searched for Meggie's father for years, wanting to twist Mo's powerful talent to his own dark means. Finally, Capricorn realizes that the best way to lure Mo to his remote mountain hideaway is to use his beloved, oblivious daughter Meggie as bait!

Cornelia Funke’s imaginative ode to books and book lovers is sure to be enjoyed by fans of her breakout debut, The Thief Lord, and young readers who enjoyed the similarly themed The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley. (Ages 10 to 15) --Jennifer Hubert

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Inkspell

InkspellJust a few chapters into Inkspell, Mo (a.k.a. "Silvertongue") sagely says to his daughter, "Stories never really end, Meggie, even if the books like to pretend they do. Stories always go on. They don't end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page." A fitting meta-observation for this, the unplanned second installment in Cornelia Funke's beloved now-trilogy.

Of course, it's that sort of earnest, almost gushing veneration of books and book-loving that made the absorbing suspense-fantasy Inkheart so wonderful in the first place, with that lit-affection getting woven integrally into the plot (Inkheart being both Funke's first book in the series, and the fictitious book within that book, authored by the frustrated Fenoglio, now trapped within the book, er, within the book. Fenoglio, perhaps not surprisingly, self-referentially wishes in Inkspell that he had written a sequel to Inkheart.) Inkspell should serve as a special treat for fans of the first book, as characters from Inkheart who have found themselves in the "real world" (if there is such a thing) find themselves read back into their own mythic, word-spun world--along with some of our favorite "real-world" characters. As with the previous book, Funke's greatest accomplishment here is telling such a rich and involving (and fun!) story, while still managing sweet, subtle commentary on the nature of words and meaning. Expect a tantalizing finale, too--as Funke says, "No reader will forgive me the ending, though, without a part three." (Ages 8 and up) --Paul Hughes

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Why Do I Love These People? : Honest and Amazing Stories of Real Families

Why Do I Love These People? : Honest and Amazing Stories of Real FamiliesThe 19 families profiled in this absorbing book face a familiar litany of domestic dysfunction: infidelities, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, messy divorces and the intergenerational estrangement of immigrants. Novelist and social documentarian Bronson (What Should I Do with My Life?) finds the solutions to their dilemmas in the good old-fashioned elements of character and action, as people take stock of themselves and their motivations and painstakingly piece together their relationships and lives. Bronson's is an unromantic view of family life; its foundations, he believes, are not soul-mate bonding or dramatic emotional catharses, but steady habits of hard work and compromise, realistic expectations and the occasional willingness to sever a relationship that's beyond repair. But he also has an optimistic view of today's crazy-quilt of blended and unconventional families, reassuring commitment-shy young adults that "the golden era of family is not in our past, it's in our future." Bronson occasionally lapses into shallow pop psychology, as when he chalks up one husband's philandering to the oxytocin "high" caused by sex with someone new. But usually he offers a probing, clear-eyed, hopeful narrative of familial problems that many readers will recognize. Photos.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Made in America: From Levi\'s to Barbie to Google

Made in America: From Levi\'s to Barbie to GoogleIt's still a part of the American dream: come up with a useful and fun invention or product, bring it to market and make a fortune selling it, and even end up changing the world in ways large and small. In this colorful, fact-filled book, author and lover-of-all-things-American Nick Freeth chronicles the 210 products that have become a common part of everyday life, but have still made their unique mark on the world. The "Stuff of American Life" ranges from the accidental invention of the world's most successful drink(Coca-Cola); a scientist's "Eureka moment" and creation of a toy based on physics (Slinky); pants made from a fabric tough enough for cowboys that are now worn across the globe (Levi's); 20th-century automotive achievements like the stylish Corvette and luxurious Cadillac; or cutting-edge technology like Windows or Google that continue to change our world today.

Each iconic product was specially photographed and is accompanied by a concise history, fascinating trivia, and key information including manufacture dates and locations, product variations, pop culture references, and more fun "factoids" that trivia buffs will love. As part of his research, Freeth worked with a panel of academics and journalists and contacted each company to gather little-known tidbits about each object and how it came to be Made in America.

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A Man without a Country

A Man without a CountryA Man Without a Country is Kurt Vonnegut's hilarious and razor-sharp look at life ("If I die-God forbid-I would like to go to heaven to ask somebody in charge up there, ‘Hey, what was the good news and what was the bad news?'"), art ("To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it."), politics ("I asked former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton what he thought of our great victory over Iraq and he said, ‘Mohammed Ali versus Mr. Rogers.'"), and the condition of the soul of America today ("What has happened to us?"). Gleaned from short essays and speeches composed over the last five years and plentifully illustrated with artwork by the author throughout, A Man Without a Country gives us Vonnegut both speaking out with indignation and writing tenderly to his fellow Americans, sometimes joking, at other times hopeless, always searching.

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PostSecret : Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

PostSecret : Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary LivesA contributor on Postsecret.com
"Humanity at its finest . . . And because of it I am falling in love with the world again."

TIME.com, "50 Coolest Websites of 2005"
"A fascinating public airing of private thoughts. . . The range of efforts (meticulous, sloppy, artful, ponderous) will astound you."

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The Point of Fracture

The Point of FractureThis literate potboiler explores how far a damaged spouse will go to frame her husband for a crime. Michael Brace is a novelist-turned-layabout, sucking dry a small inheritance along with untold bottles of bourbon. His latest stalled project represents his attempt to understand the effect years of childhood abuse have had on his wife, who spends most of her time locked in the master bedroom of their Alabama home battling migraines. When Suzanne discovers the manuscript, she channels her rage into an elaborate plot against Michael. But while it's interesting to watch her vengeful plan unfold, it mostly feels like an intellectual exercise. Not much is revealed about Suzanne beyond her anger, and it's hard to care for Michael when he can't be bothered to care for himself. And just when attorney Hollon seems poised to kick the story into high gear with a dramatic court case, he instead brings it to an abrupt close with one of the oddest deus ex machina devices in the genre. The book is fine for what it is, but it could have been much more. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


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Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Memories of My Melancholy Whores "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." So begins Memories of My Melancholy Whores, and it becomes even more unlikely as the novel unfolds. This slim volume contains the story of the sad life of an unnamed, only slightly talented Colombian journalist and teacher, never married, never in love, living in the crumbling family manse. He calls Rosa Cabarcas, madame of the city's most successful brothel, to seek her assistance. Rosa tells him his wish is impossible--and then calls right back to say that she has found the perfect girl.

The protagonist says of himself: "I have never gone to bed with a woman I didn't pay ... by the time I was fifty there were 514 women with whom I had been at least once ... My public life, on the other hand, was lacking in interest: both parents dead, a bachelor without a future, a mediocre journalist ... and a favorite of caricaturists because of my exemplary ugliness."

The girl is 14 and works all day in a factory attaching buttons in order to provide for her family. Rosa gives her a combination of bromide and valerian to drink to calm her nerves, and when the prospective lover arrives, she is sound asleep. Now the story really begins. The nonagenarian is not a sex-starved adventurer; he is a tender voyeur. Throughout his 90th year, he continues to meet the girl and watch her sleep. He says, "This was something new for me. I was ignorant of the arts of seduction and had always chosen my brides for a night at random, more for their price than their charms, and we had made love without love, half-dressed most of the time and always in the dark, so we could imagine ourselves as better than we were ... That night I discovered the improbably pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty."

Márquez's style never falters throughout this recounting of his life and his exploration of love, found at an unexpected time and place. The erstwhile lover is still capable of being surprised--and fulfilled. After an absence of ten years, it is a treat to have another parable from the master. --Valerie Ryan

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Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)Long-awaited doesn't begin to describe this fourth installment in bestseller Martin's staggeringly epic Song of Ice and Fire. Speculation has run rampant since the previous entry, A Storm of Swords, appeared in 2000, and Feast teases at the important questions but offers few solid answers. As the book begins, Brienne of Tarth is looking for Lady Catelyn's daughters, Queen Cersei is losing her mind and Arya Stark is training with the Faceless Men of Braavos; all three wind up in cliffhangers that would do justice to any soap opera. Meanwhile, other familiar faces—notably Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen—are glaringly absent though promised to return in book five. Martin's Web site explains that Feast and the forthcoming A Dance of Dragons were written as one book and split after they grew too big for one volume, and it shows. This is not Act I Scene 4 but Act II Scene 1, laying groundwork more than advancing the plot, and it sorely misses its other half. The slim pickings here are tasty, but in no way satisfying. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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