I'll be honest. "Pinoy Pride!" and "I'm so proud to be Filipino!" mantras aside, I only read this book because I heard that a Jose Rizal protegee has managed to penetrate the international publishing market with this debut novel. Thank you for living my dreams, but I will not sugarcoat this review and worship the ground that she stands on (ahem Charice fans ahem) just because me and the author shame the same ethnic background.
So here's my untainted opinion about this book that has been covering the shelves of local bookstores lately. It was... okay.
Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max; same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose; he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem; how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down; if it is really Max and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.
Let it be clear that I am not a fan of semi-supernatural love stories. Either have a whole new world of mystical beings such as vampires having relationship with slayers and wizard friends slowly falling for each other or have a completely realistic circumstances (albeit unlikely) set in places that actually exist in real life.
That said, this novel is exactly at the middle of these parameters, much like The Time Traveler's Wife. But as much as adore that book, I can't quite say that with this publication . It doesn't mean that it's not any good nor doesn't deserve to be read. I've read lots of reviews praising the prose. I guess it just didn't fit with my tastes and expectations.
For me, the greatest weakness of the novel is the lack of an actual main plot and a satisfying ending to answer the mystery that has been slowly building up since the first page. The book is made up of endless short stories, spanning from a few decades ago to the beginning of civilization, portraying different characters and explaining historical sites, all of which are interesting, but after the nth flashback, I just wanted to skip all the Mother Goose tales and get back to the real plot. Unfortunately, this finally happened with only a handful of pages left, which were not sufficient to quench this reader's appetite for plot hole clarifications.
I do have to applaud the novel for the witty and superb writing style that made me stay with the book up until the end. The characters are likeable enough, I admittedly found myself swooning every time Max is on the page. For a romance novel, it lacked a few passionate punches here and there. It did, however, make me crave for baked eggs and cheese.
It was not an unputdownable book, nor a novel that would haunt me long after reading the last word, but I did pick up a few things from the journey, and that in itself made it worth the time and effort.
Now, if I can only find the recipe for that infamous Baked Eggs & Cheese.