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Review: Yes Please

Yes Please
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised at how much I liked this one. I just finished Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and while that was entertaining and funny, I felt it was a little on the light side. I’ve always preferred Tina somehow, probably because she I heard of her first (and I didn’t watch SNL then, unlike now). Patently unfair, but what can you do? Sometimes the first you’ve heard of something attaches itself to your psyche so strongly it becomes difficult to dislodge (e.g. the first book/movie/song you ever loved).

Listening to this, Poehler polevaults herself to first place (ok not really, but co-first place with Fey). She comes across as warm and tender, genuine, reflective and of course, funny. I loved the parts when she talks about her marriage/divorce, relationships, her two boys (I loved this the best – as a parent I know what she means here) and the virtue of hardwork and constantly trying. It resonated with me, that she’s just another person, albeit an extremely lucky one. But somehow you feel she deserved it in the end, because this wasn’t unearned. I loved the life lessons her parents impart. It’s largely a more personal, more emotional book compared to Bossypants.

I wanted to also point out about the parts where she complains about the process of writing this book. This whiny section would probably put some people off, but having aspirations to write myself, I find this chapter amusing, inspiring and motivating. I appreciated her sharing the difficulties in embarking on this, and the fact that I’m reading the finished product means I should really get cracking. I really liked this part.

Structurally not too different from Bossypants. Origin story, life growing up, life before becoming famous, traveling around in improv groups, stories while performing, being in SNL, life after SNL in their respective TV shows, their personal lives, juggling work and children, shoutout to important/influential figures in their lives, general life lessons, plenty of jokes and laughs, etc. But I think Yes Please benefits from coming after.

If it wasn’t obvious before, I listened to both Fey’s and this book as audiobooks. Make no mistake, this is a performance piece, meant to be heard than read. Of course, I’d imagine reading this isn’t too bad either, but Poehler roped in people like Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, Seth Meyers to read her book. She even had her parents chime in. The last chapter was a recording of a live reading somewhere, and the delivery and the subsequent reaction from the crowd was wonderful to hear.

Therefore, as a book, and an audiobook, Yes Please is a better read (or listen. I’m having a disagreement with a friend on the difference. Although in this and several other instances, listen is probably more correct, since the audiobook offers a little more than the book in terms of banter between guest readers and audience response).

I dislike celebrity, as in celebrity news, who is with whom, the spates, the dramas – all these don’t interest me. Much less a memoir! I picked up Fey and Poehler’s books partly because I really like them and admire them as comedians and hope the books would be funny. I had read David Sedaris’s Naked (excellent!) and Jon Stewart’s Naked Pictures of Famous People (damn, is there a trend here?), so it’s not my first book from celebrity comedians. I also had the hope that Fey’s and Poehler’s would offer close up views of their world of showbiz, especially those of SNL. There’s unfortunately no dirt, but it was certainly fun and funny.

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Review: Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight full-cast BBC radio dramatisations

Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight full-cast BBC radio dramatisations
Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight full-cast BBC radio dramatisations by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poirot is not Holmes, but he’s still very entertaining. A full cast dramatization of 8 of his cases, and it’s absolutely sumptuous. Wait, I used the word ‘sumptuous’. That’s a silly word, and shouldn’t have a place in reviews, along with words like ‘titillating’ and ‘awesome possum’.

Anyway, it was a superbly entertaining.

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Review: Jet Black and the Ninja Wind

Jet Black and the Ninja Wind
Jet Black and the Ninja Wind by Leza Lowitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Of all the warrior classes I’ve encountered in my reading while young, ninja is cooler than samurais, samnites, amazonians, barbarians, knights, monks, kungfu hermits, Bruce Lee, muay thai fighters, and sumo wrestlers. Maybe it’s the cool outfit, or the exotic weapons. I’ve always liked ninjas. As I grew older, somehow this carried over to literature, and while it isn’t a genre I actively seek, books with ninjas always catch my eye.

I saw this book in Soekarno-Hatta and picked it up, enticed by the back cover blurb. It’s written by a Japanese-American couple, and it’s filled with ninja lore and history. I loved how the main character, Jet, comes into her own as she learns of her innate ninja skills, and the reader learns along with her. The history and the mythology were fascinating and very interesting indeed. I was surprised to also learn about the Navajo as well, and the authors were clever to draw the parallels between the plight of the ninjas and The Long Walk.

The action sequences were described in the context of the skills of the ninja, and for a ninja nerd, this was amazing. Just don’t ask me the names of the skills after the fact, though.

Ok, now for the not so good bits. First, and it must be obvious to anyone who sees this book in the stores, the title of the book was incredibly bad. It’s like a cross between an episode title of an 80’s cartoon or a poorly executed fart joke. I didn’t care for the titular character’s name too. Rika Kuroi is much better (and happens to be her real name too), and even Jet Kuroi was great. Jet Black sounds like a bad pun (which it is, especially since Kuroi actually means ‘black’). If it weren’t for my previously undiscovered need for ninja fiction I’d have walked right past.

Then there was the overall tone of the story. The circumstances surrounding Jet’s awakening was extremely bleak, and the events that followed more or less maintained that somber mood throughout. A new reader would have almost been lulled into a sense of adventure and fun from that wacky title of the book, and the contrast was stark.

And there was the 10-year old Hiro, trained since young but able to kick fully grown thugs despite an apparently quiet upbringing in the mountains. Every time he appeared in action I was reminded of the seminal, highly influential and iconic martial arts flick, The 3 Ninjas. But the tone! It was all wrong, this doesn’t read like a family movie at all!

Finally, the story. Now I think there ought to be a rule where if an amateur book reviewer complains about how the story isn’t ‘believable’ in a work of fiction, this person should clubbed by strangers in public with foam katanas. Having said that, the story, was, uhm, incredible. The leader of a team of thugs is a ninja teenager, who jeopardizes the entire mission of retrieving a treasure nobody knows exists because his heart goes aflutter after meeting a pretty girl. His employer, already wealthy, spends money to find unverified treasure, which surely is the last thing a greedy tycoon would do since it’s the surest way to lose money. He also owns an unleashed panther as a pet, which makes you wonder how the heck he became and stayed rich when we get to him in the book (you know, because he’s as dumb as a rock). My suspension-of-disbelief compass needle was spinning as fast as a shuriken in mid-flight.

Overall, I have to say I sorta enjoyed the book (hard to believe, I know). There was enough ninja mythology, legend and history here to scratch an itch, which frankly I hadn’t known was there. This book feels more ‘authentic’ than Lustbader’s Ninja, but I’m not sure it’s a runaway victor here.

If only there was a thriller steeped with ninja mythology and great martial arts action, marinated with a believable fictitious story that isn’t YA. Hmm…

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Review: Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was performed by Tina herself, and it’s like an extended storytelling session. Her origin story was a little on the thin side, or not fantastically memorable, and her SNL parts weren’t as long and juicy as I would have liked. I do enjoy her feelings about family, breastfeeding, raising a child whilst juggling her dream job doing 30 Rock. There were laugh out loud moments, but this being a performance not having the ability to highlight the funny bits makes it a little difficult for me to recount here.

This is a shorter book than I had expected, but fun.

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Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At last, one of the few books that has stayed the longest in my TBR list has now been completed, and it is delightful! There’s something mysterious, glamourous and oddly exciting about the mystical Orient Express, tinged with a whiff of legend. I’ve been enamoured with the Orient Express since my youth. An impossible escape and adventure, so far and so very different from the confines of KL.

So as one of the most famous Christie novels, I’m actually quite puzzled as to why it took me so long to get around to this. But I finally did, and it was very satisfying indeed. It’s different from a Arthur Conan Doyle story – one could almost imagine Holmes scoffing at Poirot’s multiple interviews with the same characters during the course of the day. But the puzzle was solved and solved well, so I’m happy.

The original proprietors of the Orient Express as it was known in the late 1800s is not more, and is now replaced by another firm who has taken over the legendary name. Everything is modern now, the coaches upgraded and stuff, and the journey has changed somewhat, but it’s still our era’s Orient Express. I fancy taking a trip with that sometime in hopefully not too distant a future.

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