- I’m alive! Sunday, January 24th, 2010
This marks the first post from The Languid Reader. I’m half-asleep at the moment, but when I get the chance to say more I shall.
The first thing you’ll learn about the Languid Reader is he’s very much that: languorous. Which means when I say ‘when I get a chance’, it means it could very well be next year.
We shall see.
- My Ideal Ebook Reader Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Ok, just before the planned announcement of Apple’s supposed ebook-killer tomorrow, I want to just put out there my list of features for my ideal ebook reader.
I’ve been in love with the idea of the ebook since I found out about the Rocket ebook reader, and I think this is way back in the early or mid 90s (I can’t go online and check as I’m typing this). The idea that I can lug around my library in a portable device that will enable me to read what I want, when I want? Fabulous.
I’ll get into the details of why I think ebooks are the bees’ knees, but I just want to say that having used myriad ebook reader software in multiple devices, portable or PC, have made it clearer in my mind what manner of form and function an ebook reader should have.
Here I’m specifically talking about a portable ebook-reading device, and not a smartphone, notebook or PC software (although a lot of these features are implemented as software for the said devices). The ebook-reading device may of course do other things (e.g. this supposedly multipurpose Apple tablet PC), but looking at its ebook reading abilities, it should cover the following features.
- Search. This for me represents one of the truest and most legitimate reason for loving ebooks.
- Speed. There should be no slowdowns for whatever reason. Ever.
- Font size control. Isn’t it obvious? I’m getting old. My eyes need a break.
- Colour control for both foreground and background. This is an immensely useful feature for controlling eyestrain. One of the first things I do is to invert the display colours; white words on black background. Of course, if the device is using e-ink, then this particular feature is moot, since an e-ink screen is not backlit like the screens of a computer or a smartphone.
- Annotation functionality, e.g. highlighting, notes, drawing. I remember gleefully highlighting quotables from Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray, making remembering witty repartees a little easier. Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t admit I do that.
- Ability to quickly find, purchase and download content. Apple pretty much spoilt us all with this, and as a direct consequence of iTunes device manufacturers everywhere now have to think about how to effectively and easily allow consumers to get content for their devices. This is a good thing.
- Ability to read the gazillion book formats out there. This gives me the option to purchase content from wherever I want, and I’m not locked down to a particular provider (read: iTunes). I own DRM-strapped content that I want to get access to using this device. Since I legally obtained these books, it should be my right to consume this same content in another device of my choosing.
- Integrated dictionary. This would be rank up there with searching as one of the more obvious yet incredibly useful ebook functions.
- Ability to handle uncommon typesets, fonts or drawings. Alfred Bester’s Stars My Destination has swirling and spiraling words, words going increasing larger and smaller to convey the psychedelic and heady experience the character was going through. Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy has drawings!
- Ability to handle colour. Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was laden with full colour comic strips. The reader should be able to handle these with aplomb.
- Since we’re talking pictures, zoom functionality for these pictures is paramount.
- Ability to display comics, and to display it well. It should have the display options relevant to comics reading: single page view, full double page spread, per panel, per row, zooming and rotation.
- Bookmarking facility. Of course, I’m expecting the device to always remember where I’ve been to last whenever I reopen an ebook (this is an absolute prerequisite). It would be great to have the ability to bookmark whichever page I want for a later revisit.
- The book-reading equivalent of the odometer. Captures reading statistics such as time spent reading book, at what speeds were different parts of the books were read, book reading speed per book and on average. Why would this be useful? Well, I’m a personal stats whore. Seeing an improvement in your reading reading speed, for example, is interesting. Comparing the numbers when you’re reading different materials can tell a lot about you as a reader. A reader’s profile, if you will.
- An easy to use page navigation system would be welcome. Whether I want to turn to the next page, or to jump to different chapters or pages, it should be as easy as pie.
- It has to run weeks between charges. I already have an inordinate number of electrical chargers that I have to lug with me for my various devices when I travel, and I don’t want another one.
- So ok, if the reader can handle media other than books, that’s ok too. Stuff like pictures shouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination. But I won’t exactly stamp my feet if it doesn’t play music, audiobooks or movies. Although it would be nice if it did. Even if it runs against my wish to have the device last for weeks between charges. In fact, this is the only reason I’ll accept if the device’s batteries don’t last very long.
- Newspaper or magazine subscriptions. This was not on my list for the longest time. Even when Kindle introduced it I was incredibly skeptical. But aside from books, I spend a lot of time reading magazines, periodicals and newspapers as well. imagine you can download the latest of these for immediate viewing on the device.
- Now this is incredibly important: it has to be inexpensive. To pay over RM1000 for what is essentially a tool to read a book, something that you can do with relatively cheaply and easily without such a device, is an incredibly tough sell. Unless there’s some other functionality offered that goes well beyond book reading, it won’t get my thumbs up without being reasonably priced. Don’t get me started about the prices of ebooks.
None of the ebook readers out in the market right now can do all of the above at present, chiefly due to the over-reliance on e-ink as the display of choice. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if we’re going the colour direction, either give me the colour e-ink, or just use a backlit screen. While all the fuss about backlit screens causing eye strain is actually true (I read lots on my Windows Mobile device, then Blackberry, in the bedroom with the lights off, so I can say this with some authority), I’d rather have the convenience of being able to read in the dark if I have to, than not being able to read anything at all on the e-ink display. Plus if you practice good reading habits and read with sufficient lighting (oops), the backlit screen will not be a problem.
So there. I’ll be interested to see exactly how many of these items here that Apple manages to hit.
- The iPad Is Not What I Expected Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Quick impressions on the iPad, hot on the heels of my list of features my ideal ebook reader should have.
I have to say I was just that teensy-weensy bit underwhelmed. The expectations for a larger iPhone or iPod Touch was bandied about with enough frequency that it would really be silly to expect anything less.
But what was surprising to me was how much it matched what is essentially the iPhone writ large. I did not expect that Apple would match what everyone has been saying for so long. In other words, almost everything that was predicted came true, hence no wow factor. At least for me.
I’ll wait till more information come out about the iBook app that’s bundled in the tablet to see how it measures up against my feature list.
- Review: Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson Sunday, March 21st, 2010
I suppose it’s fitting that the first review I have for the site is Sanderson’s Mistborn, for several reasons. First is, of course, the word ‘born’ is really apt considering this review marks the start of the Languid Reader reviews, which is the main objective of the site anyway (hey, I didn’t say they weren’t inane reasons). The second reason is this really sets the tone of who I am as a reader at this stage of my life – I’m a curmudgeonly person who finds it hard to like something for the smallest of reasons. I gripe and I nitpick, and will generally be disagreeable for silly reasons. Perhaps I’ve gotten too jaded, or maybe it’s the inability to process things intellectually in a complete and careful way that is making me feel this way. To risk the cliche, I say “but this is my blog…”.
I’m not new to Sanderson, having read his debut novel Elantris which arrived amidst general fanfare in 2005 and enjoyed it (more or less). There’s also the small matter of Sanderson being appointed to finish the run of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series after Jordan’s untimely demise. Apparently, if reports are to be believed, that commission came based on the strength of this very book I’m about review. So there’s a lot to imply that this book will not be a disappointment.
However, Mistborn was a bit of a disappointment.
I suppose I came to the book with high expectations. Having recently flipped through Elantris prior to this review, Sanderson does have the ability to tell a simple but effective story, and I came away generally impressed with what he accomplished with that one book. Mistborn, however, is the first of a trilogy, and perhaps Sanderson had to, uhm, watch the pace.
Mistborn is set in an apocalyptic world that is either in a fantastical past, or far-flung future as ashfall perpetually blankets the earth. The story begins with Kelsier, an unnaturally cheerful character for a leader of a bandit ring (complete with emotional baggage!) as he assembles a team to take down the supernatural Lord Ruler, leader of the Final Empire. Kelsier happens to be the only one who has ever escaped from the Pits of Hathsin, which is the Final Empire’s equivalent of Alcatraz, albeit without civil liberties for prisoner rights. As if that wasn’t enough, Kelsier is also a Mistborn, a rare manifestation of an innate ability to ‘burn’ metals to gain supernatural abilities.
A 16-year old street urchin called Vin is recruited along with the rest of Kelsier’s crew, and during the course of the adventure, discovers not only that she is also a Mistborn, but an incredibly powerful one at that. The story continues to follow her as the book progresses, as she discovers her destiny and place in the world.
I must admit I was compelled to stop reading several times early on in the novel. It wasn’t so much that the novel was incredibly badly written, it’s just the initial tedium of the prose and the clumsy scenes. There was one near the start where the thieving crew leader has a honest-to-goodness meeting that features perhaps the only medieval brainstorm session in literature (complete with a meeting secretary to take minutes!) to discuss ways to take down a ruling regime in place for thousands of years. The action items from this meeting was so open-ended and, in corporate parlance, ‘high-level’ that I literally laughed out loud. I have been party to many a corporate meeting, and having to read about one in a fantasy world is just wrong.
It’s also too long in length. I liked the progression of the plot, but Sanderson took his time doing it.
Sanderson also had opportunities, I felt, to make a more pronounced emotional connection as his heroes play in this world’s feudalistic society. As it stands, it’s very simple – the vassals to the Lord Ruler are evil bastards with carte blanche over the land or property in which he rules, and is possessed with a propensity to bully and oppress the slaves who work within the fiefdom.
There were saving graces to the book, of course. Sanderson spent some time developing a very unique magical system for this universe, totally different from the one he developed for Elantris, or anything else that I’ve yet encountered.
As a fantasy geek, one of the things that I really look forward in a new fantasy book is the technical engineering that goes into construction of the magical system. The author faces a unique challenge in that besides the obvious requisite skills in writing pleasant prose and a coming up with a good storyline, there is also the magical element. Some authors go into the minutiae (Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Farland’s Runelords series), while others gloss over the details (Harry Potter series, LOTR). Some authors ignore it completely; George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and Guy Gavriel Kay’s fares are examples where magic is nearly absent, yet does nothing to harm the quality of the stories they tell.
Sanderson invented a unique magical ecosystem that revolves around the consumption and the ‘burning’ of metals, known as Allomancy. Magic users in this world (called Allomancers) ingest trace amounts of metals, and then using them to fuel the different powers available to magic users. Different metals allow different abilities (pewter enhances strength, tin endows superhuman senses, etc). Mistborn are Allomancers who have the ability to multiple types of metals at once, and apparently Mistborns are very rare.
Sanderson’s system of Allomancy is novel and imaginative, although throughout the book I keep, for some unknown reason, conjuring up images of characters scraping their teeth against discarded pipes.
Having said all that, I’m cognizant of the fact that I did complete the book. Somehow I persisted, and 4353 clicks later (yes, I read this on my Blackberry, and no, it had no bearing on my thoughts of the book) I concluded that Sanderson did enough to keep me interested. The unique magical system helps keep the book interesting for a while more, at least..
If you’re on the lookout for an easy-to-pick up fantasy, then this will keep you purring with contentment.
I close knowing I will probably give the second book a go. Just not right away.
- Book Haul Wednesday, March 31st, 2010
Ok, something I got early this month.
- Anxious anticipation for Under Heaven Thursday, April 1st, 2010
Those who know me know I’m as close to a sucker for Guy Gavriel Kay as a leech is to a juicy exposed human foot (you know, when you’re hiking in a tropical forest reserve). I was over the moon when I found out he was doing a new novel, and it’s finally upon us. Under Heaven is due out this week in Canada, and I’m going to be getting my grubby hands on it the moment I see it on the shelves.
I just (literally seconds ago) finished the first chapter of Under Heaven, courtesy of Penguin Canada. I don’t want to judge an entire book from 28 pages of what is essentially a teaser, but let me just say that this is a fabulous return to form from his previous efforts Ysabel (which won the World Fantasy Award, so what the hell do I know, right?) and Last Light of the Sun. The writing is luscious and the pace deliciously, dare I say it, languid. A lot of the details in dynastic China seems quite spot on so far, but Kay always has an out, as he mentions in interviews; he’s not writing a story set in Tang Dynasty China, he’s writing a story inspired by Tang Dynasty China.
All I know is, after reading this chapter, I envy the bastards with the Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), and I want the bloody book in my hands now.
- Guy Gavriel Kay Video Interview Thursday, April 1st, 2010
And because I’m such a fanboy.
An interview with Guy Gavriel Kay on the imminent release of Under Heaven, and his work as a writer in general.
- “[I] didn’t start the fire, it was always burnin’, since the world’s been turnin’” Friday, April 2nd, 2010
This is perhaps less for you, dear reader, than it is for me. The question is why on earth would I want to start this, given that:
- I’ve already got a blog.
- I’ve got a book podcast, which at present isn’t out of the gate fast enough as it is.
Surely, if it’s online presence I need for my thoughts, aren’t there already several avenues for my fancies?
The idea for a book-specific blog has been floating in my head for some time. For a while now I’ve been thinking about the sort of things that slip through the cracks of our memories after we’ve finished reading. This accursed knowledge amortization, this puff of smoke effect after investing hours of our time reading is frustrating. As time goes along, I’m beginning to feel that the mind is like a sieve, rather than a vault.
There had been several books that I’ve read the last year that accentuated this feeling. Dan Ariely’s excellent and endlessly fascinating book, Predictably Irrational, is a study of how our seemingly random behaviour isn’t really that random after all. In fact, there are underlying factors that allows an accurate prediction as to what you will do in a particular situation – that there’s a reason why you will make bad decisions time after time, even to the best of us.
There were many scenarios presented in the book, and I’ve forgotten most of it already. This is ridiculous. IT WAS BRILLIANT, AND NOW I CAN’T REMEMBER WHY. That was just one example.
Any fiction? Geez, what about trying to remember more of the plot of a story rather than a general feeling of what I felt while reading it? Too many to count, so I won’t even try. Ok, one just popped into my head: Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant was forgettable (because I literally forgot about what it was all about completely). Oh, and Raymond E Feist’s Magician was quite bad too.
When I put forward that a particular piece of work sucked, I really would have liked to be able to remember to put my finger on it, rather than to talk about it in generalities.
“But The Languid Reader,” you say, “that’s just how it is. You can’t be expected to remember everything.” But don’t you wish you did? Something more than a wisp of a thought? You spent the hours actually consuming the information, and nothing to show for it besides being a little older?
I don’t expect to remember any better with this site, but at least I’ll have had to force myself to sit down and think about it. With this site my thoughts are at least crystallized, and hopefully with the passage of time will show me just show far I’ve grown (or regressed) since then.
This is an experiment, then. Let’s see how this turns out, shall we? If nothing else it’ll be an excuse to pepper the internet with my wit, bad writing and half-formed thoughts.
- At long, long last, Under Heaven has arrived! Saturday, July 31st, 2010
My autographed copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven has finally arrived yesterday, after many many months. I’ve been planning this since mid Feb 2010, so to finally get this is great! A friend (hey Tim!) has kindly offered to meet Kay personally during Kay’s book tour stop at Frye Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick on Apr 20, 2010.
Let me just say, when your favourite author signs something made out in your name, it’s a pretty darn good feeling.
Kay apparently doesn’t take instructions very well. I wanted him to write “To Donny, don’t worry, I’ll go to Malaysia… eventually!” but according to Tim he listened, bobbed his head, and wrote “To Donny, All Best Wishes, Guy Kay”. Even though Tim wrote my requested inscription out on a piece of card. Unacceptable, really. It simply means I’ll have to get his next book autographed again.
I have really high hopes for this one, because World Fantasy Award-winning Ysabel did not tweak my buttons too much.
- Long overdue update on book hauls Saturday, July 31st, 2010
It’s been a while, but now I’m catching up on a lot of overdue personal tasks. One of them happens to be an update to this site.
- Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, Alex Ross
- What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You (The Annexe Lectures, Vol. 1), Farish A Noor
These 2 were purchased separately – the Ross was really a fantastic find in a book sale bin.
At another binge, I picked these up:
- Samurai Champloo – The Complete 2 Volume Series, Masaru Gotsubo
- By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano
- NurtureShock, Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman
- The Worm Ouroboros, ER Eddison
- Spook, Mary Roach
- Kingdom Come, Mark Waid, Alex Ross
- Kick-Ass, Mark Millar, John Romita Jr
Yet another session:
- Book Haul from BookFest@Malaysia Sunday, September 12th, 2010
Here’s the latest haul from last Sunday’s visit to the Bookfest@Malaysia event from Popular Bookstores over in KLCC Convention Centre.
- Evening is the Whole Day, Preeta Samarasan
- The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
- Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand
- Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, Shamini Flint
- The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
- The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
- Under the Dome, Stephen King
- A Case of 2 Cities, Qiu Xiaolong
- Lois McMaster Bujold’s Entire Vorkosigan Series Back Catalogue for Free from Baen Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
One of my absolutely favourite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold (whom I’ve reviewed before, if you’re interested), has released the entire gamut of her back catalogue of her vaunted Vorkosigan Saga as ebooks. This includes her highly anticipated (some say long overdue) latest installment of the Miles Vorkosigan series of books called Cyroburn, “all of it beautifully unencrypted and unencumbered.”
The collection, called the Cyroburn CD, is distributed with the first edition hardcover of Cyroburn. You can also get it from http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/24-CryoburnCD/.
This isn’t the first time Baen pulled something like this. David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington series, also released his entire Honor Harrington back catalogue with the release of his latest (at the time) first edition hardcovers in a CD.
But Bujold. I approach her work with a little trepidation every time, because it’s a guaranteed time sink. I know I will get sucked in. This release has me absolutely delirious.
Books are not all there is on this CD. Oh no.
Also on this disk are interviews with author Lois McMaster Bujold, and various other interesting tidbits including a sample of the French language Miles Vorkosiagn graphic novel! More than fourteen novels for free—and with no stupid codes to work around. Think of that.
Baen explains this particular effort:
Why are we being so generous? Simple: we think the more people who read Ms. Bujold’s works the more people will buy them. Say, one set of hardcovers for yourself, a set of paperbacks to lend out, possibly even the next ebook when it comes out. And if you like the Vorkosiverse, we’re pretty sure you’ll like other Baen books, too.
Uhm, about the ‘other Baen books’ part. Now Baen isn’t the most prominent sf publishing house out there, and carrying John Ringo doesn’t help. Baen’s output has a certain signature to them that exude a certain sense of B-gradedness you can almost see. But they do have a very nice selection of good authors, and for me, Bujold is definitely one of the best.
Be that as it may, Baen has been on the forefront of the ebook publishing movement, and I’ve always cited them as a source worth checking out. But this move is bold and unexpected. The Baen Free Library usually holds back the really acclaimed books, but the full Vorkosigan catalogue from a Hugo and Award winning author?
I’ve been saying for years that if you haven’t yet sampled Bujold, you have to start and give yourself a treat.
If you don’t want to download the whole CD, and want to try the books individually, go to http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/24-CryoburnCD/CryoburnCD/ and download them in the ebook format of your choice.
I cannot recommend Bujold enough. Go get Cordelia’s Honor first and get started!
[Update 13 Dec 2010]
I just wanted to update that contrary to what I said in my post, note that there’s one novel from the Vorkosigan Saga that’s *not* included in the CD, and that’s Memory.
I searched the book listings and gone through the omnibus editions that are included for this CD, but unfortunately this book just isn’t there.
So it’s not the *complete* back catalogue. However, I have the actual dead-tree version of Memory, so I, at least, have the full set. I’m still happy.
- Book Haul from Big Bad Wolf Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
It’s starting to get silly for me to go to bookshops when the warehouse sales offer such a delectable selection of books at a price that simply cannot be denied.
A regular paperback is approximately RM35. I get these at RM8 each. Some a little more, but nothing more than RM12 or RM15.
This haul was from Oct this year.
- The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave
- Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon
- Busted Flush, George RR Martin, et al.
- Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber
- The Centauri Device, M John Harrison
- The Boat, Nam Le
- River of Gods, Ian M McDonald
- The Dream Archipelago, Christopher Priest
- Gateway, Frederick Pohl
- Man in the Dark, Paul Auster
- Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
- Once on a Moonless Night, Dai Sijie
- A Colossal Failure of Common Sense, Larry McDonald
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A Heinlein
- The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
- Beijing Coma, Ma Jian
- King Rat, China Mieville
- Scar Night, Alan Campbell
- The Sorrows of an American, Siri Hustvedt
- Cowboy Angels, Paul McAuley
- New Experiment–A Book Blog Directory Sunday, December 26th, 2010
Toying with a new experiment at the moment. I should really be doing Bookbabble episodes, and I may get to at least one today, but we’ll see how this one goes. Hopefully good news on the testing, at the end of which would be the birth of a pretty exciting little site. For me, at least.
- Reading: A Concise History of the Middle East Thursday, January 6th, 2011
Despite the rather tepid reviews in Amazon, I’ve settled down to the first hour of listening to the audiobook version of this baby, and am thoroughly enjoying it. It assumes that I’m a Western reader, which is rather off-putting, but the gentle treatment of the material so far has been fascinating. Of course, it could just be me being overly and unreasonably enamored over the trivial beginnings of the book.
History is fascinating. This was certainly not true when I was younger, but I’m finding as I’m growing older that the world is not only complex in nature, but endlessly interesting. Why did things happen they way they did, and does it explain why things are what they are now?
I find myself thrust into history because of my interest in politics, and surprised at finding out just how tightly intertwined the two subjects really are.
- MyBookFeeds.com is going beta! Saturday, January 8th, 2011
Well, this is exciting! The Malaysian Book Blogs Directory, MyBookFeeds, is now looking pretty good to go forward now. I think it’s pretty much ready for beta, and I’m excited to see where we will go with this. Go visit mybookfeeds.com now!
- One Format to Rule Them All… Saturday, February 19th, 2011
A daily routine conundrum, which leads to my wishful thinking but technically possible “big idea.”
Ok. I’m listening to a non-fiction audiobook at the moment, and the details as it’s dictated to me sometimes flies by at such a pace that it becomes impossible to digest at first try. More than once I mentioned to myself that it would be extremely useful to crosscheck the audio I’m hearing to the text of the actual source material. I would buy the book separately just so I can revisit some of the text that was read to me. Obviously in an audiobook you need to note the time signature of the section you want to revisit, but that is a little difficult when you have both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
It would be so much easier if I can somehow marry the audiobook and the ebook version of this piece of work, and allow me to manipulate either format and have that synced with the corresponding format.
Let me illustrate: I’m listening to the narrator saying something about the fall of the caliphate in Egypt and the uprising of the Young Turks a few chapters back and I want to revisit it. Instead of blindly jumping back and forth on the audiobook timeline, I do a search of the text I want on the ebook version, skim through to the section I want, and click play audiobook from there. Or alternately continue reading it from the ebook version itself.
This marries two fiercely independent pieces of work in terms of copyright, even though they are from the same source. There are legal precedents that strictly divides these two disparate artforms, and traditionally they don’t (and can’t, legally) mix.
But let say this marriage between the forms is possible. Why stop there?
I have this very vague idea of a new industry standard digital file format to encompass a singular piece of work in all its myriad digital incarnations. For example, a single digital file that holds the full text of Les Miserables, the unabridged audiobook that is synced with the text, the official (insofar as dictated by the publisher) abridged version of the same work, its accompanying audiobook, a graphic novel adaptation of the work, screenplay, songs with synced text of the lyrics, even movies or graphic novel adaptations.
This file format is not just an audiobook, or an ebook. It’s a universal container. A new metadata digital file.
All media players or ebook readers will read this one format, but can only playback the parts of the work that the device is designed to work with (i.e. the iPod is only able to playback the audiobook or songs portion of Les Mis work, while the Kindle only displays the ebook text. A computer is able to access all available formats included in this metafile).
Now I know how it crisscrosses across so many legal boundaries relating to the copyrights of each of these individual pieces of work. This is a high-level idea for now, and the legalities will have to be dealt with later.
The idea is crystalizing slowly, and I’m thinking that it will only give me rest if I give it a little more form. Areas of concern include how to include more formats of the work in the same file, who owns the overarching metadata of this meta file? How to add pieces of work to the same file, as and when it becomes available?
I’ll probably write more later.
- Dead-Tree Book to the Rescue Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
I was reading Bujold’s Cetaganda from my cache of the Vorkosigan ebooks (as I detailed here), when my son decided it was his turn on the iPad or he’ll not want to take an afternoon nap. I was in the middle of a very interesting development in the book, but my son insisted. So as I was fully prepared to get down from the high I got from the story, I scanned my shelves and voilà ! I have a copy of Cetaganda, after all.
The evening was enjoyable once again.
- Travel Typing – Netbook or Tablet? Saturday, April 30th, 2011
If I just want to type, a very good keyboard is pretty much required. For traveling purposes, I have two portable devices that I can potentially take with me that will enable me to do long-form writing – my Lenovo S10, my pretty sexy netbook, or the iPad. Either I get a Bluetooth keyboard and pair it with the iPad, and use the iPad as my main travel input device, or I just take the Lenovo. The thing about the Lenovo is the fact that it’s a little small, and I have to grapple with Linux.
I don’t mind finding excuses to learn a little more about Linux, actually. It’s more of the small keyboard form factor that keeps me from feeling completely satiated in terms of being able to work as I would consider ideal. The small keyboard (and I’m using this now, so it’s more of a hands-on review) is not unpleasant to type in, and i’m pretty close to my optimum typing speed with it, but it’s more of the tininess of the keyboard. There’s none of the ‘authentic’ typing experience, complete with the clickety-clack that accompanies a full, old-school keyboard.
Of course, one would argue that taking a full-sized keyboard along with the tablet is, when taken as a whole, much more cumbersome than taking the netbook. True. But the versatility of the tablet is much more of a consideration – during travels I require more of the apps that run on the tablet than I do on the Lenovo. Just the GPS-enabled applications alone more than makes up for the potential loss in the form factor comparison. Plus it’s only during the time when I’m back in the hotel that I would want to indulge in long-form writing, so when moving about it’s only the tablet I need.
The Lenovo, though, is pretty damn small and light, I have to say.
Anyways, this pointless little ramble simply highlights the fact that:
- I have a little more to learn about Ubuntu to be completely comfortable to lug it around and be assured I can find and do whatever I need without on-the-job learning.
- Tablets are way cool.
- I love full-sized keyboards.
- Review of 2666, by Roberto Bolano Friday, August 12th, 2011
Really, I don’t know why I persist in calling these posts ‘reviews’. They are more like thoughts. Anyway.
Unlike most people, I did not have problems reading the book, in fact I rather enjoyed it. That’s because I didn’t *read* it, but rather listened to it as an audiobook. Facetious, I know, but hey, I got through the book. And the experience was generally positive. I can imagine that as a book 2666 would present a huge challenge to me, because it’s very testing in places. But it was very easy to digest this monster of a book during my daily commute, as the story was being read out by supremely talented actors. Even as an audiobook there are sections of the novel that was hard to get through, but I did manage to get the complete 40 hours it required. But a little more on that later.
A bookish background then. My previous Bolano was By Night in Chile, which was the first 100-odd-page novel to defeat me completely. It was laced with so many South American literary, historical and cultural references that was just too much for your average Malaysian Chinese reader to truly relate to, not to mention the fact the book was narrated by a character who would fit right in with the Mad Hatter (if Bolano was an eccentric, slightly crazy Englishman). The psychedelic experience didn’t stop me from leaping at the chance to try 2666, though, as the waves of good reviews for the book meant that it was something that I had to sample. But I braced myself for a wild, barely coherent, ride.
Imagine my surprise that I actually could understand the novel this time. Not that it was easy, mind you.
There are 5 interlinked stories within this huge tome, each pretty much an own book in it’s own right. These stories are very varied and loosely tied together by a few commonalities. But the largest character in the story isn’t even a person; it’s the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa, which is Bolano’s version of Cuidad Juarez, a place infamous for its rapid industrial growth and high crime rate. There’s a singular chain of violent events in Juarez that clearly inspired the backdrop for 2666.
The first story is about 4 literary critics of an obscure German author named Benno von Archimboldi (and after a quick wiki search, I ascertained that Archimboldi was also fictional. Hey, Bolano sprinkled names of actual authors in there, ok?). They travel to Santa Teresa in hopes of finding this elusive author, and in the course of the story learns something of their journey and of themselves. The second, a story centered around a supporting character in the first story. The third is of an American journalist, who arrives in Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match but ends up working towards a story about the violent events in the city.
By far the most striking feature of the novel was the contents of the fourth book, which is made up almost entirely of a catalogue of murders that occurred in Santa Teresa. Clearly inspired by the real life events, in the book Santa Teresa is the setting where hundreds of women were killed in a short period of a few years, and Bolano took to listing out, almost hypnotically, how each of the murder was carried out. How the body was found, how old the victim was (most were young), at what state the body was in, whether the victim was sexually assaulted or not, and so on and so forth (probably not every murder, but by the fiftieth killing you kind of lose track). The result was a hugely bleak and depressing novel. A lot of the victims were young teens barely out of their childhood, and this did not make easy listening. This section of the novel served, as a friend commented, to numb the reader to the violence, and by jolly did it succeed brilliantly. By the end of the section you have a sense of complete and utter helplessness, a silent fury at the authorities who seem impotent at addressing the issue. At parts the book even hinted at those in power being complicit in these crimes.
To tie it all up, the fifth story centres around a young German soldier called Hans Richter, who eventually grows into an author of some stature, and later in life discover ties that sends him to Santa Teresa.
The story is sprawling, with lots of jaunts to places that you aren’t always entirely sure whether it belongs to the larger narrative. In the first book, there’s an underlying history about a fatalistic artist who chopped off his own hand, had it embalmed and set it as a centrepiece of a huge work of art. The text goes some way into explaining the backstory of this fascinating individual, but there’s nothing there to indicate he’s directly involved in the main plot, besides serving as an allegory or as a metaphorical symbol that I cannot grasp. And the dreams. Everyone dreams here, and the dreams are strange, haunting, frightening.
The writing is pretty interesting. There’s a languid, not quite plodding quality. At times rambling when describing the most mundane of coffeeshops, other times sparse like the desert surrounding the maquiladora in Santa Teresa. Bolano took his time with the words, and the one thing that I realized was how much more effort it would have taken to digest the work when actually read, as opposed to it having performed for you.
Speaking of performance, a word on the voice actors. Each of the 5 books were narrated by different male actors, and they did a magnificent job. The characters had at turns German, French, Italian, Spanish, American and English English accents, and the actors did a fabulous job on them.
The novel doesn’t have an ending in the traditional sense, as Bolano actually originally planned to have these five books to stand individually. Still, the novel attempts to bring the events in all the books to a full circle, and seemed to me managed it to some extent. I’m a stickler for a very tidy summation, and I have to say the story doesn’t answer all the questions, but still it made many people deliriously happy at this monument of a novel.
I cannot say I loved the novel, as it lays a little beyond my literary comprehension capabilities at present. It was surely enjoyable and incredibly educational journey.
And one last thing. The fifth book was about Archimboldi’s early life, his start into writing and his emergence as a prominent writing. Early part of his career his publisher asked a critic what he thought of Archimboldi’s work. The critic thought his work was reminiscent of a Malaysian writer! I’m not kidding – I almost fell off my chair when I heard this (except I was driving, and falling off my seat in the car would… nevermind). A couple of things crossed my mind: First, Bolano mentioned Malaysia, how cool is that! Second, Bolano almost certainly pulled that out of his ass, because there were no Malaysian authors of prominence that I could think of that would warrant a comparison (even to a fictional author!) at the time, unless he read Malay, which I’m willing to bet that he did not. Even then it seems unlikely.
- Review of The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sunday, September 4th, 2011
I have long loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, since I was introduced to them when I was pretty young. I was so enamoured by the stories that it played a big part in my deciding to go to UK for my tertiary studies, just so I can steal a trip down to London to visit 221B Baker Street (I was a little bit of a let-down, looking back after so many years, but it was a dream come true nonetheless).
As big a fan as I was, however, I have never yet managed to completely read the canon of stories from Doyle, despite owning multiple editions of the stories, including my absolute treasure: The Original Illustrated ‘Strand’ Sherlock Holmes, which is a compendium of all of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle, reproduced with all the original illustrations from the pages of the Strand magazine as they first appeared!
I was pleased to find not to long ago that Audible held a sale and I saw The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volumes 1 and 2 being sold at a very tempting price, and seeing that I’m getting a lot of reading done on the road, and relishing the chance to rekindle my love for the detective, I got them both.
Volume 1 consists of two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, followed by a collection of short stories entitled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
What can I say, aside from the fact that if you haven’t yet sampled Sherlock Holmes, what the heck are you doing reading my silly reviews than to head down to your nearest bookstore (or online store), buy the darn books and start reading? The short stories are in an easily digestible format, and leads you on to a great adventure in detection. Delightful stories that will have you thinking long after you’ve finished them. Classics such as A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band are all here.
What struck me was the quality of the stories of those that aren’t so famous in this collection, and I’ve always wondered about the fact that some of these stories must be of variable quality to be excluded from the general mindset (unlike say Speckled Band, which I think most English readers would have heard of at one time or another being associated with Sherlock Holmes). On a whole, however, I found the stories to be more or less pretty good.
Because I’m listening to them one after another in a continuous fashion, and maybe due to a most excellent reader in Charlton Griffin, I’m picking up some very distinctive Doyle mannerisms in the stories. Sherlock Holmes has a tendency to say ‘pray continue your most interesting statement’, or some variation of this when a client starts to tell their conundrums. And the word ‘singular’ comes up in almost every story – a most ‘singular occurrence’ or most ‘singular event’. And the deductions – sometimes to my jaded mind that some of the deductions seem far fetched. But not nearly as much as the ones from the latter stories.
In all, my favourite stories from this collection include:
- The Boscombe Valley Mystery
- The Adventure of the Speckled Band (this is a classic, and rightly so!)
- The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
- The Adventure of the Red-Headed League
More from the succeeding collections, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 3: Century 1969 Sunday, September 18th, 2011
All I can say right now is: What the @#*&$ did I just read?? It’s almost as if Alan Moore is secretly laughing at all the suckers who bought this. I need to process this.
- Scenes from Big Bad Wolf Books Sale Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Today was a preview-pass access only, and while I expected a lot of people, I did not expect quite so many. Only those who won the passes through the contests via their website (and perhaps some generous handouts to lucky, privileged people) were allowed to enter today. The actual day is tomorrow, and if today was any indication, tomorrow onwards would be insane.
The selection was good, and more varied that your usual warehouse sales. Some warehouse book sales were varied, but the selection was thin. Boasting 1.5 million books, I suppose you couldn’t accuse it of lacking.
I like these sales (and BBW’s in particular) because of the kind of gems you can uncover – the kinds that were either too expensive in normal bookstores, or you just couldn’t find elsewhere. It’s kinda like a treasure hunt.
This year there weren’t any gasps of astonishment or whoops of joy at finding a gem, but there were a few that I didn’t mind having. I suppose I did find one that I’m pretty pleased with – John Wray’s highly regarded Lowboy. I had the privilege of talking to him in Bookbabble last year (at least for a short while), and from all accounts his books come highly recommended. Looking forward to it.
My haul’s in the next post, so go check there for what I got. Here are some pics I took of the event. I have to say it’s incredibly poor representation of what’s there (I stood just a little back from the half-way line of the showfloor). I was busy browsing, and with Max on my arms and the clock ticking down I sort of took these as a quick snapshot of the moment (the bloody host that hosted the pictures went down, so I have to find the photos and host them again; until then you’ll have to imagine it, because I’ve got to remove the dead links).
- Haul from Big Bad Wolf Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Ok, so here’s what I got at the Big Bad Wolf Books sale today:
- Air, Geoff Ryman
- Money, Martin Amis
- Kraken, China Mieville
- The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
- Chronicles of the Black Company, Glen Cook
- Market Forces, Richard Morgan
- The World Inside, Robert Silverberg
- Lowboy, John Wray
- Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon
- All The King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
- Grey, Jon Armstrong
- Neuropath, R. Scott Bakker
- The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles 1-10, Roger Zelazny
- Star Wars: A Scanimation Book (for Max, of course)
- Project Manager Street Smarts: A Real World Guide to PMP Skills, Linda Kretz Zaval and Terri Wagner
- Project Management Communications Bible, William Dow and Bruce Taylor
- Crock-Pot Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes
- Review of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh Saturday, November 5th, 2011
My word, this book is dull. I had high hopes for this one, seeing that it appears in so many best-of lists. Even a Jeremy Irons performance on the audiobook (who was pretty awesome, I must say) could not detract from the extremely plodding storyline.
In summary, there’s this chap, Charles Ryder, who whilst studying in Oxford, befriended Sebastian Flyte, and then spends the novel basking in his friendship with Sebastian, meeting Sebastian’s rich, upperclass and staunchly Roman Catholic family and the goings in and out of the Flyte family mansion, Brideshead. The novel recounts Charles life as it revolves around Sebastian’s family, a story of reflection on family ties, expectations, religion and memories. In fact, the whole book is a retrospection of Ryder’s earlier life, as the novel starts with him, a middle-aged military man who in the course of his duties with his tour came across Brideshead almost inadvertently.
The writing is crisp, and the dialogue can be pretty funny in parts. The best part I have to say is the dry wit of Charles’s father, who spends some effort in tormenting Charles when he returns home to stay with father when he exhausted his funds during his study break.
Of course I’m simplifying the novel. There are parts of the novel that are complex, the relationships that are explored are complex, the sentimentality that’s evident throughout the book and the motivations of the characters, particularly between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia, are complex. But the story doesn’t move me in a way that generates excitement or urgency. This reminds me of a sequence in Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Trilogy, where in the second book, Royal Assassin, the bloody book seemed to roll along *but nothing bloody hell happens*!
(There, try to find another review that compares Waugh with a fantasy trilogy!)
If I’m pressed to find something to say about the book that’s intriguing, it’s the ambiguity in the exact nature of the relations between the main characters, Charles and Sebastian. This isn’t something that I considered while reading the book – in fact this because interesting after I was looking at reviews of the novels after I finished it. There were some odd (misplaced, I thought) passages where I raised an eyebrow, but nothing that explicitly said they were more than platonic. There was a scene where Charles was spending the summer in Brideshead with Sebastian, but their frolicking involved some stage of undress. At one point Sebastian calls out to Cordelia, his younger sister, to refrain from entering the area of the house where they were apparently lazing about without their shirts on. Like I said, I did not think much about this during the reading, but I was surprised and fascinated that this was so much in the front and centre in discussions of the book.
I considered for a time whether knowing if they really were physically getting it on affected my feelings about the book, and I decided in the end that this does not change anything at all. The book was still dull, the story did not burst forth in new understanding for me. The physical relationship between them, even if it were true, evidently wasn’t something Waugh wanted to dwell on, since Sebastian pretty much all but disappears from the story somewhere in the middle of the novel, and flitting in and out as Charles began to be described and defined by his relationship with first his wife, then with Julia.
Here’s another perspective from an Asian reader – the name Evelyn normally has been more associated with the fairer sex for the longest time. I’ve heard of Waugh for a long time, of course, but I’ve only within the last few years realized that Waugh was actually a man. I was just watching an episode of Downton Abbey where the love interest of the eldest daughter of the patriarch in the drama is named Evelyn, and I thought ‘how very English this name is’.
- Given Away Saturday, August 10th, 2013
Ok, something to bring this site back from the zombie state. I’ve recently given away a bunch of books for charity, but I get back a couple in exchange. I don’t know what the charity is anymore (it was in the recent Cooler Lumpur Book Festival held in Publika).
Anyway, here were the books as I prepped them to be given away:
- Catching Up On Classics Thursday, October 10th, 2013
I’ve been reading a lot of classics in the past 12 months or so. Making up almost half of my fiction diet, primarily consumed during my daily commutes via audiobooks. Some turned out to be duds, some great, and others I just wonder how I ever got along so long without ever picking the book up before.
I’ll get along to writing about those eventually in this blog. I think. But right now I just wanted to say how utter wonderful The Picture of Dorian Gray is. Just can’t wait to finish the book (and I’m pretty close now).
- Dorian Gray – Finished Friday, October 11th, 2013
Loved the book. Truly wonderful, one to savour and reread at a later stage.
Found this review on Goodreads, and it’s highly entertaining, especially the comments on the review itself. I found myself quite surprised at the number of people who disliked Lord Henry’s one-liner, which I considered as part of the charm of the novel. How would one get tired of witticism, however liberally peppered throughout the book as this was? (what the heck did I just write there?)
- Big Bad Wolf 2013 Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Much smaller haul than my previous years. It’s buying fatigue, I suppose, due to my burgeoning library and growing list of Kindle books, Audible and Comixology buys. Can’t keep up with the consumption, so I’m limiting myself to just the ones I really like.
- Currently Reading: Tarnsman of Gor Friday, December 13th, 2013
This book comes with a formidable reputation, it is shrouded in mystique, danger and a slight whiff of naughty things.
Almost done, and it is, uhm, a little over the top. More later. Maybe. Because I write my journals by hand. I don’t retype them here. And when I do type them here, I don’t write them down into my reading journal. It’s like I’m torn between two lovers. Uhm, no, bad analogy. I want to write there, but I also want to write here. I want to exhibit my poor writing here, a medium that encourages me to write a little differently when I’m not constantly experiencing some mild pain through the physical sensation of putting pen on paper. But I want to write there too, because it’s comforting.
So anyway. Gor. More covers, because I think it’s a little saucy.
- Quickie: Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut Monday, December 23rd, 2013
One of the best books I’ve read. Fantastic. I had such a hard time trying to pick a book to read in my list of Audible titles after finishing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and I thought I wanted something a little light. I hesitated over Vonnegut because he’s not exactly light, but I eventually chose Bend Sinister by Nabokov. That proved short-lived because I found that I had actually finished Bend Sinister before and *forgot about it*! Gasp!
So I thought since I took up Bend Sinister, I might as well sink into Mother Night. And what a decision that was.
I really like serendipitous reads. Something that I know I want to read, but don’t know what the book’s about, and hoping at the back of my head to be blown away with something magical, something truly amazing. All my exploits with classics are in the same vein. And it’s just a joy to discover this one.
I’m not writing a review for this now. I will on my journal, obviously, but not now. Now my laptop’s due for a reboot, and after that, back to work.
But I cannot resist saying that Mother Night proved to be something that is heart-breaking, morally ambiguous, challenging. Something that will stay with you when it’s done. I prefer this one over Slaughter-house Five, myself.
- Review of The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland Monday, December 30th, 2013
There is a sense of the mythical about this story. Rereading it after many years, I found the story very simple and direct, without the many-tentacled subplots that plague many other graphic novels that tries a little too hard. It conveniently starts with Batman, arriving in Arkham Asylum, intending to have a heart-to-heart with the Joker in order to reach some form of a closure in their very tenuous relationship. There wasn’t a sense as to why Batman wanted to do this out of the blue, it seems to me. Anyway, instead of the Joker, Batman finds that a decoy has been put in his Arkham cell. Joy.
The Joker wants to corrupt Commissioner Gordon and drive him insane to ‘prove a point’. The point here apparently being that a perfectly good person can on a turn of a hat turn into a bad one by virtue of being prodded in the wrong way ‘on a bad day’. I find this conceit problematic, but then Joker is supposed to be insane, so maybe that’s the point. The problem isn’t just there. In the subsequent pages immediately after it was discovered that the Joker has escaped Akham, it was established that the Joker has escaped from Arkham before. You’d think they’d do a little more to prevent this from happening more than once, but no. They couldn’t prevent a person who can’t wash off the white off his skin, unlike the decoy, from escaping a prison designed to hold super-criminals.
By far the resonating, rippling effect of this piece of work is not the story itself, but what happens to a pretty major character. [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – DON’T PROCEED IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF READING THIS]. It seems to me what happened to Barbara Gordon is the main reason why this story is so infamous, and not anything at all with either Joker’s origin story or his tendency to turn crime-fighting heroes insane. The book was originally published in 1988, and I think more than anything the act of violence against Barbara was really unlike anything that was seen in those days, and certainly not to a major character – an irreversible injury to a mainstream superhero. Moore already did his genre-busting turn on The Watchmen two years prior to this, but this one perhaps had some mileage because of Barbara’s goodness, and in a major comics universe to boot.
If you take out the implications of the Barbara scene, the story’s totally average. The chutzpah of the events leading up to the final showdown, however, elevate it just a little more about the average. Certainly the climate of the superheroes comicdom nowadays is so saturated with violence that something like this, a story touted as a major superhero tour-de-force or some blockbuster equivalent, such an event is not only common but expected. How very cynical the audience nowadays have become.
Art is excellent. Very 90s comics-art, but very well done.
- Scariest Book I’ve Read So Far Thursday, January 9th, 2014
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank only very recently entered my radar. Not that I’d learn all there is to learn about the giants of SF, but given the subject matter of the book I was surprised this did not come to my attention sooner. It’s an apocalyptic book, not post-apocalyptic like The Road by McCarthy, but I think marketed similarly in that neither would appear in any SF lists. But it is by far the scariest book I’ve read, and I’m reading Shining by King at the moment, and even that I’m not feeling too much yet.
I think it’s frightening because it’s so close to home. It’s frightening because it’s so possible, a reality oh so real. A post-apocalyptic world, imagined time and again in various pop-culture tropes like the zombie plague, or far future post-apocalyptic earths like in The Canticle for Leibowitz or The Book of the Long Sun, is something that seems so far away. But reading a story where nuclear destruction actually happens, and an unfolding story which deals with the fears and concerns of citizens after a disaster is truly chilling. I’ve learned about the breakdown of how our transportation systems will be tilted out of balance during a worldwide pandemic, and this one is very close in its estimation of the impact. The financial systems collapsing, the value of the dollar gone overnight, the economic equilibrium thrown out of the window with the rule of supply and demand completely overturned. Then comes the war of attrition, survival instincts kick in, martial law, every man for himself. It exposes the terrible truth of how inadequately prepared we are as a species in this modernized world, indeed how I’m inadequately prepared, to handle such a catastrophe, be it pandemic or nuclear holocaust.
Need to finish it quickly.
- Alas, I’ve Reached the End Friday, January 17th, 2014
Confirmed. Alas, Babylon is now one of my favourites.
Read it. Brilliant.
- In the Middle of The Shining Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
I’ve never read a horror book that scared me. I mean really scared me. The last book that I thought was scary wasn’t because it was horror, but because of the horrific implications of the future (and that book was Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank).
The closest I’ve gotten to being spooked is this current one by King, The Shining. For some reason I’ve never dipped into this one, even though I’d say I’ve read, not a big percentage admittedly, but still not-insignificant, number of King books, including ghost-ty stuff like Bag of Bones, Pet Semetary, The Dark Half.
This is turning out to be just that little bit creepy, but more so because of the see-sawing relationship-headed-for-disaster play between the father and mother.
- A Strange Woolf, A Dead Wolf and A Strange Bookstore Friday, February 7th, 2014
My goodness. I understand maybe 5.32% of what’s happening. It doesn’t help that I’m listening to this on my commutes, which under normal circumstances loses maybe about 2.7% comprehension due to the fact that you can’t ‘see’ the names of people/places being pronounced. When tackling this book, however, the narrator, Juliet Stevenson (someone who performed ok on the Austen audiobooks that I’ve listened to) came across a little faint.
I’m determined to see this book through.
For some reason, I keep picturing Plath’s The Belljar whenever I think about this book. I don’t know where the association comes from.
On the other hand, I’m reading Robin Sloan’s delightful Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
I’ve actually read this in it’s 6000-word short fiction incarnation, so this work isn’t entirely new to me. There are parts, which were clever and memorably phrased, appear here verbatim from the shorter version. And it’s very interesting to note how an author might pad out a shorter work into a full-fledged novel.
I’ve not finished this yet, and I’m looking forward to see how this ends.
As for something I’ve actually finished, it’s the next volume of Bill Willingham’s Fable series, Volume 19 in fact. I’ve been following Fables for a while now (I read Volume 1 in 2005, which I reviewed here), and the series has it’s ups and down, but mainly ups. This was not his strongest volume, but it does have one of the strongest repercussions in the series thus far.
I love the dynamic between Bigby and Snow White. I love the mythology that Willingham has built here, and this particular volume sees this dynamic completely shattered (ahem). I’m hoping nothing permanent comes out of this turn of events. This highlights some of the inconsistencies about the characters that bug me – the belief in the fables by the mundies fuel their existence. There are characters that return from death by virtue of their popularity among humans, yet there are characters who are supposedly strong stay dead. I’m looking forward to learning what happens next, as I do for every volume.
- Recent Reads – Quick Shots Friday, April 11th, 2014
A quick update on the stuff I’ve been reading recently.
And finally, something I’m very close to finishing right now, and is better, in my opinion, than The Brothers Karamazov, is Crime and Punishment:
- Beautiful Little Book Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Heard so much about this supposed writer’s bible. I have this pegged as a TBP in Book Depository for some time now, but imagine my surprise at finding this laying about in a Borders stand at a boutique literary festival over the weekend. Picked it up in a heartbeat, and it’s beautiful. A beautiful small book.
As I peruse through Maira Kalman’s illustrations in this edition, I keep thinking back to my secondary school days. Kalman’s art, while quirky and infuses a little colour to the proceedings, is minimalistic, with little regard for realism or rules of perspectives. For a book of etiquette and writing rules, I thought it ironic that it’s illustrated with graphics that doesn’t conform to formal structure. And I keep thinking about whether if I submitted anything remotely resembling Kalman’s work here for my art class back in my school days whether it’ll be accepted at all.
- Don Quixote–Brilliant! Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
One of the best books I’ve ever read. Funny, sometimes hysterically so, and yet heartwarming with genuine moments of pure magic. I did not expect the meta-moments in the novel, especially the narrator, who constantly refers to the fictitious ‘original’ historian who recounted Don Quixote’s exploits. This same translator/narrator also gave the funniest cliff-hanger ending I’ve ever read. I loved that the Don himself is immensely worldly and wise, and the contrast to his overriding madness was stark. Love the characters.
Brilliant. Read it.
- Review of Prince of Thorns Saturday, July 19th, 2014
A short one on Prince of Thorns, Book 1 of the Broken Empire, by Mark Lawrence. The phrase ‘a fantasy with a twist’ is too often used nowadays. This one belongs to the new-fangled, no-holds-barred, in your face, gory fantasy with steaming guts, hacked limbs and bodies pierced this way and that. The hero is typically atypical, a person who does evil deeds but has a paper thin moral excuse. A Jamie Lannister-ish is-he-isn’t-he duality.
This book has a couple of interesting facets that distinguishes itself from other fantasy worlds, hinting at a world set in the very far future ala the Mistborn series, or A Canticle for Leibowitz, or the Book of the New Sun. Unlike its spiritual fantasy forebear, A Song of Ice and Fire (and the book pays homage to GRRM too, in the text), there are hints of our world beneath the one the Prince of Thorns inhabits, and there’s way more magic.
The story, a quest, is interesting enough, and the pages fly by, the action thick and fast. Not too shabby at all, if the ending a little rushed, and feels a tad unresolved. But then that’s what Books 2 and 3 are for.
- James Joyce is playing a prank on everyone Monday, September 8th, 2014
Ulysses is a difficult book. It’s a tremendously difficult book. It’s so difficult that I find myself wondering why I’m persevering with page after page of supposedly life-changing, otherworldly literature. I think about Joyce, how he must have been sitting at his desk, giggling like a little child as he writes what he’s telling everyone as his magnum opus, but really writing whatever it is he was thinking at that time, over a laughably sparse summary which he calls the book’s ‘plot.’
It’s a prank of epic proportions.
- Review: Summer of Night Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
My first Simmons, which is pretty strange, considering that I’ve owned his books for years. I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. I had intentionally kept myself in the dark (pun!) on what the book was about, save the fact that there were a band of kids and supernatural horror. And I wanted to continue my recent binge of horror books.
My first impression of the book was the quality of the prose. I’m not saying Simmons is Chabon or anything, but he is surely not Suzanne Collins or (gasp!) Cassandra Clare. His prose has a nice heft to it, weighty. Nothing of the lightweight quality I half expected, like from a Koontz. Which was a pleasant surprise. He goes deep into the character of each of the major characters, builds a nice history around them and gives them distinct personalities. Of course, he goes on and [!!!SPOILER!!!] kills one of them (and the one I was rooting for too), but you can’t have everything. [/!!!SPOILER!!!]
The plot was interesting, and resolved itself in the end in a satisfactory manner.
Overall I loved the book, was pleasantly surprised. And am now looking forward to getting the sequel.
- Goodreads Blog Post Feature Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Wowsers. Saw this feature for a very long time now when I was updating my reads in Goodreads, but I hadn’t really tried it out before now. Pretty good. I’ve had plenty of reviews up in Goodreads now, and it would have been nice if it was cross posted here as well. Anyway, better late than never.
- Review: Love in the Time of Cholera Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
I’ve known about this book for a very long time now, but truthfully the horribly uninspiring title conjures up an incredibly bad trek down some well-worn tropes and cliches. Since his death not too distant past, Marquez’s books have been recommended to me by readers I respect, so when this one turned up in a sale I just grabbed it. And recently I thought I may as well try it out. I braced myself for a snorefest, but this book turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read.
It’s not easy to explain why. I risk boring people with any attempt at a synopsis, because I actually tried it and bored myself. But the story is written with a tenderness that I hadn’t expected, filled with emotion and grace. The story traces the paths of two (plus one more) people, and intertwines their fates together in a beautifully crafted story that’s about love, life’s journeys and destinations, what we want and what we settle for, and death. Florentino Ariza is by no means paragon of virtue, but it’s a life lived.
It’s a book that I would never have touched and appreciated 10 years ago. I couldn’t have, since I don’t have the maturity/experience needed to like what I find here.
The books ends with a sentence that left me breathless. The entire novel seems geared towards that one final word, and what an incredible impact it made.
I loved the book. This was not expected. This bloody thing sneaked up on me and caught me unawares. Recommended.
- Review: Things Fall Apart Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
Very difficult for any book to follow Love in the Time of Cholera. From the heights of Marquez, Achebe was very simplistic in contrast. I’m trying not to compare, but it’s hard to allow the emotions from a really good book from spilling over and colouring the objectivity in reading the next.
Achebe tells the story of Okwonkwo, a leader in a tribe in Nigeria, and how his carefully planned existence and climb to power eventually unravels in a sequence of events outside of his control. The life of the village and its inhabitants brings me back to the excellent The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver. Achebe’s prose is simple, straightforward, but in its simplicity lies a strong voice.
The interesting thing about this book, like Poisonwood, was its eventual discussion of the introduction of Christianity into a relatively peaceful albeit primitive existence. I find myself asking whether modernization is worth the price of admission for these simple folk.
I like the questions it asks here, and it is definitely more complex than the start of the book would have you believe. Read it if you want to learn about a drastically different culture (if Africa is not yet something you’re familiar with), and if you want a portrayal of how forced injection of modernity and a religion designed to spread affects culture, family and society.
- Review: A Christmas Carol Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
- Review: Treasure Island Friday, December 19th, 2014
It’s not horrible, but there were too many technical terms. Didn’t completely understand it. Not a great candidate for audiobook listening, unless you’re versed in seafaring terms and don’t need to stop to look them up often. The ending was pretty unexpected, in that it was completely obvious.
- Review: Legendarium Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
- Review: How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
Great stuff here. Not that I’m running for elections, but a great way into the thinking of policians seeking to win one. Almost like The Prince. Not all the tips shared here can be applied in your real life, since you’re unlikely trying to get people to like you enough for a one time transaction, and can risk damaging feelings on broken promises.
- Review: Murder on the Orient Elite Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
It was an interesting choice, I thought, at Correia’s nomination at this year’s Hugos for the third book of his ongoing fantasy series. It’s not often that I can recall that a book that’s in the middle of an ongoing series, where the emphasis is on fun, not glum, is put up for such marquee awards. I must keep a look out for this chap, I concluded.
I’ve not yet been able to sample his fare, unfortunately, until I came across this book on Audible. It isn’t one of the main books in the Grimnoir series, true, but it’s also true that it was cheap and I was trigger happy. Having read this, I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the story and the characters. Extremely interesting and I shall definitely look out more from him for sure.
- Review: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance Sunday, January 4th, 2015
I’ve never liked Ivan beyond being comedic fodder for Miles, but I do like Bujold’s work. This book is funny, and tightly plotted. This was set before the events of Cryoburn, which surprised me because I had wanted to learn a little more about Miles as Count, but then we’ll have to wait, I suppose.
- Review: Patient Zero Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Fun and pretty fast-paced stuff. Basically your military action thriller (complete with the feeling that the author has access to people who truly knows the business, and looking at the acknowledgements, Maberry does), against Islamic extremists with jihadist tendencies bent on total annihilation of the western civilization, and a very novel biochemical weapon.
Action-packed, but the characters are a little cardboard-ish. If you’re in the mood for an exciting, rollicking good time, go for it. Better than most movies today.
- Review: The Snow Queen Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Very simple story, and really just appearing for a short time relative to the entirety of the work. Enough to spawn so many incarnations, but I thought the original work was a little low-key. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t all that exciting too.
- Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Tuesday, January 13th, 2015
I have to wonder if this requires someone to be of a certain age to enjoy this work. It did nothing for me, and nothing from the setting to the characters appealed to me. If anything, while I liked Huck, I got extremely irritated with Tom Sawyer. And I think I need to think on this a little bit regarding its depiction of the blacks. That bears a little more thought, and those of you who know me would know that is asking too much of me sometimes.
- Review: Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior Monday, January 19th, 2015
Very interesting book. Can be used to measure oneself against the many habits and behaviours that are probably less than healthy, and suggests ways to overcome them. There’s an underlying thread here across the book, and that’s the promotion of the state of mindfulness. I listened to this on audiobook, and there were sections that I would have loved to underline on a physical book.
- Review: The Iron King Saturday, January 24th, 2015
I cannot accuse the book of being slow, as the book moves more quickly than I had anticipated. The GRRM-proclaimed precursor to The Song of Ice and Fire, I had prepped myself for a slog of a read, only in a non-fantastical world where I’d imagined I would shed tears going through. However, it turned out not be the case. The story isn’t incredibly layered as you’d get in some of those overly ambitious plot-driven books, and yet managed to hold my attention.
There was a huge 3-4 months gap where I put this away half-way through, but a sustained spell of travelling got me through it. Enjoyable, although with my huge backlog I’m afraid it’ll be awhile before I’d get along to the second book, which I eventually hope would be sooner rather than later.
- Review: East of West, Vol. 1: The Promise Saturday, January 31st, 2015
Very mysterious, story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse set in the far future. For reasons not yet explained, the Horsemen are resurrected in the current time except for one of them, Death, and the rest good in a quest to kill him. There’s no expansion on why they had to kill him. It’s clear however, that the Horsemen have the ultimate goal of bringing about the end of the world, with the help of the Chosen, a group of world leaders explicitly handpicked and placed into power by the Horsemen to help this along. These Chosen are keepers of something called The Message, which is also not explained.
It turns out that Death fell in love with a human and bore a child, and this is the reason he stayed alive and didn’t follow the rest of the Horsemen in getting resurrected.
The first volume sets the stage of the drama, and leaves off with Death now plotting to save his son, long thought dead, from the clutches of the Chosen.
There’s a very interesting character in Andrew Archibald Chamberlain, a world weary former dictator, and never of the Chosen,who instead of blindly following the mandates of the cabal sends to be playing a different game. He seems resigned to the fact that the world is about to end, and helps Death in his quest to sow more confusion among the Horsemen in what seems like a ploy to delay the inevitable.
- Review: Life After Life Saturday, January 31st, 2015
I knew this to be a sf-ish time traveling-like story, but I hadn’t really known what to expect. What I was sure I didn’t expect was a pretty excellently written story, and my excellently written I mean the writing is excellent. That’s not saying other books I had in my head was poorly written (books such as the excellent Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife, or the excellent Grimwood’s Replay), but this was the more literary of the lot.
Ursula Todd relives her lives over and over upon her death, each time gaining that subtle hint of premonition, an unexplained foreshadowing, that compels her to make decisions at pivotal moments of her life that alters the lives she had led before. Times when she previously drowned, or contracted the Spanish flu, or raped, or died in a blitz in both England and Germany. All of which leads her to realize the incredible devastation brought on by WWII, on both sides of the war, that culminates in her compulsion to kill Hitler before the onset of the war.
There were points in the book that made me truly angry, something no book has done in recent memory. I was truly angry at Derek’s abusive treatment of Ursula. I was angry at how Ursula was somehow convinced it was her fault she was sexually abused, and how others viewed her negatively even though she was the victim of a crime.
This reminds me of why we read sometimes, to gain a perspective that you’d never otherwise get if you’re knee-deep in some conviction that the way one sees the world is the only one true, *correct* perspective. Where else but literature could do this?
I also realized something, most of my recent favourites have been books related to WWII. Codename Verify, Mother Night, Night and now this one. The book I’m lapping now, Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, is also WWII-related. For someone who has never liked war stories, what does this tell me?
- Valiant’s Bloodshot is interesting Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
Recently finished volumes 1 & 2 of Valiant’s Bloodshot. Violent and quick-paced, it’s actually not bad. I have to think a little about whether any modern comic must have bone shattering violence and a copious amount of blood splashing in order to appeal to today’s reader.
- Review: Hard Magic Friday, February 6th, 2015
- Review: Feed Thursday, February 12th, 2015
I just came out of Patient Zero not too long ago, and truth be told a little exhausted over the entire living dead as a genre. I even have several volumes of The Walking Dead by Kirkman sitting unread in my Comixology pile.
However this book came recommended by fellow Bookbabbler Marcel, and I have heard some good things about this book. It’s the apocalypse wrapped around with politics and Web 2.0. News transmitted via blogs are gaining traction in the post-zombie world, where traditional media is viewed with skepticism and distrust. The story follows a trio of bloggers as they are recruited into the press corp team for a senator in his run up to become the Republican nominee for the presidential ticket. They stumble upon a conspiracy that soon threatens them in their pursuit of the truth.
The politics of both the national nature as well as the blogging scene was very interestingly fleshed out. The characters were a little uneven, but the story rolled along at a nice, clip pace. Writing is average, and the sheer amount of times the characters get jabbed for blood samples in order to test if they were infected was bordering on disturbing.
Maybe if I weren’t already so jaded out by zombies it would have gotten a slightly more enthusiastic reaction, but as it is, as objectively as I can, I thought it was an interesting read. A departure from the usual tropes, and that for some is enough justification for a read. It certainly was interesting enough for me to like it despite my trepidation.
- Review: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine Monday, February 16th, 2015
Supremely interesting. I can’t say I totally understand CDOs and securities after this book, but then by all accounts neither did the fund managers and investment bankers who packaged and sold the things either. The sense I got was the layered complexity that allowed these financial instruments to be sold in the first place. Obscurity through complexity. General wisdom that the markets will know best and will correct itself isn’t an adage that can hold true all the time, as it proved to be hopelessly wrong in the case of the subprime mortgage bust in 2007.
I had a prevailing sense that I was unfortunately born in the wrong country to have a whiff of a chance to have participated in Wall Street. Oh well, have to get rich another way.
- Review: The Viscount and the Witch Monday, February 16th, 2015
- Review: The Jester Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
- Review: Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
- Review: Contact Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
Excellent book. Asks the questions on religion, and Sagan cleverly turns it on its head in this wonderful tale. Ends with a conundrum that neither answers nor completely ignores the existence of a higher being. One would almost say Sagan intentionally left the question unanswered, because truly, would it be possible that we would be able to communicate to extraterrestrials which by definition would be more advanced than humankind, and what kind of contact would it be? Wouldn’t it be akin to magic? And therefore be subject to faith? A very hopeful book.
I saw the film and absolutely loved it (Foster was amazing in it, and it’s truly a testament to her powers that she completely, and I mean completely, dwarfs McConaughey’s performance. The contrast was almost painful to watch). The book has more details that the film changed, and the book is still different enough to warrant a read. Recommended.
- Review: The Plagiarist Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
- Review: How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Strategies and Stories from a Master Negotiator Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
Incredibly entertaining read. Richardson recounts visits and negotiations with despots and dictators around the world, and some closer to home in the States as well. Plenty of anecdotes mixed in with negotiation tips, it’s almost less of a howto than it is a collection of essays highlighting memorable encounters. I thought it very interesting to see what actually goes on in a negotiating session between people in high-office (the ability to call for press conferences and how it can be ‘used’ was particularly eye-opening).
Mostly, I was surprised how fun it was. Recommended, if you have either a passing interest in politics or negotiation, or just fun stories.
- Review: Little Women Friday, February 27th, 2015
I don’t know how I could have possibly gotten around to this book, seeing that I had intentionally avoided this one like a plague. It’s Little Women, for crying out loud, and a genre loving tech savvy literature nut has standards to maintain. However, as I’m under my own edict to try classics of all sorts this came around for its turn.
I didn’t know what to expect, since as with most classics I have no clue what they are about. And this book turned out to be one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A book that I can safely say I’ve been fortunate enough to have read.
One again proving the adage that has been oddly applicable to me in my life thus far: never say never.
It didn’t start with a bang, with each chapter feeling like short, self contained but loosely connected stories. They all seemed to be fables for kids. Alcott masterfully tells the stories of the Marches and their neighbours, and soon their extended families, weaving the stories like lessons in and of life. I found the book incredibly warm, comfortable, wise and enlightening. I felt all kinds of emotions with this one, and it’s beginning to be clear to me books I attribute 5 stars to evoke strong emotions for me and linger long in memory (or at least threaten to, since I just finished this book 30 mins ago).
This is a delightful book. Heartily recommended, for children aged 6 to 600.
- Review: Divergent Sunday, March 8th, 2015
I can’t remember The Hunger Games’ writing now, but I don’t recall it being horrible, and my standards are low. I also quickly grabbed the next two in the Hunger Games trilogy, as it reminded me of (and in lucid moments I would say outright stole) Battle Royale, which I loved.
This book, however, was poor. Very very poor in a lot of respects, be it prose or story. I was reading Little Women and now The Good House alongside this and cannot overstate how incredibly bad this book’s writing is next to these works. For instance, Roth likes to show emotion through stomachs. I literally lost count of how many times Tris had her stomach turned, twisted, dropped, emptied, punched, knotted and other acrobatics, depending on the situation. Roth also attempts to draw our the romantic tension between the leads, but fails, and as a result Tris comes across as comically dense at reading the most overt social signals.
The entire premise of society founded on 5 prime social values was also weak. Seriously? Why would anyone who don’t feel affinity to these 5 values warrant being outcast? The book doesn’t go deep enough to explain why it would make sense to have familial ties broken just because they thought differently from their born-into factions. This artificial limitation bugged me, and the leads’ titular divergent behaviour was contingent on them feeling bad for not truly belonging to the status quo. In other words, they are heroes in the book for being *normal*.
Still. I finished the book. I kept having two thoughts as I read this book. First is the mystery of it all. The ridiculousness of the story and writing rivaled the likes of Cassandra Clare, for example, whose works I simply could not finish. However I was irked at this Divergent concept. What the hell was this? How did Roth managed to get this published? There must be something quite spectacular (or spectacularly bad) at the end that I must see for myself. False hopes, and a genuine letdown.
Let anyone who extol the role of culture curators the traditional publishers supposedly play, that self publishers don’t do, explain this one.
The second thought is a personal one, reminding me that if I ever harbour hopes of publishing something, let this be a lesson. Roth has plenty of books under her belt, and I have none. And she’s found success with it. Here I am bitching about the book, but not sitting down writing something better. If the bar is supposedly low, then get writing!
- Review: Astro City Vol. 8: Shining Stars Sunday, March 8th, 2015
Saw a clutch of the Astro City trade paperbacks while visiting Kinokuniya in Sydney*, and I simply couldn’t resist. Since Dark Age I’ve been starved of Astro City, and when I saw that Busiek, Anderson and Ross are relaunching Astro City in Vertigo, I knew I must get my hands on them.
So I completed my collection with Volumes 8 through 10, and boy was it worth it.
So firstly, this one. A collection of shorts, each allowing a more intimate peek at the various heroes that populate the place. A piece on Samaritan having an annual meeting with his nemesis, a newly graduated Astra from the famed First Family and her path onward to adulthood and what that may entail, a story on Beauty, the life-sized Barbie doll crime-fighting android and her search for her life’s meaning, and finally a story told from Silver Agent’s perspective before his fateful journey into oblivion.
Astro City stories are not strictly superhero stories. I could spin the spiel about what makes Astro City different, but you can read that for yourself. I like them because they go beyond the action, and delves a little deeper into the human component. No necessarily all about the heroes, but the people around them, and the people who live in Astro City. The repercussions as a result of the superhero activities and how they impact lives. I like that the stories seem to stay in memory longer than most stories do.
I finished this in one sitting. A long awaited return to a well loved place.
I will say something about Brent Anderson, though. There were various panels where I thought the art was poor. I don’t say this because I’ve enjoyed Astro City for many many years, and art is a department I don’t complain about (I do about the lack of stories about several characters I like, but hey). There were panels that I thought was rendered as though a character was dreaming, but honest to goodness it wasn’t, and it really was bad art. The fingers look arthritic, faces seemed squished, etc. Don’t know what happened there.
* I can confirm that the Kino in Sydney is the best bookstore I’ve ever been to. I love my KLCC Kino, but I love me some Orchard Road Kino too. And now superceded by this one. I’ve gone to most of the indie and chain bookstores in Sydney now, so I’d like to think I saw enough before I settled on Kino Sydney. The selection is huge and varied. I could spend days here.
- Review: Astro City: Through Open Doors Sunday, March 8th, 2015
A little weaker than I’m used to, but still pretty good. This is the new relaunched Astro City, with new stories, and it begins with the Ambassador, who plonks an interdimensional door right in the middle of the city, over the city’s river.
Brent Anderson’s art also slightly suspect here, although overall it’s still ok. I still get the feeling his best Astro City work are the earlier works.
- Review: Astro City, Vol. 10: Victory Sunday, March 8th, 2015
The triumvirate of the Astro City world is gathered here for a grand adventure! The Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman dynamic is represented here in a story about character assassination of Winged Victory. We also see Samaritan finally having some good time, and after the opening Astro City story all those years ago, I kindly feel the guy earned it and won’t begrudge him of some fun.
Tightly plotted, and fun adventure.
- Review: Fairest: In All the Land Sunday, March 8th, 2015
A detective story! I love those, and this one is fun. Fables is one of only a several comics I follow closely, and Willingham has done a great job with the franchise. I love the Fables books, and this one is really almost a standalone.
Actually, let’s talk about that. It positions itself like a standalone, but if you’re not up to date with the Fables stories, some of the references to the happenings when this story is told will be lost on you. I got a little irritated with that, simply because I could have had an option of skipping on this book. Having read this though, it filled in so many gaps that had been hinted at in the main series, but come to pass in this book (i.e Snow White getting killed with a knife through the heart, etc). I would be unhappy to learn some key moments in the narrative have been plonked into a book not even hinted at being _important_.
Anyway, read it I did, and I loved the story. The pacing is as usual very snappy, and everything (almost) tied up in the end. Very satisfying.
- Review: The Good House Tuesday, March 10th, 2015
I’ve been on a horror reads run recently (well, spread over a year or so), roughly centered around two things: haunted houses and something to creep me out (not necessarily the same thing).
I approached this book with zero expectations, not knowing the author at all. Also, all the haunted house stories I’ve been reading failed to really ignite my thus far unscare-able reading appetite. I enjoyed them sure, but were they like really scary? Nope.
This one didn’t scare me either. However, the book was very well written, and I pretty much forgot about the horror and was drawn into the rich familial history and the pleasant small town community. The author jumped from present to flashback scenes as she tells the stories, and it’s pretty impressive how she manages this. I’m usually pretty unhappy with flashbacks, as I like a story to get on with it, but the flashbacks were punchy and almost action packed, and does a great job of conjuring a sense of foreboding. I especially liked how she describes an event in the past, then in the next chapter shows a character that has no business knowing the past repeating words said before. I’m of course just clumsily repeating a commonly used plot device, but seriously the book does a better job than me right now.
The magic involved here is Haitian in nature, very old America, and that was very interesting for me indeed. Refreshing, and I was strangely glad than I’m reading about something new, filled with enchanted symbols, spellcasting with water bowls and chicken bones and raven blood, scented altars, dream-visions and ancestral divination. Not your ‘standard’ biblical demons.
I’ve recently revisited Stephen King, and I’ve always loved his writing. But I think Due is as good as (if not better) a writer as King. Suspicious, since the blurb already has readers comparing Due to King as an ‘equal’. Maybe I was swayed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the prose. Also, I just came off Divergent, which means almost everything else I read at the same time will seem like masterpieces.
The ending was a bit of a cop out, in my opinion. Over the years I’ve reconciled with the fact that stories, like real life, don’t always end well, and there shouldn’t be an expectation that stories *should* end well. I’m totally ok with a horrific ending if the story logically concludes with that outcome. Almost everything I expected happened in the novel, but I didn’t expect that particular ending. Saying more would spoil it, so I’ll just say the ending probably weakened the book by about 10% (I say plunge the knife and live with it!), but not enough to change my mind about this wonderful book.
Great stuff. Recommended.
- Review: Clockwork Wednesday, March 11th, 2015
Liked this little piece by Pullman. Very elegant short story, very playful in tone, and fantastical, steampunkish (can something that has to do with clockwork minus steam machines considered steampunk?).
Quick read, and I’m noting down the way Pullman wrote this story. Taking mental notes on how this story was crafted – tools into my writer’s toolbox.
- Review: NOS4A2 Saturday, March 21st, 2015
Not extremely terrifying, but a good adventure nonetheless. It almost feels like how Stephen King would write if he was marinated in popular geek culture growing up. There’s some anachronistic elements, namely the Wraith and to a lesser extent the Triumph, to anchor the story in some semblance, it seems to me, of maturity. To prevent it to from going all fantasy, spaceships and an overload of nerdiness.
I have to say Hill writes very well. This is my first real Hill novel, after all, and the excellent Locke and Key was not an indication of his ability at prose. I have always maintained that King’s writing was horrendously underrated – I felt he wrote better than a lot of ‘commercial’ writers. I need to look up if his son was held to the same standard or higher prose-wise, but I thought he wasn’t bad at all.
- Review: Horrorstör Monday, March 23rd, 2015
I was surprised at this book. I had thought it was pseudo horror, something about how crippling and chained modern corporate life makes us feel on a daily basis, about the human condition and how we’ve become enslaved to commercialism. It was that, and more too. Somehow I had it in my mind that it was like a pretend ghost story, something that would eventually reveal itself to contain anything but a ‘real’ ghost. The entire presentation of the novel seemed to collude to that façade – it was designed like an IKEA catalogue, complete with product listings armed with Scandinavian names. How’d something this clever be *horrific*? The author was surely going for a playful, cheeky feel with a generous sprinkling of gimmicky metaphors for life.
But as the story went deeper and deeper (heh), the story got darker and darker. Horrorstor reminded me about a short I once read: of Pooh violently knocking Tigger across the room, growling viciously as he warns the tiger never to help himself to Pooh’s honeypots ever again. It’s not the violence that’s scary, but the violation of the serene mental image we all associate with friendly Pooh. I was caught off guard with the picture of the first torture device given the IKEA product marketing treatment. My mind felt a disconnect when a character did something, uhm, interesting to his throat, against the backdrop of a fun, harmless-looking faux-catalogue I held in my hands.
Something to be experienced than described, clearly (at least not by me).
The writing was simple and punchy, and the story moves at a quick clip. I enjoyed how Hendrix dissects the IKEA-like company’s business model, and the programming that went behind the design, and the observations about the people who visit and buy from the stores. The prose never felt clumsy like the Cassandra Clare/Veronica Roth variety.
Taken as a whole, it’s a pretty uncomplicated horror story, wrapped in a pretty interesting package. Plenty fun, and an novel concept. Gave an extra star simply because it caught me off guard at how dark the book actually was.
- Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
A marvelously written book, populated by unforgettable and interesting characters. It chronicles the story of the Buendia family over a period of a hundred or so years, with individual family members painted with a degree of detail that seems amazing to me. Their individual stories are interwoven into the larger narrative of the family, with an interesting twist at the end.
There were several characters that are stuck to me, despite their relatively brief appearances. One was Remedios the Beauty, the purportedly most beautiful woman in Macondo, but someone who pays no regard to her own physical upkeep and has a very nominal concept of modesty. She’s supposedly the ‘most lucid’ person in town, or the most bananas, the book doesn’t conclude this either way. I cannot imagine why I’d be fixated on a pretty girl. No sir. Another character that was memorable is not technically of the family (well, not officially), and that’s Pilar Ternera. She’s the local, I want to say temptress, but not exactly, who contributes to the Buendia progeny from two Buendia brothers.
I’m not sure it reached the giddy heights that I experienced with Love in the Time of Cholera, but from a technical level it was probably a more difficult book to write. Cholera was primarily a love story between two (or three, depending on how you see it) people, while this was a story that had many people spanning generations, and he had to tie it in at the end. It is a hugely impressive book.
- Review: How Google Works Friday, April 3rd, 2015
As a business howto book I thought it was a little on the thin side. It has interesting insights, but it’s not always relevant as it has an incredibly skewed focus on companies or teams filled with ‘smart creatives’. While not directly applicable, it does highlight some points that are worth keeping in mind, including the importance of hiring well, and continued investment in your best resources. Interesting insight to interviews (no more than 30 mins, and no more than 5 sessions).
Suitable for startups.
- Review: The Prince Sunday, April 5th, 2015
I now understand why his name has this very negative connotation in relation to the tactics of the powerful. But Machiavelli stated it with such simple matter-of-fact-ness that it’s crazy to think that this is somehow insidious on his part. He simply shows what and how certain things should be done if you intend to hold on to power. And you have to wonder if there’s really a ‘goodie’ way of managing a country, or an estate, when there are so many people over whom you rule who are wolves and foxes. Does this mean to hold on to truly magnanimous and virtuous principles you’re destined not to rule?
Machiavelli insists that a lot of things are a matter of optics. You should appear to be good to the general masses, but ruthless if you intend to consolidate power, especially against people who coming after what’s yours. He makes the point that’s it’s better to be ruthless to a few (by snipping the problems in the bud) and secure peace for everyone, than to be ‘good’ (and play by the rules), risking open warfare with opponents, which potentially hurts far more people.
Nothing is black and white.
- Review: A Dirty Job Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Funny! The book started slow and I had to think whether it’s another one of those Terry Pratchett moments where I just won’t find the book funny. However it picked up, and made me laugh out loud several times. My first Christopher Moore, and I think may not be my last.
(I read The Light Fantastic as a graphic novel, and Mort, but didn’t find either particularly funny. Apparently I have to try harder)
- Review: The Atrocity Archives Saturday, April 11th, 2015
I was listening to this on Audible, and it started off really strangely. I couldn’t get a grip on the story and frankly I gave it up and moved on to something else. So I finished Chris Moore’s A Dirty Job and I had nothing downloaded except this, so I thought what the heck, let’s put it on and grind it through till I get to a place where I can download the next read. However this time I was able to stay with the story, and more, I managed to enjoy it. I suppose the early preamble and setup took way too long and got too gnarly, but once that was out of the way Stross was able to get in on the action.
The story’s about an IT guy in a magically-inclined highly classified secret service called the Laundry, got mixed up in some shenanigans that got the upper brass to notice him, and drafted him into an otherworldly adventure. Equal parts IT nerdism, Cthulhu mythology, spell casting, James Bond-ish spy thriller, Stross throws in everything but the kitchen sink here, replete with geek references and some pretty funny moments.
There are parts which are genuinely clever. Of note is how Stross describes a basilisk’s ability to fry people at a glance (called Gorgonism), and how this ability manifesting in humans has been researched by top secret military scientists until they could weoponize it as a software uploadable to a webcam. Outrageous, but fiendishly clever.
I also loved some of the characters here, especially the protagonist’s version of M, a straight-faced no-nonsense intelligence director, hinted to be a skilled magician, and the interchanges between him and the protagonist is pretty funny. “Get out of here before I mock you.” “And as you young people would say, ‘Don’t have a cow.'” There’s also the office politics. Oh yes. Lovely bits there too.
I was semi-glad this wasn’t a wasted purchased. The book turned out to be funny, which is always a book’s saving grace where I’m concerned, and I guess if you can wade through the front parts you may like it. If you’re into IT, sf, fantasy, and spy thriller, that is.
- Review: The Magicians Saturday, April 11th, 2015
Unexpected wonder. The best fantasy novel I’ve read during the year that I read it, which I have completely forgotten. Likely the year it was released, since I remembered I picked it up purely from the blurb during a visit to the bookstore. Impulse buy.
The description as an ‘adult’ Harry Potter is apt, but don’t let that detract you.
- Review: Death on the Nile Monday, April 13th, 2015
- Review: The Little Prince Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
It wasn’t horrible, but half of the book was lost because I listened to it, instead of reading it. There are pictures in the book that the text refers to, so of course you miss half the experience. Having said that, this was a surreal reading experience. I’m apparently not enough of a child to understand this at first go, and let’s just say it doesn’t end like all other children’s books I know. I will have to give this another go, but this time on the dead-tree version.
- Review: The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Very nice business fable. 5 principle rules of stratospheric success, and they are pretty optimistic view of the world. One thing I like about this (with Rand’s The Fountainhead firmly in my head) is it doesn’t simply assume that you’re giving your time/energy/expertise away without wanting something in return, but emphasizes that when you give, you have to be ready to receive as well, when it comes.
It’s one way to view the world, and it’s an ideal I like. Several parts worth remembering, including “You get what you expect.”
- Review: Murder on the Orient Express Thursday, April 16th, 2015
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.
- Review: Bossypants Sunday, April 19th, 2015
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.
- Review: Jet Black and the Ninja Wind Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
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…
- Review: Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight full-cast BBC radio dramatisations Tuesday, April 28th, 2015
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.
- Review: Yes Please Tuesday, April 28th, 2015
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.
- Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
Finished reading it to Max, then capped it off with the movie. Max was frightened at certain parts of the movie, but it was cool to see him excited as well. He was particularly excited about meeting the characters for the first time, after having spent about a month with the book.
- Review: The Neverending Story Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
For some reason I kept being reminded of Norman’s Gor books while reading this. The almost campy fantasy elements were very reminiscent of Talbot’s adventures. However, this book has a layer of complexity and is infinitely more interesting.
I’m looking forward to the movie now.
- Review: A Dog’s Heart (Unabridged Fiction) Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
After Frankenstein, which set a very high bar, I’m very interested in man-created creatures. This was a short but very interesting book. Apparently when you’re an asshole, you’re one even when you’ve been transposed to a dog.
- Review: Bellwether Thursday, May 7th, 2015
Willis is undoubtedly a brilliant author, and has a way with words. However the story too way to long to get to the point, and as much as I’m interested in science the research of fads really wasn’t fantastically interesting. I liked how everything unfolded in the end, but overall, the story, while competently written, just wasn’t very interesting to me.
- Unexpected Simple Pleasure – Arrow Saturday, May 9th, 2015
Been watching several episodes of Arrow, and several things came to mind:
- It’s not a bad show. It starts off well enough, and is done in an interesting way with good action.
- If you’re binge watching, as I was, especially several episodes in a row, you’ll notice some inconsistencies when it comes to the character’s behaviour, especially for Thea and Oliver.
- Oliver comes back from the island all serious at first, but then deciding he needs a cover so as not to be suspected for a vigilante, attempts to play up his former playboyish tendencies. However the transition from irresponsible skirt-chasing brat to serious crimebuster and back again is not convincing, and his family seem like idiots not to pickup the fact that he’s super serious in one scene, and playing dumb in another. I suppose this wouldn’t be noticed as much if you watch the episodes in the way it was intended – with a week’s gap in between, time enough for your memory to glaze over minor details.
- Thea is one of the most inconsistent character here – she seems centred and matured on episode, then brattish on another.
- There’s a scene in one of the earlier episodes where Oliver fools Diggle to try locked door before gets him into a stranglehold, in order for him to escape Oliver’s own party to fight crime elsewhere. Amazingly, there was no explanation on the effect the stunt Oliver pulled had on Diggle, and the next time they both appeared on screen together it seemed as though nothing has happened. I’d have expected Diggle to have fought and gotten into Oliver’s face for that, because as at that time Oliver hasn’t yet revealed his secret to Diggle, but no. This was super strange and bugged me.
- I’m not convinced on superheroes on TV. They’ve upped the smoothness factor by improving production quality, but if you take all that away it’s still almost campy. I wasn’t all in for Agents of SHIELD either, and stopped at Episode 5 for that one.
As I write this I seem to have broken the spell Arrow had on me. I’m on episode 10, and I think I’m pretty much done. I’ll move on to something else.
- Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
An astounding, eye-opening book. Against the backdrop of 1960/1970s Afghanistan all the way to the early 21st century, the story charts the lives of two strong Afghan women and their will for survival in a society where social norms are stacked heavily against women. The book is nuanced and paints a very sympathetic view of the traditional middle eastern and Islamic way of life. Struck in particular about how the Taliban’s iron enforcement of Islamic laws upon their takeover of the country affected its citizens, especially women.
I think this is an important book for everyone to read, if only to see a culture drastically different from our own and as a contrast to our own lives. I can think of many people in positions of power in my own nation, sheltered and ever ready to brandish a self-righteous cultural pronouncement or two, who would probably be well served to take a minute or two to think about how it affects people of different racial persuasions, as it does within Afghanistan itself (because the Afghan community is also made up of different racial populations, and they too tell a story about how these racial distinctions are indeed, not distinctions at all). The society painted here is complex, and makes it simpler to discern the difference between religious duty and religious fundamentalism.
Culture is borne out of tradition, which is borne out of necessities of the way of lives of a community, at a particular time and place. In this modern world, I think it bears thinking deeply about some traditions, how and why they grew out from, and whether it’s still something that should be applied wholesale in the context of today.
How would you feel if half of your nation’s population is to immediately stop working? That there’s a clear gender demarcation where there are hospitals just for men or for women, and these facilities are provisioned unfairly? I frequently found myself outraged at some of the things Mariam and Laila went through, and what was done to them. This book is less about politics and national turmoil and war, but more about society and women.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, a work that forces me to feel strongly (and I don’t mean poor prose or ridiculous plots/stories) is automatically a memorable one, and I surely felt a lot reading this. Recommended, on many levels.
- Review: Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
Not a fountain of ideas, not a generator of plots. Rather catalogue of techniques that can be used to tell a story. It’s obviously not exhaustive, as you simply cannot possible list down every possible trick every single author has used, but it’s a way to inform the would be author on the possibilities.
It wasn’t what I was looking for, if there’s such a thing. I’m specifically for how to plot and how to generate ideas. This course covers this, but not in the depth I was hoping for. I did like the discussion on Freytag’s pyramid, which is a structure for dramatic plays what can be adopted for fiction writing.
It was a good course, overall, but if you’re looking handle plots, this isn’t it.
- Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
An evil traveling carnival stops in a small town, and proceeds to terrorize two local boys, who learns about balloons and calliope and a chap with tatts called The Illustrated Man (cool name, I have to say), a witch who’s susceptible to cigarette smoke and a supposed dead guy who is powered by high-voltage electricity while strapped onto an electric chair.
And the merry-go-round. A special ride that can shave or add years to your life with every revolution, depending on which way it turns. Apparently people get tricked or tempted to ride in it, and emotions of all sorts powers the evil that is the carnival.
The point is, this book flew past me a little. Bradbury evokes incredible imagery in this book, painting the small town, and the characters and the carnival in great detail. However all that got in the way of the storytelling for me. I didn’t figure out why the carnival was so very very bad, how it affected the folks in the town, what happened to some of the people who got in contract with the carnival, why it was so important for Mr Dark to get his hands on the two boys. I’m sure it was mentioned, but it just flew past for me.
The Illustrated Man is famously the title of another of Bradbury’s books, and now I’m wondering if that’s the same guy.
- Review: Candide Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
Wonderful, side-splittingly funny. There are so many quotes here that I need to relook at the book and highlight them, and likely miss most of it.
I’m not intellectually equipped to articulate the social commentary that is Candide, and any remarks I make about the critic that despises everything (one of the funniest parts of the book – the one who ‘finds pleasure in not finding pleasure’) as well as Candide, who delightfully ‘finds everything so surprising’, as remarked by Cacambo, will miss the point. Any attempts I may make about how our circumstances is not really the best end result of some pie-in-the-sky universal causality, will fall flat and sound pretentious and meaningless.
So I will only say what I cannot refute, which is that this work made me laugh out loud so many times I have to give it 4 stars. The missing star is probably because it wasn’t as long as Don Quixote. Which may actually warrant it 6 stars, I don’t know.
- Intermediate Lull Wednesday, May 27th, 2015
Because I’m reading Middlemarch. It’s kinda long. I’m enjoying it.
Also, I had a rollicking good time with this:
- Review: Middlemarch Monday, June 1st, 2015
Ok lar, ok lar. It’s a 5-star book lar. Technically it is a 4.8 star book, but since you can’t do decimals for ratings, let’s just round it up.
When I’m embarking on classics, I’m only really afraid of the stuffiness generally brought on by overweening prose that go nowhere, and the risk of the plot plodding along at a snail’s pace (you know, just like this sentence). To illustrate, more Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
As with most other classics I read, I had no idea what Middlemarch was about beforehand. The book more or less centers around Dorothea Brooke and her almost-childish insistence to marry a man more than twice her own age, almost out of spite, with an ideal to help a supposedly eminent scholar achieve academic greatness. She finds that the reality is a little different from that ideal, and how that affects her marriage and her state of mind. Also, that couple of sentences, as an attempt to summarize Middlemarch, is almost like saying LOTR is a story of a couple of chaps looking to dispose of an unwanted piece of jewellery.
The beauty of the book, for me, comprises of two points: the characters and the omniscient voice exploring the character’s emotions.
The story involves more than just Dorothea (I have to say I didn’t really like Dorothea right out of the bat), but an entire cast of characters in Middlemarch lovingly drawn and characterized to perfection. All the characters are skilfully interwoven into an intricate story.
Also, Eliot has a way of expressing the deep human emotions that motivates and compels the characters to act the way they do. Her observations on marriage is particularly incisive. The torment Dorothea feels under the yoke of her marriage with Casaubon (by now it was clear the marriage was a mistake for both), and also the interplay between Rosamond and Tertius Lydgate when the latter ran into financial troubles in particular quite memorable (and a little sad).
It’s basically Jane Eyre without the almost unbelievable serendipity, with the tension and satisfying climatic release of any Austens you care to name (albeit without the sense of fun and humour) with the constant character self-examination of a… a Russian author, just pick one… Dostoevsky.
Middlemarch is not the wreck that my mashup would seem to imply. It’s actually quite wonderful.
- Review: Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History Saturday, June 6th, 2015
Fascinating history of espionage. Fell out of my chair on the revelation on Julia Childs. Learned about Graham Greene, W. Somerset Maugham, Lawrence of Arabia, Ian Fleming, Mata Hari (name really was based on Malay! Shocked! I always thought it was coincidence. Turns out that it may not actually be ‘sun’, but ‘Eye of the Dawn’, which I thought sounded better) and Chevalier d’Éon.
Very interesting indeed.
- Review: Astro City, Vol. 6: The Dark Age, Book One: Brothers and Other Strangers Saturday, June 6th, 2015
- Review: Astro City, Vol. 7: The Dark Age, Book Two: Brothers in Arms Saturday, June 6th, 2015
- Review: A History of the Roman Republic Friday, June 12th, 2015
- Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel Sunday, June 14th, 2015
Excellent! It’s a Batman story with a love angle. It’s a spy novel with a dastardly villain, plenty of intrigue, clever escapades and a generally fabulous action adventure.
A group of Englishmen led by a notoriously daring but hitherto unknown figure known as the Scarlet Pimpernel is rescuing French aristocrats and their families bound for the guillotine during the French Revolution. The said aristocrats are smuggled out of France under the authorities’ collective noses and the French government, feeling a little undermined, is sending spies to England to uncover the identity of this meddlesome person.
Btw, I loved the word ‘citoyenne’. I love the way it rolls off the tongue.
- Review: The Last Wish Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
Of course, like most of the people not from Poland I’ve been introduced to this via the popular and (most importantly) well-reviewed Witcher video game. I’m taking the tack of my book-adapted movie watching habits – I will only play the game once I’ve read the book, so here I am.
It’s not a bad book at all. It’s cleverly written, with famous fairy tales redressed and reworked into a fantasy setting complete with all sorts of exotic monsters, with the interesting twist that the hero, Geralt, is himself considered a borderline monster himself, since he’s not quite human and imbued with supernatural abilities.
I’ve not read fantasy in a while, as I’m very leery of cookie-cutter fantasy, but thankfully this didn’t make me break out in hives.
I read this in my Kindle, and the format of the novel, which is essentially a series of inter-related short stories bookended by a couple of what is known as a framing story (starts off in the middle of something, then cuts to stories which fill in the back story for the characters, then ends with the continuation of the story that started at the beginning of the book). This format was a little disorienting, and I’d think that if someone picked up a physical book it would have been formatted with typeface and whatnot that wouldn’t have been so jarring a transition for the reader.
Not bad, and I’ll be looking forward to reading the next book in the Witcher series, something that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while, The Blood of Elves.
- Review: Classical Mythology Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
I’ve loved Classical Mythology since I was 12. I loved the stories of these childish and petulant gods, their petty schemes and squabble. And the adventures of their various heroic offsprings, triumphant or tragic they may be. I swallowed them whole (like Cronos with his children).
I didn’t know what I was expecting when I purchased this thing. Did I want to hear the stories read to me? Did I want the Trojan War brought to life? This course isn’t that, but an examination of the theories and studies of classical myth at a level that I had never imagined. The students of the arts are probably facepalming themselves right now. Seriously, the sort of parallels that can be garnered from the reading of the stories have been nothing but astonishing to me. I certainly learned a great deal, the behind-the-scenes working of the stories, and how they can be interpreted.
I was surprised to learn about the heavy influence Ovid had on Shakespeare. Learned about how, despite the strong females gods prominent in classical mythology, ancient Greeks still valued boys higher than girls, men more valuable than women. The wholesale adoption of the Greek gods by the Romans, except for a major, wholly Roman god Janus.
This bears a second listening, as now I’m beginning to understand how some of the book reviewers actually critique works of literature, the method, if you will, of deconstructing a piece of work and apply layers of current reality that fits into the picture.
- Review: Wonder Boys Thursday, July 2nd, 2015
I love Chabon’s style. It’s powerful, snappy writing. I didn’t care too much about the story, but it does places where what the character was feeling resonated with my own life at the moment (mainly about the novel Wonder Boys, which is the main character’s unfinished book, eponymously titled).
- Review: The Long Goodbye Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Truly a long goodbye, this book. Plot-wise, I mean.
As a first Chandler, I have to say I much prefer Hammett’s stories. However, writing-wise it’s easy to see why people list Chandler a little more often than Hammett. While Hammett wasn’t too bad, Chandler’s prose sticks out. His writing pops and punches.
The Long Goodbye wasn’t as noir as the two Hammett’s I’ve read, Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, offering a story that offers an almost-glimpse into the daily goings-on of a private eye, with the myriad cases that comes across his desk, but the motley crew of cases seemingly tied up in a neat circle in the end.
Also, something that bothered me throughout is Marlowe’s seemingly high personal ideals. It’s very black-and-white of this chap, with no grays in between. He refuses payments from clients at almost every turn, because he was ‘helping a friend’ or some such nonsense, and I wondered more than once how he could have possibly survived with that sort of blasé attitude towards payment for services rendered.
* edit: I wanted to note here that Chandler mentions Malaya in the text. “I thought it was more a tropical drink, hot weather stuff. Malaya or some place like that.”
** I take note of all works that I read that mentions either Malaysia or Malaya.
- Review: The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills Wednesday, July 8th, 2015
- Review: Hawkeye, Vol. 2: Little Hits Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
Fraction and Aja is doing something very different here. I liked the departure from normal comics conventions here, best illustrated by an issue told entirely from the perspective of Hawkeye’s dog. It’s a fun comic. It’s not the tired, same old stuff. It’s a little light, but that’s not to take anything away from the work itself. It’s the equivalent of a very well done summer Hollywood blockbuster, a great quick read novel.
After Secret Wars, it’s unclear what will happen to this Clint Barton, but I liked the Kate and Clint dynamic very much indeed.
- Review: Daredevil Legends, Vol. 2: Born Again Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
It’s almost perfect. Karen Page is apparently now a complete junkie, who sells the identity of DD to a pusher for a fix, and this info gets all the way up to the Kingpin. And the Kingpin orchestrates a really clever deconstruction of Matt Murdock’s life, and how Matt climbs back up.
It’s didn’t cover the way Matt’s life changed back to normal (because it doesn’t), but it begs the reading of subsequent issues because you kinda want to know what happens after this. Which this book doesn’t tell you (it ran out of pages!).
Frank’s DD work is great stuff, indeed. Gimme more Miller Daredevil!
- Review: Ragtime Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
Sorry. One of those books where I have completely no recollection of what I read. There’s Harry Houdini, whose story was interwoven into the narrative, giving some texture and background to his life what you’d otherwise not glean from what popular culture have you know (which of course, could be fiction). The other players in the book, well, it’s very steeped in Americana, expects you to know the majority of the famous characters showcased.
Wait wait, it’s coming back to me now. Towards the last third of the story there’s this black chap (who of course has appeared in the novel earlier, but comes into prominence here for this sequence of events), who wanted to get back at a white fireman for not taking action against his team of firemen for a pretty blatant petty crime committed against him (black chap). His car was smashed and defecated on, and it was clear to everyone at the scene who did what. However due to the racial element the fireman not only did not take any action but insisted that the matter not be brought up any further or risk arrest. This injustice set off a chain reaction where the black chap went underground, and started killing firemen and blowing up firestations across several locations, and demanding that his car be restored.
His activism attracted like-minded band of brothers and culminated in a climactic scene where he holds a museum housing priceless artifacts hostage while demanding for this car, and ends with him bargaining for the life of the said firemen with those of his men, before getting shot as he surrendered.
Ok lar, it wasn’t a horrible book, but it simply wasn’t very memorable. This book has won many awards, so it simply underlines how much I really know (which is, of course, not much).
- Review: Fables, Vol. 21: Happily Ever After Friday, July 31st, 2015
Read this along with Volume 22: Farewell. There is a sense that an ending is coming, and I can’t help but feel that Willingham was trying to plan it such that it all ties in neatly by issue 150 (aka Volume 22). Short stories which tell the last stories of various Fable characters are peppered throughout the book, bringing closure to some of these characters that we’ll never see again.
Once thing that I just can’t shake is the weirdness of this impending battle between Snow White and Rose Red. Sure I know why, now, they have to fight, but the reason wasn’t compelling, and was in truth a little hard to swallow since Rose Red has done a great job reforming herself, and became such a great sister and aunt. There were scenes where Rose Red seemed to be compelled by some sinister force to behave badly, muttering bad intentions to other dastardly characters (like Leigh Douglas) like some cinematic villain. That’s something that seemed out of character given what she’s turned into recently, which is a generally good person.
In fact, I was disappointed by the dispatching of various Fables throughout this volume. It was a little anti-climactic feel to many of them, especially for Lancelot and the abovementioned Ms Douglas.
The rating was really in recognition of the difficulty I had with the compunction for the sisters to basically raise armies against each other.
- Review: Fables Vol. 22: Farewell Saturday, August 1st, 2015
This book feels rushed. There’s something to be said about how Willingham had over the course of a year or so to plan for this grand exit, but yet it feels like lots of things are conveniently but not always convincingly tied up in a bow.
One of the worse culprits is this feeling of an artificially jacked up reason for the two sisters to fight. The situation that brought this to a head, from the point when sisterly feelings were put on hold at the point where Rose decided to ‘reform’ instead of punishing Prince Brandish (a dastardly villain who killed Snow’s husband Bigby), to the cusp of all out battle between the sisters, seemed like a mere several months. This is of course opposed to the thousands and thousands of years Rose and Snow have been together, with myriad opportunities for this ridiculous flare-up to occur (especially during the time when they were actually not on speaking terms, and Snow wasn’t married with children).
Rose Red and Snow White were still having drinks together when Bigby was discovered to have come back, despite the supposed backroom dealings that’s going on in amassing their respective armies. Snow, in particular, doesn’t seem very convinced on their need to go to war, and who can blame her? This seemed to abrupt not only to her but to me as well.
This is after all a comic, and everything has its time and place, and it is here that the stage is set for all the characters to exit more or less gracefully.
A lot of characters that I actually loved died over the course of the last and this volume. Especially considering how the battle was resolved, this was a massive anti-climax and a complete waste of lives. It also highlighted another ongoing problem I had with Fables – how a Fable ‘dies’. Do they or don’t they? Apparently the rule set early on in the series is Fables who hold strong sway over the lives of the mundies due to their popularity will always come back despite, well, dying. The more popular they are, the more likely they’ll come back. However that doesn’t explain why some of the characters which I’d consider pretty damn standard don’t come back. It gets even worse as it gets closer to the end, since it becomes apparent that these supposedly popular characters don’t make a reappearance anymore.
I’ve found over the years, when it comes to stories, I’m a sentimental guy. I may not portray any outward emotions; my Bookbabble gang has lovingly pegged me as a heartless bastard because I didn’t cry at the end of ‘The Road’ (‘lovingly’ is the right word, right, guys? Right?), but nevertheless I have a fondness for them.
Fables, over the course of its long run, has always occupied a very special place in my heart for its treatment of Bigby and Snow, specifically the special relationship between them and them with their kids. The only time I’ve ever shed tears while reading remains a singular issue of Fables (not this volume), playing the father-son relationship card. I think being a father changes you, and the stories you can relate to. Willingham is a clever writer, and the ending to this monumental series, while not perfect, is fitting, neat if a little rushed, and satisfying. A touching, slightly emotional finale.
Thank you, Fables crew. You will be missed.
- Review: The Age of Innocence Saturday, August 1st, 2015
This was my second attempt at finishing this audiobook – I last tried it in 2012, and boy was it a slog to finish then. Perhaps it was my frame of mind at the time – I was due to travel back to KL from Johor Bahru, the prospect of about 4 hours of driving and the need to digest the complicated dance of cultural norms of 1870s New Yorkers. I gave up about one-tenth of the way in, bored out of my skull.
So I tried again, this time perhaps with a more ready mind (and I didn’t have another book downloaded in my mobile). Perhaps armed by what I went through before, I managed to follow the story a little better this time. As it went along, the emotional complexities of both Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska began to surface. Newland is due to be wed to May Welland, when one day he meets Olenska, a refugee from her high-society husband Count Olenski (Polish! And thanks to Tomasz I know guy names will never end with the letter ‘a’, and ladies likewise will not have names ending with the letter ‘i’, hence Ollenska and Olenski). Archer and Olenska fall for each other, but due to myriad circumstances cannot and could not take the step to be together without breaking accepted social proprieties (she’s married! he’s about to be married!) and hurting May. Newland continues on with his marriage and lives unhappily knowing he still loves Olenska. Olenska, who still did not take the step of divorcing Olenski, and didn’t return to him, becomes something of the family’s black sheep for not returning to Olenski especially, since at that time the whiff of scandal of a broken down marriage is frowned upon. Everything ends many years later after May’s death, and Archer has a chance to meet Olenska again in Paris, but decides not to after all.
This story is about societal expectations, happiness, missed chances and regret. I was surprised at Newland’s stance. This is fiction, after all, swashbuckling, devil-may-care, consequences-be-damned examination of poor choices in life. Except it wasn’t. And did Archer make the right choice in the end? You only have one life, after all. The Road Less Traveled by Frost is somehow playing at the back of my head as I think about this book. Newland did consummate their love, albeit for one night, but it was after his wedding, so he still cheated on her. He was about to leave May too, just on the very cusp of doing it when May informed him that she’s now pregnant. And also that she told Olenska two weeks prior, hence Olenska’s decision to depart for Paris. So he stays.
(Probably more powerful if Wharton didn’t give Archer a chance to quench that almighty thirst.)
Sometimes, things are just not meant to be, and that’s that.
It was after I finished that I realized that this book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I must have known it when I purchased it, but I certainly didn’t remember it at all while reading it, since I was more concerned about trying not to waste my purchase.
Turns out it was a good one. Ok then.
- Review: Ceremonies in Dark Old Men Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
This is an audio play, given free by Audible sempena Black History Month. The story is about a black family in 1950s-1960s Harlem. Russel Parker runs a barbershop, while his two sons Theo and Bobby are small-time bad boys with a penchant for larceny and have a hard time holding down a job, due to racism and other general malaise. Russel’s daughter Adele is the only one with a job, and supports both the barbershop and the men. She’s obviously unhappy about the situation (as well she might), and basically told them off to get their najis bersama-sama.
Theo gets involved with the local gangster and persuades Russel to front a bootleg alcohol business with the barbershop. Things very quickly go south, due to Russel squandering the earnings instead of properly keeping the books in order, which is apparently very unhealthy when the people bankrolling the operations find out. Eventually Theo wants out, but not before Bobby meets his untimely demise at an attempted larceny gone wrong.
The story’s quick and pretty good. I especially liked the character development here, especially Theo who previously didn’t believe in working for ‘The Man’, but ends up learning about responsibility when picking up the work left undone by Russel, even though the motivation was grounded essentially in self-preservation. He learns the lesson here about responsibilities, but unable to back out in time.
- Review: Rose Under Fire Thursday, August 6th, 2015
Story of an 18-year old American pilot Rose Justice who delivers planes to the Allied efforts in the war against Nazi Germany. She gets caught by the Nazis during a routine delivery when she chased down a ‘flying bomb’ and travels way off course into Nazi territory. The majority of the story deals with her experiences in a women’s concentration camp in Ravensbruck, the people she meets there and her eventual escape.
The novel highlighted a group of prisoners called the ‘rabbits’, women who were chosen as subjects for medical experiments in war trauma. These women were obviously unwilling participants, having injuries inflicted on their bodies (primarily legs) to see how the body reacted with different treatments in a real-life field scenario, and often extracted muscle and tissue from the said body parts as part of the experiments. These surgeries leave the subjects maimed, and they were called ‘rabbits’ akin to real rabbits in science experiments.
Rose eventually escapes Ravensbruck (stealing a plane along the way and flying into Belgium and safety with two of her fellow inmates), and lives on to participate in the Nazi trials in Nuremberg.
Like Code Name Verity, Wein depicts the perspective of war from a captive’s perspective, showing the horror of the victims of war. Also like Code Name Verity, I couldn’t help but feel so strongly for all the characters in the story. The story was punctuated with poems by Rose (she’s an amateur poet) which was at once tender yet brutally honest.
There are bits here that ties into Code Name Verity – Maddie makes an appearance, continuing her story after Julie’s death and her new life as wife to Julie’s brother Jamie.
This was a fantastic book that made me teary-eyed. Only one other book managed that. Wonderful, and highly recommended.
- Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Thursday, August 6th, 2015
I finished this sometime back but only got around to writing the review here. A very interesting series of stories about what happens to cadavers throughout history, and how they advanced medical sciences. If you ever wondered what happens to corpses after they’ve been donated to science, then this book is for you.
It’s at turns funny and macabre. Roach doesn’t cover the spirituality aspects of the body donated to science, especially since the Asian perspective has some very strong links between the soul and the body.
Roach makes a strong case for organ donation here.
- Review: Being There Thursday, August 6th, 2015
It’s a quick read. A story about a simple gardener with literally no past, educated completely by American television his whole life, gets exposed to society for the very first time. He gets mistaken for a super cultivated, intelligent messiah of the modern times when he responds to questions on the bleak American economy with allusions the cyclical patterns of plant care (sprouts, gets rotten, gets trimmed so that new growth is possible, etc). Everyone starts believing that he’s speaking in allegory, and it goes on and on until he eventually gets touted as a potential candidate for vice presidency.
The story is a fable, a reflection of the absurdity of modern times that has spun so uncontrollably out of whack that society extols what is essentially nonsense as guidance. At least that’s the way I see it.
I consumed this as an Audible (this is the majority of my reading nowadays, with my nights largely spent *gasp* sleeping), and this was narrated by none other than Dustin Hoffman. From a performance perspective, I have to say I’ve listened to better narrators. Sorry, Mr Academy Award Winner.
- Review: Black Like Me Friday, August 21st, 2015
This is a book about racism, about how deep-rooted it is despite all the rhetoric to the contrary in late 1950s/early 1960s America. A white journalist decided to go undercover as a black man through a series of medical/cosmetic alterations in an effort to experience for himself a slice of life as a black man. Griffin’s experience shows how despite retaining his name, his clothing, his manner of speech and behaviour, people still make preconceived notions about him as a person based solely on the colour of his skin. Even the whites who purport to be inclusive fall into speech and thinking patterns, however unconsciously, that exacerbates the unfairness the blacks feel, particularly in the white concept of half-hearted conciliatory gestures that don’t go all the way. For example, the recognition of a black professor as a peer in academia and according him with commensurate pay and opportunities, but he’s forced to live outside of the city due to the persecution faced by his wife and children.
I really disliked the way the book started, particularly how Griffith feels as he undergoes the treatment of darkening his skin, about how when he looks into the mirror for the first time as a black man that he’s somehow fallen into this proverbial black hole of hopelessness and despair, despite not having experienced yet any interactions with the outside world as a black man. As if the mere act of turning black has zapped all his sunny disposition. This struck me as being overly dramatic and as I was listening to this segment of the narrative in the car, drivers from lanes either side of my car will have seen how scrunched up my face looked, if they had taken a peek. I knew I was tackling a heavy subject matter, but I had moments when I felt like if this was the tone the book was going for then I’m not sure I could have continued.
Thankfully, after Griffin’s internal epiphany, he got onto actually living the life of a black man, and here he was much better. He painted a community of blacks who were bonded together through shared sufferings and feelings of injustice, and with good cause. He also painted the whites in what I thought was fair light, showing kindness where it was given, but documenting the hate stares and ‘remember-your-place’ attitudes the whites more often displayed. There were plenty of takeaways here, but mostly the sense of injustice was rife, and the sense of danger constantly permeated in the air for a black man.
His sojourn was about 6 weeks, at which point he decided to end his experiment, document his journey and appeared in media detailing his experience and advocating civil equality, and it is this part that I most admired him. He outlined the lack of equal opportunities afforded to young black perpetuated a vicious circle of crime and constant underachievement, and the need to ensure the black community get access to quality education was imperative to moving out of poverty. The one thing that struck me was how the black civil movement leaders persevered on a strategy of peaceful resistance, and not give in to need to retaliate against this awful situation, and remaining courteous and kind and all the things the whites constantly say they are not. The story of the poor family who’d offer a stranger (black Griffin as he was stranded on a lonely highway at night) a roof over his head despite barely holding it together as a family speaks volumes of the mentality of the people at that time.
I’m mindful of the time when the book was written, and thus the melodrama of the start may be completely justified despite my reservations, but once you get past that the book becomes incredibly interesting. I think Griffin achieved his objectives of getting a closer look at the problem, and in his way helped his nation address the problem.
I’m trying to tie this back to our national experience here where I am, and while there are parallels it’s nowhere near as insidious as in 1960s America. But it teaches lessons that I strongly feel politicians here must learn. Recently there was a minister here who proposed the establishment of a tech mall solely to cater to Muslim businessmen and patrons, because, as he put it, the existing tech mall (which caters to people of all races I should add), somehow comes across as marketing only to non-Muslims (which is utter rubbish). Here we have a governmental leader. Proposing segregation. In 2015. I couldn’t believe it. He needs to open his eyes and read more, travel more.
He probably wouldn’t find parallels, but he could start by reading this book too.
- Review: The Once and Future King Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
This books is very emotionally complex for me. I’ve never liked the Arthurian legend, primarily because of the Arthur, Guinevere (irritatingly spelled Guenever in the book, but pronounced the same) and Lancelot.
The novel started in a way that completely surprised me. The first book of the novel (there are four parts, or books, to the entire novel), the Sword in Stone, was written as a children’s book, with anthropomorphic animals of all kinds that teach the future king lessons in life. The tone of the novel is distinctly geared towards the younger reader, despite Merlyn (again spelled in a way that’s different from what I’m used to) sometimes spewing decidedly adult ideas in adult contexts. This was surprising because I couldn’t reconcile this relatively happy tone with the ridiculously dark events that are coming.
The narrator, and Merlyn as a character, references incidences in the future (in relation to the narrative) and events in the real world, like war and pieces of famous literature that nobody else in the book knows about. Notably, the narrator references the events that happens in Le Morte d’Arthur, and says because it was described in a more detailed fashion there he will in turn just give a cursory mention in this book. It’s very self-aware, and assumes the readers already know the main thread of the story already.
There’s also a part where Merlyn breaks the fourth wall entirely and mentions to Arthur about how they are in a book and the stories that are being written about them are being read at that instant (although I’m unsure if this is this book or Book of Merlyn).
I cannot work my head around to accepting the love triangle, which is one of the core plots of the story. White explains it in a way where the age difference between Arthur and Guenever allows for a different type of love that the one she harbours for Lancelot, which is more romantic love. Arthur, knowing the love between his best friend and his wife, allows it, and handled it by not really questioning this too much. He’s made to worry about the affairs of the world, and is too huge and important to worry about the affairs of the heart. And all this time Lancelot, who supposedly loves Arthur, has no problems turning him into a cuckold, in an affair that lasts decades.
White explains how the society at the time could not have considered divorce as an option, as common as it is in the present world. It’s simply something that isn’t thought about, and he weighs the option of taking such a drastic action as something that may jeopardize the stability of the world he’s trying to build.
Perhaps I need to try to view this in it’s proper context, place it in it’s time and place. Treat it as I would in societies where social norms that are completely alien to me are perfectly acceptable, like sibling marriages or having multiple wives, situations which somehow I have no problems compartmentalizing.
The part about the book is the meditation on war. White is very vocal about this, particularly through Merlyn’s voice. Unequivocal in the stance that nobody should ever under any circumstances wage war against another man, *unless* it is to stop the person who initiated the war itself.
A book I think that needs a repeat read, especially on his treatise on the ideas of justice and might for right.
Yet, until I work out in my head how Arthur could have accepted a cheating wife, I’ll have to stew for a bit before I do reach for this book again.
- Review: The Book of Merlyn Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
Better rating because Lancelot and Guenever isn’t here, and more thorough exploration of White’s ideas on justice, and life, and society, and war.
It’s a meditation through symbolism and analogy, through the life of different types of animals, particularly ants (communism) and geese.
This one bears rereading, for sure.
- Review: Breakfast with Buddha Saturday, October 10th, 2015
- Review: Man’s Search for Meaning Saturday, October 10th, 2015
- Review: Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World Saturday, October 10th, 2015
I loved the stories on the origins of Wall Street trading automation. The book spends a lot of time here, which I didn’t expect. As a tech guy thought that the perspective on automation is a lot narrower than I thought, but it was still interesting.
(I’ve been putting in a lot of reviews here under Sept, because I’m behind on keeping track of when the books where done. So all of them suspiciously completed on 9 Sept)
- Review: Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega Saturday, October 10th, 2015
- Review: The Martian Friday, October 16th, 2015
It’s not often a book with such hype lives up to expectations. And to be fair I approached this book with zero expectations, just mild curiosity. My son wants to watch the movie so I thought I’d do the usual trick of reading the book first before the movie. Knew very little beyond some guy trapped in Mars, and uses science (magic for some people) to survive.
I had not expected such a thorough treatment of science behind almost everything Watney did in Mars. So thorough, in fact, that it became cool. So cool it was almost cold. Like Mars (see what I did there?). It was clear very early on that Weir is passionate about science, and everything in and around space travel. The rationale behind his efforts to survive were grounded in logic and (here’s that word again) science, so much so that I’m beginning to think that there may not be anyone on Earth with such an incredible store of knowledge in a person’s brain. I think there’s a blurb on the cover that referenced MacGyver, and that’s totally what this book is – MacGyver in Mars, multiplied by a million.
I did not expect to enjoy the book as much as I did, and I’m glad to have read it. It almost made me regret not being an astronaut instead of an IT guy. Because I could so totally do it. I know a molecule of water is made up of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. See? And I retrofit nuclear-powered spacecrafts all the time. I wake up after, but I still could do it. I literally do it in my dreams.
- Review: The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking Friday, October 16th, 2015
I liked this book very much, and it has some great ideas, but I wanted more of the visual vocabulary that the book covers somewhere at the end. I know my note-taking style, and it’s verbose, and I’d like to be able to take that and marry it with some visual elements, something I was hoping this book would teach me. I also wanted to take the said visual vocabulary and extend it to presentations or whiteboarding sessions, where I frequently convey ideas to clients/consultants in the simplest way i know how. Right now it’s squares and skinny arrows, but it would be cool if I knew more.
Right now the best book I’ve found at representing data or concepts visually remains Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin.
This book doesn’t go into more depth for me personally, but it’s totally a great one for those who’d like to begin taking notes visually, and to synthesize info in a visual manner.
- Review: The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit Thursday, October 22nd, 2015
- Review: This is Not the End of the Book Friday, October 23rd, 2015
The book is basically a recorded conversation between Eco and Carriere about several things, the chief of which is the head tree version of the book. My thinking going into this was that electronic books is definitely the future, and that all the books should exist digitally, which I truly believed to be its most refined form. Storing books in plain text file, free from silly constraints of requiring specialized software like PDF reader to get to the heart of the matter. What’s more pure than plain text files?
However, the authors’ points have merit and changed my way of thinking about long-term storage of books. One of the most incisive observation was Carriere’s “There’s nothing more ephemeral than long-term media formats.” I strongly opposed this statement at first. In the first place, there’s something to be said about storing data digitally, and having the flexibility to reprint it in any form, including, yes, a book. The data can be pure text, and even though I dislike proprietary viewers as a means of long-term storage, the PDF format is defined clearly enough, lived in public domain long enough to warrant competent implementation of views to guarantee long-term archival purposes. And the cloud. Oh the cloud. Imagine being able to recall any (any!) book in its best fidelity anytime and virtually anywhere you have a connected mobile device. How is that ephemeral?
However, Carriere mentioned an example of a director friend of his who stocks his basement with old computers and machinery just to see films/footage recorded on media no modern devices can use anymore. The disks and tapes and cards and all manner of obsolte storage technology, with valuable digital data trapped inside with no other way to safely retrieve them. Also about data store on archaic CD-ROMS, once held as ‘the’ ‘permanent’ storage needs. Loaded on it programs that can no longer run on modern computers.
Sobering. He’s right. Imagine a global catastrophe like nuclear war or the flu epidemic, wiping out access to electricity (this scenario is laughably easy to arrive at, given that we’ve seen proofs of how fragile the supply chain is when hit with an emergency). What good is streams of bits then?
In this scenario, the book is clearly superior. “The book is like a spoon: once invented, it cannot be bettered.” Eco may not be wrong here.
What I felt is that leaving everything as a physical book is terribly… inefficient. But total reliance on digital formats is not the answer either. Therefore there should be complementary efforts to have these two formats exist together. The constant debates to land on one side or the other is ultimately pointless. What we need is to perfect the content representation technology (and PDFs are not the solution long-term), store it in the most OS-agnostic, system-agnostic manner possible and propagate it over a redundant, highly available cloud infrastructure that’s not government or corporate-owned. And this alongside libraries or archives working to preserve significant physical works for the future generations.
Works to digitize existing works mustn’t stop. This is the only way to spread knowledge and ideas otherwise trapped in books held only by either the fortunate or the privileged.
This book also talks about how culture is a form of censorship or natural filtering. Too much data like what we have today is as damaging as not having enough data. There are many books mentioned by great classical works that never survived to the present day. There’s no way to know if these works are as good as it is claimed to be, or are the ones we have truly the best of the best.
Eco and Carriere spent a lot of time talking about incunabulum, which roughly a book published in the 15th century, a kind of ancient book or manuscript. They touch on their collecting habits, which is enormous and obviously worth a tidy sum.
They also touched on all the books they’ve’ purchased but not read. It doesn’t bother them, obviously. “I haven’t read of these books. Why would I keep them otherwise?” was one response to a question by a visitor asking if they’ve read all the books in their fearsome library.
Overall, a good book to meditate on. The memories of both men as they cite example after example of obscure books and authors and films and directors is very impressive. And not all in their native languages too. True intellectuals.
- Review: PhiLOLZophy Critical Thinking in Digestible Doses Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
It was unexpectedly entertaining, this one. There was very little philosophy in this book, and more about the state of mind in various stages of growing up, how to recognize the said state of mind and how to handle it properly without skidding off the cliff of life and ending up in the chasm of mental oblivion (I’m practicing for NaNoWriMo, so forgive the extravagant yet terribly unwieldy phrases).
I’m giving it 3 stars no because of any philosophical eurekas, but it was a fun short book that I immediately re-listened the moment I finished it. Yes, I read (listened as audiobook) this one twice. Back to back.
The target audience for this book, I guess I’m not.
- Review: Economics (3rd Edition): Making Sense of the Modern Economy Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
It’s supposed to Make Sense of the Modern Economy, but for me it’s Making No Sense of the Modern Economy. Sorry, but this is diving into the deep end, this book.
I have no background in economics beyond some Ariely, Levitt/Dubner and an occasional book about the collapse of CDO-backed securities triggering shockwaves across Wall Street and the world.
To say I learned nothing would be inaccurate, yet I can’t say I learned a lot either. A lot flowed right past. I learned economics is simply a map with which we can use to try to make sense of the world. However it’s at best an estimation, and at worse a wild buckshot in the dark with the nozzle pointed at humanity. Despite the best theories the securities bust happened, crises happened and will continue to happen. So it’s really an examination of the various factors that influence the development of a nation.
This book bears a re-read, but hopefully when I’m more well-stocked on more econs fundamentals. I’m giving it 3 stars because it’s not the book’s fault that I didn’t learn as much as I could out of this, simply because I’m a curious passer-by, not an econs major.
Having said this, I hope my subconscious retained enough to allow me to whip out random info to be entertaining in parties.
- Review: Psycho Monday, November 2nd, 2015
I’ve gotten to this book too late. This book is so much part of the popular culture that you didn’t even know you knew spoilers.
In my case, I truly didn’t know much beyond Janet Leigh’s infamous shower scene (no, I’ve not seen the movie either), and for the longest time I didn’t know if she lived or died. Eventually I did sort of ‘know’, not because I knew the fact, but I guessed it must have been inevitable.
Which brings me to this. Finally I’ve managed to get to this book, and if I had been living under a rock this would have been a 4.5 star book (as it stands, I’m living under a giant mushroom. Almost like a rock, but not entirely). By the first quarter of the book I guessed the twist, and while the book still managed to hold my attention throughout, the punch in the gut feeling the book would have delivered was gone.
Bloch put in clues all throughout the narrative that hinted at the final discovery. If you ever want to experience everything Bloch had intended for his audience, in what is undoubtedly one of the finest horror stories ever, you should stay away from all reviews. Including this one. Oops.
p.s. No, I was not scared reading this book. Sigh. Where is the book that will genuinely scare me? Fiction, please, not real-life stories – I’m a wuss.
- Review: Blood Ninja Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
[No idea when I finished this]
Vampires and ninjas. This is a fun book. I have to admit that my expectations weren’t fantastically high to begin with, but this was better than Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, another of those ninja YA fiction.
(Flipping through the CIP Block on the page, this particular book is curiously not catagorized as YA).
- Review: Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America Sunday, January 10th, 2016
It was ok. I was never a console player, so Mario didn’t really evoke much nostalgia in me. I wanted to find out what made Nintendo tick as a company, and I thought this book went into that somewhat, but not in any particular detail. Largely driven by personalities with whims that the market responded to, it seems like. Talked about the upstart challenge from Sega, and how Nintendo inadvertently helped create the astronomical rise of the PlayStation (has to do with how they rejected the use of the CD in their consoles).
At the moment Nintendo isn’t exactly winning the console wars, and their previous big successes on the handheld gaming market is well and truly trounced by the rise in casual gaming in smartphones. So it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. Their legacy, though, as detailed in this book, is enormous, and it’ll be interesting to see how Mario can fix their pipes (groan).
- Review: Light in August Sunday, January 10th, 2016
Another one of those classics where I have absolutely no idea what I’m getting myself into. The first impression I got, and it stuck throughout the book: Faulkner writes brilliantly. Excellent prose. Not a classic that I’m crazy about, I have to say, but it’s better than Ragtime for me.
Finished this sometime back and a lot of impressions have disappeared, but I remembered that the book wasn’t bad – an unwed pregnant girl travels alone to find the father of her child, only to find that he’s (surprise) a no-good small time naughty boy, but not before catching the eye of the local good boy. The story then veers its focus towards the said bad boy’s ‘friend’, Joe Christmas, which takes up the majority of the book, up until the point Christmas got lynched (well, didn’t those choice of words controversial).
Unlikely to revisit, but the writing. Whew. I’ve been known to do some crazy things, and one of them might just be picking up Absalom, Absalom!
- Review: Bound to Rise Sunday, January 10th, 2016
Read this some time back, now catching up on reviews.
This was a quick read. I expected a non-fiction treatise on the principles of success, but instead it’s a fable – a tale of hardwork and enterprise to seek success, and not be seduced by short-term gains and temptations.
It was fun, but the bloody book stops just when he starts work in a publishing house. It would be good, you know, if the book ACTUALLY ENDS PROPERLY.
- Review: Far from the Madding Crowd Thursday, January 21st, 2016
I don’t know if this is the start of a trend. Another great classic that grew on me. I loved the build-up to the finale, which you sorta know was coming, but for a while there you are thinking “could this be one of those really tragic novels that you could not imagine classic stories usually go?” As it turns out the novel holds the tension pretty tautly throughout.
I use the word ‘tension’ here pretty loosely, because this isn’t exactly an action thriller. But I find there’s a huge feeling of satisfaction at the end of these types of novels where everything resolves itself.
It’s pretty good love story. Not GGM’s Love in the Time of Cholera level exactly, but a pretty decent one. I’m almost afraid I’m losing my edge here, falling for these types of stories.
Writing-wise it’s pretty standard classic English prose. Those with literature degrees please refrain from strafing me with bullets, because I’m obviously generalizing here. I’m not elite enough to distinguish the difference in prose between Austen, Eliot or Conan Doyle with Hardy, merely by the emotion they evoke. And Hardy is, in my highly technical and considered professional opinion, pretty good.
A quick note: I thought Francis Troy is one of the awesomest (another highly technical term – you can tell I put in a lot of effort in these reviews), smoothest, most dastardly playboy/badboy in literature. My favourite character in the novel, hands-down, and one of best I’ve read. In the spirit of the recent Star Wars fever, let’s just say Han Solo has nothing on this chap. He has the best lines, and I particularly like this passage, which, of course, resonates with universal truth.
Why, Miss Everdene, it is in this manner that your good looks may do more harm than good in the world.” The sergeant looked down the mead in critical abstraction. “Probably some one man on an average falls in love with each ordinary woman. She can marry him: he is content, and leads a useful life. Such women as you a hundred men always covet—your eyes will bewitch scores on scores into an unavailing fancy for you—you can only marry one of that many. Out of these say twenty will endeavour to drown the bitterness of despised love in drink; twenty more will mope away their lives without a wish or attempt to make a mark in he world, because they have no ambition apart from their attachment to you; twenty more—the susceptible person myself possibly among them—will be always draggling after you, getting where they may just see you, doing desperate things. Men are such constant fools! The rest may try to get over their passion with more or less success. But all these men will be saddened. And not only those ninety-nine men, but the ninety-nine women they might have married are saddened with them. There’s my tale. That’s why I say that a woman so charming as yourself, Miss Everdene, is hardly a blessing to her race.”
So yeah, I think the prose’s ok, and the story’s ok too.
- Review: A Single Man Friday, February 12th, 2016
Nothing like a long road trip to give me the time I need to finish this long overdue book. Highly recommended, so naturally I approached this with trepidation. Nothing like heightened expectations to completely screw up a perfectly good book.
I admit I was a little tentative with this book because I didn’t know what to expect. I did know what I didn’t want though, and that’s having the book preach at me, clumsily painting the injustices of being in a minority, and thinly veiled attempts to persuade me to one side or another.
But no, thankfully. Nothing preachy about the book at all, just the day in the life of an ordinary middle aged man who just happens to be gay. George is still grieving over the loss of his partner, and grapples with thoughts of life, death, and the general challenge to continue living as he approaches the latter part of life. It’s not a book about a gay man, but a book about a lonely man. It’s heart-wrenching, hopeful and depending on how you feel towards the end, a little tragic.
I loved how Isherwood explored George’s feelings, and absolutely adored the dialogue. Wonderful wordcraft here on full display.
The overwhelming feeling I had upon finishing this work was *this* is how a day in a life novel is supposed to be written: succinct yet full of meaning. It’s almost everything Ulysses isn’t. A Single Man is wise, even-tempered, humane, touching, and something you’d finish reading feeling completely satisfied knowing you’ve been changed that little bit as a result. Importantly, it felt like it was written just so, to finish at the perfect length.
- Review: The Revenge of Lord Oda Friday, February 12th, 2016
(Don’t remember when I started and finished this book. Didn’t take a month to finish, though)
The first book was brilliant. It was fun and unexpected (I mean, it’s ninjas with vampires. This could go wrong in so many ways). I didn’t expect to much on this sophomore volume, and I suppose it did well enough.
We find early on that the hero’s teacher, the vampire Whatshisname, didn’t die after all after the huge fight at the end of the first book. I thought that was a mistake. Apparently I’m more bloodthirsty than the vampires in the book.
The hero reunites with his mother, only to see her die at the hands of a confused ex-companion who mistakenly believes the hero murdered her sister. This was interesting, I thought, and a move in the right direction from a plot perspective. What I didn’t expect, however, is the ghost of the mother haunting her son. A sad, passive-aggressive ghost following the son, draining him of his life energies, and periodically appearing before him in leaving frustratingly undecipherable clues – apparently she forgets that as a ghost her instructions/warnings/apologies don’t come through living world, so the hero sees her mouthing… something… and he can’t for the life of him figure out what the heck she’s saying.
This is, literally, an unhealthy basis for a mother-son relationship. He finally figures out what he needs to do on the cusp of dying (I think I face-palmed myself here), dies and meets his mother finally in hell who (finally!) can communicate! Luckily she doesn’t say, “I just wanted to tell you all this while that you didn’t tie your shoelaces.”
He gets the vital clue he needs to uncover the treasure of the plot, which is something I feel is the wrongly named Buddha Ball. There didn’t seem to be anything vaguely Buddhist about this weapon of mass destruction. Anyway, he gets this, and proceeds to destroy the same guy he supposedly killed in the last book. The bad guy got his guts sliced open at the end of the last book, but because the hero was bleeding, some of his blood flowed into the open mouth of the fallen bad guy, turning him into a vampire (because the hero is a vampire ninja – I had forgotten to mention this bit. You know, just in case you didn’t realize from the title of the book).
The love interest is the daughter of the said bad guy, and I’d imagine he’d have a hard time courting her now, having killed her father not once, but twice. In fact, he’d have such a hard time of it I suspect he’ll spend a big portion of the third book doing just that. I have that very book, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he accomplishes this.
I’m slightly cheeky with this review, but I have to say I did enjoy this book, though admittedly not nearly as much as the first one. There wasn’t an expectation with the first book, and the second has to be coloured somewhat with some kind of expectation.
I seriously look forward to the concluding volume of this story.
- Review: The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game: Tips and Tactics from the Ultimate Insider Thursday, March 24th, 2016
Wonderful. I’m one of those fans described exactly in the book – love to watch the game, has opinions but have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.
This book obviously didn’t change me in a major way, yet at the same time it did. I now know a little more about the tactics employed by managers, and truly, it cements the fact that there’s simply no way for someone to truly understand what happens on the pitch when the only way you’re seeing it is via the telly (I’m going British now). So much of the nuance appears outside the area where the ball is being played, and as the Secret Footballer points out, the only way one would know something is taking place tactically is when you know the secret nods and signals, or ‘triggers’, that the players use among themselves.
Anyhow, it’s an entertaining read, and I got the ‘I am the Secret Footballer’ as a result.
Looking forward to it.
- A Quick Reader Profile Quiz Saturday, March 26th, 2016
And I’m the Eclectic Reader. I have to say I don’t disagree.
The Eclectic Reader
You read for entertainment but also to expand your mind. You’re open to new ideas and new writers, and are not wedded to a particular genre or limited range of authors.
Check out the quiz here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/quiz/.
- Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
Excellent book. I prefer Far from the Madding Crowd, but I think that’s possibly because it had a different ending (I’m almost tempted to say a happier ending, but then that was never a ready I preferred one book to another, was it? Right?).
It was a book simply filled with tension, because it was just so… unfair, for Tess. And I found myself getting angry several times during the book, and not the least of which was the scene where the secrets where laid bare between Tess and Angel. This was bait and switch, baby!
I’ve a work document to prepare before I head to bed, and this sentence has no business doing in a book review, but it speaks to my state of mind as I write this. The writing is brilliant, and the plot moved along well enough. It’s the ladies, I tell you. In this time period what happens to the ladies and how they are treated and how they feel like there’s literally nowhere else to turn to when things go sour is so unfair.
The ending was almost shoddy, in my opinion. Tess’s act at the end there was almost clumsy and if I didn’t know any better Hardy himself didn’t know how to get her out of the quandary and decided to just fast track everyone to the ending. After what happened it was clear what was to come, so no surprises there, but everyone was frankly an ass to her, and what happened to her again smacks of total injustice.
It’s a great book. Read it. Despite my bah.
[Finished in March 2016 – exact date unknown]
- Review: The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
This is an audiobook, provided for free by Ferriss himself. It’s clearly a promotional tool, and he leaves out all the recipes and sidebar notes and stuff, so a good portion of the book is not covered here.
I’m aware I’m on shaky ground here if I portray myself as having ‘finished’ this book, but this isn’t about you. I’m writing my impressions here, so an old man like myself doesn’t forget. Technicalities be damned.
This book isn’t about cooking alone, although it does feature quite a lot of that. It’s really about how you can learn a skill quickly, in the shortest possible time. Ferriss covers things like learning a new language, competition level dancing or whatever, about how it’s important to do something that isn’t ‘conventional’ to get to the heart of the matter in learning – something that isn’t learning by rote. There’s an optimized path to learning things, and he lays the framework for doing exactly that.
And he applies that to cooking. There are recipes that accompany pretty interesting stories, so it isn’t outside the realms of possibility that I pick up the actual book to see how things are done. Which is brilliant marketing on Ferriss’s part.
I enjoyed the parts that aren’t hardcore cooking. The anecdotes and the non-cooking stuff had knowledge that I’d like to remember and incorporate in my life. Language learning is something I’d like to do in a couple of years, so the principles should apply.
Now if only I have that damn book to refer to…
- Review: The Cider House Rules Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
- Review: I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
Fun! I wanted to read about the naughty wives of famous footballers, but he doesn’t explain it here. The stories he does tell was fun.
He makes it clear that not all footballers are dumb oafs. Well, that’s obvious, not every footballer’s idea of a good time is getting drunk and laid all the time, at the same time, and several times at once. At least, not all the time. But to see it articulated in such a manner, with such a sense of self-awareness is refreshing.
From an education perspective, however, I do prefer The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game, which isn’t all textbook, but explains a little more behind some of the things that are happening on the screen.
- Review: Mycroft Holmes Sunday, July 17th, 2016
- Review: Storyteller: Writing Lessons & More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop Sunday, July 17th, 2016
(Didn’t track actual Finished Reading Date)
Very informative. I learned a lot here.
(Review in book journal)
- Review: The Silence of the Lambs Sunday, July 17th, 2016
Longer review in book journal.
This was an amazing book. Haven’t read it for reasons I need to get a psychologist to dissect, but ultimately got to it and it proved to be an hell of a read. Excellent story, excellent villain, great characters, great pacing. Writing a little sparse, but it worked.
Looking forward to watching the movie now! Ok, not like *now*, now, but soon.
- Review: Farthing Sunday, July 17th, 2016
(It was read and finished sometime in June 2016)
Another excellent book, tangentially related to World War II. Again, I found myself liking it. All those things I used to mention about not liking books related to historical military wars, especially revolving around the wars in the 20th century, is turning out to be pretty rubbish.
I learned a lot about Jo Walton on this book, and it opened my eyes about the relationship (or rather, the market perception) about genre writers and their writing prowess is woefully misrepresented. Walton is an excellent writer, and by that I don’t mean story-wise (although that too wasn’t bad, in fact I wasn’t expecting a murder mystery. But then, I didn’t expect anything at all, not knowing much about the book beyond the back cover blurb). No, what I mean about Walton being an excellent writer is her prose is excellent. None of that Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth level writing (although they are both published and deserve all their fame and success, because they put their work out there, unlike me, your typical armchair amateur book internet commenter).
I actually wrote quite a lot about the book in my book journal, and I’m not about to rehash or reproduce it here. Suffice it to say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, and the story.
Moralistic. Read it.
- Review: Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread Sunday, July 17th, 2016
(can’t remember when I read and finished this, but definitely within the timeframe I put up here)
This was forgettable. I mean literally. I forgot what this collection of stories was about. I think I remember the description of a horse’s genitals, and one of the character’s apparently embarrassment over seeing it. That’s it.
Careless of me, really. I should look of the synopsis and redo this bloody review, because this defeats the purpose of me tracking the bloody books in the first place.
- Review: Speaks the Nightbird Friday, July 29th, 2016
(Can’t remember when I started).
A monster of a book. It was sitting in my TBR (or more accurately, TBL (to be listened)) pile for years, and I’ve finally gotten around to it.
It’s long, but it doesn’t contain a huge cast of characters – almost like a locked room mystery. All the action takes place in a frontier town called Fount Royal, founded by a loud overachiever called Bitwell. The story is set in 1699, and it revolves around the trial of a supposed witch in Fount Royal, Rachel Howarth, said to be responsible for two grisly deaths, including that of her own husband. British Empire magistrate Isaac Woodward and his clerk Matthew Corbett was summoned to put the witch on trial, and sentence her.
As the story flows along, we find that all is not as it seems in Fount Royal, and young Matthew increasingly believes that there are forces at play here that seem intent on a larger plot beyond the sentencing of a witch. Doesn’t help that Matthew is smitten by the beautiful widow whom he believes is framed for the murder. Running against time, Matthew attempts to uncover the clues that will exonerate Rachel and expose the truth.
I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would. I had expected a horror tale (and looked forward to it too!) given McCammon’s reputation. As the tale wore on I found not only was it *not* a horror tale, but an incredibly interesting whodunnit.
Worth a read.
- Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Sunday, August 21st, 2016
From a story perspective, this book is weaker than the original 7 books. It almost feels like a “greatest hits” collection, a sauntering lap of honour as the story brings the readers back to pivotal moments in the early books (yes, there’s time-travel involved).
That’s not to say that the story was poor. The originals had a purpose – an almighty quest that took 7 books to bring to closure. It was clear from the onset that this was an addendum, something that simultaneously brings an update to the fans on the state of affairs after 19 years in Potterverse (and 9 years since the publication of the last book), as well as to shoehorn a good story in there. So naturally the story needs to plumb the depths of the canon for familiarity’ sake.
I enjoyed the story very much. As I mentioned the story itself was competently done, but what I really liked was the fact that this was a father and son story. And I’m truly a sucker for those, seeing that I’m also a father of a 9 year old. Being a father made me emotionally susceptible to blatant plot twists involving father-son relationships, threatening my long held reputation as a stone cold-hearted bastard who doesn’t bat an eyelid at the supposedly tear-jerking moments in any book (which was first shattered, btw, by another father-son story). I see the challenges Harry has with his growing second child Albus as something that I have to brace myself facing. So this book actually gets three-stars, with a bonus one for being a father-son story.
(This is my review and I do whatever I want)
This was a fun romp, and I highly recommend this to Harry Potter fans. If you’ve not read HP before, give this a miss for now. Do yourself a favour, set aside any preconceived notions and preconceptions you may have surrounding the originals, and read them.
- Review: A Little History of Philosophy Sunday, August 21st, 2016
- Review: To the Lighthouse Sunday, August 21st, 2016
I have this on Audible, and I have literally stopped and restarted this book no less than 5 times, over a period of 3 years. I’ve gotten the furthest with this latest run, but I have to stop. Enough is enough.
I have no idea what this book is about. Maybe I have to actually read it, but usually Juliet Stevenson does an amazing narration. I hear her, but nothing’s coming through at all. At least for Ulysses, which was also similarly difficult to listen to, had spells where I could actually understand what’s happening.
I couldn’t do that here. At all.
- Review: North Korea Undercover: Inside the World’s Most Secret State Wednesday, September 7th, 2016
I’m fascinated by North Korea, which is really an alternate reality on Earth. The Kims have a lot to answer for to the millions of North Koreans spanning generations lost since its founding.
The book adopts an incredulous tone throughout the narrative that I thought detracted from the book a little. Sweeney’s feelings are understandable, and rightly so, but the way it seeps into the text makes the book more emotional than factual. I realize, of course, no text on any subject is free from emotional bias, but the constant name calling (Fat Boy Kim, Elvis impersonator Kim, etc) I feel weakens the text.
- Review: The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas Friday, September 23rd, 2016
(Finished earlier than recorded here)
Ok, a little something about their propensity for sex. Nothing too saucy though. Young chaps with testosterone on overdrive. And willing participants. Oh well.
I like that Mr Footballer here is very self-aware about what’s happening, and his observation of the environment in which these footballers spent most of their time changes their view of the world. Not everyone matures at the same rate, and some of these boys cannot recover from the praise that was heaped on them since young.
Anyway, a thoroughly entertaining book. I’ve read three of his books now. One more to go. It’s not a competition or a checklist I have to go through. I like the insider bits he shows us as he paints the picture of a world I won’t have access to otherwise.
Compared to his other books, this is average. I liked his Guide to the Modern Game a little more I think, because I learned a little more about the game from the perspective of how it’s played, rather than learning about the dirty bits that go behind the scenes of the game.
- Review: Ivanhoe Friday, September 23rd, 2016
(Finished this earlier than recorded date)
Lots of knights. A damsel in distress. Robin Hood. English King and the French invaders! A titular character who gets injured and was out of action for what I felt was a significant part of the book, but returns to kick bad guy’s ass.
It’s an adventure book, but not a particularly memorable one for me. The one scene that I liked was the one where (and watch closely how I do this) the bad knight (French!) was locked in his room by the old haggly woman who was a slave in the castle for decades. She turned out to be a nobleman’s daughter (noble English!), tortured and used all this while in this castle as a captive from a siege long ago that also killed her family. She encounters an English knight in an escape attempt from the castle, revealed herself to him and was shocked to hear him denounce her as not living up to her noble lineage by sacrificing herself to kill those who dare destroy the English. She apparently wakes up from her desolate existence and decides to kill the main bad guy. Having locked him in his room, she proceeds to burn the tower, killing him and herself in the process.
I wonder what a wonderfully horrible job I did there, and if I deserve an applause.
- Review: He-Man: The Eternity War Vol. 1 Friday, December 30th, 2016
What is it about nostalgia that makes folks pick up old pieces of work that should really be left alone? Not everything that we’ve enjoyed in the past, when our minds is not as grizzled or matured or tempered with experience the way it is now, is really as good as it was the first time we encountered it. This should be a universally known fact. However what is also universally true is people cannot resist the call at another go for that lost feeling of wonder. Corporate marketing is one of the first to know this, and is ruthless at exploiting this trait.
Almost every child my generation knows about He-Man, given the lack of choices we have in choosing which cartoons we had to watch. Good thing too, because He-Man wasn’t horrible, but then now that I write this, I’d find it hard to admit which of the cartoons I did watch sucked. He-Man was entertaining, had a mythology that was easy to follow, has colourful characters that had plenty of adventures, and boy was it exciting. So it goes.
Literally 30 years later (minus several years, let’s not worry about precision here), I find that DC has taken the He-Man property and, as it quite the trend nowadays, ‘given it new lease in life’. Dan Abnett, a writer of some reputation (although I can’t really place him in my mind just this second), has been tasked to revamp the story, and give it the grit and veneer of complexity that characterizes a modern take of anything old school. And it worked.
This volume is actually a continuation from a series of stories started by Abnett earlier, where He-Man and all his allies lost their memories in an unexplained universal reboot apparently engineered by Skeletor. Apparently the harmless sidekick Orko, the floaty handkerchief with eyes, was the traitor that allowed this state to happen. The bad guys remembered the old days when the Masters of the Universe routinely kicked their butts, and during Adam’s quest for recollection, they never fail to point out how low Adam has supposedly fallen from his earlier lofty positions. Also changed was She-Ra, who is now a general of evil fighting alongside the bad guys.
The Eternity War is the final cycle for this rebooted universe, and things have moved further along from Abnett’s earlier stories. So in this arc, She-Ra now fights for good, the old Sorceress is dead and has been succeeded by Teela, who leads the army of Snake-Men, which was traditionally He-Man’s foes (I don’t know how this happened – I read the reboot arc, and now this one. I don’t know how they got from that to this state). Hordak, the guy who supposedly pulled the strings in the back and the real bad guy behind Skeletor, dies and has been taken over by Skeletor. Through some mumbo-jumbo about the magic juice from Castle Grayskull, Skeletor is now embued with the power of Grayskull the same way as He-Man is, and meets his arch-enemy for a final showdown. No prizes for guessing who wins.
Which brings me to what I really want to say. After all the excitement of seeing my old friends again, the fond memories of characters that used to occupy my childhood fantasy adventures (and a character whose action figure I used to own! Actually I owned several He-Man action figures), after all the dust has settled, what have we got on our hands? That’s the most powerful thought I had when I finished the entire Eternity War story arc. If you strip everything away, what do you have?
After the final analysis, the answer, for me, was really nothing at all. It wasn’t even a competent story, because it was so convoluted especially the part about the magic of Grayskull somehow having the blood of the Adam’s lineage somewhere in its bowels that can be transfused into anyone willing to receive it. The part about how Adam was actually devoured by Hsss and how that turned into a fight in Adam’s consciousness to regain control of his body. It was an exercise to shoehorn what was already there into a story that made sense, and in my opinion didn’t quite succeed.
It was good to see He-Man and the gang again. But I’m forty years old next year, and this work, more than anything else, made me realize just how silly it has been reading this work. There’s a bit of magic, then, when people read Batman stories for 30 years and not be reminded how old they are, despite Batman being around since before they were born.
So then. What is it about nostalgia that makes folks pick up old pieces of work that should really be left alone?