Monday, November 3, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

A new Murakami is always a reason to celebrate. Its been over fifteen years since I read my first one, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. My gosh, fifteen years. I wonder if your first Murakami always remains your favorite. It would be interesting to hear what other fans have to say about this. There are scenes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that I'll just never forget.

I enjoyed the journey of reading his new novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. It was truly a journey in every sense of the word. Thirty-six year old Tsukuro, who has always felt a bit lost in the world, seeks to find out why his close knit group of high school friends suddenly abandoned him with no explanations sixteen years ago. This leads him back to his old home town, Nagoya, and even as far away as Finland. I loved reading this book but the ending did disappoint me at first. There were too many open-ended questions left unanswered. However, once I had time to digest it more and read what other readers thought, I realized that it was a perfect ending. Tsukuro who had always been safe and lived in the fringes of life, found the courage to love. He takes that leap into the unknown not knowing whether he'd end up getting the girl or not. We never find out what happens but the point is Tsukuro finally had the spirit to live and let live.

Loved this quote from the book. It's so true.
"It's strange, isn't it? No matter how quiet and conformist a person's life seems, there's always a time in the past when they reached an impasse. A time when they went a little crazy. I guess people need that sort of stage in their lives."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Vivian Maier

I've been fascinated with Vivian Maier ever since I first read about her in the internet and saw her breathtaking photographs. It's an incredible story about an artist who hid her work and is now, shortly after her death, getting the kudos she most definitely deserves. It's also a mystery. Who was this woman who worked as a nanny instead of pursuing her passion full-time? Why did she keep her talent a secret? There are so many things we will just never know. The clues may be in the 100,000 plus negatives she left behind, the bulk of which hasn't even been developed yet.

I could summarize her story here but it's all over the internet and many writers have done a thorough job. One of the best articles I've read, was the New Yorker one, link here. If you're still interested after that then do check out the two documentaries about her, Finding Vivian Maier and the BBC's "Imagine" Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Picture? Both are very different yet absorbing and ultimately sad. She died alone in Chicago never knowing that she would soon be hailed as the greatest street photographer of the 20th century.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I loved reading this one. As I mentioned in my Instagram account - "This book is like a box of chocolates, I just can't stop reading another Dear Sugar letter." In hindsight, maybe I should have spaced them more. One or two a day would have allowed me to assimilate Sugar's responses and give me time to think about the wise things she wrote. And readers, wise she is considering she's not really old. Strayed is in her mid-forties, married with two young kids. In fact she's just a bit older than me but she is so much wiser and maybe it's because she went through so much as a young woman. She lost her mother at the tender age of 22. She was married and divorced by the time she was 25 and she had tons of different odd and not so fun jobs. One of the best ones was an unpaid gig as Sugar for The Rumpus website. It's curious how she debated whether to take the job or not considering she was down and out and it was unpaid.Thankfully for us she took the leap.

I don't think I'll ever forget some of the letters I read in this anthology. There's the one from Dead Dad, who lost his 22 year-old-son to a drunk driver; the one from the disfigured but wonderful young man looking for love; the one from the healthy young woman who is terrified she's going to get cancer one day; the one about the man who overheard his best friends talking negatively about him and his girlfriend; and so many other letters from ordinary people. Sugar's responses and reflections on her own life are also memorable. This is definitely a keeper. I highlighted so many lines and I know I'll be dipping into this again and again in the future. I do hope she writes a Volume 2.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Euphoria by Lily King

I know, I know, I haven't been blogging at all lately but when I look back on my reading year, I've only read maybe three books that I'll include in my best of 2014 list. However, there are tons of fantastic books coming out soon - books by Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan, Michel Faber, Tana French and Haruki Murakami just to name a few. Things are looking up.

One book I read that stands out this year is Euphoria by Lily King. It's a novel loosely based on anthropologist Margaret Mead. It covers just a short span of time and in fact my only complaint is that at 256 pages it was too short! Just when I was beginning to get into the characters and the setting, the story ended. Mead was a controversial character in real life, writing books about sex in primitive societies. In Euphoria she is Nell Stone, an anthropologist who together with her husband studies native tribes in Papua, New Guinea. Enter another anthropologist, broodingly handsome Andrew Bankson and sparks fly. A love triangle ensues but not for long. The last scene was completely heartbreaking. This was a fascinating read not just for the story but for the close look at the work of anthropologists in the 1930s.

“It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”

Margaret Mead at work

Friday, June 27, 2014

#bookaday Days 21 to 25

#21 Summer Read
My fave read this summer was Euphoria by Lily King. Three anthropologists caught in a love triangle in 1930s New Guinea.

#22 Out of print.
I loved Nancy Drew but I was also fond of the Dana Girls especially the older editions. This series is now sadly out of print.
#23 Made to read at school.
I didn't care for The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway the first time I read it but I loved it the second time around.
#24 Hooked me into reading.
I've been a bookworm ever since I started reading the Nancy Drew books at the age of eight.
#25 Never finished it.
Although I count The Secret History by Donna Tartt as one of my top three favorite novels, I just couldn't finish The Goldfinch. I made it to 40% before I decided I just didn't care about the characters or the plot.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

#bookaday Days 16-20

#16 Can't believe more people haven't read.
It may have been written in 1861 but East Lynne by Ellen Wood is a page-turner!

#17 Future classic.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

#18 Bought on a recommendation.
A friend recommended these  two at a bookshop in Kowloon circa 2000. I've been a Paul Auster fan ever since.

#19 Still can't stop talking about it.
It's tough to choose one for this category but I'll have to go with this Pulitzer Prize winner just because of the story behind how the book got published and because there's never been a character in literature like Ignatius Reilly.

#20 Favorite cover.
The Go-Between by LP Hartley. The cover looks like a stack of love letters wrapped with a ribbon. It's a  perfect cover because it's about a young boy who delivers messages between two secret lovers leading to a terrible conculsion. Gorgeous and heartbreaking book!

Friday, June 20, 2014

#bookaday Days 11-15

#11  Second hand bookshop gem.
I found this at a second hand book shop in Holland. Link to my review .

#12  I pretend to have read it.
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. I loved the mini-series set in the British Raj but could never get into the book for some reason.

#13 Makes me laugh.
Wodehouse is fantastic! This hilarious madcap shipboard comedy of misunderstandings is really a gem.

#14 An old favorite
It's been about 20 years since I first read The Secret History by Donna Tartt but I still consider it one of my favorite books. Strangely enough, I didn't really care for her other two novels, The Little Friend and The Goldfinch.

#15 Favorite fictional father.
Mr.Bennett of course from Pride and Prejudice!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

#bookaday Days 6 to 10

#6 The one I always give as a gift. 
I can't imagine anyone not loving Wonder by RJ Palacio no matter what their tastes are in books or even if they're a non-reader.

#7 Forgot I owned it. 
A look through my shelves and I spot a book I totally forgot about, Armed with Madness by Mary Butts. It's a super weird book with a bizarre cover to boot.  I bought it in the late 90s just because I liked the blurb....

"In a remote house on the English Channel coast, a group of people, handsome and young are gathered: Scylla Taverner, sometimes a witch and sometimes a bitch, her potential lover Picus, her brother Felix and two other friends. Into their close circle comes Carston, an American curious to see something of England off the regulation road. But the discovery of an ancient jade cup ignites conflicting emotions and they embark on a mystical quest, full of heady promise and violent consequence."

Sounds interesting right? I don't remember finishing this one but maybe I should give it another go. Has anyone read it?

#8 Have more than one copy.
Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple. I have a first edition that's just falling apart in this tropical climate so I had a copy made. Here's a picture of both including the original's beautiful endpapers.

#9 Film or TV tie-in.
I don't usually buy books with film or TV tie-in covers. I didn't think I had any but I found one....The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.

#10 Reminds me of someone I love.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. When I was eight years old, my grandmother gave me this copy of her favorite book, Jane Eyre. I tried it several times but I just couldn't get through the first few pages. I found the red room part so claustrophobic and scary. The language was also difficult for me. I think because of that experience I avoided it for so long. I finally read it at the late age of 29 or 30 when my grandmother was long gone. Of course, I ended up loving the book. I regret that she's not around so I can tell her it's now one of my favorite novels too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

#bookaday Days 1 to 5

I'm late to the game but I really want to join the #bookaday meme from The Borough Press so to avoid clogging your feeds, I'll post five days in each post.

#1 Favorite book from childhood
It was tough to choose just one from the many I loved but I'm going to choose a Judy Blume novel and this one is my favorite. Here's the edition I read over and over again.

#2 Best Bargain
A recent bargain I found at the bookshop called BookSale is a childhood book I lost or misplaced long ago, Gnomes by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet. I got this pristine hardbound edition for just 400 pesos or roughly 10 dollars!

#3 One with a blue cover
Scanned my shelves and this is what I found which also happens to be a book I love, Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier.
#4 Least Favorite book by a favorite author
Love most of Margaret Atwood's novels but this one was just ok.
#5 Doesn't belong to me
I borrowed this years ago from my brother but I haven't read it yet.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best Books of 2013

I had a terrible blogging year having only posted 11 times! No excuses other than being generally busy with life and two kids (ages 8 and 2). Thanks to those of you who still drop by once in a while to read what I have to say. I do read every comment and I do follow the links to your own blogs. When I started blogging in 2009 there actually weren't that many book blogs but the market has since exploded with new ones everyday.  After four years, I can honestly say that I still visit my favorite blogs (see my blog roll) as often as I can and still think highly of their book recommendations. I hope to blog more often in 2014 so do stay tuned.

So here it is - my ten best of 2013. In this list, there are two non-fiction books (one about parenting and one about a true crime), three classics, two young adult novels, a comedy, two novels by two Nobel prize winners and two books released in 2013. All in all it's been a pretty good reading year. Although I always wish I'd read more. Again they are in no particular order, however the first five were the best among the ten. Happy New Year and see you all in 2014!

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen 
I never thought I would like Franzen's novels so I never read one till this year. I loved, loved Freedom. I know this is a book people either love or hate. It's flawed and imperfect but maybe that's why I found it endearing. Loved his writing, the dialogue, the myriad plot and the journey and growth of his dysfunctional characters. For me this was a rich and rewarding read.

Crossing to a Safety by Wallace Stegner - I absolutely loved the perfectly written Crossing to Safety, our book club read for May. Though not much happens in this novel of two couples who meet during the Depression and form an instant and lifelong friendship, it's actually quite deep. The book resulted in a very interesting and thought-provoking discussion. For a quiet and gentle novel about ordinary lives, there was surprisingly so much to talk about. 

Wonder by RJ Palacio - This is truly a rare and unexpected gem, one that reminds us once again of what it is to be human. August Pullman is 10-years-old and has had 27 surgeries in his young life to correct his facial defect.  The book begins when Auggie enters middle school after being home schooled for most of his life. Here, Auggie comes face to face with the beauty and sometimes ugliness of his peers. A truly moving book that transcends genres.

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi - Horrifying, fascinating and completely absorbing in ways I never imagined. This certainly doesn't glorify the killers at all but is an interesting first hand account by the prosecuting attorney of the search for the killers, their arrest and trials. What I found compelling is how this terrible man was able to influence these young middle-class youngsters to just do his bidding. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck - As a teenager I loved the James Dean movie so I was afraid to touch the book. I never knew that Elia Kazan's film is based only on the latter part of this story that covers three generations. I loved this book all the way through till the last portion. Somehow the part of the book covered in the film was done better than in the book...or maybe it was just Dean's outstanding performance as Cal. James Dean was Cal Trask and no amount of imagination while reading the book could beat that. But still East of Eden is a powerful and beautiful novel and I'm so glad I finally read it.

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing - My first book by Nobel prize winner Doris Lessing. Brilliantly wtitten, horrific and disturbing. This isn't a horror novel in the supernatural sense at all. It's about a perfect family who's fifth child turns out to be strange and without empathy and how this ultimately breaks the family apart.
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
Solomon writes about real families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, prodigies, children conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. This is an important book, one that enlightens us on how these parents cope daily and as time passes with a special needs child. 

Where'd You Go Bernadette? By Maria Semple - I totally loved this! This was such a breath of fresh air. It is a quirky story with kooky characters. Bee's mother, Bernadette, has disappeared so Bee sets out to find her using letters, blog posts, emails, FBI documents, etcetera. I don't think I've ever read anything like this before and I wish there were more books of Bernadette and her family. Nothing really deep here just fun, fun, fun!

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham - Mary Panton walls up her desires in a beautiful villa high up in the hills above Florence. But a single act of compassion begins a nightmare of violence. Beautifully written. No wonder it's a classic. 

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Sweet, simple, and lovely. This is exactly what I needed after reading about the Manson family. Eleanor and Park are two sixteen-year-olds in 1986 from different backgrounds who fall in love while riding the bus to and from school. They exchange mixed-tapes, X-men and Watchmen comic books and gradually fall in love.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Books Read in 2013

These are the books I read in 2013. Forty-seven books so far so that's four more than last year. I've included children's books I read aloud to Lucas, my eldest son, rereads, nonfiction and a graphic novel. The ratings are based on my ratings in Goodreads. Stay tuned for my top list of 2013.

Books Read in 2013
  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (reread)  *****
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck *****
  3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce ***
  4. Where'd you go Bernadette? by Maria Semple *****
  5. The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer **
  6. Wonder by R.J. Palacio *****
  7. Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger ***
  8. The Melt Method by Sue Hitzmann ****
  9. It by Stephen King ***
  10. Never Mind by Edward St, Aubyn ****
  11. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter *****
  12. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson *****
  13. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett ****
  14. The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1) by Megan Whalen Turner ****
  15. Wool by Hugh Howey ***
  16. Bad News by Edward St. Aubyn *
  17. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe ****
  18. More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl **
  19. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid **
  20. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner *****
  21. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster *****
  22. Anne Hereford by Mrs. Henry Wood ****
  23. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser ***
  24. Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell ***
  25. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani **
  26. In the Woods by Tana French (reread) *****
  27. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi *****
  28. Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary  ***
  29. Otherwise Known as Shiela the Great by Judy Blume (reread) ****
  30. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell ****
  31. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe **
  32. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen *****
  33. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor ***
  34. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien ****
  35. The Never List by Koethi Zan **
  36. Everyday by David Levithan ***
  37. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan **
  38. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman ****
  39. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling *****
  40. Night Film By Marisha Pessl ****
  41. Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon ****
  42. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple *****
  43. Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman ****
  44. Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham *****
  45. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion ****
  46. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing ****
  47. Heartburn by Nora Ephron ***

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Neil Gaiman: Let children read the books they love

Lucas reading R.L. Stine

When my almost 8-year-old son chose R.L. Stine's Weirdo Halloween at the bookstore the other day, I hesitated for a milisecond but bought it anyway. The cover is freaky but it looked like fun and after all we are right smack in the middle of the Halloween season. Why not? He devoured it in two days. I asked him what he thought of it and he said, "It was a little bit scary but very exciting!" He gave the book a full five stars.

It's interesting that reading this book coincided with Neil Gaiman's brilliant lecture on why our future depends on reading, libraries and daydreaming. At one point, Gaiman said, "I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children." Every now and again there was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness."

He added: "Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading. Stop them reading what they enjoy or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like – the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian 'improving' literature – you'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant."  I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you Neil Gaiman for this wonderful speech!

For an edited version of Gaiman's lecture click here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

12 Short Books for Book Clubs

My book club has decided to choose a short book for our December meeting so I've been having fun searching the net looking for just the right book. There's surprisingly a lot of brilliant classics just under 250 pages. I've picked twelve books here only because twelve images fit in my collage. I've only read three from my list - Bonjour Tristesse (link to my review here), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Turn of the Screw - all good. I'd love to hear your recommendations for short novels from any genre so do leave a comment below.

Here's the list: 

Balzac, Honore de - Eugenia Grandet
Eugenie, a beautiful flower in a garden of miserliness and cunning, falls in love with Charles. But her father will not allow a marriage with the son of a ruined man. (238 pages)

Bradbury, Ray - Fahrenheit 451
Fireman Guy Montag burns books to keep society happy. But then he starts hoarding and reading books himself, until he is turned in. (183 pages)

Fox, Paula - Desperate Characters
The Bentwoods live childless in a renovated Brooklyn brownstone. But after Sophie is bitten on the hand while trying to feed a half-starved neighborhood cat, a series of small and ominous disasters begin to plague their lives. The fault lines of their marriage are revealed — echoing the fractures of society around them, slowly wrenching itself apart. (180 pages)

Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
A group of schoolboys struggle to survive on an island after their plane crashes. After a while, they’re not only hunting wild boar, they’re hunting each other. (182 pages)

James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
A young governess must battle evil ghosts to save the souls of children in her care. (165 pages)

Kawabata, Yasunari - Snow Country
Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece: a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan. (193 pages)

Maugham, Somerset - Up at the Villa
Mary Panton walls up her desires in a beautiful villa high up in the hills above Florence, as she calmly contemplates her disastrous marriage. But a single act of compassion begins a nightmare of violence that shatters her serenity. (225 pages)

McCullers, Carson - Member of the Wedding
Twelve-year old Frankie’s brother is getting married, and she decides to join the new couple on their honeymoon. (118 pages)

O'Hara, John - Appointment in Samarra
In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, social circuit is electrified with parties and dances. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English. But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction. (237 pages)

Sagan, Francoise - 
Bonjour Tristesse
The story of a jealous, sophisticated 17-year-old girl whose meddling in her father's impending remarriage leads to tragic consequences. (160 pages)

Spark, Muriel - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Miss Brodie has a tremendous influence over her students, but eventually one turns on her and brings about her dismissal; a story of hero-worship and treachery. (187 pages)

Wiesel, Elie - Night
A candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. (148 pages)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars Movie

 John Green, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff and Shailene Woodley.

I've been following John Green on Facebook for a while and lately he's been posting status updates while on the film set of The Fault in Our Stars. Yes, there's a movie in the works! And the casting looks perfect - to name a few, Ansel Elgort as Augustus, Shailene Woodley as Hazel and Laura Dern as Hazel's mom. I'm usually not excited about seeing adaptations of books I've read but I'm thrilled about this one. But then maybe it's because I just love John Green.

It's heartwarming to read his status updates and see how happy and giddy he is with the film. It is his baby after all. It's his first book to be made into a movie and I'm sure it won't be his last.

Here are some of his updates:

"This is my chair on The Fault in Our Stars movie set.
I can’t believe this is happening, but cameras just started rolling.
I want you to know that everyone—and there are like a hundred people here—is working very hard to make this a great movie.
Yay wow yay wow."

"Third day of shooting #tflosmovie. Every day is more fun than the last. I still kind of can't believe this is happening."

"In the #tflosmovie, most of the support group extras are teen cancer survivors. It's been so wonderful to meet them and I'm grateful to them for sharing their experiences and talents with the cast and crew."

"From dinner with Ansel last night."

To follow John Green on Facebook click here: John Green fans on Facebook

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