Monday, December 31, 2012

The Top Ten of 2012



I had a wonderful reading year filled with diverse and excellent books. In this list, there are three novels that made me cry, a classic that I reread, psychological thrillers, a dystopian novel, a time-travel one, two nonfiction books, a retelling of a Greek classic, two translations and a young adult novel. It really has been a great year for reading. So without further ado, here's my top ten of 2012 in the order I read them. Happy New Year and see you all in 2013!


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I love John Green. I read two of his books this year - this one and Will Grayson, Will Grayson which was delightful and funny. I initially debated about which one to add to this list and though I might say I preferred the Will Grayson book because it was lighthearted and fun, The Fault in Our Stars is exceptional and  deserves to be on a top ten list. In this book, John Green is tackling teenagers with cancer. When I first heard the premise of this book, I was afraid that it would be too depressing but it actually wasn't. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. Hazel introduces him to her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, and together they embark on a quest to the Netherlands to meet the reclusive author and finally find out what happened to the characters in his open-ended novel. But apart from this quest, the book is about love, friendship, death and finding joy in living even when one knows that time is short.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I loved this book! I've been recommending it to everyone I know. It was so much fun and by far the most entertaining novel I've read this year. It's 2044 and the world is a mess. The environment has deteriorated, unemployment and poverty are the norm. People spend more and more time at their computers, living another life in a virtual world called the Oasis created by recently deceased James Halliday. Left with no heirs, Halliday stipulates in his will that the person who finds the three keys hidden in the Oasis and opens the connecting gates will inherit his vast fortune. Years pass and no keys have been found though millions immerse themselves in Halliday's favorite 1980s films, music and video games hoping these hold the clues to the keys' locations. Wade Watts is an overweight, acne-ridden teenager who goes to school in the Oasis and spends ninety percent of his life as his avatar Parzival. We find out in the first few pages of the book that Wade is the first to find a key and unlock the first gate. This discovery unleashes a wave of other treasure hunters, some of whom will stop at nothing to win the ultimate prize.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I adored this one! The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a retelling of parts of the Iliad focusing on the story of Achilles told from the point of view of his closest friend and lover, Patroclus. Most of you probably know how this story will end but in spite of that Miller has written a moving and beautiful love story where Achilles is a wonderful and charismatic hero (so unlike the Brad Pitt version in Troy). Patroclus is sensitive and awkward and can't help falling in love with his best friend. I was completely caught up in the story and I loved the two main characters. This is a passionate and ultimately heartbreaking novel.


People who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
I don't usually read books that are reportages of true crime events because generally this genre is usually melodramatic and badly written but The People Who Eat Darkness: the True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up was a very well-written page-turner but a harrowing and chilling read as well. This is the true story of Lucie Blackman, the 21-year-old former British Airways stewardess turned hostess, who disappeared in Tokyo in the year 2000. It was a fascinating  and intense read and even if you don't like this sort of thing I highly recommend it if you enjoy reading crime or mystery novels.


Out by Natsuo Kirino
To say that I loved this book sounds so strange considering it's a psychological crime novel that involves dismemberment. But it's so much more than a crime novel. I would say it surpasses genres. Out is also about women banding together to save one of their own kind; about women discovering their own dark natures and the fragility of some female friendships. It's about being desperate and doing things one would never do in normal circumstances. There's actually quite a lot of layers in this book and it stays with you long after you've finished it. It was also an extremely intense and compelling read.


 Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
Because I really enjoyed Out by Kirino, I decided to follow it up with Grotesque, which turned out to be just as disturbing and weird as Out, but still so engrossing. Beautiful half-Japanese sisters Yuriko and the unnamed narrator are as different as can be - one pretty and popular and the other not. Years later Yuriko and a friend of both sisters, Kazue, become prostitutes and are then brutally murdered. Grotesque is an exploration of the effects on women of a society that condemns and judges women based upon their looks. This is an excellent though twisted psychological novel.


                                                                                                                          

11/22/63 by Stephen King
This was my first Stephen King novel. I was attracted to the premise- English teacher Jake Epping travels back in time to 1958 to prevent the Kennedy assassination and thus change the course of history. Since it's only 1958, he has to wait a few years to do his deed so in the meantime he enjoys the simplicity of life in this time period, teaches at a local high school, falls in love with a lovely woman and spies on Lee Harvey Oswald, the future assassin of JFK. This is was an excellent read.  Besides the exciting plot, Jake learns quite a number of life lessons along the way. As the reader we are left wondering about particular events in our own life and what would happen if we could alter them. Where would we be now?


The Great Gatsby by F.Scot Fitzgerald
This was the second time I've read The Great Gatsby and I loved it this time. My book club picked it for the month of July. It's just perfectly written and now I understand why it's considered one of the best American novels of all time.                                  


Broken Harbor by Tana French
I loved In the Woods by Tana French and though I've read all her novels since then, that one still stands out as the best one. However, Broken Harbor was also a tense and intelligent thriller. The novel is narrated by Mike Kennedy, the detective investigating an attack on a family which leaves the father and two young children dead and the mother seriously injured.What makes this exceptional is the depth and humanity Tana French infuses into her main characters particularly that of Mike Kennedy.


The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at all Costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
I've never been a fan of professional cycling but I guess like most people I admired Lance Armstrong for beating his personal battles and for his amazing public triumphs plus the ongoing investigation into his drug use has definitely been interesting. I sampled this on Amazon and was immediately hooked. If you've ever wondered what really goes on in the world of professional cycling then read this book. It's shocking, sad but so fascinating.





Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Books Read in 2012

2012 was a very good reading year for me. I didn't read as much as I'd hoped. I aimed for 50 books and I see I've only read 43, just one more than last year. There were so so many good ones! I'm going to have a hard time choosing just ten from this list so before I do here's the list of books I read in 2012. I'll be posting my top ten before the new year.

  1. The Coma by Alex Garland
  2. The Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
  3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  4. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan
  6. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  7. The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons 
  8. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach 
  9. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  10. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  11. Candy Candy by Kyoko Mizuki and illustrated by Yumiko Igarashi
  12. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  13. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  14. I'm Starved for You by Margaret Atwood
  15. Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson 
  16. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  17. So Long See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell 
  18. The Surgeon by Tess Gerristen
  19. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (reread) 
  20. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  21. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan 
  22. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  23. People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry 
  24. Out by Natsuo Kirino
  25. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
  26. Gone by Mo Hayder 
  27. Birdman by Mo Hayder 
  28. 11/22/63 by Stephen King 
  29. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (reread)
  30. The Shining by Stephen King 
  31. The Dead Zone by Stephen King 
  32.  Salem's Lot by Stehen King
  33. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
  34. Broken Harbor by Tana French 
  35. The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
  36. My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
  37. Defending Jacob by William Landay
  38. The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
  39. Holes by Louise Sachar
  40. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  41. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  42. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  43. Alys Always by Harriet Lane

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Break

My boys (ages 6 and 19 months) reading The Smurfs.



I'm taking a much needed break from blogging. See you all soon!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Favorite Book from Childhood



It has eluded me for a long time but I finally found it through the power of google. One of my favorite picture books from childhood was about a girl who had a messy room. For years I couldn't remember the name but I found it yesterday after googling "children's book, girl, messy room." And ta dah.... it's called The Big Tidy-Up by Norah Smaridge, illustrated by Les Gray.

I remember loving this book so much and wearing out my copy which I lost a long time ago. Yesterday, I was browsing Amazon for books for my kids and this book came to mind. I'm glad I found it however it's now out of print and second hand copies range in price from 50 to 400 US dollars. Imagine that! I also found out there's a boy's version by the same author but with a different illustrator but I couldn't find images of the inside of the book.

Here's an excerpt from Amazon:

JENNIFER KNEW, AS well as you
That everything has its place,
But she just didn’t care a whit, a bit,
So her room was a real disgrace!


Jennifer's room was a mess! "Her shoe was askew on the windowsill. Her scarf was under the bed. Her beautiful box-to-keep-ribbons-in was full of old junk instead." When Jennifer's mother peeks in the room, she is shocked. "You must like to live in this mess, I guess," she said and told Jennifer that she would not touch the room with a mop and broom from now until Christmas Day. And she hung a sign on Jennifer's door that said KEEP OUT! At first Jennifer had a lovely time. She left things wherever they fell. She kept pie under her pillow. And little by little the room grew into a fusty, dusty, musty mess. Jennifer could not find socks that matched. Not one of her shirts was clean. And her hairbrush was gone so her unbrushed hair stuck out all over head. Poor Jennifer. What should she do? Run away? Or work and work for most of the day until her room was as neat as a pin and she could hang up a sign that said COME IN?




Have you heard of The Big Tidy-Up? And what are your favorite books from childhood? I'd love to hear them so leave a comment below. Cheers!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Dead Zone by Stephen King



I really thought I would like this but just like The Shining, The Dead Zone by Stephen King was a disappointment for me. What sounded like a great story - man wakes up after five years in a coma with psychic powers - started very well but lost steam in the middle as several sub-plots were added. I ended up skimming the rest of the book. I've heard that this is one case where the movie (starring Christopher Walken and directed by David Cronenberg) was better than the book. However, I'm still not over my Stephen King phase since I'm now reading Salem's Lot.

For more on Stephen King, check out the  Stephen King project hosted by Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick and  Kathleen from Boarding In My Forties.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Shining by Stephen King


After enjoying 11/22/63, my first Stephen King novel, I decided to follow it up with The Shining which is one of his earlier books and always on the list of his best ones ever. This had all the elements for a suspenseful atmospheric novel. A family of three are hired as caretakers of a Colorado summer hotel from September to May during which time they are completely snowed in and cut off from the outside world. To top it off the son has psychic powers and the dad's a weirdo and a recovering alcoholic. I have to say this book just didn't do it for me. I wasn't scared or creeped out at all. I've seen the film which was excellent but this was just mweh... Stephen King does write well but I thought this book was more about the father's character trying to stay away from the bottle and slowly going insane. No...sorry. It didn't scare me at all. That said, I'm still on a Stephen King kick since I followed this up with The Dead Zone and am now reading Salem's Lot.

I'm including this review in the  Stephen King project hosted by Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick and  Kathleen from Boarding In My Forties.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King



Boy, was I wrong about Stephen King! I've avoided him for years thinking he's just a commercial horror novelist. Somehow seeing wonderful movies based on his books didn't really alter my view. I'd completely forgotten that King is the source for the original material of Stand By Me, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption to name just a few. I decided to read 11/22/63 because I was attracted to the premise of the novel - English teacher Jake Epping travels back in time to 1958 to prevent the Kennedy assassination and thus change the course of history. Since it's only 1958, he has to wait a few years to do his deed so in the meantime he enjoys the simplicity of life in this time period, teaches at a local high school, falls in love with a lovely woman and spies on Lee Harvey Oswald, the future assassin of JFK. This is quite a book and as I said before you wonder how an author can pull all this off but Stephen King did just that. Besides the exciting plot, Jake learns quite a number of life lessons along the way. As the reader we are left wondering about particular events in our own life and what would happen if we could alter them. Where would we be now?

This was really an excellent read. It's the perfect choice for a long plane ride or for lazing around on the beach. I loved every minute of it. King writes so effortlessly it's no wonder he's known as being quite prolific. It's obvious he's a natural writer but besides that his imagination is limitless. The plot, dialogue and characters were all fantastic. I am now keen to read more King. Isn't it great to discover a writer who's been around for like forever ? Now I have quite a number of his novels and short stories to look forward to.

I'm including this review in the  Stephen King project hosted by Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick and  Kathleen from Boarding In My Forties.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Art


My friend Irene in Hong Kong emailed me the picture above. Times Square in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong is exhibiting the work of Mike Stilkey. The book sculpture above is 24 feet tall and covers the entire ground floor of the 12-story major Hong Kong shopping centre. Stilkey is well-known for his painted book installations. His uses mixed inks, colored pencils, paint, and lacquer painted across piles and piles of books.

For more information, check out his website at: www.mikestilkey.com





Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Out by Natsuo Kirino


I was completely immersed in Japanese fiction a few weeks ago. That's because there is truth to the saying that 'one book leads to another.'  I picked up Out by Natsuo Kirino right after finishing The People Who Ate Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry. The latter is a true crime novel set in the underbelly of Tokyo. I was so caught up in that world that I just couldn't leave it so I decided to finally read Out, a book that's been on my To-Be-Read pile for years. The first time I tried it, I was so turned off by the lurid details that I had to stop. But I was ready for it now. To say that I loved the book sounds so strange considering it's a psychological crime novel that involves dismemberment. But it's so much more than a crime novel. I would say it surpasses genres. Out is also about women banding together to save one of their own kind; about women discovering their own dark natures and the fragility of some female friendships. It's about being desperate and doing things one would never do in normal circumstances. There's actually quite a lot of layers in this book and it stays with you long after you've finished it. It was also an extremely intense and compelling read. It's not a pretty book as it's full of desperate characters in an ugly world.  Out is  not for the faint of heart but I wish I could recommend this to my book club because there's certainly tons to discuss.

In Out, four females who work the night shift at a bento box lunch factory form an unlikely friendship because of their jobs and their unsatisfactory lives - unhappy marriages, problem children and strained economic situations. When one of the women, Yayoi, kills her gambling and philandering spouse, her friends decide to help her get rid of the body by dismembering it, separating the parts into several garbage bags and disposing the bags in several trash sites in the Tokyo area. The women are now bound together because of their crime but the ties that bind them are fragile because of jealousy, suspicion and self-interest. One of them makes a careless mistake that will expose them to unexpected danger.

In spite of their crime, I felt empathy for most of the characters especially for Masako, the leader of the group. Out shows how easy it would be to just slip into the dark side; it's a scary thought. I am so impressed with this author that after Out I picked up another one by Kirino, Grotesque. I just wish more of her books were translated into English. Out, released in 1997 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award and was a finalist for the 2004 Edgar Award.

I'm including this in the Japanese Literature Challenge 6 hosted by Dolce Bellezza  Do check out the site for  more reviews from other bloggers.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reading Stephen King


I never thought I'd say this but I'm so enjoying my first ever Stephen King novel, 11/22/63. I'm having a blast and I don't want it to end. With tons of books on my To Be Read pile it's rare to just want to savor a novel and take it slow but that's exactly how I'm feeling with this book because it's fantastic so far. The premise of the novel is what initially attracted me - man travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination and thus change the course of history. With such a plot you wonder how an author can pull this off but King does just that and with such panache. He is obviously a born writer because his prose flows naturally. It's no wonder he's so prolific. I'm only at 50% of this 800 plus page novel but here's hoping this book lives up to the hype. I'll be back with a full review once I've finished it. In the meantime, if you have read Stephen King then which novels would you recommend?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kindred by Octavia Butler


Kindred by Octavia Butler is a cult classic. I've been meaning to read this for a while. It's classified as science fiction but it also has elements of historical fiction. It's 1976 and Dana, a black woman married to a white man finds herself suddenly pulled back in time to the early 1800s in Maryland. She has to save a white boy, Rufus, from drowning. Rufus turns out to be her slave-owning white ancestor and he is able to summon her subconsciously whenever his life is in danger. Dana, meanwhile, is able to return to 1976 only when her own life is in peril. She returns a few times, once even managing to drag her husband with her. While stuck in the past, Dana lives life as a slave but with the perspective of a modern American woman.

Dana experiences culture shock on several levels but surprisingly she finds herself adapting to her environment more and more. I thought this was an  interesting read because it explores how slavery was accepted at the time as the norm and how easy it was for both slaves and masters to accept the roles they were born into. Kindred is another book that would spark a lot of discussion at a book club. I'm surprised  that though it was published in 1979, it was never made into a movie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dutch Lit Month - Tow Truck Pluck by Annie M.G. Schmidt


I didn't grow up with Pluck but I've heard about him for years from my husband. Pluck is a character in the beloved Dutch children's book Tow Truck Pluck (Pluck van de Petteflet) by Annie M.G. Schmidt. We had no idea it had been translated into English so when Mr.B saw it in a bookstore on a recent trip to the Netherlands, he didn't hesitate to buy it for our boys. Now he's having fun reading it out loud and I guess reliving the memories of reading Pluck as a youngster. Mr.B says it's an excellent translation so I'll take his word for it.

Pluk, a little boy, drives a small red crane truck through the city. He has no parents and is looking for a new place to live. On the way, he meets all sorts of interesting people and animals and one day he arrives at the 'Petteflet' a high rise that's soon to be his new home. Pluck's adventures are so much fun and it's no surprise that Annie M.G. Schmidt is considered to be the 'real queen of the Netherlands.' She is much loved in her home country. The fun and cute illustrations are by  Fiep Westendorp.


 Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

Pluck had a little red tow truck. He drove it all over town looking for somewhere to live. Now and then he stopped. And when he stopped, he asked people, 'Do you know anywhere I can live?' The people thought for a moment and then said, 'No." Because all the houses were taken.
In the end Pluck drove into the park. He backed his truck in between two trees and sat down on a bench.
'Maybe I can sleep here in the park tonight,' he said out loud. 'I could sleep in my truck under that tree..' Then he heard a voice above him. 'I know where you can live,' the voice said.
Pluck looked up. There was a beautiful, fat pigeon sitting on one of the branches of the big oak tree.
'The tower of the Pill Building's free,' the pigeon said.
'Thanks,' Pluck said, taking off his cap. 'Where is the Pill Building? And what's your name?'
'I'm, Dolly,' the pigeon said. 'And the Pill Building's close by. That great big building over there...See? Right up on top, there's a little tower. And in that tower, there's a room. And  no one lives in it. If you're fast, you can move into that room. But don't waste any time, otherwise it might be taken.'

Dutch Lit Month is hosted by Iris at Iris on Books. Do check out her blog for more Dutch Lit reviews this month.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan


Loving Frank by Nancy Horan has been on my radar for a while but I never picked it up. Then a friend of mine highly recommended it last Saturday and I finished it in just three days. It was that riveting. I simply couldn't put it down. It wasn't just the fascinating story that gripped me but Horan's fluid and readable prose. Before this I confess that I only knew Frank Lloyd Wright as an architect. I never imagined that he had such a turbulent personal life which involved several children, three marriages and a mistress. 

Loving Frank is a fictionalized account of the affair between Wright and Mamah Cheney during the early 1900s. Before this there was surprisingly very little written about this period in Wright's life so Horan wrote using newspaper accounts and correspondences between Cheney and others to get a feel for her personality and thoughts. Mamah and her husband commissioned Wright to design and build their house in Oak Park, Chicago. Mamah fell in love with him during their  interactions discussing the house, design, nature and various other intellectual topics. A fierce feminist and thinker before her marriage, she was quite starved for these conversations because it was lacking in her relationship with her husband.

What Mamah does next would shock any devoted mother. It's not because she decides to leave her husband and two children but it's the manner in which she does it. Her decision is selfish and cruel and will affect a number of people and have severe repercussions for years to come. Although I started to dislike Frank and Mamah more and more, I couldn't stop reading. I followed Mamah and Frank to Europe where they escape from their spouses and children for almost two years. Mamah finds her own calling as a translator of the controversial Swedish feminist and writer Ellen Key. In short she finally finds herself and what she's meant to do with her life. I don't want to give too much away since it's actually best not to know a thing if you're reading this book. If you do read it then do not google any of the personalities involved until the end. This story would be so unbelievable if it wasn't actually true. Loving Frank was my book club's pick for June and it was an excellent choice since there's just so much to discuss. Highly recommended especially for a book group.

*Photograph from Andreanna Moya Photography

Friday, June 8, 2012

Adrian Tomine


I never heard of Adrian Tomine though I must have come across his work in The New Yorker several times. I saw the art work above, Missed Connections (2004) at The Sleepless Reader's  blog. She listed it as one of her favorite art works about women reading. I love that it speaks volumes. A missed connection indeed. So I looked up the cartoonist Adrian Tomine and he has several wonderful pieces of art that I decided to share in this post.

I also love this one of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in a still from the classic film In the Mood for Love directed by Wong Kar-Wei.



A very skinny Sylvia Plath.


Here are some other ones. Enjoy!







Monday, June 4, 2012

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry


I don't usually read books that are reportages of true crime events. Of course, I've read the classic In Cold Blood by Truman Capote which was excellent. But generally this genre is usually melodramatic and badly written. Author Chris Cleave said that The People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry is the "In Cold Blood for our times." High praise indeed for the author and after reading the book, I couldn't agree with Cleave more. The People Who Eat Darkness: the True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up was a very well-written page-turner but a harrowing and chilling read as well. There were times while reading that I literally shivered and had to stop and take a break.

I had vaguely heard of Lucie Blackman, the 21-year-old former British Airways stewardess turned hostess, who disappeared in Tokyo in the year 2000. I had no idea of her fate or what transpired after. It was definitely a plus not knowing any of the details because I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. Parry's non-fiction narrative reads like the best fictionalized crime novels but this is all true. British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry, was living and working in Japan at the time and covered most of the investigation and the trial that followed.

In May 2000, the tall and blond Lucie suddenly decided to move to Japan with her friend Louise to be a hostess and thus pay off her mounting debts. A hostess shouldn't be confused with a prostitute. A hostess entertains mainly by conversing with clients and keeping them company in the club whilst making them spend more and more on drinks. The hostesses are also encouraged to go on dates or to have dinner with their clients and thus earn 'bonuses.' Lucy was on such a date with an unknown man when she disappeared. At first there were no leads except for a mysterious phone call to Louise the day after the disappearance.

What follows is everyone's worst nightmare. The parents are contacted and Lucie's father and sister make several trips to Japan, facing the media and working with the police to try to find any clues to her whereabouts. Parry does an excellent job of presenting the facts and the emotions of those involved working from extensive interviews with Lucie's family, friends, co-workers, clients and the police. There are also passages from emails from Lucie and excerpts from her diary. Parry also writes extensively about the Japanese nightlife, the history of Japanese and Korean relations and the police procedures and judicial system in Japan which is completely different from the west. I'm surprised to realize I actually learned a lot about the Japan today just by reading this book. Plus the book was completely engrossing. It was a fascinating  and intense read and even if you don't like this sort of thing I highly recommend it if you enjoy reading crime or mystery novels.

I didn't mean to read this for the Japanese Literature Challenge 6 hosted by Dolce Bellezza since this is non-fiction, however Bellezza approved it (see her comment below). Do check out the site for the Japanese Literature Challenge 6 for more reviews from other bloggers.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Orange Prize Winner


Congratulations to Madeline Miller for winning the last Orange Prize for Fiction for the beautiful novel, The Song of Achilles. As I mentioned in my last post, I adored this novel.  It's my favorite read of the year so far. Joanna Trollope, the chair of judges said, "This is a more than worthy winner - original, passionate, inventive and uplifting," I couldn't agree with her more and I hope that because of this win the book will gain a wider audience.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Orange Reading: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller



I adored this one and I hope it wins the Orange Prize which will be announced this week. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a retelling of parts of the Iliad focusing on the story of Achilles told from the point of view of his closest friend and lover, Patroclus. Most of you probably know how this story will end but in spite of that Miller has written a moving and beautiful love story where Achilles is a wonderful and charismatic hero (so unlike the Brad Pitt version in Troy). Patroclus is sensitive and awkward and can't help falling in love with his best friend. I was completely caught up in the story and I loved the two main characters. This is a passionate and ultimately heartbreaking novel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Great Gatsby Trailer


The trailer for the upcoming movie The Great Gatsby has just been released. It looks fantastic. I may just have to read the book again.

The film will be released in 3D on December 25th and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Isla Fisher. It's directed by Baz Luhrmann. Can't wait!

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's still the eyes, isn't it?


"But it's still the eyes we look at, isn't it? That's where we found the other person, and find them still. The same eyes that were in the same head when we first met, slept together, married, honeymooned, joint-mortgaged, shopped, cooked and holidayed, loved one another and had a child together. And were the same when we separated.

But it's not just the eyes. The bone structure stays the same, as do the instinctive gestures, the many ways of being herself. And her way, even after all this time and distance, of being with me."

I'm meeting my book club tonight to discuss The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I didn't have time to reread the novel so I ended up skimming it and rereading my review and all the 176 comments (an all-time record for my blog). I also came across the section above which I had highlighted on my first reading. Indeed, it's a beautifully written novel but I'm still stumped about some things. I'm sure we'll have a never-ending discussion tonight but I wonder if we'll be satisfied with all our different scenarios. I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


I loved this book! I've been recommending it to everyone I know. It was so much fun and by far the most entertaining novel I've read this year. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was such a refreshing roller coaster ride.

It's 2044 and the world is a mess. The environment has deteriorated, unemployment and poverty are the norm. People spend more and more time at their computers, living another life in a fantastic virtual world called the Oasis created by recently deceased James Halliday. Left with no heirs, Halliday stipulates in his will that the person who finds the three keys hidden in the Oasis and opens the connecting gates will inherit his vast fortune. Years pass and no keys have been found though millions immerse themselves in Halliday's favorite 1980s films, music and video games hoping these hold the clues to the keys' locations. Wade Watts is a teenager who lives in trailer that's literally stacked on top of other mobile homes. Overweight and acne-ridden, he goes to school in the Oasis and spends ninety percent of his life as his avatar Parzival. We find out in the first few pages of the book that Wade is the first to find a key and unlock the first gate. This discovery unleashes a wave of other treasure hunters, some of whom will stop at nothing to win the ultimate prize.

Though this was a light and fun read, it was also a cautionary tale about where our world is going in terms of the internet and social media. It's not hard to believe at all that this is what our world will look like in 2044 and it is certainly not a pretty sight. It's downright scary. When our hero is given the choice to push a red button that will destroy the Oasis forever, I felt the urge to push it myself. In the end, our hero finds his way and discovers that he doesn't need the internet or the Oasis to be happy. He wins the girl of his dreams. Yes, there's even a geeky love story thrown in. It's not surprising that the movie rights for Ready Player One were  snatched up before it was even published. I just wish the late John Hughes was alive to direct it. It would have been perfect.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Goodbye to the Wild Things

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

"It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music....I have nothing now but praise for my life. "

R.I.P. Maurice Sendak and thank you for Max and the wild things.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Muriel Spark Reading Week: The Driver's Seat



The Driver's Seat is such a strange novel that after finishing it I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. But it's not a novel you easily forget after reading it. I soon realized how clever and wickedly unique it actually was. It's well-crafted and so original. It's funny that though it's 40 years old, its never been copied nor has it inspired similar stories in films or other books. It stands alone as a unique piece of work.

The novel is a short one of about 100 pages. It opens with the main protagonist, Lise buying a vibrantly colored dress and a clashing red and white striped coat at a department store. The salesgirls are horrified. Is Lise crazy or just a little bit flamboyant?  Lise has been working non-stop at an accounting office for 16 years and she's just about to set off on the holiday of a lifetime at an unnamed southern city in Europe. Spark soon reveals that this book will end in Lise's murder but we're not quite sure how it will happen or who among the oddball characters in the book will be responsible. Revealing more would be saying too much about this short novel. I'll just say that this is a murder story of the strangest kind. And as usual, Spark's writing is concise, succinct and pitch perfect

Simon at Stuck in a Book and Harriet are hosting the Muriel Spark Reading Week from April 23 to 29.  Thomas at My Porch made the great badge.

There's no set rules and regulations for this week. Just read one or more books by Muriel Spark (they're very short!) and let either of the hosts know through a comment at their blog. Posts could be about Spark's books, life, film adaptations or poetry.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm Missing...


Arya,


Bran and Jon Snow,
 Tyrion, Sansa and yes, even those evil twins Jamie and Cersei Lannister. Well, actually maybe I can do without Cersei. I'm missing Winterfell, King's Landing and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms - the captivating world created by George R.R. Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series. There's something to be said about reading a series. So far I've spent over 2000 pages (two books) with these people and thus I'm completely immersed in their lives. I need to find out what will happen to them next.

The upcoming season of the TV series will apparently incorporate parts of book three (Storm of Swords) as well. This was done in order to have more scenes with Jamie Lannister who doesn't play a big part in book two. That means I better start reading book three soon because Game of Thrones season two is about to start. The date - April 1st. Can't wait! Here's the trailer...


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Muriel Spark Reading Week


Simon at Stuck in a Book and Harriet will be hosting the Muriel Spark Reading Week from April 23 to 29.  Thomas at My Porch made the great badge.

There's no set rules and regulations for this week. Just read one or more books by Muriel Spark (they're very short!) and let either of the hosts know through a comment at their blog. Posts could be about Spark's books, life, film adaptations or poetry. 

I'm not sure yet which Spark I'll choose for this week. I'd love to reread The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and see the film again but maybe I'll try one of her other books instead.


Coincidentally Open Road Media have just released eight ebooks by Muriel Spark. Therefore some of her harder to find titles will be easily available through just one click (that is if you have an ereader). Each of the ebook titles also features an illustrated biography of Muriel Spark including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s archive at the National Library of Scotland. Do check out Open Road's website for more details.

The eight titles released by Open Road are the following:


Are you joining the Muriel Spark Reading Week? Which ones are you planning to read or which ones do you recommend?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach


If you haven't heard of The Art of Fielding then seriously you must live under a rock. I doubt another book has gotten this much publicity in recent years. Its been mentioned just about everywhere you look to the point that even non-readers would have come across a review or reference about it in newspapers and magazines. It has generated a lot of hype and glowing reviews. So much in fact that even the author's Harvard roommate together with Vanity Fair wrote a book about how The Art of Fielding was published (How a Book is Born). This itself should make an interesting read considering that Harbach toiled so hard on the book for ten years before finally being offered a $650,000 advance. After being disappointed by that other college novel that was released last year, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, I decided to crack the spine of The Art of Fielding and find out for myself what the hype is all about.


The book opens with an amateur late summer baseball game wherein Henry Skrimshander, a smallish player, impresses Mike Schwarz, another player on the opposite team with his fielding ability. A friendship is formed and Henry wins a place at Westish college and becomes the shortstop for the college team. The years pass and Henry is right on track but just when he's offered a chance at playing for a major league team, Henry literally throws a curve ball. I don't want to give too much away but suffice it to say I didn't see that coming at all. Besides all this there are three other characters in the book with their own stories - Henry's gay roommate Owen; Guert Affenlight, the college president who after being straight all his life is suddenly attracted to Owen; and then there's Guert's daughter Pella, the girl who comes in between Henry and Mike.

So was it good? Yes, it was. It had extremely likeable characters and though I know next to zilch about baseball, I loved the sporting aspect of the book. I think Harbach fared well in delivering what it's like to be in a team - the pressure to perform, the deep friendships that are formed, the camaraderie, the competitiveness and also the jealousy. It's a very good book considering it's his first.

Is it the next great American novel? Yes and no. I can certainly think of many other American novels that I prefer however it's probably one of the best ones in recent years. It's certainly all- American and  it's a book with themes that may not have been written about before. It's an ambitious novel and daring on several fronts and it's entertaining so I can understand why many people loved it.

So is it worth the hype? Yes. I wouldn't say it's wonderfully written. In fact some of the prose was wooden at times. Although I didn't love the book, I liked it a lot. It's charming and I guess Harbach succeeds mainly because of his appealing characters. I also believe in some of the themes and messages that Harbach was conveying. Ambition isn't everything. When it comes down to it, family and friendships are definitely the most important things in life. I'd happily give this book four stars out of five.
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