Thursday, August 27, 2009

26 and 27 are vastly different

26. Deerskin, Robin McKinley (own)
Deeply frustrated by the absence of this book on NLB's shelf, I gave in to temptation and ordered this book last month online. It arrived - fortunately! - in one piece when my mother found the post(wo)man trying to stuff the package into the letterbox after she grew tired of knocking the door of an empty apartment.

Deerskin
Sadly, the book is not as good as I imagined it is. This is partially my fault. I have worked myself into a frenzy while waiting for the arrival of the book and may have elevated the book to a higher position than where I should have.

Based loosely on Donkeyskin, Deerskin is about a neglected princess, Lissar, who resembles her beautiful late mother. Her appearance leads to a tragedy and she eventually has to escape to survive. I can't write more or I'll spoil the plot (unless you have heard of Donkeyskin). The summary above accounts for the Part 1 of the book. Part 2 involves the magic that McKinley writes often. While it does not take away the tragedy of what happen in part 1, it feels like a ~*magical*~ solution for Lissar. I understand that it is probably extremely difficult for the plot to progress if the magic does not occur at that point - Lissar is too fragile and too isolated to face reality - but I feel so disappointed.

It does not help that parts of the book is dull and repetitive. McKinley always has a habit of writing in long descriptive proses but here, it bogs down the novel. There is far too much unnecessary details that reduce the enjoyment of read Deerskin. I find myself skimming past the words at times because the pace is too slow!

Despite this, Deerskin is a relatively good novel that deals with Lissar's trauma in a realistic manner. If you are a fan of McKinley's, this may not be a book that you expect from her. It explores darker themes from what she normally writes. Non-fans can read the book but it is not her best.

27. The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis (own)
Screwtape lettersTo be honest I didn't even know that C.S Lewis write other books apart from Narnia. I only knew that after my sister informed me one fine day that she wanted this book for her birthday. That was 3 years ago.

I finally bought and read the book at the Borders this month. It isn't as bad as mere Christianity - which till now I have yet to complete - and it helps that I have seen a rather humorous satire take on politics, written in similar format as Screwtape Letters. No doubt that blog was inspired by C.S Lewis.

I am actually agnostic - which is pretty strange if you consider my family's background but that's another story - and thus I have some friends wondering why I have been reading books about Christianity. Despite it's unconventional writing style, The Screwtape Letters is ultimately about Christianity and works of evil from the devil(?). It reveals to me, insights on Christians.

It is quite possible that my non-believing in this religion may have reduced whatever humour that is mere to be in the book. I have seen several times on the web that The Screwtape Letters is funny but it is not to me. Have I missed something that makes this book funny to most? I do not know.

Should you read it if you are not a believer of the religion? Yes. The Screwtape Letters is written from the point of view of a devil and it is, without a doubt, a well-written book on the temptations one may face in their daily life. While a non-religious can read this book to discover more about Christianity, it is likely that you will not enjoy the book as much as a Christian might.


27 / 100 books. 27% done!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

24 and 25 are graphics novels

24. Persepolis: The story of a childhood, Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel, borrow)
After reading Persepolis, I checked out the reviews of it on Amazon. I was peeved by the amount of people saying that Persepolis has mature themes and is not childish unlike, as it is hinted, other comics. Now, I understand that this has absolutely nothing to do with Persepolis but dammit! Not all comics are childish! Hello? The Sandman anyone?Even manga (japanese comic) which most people seemed to think as an infantile form of comic can be incredibly deep in depth and deals with mature themes such as rape(Bokurano), death(Bokurano, Vagabond), does violence solve anything(Vagabond), human vs AI (Pluto) etc.

With that out of the way, I quite enjoy the story of Marjane Satrapi as a child. It first started rather light-hearted and with some humour. It gets progressively darker as torture and death are discussed by the characters.

Persepolis provides another look into Iran. With the recent demostration towards incumbent President Ahmadinejad, anyone who is interested in the events leading towards the Islam revolution should take a look at this.

25. Persepolis 2: The story of a return, Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel, borrow)

The sequel to Satrapi's childhood, it is about her years as a teenagers to an adult. I did not find it as good as the first. Still a must read if you want to know what happens after her stay at Venice.


25 / 100 books. 25% done!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

20 to 23 aren't that likeable

20. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (borrow)
This book depresses me.

21. Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami (borrow)
My friend told me this is not Murakami's most popular book. I can see why. It feels like a big filler from the beginning to the middle when the plot actually started. I do know that it is Murakami's trademark to leave the ending hanging. But I really feel that the novel should have ended much earlier (or at least shift the last chapter forward). It's like watching the last segment of Return of the King. Each time you think it's going to end, it just doesn't. This should have really been a novella.

On the other hand, I really like the narrator. There's something about him that I can identify with. He's also more likeable than whathisname in South of the Border, West of the Sun.

22. Young Stalin, Simon Sebag Montefiore (nonfiction, borrow)
Is this dry? Yes. But the dull writing of this biography should not prevent you from reading. It offers a fascinating account of Stalin as child to adult. The poet, the terrorist, the revolutionist, the charismatic leader who surrounded himself with people who he could be superior to, the husband who neglected his wives, and the man with many lovers... These were all faces of Stalin.

It's also horrifying to see Stalin developed his deep mistrust in people. His fear of being betrayed eventually led to the hundreds of thousands people (2 million according to some sources) executed and imprisoned in the Great Terror.

Since I cannot do this book justice, I'll just recommend it (or you can look up for more reviews on it).

23. Teacher Man, Frank McCourt (nonfiction, borrow)
I don't like the writing style of this book. This is the third book by Frank McCourt on his life. I have not read the first two but I have been told that Angela's Ashes is a much better book. Hopefully that is the case, because this book is mediocre. Huge chunk of paragraphs similar to run-on sentences cover the book. I stopped reading at least two times as I just cannot read on.

While this book should be on his life as a teacher, there is, in my opinion, too much unrelated content. It almost seemed that there isn't enough content that might interest the reader. As such, the book dragged on and I was deeply relieved when it finally ended.


23 / 100 books. 23% done!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nine years

Nine years.

You threw the remote control onto the glass table. A loud bang resonated in the living room. Clank! The battery fell to the floor with the force you put into the throw. It was not enough.

You stood up from the crimson sofa. Glaring at her, you stomped towards the woman whom you once promised to love and care forever. Whom you angered when you make yet another call. A word, divorce was thrown casually several times. Your face twisted into a dreadful grimace that exposed your yellow crooked teeth. You failed to impress anyone, not the daughter in the room, not the daughter peering over the book and certainly not your wife.

You slammed the door to your room and fumed under the sheets on the bed beside the wedding photo that you and your wife had taken 30 years prior. It was all you could do. Why you were angry? Was there any wrong in the words spoken by your wife? There was. For it was not a woman that you made the call to. It was your child. Your beloved eight year old child that you had with your mistress. A TV, you said to the child. You will get a new TV if the old one is broken. Goodbye, Papa loves you very much. You had never said that to any of your daughters. The daughters that you have with your wife.

You were still furious. You heard the sounds of the TV - your wife was watching the news - you got up from the bed and rushed out. You switched off the TV and slammed it down, vindicated. But of course, it didn't end like that. Your wife, oh how much you hated her, her sarcastic words hitting every nail in your heart. The TV was turned on again. You stared with the growing might of your anger at the back of her head. If she felt it, she did not show. Once again you retreated into the safe darkness of the room. You laid down on the bed and thought of that young child. The monster in your chest calmed down and you closed your eyes. Soon, this will end.

15 to 19 have more pictures

15: A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ebook)
I rediscovered Project Gutenberg and downloaded the entire Sherlock Holmes collection onto a portable device to read. This is the first time I read Sherlock Holmes since I was 12? I am not quite sure. Regardless, I noticed little details about Holmes that I missed before. Those not-at-all subtle allusion of him smoking cocaine or his arrogance towards people and things that he regard as unimportance? I cannot believe I missed it.

As a novel, there is inconsistency. Is Watson injured in Afghanistan or India? I am quite confused. The second half of the story is also dreadfully boring. While I understood the significant of it towards the motive of the crime that occurred in the first half, it's so hard to read what appears initially to be unconnected to the story. Otherwise this makes a good introduction to Holmes, and I cannot wait to start reading the second (e)book in the series.

16: The Knife of Never letting Go, Patrick Ness (YA, borrow)
This is the first book in the chaos walking series and the best YA fiction I have read in quite a while. Todd is a boy reaching his 13th birthday in a world where all women have died and only there are only men and their noise. One day, he discovered that the men in his town have been lying to him and everything changes for him.

What I like about this book:
The characters. The growth of Todd is believable. While he might not be the most likeable character (typical rebellious teenager) in the beginning, he is extremely realistic. The choices he has to make in the grim situation that he finds himself in are difficult and he comes out of them as a stronger person. There is also another character who has great remarkable growth but I shall not spoil it for you.

What I hate about the book:
The damn cliffhanger. The middle part is a little boring.

Beware of the plot twists in this book. Nothing is what it seems on the surface and it is only at the end that everything is revealed. The ending is a bloody cliffhanger and you must get the second book, The Ask and the Answer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

17: City of small blessings, Simon Tay (borrow)
This could have been potentially great fiction. Someone compared the book to Murakami but there is a great difference. Murakami may write surreal events but it always compels the reader to read on. I struggled to read past the first few chapters.

The themes of this book are usually what I enjoyed. Alienation in your home country, in society, bonds of family etc... However, the constant switching of character's point of view(POV) is repulsive. The POV of Bryan, the narrator of the first half of the novel, switches from 3rd person to 1st person regularly, as the author reveals Bryan's past and present at the same time. Perhaps this is supposed to invoke in me the turmoil and disorder that their migration to Canada and the notice of eviction from the government caused. If that's the case, I suppose the author has done a good job.

18: Unwind, Neal Shusterman (YA, borrow)
Another book I thought I'd liked but did not. The questions asked from this book are thought provoking. What is life? What is a soul? How much is a human worth? Set in a world, where the body parts of unwanted (read: undesired) teenagers can be 'unwind' and given to people who are useful and needed, what exactly is right or wrong?

Such a setting should have made this book an excellent novel. However, it missed a special something. For all the questions it raised, the plot felt juvenile and the beginning while exciting is not gripping enough. It must be said that Neal Shusterman is a good author. The book is clearly well-written and every details mentioned in the book has a meaning to it. Nonetheless, the relationship between Connor and Risa is so forced, I do not know why they end up with each other. That, together with Connor's almost one dimensional character turns me off. Perhaps, there are people who will like this book. I certainly do not enjoy it as much.

19: The Girl with Glass Feet, Ali Shaw (borrow)
Yet another book I did not enjoy. I liked to read book blind, so I do not even know that this book is about until I started reading. The elements of magic woven throughout the whole book is surreal like and gives the book its title. It is certainly creative. However, I do not like it at all. I cannot explain why but somehow it does not mix well with the writing. If anything, it (along with the author's writing style) makes the characters detached from the reader. It's akin to piece of glass between the characters and me.

I do like the characters. They are very realistic and terribly flawed. Ida and Midas's father are selfish men. In fact, everyone in the novel is selfish with their own motives around them. Even Ida who always falls in with the 'wrong man' is selfish. There is also the theme of metamorphosis running through the book. I cannot reveal more or I will spoil the plot.

I find this book to be well-written yet aloof. It is hard to like a book when it fails to generate interest in you. Although I felt sympathy for Ida and Midas (the golden touch? how ironic), I cannot feel the romance between them. A pity.


19 / 100 books. 19% done!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

12 13 14

12. After dark, Haruki Murakami (own)
One of Murakami's easier to read book. Symbolism and surrealism are rampant in this book, of which the most curious is the Eri and the TV. What happens with Eri and the TV, well, you have to read to find out. After dark is about a group of people who are connected together by the events that occurred after midnight. I feel that After dark will make a lovely art film.

13. South of the border, West of the sun, Haruki Murakami (borrow)
Another Murakami book, this time it's about a man who has never forgotten about his first love. This is even easier to read than After Dark. However, it is also not his best, perhaps due to the protagtonist's flawed character, which makes him realistic but not particularly likeable. Like all of his books, there is a mystery in South of the border, West of the sun. You can't help but wonder at Shinamamoto's past. Who is she really? Why is she coming back for Hajime?

The story of Shinamamoto and Hajime reminds me of another book: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. The Age of Innocence was written in the early 1900s about a man in America high society in the 1880s. Both books has similarities: A man, who takes what is before him for granted and assumes that he knows his wife when he doesn't. The books have much more in common with each other but I'll have to write a long essay if I listed all of them.

Ultimately this is a book about Hajime's growth as a person. However, while Newland in Age of innocence did move on, Hajime is still a static piece of furniture and that is what irks me for this book.

14. below:absence, Cyril Wong (poetry, borrow)
Out of curiosity, I borrowed Cyril Wong's below:absence. Due to my inept ability to appreciate poems, I'm afraid that much of the poems are lost to me. Nonetheless, there are some which I liked: 'blueprint', 'mnemonic', 'all its manifestations', and 'because it is wrong, so it is wrong'. Perhaps I should brush up on my understanding of poetry before I pick up another of his books.


14 / 100 books. 14% done!

The wall of text from 8 to 11 is terrifying

8: Wicked Gentlemen, Ginn Hale (own)
Totally irritated by this book. The environment that this book is set in, has so much that can be explored. The author, however, only used it sparely to write some lines here and there. I am also not impressed by how the two parts of the novel felt like two separate short stories that are thrown together to make a novel. Had the author strived to glue the two parts together (1st person POV and suddenly 3rd person? why not 3rd for both), this novel could have been much much better. Still, I don't regret buying it. For all its flaws, the scenario and the characters are a delight to read. The reality in the novel is particular grim; the evil never gets caught for its crime. There is however, an ending that can be seen as happy.

9: I Sold My Soul on Ebay (NF, borrow)
The title is misleading as the author certainly did not sell his soul on ebay. He's an atheist who decided one day to learn more about religion, specifically, Christianity. He set up an auction promising to spend 1 hour in a place of worship for every $10 bid. This book is a further examination of the time he spent observing (he spent 7 months visiting churches for this book).

While the content is interesting, the way he tried to pad the book is not appreciated by this reader. Some of the early chapters are so draggy that I have to try to force myself to read it. This problem is not helped by the repetitiveness. The American-centric writing is also another turn off. Yet, I still find myself agreeing many of its points and I encourage all Christians to read it. (and discuss with me!)

10: The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan (YA, own)
I have been reading this book non-stop since I woke up today morning and I probably would have been shocked by the twist at the end (though Sarah dropped a lot of foreshadowing) if I have not already been spoiled. I particularly like Mae a lot. She's not one of those female characters that after swooning over the main character instantly becomes useless. Far from that, she tries hard to protect her brother, Jamie. Jamie is not entirely useless either (as one might suspect earlier) and I believe Sarah will develop Jamie's and Mae's characters more in the next book (hopefully not in Nick's POV).

Now, for the bad points of the novel. Nick is the main character and whom point of view that the readers have to suffer through. The main problem, however, is that Nick is an emotionless jerk. Even reading this book with rose-tinted glasses - I am a fan of Sarah's works - and armed with spoilers, I do not like Nick. I may have even despise him at certain times. As I have once commented before, writing an unlikeable character as the main character is probably the hardest way to gain readers; the character may have turned readers off even before they hit the middle of the book! Thankfully, Nick does have some redeeming factor. His bond with his brother is the only thing that saves this book and, of course, the ending.

I am also disappointed at the lack of humor. I'm not sure if it has been edited out or if she decided not to write it in. Either way it was a disappointment to read.

The Demon's Lexicon is the first book in a trilogy and I recommend people to read it.

Edit: I have seen someone describing Nick as a sociopath and I agree! Nick is a sociopath which is why he sucks entirely as the narrator haha. And also, link to Gerald's story. The last line sends shivers down my spine and his relationship with his sibling is a stark contrast with Nick's.

11: Embroideries, Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel, borrow)
This is a more light hearted and humorousness book by Marjane Satrapi about the men and sex lives of Iran women. In between the stories, I could see a strong feminist theme and the plight of women in Iran. This is a book for anyone who has time to spare.


11 / 100 books. 11% done!

Six Plus Seven Makes What?

6: Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett (borrow)
My first time reading Pratchett's book, I felt overwhelmed. It's good in non-cliche way. Some of the humour went over me. Regardless I still want to read his books!

7: The Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi (borrow)
It's about an eight year old girl and twins and ghost and myths. Ahhh. I don't like it. I tried. I really tried but I have no clue what the author is trying to let me know! The repetitiveness doesn't help. If some parts are cut out, it would have been better. The suspend and tension are not there at all. Ahh. What a waste.

There should have been a No. 8 but Catch 22 is so hard to read for me. Why? No connection at all! I don't get the first chapter at all. It definitely went over my head and I stopped reading. Maybe Americans might like it more.

Four and Five

4: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens (borrow, non-fiction)
I'm unsure whether I want to punch the author or agree with him. What an arrogant jerk.

5: Living Dead Girl, Elizabeth Scott (borrow, YA)
You went to the library. There, you found three books that you wanted to read. It's a waste, you thought, to have three instead of four. Despairing for a fourth book, you wandered into the YA section.

There was nothing interesting. And there you saw it. Hiding between those silly books about teenage love was Living Dead Girl. Written by Elizabeth Scott. You removed it carefully from the shelf and knew this was the one. The fourth book.

You walked home. You removed three books from your bag, from the green and pink polka dots that ought to crash with each other but did not. You reached into the bag again and took Living Dead Girl out.

A haunting story of an abducted girl, you read to yourself. You flipped open the hardcover, and you read. You read about the story of Alice. The girl who had been subjected to hell since she was ten. You read about how she viewed the people who thought victims could escape if they just talked. A tiny voice in your head, agreed with those people. You hushed it.

You reached the end of the book. Yet, the voice in your head mumbled softly, why didn't she asked earlier? You felt shame at the words of the voice and tried not to think of all of the other Alices living in fear of their Rays. Tried not to think if you had knew something was wrong but never asked.


5 / 100 books. 5% done!

Cheddar

A short cheesy poem(can it even be called that?) that I wrote for fun.

O Gold Mouse Where Art Thou?
If Thou must damn thyself
For Thy Love of cheese
A Piece of White Cheddar
Shalt be all thou need

A Goal of 100 books

At the beginning of this year, I made a new year resolution to read 100 books, having been inspired by blue_ant who reads on average 150 books per year. Following her example, I wrote all these on another blog and moved them here for easier archiving.

1: Wind-up Bird Chronicles, Haruki Murakami (borrow)
It was a very surreal book, so convoluted and abstract that I had no idea what to expect for the ending. I wished I understood Cinnamon though. Like why he avoided Toru. Is it because he felt guilty that he had not expect the water? Or that he is trying to spy on him? Cinnamon is such an interesting character. Another part I do not understand is the chapter 8 of the book Cinnamon wrote. Because of the first person view, the parts about the other characters are unreliable. In that case, we have to depend on Toru's view of Cinnamon's motivation. He suspected that Cinnamon is telling of a parallel between his grandfather and himself. That made me all the curiouser.

We know that Cinnamon's life has changed forever after a particular event of which the significance is never explained. Neither is the death of Cinnamon's father revealed properly. I have to return the book tomorrow - date due! - so I skimmed through parts of the book. So perhaps the details for these questions that I desperately wanted to be answered has escaped me.

I think I need to get a copy of the book. Hard copy.


2: Storm Front, Jim Butcher (borrow)
Compared to most of the stuff I usually read, this is a short novel. I actually finished it within 2 hours. A record! The content of the book are nothing as record breaking though. Due to the similarities with the style of the Anita Blake series, I cannot stop myself from comparing it with Anita Blake. The protagonist, Harry Dresden, has as much of a hero complex as Anita. Thanks God, he isn't half the Mary Sue that Anita is. At least not, in this first book.

It doesn't help that the The Dresden Files is written in the same manner as the Anita Blake series. It does make Harry look and sound like the male version of Anita Blake. Well, if you can ignore the fact that Anita is basically a man with boobs and a vagina. Ugh.


3: Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley (borrow, YA)
It took me a while but I finished the Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, who is truly one of my favourite authors. A former associate was right when she said that the book was wonderful. It really is fantastic.

The book is about a King's daughter, Aerin. Tales is spoken about her mother, a witchwoman who had enspelled the King into marrying her. As a result of that, her life is miserable and she often felt that she isn't fit to be a sol (the ruler). It is in this setting that I loved the book.

It's hard not to sympathise with Aerin. Her character is very likeable. She isn't like one of those Heroines who are essentially men with boobs and worse, special powers that they flaunted all over the place. Aerin is a believable normal person who couldn't fit in. It delighted me greatly as I read page by page and her character grew until she learned to be comfortable in her own skin.

A lovely little fantasy book suitable for all ages and gender that can be borrowed from the library. Oh, I fully recommend the books by Robin McKinley. This is the fifth book by her that I have read. And so far, her works has never failed to disappoint me. (well except that I didn't like The Outlaws of Sherwood that much)

Please stop reading from this point onwards if you do not want to be spoiled.

Luxe. LUXE! I skimmed the second half of the book so I didn't catch the parts where aerin interacted with Luxe. So while I have guessed very early that Tor liked Aerin, the revelation that Luxe and Aerin are in love with each other stunned me. It is also a little disturbing as Luxe is older than what his appearance suggest. Perhaps that is why McKinley wrote the ending in this manner (and I have to say I'm a total sucker for the promise that Aerin made with Luxe, argh Luxe made Tor looks very boring and normal :D) .

/ends Spoilers

I have finally reached 3%! Hurray! I would have reached this earlier had not my wallet, fearing the empty stomach it might faced with, screamed and pounded against me forcing me to return Fool Moon to the library against my will.


3 / 100 books. 3% done!