Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger

Wow. What an absolutely brilliant book! It's so unique, so different to anything that I've read lately, and utterly engaging. I was a little reluctant to pick this up because I have found some previous Booker books to be too tedious for me to actually enjoy. However, with The White Tiger, I was sucked in from the minute I started reading. Who would have thought that you could craft a story set in India from writing letters to the Chinese Premier? Balram Halwai is the hero/anti-hero (depends on how you look at it) and star of the novel, as we follow his life story out of his rural hometown of Laxmangarh into the bright lights of Bangalore. Through Balram's journey, Adiga offers a critique on life in modern India and an insight into the harsh realities for those born into the lower social classes. Not willing to accept his pre-determined fate by his caste, Balram breaks out of the rooster coop but there are consequences to pay. Regardless of his actions, Adiga has created a likeable character with a compelling story. I really enjoyed The White Tiger and even though I haven't read the other nominees, I think it's a deserving Booker Prize winner.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Margo Lanagan - Tender Morsels

I was astonished to discover that Tender Morsels was actually meant to be a YA fiction book. Personally, I think this book is far more suited to an adult audience, not only because of its dark content but also because of the writing style. The prose used in the book is an earthy kind of language (if that makes any sense!), which reflects the setting of the story well but can be a little hard to follow, especially with the constantly switching viewpoints. The adult themes of this book are also quite disturbing, what with incest and rape just part of the narrative. The author never really delves into graphic details but certainly enough for readers to understand some of the horrifying traumas the character goes through. I was quite excited to borrow this book from the library as it was highly recommended by Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favourite authors, and it also had mainly positive reviews on Amazon. I must say that I am actually quite disappointed and a little glad that I didn't purchase it to read. My main issue with the book is the changing viewpoints, which I feel didn't serve much purpose for Tender Morsels. I think I would have enjoyed the story much more if the novel focused on Liga and her daughters and their journey back into the real world. For example, I don't think some of the parts that featured the bear-men were all that necessary; in fact, I found them quite tedious and I would skip over those bits. Also, who was Wolf? I would have liked to know more about his relationship with Branza but in the end, he remained a dream and fantasy. It's an interesting read, but not one that I think I will revisit nor recommend to others.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MaryJanice Davidson - Fish Out of Water

Ahh... it is time to bid adiós to Fred as Fish Out of Water is the final book of the Fred the mermaid trilogy. A true shame really, as I feel I am just warming up to the brash green-haired Fredrika. I am an absolute sucker for happy endings and I can't complain about this one. I had hoped Fred would pick Thomas (the human one) eventually, and even though it only finally came about in the last book, at least I got the ending I wanted. I also like how MJD extracted Artur from the love triangle; sure, it was convenient but at least it wasn't messy and I don't feel heartbroken for Artur. Somehow, I think he'll survive. Throw in a bare-bones mystery about missing merfolk and a finale appearance by a deranged mer-father and we have a story cooking. While not the greatest novel that I've read (even by MJD standards), I must say that I have enjoyed the mermaid trilogy and Fred and the gang will be missed. Who knows? They may appear again one day; I don't think this series is on its last leg - or tail! - yet.

MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unwelcome

I am an MJD fan and will continue to be, just like I will continue to follow the Undead series, even though it seems to be on a downward spiral. So, yes, Undead and Unwelcome is Book 8; surely, by now, I should be used to how Betsy books turn out. I have no issues with MJD's style of writing; the haphazard crazy way of writing is fun and suits Betsy's personality. Wafer-thin plots, I have more of an issue with, but even that I can overlook - I mean, we all know Betsy books aren't exactly literature. I think a measure of a good author is the ability to evolve its character, especially since MJD herself had called out that it was a new beginning for this series from the previous book. The character shouldn't be changed beyond recognition, but certainly in a way where readers can grow with the character as the series progresses. After all, major events would have happened; a person does not stay exactly the same. I love reading Betsy's frank outbursts; the way she speaks her mind with a devil-may-care attitude regardless of who's around is one of her endearing traits. What I can't stand is her inability to focus for more than 2 seconds, which seems to be much worse in this book than I can remember in all previous installments. Yes, we all know that she is not exactly enamoured about her position as Queen of the Undead but with all the recent events and new responsibilities, you would think she would be able to concentrate for at least the length of a conversation. I'm not sure how long more MJD can drag out this series for as things seem to be coming to a head. I can only hope that she will give the Undead series a fitting end, as Betsy so rightly deserves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

James Thurber - Many Moons

This is a very cute picture book and I can imagine it will be an absolute delight for any little girl to read. I've not seen the book with the original illustrations but Marc Simont's watercolour drawings are gorgeous to look at - a perfect fit with the adorable and endearing story of Many Moons. I don't know if it stands out as an instant classic as many reviewers have said on Amazon; however, it certainly won't be amiss in a little one's library. A must for all the princesses out there!

Marjane Satrapi - Persepolis

I know almost nothing about Iran so Persopolis is quite an eye-opening read about a part of the world that is very alien to me. The use of the comic book medium in Persopolis is an effective one as it makes a distressing and complicated tale more accessible to readers. The illustrations are simple and cartoonish, a stark contrast against the complex and sometimes harrowing backdrop of Satrapi’s life and journey into adulthood. Despite the simplicity of the illustrations, they still manage to convey with forceful impact the horrors and stifling restrictions of a turbulent life in Iran and the challenges of finding her own identity when she goes to Austria as a teenager. Satrapi pulls you into her story and provides the reader rare insight into a life behind closed doors. I definitely want to watch the movie now and see how it compares to the book.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Christopher Moore - Coyote Blue

I'm still fairly new to Christopher Moore's work but so far, his books have never failed to entertain me. Coyote Blue is no exception with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments - my husband was seriously worried that I was going to fall off the bed eventually from the cackling. I don't know enough about Indian gods to fully understand the underlying mythology referenced in the book but it didn't stop me from enjoying the story. Moore spins some really zany scenarios and you just have to go along for the ride. The protagonist, Samson Hunts Alone, is a likeable guy and as a reader, I couldn't help but cheer him on as he goes on his quest with the crazy god by his side. However, my absolutely favourite character would have to be Minty Fresh - how does someone even begin to imagine naming a character that?! The book is by no means perfect but it's easy to overlook the flaws and just be pulled into the story and enjoy every minute of it. I know I did!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

China Miéville - Un Lun Dun

What an amazing story! Un Lun Dun is spectacularly imaginative and the UnLondon that China Miéville has created is endlessly fascinating. Certainly, there will be comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere that also features an alternate London called London Below (Miéville acknowledged Neverwhere as a source of inspiration) but Un Lun Dun is uniquely charming in its own right. I loved the characters and the surprising turns that the story took. I kept expecting Book to discover that it was wrong about the prophecies all along and it was actually Deeba who was the Schwazzy, but I liked how Miéville stuck to celebrating the sidekick – you know, the funny one. The madcap universe of UnLondon (and other abcities) was absolutely delightful; my favourite inhabitants were the binjas and utterlings. Oh, and of course, Curdle, your very own pet milk carton. Un Lun Dun was an utterly engaging and entertaining read and I would be happy to revisit this weird and whimsical world with carnivorous giraffes and half-ghosts again and again. Now, can someone tell me how I can get my very own rebrella?

Scott Smith - The Ruins

It's kinda sad but I'm an absolute sucker for horror movies, even though I get completely terrified. Why I torture myself, I have no idea. I read a review about the movie, The Ruins (which I haven't seen), and found out that it was based on a book. I do enjoy a good horror read too so I decided to look for this book on BookMooch. I took this along with me on my honeymoon in May and I finished reading this on the flight to Bali. I won't give it the same kind of lavish praise that Stephen King did, but The Ruins is a decent horror novel. It was sufficiently creepy with plenty of WTF moments and a constant growing sense of doom and despair. Sure, the story was riddled with plot holes like a slice of Swiss cheese, but once it picked up pace, all of that was inconsequential and it was hard to pull away from the tale. I would have preferred it if at least one of the characters found a way to beat the vines and escape (just one happy moment, please!) but I guess the tragic ending really reinforces the utter bleakness of the situation, which is probably what the author was aiming for. The film is certified fresh on RottenTomatoes so I'm looking forward to see how it compares against the novel.

James Thurber - The 13 Clocks

I sought out this book because it was highly recommended by Neil Gaiman on Amazon. Thankfully, my local library made the purchase and I was able to borrow it. The 13 Clocks is a clever little fairy tale that is deceptively simple and charming. Kids will find it a blast but I think it will also appeal to the older crowd. Thurber's amazing use of language, including all the delightful made-up words (which I'm trying to work into my vocabulary range), really adds to the story and I can imagine kids just begging for more when it's read aloud to them. This doesn't quite make it to my list of all-time favourites as the story is just far too brief, but it sure is an enchanting and wonderful fairy tale that all ages can enjoy.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman: Endless Nights

I completed my Sandman odyssey with the graphic novel that had seven separate stories, each featuring a member of the Endless. I was really looking forward to reading this as for me, the best part about the Sandman series was the Endless siblings. While I didn't like all of the stories, there were definitely more hits than misses. I thought the stories that featured Death, Dream, Desire and Delirium were brilliant. The one with Despair I didn't really care about, while I thought the rest were okay. Overall, a great collection and it gave readers greater insight into the Endless. My one complaint about the Sandman series was that the Endless featured far too infrequently so Endless Nights certainly fit the bill. For Sandman fans, this is definitely one not to miss.

Alan Moore - Watchmen

Oh dear... I have been extremely slack with updating this blog with my latest reads. This goes back quite a few months now! Oh well, better late than never, I suppose!

I borrowed Watchmen from the library before the movie was released as I wanted the opportunity to read the graphic novel before watching the film version. It was a good thing that I did because Watchmen was incredibly complex and it would be impossible to capture everything in the movie, although I did think the movie did a decent job. For people who brush off the comic medium as kids' stuff, this one certainly ain't for the kiddies. The novel was very dark and gritty, reflecting the turbulent times in the world at the time of its publication. Even though it was published in the 80s, the material did not feel dated. Watchmen probably won't be everyone's cup of tea (it did get a bit much for me at times) but it was certainly very interesting and thought-provoking - definitely worth a look for someone interested in exploring the comics genre.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 10: The Wake

With The Wake, I have finally reached the end of the Sandman series. The first three chapters conclude the events from the previous volume and serve as a truly fitting finale to a brilliant series. It was great to see several characters reappearing for Dream's wake, some with their absolutely moving eulogies; there were even a few cameos thrown in. I also really enjoyed seeing the new Dream take shape and finding his place in the Dreaming. Personally, I didn't really care much for the epilogue and it didn't resonate with me, but it doesn't matter; overall, with just the first three chapters alone, The Wake brings a satisfying end to the Sandman series. I am glad I made the decision to seek out these graphic novels and I look forward to reading them again in the future.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

The Kindly Ones is the climax of the Sandman series and is truly an epic tale. For me, it's the best one out of the series. I also really liked the artwork in this particular story arc; it's very different from the usual comic book style and it really appealed to me visually. Even though the previous volumes prepared readers for Dream's death, I was still incredibly saddened by the loss of Morpheus. Yes, technically, Dream of the Endless does not die; he has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to do so for a long time, but Morpheus is no longer and I was truly sad to see him go. To fully appreciate this volume, it is definitely necessary to have read the previous volumes as several storylines from earlier books get tied up here. What an incredible story, and one that I think will just get better and better each time I revisit it.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 8: World's End

I always find it hard to give my opinion on the Sandman books; partly because I think I will sound like an idiot, but also because it's hard to find the right words to adequately describe them. In World's End, a whole bunch of people/supernatural beings find themselves stranded in an inn because of a reality storm and they share their tales with one another while waiting for the storm to pass. I really liked this volume, which effectively was a collection of short stories, with Dream (and Death) making an appearance occasionally. I was completely intrigued by what was revealed towards the end and appeared to be the cause of the reality storm: a funeral procession in the sky involving the Endless. It feels like a set-up for the next volume; what is going to happen in The Kindly Ones? I can't wait to find out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jeff Lindsay - Dexter by Design

Hmm... I am not quite sure what to make of this. I felt like I was waiting to get into the thick of it but before I knew it, I finished the book - and I don't mean that in a good way. I think it's an improvement over Dexter in the Dark but I still don't think it's as good as the first two books in the series. It lacks that dark, twisted humour that makes the Dexter books such fun, despite the fairly grim subject matter. I know a character needs to evolve and change, but I'm not liking much the new-ish Dexter. I mean, he pretty much whinges in this book, and that is just so unlike him. The event involving Deborah was pretty drastic as well and came out of the blue, and even though it would explain the change in her, it didn't feel quite right either. As for her partner, it felt like he was thrown in just to be a substitue Doakes, and then he was just as easily taken out. Look, it probably wasn't that bad overall; I was just hoping for more after the disaster that Dexter in the Dark was and I so wanted to see more of that delightful wickedness from the first two books. Well, there's definitely Book 5 coming, so I guess one can only hope that Lindsay will deliver in that one.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives

A whole book featuring the Endless? Perfect. Delirium decides that she needs to hunt down her missing brother and the only sibling she can convince to go with her is Dream, who needs to snap out of his own misery following a broken heart. Change is the main theme in this volume, and because of the events that take place, there is much change coming to the Endless, especially for Dream. As usual, the storytelling is impeccable and it is great to see storylines from previous volumes weaved into this one and as well as borrowing from the various mythologies and integrating that into the Sandman story; all things that make this series such a unique one. Another great addition to the Sandman collection that I thoroughly enjoyed.

William Sleator - The Beasties

I picked this up at a library book sale, thinking I would be in for an old-school horror treat, especially after seeing the endorsement by R.L. Stine on the back cover; I was sadly mistaken. The book starts out okay but quickly develops into a strange mix of gory horror with an environmental agenda. I guess kudos to the author for trying something different and attempting to use this medium to convey a serious message about environmental issues and its impacts to his young audience, but in my opinion, it didn't work at all. I didn't particularly care for the characters either, so in the end, nothing much about the book really appealed to me, which is a true shame as I had been rather looking forward to this one. Oh well... moving on!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Julie Gregory - Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood

When I read stuff like this, I am truly horrified at how parents can be so brutal and cruel to their own children or to any other human being. Sometimes, I wonder at the irony of people requiring permits to keep specific breeds of dogs, yet people who are obviously unsuitable to be parents don't need a licence to reproduce when the responsibility is so much greater. Not that I'm saying this is something that should be regulated but it is painfully heart-breaking to read about child abuse, especially at the hands of their own parents. Julie Gregory's story is amazing; she not only survived a beast of a childhood but has put together the broken pieces of her life and moved forward. While it was a long, painful and arduous process, she has emerged stronger and wiser, with the courage to face up to her mother and prevent her from hurting other children, as well as spreading awareness of Munchausen by proxy. As a reader, I would have liked proper closure and to know more about what Julie did to stop her mother. Did she get prosecuted in the end? Did she get psychiatric help? It's a bit uncertain what actually happened in the end, although I would like to think that Julie was successful. Apparently, updates were previously available on her website but there's not much information on there at the moment. Regardless, I applaud Julie Gregory for courageously sharing her difficult tale with the world and using her experiences to help others in MBP cases. I wish her all the best.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Agatha Christie - The Clocks

Even though my mother was a fan of Agatha Christie, for some reason, I never read any of her books when I was growing up, despite being a fan of the mystery genre myself. When the video game, And Then There Were None (which was based on Agatha Christie's novel) was released, I decided to seek out a copy of it to read before trying out the game. (The book has been read but the game has only seen about 10 minutes of action so far...) I found And Then There Were None strangely compelling, even with the old-fashioned writing, and I did not hesitate to pick up The Clocks when I saw it at meet-up. Once again, the set-up here is very interesting and the mystery and suspense was sustained throughout, although I did find some of the dialogue quite dreary, especially when it was not related to main plot. However, I thought the ending was quite weak and a bit of a cop-out when everything leading up to that point was really excellent and had me completely hooked. A disappointing finish, but overall, still a fairly exciting and enjoyable read.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mary Higgins Clark - You Belong to Me

Mary Higgins Clark may not write the most imaginative of thrillers but she's an accomplished writer in her own right and she never fails to deliver a page-turner that's full of suspense. She's like that dependable friend: she can always be relied on to produce a mystery thriller that is easily digestible and pleasant to read. You Belong to Me doesn't disappoint and is an entertaining read despite its formulaic structure and predictability. While I had picked the killer quite early on, she kept me guessing and doubting myself with the red herrings that were thrown in throughout the narrative. The only minor letdown is that when the killer is finally revealed, apart from being barking mad, the implied motive for the murders seems quite weak - although, who am I to argue that insanity isn't a good enough reason? As described on Amazon, this is vintage Mary Higgins Clark and most readers will enjoy this fast-moving storyline that makes for effortless reading.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections

Fables and Reflections is another volume in the Sandman series that is a collection of short stories. Once again, Neil Gaiman displays his deft touch with some brilliant story-telling: Ramadan, Orpheus, and The Hunt are my favourites from this volume, although I do like most of the stories in this volume. While they are standalone stories, some do have linkages with previous and future volumes, which make it confusing for me at times because I feel that I'm not getting the full picture. There were also a few stories that didn't do much for me, like Soft Places and Fear of Falling, while August was just plain weird. The best thing in this volume though? Seeing Death and Dream as children - absolutely adorable, something that you'd think would never apply! If there ever were figurines of Lil' Death and Dream, I'd definitely try to get them for myself. Fables and Reflections may not be the most consistent offering as a whole, but it's definitely still worth a read for the ones that don't disappoint.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You

This is another solid addition to the Sandman series. This is a sequel (of sorts) to the events in The Doll's House (Volume 2); however, the main thing I remember from that volume is the serial killer convention while I only have a vague memory of the other stories. Nevertheless, it was still a delight to read A Game of You, a tale about exploring one's identity. I'm sure it was much deeper than I could actually comprehend, but I enjoyed it anyway, even with my limited understanding. I probably still prefer Season of Mists to this, only because I find the Endless characters so intriguing and always enjoy the stories that they feature in. I am sure I will benefit from a re-read of this in the future to get a better understanding of the underlying themes and meaning; in the meantime, I'm on to the next one in the series!

Michael Chabon - Summerland

I so wanted to get into this book and enjoy it but I just couldn't. The premise sounded great and right up my alley: magic worlds; supernatural creatures; underdog kid who saves the world. All great things, except for one thing. Baseball. It's not the first time that I've read a book that featured a sport that I'm not particularly into; The Art of Racing in the Rain holds that honour. However, while I could appreciate the racing aspects of that novel even though I couldn't care less about cars going round and round on a track, this was not the same for Summerland. For me, the baseball bits just bogged down the story and I just could not settle into it. After I tried for a few days, I decided to drop it when I reached page 110. I probably would have enjoyed it if I had made it to the end; I just didn't want to push myself anymore. Back to the library this goes!

Stephenie Meyer - The Host

This book was not at all what I expected it to be - a little bit odd, but strangely compelling. When I first read the blurb, I was slightly intrigued but I didn't think it would grab me in a big way. The only reason why I decided to read this book is because I'm a huge fan of the Twilight Saga and I wanted to read this standalone adult novel from Stephenie Meyer. The Host progresses at a steady pace in an unhurried manner, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the new universe that Meyer has created. The names of the various planets and their inhabitants bugged me - Bats of the Singing World; Planet of the Flowers; See Weeds - such silly names, in my opinion. However, once I got past that, I really enjoyed Meyer's storytelling, thanks to the great characters that she created in The Host - from Wanderer/Wanda, the self-sacrificing alien parasite who loathes violence, to her feisty and hot-tempered human host, Melanie, as well as the other remaining human survivors of the alien invasion like Jeb, Jamie, Ian and Jared - I found myself really caring for these characters and increasingly drawn into their world. While I didn't have the same passion for The Host as I did for the Twilight books, I still think it's very well written and I look forward to its sequels. The marketing pitch for this book is "science fiction for people who don't like science fiction" - I am not sure if Stephenie Meyer has achieved that but I will certainly attest to it being a fantastic read and a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

In Season of Mists, the focus is back on Dream after minor appearances in the previous volume. The rest of the Endless family also make an appearance, with the exception of one missing sibling. This story arc is extremely interesting and inventive, where Lucifer decides to quit Hell and hands over his realm to Dream. His action has its ramifications and Dream is left with the mess to clean up and a huge responsibility - who gets Hell? Everyone wants a piece of Hell: angels; demons; various gods and deities. It's amazing to see how Gaiman weaves in the different mythologies and folklore with his Sandman creation. As for the ending? Mind-blowingly awesome, in my opinion. It's really thought-provoking - if horrific things are done in the name of good (Guantanomo Bay comes to mind), does that make them right? Just my own interpretation anyway. "Happily ever after. In Hell." Indeed.

Neil Gaiman - The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country

Well, I've moved from one series to another; although I will not experience the same kind of Twilight mania with the Sandman series. Dream Country is a collection of four standalone stories featuring Dream and Death, two of my favourite Endless characters. I particularly enjoyed "Calliope" - a creepy and slightly disturbing story that provided a glimpse into Dream's past - and "Facade" - a wickedly dark superhero tale about Element Girl. I thought "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" was quite original and rather amusing - although I wouldn't be looking at cats and think that they're trying to take over the world anytime soon. Much has been said about "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; in fact, it has won heaps of awards. However, this was my least favourite story in Dream Country. I think this is partly due to the fact that I'm not really familiar with the Shakespeare classic (I know, the horror!) so I couldn't really fully appreciate the tale. Overall, this was a great volume and I look forward to more Gaiman magic in the rest of the series.