Saturday, July 30, 2011

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

This book was confusing.

It's a collection of 7 stories, about girls/women reading. I borrowed the book, because I liked the meta-fiction joke of me (a girl) reading a book called Girl Reading.

The style of the book is a little strange. It doesn't seem to have any punctuation included for speech, not even the "-" used by James Joyce. This makes it a little difficult to separate the thoughts from speech, which is a little disorientating. I suppose there's a literary effect there, but I'm not sure what it is.

The first few stories were good. Interesting and engaging, they covered the story behind the painting. However the rest of the stories (actually, from story 3 or 4 onwards), it seemed to move focus to talk about the life of women. I couldn't, for quite a few stories, actually see where the portrait of the 'Girl Reading' was taken. At times, it didn't even seem as though anyone was even reading. I actually got so confused I almost stopped reading.

But since I was more than halfway through, I figured I'd persevere. I think, the last story almost rescued the book. It's set in a high-tech world, with something called Mesh (which is unfortunately, not explained for some time). It attempts to link all the stories together, by using SIBIL (a machine that tells the 'background' of paintings). However, it became a story more about reality versus imagination.

I'd have enjoyed this book much more if I wasn't expecting all the stories to be about reading. The disorientating style of writing probably didn't help either.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles by Shanon Hale

This may be a book for younger readers (I found this book in the Children's section of the library), but I really like Shanon Hale as a writer, so....

This book is really enjoyable. At first, I thought it was bildunsroman, but it turned out to be more of a mystery story then anything. The main character, Elodie, can be a bit annoying at times. Actually, she was fairly annoying in the first few chapters, although I don't know why, but she grew on me, and I by the end of the book, I was rooting for her.

This book has a slew of characters, from an ogre to a handsome cat-trainer. But apart from Elodie and the dragon (the detective, which is really cool), and maybe the ogre, but I felt that the characterisation was not very well done. Most of the characters started falling into stereotypes (e.g. The Ditsy Princess). But I will say that the stereotyping was partially successful, since it was used for a dramatic twist.

For this weird, random reason, I was reminded of Jane Austen. I read once about Emma, that Jane Austen plants hints about what happen, so that on the second reading, you will notice all the hints. A Tale of Two Cities was a little like that. When I was thinking of the book, I could see a few subtle hints weaved into the text. However, it's a little lacking, especially when it comes to the White Schelpur (not too sure about the spelling, but it refers to a person who appears kind but is really evil inside).

I'd actually recommend this book to people of all ages, especially younger kids (from upper primary upwards, although a precocious child could probably read this sooner), and people that don't like reading. Because this story combines mystery and bildunsroman with elements of fantasy, it can really capture the attention of the reader.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lost Souls by Lisa Jackson

Have you ever had an experience, where after you hear about a subject, it just comes up again and again? Well, after I heard about Elizabeth Bathori, the infamous serial killer, I've been seeing books about her/influenced by her.

Elizabeth Bathori, if you don't know, was a noble women who murdered many girls and bathed in their blood to keep her youth and beauty. I don't think you want the details, but if you do, you can go wikipedia it.

Lost souls, while not about her, is about a crazy lady who believes she is a descendent of her, and so, puts her gory beauty regime into practice. Ok, it's a bit different from that, but that's the essential part of it. The main character Kristi, (this is apparently a series) comes back to All Saints College, and gets embroiled in the mystery of the missing co-eds. (Did I mention that she wanted to be a crime writer and her dad's a famous detective? No? It's ok, it's not that important).

The book also features heavy use of vampirism, as the method for collecting blood. In fact, wait, I shouldn't tell you. The use of vampirism fans gave a pretty interesting twist to the whole thing. (Note: I am not talking about Twilight)

I have heard of this story being slow and boring and long-winded, but, well, I can't accurately judge that. I was in a rush to finish the book, since I was going to help Aunty Florence return it. But since I finished it by the time I left school, I'll say it's not that long(:

I think, this book appears rather heavily influenced by the occult, but in the end, it's more an exploration of human nature than anything supernatural occurances.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Telling the Truth: The Gospel and Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

On Phillip Yancey's recommendation, I went to search out Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner. It's an amazing book, if you haven't read it, go and find a copy and read it. Buechner is sorely underappreciated.

There's actually nothing much to be said about the book itself, because I think that Phillip Yancey does a good writeup/review of the book in Soul Survivor, but I thought that I can share my thoughts about after reading this book (It's so good, that this post is only for it, although I already finished another book, but more of that tomorrow).

Alright, I used to be suspicious of Bible versions like The Message, because it was so strange, but I see how it, like this book, plays a part in re-awakening the brain and heart to the Bible, that it’s once again fresh and new. And that's important, because the more prevalent Christianity is, the more likely we are to take it for granted.
I think, especially for people like me, who grew up in a Christian environment, we forget how disruptive Christianity was meant to be. Christianity says “you are doomed to sin and go to hell because your ancestor sinned”. Maybe because I’m Chinese, but I have faint memories of being told that what I did/was going to do would shame the family when I was little, so the concept of family shame is there. What happened in the beginning was like that. Because one person sinned, we are all doomed. It’s like a twisted form of blessing, instead of giving us eternal life and happiness we are given eternal sin and suffering in hell. And to make things worse, because of the “family shame”, there’s nothing we can do to get out. We can’t disown this relative, we can’t prove by virtue of our actions that we deserve to get into heaven. Adam’s mistake became our mistakes, even though we were not even conceived when it happened. But Christianity also says “Because I love, you, you get a get-out-of-jail free card.” While we are doomed to sin and destruction, we are suddenly taken out. It’s like a divine pardon. And because of the concept of family, when one is pardon, everyone is pardoned. But there’s no free lunch. We have to accept God’s new terms and conditions, which are simply to believe and follow Christ. And I think we forget how disruptive this message is, that it shakes us out of sin. Sometimes, a familiar thing, no matter how painful, becomes a sort of comfort to us, that we don’t want to leave it. But Christ comes and says “why are you intent on living in the gutter? Come with me, you’ll get away, but beware the process hurts. You won’t always know why, but you have to just trust me.”
This isn't the easiest of things to write or say. Honestly, last night, after I finished the book, I was so inspired that I opened up my computer even though I was half-asleep just to write the above paragraph. And I'm proud of what I wrote. I have heard the gospel in two languages (and one dialect), but I never understood what it meant to so clearly. Yes, I've heard of it, yes, I understand what it means, but I didn't understand the magnitude of it's implications. For someone like me, growing up in a Christian environment and being saved from a young age, it's easy to forget the terrors of living in fear of hell, and the relief of being saved. Can we imagine? We talk about God's love being as wide as the heavens, as deep as the ocean, but how many of us actually understand how big that is? Unless you've been sailing on a boat, where you can't see anything but the ocean for miles and miles, when you comprehend the vastness of it; or when you're in a hot-air balloon or blimp or plane up in the sky, where all you see are layers upon layers of clouds, all this height and wide thing is going to be abstract concepts. You won't know it until you experience it yourself.

So yes, this book is challenging, as challenging books shake you up and get inside your head. Have you ever thought of the role of the preacher? If you have, then you are much more aware than me. But this book opened my mind the things like this. It is, I feel, one of those timely reminders that help you remember not to take the Church for granted.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Introspective thoughts(:

I don't quite think the title made sense :p

Anyway, since I ran out of books, I decided to re-read Phillip Yancey's Soul Survivor. That's because today was the release of mid-year results, and I needed some comforting. But praise God, I exceeded my expectations for most of my subjects.

But as I was reading about the different people that inspired Yancey, I did wonder, what am I like? Am I like Martin Luther King? Willing to be non-violent? Nah, ever since I entered AC, I'm afraid I've gotten into the habit of kicking people in the shins. They don't mind (I'm too tiny to be a threat), but it's not good.

What about my character? I know I can be blindingly obvious at times. Perhaps it's because I hardly come across people I don't like, so when I can't stand a person, it's very obvious. I can sulk (actually, I'm not sure, but I think so), and I'll just talk over that person.

But at times, I'm very good at pretending, especially when it comes to social situations. Perhaps because of the way I've been brought up, I'm better at hiding my feelings or "acting appropriately" if the situation calls for it.

It feels quite interesting, how I hardly know myself sometimes. If I were to take a very objective viewpoint, I'd say that it's interesting how complex people can be, even me, although I tend to think of myself as unsubtle and blindingly obvious.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Silent Girl and The Devotion of Suspect X

I honestly couldn't post yesterday, something went wrong with my computer. But anyway, I have two books to talk about:

The first, is called The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen. When I first learnt that it was centred around Chinatown and Chinese traditions, I can honestly say that I was quite worried. Somehow, Western authors either seem to be treating it all as tripe or taking it too seriously. But when I found out that Tess Gerritsen was an ABC, I was quite pleased. It seems that she has a good grasp of Chinese culture. I'm not sure why, but I always thought that it's very hard to write about a foreign culture authentically, or maybe to even be a part of it. Which is why, I'll probably always be a "gaijin" in Japan (when I get there).

Anyway, The Silent Girl is a really good novel. Because we are given two different and unconnected perspectives at the start, I was tricked by my assumption that it was a good/bad perspective. I was wrong, and pleasantly so. The ending of the novel is surprising, with a twist that I didn't expect. However, I'm glad to see that the twist was believable. I've come across too many novels that rely on unexpected twists to get an ending, and it feels unsatisfying.

The only "downside" of the novel, it seems, is that it seems to condone policemen killing suspects, through use of excessive force. For some reason, the novel opens with Maura, the coroner, testifying in a case whether a policeman committed homicide on a suspect that had killed a policemen. Of course, this action leaves her hated by the boys in blue, and even our protagonist tries to speak up for the policemen. Perhaps it's because I see things in black and white, but I think she was right not to call the death "misadventure" or something else when she thought it was homicide. However, this has no bearing on the case whatsoever, so I was a little puzzled as to why it was even included in the book.

The other novel I read, was The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. It's based on the movie "Suspect X", staring Masaharu Fukuyama as Yukawa-sensei and Kou Shibasaki as Utsumi-san. Normally, I'd have read the book before the movie, but I have a feeling that this was just translated. Plus, I've watched the series before I even saw the movie(: In this book, however, the role of Utsumi was replaced by Kusanagi, who made only minor appearances in the series and movie. But, the book is still thoroughly enjoyable, and I enjoyed how I got a perspective into the mind of the various characters, which is impossible to do in a movie.

So, two murder mysteries, one from Japan and the other from America. Both, I think, should be read, and it's a welcome change from my recent "diet" of romance novels.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chic-Lit: The Bad

I think I once said that it's unfair not to take Female Writers (i.e. What is popularly known as Chic-Lit) seriously, because they can and do touch on themes very well. Well.... Aunty Florence lent me 7 books, and well, they've let me seriously doubt what I said. Oh, on a side note, sorry for the slow updates. I've been feeling ennui lately, and well, all I ever want to do is sleep. I seem to have lost my energy.

Back to topic, I have to say that since almost all the books were romances.... well, they probably diminishes how serious the case. Ok, before I start: I understand very well, that some literary books are more than explicit, such as Lady Chatterly's Lover. But I really don't appreaciate having to read it unless for some reason, it's intergral to the plot (but it almost never is). Let's take the "bad" into consideration first:

Two books were by Christine Anderson: Keegan's Lady and Annie's Song. Well, the plot was original, but the story was marred by all those explicit scenes. Really, I get that they are finally having a loving husband-wife relationship, I don't need to know details. As my teachers say: Selective writing. Don't write everything.

Well, come to think of it, those two books were the worst. The other books: Once in Every Life by Kristin Hannah, wasn't as good as her other books, but was pretty decent. I liked the change of heart story, although the premise was a little strange. But with the willing suspension of disbelief (as with all fiction), it was truly enjoyable.

The Horse Dancer isn't a love story, at least, not as a main plot. It's about a girl and her horse (ok, I've degenerated into stating the obvious. It was really fascinating learning about how the horse can perform (I'm really hoping that what was written was based on research). Although, I did feel very very annoyed at the girl. I understand that as the protagonist, I'm supposed to like her (an unlikeable protagonist is very rare, so far, maybe The Clockwork Orange and Lolita are the only ones I can think of). I admire how devoted she is to her horse, but the ends don't really justify the means. She lied (I was like, ok, understandable, given her fears) and stole (ok, that was terrible) and ran away (seriously. Inconviencing others). Perhaps it's because I was more strictly raised (plus the whole Chinese thing), so I've always been taught that you should always think of others first, even if it's unpleasant for you. The only time when you can disregard the rule is when they violate scared principals (which is, going against the Bible). I'm starting to feel like Amy Chua. I know I had a lot of criticism (still do), but after reading her book, I can see some sense (it's probably going to end up like how I think about the PAP)

Hmm... let me see, there's also Debbie Macomber. Oh, I really love her, although I really can't see her as a serious author. I'm not sure why, but it's probably because of my lack of skills. Someday Soon, which comes before Sooner or Later, was touching, detailing the relationship between a widow and a mercenary. Although, the characterisation did feel a little rushed for some reason, but with three plots, it's hard to go indepth without writing too much.

Alright, 3 more books to go. Got-To-Resist Temptation to gloss over even more than I'm doing. heh. Anyway, Blue-eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas, was interesting. It was a little explicit, though not as bad as Catherine Anderson (I'm so staying away from her books), but the thing was, it was intergral to the plot. No spoilers, but it's about the rich and influential (a sequel apparently), and about recovering from abuse.

The Castaways, on the other hand, deals with grief. It starts with a death, and looks at the reactions of the couples closest friends. The characters were very three-dimensional. I hated some, liked some, all my emotions fluctuating as the story progressed. While it's not a conventional murder mystery, actually, very little emphasis is on solving the case, but the resolution was satisfactory.

Finally, what I read today: Happy Birthday by Danielle Steele. It's a cross between Big Sister and her other novels, but it's good. A good romance story if you're feeling down. Oh, I forgot, I also read What Happened to Goodby by Sarah Dessen, her latest novel. I really think she's a genius(: Although I read a review that this is The Truth About Forever in another form, I honestly didn't think so. Mclean seemed genuine, and her situation was... well, I have nothing but respect. To be able to create a situation where Mclean can change her identity while making it plausible, that takes a lot of imagination. If out of all these books you only read one, read this one.

Well, I've rambled on long enough, and sadly, too many books mean that you can't give an indepth exposition on anything.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Shopping(:

I went to visit Aunty Evonne today, and since she now lives at Orchard road, I decided to go to Borders and Kinokuniya afterwards.

Well.... I'm actually disappointed with Borders. How can it not have Agatha Christie or Enid Blyton? I can understand the lack of Enid Blyton, since she's probably less read now, but seriously, Agatha Christie? That is a serious serious omission. But I did buy the latest Sarah Dessen and the Suspect X novel(: (This is what happens when you have a discount voucher that you really want to use)

After that, I really really felt like reading 2:46, which is a book about the Japanese Tsunami. But unfortunately, Borders doesn't have it. Or the other book.

So, I went over to Takashimaya, which has a Kinokuniya bookstore. It's the main branch actually, so it's huge. So huge that I do get lost whenever I go there. Well, they have a good selection of books on Japan (obviously, it's a Japanese bookstore after all), but 2:46 wasn't there, although the other one (why can't I remember the name??) was. Well, 2:46 is the at the Bugis branch. I should have gotten it there when I saw it. Next week then.

Well, I just wish I had the Kinokuniya membership card. I buy books from there so often. (If you know me personally and you're reading this -birthdaywishhinthinthint-

The House of Mirth by Eddith Wharton

My exams are over! Yay! Unfortunately, there won't be time to celebrate, since prelims are coming up. But never mind the bad stuff, I have books to read, and Aunty Florence lent me 7 books, plus I'm visiting my aunt today. All this is enough to temporarily overwhelm the loom and doom of more exams.

So, yesterday, I finished this book called: The House of Mirth. If the title seems a little familiar, it's because it's part of a verse from Ecclesiastis 7:4: The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

So, our protagonist is Lily Bart, a beautiful but poor (relatively poor anyway, since she's not working class), girl, who at 29 thinks she really should be getting married. She tries to catch one rich husband after the other, but even though you'd think the guys would be falling over her, she doesn't get married. But you know, they really do want to marry her, but she either says no (because they're married - most of the time), or she angers someone who ruins it for her. But I think that subconciously, she 'ruins' all the chances she has because none of the men are the one she loves - Selden.

The sadly ironic thing is that she doesn't admit she loves him. She dies, trying to find the word for the feeling she has, but he only said it when he was sitting next to her corpse. Oh yes, she dies (sorry for the spoiler). I won't say how, but she dies working class.

Even though she's portrayed as a gold digger, I found that I actually liked her. She's quite open about her intentions (to the reader anyway), and she's so admirable in her actions that she appears noble. -cheers-

The language of the book is decadent, which seems fitting, since it's about the American upper-class. There's a lot of snobbery too, those with and without money; those with old or new money. It seems like everyone just tries to out-do each other.

Anyway, this book, well, I hesitated before reading it because I thought it would be boring. It's not. It's no thriller, but it's enjoyable none the less.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Twnty Smthg and Other musings

I'm almost done with all my exams, just one more paper to go. So, before I go back to writing book reviews, I thought I'd introduce this site:

It's a made-in-Singapore site that makes me proud to be Singaporean. It's not unreachable, nor is it mindless fluff. They're mission statement (or is it a vision statement?) is that "twntysmthg is about living the twenties together, both in millenia and in age. It’s about the things we are learning about life and culture, in and from Singapore, and our world around us. "

Yes, so they mean twenties as in "twenty-oh-nine" "twenty-ten" and so on. If you're like me, you'd have thought this site was targeted at people in their twenties. Oops, honest mistake.

It's a lovely site though, and I like how they combine photgraphy and words, which makes it good reading. The only thing is that the site address may be a bit hard to remember, but for me, that was because it wasn't til today that I realised it meant "twenty something". I suppose this is what happens when you insist on writing out the full words in sms-es or msn conversations(:

And this site (here comes the "other musings" part) made me realise that I'd probably enjoy being in the service sector. When I looked through the site, I thought of a friend and just sms-ed here the name. I hope she reads it. It made me realise that I enjoy matching people to books/sites. But there are caveats: One of them, is that I have to know what they like (I hear a "duh") and the other, is that it can only be for things I like.

For example, to ask me to work in a shop selling clothes is a bad idea. I'm terrible at dressing myself, let alone others. I'm 18, but I get mistaken for 12, which Esta and Denise say is because of my clothes. I like 'A lines skirts' and well, I look either "preppy" or "kawaii" (cute)". And since I really do like Hello Kitty.... well, Esta had nothing nice to say about that. So, clothes would be out. And for similar reasons, so is technology (google hates me, I think).

So, the obvious choice would be a bookshop. My unofficial hobby is recomending books to people anyway, so I think I'd be really happy there. What I really want in the future is to open up my own bookshop(: The other, simultaneous option is mission work, and I'm serious about this. God put Japan in my heart for a reason. Which is why, I can imagine myself opening a Christian bookshop in Japan.

What about you? What 'job' (since somehow this musing came all the way to jobs) would suit you? Just drop a comment if you want and let me know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Hunting

I'm in the midst of exams right now, and very technically shouldn't be posting (shouldn't even be reading - which I'm not, not any English books right now anyway), but this is such good news that I had to get it out of my system.

First, let me tell you, I've always wanted to collect books. It's actually not a bad idea, because some books can be worth a lot of money. And it's really fascinating; the small collection of books (fine, 1 or 2 books) that I have on books show how it can be just like a treasure hunt. But don't get me wrong, this post isn't on the wonders of book rare books, but that's only because I don't have enough experience.

The background: (sounds professional. heh) When I was a kid, before I moved to where I am today, I remember reading this book of short stories. They were all very funny, but since this is about 5/6 years later, I only remember two: One about a very wet rainy town, where they can't get the tourism they want, but in the end, an artist comes up with a brillant plan (and on the way falls in love with the policewomen), and the other, about a man who wants to cut the lawn but in the end, doesn't.

At first, I thought that it was an impossible task (try googling "don't cut the lawn" or "the very wet town" and see the random search results), but then, I remembere Actually, I tried that first, but again, I either got tourism books or books on lawn care. I even tried asking my Yahoo! books group, but no one could remember.

But finally, I was reading a book on the history of, and read about how in the begining, the workers were so smart that they could remember a book just by getting a brief description, so, I decided to try asking Well, they didn't know the book, but they did tell me how to use the search engine more efficiently. This led me to "Stories for Six Year Olds". But, the book didn't seem right. And it only had the lawn story, not the town one.

For a moment, I actually had a smart idea. I found the name of the author and googled her. But it didn't work, because Margaret Mahy (the authoress) has written a lot of book. I really thank the ISBN people, because from one short story name, they told me all the books this story has featured.

And Tada~ The long years of searching were at the end. As soon as I read the synopsis for "The Girl With The Green Ear", I knew it was the one. And no wonder no one knows about it, it was published in 1992, a year before I was born.

So there you have it, my long-winded (but happy ending) story on book hunting