Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Title/Author: The Marriage Plot / Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: FSG New York
Pages: 406
ISBN 13: 978-0-374-53325-0

In a nutshell
I'd say this novel is a combination of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and One Day by David Nicholls. It's a love story with lots of teenage angst. What helped it score a notch higher than the other two is of course the language and the literary theories that revolved around The Marriage Plot.

The story concerns three college friends from Brown University who graduated from Brown University in 1982. The friends - Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, are 'victims' of a love triangle. Mitchell loved Madeline, who loved Leonard who's mentally depressed.

Madeline tries to accept Leonard's condition, while Leonard tries to keep what's left of his 'sanity' by trying to hold down a job and his relationship, and Mitchell, the hopeless romantic, tries to get over Madeline and find spiritual enlightenment.

The story follows them in their senior year at Brown and then into the real world as they go on a journey of self discovery.

What I liked
Eugenides's depiction of Leonard was really, really good. His evocation of depression and mental illness was done so well it was disturbing. Leonard found solace in his 'dark moods' and as he embraced them, he fell deeper and deeper into depression. I could feel Leonard's pain, confusion, and emotional highs and lows. I could empathise with him. It made me realise that it's wrong for us, bystanders to assume that depression can be easily 'handled' by asking the victim to 'change' their perception, to 'accuse' them of not wanting to get well because they don't want to. I think it's not because they don't want to, it's because they can't; it's difficult.

In Leonard's words,
"The brain thinks it's dying, and so the body thinks it's dying, and then the brain registers this, and they go back and forth like that in a feedback loop." Leonard leaned towards her. "That's what's happening to me right now. That's what's happening to me every minute of the day. And that's why I don't answer when you ask me if I had a good time at the party."

Some favourite quotes
Heartbreak is funny to everyone but the heartbroken. (p.82)
People don't save other people. People save themselves. (p. 124)
You can't get clean from depression. Depression be like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got too be careful not to touch where it hurts. It always be there, though. (p. 260)

Disappointed that...
it is nowhere near Middlesex - the style (language), scope, depth; it lacked the elements that made me love Middlesex so much. The Marriage Plot was a little 'flat' and not as compelling as Middlesex. It did have some beautiful moments though, and quotes which I liked and that kept me going at first, but after that, all I cared was how it was going to end.

Good stories make me want to enjoy the journey, but this, I just want to know the ending and nevermind who got Madeline (who shares the same name as a character she loves - Madeline, created by Ludwig Bemelmans); I am neither Team Jacob (Mitchell) nor Team Edward (Leonard), as long as nobody died. (Although at one point I thought Leonard would commit suicide.)

(By the way, Madeline reminds me of Bella from Twilight. Eugh!)

My verdict? 3/5

This book might interest literary enthusiasts who are into literary theories and theorists such as Derrida, Tolstoy and Barthes (A Lover's Discourse, Madeline's favourite reading material). I'm sure they'd have a different kind of review and/or comment.

Once the first avowal has been made, "I love you" has no meaning whatever. - Barthes

Monday, November 21, 2011

Found in Malaysia Vol 2 by The Nut Graph

Title/Author: Found in Malaysia Vol. 2/The Nut Graph
Publisher: Zi Publications
Pages: 256
ISBN 13: 978-9675-26622-5

In a nutshell
Found In Malaysia Vol. 2 consists of 50 interviews. This volume is divided into 7 sections - 1930's right up to the 1980's and an 'Exclusive' (never-before published interviews) section which include personalities such as Lillian too, Asha Gill, Khairy Jamaluddin and Baru Bian.

Throughout these pages, you'll find Malaysian celebrities like Patrick Teoh, Daphne Iking, Mano Maniam and Harith Iskander; and politicians such as Lim Kit Siang, Ibrahim Ali and Teresa Kok sharing their stories and experiences, while comparing the then and now, and their hopes for Malaysia's future.

What I liked
I definitely enjoyed reading the first volume more than the second because I didn't know what to expect in the first and was pleasantly surprised by what it offered. Volume 2 shares the same concept and idea, but it has more well-known public figures as compared to the first, giving me the opportunity to know them better, in the context of 'being Malaysian' as opposed to being 'famous' or being 'a celebrity'.

Issues that were commonly brought up in these interviews were the issue of brain drain, race and religion, and our education system. And I'd like to highlight one that is tearing us apart - race.

Once upon a time (yes, a long long time ago :P), when I used to speak fluent Bahasa Malaysia, people used to ask me, 'You Cina ke Melayu?' One, because I speak fluent Malay; two, because of my name, which sounded Malay too; three, my looks. My close friends were mostly Malays too. Did it bother me? Nope! Not at all. I loved them and am still keeping in touch with them now. At one point, I even tried learning Jawi from them :)

So, I believe when Mano Maniam said, "It is true when people say that we grew up in a time when it (race) didn't matter one bit."

But today, a child as young as 7 years old can tell me, "Teacher, I don't want to work with him." When I asked him why, he answered, to my horror, "He's Malay." Appaling, isn't it? He's only a kid, and already he's telling me this? What would become of him later when he's older? Would dislike turn to hatred? What would happen then? I shudder at this thought.

The interviews...
I enjoyed reading a couple of interviews such as those with Datuk Dr. Dionysius Sharma, Reza Salleh and Datin Mina Cheah-Foong. I thought they were frank and weren't afraid to speak their mind.

Datuk Dr. Dionysius Sharma reminisced those days when race didn't matter, when children then, put wealth, race, culture and religion aside. A friend of mine shared me a story of a 7 year old child, who told his mom (who worked really hard to get him into a private school) not to drop him off in front of his school because it'd embarrass him as his friends' parents all drive luxurious cars, and his mom only drives a Proton.

Reza Salleh spoke disapprovingly of how we contradict ourselves when "We talk about losing touch with our culture and heritage, but we tear down heritage sites and our forests", about how ridiculous it is to ban animated movies about Moses just because we think the people's faith will be shaken and how disappointing it is to see religion being used as a tool to control and judge people.

Datin Mina Cheah-Foong had a slightly different take on the kind of Malaysia she wants to see for herself and future generations. She wants us to be comfortable saying who we are - Indian, Chinese, Malay or Dan Lain-Lain, and 'not to be all hung up about it'. She wants a Malaysia where its people are able to acknowledge our differences and to accept them.

While Chong Ton Sin on the other hand said, "I think it's not about not emphasising 'I'm Chinese' or 'I'm Malay'. We all have our traditions and beliefs, it's true. I think the younger generation knows this. But there are politicians, especially from the Barisan Nasional and Umno, who use politik perkauman to influence young people still. Otherwise, our young people would be happy living together."

Different views and opinions aside, I think at the end of the day, we all want peace and equality. Easier said than done, isn't it? But I do know of many Malaysians who care, who walk the talk and do their part to make this country a better place to live in. To you, I thank.

I highly recommend this if you haven't yet bought Volume 1. If not, get Volume 2 and own its complete series.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stop the Bullying! by Andrew Matthews

This is a book every parent and teacher should and must read.

In a nutshell
This book is about:
why bullies bully, why bullied kids don't tell their pareents, and how bullied kids can make a stand.

It is also about:
how parents sometimes create bullies, what schools can do about bullying, bullying in the workplace, preventing suicide, and how bystanders can help.

Stop the Bullying! is divided into 15 chapters:
1. Bullied to death, 2. Bullying at school, 3. Bullying at home, 4. Why bullies bully, 5. Girl bullying, 6. Tips for bullied kids, 7. How can I like myself? 8. Not my child! 9. No innocent bystanders, 10. Loneliness amongst our teens, 11. Raising young children, 12. Who's in charge? 13. Let your children know you love them, 14. What you can do, 15. Kindness

What I liked
I learnt alot from reading this book. As a teacher, these methods will come in handy. I have highlighted some of the lessons/methods suggested in this book.

"Young people learn best when they focus on how they feel about their actions rather than how adults feel." - Stan Davis
Whether you are a parent or a teacher, your job is to encourage bullies to take responsibility - no blame, no excuses, just the truth.

So, what do you say to a bully?
* Tell me exactly what happened.
* I don't care who started it, tell me what you did.
* You didn't have to thump him. You chose to thump him.
* How do you think he feels?
* How can you repair the situation?
(I normally use the last 2 questions)

Once the child has admitted to bullying, you can help him explore his own reasons for why he does it:
* What were you trying to achieve? Was it for fun? For attention?
* What else could you have done?
* Is there anything worrying you that is causing you to bully?
* Why do you bully? What would help you to stop?
You can't make bullies change. But you can make punishments predictable.

What if you're a bystander? What can you do to help?
Matthews suggests:
* Tell the bully to stop it.
* Ask the victim to leave the scene WITH you, i.e you walk away WITH THEM.
* Be a friend to the person who is being bullied.
* Chat with the bullied child.
* Take the bullied child to see a teacher.
* Encourage the bullied child to tell others.

And a chapter that will be very useful to me one day - Raising Young Children:
Psychiatrist and Director of the Family Institute of Berkeley, Dr. Robert Shaw's message to parents is:
* act like grown-ups
* give your children chores and responsibilities
* limit their TV and video game time
* limit their privacy
* teach your children about right or wrong (Manners lead to respect. When you respect people you don't bully them)
* don't buy them everything they want
He says, at least one of the parents has to make raising the children the top priority.

Dan Olweus, professor of psychology at Bergen University, finds four factors that help to create bullies:
* lack of warmth, lack of involvement from the parents, particularly the mother
* No clear limits on aggressive behaviour
* Physical punishment. Children that are disciplined with violence learn violence
* The temperament of the child. Hot-headed children are more likely to become bullies.

There's also a section on teaching children empathy. I think empathy is equally important in teaching them about bullying, because "when you appreciate how others feel, you don't bully other people." Happy, well-adjusted children don't enjoy seeing other kids cry.

As always, his drawings enliven the entire book, making this not only an educational read, but also an 'entertaining' one with jokes spread throughout the pages :)

Ex-bullies and victims share their stories, most of which are shocking. Parents and teachers share their experiences on handling and solving the issue.

I highly recommend this book, especially to teachers, parents-to-be and/or new moms and dads.

Here's an interview I did with Andrew Matthews in 2009.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eugenides HAS A NEW BOOK!

Finally. FINALLY! Another book from the author who wrote one of my favourite books of all times. He's back with, THE MARRIAGE PLOT, which comes out in October, somewhere mid I think. It's another love story, and it's a book about other books. As some of you may already know, I'm not into love stories, but...(there's always a BUT! :)) anything written by Eugenides is an exception (all because of Middlesex :P) So. I'm going to give The Marriage Plot, his 3rd novel a try :)

What's The Marriage Plot about? I googled and this is what I found:
Madeleine Hanna, the 22-year-old heroine of Jeffrey Eugenides's long-awaited follow-up to Middlesex, is an English major unfashionably absorbed in Regency and Victorian literature. This is at a time, the early 1980s, when her contemporaries at Brown University are in thrall to the radical opacities of poststructuralism: "How wonderful it was when one sentence followed logically from the sentence before! What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative! Madeleine felt safe with a nineteenth-century novel. There were going to be people in it. Something was going to happen to them in a place resembling the world."

Please read the rest of it here. I can hardly wait to get my hands on this book!

You can read the excerpt of the book here.

I also found an interesting interview with Eugenides here. I liked what he said about writing an autobiography:
"I wouldn’t want to write a memoir. In the first case, autobiography is a largely fraudulent exercise. People don’t understand their lives or what happened to them; they only think they do. In the second case, autobiography (or life) is artless. When I try to write autobiographically, I end up putting in scenes and events that blur the “truth” of what I’m trying to write about. Bellow was good at writing about himself, but not me. I don’t know who I am. I have to transform autobiography into fiction, which means that I use my imagination at least as much, if not more, than my memory."

Picture source: http://bombsite.com/issues/81/articles/2519

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Books Week (September 24 - October 1, 2011)

Heard of 'Banned Book Weeks' before? Well, Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982.

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the US draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.

Since the inception of Banned Books Week in 1982, libraries and bookstores throughout the country have staged local read-outs as part of their activities. This year, for the first time, readers from around the world will be able to participate virtually in Banned Books Week, Sept. 24 – Oct.1. Check them out on youtube. Here's one on Whoopi Goldberg reading a poem by Shel Silverstein.



You can find more videos here:

Learn more about it here and/or here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Title/Author: The Night Circus/Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 400
ISBN 13: 978-0385534635

In a nutshell
This introduction itself hooked me:

"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, “the Circus of Dreams”, and it is only open at night."

This novel takes place between February 1873 and January 1903 and follows this travelling circus and its cast of acrobats, contortionists, magicians and fortune-tellers, and fabulous attractions such as the Carousel, the Cloud Maze, The Stargazer, the Wishing Tree, the Labyrinth, Bedtime Stories, the Ice Garden, and the Pool of Tears, just to name a few.

But behind those mysterious black and white stripes tents and iron gates that surrounded the circus, lies a story which some aren't aware of, the story of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are bound by their 'masters' in a competition. They've been chosen to rival against each other using magic, without knowing the rules of the competition and the consequences of losing. Things got even more complicated when they fell in love with each other.

What I liked
The writing is magical, mysterious and lyrical; the kind of writing I like :) Morgenstern's narrative never failed to leave me in awe. And she has indeed made the Circus enchanting, bewitching and dreamlike. I entered and didn't want to leave. It's difficult to leave a place as magical as this - midnight dinners that serve food that's luscious, tents that have a life of its own, stage performers that exhibit mind-blowing acts; I was so involved in the story I got lost in it and couldn't tell what's real and what's not. It feels as though Morgenstern had cast a spell on it! From the sights and sounds to even the smells, all my five senses titillated.

The Circus is populated with fascinating figures such ­Bailey, a quiet, curious farm boy; Poppet and Widget, the friendly redheaded twins who befriend him; and Tsukiko, a tattooed contortionist, Isobel the fortune teller, Mdm. Padva the costume designer and Frederick, the German clock maker.


Circus entertains, so does The Night Circus, and it does so charmingly, which is why I enjoyed every moment of being in it. So, it never really bothered me that some of the characters were a little flat; lifeless. How can I put this, it's like...I know them, but I don't really KNOW them. I want to care for them, but I can't. There's not much to urge me so. But I do have a soft spot for Bailey, Poppet and Widget :)

My verdict? 4/5
I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to be enchanted by magic and surrealism. I'd have to warn you though, there's alot of jumping back and forth in days and dates. Surprisingly though, I never lost track :) Mind you, I have short attention span. That's how much I was captivated by it.
Oh, and another thing. It's written in present tense, 3rd person. Get it only if you won't be affected by the use of present tense.

If you enjoy action, this isn't recommended. You'd be putt off by it, even from the beginning.

Book bite
The rights of this book have already been sold to the makers of the Twilight films to turn this debut novel into a movie. I can hardly wait! It'd be interesting to see how they're going to turn such a spellbinding story into a movie.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Night by Elie Wiesel

Title/Author: Night/Elie Wiesel
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 109
ISBN 13: 978-055-327-253-6

In a nutshell
Night is narrated by Eliezer (Elie Wiesel) a survivor of the Holocaust during WWII. Wiesel recounts his experiences as a Jewish boy of about 13 as his family is first restricted to a ghetto in his hometown, Sighet, in Hungarian Transylvania. They were then transported by train to Auschwitz where he is separated from all of his family except for his father, who becomes his only reason for life over the next couple of years. In this short book Wiesel tells us his deportation to the concentration camps at the age of 15 and his struggle to survive.

My thoughts
Unlike others, I couldn't finish this book in one sitting. It took me one week. Each time I read about the helpless Jews struggling to survive the brutality of the Nazis, I felt sick in the stomach. I just couldn't comprehend how could one be so inhumane? How can one find pleasure in torture and in burning and burying people alive? I found myself also asking, where's God in all this? Why did He let them suffer? How could He? Such events shook the faith of even the most faithful. Elie Wiesel noted, "For the first time I felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?"

Some of the Jews believed that God was testing them. "God is testing us. He wants to find out whether we can dominate our base instincts and kill the Satan within us. We have no right to despair. And if he punishes us relentlessly, it's a sign that he loves us all the more."

At the beginning, the Jews looked out for each other, but after enduring the endless beatings and witnessing those brutal mass murders, they lost faith and only looked out for themselves. In one incident, a son left his father to survive on his own. "[Rabbi Eliahou’s son] had felt that his father was growing weak, he had believed that the end was near and had sought this separation in order to get rid of the burden, to free himself from an encumbrance which could lessen his own chances of survival." "Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends," a Kapo tells him. "Everyone lives and dies for himself alone."

War does that to people I guess. It divides as much as it unites. It breaks as much as it builds. Just by visualising their lifeless bodies spread across those pages, reading about their hunger, pain and torment in every chapter, I could almost hear their muted cries of desperation and rage, smell the stench of burnt bodies, see dreams turned to dust. Their souls and minds tortured, broken, strengthened.

The only person that gave Wiesel the will and reason to survive was his father, Schlomo, who depended on him. In the memoir, it showed that Wiesel was constantly thinking of his father and that he loved his father dearly. This kept his sanity. I guess because his father reminded him of love, family and commitment. His father's presence reminded him that there's still goodness in his heart and he cannot allow himself to be part of the cruelty and selfishness. In Buchenwald, however, Schlomo dies of dysentery and physical abuse.

I can't say that I enjoyed this book, as it'd sound as though I like reading about pain and sufferings. But it has made me realise that historical events such as this could shake even the most faithful servant of God, and that we can show no compassion, not even an ounce of humanity, worse than animals in fact, when pushed to the extremes. This is a terrifying truth.

From Wikipedia: Night is the first book in a trilogy—Night, Dawn, and Day—reflecting Wiesel's state of mind during and after the Holocaust. The titles mark his transition from darkness to light, according to the Jewish tradition of beginning a new day at nightfall.

Book Bite
After being rescued by the allied armies, Wiesel took a vow of silence on the subject of his experiences for 10 years.

Like many survivors, Wiesel could not find the words to describe his experiences. However, a meeting with François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who eventually became Wiesel's close friend, persuaded him to write about his experiences. [Source: Wikipedia]

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Vampire

Title/Author: Diary of a Wimpy Vampire: Prince of Dorkness/Tim Collins
Publisher: Michael O' Mara Books
Pages: 224
ISBN 13: 978-184-317-524-7

In a nutshell
Nigel Mullet was transfored into a vampire at the awkward age of fifteen, and had remained this age for ever, and spent eternity struggling through a confusing, challenging adolescent phase. So yeah, this book is more suitable for kids aged 12 - 15.

After more than 80 years of being single, he finally got a girlfriend, Chloe. All was fine until Chloe begged him to turn her into a vampire. It frustrated him and he had tried delaying her request as long as possible by coming up with all sorts of excuses. He then regretted it when Chloe started hanging out with his nemesis, Jason, who later became Chloe's boyfriend.

With that, Nigel vowed to get revenge. But the more he discovered about Jason, the more confused he got. He was just as good as Nigel in sports. And once, he saw Jason and his family take out 4 large bags of dog biscuits from a supermarket which seemed odd because Jason didn't own any dogs. Who exactly is this Jason? Is Chloe safe with him?

My thoughts
Yes, Nigel the teen vampire is whiny and melancholic. He has lots to say and lots to complain. I thought I might not survive the first few pages of his diary as he wallowed in self pity. But I soldiered on. I did enjoy some of his dorkness, witty remarks and the humorous sketches.

I've never read Wimpy Kid before so I can't compare. I gave Wimpy Vampire a try because one of my students is reading Whimpy Kid and I thought, maybe it's time I find out what kids are reading these days and what is it in these books that interests them. I guess it's the simplicity and straight forwardness that draw them and that it presents the conflicts that teenagers face these days - crushes, competition, peer pressure, school, parents and siblings.

His diary got kinda draggy and unbearable towards the second half of the book. I skipped a few pages, but it did have its 'amusing' witty moments.

Who should read this?
I'd recommend this to teenagers and those who'd like to have something light, amusing and straight-forward to read.

FYI: This book feels like it's a combination of Diary of Wimpy Kid and Twilight.

My verdict? 3/5

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wise words from the story of "The Pig & The Horse"

My hubby shared this wonderful story with me and I'd like to share it with you too :)

There was a farmer who collected horses; he only needed one more breed to complete his collection. One day, he found out that his neighbor had the particular horse breed he needed. So, he constantly bothered his neighbor until he sold it to him. A month later, the horse became ill and he called the veterinarian, who said:
"Well, your horse has a virus. He must take this medicine for three days. I'll come back on the 3rd day and if he's not better, we're going to have to put him down."

Nearby, the pig listened closely to their conversation.

The next day, they gave him the medicine and left. The pig approached the horse and said:
"Be strong, my friend. Get up or else they're going to put you to sleep!"

On the second day, they gave him the medicine and left. The pig came back and said:
"Come on buddy, get up or else you're going to die! Come on, I'll help you get up. Let's go! One, two, three.."

On the third day, they came to give him the medicine and the vet said:
"Unfortunately, we're going to have to put him down tomorrow. Otherwise, the virus might spread and infect the other horses."

After they left, the pig approached the horse and said:
"Listen pal, it's now or never! Get up, come on! Have courage! Come on! Get up! Get up! That's it, slowly! Great! Come on, one, two, three... Good, good. Now faster, come on.... Fantastic! Run, run more! Yes! Yay! Yes! You did it, you're a champion!!!"

All of a sudden, the owner came back, saw the horse running in the field and began shouting:
"It's a miracle! My horse is cured. This deserves a party. Let's kill the pig!"

Points for reflection: this often happens in the workplace. Nobody truly knows which employee actually deserves the merit of success, or who's actually contributing the necessary support to make things happen.

LEARNING TO LIVE WITHOUT RECOGNITION IS A SKILL!
If anyone ever tells you that your work is unprofessional, remember: amateurs built the Ark and professionals built the Titanic

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Title/Author: A Monster Calls/Patrick Ness

Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 269
ISBN 13: 978-0141039701

In a nutshell
A Monster Calls is about a teenage boy, Conor, who has to come to terms with his mom, the only person he cares about and loves, not recovering from cancer. He has nobody he could turn to. He doesn't get along with his grandmother and his dad now lives with his new family. His school life isn't any better either. In the midst of all these problems, the Monster appears, wrecking his life even further, or so he thinks.

What I thought of it
I was first drawn to the black and white illustration by Jim Kay. Dark, sombre, yet beautiful - a great complement to the tone and mood of the story. The complexity of the illustration was a nice balance to the straight forward manner in which the story was written.

'A Monster Calls' deals with family issues, teenage angst, peer pressure, loneliness and confusion - all of which young Conor had to come face-to-face with, alone, until the Monster appeared. Conor thought the Monster was there as his protector, only to discover later it was there as reminder of the truth he had kept hidden and daren't admit. The truth that had separated Conor from the world. The truth, that will heal him and set him free.

"Stories are the wildest thing of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt." So do truths. Yes, truth can be ugly. Admitting it may make one feel vulnerable at first but eventually, it will and can set us free because we're no longer controlled by it, but rather be the one in control. The fear of revealing ourselves to it, is what holds us back from moving on.

It was the same for Conor. The Monster was to tell Conor 3 stories, and in return, Conor would have to tell him the fourth - that was to be his story, and it will be the truth. And if Conor didn't do so, "Then I (the Monster), will eat you alive."

I loved how the story was developed and treated. And the writing was so good it engaged the reader every step of the way, drawing out raw emotions and intensity so real it reaches out to the heart. It was amazing to see how the author managed to use simple words to express complicated, complex emotions. This is one of them (after Conor tore down his grandma's place):

She (the grandma) walked right past him, her face twisted in tears, the moaning spilling out of her again. She went to the display cabinet, the only thing remaining upright in the room.
And she grabbed it by one side -
And pulled on it hard once -
Twice -
And a third time.
Sending it crashing to the floor with a final-sounding crunch.
She gave a last moan and leant forward to put her hands on her knees, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

One could just feel her emotions right there. The anger, the sadness, the frustration. All clearly shown, not told. Beautiful.

And I'm boggled by how the author created the 3 tales told by the Monster. They were all 'hints' to what lay ahead in the story. For example, this part where the Monster was about to tell Conor the 2nd tale, and Conor asked if it was going to be a 'cheating story' like the first one. "No, said the monster. It is about a man who thought only of himself. The Monster smiled again, looking even more wicked. And he gets punished very, very badly indeed." (pg. 108)

Attention was given very evenly to all its characters, except for the Monster and Conor of course, as they played the vital roles of this story. Voices were consistent throughout, and Conor was depicted very clearly as a teenager - in his voice, thoughts and actions.

Some of my favourite quotes were:
"There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere inbetween." (pg. 74)

"It is a true story, the monster said. Many things that are true feel like a cheat." (pg. 74)

"Belief is half of all healing." (pg. 119)

"Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth." (pg. 151)

Book bite
When novelist Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, she left four finished books and an idea for a fifth. Rather than let a good idea go to waste, Walker Books commissioned Patrick Ness to write it. Ness, like Dowd, is a brilliant and acclaimed creator of books for older children and young adults, but the two novelists' voices, their concerns, their styles, are quite different.

My verdict? 4/5
Categorised as a YA read. But I think it's a great story for any age.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Monster by Allan Hall

Title/Author: Monster/Allan Hall
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 269
ISBN 13: 978-0141039701

In a nutshell
On 28th August 1984, Josef Fritzl drugged his teenage daughter Elisabeth with ether and imprisoned her in a soundproof underground bunker, behind eight locked doors for 24 years. He raped and abused her. She bore him 7 children.

The author has packed a great deal of insightful information into the 269-page book, complete with 150 interviews with neighbours, former tenants, childhood friends, police officers, and photographs of those involved and diagrams of the dungeon.

‘Monster’ is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It contains gruesome details, chilling confessions, terrifying truths, and a lot of ugliness - exactly what one should expect from reading about a cold-blooded animal who finds gratification in raping and abusing his own flesh and blood.

See if you can stomach this:
The police force which was tasked to probe the dungeon were ordered to undergo psychological counselling as they felt crushed by its claustrophobic feel and 'unutterable sadness' at the pitiful drawings the children had made on the walls. The shower curtains were covered in mould. The toilet, which was in the kitchen was in a catastrophic state and emanated an unbearable stench.

Despite the dungeon's condition, despite her unfathomable fate, for 24 years, Elisabeth single-handedly raised her children. She taught them to walk, to read, to write and to do multiplication. She cooked for them, washed for them, loved them. There was no time off for her. And yet, she managed to give the children a 'good' life under the given circumstances in the dungeon.

Aftermath
This book is divided into 3 parts: Master Plan, Martyrdom, and Miracle. There were some parts I had to skip because they were too graphic for me. It was I read about Elisabeth's children in "Secrets and Lies Revealed", in "Miracle", that I teared.

"Then, when Felix (Elisabeth's youngest son) was led outside for the first time in his life and he looked up at the sky, he pointed and said: 'Is that where God lives?' He requires no PlayStation, Nintendo or any of these gizmos to be happy; just a ride in the car and a glimpse of thunder clouds bedazzle him.

When Elisabeth's two sons went for a ride in a police car, they were fascinated by the headlights, and were shouting and hiding behind the seats. They were in awe of almost everything they saw, even the moon. This was so heart-breaking it brought tears to my eyes.

The blame game
When their ordeal ended, the questions began. Elisabeth was missing for 24 years. "How could anyone not notice?" "Weren't the neighbours suspicious?" "If they were, why did they not do something about it?"

Some blamed it on Elisabeth's mom, and said she was his unwilling accomplice. Some blamed it on the Austrian's culture of silence; their tradition of sweeping things under the carpet. Some questioned the social welfare teams whose task is to act as busybodies - why did they visit the home of a convicted felon 21 times, and YET NEVER took a look around?

And how could the monster be given the adoption rights to the three children (the ones whom the monster chose to live with the grandmother upstairs) who were left on their doorstep over a decade, without enquiring after the location of their mother?

You could read all about this in the "Aftermath" chapter. You'll find very interesting interviews and information you may not get on the internet.

The take away message for me...
I know the importance of sunlight, but it never occurred to me that someone out there could be deprived of it. And to read about a child who never got to see a moon is something totally unimaginable to me. What more to learn that the only people this family had ever communicated with were themselves, and the only voices they recognised were those of theirs or the television's, is depressing...

After reading this, I can't help but be thankful for the many simple things in life which I've taken for granted. Now, I'm just glad that I have clean air to breathe, that I get to see sunshine in the morning, to feel the sun's warmth on my face, to see the moon and stars at night, to listen to the rhythm of the rain (the children have never felt or seen rain until they were released), to feel soil under my feet (the only surface their feet ever felt is the floor of their dungeon), to see trees dance in the wind (the only trees they've seen are those on TV or the ones they've drawn on the walls), to go anywhere I please (They've been told that the dungeon was their world), to have choices (which they never had), to have the power to make my own decision (which they too never had. Something they needed to learn to deal with after their release) to be able to fulfill my own needs, to be able to plan my day instead of being dictated by someone else; mostly to have my freedom and prerogative.

Who should read this?
Strictly for those who want to know/read more even after reading the above information. Also for those who think their life is a living hell.

I must warn you first. The description can be very graphic in some parts.

Latest on the family
You can read it here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A grasshopper reading! :D

A grasshopper, caught browsing in a bookstore! Looked like it was spoilt for choice! hehe Such a great shot! :) Thanks Chaz for sharing it with me!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Title/Author: Room/Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 496
ISBN 13: 978-0316120579

In a nutshell
Ma was 19 when she was kidnapped, raped and kept in this room. When Jack was 5, she had lived in there for 7 years. And for 7 years, she did what all loving mothers would do – love, nurture and protect her son the best she could, even in that small space with limited resources. And for 7 years, she had to comply with her kidnapper, Old Nick’s whims and fancies, so that he wouldn’t get angry and hurt her and Jack, and continued to supply them with the basic necessities they needed to stay alive.

The story’s told from Jack’s perspective. The first half of the book introduces you to Room, Jack and Ma, and it’s not a pretty picture, I can tell you. Being able to enjoy life’s luxuries, and then being shoved to live in an 11 by 11 foot, sound-proofed space would definitely be the worst nightmare anyone could experience. But Ma made it beautiful for him. She created a world of imagination filled with fairytales, games made out of things in Room, songs and nursery rhymes, and kept his mind away from the outside world. So for Jack, who was brought up in it, Room is the entire world.

The hook for me
Overall Room was a riveting read for me (Except the first half of the book. Jack’s voice got pretty unbearable and I made a lot of effort not to give up on it. I have a soft spot for kids!). What kept me hooked was the second half of the book – the healing, coping and challenges after the escape. What happens to a child, who, throughout all his 5 years, had thought that Room was the world; who thought his Dylan the Digger was the only book in the world; who had been told that the pictures on the television are not real? And throughout those 5 years, he had only spoken with his Ma and no one else. So imagine the difficulties he faced when he had to speak to a stranger, a someone from Outside.

Here, Ma was trying to tell him about the world outside Room, to prepare him for the escape:
“Lots of TV is made-up pictures – like Dora’s, just a drawing – but the people, the ones with faces that look like you and me, they’re real.”
“Actual humans?” She nods.
“And the places are real too, like farms and forests and airplanes and cities…”
“Nah.” Why is she tricking me? “Where would they fit?”
“Out there,” says Ma.
“Outside.” She jerks her head back.
“Outside Bed Wall?” I stare at it.
“Outside Room.”

When they were Outside, not only Jack had to face the challenges, but Ma too. She began reflecting if what she did was right and good for Jack in Room? Will she be strong enough to help Jack survive this new life? Could they deal with this new reality? Was she wrong to ask Jack to escape? Was it safer for Jack to stay in Room?

This story made me realise how easily one can take life and the world for granted when given all the luxuries of life.

Won't be surprise they make a movie based on this book.

What I didn't quite like
The beginning. Jack's voice needed some getting used to for me. But I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

Book Bite
Room is inspired by Josef Fritzl’s imprisonment of his daughter Elisabeth, and the cases of Natascha Kampusch and Sabine Dardenne. I read about the Fritzl’s case, but I never thought of what his daughter, Elisabeth and her other children have to deal with after being freed, until I read Room. Anyway, I googled and found this latest (2010) news about Elisabeth Fritzl. Sounds like they're still living in a prison :(

My verdict? 4/5
Would have been a 4.5 if not for the beginning.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

STORYTELLING TIME @ Times Bookstore, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

Everyone's invited! Please come! Kids, especially ;)

It’s Storytelling Time!

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
Presented by Cambridge English For Life

He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws,
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws!

Oh yes, he’s one ugly monster! And guess what? A tiny, brave mouse will have to defeat the monster to save his dear life! But,…how?

Come and join us for a storytelling session that will take you through a deep dark wood and unravel the crafty plans of this very smart mouse.

And there are prizes to be won when you participate in our games and activities!

Looking forward to seeing you
on: 10th June, 2011
at: 2.30pm
in: Times Bookstore, Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur

See you there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Title/Author: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks/Rebecca Skloot
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 384
ISBN 13: 9780330533447

In a nutshell
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is more than just a story about a woman and her cells which are still alive till today. Not only have they been replicated, distributed, and used without the owner's consent, but they have also saved millions of lives and earned big corporations a lot of money. And yet, nobody has heard of her until today. And yet, the Lacks's family can't even afford health coverage.

"It's a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of."

It's a story which allows us and her family to learn of the life of a woman who continues to live on and save millions of lives throughout the world. It's a story of family, love, loss, faith, trust and betrayal.

What I liked
I was a little apprehensive about reading it at first, fearing that it'd have too many scientific jargons that I wouldn't understand and would need to google them. That'd be too much work. So I flipped through the first few pages and was immediately hooked. Skloot made it as simple and straightforward as possible. Most of the time, I understood it when Deborah (Henrietta's daughter) explained it in her own words.

I must say, this is the best non-fiction book I've read thus far, but also a very disturbing one. The story of this family and what has happened to them, is really painful to digest, so much so that I wish it was fictional. I wish that it didn't happen, and that Skloot is writing it to prevent it from happening.

It took 10 years for Skloot to write this book, and it's clear why. The detailed research, the conversations that took place, the technique used to make this story flow fluidly, and to infuse it with specific detailed scientific information yet making it an engaging read, is a very arduous task. Gaining such personal information and building a strong relationship and trust with the Lacks family isn't easy either especially with the racial conflict. But Skloot did it.

It's hard not to be affected by this story of the Lacks's family and not to feel their anger, frustration, loss, and sense of betrayal. It was even harder for me to hold back my tears at the end of this book. But throughout the story, we'll also come across a few good, sincere people who offered help whichever way they could.

Everyone should and MUST read this book. Not only because it's good, but because it creates awareness and makes one take a long hard look at the need for standardized health care in our society.

Let me end this review with one of my favourite quotes (from Deborah): When repeatedly asked if she was angry about what happened to her mother and mad at the doctors and researchers responsible, she replied, "...if you gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different."

My verdict?
Definitely a perfect 5. An unputdownable, this one!

Here's the book trailer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls - THE MOVIE

So, the movie is here! Check out the trailer:


Hmm...the movie looks quite promising... :)

If you'd like to read the book review, click here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The 20 Essential Indian Novels

Thank you Katina for sharing this with me! Read this article and thought it might interest you too. Some really good titles here which might tempt you to add them to your 'To Read' list? ;)

"India's ancient, volatile history, multicultural and multiethnic heritage, and varied geography make it a hotbed for amazing literature. Unfortunately, so few of its vast offerings garner much recognition or renown in the United States. Bibliophiles and students hoping to delve into the dazzling array of Indian literature available might want to consider this list a great, diverse start; however, by no means does this downplay the importance or value of other writers and works.

Untouchable (1935) by Mulk Raj Anand: Untouchable bluntly dives into the plight of the Dalit caste, situated at the desperately poor, sick bottom of the then-rigid social hierarchy. Author Mulk Raj Anand found inspiration in his aunt's experience dining with a Muslim family and subsequent shunning. From there, he crafted an eloquent, exceptionally compelling case against dissolving the caste system and creating more opportunities for the marginalized and invisible. (I'm adding this to my list!! :))

Nectar in a Sieve (1954) by Kamala Markandaya: This highly acclaimed bildungsroman pulled directly from author Kamala Markandaya's life experiences. As India segues into a more urban, industrialized nation, 12-year-old protagonist Rukmani finds herself in an arranged marriage with Nathan. Both of them struggle to raise children and meet their needs as neighborhood dynamics shift in the wake of a tannery's opening.

The Ramayana, as Told by Aubrey Menen (1954) by Aubrey Menen: Anyone easily offended by religious satires may want to stay away from this novel, but those open enough to give it a chance will find it a nifty little gem. Here, beloved Hindu epic The Ramayana forms the basis of a comedic tale that whipped up controversy and resulted in a temporary banning. Despite all this fervor, author Aubrey Menen clearly respected his source material and merely meant to make light of it from a then-contemporary perspective.

Train to Pakistan (1956) by Khushwant Singh: So much post-partition Indian literature emphasizes the political ramifications, the ways it impacted the populace on a more personal, intimate level receives little acknowledgment. Khushwant Singh hoped to derail this mindset by weaving an evocative tale of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs waging battle over a murder. It remains a highly effective glimpse into one of India's most volatile periods — which currently continues to influence the region's overall geopolitical climate.

Clear Light of Day (1980) by Anita Desai: Anita Desai's semi-autobiographical novel watches family dynamics shift alongside India's partitioning by British colonials. Many of the internal fractures deftly parallel those found externally, and the narrative speaks about broad and intimate themes and situations simultaneously. Ultimately, though, forgiveness begins to seep into everyone's various wounds."

Other titles include Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Chidren, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (Note to self: must find a suitable time to read this), Arundhati Roy's A Suitable Boy, and David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes (which is in my 'To Read' list) and many other very intriguing titles!

If you love what you've read so far, you must then check out the complete list here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God of Carnage (PJLA Malaysia)

God of Carnage (originally Le Dieu Du Carnage), a French play debuted in Zurich way back in 2006. It has since been adapted into English, playing at London and New York. In 2009, the play was given the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, and won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards.

And it's now playing in Malaysia. For more details, go to PJ Live Arts.

In a nutshell
What brought the four characters together is the incident of an 11-year-old boy, Benjamin, has hit another boy, Henry, in the face with a stick at a playground. Alain and Annette, Benjamin's parents, played by Will Quah and Lina Teoh, are visiting the apartment of Michael and Veronica, the victim’s parents, played by Megat Sharizal and Maya Tan Abdullah, to work out a way in which an apology might be made.

It all seemed fine and dandy at first, until the discussion delved into issues such as politics, work, money, and humanity among the four of them.

What I liked
The cast. I think they did a great job. I especially liked Maya and Megat. Megat...was....HILARIOUS and was such a natural too :) (I saw on youtube the original actor who played Michael, he wasn't as funny) I had the most fun watching Megat, especially when he started letting loose. He did look like a boring character at the begining, but like they all say, never judge a book by its cover. In fact, all characters turned out to be what they weren't , except maybe for the cynical Alain and the idealist Veronica.

Lina Teoh's voice projection. I thought she did it very well. I don't know, but I personally find it a very difficult skill to acquire. Maybe I just don't have it haha And my, does she vomit ever so skillfully! LOL My bro enjoyed the 'tau fu fa' because he was seated right at the front! :D

Alain's handphone - the phone with a attitude! I like its character haha It also set a kind of anticipation whenever it rang, especially when the conversation went from Alain and his assistant to Veronica and Annette.

Definitely the conversations. Laugh we did, yes. But was it only because they were funny or also because they were true and we could relate to what they said, especially about parenting, marriage, politics, work, 'murder', and relationships?

My take away message
There were other serious issues being discussed in all that puke-y mess, chair/bag-hurling havoc and hamster-killer argument, but what appealed to me most that night, was what Annette said; her rather, last minute epiphany, 'There is wrong on both sides'. I was just saying this to my colleague that afternoon. It takes two hands to clap; there's no way a conflict can arise with just one party being on the wrong. As you can see in this play, everyone is playing the blame game, and there was no end to it. They didn't even solve the problem, not even come to a conclusion.

We're always too caught up in wanting to be right, wanting to look righteous, wanting to be heard, but not wanting to take up responsibilty for own doings and not wanting to care about others. Nobody gives a 'rat's ass' about what the other says or thinks. In other words, selfish-lah...

It also made me realise, that we adults still have those childish emotions in us, don't you think? ;) It was fun seeing celebrities like Lina Teoh and Will Quah behaving like kids haha What an adorable couple on stage! :)

What I didn't quite like...
The ending. Felt 'hanging' because nothing was decided. So the ending didn't feel like an ending to me.

Some thoughts
Would it be funnier had it been adapted to a Malaysian setting, with our local accent and slang? Hmmm...

And why so much emphasis on the clafouti? Any implications? Hmmmm....

My verdict? 7/10

Warning
If you haven't seen this play, a word of advice: DON'T SIT AT THE FRONT :)

THANKS PJLA FOR THE FREE TICKETS!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

In a nutshell
It may seem like a love story, but it’s actually not (covers can be deceiving!), which is why I decided to read it. This story, set around the depression era, is about Jacob who almost graduates from an Ivy League school with a degree in veterinary sciences. Upon finding out his parents’ death and his dad’s debts, he wandered off from home and jumped onto a train, only to find out later that it was a circus train. When the owner of circus, Uncle Al, found out he has a degree in veterinary science, he was hired to be the animal doctor and was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. He ended up spending most of his life there until he had his own family.

What I liked
The story flowed very well, moving from one scene to another very beautifully. What added to its quality for me also is the author’s ability to give the story a very strong sense of place. I could feel like I was in every part of the story – from moving in the train car with Jacob to looking desperately for Queenie, Walter’s dog. I could almost hear the sounds of the circus – the crowd and the music, even the smell of the food!

I actually preferred reading about the 90 or 93 year old Jacob. I thought Gruen did a marvellous job on him. She maintained young Jacob’s stubbornness and determination which resulted in him being crude and cantankerous when old, and at the same time adding the reality of being old, “Age is a terrible thief. Just when you're getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse."

The descriptions and inner dialogues were so real that I fear old-age, especially when I read this, “When you are five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm--you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it."

I was quite fond of Kinko, Jacob's reluctant roommate. On appearance, he seemed like a rather grumpy and unfriendly person. But deep down, he was kind, caring and gentle. You could tell by the way he treats his dog, Queenie. Initially, Jacob's relationship with him was rocky, but they developed a strong friendship later when Jacob managed to cure Queenie's problem. He later allowed Jacob to call him Walter, his real name.

I couldn’t help myself falling for these 3 characters - the cheeky Bobo the monkey (a small role); super talented Rosie the elephant and ever loyal Queenie (Kinko’s Jack Russell)! They all added humour to this story. I was expecting Rosie to come in much earlier in the story, but it appeared only much later. Nevertheless, this 2500 pounds beauty never ceased to make me fall for her over and over again.

The title. Now, this is a tricky one. It bugged me quite a bit. It was brought up somewhere in the beginning of the book, but was never really ‘explained’ what it actually meant. All we were told is that we don’t carry water for elephants, because elephants drink a hell lot. So I think, metaphorically, it could mean to carry a huge burden. So in this story, it would mean the secret Jacob has been keeping with him for many years, which I won’t reveal here.

What I didn't quite like
The cover. The cover. The cover. I didn’t like this movie tie-in version. First, because I’m not a fan of Robert Pattinson. Second, this story is not a love story. So a lovey-dovey concept shouldn’t be used on the cover. I much prefer this one on the left.

Didn’t’ quite like Marlena’s character development; thought there’s nothing much to her, rather…urm…hollow (?) except always feeling lost and helpless. Felt like she chose Jacob not because she loved him, but because she had nobody else she could rely on, and the person who really cared for her besides August, was Jacob.

And the ending didn’t really make sense. It felt ‘forced’. Maybe the author wanted to keep it ‘fairytale-like’? It was just a ‘nice’ ending to ‘complete’ the story.

Besides that, it’s a very pleasant read. I enjoyed the experience reading about the train circus life during the depression era. Oh, one warning though, you might have to bear with the animal abuse descriptions. Brutal and graphic.

My verdict? 3.5/5
Didn’t hate it, didn’t really love it either. What made this a page turner for me was the tempo of the plot that was nicely set. You know what would happen next, but you don’t know when. That kinda kept the suspense rolling.

Although I enjoyed the book, I have a feeling I'd prefer the movie :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Uncensored version of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' published!!

Over 120 years after it was condemned as 'vulgar' and 'unclean', an uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is published by Harvard University Press.

Revised after it was condemned in the British press over 130 years ago as "vulgar", "unclean", "poisonous" and "discreditable", an uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has finally been published.

Seems that Frankel, associate professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University said "the time is ripe for the publication of Wilde's novel in its uncensored form … It is the version of the novel that Wilde, I believe, would want us to be reading in the 21st century … I'm bringing it out of the closet a little more."

To read the whole article, click here.

If not, you can read some of the interesting parts here ;)

These were some of the editing done to make the book "acceptable to the most fastidious taste". Wilde's editor, JM Stoddart, removed references to Gray's female lovers as his "mistresses". For examplethe question; "Is Sybil Vane your mistress ?" was altered to "What are your relations with Sibyl Vane ?"

Other examples that were edited/censored were:
"It is quite true I have worshipped you with far more romance of feeling than a man should ever give to a friend. Somehow I have never loved a woman," Hallward tells Dorian, in one passage was changed to "From the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me".

Here, Hallward describes the feelings which had driven his portrait of Gray. "There was love in every line, and in every touch there was passion."

Another restored line describes Gray walking the street at night; "A man with curious eyes had suddenly peered into his face, and then dogged him with stealthy footsteps, passing and repassing him many times."

Gray also reflects on Hallward's feelings for him. "There was something infinitely tragic in a romance that was at once so passionate and sterile."

------

What do you think? Do you think it's a good decision made by the publisher? Will it make a difference to you?

I have yet to read the book haha So...no comment. But I thought it'd be something interesting for me to put up on my blog for keep sake :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meet & Greet Shamini, Author of Inspector Singh Investigates Series!

Why, oh why on a weekday...? *sob* Anyway,...if you're nearby, remember to meet up with Shamini Flint!

Shamini writes children’s books with cultural and environmental themes including Jungle Blues and Turtle takes a Trip as well as the ‘Sasha’ series of children’s books. She also writes crime fiction, the first two books are Inspector Singh Investigates - A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder and Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul published by Little, Brown, UK in 2009. The third title in the series published in 2010 is Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy to be followed by Singh's adventures in Cambodia and India.

Check out her website here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Author of Three Cups of Tea, fabricated his memoir?

Read this on themalaysianinsider.com, and started googling. These are what I found:
1) The author's charity organization has taken credit for schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan that don't exist.
2) The porters who accompanied him say he was never lost, and went back to the village a year after his first trip.
3) Mortenson also claims to have been kidnapped by the Taliban, but all the men in a photo from the supposed kidnapping are not actually Taliban, and say they never harmed Mortenson.
4) One of the men, according to CBS, is the director of an influential think tank whose scholarly essays have been published in the U.S.

Mortenson's side of the story: 'I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students.'

Mortenson said the account of his experiences in Korphe 'was a compressed version of events' that took place in 1993 and that local people's different concept of time could explain the misunderstanding.

Mortenson insisted that he was held against his will in Waziristan in 1996, though shifting tribal loyalties may explain the conflicting version of events.

He also maintained that the fraud allegations were fabricated by a disgruntled former manager, and that some of the money raised by CAI had been used to build an endowment rather than channeled directly into school construction.

'I hope these allegations and attacks, the people doing these things, know this could be devastating for tens of thousands of girls, for the sake of Nielsen ratings and Emmys,' Mortenson said. (Got this here)

Watch a very interesting video by 60 minutes here and an even more interesting one, (where the author was caught off guard) here.

Who's telling the truth? Does the truth matter if his story has inspired many to contribute to the society?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Title/Author: Norwegian Wood/Haruki Murakami (Translated by Jay Rubin)
Publisher: Vintage Books USA
Pages: 400
ISBN 13: 9780099554561

Expect no flying elephants, man-eating cats, or any of those surrealist eccentricities that you’d normally find in a Murakami novel. Norwegian Wood is a rather straight forward, coming of age novel of nostalgia. What stayed though is its quiet, still and melancholy tone (which I love). I don’t know why but I always find it hard to summarise and/or review Murakami’s novels. This would be my very first attempt. So here goes.

In a nutshell
Norwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe and his love affair with beautiful, damsel-in-distress Naoko, whom he’s known since school, and who used to go out with his best friend Kizuki, until he committed suicide. Their relationship deepens when they spent more time with each other after Kizuki’s death, and it somehow affected Naoko who realises she has psychological problems that need to be addressed. So she left for the sanatorium. This is when Toru becomes close to Midori, a vivacious girl, who gradually develops feelings for him which were reciprocated. Then enters Reiko, Naoko’s partner at the sanatorium, into this already-complicated love triangle, who also grows fond of Toru.

What I liked (so much) about it
Set in the 60’s, this story is just like any other romance novels or any typical Japanese/Korean love series – boy loves girl, girl loves boy but finds it hard to commit, another girl loves the boy but the boy couldn’t let go of his first true love; the whole works. But what makes Norwegian Wood stand out is its depth and intensity of its main characters and conversations – the way he/his translator uses words to describe the internal conflicts and complexities is just so brilliant.

Let me give an example. This is a conversation between Midori and Toru.
“Hey, what is it with you? Why are you so spaced out? You still haven't answered me.”

“I probably still haven't completely adapted to the world,” I said after giving it some thought. “I don't know, I feel like this isn't the real world. The people, the scene: they just don't seem real to me.”

Midori rested an elbow on the bar and looked at me. “There was something like that in a Jim Morrison song, I'm pretty sure.”

“People are strange when you're a stranger.”


Amazing isn’t it, that he could describe such feelings with such exactness? It’s those thoughts that usually swim in our head but never really know how to put it into words, and here we have Murakami, magically uses it to tell the story! I don’t know how he does it! Does he write in his sleep, letting his subconscious mind rule the writing and thinking??

And his characters, as usual, are intriguing. Toru is the epitome of a walking paradox I must say. He’s seen as a loner, but feels utterly uneasy when he couldn’t be with or get in touch with Naoko, Midori and Reiko. He wrote so much to them that ‘it was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of his crumbling life.’ He’s reserved yet very casual with sex (Oh by the way, sex is described very explicitly here), kind yet harsh in dealing with his emotions and himself, taking everything too seriously, maybe he's a little too self-indulgent. If I were to describe him in a sentence, I’d say Toru is a dead who’s living among the living,...maybe because he wants to stay 17 forever, because as he said it, ‘Only the dead stay seventeen forever’. (Kizuki died when he was seventeen.)

I guess it’s this mystery, this ‘vagueness’ of Toru’s character that attracts women to him. Or maybe he just has that special connection with people, because even Kizuki and Nagasawa are very fond of him.

He has that effect on me too. Not that I liked his character, but I was ‘drawn’ to him. I feel like I can connect with him in so many levels, but at times he seems so locked up in his own world; so unwilling to open up. Unlike Naoro, who wants to let herself go but just couldn’t; Toru lets himself stay in his ‘shell’ and seems to be comfortable with it. I could empathise with Midori – her frustration of trying to get him out of his ‘shell’, and at the same time loving him for who he is. It’s really not that easy to love someone, don’t you think? After all, love is quite a funny thing. It’s incomprehensible.

Midori is my favourite character – strong, confident, not afraid of being different, humorous (in her own way), spontaneous and outspoken. She even asks the most unexpected questions like, ‘I wonder what ants do on rainy days?’ And she’s so full of love! She gives her dad the care and attention he needed when he was bed-ridden.

I don’t know how Murakami (or his translator) does it, but each time I read a Murakami novel, I’m left ‘wow-ed’. When I put the book aside, I just want to dream about it and let the post-reading feeling linger till I’m ready to move on…

So what’s the ending? I won't tell. You gotta read it to find out. Google it if you want, but you won’t be able to find a definite answer.

Some of my favourite quotes
[...] even if we hadn't met that day, my life might not have been any different. We had met that day because we were supposed to meet. If we hadn't met then and there, we would have just met somewhere else sometime. - Toru Watanabe

"If you think about it, an unfair society is a society that makes it possible for you to exploit your abilities to the limit." - Nagasawa

"What makes us most normal," said Reiko, "is knowing that we're not normal."

"By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning."


And there are so many conversations which I truly love, but too long to put it up here...You just gotta read this and you'd know what I mean :)

My verdict? Love love love! (no pun intended) Highly recommended.

If you wanna watch the movie, it's here (separated into several parts) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6m0ylU7yNw&feature=related

PLEEEEASE read the book first before you watch the film, or else you'd be so turned off by the film you won't wanna read the book! Don't say I didn't warn you! :)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blogspot Error?

Hmmmm not sure what's wrong with blogspot, cuz I can't seem to make my content break into proper paragraphs even after setting it in 'edit html'. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT BLOGGER.COM!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

THE ONE AND ONLY, THE GREATEST of THE GREATEST, MOST DEVIOUS DJINNI IS BAAAACK! :D

Oh yes....my dear ol' friend, Bartimaeus IS BACK!!! The Ring of Solomon is prequel to the Bartimaeus Trilogy written by Jonathan Stroud. Here is a plot introduction I nicked from Wikipedia: It is the year 950 b.c. and King Solomon of Israel rules his empire from Jerusalem with a steely hand. Upon which rests a magic ring of incredible power. Among the many spirit slaves in the service of the king and his magicians is the djinni Bartimaeus, a spirit with extreme cunning, a sarcastic wit, and an unparalleled reputation for insolence. After botching a construction project, Bartimaeus is sent out into the desert to hunt down a group of bandits attacking Solomon's trade routes, and in the process he encounters Asmira, a girl in the service of the Queen of Sheba. Soon afterwards she drags the reluctant djinni into a seemingly suicidal mission: Kill Solomon and steal the magic ring. This one has got some mix reviews though...: While not as good as the original trilogy, The Ring Of Solomon is still a worthy addition to the dark, delightful world of Bartimaeus. (For a full review, go here) Like the Bartimaeus Trilogy, Bartimaeus is amusing as ever. He does not disappoint and neither does the plot, nor most of the characters. (Read this here) So, am I gonna read it? MOST DEFINITELY! :D For my review of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, go here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Title/Author: The Gruffalo/Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler
Publisher: Macmillan
Pages: 28
ISBN 13: 978-0-333-71093-7

In a nutshell
Walk into the deep dark wood, meet a quick-thinking mouse and discover what happens when he comes face to face with a ugly, hungry gruffalo.

What I liked
Ever since I took a liking to children's books, I'ver heard and read about Julia Donaldson and her very famous and well-loved 'The Gruffalo'. And I'm privileged and honoured to be given the chance to review some of her books, thanks to Odelia from Pansing :)

I asked my students if they've read 'The Gruffalo' or have been read to, one of them looked at me quizically and asked, 'Is that the story about the clever mouse?' Thrilled that he was right, I said,'Yes! Did you like it?' 'I don't remember much, but I liked the mouse who was small yet smart!'

That's what I loved about the story too :) It's fun to see how this little mouse always manages to escape being pounced on by a bigger animal by outwitting them! I can't help but smile as the mouse exaggerates his description of the Gruffalo each time he meets another animal - from "terrible claws and jaws" to "his tongue is black, he has purple prickles all over his back."

The twist comes when he finally meets the real, ugly gruffalo who tells him, "You'll taste good on a slice of bread", to which the little mouse tells him, "I'm the scariest creature in this wood" and that "Everyone is afraid of me." He then asks the gruffalo to go with him into the wood so that he can prove it. And so the gruffalo does.

Can you guess the ending? *wink*

It's a fun read! Even for an adult! Trust me ;)

It's a great story to be read out loud to a child, this one :) Especially when the words rhyme so beautifully and the story, so charming! You could also have some fun activities with the children, like making the gruffalo's mask and baking a gruffalo cake!

I think Axel Scheffler did a fantastic job on the gruffalo too. I mean, it's not easy drawing a frightening creature that looks cute too, don't you think? No wonder it has become a well-loved children's character! See Scheffler's sketches for the gruffalo and watch him make the gruffalo come to life here.

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