Thursday, November 12, 2009


This blog has served me well over the past few years. It has developed from a rather personal blog into a Singapore food one, and, since this year and my leave of absence from Singapore, it's been turned into a sort of book blog. It was quite appalling going over some of my earlier blog posts which were extremely ramble-y and whiny (oh please don't go look!), but I can't be bothered to go and delete them all. Instead, I would like to think that this blog has perhaps grown in some ways, as I have.

So I've decided to move my book blogging over to a whole new blog. I've always wanted to give Wordpress a go, as their cleaner and seemingly more user-friendly dashboard is more attractive than Blogger's. Plus they offer mobile versions of their blogs! This blog here will stay as it is, in memory of what used to be, but I'm hoping you'll join me over at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Library Loot (10 November 2009)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King
My intention was to read this for RIP IV and then it got borrowed out before I could get my hands on it. But here it is!

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.
And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides -- or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail -- and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.
In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript.
Now Stephen King's apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand : The Complete And Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral comlexity of a true epic.
For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King's gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Black Dossier by Alan Moore
Heading towards the graphic novel shelves, I was hoping to pick up the next installment of Jack of Fables or Y: The Last Man, and neither were in sight (it turns out that the second book in the Y series isn't available at my library, yet the books after that are... huh). So I picked up the Black Dossier. which seems to be a standalone book (so says Wikipedia).
England in the mid 1950s is not the same as it was. The powers that be have instituted...some changes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been disbanded and disavowed, and the country is under the control of an iron-fisted regime. Now, after many years, the still youthful Mina Murray and a rejuvenated Allan Quatermain return and are in search of some answers. Answers that can only be found in a book buried deep in the vaults of their old headquarters, a book that holds the key to the hidden history of the League throughout the ages: The Black Dossier. As Allan and Mina delve into the details of their precursors, some dating back centuries, they must elude their dangerous pursuers who are Hell-bent on retrieving the lost manuscript... and ending the League once and for all.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's historical drama. A bestseller in England, there's even a little high-toned erotica thrown into the mix to convince the doubtful. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of World War I. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter's quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective; this device is only somewhat successful. Nevertheless, Birdsong is an unflinching war story that is bookended by romances and a rewarding read.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 edited by Dave Eggers
A brilliant collection, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 highlights a bold mix of fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, television writing, and more alternative comics than ever. Compiled by Dave Eggers and students from his San Francisco writing center, contributors include Judy Budnitz, Joe Sacco, Cat Bohannon, Kurt Vonnegut, Julia Sweeney, Haruki Murakami, The Onion, The Daily Show, This American Life, and George Packer

Nobody Said Not to Go: The Life, Loves, and Adventures of Emily Hahn by Ken Cuthbertson
Another one for the Women Unbound Challenge!

Known as "Mickey" to her friends, Emily Hahn traveled across the country dressed as a boy in the 1920s; ran away to the Belgian Congo as a Red Cross worker during the Great Depression; was the concubine of a Chinese poet in Shanghai in the 1930s; had an illegitimate child with the head of the British Secret Service in Hong Kong just before the outbreak of World War II; was involved in underground relief work in occupied Hong Kong; and moved back to the United States and became a pioneer in the fields of wildlife preservation and environmentalism before her death in 1997 at the age of ninety-two. A feminist trailblazer before the word existed, Hahn also wrote hundreds of articles and short stories for The New Yorker from 1925 to 1995, as well as fifty books in many genres. As Roger Angell wrote in her obituary in The New Yorker: "She was, in truth, something rare: a woman deeply, almost domestically, at home in the world. Driven by curiosity and energy, she went there and did that, and then wrote about it without fuss."

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai
The Guardian Book Club is reading The Inheritance of Loss and that pointed me to this first novel of hers.
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard—Desai’s dazzling debut novel—is a wryly hilarious and poignant story that simultaneously captures the vivid culture of the Indian subcontinent and the universal intricacies of human experience. Sampath Chawla was born in a time of drought into a family not quite like other families, in a town not quite like other towns. After years of failure at school, failure at work, of spending his days dreaming in tea stalls, it does not seem as if Sampath is going to amount to much—until one day he climbs a guava tree in search of peaceful contemplation and becomes unexpectedly famous as a holy man, sending his tiny town into turmoil. A syndicate of larcenous, alcoholic monkeys terrorize the pilgrims who cluster around Sampath’s tree, spies and profiteers descend on the town, and none of Desai’s outrageous characters goes unaffected as events spin increasingly out of control.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? 
What did you borrow from your library this week?
See more Library Loot here

Monday, November 09, 2009

Reading on Sunday

On Sunday morning, I woke to an email from my library reminding me that quite a few books were due back within the next few days. Argh and aack! I had yet to start on two of them, and the third, the 1000+ J.G. Ballard collection, had some 400+ pages left to go!

With such impending doom looming above my head, I settled down to a day of reading (the husband was busy with work). I began with Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills and in a few hours, with some pineapple tarts and green tea fueling me through the read, I was done. I was quite moved by the book. And quite surprised that I read it in one sitting, without feeling the need to turn to something else more cheery (the main character is Etsuko, a Japanese woman whose daughter has committed suicide - this makes her reminisce about her life in Nagasaki when she was pregnant with Keiko). It is a quiet story, a little odd and unsettling, and leaves the reader with more questions than answers. But it was definitely worth reading. Especially if you remember (as I only just am doing so now) that this was Ishiguro's first novel.

To take a bit of a break from that, I moved on to the next Sandman installment, Season of Mists. I had an amazing time reading the previous book, Dream Country, which was more of a collection of four different stories (I especially liked A Midsummer's Night Dream) and was looking forward to Season of Mists, in which the Endless family comes together and Lucifer shuts Hell down.

That was followed by In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin, a set of interlinked stories set in Pakistan. The stories each focus on different characters that are connected to a feudal landowner family, such as a desperate poor servant, the young mistress, the powerful farm manager. Almost all of whom are incredibly brilliant manipulators.

I've been wondering how these stories would read on their own. I think this book works very well because of the connectivity among the stories, which allows the reader to explore this world further, giving greater depth to each story, the more you read them.

(You can read one of the stories from In Other Rooms, Other Wonders online at the New Yorker.)

I reckon that was a pretty productive reading Sunday. What did you read this weekend?

Currently reading:
The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
Food and Loathing: A Life Measured Out in Calories by Betsy Lerner

On Stanza on the iPod TouchLady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Read: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set on Earth, which has been largely abandoned as people emigrated to Mars after the end of WWT or World War Terminus. The Synthetic Freedom Fighter, a weapon of the war, was modified to become the "mobile donkey engine of the colonization program", and each emigrant received one. These androids are so sophisticated that it is difficult, almost impossible to tell between them and human beings. They were banned from Earth but some of them still make it there, fleeing from slavery.

Rick Dekard makes his living hunting down these rogue androids. But how do you know an android from a human? Empathy.

"Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida."

The book explores what it means to be human. I found it quite fascinating that ownership of animals was one way the humans emphasized empathy. But as animals are also a symbol of social status, they are very expensive. Dekard himself owns an electric sheep, that is, until he can afford a real animal. To distinguish androids from humans, bounty hunters pose them questions involving animals while measuring involuntary eye movement and blushing. But the sophisticated androids often prove this incredibly difficult. The situation of 'chickenhead' Isidore further confounds this issue. He's human but has had brain damage, and as a result wouldn't necessarily have the typical human responses to these questions.

Like plenty of science fiction, the book can initially be a bit difficult to get into. But sometimes that's the fun of reading science fiction - figuring out the pieces of the puzzle that you're thrown into, often head first. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was my first Philip K. Dick book and it was quite an interesting read. I look forward to reading more of his works. Blade Runner is loosely based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I'm going to have to move that up my Netflix queue now.

This book is my third read for the Sci-Fi Challenge.
(Source: Library)

Click here to buy Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep from Amazon. I am an Amazon Associate.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Library Loot (4 November 2009)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

I'm still making my way through the 1000+ page collection of J.G. Ballard's stories, so this library loot is a little light, with half of it being graphic novels. And, oh no! The main library's going to be closed for renovations at the end of the month - expected completion of the renovation is April 2010! There is another branch nearby, but it is quite a small building, so I'm not quite sure how the collection from the main branch will fit there. Stay tuned for updates!

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez
I think this might fit the Women Unbound Challenge (although it's not on my initial list).
Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills–as doctors, nurses, and therapists–seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus an idea was born.
With the help of corporate and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School welcomed its first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, Rodriguez stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families’ breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup.
Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her family’s debts, the Taliban member’s wife who pursued her training despite her husband’s constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style.
With warmth and humor, Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had throat cancer and was expected to die. Small, a prize-winning children’s author, re-creates a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. Readers will be riveted by his journey from speechless victim, subjected to X-rays by his radiologist father and scolded by his withholding and tormented mother, to his decision to flee his home at sixteen with nothing more than dreams of becoming an artist. Recalling Running with Scissors with its ability to evoke the trauma of a childhood lost, Stitches will transform adolescent and adult readers alike with its deeply liberating vision.

The Scent of the Gods by Fiona Cheong
For the Women Unbound Challenge - a fiction pick.
This moving and at times highly lyrical first novel presents life in Singapore at its historical juncture of nationhood through the maturing of its protagonist, 11-year-old Su Yen, also known as Esha. An orphan who grew up with the extended family residing in what she calls her "Great-Grandfather's house," Su Yen emerges through personal loss and playful exploration a young woman still curious and sometimes bewildered by racial politics, ideological differences, sexual infatuation, familial/governmental control, and personal choice and freedom. The first book to represent life in Singapore in its full spectrum, it is highly recommended for any library with an interest in international or juvenile literature. - From Library Journal

Unmanned (Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1) by Brian K Vaughan
The husband got a text message recommending this to me. So here it is!
In the summer of 2002, a plague of unknown origin destroyed every last sperm, fetus, and fully developed mammal with a Y chromosome--with the apparent exception of one young man and his male pet. This "gendercide" instantaneously exterminated 48% of the global population, or approximately 2.9 billion men.
Now, aided by the mysterious Agent 355, the last human male Yorick Brown must contend with dangerous extremists, a hoped-for reunion with a girlfriend on the other side of the globe, and the search for exactly why he's the only man to survive.

Season of Mists (Sandman, Book 4) by Neil Gaiman
In many ways, Season of Mists is the pinnacle of the Sandman experience. After a brief intermission of four short stories (collected as Dream Country) Gaiman continued the story of the Dream King that he began in the first two volumes. Here in volume 4, we find out about the rest of Dream's Endless family (Desire, Despair, Destiny, Delirium, Death, and a seventh missing sibling). We find out the story behind Nada, Dream's first love, whom we met only in passing during Dream's visit to hell in the first book. When Dream goes back to hell to resolve unfinished business with Nada, he finds her missing along with all of the other dead souls. The answer to this mystery lies in Lucifer's most uncharacteristic decision--a delicious surprise.
There is something grandiose about this story, in which each chapter ends with such suspense and drive to read the next. This book is best summed up by a toast taken from the second chapter: "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due." --Jim Pascoe

The Stone Gods by Jeannette Winterson
I'm going to add this to my SciFi challenge list.
On the airwaves, all the talk is of the new blue planet – pristine and habitable, like our own was 65 million years ago, before we took it to the edge of destruction. Off the air, Billie Crusoe and the renegade robo-sapian Spike are falling in love. Along with Captain Handsome and Pink, they’re assigned to colonize the new blue planet. But when a technical maneuver intended to make it inhabitable backfires, Billie and Spike’s flight to the future becomes a surprising return to the distant past –- "Everything is imprinted forever with what it once was." What will happen when their story combines with the world’s story? Will they –- and we –- ever find a safe landing place?

Playful, passionate, polemical, and frequently very funny, The Stone Gods will change forever the stories we tell about the earth, about love, and about stories themselves.

Food and Loathing: A Life Measured Out in Calories by Betsy Lerner
I've been following Lerner's blog and was quite pleased to see this book and realize that it fits into the Women Unbound Challenge too.
With warmth, wit, and not a trace of self-pity" (Entertainment Weekly), Betsy Lerner details her twenty-year struggle with depression and compulsive eating in Food and Loathing, a book that dares to expose the insidious nature of women's secret life with food.
"Alternating between hilarious and heartbreaking" (People), Food and Loathing gives voice to one of the last taboo subjects and greatest stigmas of our time: being overweight. Lerner's revelations on the cult of thinness -- from the dreaded weigh-in at junior high gym class to the effects of inhaling Pepperidge Farm Goldfish at Olympic speeds -- are universally resonant, as is her belief that this is one battle no one should fight alone.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

See more Library Loot here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Women Unbound Challenge

Eva from A Striped Armchair, Care from Care’s Online Book Club, and Aarti from Booklust are hosting this challenge dedicated to women.

The challenge runs from November 2009-November 2010 and participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of women’s studies. There are three levels that participants can target:

Philogynist: Read at least two books, including at least one non-fiction read
Bluestocking: Read at least five books, including at least two non-fiction reads
Suffragette: Read at least eight books, including at least three non-fiction reads

Initially I decided to go with the Bluestocking level and ran through my own TBR list for books that seem to fit. But after browsing some of the participants' blogs and checking out the books' availability in my library, I couldn't help adding more to my original list (and delaying my post in turn!) and realizing that I have plenty in my pool to go for the Suffragette level. Woohoo! Hopefully those on the list (especially the fiction picks) actually qualify for the challenge. In other words, my list is most likely to change.

My pool:
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
The Scent of the Gods by Fiona Cheong
Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin
Evelina by Frances Burney
The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min
Bone by Fae Myenne Ng (Vasilly's list)

Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures by Kyoko Mori
Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture by Katy Peiss
Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body by Courtney E. Martin
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf
Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia by Sheila and Lisa Himmel
Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks (from Eva's list)
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip (from Eva's list)
Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog (Vasilly's list)
Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelous (Eva's list)


Monday, November 02, 2009

RIP IV Wrap-up

It was my first ever reading challenge so it will always be special! Plus it was such a fun way to read my way through my first fall here!

I ended up reading:
1. Affinity by Sarah Waters (completed 31 August 2009)
2. The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (completed 8 September 2009)
3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (completed 11 September 2009)
4. The Collector of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates (completed 17 September 2009)
5. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (completed 28 September 2009).

And actually a couple more I never did review (*guilty look*):

Ghost in Love by Jonathon Carroll
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanks Carl for hosting this fun challenge!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Read: Love Begins in Winter

(Hmmm... for some reason, this review never got posted! And it is one of my favorite books of the year!)

The stories in Simon Van Booy’s second collection, Love Begins in Winter, are about ordinary people and their versions of love. Van Booy, who was born in London and grew up in Wales and Oxford and has lived in Paris, Athens and New York, sets his stories around the world. While the locations are wide-ranging and the characters have diverse backgrounds, they also share a similar streak: there is such sadness in them, and often they are on the verge of giving up. Ultimately, however, these are hopeful stories with a breathtaking, musical quality to them that they makes them hard to forget.

The first (and title) story brings together a man who collects stones and a woman who collects acorns. Both have been dealing with their own private grief for many years: "For ten years as professional cellist I have been raising the dead in concert halls across the world." They meet in Beverly Hills and somehow, instinctively, know each other intimately.

“The Missing Statues” is about the kindness of strangers. An American diplomat notices a missing statue in St. Peter’s Square and sobs as a passing priest comforts him. The void reminds him of a day when the kindness of a stranger – a gondolier, no less – made an awful day in Las Vegas better.

Walter, an Irish Gypsy, has a major crush on a Canadian orphan who has just moved to his town in “The Coming And Going Of Strangers.” He takes a basket of eggs to the house that she lives in, the very house that used to belong to the family of the girl whose life Walter’s father saved from the clutches of the sea many years ago. “The Coming And Going of Strangers” tells of love and friendship that can happen between strangers.

In “The City of Windy Trees,” George Franck, a man who has left his past behind and whose life “was nothing more than a light that would blink once in the history of the universe and then be forgotten,” is sent a photograph of a young girl - and his life stops. He doesn't leave his apartment for a week, then sets off for Sweden to find his future. It is a truly sweet and hopeful story about second chances.

In a collection of stories, it is inevitable that not every story will work for everyone. For this reader, the second story, “Tiger, Tiger,” seems out of place with the rest of the collection. This story focuses on how the relationship between a young woman and her boyfriend is changed after the divorce of his parents. The move from “Love Begins in Winter” to “Tiger, Tiger” is rather jarring and could cause some readers to put away the book, but the remaining stories continue in a similar direction as the first: they cocoon the reader in these exquisite worlds from which it takes immense willpower to leave. Love Begins in Winter, which won the 2009 Frank O’Connor award, is an exceptional read which will capture a reader’s heart.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at