Monday, August 31, 2009

As cute as puppies dressed as cats

Oh I just couldn't resist putting up this link of The Inkwell Bookstore Blog's literary costumes for little ones. I especially love this one!

(Conan O'Brien and Puppies Dressed as Cats)

Read: Affinity by Sarah Waters

One reviewer said of Sarah Waters: "this is such a brilliant writer that her readers would believe anything she told them".

And oh, how true, how true. This remark rings so true with Affinity. Waters swept me up in this story largely set in Millbank Prison, where Margaret Prior plays Lady Visitor to the inmates. She is enraptured by the beautiful and mysterious Selina Dawes, who turns out to be a medium.

Affinityis a gloomy story, damp and dank and frankly, a bit depressing. But you should still read this book, as Waters is the master (mistress?) of creating the right setting, of developing the characters, of drawing the reader into the story. It's the kind of book that should be read when it's foggy outside, and you're warm inside and curled up on the sofa with a steaming cup of tea. And when you're through, you're totally spent, but eager to get your hands on yet another book by this fabulous writer.

(Although I didn't put this in my poolAffinity undoubtedly fits into the RIP IV Challenge.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Read: Border Songs by Jim Lynch

Rookie Border Patrol agent Brandon Vanderkool is a quarter-inch over six-eight and weighs 232 pounds. He’s gawky, dyslexic, and has a unique way with words: “Let your hands see me,” he tells smugglers. He reluctantly roams a thirty-mile stretch of the border between Washington and British Columbia on the lookout for drug runners, illegal immigrants, and his beloved birds. In times of stress, he imitates birdcalls and imagines himself as a bird, even when apprehending the bad guys.

However, despite his oddities (or perhaps because of them), Brandon is one of the Border Patrol’s most successful agents. His keen eye spots all kinds of riffraff, contraband and wildlife:
“Brandon could identify birds a mile away by their size and flight and many of their voices by a single note. During the climax of spring, he often counted a dozen birds from his pillow without opening his eyes. Most birders keep life lists of the species they’ve seen, and the more intense keep annual counts. Brandon kept day lists in his head, whether he intended to or not.”
Things are changing in this border region as drug money takes over and farmers are offered money in exchange for safe passage for illegals. Lynch effectively plays up today’s climate of fear – fear of drugs, fear of terrorism, fear of others: “Grandmas in RVs are potential smugglers. Everyone’s a suspect.” The Border Patrol steps up its guard and surveillance cameras keep a watchful eye over everything. These are troubled times. It’s worse for Madeline, Brandon’s childhood pal and love interest, who is a marijuana harvester.

While Brandon’s career is on the rise, his father, Norm, is struggling in his. His dairy farm isn’t doing too well, and he regrets not having sold off his herd and converting his fields into raspberries as everyone else seems to have done. His wife, Jeanette, is losing her memory and becoming increasingly disconnected from today; the sailboat he’s been working on for eleven years is still languishing in the yard. Often his mind turns to his neighbor Sophie Winslow, “the masseuse who seemingly everyone visited but nobody knew” and about whom rumors are rife: “She was a former stewardess. No, a dental hygienist. She came from eastern money, right? Actually, a horse farm in Indiana. Or was it Austin?”

The quirky, colorful characters that populate Border Songs fill this book with charm, but it is misfit Brandon Vanderkool and his obsession with birds that enables the novel to take flight. The descriptions of the flora and fauna of the region are beautiful, even magical, while Brandon’s innocence is sweet and irresistible in today’s shady conditions. It is refreshing to see the world through his eyes, and it makes one appreciate the simpler things in life. While this is very much a character-driven novel, Border Songs is also a topical reminder of the occasional absurdities of the over-cautious ambience of today.

Originally posted on Curled Up With A Good Book

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Finds (28 August 2009)

Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading

The problem with reading blogs is that I can't help adding more and more books to my TBR pile.
Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia by Sheila Himmel (via Book Addiction)
Unbeknownst to food critic Sheila Himmel – as she reviewed exotic cuisines from bistro to brasserie — her daughter, Lisa, was at home starving herself. Before Sheila fully grasped what was happening, her fourteen-year-old with a thirst for life and a palate for the flavors of Vietnam and Afghanistan was replaced by a weight-obsessed, antisocial, hundred pound nineteen-year-old. From anorexia to bulimia and back again—many times—the Himmels feared for Lisa’s life as her disorder took its toll on her physical and emotional well-being.
Hungry is the first memoir to connect eating disorders with a food-obsessed culture in a very personal way, following the stumbles, the heartbreaks, and even the funny moments as a mother-daughter relationship—and an entire family—struggles toward healing.
The Longshot by Katie Kitamura (via Baby Got Books)
Cal and his trainer, Riley, are on their way to Mexico for a make-or-break rematch with legendary fighter Rivera. Four years ago, Cal became the only mixed martial arts fighter to take Rivera the distance — but the fight nearly ended him. Only Riley, who has been at his side for the last ten years, knows how much that fight changed things for Cal. And only Riley really knows what's now at stake, for both of them.
Katie Kitamura's brilliant and stirring debut novel follows Cal and Riley through the three fraught days leading up to this momentous match, as each privately begins to doubt that Cal can win. As the tension builds toward the final electrifying scene, the looming fight becomes every challenge each of us has ever taken on, no matter how uncertain the outcome.
In hypnotic, pared-down prose, The Longshot offers a striking portrait of two men striving to stay true to themselves and each other in the only way they know how.
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction by Samuel R. Delany (via Omnivoracious)
This ground-breaking work of criticism by master of science fiction Samuel R. Delany was first published in 1977 and has long been out of print. The edition is significantly revised and updated. Delany was one of the first writers to eloquently speak for the power of science fiction's language, not just its gadgets and its landscapes. He believes that science fiction, like poetry, is something that we must learn how to read. To that end, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw contains close, insightful textual analyses of writers such as Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ and others. Some of his most famous essays are here, including About 5,750 Words and To Read The Dispossessed. This book will be useful to any student of science fiction and is a must-have for Delany fans.

The Pied Piper by Nevil Shute (via Leafing Through Life)
It is the summer of 1940 and in Europe the time of Blitzkreig. John Howard, a 70-year-old Englishman vacationing in France, cuts shorts his tour and heads for home. He agrees to take two children with him.
But war closes in. Trains fail, roads clog with refugees. And if things were not difficult enough, other children join in Howard's little band. At last they reach the coast and find not deliverance but desperation. The old Englishman's greatest test lies ahead of him. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Library Loot (24 August 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 was pretty eager to get to the library this week despite the fact that I've got several more books piled up from my previous Loot. Oh well!

The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene
 Originally published in 1948 and widely acclaimed a modern classic, The Heart of the Matter tells the story of a good man enmeshed in love, intrigue, and evil in a West African coastal town. His name is Scobie, and he is a man bound by strict integrity to his role as assistant police commissioner and by severe responsibility to his wife, Louise, for whom he cares with a fatal pity. When he falls in love with Helen, a childlike widow of nineteen, and finds vital passion yielding again to pity, and integrity giving way to deceit and dishonor, the crisis makes for a novel that is suspenseful, always fascinating, and finally tragic. At its center is the unforgettable portrait of one man, flawed and yet heroic, destroyed and redeemed by a terrible conflict of passion and faith.
Misconceptions - Naomi Wolf
Veteran culture warrior and author of the bestselling Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf debunks myths and defies expectations as she addresses the reality of contemporary maternity through her own experiences with passionate critique and unrelenting honesty.
Motherhood turned out to be Wolf's toughest fight of the gender wars. During her first pregancy, hormones eroded her independence, and ultrasound tested her commitment to abortion rights. The weeks after her daughter's birth taught her how inevitably society, employers, and even husbands, manipulate new mothers. In Misconceptions, Naomi Wolf demythologizes motherhood and stakes out feminist battlegrounds. She exposes the lack of compassion within the OB/GYN establishment; America's shockingly high rates of postpartum depression; the total inadequacy of a twelve-week, unpaid maternity leave.
Misconceptions speaks to anyone connected — personally, medically, or professionally — to a new mother.

The Island of the Colorblind - Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks has always been fascinated by islands — their remoteness, their mystery, above all the unique forms of life they harbor. For him, islands conjure up equally the romance of Melville and Stevenson, the adventure of Magellan and Cook, and the scientific wonder of Darwin and Wallace.
Drawn to the tiny Pacific atoll of Pingelap by intriguing reports of an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind, Sacks finds himself setting up a clinic in a one-room island dispensary, where he listens to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow. And on Guam, where he goes to investigate the puzzling neurodegenerative paralysis endemic there for a century, he becomes, for a brief time, an island neurologist, making house calls with his colleague John Steele, amid crowing cockerels, cycad jungles, and the remains of a colonial culture. The islands reawaken Sacks's lifelong passion for botany — in particular, for the primitive cycad trees, whose existence dates back to the Paleozoic — and the cycads are the starting point for an intensely personal reflection on the meaning of islands, the dissemination of species, the genesis of disease, and the nature of deep geologic time.
Out of an unexpected journey, Sacks has woven an unforgettable narrative which immerses us in the romance of island life, and shares his own compelling vision of the complexities of being human.

Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story - Ari Folman
One night in Beirut in September 1982, while Israeli soldiers secured the area, Christian militia members entered the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians. Ari Folman was one of those Israeli soldiers, but for more than twenty years he remembered nothing of that night or of the weeks leading up to it. Then came a friend’s disturbing dream, and with it Folman’s need to excavate the truth of the war in Lebanon and answer the crucial question: What was he doing during the hours of slaughter?
Challenging the collective amnesia of friends and fellow soldiers, Folman painfully, candidly pieces together the war and his place in it. Gradually, the blankness of his mind is filled in by scenes of combat and patrol, misery and carnage, as well as dreams and hallucinations. Soldiers are haunted by inexplicable nightmares and flashbacks—snapping, growling dogs with teeth bared and eyes glowing orange; a recurring image of three young men rising naked out of the sea to drift into the Beirut battlefield. Tanks crush cars and buildings with lethal indifference; snipers pick off men on donkeys, men in cars, men drinking coffee; a soldier waltzes through a storm of bullets; rock songs fill the air, and then yellow flames. The recollections accumulate until Ari Folman arrives at Sabra and Shatila and his investigation reaches its terrible end.
The result is a gripping reconstruction, a probing inquiry into the unreliable quality of memory, and, above all, a powerful denunciation of the senselessness of all wars. Profoundly original in form and approach, Waltz with Bashir will take its place as one of the great works of wartime testimony.
Fables: Animal Farm - Bill Willingham
Collecting Fables #6-10, the second story arc of the fan-favorite, critically acclaimed VERTIGO series. Travel to upstate New York, where the non-human Fable characters have found refuge on a farm, miles from mankind. But all is not well on the farm — and a conspiracy to free them from the shackles of their perceived imprisonment may lead to a war that could wrest control of the Fables community away from Snow White. Starring Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Plus, a sketchbook section featuring art by Willingham, Buckingham and Jean.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

R.I.P. IV Challenge

I've decided to take on my first ever reading challenge. There are so many of them out there these days, and I seem to keep missing those that appeal to me (mostly because I read about them, think 'that sounds interesting, I should sign up' and then never do). So here goes, this will be my first step into the reading challenge world, with the R.I.P. IV Challenge.

I've decided to just go for it and target Peril The First, where I have to read "four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose". I realised that there aren't that many books in my TBR list that fall into the categories of: Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural. So my pool of books is a little small but I will (hopefully) read all of them. 

The Stand by Stephen King
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Collector of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton

Read: The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

This is a book with such heart. I couldn't help but feel for the lobstermen of Maine in their fight to save their livelihoods. I couldn't help but feel for the lobsters as Corson uncovers their surprisingly intriguing hidden lives.

And I couldn't help comparing it to a similar recent read of mine, The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy by Sasha Issenberg, which focused on tuna. Corson's book was so much more entertaining and compelling, mostly because he stayed with a set of main characters, unlike Issenberg's which flitted from one group to another. And it helps also that Corson found such passionate scientists and lobstermen to feature.

The Secret Life of Lobsters was a truly remarkable read. I never expected to like it as much as I did.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What I read this week

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
Angel is quite a nutter. She's infuriatingly absurd and so completely full of self-importance that I'm amazed I stuck through this book. Perhaps it's because Taylor paints her in such a marvellously funny, what-is-she-thinking? manner that this book was at the same time
irritating and such a delight. I never thought I'd ever say that.

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham
This is my year of graphic novels, having begun to read them more widely despite what at first seemed like rather meager offerings at my library. And this series is one that I am truly adoring! It is funny and imaginative and very accessible, although does have some adult content. I started out with 1001 Nights which had different illustrative styles so it was very refreshing. However, Legends in Exile is really the place to start, for this is the official first book in the series.

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesy

Although it could be a little creepy at times, Eva Moves the Furniture isn't really a ghost story. It is instead more about how Eva deals with her 'companions', who both hamper and help her as she grows up. Eva's story is sad and often lonely but it has its sweet joyous moments. It was quite a joy to read, and oh, the lovely writing!

(It was a good reading week. I hope you found some good reads too!)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Finds (21 August 2009)

Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading

Driftless by David Rhodes (via Conversational Reading)
Rhodes's long-awaited new novel turns an unblinking eye on an array of eccentric characters and situations. The setting is Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people, but under its sleepy surface, life rages.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Once he saw a large cactus-plant in a flower-shop window. From one unpromising, barbed shoot had sprung a huge, glowering bloom. It looked solitary and incongruous, a freakish accident; and he was reminded of Angel.
- Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Library Loot (18 August 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.

See more Library Loot here!

The secret life of lobsters : how fishermen and scientists are unraveling the mysteries of our favorite crustacean by Trevor Corson
In this intimate portrait of an island lobstering community and an eccentric band of renegade biologists, journalist Trevor Corson escorts the reader onto the slippery decks of fishing boats, through danger-filled scuba dives, and deep into the churning currents of the Gulf of Maine to learn about the secret undersea lives of lobsters.

In revelations from the laboratory and the sea that are by turns astonishing and humorous, the lobster proves itself to be not only a delicious meal and a sustainable resource but also an amorous master of the boudoir, a lethal boxer, and a snoopy socializer with a nose that lets it track prey and paramour alike with the skill of a bloodhound.

The Secret Life of Lobsters is a rollicking oceanic odyssey punctuated by salt spray, melted butter, and predators lurking in the murky depths.

Affinity by Sarah Waters
A spellbinding ghost story, a complex and intriguing historical mystery, and a poignant romance with an enexpected twist.

An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women's ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London's grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank's murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by on apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina's gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina's freedom, and her own.

As in her noteworthy deput, Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters brilliantly evokes the sights and smells of a moody and beguiling nineteenth-century London, and proves herself yet again a storyteller, in the words of the New York Times Book Review, of "startling power." A tale that will leave readers "transfixed with horror and excitement" (Daily Mail, London), Affinity, in its accomplishment and sophistication, leaves no doubt as to this writer's considerable gifts.

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
Four time Hugo Award winner Vernor Vinge has taken readers to the depths of space and into the far future in his bestselling novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. Now, he has written a science-fiction thriller set in a place and time as exciting and strange as any far-future world: San Diego, California, 2025.

Robert Gu is a recovering Alzheimer's patient. The world that he remembers was much as we know it today. Now, as he regains his faculties through a cure developed during the years of his near-fatal decline, he discovers that the world has changed and so has his place in it. He was a world-renowned poet. Now he is seventy-five years old, though by a medical miracle he looks much younger, and he’s starting over, for the first time unsure of his poetic gifts. Living with his son’s family, he has no choice but to learn how to cope with a new information age in which the virtual and the real are a seamless continuum, layers of reality built on digital views seen by a single person or millions, depending on your choice. But the consensus reality of the digital world is available only if, like his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Miri, you know how to wear your wireless access — through nodes designed into "smart" clothes — and to see the digital context — through "smart" contact lenses.

With knowledge comes risk. When Robert begins to re-train at Fairmont High, learning with other older people what is second nature to Miri and other teens at school, he unwittingly becomes part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to use technology as a tool for world domination.

In a world where every computer chip has Homeland Security built-in, this conspiracy is something that baffles even the most sophisticated security analysts, including Robert’s son and daughter-in law, two top people in the U.S. military. And even Miri, in her attempts to protect her grandfather, may be entangled in the plot.

As Robert becomes more deeply involved in conspiracy, he is shocked to learn of a radical change planned for the UCSD Geisel Library; all the books there, and worldwide, would cease to physically exist. He and his fellow re-trainees feel compelled to join protests against the change. With forces around the world converging on San Diego, both the conspiracy and the protest climax in a spectacular moment as unique and satisfying as it is unexpected. This is science fiction at its very best, by a master storyteller at his peak.

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
Sarah Orne Jewett's place in American letters was assured when this acclaimed collection of stories about her native state of Maine was first published in 1896. Her crisp style and skillful observation of people and places gives her work lasting appeal.
Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham
When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White's party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown's sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose's ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.
They Came Like Swallows by Wiliam Maxwell
Through the eyes of two boys and their father, William Maxwell reveals the complex woman who is the unacknowledged source of their happiness--and whose death during the influenza epic of 1918 will devastate them all. They Came Like Swallows tenderly depicts the currents of love and need that run through every family--and whose true depth becomes evident only in moments of tragedy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Read: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

The delicate relationship between man and nature is explored in this ambitious novel set in the threatened grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

Chen Zhen is one of many Beijing students sent to Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution to work as sheepherders and horse herders. Living with the nomads in the border region of Olonbulag, he is taken under the wing of ‘Papa’ Bilgee, the wise and respected elder who teaches him about the delicate relationship between the nomads and the grassland wildlife - especially the wolves, which Mongols believe are the "protective spirits of the grassland" and thus command their respect and reverence. The Han Chinese, though, are determined to eradicate the wolves, which feed on their livestock. "If we killed them off, the grassland would perish, and then how would we survive? This is something you Chinese don't understand."

Chen’s fascination with wolves crosses a line when he captures a wolf cub with intentions to raise it:

"You can kill a warrior; you cannot humiliate him. You can kill a wolf; you cannot raise it. Now here was a young Chinese deep in the heart of the grassland, on Mongol ancestral land, where the inhabitants worshipped Tengger, a sacred place where they paid homage to their wild forebear, their master of wisdom, their war god, and the protector of the grassland, the wolf totem, and he was raising a wolf as he would a dog, a true outrage."

Would a wolf raised under such conditions still be a real wolf? Will the grasslands be destroyed forever? Although the book is set in1960s’ China, the ecological issues it discusses are still relevant today.

Wolf Totem, which won the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007, is the semi-autobiographical novel written by Jiang Rong, the pen name of retired Beijing university professor and former political prisoner Lu Jiamin.

Wolf Totem is Lu’s ode to nature, a love song to the Mongolian grasslands but with a moral firmly behind it. Thus, as a modern-day fable, there is an obvious separation between good and bad. In Wolf Totem, the Mongols are the ‘good guys’ – especially wise Bilgee, who can say and do no wrong – whereas the Han Chinese, with their “sheeplike nature,” are in the midst of taking over Mongolia’s grasslands and consume and demolish all nature in sight:

“This was likely the last spot in the northern grassland that still retained its primitive beauty. Chen Zhen was mesmerized by the sight. But even as he marveled, anxiety entered his heart. Once men and horses come, he was thinking, the primitive beauty of the place will quickly be lost, and no Chinese will lay his eyes on such natural, pristine beauty ever again.”

The author seems determined to teach readers good from bad, and at every possible moment reiterates his message as loudly as possible.

Despite its flaws, Wolf Totem is an engaging read as it takes readers into a land that is mystical and wild.

Originally posted at Curled Up With A Good Book

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Finds (14 August 2009)

Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading

A Treasury of Xxth Century Murder: Famous Players, the Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor - Rick Geary (via Omnivoracious)
It's the early days of Hollywood, movies are just starting to come of their own and gain in popularity. New Stars are made. The movies are still silent but their stars' certainly are not in the scandal sheets. Amidst this new boiling cauldron, William Desmond Taylor, a successful director at the 'upscale' Famous Players Studio is found shot in his home.. Could it have been the star Mary Miles Minter or a former butler? But then, what about that strange past Taylor had? Another delectable mystery as only Geary can tell 'em!
The Wishbones - Tom Perrotta (via Jacket Copy)
Everything is going pretty well for Dave Raymond. He's 31, but he still feels young. He's playing guitar with the Wishbones, a New Jersey wedding band, and while it isn't exactly the Big Time, it is music. He has a roof over his head...well, it's his parents' roof, but they don't hassle him much. Life isn't perfect. But it isn't bad. Not bad at all. But then he has to blow it all by proposing to his girlfriend.

Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce (via The Book Depository Editor's Corner)
Tom is furious. His brother, Peter, has measles, so now Tom is being shipped off to stay with Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan in their boring old apartment. There'll be nothing to do there and no one to play with. Tom just counts the days till he can return home to Peter.Then one night the landlady's antique grandfather clock strikes thirteen times leading Tom to a wonderful, magical discovery and marking the beginning of a secret that's almost too amazing to be true. But it is true, and in the new world that Tom discovers is a special friend named Hatty and more than a summer's worth of adventure for both of them. Now Tom wishes he could stay with his relatives and Hatty — forever...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's been a while...

...since I've actually written a post (and not just copying and pasting about finds and loots). And for that, I owe to wanton laziness. And also to the inability to write reviews of late. Not that I haven't tried - the many draft copies on Blogger is my evidence.

However I squeezed myself out of inertia and here I am, blogging for a while. Mostly to reiterate my unnatural obsession with book lists - tada! The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize! Of course I have yet to read any of them. And here's why (see this is book review-related): the contemporary fiction that I've read lately has been rather disappointing. I read John Wray's Lowboy, which was quite different from other recent reads but ultimately, while interesting enough, failed to really hit me. Meg Wolitzer's The Position, while it has a potentially funny and awkwardly funny premise, it was perhaps a bit too character-driven and not what I was looking for as a good read. And perhaps the biggest readfail of all was An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke. Doesn't it have such a fun title? But its main character (the arsonist) was such a whiny fella that I returned it to the library before its due date and before reading more than 50 pages.

Here's the longlist:

Ghosts and Lightening by Trevor Byrne
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Map Of The Invisible World by Tash Aw
Summertime by JM Coetzee
The City and The City by China Miéville
John The Revelator by Peter Murphy
Solo by Rana Dasgupta
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
Jerusalem by Patrick Neate
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
This Is How by MJ Hyland
The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
The White Woman On The Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
The Quiet War by Paul McAuley
The Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale
Hodd by Adam Thorpe
The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom
The Winter Vault by Anne Michael
White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
The Father Of Locks by Andrew Killeen
The Children's Book by AS Byatt
Stone's Fall by Iain Pears
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Down On Out On Murder Mile by Tony O'Neill
Rose by Gillian Green
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Grace, Lamar and Laszlo The Beautiful by Deborah Kay Davies
Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward
Tender by Mark Illis
Jeff In Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
Little Gods by Anne Richards
A Kind Of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
Black Rock by Amanda Smyth
Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane
Harare North by Brian Chickwava
Generation A by Douglas Coupland
Tomas by James Palumbo
Neverland by Simon Crump
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
All The Colours Of The Town by Liam McIvanney
Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
The Outlander by Gil Adamson
How To Paint A Dead Man by Sarah Hall

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Finds (7 August 2009)

Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading

The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood
(via A Work in Progress)
Ooh, I just love Margaret Atwood so I was delighted to hear that she's got a new book!
The long-awaited new novel from Margaret Atwood. The Year of the Flood is a dystopic masterpiece and a testament to her visionary power.

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners — a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life — has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God's Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers....

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can't stay locked away...

By turns dark, tender, violent, thoughtful, and uneasily hilarious, The Year of the Flood is Atwood at her most brilliant and inventive.

Let the Earth Tremble at Its Centers - Gonzalo Celorio (via Counterbalance)
Some travel literature
Professor Juan Manuel Barrientos prefers footsteps to footnotes. Fighting a hangover, he manages to keep his appointment to lead a group of students on a walking lecture among the historic buildings of downtown Mexico City. When the students fail to show up, however, he undertakes a solo tour that includes more cantinas than cathedrals. Unable to resist either alcohol itself or the introspection it inspires, Professor Barrientos muddles his personal past with his historic surroundings, setting up an inevitable conclusion in the very center of Mexico City.

First published in Mexico in the late 1990s, And Let the Earth Tremble at Its Centers was immediately lauded as a contemporary masterpiece in the long tradition of literary portraits of Mexico City. It is a book worthy of its dramatic title, which is drawn from a line in the Mexican national anthem.

Gonzalo Celorio first earned a place among the leading figures of Mexican letters for his scholarship and criticism, and careful readers will recognize a scholar's attention to accuracy within the novel's dyspeptic descriptions of Mexico City. The places described are indeed real (this edition includes a map that marks those visited in the story), though a few have since closed or been put to new uses. Dick Gerdes's elegant translation now preserves them all for a new audience.

Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe - Glynis Ridley (via Vulpes Libres)
And what sounds like a really cute non-fiction book
In 1741, an enterprising Dutch sea captain transported a young, female Indian rhinoceros from Assam to Europe where she was displayed before everyone from peasants to princes. In an age before railways and modern roads, the three-ton Clara traveled in an enormous coach drawn by eight horses. For seventeen years she journeyed across mainland Europe and Britain. She became a favorite of heads of state, including Frederick the Great and Louis XV; she modeled for scientific portraits and etchings; she inspired poems, songs, and fashions; and she was duly immortalized in everything from tin coins to the finest porcelain. She was a star. Her tour involved unprecedented logistical planning, as no one knew how to care for this largest of land mammals. A rhinoceros can eat up to 150 pounds of vegetation a day, and Clara developed an uncommon fondness for oranges, beer, and tobacco. Later, when Clara's popularity threatened to decline, her owner spread the news of Clara's certain and imminent death, which provoked an upsurge in interest, sympathy ... and bookings. Awarded the prestigious Institute of Historical Research Prize, Glynis Ridley's sparkling history brings Clara's tragicomic story vividly to life.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Library Loot (4 August 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.

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
I quite enjoyed Blaming and am looking forward to reading more by Elizabeth Taylor.
Writing stories that are extravagant and fanciful, fifteen-year-old Angel retreats to a world of romance, escaping the drabness of provincial life. She knows she is different, that she is destined to become a feted authoress, owner of great riches and of Paradise House. After reading The Lady Irania, publishers Brace and Gilchrist are certain the novel will be a success, in spite of—and perhaps because of—its overblown style. But they are curious as to who could have written such a book.
Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey
I've been wanting to read something by Margot Livesey for a while now, but looks like this will be the only one I'll get to read since it's the only one of her works available at my library!
On the morning of Eva McEwen's birth, six magpies congregate in the apple tree outside the window--a bad omen, according to Scottish legend. That night, Eva's mother dies, leaving her to be raised by her aunt and heartsick father in their small Scottish town. As a child, Eva is often visited by two companions--a woman and a girl--invisible to everyone else save her. As she grows, their intentions become increasingly unclear: Do they wish to protect or harm her? A magical novel about loneliness, love, and the profound connection between mother and daughter, Eva Moves the Furniture fuses the simplicity of a fairy tale with the complexity of adult passions.

Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian

Tibet is a land lost in the glare of politics and romanticism, and Ma Jian set out to discover its truths. Stick Out Your Tongue is a revelation: a startlingly vivid portrait of Tibet, both enchanting and horrifying, beautiful and violent, seductive and perverse.

In this profound work of fiction, a Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart travels to Tibet. As he wanders through the countryside, he witnesses the sky burial of a Tibetan woman who died during childbirth, shares a tent with a nomad who is walking to a sacred mountain to seek forgiveness for sleeping with his daughter, meets a silversmith who has hung the wind-dried corpse of his lover on the wall of his cave, and hears the story of a young female incarnate lama who died during a Buddhist initiation rite. In the thin air of the high plateau, the divide between dream and reality becomes confused.

When this book was published in Chinese in 1997, the government accused Ma Jian of "harming the fraternal solidarity of the national minorities," and a blanket ban was placed on his future work. With its publication in English, including a new afterword by the author that sets the book in its personal and political context, readers get a rare glimpse of Tibet through Chinese eyes — and a window on the imagination of one of China's foremost writers.

We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter Beagle

I read a few stories from Beagle's The Line Between while at the Seattle library. Alas, I am unable to finish that collection as the book isn't available at my library (dang). So I picked up this one instead.
Modern parables of love, death, and transformation are peppered with melancholy in this extraordinary collection of contemporary fantasy. Each short story cultivates a whimsical sense of imagination and reveals a mature, darker voice than previously experienced from this legendary author. In one tale the Angel of Death enjoys newfound celebrity while moonlighting as an anchorman on the network news, while in another the shortsighted ruler of a gentle realm betrays himself in dreaming of a "manageable war." Further storylines include an American librarian who discovers that, much to his surprise and sadness, he is the last living Frenchman, and rivals in a supernatural battle who decide to forgo pistols at dawn, choosing instead to duel with dramatic recitations of terrible poetry. Featuring several previously unpublished stories alongside a bevy of recently released works, this haunting compilation is appealing to both genre readers and mainstream literature lovers.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Read: Factory Girls: From Village to City in A Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

"The stories of migrant women shared certain features. The arrival in the city was blurry and confused and often involved being tricked in some way. Young women often said they had gone out alone, though in fact they usually traveled with others; they just felt alone. They quickly forgot the names of factories, but certain dates were branded in their minds, like the day they left home or quit a bad fctory forever. What a factory actually made was never important; what mattered was the hardship or opportunity that came with working there. The turning point in a migrant's fortunes always came when she challenged her boss. At the moment she risked everything, she emerged from the crowd and forced the world to see her as an individual."
Factory Girls is an interesting look into the lives of young women working in factories in the city of Dongguan. Leslie T. Chang, a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, paints a picture of migrant life in this factory-strewn town. And not just by making factory visits. Instead, she She visits their factories, tags along on their weekend outings, as they visit their hometowns during the New Year, as they meet the opposite sex at "making friends" clubs, as they attempt to learn English to improve their lives. It is chockful of details, which managed to sustain my interest throughout. Chang also weaves in bits about her own family's history as she attempts to trace her ancestors' footsteps through their homeland. Some of these details I did skim through, mostly because I wanted to get back to the struggles faced by Min and Chunming and partly because it just didn't quite jive with the rest of the book. However, overall, I'd say Factory Girls is a very readable book of non-fiction. It usually takes me quite a while to plod my way through non-fiction books but this was a pretty fast and easy read, and an enjoyable one too.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Read: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
Much as I love Jane Austen, I've never quite bothered with any of these contemporary add-ons/re-imaginings or whatever they're called. However, I ended up with Shannon Hale's Austenland on the strength of her retelling of the classic children's tale The Goose Girl, which I really enjoyed.

Austenland was a fun summer read (i.e. a light breezy read with little to tax one's brain). However, I didn't fancy the way the book ended. I have no intention of spoiling your reading of the book, so I shan't say anymore.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Read in July 2009

It was a busy month, with my parents visiting for two weeks and a fair bit of travelling done. As a result, far fewer books read!

Fiction (10)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Austenland by Shannon Hale
Drift by Victoria Patterson
World's Fair by E.L. Doctorow

Non-fiction (1)
The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller

Total: 11!