Saturday, October 31, 2009

Read in October 2009

I can't believe that we're heading into the last two months of the year already. Has it been ten months since I've been here? Where did all that time go? Oh right, I was doing some reading (of course, not reading like some other people have been reading. I've only just hit 200 books). Anyway, on this last day of October, I have no reading plans, as it's the husband's birthday and it's off to make a pandan cake! Happy birthday my love!

The Winter Vault - Anne Michaels
Brooklyn - Coim Toibin
The Children of Men - PD James
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories - Robert Louis Stevenson
Something Borrowed - Emily Griffin
Red Sorghum - Mo Yan
The Ghost in Love - Jonathan Carroll
Love Begins in Winter - Simon van Booy
Beat the Reaper - Josh Bazell
How The Soldier Repairs the Gramophone - Sasa Stanisic
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Classics of the Macabre - Daphne Du Maurier
Shopgirl - Steve Martin
I Do Not Come To You By Chance - Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet - Reif Larsen
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick

Non-fiction (3)
The Story of My Life - Helen Keller
The Afterlife - Donald Antrim
The Best American Essays of the Century - Joyce Carol Oates (Ed)

Graphic Novels (6)
Sandman: The Doll's House - Neil Gaiman
Sandman: Dream Country Neil Gaiman
Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days - Brian K Vaughn
Serenity: Those Left Behind - Joss Whedon
Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape - Bill Willingham  

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Read: Classics of the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier

Oh why oh why did it take me so long to read Daphne du Maurier? I only picked up Rebecca earlier this year. I think I always had this fear that it would be like my experience of reading Wuthering Heights when I was a teenager (it was a gift and I felt that I needed to read it. I didn't like it. Mostly because I wasn't quite ready to read it. I think I ought to go pick up Wuthering Heights again. I might be more ready now!). And for some reason I'd always associated Rebecca with that experience. But I took the plunge and Rebecca was such a gorgeous, completely absorbing book.

And then, somehow, it took me several more months to pick up another du Maurier! And this one was surprising. And good. And a bit creepy. But very entertaining.

Included in this collection are Don't Look Now, The Apple Tree, The Blue Lenses, The Birds, The Apple Tree, The Alibi and Not After Midnight. My favorites were The Birds and Don't Look Now. I have yet to watch the film version of The Birds, and now am quite curious to see how it was done because it was not what I expected (random attacks by birds) but more like an all-out, highly organised war. Don't Look Now is set in Venice and follows a couple who are grieving over the death of their young child. They meet two elderly women, one of them is psychic and has a warning from their dead daughter.

I also loved the silly awkwardness of The Blue Lenses, in which a woman emerges from an operation to restore her sight and begins to see people for who they truly are. I think that du Maurier's writing really shone in The Apple Tree, for she managed to bring the creepiness out of an apple tree. An apple tree, creepy? Really? That's du Maurier!

Go read this collection, or any of her other collections of short stories! I know I'll be heading for the 'D' shelf on my next library visit.

Click here to buy Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre from Amazon. I am an Amazon Associate.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Read: Jack of Fables by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham

I've been enjoying the Fables series but my reading has currently been stalled at the fourth book, March of the Wooden Soldiers, as the next installment, The Mean Seasons has apparently been forgotten by some library user - the online catalogue says it's been due back since mid-September!

So I gave another graphic novel a try. I picked up Ex Machina: First Hundred Days by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris and Tom Feister. And I wasn't quite convinced that this was the graphic novel for me.

The husband (he's been reading Fables too) and I even hit the Barnes & Noble to see if they had a copy of The Mean Seasons. But no luck there either! And we ended up reading Serenity: Those Left Behind, which bridges the gap between the Firefly series and the Serenity film.

So when I hit the library this week, I picked up Jack of Fables, which stars Jack (of And The Beanstalk fame), and although I was initially doubtful (Jack isn't exactly my favorite of Fables characters), ended up enjoying the first two installments.

In The (Nearly) Great Escape, Jack is caught and imprisoned in a community where Fables go to be forgotten by the Mundies (or Mundanes, i.e. us). The best part of this was meeting fables that were not in the main Fables series, such as Humpty Dumpty, Mother Goose, and the Turtle and the Hare. Jack of Hearts had two different story arcs. In the first, Jack tells of his romp as Jack Frost. In the second, Jack heads to Las Vegas for some fun (and of course, gets into some trouble).

The thing about Jack is that this series doesn't have that whole entourage of great characters (Snow White! Rose Red! Bigby!) that the Fables series does. It's been a good ride so far, and I'm going to pick up more of the Jack books, but I'll be looking wistfully at the rest of the Fables books, waiting for Mean Seasons to be back in stock.

Buy these books from Amazon (I am an Amazon Associate)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Read: Shopgirl by Steve Martin

Synopsis: Mirabelle is the "shopgirl" of the title, a young woman, beautiful in a wallflowerish kind of way, who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus "selling things that nobody buys anymore..."
Slightly lost, slightly off-kilter, very shy, Mirabelle charms because of all that she is not: not glamorous, not aggressive, not self-aggrandizing. Still there is something about her that is irresistible.
Mirabelle captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. As they tentatively embark on a relationship, they both struggle to decipher the language of love -- with consequences that are both comic and heartbreaking.
In most cases, books are so much better than their film versions. This one, I reckon, is the exception to that rule.

I quite enjoyed the movie, although maybe it was because of the presence of Jason Schwartzman and the cameo by Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters principal Mark Kozelek. So I was expecting to enjoy the book. And it was... well, I'd recommend you watch the movie instead.

The book had some awkward phrasings and uncomfortable moments. Here's one I both chuckled and cringed over: "Her nipples are the color of bubble gum, and the silicone makes them resilient enough to chew like bubble gum". Erm, eew... yet haha, who would've thought of writing that?

That was rather unfortunate, as Martin does seem quite perceptive about relationships, especially the initial stages of courtship - between Mirabelle and the smooth, gentlemanly Ray, as well as Mirabelle and the very offbeat, unsavvy Jeremy.

Yet it's those awkward moments that continue to stick in my mind, like that gum you have to scrape off your shoe with a stick.

Shopgirl: A Novella
Click here to buy from Amazon (I am an Amazon Associate)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Library Loot (21 October 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 managed to stick (somewhat) to my list today (yay!), except for the impulse borrows of the J.G. Ballard collection and the Jack of Fables collection (once again, I'm still waiting on my next installment of Fables to be returned to the library by some errant borrower).
(Note: The links are to Amazon. I am an Amazon Associate)

A Pale View of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro 
Need to read more Ishiguro!
The story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. In a story where past and present confuse, she relives scenes of Japan's devastation in the wake of World War II.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick (SciFi Challenge)
Blade Runner's on the Netflix queue
San Francisco lies under a cloud of radioactive dust. People live in half-deserted apartment buildings, and keep electric animals as pets because so many real animals have died. Most people emigrate to Mars - unless they have a job to do on Earth. Like Rick Deckard - android killer for the police and owner of an electric sheep. This week he has to find, identify, and kill six androids which have escaped from Mars. They're machines, but they look and sound and think like humans - clever, dangerous humans. They will be hard to kill. The film Blade Runner was based on this famous novel.

The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard - J. G. Ballard
Woohoo! I've been wanting to read this one!
Never before published in its entirety in America, with many stories new to American readers, The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard is a monumental achievement by one of our greatest literary geniuses. Featuring such classics as “Prima Belladonna,” “The Drowned Giant,” and “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race,” the book evokes Poe and Kafka, Borges and Bradbury in its astonishing ability to render psychosis and modern paranoia in phantasmagorical detail on the printed page.

Jack of Fables 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape - Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham
Stepping out of Bill Willingham's acclaimed Vertigo series Fables, the charming and insufferable Jack of Tales is the center of attention once again, this time in his very own ongoing title. In this first collection, Jack is thrown into a prison-like "retirement" community for wayward Fables, where he discovers a sinister plot to eliminate all traces of magic from the Mundane World.
Written by Willingham and Matthew Sturges, The (Nearly) Great Escape features art by Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy as well as painted covers by James Jean and a special sketchbook section by Akins.

Jack of Fables Vol. 2: Jack of Hearts - Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham
In this volume collecting issues #6-11, Jack reveals the secret of his former relationship with the illustrious Snow Queen — when he took her powers and became known as Jack Frost. And in present times, he lands in Las Vegas and meets his lovely new bride, a directionless heiress. Could it possibly be "happily ever after" at last?

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders - Daniyal Mueenuddin
Recently shortlisted for the National Book Awards
Passing from the mannered drawing rooms of Pakistan’s cities to the harsh mud villages beyond, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s linked stories describe the interwoven lives of an aging feudal landowner, his servants and managers, and his extended family, industrialists who have lost touch with the land. In the spirit of Joyce’s Dubliners and Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches, these stories comprehensively illuminate a world, describing members of parliament and farm workers, Islamabad society girls and desperate servant women. A hard-driven politician at the height of his powers falls critically ill and seeks to perpetuate his legacy; a girl from a declining Lahori family becomes a wealthy relative’s mistress, thinking there will be no cost; an electrician confronts a violent assailant in order to protect his most valuable possession; a maidservant who advances herself through sexual favors unexpectedly falls in love.
Together the stories in In Other Rooms, Other Wonders make up a vivid portrait of feudal Pakistan, describing the advantages and constraints of social station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. Refined, sensuous, by turn humorous, elegiac, and tragic, Mueenuddin evokes the complexities of the Pakistani feudal order as it is undermined and transformed.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? 

See more Library Loot here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I Read Last Week (19 October 2009)

Red Sorghum: A Novel of China - Mo Yan (source: library) 
A challenging but entirely fulfilling and compelling read of a village fighting against the Japanese invasion of China. But it is more than a gory war story, this is the tale of a family and how it became one.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (source: Goodreads first reads giveaway)
How I adored this book! Why did it take me so long to read it (it's been on my shelves since... March?) It was such a fun read. But also quite quite disturbing (don't read it before you have to enter a hospital!). But yes, do go read this one, especially, I reckon, if you like Scrubs. 

A Town Like Alice- Nevil Shute (source: library)
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did. Perhaps it was the familiar territory - a large part of the book was set in Malaysia during the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation. And that it was a sort of long-distance romance of a different kind between two very strong, very brave characters. 

Ex Machina: First Hundred Days - Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, Tom Feister (source: library) 
The weird thing about this graphic novel is that I liked every character except the main one. Ex Machina is quite a different take on the superhero style, being more real-life (he's the Mayor of New York and his power is the ability to talk to/command machines). I'm not sure if I will continue with the series. But that's mostly because my library doesn't have the other books in the series!

Currently reading:
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella - Alan Bennett
In a Summer Season - Elizabeth Taylor
The Best American Essays of the Century - Joyce Carol Oates (editor)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Finds (17 October 2009)

Here's what I added to my list of books I'd like to read this week.

My Abandonment by Peter Rock (via Three Guys One Book)
A thirteen-year-old girl and her father live in Forest Park, the enormous nature preserve in Portland, Oregon. There they inhabit an elaborate cave shelter, bathe in a nearby creek, store perishables at the water’s edge, use a makeshift septic system, tend a garden, even keep a library of sorts. Once a week, they go to the city to buy groceries and otherwise merge with the civilized world. But one small mistake allows a backcountry jogger to discover them, which derails their entire existence, ultimately provoking a deeper flight.
Inspired by a true story and told through the startlingly sincere voice of a young narrator, Caroline, Peter Rock's My Abandonment is a riveting journey into life at the margins, and a mesmerizing tale of survival and hope.

The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya (via The Mookse and The Gripes)
Salvadorean society is shocked by the gruesome murder of a young upper-class woman, and no one more so than her best friend Laura. In her first-person solo narration, Laura rattles on and on about her disbelief and horror at the evils all around her—but who’s that in the mirror? Laura Rivera can’t believe what has happened. Her best friend has been killed in cold blood in the living room of her home, in front of her two young daughters! Nobody knows who pulled the trigger, but Laura will not rest easy until she finds out. Her dizzying, delirious, hilarious, and blood-curdling one-sided dialogue carries the reader on a rough and tumble ride through the social, political, economic, and sexual chaos of post-civil war San Salvador. A detective story of pulse-quickening suspense, The She-Devil in the Mirror is also a sober reminder that justice and truth are more often than not illusive. Castellanos Moya’s relentless, obsessive narrator—female, rich, paranoid, wonderfully perceptive, and, in the end, fabulously unreliable—paints with frivolous profundity a society in a state of collapse.

Bleak History by John Shirley (via The OLM Blog)

As far as Gabriel Bleak is concerned, talking to the dead is just another way of making a living. It gives him the competitive edge to survive as a bounty hunter, or "skip tracer," in the psychic minefield known as New York City. Unfortunately, his gift also makes him a prime target. A top-secret division of Homeland Security has been monitoring the recent emergence of human supernaturals, with Gabriel Bleak being the strongest on record. If they control Gabriel, they'll gain access to the Hidden -- the entity-based energy field that connects all life on Earth. But Gabriel's got other ideas. With a growing underground movement called the Shadow Community -- and an uneasy alliance of spirits, elementals, and other beings -- Gabriel's about to face the greatest demonic uprising since the Dark Ages. But this time, history is not going to repeat itself. This time, the future is Bleak. Gabriel Bleak.

Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books (via The Elegant Variation)

What does a library say about the mind of its owner? How do books map the intellectual interests, curiosities, tastes, and personalities of their readers? What does the collecting of books have in common with the practice of architecture? Unpacking My Library provides an intimate look at the personal libraries of fourteen of the world’s leading architects, alongside conversations about the significance of books to their careers and lives.

Photographs of bookshelves—displaying well-loved and rare volumes, eclectic organizational schemes, and the individual touches that make a bookshelf one’s own—provide an evocative glimpse of their owner’s personal life. Each architect also presents a reading list of top ten influential titles, from architectural history to theory to fiction and nonfiction, that serves as a personal philosophy of literature and history, and advice on what every young architect, scholar, and lover of architecture should read.

An inspiring cross-section of notable libraries, this beautiful book celebrates the arts of reading and collecting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Library Loot (14 October 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 wanted to make the trek to the library yesterday, but the big storm hit and it rained and rained all day. Everyone probably had the same library withdrawal - the carpark was pretty full and I was actually No. 4 in the check-out queue for once (I've never had more than one person ahead of me before).

The Best American Essays of the Century - Joyce Carol Oates (editor)
Sounds like a good collection!
This singular collection is nothing less than a political, spiritual, and intensely personal record of America"s tumultuous modern age, as experienced by our foremost critics, commentators, activists, and artists. Joyce Carol Oates has collected a group of works that are both intimate and important, essays that move from personal experience to larger significance without severing the connection between speaker and audience.
From Ernest Hemingway covering bullfights in Pamplona to Martin Luther King, Jr."s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," these essays fit, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, "into a kind of mobile mosaic suggest[ing] where we've come from, and who we are, and where we are going."
Among those whose work is included are Mark Twain, John Muir,
T. S. Eliot, Richard Wright, Vladimir Nabokov, James Baldwin, Tom Wolfe, Susan Sontag, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Joan Didion, Cynthia Ozick, Saul Bellow, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward Hoagland, and Annie Dillard. 

A Town Like Alice- Nevil Shute
I kept thinking that I've read this before, but apparently not!
A Town Like Alice tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese "death march" in World War II, and of an Australian soldier, also a prisoner of war, who offered to help her--even at the cost of his life...

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella - Alan Bennett
From one of England's most celebrated writers, the author of the award-winning The History Boys, a funny and superbly observed novella about the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre - Daphne du Maurier
I've only ever read one other du Maurier (Rebecca) and am looking forward to reading more. 
This sumptuous volume celebrates the 80th birthday of one of the best-known and most-loved storytellers in the English language today, Daphne du Maurier.
Here are six masterpieces of the imagination, illustrated in glowing color by prize-winning artist, Michael Foreman.
Don't Look Now, a classic story of the macabre, opens the collection, followed by The Apple Tree, The Blue Lenses, The Birds, The Alibi and Not After Midnight.
These dramatic and compelling stories, together with their stunning illustrations, make a perfect gift to be treasured for a lifetime.

The Afterlife: A Memoir - Donald Antrim
In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mother's death, Donald Antrim began writing about his family. In pieces that appeared in The New Yorker and were anthologized in Best American Essays, Antrim explored his intense and complicated relationships with his mother, Louanne, an artist, teacher, and ferociously destabilizing alcoholic; his gentle grandfather, who lived in the mountains of North Carolina and who always hoped to save his daughter from herself; and his father, who married his mother twice.
The Afterlife is an elliptical, sometimes tender, sometimes blackly hilarious portrait of a family--faulty, cracked, enraging--and of a man struggling to learn the nature of his origins.

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet - Reif Larsen
A bit hesitant about picking this up, but we'll see how it goes.  
When twelve-year-old genius cartographer T.S. Spivet receives an unexpected phone call from the Smithsonian announcing he has won the prestigious Baird Award, life as normal — if you consider mapping family dinner table conversation normal — is interrupted and a wild cross-country adventure begins, taking T.S. from his family ranch just north of Divide, Montana, to the museum’s hallowed halls.

T.S. sets out alone, leaving before dawn with a plan to hop a freight train and hobo east. Once aboard, his adventures step into high gear and he meticulously maps, charts, and illustrates his exploits, documenting mythical wormholes in the Midwest, the urban phenomenon of “rims,” and the pleasures of McDonald’s, among other things. We come to see the world through T.S.’s eyes and in his thorough investigation of the outside world he also reveals himself.

As he travels away from the ranch and his family we learn how the journey also brings him closer to home. A secret family history found within his luggage tells the story of T.S.’s ancestors and their long-ago passage west, offering profound insight into the family he left behind and his role within it. As T.S. reads he discovers the sometimes shadowy boundary between fact and fiction and realizes that, for all his analytical rigor, the world around him is a mystery.

All that he has learned is tested when he arrives at the capital to claim his prize and is welcomed into science’s inner circle. For all its shine, fame seems more highly valued than ideas in this new world and friends are hard to find.

T.S.’s trip begins at the Copper Top Ranch and the last known place he stands is Washington, D.C., but his journey’s movement is far harder to track: How do you map the delicate lessons learned about family and self? How do you depict how it feels to first venture out on your own? Is there a definitive way to communicate the ebbs and tides of heartbreak, loss, loneliness, love? These are the questions that strike at the core of this very special debut.

Ex Machina: First Hundred Days - Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, Tom Feister
With my next installment of Fables still loitering around some other borrower's house, I had to get my graphic novel fix with something new. Sounds interesting!
Spin City and The West Wing meet Batman in this gripping and satirical superhero graphic novel by the acclaimed writer of Y - The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan. After a close encounter with alien technology, civil engineer Mitchell Hundred finds he can interface with technology of every kind. He sets himself up as erstwhile superhero, The Machine, but after doing more harm than good, Hundred ends up as mayor of New York! Now he has to contend with controversial artwork, a recalcitrant police chief and a series of strange murders that could bring the city to its knees! The first in an all-new series from Titan, Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days is brimming with political intrigue, civic chaos and superheroic shenanigans!
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

See more Library Loot here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What I Read Last Week

I finished reading:
The Children of Men by P.D. James (review) (source: library)

The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman (source: library)
The Sandman Library 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman (source: library)
The Sandman series does get better. I especially enjoyed volume 3, which was a bit different from the first two books, as it is a series of four short stories.

The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll (source: library)
Hmm...not exactly what I was expecting. But still, it was completely enjoyable, and incredibly imaginative.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson (source: library)
Ok so I didn't quite finish all the 'Other Stories' as the book was due back at the library, but I did manage to read most of the stories, including the title one. And that really surprised me - it was far more psychological than I'd thought.

I'm currently reading:
Red Sorghum: A Novel of China by Mo Yan (source: library)
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (source: Goodreads first reads giveaway)