Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crime reading spree....

Been a while since my last post - due to combination of work and holidays, but don't worry I have been reading!

Doing some serious criminal fiction the past month - it's a crime reading spree. Some recommended reads include:

The First Fingerprint - Xavier-Marie Bonnot. Great crime thriller set in Marseille and follows the hunt for a serial killer with Commandant Michel de Palma. I love the way Bonnot makes Marseille a character in the novel, with his wonderful descriptions of the city and its inhabitants. There is a nice twist which I didn't see coming and also by the end you actually care about the characters too. Here's hoping for more adventures of Commandant de aPalm!!

Gone to Ground - John Harvey. British crime procedural that has two great lead characters - Will Grayson and Helen Walker. Their relationship and committment to solving crimes and each other makes the book worth reading. Nicely done. Am off to find Harvey's other books.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Historical fiction - The Virgin's Lover

Just finished Phillipa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover.

Fascinating read. I'm a big fan of this period of history - the Tudor period (1485 and 1603,). There is really is nothing like escaping to a period with a virgin queens, treason, murder and lots and lots of horse riding!

I'm finding a real satisfaction and enjoyment with historical fiction at the moment.

The characters in this book are especially well drawn and believable. Gregory is able to bring out the ambivalence of the men who supported Elizabeth have towards her as the 'weaker' sex.

I loved the character of William Cecil - uber machiavellian political adviser. Scary thing is that he would slot perfectly into a ministerial adviser role in government today!

Will most likely read Gregory's other books in her Tudor series:
  • The Other Boleyn Girl
  • The Queen's Fool
  • The Constant Princess
  • The Boleyn Inheritance
  • The Other Queen
Side bar: Dance Your PhD winner announced - this is hilarious! And who said a PhD was all hard work? Too bad the competition was limited to the science, just imagine what you could with humanities topics!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Literary thriller - Critique of Criminal Reason

Had a few late nights finishing this great thriller: Critique of Criminal Reason by Michael Gregorio.

It was the perfect book to curl up in bed and read.

Darkly atmospheric it conjured up Prussia in the 1800s wonderfully. Set in Konigsberg in 1804,the book follows the hunt for a serial killer.
Adding a real historical flavour to the story is the fact that the young magistrate/hero of the story, Hanno Steffinis, is mentored by aging philosopher Immanual Kant.

I'm not too au fait with philosophy, having dropped it as a subject in first year uni, the book got me interested in Kant's ideas.

A thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel - Days of Atonement.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chocolate – A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light

My foodie reading continues unabated with my latest read: Chocolate – A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light. Mort Rosenblum presents a fascinating account of the chocolate business across various countries including France, Mexico, United States, and Belgium, bringing a real journalistic eye to it all.

Particularly fascinating is his tracing of the bitter rivalries between the big players like Hersheys and Mars (USA) and Cadbury and Frys (UK). And also the national rivalries, just as bitter, between the French, Swiss and Belgium as the nation who makes the best quality chocolate. Not surprisingly the USA were pilloried by all in terms of their chocolate!

Rosenblum writes with such enjoyment, regularly noting how he was too busy scoffing down the amazing chocolate being offered to take notes! But he is also conscious of the pretentiousness of it all, but can’t helped but be sucked in by the haute chocolate terms such as palet d’or.

But thankfully it isn’t all palet d’or, Valrhona and La Maison du Chocolate, the chapter on Nutella is genius! Hooray for the humble hazelnut spread, loved around the world – some of the stories about what people do for their nutella hilarious!

I’m so excited as after reading this book as have booked myself into a chocolate appreciation class at Monsieur Truffe.

One of my new rules in life – I will only eat chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more. Life is too short for anything else!

I’ve also got my hands on Rosenblum’s first book, the wonderfully titled: A Goose in Tolouse.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Glass of Time - Drama, drama, drama

The Glass of Time is the sequel to one of my all time favourite reads, The Meaning of Night. It follows the tale of Esperanza Gorst who is fulfilling a Great Task – I won’t give anymore away!

I finished this novel in 3 days.

It’s a rollicking good read, full of HIGH drama and lots of twist and turns. Some I saw coming, others where a surprise. Oh I revelled in the drama and loved the sly humour!

Cox is able to create such memorable characters, especially the main villain who goes from sympathetic one minute to capital B bitch the other! The narrator's constantly shifting opinion of her reflects the readers.

The narrative is sustained at a wonderful pace, no lulls and lots of action. It was also enjoyable to return to Cox’s beautiful writing, though I found this book not as dense and stylistically difficult to read as The Meaning of Night.

I agree with Independent Review, that no-one at the moment matches Cox's "exquisite period detail, scope and sheer readability".

These books are crying out for a movie to be made.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Waiting Tables: Service Included

Just finished Service Included - four star secrets of an eavesdropping waiter by Phoebe Damrosch.

Another NY Times review recommendation, this book is an enjoyable read about the trials and tribulations of working in four star NY restaurant Per Se.

Damrosch's description of the preparation and knowledge required of the waiting staff (the runners and captains) is fascinating. The section on waiting on NY food critic Frank Bruni a particularly thrilling and funny read.

This book provides a perspective from the other side of the 'food game'. Although it is not quite up there with one of my favourite food writers Ruth Reichl. I could have done without the 'love story/relationship' aspect of the book. Actually I skipped the parts that did not include the kitchen or waiting.

I did like how each chapter starts off with tips such as:
  • If you want to change the majority of the components in a dish, you might consider chosing another one.
  • "Give me" is a very unnattractive way to begin a sentence.
  • Do not touch your waiter.
My own tip is: How a person treats a waiter is always good indication of their character.

I have been on dates where the person does not even look the waiter in the eye. Once one of my dates actually clicked his fingers to get the attention of the waiter.

Needless to say the date ended very quickly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gothic continued: The Gargoyle

Interupted The Seance to read The Gargoyle, which I've been patiently waiting to arrive in my library since I read the NYT review.

I could not put this book down. It is a compelling read that is difficult to describe. Call it a kind of mystery story, gothic romance and meditation on love. To give anymore away would be to ruin the story.

One of the best 'grab you immediately' chapters of a book I have read for while too.

I also loved the 'story within story' aspect of the book. The book traverses, Dante’s Inferno and fables from Japan and Greenland. Fascinating.

Part of my enjoyment also came from the sarcastic narrator, whose jaundiced and cynical view of the world is scarily similar to mine!

The book has managed to lodge in my mind since I have finished it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gothic stories - Oz style: John Harwood

So excited, I've got my hands on Australian author John Harwood's latest gothic ghost novel, The Seance.

I read the blurb and loved it:

"London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child lost."

Cool or what? I know I'm going to be up for some late nights with this book.

I stumbled upon Harwood's first book, The Ghostwriter by accident at the library. I was enthralled, it was a great ghost novel.

I'm a bit of newbie to the whole gothic suspense genre, but got a taste for it after reading the Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.

This book is brillant. I could not put it down, it is so well written in terms of characters, narrative and of course a real page turner. I'd recommend this book if you are after an enthralling read that just totally draws you and doesn't let go...right onto the last page.

There is nothing like curling up in bed with a great ghost story. Even better if it is cold and wet, hearing the rain on your window while reading a ghost story really adds to the ambiance.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food and history combined: Fushia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

Just finished Fushia Dunlop’s Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.

It's a fascinating and enjoyable read, the intertwining of history and food together in a travelogue, plus recipes too. What more can one ask for?

I learnt a lot about China and Chinese food in this book, but it never felt like a lecture. Dunlop writes in such an engaging way and captures the complex feelings of being totally at home in another culture but then realising that you are, and always will be, still a ‘foreigner’ in the eyes of the ‘locals’.

Her affection and love for China and Chinese cookery comes across clearly. There is a real depth to this book, both in terms of research and analysis. It really is a stand out read on so many different levels and also so different from the often shallow living in exotic/romantic overseas place memoirs out there.

I love how Dunlop skilfully dissects both Chinese and Western stereotypes of each other’s cuisine. And interestingly, she identifies how Western countries ignore China as a place where ‘haute cuisine’ happens. She notes that Ferran Adria, the famed chef from El Bulli, actually identifies China as the country above all others where exciting things are happening in terms of innovation and food.

Oh and her descriptions of the food are so sharp you can taste the flavours and textures, especially when she talks about dumplings and noodles. It reminded me of the time I was staying with my family in San Francisco. Every morning for breakfast my auntie made fresh wontons in broth for me - yes homemade pork wontons, freshly steamed and then placed in homemade broth. Mmmm....I felt like a right little Emperor!

Imagine waking up to this every morning:

The book has one of the funniest and touching epilogues I’ve read. I won’t give it all away but it has got to do with a caterpillar and a salad. And the NY Times Review is right, it is a really fun a “swashbuckling memoir studded with recipes.”

Go out and read this NOW.

Plus I have been also checking out Dunlop's blog - cool pictures of red hot chillies - love it!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Satisfying Crime Read’s Continued – Val McDermid

Reading the latest PD James has started me on a crime-reading spree.

Just finished Val McDermid’s The Mermaids Singing.

McDermid writes a quality crime thriller – the narrative is set at a fast pace and the suspense is fantastic. But, there are also fully developed characters and a lot of funny dialogue and humour too.

Plus I swear DCI Carol Jordan's overbearing, overweight, sexist, boss reminds me of an ex-boss of mine. Right down to T. Scary.

And I must admit a crush on the kooky, slightly self-obsessed and geeky Dr Tony Hill, psychological profiler extraordinaire. He is the perfect foil to the cool, calm and organised DCI Carol Jordan.

In a reverse on the usual, I have already seen a couple of episodes of the BBC TV series version of McDermid's Dr Tony Hill series. Called, The Wire in the Blood it is perfectly cast Robson Green and Hermione Norris.
Gotta say, so far the book are just as good.

I’m about to start The Torment of Others – so will be a couple of late nights!

Oh here's another pic of RG for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Satisfying crime read - P.D. James

There is nothing as satisfying as a well written crime novel.

The new P.D. James novel The Private Patient certainly hits the mark.

I love returning to the sharp and intelligent mind of police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh, or AD as he is known by his team.

Jame's novels are particularly satisfying because of their psychological depth - she probes with a scapel like incisiveness into the British psyche.

Her books are a fascinating study of the complexity and ambiguity of human emotions, such as anger, greed and jealousy.

In this particular book, there is also a focus on the love and compassion.

I was pleasantly surprised by the end of the novel. It is really one of the most beautifully written endings, with an elegantly done reference to Jane Austen.

James suggest that despite all the murder and mayhem, humans can, and will, continue to find the love in each other.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New crush: David Rakoff

Another author I have a crush on at the moment is David Rakoff.

Just about finished, Don't Get Too Comfortable in one reading.

He writes with a simple elegance and ease, but can also fillet in one short sharp sentence.

I love the entry titled 'What is the sound of one hand shopping?' which critiques the way it has become deriguer to glorify simple flavours such as sea salt:

"how better then to show a nobility of spirit than by broadcasting your capacity to discern the gustatory equivalent of a humminbird's cough as it beats its wings near a blossom that grows by a glassy pond on the other side of distant mountain?"

Speaking of crushes and elegance, Chandler Burr gives Jean-Claude Ellena's new Hermes fragrance, Un Jardin Après la Mousson a bit of dissing - one star.

Oh la, la.

But still oh so elegantly done, with Burr's rather cutting conclusion:

"I see here virtually total incoherence. I perceive no overriding vision from the artist, no clarity at all. I am baffled."

Monday, September 15, 2008

How embarassing - Mortification: Writers' stories of their public shame

I was reading this book while the Melbourne Writers Festival was on.

Mortification: Writers' stories of their public shame (ed Robin Robertson) provides a sort of alternate view of such events. It basically details in a funny and hilarious manner what authors have to go through in the name of publicity and promotion.

There are some stories from big name marque writers such as Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Coe, Julian Barnes, Rick Moody and Chuck Palahniuk.

There are some real laugh out moments here, with especially
mortifying stories from:
  • the humiliation of flying all the way over to do a book reading in front of one person....the event organiser
  • the dreaded media interview where the authors gets slotted in to fill the 'cultural' moment and immediately misnamed.
  • book signing at inappropriate venues.
This is definitely a book to enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon over coffee.

And my god, the poets really do drink - see for example David Harsent alcohol infused reading. Nearly every mortifying event told by a poet involved alcohol.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Disappointment – Dawn Evening or Night - I just don’t get it.

You know when you want to like a book but you just don’t?

In my previous post I was eagerly awaiting Yasmina Reza's Dawn Evening or Night - an account of her year with current French prez Nicholas Sarkozy.

Written as a sort of stream of consciousness/diary it was disjointed and unsatisfying.

Overall, I tried to like it and factor in Reza's approach, but in the end I really just didn’t get it. Reza describes her style in a NY Times article as ‘impressionistic sketch’ – but I just found it just too sketchy.

Perhaps a case of "it’s not you, it’s me"?

Maureen Orth’s article on Carla Bruni & Sarkozy relationship in Vanity Fair website is a much better read and a far more satisfying analysis.

The photos are fantastic (see example above) and needless to say very glamorous and very Vanity Fair style.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Watchmen - Alan Moore

Eagerly awaiting my copy of Alan Moore's The Watchmen graphic novel (ie. comic book).

As Wiki notes:

Watchmen remains the only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award, and is also the only graphic novel to appear on Time's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels (Go to full Wiki entry)

Moore also wrote V for Vendetta - which was turned into a pretty good film with Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.

The Watchmen movie looks fantastic with a great cast featuring Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode & Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Is that a hot group of superheroes or what?

So, so excited.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Eat Pray Love - Part 2 Rave

Just finished Eat Pray Love - a book written with such humility and humanity.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s account of her year of pilgrimage to Italy, India and Bali, engages the reader directly with her struggles with identity, spirituality and meaning.

These themes, while serious and weighty, are written about in a wonderfully funny and eloquent way.

There is a searching intelligence and also humour in this book which makes it not only engaging, but also deeply moving.

This is not a ‘self help book’. Gilbert does not attempt to provide answers instead Gilbert openly identifies the limits of her own understanding and search for meaning.

I like the fact that she places her own search for meaning within the context of research about the places, religions and people in her journey.

This book is about a person who also searches for meaning and understanding through reading.

Gilbert’s time in India was the part of the book that resonated with me. I liked the way she traced how her ideas and thoughts were constantly challenged.

She shows how we are far too accustomed to trying to find answers about ourselves easily and quickly. As if the any other way would be a failure.

In this section, the paths to enlightenment and illumination are not always the ‘big’ or ‘grand’ moment we envisage them to be.

Rather, as the book shows, they are in the small pockets of silence, generosity and friendship we often overlook.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Kimono - book and exhibition

It is great when your reading a book and then finding out an exhibition on the topic is on.

It's, using my word of the week. providential.

Am reading Kimono: Fashion and Culture by Liza Dalby. It is a fascinating cultural account of the kimono in Japanese culture. Dalby is one of these academics who writes in a scholarly but also interesting and engaging way.

Later this week, I'm going to take a 'cultural lunch break' and visit the Kimono: Osaka's Golden Age exhibition at the Immigration Museum (Melbourne).

Also thinking of enrolling in origami class too;-)


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Twilight - mixed feelings

Stuck half way through Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and not sure if will continue. Though, I already have second book New Moon of the series in my hands!

It is partially enjoyable, but not as captivating as I thought it would.

Kind of a half cafe, de-cafe version of Judy Blume meets Anne Rice novel about a teen girl who falls in love with a vampire.

You can certainly tell that this is Meyer's first book as there are some really annoying things that should have been edited out.

For instance: The incessant and repetitive way we are told on every second page how Edward Cullen (the teen vampire whom main character falls in love with) is 'handsome, gorgeous, beautiful'. It really slows down the narrative and is not necessary.

We get it. He is one hot teen vampire - please move on.

I guess what is missing is any sense of subtleness, or even Buffy like irony, in the book. Overall, I find the characters a tad too shallow. There seems to be an emphasis on how important it is to be an attractive, beautiful, sexy vampire with pecs that show through your tight t-shirt (and yes that my fellow readers is almost an exact quotation).

After writing all this, I have made up my mind to not finish the book. Twilight should have been a fun peppy sort of read, but has instead become a bit of a labour of 'unlove'.

Maybe I'll just wait for the movie!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mid book rave: Eat Pray Love

Not even half way through but I want to rave about Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love.

Sometimes the rave reviews and hype surrounding a book leave you so disappointed when you actually get to read the book.

But not in this case - the raves are TRUE.

Gilbert writes in such a direct and engaging manner, what I describe as writing with a 'conversational force'. It feels like she is having a direct conversation with you and responding to your thoughts.

I love the fact that her writing is imbued with a certain self awareness (or in cultural theory speak: self reflexiveness) of how kooky her thoughts and feelings are to even herself.

There is a mixture of humour and humility in her writing. A rare combination that lifts this book above the generic 'here is what happened to me overseas' type of memoir.

Plus her writing on food - soooo funny! Here's an example of her reactions on finding the best pizza in Napoli:

"I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return."

Side bar:
My version of the book has a rave blurb by Minnie Driver - WTF?

Really strange as the other blurbs from Guardian, New York Times Book Review, Marie Claire (to be expected).

But Minnie Driver as the last blurb?? Also she says something so generic - "amazing and wonderful" - it makes me wonder whether her PR flack actually made it up.

Anyway, musing about this reminds me of this article on problematics of blurbing in the promotion of books.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Growing Up Asian in Australia

Borrowed Growing Up Asian in Australia from book buddy Tseenster.

Enjoyable read with some really moving and funny stories. I particularly liked:
  • Suni Badami - hilarious account of how Asian names cause so many problems.
  • Amy Choi - deeply moving account of how harsh we can be to our families in the pressure to assimilate.
  • Benjamin Law - funny, laugh out account of family holidays.
Overall it was a good read, but sometimes a bit patchy in terms of quality.

My biggest gripe is the 'Tall Poppies' section - interviews with 'well known' Asian Australian identities. I didn't think the Q&As added much to the book and in contrast with the deeply moving and personal stories such as Choi's, seemed a bit lame-o.

Plus, it was frustrating to hear from the same old 'faces' that are meant to represent 'successful' AAs ie. John So.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cool name, cool book

And the gold medal for best named author goes to: Fushia Dunlop - what a cool name!

What a cool book! I am eagerly awaiting my library to get a copy of Dunlop’s book: Shark's fin and Sichuan pepper : a sweet-sour memoir of eating in China.

It is on order – god I love my local library, it is sooo on the ball with its acquisition policy!

The NY Times review calls it: “an insightful, entertaining, scrupulously reported exploration of China’s foodways and a swashbuckling memoir studded with recipes.”

I just wanna read about all the weird and wonderful things she eats in China, like rabbits’ heads, turtles’ feet, goose intestines and of course a real yum cha gourmand’s must eat dish: duck tongues.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Perfumes: The Guide

Browsing through my overseas shipped copy of Perfumes: The Guide - the perfume bible by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.

I found out about this book because Chandler Burr wrote about Luca Turin in his book Emperor of Scent.

The Guide provides a star rating for each perfume. But it is Turin and Sanchez's short, sharp and often cutting comments that make it so enjoyable. Plus the fact that you can rate your 'nose' with the experts.

Here's some examples to wet your appetite:
Fragrance: CKIN2U Her (Calvin Klein) 1 star
OMG PU. Insanely strong fruit meets insanely strong amber. KTHXBYE.

Fragrance: CKIN2U His (Calvin Klein) 1 star

Hilarious - I had a laugh out loud moment when I read this!

As well as dissing some, they also give praise generously and with much wit.

Fragrance: Beyond Paradise (Men) Estee Lauder 5 stars
"Wear it and after a few hours you will find your daily life suffused by the same feeling of peace you get when you settle into an armchair after tidying your apartment from end to end."

Sounds like bliss for all us OCD inclined neat freaks. Needless to say, I will be getting some Beyond Paradise for myself.

Also see, Burr's latest review of Lauder's new Sensuous:
"Sensuous is the scent of Estée Lauder holding its breath."


I am so in love with fragrance writers such as Burr, Turin and Sanchez.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eagerly awaited sequels

Have just got my hands on the Red Seas under Red Skies - Book 2 of the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence starring the wonderfully named Locke Lamora. (Has to be one of the best names out there)

YAY - the sequel arrived!!!

I read the first book of Scott Lynch's first book of his series, The Lies of Locke Lamora last year and have been so eagerly awaiting the second book for a while.

Lies was one of the most enjoyable books I have read for a while. The characters, especially Locke Lamora and his gang of 'Robin Hood' like conmen are so well drawn. It is a hard to describe the book, as is a mix of genres, sort of fantasy version of Robin Hood but based on medi-evil Venice.

Doesn't make sense? Trust me, read the book and it will.

Since it has been a while, I am actually re-reading Lies of Locke Lamora before I get to the second one. Sort of delayed, delayed gratification.

It is rare for me to re-read a book, but I've gotta say I am really finding it easier to get back into this book. Kinda like visiting old friend again.

I love it when you start a great book and it is the first of a trilogy or series.

Another one I am eagerly awaiting the second book of The Magister Trilogy - C.S. Friedman. The first book Feast of Souls was one of the most innovative and thrilling reads.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympics inspired fashion reading

Thought I'd get into the theme of things with the Olympics on - so this is my Beijing 08 inspired post.

Though this post not totally focused on a book, but about fashion and Olympics. Though there is a bit of connection since I'm reading Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre - Dana Thomas.

Eric Wilson's analysis of Beijing opening ceremony fashion is very funny and so spot on.

Wow - who would've connected the Aussie uniform (designed by my once upon a time employer Sportscraft) and Prada?

What can you say, but: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi;-)

And surprise, surprise the French are picked as one of the best dressed - tres stylish as always.

Though put a French man in K-mart clothes and he will still look much better than a American or Australian in designer wear - it's the attitude.

Though, though Wilson was a bit too harsh on Ralph Lauren's Team USA uniforms. After all the 'old world money' look is RL's main game.

Those poor Canadians, though at least they looked happy and proudly deluded.

Oh yeah, on the Deluxe : How Luxury Lost its Lustre - bit undecided so far.

Pros: The mapping out the history of luxury is done quite well. Nice juicy bit on what a truly horrible person madame Chanel was and how she was cleverly out played by the Wertheimers.

Cons: Very patchy read overall and at times frustratingly shallow analysis.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A gothic moment with Poe

Going through a gothic moment - just finished a couple of Edgar Alan Poe short stories from: Great short works of Edgar Allan Poe : poems, tales, criticism (edited with an introduction by G.R. Thompson.)

Some highlights include:
  • Tell Tale Heart
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • The Black Cat
  • The Fall of the House of Usher
And his poem 'The Raven' - try not to be mesmirized:

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."

Read the Tell Tale Heart online here.

I love the first person narrative and intensity of Poe's stories. They grab you instantly and leave you wanting so much more.

It has got me motivated and now revisiting Mathew Pearl's The Poe Shadow.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Wish List

These are books I'm currently waiting for:
  • Stephenie Meyer: Twilight Series
  • Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, pray, love : one woman's search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia
  • Randy Pausch: The last lecture
  • Andrew Davidson: The Gargoyle
  • Brunonia Barry: The Lace Reader: A Novel

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nostalgia for the good ole days of tennis

Just finished in almost one complete go - The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship (Johnette Howard).

It made me so nostalgic for the good ‘ole days’ of tennis – players wore white and there was none of this flesh baring, over the top bling. OMG I’m turning conservative;-)

As I used to stay up late watching Wimbledon with Martina and Chrissie battling it, out the book was a fascinating read. Howard maps out the contrast between the playing styles of Martina and Evert, connecting them to broader reflections on American identity and politics.

Plus the start of the womens’ tour sounded like such a blast, with players sleeping over with family and friends, sharing pizza the night before matches against each other!

Martina sounded like a real hoot – there is this picture of her hugging a net post after winning one her first tournaments in US because she didn’t know anyone well enough to hug. Classic!

The last section was particularly moving account of their divergent paths – Evert to retirement (and of course now Greg Norman!) and Navratilova to still playing on the tour in doubles.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Frederick is my man

Just finished Frederick Forsyth's The Negotiator (1989) - totally riveting read.

I'm a little shocked to find myself enjoying and also promoting FF's books to friends. I mean let's face it I'm not really his 'target market' of heterosexual, middle aged males into action - actually mark me down as totally the opposite!

But so far, I've read:
  • The Day of the Jackal (1971)
  • The Odessa File (1972)
  • The Fourth Protocol (1984)
  • The Negotiator (1989)
  • The Deceiver (1991)

so I'd guess you'd say I'm a bit of a fan;-)

I don't think anyone out there does the whole action/ thriller/ political spy genre as well as FF (although I have been recommended John Le Carre).

FF is able to easily combine fact, fiction and history and wrap it all up in a rivetting narrative. There is no doubt his books are page turners, but what I also enjoy is his writing style: a sparse and factual style with no self-conscious attempts at 'literary flourish'.

What I admire is FF's ability to tell often very complicated multi-faceted stories in a very clean, minimal but above all highly effective manner.

I love his slightly wry but detailed descriptions of the intelligence community, ie. M15, M16, CIA, FBI and KGB. Also his incisive comments about the relationship between the British and American governments is fascinating stuff.

I also detected in The Negotiator a very dry, self effacing humour. Throughout the book there are very sly (and funny) digs at politicans, Americans, the British and also even writers too!

I'm currently working my way through his latest The Afghan - can wait!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crush on Mr.Burr continues

My crush on Chandler Burr continues.

Reading his analysis of a new fragrances in Scent Notes, makes me smile.

He has an ability to write about fragrance in such an original, witty and evocative way. Take for instance his description of Hilary Duff's new perfume:

"...a scent one might encounter were one lucky enough to be hugged close to the suntanned neck of a pretty volleyball player on a Malibu beach: a bit of sunscreen, a hint of the breeze from the California hills and the smell of a girl who really knows how to play at the net."

So good. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The thrill of the hunt - discovering an author

My accidental find, Connie Willis Doomsday Book has become one of the most enjoyable reads. I can’t put it down, but I don’t want it to end either - a most delectable combination of feelings.

I am a big fan of the time travel genre, but Willis does it so well with characters that are so human and believable they make you laugh. I love the twining of historical facts, myths with fairy tales riffs throughout the book.

But the star of the book is Agnes- the petulant, spoilt five year old daughter of the medieval family that the main character Kivrin finds herself back with during the period of the black plague. She’s is such an uber brat, but so funny and adorable.

There is nothing more thrilling than discovering an author, then also discovering their back catalogue. I didn’t realise Connie Willis was such an acclaimed sci fi writer, but these are the books now on my list:
  • Remake (1994)
  • Bellwether (1996)
  • Promised Land (1997) (with Cynthia Felice)
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) (Hugo Award)
  • Passage (2001)
Nothing like the joy of making my way through a list!

Monday, July 21, 2008

'It's just not working out” - books that I haven’t finished

Tseen's comments raise tricky questions for all book lovers:
  • how long should you stay with a book before you throw in the towel?
  • are you obligated to stay to the end?
  • should you persevere and be rewarded?
Sometimes I feel guilty about not finishing a book. It's so Gen X, ‘instant gratification’ type of cultural attitude. But then, what the hell life is too short right?

Here’s my game plan:
  • if it doesn’t grab me within the first few chapters I’ll put it down
  • return to it in a couple of days
  • but if still a no go, then it is definitely a Stop, Do Not Pass Go moment.

Maybe it all about timing too? You want a page turner and instead you get a meandering character study. And sometimes a book is just not what you expected, despite the rave reviews and recommendations.

Other times something better comes along and gets your immediate attention.

Below are 2 books that just didn’t work out. To be fair there a few that I did return to, but still Do Not Pass Go moment.

Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - A Novel
Attempts: 2

A little too twee and clever for my liking, the whole footnote ploy really started to annoy me. I did get further on the second attempt, however still couldn’t get involved as the story was too slow. Way too many long winded descriptive paragraphs - when I was screaming on the inside "Show me the MAGIC!".

And oh yeah, totally put off by size - a freakin tomb. I really couldn’t invest that much time on something I was very so ambivalent about.

Maybe, I’ll just wait for the movie, when they condense the story down to the main bits and action. (Now, that is very Generation Y sorta attitude!)

Patrick Rothfuss The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1)
Attempts: 1
I was so looking forward to this, it got really good reviews too. I kept reading and reading, hoping it get better but in the end I was really quite bored. Powerful magician retells his life tale -sounds a bit familiar?

A little too derivative of Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterful Earthsea trilogy. I kept thinking this is a bit too shallow and wanted to see Ged/Sparrowhawk appear to give it some depth. You know you it's not going well when you wish for a character from another book to appear!

Other books I've left:
  • Michael Faber: The Crimson Petal and the White (2 attempts)
  • Matthew Pearl: The Poe Shadow (2 attempts)
  • Anne Tyler: Digging to America (3 attemps - I really tried)
  • Kathleen Tessaro: Elegance
  • Matt Rubinstein: A Little Rain on Thursday
  • Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Browsing and scoring a find

Just finished Beautiful Fall - was a great read that I wanted to continue. I wish Drake could have gone into the 1990s in more detail, especially as that was when KK's (Kaiser Karl) career really went crazy. But as the title says it focused on 1970s.

The epilogue was also juicy with her detailing of how KK sued her for publishing the book and lost! Juicy, juicy to the last page. As she notes it wasn't for defamation but for privacy, so he was not alleging that the contents of her book were untrue, just that they damaged his right to privacy.

But as Drake argues in her defence, KK already spilled his guts out many times in many interviews, so just how much privacy was there left to protect?

Browsing local library (I do old school borrowing, none of this book mooching stuff - that is another story!) and happened to pick up something that I cannot put down.

It is Connie Willis - Doomsday Book. Plot - young student goes time traveling as part of an academic program to the Middle Ages but gets stuck when there is a glitch in the computer.

Fascinating, page turner which I am about to go back to NOW.

I love accidental finds because it is the universe telling you to read this book. Providential.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Books that won't be put down

For Lucy, my list of great reads/page turners:

Warning: If you start one of these book, be prepared for late nights!

Genre: Thriller
Tom Rob Smith - Child 44
Suspense novel set in Stalin’s Russia.
In this intelligent ‘hunt for a serial killer’ thriller, Rob Smith evokes the heightened paranoia of a society forced to spy on itself. Perhaps one of the best first chapters ever, setting the scene for a thoroughly enjoyable journey.

Genre: Ghost Story/Gothic
Dianne Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale
The page turner of the year for me. Brillant gothic novel about the dark side of story telling and the power of reading.

I loved the fact that the heroine of the novel is bookish amateur biographer named Margaret Lea, who lives with her father in their bookshop. Also loved the way this book captures the Brontë and du Maurier genre in a very contemporary manner.

John Harwood - The Ghost Writer
Thrilling, gothic suspense novel set in Australia and London. A playful reworking of the modern ghost story within a story.

From the blurb:
"An anonymous portrait, a green velvet gown, a porcelain doll, even an entry in a library catalogue can open the way to nightmare."

How can you resist?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When the latest disappoints

Settling down with the latest in a series from a favourite author is always a fraught affair - Is it going to be as good as the last one? Or as my friend T. say's “is it going to be a phone in”?

There is something comforting about going back to characters you really like and connect with. But because you have so much invested already, you can also be greatly disappointed.

One of my biggest disappointments so far this year is Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel: Nothing to Lose. Crushingly disappointing and anti-climatic. What happened to the thrills, suspense and action Lee? I thought this was meant to be a thriller - why so boring? You expect Jack to be the good guy again, that much is always taken for granted, but at the end of this one you kinda don't really care anymore.

The one author who is consistently good is Jeffrey Deaver. His latest Lincoln Rhyme novel: The Broken Window lived up to all my expectations. I think the difference is that you feel that Deaver cares about his characters.

And nobody does dialogue like Deaver. Razor sharp and witty. The banter between Rhyme and Thom is classic, I love the way these characters express their affection for each other by using sarcasm.

Damn, now I have to wait another year or so the next Rhyme. Should have taken time to savour it instead of demolishing it over 2 nights!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bit of a french moment

My reading has taken a bit of distinctly fashionable french turn lately. It all started with Chandler Burr's fascinating account of the French perfume industry: The Perfect Scent: A year inside the perfume industry in Paris and New York.

I must confess the start of a big crush on New York Time's perfume critique Mr Burr. His writings on perfume are so addictively good. He is sharp, insightful and funny too. What more could one ask for?

He kinda makes me wish I had paid more attention in chemistry class! Plus, he is not afraid to pull punches such as his absolutely crushing critique of Hugo Boss fragrances - I must banish my Hugo Boss Elements now.

Another addictive read so far is Alicia Drake's Beautiful Fall, her account of the parallel careers of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Largerfield. Who knew they were so closely connected and at one time shared the same boyfriend! C'est shocking! C'est horror! C'est bon!

Can't wait to read Yasmina Reza's account of her year with current French prez Nicholas Sarkozy too.