I read the Da Vinci Code first. You could call me a fashion victim if you like. After successfully ignoring the book for months every time I pass by t...moreI read the Da Vinci Code first. You could call me a fashion victim if you like. After successfully ignoring the book for months every time I pass by the pile in Kinokuniya, I gave up. I bought one and read it. I wasn't impressed, to be honest. I know the book is a hit which really get people to write... several more books on related topics. These books could quickly be a genre on its own.
I was told that the book should read together with Angels and Demons which is sort of a prequel to the Da Vinci Code. I dutifully followed the advice. Again, I wasn't impressed.
So I decided to review the two books together.
Why wasn't I impressed? I thought the writing style is boring and exaggerated: the most, the biggest, the most famous, one of the best in the world, etc, etc pepper the pages. I encounter these superlatives in almost all instances relating to the protagonists. After a few chapter, I felt ill. This kind of talk is too 'George W. Bush' (Axes of Evil? Silly terminology)
The chapter division is also too Hollywood: chapters end in suspense. There are two story lines which in the end, merge into a conclusion. One is clear cut and straight forward the other is shrouded in mystery. The most implausible character is the culprit. S/He does it because of some personal disappointment. What is this? A ready made script?
Despite all that, I have to hand it to Dan Brown for brilliantly collecting the factual data and weave them through fiction. That, needless to say, requires a lot of meticulous understanding of the subjects and brilliant imagination. However, the topics themselves are rather old and tired: Destroying the Church? Evil science vs. the Church? Catholic church some more. Perhaps it's time we leave the Vatican in peace.
I have no problem with good vs. evil story line as long as there are enough fresh ideas and new perspectives. Take the hugely successful Harry Potter series for example. It's a simple good vs. evil, a typical boarding school story in the manner of Enid Blyton but presented in such novelty that when flipping the pages, one have to read twice to really appreciate fully the wonderful new perspectives.
To put it bluntly, I've had enough of Dan Brown. He's boring.
Another disappointment is, the Da Vinci Code is about to be made into a movie but they've chosen Tom Hank as Robert Langdon. Give me a break! Harrison Ford makes more sense. (less)
Marvelous, marvelous beach read. I initially avoided this book as I was afraid of it being too technical and thus, boring. But after reading it, I was...moreMarvelous, marvelous beach read. I initially avoided this book as I was afraid of it being too technical and thus, boring. But after reading it, I was in fact rather disappointed that it was too shallow and was not detailed enough. It was more a novel than a fiction weaved on historical facts.
It tells a story of a young water engineer trying to fix a problem in the main aqueduct during the last days of Pompeii. Harris wrote convincingly, though rather vaguely, about the way the Roman lived during that time, the structure of the aqueduct, and the destruction when Vesuvius exploded.
All were told in a fast pace, similar to that of a thriller. And, also like thriller novel, there's a romantic story involving the main character as well.
Language wise, it is simple and interesting. Nothing of the boastful American writing which I have grown to dislike.
Recommended for a fun, leisurely read under the sun. (less)
The book became a bestseller because it is the 'Kitchen Confidential' of the hotel industry. The writers are Anonymous, a current manager of a five-st...moreThe book became a bestseller because it is the 'Kitchen Confidential' of the hotel industry. The writers are Anonymous, a current manager of a five-star hotel in London and Imogen Edwards - Jones, a journalist.
Written in a simple, everyday language, it tells a story of a hotel manager's life within 24 hours. Each chapter is an hour in his life: the routine jobs, the absurd events, the hotel management, etc. For readers, there are tips on how to get room upgrades, stories on what actually happens when you get booted out of the hotel (on-purpose double booking mostly) as well as behind-the-scene explanations to those smiles and politeness.
I am not familiar with the industry but I feel that this book tends to exaggerate: to an outsider like me, surely the events are not happening in such rapid successions. Also, a lot of the misbehaving seems to be done by insane rather than fully-functioning people with brains. Writers claim all stories to be true so you decide.
The book is neither serious nor technical. It's a recommended pleasure read during holidays. Who knows? You may get some pointers which you can apply right away.(less)
I can't say exactly whether this book is a work of fiction or a biography. It tells the story of Ci Xi, China's Last Empress (the one who arranged the...moreI can't say exactly whether this book is a work of fiction or a biography. It tells the story of Ci Xi, China's Last Empress (the one who arranged the ascend of China's Last Emperor, Pu Yi) in her own voice. Ci Xi has always been portrayed as a ruthless, evil woman with insatiable thirst for power and, in this book, she's described as a simple and sensuous woman who wants the best for her husband, a mother who wants her son to have what's rightfully his, and a I-don't-know-what who wants the best for China.
The book starts off well: funny and engaging. I couldn't put it down. However to wards the end, it gets rather dishonest: this poor, uneducated girl has blossomed into a modern ruler who understands the need for foreign diplomacy and statesmanship (she authorized voting, for God's sake). OK, perhaps I'm not being fair here but the images toward the end of the book are closer to Hillary Clinton among books and state documents rather than Imperial China where the Emperor has the absolute power. All these are true accounts actually, it's just the portrayal that I think is exaggerated.
Unfortunately, the story ends when the son becomes the Emperor. The years following that, actually, are the most important ones which establishes her reputation as a powerful, ambitious, and intelligent Empress.
Writing style, it's nice and simple. Words and phrases flow well. Everything can be summarized in the following excerpt from Julia Lovell's review for the Guardian:
"Considering Anchee Min grew up in China and, according to her author biography, learned her English from Sesame Street, the language is generally pretty competent, and sometimes even engaging: bamboo rafts drift down a river "like a giant loose necklace". At other, less assured points, unfortunately, the tone swings queasily between fortune cookie wisdom ("A dead camel is bigger than a live horse"), Mills & Boon ("Take me," the empress gasps at Yung Lu when they find themselves alone together in the emperor's tomb) and the downright eccentric ("My body fermented like a steamed bun"). "
An easy read, for sure. Can get quite funny in the beginning. And the historical events, accurate or not, are quite harmless.
PS: expect a few erotically charged scenes in this book. Who says Asians are prudes? (less)
My friend, who was visiting from Singapore, brought with her several books to read along the way and this was one of them. She said it was good and I...moreMy friend, who was visiting from Singapore, brought with her several books to read along the way and this was one of them. She said it was good and I was intrigued by this "Vintage chick-lit".
It turned out that she was right. Unlike the chick-lit of our age, it does have a moral message. Prior to reading this book, I read a chick-lit written by a Brit and it made me so sick with boredom: fat, plain, average Jane meets ordinary but oh-so-gentlemanly John who in the end turns out to be some millionaire and they live financially happy ever after. Supporting casts are an understanding friend surrounded by picky, bitchy, back-stabbing girlfriends as well as greedy investment bankers/advertising executives/struggling writers ex-boyfriends. After that trash, this book was a relief.
Back to 'The Painted Veil'. Set in the 1920s in Hongkong and England, it tells a story of a pretty and ambitious but shallow girl with twisted priorities. She ends up marrying a quiet man she hardly knows because she doesn't want her younger sister to marry before her. This husband, though a borderline geek, loves her very much in his own way. She, of course, quickly finds faults in her husband and has an affair with a flashy diplomat. After being found out, her husband forces her to accompany him to a cholera-infested area and there, she grows up.
Story-wise, there's nothing extraordinary: a girl's dream is shattered as the reality is different from expectations and consequently, she strays off course. But the emotional and circumstantial descriptions thru' the flowing and precise, rather-dated English, was excellent.
What I like the most is the way her husband loves her: he is not in any way a flashy character. He is more of the strong, quiet type (which I know drives women crazy with their stillness) and he loves so much that he counts the marriage as a great blessing. He said, (not verbatim as I don't have the book with me), he takes as favours what other husbands receive as entitlements. I thought that is the sweetest thing that anyone can say.
Reading the book brings me back on track as well: a lot of time, I am not grateful for what I have: a loving family, a good job, a modest but well-kept abode, etc. I often strive to find things I cannot have (ahem, like wishing for the Manhattan GM Louis Vuitton bag :D) and forget to enjoy the blessings at hand. I also think of how often we, as human, fall for the glossy outer surface of a person and forget to find the true values.
A good, gripping short read.
PS: this novel was made into a movie starring Greta Garbo in 1934 and the movie is remade (due out next year) starring Edward Norton as Dr. Walter Fane (good choice) and Naomi Watts as Kitty Fane.(less)
This work of fiction presents a wonderful story about fathers and sons set in real events surrounding Afghanistan.
Tita told me in one of our chat sess...moreThis work of fiction presents a wonderful story about fathers and sons set in real events surrounding Afghanistan.
Tita told me in one of our chat sessions that she was reading this book. She said it was good but sad. When I came across this book at Kinokuniya, I was a little hesitant as I didn't feel like reading anything depressing but I picked it up anyway. That was a good decision. I couldn't put it down since.
It is a story about Amir, a little boy who grows up in Kabul and leaves with his father for the US when communist takes over Afghanistan. It'd be another America-the-saviour-against-mad-Taliban story if not for the family saga that surrounds Amir's life.
The story is certainly not joyful but the writer is not wrapped in self-pity. He can even be humorous at times. Language wise is precise and not at all boastful or, what I like to call 'Bush-like'. Every chapter opens up to a new twist. Even the ending was not a saccarine-sweet and happy but satisfactorily touching and conclusive.
Finally, the book left a deep impression on me. Amidst anger and injustice, there's always a little bit of hope, a little bit of integrity, and a lot of kindness in humanity.
Lucy Kellaway is a journalist with the Financial Times. In addition to her Monday columns, in which she humorously berates the silliness of corporate...moreLucy Kellaway is a journalist with the Financial Times. In addition to her Monday columns, in which she humorously berates the silliness of corporate life, she creates Martin Lukes, a director of the British branch of a fictitious US multinational. Lukes has his own weekly column in the Financial Times in form of e-mail exchanges.
Her column, one of the very few things I look forward to on Mondays, is in the line of Fortune's Stanley Bing (who has since come out of the closet and written numerous management books himself). The difference is that she is an observer looking in and he is a been-there-done-that executive.
The book captures a year of Lukes' life divided into months and days and then e-mails. Through these e-mails we get into Martin Lukes: his personality, his family, his job, his company, and most importantly, his management style. Through Luke, we plunge into the seemingly clever and grand but actually nonsensical and hollow corporate life. This satire of the business life is , of course, exaggerated but, in some instances, very real.
Corporate slaves have a lot of to learn from Lukes: a. 'TOAD' management really works: step on the heads of your subordinates to jump to the next level. b. Network, network, network. It is the only way to progress with minimal amount of work. (Networking can otherwise be defined as fanatically and brainlessly flattering someone more influential than you for future benefits). c. E-mail is the best way to show that you are working. Hard. d. You can achieve success by glossing every aspect of yourself. There are various tips you can learn in the book. For example: never say busy, it's 'in demand'. There are no weaknesses. Only Less Strong Strength. e. Etc.
The short email forms (unlike the pretentiously long e-mails in Andrew & Joey: A Tale of Bali by Jamie James*) in simple, conversational English makes the whole reading light and pleasurable. I finished the book in one day flat.
Like any 20 year old embarking into the glamorous life of finance, I too, was guilty of fascination of these sorts of things: mindless meetings of inflated importance which result in much-admired overtime, the must-have Palm V or branded organizer, the financial lingoes enough to think outsiders that we spoke in Klingonese, etc. Then, one day, I met my own Martin Lukes. That changed the course of my life. I am sure you've met one or two yourself and that what makes the book so fun.
When you sigh in regret for finishing the book so fast, take a look at the cover for one last treat provided that you buy the British edition. It is an entertainment in its own right.
The book is highly recommended for light reading after work. I will not bring this book for holiday as it will only remind you on why you dread returning to the office after the wonderful holiday.
*Note: I've never actually read the book but I've flicked through it long enough in bookshops during my agonizing indecision on whether to buy as I had nothing to read. I've never gotten around to buy it despite the 'good' review and good cover (yes, I do judge a book by its cover) due to 2 factors: price and pretentiousness. (less)
There is nothing more satisfying than realizing that the book you have on hand is actually fun and engaging and you cannot stop reading. This is such...moreThere is nothing more satisfying than realizing that the book you have on hand is actually fun and engaging and you cannot stop reading. This is such book.
I picked this book, stylishly, in a used bookstore somewhere in Europe. I've always conjured up images of chic little me browsing smelly and musty but chic used bookstores with sunglasses chicly perched on my head picking up chic literary gems. However, upon flipping the first few pages at home, I was disappointed with this book and its excessive quotes from, I'm sure, worthy and astute but unknown writers. I stuck it in my shelf for months.
Until last week. I decided to have something light to read and gave this book a second glance. I managed to pass through the boring and somewhat pretentiously mysterious and encrypted beginning to be enchanted by the sweet love story that bloomed because of a curious love letter. Helen, the protagonist, a scary but captivating independent bookstore owner, found a love letter from a Ram to a Goat and went on a mission to find the writer. Along the way, she fell in love with Johnny, her twenty-year-old staff (she was forty-two).
She went doubting herself over this improper relationship until she found out that her issues were nothing shocking. The novel picked up in pace and suspense and intrigues from about one-third onward to a neat and satisfying yet unexpected endings for all concerned.
The writing is pleasantly paced with lots of witty dialogues between the characters. My favourites are the mother and grandmother when the four generation of women lived in Helen's childhood house for a short period during summer. The writer successfully creates various comedies using lively dialogues and situations ala sitcoms. She uses unusual imageries to describe otherwise plain occurrences and thus, her novel actively engages the mind.
To describe a scene when Helen's mother and grandmother arrived from a long driving trip to stay in her house, Schine wrote:
"Your grandmother is here," Lilian said. "As she has noted. She's here and she's all yours. What you choose to do with her is your business. But may I suggest strangulation as the most satisfying option." She slammed the car door and stormed, on her little feet in their little high-heeled mules (it was diminutive but fierce storm), into the house.
"She dislikes having an aged parent,"Eleanor said in a bland, even voice. "Imagine how I feel. With an aged daughter."
I read the paragraph, along with several clever ones, over and over again.
Finishing the book, I'm feeling lost and a little sad. It is described aptly in the book:
"It's terrible to be between books, " she said. And Johnny marvelled at the tenderness of her voice. It suddenly seemed terrible to him, too, to be between books, though he was often between books for months and had never really noticed it before. "It's so disorienting, isn't it?" Helen was saying. "Like a divorce. An amicable one, but still."
"Yes," the man said. "Now I have to date again."(less)
In spite of the title, the book has three story lines:
1. a typical situation. An old gullible widower falls for a sexy young woman who is only interes...moreIn spite of the title, the book has three story lines:
1. a typical situation. An old gullible widower falls for a sexy young woman who is only interested in his British passport and non-existent wealth. 2. the title of the book. The widower tries to write a book on the subject to pass his time after the death of his wife. He is a retired engineer. 3. the hardship during communism in Ukraine and their escape to the UK. It starts of as the father's justification for saving the young woman from the clutch of horror but, in the end, it reveals the dark period suffered by their family.
This book starts off hilariously because the focus is mostly on story line number one. The writing style is rather unique because each comment is given a parentheses reflecting the true intention of the protagonist. However, it soon gets tiresome because the situations are exaggerated and unrealistic and repetitive.
Story line number two is almost irrelevant. Excerpts from the book's manuscript are inserted in between stories and even if they are eliminated, I am sure no flow is impacted but the book will be thinner than it already is.
Story line number three is the true essence of the book. Nadya, the youngest daughter and the protagonist, was born in the UK and she doesn't know the 'old country' like her parents and elder sister do. Like any first generation immigration, she clashes with her parents and elder sister as she cannot understand their ways of thinking. When the painfully buried memories are revealed, she begins to understand why they behave the way they do. I also like the peek into the life of immigrants and it confirm my belief that we are all the same: we are excessively afraid of authorities, we try to follow the local custom (and not necessarily the law) to the dot, we are self-conscious, we face racism, we keep to our own community, etc.
The book is rather disappointing because it starts off so well only to plunge to the abyss of boredom in the middle and picks up feebly at the end. I understand that anecdotes are not fun unless exaggerated but, after a while, I couldn't care anymore. Due to the excessive caricatures, wrapping up the stories becomes complicated as evidenced by the unexpected but implausible ending.
I personally think that a little more weight on the immigration issues and a little less on how to save the dirty old man will balance the story nicely. But I guess that's what make this book different from the rest of immigrant tales such as Amy Tan and the likes.
And yes. I was sold by the three quotes on the cover from The Times, Daily Mail, and Daily Telegraph.(less)
When I discovered that the movie was based on an award winning short story which was first published in the New Yorker, I was intrigued. So I bought t...moreWhen I discovered that the movie was based on an award winning short story which was first published in the New Yorker, I was intrigued. So I bought this edition which is published as a movie tie-in.
The written form sorts of explain of some aspects of the movie which I find confusing such as what happened to Jack Twist in the end. Brokeback Mountain is perhaps the only readable story in this collection. Brokeback Mountain the story is bare and gritty as the movie is lush and tender. I applaud Ang Lee for sticking true to the story and yet improving it tremendously into a pictorial poetry.
The rest of the stories are incomprehensible to me because they are written in 'cowboy-speak'. I have trouble understanding the manner of speaking. Some of the story flows are also disjointed. One story 55 miles to the gas pump is only three paragraphs, reads like a children's writing, and has no ending. Lack of conclusion is very common in this collection.
I do wonder whether I cannot enjoy the book because I am not an American and therefore cannot imagine the sceneries and the conditions. Beware also that everything in this book is gruesome and painful and hopeless. Reading this book seriously altered my mood.
Peeking into Amazon UK, I note a mixed review of either a five or a one. There's no middle ground. Upon scrutiny, I notice that a lot of those who have given five are actually talking about the story "Brokeback Mountain" and not necessarily about the other stories.
I must say finishing this book is painful. When the book arrived, I jumped straight into Brokeback Mountain and found it agreeable. This is probably the first time that I find a movie better than the book it is based on. I put it away for quite a little while before picking it up again to finish with the same stoicism one has while going to a dentist. But I did it.(less)
First of all, I am not sure what's the genre of this book. Fiction? The tales may be true to some people. Horror? I certainly think so given that some...moreFirst of all, I am not sure what's the genre of this book. Fiction? The tales may be true to some people. Horror? I certainly think so given that some of the fairy tales are horrifying. Fantasy? Perhaps.
The book is edited by Angela Carter and illustrated, darkly, by Corinna Sargood. But it is the beautiful cover and the classic bound that attracted me to it at Kinokuniya Jakarta. This is one of the rare hardcovers that I buy willingly because of its looks.
This edition is a compilation of two of Angela Carter's work: The Virago Book of Fairy Tales Collection published in 1990 and The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales Collection published in 1992. The latter was published shortly after she died.
Story-wise, it is not the typical fairy tales. They are gruesome, dark, and sometimes disturbing. Children are roasted in oven and fed into their own unsuspecting fathers by, normally, their stepmothers. Mothers get jealous of their own daughters and send the girls to their doom. There are even a few incestuous stories. The stories, collected from all over the world, happen in times where monsters, ghouls, and fairies rule the world; animals talk; and every beautiful girl marries a prince.
The chapters are made of headings in which similar stories are grouped. For example, chapter one titled Brave, Bold and Wilful talks about people who are like that. Chapter 11, titled Mothers and Daughters, explores their relationships.
Do I like the book? I have a mixed feeling. Some of the stories are pointless in their cruelties. Some are the typical fairy tales with moral messages. Even the happy ending ones give me chill. There is little clue, in the stories, about the country where the tale originates from.
The stories are selected with care. There are lengthy introductions, afterwords, and notes explaining why the stories are selected and where they are obtained from. To be honest, these parts are too English 101 for me so I didn't really pay attention.
In conclusion, if you like fairy tales, get this. If you like to adorn your bookshelf with great looking books, get this. If you are easily disgusted or have a somewhat black and white view, this book is perhaps not for you.(less)
I was curious about this book as it is such a hype. Naturally, I had a lot of expectation so I saved it for proper savouring during a recent mountain...moreI was curious about this book as it is such a hype. Naturally, I had a lot of expectation so I saved it for proper savouring during a recent mountain trip. I finished it in two days as it was an easy read.
The writer picks an unusual angle to tell his story: he explores the world through smell. The book, originally written in German, is a story of a young man, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is born without a smell on its own (how that is even possible I am not sure) but instead is blessed with a keen sense of smell. He then works at a perfume house in Paris and then becomes obsessed with the quest to create various types of human smells. The obsession turns him into a killer.
Let me start, as always, with the good stuffs. The descriptions are amazing. How do you thoroughly describe smells? Even prolific wine writers must resort to nasty descriptions such as odors of manure and wet dog to describe their tastings due to lack of descriptive vocabularies. Through his creative narration, the writer evoke a powerful olfactory journey in his written world. He can even describe the smell of a doorknob!
Süskind also brings in an interesting notion that smell plays an important albeit stealthy role in us being accepted in our social pack. As Grenouille has no smell on his own, he becomes an outcast. I guess he is talking about pheromones and Grenouille's lack of it.
Reading the book, I did not imagine the brick-and-mortar Paris but the smell of Paris built on wisps in different thickness and colours to represent odors. It is extremely unique.
The story line, smooth and wonderful as it is, is a little strange. The tight pace unfortunately unravels to a looser thread and creates a plausible ending which is a pity. The immediate reaction when I finished was I didn't know what the fuss was all about. It is certainly unique, it is creatively written, it is engaging but something is missing and up to now, I really cannot pinpoint what that is.
I can wholeheartedly say that this book is recommended. However, like the delicate, wispy and fluid nature of smell, the goodness of the book keeps on coming in and out of my grasp. I cannot really say whether it's a good book or not. This is unsettling, just like the book (less)
This book by an Argentinian writer, who has a PhD in mathematics and studied in Oxford, is originally written in Spanish. It is a story of murders tha...moreThis book by an Argentinian writer, who has a PhD in mathematics and studied in Oxford, is originally written in Spanish. It is a story of murders that happen in Oxford during an Argentinian mathematician's stay in Oxford. The murders at first appear to be the work of a serial killer obsessed with mathematics. To make matter complicated, a famous mathematician includes a chapter about serial killers in his book about logic. It seems that the murder is intended for mathematicians to solve.
I thought the plot was interesting and therefore, I bought the book. I thought it must be awfully clever of the writer to be able to intertwine fiction along the fibres of mathematics theories. However, forget the mathematics side. It is more a backdrop rather than part of the plot. Without reading too much into the theories (which I don't understand anyway), I can guess who the murderer is quite early in the book. However, do not be put off. The reason s/he did it is only revealed near the end, although I can sort of guess why as well. Still, there's a double twist which make me give this book a three rather than a two.
An OK read but nothing extraordinary. It is certainly not as great as the back cover and some reviewers claim to be.(less)