Sunday, 7 October 2007

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

A R.I.P. II Challenge Book Review

I lost track but I think I took almost a half year to finish this book. It was a good book to dip into whenever I had some time so I had not felt any urgency to complete it (Edit: I must qualify that I took 3-4 months reading just 3-4 chapters and it was the R.I.P II Challenge that spurred me to read at a faster pace). A large part of this is due to Susanna Clarke's writing. It encouraged that sort of slow reading: It is subtle. meandering and filled with little details which you can savour slowly. Overall, there seems to be very little overt tension in the story - there is no big bad evil dark enemy and the survival of the world does not depend on one clear single Hero. The mood of the book is very close to real-life, which means things are interconnected and the story is driven forward by choices and external events. Even though a Prophecy is pronounced early in the book, it is vague, does not feature largely as a plot driver and only becomes clearer nearer the end of the book.

The central driving force of the book is magic and how 2 English gentlemen vie with each other in the magical arena. But this magic is not like the dungeons and dragons sort of magic, Susanna Clarke does not spend alot of time trying to fancy it up. Instead when the magic is performed, she describes it in a very matter of fact manner. Set in England and some parts of Europe at early decades of the 1900s, it includes some fantasy woven into some real historical events. Due to the era it is set in, Susanna Clarke also conveys a lovely, proper Edwardian English tone. The themes explored in the book are wide-ranging: pride, human nature, the dangers of toying with things we don't understand, rigid social class prejudice, and a hint of, perhaps, the power of love.

The book is divided into 3 parts, which Susanna Clarke titles as Volumes: (1) Mr Norrell (2) Jonathan Strange and (3) John Uskglass. For the most part of volume 1 and 2, Susanna Clarke lays the groundwork and intricate tapestry of the lives of all the characters. I've said it before: The tone of these 2 volumes is like that of listening to an old person telling a story. I felt like I didn't really know what it all meant and what this old person is trying to tell me, but I still wanted to hear more because of all the interesting things that she was saying. There were many curious things, motivations and the path of the story are not always clear so it is not like most other stories where one reads it to find out how things will turn out next. It is a story that is not really completely driven by plot, if you know what I mean. It is only in volume 3 that the pace picks up and events begin to be embroidered clearly together into a larger tapestry.

While I took the most part of the time reading volume 1 and the first half of volume 2, I took only about a week to complete the second half of volume 2 and volume 3. This is partly because of my own reading habits and preferences. When the pace of a story starts to be driven more by plot, I tend to get caught up and want to know the outcome. Thus, I was driven to push aside everything else and I finally finished the book late last night.

I like books which have characters that I sympathise or identify with, but even though I did not get that from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, I felt I knew and understood every character well enough so that I came away very satisfied with this book. Although there was alot going on in the book, none of it was superfluous. I was upset with the ending, which left something unresolved, and gave me a bitter sense of regret. However, I think it is a good ending, as it is not fairy tale perfect. I am left with a sense of wonder and also admiration for Susanna Clarke's mind! How did she manage to think of everything? It is an incredible book which I think will suit anyone who enjoys intricacies and details.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


She loses herself every day
in the machinery called Life :
Work chipping
away certitude,
Obligations eroding identity.

She struggles, but
unlike the salmon,
who knows it is a fish
and swims to a place
because it has to spawn;

She, dead before her appointed hour,
continues shuffling through twilight passages.

© Copyright. All rights reserved.

Friday, 27 July 2007

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I completed reading this book within 2-3 days. That's because I was rushing to finish it by Saturday so I could return it to the library and also I was home all day yesterday. It's a very good read - like many others who read this book, I had fun trying to figure out who the gods were before they were named in the stories. I'm having a hard time with one though - the one who's name Shadow always never seems to grasp. I didn't read this book very carefully. It was more like a fun quick read for me. I think if I have the mood, I'll try picking it up for a re-read some time in the future. Other than that, my next goal is to complete reading all the books I purchased in the past.

Monday, 23 July 2007

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

This coming-of-age journey of a boy, David, who lost his mother to death, was a very difficult book to read in public places. At numerous points in the story, I had stop reading because I was afraid I couldn't control myself from bursting into unstoppable tears.

Somehow, this simple but cleverly crafted tale struck many raw nerves for me. Maybe because it was about a boy, who might be the same age as my son is now. Maybe it was about the loss of childhood but the attainment of the wisdom and kindness that might come from suffering if one learnt to grow up by facing one's fears. Whatever it was, I came away feeling that John Connolly wrote a mighty fine book that was imaginative, emotional and enlightening.

This book had none of the hovering writer's presence that I felt in reading John Connolly's book of short stories, Nocturnes. Once I started on the first sentence, I was immediately transported into David's world, entering his experiences, his mind and emotions. Though it seems a typical story about a child who loses a much-loved parent, and having to come to terms with living with a new mother and half-brother when his father remarries, The Book of Lost Things does not fall into the trite or cliche. As a real war with the Germans rages about him, a battle on his mind begins. There is never any doubt that David is slowly losing hold of this world and will enter into the world where stories come alive. When he hears books whispering to him and he falls into fits where he loses consciousness with increasing frequency, David eventually and inevitably hears his mother calling to him to save her. He decisively follows the voice and enters another realm where he walks the path of the Hero's Journey, battling monsters and facing his inner demons.

Throughout the book, I felt myself understanding more and more the message that John Connolly wanted to send but I never felt he was didactic or overbearing in putting it across. Instead, the Hero's Journey that David experiences enriches Connolly's moral-of-the-story. As David grows in understanding and courage, so too the sorrowful yet comforting feeling that this is truly the best way. That if a child should lose his innocence, it would best be lost to be replaced with these best qualities that might be born from suffering: to become a loving person with a forgiving heart; to be protective to those who might be weaker and even fair to the wicked. David ends his journey becoming such a person and more! How wonderful it would be for a mother to see her child grow to be such a fine young man!

I truly enjoyed reading this book, even though I experienced a roller-coaster of emotions, and ended up tearing or weeping many times over.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Books Not Read

This entry isn't about books I've read recently. It's about books I've borrowed from the library and NOT read. I'm in this rushed and stressed state of mind. I am unable to think straight and the books I picked up just demanded too much from me. So I didn't read them at all. Here are the reasons why:

1. The Book of Dave, Will Self

Promising premise and captivating blurb on the back cover, but the writer lost me from the start of the 9th line of the first page. Trying to be the next Anthony Burgess, I suppose, he wrote conversations and thoughts to reflect future vocabulary, speech patterns and pronunciations. One sentence of "Wot if Eye woz up vair, Carl thought, up vair lyke ve Flyin I?" is fine enough to grapple with. But when the frequency of such writing increased and I lost sense of what the characters were saying, I put down the book, never mustering anymore interest in picking it up again.

2. Nocturnes, by John Connolly

I wanted to read The Book of Lost Things which Chris reviewed beautifully, but my library reservation wasn't ready yet, so I picked up Connolly's anthology of scary stories to tide me over. I read a couple of the stories and they were interesting enough, but John Connolly's writing voice is very peculiar and its dryness seems to hover consistently over every story I read in the anthology, making it difficult for me to lose myself in any of the plots. I am ever conscious of John Connolly the writer, so it made me feel like I was going through an academic exercise, instead of enjoying myself reading stories. I read two and a half stories, then didn't continue with the rest of the collection.

3. Resonator, by Prentis Rollins

This was one book I borrowed without flipping through the contents first. I thought it would show me how writers wrote up the script for comics and graphic novels. I recall seeing something like a script in one of Neil Gaiman's books, so I thought this book might provide equally interesting enlightenment. Serves me right for not checking first. I found Rollins only wrote about the process of developing the story, and that took about 4-5 pages of the chapter. He did not show how he wrote up the script for the comic, except for one page which contained partial images from his original stories and just a bit of his comic script. I suppose it is because he is both the writer and the artist for the graphic novel, Resonator, he did not need to write much more than the dialogue for the script. In the end, I did not learn much from this book as a wanna-be-writer and I lost interest in reading the graphic novel itself. His artwork is very lush and detailed though and he does go into great lengths to describe his drawing process, with chapters on preproduction, pencilling, inking and lettering. I think it will be a better resource for an artist interested in drawing a comic or graphic novel.

4. Before Midnight, by Cameron Dokey.

I did not give this book a chance. I read the first page and then I felt I did not get a good enough hook right from the start - the pacing of the writing was not what I needed at this point - so I just stopped reading this. I think it might be a good story for light-reading but I just really want to sink into some "lose yourself into the story right from the start" type of story. This really didn't do it for me, right from the start.

5. Fantasy - The best of the Year, 2006 Edition

Read one and a half stories from this collection. Then no more interest. Too tired.

That's it. All the books I didn't read. I'm really out of it again at this point in time. Seems like life is bearing down on me again and I'm losing my mental capacity to sustain interest in reading. I didn't complete the Banned Books Challenge, which ended on 30 June. I seem to have energy only to knit while I watch TV/discs (Supernatural, Smallville, K-drama, that kind of thing) and do some sewing here and there when I can find the time. I really need to sink my teeth into some good escapist fiction. Just have to find the right one. I'm collecting The Book of Lost Things from the library reservation counter this weekend. I hope it will be the book.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Tiny Story

Carl V's Tiny Story competition motivated me to complete a story or two. It was a good exercise for me: made me think about being consise, telling a story, flow, plot, rhythm, etc. I don't think I wrote any great stories but it gave my engines a kick-start. I'm getting into the mindset of fiction writing and I will continue to do it. It was also satisfying to beat down my own negativity and self-criticism to see a story to the end. Finishing something gave me a sense of achievement.

I leave you with my other Tiny Story, which I did not submit to the competition. Like I said, nothing great but I'd love to hear your advise and constructive criticisms if you'd like to comment. It's still very much a learning period for me. I've never completed a full story before, and never focused properly on writing stories, so I have no illusions nor ego about this. I'd just like to get started and if I get to actually finish a story eventually, that is an achievement in itself at this point. One other thing I really suck at is writing titles. So my titles really suck big time.

(Sorry if I'm a little incoherent today, chatting with and listening to an almost 8-yr-old while writing is really distracting).


We Have Decided

Mathew wasn't sure what he must do now that their secret is in jeopardy.

Hiding's not an option and running, even crazier. So best thing would be: "Letting it out by my own hands. Yes."

Straightening from a defeated crouch, his shakey voice croaked, "Can't take this anymore. Let's go. Time to - save our world." Cackling with ironic laughter, decision made.

"How?" She whispered anxiously.

"I don't know."

Going through locked doors, leading toward hidden dark places, heartbeats growing louder, blood racing quicker, as they approach the room. Both headed onward resolutely. Two of them will face - whatever, everything, together.

© Copyright. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Dead High Yearbook

Dead High Yearbook by Ivan Velez is a comic that made me roll my eyes in exasperation by the time I got to the end of reading it. The packaging of the book is very nice, but this does not redeem the stories from bordering on inane. I felt like it was trying to be be innovative, cool and dark, but failing miserably because the writers missed the point and focussed on the shock factor instead of telling a good story.

I'm guessing this book is targetted at a teen audience, seeing all the characters are high school students. For a young person who has not seen much, this book might be fun and provide a few scares. It is a collection of stories telling the demise of young people from a high school, who will be entered into a yearbook that is put together by an editorial team of dead people. The characters include vampires, zombies, mutants and basically some individuals who refuse to die. For a jaded adult like me, though, the stories don't provide much new material. Admittedly some are quite gruesome and ickky but none give new perspectives nor do they entertain with fresh or clever twists.

So overall, it might be ok for an older teenager (I'd keep the visual blod and gore away from younger kids), but it would just be mindless and humourless reading for an adult.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Dog Bite Dog

I finally watched Dog Bite Dog last night. It is another film I saw to satisfy my current obsession with Edison Chen. I'm having a personal Edison Chen Film Fest right now if you haven't noticed.

Why do I say finally? It is because my husband bought the disc last year but I didn't bother about it until I realised recently that Edison Chen is the lead actor.

There's already a very good review and commentary on Dog Bite Dog on the Love HK website and at Swifty so I won't give a synopsis of the plot here, but here are my personal views of the movie:

  1. Edison Chen looked good (such a pretty boy!), even when he was unwashed, dressed in a sack and caked with dirt, mud and blood for the entire duration of the film.
  2. On a personal level is completely violent and dissatisfying. But it is well-filmed though over-the-top in some parts so it might appeal to the art or cult film buff. I only enjoyed it because Edison Chen appeared in 80% of the shots.
  3. For me, Edison Chen again proved his ability as an actor in this movie. He was very good in it! His body language, facial expressions and eyes conveyed many nuances needed in a role where he spoke no more than 10 sentences. (I didn't really count but I think it might even be no more than 5 sentences.) I heard from a friend that Edison Chen is known to be an actor who is serious about his craft but he was given 花瓶 (decorative) roles because of his previous management company.

Are you tired of hearing about Edison Chen yet? Oh well, I'm still obsessed for the moment so you have to bear with me. I'm going to search for more Edison Chen movies to watch before I get sick of him, so you're going to see some more posts about his movies in the coming days.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name

The Death Note movies were released in 2006 but I didn't watch them in the cinemas then because I wanted to watch both Death Note and its sequel Death Note: The Last Name at the same time. The movies are based on the manga series of the same name, and are basically about the battle of wits between Light (Kira) and L. Light is a university student who finds a notebook, the Death Note, that enables him to kill people by writing their names on it, while L is the mysterious detective (we find out later that he is a youth like Light) who tries to bring the murderer, Kira, to justice. The other important characters include CGI death gods who are the previous owners of the Death Notebooks, and the owners of the other Death Notebook.

Last night, I finally got to watch both Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name.

Personally, I was rooting for Light the entire time, even though he was the increasingly evil protagonist. Right to the end, I wanted him to win the battle with L and get away with his crimes. He was charming, cool, intelligent and very magnetic, even though the actor who played Light, Tatsuya Fujiwara, is rather effeminate in appearance. In the storyline, Light was well-loved by many people in his life, his girlfriends, his family and by the public, as the anonymous alter-ego, Kira. This was because Kira took the law into his own hands, killing off criminals who escaped the law. This made some of the public feel the murders were justified because the crime rates fell as a result. Tatsuya Fujiwara has the appropriate manga-ish looks and he has magnetic eyes which express many emotions with just one glance. Though he is not really my type of actor in terms of looks, he is still nonetheless very attractive. I remember him from Battle Royale too.

L in comparison was seriously too weird and aloof. Munching on sweets all the time, enforcing torturous interrogation methods in a cold and calculative manner, with beady, shifty, kohl-lined eyes which never look directly at anyone. In the movie, many people were also not very emotionally attached to him at all. The actor Ken'ichi Matsuyama who portrayed L is also not charismatic. So, I really disliked him. The only time I felt sympathy for him was at the end where he revealed his modus operandi that entailed a sacrifice on his part.

These characterisations of the main protagists were, in my opinion, very suitable for the 2 who personify the opposite poles of the rule of law versus vigilant justice. The law, represented by L, is cold, not always comfortable, sometimes oppressive and often non-humanistic. Vigilant justice on the other hand, as represented by Kira, is emotional and seductive. In this way I think the movies work very well.

Similarly the plot with its twists and turns is exciting and mind-boggling. The movies were engaging, but they might not be for everyone. My husband got bored with trying to follow the story and ended up walking away before the end of the first movie. I have not read the manga nor seen the anime, but the movies have made me very interested to do so. I am considering purchasing the DVD so that I can rewatch the shows in the future.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The Grudge 2

You all know I watched The Grudge 2 for the sake of looking at Edison Chen (eye candy). I wasn't expecting much from the movie (I thought it's another toned down Hollywood remake) nor Edison Chen (he's no highbrow thespian), but I ended up pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained by both.

Like it says on Wikipedia, The Grudge 2 is the 2006 sequel to the 2004 American horror film The Grudge. The Grudge was a Hollywood remake of J-horror film, Ju-on. Though directed by the same Japanese director as for Ju-on, to me, The Grudge paled in comparison to the Japanese original. It was a considerable box office success which led to the sequels, but somehow, I felt less freaked out by it than I was with Ju-on.

But as I found out last night, The Grudge 2 is not a remake of the Japanese Ju-on: The Grudge 2. The Grudge 2 instead explores interesting concepts of spirit containment (or the loss of it) and the contagion of malicious evil (without giving out too many spoilers). It is not apparent from the start but the show is not told in a traditional linear time-line, and ends in a surprising twist of sorts. It turned out to be a rather clever script with a few thoroughly good scares snuck in between.

In terms of creep factor, I still feel the original Ju-on collection of films is more on the nose. Watching the DVD extras, I learnt that Takashi Shimizu (director of the original series) had to do things differently because he needed to make the story and innuendos easier for the western audience to understand. I have not thought this through properly but I guess that perhaps because of this that some things are made more obvious and left less to the imagination. As a result, the cinematography The Grudge 2 becomes pretty much tamed down and less creepy. Nonetheless, I still had some good shocks and small screams, though I didn't have any lingering images to haunt my dreams.

Besides the clever storyline, I was impressed by the improvement in Edison Chen's acting too. He turned in a credible performance, unlike in most of the Hong Kong productions where he mostly looks cool or emotes silently. To me, like some other actors we know, he has the disadvantage of having a pretty face, which detracts from his acting abilities. Maybe that's why he's mostly given the pretty-boy roles in the Hong Kong movies. Furthermore, in most of the Hong Kong productions he acted in, Cantonese is the main language used and I realised from scouring the web, he's not comfortable with the language at all. I suspect that is why he has fewer speaking lines in the Hong Kong movies. It is no surprise that as a Canadian born Chinese, brought up in the west, he is able to speak fluently and comfortably in English in The Grudge 2 and in the DVD extras interview clips. Perhaps because The Grudge 2 is filmed in language which he is comfortable with, he seems better able to understand the nuances and hence act better! I'm looking forward to seeing more films from him.

So, overall, The Grudge 2 was a pleasant evening of scary entertainment! I was very happy to see Sarah Michelle Gellar again, in the first few scenes. Maybe I need to have my own Buffy rerun!

Monday, 11 June 2007

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

Fragile Things is a compilation of Neil Gaiman's short stories and poetry, which have been printed before in anthologies but are now collected together in one book. There are altogether 4 poems and 24 short stories. I read 4 of the stories before, and 1 poem, Faery Reel, which appeared in the same-titled short story collection. Other Neil Gaiman fans may find themselves in the same situation, but this collection is worth having even if you've read some of the stories before.

2 of the stories in Fragile Things - Keepsakes and Treasures and Monarch of the Glen - are linked to the character Shadow from American Gods. Monarch of the Glen tells of Shadow's adventures in Scotland and Keepsakes and Treasures is the story of 2 people Shadow met in Monarch of the Glen. After reading these 2 stories, I feel compelled to read American Gods, which shame on me, I have not yet done so.

I enjoyed this book, particularly when revisiting those stories I've read before, as it made me see new details. They all have the unique Neil Gaiman touch of imagination, wit and easy flow. In general, the stories have a tinge of weird and fantastical, even the one story, The Flints of Memory Lane, which according to Neil Gaiman is completely true. Neil Gaiman also provides a detailed and entertaining introduction, shedding light on the origins and inspiration for each of the tales and poems.

This is one book that fans of Neil Gaiman will enjoy owning. I for one do not regret buying this book because I will be rereading some of the stories.

Initial D

I borrowed and watched all 3 installments of Infernal Affairs last week. The first movie was the best, then the series spiraled down into a confused mess by the 3rd installment. I only liked Infernal Affairs 2 because of Edison Chen. He's awfully cute but had very little screen time in Infernal Affairs 2. I wanted to see more of him, so I borrowed Initial D and watched it last night. Again, he had very little screen time on this show but was cute as ever. Since I am also an admirer of Jay Chou I wasn't completely unhappy with the movie. It is a very fun movie with lots of comic relief and exciting racing scenes. I feel like looking up the Initial D OVA.

I couldn't help comparing Initial D with Tokyo Drift. Having watched both Tokyo Drift movies, I prefer Tokyo Drift overall in terms of stunts and cinematography, but I dislike 2 Fast 2 Furious. There are some aspects of Initial D which I feel are nicer than Tokyo Drift though. First of all, I prefer the cast in Initial D, including Edisen Chen (ofcourse) and Jay Chou. I also prefer the way the hero (or main character) is portrayed in Initial D. Takumi (Jay Chou) is the reluctant hero, who has the skills and talent but does not show it off. In comparison, Sean (Lucas Black in Tokyo Drift) was brash and showy. Maybe it is a trite comparison but I think it might be the difference between East and West.

Interestingly, last night I saw Princess Blade, another movie based on anime like Initial D, just before watching Initial D, and Yuki Hime was also the reluctant heroine but with superb skills and talents in Japanese martial arts. I like the reluctant heros.

Polar told me not to write an entire blog entry about Edison Chen. Though I started this entry wanting to do that, I obeyed her. Nevertheless, I will end here by saying I still need more Edison Chen eye candy, so luckily, I have The Grudge 2 on loan from Video Ezy and I intend to watch it tonight. I prefer the original Japanese version, Ju-on, but I watched the first Hollywood remake The Grudge for the sake of Sarah Michelle Gellar (cause I miss Buffy!) so it's not surprising that I will be watching this sequel for Edison Chen. I suspect he will not have much screen time either, he's actually not a very good actor. I wonder why E! placed him as the No.1 next big Asian star (I saw this on TV and I can't remember the title of the show), ranking higher than Rain! I guess it might be because he has this great business acumen, attitude and speaks perfect Canadian accented English. And gosh, he has a blog which ofcourse I'm adding to my google reader. Definitely. Even though it might well be ghost written by some kid on his payroll.

Friday, 1 June 2007

How Much Is My Blog Worth?

I've finished reading Faery Reel, which I took almost a year to read, because I started it last year! Think I will post a review. Can't wait to get started on Fragile Things. It's been sitting there tempting me.

This is how much my blog costs:

My blog is worth $2,258.16.
How much is your blog worth?

Monday, 28 May 2007

I Completed the Once Upon a Time Challenge!

I've finished reading Alice in Wonderland, which means I've completed all 4 books for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. To recap, I've read the following:

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (Fairytale) - Completed: 28 May 07
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny (Mythology) - Completed: 9 May 07
Mr Punch, Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Folklore) - Completed: 7 May 07
Abhorsen Trilgoy, Garth Nix (Fantasy) - Completed

I initially started off with some books I wanted to read but got distracted by others. Good thing they fit the criteria and also good thing Carl V allowed us to substitute books. He is very generous too, offering a grand prize for people who complete the challenge.

It was fun to do the challenge, even without the prize but the prize is very fun on it's own too.

In any case, I'm going to continue reading the other books I initially put down for the challenge: Faery Reel, Arabian Nights and Adventures in Unhistory.

I'm sorry I'm not posting as much as I used to. Some things coming up on the work front. I'll post about it when I receive more confirmed news.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Free Online Fiction

I found some free fiction online, while surfing the net. I read some of the stories and felt they merit sharing.

One is from Kelly Armstrong, who writes about werewolves and vampires:

Another is Ted Chiang, sci-fi writer, winner of a Hugo and 3 Nebulas:

There're a lot of other authors featured in the freesfonline site, eg. Orson Scott Card and one of my favourites from my pre-teen years, John Christopher.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

When I was reading the first chapter of Lord of Light, I wondered whether it was really a science fiction and fantasy novel. It seemed like Robert Zelazny, in a fit of madness, decided to dump a mish-mash of characters with Indian names any old how into a confusing story filled with Hindu and Buddhist terminology.

With Brahma, Ratri, Karma, Mahasamatman, Nirvana, etc. featured in stilted English, like the way old Hindu and Buddhist religious texts are translated, you'd be forgiven if you thought the book is about religion or mythology. You won't be alone. Many others who have read this book have the same sentiment.

But come Chapter two, things become clearer. As you read on, you'd find that the first chapter is the present with the story taking a sequential narrative of flashbacks in the subsequent chapters, leading up to the final scene, which brings you back to the present.

Lord of Light was read for the Mythology category in the Once Upon A Time Challenge. Basically, the story of Lord of Light, without revealing too much, is about Sam, who goes by many other names like Siddhartha and Mahasamatman. He is one of the original colonists who populated a planet and subjugated the masses by making themselves gods. The colonists have a technology which allows them to be immortal through tranferring their "minds" from one body to another. They also have the technology to allow themselves to possess supernatural powers. They keep free use of these technologies exclusive to themselves and make them available in a limited fashion to the rest of the population. Sam is a rebel who wants to make this techonology freely and completely available for the masses and stages war against the gods.

It is science fiction because of the technology and fantasy because it is written like an epic journey. I feel that with the way the story is executed, it becomes all the more interesting and satisfying, though it makes for harder reading. I really needed to use my brains to keep up with the twists and turns, and also had to keep track of the various body changes and names that the characters go through.

Roger Zelazny used many literary devices to convey subterfuge just like the way religion was used as for deception in the planet. One could write a thesis about that clever style of writing. Overall, this is a book that bears numerous readings and is worthy of the cult status that it has been honoured with, though it might take some getting used to, because it is not the typical science fiction or fantasy that one might be familiar with.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Spiderman 3 Rawks!

Boy I'm tired. After a week of fevers, I managed to get better and went to catch Spiderman 3. Like my son says, "IT RAWKS!" I love black-suited spidey - but Peter Parker will always be such a nerd! Hee ... just look at how he dances even when he's got the dark side on! Wahahaha. But I've always loved Spiderman - he's fallable and adorable. And I like every character in Spiderman - they are always so human - even the villians. Everyone go watch it - even though some complained it's such a soppy love story - I think there's enough of everything to satisfy the whole family - love, action and the dark side.

I finished reading The Changed Man, by Orson Scott Card and Strawberry Marshmallow, Vol. 2. I'm now rereading Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut* for the Dystopian Challenge AND the Banned Books Challenge - I'm having a hard time starting on Arabian Nights - I wonder why. I read Cat's Cradle long ago, when I was a teenager, but I don't think it made sense to me then, because I don't remember it much. It makes me think of watching Donnie Darko.

*Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
The Strongsville, Ohio School Board (1972) voted to withdraw this title from the school library; this action was overturned in 1976 by a U.S. District Court in Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District, 541 F. 2d 577 (6th Cir. 1976). Challenged at Merrimack, NH High School (1982).

Wednesday, 9 May 2007


I've finished Lord of Light, which I forced myself to read because I wanted to complete it for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. It's not an easy book to read but I'm glad I did it because it's a good book on many levels.

This makes me think that joining challenges are a good thing for me, because the challenges give me the push I need to complete things that I started.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Mr Punch, by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

So many layers of meaning, this one: Mr Punch, a graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Dave McKean; read as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge, under the Folklore category. (The reason it is placed in this category is explained here.)

I think most people know of the Punch and Judy show, famous figures of popular culture. I know the stories and when I read them in the comic, I can remember them, but I don't recall where or when I saw the shows. I know I've always been afraid of Punch and Judy and I've always avoided watching them in any form in the media. I believe I've been fortunate enough to have never watched any Punch and Judy shows in real life, but then maybe my memory is faulty, because how else would I know the stories? I even remember Mr Punch flirting with his girlfriend when his wife wasn't around!

This is the basis of the comic, Mr Punch: it is about memories, blurred and unreliable, of disturbing and incomprehensible experiences etched into the mind but never really fully grasped.

Mr Punch is told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, recounting his memories of a brief childhood stay at his grandfather's seaside house. His grandfather owned an arcade near the sea side and the narrator's days were filled with frightening Punch and Judy shows, and encounters with
his dwarfish, hunch-backed uncle Morton; the Punch and Judy puppeter, the bottler, who collects money for the Punch and Judy shows; and the shivering mermaid in a tank.

Like the horrific Punch and Judy show, where Punch throws the baby out the window and kills or beats with a stick everyone he encounters, Mr Punch, the graphic novel, tells of family secrets, horrors and dysfunctions. You could even read parallels between Mr Punch the puppet and the various men in the comic - there are very telling motifs and references which are easy to pick up. But who really is Mr Punch? Mr Punch the puppet and the parallel human Mr Punch - evil sinister little man (or men) - who is he, or who are they?

A graphic novel - you could finish it quickly or you could take ages reading it. I always spend alot of time over a comic, especially if it is well-drawn. Always staring at the pictures - so much information in each frame. I can never fathom the amount of work that goes into drawing a comic. I am filled with awe by this one. The artwork by Dave McKean is gorgeous. Very dark and moody, tinged with a deep melancholy, fitting for the disturbing story. The juxtaposition of real and stylised images in the frames, mirror the blurring of reality and memory. This is an excellent book, which leaves you thinking and wondering. I might need to get a copy of this book for keeps. It will not disappoint any Neil Gaiman or Dave McKean fan.

Wind Up Bird

I'm home sick (2 days' medical leave from the doctor, with antibiotics and a swollen throat) but can you believe it, I'm extremely happy?

I woke up later than the usual time this morning and heard a creaky wheel going "ekekekekekekek". Then I went to the kitchen and heard it again, and realised it's actually a bird! I immediately thought of the wind-up bird from the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. I've been reading that book for ages, but only read a couple of pages each time I pick it up. It's a moody book that requires a quiet reading attitude.

I'm almost done with Mr Punch and I'm prepared to write a proper review this time! I'll post it soon.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Strawberry Marshmallow & Abhorsen

I am now alternating between Lord of Light and Strawberry Marshmallow (aka 苺ましまろ, Ichigo Mashimaro).

Strawberry Marshmallow is an accidental venture into a new genre for me, because I normally like dark, violent or supernatural manga/anime instead of the cutey type which Strawberry Marshmallow is. I saw a copy of the manga in the library shelf and decided to read it because I was attracted to the drawing style. Now, as I read it, I am surprised that I am falling in love with the characters!

P says I look like Matsuri/Matsuri looks like me. Haa! I like the idea - cos she's one of my favourite characters. I think it's the messy hair and the glasses, because I seriously don't look that young. I'm pleased nonetheless.

In between reading, knitting, watching Taken on disc, and shopping, I don't seem to have any energy to write well. I can't even think about writing letters and sending out resumes. I hope nobody is waiting for my proper Abhorsen trilogy review! I can't seem to get it out! So I'll just write a short note or two and count it as done. I hope this doesn't disappoint anyone! Right, here are some points:

1. Don't stop at book 1 (Sabriel) without continuing on to book 2 (Lirael); and don't start reading book 2 without book 3 (Abhorsen) on hand. All three books should preferably be read one after another.

2. These are fast-paced, adventure-filled books, written with a younger reader in mind, so don't expect too much soul-searching depth. The 3 stores are well-constructed as a whole: the story arcs and rules for the world the Garth Nix created are consistent and logical. In fact they are quite imaginative but you seldom feel the need to stop to think about much of it at all. The plot dragged a little between books 2 and 3, when Nix tried to make some exploration into introspective writing. That sort of writing is not his strength, so it was in some parts, a little boring to me. And I personally couldn't wait to reach the end of book 3, because I sort of already expected or guessed at what might happen next.

3. The one failing is my lack of attachment or emotion for any of the characters in the book. Sometimes, I even felt irritated with the characters. Perhaps it is because Nix tended to describe them in very simple, often one-dimensional terms. So, for example, when Lirael and Sameth were wallowing in self-pity, I felt no sympathy for their sorrow, and instead felt like slapping them. I have no properly-thought-out explanation for why I disliked Sameth so much in the 2nd book, but I don't feel like thinking about it because that's not important. The real energy of the books comes from the plot, not the characters, so I still enjoyed the books as a whole.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Horror Movie: I Am Legend starring Will Smith?

I was devastated to learn that Will Smith is going to star in the film version of I am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Will Smith is a fantastic action star and I am sure he will have the pull factor to bring in the crowds and make this film a block-buster. However, I am afraid that because it is Will Smith, the movie will lose the essence of the book, which is basically introspective, not action-packed.

The book actually has a very contemplative tone despite the horror-thriller genre that it may fall into. I am Legend is about one man's psychological and emotional journey through the agony of loneliness, how he copes and how he eventually comes to the horrific realisation that he is the last of his kind in the world. I know most books do not translate perfectly into film but I think it will really be a horror movie in the worst sense if Will Smith's acting turns it into just another kick-kick-punch-punch show.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

What's Up?

I haven't been keeping up with my reading. Only just starting Chapter 6 of Abhorsen, when I should really be done with the trilogy by now. I'll reserve my comments for the review, which I don't know how good a job I'll do, but anyway, I can say I'm beginning to feel attached to one character, so that's a good sign. And I'm looking out for the surprises that Nymeth mentioned.

Why haven't I been reading my books? I've been socialising, meeting up with friends and basically spending too much time on the net, obsessing about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfume oils and placing an unbelievably large order for my scents of choice. Right now I can't pull myself away from the downward spiral into compulsively searching for scent lockets. I simply must find a nice, slightly edgy and ornate scent locket to fit my mood. Preferably with Celtic or American Indian symbols but not too expensive, since I've spent too much on the scents. It's a bad thing. I stop buying books to save money and prevent clutter in my too-small living space and end up spending elsewhere instead.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason

This was the first email I saw this morning:

" won a copy of The Rest Falls Away! Please let me know who I should autograph it to, and where to send it! Colleen"

Tried to contain myself - I was in the office - but OMG!!! So thrilled by the fact that she'll be autographing it to me, as I requested. She's kind enough to mail it to me all the way here in Singapore. I'm always too shy to go to book signings and not every author is able to travel here to Singapore, so this is a really great gift from Colleen Gleason.

I have Colleen Gleason's blog in my Google reader feed subscription. If you don't already do so, do go over and read it. She has a sequel coming up - definitely excited to see what she has in store in that book. I can't wait to read The Rest Falls Away, so while waiting for the autographed book to arrive, I will try to find a copy at the library.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Lirael Completed

Whew! Read and read and read to the exclusion of all my other projects.

Now I've finished reading Lirael. It was not a surprise - Lirael's parentage. I'm just surprised at the number of characters I've taken a dislike to.

Will be starting on Abhorsen. Several threads are coming together in this final book. I'd like to know the characters a little better by this book. So far it's been much more action than drama. It makes for a good, speedy read but there's something missing for me. I'm not growing attached to any of the characters in the books. I hope Abhorsen will bring not only closure but also deliver meatier personalities.

I've got a couple of art and sewing projects I want to do this weekend. I'm not sure how fast I can go with Abhorsen but I'd like to finish it so that I can return the trilogy to the library by the due date.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Banned Book Challenge

Finally finished Sabriel - what an exhilarating ride! A fast-paced book where the adventures never let up. I'll try to write a review of the entire trilogy when I've completed it. I've started on Lirael. Initially, I was glad the main character is a Clayr, so I can get to know about the Clayr a little more. I was eager to learn the systems that Garth Nix has set up for the Clayr society and the workings of the Clayr. As I read on however, I'm beginning to dislike the Clayr a little but it's probably too early to tell. I have my suspicions about Lirael's parentage but I'll hold off my predictions.

I was being silly last night and signed up at the Banned Book Challenge webpage, pledging to read 3 banned books. Now as I skim through lists of banned books, I'm beginning to doubt the sanity of this endeavour. I've read alot of the books my google search has thrown up and I'm not interested in re-reading them. I've got to find some interesting books to read or I'm going to fail at this challenge. I want to read books that are banned because of the social impact they might have but I'm starting to see that many books are banned for very little good reason at all.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Good Reads

I'm feeling the pressure to hurry up and finish reading the 4 books I borrowed from the library. 21 days aren't enough! I may have to renew the books as I am still on the first book, but I guess that's cheaper than buying the books.

I decided to trim down on book-buying, but it doesn't mean I'm not buying any books. I might have to get the entire series of Tokyo Babylon because I want to read it and the library doesn't have it.

Good Reads is a book networking site recommended at . It seems promising, if you look beyond the first few books in the Popular Books list, which seem to be made up of the latest best sellers or the very well-known classics. To me, a good book recommendation site/list will include lesser known books, otherwise, I'd just go see the best-sellers list in the newspapers.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Looking Forward to More Reading

My tiny ibook sorta went bonkers last night and when I did a search at Apple Support, I discovered its batteries need to be replaced. The Good Husband promised to bring the little thing to an Apple shop today and I wonder if they will be able to replace the batteries immediately. The Good Husband has not yet called to update me on the status of this affair, so I'm still wondering. On the other hand, if I don't have my laptop, I'll probably have time to do more reading and crafts. Which is a good thing anyway.

I should add the to my booklist for the Once Upon A Time Challenge, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly and something by Angela Carter, perhaps one of those gruesome reworkings of fairy tales. And I completely forgot I have a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell so I should get round to reading that too. I've started on Sabriel and it's a very easy book. I got distracted so often this week, otherwise, I think I could have finished it within 3-4 days.

As though I don't have enough on my plate, I'm compulsively adding this, to my to-do list:

I spotted it at Stuff as Dreams are Made on and I couldn't resist. Will think about what books to read for this one.

Monday, 2 April 2007

A Craving For Jane Austen

How is it possible, that with a deluge of books at home and in my bag, I have a sudden pathetic, wistful longing for Pride and Prejudice? I've discarded my mildewed copy from Secondary school, so I'm probably going to have to run to the bookshop to search for another (hopefully cheap). It is difficult to resist such a craving. It comes almost every month (just before a certain time that women are familiar with). I really should just buy the book and flip through it whenever the desire strikes.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Once Upon A Time Challenge Plans

Hey look! I just came back from the library with a bunch of books. And unintentionally, coincidentally and serendipitously (my word of the hour), I've picked up a bunch of stuff that will meet the Once Upon A Time Challenge criteria. Additionally, I am in the midst of some reading, which happily fit the task as well.

Carl V (the author of the blog) has issued a "reading challenge to celebrate spring, the time of rebirth and renewal, by experiencing the type of storytelling that connects us with our past." He has given out 4 Quests in his post, I have chosen to do Quest Two: "Read at least one book from each of the four genres of story-Mythology, Folklore, Fairytale, and Fantasy."

I mean, the other quests seemed soft, so I've not chosen them. Why, it's not a quest to me, unless I'm bound by duty to complete at least 3 different tasks!

Take Quest One: "Read at least 5 books from any of the 4 genres." It doesn't seem like 3 different tasks to me. Basically you're doing 1 task 5 times, if you're just reading from one genre. A Quest must be challenging at least! So I'm doing Quest Two: 4 different books, 4 different genres.

Anyway, he has defined each genre and suggested titles in his follow-up post Once Upon a Time, a beginning. Well, it's a looooooooong post and I admit I didn't read aaaaaallllll of it (I do get such headaches reading these black-background websites), but I sort of got the hang of how he defined the genres.

On to the books I've chosen:

For Fairytale, which he says are "books containing fairies, the fair folk, or have some contact with the realm of Faerie", I have chosen Faery Reel, which I am already in the midst of reading. Self-explanatory. It contains stories with fairies!

For Mythology, which is "all about the gods", I've chosen Lord of Light by Roger Zelany. This book has Buddha, Brahma, Kali, Krishna, I'm sure it fits the bill.

For Folklore, "the body of expressive culture, including tales, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, customs, and so forth within a particular population comprising the traditions (including oral traditions) of that culture, subculture, or group", Tales from the Arabian Nights.

Coincidentally, I'm starting on Adventures in Unhistory by Avram Davidson, so I'm including that for Folklore.

Finally for Fantasy, "Tales with knights, wizards, magical elements, castles, dragons", I've chosen the Abhorsen trilogy.

Yeah! Now I'm off to read.

What? Another Blog?

Am I mad?

I already have a doll blog and just started a scrapbook & art blog, so what am I doing with yet another blog?

But that's me folks. I'm anal in that way. I like to organise, compartmentalise and analyse. Which explains the Theoretical Linguistics degree that I have and the research job that I'm doing. Which explains the type of fiction-writing that I'm writing (trying to), the tv that I'm watching and the books that I'm reading.

So, another blog. Dedicated to my so-called "intellectual pursuits". Except, try to ignore the fact that I'm sloppy with my spelling and often grammatically incorrect. If I spot it, I'll attack it like a good language-Nazi but usually, I'm in too much of a rush to finish writing and have moved on to another idea before I see the errors.

It just so happens that the other day, while looking for something to read online, I followed the links (as it usually is) and landed on a splendid site, Stainless Steel Droppings. And how serendipitous that the blogger has just embarked on a Once Upon A Time reading challenge!

"The Once Upon a Time Challenge will take place beginning Thursday, March 22nd (I’m late, per usual) and will end on Midsummer Night’s Eve, June 21st. It is a reading challenge to celebrate spring, the time of rebirth and renewal, by experiencing the type of storytelling that connects us with our past."

Ofcourse I have to join in! For a person who has just come out of a minor but long-running episode of low-grade reading depression, where I was completely unable to read, I am now running around reading tonnes and tonnes of books again! I am happy to report that the genres that I have loved since I was a kid are able to tickle my reading fancy again.

So as I begin this new blog and also this challenge. You can come along for the ride if you want.