Tuesday, 30 November 2004

I'm leaving, on a jet plane...

I'll be overseas for a few days on assignment, so obviously, no posts till I get back.

One thing I like about taking a flight is the amount of time I get to read. I've finished countless books on planes (in between watching endless reruns of Jersey Girl and Spiderman 2 on the in-flight entertainment system), and that's a good thing, considering I can never seem to sleep on planes (what with distractions in the form of cute stewardesses and free alcohol...).

Anyway, books that I usually take on me for plane trips have to be light (heavy hardcovers are out), not too thick (no Lord of The Rings, obviously), and fairly light-weight on literary side of things (there goes The Name of The Rose. Oh wait, I've already finished that).

This time around, I'm bringing along Mango Season by Amulya Malladi (which I'm halfway through already), and The Bourne Supremacy, by Robert Ludlum (which I was supposed to review ages ago. Oops). These two books should be able to last me three odd hours I'll be spending on the plane. Otherwise, I'll just have to make do with Ben Affleck and Toby Macguire again.

Monday, 29 November 2004

Ebeh... Ouch Ouch.

Just got back from the dentist. To tell the truth, it was even scarier than the time I jumped out of a plane. I kid you not. I'm a real chicken when it comes to people in white masks poking around my mouth.

Anyway, the good news is, I have no cavities. Bad news - I have a HUGE wisdom tooth that is the source of my pain. Well, at least my teeth won't be falling off anytime soon. And since that wisdom tooth of mine is not causing TOO much pain yet (the keyword here is YET), I'm safe to let it stick around in my mouth for a while.

But enough of me pain. Let us talk about ANOTHER type of pain. As in the bad-movie and bad-books kind of pain.

There's been lots of talk about Alexancer the movie, and most of it has not been good. A colleague of mine went, he saw, and he complained. He said it was over-drawn, over-blown and overdone. Another colleague said that it was like a three hour history lesson by Anthony Hopkins. Even Angelina Jolie couldn't save the movie, on account of her weird pseudo-Transylvanian-English accent. And Alexander with an Irish accent? I'd expect him to start singing an Irish drinking song halfway through the movie.

Suffice to say, I won't be watching THIS 'epic'.

Anyway, this year has had it's fair share of really bad movies too. And here are three of my un-favorites (yes, only three. My tooth hurts too much to think of anymore painful experiences...):

1) Catwoman - A catwoman who looks like a mouse. Nuff' said.

2) Shark Tale - Too much like a Shrek/Finding Nemo hybrid, too many cliched and overdone jokes, and too many fish that 'walked' on two legs. And can somebody PLEASE shoot that annoying yellow fish who looks like a Man in Black?

3) The Punisher - I actually ENJOYED the movie, but it just isn't very memorable. And for a Punisher movie, it's just.. not... VIOLENT enough. Besides, hiring a man named JANE to be the most macho hero in the Marvel Universe just doesn't seem right...

Gaaaa! The Pain!!! The Pain!!!

I'm really suffering now. I've had a toothache for the past two days, and have not been in any shape to post, let alone read (this here post is an exception, obviously).

Tomorrow it's a trip to the dentist, and hopefully that would take the worst of the pain away.. GAAA! GAAA! GAAA!

Thursday, 25 November 2004

The Wedding Album: Greatest Hits

I have attended so many weddings these past year and suffered through so many bad karaoke sessions that I figured it would be nice to list out the ideal album of songs NOT to play during your wedding. Here it is:

Disc 1: The Classic Wedding Album

  • Do you Really Want to Hurt Me, by the Culture Club - (As heard in the movie The Wedding Singer!)
  • It's All About the Money, by Meja - (Express your feelings for your rich husband!)
  • I'm Too Sexy, by Right Said Fred - (Anthem for the modest mind)
  • How Can I Tell Her, by Lobo - (For those special nights when words can't explain how you feel about your OTHER wife...)
  • Because I Got High, by Afroman - (The REAL reason you're getting married)
  • All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You, by Heart - (Get her/him in the mood early!)
  • Physical, by Olivia Newton-John - (While we're still on the subject...)
  • U Can't Touch This, by MC Hammer - (The ultimate anthem for family planning)
  • My Heart Will Go On (The South Park Mix), by Celine Dion (featuring the cast of South Park) - (features the classic lyric: "Ey Woman! Get back in the kitchen and make me some pie!")
  • Special Asian Bonus Track: Fen Shou Ba (Let's Break Up), by Zhang Zhen Yue

Disc 2: The Rock Wedding Album

  • Bitch and Creep, by Meredith Brooks & Radiohead - (Previously Unreleased Exclusive Duet/Medley!)
  • (I Hate) Everything About You, by Ugly Kid Joe - (For the couple who loves to fight)
  • Dude (Looks Like a Lady), by Aerosmith - (When you're not sure which is the bride and which is the groom...)
  • Why Don't You Get a Job, by The Offspring - (Ideal after-honeymoon easy listening!)
  • The Drugs Don't Work, The Verve - (Voted most popular song among marriage counsellor regulars)
  • Push, by matchbox twenty (nothing like a little taste of what's to come. All together now: I wanna push you around... I wanna take you for granted...)
  • (I Wanna Be) Your Underwear, by Bryan Adams - (Token crappy Bryan Adams song)
  • Nookie, by Limp Bizkit - (Say it loudly and proudly: I did it all for the nookie! The nookie!)

Wednesday, 24 November 2004

Everyone loves you, Danny Brown...

These days, it seems like everyone and their pet goldfish is reading Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code is the best-selling book of all time, and probably the 'hippest' and most popular book ever. In fact, almost anyone who can recite the alphabet is reading it or has read it.

Except me, it seems.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I DON'T want to read the darn book, but I have a weird tendency NOT to go for things that are VERY, VERY popular until the fuss has died down. I also have a weird habit of trying NOT to 'follow the crowd'. I absolutely refuse to buy a Nokia phone because everyone ELSE has one. I steadfastly avoided reading the Harry Potter books until my sister actually bought the books for me to read three years after Philosopher's Stone was released.

Of course, this idiotic stubbornness does not apply to everything. I'm still hyped about anything LOTR, and I drive a Proton Wira even though every other car on the road is one. And I rushed to watch Titanic when it first came out (Ah, to be young and completely devoid of good taste again).

But I digress. I was talking about Dan Brown.

Everywhere I go, people are talking about The Da Vinci Code. They wax lyrical about the pace, the plot, about how good it is, how fast they finished it, how the story is so brilliant, how it is so un-put-down-able, and how I absolutely HAVE to read it. Some even quote the title endlessly, as if reading the book was a pre-requisite to being considered a 'serious reader'.

Well, here is ONE person who won't be reading it. At least not YET.

My sister brought me Deception Point and Angels & Demons all the way from US, but I have not read them because I want to read The Da Vinci Code first. And I don't have a copy. With all the cashing in on the book going on right now, I'm frankly sick of it.

I saw THREE different covers of the book in Kinokuniya, and even The Da Vinci Code: Special Illustrated Edition! To add to that, check out the entries for 'Da Vinci Code' on Amazon here, and you'll find over 8000 titles, including the following books (besides the ACTUAL book itself):

  • Breaking The Da Vinci Code : Answers to the Questions Everybody's Asking
  • Cracking the Da Vinci Code : The Unauthorized Guide to the Facts
  • Cracking Da Vinci's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts
  • Da Vinci Code Decoded: The Truth Behind the New York Times #1 Bestseller
  • Depth and Details - A Reader's Guide to Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code
  • Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code
  • Solving The Da Vinci Code Mystery
  • The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction
  • The Da Vinci Deception
  • The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code
  • The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response
  • Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know

It's all getting a little silly, if you ask me. What next? The Idiot's Guide to The Da Vinci Code? Chicken Soup for the Da Vinci Coder? Oooh, oooh, what about The Da Vinci Code Pop-up Book for Kids?

That is why I shall abstain from reading the darn book until EVERYONE else has stopped TALKING about the darn tome. I shall also try NOT to use the book's title here in the blog until I actually start reading it, and shall henceforth refer to it as THAT BOOK.

I know I WILL eventually read the book though. It may be sooner, it may be later, but I WILL read the damn thing. Of course, at this rate, I'll probably only read it just before the movie is released...

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Poor Frodo...


Book Review: King of Foxes (Raymond E. Feist)

Raymond E. Feist is probably one of the better writers of popular fantasy around. Although his stories do tend to be slightly formulaic, his writing is at least well-paced and his characters are generally quite interesting (in fact, Pug is one of my favorite characters in modern fantasy right now).

He's had quite a few series' out already, but his best is undoubtedly his debut - Magician. Magician is one book I'd recommend to anyone who wants a good fantasy story where the plot is reasonably exciting, the concept is good but not too complex, and where the characters do not spend the first 300 pages traipsing around a haunted forest and being rescued by fat blokes with colorful clothes.

King of Foxes is the second book in the Conclave of Shadows trilogy. I'll be getting hold of the third book, Exile's Return later this week. For the time being, here's the review of KoF:

-------------------------------------------------------------



Title: King of Foxes (Book 2 in the Conclave of Shadows)

Author: Raymond E. Feist

Synopsis:
Talon, orphan of the Orosini tribe and last of his people has been transformed by the Conclave of Shadows from a trusting young boy to the dashing young nobleman Talwin Hawkins: educated, confident and now Roldem's premier swordsman.

But still his lust for vengeance will not be sated until the reason for the massacres has been uncovered and their architect revealed and punished. The Conclave demands its price from Tal: he must gather information on Laso Varen, a magician of terrible power and subtle craft, dangerous beyond contemplation.

To do this means service with the sorcerer's master, Duke Kaspar of Olasko - and swearing loyalty to the very man he suspects of killing his family, even if it means becoming the Duke's right-hand and tracking down his enemies - the members of the Conclave and Talon's own friends.

Main characters:
  • Talon of the Silver Hawk a.k.a. Talwin Hawkins: The last of the Orosini people, transformed by the Conclave of Shadows from a trusting young boy to a dashing young nobleman
  • Duke Kaspar - The ruler of Olasko, who plans on expanding his power. Also the man who ordered the massacre of Talon's people
  • Laso Varen - Kaspar's 'advisor', a very powerful dark magician
  • Pug - The legendary 'Black Sorceror' and leader of the Conclave of Shadows

What I liked:

  • You'd have to read the first book - Talon of the Silver Hawk - to get a better idea of the characters, but the events in the first book are recapped well here, so it can actually stand on its own
  • One major twist that I really did not expect (although on hindsight, maybe I SHOULD have)
  • A few nice touches that made the story a lot more interesting
  • Story was simple enough, but well-paced and entertaining with no boring moments
  • Pug!

What I didn't like:

  • The ending seemed a bit rushed and conclusive
  • Some parts were just a little too predictable
  • Things seem just a little TOO easy for Talon. One just KNOWS he will get through everything unscathed
  • Some parts might be slightly confusing for those who do not know the entire history of Pug and Feist's world.
  • Not enough Pug!

Summary:

All in all, this is a pretty good book from Feist, whose record has been pretty consistent. It may be slightly formulaic and predictable, but at least it's well-paced and entertaining. I finished in just over a day, and actually made me want to get the third book immediately.

It DOES help if one has read the Riftwar trilogy (starting with Magician), and The Serpantwar Saga, because it references the events in these books sometimes. Also, I'd still recommend reading Feist's earlier books, just to get to know Pug better, because he is really one of the better characters ever created in modern fantasy.


Sunday, 21 November 2004

How to Assemble a Bookcase: An Expert Opinion

a.ka. How to Screw Up while Assembling a Bookcase

1) Don't read the instruction manual. You can do this on your own! (After all, there ARE only thirty different pieces of wood)
2) Assemble the bookcase downstairs (Even though it's meant to go into the room on the second floor)
3) Don't bother measuring the bookcase to make sure it fits through the doorway.
4) Lose some screws
5) Fit the shelves the other way around
6) Use a normal flathead screwdriver on a Phillips screw
7) Don't bother checking that the backboard is fitted properly before banging in the nails
8) Conveniently forget to put in a piece and try to discover it only when you're halfway through hammering the nails (Act surprise)
9) Hammer the nails as enthusiastically as you can and try to bend them in half. Better yet, aim for your own finger
10) Always, ALWAYS, assemble it on your own, even if the bookcase weighs a ton, and is twice your height.

Book Review: The Name of The Rose (Umberto Eco)

Today, we celebrate a momentous occasion. A day like none before, a day to celebrate! On this day, after two long years, Eyeris has finally finished The Name of a Rose!

I would like to dedicate this incredible accomplishment to my good friend EW, who lent me the book two years ago, and over these two years, never complained that I was hogging her book, or nagged me to return it (much).

Ok. Enough sarcasm. On with the review.

----------------------------------------------------------



Title: The Name of The Rose

Author: Umberto Eco

Synopsis:
Set in Italy in the Middle Ages, this is not only a narrative of a murder investigation in a monastery in 1327, but also a chronicle of the 14th century religious wars, a history of monastic orders, and a compendium of heretical movements.

One after the other, half a dozen monks are found murdered in the most bizarre of ways. A learned Franciscan who is sent to solve the mysteries finds himself involved in the frightening events.

Main Characters:

  • William of Baskerville - The 'detective' in the book. A Franciscan monk who is extremely proud of his own intellect, has deductive powers that could rival Sherlock Holmes', as well as a burning obsession with learning and knowing the truth of things.
  • Adso of Melk - The narrator. At the time of the murders, he is a naive novice monk sent to serve William, and ends up playing a big part in the events at the abbey
What I liked:

  • The plot, the plot!
  • You just have to admire the way the labyrinth was mapped out. Am not sure whether it is actually Eco who came up with it, but it's pretty darn brilliant.
  • William of Baskerville is an intriguing character with lots of layers, and different sides to his personality. Plus he is a pretty good detective, and capable of sarcasm as well!
  • Some nice moments, especially when William is explaining stuff to Adso. William's experience makes for a great foil to Adso's young and naive personality

What I didn't like:

  • VEEEEERY slow in some parts, especially the beginning.
  • Too many pages taken to explain religious theologies, descriptions of doors (!), historical occurrences, and discussions regarding of heretics.
  • I REALLY didn't see the point of some parts that just did not seem to do anything to advance the plot.
Summary:
I can thoroughly understand why some people consider this a classic. The plot is brilliant, the characters are endearing, and some of the concepts here are really good.

However, I found reading this book a little tedious because, being use to faster paced books, this extremely leisurely-paced book got me dozing off in some parts. Spending an entire chapter describing the carvings on a DOOR did not endear me to the book much, and neither did the endless lectures/monologues/debates/sermons regarding religious issues, history and other heavy stuff.

However, now that I think back about it, a lot of it was pretty essential to the plot (though some huge chunks were largely irrelevant as well, IMHO). I won't spoil the book for those who have not read it, but all I can say is that after suffering through the boring parts, seeing it all come together eventually was pretty amazing.

Despite all the boring bits, the overall feel after finishing the book was one of satisfaction (and not just because I took so long to finish it!). It made me want to read it again, just to see what I missed, and to recap the entire story again. A book that makes you want to read it again is either very confusing, or very intriguing. Fortunately, TNOTR is the latter.

All in all, The Name of The Rose is a little tedious, but also an ultimately satisfying read.

PS: BTW, can somebody PLEASE tell me what the title has to do with the story?

Friday, 19 November 2004

The end is near....

No, the world is not ending. But a much more momentous occasion is drawing near... The Last Page of The Name of The Rose!!!

YES! I'm down to the final 100 pages of TNOTR!

The book picks up towards the end, so I'm having no problems with reading it now. Let's hope I can finish it tonight so everyone can be spared anymore mention of me not finishing the darn book.

Ok, back to reading...


Thursday, 18 November 2004

Jimmy Eats the World's Future

While this is technically supposed to be a 'book blog', there is only so much you can write about books that hasn't been written to death about already. And since I STILL have not finished The Name of the Rose (but I'm almost there!), or any other book, for that matter; I shall refrain from writing about them for this post. Instead, I shall review a music record, in this case - Jimmy Eat World's Futures.



I usually don't buy many music CDs (I prefer buying books and toys). In fact, unlike some of my friends, I only buy an average of one CD every few months. My last purchase was Green Day's American Idiot, and THAT CD has not left my car CD player ever since I bought it two months ago. Until now, that is.

Jimmy Eat World is one of my favorite bands, and when I saw their newest album - Futures - on sale, I simply had to buy it, and now it's taken over Green Day as the resident CD in the car CD player.

Futures is another Jimmy Eat World's follow-up to 2002's Bleed American, which featured lots of great songs like The Middle and Sweetness. Futures follows in pretty much the same vein as BA: nice melodies, catchy lyrics and a certain melancholic sweetness to the songs. There's even a silhouette of the Petronas towers on the album notes!

Bleed American was one of my favorite albums ever, mainly because the band's songs are not just about noise, loud riffs and pounding drumbeats. Their songs have nice melodies that are not just catchy, but in a way, are pretty melancholy as well. While I'm happy that they did Futures in pretty much that same style, at the same time, I'm also a bit disappointed that they did not try something different.

But I'm not complaining TOO much because I've always been a sucker for melancholic rock songs (which explains why my all time favorite song is Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls). And Futures has loads of these kind of songs, such as the title track, the first single Pain, 23, and Polaris.

I may not be a music expert like some people I know, but I know what I like. I like rock songs with nice melodies. I like catchy tunes that have emotion. Even though I like to tell people that I don't listen to anything without electric guitars, I also don't listen to EVERYthing WITH electric guitars. Bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte are loud, but their songs a so predictably loud and monotonous that I get bored after the second time I've heard it.

Bands like Jimmy Eat World, Oasis, Goo Goo Dolls, The All-American Rejects and Third Eye Blind rank very highly on my 'favorite albums' list because they fulfill my criteria, that is:
  • Melodic and catchy tune, usually with some soaring moments that just lift your heart
  • Easy to sing (or scream while in a car)
  • Some melancholic moments that tend to make me feel a little emotional
  • Interesting lyrics, some of which made me wanna quote it over and over again

That's just a part of my criteria. Of course, I also like other bands and songs that DON'T feature any of the above criteria. But these don't get a permanent spot in my CD player, only on my PC in mp3 format. Downloaded.

I believe in the principle that if only ONE song in the album is worth listening to, then the album is not worth owning. But if more than 5 songs are good, then I'll delete the files in my PC, and go get the album. Futures is one such album.


Wednesday, 17 November 2004

Lessons from Tolkien

The title of this New Straits Times feature yesterday - Lessons from Tolkien - had me flipping immediately to the page to read the story. Disappointingly, Tolkien was only mentioned in the first four paragraphs of the story, after which it goes on telling the life story of a Malaysian author/pastor who has read LOTR seven times, and learnt a few lessons from it. A rather misleading headline, if you ask me.

Anyway, while we're on the subject of Tolkien and LOTR, here are some of the lessons I have learnt from the novels. Here they are:
  • Always bring a torchlight when going into dark caves.
  • Always bring a friend when going to unpleasant places full of ash and dust.
  • Always have a Plan B, especially if all your hopes rests on two puny hobbits who hug and cry all the time.
  • Don't show your jewelry to strangers. They might want it too.
  • Don't be too possessive of your jewelry. You might end up talking to yourself and coughing a lot
  • Don't bring an axe to an Ent's Hari Raya open house.
  • Don't break your promises. You might end up as a ghost, waiting in a dark cave for a smelly git with a sword to come and release you.
  • If you get lost, smell your way out.
  • If you have a magic ring that allows you to become invisible, don't tell your wizard friend.
  • Make sure your son is REALLY dead before burning him at the pyre.
  • Mushrooms are good.
  • Never try to blindfold a person as stubborn as a dwarf.
  • Never trust a wizard who spent his entire life learning about the bad guys.
  • Never trust an employee who used to work for a wizard who spent his entire life learning about the bad guys.
  • There is always time for food (especially second breakfasts), even if you are on a mission to save the world.
  • When establishing a legend or prophecy to make yourself invincible, use the word 'HUMANS' instead of 'MEN' in the clause.
  • When you're stuck on the top of a tower or losing a battle, don't worry. The Eagles will always come.
  • When you're feeling sad, gloomy or just plain scared because some evil wraiths are after you - don't worry. Just sing!
  • If you're gonna put all your power into a single object, don't put it in a golden ring. Put it in a safe-deposit box or a fixed deposit account. That way, even if you end up as a burning eye at the top of a tower for a few million years, you can still collect interest.

Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Progress Report on a Rose's Name

It's hard to get yourself going again when you've spent the last five days lazing around the house, eating, sleeping, reading, and taking a trip to Penang to laze around, eat, sleep and read all over again. I'm back at work now while the rest of Malaysia is still on holiday, but I just can't bring myself to even open my work folder.

Anyway, last week was an eventful week, what with attending friends' weddings, enduring visiting relatives (who kept asking me when I will be getting married), and visiting a sick grandparent; all of which gave me a lot of things to think about during the otherwise lazy holiday.

Not surprisingly, reading was not on top of my to-do list, not with so many things going on, but I still managed to get through another quarter of The Name of A Rose (this is getting tired I know, I really need to finish this book...), and found that, just like Lord of the Rings, things REALLY start happening halfway through the book. In other words, after all the introductions, descriptions of the abbey, historical recollections and idle chatter have been taken care off. I'm now at the part where things are getting interesting, where the investigation is REALLY starting to become more than just a series of conversations with assorted monks. So, thankfully, I think I should be able to finish it soon... I hope.

Friday, 12 November 2004

Happy, happy, happy, happy Holiday!

First off, Happy Deepavali (yes I know it was yesterday), and Selamat Hari Raya to everyone; regardless of whether you celebrate the festivals or not, because chances are you'll be celebrating the loooong holiday anyway.

I'm spending my holidays alternating between clearing out some junk in my house, fixing up some much-needed new bookshelves we just bought from IKEA, and going out to Ampang Point SF Coffee to lepak and at least TRY to finish The Name of the Rose before the end of the holiday.

If there are no updates here until next Tuesday, it'll either be because my Internet connection at home isn't exactly up to Broadband standard and I'm lazy to dial into Jaring; or because I'm just too plain lazy to write anything.

Well, it IS a holiday after all...


Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Book clubbing?

Yesterday, The Visitor pointed me to a feature in the New Straits Times about Fiction and Friends, a book club in the Klang Valley.

Apparently, this group meets up once every month or so to 'discuss' a certain book that was assigned in the previous meeting. What EXACTLY they discuss is not stated in the article (though I would very much like to know), but therein lies my perplexity at the whole idea.

The last time I had to 'discuss' a book was four years back when I was still in university, and my lecturer on 'Novels and Literature' assigned us to read a certain novel and 'discuss' it in an essay. While writing that essay was easy enough (especially when you have a good capacity for writing bull-poo), I found myself not enjoying the novel as much as I would have liked, mainly because I felt I was FORCED to read it.

I wonder if the members of Fiction and Friends feel that way when they are assigned a book. One member is quoted saying that the reason she keeps going back to the meetings is because of the "Satisfaction of reading a book that you don't want to read, or one that we might not have read out of our own choice".

Maybe they wouldn't feel the way I do about being forced to read a book I DON'T want to read (as opposed to those that I WANT to read because I SHOULD be reading it. See previous posts). Or maybe they don't really have as many books to read as some of us do?

Anyway, who am I to judge what other people like to do with their books? After all, I LOVE discussing the intricate elaborations and meaning behind Terry Pratchett's eccentric revelations on Death and Music with Rocks in It, with anyone who even remotely KNOWS what the heck I'm talking about.

Ah well, go read the feature story here: A club for bookworms, and judge it for yourself.

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Book Review: Lionboy: The Chase (Zizou Corder)

Another day, another book finished. No, it's STILL not The Name of The Rose, but it's Zizou Corder's second children's book in the Lionboy series - The Chase. I managed to finish it just a while ago while eating dinner (Don't worry, Daphne, I didn't spill any gravy on it).

Here is the mini-review:

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Title: Lionboy: The Chase

Author: Zizou Corder

Genre: Children's adventure

Synopsis: Charlie Ashanti is on the run from an amazing floating circus with six homesick, beautiful Lions. Charlie has promised to help the Lions find their way home, but he has his own problems. His mom and dad have been kidnapped and Charlie is being hunted down by villains. New friends offer help. But can Charlie and the Lions trust them?

One thing is for sure, the chase is on...

What I liked:
  • Quite exciting, for a children's book
  • Interesting premise, and original too
  • Charlie is just such an endearing little character
  • Some nice touches in the dialogue, and generally some very nicely worded scenes and conversations
  • The story takes pot-shots at genetic modifying, tampering with DNA and cloning, rascism, evil pharmeceutical corporations, pollution and a whole lot of other issues that you don't usually read about in a children's book.
  • The story ends on a very nice footing
What I didn't like:
  • The story ends on TOO nice a footing. What's the point of the THIRD book then, eh?
  • The beginning is a bit slow, especially when Charlie is stuck in the Palazzo Bulgaria in Venice.
  • The characters seem to be able to get from one end of Europe to the other REALLY REALLY quickly.

Summary:

I actually rate the Lionboy series much higher than Harry Potter, because it feels more like a REAL children's book. Where Rowling tries too hard to also cater to her adult readers, Zizou Corder (who are actually a mother and child team, BTW) never forgets who their target audience is. True, they may write about some heavy issue, but it is written in such an innocent and child-like way that there is never any doubt who the book is written for.

All in all, this is a well-written children's book that should entertain children, and make adult readers feel younger at the same time. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Eyeris

How To Identify Snakes and Spiders: An Expert Opinion

A 10-step guide on how to identify snakes and spiders:

Snakes
1) Look at Snake
2) Pick up Snake
3) Check under Snake
4) If Snake has legs, then it is not a Snake
5) Release Snake if it has legs, for then, it is not a Snake
6) If Snake has no legs, then put down Snake before it bites you
7) If Snake bites, check if it is poisonous
8) If not poisonous, then don't worry
9) If Snake is poisonous, panic
10) After panicking, go to doctor within five minutes or say goodbye

Spiders:
1) Look at spider
2) Pick up Spider
3) Count Spider's legs
4) If Spider has less than eight legs, it is not a Spider
5) If Spider has eight legs, it is a Spider
6) Put down Spider before it bites you
7) For children, if Spider bites, go to mommy and shout, 'Mommy, mommy, a spider bit me!"
8) If Spider is poisonous, say goodbye. If Spider is not poisonous, scratch itch
9) Either way, squish Spider, preferably with foot
10) Laugh maniacally and yell, "TAKE THAT, YOU LOUSY SPIDER!"

Monday, 8 November 2004

My lazy eye

It's been a hectic weekend and I'm feeling really lazy right now. I'm not usually a Monday-hating person, but today, all I wanna do is go home and read a couple of pages of The Name of the Rose to help me sleep.

There've been lots of comments about me not finishing TNOTR after so long. To tell the truth, one of the main reasons why I haven't been able to finish it is because it's just one of those books that I WANT to read, but not necessarily hope to ENJOY, but I WANT to read it because I know I SHOULD be reading it.

Confused? Lemme rephrase it in another way, in point form:

1) There are books that are essential reading
2) These 'essential reads' may not suit everyone's taste
3) My taste is slightly weird, so the 'essential reads' may not suit my taste
4) But because these are 'essential reads' I feel that I SHOULD read them, so that I can know better about them
5) I want to know more about these books so I won't sound like a complete doofus when someone starts talking about them
6) Problem is, I don't really enjoy them because they tend to be a little boring (which is an understatement, BTW)
7) However, I keep reading them because I WANT to finish them

It's all a little petty, but for the most part, I always feel that I HAVE to finish a book once I've started on it. Which is why I don't get started on many books even though I have a lot of unread ones. I'm just afraid to start one and find out it's about as interesting as growing grass , or drying paint chips.

Anyway, here are some of the books that I KNOW I should be reading, but just have not gotten around to reading them, for the above mentioned reason:

1) The Illiad & The Odessey (Homer Not-Simpson)
2) Soul Mountain (Gao Xingjian)
3) The Once and Future King (T.H. White)
4) Romance of the Three Kingdoms
5) Unfinished Tales (Tolkien)

And for good measure, some books/series that I SHOULD be reading but have not yet gotten around to due to 'unforseen circumstances'.

1) The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (Stephen R. Donaldson)
2) The Earthsea series (Ursula K. Le Guin)
3) The Artemis Fowl series (Eoin Colfer)
4) The Darkover books (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
5) The Bromeliad trilogy (Terry Pratchett)

Friday, 5 November 2004

Reading frenzy!

Every so often, I get an urge to finish as many books as I can in one shot. I'm having one of those urges now, and I'm proud to say that in the past week, I've finished three books already. Sure, one of these was the ultra-short Skipping Christmas, but the other two have been pretty heavy, mostly because they were hardcovers (which are pain in the neck to carry around in your bag).

Anyway, I'm trying VERY HARD to finish what is currently the greatest challenge on my To-Read-List: The Name of The Rose, but I've been unable to get through more than a chapter or two at one go. When I get too bored of insane monks abominating laughter and killing people in an abbey, I turn to Zizou Corder's Lionboy: The Chase, the second book in a series of a children's novels that is turning out to be WAAAY better than Harry Potter could ever hope to be.

BTW, here is the full review of Pratchett's Going Postal that was published in The Star today:

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Book Review: Skipping Christmas (Grisham)

Before I start this review, just a friendly warning to a friend squealed like a girl and claimed that he would get infected with some kind of incurable disease if he touched this book (You know who you are, V. Hehe) :

This is a GRISHAM book. Your so-called 'pulp fiction', too 'shallow' and 'commercialised' for people looking for 'deeper' reads. You don't like it: fine, but let's try to be objective with the comments, ok? :-D

On with the mini-review:

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Title: Skipping Christmas

Author: John Grisham

Pages: 240

Available at: It's Grisham. You can get his books ANYWHERE, from Kino to MPH, airports, and even certain mamak newspaper stands.

Synopsis:
Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That's just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they'll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they won't be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren't even going to have a tree. They won't need one, because come December 25 they're setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences - and isn't half as easy as they'd imagined.

A classic tale for modern times, Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition.

Main Characters:
  • Luther Krank - A tax accountant who decides that the total cost of the previous Christmas was way too much, and decides to save the money THIS year to go for a cruise instead, thereby 'Skipping Christmas'
  • Nora Krank - Luther's wife, of course.

What I liked:

  • Good pace, no boring moments
  • Short and sweet (I finished it in less than a day)
  • Something different from Grisham (besides his courtroom dramas)

What I Didn't Like:

  • The cover of my copy was the movie poster for 'Christmas with the Kranks', and spoiled the book for me somewhat, because I kept imagining Tim Allen's face on Luther (I'm not a big fan of Tim Allen).
  • A rather predictable plot (but then again, it's Grisham; and after all, how unpredictable can a Christmas tale get?)
  • Rather irritating characters (One can just imagine how the role of Luther just fits Tim Allen like a glove)
  • Asians who don't celebrate Christmas as fervently as Westerners do might feel somewhat detached from the chaos depicted in the book (unless you relate it to your Hari Raya or CNY balik kampung experiences)

In a nutshell:

It's Grisham, fair enough, and one does not expect heavy-handed philosophical jabbering from this guy. His lawyer-books are decent airport reads (even if they are 'fluff'), and The Chamber was about as heavy handed as he got, which isn't much.

In case you were wondering why I showed TWO different covers of the book above, it's because my copy has the cover on the LEFT, and the one I would have preferred is the one on the RIGHT. Like I said, having Tim Allen and Jamie Lee-Curtis on the cover spoiled the book somewhat for me, because since the characters suit the actors so well, it was hard not to imagine how the scenes would look in the movie. Sigh...

Anyway, the book IS decent enough for reading in waiting rooms, in airports, or in LRT. Just don't expect anything more than a VERY light romp in Grisham-land, and you'll do fine.

Reviewer: Eyeris


Wednesday, 3 November 2004

The Incredibles make Shark Tale soup!

I just watched Pixar's new animated feature The Incredibles last night, and Dreamwork's Shark Tale last week, and I have to say that there was no contest whatsoever. The Incredibles is EASILY the best animated feature this year, beating even Shrek 2.

A full review of The Incredibles is in the works. Meanwhile, you can check out this review on Shark's Tale in Purple Sofa (3 out of 5 stars is a bit generous, Irene...).

Meanwhile, here is a short comparison between the two:

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Animation:
The Incredibles: The animation was great (it is the first time Pixar has done a feature that used human characters). The facial expressions were brilliantly done (then again, if they can make a FISH look sad, how hard can a human sad-face be?)

Shark Tale: No complaints here, to tell the truth. Not a very realistic undersea-world like Finding Nemo (the fish 'walk' upright, and use their fins like hands), but it's colorful.

Story:
The Incredibles: Although mildly predictable and straightforward, the story about a family of superheroes still manages to entertain without being too cliched. Sure, there's the usual 'super-villain-destroying-world' thingy, but one gets the feeling that Pixar played that up that cliche rather than being unintentionally corny. In actual fact, I think the main story ISN'T the superheroes fighting the villain, but about the way their family comes together.

Shark Tale: Fish dreams of becoming famous. Vegetarian shark wants to 'come out of the closet'. Fish lies about killing vegetarian shark's brother and becomes famous. Mafia shark boss comes after fish for killing son. Fish and friends save the day and start dancing in car wash. Blah. Cliche after cliche, spoof after spoof, and stereotype after stereotype. The story has such a 'been there, done that' feel to it that one gets bored after the first fifteen minutes, and the jokes are very predictable.

Characters
The Incredibles: As usual, Pixar's strongest suit. The characters in the movie are well-scripted, with the stereotypical American family of a working father, a homemaker mom, a confused teenage daughter, a hyper-active brat of a son, and a cute baby. (Sounds like The Simpsons eh?). Add in their superpowers, and it makes for a lot of fun. The strongest character is Elastigirl (the mom), while Dash (the son) and Violet (the daughter) working together is more interesting to watch than when they are apart. Mr Incredible and Syndrome (the bad guy) are pretty standard feature characters, and I would have prefered more of Frozone.

Shark Tale: Stereotype after stereotype again. None of the characters stand out for the right reasons, and I couldn't feel ANYTHING for them. Only De Niro's Mafia boss shark Don Lino was interesting, while the rest were just boring. Oscar the main character is irritating (mostly because of Will Smith, more on that later), Angie (Zellweger) and Lola (Jolie) are just token female characters, and Lenny (Jack Black) is just annoying.

Voice actors:
The Incredibles: Helen Hunt and Samuel L. Jackson's voices are pretty obvious here, but that's about it. the rest of the cast are not super-big names like Shark Tale has, but they work a lot better. The rapport is great, and sound a lot more natural. IMHO, Hunt's performance stands out the most.

Shark Tale: Will Smith is... just... so... ANNOYING! I got sick of Oscar/Smith after his first scene, and it REALLY didn't help that many of the jokes were so predictable and so... Smith-ian than they didn't turn out funny at all. Zellweger was pretty flat, Jolie was her usual sensual self, while Jack Black is another who suffers from the cliched script. Only De Niro and Scorcese came out well in the movie.

Overall:
The Incredibles: A movie that combines two of the most successful genres in recent years - superheroes and animation - is almost guaranteed to be a smash hit. And I have to say The Incredibles deserves it. I may be bias towards Pixar movies, but to tell the truth, they DO make entertaining movies. This movie works because it doesn't resort to the usual cliches and spoofs to get laughs, but is genuinely trying to make a good movie. It may not be as laugh-per-minute as Finding Nemo was, but it is still a solid offering from Pixar - heart-warming, action-packed, and entertainingly brilliant.

Shark Tale: I hardly laughed at all during the entire movie, which hardly reflects well on a movie that's supposed to make people laugh. This movie feels as though the makers wanted to go all out to beat Finding Nemo, which is fine by me. However, when they start resorting to cliches, old jokes, and WILL SMITH to try and draw laughs, it falls flat. Spoofing brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola was funny the first time round when they appeared in Shrek, but here, it's just tired. Same goes for movie spoofs of Gladiator, The Godfather and so on (Tip: for a much-better spoof of Jerry McGuire's 'You had me at hello' line, check out Team America: World Police). My advice? skip this, and go watch Finding Nemo again.

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Book Review: The Opposite of Fate (Tan)

It's TUESDAY, but it feels like a Monday. Yesterday was a holiday, so I spent the day sleeping (as usual) and reading. I finished Amy Tan's The Opposite of Fate, so here's the mini-review, a real short one, since I'm falling asleep again...

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Title: The Opposite of Fate

Author: Amy Tan

Category: Non-fiction

Where to get it: Any bookstore in KL should have it

What it's all about:
It's a book of memoirs comprising stuff that Tan wrote throughout the years - speeches, essays, articles, and even a sonnet. The topics range from her mother, her hardships, human rights issues in China, her inspirations, and even some tips on writing.

What I Liked:
  • Nice variety of stories
  • Doesn't try to stuff her views and opinions down the reader's throat
  • I actually LEARNT something from it
  • Asians will probably relate to it better
  • She even included an essay she wrote when she was 8-years-old. Very interesting when you compare it to her writing now

What I didn't like:

  • A lot of repetitive examples & topics (understandable, since it's a collection of musings over a long period of time)
  • Some 'peculiar' translations of Chinese phrases that I didn't really get

In a nutshell:

Somehow, I've always liked Amy Tan's books, probably because her fiction is easy to read, and I can relate to her stories about Chinese people. This books of musings is an interesting insight to how her mind ticks, her inspirations, her life, and her work.

It's interesting, somewhat inspiring, and actually pretty entertaining at times. Plus, it's not pompous and pretentious like the LAST book of memoirs I read - Michael Chrichton's Travels (which is one of the main reasons I never read another book of memoirs for 6 years).

Reviewer: Eyeris