Thursday, 30 December 2004

2004 List #2: Favorite Books of the Year

2005 is almost upon us, and many of us would be glad to see the end of it, I think. But lets not dwell on unhappy thoughts. I promised that regular blog transmission shall commence after the last post, and so it shall.

I was supposed to go on a list-posting spree as the year ends, but looks like I only have time left for er... three lists before the New Year.

Anyway, I was wondering what I should list next, and figured that since this is a blog about books (mostly.. I think), so I should just get the most important list off first - my favorite books among those I've read this year.

Before anyone cries foul over any books I may have left out, lemme just say that these are books that I have READ, regardless of when they were published. So those I have not read obviously DO NOT COUNT.

Ok, enough rambling. Here are my Books of the Year. And NO, Dan Brown is NOT in it (although funnily enough, Grisham is).

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

1) A Hat Full of Sky (by Terry Pratchett)
No surprises here. A Hat Full of Sky was by far my favorite book because 1) I just couldn't put it down no matter how I tried; 2) The warm fuzzy feeling you feel after reading the book is, well, warm and fuzzy; 3) and it has the Wee Free Men. Any book with a race of little blue men who love fighting always tend to be good. Unless it's an adapation of the Smurfs.

2) Fool's Fate (by Robin Hobb)
This book loses out to A Hat Full of Sky only because it's the third book in a trilogy. If I'd read the entire trilogy in one go this year, it would have been WAAAAY ahead of any other books. Hobb is one of my favorite authors, and this book wraps up a great journey that spanned NINE books. Even though it had more than 800 pages, I devoured it in less than two days.

3) Going Postal (by Terry Pratchett)
Two Pratchett books in the top three? No, I'm not being bias here. It's just that these ARE my favorite books of the year. Going Postal loses out to A Hat Full of Sky on the 'fuzzy feeling' factor, but is still a great romp.

4) Eats, Shoots & Leaves (by Lynne Truss)
A non-fiction book in my top five? Yup, you read it right. This little book on punctuation made me think more about my writing than any other book. No author should have the right to be anal about commas and 'noktah's AND be funny at the same time.

5) The Isles of Glory trilogy (by Glenda Larke)
This entry is here not just because Glenda reads this blog. :-) This trilogy IS pretty cool- nice concepts, interesting characters, and even has a little bit of Malaysia in it. More on the books in a later review.

6) Lionboy: The Chase (By Zizou Corder)
The Lionboy series is better than Harry Potter in so many ways - interesting characters, good pacing, entertaining plot, and an adorable lead character.

7) The Name of the Rose (by Umberto Eco)
Will I never hear the last of this title? This book is in this list by virtue of being the slowest book I've ever finished, yet have nothing bad to say about. Sure, the pace is slow, and yeah, so the history lessons are tedious. But this book is a classic for a reason, and my reason for liking it is because of the lead character, and the ingenious plot.


8) The Last Juror (by John Grisham)
Hey, I like this, ok? It's one of the better books Grisham has come up with in recent years, and it is actually not as light-weight as many of his other books.

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Yes, there's only eight entries (who said it was gonna be a top TEN anyway?). And yes, Grisham is in there (so sue me).

I'm too sleepy right now to remember other books I may have read over the YEAR, so I've put down the most memorable ones instead. But the top five really ARE my favorite of the year.

So there. Goodnight, and may I continue this list another day. Or not.

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

Joining the Waves of Empathy

Another day, another post on the tsunami disaster. Everyone is blogging about it, and because of that, I thought I'd refrain from saying anything about it until this all dies down.

However, when I come back from Singapore, the first thing I find out was that my parents had been in at Tanjung Tokong, Balik Pulau and Batu Feringghi areas just an hour or so BEFORE the tsunami struck.

If you don't mind, I'd like to count my blessings right now.

Anyway, here's a final word on the disaster, and regular blog transmission shall commence from tomorr.. er.. today onwards.

The Visitor has asked for this link to be spread around. So here it is. It's the The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog (SEA-EAT for short, appropriately enough), and has lots of info on the disaster.

Monday, 27 December 2004

Disaster Central

First of all, my sympathies to all those who were affected by the earhquake/tsunami disaster on Sunday. And condolences to all those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

I was (and am still) following the news from Singapore, and got really worried when I heard that the tsunami had hit Penang as well, since my relatives are all there, and my family was there at the moment as well.

What made it even more disturbing was that I had just finished reading a book that ended with a gigantic tdal wave destroying a city. I remember reading that scene, and looking up to see footage of the tidal waves hitting Sri Lanka, Phuket and Penang.

I know that a lot of what we read in books usually mirrors real life, even when it is Science Fiction or Fantasy. After all, authors themselves draw on their own real life experiences sometimes. However, this time, that similarity between fact and fiction was a little too close to home for me.

Thursday, 23 December 2004

Happy Holidays!

I'm gonna skip town for about a week for the Christmas holidays, so I doubt I'll be updating this blog till I get back to work next year (2nd January 2005, to be exact. :-) )

Haven't been updating for the past two days either because I was too excited about going on holiday. Hehe.

I'm looking forward to finally getting more time to catch up on some overdue books, like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel. I'll be in Singapore for a week, so I'll be haunting Borders while I'm there, provided Orchard Road isn't overrun by over-zealous Singaporeans with nowhere better to celebrate Christmas.

For now, Happy Holidays, and er... Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Otters eat Corned Beef with the Half-Blood Prince

Just thought I'd put a short post to say announce that J.K. Rowling has finished her next Harry Potter book ON SCHEDULE for a change.

While Harry Potter is hugely popular all over the world, I know many people (stand up and take a bow, Daphne) who can't stand Harry. Personally, I LOVE the CONCEPT of the Harry Potter books, but I also feel that Rowling is at best, an average writer with a wild imagination.

Anyway, she just announced on her site here that she has finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I had to go through a bloody hassle of answering six riddles to get to the darn message, and all I got was an announcement I'd read a few minutes before on another site. Ceh.

To get to the announcement, follow these steps on her official site:

1) Click on the black ring thingy (which is a Portkey) to get to the door of her study.
2) Figure out how to open the door (Very easy, this)
3) Once the door is opened, there are a few presents under the Christmas tree. Click on each present and answer the riddles that pop up
4) After you've answer every riddle, the Star on the top of the tree will light up
5) Click on the Xmas card with Star on it.
6) Read message
7) Curse and yell for having to go through all that hassle just to get to that short message

On another note, her official site IS quite fun to play around in. :-)

Monday, 20 December 2004

Where Faith and Fantasy Collide

My life these days seems to be following certain 'themes' every now and then. Last month, it was an 'animal' month. Then, I had a movie vs books phase recently, and these past few days, it's been all about religion.

I've had discussions with colleagues about religion, argued about a certain band sounding very 'Christian-ny', read books that contained a certain degree of religion, and since it's almost Christmas, have had to put up with the usual 'Christmas spirit' at every turn (the spirit I can handle, its the CHRISTMAS SONGS I can't stand).

Religion on its own can be a very prickly issue. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions about religion, whether they are for it or against it, or just plain indifferent. My own personal view of religion is this: I believe there is a God, but I'm waiting for a sign. I can tolerate any religion a person may believe in, as long as they do not try to convert me, or force their beliefs on me.

Religion in books can also be a rather thorny matter. Salman Rushdie was condemned for his book The Satanic Verses, which offended faithful Muslims, prompting protests and book burnings and even riots in which people were killed. He was even condemned to death for "insulting Islam, the prophet Muhammed and the holy Koran" by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Dan Brown's fictional The Da Vinci Code has also caused all sorts of furore because of its suggestions about Jesus Christ's marital status, and have even caused some religious fanatics to go searching for their OWN 'Da Vinci Code'.

As you can see, when it comes to religion, things are never quite as simple as they seem.

I read a lot of fantasy novels, and religion in these novels tend to be rooted in real life as well. C.S. Lewis' Narnia books can be interpreted as 'very Christian-like', what with Aslan's resurrection, Susan become an 'unbeliever', and the very 'salvation'-like ending.

The Narnia books were condemned by Philip Pullman, who objected to the Narnia books' 'hatred of the physical world'. In fact, Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy were the direct OPPOSITE of Narnia, leading a rash of complaints that HDM was 'anti-christianity'.

Read an interesting interview with Pullman here: A dark agenda?

Later, I shall list down several 'religions' that I have read about in fantasy novels that I have found fascinating. For now, I shall pray (pun completely intended) that I do not get TOO much hate mail for this post... :-)

Friday, 17 December 2004

Hazy Explanations and Dastardly Adaptations

Seems that everywhere I look now, there is something on movie adaptations of books. The past few days have been rife with news, blogs and mentions of these adaptations, and I even posted something about it the other day.

Even today, I was engaged in a discussion about which Two Towers Tolkien was referring to in the title of the book. It's still not clear which two, even though Tolkien DID mention in his letters that it would have to be the Tower of Cirith Ungol and Orthanc. But even he was unsure about it, and his explanation is rather hazy (see here). Peter Jackson clearly states it as Barad-dur and Orthanc, but lets not go into the movie version, shall we?

MY theory is that it should be Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul. After all, they WERE twin cities, and even their NAMES just scream TWINS!

Anyone have any other theories abot the mystery of the Two Towers?

Another hot topic that's been going on is the adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series into a TV miniseries. Liz Tai wrote about it in her blog here, By all accounts, it is not only unfaithful to the books, it also messes around with it too much (The main character is not supposed to be WHITE!). Check out Ursula Le Guin's response to the mini-series here.

Daphne also wrote a list of her favorite book-to-film adaptations in her post The Film of The Book. Can't say I agree with he rviews on LOTR movie vs books, but I agree about her opinion that having read the BOOK first, she can "cling on to my own idea of LOTR and not be haunted forevermore by the image of village idiots when I think of Pippin and Merry, or heaving breasts when I picture Arwen".

Another two of my favorite fantasy books - Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, are both being adapted into movies in the coming future, along with Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy. AND there is news that Stephen R. Donaldson' Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is ALSO going to be adapted.

I feel very uneasy about these projects. In fact, I feel exactly the same way I did when I first heard that Peter Jackson was adapting LOTR. Wonder if that's a good thing...

Anyway, here are some links on the four projects:

There's also been news saying that Brian Cox is gonna voice Aslan in Narnia. Not good. I always thought Aslan's voice would be more James Earl Jones-like...


The Phantom of the Early Morning Soap Opera

Begin early morning transmission:

I'm just gonna get this off my chest first. I watched Phantom of the Opera last night, and I enjoyed it. So THERE!

I used listened to the Phantom soundtrack a lot when I was a kid (I used to be hooked to musicals' music then), and to me, it was always a musical, not a book. In fact, I didn't even KNOW it was a book until a few years back. And I really can't imagine it without the songs. So this is ONE movie that I am glad I never read the book first.

I'd always wanted to watch the musical, and I always lament the time I missed it when it came to Singapore a few years back.

Anyway, the movie was good enough for me, because it was a lavish and flamboyant show that was what I imagined it would be like when I listened to the soundtrack. I was still thinking of the show when I woke up this morning, and now I regret even more that I never caught the musical...

My favorite bits were:

  • The Opening scene when the Chandelier first goes up. The minute that the Phantom's theme went up, my heart soared. That moment would make my list of most memorable moments in a movie this year.
  • I also liked the way the Present day scenes were all fuzzy black and white, while the flashbacks were all in full colour. Nice touch.
  • The Masquerade. Grand and uplifting at the same time, and great music. An incredible set piece.
  • During the songs All I Ask of You and Music of The Night. Music of the Night has always been my favorite Phantom song.
  • Great music. Made me dig up my old Phantom CD and play it on my car CD player this morning.

The disappointing bits were:

  • The ending. Somehow, it seemed a little too forced. Would have probably come off better in the musical.
  • The Cemetery Scene. The director over-edited it. The fight turned out to be nothing more than a series of foot shuffling and swords clashing. Ditto the Chandelier crashing scene.
  • Raoul. Wanted to smack him for being so goody-goody at times.
  • The Phantom was not as commanding as I imagined him to be.

Eyeris' Must-Watch-Again Rating: 3 out of 5

End of early morning (wadya mean its already eleven? That's early for ME!) transmission.

Thursday, 16 December 2004

2004 List #1: My Favorite Movies of the Year

I've been in a very LOTR mood these past two days after watching the extended version the other day, but I shall leave my verdict on the movie until I've watched it again this weekend. :-)

In the meantime, I shall kick off my series of year-end lists with a very 'normal' one - My 10 Favorite Movies of the Year.

This are all mostly mainstream movies. Before anyone tries to convince me that the best movies are not the mainstream ones and that I should check out some non-mainstream films also (Visitor, stand up and take a bow), let me just say that I prefer my movies FUN and entertaining more than technically brilliant.

And these are MY personal choices anyway. So if you don't agree, so there! :-D

1) The Incredibles
The best superhero movie of the year, the best animated feature of the year, and definitely the one I enjoyed the most. Pixar can do no wrong in MY book.

2) Spider-man 2
"Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can". Better than the first - it's fun, cool, sweet, cute, and entertaining at the same time. And Doc Ock is the best super-villain I've seen on screen this year.

3) The Village
I've always been a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, and The Village didn't dissapoint me. It is very atmospheric, and the acting is superb. And it doesn't scare you by being scary, but by HINTING how scary it can be. Anticipation and expectation can be scarier than skulls and corpses sometimes.

4) Team America: World Police
Fans of South Park should get the biggest kick out of THIS movie. It's the most offensively hilarious movie of the year. I can't for the life of me figure out why they banned this movie here. It's only got lots of foul language, violent puppet mutilation, Hans Blix getting chewed up by sharks, Kim Jong Ii wanting to take over the world, the Kamasutra with puppets, and Michael Moore getting blown up.

5) The Bourne Supremacy
Nothing like the book, but a damn good action/spy thriller anyway. WAY better than recent Bonds, and an improvement over the first Bourne.

6) Kung Fu Hustle
The best Hong Kong movie I've seen this year, and one of the funniest too. Stephen Chow's movies have progressed a lot since his Wong Jing days.

7) Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
Say what you want about this choice, but I liked it. Prisoner of Azkaban also happens to be the HP book I like best, and the movies captures the essence of the book well, down to the thrilling ending. Alfonso Cuaron is a darn good director, and it shows in this movie.

8) Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The perfect movie for geeks. I loved the retro look, the giant robots, the campiness, the dialogue, and the way it didn't take itself too seriously.

9) Shrek 2
Bigger and funnier than the first Shrek (although not as original), it shows that Dreamworks' animated features CAN challenge Pixar if they put their minds to it. Too bad they blew it with Shark Tale. Plus Puss in Boots can kick Catwoman's ass ANYTIME.

10) Ocean's Twelve
It's not as good as Ocean's Eleven, but it's still good, stylish fun. The dialogue was smart-assed, and it was COOL. Plus it has Catherine Zeta-Jones with a nice haircut as well...

The near-misses:


  • I, Robot - Not the perfect adaptation of Asimov, but a darn good try anyway.
  • House of Flying Daggers - Cool movie, lovely visuals, entertaining fights, and Zhang Ziyi. Too bad about the silly ending
  • Kill Bill: Volume 2 - Very cool....
  • The Day After Tomorrow - I don't care what everyone says about the utter ridiculousness of the premise. I enjoyed it, and I think it was quite good for a disaster movie. Plus, writing too many enviromental stories made me feel for the subject.
  • The Terminal - Rather mild for a Spielberg movie, but it's my favorite rom-com of the year (not that I've seen many, mind). Plus it has Catherine Zeta-Jones with a nice haircut... wait a minute, where have I heard that line before?...
  • Hellboy (No, I am NOT calling it Super Sapiens) - I LOVED Ron Perlman's portrayal of the character. Says a lot about how good he was when I had never heard HEARD of the character before the movie, but I still liked it. Too bad the rest of the movie was not as good as Hellboy himself though. Here's hoping the sequel will be better...
  • Collateral - Damn good movie. Great acting by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, and great directing by Michael Mann.
  • Phantom of the Opera - I watched this with a friend who'd seen the MUSICAL, and she said it was almost exactly the same. And for someone who has NOT seen the MUSICAL, I enjoyed this show very much.

Update: I updated the near-misses, adding Collateral and Phantom of the Opera, which I jsut saw tonight. :-)


Wednesday, 15 December 2004

One Word: WHOA...

Two words: Very sleepy
Three words: Very short post
Four words: So lazy to work
Five words: Even lazier to write blog
Six words: Was awake till 3am last night
Seven words: Nearly could not wake up this morning
Eight words: Was watching the movie event of the year
Nine words: One I couldn't wait to get my hands on...
Ten words: Lord of the Rings: Return of The King Extended DVD!!!!!

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Do Android Books Dream of Electric Movies?

The Lord of The Rings: Return of The King Extended DVD version is finally out! I can't wait to get my grubby hands on a copy. Unfortunately, I ordered it online from Amazon so I could get a slightly cheaper price, and so I have to suffer the agony of having to wait for it to arrive AFTER Christmas. Sigh...

Anyway, the buzz has got some of us LOTR fanatics talking about it, and yesterday, I was talking to Liz Tai about it when the topic came to whether one should read the books first or watch the movie first.

The topic popped up when she saw an ad for the Earthsea TV miniseries, and asked me whether I would watch it. I said I would rather read the book first. Then she asked, "Do you HAVE to read the book first?" To which my answer was... "OF COURSE you have to READ THE BOOK first. It came out FIRST! It's THE ORIGINAL!"

As you can see, I'm very touchy over the subject of movie adaptations of books. Even when it comes to the LOTR movies (which I really, really like), I can't stand it when people tell me that they like the movies, but not the books. Or worse (gasp!), they have NOT read the book NOR watched the movie at all (IreneQ, please stand up and take a bow).

I've mentioned before in this post here the reason why I get upset at people who tell me they watched the LOTR movies but never read the books. Because they are not using their own imagination to form their own ideas about Tolkien's world, merely taking for granted that what Peter Jackson has in the movie is what LOTR looks like.

For all you know, Tolkien's idea of how Legolas looks like may NOT have been Orlando Bloom, but was actually Danny Devito!

Ok, maybe that example IS a little far-fetched, but it's true that before the movies came out, there was not one EXACT version or image of Legolas or ANY of the stuff in Middle-Earth. Everyone imagined the characters, the places and the events differently. THAT's the beauty of reading a book. You IMAGINE it IN YOUR OWN MIND.

With a movie, you just stare at the screen and accept what is shown there. From now on, EVERYONE who reads LOTR will be imagining Legolas as Orlando Bloom, Frodo as Elijah Wood, and Aragorn as Viggo Mortenson. And that spoils the beauty of reading a book.

The vast and infinite imaginative possibility that was once the books has been reduced to sequence of pictures and movements on a screen that people just watch without using their imagination.


Entertaining as I found the LOTR movies, I lament that loss of imagination that future readers of LOTR will experience.

Anyway, to go back to the topic of books versus movies, my argument is simple - if the book came first, then read the book first before watching the movie (Unless the book was by Michael Crichton, in which case, don't bother. He probably writes his books with one eye on selling the movie rights anyway).

After all, the original VISION, the original IDEA and the original SOURCE of the movie in the first place is the BOOK. and the key word here is ORIGINAL. Without the book, no movie. Simple as that.

Movie adaptations also have the tendency to put people off reading the book, because "I've already seen the movie, so why read the book?" I find this incredibly irritating, not only because less people would be reading, but also because the true essence of the book as envisioned by the author is lost forever to that person who is too lazy to go beyond watching a movie and actually using his mind for reading.

Yes, I'm bitter about this subject.

Yes, I've been rambling.

And YES, if anyone would like to rebutt me on this subject, feel free to do so, but be prepared for another rebuttal in return.

And DON'T even get me started on BOOK adaptations of MOVIES.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Listing a List of Lists.

It's December, and almost every magazine and publication is coming up with their 'Best and Worst of the Year' lists.

Everywhere you look, you get lists like Best Movie of the Year, Best Dressed Celebrity of the Year, Best Ah-Beng Trend of the Year, Best Book of the Year, Best Shade of Red Lipstick of the Year, Best Polka Song of the Year, and so on. It can get a little silly sometimes, and most of the time, very amusing.

After all, who doesn't make up their own lists? When conversations come to what five movies were the best of the year, most people would happily divulge their own list of TEN movies, from their Numero-Uno-Favorite to their TENTH most favorite, and would probably throw in their worst movies of the year as well.

EVERYONE makes lists. In our minds, we watch a movie and think, "Hmmmm, I like this better than Shrek 2, but it's not as good as Finding Nemo", and file that bit of info away in a secluded spot in our brains, to be dragged out again when we happen to be discussing 'The Best Animated Movies of All Time".

Ok, maybe that's just me, I am a list-freak after all. I have lists for Favorite Movies, Favorite Books, Favorite Songs, Favorite Actresses, and even Favorite Types of Cheese Cake. There was a time in Primary School when I would come up with my very own music charts (based on the amount of airplay a song gets on my little radio).

Heck, even my BLOG here is peppered by lists. I've blogged about my favorite fantasy characters, my favorite 80's cartoons, my favorite Pratchett books, favorite nonsensical phrases and my favorite animal characters.

Anyway, over the next few posts, I'll be posting some of MY lists for the year. And in pure list-loving fashion, I shall list a list of the lists I shall be listing out in future lists. Here are some of them (the list is subject to relisting if list turns out to be not a list because the list only has ONE subject on the list; or if I have more lists to list):

  • My Favorite Movies of the Year (ho hum.)
  • Worst Movies I've Seen This Year
  • Best Books I've Read This Year
  • Favorite Bit of News
  • Best Quotes I've Heard This Year
  • Stupidest Trend of the Year
  • Favorite Personality This Year
  • Favorite Polka Song this Year (also voted the list most likely to be un-listed in this list)
  • Favorite Type of Mosquito
  • Weirdest Moments of the Year
  • Favorite Mamak Stall experience
  • Best Books I have NOT read
  • Most Memorable Celebrity I've met This Year (which can be narrowed down to... er.. two. Not much of a list eh?)
  • Weirdest List Ideas I can Come Up With

Now, I gotta find out how to stop this lisp I'm developing...


Friday, 10 December 2004

Grrrrrr.... snap snap snap...

Am in a particularly snappish mood today.

Maybe it was the faulty South Park DVDs I bought yesterday.
Maybe it's because I have to work on some silly stories about the history of football and basketball.
Maybe it's because my insurance agent called me up to tell me the payment didn't go through when it was SUPPOSED to go through (Read: When I actually HAD some money in my account).
Maybe it's because Daphne forgot to bring the Uncle books today (Heh).
Or maybe I'm just highly strung from too much coffee.

If those South Park DVDs had worked last night, I wouldn't BE in this state.

But then again, last night WAS a good night. I conducted an interview with Glenda Larke, an Australian fantasy author who lives in Malaysia who held a book reading of her latest trilogy last night in PJ.



The title of the trilogy is The Isles of Glory, consisting of The Aware, Gilfeather and The Tainted. From the bits that she read last night, it seems like a pretty intriguing story. Even my friend Erna (she who worships The Name of The Rose) thought that it sounded interesting.

Best bits of the night: free wine, free books (she gave me the entire trilogy to review), and and interesting interview. She talked about her influences, the books she likes (which include Pratchett, Hobb and Guy Gavriel Kay), how she writes her books and so on. For the full gist of the interview, wait for my story to be published. :-)

One of the first things she said to me was that she reads my reviews, and she doesn't really agree with my views on Terry Brooks. She also said she is looking forward to my review of HER books.

Great, the last thing I need is the author of a book I'm reviewing staying in the same city as I do.

Anyway, it was pretty enlightening to meet an author and get her views on fantasy, writing and her influences. Now, if I could only get Pratchett or Hobb to drop by in KL...

Thursday, 9 December 2004

The Bookstore-Reading Syndrome

Whenever I go to a shopping complex, there are only two kinds of shops I will automatically head for - the toys department, and the bookstore.

When I was a kid, my parents would always bring me to bookstores because it was the only place where I would actually sit still in one place and not kick up a fuss about wanting a Transformer toy. This was during my primary school years, when I was reading lots of books. Put a nice book in my hands (those days, it was Enid Blyton books), and I was nice and quiet for at least an hour.

After I progress to er... 'deeper' books during secondary school, I would still hang out in shopping mall bookstores whenever my family took the rare trip down to KL from our little town of Temerloh. You see, Temerloh had more magazine stores - a grand total of TWO stalls - than actual bookstores. I was pretty deprived of bookstores back then, to say the least.

Anyway, whenever I was at a book store, I would try to finish at least ONE book there. I remember standing at the MPH in Sungai Wang for two whole hours, trying to finish Silence of the Lambs (I managed to get up to the final two chapters, then it was time to go home. Very agonizing); and countless store attendants telling me to get my butt off the floor, stop blocking the aisles and BUY something for a change.

When Kinokuniya first opened at KLCC, I rejoiced. FINALLY, a large bookstore that is easily accessible, where I didn't have to brave horrendous traffic jams to get to, had lots of good books, and a coffee place that had decent coffee. They even had nice benches to sit on and read my books! I finished countless books there (mostly books that I would never have bought in hardcover, but wanted badly to read it ASAP), and even had my own favorite spot in the bookstore.

Then, Kinokuniya decided that too many people were doing that (and damaging the books at the same time), and started to shrink-wrap their books so no one could flip through them.

Alas! What a tragedy!

I was dismayed, and utterly shattered. Gone were my happy days of sitting in my quiet corner, devouring Forgotten Realms books. No more flipping through chapters just to see whether the book was worth buying. I also spent considerably less time in Kinokuniya after that.

These days, I have money to actually BUY the books, so I don't read at bookstores much nowadays. Also, since I discovered Payless Books, my purchases from Kinokuniya or MPH have been significantly less.

I miss reading at bookstores though. Somehow, its a lot more fun, and the environment is more relaxed (for me, that is). I feel COMPELLED to continue reading a book, rather than when at home, where I tend to get lazy and turn on the TV instead.

Plus it's free. Who can complain about THAT? :-)

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Book Review: The Mango Season (Amulya Malladi)

I'm usually not one to read Asian literature. With the recent influx of titles by Chinese and Indian authors in the market, I wouldn't even know where to start. Plus I have a general opinion that most of the books are almost the same anyway.

In fact, outside of Amy Tan and Salman Rushdie, I don't remember reading any other books by Asian authors (which either means that I didn't read any; or I did and forgot about it, because it was that unmemorable).

Anyway, I picked up Anulya Malladi's The Mango Season in the office book cabinet because it was nice and thin (which means I don't have to take too long to finish it), and the cover had nice juicy mangos on them (Mmmmmm....).

As expected, I finished it pretty quickly, and surprisingly, I kinda liked it. I guess I just might go back to those dust-covered copies of The God of Small Things and Mistress of Spices after all...

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



Title: The Mango Season
Author: Amulya Malladi

Synopsis:
Priya Rao left India when she was 20. Seven years later, she returns to find her parents are intent on arranging her marriage to a suitable Indian boy. Priya can only guess at what their reaction would be if she were to reveal she has a fiance in America, a fiance of an entirely different race and religion.

Main Character:

  • Priya Rao - 27-year-old Indian girl engaged to an American, who has to go home to India after seven years away, to tell her parents about her fiance. The whole story revolves around her and her conflicts with her family.

What I Liked:

  • Short and sweet! (and I ain't talking about the mangoes)
  • Good development of the characters, even if they seem a little stereotypical
  • Asians should relate to this book, no matter whether you're Chinese, Indian or otherwise. After all, which unmarried twenty-something guy or girl has not been through the usual 'When are you going to get married' line by relatives?
  • Interesting insight into the traditions and relationships in a traditional Indian-Brahmin family
  • For those who like to cook, there are some recipes in the beginning of each chapter for some traditional Indian dishes using mangoes. Pretty nice touch, if you ask me. Even if you don't like the story, you can use it as a cookbook instead.

What I Didn't Like:

  • Some of the characters seem slightly clich├ęd
  • I'm not a fan of putting using excerpts from emails in a book, because to me, it just seems a bit forced. In this case, Priya communicates with Nick (her fiance) via email, and some of the emails just seem... unnatural.
  • The ending seems a little abrupt and too 'neat'.

Summary:

I kinda liked this book. It was easy to read, interesting, and you actually cared for the characters (even though some of them are somewhat stereotypical ). The relationship between Priya and her family is well developed, and the conversations were not boring, droning lectures.

Although I've not read that many books about Indian culture (or Chinese culture, for that matter), I found the culture and traditions covered in this book quite insightful, and interesting, and some of it I can relate to. After all, we are all Asians, and some things ARE the same, even between different races and religions.

All in all, a pretty good read.


Tuesday, 7 December 2004

Animal Crackers

November was a pretty animal-y month for me. At work, I was either surfing the net doing 'research' on some carnivore project, or spending most of my time reading Sherman's Lagoon comics.

To top it off, I even went to the zoo, which got me all depressed because I really don't like the idea of zoos in the first place, what with all the animals stuck behind bars and all. Plus, the headline in The Star recently about the National Zoo facing permanent closure got me even more depressed, so I decided to go home and watch some Animal Planet instead.

Anyway, I figured that since animals ruled the month, I'd list down some of my favorite animal characters in books and movies. I'm gonna leave comic strip animals out of this, because I like too many to count, including almost the entire cast of Sherman's Lagoon, Snoopy, Hobbes, and other assorted comic strip animals.

So, here are some of my favorite animal characters from BOOKS, in no particular order:

1) Reepicheep (from The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis)

A talking mouse known for his overbearing sense of honor, and immense bravery. The most fun animal character in the series. I almost cried when I read what happened to him in the end.

2) Charlotte (from Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White)

A talking spider who helps a little pig escape his slaughterhouse fate by spinning a web that reads "Some Pig," convincing the farmer and surrounding community that Wilbur is no ordinary animal and should be saved.

3) Guenhwyvar (from the Drizzt Do'Urden Forgotten Realm books, by R.A. Salvatore)

A black panther from a astral plane (who doesn't talk, BTW), and Drizzt's best friend. Probably one of the coolest animal sidekicks in fantasy-dom.

4) Shadowfax (from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

I always thought that Shadowfax was a cool name for a horse. Shadowfax is the only horse I remember from ANY book, and the fact that it was Gandalf's horse only made him even MORE cool.

5) Gwaihir (from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming! That's my favorite part of The Hobbit's Battle of the Five Armies. Plus, eagles are always cool, especially when you can hitch a ride on them.

6) Brer Terrapin (from the Brer Rabbit stories, by Joel Chandler Harris)

Of all the animal characters in the Brer Rabbit books, I liked Brer Terrapin the most, because of his laid-back and cool character. I used to love it when he would team up with Brer Rabbit to outsmart Brer Fox and Brer Wolf. Also, all those made-up stories my dad used to tell us about about Dirty Tortoise (who lived in a drain beneath the market) only made me love turtles and tortoise characters even more.

7) Nighteyes (from The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb)

EASILY my favorite animal sidekick of recent years. His bond with FitzChivalry Farseer and their adventures together are some of the most memorable parts of Hobb's Farseer series.

8) Maurice (from The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett)

The book is a retelling of the Pied Piper fable given a Pratchett twist. Maurice is a talking cat who leads a band of rather special rats from town to town to fake invasions of vermin. Keith, in cahoots with Maurice, turns up with his flute and leads the rats out of town--a hefty reward in tow. It's Pratchett after all, and his lead characters are ALWAYS memorable.

9) Pantailamon (from the His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman)

Technically not an 'animal' per se, Pantailamon is a daemon - some kind of spirit thingy that can morph into any animal form that a child which, and settles on a single form when the child grows up. The books are one of the best children fantasy books around, and Pantailamon is one of those sidekicks that you wish you had by your side as well.

Any more I missed?

Monday, 6 December 2004

When Sauron Met Elektra

No time for longer posts, so this will have to do. Hehe.


Sunday, 5 December 2004

Syiok-Sendiri

a.k.a. Boosting one's ego

I was walking in Amcorp Mall this afternoon, and passed a book-rental store on the third floor where there was a book review of John Grisham's The Last Juror pasted on the front window. I took a closer look, and it runed out to be MY book review that was published in The Star a few months ago.

It took every ounce of my willpower NOT to rush into the store and proudly announce that that is MY review (MINE! ALL MINE!) that was stuck rather prominently with sticky tape on the entrance of the store.

I must say that it's moments like this that make reviewing books fun. I write reviews not just because of the extra money it gives me (although to be frank, it IS a major factor), but becuase if I like a book, I want EVERYONE to read it. In fact, the hardest reviews to write (for me, that is) are those where you don't have much good to say about the book, but you don't want to lambast the book so much either.

Anyway, another nice aftermath of my book-reviewing was when I got a call out of the blue from a Glenda Larke, an Australian fantasy author living in KL, and was invited to the launch and reading of her next book next week. What flattered me wasn't the fact that she invited me, but that during the phone call, she referred to me as 'the writer who reviews the fantasy books' and that she enjoyed my reviews.

Talk about stroking one's ego, eh? Hehe.

I think most writers live for moments like this, when people read your stuff and tell you they like it. That little remark by Larke certainly made my day that day, and I certainly wish I get calls like that all the time. Hehe.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to wipe this silly grin off my face.