The Artificial Anatomy of Parks – Kat Gordon

Anatomy of Parks The Artificial Anatomy of Parks is the story of a family secret. Tallulah Park gets a phone call from the hospital. Her father has had a heart attack and is now unconscious. She decides to go and see him.
It is clear early on that Tallulah did not really get along with her father, and so the story begins, alternating between events from Tallulah’s childhood and the present, where she is working as a waitress, living in an old building and trying to avoid her relatives. Her father’s ill health is the reason she decides to once again come back and see her family, even though she’s been away from them for years. Why she’s stayed away for so long is explained in the end as is almost everything else.

This book was a mixed bag for me. I liked the skipping back and forth in time – the narrator, Tallulah, has an engaging voice and the breaks in her story come at the most interesting points, something I found equally intriguing and annoying. It’s like someone is about to tell you a secret but suddenly the phone rings and the moment is lost. There are plenty of moments like that throughout the story which only made me impatient to get to the end. There are family squabbles, a strained relationship between Tallulah’s mother and her father’s sisters, and then there’s Jack, her father’s brother, whose return after a long absence causes turmoil within the family and brings about a tragic incident.

Tallulah seems apathetic for most of the time, and I did not find her a particularly likeable character. After going away to live by herself she seems almost lifeless and I couldn’t help comparing her with her father, a seemingly cold and uninteresting man who seemed to do anything in his power to avoid spending time with his daughter. Later on in the story I felt pity for her, for the tragedies she had to go through, and a tiny bit of admiration for the way she had managed to survive, but overall I wished I liked her more. Uncle Jack was the real mystery of the book, and the part he had to play in Tallulah’s life. It seems that even if he tried to do good, all he was able to do was to bring about more heartache.

From dealing with abuse to anatomical references concerning the workings of the heart (my favorite part), this novel manages to be somehow heart-warming and almost indifferent at the same time, an odd combination which works startlingly well overall.
There is a mystery to be revealed at the end but the part that is finally revealed is easy to see coming because of all the events leading up to it. The other part, the most interesting part concerning a death, is left unanswered and I’m still thinking about it because I felt there was no closure. On one hand I agree that not everything needs to be resolved in a novel but on the other hand I really wish I had the answer to this one. But then, thinking back to the name of the novel, this seems like a fitting way to end the story.

I got this book from the publisher, Legend Press, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in June 2015

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Guest post – Athira

Athira, who blogs over at Reading on a Rainy Day is one of those bloggers I love reading because she always manages to infuse a good dose of personal tidbits into her posts, be it a book review, a travel post, or the recent posts and pictures about her baby’s arrival (due next month, I’m told). That is why I was very excited when she agreed to be my guest for this month’s blogger interview.

C0BFEA90-F3ED-4FAF-9300-208DB32A70AD 1. Who are you?

I am Athira, originally from India and living in Virginia in the United States for about seven years. I work as a software programmer and read/blog/write/knit/watch TV in my free time. I’ve been married to my darling knight in shining armor for more than three years and we have a spoiled pampered Jack Russell/Pit Bull mix who bosses us. Currently, we are waiting to welcome the pitter patter of little feet in July and cannot be more excited about life than we are right now.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I did start out blogging because I wanted to be a part of the book blogging world. Thankfully, I blog for entirely different reasons now. I have always wanted to write and blogging to me is a great way to do it. I also love to read, so blogging is a great way to mix those two interests. My blog is primarily about what I read, how those reads affect me, and their reviews. But I have reached a phase where I want to talk about more than books. With a little one waiting around the corner, I can already see how much my blogging interest is going to transform soon.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

Three favorite books I will happily gift someone:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Sure, this book could have been done with a better cover and a lot less hype, but once you read this story of a bunch of little-known cells and the family that didn’t get any compensation, you will be completely amazed by the fact that this science book amazed you.
The Dinner by Herman Koch.
How interesting can a book set through a dinner from the first course through dessert be? “The Dinner” will make you answer “very” to that question.
Blankets by Craig Thompson.
Didn’t think a graphic or illustrated book can move you to tears? Read “Blankets” and you will be surprised at how much it moved you.

Three favorite authors:

José Saramago
Now, I have only read two books by this author. But I always look forward to his stories and his strange writing style.
J. K. Rowling.
I always feel guilty when I say Rowling is a favorite author. But truth is, I love her brand of sarcastic humor and character insight.
Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel sure knows how to tell a story. Even dreary depressing ones without losing you at all.

Three favorite genres:

Literary fiction
Magical fantasy
Epic sagas. Bonus if they are set in Middle-earth.

4. Kindle or paper book?

If I was asked this question even a year ago, I would say paper all the way. Even today, I am a big fan of paper books and will not hesitate to buy a book in paper format but will think twice before snagging an e-book. But, I read e-books faster than I do paper books. Maybe not seeing the size of the book and being able to escape into a book anywhere, even in the presence of company, makes me prefer e-books. Plus, I like being able to go on vacation without dragging with me a case full of books. And bonus, not taking any books to vacation gives me a little more space to buy some during the vacation.

DFBC1498-3735-4556-9FEC-EC7CA6D91B5F 5. Three things you learned from a book.

a. How I want to express my religion is my decision entirely. Just because you choose to wear a burqa doesn’t mean you are oppressed. Just because you walk around with a rosary doesn’t mean you are superstitious. Just because you credit every success to God and every failure to humanity doesn’t mean you are a blind devout. If I cannot respect your approach to belief and religion, then I am being intolerant. (Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah has a teen protagonist who is modern and independent, but when she starts wearing a head scarf, every one begins to wonder if she is being forced or oppressed by her parents. Plus, the school she goes to despises her decision because it makes her different and “violates” their uniform code.)
b. The human spirit is one of the strongest things in this world. You can break a human body as much as you want to but it will still survive and come back stronger than ever. Have faith in yourself even when faced with the worst the world has to offer. (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about Louie Zamperini, who survived unimaginable horror during WW2.)
c. How not to write a book and why gleeful torture should be eyed with distaste. (American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis about a psychopath who relishes chopping people. Or did it all happen in his head?)

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

This is a tough one. I should realistically take a book that will help me survive on the island. And I’m sure if I knew I was heading to an island, I would pick such a book. But, if I could take one more, I am pretty certain I will take one or all seven of the Harry Potter books with me.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I honestly can’t think of one. To me books are purely decorative (they do dress up my shelves) and functional (they are just for reading and ogling at). I think it a scandal to use a book as a doorstop! Though in all seriousness, I would happily use Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as a door-stopper. I hated trying to read that book!

8. Favorite quotes.

People keep telling me to do yoga. I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

“I love chocolate cake for breakfast,” Peggy stalls, “it sets me up for the day. A little decadence is good for the soul.”

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag.

And my favorite one of all:

Percy wouldn’t recognize a joke if it danced in front of him wearing Dobby’s tea cozy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.

9. Three tips for bloggers.

– Don’t stress yourself out if you cannot stick to a routine. Your blog should be your retreat, not something that comes attached to a calendar and a to-do list.
– Put something of yourself into every post you write, even if it is a review or a meme. People love reading personal stuff. People will keep coming back for it.
– Don’t feel guilty if you have to step away from your blog. Your readership is always going to fluctuate even when you are blogging regularly. You should blog when your fingers are itching to write or type something – the best blog posts are born that way. But if your blogging mojo has gone to the beach, then go with it and enjoy something else. It will come back to you when you are not trying too hard to compel it back.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

I haven’t had a blogging experience yet (touch wood) that has upset me. But I do want to mention one of my most memorable ones. I had only been blogging for less than a year (so I was still relatively new in bloglandia) when my brother got sick and was in the ICU for almost a month. Until then, I had been blogging every day. When I finally returned to blogging, I posted about what happened and how depressed it made me. When I hit the Publish button, I was expecting some condolences from some bloggers who visited me often. What I didn’t expect was an outpouring of comforting words and sharing of similar experiences, even from bloggers who didn’t often visit my blog. This is what always stumps me. I am not a person who is comfortable with displays of emotion. I struggle to find the right thing to say to someone who is suffering. I also struggle to talk about the things that bother me. And yet, when I saw all those responses to my post that day, I felt immensely grateful for being a part of the book blogging community.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about this.

When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of fan-fiction. There was one college story that I loved but the writer didn’t finish it. Feeling unsatisfied by the lack of closure in the story, I set out to write my own version of that story. If I had published that story, it would be obvious plagiarism, but I wasn’t planning to put it out in the public at all. I was just so impressed by the impact of reading a story that made me want to write my own story, even if it was similar to the one I read. Of course, I didn’t finish that story at all, but I believe I still have it somewhere in my computer.
I haven’t written a story since, but there are all these ideas in my head, that I know it is only a matter of time.

12. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

Lately, not so much. With preparing for our new arrival (just a couple of weeks now!), routines have taken a back-seat. Right now, I try to write as often as I can for my blog, which has gone down from three posts a week to about two. But now that most of the to-dos before the baby arrives have been taken care of, I am hoping to get back on the writing bandwagon. (Don’t want to find it hard to write even a few words once the baby is here.) But even when I was writing, I didn’t have a routine. I write when the inspiration hits or some topic is bothering me. This happens at work sometimes, and sometimes when I am running an errand. But I still try to pen down something – enough to flesh it out later. Most of these items don’t see the light of day, but I have enjoyed going back and reading some of the articles later. I strongly believe that you leave a piece of yourself in every article you write and I have found it interesting to revisit what I once used to believe in or felt strongly about.

13. Three tips for writers.

– If you are a writer of books or stories, then read. A lot. As a reader of the books you write, there is nothing that turns me off more than your admission that you don’t read books.
– Write like you care. Even if it is a simple blog post. I like to see depth, thoughtfulness, personality, adventure, and some risks in your writing.
– Please run that spell check on everything you publish. And do read what you wrote, a good amount of time AFTER you wrote it. Everything you proofread immediately after writing it will feel perfect – it’s your brain covering up the mistakes. Read it an hour later, and you will be surprised to spot some grammatical errors and wrong choice of words.

IMG_0049 14. What are you most passionate about?

Honestly, my passions keep changing like the seasons. Someday, it’s reading, another day, it’s writing. Yet another day, you might catch me lost in my knitting and not wanting to come out of it. Sometimes, it’s learning a new language. Another time, it’s fighting for a cause I believe in. And yes, there are times when I am not passionate about anything. I love it though – I love that my passions keep cycling between several different interests. I am thankful that each phase lasts a sufficiently long period, so I’m not just abandoning them. For example, every fall-winter, I catch the knitting bug and then I can do nothing else – not much reading or writing. But come the new year, the knitting bags are put aside and the books come out.

15. Last book that made you cry.

This was hard. I guess I don’t read that many books that are advertised as being melancholy or tearjerkers. I have stumbled across an occasional quote or character from a book that made me cry like a baby but once I am done with the book, I don’t always remember that teary aspect of the book. I had to go back all the way to 2013 to find the last book that made me cry like a baby – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. That was a tearjerker without being manipulative about it – a very hard combination to achieve according to me because I always feel manipulated when I cry after reading or watching something.

Ask me a question.

I have always loved your blog name and thought it to have the right amount of mystery and personality. What is the secret behind your blog name? How did you come up with it?

It was years ago, during a conversation I was having with my husband. I don’t remember exactly who came up with the name or what we were talking about, but when I heard it I knew it was perfect for my blog. And I have to admit it fits – I hate spelling mistakes/typos with a vengeance, although I admit they do sneak up on me undetected from time to time. It’s always easier to spot them in someone else’s work.

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Gone Forever: a Get Jack Reacher novel by Scott Blade

Nothing to Lose by Lee Child was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog back in 2011. It was a fun book to read, despite a few issues I had with the main character. Still the idea behind the story, this Wild West cowboy of modern days traveling all over America solving cases appealed to me, and that is why when author Scott Blade emailed me and asked if I would like to read his novel I was curious enough to say yes.

First of all, I must say I was relieved to see the story is about Jack Reacher’s son and not about Reacher himself. That was a bonus point. I’m not sure I would have liked to read about a known character from another author’s point of view.

Get Jack Reacher Cameron Reacher is Jack Reacher’s son. His mother, a small town sheriff, dies when Cameron is eighteen, leaving clear instructions as to what path her son must follow. He, like an obedient son, does as he is told, leaving behind the town he grew up in, on a quest to find his father. Just like his father, he walks and occasionally hitchhikes until he reaches a small town where a man is desperately looking for his missing wife. The only problem is, nobody seems to remember her and someone in the town wants the husband gone or dead. Cameron decides to help and in the process he survives some pretty impressive life threatening situations. One in a jail cell involving a rope was my favorite because I did not see how he could get out of it which obviously he had to otherwise the book would just end with the main character dead. In fact, this is the appeal of this story, the ability to surprise. The writing is straightforward, and at times becomes technical, with a lot of information about guns that I wasn’t particularly interested in but other readers who know a lot more on the subject will probably appreciate. Detail is one thing this book abounds in. At times it felt like Cameron was a little too fixated on things – like how many minutes and even seconds it took him to do certain things, how he could tell the time without looking at a watch, and how he was always keeping his calm and never got beaten up by anybody. Sure, he was a massive guy, with long black hair and hands like a “human gorilla”, something Blade insisted on a little too much (I got the point early on) and everybody was afraid of him except the people who gave him a ride.
Also, I got a chuckle out of seeing that he named one of the characters Ann Gables.

Overall this was a good thriller with plenty of action and an interesting character. The author did a good job of creating a background that was believable, and in this way tying the story back to Jack Reacher. I’m curious to see if Cameron finds his father and what happens when he does. I just hope it won’t take ten novels to find out.
Many thanks to the author who provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read in June 2015

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And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed is Khaled Hosseini’s third and latest book. The first one was The Kite Runner, followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns. I have read all three of them and have to say there are plenty of echoes of The Kite Runner in Hosseini’s latest novel.

And the Mountains Echoed Once again, this is a story of Afghan people – a poor family, a father who makes a hard choice, children separated for decades, promises broken, memories cherished and finally, the sweet moment of reconnection. There is forbidden love and a terrible family secret. The action takes place over a period of more than fifty years, spanning countries – from Afghanistan to France and the U.S. The story weaves its way from one character to the next – from inseparable siblings Abdullah and Pari, to their uncle Nabi, to Nabi’s employer and his wife, to a Greek doctor, and then back to the beginning.

The theme of the immigrant, something Hosseini has explored in The Kite Runner, is also present here. In fact the books are quite similar – children protagonists, a terrible secret, decades spent in another country, letters, emotions, family connections. Maybe that is why I felt this third novel followed a familiar pattern. Unfortunately, the raw emotions that were so powerful in The Kite Runner felt a bit forced here, a little too polished and glossed to fit the expectations of a western audience. Except for a brief moment or two that were unexpected, this time the story did not feel new but more like something written for an audience who was already familiar with the author’s previous work and expected more of the same. Maybe this is why I do not feel like going into too much detail. It’s a good story told in simple words which create vividly colored scenes – walking through a bazaar, an interview with a poet, brief moments of beauty and lingering sadness, but its beauty would probably be appreciated more by those who are not familiar with the author’s previous books.

There is a scene however which I enjoyed very much. In it, a boy takes a picture of a girl at the beach using a homemade camera. The boy has to count to one hundred and twenty before he drops the shutter but at intervals the author fast-forwards through the years and tells us what happened to the boy who wanted to be a photographer. By the time he drops the shutter we find out he has made a life altering decision as an adult. Then the story resumes its rhythm. I thought that was a beautifully executed scene, the numbers going up to the final scene, a crescendo of events marked by the passing of time, condensed in the space it takes to take a photograph.
I also liked the explanation behind the name of the book. I’m not going to say any more on that except that I am again impressed by how poetry has inspired so many great novels; Stephen King’s Dark Tower books and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire are just two names that come to mind.
Overall, I enjoyed this book but not as much as the previous two novels, which are quite different from each other. There lies their beauty.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in May-June 2015

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Book shopping in Bangkok

Every May, Neilson Hayes Library, the only English library in Bangkok that I know of has a book sale. Hundreds of books, most of them in good condition, some quite old and marked by the passage of time (and possibly some book-hungry bugs, judging by the intricate “designs” they left behind) await patiently on long tables under a big heat-trapping tent. Even at 11 in the morning it’s so hot that no matter what you’re wearing you’ll be sweating in no time. But that’s not a reason to stay away.

NH

I had waited for this particular Saturday for weeks. And to make things even better, the same weekend, Dasa, my favorite second-hand book store, had a 20% off of all books. I guess it’s not hard to imagine what I did. First I braved the heat and bought five books from the library sale, then I went and spent some time browsing in the air-conditioned interior of the book store where I bought 5 more. The great thing about Dasa is that they have a list of the books available that you can download and browse through before going to the book store itself. I did that, and went there with a list and I’m happy to say I was able to come away with all the books I hoped to find. There were more I would have liked to buy but I decided to save both my money and my energy for a future visit. Buying 10 books sounds romantic until you actually have to carry them around.

ten books I came away with a few westerns – I was able to finally find a good copy of Winnetou by Carl May, a book I read as a teenager and wanted to re-read again ever since. Also In the Desert by the same author sounded too good to pass by and so did One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. I liked the historical fact One Thousand White Women was based on. From the Author’s Note:

“…the seed that grew into a novel was sown in the author’s imagination by an actual historical event: in 1854 at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors. Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother’s tribe, this seemed to the Cheyennes to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man’s world – a terrifying new world that even as early as 1854, the Native Americans clearly recognized held no place for them. Needles to say, the Cheyennes’ request was not well received by the white authorities – the peace conference collapsed, the Cheyennes went home, and, of course, the white women did not come. In this novel they do.”

The Ruins by Scott Smith is a book I’ve been looking for since I heard it’s supposed to be a fine work of horror and now I can finally read it. And because I enjoyed Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian I decided to get The Swan Thieves as well. I’m very curious to see if it’s just as good or maybe even better.

Tolstoy I also bought two very old books, which I was told were donated to the library by the son of an Indian doctor after his father passed away. You can see the stamp with the name on the first one, Tolstoy’s Twenty-Three Tales. I’m not a great fan of Russian authors (ever since I had to drag myself through Ana Karenina) but this made me want to give Russian authors another chance. Hopefully this collection of short stories will be more enjoyable.

I bought The Deerslayer, by James Jenimore Cooper because I’ve wanted to read it ever since I read The Last Mohican, and because it has a very nice looking hardcover. Just looking at that intricate design on the red cover makes me sigh with happiness. I’m very fond of old books.

I loved Joyce Carol Oates collection of short stories in Give Me Your Heart so when I saw The Female of the Species – Tales of Mystery and Suspense, I knew I had to have it.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier whispered of love and secrets and that sounds like a great combination (and, to be honest, I can’t remember if I read Rebecca so I thought this might be a good choice when I’m in the mood for a classic).

Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott, was a nice surprise. She’s an author Vishy told me about and I was curious to see if I would like her novel so I decided to take it home.

Have you read any of these books? Did you enjoy them?

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Guest post – Priya

Today I’m very happy to introduce this month’s guest blogger, Priya, who blogs over at Tabula Rasa. I’m a frequent visitor to her blog – in addition to reviewing novels she has reviewed poetry, wrote a post about music recently, and although she has not mentioned this, she is a writer. I really enjoyed reading her short story, The Dew Eagle which you can read online here.

Priya 1. Who are you?

My name is Priya, which means beloved in Sanskrit. It is a painfully common name here in India, a fact that used to bother me until I discovered that it shares linguistic roots with the name of the Norse goddess of love, Frejya or Frigg. I was further delighted to read that Frejya rode a carriage driven by cats. Scandinavian myths are a new hobby and the mythology section of the campus library is my favourite haunt. A twenty-something language buff, I am a year into a Master’s in Linguistics. I love to read and once had a friend introduce me to a group with the line, “She eats books for breakfast.” For a cat-lover, I am quiet as a mouse and rather fond of comfort zones. I am a TV addict, devouring everything from Downton Abbey to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am a passionate doodler, a daydreamer and a closet believer-in-magic.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

Tabula Rasa did not start out as a book blog. But because my life is largely composed of books, it was only natural for my passion for reading to eventually take over my writing space. Tabula Rasa turns five this month, and it has gone through many changes over the years. But peel off all the layers and you will find that it is still just a cozy place for me to find my voice.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

J. K. Rowling, Sir Terry Pratchett, Stephen King. These three have more in common than being writers of genre fiction. Their books are sincere, passionate and they have created worlds I care about as much as, and sometimes more than, my own. All three traverse uncharted areas of the mind, shine a light of hope in its darkest corners and most strikingly, often and with great insight, wield humour to combat its deepest terrors.

4. Kindle or paper book?

Every time this debate fires up, I want to remind people that it is the story that matters, not where it is written. I would read Harry Potter on eggshells! I have begun to embrace the handy Kindle lately, with the convenience of a lit screen and the harmless virtual highlighter. However, this is not to say that there aren’t days when I crave the smell of old paper and the coarse touch of a worn dust jacket… I guess a part of me will always remain old school.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

1. The Book of Brownies by Enid Blyton is a story of three friends who are tricked by a witch into kidnapping the King’s daughter. Banished from the Brownieland, they set out to rescue her. This was my first foray into fantasy. I do not claim to have understood either the nature or power of magic at the age of seven, but I do remember the conviction that I had stumbled upon something big. Soon, I developed a near-reverence for Blyton’s stories and idly dreamt of tea parties for pixies and fountains of lemonade.
Blyton taught me this – reading fantasy is like taking your mind to the gym. It is a crucial exercise that will strengthen your mind, stretch its horizons. Growing up, you will have hurtling towards you truckloads of knowledge, big facts and unshakeable emotions. School will offer convenient explanations for some, solutions that you can pack away in neat little compartments of your head. But fantasy will teach you to accept and love that not every problem has an answer.
Fantasy gave me, early on, the curiosity essential for learning even as it made me comfortable with the inexplicable. Years later, when Terry Pratchett told me that humans need fantasy to believe, to be human, he put into words an idea that had struck me at seven.
2. I learnt the significance of the written word from Possession by A.S. Byatt, which made me see the good in keeping records of life’s seeming inconsequentialities. Byatt inspired me to maintain a (fairly consistent) diary. I will never stop thanking her for it.
3. Joining a book club made me realize, on the very first meeting I attended, that sharing your experience of reading a book makes it at least twice as pleasurable. The book in question was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I have always had issues with it, and while the discussion did not drive all of those away, it did introduce a myriad little details I had missed and allusions I had failed to draw. Readers are like snowflakes, no two are alike, and each one will add something of his own to the interpretation of a book. That was also the day I heard someone state that the aim of the club was not to critique books, but to admire them; this, I fashioned into my blog motto.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The book is more than an entertaining adventure. It is spiritual and cynical, offers both hope and an essential reality check. More than anything, it cheekily toys with your conception of truth. Pi Patel is an intriguing character and Yann Martel is a genius world-builder. Really, what better story to read on a deserted island than that of a boy who survived two hundred and twenty seven harrowing days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger?

7. Favorite quotes.

I have always found Ray Bradbury to be full of this kind of sharp and delicate wisdom that forever sticks with you. I haven’t read nearly enough by him.

Life in the end seemed a prank of such size you could only stand off at this end of the corridor to note its meaningless length and its quite unnecessary height, a mountain built to such ridiculous immensities you were dwarfed in its shadow and mocking of its pomp.

– Something Wicked This Way Comes –

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

– Fahrenheit 451 –

We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.

– Zen in the Art of Writing –

8. Three tips for writers.

I am no expert, the only thing I can attest for is consistency. I learned this from Ray Bradbury, who says you must collect all ideas you get and try to finish one piece (story, if you are a fiction writer) a week. Practice certainly made me better. So here is my tip – read what writers you admire have to say. Stephen King tells you to read, for every good writer is a reader. Even he insists on consistency, telling you not to wait around for the muse to appear. Neil Gaiman thinks that so long as you write with honesty and confidence, there are no rules. He basically tells you to set your own rules, which is the best and hardest advice you will ever get.

Priya01 9. What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about language and how it creates and shapes thought. I am also passionate about teaching, especially children. I rarely talk about the latter on my blog, as I have not yet fully explored it. But I do believe one of the greatest pleasures in life is witnessing that moment of understanding in a kid’s eyes, catching the expression as it travels from dazed confusion to twinkling clarity.

10. Last book that made you cry.

I surprised myself last year when I teared up reading The Iliad. Admittedly, some of it may have been because I had made it through to the end, a feat I had deemed impossible. The Iliad presented a tense build up to its final showdown. It had been predicted from the start that Achilles would kill Hector, but even so, when it happened, Hector’s death hit hard. I was alone at home and had been reading aloud to myself, when I choked up. I could only imagine the stunning response the scene must have invoked in a live audience and found a new admiration for the style of narration.
The King and Queen of Troy react to their son’s murder in typical Greek-epic fashion, with wailing monologues. But it was the scene when Hector’s wife hears his mother’s cry that I found truly heartbreaking. Andromache is in a chamber, ordering her maids to heat a bath for Hector when he arrives, when she hears the commotion and runs out. The page ended with these lines:

“On reaching the great tower and the soldiers,
Andromache stood gazing from the wall
and saw him dragged before the city.
Chariot-horses at a brutal gallop
pulled the torn body toward the decked ships.
Blackness of night covered her eyes; she fell”

My tears resumed at the end when the Trojan King begged Achilles for Hector’s body, and he complied. I once met an English professor who waxed eloquent about the emotional strength of the Indian epics in contrast with the Greek ones, especially that of the Mahabharata, which is ten times the length of Homer’s works. If I ever meet the professor again, I would ask him to go back and read this.

There is a book I have been meaning to read, called Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad by Alice Oswald. The book, which sounds intense and lyrical, is a translation of the Iliad, chronicling all the deaths leading up to Hector’s. Here is a reading from it:

din-marile-legende-ale-lumii 11. Ask me a question.
Which is your earliest or fondest book-related memory?

I have so many great book-related memories that is difficult to choose just one. I used to read Jules Verne and westerns and Romanian folktales, but one book I loved very much and I would read again and again was a translated old copy of world myths. I remember the first letter of each story was an elaborate composition of curls and lines, such as you would find in a book of fairy-tales and each story had pictures. That’s how I found out about Gilgamesh, Tristan and Yseult, El Cid, Gudrun, Siegfried and Brunhilde, and King Arthur. It’s amazing how the books of our childhood stay with us for a long time. To this day I love stories based on myths and fairy-tales.

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The Tawny Man Trilogy – Robin Hobb

For the last month or so, I’ve been caught between three books. I started Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell, thinking I’d take a break from trilogies for a while, then joined DolceBellezza for a read-along of Little, Big, by John Crowley which I abandoned after reading about 10% of the story on my Kindle (I blame the Kindle, naturally) before deciding I really can’t wait to find out what happens to Fitz and so went back to the next trilogy that follows him on his adventures.

I strongly recommend you read my review of The Farseer Trilogy before continuing with this one. I have tried to stay away from major spoilers – you’ll find more by reading the blurbs on the back covers of the books themselves.

TM1   TM2 TM3

After the end of the Red Ship Wars, Fitz disappears. His role in aiding the Farseer line seems to have been completed – the Outislanders commanding the Red Ships have been defeated, and the people of the Six Duchies are slowly rebuilding their lives. A new heir is to be born to the ruling house of the Farseers, and although King-In-Waiting Verity is no more, the future seems to run on a promising course again.
For fifteen years, Fitz lives in seclusion together with his wolf Nighteyes and later on, Hap joins them. He’s an orphan boy Fitz adopts as his own. Then, his old mentor, Chade, comes for a visit and brings dark tidings. Once again, the Farseer throne is in jeopardy and Fitz is required for a mission. He has to find the missing prince, Dutiful, and restore him to Buckkeep Castle before a delegation from the Out Islands arrives with his betrothed, Narcheska Elliania. After being at war for years, the marriage between the prince and the Narcheska is the key to a long lasting peace.

Book One is about retrieving prince Dutiful from the hands of his captors. This will once again bring together Fitz and The Fool who together with Chade, must act to bring Dutiful back alive. It will also be a time of loss – Nighteyes is dead. By the start of Book Two, Fitz is mourning the loss of his wolf companion but he doesn’t have time to do so for long as a new challenge presents itself – he must accompany the prince and the Narcheska to the cold icy island of Aslevjal, where Dutiful has to cut off the head of the dragon Icefyre and bring it to Elliania’s family if he is to win her hand in marriage.
In Book Three, a small group of people make it to Aslevjal. It’s a cold and dismal place, and finding Icefyre is no easy feat. They encounter an enemy and an unexpected friend, and when they finally complete their task, it’s not exactly as they planned. All I can say without giving away spoilers is that at the end everybody comes out with what they wanted.

The Fool has a much more active role in this trilogy. Although he remains a mystery, some details about his past emerge, enough to fit the puzzles of the story together but not all of them. His many faceted personality and ability to transform himself serves him well, as he has made a transition from King Shred’s Fool to rich Lord Golden, an exotic man with a penchant for flashy clothes and witty conversation. His friendship with Fitz will suffer, but like a wound, it bleeds and then closes, leaving them both with a new outlook on their relationship and bringing them even closer. As it was stated in The Farseer Trilogy, The White Prophet (The Fool) and his Catalyst (Fitz) can change the world and this they do, setting it on a new course.

I liked Book Three the best. The revelations, the decisions, the harsh conditions and challenges that Fitz and The Fool have to face made me read most of it during last weekend. Although I’ve enjoyed The Farseer Trilogy more, that could also be because it was a new story. Now, I feel like I already know the characters to some extent which made it possible to see ahead in the story, but I guess that is to be expected. There were enough turns and twists in the last book to satisfy the pickiest reader, even one with an appetite for drama like myself. I was happy for Fitz because in the end he got what he desired most even if it had to come with the price of one good friend and a lot of heartache. A little too convenient but it fit the story nevertheless.

If in The Farseer Trilogy I liked The Mountain Kingdom, this time I was intrigued by the customs of the Outislanders. Their world could not have been more different than that of the Six Duchies. According to their customs, men were raiders, going out to the sea to plunder other lands, while women owned the land passed on through maternal line. Women had the power to make the important decisions, and they were organized into “mothershouses”, each belonging to a clan, living in tight-knitted communities. Paternity was not an issue as children were seen as belonging to a house rather than to a man, and the women were the ones who choose their partner and how long they lived together.

As usual, magic was represented by The Wit and The Skill, two very special abilities that could allow people who possess them to bond with an animal (those people are called “Witted”) and to communicate and even influence and heal others or travel through special pillars to distant places for those who possess the gift of “skilling”. There are those who have either one or the other and those who have both. Thick, Chade’s aide, a “half-wit”, has strong skilling powers, and while he can be difficult at times, he can also be funny.

Another interesting aspect of the story is the presence of dragons. The Fool sees them as the only animal more powerful than man and he’s determined to do anything in his power to see them restored to earth. Without them, he thinks there is no balance and man becomes the most powerful creature, something he wants to prevent at all costs. I found the idea intriguing and I’m curious to see what will happen to the dragons in the next three books.

Now I’ll have to wait patiently for the next trilogy to be completed – “The Fitz and The Fool” is still a work in progress but I was very excited to find out from Goodreads that the second book in the trilogy is coming out this year and the last one in 2016. I’m really looking forward to reading them.

oncetimenine250 I’ve read this for the Once Upon a Time event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.

Read in: April-May 2015
My rating: 4.5 stars

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 8 Comments

What kind of music do bloggers listen to?

I know what books and genres most of my favorite bloggers gravitate towards, but music? I don’t have the faintest idea. Do you listen to classical music while trying to get the words to behave? Do you nod your head to some R&B or hip hop? Do you feel inspired by epic music and pound away on your keyboard to movie soundtracks?
A blogger friend gave me the idea for this post when he asked me about my favorite songs/bands/singers, so I decided to write a post and share some of them with you.

1. Dépêche Mode
I have such great memories about this band. I grew up with them, loved and lost with them, and in 2006, when I was finally able to go to one of their concerts, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

2. Ed Sheeran – Give Me Love
I don’t remember how I stumbled on this one but I fell in love with it from the very first sounds. Sad, haunting, and the video clip is about a tragic story of a famous angel. I also like I See Fire which was on the soundtrack of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, Photograph, and the chorus of Don’t.

3. Coldplay
I love so many of their songs it’s quite difficult to choose – Clocks, Paradise, Fix You, Speed of Sound, and my latest favorite, Lost. I discovered this one last year during NaNoWriMo and it saved both my story and my sanity.

4. INXS
I’ve liked them for almost as long as I liked Dépêche Mode. Need You Tonight and Suicide Blonde are songs I listen to every now and again.

5. Lenny KrawitzBelieve in Me, Thinking of You, I Belong to You, and the newest one, Chamber, are all great tunes.

6. Florence and the MachineBedroom Hymns and Shake It Out

7. One RepublicCounting Stars

8. Marilyn Manson – this one was a surprise to me. I have heard of Marilyn Manson and found him slightly scary (I like Gothic but I find his makeup a bit extreme) but never really paid attention to his music until I was watching an episode of Salem and really liked the song at the beginning of the movie. At first I thought it was a Dépêche Mode song because it sounds similar, but the voice was all wrong so I Googled it. That was a shock. The song, Cupid Carries a Gun, is from the album The Pale King and after listening to the album over and over again (and liking most of the songs) I decided he’s definitely on the favorites list. Killing Strangers, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles, Birds of Hell Awaiting, Fall of the House Of Death are my favorites. There. I’ve said it.

9. SantanaMaria

10. Lana del Rey. If you have watched “The Great Gatsby” with Leonardo diCaprio you’re probably aware of Young and Beautiful, one of the songs on the soundtrack of this movie. And if you haven’t watched it yet (the movie I mean), you should. It’s a feast for the eyes and a beautiful if twisted love story.

11. Justin TimberlakeMirrors

12. Maroon 5One More Night, She Will be Loved

13. Ellie GouldingBurn, Lights, Beating Heart.
Somehow she made it on a playlist on my mp3 player and I’ve been listening to her songs for months while jogging.

14. Pink.
When Stupid Girls came out I thought it was a great song and admired Pink for daring to be part of a video that was both hilarious and real. I also like Try and Just Give Me a Reason.

15. AdeleRolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, Set Fire to the Rain

16. Thievery Corporation
Claridad. A great gem of a song from the album Saudade, this one I discovered on a plane trip in January.

17. GotyeHearts a Mess. I love this one and the video is really strange; it reminds me of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”. Somebody That I Used to Know is another great song and so are the weird and wonderful sounds of The Only Way.

18. The Idan Raichel ProjectMi’Ma’Amakim (Out of the Depths). I heard this song years ago at a friend’s birthday and loved it instantly. I didn’t understand a word but that didn’t make one bit of a difference.

What are your favorites? Can you find some of them on this list?

Posted in Favorite Sounds | 22 Comments

A weekend trip to Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is about two hours drive from Bangkok. My husband and I have visited the place once before but always wanted to go back and explore further. Famous for its waterfalls, jungle treks and wildlife (including leeches!), it’s a perfect spot for a quick holiday because it has open fields as well as jungle treks. Many treks can be done without a guide, and we did two, one short and one long, stopping along the way near the running water to admire some colorful butterflies. The longer trek through the jungle took us three hours one way; the road wound up and down, straight and easy to walk on, then blocked by fallen logs, then almost vertical so we had to climb, while other sections of the trail had steps, some man-made, some just tree roots and hard packed earth. Quite a few thorny plants, some at eye level. My long pants were very useful to keep me scratch free but not great to keep the leeches away, even if I had sprayed my legs and arms with insect repellent. They probably liked the orange flavor. I should have worn socks.

Many of the animals didn’t seem too bothered to see humans – the gibbons were quite friendly, climbing up on cars and even coming close to touch people and beg for food. A curious baby gibbon found a scorpion but kept well clear of it.
The deer were grazing in the open fields, and a couple of them came quite close to an information booth where a ranger was watching. It felt so out of this world to just sit in the car and see the animal a few meters away. It wasn’t afraid, just grazed placidly as in the distance a fawn was bleating, probably calling for its mother. When we came back by the same route the deer was sitting on the grass.
In the jungle we spotted a crocodile, sunning itself on a log, and a baby monitor lizard tentatively making its way out of the water. Gibbons jumped between trees above us, big millipedes scuttled on the path and above all, extremely loud cicadas sang various rhythms.

The waterfalls didn’t have that much water – it’s best to visit them during the rainy season which is still a bit away – but we enjoyed dipping our feet in the shallow water and laying down for a short nap on the rocks near the small Kong Kaeo waterfall. The most spectacular, Haew Narok Waterfall, is a sheer fifty-meter drop to a natural pool at the base. Visitor access is restricted to a wooden deck accessible after going down 175 steps. Walking down the steps felt like descending from a sky scraper with no walls. I felt a bit dizzy but held on to the rails and walked slowly. Climbing back up was even more challenging because some steps were almost vertical. The way to Haew Suwat Waterfall is straight through the jungle. One of the most famous waterfalls, it can be seen up close, as the terrain is not that rocky.

The best part of the whole trip was seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The weather was hot but not as hot as in the city, about 28 degrees Celsius, and plants kept us away from the sun – it was almost like going through a tunnel. We saw elephant droppings and near a suspended bridge a Giant Black Squirrel (that’s the name of the species) bigger than a cat, who successfully avoided my attempts at photographing it.

Another famous attraction of the area is watching the bats come out at sunset. We found a place to watch them, behind a temple, a few kilometers away from the park itself. Apparently there is a bat cave somewhere in the mountain and if you’re there at the right moment you can see them flying away. What’s impressive about it is not that you see the bats up close – in fact they’re so far away they resemble a wisp of smoke – but the fact that it takes about five minutes (I looked at my watch) for all of them to fly away from the cave in a long queue. I’m glad we had the opportunity to see them.

On our way back we stopped at Khao Yai Art Museum and saw bronze sculptures and lovely paintings by Thai artists. My favorite is a painting I called “Beautiful Death”. There’s something beautifully ugly about it, like a reminder of the ravages of time.

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KH1
Posted in Travel | 18 Comments

Guest post – Brian

Today I’m pleased to post an interview with Brian, who blogs at Babbling Books. He loves the classics, Shakespeare in particular, and what I love about his reviews is that they reflect not only his opinion, but a desire to go beyond the words and into the heart of the writing itself.

Final Book Shot 1. Who are you?

First, I am a person who is all about relationships with people in my life. My wife, my family and my friends mean everything to me. They come before everything else.
Second, I am about morality and ethics. Trying to do what is right and absolutely essential to who I am. I do not look to a divine power for guidance here, instead it is based upon my own reason and feeling.
Next, I am a conscious being who strives to understand the Universe and humanity’s place in it. This means I am always curious and always learning about science, especially the “big questions”, as well as history, art, literature, philosophy and lots of other stuff.
All of the above sounds very serious. I am also a person who likes to enjoy life, including some of life’s material aspects. I really like having fun!

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I started a blog because I wanted to be heard. I love to share my ideas. As reading is my primary life’s hobby, and because I can relate reading to just about all my three interests, I choose book blogging. Of course it is not all about me; the interactions with others relating to my blog, and to reading, are an essential reason for my blogging. I do this via my comments section, through email, twitter, etc. This communication with others is so valuable and rewarding, it alone would make blogging worth it.

3. Who are your 3 favorite authors?

My favorite authors are:
William Shakespeare who is incomparably great. His characters, themes, language and humanity are so rich and unequaled by anyone else.

Hermann Hesse is admittedly a flawed writer who probably does not belong in an objective list of all time great authors. Yet his explorations of the human personality as they relate to history, art and human existence are right up my alley. He pushes all the right buttons for me. Thus for personal reasons he is among my favorites.

Albert Camus depicts a secular and gloomy view of existence that is infused with compassion and caring for other humans. This odd mix just does it for me.
Honorable mention to Anthony Trollope – I am tempted to add him as a fourth name. I find that his depictions of people and their interactions may be the most realistic out of all the authors that I have ever read. I really need to read more of his books before I actually put him on the list.

4. Kindle or paper book?

This is an enormously controversial subject! Though this confession may vex some of my friends, I must sheepishly admit that I love e-readers. When using one, I take a lot of notes and highlight text. I would never do this with a real book, as this would damage the tome. In addition the cutting and pasting feature is invaluable when including quotes in blog posts. Of course being able to order or download a book whenever I want it is so very advantageous.
Folks often mention that they lose the aesthetic feel of a book when using an e-reader. I confess that I find it difficult to appreciate the aesthetics of a paperback or even a low cost hardcover. I do appreciate aesthetics of higher quality hardcovers. However I really cannot afford to collect those anyway.

Though I know that sales of old fashioned books have stabilized, I am not sure that low cost physical books will survive indefinitely in the digital age. I do foresee a possible future where people mostly read digital books but where some people maintain collections of high quality hard bound books. I am thinking of something similar to the way that some folks have gone back to collecting vinyl records with high quality packaging.

5. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

I tried to come up with something intellectually rich and comprehensive. Obviously I would want my choice to be long so I choose “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”.

6. Best book to use as a doorstop.

Though I think that there are a lot of bad books out there, I would contend that the worst books champion ideas that are detrimental to people and society. I must first note that I am not in favor of censorship or the suppression of ideas. I am in favor of criticizing certain ideas however.

I choose two Ayn Rand Novels as doorstops. They are “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”. In certain quarters, particularly in the United States, these books, as well as Rand’s ideology, exemplified by these novels, are all the rage. The books simplistically categorize all group efforts, particularly efforts initiated by the government, as “collectivism”. Furthermore such group efforts are depicted as harmful to human well-being. Furthermore the books espouse an extremely narcissistic and cold form of individuality, over all other human values. Rand goes even further and tends to demonize characters – those who do not adhere to her dogma. These days this ideology is having an extremely strong influence in American government and politics and is helping to drive really bad and extreme political and social decisions. Though occasionally insightful, the ideas here are more often sophomoric. As final word on these books, I must mention that I find Rand’s storytelling skills to be downright awful.

7. Favorite quotes

Carl Sagan from “Pale Blue Dot”.
The below quote refers to a picture of the earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft when it was four billion miles from Earth. In the picture the Earth is just a speck.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The below quote is from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. I am not always so nihilistic about life as this quote implies, but I do think it does put some things into perspective.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

8. Three tips for book bloggers.

1. Write as much or as little as you want. It is your blog.
2. Even if you are blogging about a limited subject, strive to express something about your beliefs and feelings about life and other important ideas into your blog. This is your chance to be heard.
3. Reach out. There is a dynamic and friendly blogging community out there. Engage with others. Comment on the blogs of others. Consider guest blogging or inviting others to write posts on your site. Join in on reading events, read along events, etc.

9. What are you most passionate about?

I tend to be passionate about social and political issues. These are the things that affect the most people. It is in these areas where much of our morality is played out. Though I believe that my views are moderate and reasoned, I feel very strongly about them and I am not shy about expressing them.

10. Last book that made you cry.

Though it was not the last book that made me cry, there is a passage from a book that never fails to make me emotional when I think about it. This is true years after reading it. It comes from “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. When the main character, Siddhartha, has sunk into the deepest depths of despair as a result of the vacuousness of the world and the hollow life that he has created for himself, he attempts suicide by drowning. As he nears the end he hears the sacred word “Om”, which at least in the context of this story, is symbolic of the harmony and balance inherent of the Universe. At this moment Siddhartha chooses not to die. Though I am not a believer in external spirituality, I do place a high value in finding meaning and strength in life based upon one’s own positive values as they interrelate to the Universe at large. I find this passage to be enormously impactful and affecting in a positive way. Thus, this scene never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I contemplate it.

11. Ask me a question.

What book has influenced you or affected you the most?

That is an easy question because this book is also my favorite – Don Juan by Josef Toman, a Czech author. I love the mix of history, religion, the battle between good and evil and the strong positive message in the second half of the book. I have never met a person who has heard of it or read it, although one or two people have done so at my recommendation. That makes me sad, because it’s an incredibly beautiful book who deserves to be out there next to the best historical fiction. I own a Romanian translation and thanks to a good friend I met in the blogosphere, an English translation from 1958. The book came out in 1944.

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