Monthly Archives: January 2012

Blog anniversay and giveaway

It’s been a little over a year since I started this book-blog. A year filled with wonderful discoveries in the realm of books, and attempts at writing my thoughts on them in the form of reviews. Every trip to the bookstore was like a journey into the world of magic. It’s true that not all the books I bought were to my liking, just like it’s true that the books I did like outnumbered by far those I didn’t. Sometimes even magic has its limits.
I am grateful to everyone who has visited this corner of the virtual world and especially to those who have taken a few minutes of their time to leave a comment. Your input was (and continues to be) greatly appreciated.

The books to be given away are
The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson and
Little Bee – Chris Cleave (also published under the name “The Other Hand”). I read them last year and loved them both. I hope you will, too.

To enter the giveaway you must:

1. Write a comment here saying which book you’d like to receive
2. Leave a valid email address in your comment
3. Write the name and author of your favorite book and a few words about it. I’m always looking for books to read and I’m always interested in what other people recommend.

You can also tell me a bit about yourself; I’m not asking for your birthday but it would be nice to know where you live, what your favorite color is and which ice-cream flavor you prefer. This may, or may not influence my decision. Don’t worry, I won’t send you ice-cream. I’m just curious about little things like that.

This giveaway runs from January 28th – February 4th , 2012 and is open internationally. The winners (one for each book) will be notified through an email and will have 48 hours to answer. I’m not sure yet how I will choose who gets the books. Maybe I’ll toss a coin or maybe I’ll have a raffle. Comments are still moderated.
Good luck!

Posted in Giveaways | 21 Comments

Sudden Flash Youth – 65 Short-Short Stories, edited by Christine Perkins-Hazuka, Tom Hazuka and Mark Budman

I’m starting to like short stories more and more. They are very refreshing, especially after a big book. However, I have never read a collection like this one. The stories are so short that I found myself wondering how the writers managed to express an idea in so very few words. And because the stories are so short, some of them only half a page or even less, the connection with the reader is made quickly, with detailed paragraphs which drew me in from the very first words.

In Heartland, by Daphne Beal, there’s a striking paragraph with an amazing contrast:

“In New Orleans, the air has body it’s so thick. It’s only March, but as we ride from the airport past houses that look like someone’s taken a baseball bat to them, trees burst with white and pink blossoms, unabashed, and strange beauty is everywhere.”

Little Brother, by Bruce Holland Rogers, is a story about a boy getting a little brother as a Christmas present. But as innocent as that may sound, it really wasn’t, and as the story progressed I had the feeling that something was wrong. Not until the last sentence did I get to find out what it was and I have to admit, that was unexpected and unsettling. This was my favorite story.

Currents, by Hannah Bottomy Voskuil, is an unusual story in the way it’s told – like playing a video of a wave in reverse – I read it once and then again, backwards. I wonder if the author wrote it using the normal sequence of events and then just rewrote it starting with the end.

Accident, by Dave Eggers, is, most of all, an emotional encounter. The collision of two cars makes the driver of one of them aware of something missing in his life: a connection with people.

Bullhead, by Leigh Allison Wilson, is about a woman remembering a long lost love. She not only remembers it but clings to the memory with the desperation of one who lives in a fantasy world. I loved the last paragraph:

“Every story is true and a lie. The true part of this one is: Love and the memory of love can’t be drowned. The lie part is that this is a good thing.”

After He Left, by Matt Hlinak, one of the shortest stories in the book, is about half a page long. The strangest thing about it is that on my way home I saw a dead sparrow – just like the girl in the story – and when I did, my thoughts flew back to the words on that half page and I saw it too, the world moving fast, impatient and oblivious to life and its endings.

Forgotten, by Anne Mazer, captures the essence of childhood play so beautifully:

“All day they followed paths, forded streams, and climbed trees. They discovered countries, crossed oceans and desserts, explored jungles teeming with life. They were animal and human, villain and hero, rich and poor, fearless and timid. They were born and died hundreds of times. New races of people spilled from their fingers. They tunneled under mountains, built and destroyed worlds, flew to the moon and sun, and reached the beginnings and ends of time.”

There are many more wonderful stories in the book but I’m not going to run through all. Some of them, like the ones mentioned above, struck a chord with me; others I enjoyed for their flow, or characters or the rhythm of the words.
Every story in the book centers on childhood or adolescence: fragments of life seen through a youngster’s eyes, a first love, the lure of the virtual world, teen pregnancy, the loss of a parent, a birthday celebration. Stories tied with emotion, loss, love and regret, stories about a time we all went through. Stories that made me remember my own childhood, summer days spent lying under a tree on a blanket with a book in my hands, golden plums I ate half-peeled pretending they were ice-cream, the smell of grass and of a big black dog with a spatter of white on its chest who found its untimely death under the wheels of a car.
A very good book that I will certainly read again. I already went back to reread some of the stories and they were just as good as the first time.

*Read in January 2012

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 10 Comments

11.22.63 – Stephen King

A couple of things kept me away from this book. One was the political theme – I’m not a fan of this kind of novels, and the other, the size of it. But then I don’t know why I complain about this last aspect, I always do and in the end I always read chunksters anyway. And enjoy them, too.

If you had the chance to change history, would you?

Starting from this question, a story is built. A man named Jake Epping is given the chance to go back in time to prevent the assassination of J. F. Kennedy. Is it possible? Will he succeed? Stepping back into the past, trying to familiarize himself with those times, from a simple thing as the right haircut to the spoken language characteristic of the 60’s, to the food and the people. He even manages to build a new life in the small town of Jodie, where he meets a woman, Sadie Dunhill, who makes his decision even harder to go through with. Racing against time, having to deal with some very unpleasant characters and make some big decisions, Jack is determined to stop the man who was supposed to kill Kennedy.

Having grown up in a very different culture (and quite a few years later), it was interesting to read about America in the 60’s. I especially liked the part where King described life in Jodie. There were many things I didn’t know about, like certain expressions, movies and songs, but I was pleasantly surprised when I read about the staged play of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, a book I loved, then “The Catcher in the Rye”, a book I couldn’t finish, and “Jude the Obscure”, a book I now want to read.

Before I started to read the book, I remember someone saying there’s no horror element to this story, one of the key ingredients that made me a fan of King’s work in the first place. There is however a touch of the unusual in the conversation Jake has with the Green Card Man – the “guardian” to the place where the present and the past converge – about strings and versions of the future and the damage that was done by repeated trips back and forth in time. That brought back memories of reading The Dark Tower books and even if I can’t recall exactly what made me think of it, other than beams (there has to be something about the beams supporting the Tower), I felt like the connection with the surreal has been accomplished.

I know if I’m enjoying a book by how connected I feel with the characters. Jake and Miz Mimi were the ones I liked the most – Jake, for his determination and courage to go through with his decision, and Miz Mimi for being a straight-forward person.
Oh, and I had to go to youtube and find Glenn Miller with a song called “In The Mood” – a song that is mentioned a few times in the book – it turned out I knew the song, just didn’t know its name or who the singer was.
The story felt complicated at times but like with most of King’s novels, once you’re in for the ride, you enjoy it to the end and this was no exception.

*Started in December, 2011 – finished in January, 2012

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Bag of Bones – a 2011 TV miniseries

I’m not even going to try and make a comparison between the movie and the book. Partly because, like I mentioned before, when I decided to take part in the Stephen King Project challenge, I’ve read the book years ago and many details are lost in the depths of my memory – I do remember the main idea of the story and I remember liking the book.

Now, back to the movie.

Michael Noonan is a writer about to finish a novel. Just before he types out the last sentence, he goes downstairs and asks his wife to come with him. He sits her down at the computer and he tells her what to write. I can’t write without you, Jo – these words will reverberate through the story, just one of the threads that will tie everything up into a coherent and believable tale.
But then Jo dies and Mike discovers she had been pregnant at the time of her death. Plagued by doubts and depression, he decides to go to a house that was left to him and his brother by their late father, a house in a town called Dark Lake Score, where Jo had spent a lot of time in the year before her death. There, hard at work on his next novel, Mike is also trying to find out if his wife had been unfaithful to him. Piecing together the clues he gets (messages spelled with magnets on the fridge door, a bell, songs, dreams, books and even his own writing) Mike is starting to unravel the mystery that seems to hang above the small town like a threatening cloud. A little girl that is the cause of a custody battle, an old man that had apparently committed suicide and another one that is living his last days in a nursing home, they all are crucial characters. In time Mike finds out about the tragedy that played out in the small town, a horrific death going back to 1939 and a curse spoken with a dying breath. A curse that also affects his family. The end is open, teetering between hope and despair, an ending worthy of a King book.

I liked the movie a lot. I thought it was well made, the actors’ performance very good – I’ll give it extra points for casting Pierce Brosnan (one of my favorite actors) as Mike – the action fast paced and the story well put together. There are dreams within dreams within dreams, songs from the 1939 (fictional, of course) and visions of dead people. There was also a scene at the beginning of the movie that made me jump and want to turn on all the lights in the house.
There is a reference to Misery, another one of King’s novels, and one of the songs played in the movie, Motherless Child, was also recorded by Martin Gore (songwriter of Depeche Mode). A movie based on one of my favorite author’s books and a song that led me back to Depeche Mode. How can I not like this movie?

Have you watched the movie or read the book?

Coming soon: two reviews, 11.22.63 by Stephen King and Sudden Flash Youth – 65 Short-Short Stories, and a giveaway!

Posted in Challenges | 7 Comments

The Stephen King Challenge

Having read a fair amount of Stephen King books over the past ten years or so, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered this reading challenge and decided to take part in it. I had already started on 11/22/63, the latest King novel, which found its way under my Christmas tree last month, and so far it’s been an amazing read. I’m nearly halfway through and enjoying every page so far.

Here are the rules:

The Stephen King Project Overview

1. This will run from January through December 2012
2. Anyone can join. But you should have a blog OR an account with Goodreads, Shelfari, etc., so you can write your reviews and we can visit via the link at The Stephen King Project.
3. The Project will be hosted at The Stephen King Project. Participants should link their reviews to the Linky there.
4. Audiobooks count.
5. E-books count.

What Are the Commitment Levels?

* A King Novice: 1 book
* A Lil Bit of King: 3 books
* A King to Balance It All: 6 books
* A King Legend: 9 books
* A King for All Seasons: 12+ books

What About the Movies?

Hell. YEAH. Same rules from the above apply, except…
* You can mix and match but you should have more books than films in your end-of-year total tally.

What Should You Do Now?

1. Write an announcement post on your blog.
2. You don’t have to put a list of books together in your announcement post. Or you can.
3. Use one of the blog buttons from the sidebar.
4. Enter the link to your announcement post here at The Stephen King Project at the appropriate post.
5. Every time you write a review, enter the link to it for the appropriate month at the review site. (On the 1st of each month, a new entry will be posted at the review site, and you can link up your reviews there).
6. At the end of each month, one participant from that month will be selected via and will win a book from either Kathleen or I (or we may both have a book to give you). The book may or may not be King-related.
7. At the end of the year, one participant from the year will win a $50 gift card!

Maybe you’d like to join and be a part of the reading adventure. If you’ve read any King before you’ll love it. If not, now’s a good time to start. For more information, click here:

The Stephen King Project

Posted in Challenges | 13 Comments

Best Books of 2011

2011 was an incredible reading journey. My daily commute gave me ample time to read and I have spent every possible minute with my head in a book. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to read so many amazing books and I’ve tried to take away something useful from each and every one of them, even the ones I didn’t like that much. Writing reviews has helped me keep track of them and also to realize what genres I’m most attracted to. This year I managed to read 60 books, two of them not reviewed (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King – this last one I’ve read in 2010 and the next year I just browsed through it so I don’t consider it as “read in 2011”).

Here’s a list of my favorites:

The most beautiful love story: The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
Favorite classic: The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
A book that made me cry: Little Bee – Chris Cleave
The best opening line and also the best book of the year: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
The best book that is part of a series: Farundell – L.R. Fredericks (review & author interview) (I can’t wait for the next one, it comes out this year!)
The best story: Drood – Dan Simmons Part I and Part II
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver Part I and Part II
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Sorry, I couldn’t pick just one.

Best short story collection: Haunts – Reliquaries of the Dead, edited by Stephen Jones
The shortest book: The Woman in Black – Susan Hill (160 pages)
The longest books: Drood, by Dan Simmons (976 pages) and The Passage – Justin Cronin (963 pages)

Other books that left a lasting impression:

Under The Dome – Stephen King
Burmese Days – George Orwell
Man and Wife – Tony Parsons
The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales
The Kill – Émile Zola
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
Letters from Thailand – Botan (Supa Sirisingh)

I’m definitely a fan of Gothic stories, contemporary or classic. Ghosts, haunted houses, mysteries, noises in the dark, if a book has at least one of these, I want to read it. Chick lit books are not really my type. I’ve read a couple of them last year – they’re ok but not something I’d feel compelled to read. YA books don’t really appeal to me but I won’t say no if one comes my way. It’s just not something that I would buy.
Drood gave me an appetite for more of Charles Dickens’s stories and also Dan Simmons’. The Woman in White made me curious to try more books by Wilkie Collins. Vampire books are also high on my list and I won’t say no to love stories either.

The first book I bought in 2012 was Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris. I’ve wanted to read at least one of her books, ever since I watched the movie Chocolat. Burmese Days, by George Orwell and Secret Histories – Finding Geroge Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin, made me add Burma to the list of countries I want to visit.
Letters from Thailand resonated with me because I’ve been living in Bangkok for quite a few years and I could identify with the main character in many aspects. A good book for anyone who likes immigrant stories and is interested in Thai/Chinese culture.

I look forward to a new year of reading – if it’s at least as good as 2011 that would be great!
Have you read any of the books mentioned here? What was your favorite book of 2011?

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 24 Comments

Tidying up – brief thoughts on a few books

There is a bunch of books I finished a while ago but somehow didn’t get around to review them. They’ve been sitting on my desk, near the computer, for quite a while and I didn’t want to put them back on the shelves with the other books until I reviewed them so here it goes:

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

An old house, a family trying to keep up with the changing times, a love story – it seemed like the perfect book for me. I bought it in a second-hand bookstore after trying to decide which one of the Sarah Waters novels to pick.
I loved this book – the tragedy of the Ayres family who lived at Hundreds Hall (beautiful name for a house, don’t you think), mother, daughter and son, trying to live in a present that didn’t match the past they were used to. A big old house fallen into disrepair, noises, mysterious patches on the wall, writing on the windowsill and the death of a loved one that marked Mrs. Ayres forever. All this and more is discovered by a local doctor who befriends the family and who gets to see them to their tragic end. The love story added a nice touch to the otherwise gloomy atmosphere of the novel, but I wish the book had a different ending. I’m not saying I wanted a happily-ever-after but it would have been nice if the author had given away a little bit more. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading more of her novels in the near future.

Eleven Minutes, by Paulo Coelho, is the story of Maria, a girl from a Brazilian village who goes to the big city with big hopes and ends up as a prostitute. A few years later, tired and disappointed of her life, she decides to go back to her village but meets a young artist who makes her change her mind. Can love still be possible?
Apparently, it can. Coelho weaves his magic and tries to make us believe in it. I thought the explanations for those eleven minutes quite unexpected if a bit strange and I thought the ending was too Hollywood-like for my taste but then I guess the alternative would have been too depressing.
There’s a certain something that attracts me to Coelho’s books. Maybe it’s the lessons he’s trying to get across to his readers, or perhaps a somehow soulful quality to his stories that makes me shake my head in doubt and also hope. I still like The Alchemist the best, though.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

“You have to read this book”, a friend of mine said and while I tend to take this kind of suggestion with a dose of skepticism, I didn’t say no. I was too curious.
Greg Mortenson was a climber and this is his real story. While attempting to reach K2, one of the most difficult mountains to climb, he got lost and ended up in a village in Pakistan. In return for the villagers’ kindness, he promised to come back and build them a school. He built not one, but many more, scattered in a region fraught with danger. Not even the difficult conditions (that chai drink recipe sounded foul) nor the threats made him change his mind and in the course of a decade he managed to go back and forth between America and Pakistan, building an organization that helped bring education in some very harsh places.
The story was wonderful and I was moved, the writing however had me roll my eyes a few times and wishing someone had taken the time to “polish” the book a little bit. Calling Mortenson “a hero” so many times that I lost count may have been accurate but I’d rather make up my mind about that than having these two words brandished at me every few pages as if the authors were afraid I was forgetting them.

Waiter Rant, by Steve Dublanica

Funny, outrageous, straightforward and overall entertaining, this book describes one writer’s experience of waiting tables in today’s America. From the stress of coping with verbally abusive bosses, to the intricate art of dealing with the customers (yes, I do think it’s an art to be able to deal with so many different people without losing your mind), this book tells it all. I went from laughing at the apparent witticism – laced with a bit of arrogance here and there – to being appalled at some of the stories – running in the street and yelling after the customers because they didn’t leave a tip seemed a bit extreme. If I ever make it to America, I hope I’ll remember that 15 is a magic number.

Clandestine, by James Ellroy

I got this book from the monthly book-crossing meeting here in Bangkok. My friend Anna recommended it and even though I’m not very keen on detective novels I decided to give it a try. She was the one who recommended The Restaurant at the End of the Universe after all, and I had so much fun reading that book!
The story takes place in the ’50, and the main protagonist is Frederick Underhill, a policeman in the city of Los Angeles. His days are spent on the job and his nights chasing women. He has a passion for golf, a bit of an attitude and an inquisitive mind. When one of the women he spent a night with ends up dead, he’s determined to find her killer but answers will come with a high price: his career ends, his marriage breaks up and the case remains unsolved for years. That is, until new evidence comes up and Underhill realizes that the only way to bring closure is going to be off the record.
This book was better than I expected. It hasn’t turned me into a fan of detective novels but it was a nice change from what I usually read. The writing is flamboyant, the characters flawed and likeable and the story well told. I had no idea this writer was the author of The Black Dahlia – I haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the movie and liked it. Also, there’s a picture of the author and his dog (?) on the inside of the back cover which I thought was funny. The dog I mean, not the author.

The Art of Conversation, by Catherine Blyth

I was intrigued by this book. After seeing it a couple of times at the bookstore, I decided to give it a try.
This is a how-to book. It gives examples of real-life conversational situations, possible answers and ways to improve/counteract verbal interactions. It’s also rather dry and academically formulated. On the plus side, it made me want to pay more attention to face to face conversation, where the gestures and mimic are just as important as the words. What people say can be intriguing, just like the things they leave out of conversation or the way they try to steer clear of some subjects.


Coming up: the best books I’ve read in 2011!

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 18 Comments