Monday, February 28, 2011

Dead and Gone - Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse #9)

I took a break from reading this series which I think was a good idea. Coming back to it, I was reminded of how fun it is - and it made me excited for the next season of True Blood to get started. As you can imagine, by the time you get to book 10 in a series about vampires and werewolves, things are bound to get a little nonsensical and crazy. And so in this installment, things focus a bit more on the faeries, Sookie's connection to them, and a was among them that leads a faction of the faeries to want to harm Sookie. In this book, also, the wereanimals/shifters finally come out to the population in general - leading to some violence as a result of discrimination agains the half-man/half-beasts. As usual, Sookie finds herself in the middle of the supernatural beings' wars, and while she'll never be my favorite character out there, I am still managing to have fun with this series.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ape House - Sara Gruen

I enjoyed Gruen's previous book Water for Elephants. I wouldn't say I loved it as much as book clubs across the country seem to have, but I did enjoy her writing style, the ease of her characters and plot, and generally found it to be the kind of book I enjoy relaxing with in a cafe with a nice hot latte. When I read the jacket cover for Ape House the subject matter did not appeal to me at all. It's about a researcher studying the behavior of bonobo apes - and their facility with sign language and ability to communicate with humans and others. It wasn't something I thought I would be particularly interested in. But, I decided to pick it up anyway. I was hooked after the first chapter. The plot goes a little haywire as the research facility is bombed and the apes escape and are then captured and televised in their own reality show. But, it was the relationship between the main researcher and the bonobos that I found truly endearing. Their conversations (apparently based on real conversations) were so touching, not to mention fascinating. It made me want to read more non-fiction on this subject- and I was just recommended a book by Ashley's mom called Bonobo Handshake which I have requested from the library. This was a fast good coffee-shop read, though some of the characters were annoying and their relationships with each other seemed superficial (strangely, perhaps more so in comparison with the relationships they had with the apes). This was one I liked more for the big picture story than for the details of the actual narrative.

The Old Capital - Yasunari Kawabata

Kawabata won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature - and this was one of three of his novels cited by the Nobel committee. It tells the story of Chieko, the only child of a kimono designed in Kyoto. According to her parents, they kidnapped her when she was a small child and raised her as their own. As their stories never quite match-up, Chieko knows there is more to it. As the story unfolds, Chieko slowly learns more about the reality of her past. Simultaneously, she is faced with her role in her role as a daughter and a woman in Japanese society and the choices she has to make, as well as those that are foisted upon her. The plot itself moves slowly and was not that interesting to me. What I did love was the lyrical language of the story - I've said this before on my blog, but I am always fascinated by books that have been translated from another language - I wonder how much is lost in translation and how the translators manage to convey the feelings and emotions of the book in its original language. However it's done, it worked in this case. A perfect book to read in the last couple days of rainy weather, sitting by my window and looking out at the falling white blossoms from my plus tree.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sh*t My Dad Says - Justin Halpern

This guy is really milking quotes from his father for all that they're worth - first a twitter account, then this book, and now a TV sit-com (which I've seen and is terrible). But, I'd read a few of his twitter posts and thought they were pretty funny, so I figured I might as well check out this book - which is pretty short. Each chapter of the book is a little anedcdote about the author's relationship with his father - followed by a series of quotations on a variety of topics. I actually found most of the stories pretty funny - but what I really enjoyed about this book was what the stories told about the relationship between these two men. I loved that the father, while crass and seemingly dismissive in his words actually displays so much love for his son through his straight-forward advice and actions. I actually found myself tearing up amidst my laughter. Surprisingly, this is a really touching book and definitely worth a quick read on a day when you need a little uplifting.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami

Reading a Murakami novel is always a bit of an adventure. You know it'll be a bit weird, but for some reason I'm never quite prepared for it. I started reading this book just after I was admitted to the hospital to monitor my pregnancy. I ended up being induced that night and the whole experience was surreal and out-of-body for me - reading this book while I waited only made everything all the more strange. As the title suggests, the plot involves a search for a special sheep. A young Japanese ad executive receives a postcard featuring a sheep with a star on his back. As a result, he is approached by a man demanding that he find the sheep or face negative consequences. The book then follows the young man on his trek through Tokyo and the Japanese countryside as he encounters strange characters and mystical sheep. Some parts mystery and most parts weird, I enjoyed the escapism of the book, but didn't ultimately feel that drawn in by the quest. The plot was not as intricate as other books by Murakami that I've enjoyed (Kafka on the Shore and Wind-Up Bird Chronicles), but for a taste of the different, it did the trick.

A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder - Shamini Flint (Inspector Singh #1)

In my quest to "visit" as many countries as possible this year through reading, I discovered this mystery series set in Malaysia, and staring Inspector Singh - sent to KL from Singapore to solve the murder of a wealthy businessman. The obvious suspect is the man's wife, but Singh feels immediately that she could not have accomplished the deed. When the dead man's brother confesses to the crime under suspicious circumstances, the Malaysian police think their case is closed, but Singh has other ideas. I found the style to be a bit like Agatha Christie set in Southeast Asia. The dialogue and plot were relatively simple, but the action kept moving and there were twists and new suspects in nearly every chapter. This is the first in a series that looks to have at least two other books. In this initial installment, there is a small window into Singh's personal life, and I look forward to learning more in the subsequent books about this strange little problem solver.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hello Kitty Must Die - Angela Choi

I love everything Hello Kitty, so when I saw the cover of this book, I had to read it - even though I had no idea what it was about. Half way through, I realized this is actually a young adult novel, though I have no idea why as the subject matter seemed a little adult. Then again, kids are pretty advanced these days. Fiona Yu is corporate lawyer in San Francisco, working hard to shed the "Hello Kitty" stereotype of Asian woman as docile and subservient. She lives with her parents who are constantly trying marry her off to Chinese men she has no interest in and nothing in common with. She meets up with an old friend, Sean, now a plastic surgeon of sorts. As he helps her shed her Sanrio image, Fiona is dragged into his bizarre-Dexter like world. The subject matter and writing of this book reminded me of Christopher Moore - (A Dirty Job and Bloodsucking Fiends without the vampires) It was a mindless quick read, and I always enjoy books that take place in San Francisco.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Me - Ricky Martin

My friend Loana handed me this book with this ringing endorsement, "This book sucks. Read it and tell me if you agree." Given the number of books on my to-read list, I don't usually waste my time reading books that others think so poorly of, but there is just something about Ricky, I assumed it would be a quick read. Martin wrote this autobiography as a sort of coming out - while written after his annoucement that he is gay, the introduction to the book seemed to suggest that the rest of the book would be an exploration of how his ability to finally open up affected his life and reflected the experiences he had had up to that point. But, I didn't find this to be the case. Even though he kept telling the reader that it was hard to keep this secret, and that finally coming out was a huge relief, there wasn't much in the actual story that portrayed the difficulties he faced and felt. To the contrary, he spoke about being in a meaningful relationship with a woman - in such a way that it suggested that he is actually bisexual, or that his decision to finally live life as a homosexual was actually a choice instead of fundamental to who he is. Most of the story of Martin's life was incredibly boring to me. He went through his beginnings in Menudo and how difficult it was for him to be separated from his family - but again, I had a hard time actually feeling what he was talking about. Later in the book, Martin talks about his philanthropic work again human trafficking. This was the first time I felt I actually got a glimpse into who he is as a person and something that truly touched him and that he felt was worth fighting for. It seems that Martin has done tremendous work in this area and really shed light on a problem that plagues millions of women and children around the world. He also spent a couple chapters writing about his journey to fatherhood which was also endearing. Throughout, however, the writing (as expected) is terrible. He uses way too many exclamation points, and has trouble using actually anecdotes to make his point rather than just telling the reader that something was "amazing" or "life-changing". Martin is no Pulitzer Prize winner, but it does sound like he has truly gone on a person journey and is now in a space that is wholly positive and productive - particularly in comparison to the person he was. Hopefully, writing this book was therapeutic for him. But, I don't see too many people picking it up and identifying with it, or being inspired by his story. I'm not a Ricky Martin fan by any means, but I did finish this book finding him a bit more likeable as a person - I won't rush out to read anything else he might write in the future, but I probably won't change the station the next time the radio plays Livin' La Vida Loca either.

Happy - Alex Lemon

This is a book I think Oprah's book club would love in terms of the subject matter. Alex Lemon is a student at Macalester College, playing baseball and getting drunk with his friends when he begins to suffer from seizures that require brain surgery. If this trauma weren't enough, it becomes evident that the author is also a sexual abuse survivor and has a somewhat unique relationship with his mother. In terms of writing-style, however, I'm not sure Oprah and her club would approve. Lemon is vulgar - and obsessed with drinking, drugs, and sex. In short, I suppose, he is a college male - understandably angry and frustrated given his circumstance in life. The narrative is pieced together in a fashion that is somewhat difficult to follow - I found it irritating, though I suppose it probably also reflects Lemon's own view of the world in fragments given his condition. Despite being so young, Lemon has clearly lived a full life and had much to talk about in his memoir. For me, however, the presentation left a lot more questions than it did answers, and I found it to be a promising, but ultimately unsatisfying read.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Medium Raw - Anthony Bourdain

The good thing is that having a newborn in the house hasn't slowed down my reading too much. The bad thing is it hasn't left me much time to update the I anticipate that in order to keep up, my posts may be a bit short for awhile. Ever since Kitchen Confidential, I have been a big fan of Anthony Bourdain...I've enjoyed some of his other books and really like his Travel Channel show, No Reservations. But, as Bourdain's popularity and fame have increased, his edginess has definitely taken a dive. Luckily, however, Bourdain recognizes, and seems to despise this, about himself. Medium Raw is a collection of unconnected essays about Bourdan's various experiences in the food industry. My favorites included his lengthy description of his best meal at French Laundry and his reverence for its chef, Thomas Keller. I also appreciate Bourdain's willingness to be straight-forward, even at the expense of offending iconic figures such as Alice Waters. My impression is that Bourdain may not be a favorite among his peers, but there is no question that his humor and honesty will make him a favorite among readers for a long time to come. While this collection does not represent Bourdain as his finest, there are still gems of entertainment, and it's worth skimming through to hit on some of the best in travel and food writing around.