• Books

    Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig

    I think that if I ever tried vegetarianism, the meat I would miss the most would be pork. I come from a pork loving culture to the point that growing up, we would have pork and seafood almost every day. I have consumed more parts of a pig than the average Westerner as a result. My grandmother was a pig farmer and I remembered as kid spending weekends at her place watching her big sow and little piglets.

    My love of pork is not all consuming as there is a little bit of guilt. Not just of factory farming, but on the whole, pigs are really intelligent and wonderful animals. I learned a lot about pigs in this book and it was really fun especially the historical, anthropological and evolutionary history of the pig and humans. I also learned that of all the meat that I eat, the pig is the only who would eat me back if given the chance.

    I found this book fascinating and fun as it married my love of history, food, and evolutionary biology too. I highly recommend if you enjoy these same topics.

    Read June 1-5, 2016.

  • Books

    How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Berest et al.

    This is a fun little book. It’s not exactly useful. It’s rather silly book of tips on being more Parisian. The advice ips it gives should be taken with a grain of salt and I felt it was written with a tongue in cheek style.

    It will be amusing if you are a Francophile or a Parisphile. It plays on a lot of French stereotypes. I do not mean it’s all laughs or that all the tips are useless. I do appreciate a certain insouciance and minimalism that the Parisians extol. The book is a nice reminder of it.

    The book even quoted the same quote I did in my review for The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

    All in all, I’d recommend this book if you are someone with a sense of humor about their love of Paris.

    Read May 16-28, 2016.

  • Books

    Stuart Little by E. B. White

    When I was a kid, I enjoyed Charlotte’s Web so I wanted to read another E. B. White book. I have not seen the Stuart Little movies either.

    This was a nice little children’s book which is written more of a series of short stories on the adventures of Stuart Little. I liked most of the stories. The characters were sweet and I liked the New York City setting too. Margola the bird and the Little parents were lovely.

    Stuart has a big personality too and it borders on being egotistical. It was amusing until one of the last stories where he develops a crush on someone. It is relatable but he then becomes defeated when things don’t go his way. The story ends there and rather abruptly.

    The novel too ends on a bit of a cliff hanger. You can tell White was done with the character and stories by then so he just gave up without much of a ending.

    All in all, still a sweet and nice children’s novel.

    Read May 15, 2016.

  • Books

    Manga Classics: Great Expectations

    I read this on Free Comic Book Day except I didn’t want to queue for that so I read this manga instead.

    Reading this again naturally reminded me of the novel and the many other adaptations I’ve seen. This is such a grim and tragic story. There are a lot of characters in the book who were treated very poorly and dealt bad hands. Pip was also really ignorant of things for most of the book and it was cringe worthy sometimes. This does not translate as well to manga where the humor is lighter and this novel is not light. I am glad that Dickens did change the ending from its original one because this is such a mirthless book.

    The manga adaptation itself did a good job with the material and did make it lighter than it was. It did seem to rush through the last few bits though. It had to because even though this is one of Dickens’ shorter novels, it is still a long one.

    I would recommend it only to people who like this novel and manga in general.

    Read May 8, 2016.

  • Books

    Me After You by Jojo Moyes

    This is the sequel to Me Before You. If you read the previous review, you’ll know I did like the novel even if I didn’t fall in love with it as some others have. I did like the last book enough to read the sequel the day after.

    I did not enjoy this book. In fact, I wish there was not a sequel. I’m aware the fans wanted a sequel, but I think in this case, she should have just let the story end there. I felt the ending of the last one was bittersweet and hopeful. The opening of this novel ruined that right away.

    I had criticized the previous novel’s prosaic dialogue and prose, but it was not as bad as this. This novel felt like mediocre fanfiction of the first one. The characters did not feel particularly real. It was depressing and contrived. At times, it felt like an After School special. The first book was dramatic and even a bit melodramatic, but this novel was a soap opera.

    It introduces a new pivotal character to the lives of the characters and she is horrible. Lily is an annoying, two dimensional teenage brat raised from an even horrible mother. Her mother is such an awful parent that the character became a caricature.

    I also became frustrated with Louisa again as it felt like she had regressed. Even more annoying, Louisa gets more chances in this book than anyone else that is humanely possible. She’s a damn lucky character and if I did not like her, I would have hated this book even more.

    Worse with these new characters and events, I felt manipulated as a reader. Characters make speeches and monologues in this maudlin way that felt disingenuous. Bad things happen to the characters to move the plot forward, but it all felt forced and far fetched.

    I kept reading hoping it would get better, but I became indifferent and wanted it to be over. Thankfully, it was easy to read too.

    As someone who gave the last book only 3/5 stars, this sequel did not work for me either. Some ardent fans felt the same, but there are others who love Louisa Clark so much that they want more from her. You may get that here.

    I do think this novel is a cautionary tale about sequels. I am going to watch the movie and forget this novel happens after it.

    Read May 4, 2016 on Kindle.

  • Books

    Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

    I read this book because the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation looked like something I wanted to see. The reviews for the book were good. I was more or less spoiled for the ending once I read the summary. As a result, I did not cry, but that does not mean I did not like it.

    I did like this book because while I didn’t love the characters early on, this is a novel with definite character development. It is overt with the plot, but it’s definitely there. The protagonist is shaped through the process and so are the other characters. I will say that some of the characters were flat and I was indifferent to most of them at the start including Lou. She was not easy to relate to at first. Secondly the dialogue and the prose were serviceable, but not noticeably special.

    Still, the strength of the novel is its characters and its relationship. Lou grows on you. Since I knew Emilia Clarke would be in the role, I had no problem imagining her when I read the book. I think Clarke’s Lou will be more funny and charming.

    In fact, I have a feeling I may like the movie as much if not more than the book. This plot is very typical of a sappy romance movie. Based on the trailer, it seems that they made all the characters from the novel more likeable. The best part is that Clarke and Sam Claifin look like they have a lot of chemistry which I would buy. This is a romance novel and the story hinges on that relationship.

    I know the sequel will probably not be as good, but I still look forward to see Lou’s life after the events of this novel. Furthermore, I am eager to see the movie.

    Read May 3, 2016 on Kindle.

  • Books

    The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

    Initially, I read the buzz for this book, but after awhile it seemed there were more mixed reviews. However, I had to read this for a book club I was attending for the first time. One of my best friends got me into the group. She did not like this novel and found it miserable. As a result, I had a bit of bias going into this book.

    I did not hate this book. I definitely did not like any of the characters. No one is likeable in this story and the few likeable characters (Cathy the roommate, the mysterious ginger guy) were one note. The women didn’t feel complex to me either. They all had issues and Rachel was more sympathetic than the other two. However, I found it really sad and annoying that all the women in this novel were defined by their relationships with men and in some specific cases, their mothers or being a mother. Most of the the men in the novel seem to dislike women. I understand it’s part of the unreliable narration, but to be fair, the actions of most of the women were crazy. Still, it was a lot of plot and not a lot of character depth.

    The plot itself was predictable. I saw the murderer and cheater early on. I’ve mentioned before that twists don’t really matter to me much as a reader or entertainment consumer as long as the characters and the actual journey engage me. In this case, I did not like the journey too much and found the ending more anticlimactic than anything. I am glad it ended well because it would have been a miserable book otherwise.

    In better news, the book moves along and is a very quick read. I know some people who really enjoyed this novel and others felt more neutral. It is not an awful book either, but personally, I think the hype is exaggerated.

    Read April 23, 2016 on Kindle.

  • Books

    Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

    This was a fun book. I could not shake the Harry Potter comparisons the first quarter or third of the book, but then it became a book of its own merit with its own sincere characters.

    The book started like some weird Harry Potter fanfiction. Simon is the typical chosen one like Harry.
    Penelope is both Hermione and Ron. Agatha is the archetype of the girl. It was funny, satirical and subversive. While two of the leads are male, the book has a good cast of interesting, varied, and distinct female characters.

    The more I read the book, the more depth was imbued in the characters and the world building. It became sincere and touching. The ending was good and a touch sad like many epic stories are.

    The ending was neat enough that I doubt there will be sequel. I got so involved in this fantasy world and the characters, I hope there is one.

    Recommended for readers who enjoy a good fantasy novel.

    Read April 4-6, 2016.

  • Books

    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    This was the right spring time book for an Easter read. I’ve seen more than one adaptation of this book on TV and movies. I also think I read at the very least an adapted version of this as a kid.

    I liked the transformation of spoiled and sour Mary into a kinder and more robust one. I was less interested in Colin and the move shifts more to him in the latter half. Dickon is a funny character too. I do genuinely like the kindness of the characters that Burnett writes about it here and in A Little Princess.

    What I liked most about this book was that my hard cover was big and had lovely illustrations by Inga Moore. I think that was a big part of why I enjoyed the story as much as I did. As a child, I loved a similar style book of Peter Pan. It really makes a worthwhile reading experience when children’s books are presented this way.

    Read March 27, 2016.

  • Books

    Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

    When this book was first released last October, reviewers noted how dark it was. Indeed, this book is very heavy in tone and creepyness. Much more so than the previous two books. Even though the second book had its strange oddities too. I found some of the chapters from the perspective of the villain hard to get through. Still, I finished this book in two evenings so it was not that bad.

    The other minor quibble I have with this book is the relationship between Robin and Cormoran. The constant push and pull between them is getting tiring. It is not say that I either do or do not want them together, but the constant speculation in the book from all sorts of characters is overdone now. Secondly, I am finding Robin is a bit too perfect. There is even a line in this book that says “everyone likes Robin” especially animals. I like Robin too and I guess her biggest flaw is her taste in men.

    I continue to love many of the supporting or tertiary characters. In this book, I like the new side characters such as Wardle and Shanker. Rowling does have a way with dialogue and quick backstory that reveals a lot about the characters. I like all of Cormoran’s associates except I do not care (and do not think we are suppose to care) for his female romantic partners.

    I have notied that Rowling’s writing has improved too overall over the years. I like her descriptions even more. One of the women in this book “had a look of a Bruegel peasant, with her rounded cheeks, prominent chin and wide nose.” She also continues to be verbose. In this novel, some words that I rarely use, but would like to: chicanery, holdall, pierrot, and perpatetic. I am glad she is writing for adults.

    Finally, one thing I love about this series is how the setting is a supporting character in itself. I know Rowling does not live in London, but she writes it extremely well especially the current modern London. I had to laugh out loud because my alma matter is mentioned and couple of scenes in the book are set in the area.

    The following excerpt is one of my favourites of the city that I’ve read recently:

    Nobody who had not lived there would ever understand that London was a country unto itself. They might resent it for the fact that it held more power and money than any other British city, but they could not understand that poverty carried its own flavor there, where everything cost more, where the relentless distinctions between those who had succeeded and those who had not were constantly, painfully visible. The distance between Elin’s vanilla-coloumned flat in Clarence Terrace and the filthy Whitechapel squat where his mother had died could not be measured in mere miles. They were separated by infinite disparities, by the lotteries of birth and chance, by faults of judgment and lucky breaks. (p. 214)

    The line about poverty and the relentless distinctions are very true to London. To any big city? Yes, but to a city in a country where classism still has history, the side by side of the haves and have-nots is both viscereal and subtle.

    Reading this book has made me look forward to the TV adaptation that will be forthcoming. I wonder who will be cast and how and when they get the right tone for the show.

    I have a knack for reading these novels during the season they are set. During this one, Easter weekend came and went too.

    I enjoy reading these books, but I do know that there are issues with the style of the plotting and some other character issues. Still, I can not deny that I enjoy Rowling as a writer and have seen I was a kid. In a couple of years, I’ll have said that I’ve been reading this woman’s books for twenty years Keep at it, Ms Rowling.

    Read March 21-22, 2016.

  • Books

    Manga Classics Emma

    This manga took me a bit too long to read because I find it hard to watch Emma be so very wrong in visual form. There is a lot second hand embarrassment knowing how blind Emma is through most of this book with respect to the characters. It is understandable given her background, but it’s still hard to read through in comic form.

    It is a fun manga adaptation as with the Pride and Prejudice one. If you enjoy both Austen and manga, then this a nice way to pass the time.

    I would like to still say that the best Emma adaptation is BBC’s 2009 version.

    Read February 18 – March 2, 2016.