• Books

    The Pearl by John Steinbeck

    I packed this classic and another for my time abroad. I’m trying to read from my stash and in particular, classics. This one was a quick novella that I should have read it sooner. It was an hour and some change in a beautiful park on a sunny day down under. Location was better than the novel. While not bad exactly, it was a parable novel which the short intro forewarns. It does not have rich character work. I read that it is taught widely in middle and high school and has that assigned reading feeling about it. I still like Steinbeck and should re-read East of Eden one day.

    3/5 stars. Read January 1, 2023.

  • Books

    A Suitable Boy by Virkram Seth

    This review is overdue. I am writing and finishing it now in another country but posting it after my holiday. This novel was the last novel I read in 2022 and one of the best.

    This is a true classic. It is well written with a large, diverse cast of characters, some that you root for and some that you love to hate. It feels humane and true to life. It’s very similar to classics such as War and Peace, Far from the Madding Crowd,, Middlemarch (which I haven’t read yet but it always feels like I have), and Jane Austen novels.

    This is one of the longest single volume novels in English literature. I was fortunate to read this over the course of three days including Remembrance Day so I did not have to work. I was was feeling poorly due to my covid booster but it allowed me to get through most of this novel thankfully.

    Like the war parts War and Peace, I did find the political aspects of the novel a tad boring and my attention waned. Other than that, everything else was engrossing. The characters are rich. Everything happens in the space of the year but it did not feel tedious or long. I did worry that things would not resolve quickly enough because the pace was not as quick as it could have been. Then again, that sort of reflects life.

    There is some tragedy and I was surprised that I was triggered by a mentally ill character in this novel. One of the characters experiences episodes of psychosis. I’ve had experiences with someone very close to me who has gone through it. I felt very sad and disturbed when reading the passages.

    I know a sequel was announced about 14 years ago, and I am looking forward to it whenever it does get published.

    Reading this novel reminded how much I love classics and reminded me about the 1001 books list. I revived it and will aim to read more classical books fro my stash in 2023.

    4.5/5 stars. Read November 10-12, 2022. Review finished January 1, 2023.

  • Books

    October 2022 Books

    Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams by J.M. DeBord and The History of Last Night’s Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul by Rodger Kamenetz

    I’ve been going through a personal dream project for the last couple of years. It’s taken me awhile to get to the research given my life. I finally got around to them. These are the fourth or fifth book I’ve read on these. Most don’t really satisify what I am looking for. The first one here had some good tips for intereptation but nothing that intrigued. The second one really started well but then sort of meandered too much into the Judea-Christian and psychiatric Freud history of dreams that did not interest me. After this, I became much more discerning and flipped through a few more dream books which I returned without really reading. 3/5 stars and 2.5/5 stars.

    October 1, 2022 and October 1-8, 2022.

    Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

    Of all the East Asian fantasy novels that I’ve read in the past year, this is by far the most Chinese. It has a protagonist with a hidden past and a journey of training and discovery. It’s true Chinese historical fantasy love drama including a complicated political love triangle with lots of angst. There is betrayal, messiness and back and forth relationships. I actually think I’d try watching an adaption if it was ever remade as a C-drama. I wonder if it’s doing well in East Asia. Enjoyable and looking forward to the sequel. 4.5/5 stars.

    Read October 10-14, 2022.

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

    See blog post here. 4/5 stars.

    The Rule of 30: A Better Way to Save for Retirement by Frederick Vettese

    This finance book is written as a novel of a couple who learn financial lessons from an actuarial neighbour. It’s a good way of explaining information and there were a couple of things I did find interesting that weren’t covered as much in other personal finance books including the importance of demographics in interest rates. I did find myself a bit pessimistic about saving for retirement because the book has a formula predicting people’s lives including first house, kids, second house, paying off mortgage, retiring at 65 etc. This book was published last year right before inflation started going up. While the author/characters acknowledge black swan events and disability affecting working age, I found it depressing given that we are currently in a recession and also, a lot of people of my generation won’t be able to get a home with house prices. I am extremely grateful we have a condo, but I do not really want to work until I’m 65 or 70. I learned a couple of things but it kinda made me sad given the times we are in. 3/5 stars.

    Read October 18, 2022.

  • Books

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

    In 2009, I owned a copy of this book when I lived in London. As with a few other books I had there, I never got around to reading it due to my graduate studies. These books became casualties of my move when I left. Since then, I continued to want to read it especially after reading March by the same author. In the last year, I heard someone in my book club read and I also found a copy of this in a Little Library. It seemed that the universe was telling me to finally read this book.

    I really like Brooks’ writing style and how she researches a time period and historical events but weaves ordinary characters into them. She did the same here as she did in March where she has people in history acting as best they can in extraordinary circumstances. I like her prose and character writing and will read more from her.

    Both novels are about difficult times and there is a lot of death. It actually got too grim and bleak as so many bad things happened to the characters in this book. Thankfully it’s not too long. I won’t recommend this book to people because there is very little levity in it.

    I do appreciate how Brooks wrote about a time in history that I don’t see covered a lot in literary or contemporary novels. I wish there were more interesting novels about the 1600’s and 1700’s in the old world. The epilogue was satisfying and intriguing. That could be a whole novel in itself. At the core of this novel is a strong friendship between two women of different classes and wish we had even more of it.

    4/5 stars. Read October 15-17, 2022.

  • Books

    September 2022 Books

    Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

    This was a lovely YA novel. It’s is a queer love story and very good historical fiction. I found the writing mature and well done. If the main protagonist was a few years older, I could see how this could have been marketed as an adult novel. Really well done

    Read Sept 5, 2022

    The Maid by Nita Prosse

    I noticed this bestseller mystery awhile back and was intrigued by the cover and the concept of the maid in an escape mystery. The protagonist maid is neurodivgerent and this reminded me of Curious Incident of Dog in the Night time. The plot was obvious and depended a lot on the naivety of the title character. I have mixed feelings on how the author leaned into this because it was part of the story that the character was gullible for a time. There is an additional twist at the end which I appreciated but I don’t think I liked this enough to read another book from the author.

    Read September 7, 2022.

    The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake

    I shouldn’t have read this but I wanted something so mindless. This not something I normally read. It’s basically a Hallmark Christmas movie. The characters are all two dimensionally drawn and most of them are not that likeable. The ending is super sappy. I’m wondering if I should be pickier with my books these days. Thank goodness I read fast.

    Read September 23-24, 2022.

    Reticence (The Custard Protocol #4) by Gail Carriger

    I have been reading this series for a few years now. They are mindless steampunk urban fantasy fun. Most of the characters are enjoyable and the author has added onto them over the years. I have read most but not all of this series. I did not know this book was the last in the series until the end. I felt a bit sad that it was over. I gave it a 4 for the solid end to the journey.

    Read September 18-25, 2022.

  • Books

    August 2022 Books

    Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

    I loved this. It really helped relax me during a very bad weekend. I love the use of East Asian fairy tales and iconography. There was not enough of the dragon character. I liked all the characters. I also loved how the author subverted one particular fairytale staple. Very fun. I can’t wait for the second book coming out later this month. I already have the author’s first series lined up on my bookshelf.

    Read July 31-Aug 1, 2022.

    The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

    This book is a bestseller. I had heard good things from members of my book club. I liked the old Hollywood era and know about it from my love of old movies. I really liked the characters and the romance. The writing is also really clear. There is something really straight forward in Reid’s prose which makes her novel so easy to read. I have Daisy Jones and the Six on audiobook so I will get that next and read her other works too.

    Read Aug 2-5, 2022.

    Dirt: Adventures, with Family, in the Kitchens of Lyon, Looking for the Origins of French Cooking by Bill Buford.

    I read Heat many years ago and remembered vaguely liking it. This one was much longer and I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author. I didn’t warm to Buford’s narration for the first few chapters, but I came to enjoy the stories of his working in the French kitchens and all the characters he meets. Sometimes the book meanders on the origins of the French Cooking without much definition. The best part to me was the reflections and connections on the history in the region. While I have not been to Lyon, I have actually lived in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes so I could picture the landscape. It made me miss France and the French language which has become very rusty in the last 6 years. Not necessarily a memoirs that I would recommend unless one really likes French food and history.

    Listened July 30-Aug 11, 2022.

    My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

    This was different and engrossing even though there were definite moments where I was annoyed with the two leads. It features too many characters and was a bit slow to start, but it’s a fascinating look at class and coming of age in 1950s Naples. Not hard to read but not easy either because I grew to appreciate both the leads. The book ends with a wedding but it’s not a happy one. I have all the novels in this quartet and will make my way through them slowly.

    Read August 16-18, 2022.

    The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil, A Rún, Vol. 10

    This volume has background on the main character and a revelation. The background was good but the revelation at the end makes me think the ending won’t be satisfying.

    Read August 28, 2022.

    The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil, A Rún, Vol. 11

    The ending was confusing and odd. It’s bittersweet. Not sure how I felt about it.

    Read August 31, 2022.

  • Monthly Movies,  Movies,  TV

    What I’m Watching Lately – August 2022

    “Emma” (2020) – This was okay. The Romola Garai 2006 mini series is still the best. I think Anna Taylor Joy can act but her and the script did not make her Emma sympathetic enough at the start. Emma is very annoying in the book but you still get a sense of how much she loves the people around her. This one showed her as a tad too manipulative of Harriet. Everyone seemed more miserable and they played it laughs which I did not find as funny. There was too much crying in the second half. I liked the supporting actors like Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart. The movie did look good with its costumes, settings, and decor.

    “Call my Agent! / Dix Pour Cent” Season 4 – I really like this show and I’m glad I caught up. My French is so rusty now! In any case, this was was suppose to be the final season and there seemed to be great character development with all the characters. We am cancelling Netflix for awhile but maybe I’ll get it back for this in the future.

    “Running Man” (primarily 2010-2013) – I have watched a couple of eps of this show before and it’s unavoidable if you know East or South East Asia media. I never really got into it until now. The Yoon Eun Hye teasing was one of the reasons I wanted to try the earlier episodes. I’ve seen a number of episodes in the last couple weeks. I’m still in the sub 200 ep range. I will not watch everything and there are resources to tell me the best eps thankfully. It’s been a fun journey.

  • Monthly Movies,  Movies,  TV

    What I’m Watching Lately – May and June 2022

    I watched everything in May and June except the end of Stranger Things. I did not watch much in July.

    Shiva Baby (24 05 2022) – I saw a short scene from this many months ago on Youtube and didn’t know the name of the film. I saw it again on a film analysis video and I decided to watch some clips of it on YouTube before watching the film. I really enjoyed how tight the script was and how it was shot. You could tell a lot of work was put into it and the tone of the movie was chaotic and tense. The movie got a lot of pathos from everyone in a short time. I was not surprised that was it from a short film and am glad the director-writer was able to make it a feature.

    “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume I – After the first two eps, I spoiled myself and basically watched it in the background. I am not a fan of horror but I continue to watch this show. Also, some of these actors are good. The hopper and jock storyline were so weak that I fast forwarded to them.

    “You” Season 3 – The appeal of this show for me is about 75% Penn Badgley and the other 25% being the writing and the location shooting. Everyone is so hard to like on this show but it’s played for dark comedy. I think I like this season more than the second one. I like that show changes locations every season and the next one is already shooting in London should be fun.

    “Stranger Things” Volume II – Overall still fun. It was not a bad season. Too gory and violent at times though.

  • Books

    July 2022 Books

    Roman Fever and Other Stories by Edith Wharton

    Enjoyed this little book of short stories by Wharton. I liked a lot of them had satire and darkly humorous ones. It was also largely dominated by female characters.

    Read June 20-July 3, 2022

    The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

    I listened to this while I was bed ridden with COVID-19. It was really good. John Green is one of those authors whom I prefer their nonfiction work to their fiction.

    Listened May 20-July 7, 2022.

    The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

    This was such a good book and listen. Patchett asked Tom Hanks to narrate the audiobook and says the audiobook is better than the written one as a result. She said it’s funnier. It’s true. It’s a darkly funny story at times because of Hanks’s narration. I listened to it while recovering and I loved it. It gripped me. I’ve always liked Patchett’s prose and I loved the setting and the characters.

    Listened July 7-9, 2022.

    Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto

    This was chaotic. A lot of stuff happened. It’s a summer read centred around a murder, mystery, romance, and family. It’ was non stop drama and action. It would actually make for a fun dark sitcom. The narrator is an actor of Indonesian descent and could do the accents. I just found the story too frenzied for me to enjoy. The Aunties were amusing for the most part but then also annoying and stereotypical caricatures at other things. The love interest was boring too. He was like the one in a lot of romance stories where he has no flaws and you’re suppose to buy into the main romance. While I found some moments amusing and it was a real romp as I recovered, I do not think I will continue this series.

    Listened July 9, 2022.

    The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    This was a plane read. It was short. Even though it’s product of its time because it has lots of misogyny, homophobia, and other issues, I enjoyed it. I found it better written than The Big Sleep. It was a more cohesive plot.

    Read July 18, 2022.

    Reboot Your Portfolio: 9 Steps to Successful Investing with ETFs by Dan Bortolotti

    I am fan of the author’s blog. There is nothing really new that I didn’t know here but definitely good overall.

    Read July 23, 2022

    The Verifiers by Jane Pek

    This is a debut novel which is a mainly a mystery with a dash of Chinese-American family storytelling. The writing is not bad exactly but the climax was a bit of a let down. It seemed to be building up to nothing much at all. Maybe it’s because I am familiar with IT and digital consumerism but I found the IT stuff boring. Maybe this kind of suspense would have worked if the world didn’t have bigger problems right now. It feels like this will be a series, but I did not find enough roundness or intrigue in the characters for me to continue.

    Read July 24-25, 2022.

    A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing by Burton G. Malkiel

    Most of the info from this book I already knew from taken undergrad econ classes years ago, econ podcasts, or other investment books. This is a well written and thorough history of American and world investment financing. In terms of helping with personal investing, most of the info is too American leaning. However, I still found this a good run down history finance.

    Read July 24-27, 2022.

  • Books

    June 2022 Books

    Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

    Lovely cover. I liked the premise of this novel. It’s historical young adult fiction with a person of colour protagonist who is not featured often in anglophone literature of this time period. It’s set in the American south in 1890 and is the tale of of a young Chinese woman and her guardian. I liked that it had lots of decent characters and since it is YA, it was not that violent or salacious. I did find one of the twists a bit too soap operatic. I wish I could say I loved it so much that I would read another book by this author, but it didn’t make me “besotted” (which is the protagonist’s favourite word).

    Read June 3-6, 2022.

    Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas

    I enjoyed Deluxe by the same author and I think that needed a new overhaul. This was written pre pandemic but I think the fashion industry still needs the changes outlined in this book. More than ever. I felt a bit more hopeful as Thomas outlines what some companies are doing to be more sustainable. Sometimes the book felt more like a series of articles, but I like the research that goes into it.

    Read May 30-June 12, 2022.

    Happy go lucky by David Sedaris

    I do not think I’ve read a Sedaris book or article during the pandemic. He has published at least twice but I like to avoid his older things and his New Yorker articles as there is overlap. I basically only read Sedaris every 5 years now. I also listened to this on audiobook and most of the chapters were read in front of live audiences. A real novelty in the pandemic era. Some of the moments were still funny. Sedaris has a very wry, edgy sense of humour that does not work for everyone. I think he sees the world both different and at the same time, the same as some people. There is something impolite about it but then again, a lot of society is irrational and impolite. I will listen to the next book in audiobook form if available.

    Listened June 12-14, 2022.

  • Books

    May 2022 Books

    Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

    This was an easy young adult classic. It is a bit out dated with the indigenous characters and objectification of the culture. It’s not the worse and Caddie is a good young children’s heroine. Some of the stories were more interesting than others. It was nice but not enough for me to seek out the sequel.

    Read May 1, 2022.

    Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

    I read this on a particular anniversary. I liked Madeleine L’Engle’s introduction actually. I’ve always liked C.S. Lewis’s writing so I enjoyed this. Grief is unique to everyone and my grief was not for a partner. He did express things about losing someone which most people in grief understands.

    Read May 8, 2022.

    Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani

    A book of recommendations by a former book critic of the New York Times. A lot of the books I had already heard about and a couple I did not so I added to a list. However, the nonfiction and non memoirs books were heavily predisposed to political science and western history. The recommendations were more American focussed and the author spent a lot of time mentioning Donald Trump and how his ilk are the end of the world. I don’t like Trump either but it was excessive. I personally found it a bit limited as a result.

    Read May 10, 2022.

    Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

    Wanted to try this book for a number of years because it’s a common trope in East Asian dramas so I had a feeling how it would end. I loved it. I’d been quite stressed and depressed in the last couple of weeks. This book lifted my spirits when I read it and made me miss the days when I read a lot of classics. I really enjoyed reading a novel from the past which was written for the time, but this was such a universal coming of age story in a way. I found Judy so delightful and well developed. I even gave this book 5 stars!

    May 11-14, 2022.

    The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

    This one is popular in my bookclub ( it’s read what we want book club). I liked the writing. I loved the characters and female relationships in particular. I just wish there was more of them and the ending was sad and left me a bit dissatisfied. I wish there were more on the characters and less on the whole actual dictionary part. A good read none the less.

    May 18-24, 2022.

    It’s All in Your Dreams by Kelly Sullivan Walden

    Meh. A self-help dream book.

    May 29, 2022.

    On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

    This was slow to start for me and I actually found it difficult to tell some of the crew members apart for the first third. The book finally picks up pacing and understanding halfway. From what point, I really loved the world building and I enjoyed the characters.

    May 26-31, 2022.

  • Books

    April 2022 Books

    Go Tell The Bees I am Gone (Outlander Book 9) by Diana Gabaldon

    This was so long and slow. It felt like not much happened. I have mixed feelings about these books. I am not a completionist but I keep reading this series. It’s like going back to watch a tv show every few years with characters I recognize. I even stopped watching the TV show. I don’t mind the minutiae of the books. I actually like some of the social history bits. I do like some of these characters. It was also not that violent this time. I’ll keep reading but I don’t recommend this series overall.

    Read March 30-April 7, 2022.

    The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

    See here.

    Satoko and Nada, Vol. 3 by Yupechika

    Still cute. One more to go before this lovely manga is done.

    Read April 17-18, 2022.