Thursday, December 25, 2008

Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You?

Found this on Alabama Book Worm’s blog and thought I'd give it a go since I'm challenging myself to read four of Austen's books in 2009.

To take quiz, please click below:

Themed Reading Challenge 2009

I have a confession. I’ve had Jane Austen’s entire book collection on my shelf for years but never got around to reading them. Why? Because I love to collect dust... is that an acceptable excuse? (Probably explains why I suffer from sinus too)
Anyway, I found a challenge on Caribousmom’s blog and thought... “What the heck! It’s now or never...” So here goes:

I’m taking part in the Themed Reading Challenge 2009 and I choose the first level of participation which is to read four books from the same theme. So what is this theme that I am committing to? Well unlike the other participants, my list is not as exciting or creative. I just want to read any four books by Jane Austen. To ensure that I don’t cheat, I’d like to announce that I’ve read Pride and Prejudice already so I should commit to reading the books that I’ve never read from Austen before. (Sigh... I’m honest, what can I say...)

The challenge starts from 1 February 2009 to 31 July 2009.

Here’s my list and pray for me:
1. Sense and Sensibility
2. Mansfield Park
3. Emma
4. Northanger Abbey 

For further information on the challenge, please click here.


“I had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: something lyric like Nabokov’s ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins’; or if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy’s ‘All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’.” How could one resist a book with such an opening?
Firmin is a tale of a rat that has a special love for literature, born in a basement of an old bookstore in Scollay Square, Boston. Brought into a family with 12 other siblings, they “were soon fighting it out over twelve tits” which had a damaging effect on his ability to participate in the feeding routine. Firmin eats on books to survive which amazingly provides him with the ability to read.
Firmin develops a love for reading and relates everything in life to the books that he has read. The first time he ventured out to the outside world on a survival lesson with his mama, Firmin found a piece of old lettuce and described that “it tasted like Jane Eyre”. (I’ve never read Jane Eyre before but if I understand the sentence correctly, I guess I’ll know what to expect.)
Having a love for literature also places Firmin in no man’s land, he shares no connection to his own kind nor can he connect with humans which he describes as his “vast canyon of loneliness”. Though he has extraordinary abilities, he is unable to communicate his humanly thoughts in human vocabulary.
The book tells of Firmin’s yearning to become and to connect to humans (to the extent of studying sign language) and his solitary life as an intellectual rat. Engaging from the first to the last page, you’ll definitely connect with Firmin’s character if you have a look for books. You will share his frustrations, his longing, his love and his loss in a world that is finally destroyed by modernization.
Sam Savage’s first novel is filled with exquisite words and a unique storyline. Definitely a recommended must read.

For other reviews on the book, check out Shelf Monkey and The Bookbag’s blog site.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

TBR (To Be Read) Challenge 2009

I came across a recent article from Cynthia Crossen in The Wall Street Journal about books on our shelves that we’ve ignored for ages, purchased with the full intention of reading but end up collecting dust instead. We give ourselves 1001 excuses and convince ourselves that it’s just not the right time to read them. Quoting Crossen from her article:

“As I scanned my shelves, I found I had convincing arguments why I shouldn’t read each one of the orphans—or convincing to me anyway. I rejected a book called “English, August,” by Upamanyu Chatterjee because it is after all November. No to “The Ragged Trousered Philantrophist” by Robert Tressel because the book jacket says it’s about “the desperate lives of working people.” No to “The Unconsoled” byKazua Ishiguro because I heard it wasn’t nearly as good as “Remains of the Day” or “Never Let Me Go.”

Completely understand what you mean because I’ve done the same thing myself! As I studied my own bookshelves I realized, BOY do I have A LOT of unread books. Anyway, I supposed it wasn’t a coincidence that I saw All About {n} participating in a TBR 2009 Challenge, I take it as a sign that my dusty books need my tender loving attention.
So my orphaned books, I’ve been inspired and will read you next year by taking part in the challenge myself. If I don’t, the whole wide world will know that I have failed you. My lists of books to be read in 2009 are:

1. How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job- Dale Carnegie
2. I Know This Much Is True- Wally Lamb
3. Veronika Decides to Die - Paulo Coelho
4. A Child Called ‘It’- Dave Pelzer
5. The Last Secret of The Temple- Paul Sussman

6. The View From Castle Rock- Alice Munro
7. The Pillars of the Earth- Ken Follet
8. The Book Thief- Markus Zusak
9. The Diary of A Young Girl- Anne Frank
10.The Hound of the Baskervilles- Arthur Conan Doyle
11. The Russian Concubine- Kate Furnival
12. Evening is A Whole Day- Preeta Samarasan

Alternate list:
1. The Glass Palace- Amitav Ghosh
2. The Queen & I- Sue Townsend
3. A Spot of Bother- Mark Haddon
4. The Almost Moon- Alice Sebold
5. They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky- Deng, Deng, Ajak
6. Screw It, Let's Do It- Richard Branson
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings- Maya Angelou
8. The God of Small Things- Arundhati Roy
9. Labyrinth - Kate Moss
10. A New Earth- Eckhart Tolle
11. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
12. The Good Earth- Pearl S. Buck

If you are interested to take part in the challenge, please click here to visit MizB’s blog where the challenge is being hosted.

The Pagan Stone

From the book:
The Pagan Stone had stood for hundreds of years, long before three boys gathered around it to spill their blood in a bond of brotherhood, unwittingly releasing a force bent on destruction...

Gage Turner has been running from his past for a long time. The son of an abusive drunk, his childhood in the small town of Hawkins Hollow was tough and his only solace his friendship with Fox O’Dell and Caleb Hawkins. But, aged ten, the boys unleashed evil on their town: every seven years murder and mayhem reign, events that seem to be escalating with each cycle.

Now Gage has returned home to help his friends save Hawkins Hollow, but a lifetime as a loner has made him wary of emotional ties. And who can make plans for the future when their present is so uncertain? For unless they can find a way of using the Pagan Stone against the demonic force, everything they know and love will be destroyed.
My 2 cents worth:
I have been waiting for this book for MONTHS! When it finally arrived in Malaysia, I rushed myself to the bookstore to get my hands on it. The Pagan Stone is the third and final installation from Nora Robert’s latest trilogy ‘The Sign of Seven’.
A couple of months ago during one of my weekly Sunday pilgrimage to the local bookstore, I came across the first of the ‘The Sign of Seven’ trilogy, ‘The Hollow’ and once I started reading it I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the storyline presented. Immediately after that, I got the second book ‘Blood Brothers’ and after waiting for months, am happy to say that I have just completed ‘The Pagan Stone’.
I love the women’s character in each of the book, especially Quinn and Cybil, they kick ass! The storyline is filled with adventures challenging evil that seems to want to take over the peaceful town of Hawkins Hollow and a fair share of romance for each of the three boys. Plus, the conversations between the characters are often smart, witty and funny.
I’ve never read any of Robert’s work before this but I absolutely love her writing style and will definitely read more of her books.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

HBR Classics- Managing Oneself, Peter F. Drucker

From the book: 
In Managing Oneself, Peter F. Drucker explains how to create your career path by knowing when to seize opportunities and when to change course. This influential Harvard Business Review article helps you unlock your full potential by discovering your strengths, recognizing how you best work with others, and identifying the work environments that are right for you.

My two cents worth: 
According to Peter Drucker, in order for us to become great achievers we would need to learn to manage and develop ourselves so that we are able to place ourselves in the right organization and make better contributions which also translates to greater career achievements.

In Managing Oneself, Drucker provides key insights and important questions that can be used to assess our strengths and weaknesses. To identify our key strengths he recommends that we use the ‘feedback analysis’ system. I’m a strong believer in feedback but my methods rely solely on the feedback of co-workers or bosses. Drucker’s suggestion however is to record key decisions or actions made at work. The actual results should then be compared with our expectation after a specific time (Drucker recommends a period of nine to twelve months) for this system to work. Personally, this would take a lot of effort especially since we live in a fast paced working environment and make decisions every second but it’s worth a try.

Drucker also recommends that we concentrate on improving our strengths rather than improving our weaknesses which is often the case with many of us. I believe it’s only natural that we focus on the negative. Drucker believes that concentrating on improving areas of low competence “takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence’. Interesting point.

Other questions that we should also ask ourselves are: 
  • How do I perform?
  • How do I learn?
  • What are my values?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What should I contribute? 

In a nutshell, once we understand how we perform, how we gain our experience and understand our principles; only then would be able to identify a suitable organization or even the industry that would fit our values and strengths. Once these questions have been ironed out, we could then concentrate on how to provide the best contribution based on our skills. 

Drucker also mentions that it is worth to look for a parallel career path in the second half of our life so that we do not suffer from boredom with our current job scope. 

Most of what Drucker mentioned in the article is definitely useful in order to assess if we are moving in the right career path. I like Drucker's idea of looking for a parallel career path. I've been in advertising and marketing for close to eleven years now and am already facing boredom doing the same thing repeatedly. Maybe a new career path would make it more interesting and pose new challenges in my career. Something which I will definitely ponder on.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Meme

I got this Book Meme from Sorrow at Sills Bend’s site. I’ve never done a book meme before, but hey you only live once so I thought I’d give this meme thing a try:

1. What was the last book you bought?
That’s easy. Just came back from a bookstore and bought Nora Roberts’s The Pagan Stone, the final installation for The Sign of Seven Trilogy. Have been waiting for this book for almost six months and finally it arrived in Malaysia. Can’t wait to start reading it!

2. Name a book that you’ve read more than once:
I’ve never read a book more than once. I want to read as many books as I can and I don’t waste time reading a book over and over again, no matter how much I love it.

3. Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?
Quite a few but the latest one is The Last Lecture from Randy Paush. I admire his positive attitude and the way he faces his greatest challenge from cancer. I love his philosophy in life and have adopted it as my own. To quote Randy, he says that “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”. The book changed my outlook in life.
4. How do you choose a book? E.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?
I’m a sucker for great covers that’s how I got my hands on The Gargoyle. But usually I read reviews on other book review blogs or Amazon and get recommendations from friends.

5. Do you prefer fiction or non- fiction?
I read fiction mostly and some of the non-fiction books that I tend to read are on self-help and motivation.
6. What’s more important in a novel- beautiful writing or gripping plot?
Gripping plot! I don’t get easily annoyed by bad writing cause I wouldn’t be able to tell whether it’s good or bad anyway *lol*.
7. Most loved/memorable character?
Edward Cullen from the Twilight Saga, if only such a man existed...sigh.....

8. Which book or books can be found at your nightstand at the moment?
A Far Country by Daniel Mason. I use to have ten bazillion books by my bed but it got really messy so I've made it a point to keep all my books in my study bedroom instead.

9. What was the last book you read?
Tales of Beedle the Bard from J.K Rowling.
10. Have you ever given up a book halfway?
I’m embarrassed to admit this but YES. I can’t stand books that develop in turtle pace speed. If it makes me yawn, out it goes!

I’m not tagging anyone for this book meme. I’m only doing this because I’m suffering from bloggers block heh heh... Anyway, if you’re interested to participate just list your link or your answers on the comments section below.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

From the book:
The Tales of Beedle the Bard contains five richly diverse fairy tales, each with its own magical character, that will variously bring delight, laughter and the thrill of mortal peril.
Additional notes for each story penned by Professor Albus Dumbledore will be enjoyed by Muggles and wizards alike, as the Professor muses on the morals illuminated by the tales, and reveals snippets of information about life at Hogwarts.
A uniquely magical volume, with illustrations by the author, J.K. Rowling, that will be treasured for years to come.
My two cents worth:
In the introduction section by J.K. Rowlings, she explains that The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of classic stories written for young wizards and witches similar to that of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to Muggle children. The stories collected from Beedle the Bard from the fifteenth century have messages that are meant to teach children morality through magical tales; some are fantastic and some horrifying.
The book is translated by Hermione Granger and each story includes commentaries from beloved Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.
The book provides light read short stories. Simply told, the tales can be appreciated by both children and adult. The best part for me is Professor Dumbledore’s analysis on each story featured, providing his thoughts and understanding on each book, sharing his great wisdom to the readers as he often did to the students of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series.
I won’t go into detail on the tales featured so that I won’t spoil it for those who have not read it yet but my favourite from the five featured is The Wizard and the Hopping Pot and The Tale of Three Brothers.
The recently released book would make a great Christmas gift for both children and adult.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Then She Found Me

From the book:
April Epner teaches high school Latin, wears flannel jumpers, and is used to having her evenings free. Bernice Graverman brandishes designer labels, favors toad-size earrings, and hosts her own tacky TV talk show: Bernice G!

But behind the glitz and glam, Bernice has followed the life of the daughter she gave up for adoption thirty-six years ago. Now she’s ready to be Mother of the Year- and she’s hurtling straight towards April’s quiet little life.

My two cents worth:
I read this book sometime last August and wrote a short review on the book on my Living Social network. My thoughts on the book then:

“I love the contrast of characters in this book. April is so unlike her birth mother, Bernice. Her frustration with Bernice who is from a different world altogether is understandable and laughable. I was also surprised by Dwight’s character and found him to be witty and quite romantic in a mature, straightforward kinda way, far from how he was first introduced in the book. If you love a book that revolves around the theme based on growing relationships, then this would be one book to read. It is definitely a light read and has its funny moments.

I have yet to catch the movie but I truly believe that Bette Midler and Helen Hunt would be able to carry the character from the book to perfection”

The movie:
It’s a public holiday here in Malaysia today so I finally managed to catch the movie version of Then She Found Me.

The movie version’s storyline is so much different from the book. Instead of April being a single, lonesome thirty something who opens up to love and relationship, you find her at the beginning of the movie as a newly wedded wife who is dumped by her boyish husband (played by Matthew Broderick). April is still the simpleton school teacher in the movie and Bernice the celebrity hosting her own morning show. Bette Midler’s character did not have as strong a presence as she did in the book but yet she carried Bernice’s role up to my expectations- absolutely fabulous (I’m biased, I love Bette Midler. They also played down Bernice’s character as the attention crazy mother)

After her husband’s departure, April falls head over heels with Colin Firth, a single parent who sends his son to the school April teaches. Colin Firth was funny and I found him absolutely sexy playing the role of the heart-broken, responsible single father.

The movie version was good. It was funny and romantic and despite the storyline being different from the book, it was still engaging.

Ps. I’d just like to add that Helen Hunt looks like she’s really aged in this movie. I haven’t seen her in any other movie for quite a while and her appearance shocked me a bit. How old is she anyway?

Verdict: Sorry Elinor. I love the movie more than the book.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

From the book:
Charting loss, love, and the difficult art of growing up, these stories unfurl with wicked humour and insight. Two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab; a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to ‘Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers’ (cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Insomniacs; Cabin 3, Somnambulist..); a Minotaur leads his family on the trail out West, and finally in the collection’s poignant and hilarious title story, fifteen girls raised by wolves are painstakingly re-civilised by nuns.
My two cents worth:
This must be one of the weirdest collection of short stories that I have ever read in my life. Karen Russel’s short stories mostly feature young characters; sisters living in a Gator Theme Park, a young boy and his family lead by a father who is a Minotaur to a new world of opportunities, girls who were raised by wolves and re-educated to fit in with the ‘purebred’ human society.
Most of the stories presented feature characters that live in the Florida’s everglades, so in that sense I learnt a lot from the book about the geographical and environmental offerings of the setting. Seriously never knew there were endangered sea turtles in that part of the world. So, I learn something new from the book.
The stories mostly touch on the end of adolescence, with the characters discovering about sexuality, responsibility, fitting into society; themes that are reflective of youth moving on to adulthood. The tales are short, mystic, haunting some enjoyable and some are not.
What frustrates me about Russel’s stories is that they end abruptly. What I like about Russel’s writing is her style; unique storylines and the language used to describe a person or a situation. However, I do somehow feel that the words she uses maybe a bit too big to reflect characters that are at such a young age. (I think there were about three or four words that I had to look up in the dictionary while reading this book and I’m 33! To be fair, I’m Malaysian and English is a second language so the words use may not be bombastic to most other readers).

Overall, the book was different. The stories are unique. The themes had some depth. I finished the book with a bit of jealousy towards Karen Russel’s writing abilities; who at 25 was able to come up with tales that is imaginative and surreal. My favourite among the ten featured is ‘Haunting Olivia’.
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