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Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

Posted by Fred on January 8, 2013 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

January 8, 2013

I always thought that "Life of Pi" was an inspirational book.  For that reason, I did not really intend to read it. This is the guy who took months to read "The Alchemist" and did NOT like it!  However, with the news of the new Ang Lee film which had been touted to be "The New Avatar," I wanted to read it before the movie came out.  They had called the book "unfilmable" and I wanted to see why so.  I read "Life of Pi" without really knowing what is was about.   

The first part of the book was about a young boy from Pondicherry in India, with an unwieldy name of Piscine Molitor Patel.  After being continually teased about it, he discovered later that it was way cooler to call himself "Pi."  His dad ran the local zoo. Chapters were spent describing the zoo, its animals and why zoos are good for animals.  

The narrative then turned to religions.  Chapters were spent to describe three major religions in India - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.  There was one spectacular chapter where the Patels meet a HIndu brahmin, a Christian priest and a Moslem imam, and the debates that ensued were fascinating to read..

Then there was a sudden turn in the story when the Patel patriarch decide to migrate his family to far-off Canada.  They closed the zoo, brought with them some of their animals on a Japanese cargo ship and set sail.  Upon leaving the port of Manila though, then the real story begins as their ship sinks and Pi was set adrift on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena and an adult Bengal tiger (whom they have named Richard Parker).

From that point up to practically the end of the book, Martel describes how Pi was able to survive several months in the open sea, under the constant threat of the elements, of hunger and thirst, of sharks, and of a tiger on the boat with him waiting to eat him alive.  The battles Pi waged with nature were very graphically described.  There was a long chapter devoted to a strange island of algae and meerkats where the water turns  acidic at night.  For me, that part about the island was the most unusual of the book, it was almost too fantastic.

Pi finally reached dry land in Brazil.  Two Japanese investigators interview him about his ordeal.  At this point of the book, we get an idea of what really happened all those months at sea, or do we?

Mr. Martel is very good in the art of verbal description.  There were several chapters where you felt he was just padding the novel to make it longer.  Do we really need to know so much about the sloth for instance?  I must say that the zoo part was long, but we get to learn a lot about how to run it.  The part about the lifeboat survival, but we learn so much about sea survival technology or animal psychiatry.  The main story is the shipwreck and Pi's survival, and Martel was able to stretch this to 100 chapters.

So, this is not really an inspirational book, is it?   I believe this book is unfilmable the way it was written by Martel.  There have been films about shipwrecks and survivors before, but not described like this.  Now we get word that Ang Lee was actually able to create a film that was better than the book.  The film was described to be like "The Little Prince."  I thought this book was nothing like "The Little Prince" at all now. How Ang Lee did it, now THAT remains to be seen.

The Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick)

Posted by Fred on January 7, 2013 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

January 8, 2013

I got interested to watch "The Silver Linings Playbook" only because of the upcoming film of the same title which was receiving a lot of awards buzz.  I thought it would be a good idea to read the book first before the film, starring the unlikely pair of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who were both nominated for Golden Globes acting awards for their work.

"The Silver Linings Playbook" was about a mentally-disturbed man named Pat Peoples.  He had just been brought home from the mental institution by his loving mom.  He spends his days exercising at home, running, and visiting his unorthodox therapist, Dr. Cliff Patel.  All of this he is doing in order to get ready to reunite with his wife Nikki, the silver lining he was yearning for. However, with time he realizes that what he knew was only part of a huge secret iceberg that his loved ones were staunchly keeping from him.  His odd friendship with Tiffany, a similarly mentally-disturbed lady in their neighborhood, leads Pat into a rude awakening about what really happened to him before being sent to the institution.  

The book was surprisingly easy to read.  The language was simple and straightforward.  For something that dealt with very serious topic of mental instability and divorce, the text had a very child-like perspective and narration.  I enjoyed reading the parts where Pat was analyzing classic novels like "The Great Gatsby," "The Bell Jar" or "Catcher in the Rye".  People who have not read these books need to be warned that there are spoilers though as to how these novels end.  There is also a recurring mention of Kenny G. which was particularly funny the way it was written.

The credits reveal that this was author Matthew Quick's first novel.  He thus set it in his hometown of Philadelphia and devoted a lot of pages about the fan rituals of the football team, the Eagles, Quick's favorite and well as the favorite of Pat's family and friends.  The overall result is a funny bittersweet drama that was frank as much as it was charming and quirky.  I can fully imagine Bradley Cooper as Pat, although in the book Pat describes himself as unattractive.  But Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, now that I have to see.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (My Review of the Book and the Film)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

November 14, 2010

It took time for me to get into the story of this novel. The beginning section about an old man receiving dried flowers every year is very puzzling, and I had to read it over many times to try to get it. I decided to just let it go and read on, and then the story really gets more interesting.


I think this is the first novel from Sweden that I have read, and so the Swedish names and places used were new and charming. The style of exposition of Mr. Larsson is different and nonlinear, so it does take getting used to as you progress through the book.


At first, you might balk at prolonged descriptions of people, places, businesses and technologie. Sex is also treated very casually here, as Swedes are traditionally known for. But beleive me, once you catch the drift of Larsson's style, it would be difficult to let go up to the very end.


The title refers to the mysterious Lisbeth Salander, a misanthropic young orphan with an unusual talent and tenacity in investigative work. However, the actual lead character of the story is journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who was hired to ghost write the memoirs of the elderly industrialist Henrik Vanger. However, we will learn that Mr. Vanger also wanted Blomkvist to solve a family mystery that has possessed him for over twenty years. And it is with this investigation that our titular Lisbeth gets into the action.


Without going into much detail, the investigation will take an incredible turn into the violent, gruesome and lurid. I personally felt this part went way over the top, but hey, maybe that is why this book stood out and became a best seller. I admit I went absorbedly along this dark ride. I brought this book along to read throughout my vacation in New England. But I simply could not put the book down, so I finished it while still on the plane going there! I cannot wait to read the next adventures of Lisbeth Salander.




Usually I like to read the book first before watching the movie. In this case, reading the book first made watching the movie easier, but also made the experience a bit disappointing.


The title of this Swedish film is Män som hatar kvinnor which translates as Men Who Hate Women. I liked the way the screenplay adapted the book onto the big screen. This movie ran for over two hours, so that most of the important events in the novel are all accounted for. There were some details which were altered for cinematic purposes, but that was also OK, since it fits right into the story without altering major plot points.


In the book, more pages were spent on journalist Mikael Blomkvist. The movie, on the other hand, gives practically equal, or even more, time to Lisbeth Salander, the Goth female computer hacker with a disturbed past, facial piercings and the dragon tattoo, who helps Blomkvist solve a mystery of the rich Vanger family, unsolved for more than 20 years already. Actress Noomi Rapace portrays the titular character Lisbeth bravely and with conviction.


I say I was also disappointed in a way that having read the book cannot make me a fair judge whether the movie was able to effectively build up the suspense into the revelation of what really happened. The movie is certainly not exactly how I imagined some things. For instance, I did not imagine Lisbeth's dragon tattoo to be so big! But as a whole, this film is a very faithful retelling of the book's events, no surprises anymore.


The US is coming up with an American version of this movie by next year, and no doubt I will be watching it again. Daniel Craig (as Blomkvist), Stellan Skarsgard (as Martin Vanger) and Christopher Plummer (as Henrik Vanger) all seem to fit their roles. I am just not so sure how pretty Rooney Mara (from Social Network) can pull off playing Lisbeth.


As for "The Girl Who Played With Fire", I am thinking maybe I should watch the second movie first before reading the second book, and see how that goes.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (by Judy Blume)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

September 15, 2010

This is another "kid lit" book I read because it was required reading for my daughter. I actually found it very funny, yet very insightful, read.


"Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" is the story of 10 year old New York City kid, Peter Warren Hatcher, and his seemingly endless conflicts with his much younger (2 and half year old) and hyperactive brother, Farley Drexel (whom everyone called by the nickname Fudge). We read a lot of painfully realistic situations (with literary embellishments, of course) of familiar family situations, like visiting guests, kids parties, playground accidents, shopping for shoes, school projects, etc.


We will definitely identify with these problematic episodes, yet still be very entertained with the light and hilarious rendering. Ms Blume writes for kids, but her take on the parents' behavior was also quite sensitive and spot-on.


I must admit that I was having a deja-vu experience while reading this book because it was so similar to the Wimpy Kid books. But I was surprised to see in the copyright page that this was written by Judy Blume way back in 1972! The flavor of the book still feels current, not dated by any means. Therefore, this book could well have been the inspiration for the Wimpy Kid books which came 3 decades later! I will look forward to reading more of Ms. Blume's work too.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0)

August 26, 2010

After the phenomenal success of his "Da Vinci Code," Dan Brown finally came out with his follow-up "The Lost Symbol" last year. The long 6 year wait sparked excited anticipation from his fans, making it sell more than one million copies (hardcovers and e-books) on its very first day out. It was only now that I was able to borrow a copy (thank you Lei) and finally sat down to read what is considered the fastest-selling adult novel in history. So, how was it?


"The Lost Symbol" brings the "Da Vinci Code" adventure and Robert Langdon to Washington DC. A prominent historian and philanthropist, Peter Solomon, invites Langdon to the US capital to lecture at a grand event as a last minute pinch-hitter. However, when Langdon gets there, it seems that Mr. Solomon may have probably been kidnapped and maimed by a madman. For Langdon to get his friend back alive, he needs to solve the secret riddles hidden in an old stone pyramid model and its golden capstone, in order to lead the villain towards the Treasure. Throughout, this basic plot is thickened and confounded by involvement of the Masons, the CIA and Noetic Science.


All said, "The Lost Symbol" is really a page-turner. The style of Dan Brown in creating suspense by prolonging the descriptions of what were just simple events with elaborate build-up is certainly very familiar, and frankly, made me turn the pages faster. The storytelling is not organized in a linear fashion, as events were admixed wtih flashbacks, which can make you make a double-take at times. I enjoyed most the trivia about the Freemasonry and numerology (especially about the number 33) that are generously sprinkled among the text.


I thought the title was a pretty lame and uninteresting one, when compared to his previous four books. The detailed background of arch-villain Malakh was too long, repetitive and derivative to be truly interesting. There was a lot of computer-tech speak that went above my head. The race-against-the-clock climactic sequence was exciting, but not to the level of "Angels and Demons." There is an interesting death scene of an important character described, but I found it too contrived, even corny. The ending was too vague, long winded and esoteric to be really convincing.


Overall, "The Lost Symbol" is Dan Brown catering to what his readers are clamoring for--an interesting mix of history and art into a twisty potboiler of an action-mystery story. You can already see the movie version in your mind, while you read the book, as it was written practically like a screenplay. (Although again, "Angels and Demons" was better in this regard.) I do get the feeling though that the Robert Langdon character should already be ready to retire.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book Series)

Posted by Fred on October 6, 2011 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (0)

March 29, 2010

I know for people who know me, this blog title would sounds like the ideal title of my own personal diary.  LOL!  But no, that would not be so.  Author Jeff Kinney had beaten me to the punch and used this as the title of his current hit series of funny books for pre-teeners.  


One day after rummaging thru the Scholastic Book Sale at their school, my three kids walked out of the sale with a Wimpy Boy book each.  So as the dutiful dad, I decided I had to check them out for any inappropriate content.  I ended up enjoying reading all three of them in a row, haha!




The first volume is simply entitled "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."  This had the red cover, and carried the description "a novel in cartoons."  The page is easily readable with a kid's neatly printed penmanship on ruled paper, much as it would appear in a real diary.  The illustrations had cute semi-line figures representing the various characters, just as the cover described.


Being the first book of a series, it dwelt a lot on introducing and establishing all the characters to us readers.  Our hero's name is Greg Heffley.  He is the middle child of three boys.  He is currently starting his middle school level, and this diary would recount his experiences in that awkward "tween" stage of life.  I had to look up what "middle school" meant since I was did not know.  Turns out it was the level from 6th to 8th grade in the US educational system.


Kinney's style is free-flowing where Greg randomly relates his various experiences, not necessarily related to each other.  Therefore the book could cover a lot of issues without being restricted by a specific storyline.  I thought that was ingenious, especially after going through the other two books.  He had a free hand to explore matters from his parents, to his brothers Rodrick and Manny, his weird classmates, house rules to Halloween, Christmas, the school musicale, and the school elections.  This book mainly covered friendship issues with his best pal Rowley. 



The second book had a blue cover.  It had the subtitle: "Rodrick Rules."  As the title implied, this book mainly dealt with Greg's tumultuous relationship with his elder brotherRodrick, who was already a teenager.  The topics ranged from Rodrick's heavy metal band called Loded Diper, Rodrick's very naughty pranks on Greg, how Rodrick did his homework and projects, how Rodrick tried to get away with his secret house party when their parents were away, and the like.


Of the three books, forgive me for being humorless, but I found this volume a wee bit mean-spirited.  I felt that this was not too good for younger kids to read.  God forbid they should think all these shenanigans are cool!  For adults, these things were funny to read.  However, if your young kids will be reading this one, it is definitely in Parental Guidance territory.



The third book had a green cover.  It had the subtitle:  "The Last Straw."  This book was certainly anything-goes.  It flitted lightly from topic to topic as it made fun of them all.  This volume talked about house chores and punishment, detention, the school dance, church services, sleepovers, soccer games, and neighbors.  We also get introduced to Greg's ultimate crush, Holly Hills.


This book went back to the spirit of the first book.  This is more of the good, clean, innocent fun that I sort of missed in the second book.  I found this to be the funniest of the three Wimpy Kid books I had read.  That episode set in their neighbor Seth Snella's half birthday party is definitely HILARIOUS!  A perfect ending, if I could say so.  Because of this book, I have faith restored that I could also enjoy the next books of this series.



Yesterday at the mall, we saw in the bookstore that there is already a fourth Wimpy Kid book.  A yellow book with the subtitle of "Dog Days".  I am thinking we might be buying this one soon enough.


Also, this Saturday April 3, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid phenomenon will also arrive on the local silver screens.  I am pretty sure the kids will not be passing this film up as well.  Well, me, I will be watching how the books would translate as a big screen adventure.  You know you will also find out what I think once I have seen the movie.


The Club Dumas (Arturo Perez Reverte)

Posted by Fred on March 12, 2011 at 8:04 PM Comments comments (0)

July 13, 2009

This novel is about books and men who love books. It tackles the small and not-too-familiar world of book collectors, hunters and traders in Europe. The books in this story are old rare volumes and editions for which a lot of money are spent or a lot of lives are lost. One could never imagine that such underhanded and downright criminal things can happen in what could be imagined as a quiet erudite world of ancient books and libraries.


You follow the adventures of one book detective, Lucas Corso, as he goes around Europe trying to verify the authenticity of a handwritten copy of "The Anjou Wine", a chapter from the Alexandre Dumas classic "The Three Musketeers." He was also tasked to acquire the three extant copies of a rare tome about Satanism called the "The Nine Doors." What is the connection between these two books? He is hounded in his mission by characters straight out of "The Three Musketeers" -- the scar-faced Rochefort, the beautifully ruthless Milady and, of course, the mysterious mastermind Richelieu.


The novel is written in a most engrossing manner. The action builds up very well as Corso's quest brings him from Italy to France. It describes a world very few people know in a very elaborate and almost reverential manner. The historical trivia about the books and the authors involved are very interesting. It is unfortunate that I have not had the pleasure of actually reading "The Three Musketeers" first before I read this novel. Having known the classic would certainly have enhanced my appreciation of "The Dumas Club."


Unfortunately, I felt the resolution at the end is a bit of a letdown because it involved a very big red herring. I felt the author took the easy way out with a very simple explanation to what should have been a more explosive plot revelation. I felt the ending did not live up to the promise of a most well-written and intricate build-up. It was akin to what I felt after reading "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco (although that one was a bigger let down.) I would still say though that "The Dumas Club" was worth the read because of the interesting side stories and details the novel provides. I would look forward to reading more Lucas Corso book adventures if there are any.


This English version was translated from the original Spanish text by Sonia Soto.

The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory)

Posted by Fred on March 12, 2011 at 6:59 PM Comments comments (0)

May 29, 2009

This historical novel was written in the person, and perception, of Mary, the other Boleyn girl. The main Boleyn girl would be her sister Anne Boleyn, who caused an upheaval in the history of British monarchy by becoming the second queen of Henry VIII. This point-of-view though would be the novel's main limiting factor, because we are held captive by Mary's biased views and opinions. Mary would therefore appear to be as virtuous as her sister Anne is villainous. It would also stretch some credibility how Mary could have access to certain events or overhear certain conversations, but this was how the book told its story.


This book is one grand medieval royalty gossip magazine. It was very hard to tell which details are fact and which are pure fiction from the author's imagination. It went into every scandalous detail the diabolical acts Anne Boleyn had to do to charm, weasel and practically force her way to become the second queen of Henry VIII and hang on to her position. And by the end of the novel, you'd be so annoyed with her that you yourself would really like to see Anne's neck under the guillotine's blade.


And that is not all. Being the more flexible medium in terms of length, the book, of course, was able to describe a lot more of the controversial issues surrounding the nature and sins of their dear brother George Boleyn. We also get to meet the other men in Mary's life (Lord Carey and William Stafford) as actual people. The political power play waged by the Boleyns against the other families (particularly the Seymours) in jockeying to be the favorite of the King by using nubile virgins of each family was very interesting. The sorry yet dignified suffering of the first Queen Katherine was also very vividly and eloquently depicted.


Since I have watched the movie first, I could not help but visualize Scarlett Johannsen and Natalie Portman while I was reading the story of Mary and Anne Boleyn unfold. It was a bit difficult to imagine Eric Bana as the book described Henry VIII though. Also, I cannot help but read and now review the book as it relates to the film. As can be deduced, the book is so much more than the movie had been. This would have been better as a mini-series on TV, rather than one full-length movie. While I was reading, I wished I had read this book first before seeing the film.


I posted my movie review here

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Patrick Suskind)

Posted by Fred on March 12, 2011 at 9:28 AM Comments comments (0)

February 28, 2009

There is something different about reading a book after you have seen the movie first. Certainly for this book "Perfume", I must confess that the reading has been heavily influenced by watching the film, which I had earlier already reviewed HERE.


It cannot be denied that the language of the book is topnotch, especially considering that English was not the original language in which this novel was written. It was actually translated from the German original by John E. Woods. Despite not really knowing how accurate a translation it was, the English text is simply amazing to read.


This novel is about the Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and his uniquely acute sense of smell. We would really expect difficulty for any visual media to convey that particular sense. I have already seen how the movie dealt with the problem by using montages of various images for which we the audience would recognize characteristic odors. But for the written word, the challenges seem so much more insurmountable. How many words that refer to smell can you think of? But with this novel, apparently the task is NOT impossible.


Since I have already watched the movie, I already knew about the main events, and was just eager to read how the novel described these events. I know I shouldn't, but I could not help but compare the film and the book.


The first few paragraphs I already recognized to be the narration of the time and place where Grenouille was born, practically verbatim. Of course, the movie had taken a lot of liberties in its depiction of Grenouille's time at the orphanage, the tannery, the plum girl, his apprenticeship with the Parisian perfumer Baldini, his obsessive killing spree in Grasse, his trial and what happens after that. The movie chose to imbue the qualities of Grenouille a sort of "magical" nature, up to the very end, and I fully see the director's reasons for doing so. But I guess you can only understand this when you have experienced both the book and the movie.


The entire episode with the Marquis de La Taillade Espinasse was not included in the movie at all, which I felt was not really a great loss. But while the movie merely glossed over Grenouille's discovery that he had no scent of his own, the book devoted a lot of pages about this peculiar quality. This is where the book was more interesting, especially the part where he develops an "imitation human odor". He started with a compound consisting of some cat shit, decomposing cheese, rotten egg and ammonia, among other things...


"The bilge smelled revolting. Its stink was putrid like a sewer, and if you fanned its vapor just once to mix it with fresh air, it was as if you were standing in Paris on a hot summer day. ... On top of its disgusting base, which smelled more like a cadaver than a human being, Grenouille spread a layer of fresh, oily scents: peppermint, lavender, turpentine, lime, eucalyptus...tamed with the pleasant bouquet of fine floral oils."


That passage was a fine sample of the very descriptive language that fills this novel. The main storyline is dismal as you can imagine. But the language in which this story was told is incomparably picturesque, and yes, odoriferous, haha! It is well worth the effort of getting through to the grisly end.





Thank you to our Rhinologist, Dr. Benjo Campomanes, for letting me borrow this book to read. And to Dr. Wendy Panganiban, our Smell Specialist (yes, there is such a specialty) who will be reading this book next, get ready for quite a ride.

Eclipse (Stephenie Meyer)

Posted by Fred on March 12, 2011 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (0)

February 1, 2009

This is the third book of the Twilight series. Unlike the first two books which were fast reads, this volume was a most difficult ordeal for me to finish (hyperbole alert! hehe).


I felt the first 20 chapters of this novel is just laden with such painfully corny and unbearably annoying dialogue, mainly involving the "heroine" Bella Swan. Her attitude here in this entire book is so wishy-washy and irrational. She says she loves Edward and plans to marry him, yet she keeps poor Jacob hanging like a dog with its tongue hanging out (pun intended). How long will this keep on!?!?


The main story here is the build up for and the main battle with Victoria and her group of "newborns" (new vampires) as she seeks revenge for the death of her love James (way back int he first book). To prepare for victory in this epic fight, the Cullens and the Quiluete werewolves band together in Bella's protection. Wow, no wonder Bella's ego is on an all-time high!


The best chapter was that where Edward and Jacob were in one tent talking with each other while Bella was supposed to be asleep, kept warm in Jacob's embrace. This was already Chapter 22! It was only from that time that the pace of the writing and action picked up, and kept up up to the end (only 3 more chapters). In the epilogue, the author even shifted the point of view of narration to Jacob, which was interesting.


Since I already reached this far, maybe I would still go on to read the next book "Breaking Dawn." So far I have received mixed reviews about this, so let's see how I get through that soon.