The last time I opened my ipad to read was sometime in April. It’s been so crazy and I’ve been so distracted that I don’t have to time or motivation to read. I’ve been watching youtube videos of game streams before bed instead of reading.

This is not good.


The book I’m in the middle of reading, and I’ll definitely need to start from the beginning, is Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I’m around 1/3 of the way through, and haven’t gotten the hang of the location or characters yet. May be the slow start is one of the reasons I’m not getting into the book. There’s an assassin who was raised by monks who seems to be the MC, a prince he is protecting/keeping prisoner, and then there’s this dwarf, or in that universe, a geg, who is way too curious for his own good. I guessing the two parties will meet at some point and more will happen.

Like I said, I will need to re-read from the beginning. It won’t be a big deal; it’s a 7-book series, so there’s a long, long way to go in terms of the overall story. I just wish I can pick it up again. ‘It’ being not only this particular book, but the whole reading thing.

polar city books


I finished the Deverry series, will write up my thoughts later. May be after I read them all again, going through the storyline chronologically; I was keeping track as I was reading along.

Next up, Katharine Kerr’s science fiction books, starting with Polar City Blues and Polar City Nightmare. It’s definitely a change from fantasy and took a little getting used to. The setting is the future, on a very hot planet called Hagar that humankind from Old Earth had settled at some point. There are many different species of the Mapped Sector, of which humans are one. Humans and lizards are part of the Republic, a small “country” system dwarved by two larger civilisations called the Confederation and the Alliance. Both the Cons and the Lies have embassies on Polar City, which is where the action happens.

The MCs are Mulligan, a psychic who is bitter that his psychic abilities prohibited him from playing in the baseball majors, and Lacey, an independent ex-military information-gatherer / ears-on-the ground type of anti-hero. There are other side characters like the police chief, a doctor for the homeless, and Lacey’s computer Buddy. Computers in that universe are more AI with sentient capabilities than mere machines. Others include police and embassy staff, and in the second book, a lot of baseball players. Baseball seems to be a big thing there.

Both books are mysteries, Polar City Blues revolve around a new alien species and killer bacteria; Polar City Nightmare about the theft of an important artefact and a few murders. Both are enjoyable, to a point. The writing was great, the story was fast-paced and the ideas a combination of new and old. I liked Polar City Blues more because the characters are more interesting. In Polar City Nightmare I felt there were too many characters and I was beginning to lose track.

There are some interesting tropes. Causasian people are a minority and speech patterns have changed to reflect some sort of pidgin, Spanish-based English. Instead of saying “I’m not giving that woman any money” they say “I no give that donna no money.” Instead of “didn’t” it’s “dint.” The way psychics communicate is a jumble of words and emotion:

Little brother >be calm.
Can’t. Killer want>find me>>slit my throat.
Rick guard>I guard> you>>be calm. No/wait. >We do work>> distract. Garden work? [gladness]
Not garden work. Mind work. [pain, irritation, reluctance]

Time is flipped over too. They still use standard time like us, but because the planet is so hot, they go to bed during the day and wake up during the night. So their day will start around 1700 or 1800 and lunch is at 0000.

Polar City Nightmare was written with Kate Daniels, and about a carli (one of the other species) artefact stolen from the embassy somehow ending up in the possession of a player from the baseball team that won the planet’s equivalent of the world series. Many people from many different groups are after the artefact, there are bodies everywhere, and it’s up to Lacey, Mulligan, Chief Bates and a slew of other characters to solve it all. I felt it has a lot of potential but faltered in the execution. I don’t know why, may be because it was co-written or may be it needed better editing. For instance Lacey will be referred to as Lacey or as Bobbie (her first name). I can understand the narrator using Lacey and a family member referring to her as Bobbie, but in the same sentence is a bit jarring and is due to lacklustre editing.

This is what Kit said about Polar City Blues:

In some ways Polar City Blues is my tribute to the classic SF I read as a teenager. In other ways, it’s a heavily Revisionist book, where the Hero is female and the Object of Desire is male. Mostly, however, it’s a fast-paced adventure story complete with dead bodies, hookers, drugs, mysterious aliens, and several high-speed chases both on the ground and elsewhere.

There’s a short excerpt on her website too.

Next up, the Nola O’Grady series.

reading list


For the reading queue, a bunch of standalone science fiction and fantasy novels offered by mefi readers. Focus on fantasy with some scifi.

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison — quasi-steampunk fantasy setting with elves and goblins, and is a story about an unwanted youngest child who unexpectedly becomes emperor and has to deal with court politics all while trying to figure out who killed his father and brothers
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik — basically a fairy tale, but with some real depth and great characters, including a strong female lead. Nebula winner
  • Ammonite by Nicola Griffith — about a planet of women. It’s great and fascinating and neither a utopia nor a dystopia. More scifi than fantasy but I’ve always had the author at the back of my mind to try
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson — queer and full of colour and texture and lots of genre-mixing. The writing style is sensuous and moving and very original
  • Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells — a strong, powerful black woman protagonist with a white male sidekick/bodyguard. Epic fantasy, but the worldbuilding is a far cry from the usual Eurocentric middle ages stuff
  • Lock In by John Scalzi — no more introduction needed
  • The Book of Kells by R A MacAvoy — a tale of warriors, love, danger, and Irish history

At this rate I’ll have enough books to read for a long, long while and I can stay in the fantasy genre and not return to our lesfic community. My plan after finishing the deverry books is to either tackle all the David Eddings (I stopped somewhere around the Elenium and the Tamuli), or just take a single book like False Hearts, or the list above. Like I said, scads and scads of books to read.

deverry take 2

I finished the last book of the Deverry series, took one month from when I started so average 2 days per book. With books that I love and ones that make me think, I go back and re-read immediately after finishing. I may do that, and the only reason I’m hesitating is that it will overlap with nano. Ah well, I won’t write all the time and the reward will be reading when I hit my wordcount target for the day. There are so many threads and foreshadowing that cries out for a second reading.

What I’m going to do is to bookmark the stories that take place in different time periods so at my third re-read I may read everything in chronological order. This means reading chapter 1 of book 15 first, then chapter 2 of book 1. It should give yet another perspective to the saga.

reading, telling time

My great-aunt in Toronto emailed me to say

take care your MOM and go on with the daily life

so that’s what I will try to do. The overnight beef stew went down a treat, comfort food at its best.


We both stayed in all day. Mum watching videos on her ipad and me reading. I have plenty of unread books but right now I want to go back to favourites that make me smile. For the first time in a long, long while I grabbed one of the books on my bookshelf instead of reading on the ipad.

Strange feeling, reading a physical book. It’s a grotty day and whenever it starts to rain and gets dark I have to turn on the light as opposed to turning up the brightness. And then I kept glancing up at to the top of the page to check the time and am disappointed to see a blank spot. Of course there is no clock at the top of a page in a paperback. Except if I have some fun with photoshop.

#90: leave an inspirational note


Task #90 of 101.1001 is to leave an inspirational note for someone to find.

Originally I envisioned getting a postcard with a motivational message and leaving it in a random book at a bookstore. I forgot to get it done at Powell’s in Portland, which would have been really great seeing that it’s a huge bookstore.

For once, I’m glad I procrastinated. Two things happened in parallel.

A few weeks ago, mugglenet started #potteritforward, where participants could

share messages of love, friendship, or bravery with the next generation of Harry Potter readers by tucking a note into the pages of a bookstore or library copy of the boy wizard’s adventures.

Naturally, it’s a hashtag and pictures have been shared all over social media.

The second thing that happened was when I was talking to my niece and finally she’s ready to read the HP books. I said she can borrow mine, if she promises to keep them in good condition.


So that’s how I came to incorporate #potteritforward into lending my HP books to my niece. Since most people have been putting notes in either the first chapter of the first book or last chapter of the last book that’s exactly what I did. There is a third note about Dementors hidden somewhere in the one of the middle books, when Harry used Expecto Patronum on Dementors.


bookstore-themed hotel tokyo


via boredpanda, a cool place to consider next time we visit tokyo is the book and bed hotel, which will open in November. It’s a hostel which is based on a theme of a bookstore because:

dozing off obliviously during your treasured pasttime is the finest “moment of sleep”, don’t you agree?



They will have 1,700 English and Japanese books and comics available, to be expanded to 3,000. The books are not for sale, just reading.

The accommodation is basic, more like capsules built inside bookshelves and shared bathrooms. Free wifi. At ¥4500 (USD37, £25) it’s aimed at the backpacker end of the market. Ikebukuro location is another positive. Then again, we prefer a little more comfort and private bathrooms. Probably not as suitable for us. Still very cool.



#10: read 101 books


Task #10 of 101.1001 is to read 101 books.

I started 101.1001 on 01-dec-2013 and I finished reading the first book on 04-dec-2013. So it’s taken around 10 months. In other words 10 books a month or 2.5 books a week or around 3 days per book. Of course sometimes I finish a book in one day and some books take longer to read. I finally finished all Harry Potter books as well as one from the 2007 challenge, mythology for dummies. I would say 70:30 new vs re-reads; when I buy a new book from an author sometimes I go back and read all the previous books, especially if it is part of a series.

Book #101 was Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. It’s all because I was looking at sci-fi books for my niece and I’ve had the hardback since it was published.

The book is set in an alternate, steampunk, universe of WW1. The blurb:<

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

Marketed as a YA book, I must admit I really, really, really enjoyed it. The book had everything — smartly written story, fun main characters, realistic side characters, fantastic clanker machines, amazing darwinist beasties and great setting. There was a real sense of adventure and wonder, made me want to be Alek or Deryn. Barking spiders! Plus a side of history too, even though it only skirted with actual history. Unlike the other book I was reading for my niece, Death’s Daughter, I’m happy to recommend Leviathan. Not just for kids, adults too.

Since it’s #1 of a trilogy, I’m faced with the same dilemma as before. Complete the series by buying secondhand print books (under $10 for even hardbacks) or switch to ebooks ($30 for all three). Sigh, sigh, sigh.

So anyway, I’m already on books #102 and 103. I have a bunch of new books to read, and every month there are more new books. I sat on my sis’ armchair reading for a couple of hours the other day and she remarked that I could happily stay there for a long time. Absolutely true.


#13: read mythology for dummies


Task #13 of 101.1001 is to read Mythology for Dummies. This is one of the incomplete tasks carried over from the 2007 list.

I didn’t have an arts education. Although I read steadily as a kid, it was fiction or those big general knowledge books. I knew about various myths but never paid much attention to them, and certainly never remembered much or was able to associate mythology references in books I read.

There are a lot of books on mythology. A lot of general, beginner, summary type of books. The dummies series seem to tackle subjects in a casual manner. The tone of the writing was definitely on the silly side, with chapter titles like “Snow, Ice, and Not Very Nice: Norse Deities.” Almost 1/3 of the book was devoted to Greeks and Romans. Extremely superficial coverage of European, Middle Eastern, Eastern and American mythology. Some of the sections were more description of religions than mythology.

It was an easy read, and I like that the authors didn’t try to make mythology sound mystical or serious. May be too light-hearted in places. What did I learn? Mythology around the world and along history was remarkably similar. Some version of a god or gods creating the universe, some gods bigger and older than others. Lots of murder, jealousy, incest and illogical behaviour. They married each other (sometimes at the same time), bred like rabbits, had a tendency to fight or kill each other off for no good reason, then are consumed with remorse.

I was interested in the Greeks but lost interest in the Romans. Had a hard time keeping track of the names and relationships. Nordic mythology was interesting, as was the legend of King Arthur and his Knights at the Round table. Too brief on the rest. I guess a book I’ll keep around for reference if and when I need it.

international literacy day

crossposted to medium as Getting the World to Read.


Today, Monday 8 September, is International Literacy Day. The day has been celebrated since 1966, after the World Conference of Ministers on the Eradication of Illiteracy adopted the view that literacy is a means for development and an integral part of the development process.

To mark International Literacy Day, there are events in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, New Zealand, Rwanda and other countries celebrating and promoting literacy. The big UNESCO event at Dhaka has two parts. First, a conference on the 2014 theme of “Literacy and Sustainable Development” with special emphasis on Girls’ and Women’s Literacy and Education; second, prizes will be given out for outstanding performance and innovative practices in literacy.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, wrote about 15 countries that have joined together to become Learning Champions to focus on improving literacy and numeracy in the world’s poorest countries. The first country to launch the initiative was Kenya, with countries in South America, Asia and the Middle East to follow.

It is well accepted that increased literacy leads to better quality of life, improved health and economic success. To that end, it is one of the most important aspect of humanity. From UNESCO:

Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.

Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.

The numbers [pdf] are staggering, and staggeringly desparate:

  • 16% of the world’s population are illiterate
  • 64% of illiterate adults are female
  • 61% of illiterate youths are female
  • 171 million people will be out of poverty if they had basic reading skills
  • 15% fewer child deaths if the mother had primary education

There are numerous initiatives aiming to help and improve literacy — IBBY, the World Literacy Foundation, Room to Read and World Reader are just a few examples of organisations and programs doing various things in the area of literacy and education.

Although there have been progress, such as primary school enrollment reaching 90% in developing countries (as of 2010), there are concerns about the quality of education in all, even developed countries. In the UK, as reported by The Guardian:

One in six adults in Britain now has a literacy level below that expected of an 11-year-old

The most commonly read material by children is text messages.

Text messages.

srsly? SMH.


I can’t imagine not being able to read. The earliest books I remember reading was a children’s weekly magazine that had short stories and cartoons. At school one lesson a week was going to the school library and borrowing a book to read. I read abridged biographies of composers, that was my interest area when I was about 7. Growing up, I devoured Enid Blynton, the Hardy Boys (didn’t like Nancy Drew that much) before moving onto classic science fiction and fantasy. Even now as an adult I love paranormal adventures and mystery thrillers. Romances are my guilty pleasure.

As part of a 1001 day challenge I have been keeping track of my reading and I’ve read over 90 books in 9 months. My most recent book was a funny paranormal adventure with a sarcastic and annoying main character who happened to be Death’s daughter. Very engaging read, and I would love for more people to read the book. I would assume that everyone I tell about the book will have the ability to read it; whether they choose to, that’s another matter.

Today I went grocery shopping and there are so many things I take for granted because I can read. Bus numbers and destinations, road signs, shop names, product names, prices, even the doorcode to get back home. All assume an ability to recognise words and numbers. Imagine only relying memory to know which road to take, or only recognising items by colour or size, or not even knowing how to write my name. It’s unimaginable.

What can we do to help global literacy? I don’t know. I know it’s a problem, but not until today when I looked into International Literacy Day more carefully did I realise how severe the issue is. I bought one of the One Laptop per Child laptops because they said for each one bought, they’d donate one to a child. I hope it helped a child somewhere.

There are so many charities and causes vying for our attention nowadays, global literacy needs is its equivalent to the ALS ice bucket challenge. May be we can challenge someone to read a book and donate $1 or donate $100 to a reading charity. Or may be we can start small:

  • give a book as a gift and include a note about literacy is so important
  • get involved in reading / literacy charities — start by going through a useful list of 150+ such charities
  • donate our used books — to the library, to a school, to a local organisation. Some charities collect used books for developing countries, some sell books with profits going to literacy causes
  • support, donate to our local libraries
  • spread the word

I don’t know what I can do aside from becoming better informed and writing about it. I know I should get more involved in charitable giving and may be it’s time I did more. i know reading and writing are topics dear to me. And on that note, I’m off to read another book.

30in30 #27: read a new author


Task #27 of 30in30 is to read a new author. Appropriate, considering today is international literacy day.

Sis asked me for my recommendations for science fiction books for my niece. Ah the memories. I can’t remember if I started reading scifi books at 12, definitely at around 15-16 I was going through the shelves at the library — hitchhiker’s guide and the foundation series came first, because they were there alphabetically. I can’t remember half the ones I read now. I switched to fantasy soon. I still have both sets of David Eddings’ Belgariad as well as his other books, all (I think) of Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series on my shelf, even after downsizing from 2 full bookcases of fiction to half a bookcase.

So when sis asked me, I went and looked to see what physical books I had left that I could lend to my niece. Anne McCaffrey and Philip Pullman. I’d love to introduce her to the world of Pern but I think I’ll start her with The Ship Who Sang. I also got a few recs from my fb friends. It’s enough for her to borrow from the library or get on kindle.

I also noticed the couple of Ghosts of Albion collectible hardbacks, and then I remembered I still haven’t read Amber Benson’s Calliope Reaper-Jones series. The first one, Death’s Daughter, was published in 2009, and I went to the signing in Chicago. I wanted to see if I can recommend it to my niece.

I’m a bit of an Amber fan. Tara of course. I have a small signed Chance poster framed on my wall. I remember reading that one of the locations for Ghosts of Albion was St Mary’s le Strand and it brought warm fuzzy feelings.1 I follow her on twitter and fb and instagram (but not in a stalkery way, I don’t think I’ve ever DM or commented on her posts.)

The publisher’s blurb for Death’s Daughter:

Calliope Reaper-Jones so just wanted a normal life: buying designer shoes on sale, dating guys from Craigslist, web-surfing for organic dim-sum for her boss.

But when her father—who happens to be Death himself—is kidnapped, and the Devil’s Protégé embarks on a hostile takeover of the family business, Death, Inc., Callie returns home to assume the CEO mantle—only to discover she must complete three nearly impossible tasks in the realm of the afterlife first.

Reviews for the book is mixed. Some outright fan fawning vs people who don’t think actors should write. I’m not a fan of these reviews. Actual reviews of the book are also mixed. And I can see why.

Callie is forced to return to the family fold after her father is kidnapped and she is the designated person to save him and the family business, Death. Reluctantly she drags her tank-topped and Jimmy Choo-heeled self to Hell (literally) and back in order to complete 3 tasks before a) her allocated time and b) her competition beats her to them. She’s whiny, contradictory, frustrating and basically bumbles along with help from friends, her sister and various mythical beings. Everybody talks like a SoCal teenager, even though they are mythical being or, in the case of Callie, a twentysomething immortal who lives in New York. There’s Bollywood dancing and an inordinate amount of ogling of the male body. On almost every page there are numerous pop culture references.

But that’s the point. I don’t think it’s supposed to be taken seriously, it’s not like it’s the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Yes, Callie is, like, annoying, but her heart is, like, in the right place (that’s, like, how she speaks). I can get past the juvenile speak and get behind snarky Callie. Yes, the mythology is mixed up, with a Cerberus that acts in a surprising manner and the Indian goddess Kali acting like a mean girl and using words like “dipwad.” So what. It’s tongue-in-cheek, people.

The story itself is your standard do-3-impossible-tasks-to-save-the-world deal. Interesting twists on all 3 tasks. A flawed, reluctant heroine (like Buffy s1 or General Buffy s7) who is more concerned with shoe shopping and boys. The cover has a tough looking girl with short dark hair but for some reason I picture Lindsay Lohan (the actor with some talent, not the drug-addled failure). Hotter than hell…Hell, a castle with walls made from tortured people, a bottomless black pit and a 14-room house in New England are some of the locations. Plus a supporting cast of misfits. I can see it as a funny indie film.

It’s not a perfect book. Needed tighter editing to fix the spelling mistakes and superfluous parts. The dialogue doesn’t flow in all places and the plot jumps with no reason—they are screaming and yelling at each other then suddenly her dog bites her on her ankle.

The motivation for reading is to see if it’s suitable for a 12 year old. The story itself, yes I think a 12 year old will enjoy it. The silly speak and sarcasm too, i think a 12 year old will get the funny. I won’t be recommending it to my niece though, not until she’s older. There are too many inappropriate words and sexual references. It’s a shame, because these were the superfluous parts that didn’t add value to the story.

Death’s Daughter is the first of a series, there are 4 books now. I like this first book enough to want to get the other 3. Now here’s the problem, ebook vs paperback. In order of cost:

  • 3 used paperbacks shipped to US = $12 (I can get all 3 at 0.01+3.99 shipping)
  • 3 new paperbacks shipped to US = $21.57 (7.19 each, free shipping if I borrow the use of Prime)
  • 3 new paperbacks at paddyfield = $24.61 (64 each — paddyfield is a local online bookseller who sells English books from US/UK at almost direct fx conversion)
  • 3 new paperbacks shipped here from amazon = $26.56 (7.19 each plus 4.99 total shipment)
  • 4 kindle = $31.96 (7.99 each)

If I get the paperback, cheapest is used shipped to the US which means I have to wait till July. The advantage of ebook is obvious, and I’ve been 100% ebook for a few years now. I’ll think about it, I’m not in a big hurry.

1St Mary’s le Strand is a tiny church on the Strand rather pitifully divided by 4 lanes of traffic rushing either on the Strand or turning left onto Waterloo Bridge. It’s also directly opposite King’s, so I would have walked past it at least twice a day for 7 years.

16 books


Bought 16 books. Between a discount code and a gift certificate, total out-of-pocket was around $100 meaning I averaged $6.25 per book. The majority were full priced although there were a couple of novellas at lower price. Still, $6.25 per book, that’s a Mcdonald’s meal.

I actually could have reduced the spending if I used up all the balance on my gift certificate. One of the things I work very hard to overcome is not saving the last piece of something. It seems to be human nature, that the last chocolate was the best. May be it’s the freshest on our minds, or somehow we perceive that because there won’t be more, it must be preserved and saved. Mum a good example, there are many many single pieces of chocolate, cereal bar, snacks wrapped up in her fridge: almost always the last piece remaining. I’m trying to stop myself doing that as part of a general trend towards minimising clutter. I’ve also been burned — “best” pieces that I’ve saved to enjoy later have a tendency to spoil.

I tend to spend around $50 a month on books, and since I hadn’t done a big order since May, I feel good about the big order today. My aim is to slowly use up the gift certificate balance, may be $10 or so each month. This way, the certificate lasts longer and I can work in any sale or incentive available. This is apparently a savvy way to spend gift cards:

Get the most bang out of a gift card by spending it on already-reduced merchandise

I think I’m doing better at the not!hoarding business. Every time I’m tempted to save the last piece, I remind myself of the chocolate crickets [warning: insect pic] from Wittamer I was saving up but had to throw away because they got mouldy. Every time I buy something, I think about where it will go and how often I will use it. I will use up every $ on the gift certificate. I don’t want to add to the $44bn in unused gift cards sitting out there (okay, I won’t be adding to that because I’m not American, but imagine the global figure).

remembered for a while

nick drake
ben dylan / flickr

A new book about Nick Drake, Remembered for a While, is coming out. Edited by Nick’s family and friends,

This is not a biography. It is, rather, an attempt to cast a few shards of light on Nick Drake the poet, the musician, the singer, the friend, son and brother, who was also more than all of these.

The book is £35, the deluxe edition at £150 includes a 10” vinyl of tracks from a 1969 John Peel session, photographs and other goodies. The guardian has one of the tracks available for listening. It’s brilliant and haunting and sad. Another great musician who died young. There are no known live recordings of Nick’s performances, so we only get to listen.




Whatsapp with sis:

me: I’ve just been reading for 2 days
sis: you are ok?
me: oh yes quite relaxing
sis: [talk about new noodle shop near her place]

She has a family and household to run but she has never been a big reader anyway. She reads more literary fiction when she does, and the rest of time she reads cook books and books on health & beauty. I don’t think she’s ever spent a whole day doing nothing but reading. Whereas I’ve been reading since Sunday night and don’t have any intention of venturing out unless necessary.

For me, just like having no plans is the perfect plan, doing nothing but reading is the perfect activity.

sorry, I’m not paying USD48.40 for a book


I’m trying to continue with the momentum I’ve built up for PP and have been busy doing research online. The story is set within the Japanese community in Tennessee — Nissan and Toyota are two of the biggest employers in that region. I’ve bookmarked corporate websites, the local Japan-American society, newspaper articles, and even the nashville cherry blossom festival. I also came across an interesting book, Japanese Industry in the American South which is, according the its blurb:

an anthropological case study that describes whole industrial cultures found in three Japanese industrial plants in the American South. This book searches for answers to these questions: Why are Japanese industries coming to the American South? To what extent does Japan industrial management in the American South replicate the industrial relations model used in the home plants in Japan? What are the reactions of Americans toward the Japanese expatriates? At the same time, the book looks at the profound impact that the Japanese have had on Southerners.

Just reading the first few pages piqued my interest already. And then I looked at the price. $48 for the paperback and $39 for the kindle version. Seriously?! Yes, I recognise it’s an academic book, and someone had devoted much time and effort into researching and writing the book. But the way academic publishers artificially inflate the prices of their books is increasingly seen as out of date and even stupid.

However much I want to support all writers by buying their books, I’m refusing to pay exorbitant prices for an almost 20 year old book. Luckily there are many second hand options, so for around $5 including shipping I should be able to get my hands on a copy.

p.s. no, it’s not in the library system.

30in30 #26: new author


Task #26 in 30 in 30 is to read a new author. The author is Sandra Moran and the book is Letters Never Sent.

For some reason I didn’t manage to speak with Sandra at Dallas last year, although I obviously saw her and took this pic. I was running around too much and too focused on getting pics I guess. I certainly hope she will be at Portland this year. I found out that we both run, so hopefully we have something in common to talk about.

One of the first things Carleen told me to do after the con was to get Sandra’s book and read it. Part of it was set in Chicago against the backdrop of the World’s Fair; she told me how realistic the description was and how I would recognise the street names, buildings and the atmosphere of Chicago in the 1930s. She also said (and read her review) that it’s a must read book and I always listen to her recommendations.

Here’s the blurb:

Three women, united by love and kinship, struggle to conform to the social norms of the times in which they lived.

In 1931, Katherine Henderson leaves behind her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy to live on her own and work at the Sears & Roebuck glove counter in Chicago. There she meets Annie—a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is and what she thinks she wants in life.

In 1997, Katherine’s daughter, Joan, travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden away in an old suitcase, she finds a wooden box containing trinkets and a packet of sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial.

Joan reads the unsent letters and discovers a woman completely different from the aloof and unyielding mother of her youth-a woman who had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control. Now she just has to find the strength to use the healing power of empathy and forgiveness to live the life she’s always wanted to live.

I usually pick thrillers or paranormal stories before ones that have historical elements, mainly because I’m not that interested in history. That said, I thought the way the book weaved between the 1930s and 1990s was done brilliantly. I loved that the 1930s wasn’t written as flashback, or as told by a storyteller in the 1990s. There were more details and we learned more about the characters and interactions of the older MCs, Katherine and Annie. And then we come back to the 1990s and we see how the daughter, Joan, was affected by the story of her mother. I also loved how the story unfolded, there was so much depth that it was a delight as each layer was revealed.

So often, we get characters who are tall, dark and impossibly beautiful, who are CEOs in their twenties, live in huge mansions and can walk on water while juggling. Ugh. We don’t get this in this book. America in the 1930s was economically and socially a very different time from now, and the hardships and social pressures were depicted realistically. Some of the actions and decisions made by the characters weren’t stellar either, and that makes them so real and so compelling to read.

There was a twist at the end of the story but I figured it out quite early — very shortly after Joan arrived at her mother’s house. The middle part of the book I wasn’t quite sure I’d gotten it right, and I was so happy when it turned out to be true. (I’m trying to be vague and non-spoliery here). I wasn’t obsessed with the clue though, I was busy being caught up with the story itself.

I have a couple of small criticisms. There was a mention of London Times, just in passing. It’s one of my pet peeves because there is no such paper. Secondly, there were two tiny, minute geographical inaccuracies about Chicago that only someone who is OCD will notice. Or perhaps streets were different in the 1930s and therefore I am wrong. Sometimes I get caught up with these small things and I end up not liking or even finishing the book, but it wasn’t the case here.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I finished it, and immediately scrolled back to the beginning to read it again. It’s one of those books that stay on your mind long after you finish, and you can’t help but think about the characters or the setting or a particular scene.

#9: use my library card


Task #9 in 101 in 1001 challenge is to use my library card. This is carried over from the 2007 challenge, mainly because I was working and travelling and moving countries during those 1001 days that I never got round to using libraries.

Going with parents and family friends on a cruise next week. Cruise #3 for us. Itinerary is Greece (Olympia, Crete, Athens), Israel (Haifa with shore excursions to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Dead Sea possible), Italy (Rome). Time to do some research.

Mostly, I research online and summarise my findings in evernote. Additional research for cruises is always necessary because some ports are not next to town. The cruise company obviously hardsells their excursions, but personally I hate the cattle herding feel of guided tours. Interesting to read cruise forums, most people are not DIYers, I would say they err very much on the safe and timid side. I guess it’s the sort of people who go on cruises a lot.

That said, I’m travelling with 4 seniors, so that needs to be factored in.

Guidebooks are useful, and have lots more information than a webpage. Afterall, they’ve done the research already. The problem is that guidebooks become outdated and there’s a limit to how many you can buy and carry.

Sometime during my stay in London, when I was making lots of small trips, I started getting guidebooks from the library. I’d get a few before a trip and may be bring one with me during the trip. It has worked absolute wonders, and I’m so glad libraries stock such a great selection of travel books.

These are from the small local library. Also came with maps, which is super helpful. I find it’s easy to borrow English books here, even in a small library like this one. It’s the minority language afterall. I have to go to a bigger library to find an Israel guidebook though. Off to start reading…

#11: finish a book in one day


Task #11 in 101 in 1001 is to read a book in one day. Something I have done quite often. Not one of the Potter books I’d just finished, especially the later ones. Of course, one of these classics would have been okay.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gerri Hill last summer at Dallas; and I’ve read many, if not all, of her 20+ books. Her newest is Weeping Walls which has the same MCs as a previous book, Keeper of the Cave. It’s something she has done several times before, using the same characters or bringing back characters as side characters. It works, because these are good characters.

This book is somewhere in between a mystery, paranormal adventure and romance. The FBI team works well, the 4 agents have distinctive personalities and their interactions are realistic. Also it’s great not to have superhero characters, one of the characters is afraid of ghosts and the others also have their hangups and shortcomings. We don’t need heroes who can fly, walk on water, write prize-winning novels and knit a scarf at the same time.

The case the agents are investigating is a missing person that links to cold cases and involves a haunted house. The paranormal aspect was unexpected, although after the prior book, I should have known. It wasn’t rammed down my throat, and I appreciated not being scared shitless — I don’t read horror stories and there’s a reason why.

The romance is not about two people meeting and falling in love. They did this the other book. This is about what happens after the initial falling in love, and there is skill in writing this stage of a relationship.

I read Keeper of the Cave over a 24hr period too (started late on one day and finished the next). When it comes to sequels I like to read the entire series from the start, and I didn’t mind re-reading. Weeping Walls is a solid, great read. If there is another book with the same set of characters I look forward to reading it again.

#12: finish all the Harry Potter books


Task #12 of 101 in 1001 challenge is one carried over from the previous round.

I got up to Order of the Phoenix when it came out. It wasn’t my favourite, it felt like it was the Empire Strikes Back of the Potter series with endless exposition of Grimmauld Place, stupid Dolores Umbridge, grumpy Sirius and teenage angst with all the hookups and jealousy. The Dumbledore’s Army arc was great, so that was a silver lining.

I dutifully bought books 6 and 7 when they came out, but then sort of lost interest so they’ve been sitting on my bookshelf following me around the world for years. I saw all the films of course, so I knew what was going on.

It was time to finally finish reading the series. It seems like some sort of cultural heresy that I hadn’t. So I started with Philosopher’s Stone, and the magic came back. Yay! Hard to pick a favourite, I’m going say Deathly Hallows and Goblet of Fire. Despite all the despair and trudging around the country searching for horcruxes, DH was extremely well written. Plus, Neville! Easily my favourite character outside the three. Goblet of Fire I loved the whole idea of the Triwizard tournament, and it was IMO when Harry started growing up. Shame about Cedric, I hadn’t expected it when I first read it, was still sad upon re-read. A strange tidbit is that Mum’s copy of Goblet of Fire is an American version (all mine and all her others are UK) so it was odd to read about people running toward something and all the other American spelling. Didn’t really fit with such a British book and set of characters.

The great thing about reading the books now is that I don’t have to rush to find out what happens at the end. And hats off to the filmmakers, the casting was so spot on that I can picture very clearly all the characters and scenes while I’m reading. Made it very, very enjoyable. In fact, I might re-read the whole series again in a while.

charm school


I came across a review of book 1 of a comic series called charm school. Wow it brings back memories. Charm School is a comic series set in the town of Little Salem, where good teen witch Bunny has a perfect girlfriend in vampire biker Dean, until a dark, and very insistent faerie comes along causing chaos. It’s cute and fun and, as befit the series title, quite charming.

I was an internet acquaintance of the writer a long time ago, long before social media came along and made everyone connected. I had lost touch, and am very glad to come across this mention of her work. Amazingly, book 1 is listed on amazon at over $10, and checking my copy I note that the cover price was $2.95 for the 2000 edition. How the world has changed. I have books 1-9, I think it’s time to read them again.

humble ebook bundle


This is a fantastic deal. The idea behind the humble ebook bundle is pay whatever you want for 6 sci-fi ebooks, available in the popular formats, DRM free:

  • Invasion by Mercedes Lackey
  • Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  • Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
  • Pumpsix and other stories by Paolo Baclgalupi
  • Stranger Things have Happened by Kelly Links
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

There’s a sweetener, pay more than the average and get two more books: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi and a graphic novel Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean.

Of the six starter books, I’d only heard of Mercedes Lackey as an author and Cory Doctorow as one of the people at boingboing. But I have heard of John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman, who are I guess the bigger draws.

I could have paid a tiny amount ($1) and gotten the first 6 books, but the average when I saw the deal was $11.95 so it was a no brainer to shell out $11.96 for 8 books. I’m sure I’ll find something to enjoy; and even if I didn’t like them, it’s $11.96 I don’t mind spending. None of it goes to Big Publishers, the buyers can set how much is split between the authors, charities such as the EFF, and an admin fee.

The current average is $12.53 so it has been creeping up slightly. Almost 44,000 purchases totalling $550,000 since launch a week ago. Linux and mac users are more generous than windows users, heehee. There’s less than 10 days to go on this deal. They also bundle games, music and movies, I’ll be keeping an eye out for future happenings.

books and bookcovers

bookcover bookcoverlondoners

Looking at flavorwire’s recommended october books, it occurred to me that this is a nice bunch of bookcovers. A little aghast that my favourite is a Tom Wolfe I’ll never read. The most intriguing author on that list, to me, is Chinua Achebe, not least because I just read a small article about the memoir and it seems to be one of those important books that one reeds to read.

On a separate note, the list of 50 best book covers of 2011 is also interesting. The only book on that list that I have is londoners, although the cover that won is only for the UK edition, in the US it’s a more boring, generic cover. The publishers are not doing the reading public justice, it’s not just Londoners who will get that the colours on the cover correspond to all the tube lines, there are lots of people around the world who have travelled to London or recognise the clever play on colours. Sigh. Publishers really shouldn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. Anyway, here’s a snippet towards the end of the Introduction:

The only definition of a Londoner I followed was the people you see around you. The ones who stock the Tube trains and fill the pavements and queue in Tesco with armfuls of plastic-wrapped veg. Whatever their reason or origin, they are laughing, rushing, conniving, snatching free evening newspapers, speaking into phones, complaining, sweeping floors, tending to hedge funds, pushing empty pint glasses, marching, arguing, drinking, kneeling, swaying, huffing at those who stand on the left-hand side of the escalator, moving, moving, always moving. It’s a city of verbs.

He’s still not quite a Londoner. He should have said Tesco’s, not Tesco. It’s always the doctor’s, not the doctor’s office.

the other sweet tooth


All the palaver about Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, I almost forgot about the other book published this year also called Sweet Tooth. Not a spy thriller, but a sort of personal-discovery-essay-history of sweets, aka candy, by Kate Hopkins, more well known as the Accidental Hedonist.

The kindle page has no kindle version available. I can get it directly on my kindle though. Strange. I haven’t gone through with the purchase, I wonder if it will work.

first world book problem


I’m thinking of buying Ian McEwan’s latest book, Sweet Tooth, a layered intrigue set in 1972 during the cold war.

I do a little comparison, amazon uk £8.09 ($12.99) and amazon us $13.99. Even without the small price difference, I want the UK edition because I prefer the cover and I’d like to read it in the English it was written (I’m assuming it gets “translated” to US English). There’s just a couple of tiny problems:

  • my kindle is registered to my US account, so it will automatically go to
  • won’t let me buy kindle books if I’m outside the UK

It’s not just amazon, WH Smith, kobo and ebook all sell a DRM epub version (just ignore the dirty word DRM), all impose geo restrictions, I guess by IP address. What if I were travelling, does it mean I have to wait till I get home to buy? What a ridiculous concept.

The twist is that amazon lets me buy the paper book from anywhere in the world but not the ebook. Apparently it’s due to contractual agreements. This post talks about Australia but is a good illustration. It’s also from 2010 and hints that things are changing. Riiiiight. It’s now 2012, isn’t it time for country boundaries in the electronic world to go away?

I’ve spent enough time on this today, there are other things vying for my attention. I’ll read another book (from an international-reader-friendly publisher/seller — thanks Bella!) or I’ll play bad piggies or whatsapp mm. It’s likely that Mr McEwan will never get my sale, the US book comes out in November and I doubt I’ll remember. Fine. I’m just one insignificant person, Random House doesn’t care about me. The problem is that Random House and the other Big Publishers insist on putting obstacle after obstacle in the way of legitimate book buyers, who then get frustrated and what will they do? They’ll give up and not buy the book. If the book is that good, it’s not like the buyer roll over and wait like a meek little sheep to buy at the store and price that Big Pub dictated, right? The best case scenario is to use a proxy, then at least there is a sale. Nowadays, unfortunately, the more likely outcome is a torrent, and that’s an ugly unending downward spiral.

taken by surprise


And the sunday before I go home was spent reading Taken by Surprise by Kenna White, who I sat with for a couple of lunches at GCLS. I wish I had more opportunity to get to know her better. This book won the lambda literary awards this year, it was a lovely romance. Just enough angst and again, a great supporting cast. The setting was Aspen, and who wouldn’t want to be in a romance set against the mountains of Aspen? Sigh.



I spent the saturday before I go home reading Rhapsody by KG MacGregor, here’s an excerpt. To think that just a week ago I had the honour of singing karaoke with KG at the GCLS conference, as part of her “Greasers” 50s group. These writers are so accessible.

It was not a question, I had to finish the book in one day because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I hadn’t. It is truly excellent work, deep and subtle, with realistic, believable characters that we want to get to know better. Love the ensemble nature of the characters too, and also the PG rating. I couldn’t help but think about the characters’ future and I see a lot of love and happiness. I think eventually, one of them will say “it’s time,” and it will be time.

kindle fire

About a month ago I saw that amazon was selling refurbished kindle fires for $139. I was slightly tempted when the fire first came out, but decided to wait for a new ipad instead. But lately I’ve been wanting to replace my very old (in tech terms) Sony ereader and was thinking of getting a kindle. The fire isn’t available in the UK, and the $139 price tag finally did me in.

Okay, okay. I just wanted another new toy.

It’s been sitting in Car’s house for a month, and I took it out to charge and play today. It’s a refurbished model, but it came in a box and everything was nicely packaged. To be honest, it felt brand new. Probably someone bought it and returned it. It was pre-registered to my account, and to all intents and purposes is new.

It’s heavier than the regular kindle and the ereader, which kind of defeats the purpose. But it doubles up as a tablet with basic apps, so it bridges the gap between the iphone and the mba, that should eventually be plugged by the ipad, may be. In the meantime I moved all my ebooks over via calibre and downloaded the music I bought on amazon. Nothing too fancy yet. Only bought one app, an office app that was reduced to 99c from $14.99 — may be a new version is coming out, but I don’t mind an older version. It would have been great to get existing iphone apps free, I really don’t want to pay for angry birds all over again.

First impression? Pretty cool. Scrolling is quite a bit slower than the iphone or ipad. A HUGE improvement in reading experience compared with the Sony — it’s not e-ink but I’m not bothered by the screen display. Initial complaints — I hate the carousel, that it saves everything I open; I’m the sort of person who doesn’t save browsing history and is very tight on controlling cookies. The second complaint is that sideloading from calibre loads into the documents folder and have to be moved to the books folder manually. There is also no ability to create sub-folders for different types of books, sorting alphabetically is not practical for a large library.

I’m pleased with it despite the initial reservations. it’ll be great for the trip.

libraries FTW


I first did it when I went to Prague with Mum last year. I most recently did it just this past weekend when we went to Stockholm. I’m sure I’ll continue doing it going forward.

Do what?

Borrow travel guides from the local library. The books are up to date, and the DK guides have plenty of pictures and maps. Perfect for travelling. I can take the books out for 3 weeks at a time. What a great resource.

bad book


I bought 10 ebooks over the weekend, a mixture of new releases, earlier works and some from a sale event. I started on one of the 10 yesterday, but found it a hard slog. It’s not very well written: pov jumps all over the place; massive amount of telling vs zero showing; unconvincing dialogue; the characters have no character. The premise is decent, some important social issues are addressed and there is, on paper, a lot of potential. If only the writing matches the idea. I tried a couple more chapters today, but when I checked the page numbers I see that after all that, I’m only at page 110 of 260. Not even halfway. I can’t see myself sustaining any sort of interest so I gave up. Sorry, [author]. (And, I’m intentionally vague because I don’t want to upset people associated with the book.)

book reading nottingham


I went to the bsb uk author reading at Waterstone’s Nottingham on Saturday. It’s about 2.5hr one way, so I hesitated a lot before deciding that I really should go support the UK/European authors. I booked the train tickets online, and found that first class was only an extra £2. What a bargain, I got 4 seats with table all to myself (both ways), peace and quiet and free tea.

I’ve never been to Nottingham, and the high street is just like any other high street with loads of shops and people on a Saturday. The reading was well attended, over 50 people and 7 readers. Glad to see that the UK/European contingent is well represented. What I liked particularly about this reading is that I got to meet authors that a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined having the opportunity of meeting. Listening to their reading is a nice way of being introduced to their work. One of the authors actually gave me a free copy of her forthcoming, yet to be published, book, which was so very kind. I read it on the journey back, and will finish it tomorrow, it’s funny and well written.

After the reading, the group adjourned to a nearby pub. I was having a great time chatting with my running friend K and catching up with my NY friend C. It was a shame I had to leave quite early to catch the train home. The event continues tomorrow morning with another session, but I have a long training run. Hopefully I’m still in the UK next year, if they hold the event again.

book fate

I’ve been reading some of the books marked for disposal, a kind of “last goodbye” thing. While others I’ve put away in boxes and not thought about, there are some that I am giving up in the interest of space. I managed to condense all my books from what used to be 4 bookshelves to 1. (Okay, some of that space was used for photo and stamp albums and I’ve put them somewhere else.) I suppose I might miss some of them, may be in a few months’ time I’d want to read a particular book and discover that I don’t have it anymore. Unlikely. And besides, I can get it again as e-book.

#22 read 5 ebooks


I think I blew this one out of the water. When I started 101.1001 amazon had only just released the kindle and the ebook market was still in its infancy. I thought at that time that I’d try downloading a few ebooks and reading it on the mbp using the ereader software.

I now have 93 ebooks in my ereader (the hardware, heh, the same name thing is confusing). This includes 90 full length books and 3 short stories but excludes the free classics downloaded from sony. I’ve read almost all of them, so yes, I read 5 ebooks…in the last 2 weeks. They cost the same as regular paperbacks, so at an average of $12-13, that’s over $1000 I’ve contributed to the industry since march 2009. Do I get an award or what?

At the moment, I’m using one of the least popular readers, and there’s a lot of “me-too” pressure to get the kindle 3, which ships this week. The formats and industry are starting to settle, there will be a clear standard and device winner soon. Interestingly, I don’t think it’ll be the ipad, it will be a dedicated ereader. I’ve not even been tempted to read on the ipad so far.

reset 700


I bought a couple of new ebooks and when I went to read one of them it kept freezing the ereader. After doing a soft reset several times, the screen was still stuck on the start up page. So I decided to do a hard reset, which is like reformatting and wiping it clean.

All the books I’d purchased are in the calibre library, so I wasn’t worried. The free classics that I got when I first bought the ereader are also on the mbp, but since I never got round to reading a single one, I didn’t even reload them.

I really have to figure out how to a) convert and load my own stories and b) getting everything on the ipad.

#21(8) reading: bongwater


Bongwater is Michael Hornburg’s first book, published in 1995. It tells the story of 3 twentysomethings in Portland. Courtney burned down the house she shared with David and ran away to New York. David had a crush on Jennifer and Jennifer ran away to New York to join Courtney. In the meantime, David met Mary and went on a road trip with her to visit his weed-growing friend Phil.

Nothing much else happens. Arguably David and Courtney are the main characters but they don’t meet up again till the end. Jennifer is the glue. Mary is somewhere in between. David crashes with two gay guys who steals Jennifer’s underwear. Courtney and Jennifer does a round of New York clubs and comes back to Portland.

The characters are cynical and innocent at the same time. They do drugs and each other. But no one judges. It just is. The end of the book doesn’t have resolution; instead there is the hint of a beginning.

I get confused between Gen X and Y. Of course I’m reading this book 15 years after it was published, and I think about those days in the early 1990s with nostalgia. Now I identify with them — not the drugs or alcohol or sex or partying, the sense that we are just observing and living our way through life.

Reviews are mixed. Some readers get it. Others find it boring and without plot. Even others dislike the prose. I liked it. It feels superficial, but is deeper than it appears. Was Mr Hornburg sending life lessons? No, of course not. It just is. I get the feeling that there’s a large autobiographical element in the book. Nothing wrong with it. It just is.

bret easton ellis: imperial bedrooms


Bret Easton Ellis’ seventh novel, Imperial Bedrooms, comes out mid-June. It’s a follow up to Less than Zero, to coincide with its 25th anniversary. Gulp. Has it already been 25 years? Next I know, I’ll be needing reading glasses. [heh, don’t be so cocky. that day will come soon and you know it.]

Less than Zero is arguably my favourite book. Something spine-tingling and deep comes over me whenever I read it (unlike spine-chilling when I read American Psycho). I’m not sure how I feel about a sequel, because they never live up to the hype of the original. And reading the excerpt, which I assume is the beginning, I’m still leery.

They had made a movie about us. The movie was based on a book written by someone we knew. The book was a simple thing about four weeks in the city we grew up in and for the most part was an accurate portrayal. It was labeled fiction but only a few details had been altered and our names weren’t changed and there was nothing in it that hadn’t happened.

Clay is now a successful screenwriter and returns to LA from New York. The characters are still there — Julian (RDJ, who died in the film), Blair, Trent. I suspect parties and craziness still abound but it’s probably a bunch of people pushing 40 who don’t want to grow up.

I’m being unfair. I haven’t read the book yet and here I am dissing it. The reviews on amazon are mixed. It’s 100% certain I will buy it so I must reserve judgment.

#21(7) reading: identity


Milan Kundera is perhaps best known as the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I hadn’t read that; nor actually seen the film. My impressions and perceptions prior to reading was that it would be thoughtful, philosophical and may be even melancholy enough to be not too heavy.

Identity was written in 1996, the author’s second book after moving from Czechoslovakia to France. I read the English translation, having had this one on my shelf for something like 10 years.

This was the story of two lovers, Chantal and Jean-Marc, which started while they were on holiday on the Normandy coast. She arrived before him, and each in their own ways were thinking about themselves. About who they were. (Hence the title.) Gradually, parts of their lives and personalities were revealed, like layers of an onion. The book moved from purely situational to having some sort of a plot when she started receiving anonymous letters complimenting her and yet was stalkerish. In fact, he wrote them. The conflict was when she didn’t tell him about the letters, and they started second guessing each other. Finally she walked out, got on a train to London. And he followed.

I guess it’s too philosophical for me. I was waiting for something to happen, and then i realised that it wasn’t that sort of book. The structure, with no chapter titles, only short vignettes almost alternating between the characters’ pov, was like two parallel streams of thoughts occasionally intersecting. The part I enjoyed most was towards the end when unwanted visitors arrived, children misbehaved by trashing her room and she unceremoniously kicked them out. It had little to do with the main story, and the only tenuous connection was that it made her though about her son, who died when he was five. Nonetheless, when Chantal broke down and Jean-Marc was left throwing his keys into the Seine I finally felt like they had awoken from author-induced intellectual stupor.

I’m at the margin of this world. You, you’ve put yourself at the centre of it.

Even though both Chantal and Jean-Marc found out more about themselves during the course of the book, at the end I felt like I’d only glimpsed a part of their journey. That there was more to come. The end was both ‘fade-to-black’ and sudden. I can’t decide which, because I was flipping the pages too fast to get to the end. I also can’t decide if I wanted to know more about what happened next. Basically, I can’t decide if I like this book, or I was bored by it. It’s strange. Perhaps it will permeate and brew more in my head.

#21(6) reading: the hottest state


Most people my generation have heard of Ethan Hawke, the epitome of intense and pretty. He of Reality Bites, Before Sunrise and a version of Hamlet. No, he won’t be the first actor to branch out to writing, singing or race car driver, and he won’t be the last.

The Hottest State was published in 1996 and was Mr Hawke’s first novel. The state in the title refers to Texas, where the narrator, William, was from. The novel was set in New York, where William had moved to be an actor. One night at a club he met Sarah, who just moved to New York, and coincidentally lived in an apartment opposite William’s. Soon they began a love affair, the sort that people in their early twenties engaged in — tugs-of-war of emotions, co-dependency, and a tendency to talk a lot and not at all about the important matters. She held off having sex with him for the longest time; they went to meet her mother; went away for a week; then she broke up with him.

The second half of the book was about how William tried to get Sarah back, alternating begging and making a fool of himself with being mad at her and life in general. Heartbroken, or so he thought, he tried to find solace with his friend Samantha, and then returned home to look for his father.

It’s a small book, less than 200 pages. The writing is sparse, though it took me a while to get into it. Or rather, I never totally got into it. It is one of those books I like, where there was a story, but not completely overshadowed by the characters and what they thought/felt/did. In terms of nano, it’d be classified as a literary fiction.

Most readers would assume that the book was partially autobiographical. I can’t tell one way or the other, it feels like there’s some of the author in William — that’s always the danger of first person narration. I never warmed to William, he seemed kind of a jerk to me. Sarah said it best,

“You don’t love me.” She was gesturing at the ground. “I could be any girl. This is about you.”
“Everything is a big game of pretend with you. ‘Let’s pretend to get married.’ ‘Let’s pretend I’m gonna be a big country star.’”

Perhaps it’s immaturity, and hopefully by the end he would have taken this heartbreak and grown a little.

I finished the book, then got the dvd immediately on netflix. Some of it seemed clearer in the film, written and directed by Mr Hawke. William was still a jerk, Sarah still lacked self-confidence and they both did not communicate. This is one occasion where I think the film complemented the book.

reading and song

I went to the sappho’s salon event at women and children first bookstore to support Anne Laughlin, who read from her new book Veritas. I have the book in my ereader, it’s high on the list of books to be read. And especially after I heard her read a lengthy excerpt. She also read the prologue from her newest, untitled, book. Oh wow. That one is already fantastic and I can’t wait for it to come out.

The second half of the event was singer-songwriter julie loyd, who sang a few very pleasant songs.

The good thing about living only 5 mins away is that I was probably home and showered before a lot of the people even left the store.

cape cod trip day 8

Went over to the bookstore to say goodbye to people, we’re leaving today. We managed to greet and hug a lot of people who were walking by or just milling about — it really is a congregating spot.

Car and I joined Karin and MJ for a screening of Hannah Free. Thanks to Karin and MJ for offering us this honour. The film is based on a play, and the book is coming out in the spring. The performances were strong, dialogue sharp and the story very touching. Yes, I found it a bit long and boring at places, but that’s me. The actors and the ending more than made up for it. Highly recommended.


More goodbyes as we walked back to the car, and then a quick stop to Race Point. The sea was very ferocious over there, and then there were a couple of para-wakeboarders out there braving the waves. Beautiful.

And we were off at around 3.20pm and the plan is to drive overnight. Over 1000 miles. Should be back in Chicago by tomorrow afternoon.

cape cod trip day 7

pt350signing pt351signing

Morning signing with Karin Kallmaker, Donna Kelli, Jocelyn Powers and JE Knowles. It was a pleasure to meet all of them. The store wasn’t very big so initially we spent time at the café opposite.

Pizza lunch with Car, Nell and Trin at Twisted Sister. It was good to catch up with them. Their book everafter has just come out, and sold out at the bookstore already. Wonderful news.


The main event in the afternoon was the reading from the outsiders, a collection of stories by Lynn Ames, Georgia Beers, JD Glass, Susan X Meagher and Susan Smith. Smitty read JD’s story and Susan read Georgia’s so we got an excerpt from each of them. It was a great informal reading, kudos to Lynn, Susan and Smitty for making it so enjoyable.

There was a bsb erotica reading, but I missed it because I was out with Ruth at the Pig. We then made our way to the Post Office café and later at the Vixen ran into Karin and MJ. Boy, I was pretty full of alcohol from all the drinking. Ooops.

cape cod trip day 6

I woke up, grabbed the blackberry, saw that it was 6am and made a face. But I couldn’t go back to sleep and eventually crawled out half an hour later. A thought came to my mind that i could go running!! And so I did. There is a bike trail at the dunes and I did a full 10k up and down that path. There were a few other runners, a biker or two, some people in their car reading the newspaper / drinking coffee, and a couple walking on the beach. See previous post.

It turned out, my BB says 6am, but in my haste and delirium it was 6am CST, actually 7am here. Would I have still gone running? That far? Dunno.

Mid-morning was my hair appointment. The hairdresser was running late so we did some shopping at the bookstore and surplus store. The haircut was quick and efficient — kept most of the length but not the thickness. Lunch at the pig (again) was fish and chips. The fish was absolutely fantastic.

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And then it was time for another reading. There were again 2 panels. The first was about mystery-romance and included Carsen Taite (moderating), VK Powell, Anne Laughlin, Kim Baldwiin & Xenia Alexiou, Clara Nipper and Ali Vali. Heavy hitters all.

The second panel was historical / paranormal and included Nell Stark (moderating), I Beacham reading Colette Moody’s book, Trinity Tam, LL Raand (Rad’s pen name for a new series) and Gill McKnight. These were so awesome, I need to get books by, heh, pretty much all of them.

I missed the book signing, was distracted by Chef shopping then running into Bobbi and stopping for coffee. Made it to the meet and greet, and met so many authors, in addition to the ones i’ve met already, it was unbelievable. There was also a prize draw (didn’t win) and everyone left with a goodie bag.

And now for the grown up part of the post. I went to my first drag show! Two of them. In one night. First it was all the kings men, and then it was an amateur contest. There was a contrast between the professionals and the amateurs, both shows were interesting and enjoyable in their own ways. Our Rach won the amateur contest, with a rousing performance…and a loud supporting contingent.

cape cod trip day 5

proscuitto, fig jam, gorgonzola on ciabatta #ptown

Original plan was to get a haircut, but the places were either closed or full, so i made an appointment for tomorrow. We ended up at the pig where I had proscuitto, fig jam and gorgonzola on ciabatta and I was introduced to magner’s cider. A full pint bottle too. First it was just Jeanine and me, and we deliberately sat at the window so people can see us and vice versa. And it worked! Trish and Jacqui joined us, then Smitty, and I spotted Car walking down the street. T&J mentioned they saw Nell and Trin so I called them to tell them to join us. And Ruth joined too.


First reading was at the Vixen, where we went to support Cheri. Then it was to Gabriel’s for a big reading — 2 panels of 10 authors over 2 hours. Mainly it was to support Bobbi and to meet a few authors I hadn’t met in person yet.

After a quick one at the Pig, we went to the house of Cheri, Trish, Jacqui and Jo for a private reading. Rrrose, DK, Dalia also read. And Trish made us chilli con carne that was fantastic.

Rrrose and DK came to our house to hang out for a while, then Nell and Trin popped by too. Nice evening with friends. I’m feeling like I’m getting the hang of this, and it’s only my second event.

cape cod trip day 4

Had planned to go on the walking tour this morning, which got scuppered by the weather — windy and raining cats and dogs at one point. Stayed in, took it easy with the housemates. It’s a sight — all 4 of us on our laptops doing facebooking, twittering, reading, emailing, photoshopping (that’s me). We had planned a house dinner tonight, which got expanded when we decided to post an open invitation on fb. We went to the supermarket and ended up spending $240 on food, chips and alcohol.

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We ended up with 10 people, a good dinner party size. Chef made individual meatloaf with mashed potatoes and oven-baked glazed carrots & parsnips. I was sous chef and pastry chef for the day — made salad and apple crumble served with vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious, especially with the wines — I bought a chateauneuf-du-pape to share with Chef, and there was also a nice Pinot and a Petite Syrah. Others were enjoying beer, smirnoff ice and soft drinks.

A few of us went to the Vixen bar afterwards for more drinks (i had a Stella and a Jack and diet coke) and air hockey (3-0 for me, yay!). The jack and diet was pretty potent, we talked a bit more once we got home but i went to bed soon after.

cape cod trip day 3

First order of business today, drive out to the mall at Hyannis so Car can get a replacement camera. Of course while at Best Buy I see the canon s90, which came out yesterday. so tempting, but I’m gonna wait. I can fix my coolpix with a rubber band, so may be it has a few months left in it.

The main plan today was to systematically visit the cemeteries in this area. There are many old cemeteries here, and they are all full of character and history. So, one by one:

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Cove Burying Ground: site of the original congregational church and has markers for 3 Mayflower passengers. All in all a nice, peaceful, small cemetery.

Eastham Congregational and Soldier: the major attraction there, surprisingly, is the moss on all the gravestones.

South Wellfleet: a little unkempt, but that’s its charm. Gravestones facing every direction, some markers hidden in grass, other parts more groomed.

Duck Creek: undulating landscape, some markers were broken and lobsided, interesting. Lots of mushrooms.


On the way back, we stopped at Truro Vineyard. Just in time for a wine tasting. $7 for 5 tastes. I had a chardonnay, a vignoles, a cab, their triumph blend and a sweet cranberry wine. The cranberry, and their sweet white, came in distinctive lighthouse bottles. I bought a couple, for decoration.


Dinner was at the lobster pot, where I briefly contemplated having the crab. But i got told off by Car, so I changed my order back to lobster — I’d been whining about lobster for a while, so i had to get it. It was really fresh, having presumably come straight out of the ocean today. Total $30, including clam chowder, salad and a side of mussels. I had a local amber ale too, nice and dark, the way I like it. We walked home, completely full and having had an enjoyable and relaxing day.

cape cod trip day 2

It was a beautiful, beautiful day when we woke up, and it kept sunny all day. We checked out and was on the I-84 towards Boston in no time. Didn’t stop for breakfast, just sandwiches in the car, making good time.


Stopped at Milford for gas (full service, seriously!). Then by chance came across Pine Grove cemetery. The gravestones were old and well maintained. What I hadn’t seen before were gravestones for the whole family in the same plot. The central pond was pretty, and the trees around it already turning autumn colours. We spent a nice half an hour there.


The route was straightforward. We ended up at a tourist information centre at Hyannis, then stopped at Nauset Marsh, not worrying about the time. The marsh was also very beautiful, the combination of well maintained paths, water and autumn trees very enticing indeed.


Next stop, Head of the Meadows beach. Sandy, with sand dunes, and I hadn’t seen the Atlantic for a while, it was so peaceful and refreshing.

Finally we drove to the tip of Cape Cod at Provincetown, our holiday home for this week. Our house was a great 3 bedroom place we will share with 2 others. Lots of deck room, spacey bedrooms, and a spiral staircase leading up to a tower turret study / den.


After dumping our stuff, we walked to the town centre, stopping at the shoreline to take in the beach scenery. it’s so beautiful. The main commercial area is at, well, Commercial Street. It’s narrow, full of people and lined on both sides with interesting shops, restaurants and galleries. We didn’t have dinner there, walking back to the house and meeting our housemates. Did go out for pizza at a place in Truro, just a local-ish type of place. I had ice cream too.

Cape Cod is truly beautiful, and I can easily see why people come and stay. It’s like the South of France, the combination of breathtaking scenery and general charm is hard to beat.