Friday, October 21, 2005
Now here's a book that, until Feera lent it to me, was nowhere on my radar. She lent it to me quite recently, but I read it almost immediately after I put The Belgariad down. No wait, not almost. I read it immediately ><. Syat and Khairul, don't hold it against me for not reading YOUR books instantly- yours are thicker. This book is thin. So I decided to get it over and done with quickly.
And words can't express how glad I am that I decided to read it quickly. It's good. Seriously. The story revolves around a girl, Medina, and her twin brother Jim who live in Palos Verdes, California. It's a modern setting. No, it's not a fantasy book. It leans more towards Young Adult, though it arguably stands on a higher ground in terms of maturity. At first glance, it seems like another adolescent's account of growing up, of coming-of-age, but beneath that, what it really is is a subtle account of a family breakdown.
And that's where it becomes real. Medina's life is far from perfect to begin with. Her breasts are small (this fact is highlighted quite often), 'plastic girls' at high school stop to make fun of her every so often, she doesn't have much friends other than her brother, no, slash that, she hardly has ANY friends other than her brother, and to top it all off, her parents' marriage is disintegrating. To keep her mind off her troubles, Medina resorts to surfing at the beach right outside her house, taking up the challenge of bigger and bigger waves. Taking up bigger and bigger risks.
Meanwhile, her relationship with her brother starts falling apart as her brother sides with her resentful mother when the marriage falls apart. Her mother doesn't make it any easier for her either- to put it frankly, her mother's a bitch. She seems to blame Medina for everything now that her husband is out of the house, making Medina's life even more miserable. Medina doesn't really have anyone to turn to- her father left the house and she is, as far as she is concerned, not welcome to his new life yet. And so she endures living at home with her mother and Jim, who seems to drift further and further away everyday.
This story is told as simply as it would be told to a diary or a passerby, but the emotions felt are slotted between the lines. Symbolism is used to great effect in the story, which increases it's impact on the reader. It takes the reader down dark roads- houses with broken marriages, smoking pot, and the real extent of how hostile people can be to you in school if you're not 'popular enough'.
At the end of it all, it's a very powerful book which will get you thinking of a lot of things. And I'm not talking about the surfing. About life, your parents, and your siblings. Honestly said this is the first book to get me this emotionally swept up in a long while. Reading about Jim and Medina reminded me of my sister to some extent, and how close we used to be before boarding school. That, and how I still silently vow to murder any boy who breaks her heart.
I want a copy of this book for myself. I wager Feera won't part with it for any amount of money, so I guess it's time to hit the Kino Navi.
9 out of 10.
at 11:52 AM
All powerful thingamabob, bad guys want it- oh wait, I've done this before. So there's really no need to tell you that as far as fantasy goes, The Belgariad doesn't really break any new ground. Or maybe, back when it was first published, this area was still considered new because Tolkien had probably only used it once. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this book series sucks. In fact I gave it 7.5 for the last volume, and this one is going to get a higher score. It's good. Just not exceptional if you're only starting to read it after touching all other sorts of fantasy series. Because honestly, how many more stories do we need about all-powerful thingamabobs?
On to business now. The previous volume stopped at book three out of the full series (Which has a total of five books). So maybe that's where the groundbreaking factor is: Who needs trilogies when you can do quintologies? HAHA! I'm not even sure if I used the proper word, so I'll move on. Anyway, the first volume ended with the good guys getting a hold over the all powerful thingamabob I talked about last time. So the final volume focuses on 1)fleeing back to their own country with the thingamabob intact and 2) going on an all out war with the bad guys with the odds against them (aren't they always?). What adds uniqueness to this story is that, at this point it is told by following the two main characters- The starry-eyed Garrion and his reluctant bride-to-be, Princess Ce'Nedra. (don't ask me how to pronounce that) Garrion's story focuses on him getting used to the throne, and, subsequently, learning of the prophecy on how he must kill the Evil God that the bad guys worship with his flaming sword of doom! Okay, so it's not called the flaming sword of doom... I'm beginning to sound like Shahril ><. The Orb apparently was meant to be attached to a sword, to create Garrion's ultimate weapon. It does fulfill requirements for being an ultimate weapon- considering they had to beat a powerful boss at the end of Volume One to obtain it, says the laws of videogames. So, with his sword, he can now fulfill the prophecy, which says he must fight Torak, the Evil God. Catch now is that there are TWO prophecies. One that belongs to the good guys, and another that belongs to the bad guys. Respectively, the good guys say that they will win, and the bad guys say that they will win. Even though it is as clear as the light of day to the reader which prophecy in the end, will be the true one, it is not to the characters in the story, and so Garrion, though fearing for his life, marches forth with Belgarath the sorcerer (think Gandalf) and Silk (my favourite character, sarcastic thief/spy) to confront Torak, hoping that if he can kill off the God quickly, he will avert the need for a war which will cause the deaths of, well, a lot of people.
Don't worry, the war isn't averted. In fact, it is used as a diversion by Princess Ce'Nedra to ensure her husband-to-be gets across the borders safely. No wait, that doesn't sound very humane, does it? Bah. Anyway, the parts of the book that don't involve Garrion involve Ce'Nedra developing from the spoilt princess into army leader, delivering speeches to rouse armies and making deals with kingdoms, etc. etc. Basically it involves her growing up, and what the other characters involved in the war have to do. At this point it gets a bit confusing, considering that there are, in my opinion, way too much characters to follow. But it doesn't in any way destroy the finer points of this book- which as in the last volume, was the livid description of the world. Yes, I would say that that is David Eddings' best aspect. Countries have actual borders, customs, food, you get the picture. The world is almost as alive as if it were real. And you want to get to know it all the more.
What is obvious, though I don't mind it so much, is like in LOTR, there seems to be a lot of racial tension which reflects our world. Dark-skinned people are more evil, primitive, and deserve to die while the Westerns are high and mighty, the good guys in gleaming armor. If the author is implying what I think, and what some other sensitive people think, he is implying, then maybe he needs a good smack on the head. Which is why, again, I say that The Belgariad is good, but not dynamic. The good guys are infinitely good, and the bad guys are infinitely bad. Fullstop. Good is good and bad is bad.
And the ending is explosive. Ultraman-ish, I'd say. (chuckles) You'll find out what I mean if you read it yourself. But how the bad guy dies itself is a laugh. It's unique, I'll give it that, but I still found it hillarious.
And despite all that, I find that I enjoyed it all the same. Assuming I retain my interest as soon as I get to the bottom of my reading list, I'll move on to the Malloreon.
Or I'll shove Khairul's books further down the reading list some more and put the Malloreon there.
8 out of 10.
at 11:27 AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
The book was on the top ten bestseller's list for Kinokuniya. God how shallow that makes me sound. I read mainstream books! Horror! And it's not fantasy for once! Well, not that my life centers solely on fantasy books, but you've probably noticed by now that I'm not the type to lean into more 'realistic' books so often, except when they're good. GOOD. Think Dan Brown and some of dad's Grisham books. This here, ladies and gentlemen, is no exception. With a well-rounded blend of horror, romance, politics and humor, 'Shadow of the Wind' is no ordinary Victorian thriller. Ambitious would be one word to describe it, as it attempts to tackle almost everything. While that may sound dangerous, Carlos Ruiz Zafon pulls it off anyway, and he'll keep you turning pages until you reach the end of the book (I know I took a long time to finish it, but that was purely because of the fact that I was busy. At home this would be the kind of book I finish overnight)
The story is narrated by one Daniel, the son of a Barcelone bookseller, who, as a part of family tradition is allowed to go to a place called the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books' where he will choose one book and protect it for as long as he lives. When he does, he chooses the book 'Shadow of the Wind' written by one Julian Carax. As it turns out, the book is extremely rare, and it seems that a shady person seems to be after it, ready to offer money for it and known to resort to less than seemly methods to get his hands on Carax books which he later burns. This of course leads to the mystery, as to who this person is and why he hates Carax so. And at the same time, where is Carax? The author was said to have disappeared or died somewhere in France by the time the main character develops an interest in him. Not buying it, young Daniel decides to run his own investigation into the life and history of Carax, hoping to be able to track the man back into the present. Along the way he is helped along mostly by a beggar he helped off the streets named Fumero, who also seems to have a history of his own. This story is quite complex in the sense that there so many subplots that you'll get the impression that the subplots have subplots, and that may sound like it might induce headaches, but in all honesty, it won't.
In fact that is what keeps you turning pages, I think. The characters have so much behind them, and are so alive that it feels like you're feeling them. The effective use of the first-person narrative helps that point along as well, as the thriller takes time off to be a love story at certain moments involving the main character's relationship with his best friend's sister, and at the flashbacks involving Carax. The main character isn't particularly heroic, truth be told, but that's another reason why this book is good. The main character is human enough for you to sympathize for every time shit happens. The story develops by moving ahead with events, as well as filling holes in the history of the characters, tying up just nicely at the end. And although some may find the revelation to be quite predictable, it doesn't in any way hamper the style of this book.
If there is a flaw in this book, it would only be that the events tend to be uneven, in the sense that some things that could have been developed further weren't, like the concept of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books itself. But all in all, it still provides a satisfying, engrossing read.
God bless Lucia Graves for translating this book! (yeah, it was originally Spanish)
9 out of 10. And it probably deserves more.
at 5:34 AM
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
How many of us here drink coffee? And how many of us have had Starbucks, at least once? And how many of those are fans of the brand? What is it that we like about the establishment? The coffee is great but what really kept us coming back? Well, according to Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks Corporation, it's the atmosphere, the romance of drinking coffee and the warmth their stores exudes.
Throughtout this book, Howard tells us with great enthusiasm about how Starbucks became what it is now, from a humble little store in Seattle selling (only!) dark-roasted beans to a multi-billion, multi-store, multi-multi-multi company. Yeah, this is a business book, people.
What's unconventional about it is that it's actually fun to read. The history of the brand is absorbing and how everything seemed to fall into place just for them is wowing.
Perhaps it's all propaganda? Well, certain parts certainly felt that. I even seriously contemplated about getting a job as a barista down at the Wangsa Maju branch of Starbucks. But their mission statement is really empowering to their employees (here we go, propaganda...) and the company seems to really care about them. Great health plans, a revolutionary stock option called Bean Stock; it all seemed like Starbucks wants to make sure everyone felt like their in a family.
It all looks good on paper, but is it really the truth? *shrugs* I don't know and I'm not going to spend time trying to find out. All I know is that this book is a fascinating read.
I give it a 7 out of 10. (Which means, hey, borrow it from me but don't complain if you don't like it.)
at 3:46 PM